The human race might just be the silliest of them all, and the proof of that is—literally—in the pudding. Sure, the pudding is gluten and dairy free, but still: koalas will always eat eucalyptus, house cats never grow tired of live rodents, and your dog will consume anything you put less than six inches away from his nose.
Photo by Mark Ramsay
But humans eschew routine, and are often tantalised by the new and exotic. That’s fun if you’re a foodie, but it’s a real pain in the rump roast if you own a restaurant. You want your customers to come back, time and again, but you also don’t want them to get bored. It’s worth it, then, to take a look at some of the biggest food trends that are on the rise in restaurants. You don’t have to change your menu in its entirety, but staying on top of what people want can give you some ideas for tweaks you can make to keep things lively. Here, in no particular order, are 10 different food fads to consider for your establishment:
1. Gluten Free
In 2011, Australian gastroenterologist Peter Gibson conducted a study that found even people without Celiac disease can suffer gastrointestinal distress after consuming gluten. The marketers of the world, sniffing a new target demographic to sell to, grabbed on to the idea and gluten free products are now a multibillion-dollar industry. Gibson’s two follow up studies, which the man himself claimed debunked his earlier findings, had little impact on the growing market. For many restaurants, this might be one of the easiest trends to capitalize on. Italian restaurant? Swap out your wheat noodles for rice-based pasta (and most places charge and extra dollar or two to do this). Mexican food? You don’t even have to make any changes: just rebrand your corn tortillas as a gluten free shell.
Photo by Ted Murphy
2. Comfort Food
You’d be hard pressed to define “nostalgia” as a trend—who doesn’t like to be warmed and comforted by memories of a simpler time? But for every action there is a reaction, and after a decade or so of celebrity chefs slapping Foie Gras on everything and drumming up a hunger for fine cuisine, the food world is now heading back in the other direction. Macaroni and cheese, lamb stew, mashed potatoes, and apple pie are now “in” again. For many, a bite of this comfort food can bring them back to the kitchen table of their childhood, with thoughts of motherly love and family meals. There’s more to food than flavor sometimes, and dishes like these can help shape your restaurant into a welcoming, homey environment.
3. Informal/Casual Dining Experiences
This one goes hand in hand with comfort food. As the consumer pendulum swings away from haute cuisine, the dining experience itself is following suit. People aren’t wanting white table cloths and tuxedoed sommeliers waiting for them to sniff the wine. Give them a bare wood table, and let them carve their initials in it. Put a basket of peanuts on the table, and let your customers throw the shells on the ground. Likewise, don’t go crazy making your food look beautiful on the plate. It should look appealing, of course, but nobody needs thin, fancy stripes of ketchup on their french fries.
4. Tapas Style Dishes
This doesn’t mean you need to load your menu up with Spanish delicacies, but you can take a cue from the Tapas bar in terms of how your food is served. Many dishes on your menu might lend themselves to smaller sizes, at smaller prices, which encourages your guests to get many more of them to share. Two people might sit and order their own dishes, say, at $15 each. But they’d also be just as likely to order four different shareable dishes at $8 each for a little sampling of everything.
5. Local and Hyperlocal Food
This isn’t exactly a new trend, but it continues to be a strong one, and for good reason. There are all sorts of economic and environmental benefits to sourcing your food locally, but there’s one that’s more important than any of that for your short-term goals: it just tastes better. Given the choice between a tomato fresh off the vine, and one that was grown 3,000 miles away and then transported via refrigerated truck to a distributor before it ends up at your cafe, which would you rather eat? If you answered with the long-distance tomato, just close up shop now. A lot of cities will have Farm-to-Table organizations that help restaurants source their food locally. Even better, if you’ve got the space, grow your own veggies and herbs.
Photo by Flickr user star5112
6. Retro Cocktails
Margaritas and whisky sours are always big sellers, but people are starting to look back at some of the drinks your grandparents used to enjoy for a change of pace. Bring your bartenders up to speed on something more old fashioned, like an Old Fashioned. Or serve up a Lion’s Tail, complete with a healthy pour of Allspice Dram. Search the internet—recipes for obscure, forgotten cocktails are everywhere—and always remember that Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.
7. Craft Hard Cider
The craft beer industry used to be a novelty, but now micro-brewed specialty ales and lagers are a dime a dozen. $15.99 for a six pack, anyway. 2014 saw the rise of the new craft brew—hard cider—and these modern day Johnny Appleseeds are mixing in beer making techniques with some interesting results. Whether attention is paid to the variety of apple used in the brew, or if the cider is actually being dry hopped to cut the sweetness of the final product, hard cider has been going in some interesting directions. Bonus points go to this choice, because you can call attention its gluten free-ness (see item #1).
Photo by Isaac Whedin
8. Cheap Meats
It doesn’t sound so appetizing when we put it that way, but that’s why you’re the culinary creative, and we’re the POS people. But the fact is, inexpensive cuts of meat are having a real renaissance lately. It could be part of the backlash against the fine dining trends, or it could be just that none of us can afford a nice Porterhouse or Filet Mignon. But braised beef short ribs are melt in your mouth delicious, as is a slow cooked chuck roast. What’s more, these types of dishes have a greater margin of error. Grill your New York strip for a minute too long and it’s ruined. Leave your dutch oven filled with Ropas Viejas on for an extra 30 minutes and it only gets more delicious. Lower initial cost and less waste are nice incentives for you to add something like these to your menu.
9. In-house Extras
In case you missed it, the cardiologists of the world declared that, once again, butter is good for you. Millions of people who’d been depriving themselves of this most delicious bread topper are probably rejoicing that they can add it back to their diets once again. Butter’s also a pretty easy thing to make in-house, and adding a few seasonings to it can make it go a long way. True, nobody’s going to pay extra for butter, but it’s the sort of thing that can make your restaurant stand out. In a similar vain, housemade charcuterie or pickled vegetable plates are becoming very popular. Pickling and curing aren’t labor intensive at all—get a few things in place and let it sit for a long time—and the payoff for these types of specialties (in reputation and money) can be great.
Is this ever not a trend? Really, just put bacon on things and people will buy it. You can never go wrong with bacon, unless you’re running a vegetarian restaurant. And even then, I’m not so sure it’d be a bad idea.
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