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December 30, 2014

What's On The Menu: 2015

Will we see you eating bugs in 2015?

This is the time of year when everyone looks into their crystal bowl for restaurant trends in 2015. Some of them are obvious—the increased use of technology-at-the-table for instance, so that customers can order, entertain themselves and pay their bills on a restaurant-supplied tablet—all without ever making eye contact.

Then there are those calorie counts that must be included on menus in restaurants with 20 or more outlets, movie popcorn, vending machine foods and alcoholic beverages. This one is interesting because it may—or may not—lead to consumers making more informed choices. Or it might scare them away altogether, like drinking that morning coffee without that morning pastry (sigh!). Restaurateurs are already offering smaller portion sizes (mini scones, two-bite desserts) and reconfigured menu items to make dishes lower in fat and calories.

Other trends are a little more controversial. Will 2015 see the end of tipping? Will diners now have to pay in advance for a meal so the restaurant doesn’t have to eat the price of a no-show? Slowly but surely, these practices are taking hold in restaurants across the country, and many of them will be in place before we enter the next decade.

In the meantime, here are some sure bets for this New Year:

1)    An ever-increasing list of symbols on a menu to address all those shifting consumer needs: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, paleo, tasteless.

If you’re allergic to certain foods, it’s a good thing. If you’re just picky because you’re on the latest diet-of-the-week, what happened to just asking the waitperson, “What’s in this dish?”

2)    New fast casual concepts. Here’s a given: Fast casual is here to stay. Restaurateurs who can find new foods that adapt to the concept and that catch the public imagination will be ahead of the game. Places such as PizzaRev, a restaurant that lets you craft your own pizza and see it cooked in front of you in less than 3 minutes, caught fire last year. Already fast casual is spreading out to include curry houses, kebob shops and waffle sandwich emporiums.

3)    French restaurants. French food begs to be simmered, braised and savored, which just may be the antidote for the normally harried diner. As often happens, one trend provides a 180-degree shift from another, so slow French meals will provide a relaxing dinner for the same diner who grabs curry on the go at lunch.      

4)    Insects as the new protein. In the consumer’s insatiable need for “new” foods and the search for “new proteins,” insects are showing up on a lot of top 10 lists. Unless we’re stranded on a desert island—and even then—this trend can’t go back underground soon enough.

5)    Pickled and fermented foods: On many menus these days, house-made pickles, sometimes fried, are the new equivalent of house-made mayonnaise or ketchup. At a recent “pickle” bar at a natural foods grocery store, Peter picked a pint of pickled carrots, mushrooms, artichokes, beets and kale. Or were they fermented? Fermentation is the process that exposes food to bacteria, airborne or otherwise. Pickled refers to preserving food in brine or vinegar, the result of fermentation without oxygen. Nothing says fermented like Korean Kimchi, which in itself is increasing in popularity as well.


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Insect proteins! This will require a lot of getting used to

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