Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 Restaurant Trends

The December issue of Restaurant Business had predictions of “Menu Trends for 2016.”  Since I am not in the restaurant business, I can’t say whether these predictions are legit or not. But I can say whether I am in favor of them, either because I like the taste trend or because they have other benefits such as health or environmental friendliness. 

These are my own takes on the trends, feel free to agree or disagree (vocally) in the comments.

1. Alternative-based proteins will replace animal-based proteins.  Not exclusively of course, many people will never give up a good steak now and again.  But in lots of places the trend will escalate.  Some examples that come to mind:

  • Patties. I hope we stop calling these veggie “burgers” because it frames our expectations that it will taste like a burger.  And then no matter how good it tastes, if it tasted different then it tastes “wrong”. 
  • Main courses. Give me a lentil curry instead of chicken curry any time.  Well, most times. 
  • Trash fish.  This is a great one I have heard elsewhere.  If you don’t know what these are: when fishing vessels are trawling for popular fish (tuna, cod) they catch a bunch of other fish that aren’t big sellers. So they throw them back into the ocean. Often, the fish are already dead so it is big waste of protein and the bodies pollute the ocean/river/lake.  It is hard to blame them because the vessels have limited space to store fish and they need to maximize the cash value of what they bring back – just to make a living. So we need to increase the value of the trash fish by increasing their frequency on restaurant menus. And decrease the value of the other fish with sustainability guidelines.  Many of them are already threatened or endangered species.
  • Sliders. When a menu says slider, we assume hamburger. A few places have other meats, but it is almost always red meat. But so many proteins would make great slider fillings.  Bean-based items like falafel. Stuff like that.

2. Alternatives to carbs. I personally love my carbs, but I can understand why we should shift some of our carb intake to other things.  As much as we have hated on fat over the last two to three decades, it is really overprocessed starches and sugars that have made us fat and gave us diabetes. So what can we do?

  • Plant based pasta. You have probably had spinach or tomato pasta, but most of these are really 90% pasta with dustings inside. It is possible to make great pasta out of 100% spaghetti squash (see what I did there J?). It is even easier with root veggies like turnips.
  • The sweets turn savory trend below does this really well.  It cuts out sugar while adding spices and proteins.
  • Using grains that have much higher protein content than wheat and corn.  Quinoa might be on its way out, but there are many others to choose from.

3. Sweets turn savory.  I really like this trend because I have already been doing it myself. 

  • Instead of maple brown sugar oatmeal I make Sriracha mustard oatmeal.  The magazine lists protein-based additions as a big trend – smoked fish or eggs in your oatmeal.
  • They talk about doing the same thing with ice cream/frozen yogurt. How about with a crème brule?

4. Alcohol trends.

  • Craft beer. I think we are already here. Which is good for me because I love a hoppy IPA. More calories and more alcohol.  But worth it (IMNSHO).
  • Artisanal liquors. Locally distilled, high end gin is becoming very popular.  More expensive though.
  • Craft cocktails. The example they use is a gimlet with an artisanal gin, celery bitters, and fresh lime juice.  They also mention Kombucha cocktails. Personally, I prefer my liquor straight, but this is ten times better than using tonic or one of those store-bought mixers that are 100% sugar (see savory trend above).
  • Make your own Bloody Maries. Or tableside preparation by the server. But with high end ingredients and made to order so it can be customized. Tabasco or tomato juice? Celery or lime?
  • Beer and wine licenses at fast casual restaurants and coffee shops. They could use the extra money and alcohol has a much higher profit margin.  Irish coffee anyone? Starbucks is already testing wine and beer at many of their locations.
  • Alcoholic ice cubes. This one makes total sense.  Why water down your drink just to make it cold? Make the ice cube out of vodka and you make it stronger instead (probably with less added at the start to compensate).

5. Different eating styles.

  • Family style evolves so that they put a whole rotisserie chicken or fish in the middle of the table and each person orders their own sides/salad.
  • More brunch, fourth meal, or other non-breakfast/lunch/dinner meals. Linner?

Then there are some that just seem like money grabs:

  • Acai bowls for breakfast
  • Tropical cocktails
  • Mocktails
  • Cucumbers as the “it” vegetable (note – it also costs next to nothing)
  • Food with a backstory
  • Artisan butchery

OK, so what do you agree with?  Disagree with?