I always enjoy reading about trends, especially (of course) when it comes to food and dining. So I share the list below with you, and suspect you will recognize these trends in the restaurants you patronize. Benchmark Hospitality International, which produces this list each year, operates The Heldrich in New Brunswick. The Heldrich is a very spiffy hotel, conference center and restaurant, Christopher’s at the Heldrich (photo), and there are even some ownership residences for a lucky few who live there full time. Imagine coming home each night to the thriving restaurant and cultural scene in New Brunswick!
Trend #1 Cultural Diversity and Authenticity Reign Supreme
Restaurant patrons are representing increasingly varied backgrounds and their preferences and demands are requiring culinary teams to create menus that are diverse, rich with intense flavors, and are authentic — the “real thing.”
Patrons want a dining experience that is sincere and honest – no disingenuous or gratuitous menu additions will be accepted by their increasingly sophisticated palates. For example, the Slow Food movement has taught us to respect products of true artisan origin, derived of ancient methodologies.
Restaurateurs must be genuine in their relationship with their customers and deliver what they’ve promised. Today’s customer is not only seeking an authentic experience but recognizes when misguided. If you say you offer Cuban cuisine … make sure it’s genuine!
Trend #2 Health and Wellness Begin at Home
America is finally waking up to the fact that health and wellness start at home! Fad diets and government intervention have not sufficiently protected consumers and countered the food industry’s supersizing or the American consumer’s overconsumption.
Today almost every agency is scurrying to find solutions to the problem. What’s working? The most basic approach of all: educating children during their formative years on healthy portion size and sound, nutritionally balanced eating habits, and then setting an example.
Today’s restaurant operators need to respond creatively to satisfy increasingly health-conscience consumers. This can start with as basic a food preparation technique as substituting intensely flavored herbs for salt, punching up flavor while reducing unhealthy sodium levels.
Trend #3 Biodiversity, Sustainability, Family Farms and Beekeepers
Expect to see more family farms, shrimp farmers, chicken, cattle and cheese producers waging a small but very significant war against mass production and unscrupulous use of resources or inhumane treatment of animals.
Going forward, menus will be infused by the freshest local ingredients as chefs increasingly develop kitchen gardens, produce their own honey and eggs, or secure fresh local and heirloom products in partnership with neighborhood grocers and artisanal purveyors. Locavore sensibilities are becoming embedded in the consumer’s psyches. And this trend is here to stay!
Trend #4 The Future of American Flavors is the World
The era for spices and herbs has begun. Consumers and chefs are expanding their repertoire of spices to little known names such as Fenugreek, Annatto, Charoli, Epazote, Galangal, Za’tar – spices from around the globe.
While the wine world was rescued from domination by Chardonnays and Cabernets with grapes such as Verdelho, Tannat, Schioppettino, Mourvèdre, Arneis, Aglianico, the spice world’s rescue has now begun! Flavor has never tasted so good!!
Trend #5 Social Media is revolutionizing Restaurant Menus and Service
Social media’s viral penetration of society with its immediate feedback based on customer preference and service experience is revolutionizing restaurants across the country. Menus are being tweaked and service streamlined in response to customer feedback, and consistent communication with customers is on the front burner. Nothing is taken for granted anymore!
The smart chefs and restaurateurs are responding to all forms of social media by listening … and by reflecting consumer feedback in the overall experience their restaurant provides.
Today, the dining experience must consistently hit on all cylinders; starting with placing the reservation, with phone etiquette, welcoming guests, dining room lighting and music, to the menu knowledge of servers, cuisine authenticity, outstanding flavors – and the personal connection with the customer established before, during and after the meal has been consumed.
Plus Two Side Dishes
Side Dish #1 Small dishes to Share is the Trend
And not only the well-known little dishes from Spain , such as Tapas, but all the small dishes of various cultures, including Dim-Sum from Asia, Mezedes from Greece and Turkey , Cicchetti from Northern Italy . The surge in popularity of these diminutive dishes that include bite size, guilt free desserts are a response to changing tastes and flavor preferences of a new generation that does not want to eat one or two large plates but to enjoy the various flavors of the world, while sharing these with friends.
This stimulates more that just the taste buds … rather, it allows for greater conversation while interacting with the food, and an authentic experience with the cuisine of a culture not one’s own. After all, a great way to learn about a new country is by eating its food!
Side Dish #2 Italian is still the King Cuisine of America
But with a twist. More and more chefs are discovering the simple but delicious regional dishes of Abruzzo, Puglia , Piemonte [Piedmont], Puglia , Calabria and Sicilia [ Sicily ]. Each region has a unique personality, with dialect, customs, traditions, architecture — and food and wine.
From the hot, dry south to the cool alpine foothills, the regional cuisines of Italy are as varied as the climate. The golden hills of saffron in Abruzzo lend a zesty spice to local risotto, while the bay of Naples is renowned for its frutti di mare and mozzarella di bufala, and visitors to Piemonte sample rustic delicacies like truffles and porcini mushrooms, which punch up flavors of seasonal dishes in the autumn. Today’s “Italian” does not just mean pasta and sauce anymore!