2016 Restaurant Food Trends to Track
This is Tom’s Foodie Blog 2016 Food Trends, Restaurant Edition. Trends are characterized by the axis of Hype and Duration. In this chart, food trends are characterized by the phases: emerging, hyped, saturation/burnout, normalization, and revitalization.
2016 Food Trends Curve Restaurant Edition – Click to see the full image
2016 Food Trends Analysis Method
This analysis is based on published articles such as Baum and White, Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine Magazine, Bon Appetite, Epicurus, National Restaurant Association, Eater.com. In addition, much of the analysis is based on and my personal observations.
Emerging Food Trends
Emerging – New Flavors
- Syrian and Eastern Mediterranean Flavors
Syrian flavors will be one of the trends to watch for the next couple years. With a very large wave of Syrian and Iraqi migrants settling into Europe and North America, you will start to see ingredients and flavors seeping into mainstream menus. Progressive restaurants will add Syrian flavors into their dishes and inevitably Syrian restaurants in refugee clusters. If history is an example, Pho was unheard of in the United States prior to the Vietnam war.
- High-end Mexican Cuisine “The Mexico City Effect” – The food scene in Mexico City has exploded and their unique cuisine has become a regional influence. Gone are the days of French technique combined with local ingredients. Mexico City’s cuisine is now unique and starting to become a regional influence. Top chefs from Europe are flocking to Mexico to get in on the action.
- Mid-Atlantic Cuisine is based on a rustic cooking from parts of Pennsylvania, Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware. The flavors will do well with gastropubs, as they struggle to retain their uniqueness. Expect dishes like soft shell crab, green tomato pie, Chesapeake Bay pan roast, oyster and barley soup, sour braised rabbit and dumplings, pretzled anything. Expect ingredients like oysters, sorghum, pawpaw fruit, red fife wheat.
- Gourmet Ethnic Heritage Comfort Food
- Meatballs with rabbit, lamb or combination of meats
- Perogi with high-end meat and cheese
- Yogurt utilized in main courses – Yogurt is a very versatile ingredient that can be used to add creaminess or tartness. Yogurt is gaining quick adoption in many restaurants and is ready to trend.
- Tart and Bitter Flavors in food – Bitterness can be achieved by vegetables, Asian flavors, ingredients like tart dairy (See yogurt above), and see burnt (below).
- Burnt – One of the trends that showed up in Orange County California in recent years at restaurants like ARC, which utilize open fire and burnt flavors in the food. Charred and smokey is the new spicy according to Forbes.
Emerging -Vegetables get their time in the sun
- Vegetables being served proudly as a main course. Expect to see a whole stalk of “Heirloom” Brussels sprouts being carved table side in 2016.
- Cauliflower integrated into everything from a rice substitute to baked whole and served table-side.
- Plant based protein competing with animal protein both as a substitute, but also as a whole ingredient.
- Asian influence continues slow simmer –Asian influence has been brewing on the food scene for the past 30 years in the United States. I predict a shift to less familiar Korean and Southeast Asian flavors sneaking into mainstream kitchens.
- Korean Gochung Paste
- Fish Sauce
- Spicy Ramen
- Noodle Soups with strong Asian influence
Proteins are still big money
- In-house Butchering and Dry Aging – Businesses will cash in on both the vertical savings opportunities and the reflective glow and perceived customer value from eating an in-house butchered and aged steak.
- Off Cuts – Off Cuts have made their way onto menus for the past couple years, due to the Gastropub trend and the developing palate of the dining public. Expect this trend to grow, especially in restaurants with in-house butchering
- Torchon/ Terrine/ Pate/ Exotic Charcuterie – These old world appetizers are essentially fancy preparations of off-cuts of meat. High-end restaurants have been playing with these type of dishes for the past couple years, expect it to expand into main stream restaurants, perhaps with simplified names.
- Octopus – Octopus has started to appear on more menus in the past year, especially at progressive restaurants. I expect that 2016 will be the year that octopus swims into mainstream menus or completely burns out by year-end. Could octopus be the next Calamari? Time will tell…
- Rabbit / Quail / Goose and other game meat will emerge in 2016 as the new experimental proteins that progressive restaurants will test on their customers. This trend dovetails with the Mid-Atlantic Cuisine trend, which is gaining steam.
Disruptive Business Trends
- No Tipping and Service Charges-The first wave of restaurant will bundle the cost of health insurance and tipping into a “Service Fee.” I expect the first wave of restaurants will be bleeding-edge, angering their customers while it is socialized. By 2017 lessons will be learned and more restaurants will jump head first in the no tipping pool. Joes Crab Shack was one of the first major chains to test the no tipping concept.
- Shortage of Training and Experience Chefs – One of the common restaurant news stories of 2015 was the shortage of trained and experienced kitchen staff. The job most in shortage is the Sous Chef, the heart of the kitchen.
- High-end Fast Food by Famous Chefs – Expect high-end and “celebrity chefs” attempting to open potentially lucrative fast food restaurant mini-chains. Chefs like Jose Andres and Roi Choi are already getting on this gravy train.
- Uber-fication of food delivery – With socialization of Uber, we are starting to see food delivery service embrace the technology and “Independent Contractors.” We are already seeing start-ups, like DoorDash, penetrate the market. Expect a race to the bottom as too many players will enter the game.
Hyped Food Trends
Hyped Dishes and Ingredients
- Fried Chicken is hot right now on social media. Instagram, foursquare and Google Data have seen large spikes in reference to gourmet fried chicken. Take a look at any food magazines, I bet you will find a reference to fried chicken. Both fried chicken plates and fried chicken sandwiches are trends to watch in 2016.
