The New Year brings hundreds of new restaurant trends. Across the industry and the internet, you’ll find an incredible range of the latest ingredients, new cooking styles and hot technology.
To help you, our restaurant partners, focus your time and resources, our dining experts analyzed the most noteworthy predictions and boiled them down to seven trends that will WOW diners and give you a delicious advantage.
1. Hyper-Local Sourcing
Working with local growers and farmers continues to be important diners—they are more conscious of their food choices today, than ever. While this trend began over the last few years, it will continue to grow in 2016. And so, we have some new suggestions on how to incorporate it into your menu.
With the increasing prices in meat, vegetable-forward dishes are taking over the center of the plate. While local vegetables are preferable, consider sourcing local pastas, spices and other ingredients to bring this trend to life.
If you do have a relationship with a local farmer or butcher, advertise it! Use the name of the supplier or include “locally sourced” in your menu descriptions. Another option is to name a dish or a special after a local landmark to celebrate your community.
2. Upscale Fast Food
A growing number of casual restaurants are offering mouthwatering food that’s quick to serve and not too expensive. Time-starved diners are demanding higher quality for abbreviated lunches and quick dinners and restaurants like Shake Shack® are responding…and you can, too!
To bring this trend to your tables, get inspired by street food, gourmet food trucks and made-to-order restaurants like Chipotle®. Think peasant fare, artisan ingredients, ethic flair and casual presentations. To keep things fast, consider offering a limited selection of ready-to-go specials for the lunchtime rush.
3. Fried Chicken
Diners across the nation can’t get enough of fried chicken! Crispy, flavorful southern fried chicken sparked this obsession, and hatched a variety new fast-casual food chains. Consider adding (or promoting!) your own twist with signature wings, sandwiches and, of course, main dishes with all the fixin’s.
If you don’t already have a signature chicken dish, here are some ways to make chicken your own. Consider home-style recipes that use traditional ingredients like buttermilk, cayenne pepper and honey. Look for sauces and recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world, including Nashville, Korea and Morocco. Create your own take on coleslaw, waffles, biscuits and other classic sides.
4. Explore New Flavors
This year, there are two flavor trends that diners are looking for: Ethnic mashups and Sriracha-inspired heat.
Diners love something new…yet tend to order something expected. Ethnic mashups or fusion cuisine lets you give them both! Considering offering one of your own combinations. For inspiration, think Asia meets Mexico, Italy meets India and Vietnam meets California.
Last year, many chefs tried to duplicate Sriracha…this year, they are getting inspiration from the bold red sauce and turning up the heat in their own dishes. The trend is to use bolder, more assertive spices in traditionally spicy dishes—or in sauce and mayo to spice up popular sandwiches.
While we don’t suggest changing your entire menu, diners are willing to experiment with cumin, curry, Za’atar and Indian ghost peppers—one of the hottest peppers in the world. There’s also growing interest in spices from the African content, including harissa, dukkah and tsire.
5. Shrink Portions to Build Interest
Small plates are also more important to diners this year, which creates opportunities to grow your menu without adding new recipes. You can offer a selection of your most popular dishes as appetizers, or as a tasting menu with just a few bites. Either way, small plates encourage diners to try your fare, and order standard portions of the items they like best.
6. Add a Helping of Social Media
This is the year to rev up your social media presence. Today’s diners are more addicted to their smartphones than ever. Social medial lets you post information (and photos!) about your restaurant, staff and cuisine, and interact with diners—and potential diners. Best of all, investing in social media doesn’t need to cost you a lot of time or money—yet it’s a vital marketing component for any restaurant.
If you haven’t already, open an account on Facebook and explore the possibilities. Twitter and Instagram are also great for sharing mouthwatering photos of your food.
7. Reinventing Service
This last trend isn’t edible…yet it’s sure to revolutionize the industry. Service is changing, from server compensation and minimum wage changes to high-tech ordering options. And while your restaurant may not need to make changes this year, this is a trend to keep tabs on.
No tipping was in the headlines throughout 2015. Select national chains, like Joe’s Crab Shack®, are eliminating tipping altogether—and are raising menu prices to compensate. Currently, most no-tipping restaurants tend to be upscale, where diners are accustomed to having gratuity added to the check.
Speaking of service, Chili’s® and Red Robin® are rolling out diner-friendly technology to simplify ordering and payments…and potentially lower their staff size. Diners will be able to order at tabletop touchscreens and kiosks that give diners greater control over their dining experience.
Finally, here’s a trend to watch: delivery. Ordering online is a growing necessity for restaurants that offer takeout and delivery. Plus, Tech giants, including Amazon Prime, Google and UberEats, are releasing “instant” delivery smartphone apps that let diners get high-speed delivery from just about any restaurant.
As dining experts, we’re excited about the 2016 trends. We hope our perspective helps you decide which ones to watch and which ones to make your own.