It’s hard to believe, but 2018 is almost halfway over, making it a great time to look back at the year’s predicted culinary trends to see how they’ve been panning out in restaurants. And while some have lost steam, others are chugging along and even growing. For operators who want to get on board with menuing some of 2018’s biggest trends without taking too big a risk, there are several surefire bets that can help take menus through the end of the year.
Today more than ever before, diners are willing to try out new flavors. In fact, according to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, 35% of consumers say that they’re more interested in trying new flavors now than they were a year ago—and younger consumers specifically seek them out. This works out well for the 47% of restaurant operators who say they introduce an item with a new or unique flavor once a month.
For operators looking to add new menu items, here are three trends that are going strong this year.
Breakfast isn’t just for the morning anymore, and thanks to on-trend savory options, the lines between dayparts are getting blurrier and blurrier. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Industry Forecast, three out of four adults want restaurants to serve all-day breakfast. And, 50% of consumers would eat out more frequently if breakfast items were offered on more lunch and dinner menus, according to Technomic data from 2018.
Avocado toast has been one prolific savory breakfast trend, but other ideas include hearty, customizable options that can either tilt healthy or indulgent. For instance, bowls filled with beans, grains such as rice or barley, veggies, a bold-flavored sauce and a fried egg can appeal to the health-seeking crowd, while tater-tot bowls topped with breakfast meats such as bacon or sausage, eggs and cheese appeal to those looking for a heartier start.
Consider letting customers build their bowl, starting with breakfast potatoes of any form—tots, hash browns, roasted potatoes—and top it with any type of meat, from pulled chicken to braised pork belly to smoked salmon.
All-day breakfast menus also benefit from savory breakfasts such as breakfast burritos or chicken and waffles, which blend the savory aspect of later dayparts with the heartiness of breakfast fare.
When diners think of foods that come piled up high, Instagram-ready desserts are usually top of mind. However, these “loaded” items are spreading across the menu.
Loaded fries are classic item, but options such as loaded nachos or loaded chips are also picking up speed. For example, Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, a casual dining chain with locations across the country, serves up Irish Nachos—kettle chips topped with diced corned beef, tomatoes and a blend of mozzarella, cheddar and Swiss cheeses. It’s finished with horseradish-spiked Thousand Island dressing and a beer-cheese dipping sauce.
Other loaded apps can include popular fried Brussels sprouts, for a new, vegetable-forward twist on a menu favorite. Top them with savory options such as Parmesan cheese and bacon or fried garlic and balsamic glaze (or throw caution to the wind and add all four together). And to update classic loaded fries, try mixing up the classic toppings and opt for something new, such as chorizo, salsa and guac, or gyro meat, tzatziki and tomatoes.
If a restaurant isn’t a specifically-ethnic eatery, diners may not walk in ready to try something that’s totally unfamiliar to their palate. However, according to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, 62% of consumers eat ethnic fare at least once a month, and about a quarter (24%) do so once a week or more—so the opportunity for operators to capitalize on diners’ curiosity is rich.
The biggest deterrent to ordering ethnic flavors, however, is that consumers don’t want to pay for an item they may not like. Operators are meeting this need by menuing global-influences in safer applications, such as sauces, condiments and appetizers. For instance, a sauce made from soy and ginger can pique diner interest without being too unfamiliar, and unique ingredients such as yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit like lemon) or cotija cheese (a Latin cheese that tastes like Parmesan) can help put twists on old favorites. Other options can include kimchee fries; this shareable and craveable appetizer or side starts with thin-cut fries and is topped with bold and spicy kimchee and served with spicy Sriracha mayo and sweet Thai chili sauce.
RIFF ON MENU FAVORITES TO KEEP CUSTOMERS COMING BACK
Following food trends doesn’t have to mean revamping the entire menu every three months, but to keep customers coming back for something new, keeping track of bigger trends is helpful. From menuing a savory breakfast item later in the day to piling the toppings high on a fried appetizer to using a new spice or sauce, operators have ample opportunity to try out the trends in a low-stress way.