So what if the National Restaurant Association’s Top 10 Menu Trends for 2013 focuses primarily on what operators should buy (local and sustainable products, with hyper-local being even better) and the ages of customers they’ll be serving these products to (three of next year’s 10 hottest trends involve kids’ meals). Full-service operators will find plenty of other actionable data in this comprehensive survey’s results.
You have to love the methodology the NRA employs in compiling this list. Its researchers queried 1,834 American Culinary Federation chefs during October and November 2012. No restaurant trend list gets higher marks for the relevance of its respondents or the freshness of its information.
Big-picture food issues and their applicability to current restaurant menus were top of mind for chef-respondents this year. Here are the trends ACF chefs say will have an impact next year:
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood.
2. Locally grown produce.
3. Healthful kids' meals.
4. Environmental sustainability as a culinary theme.
5. Children's nutrition as a culinary theme.
6. New cuts of meat (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, teres major).
7. Hyper-local sourcing (e.g. restaurant gardens).
8. Gluten-free cuisine.
9. Sustainable seafood.
10. Whole grain items in kids' meals.
Not familiar with the alternative cuts of meat specified in item No. 6? Ask your meat purveyor for samples of IMPS/NAMP #1116E (Denver steak), IMPS/NAMP #1243 (pork flat iron) or IMPS/NAMP #114F (that’s the super-tender teres major cut).
Alas, if you’re looking to these working chefs for guidance on how to keep food costs down—locally grown sustainable products often being more expensive than those that arrive on your broadline distributor’s truck—this survey doesn’t offer much help. When asked what are the best ways to deal with the increasing cost of ingredients, one-third (32 percent) of chefs responded with “changing menus,” 25 percent said “adjusting plate composition” and 24 percent suggested “exploring new sourcing options.” A scant four percent saw “raising menu prices” as the best strategy.
NRA also asked 195 members of the United States Bartenders Guild to share what they see coming in the year ahead. Here’s what barkeeps see as the Top 10 Drink Menu Trends for 2013:
1. Onsite barrel-aged drinks.
2. Food-liquor/cocktail pairings.
3. Culinary cocktails (e.g. savory, fresh ingredients).
4. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor.
5. Locally produced spirits.
6. Locally sourced fruit/berries/produce.
7. Beer sommeliers/Cicerones.
8. Regional signature cocktails.
9. Beer-based cocktails.
10. Locally produced beer.
“Artisan products, local sourcing and culinary creativity are trendy on restaurant menus and our new research shows that to also be true behind the bar,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge for the National Restaurant Association. “Increasing recognition of mixology has elevated restaurant drink menus to a new level that allows bartenders to showcase their skills in blending textures and flavors similarly to how chefs approach food in the kitchen. This is good news for today’s increasingly sophisticated and adventurous consumers, who have a wider variety of alcoholic beverages from which to choose when dining out.”
Of note: 67 percent of the bartenders said that adding culinary cocktails to drink menus is a good way to build business. If you’re looking for just one moneymaking idea from the NRA’s trends list, this might be the one.