- Ancient Grains (Farro, Spelt, Kamut, Freekeh, Quinoa) – Health benefits and the Paleo trend are propelling ancient grains. I think ancient grains will have staying power once the general public has tried them and starts looking for rice and pasta substitutes.
- Tumeric is the rock star spice right now, gaining much of its attention because of its purported medicinal qualities. Expect to see more restaurants integrating this spice into their recipes.
- Poke– Poke used to be the food you ate while on vacation in Hawaii. Now poke restaurants are popping up quickly, like ABC stores in Honolulu. Even in markets where traditional sushi did not perform well, poke is becoming is trending. Expect to see the Chipote-fication of the poke space.
- High-end hamburgers – Super fancy burgers made with premium meat such as Kobe, artisan buns, and fancy ingredients are trending. Restaurants like Holsteins are leading the way.
- High-end donuts – Fancy donuts made by actual chefs and using high-end ingredients is gaining traction. Expect quality ingredients, natural flavors, and donuts piled on ingredients, like Smores.
- Avocado Toast – I have no idea why Avocado Toast is so hot, but it seems like every food magazine and broadcast media is talking about it. Avocado toast is even trending consistently on Instagram. Drake is planning an avocado toast restaurant in Toronto…bad business move.
- Grits – See the American South Trend below.
Hyped items showing early signs of burnout and over-saturation
- Kale and Brussels Sprouts are the two vegetables that went from outcast to coniferous celebrities in the restaurant scene. These two vegetables are omnipresent on every menu across America. I am seeing a point of over-saturation. Both vegetables will start to fade from popularity by late 2017. Every vegetable has their time in the sun. Cauliflower is poised to be their heir apparent.
- Sriracha – The fascination of Sriracha hot sauce is starting to fade, but it still fashionable. The brand was able to entwine itself with other brands, from chips to beer. Sriracha will normalize in 2017.
- Craft Beer – This trend got so big that commercial brands got into the mix by buying up craft breweries.
- Craft Cocktails – Hand crafted cocktails made with house made syrups, tonics and ice cubes will continue to drive profit and the intrigue of the consumer. This trend will stay hot for the next couple years…. until folks, like me, get sick of paying $15 for a really nice Pisco Sour.
- American South influenced Flavors – Some of the most popular restaurants have shown the influence of the American South in their dishes. One of the most notable was the use of grits in the menu. Shrimp and Grits anyone?
- Experimental Chef Driven Menus – The experimental Chef driven menu proves to be successful with rising stars like Chef Carlos Salgado, putting Taco Maria in the national press. This trend allows Chefs a greater level of control over the business and independence in the kitchen. Based on the popularity of restaurants like The Playground and Taco Maria, this trend will persist. The dining public is willing to pay more… if the food is phenomenal.
Hitting the exposure point and potentially on the decline
- Small portion plates for “Sharing” and food comes out as ready – Although I do like this trend, it gets very expensive… very quickly. I shared a meal with four friends recently at a hip progressive gastropub, we left with a $250 bill when all was said and done. $15 Brussels sprouts and $18 Poutine is excessive. Expect a shake up of prices, but I expect the small plates and “comes out when ready” will persist.
Hyped Restaurant Business Trends
- Food Halls – This trend is very hot, but it is emerging too hot. Turnover of non-performing restaurants within food halls is healthy and we are seeing the first wave. At the same time, we are starting to see entire food halls close …some before that got up and running.
- Local, Organic, GMO Free business models – These three trends are persistent and is starting to change the ways restaurants develop menus and partner with food producers. This trend could continue through the end of the decade.
- Chipote-fication of fast food and quick service restaurants – Even though Chipotle is experiencing it’s own issues, their “have it your way” business model proved to be a game changer. Every type of food from Poke to Donuts is adopting this build your own assembly line.
Over Saturated and Burnt Out Food Trends
At the early stages of over saturation, and declining soon
- Cold Brew Coffee – Cold brew was so hot that Starbucks tried to make money off of it. It is fading fast. Pour over coffee will be the new hot girl of java.
- Poutine – This once noble fries,gravy and curds dish has been bastardized so much that is is not recognizable. Most Montreal natives would compare Gastropub Poutine to the Taco Bell of Mexican Food.
- Acai – Another health food that was over saturated when picked up by fast food. It will normalized back to the yoga pants crowd next year
- Fried Egg on everything – Fried egg on everything! I will miss this trend…especially on my burger, Brussels sprouts, and fried chicken.
- Confit everything – Confit was a great method of creating flavor layers, although it is being overused. Didn’t McDonald’s offer Confit tomatoes?
- Edison Bulb Light Fixtures – A really cool décor trend that became over saturated, thus loosing it’s cool.
- High Communal Tables – More seats per square foot of restaurant space, means more $$$. The problem is that customers don’t always want to hear about their neighbor’s asshole sister.
- Gluten-Free on main menu – Expect restaurants to pull back on integrated gluten free menus as the “Fad” gluten free crowd disperses.
- Describing dish ingredients as “and a little bit of____on top” – they have been watching too much Top Chef…now stop it.
- Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream – What shopping center doesn’t have a liquid nitrogen shop these days? Even restaurants are advertising their Nitrogen ice cream program. It is the Bananas Foster of the 2010’s.
- Uni on everything -Uni was one of the most overused ingredient of 2014/2015. The omnipresent “Weird Uni Dish” is now fading back to sushi or proudly served alone.
- Bone Broth – Bone broth is essentially stock. Take some collagen pills if you want the health benefits without the salt.
- Food Mashups – Cronut, dosant, ramen burger…each was a great flash in the pan, but all faded quickly. Selling food mashups is not a good business model, unless you work at the county fair.
- Short Ribs – Yes I also had some amazing short ribs this past year, but it is fading in popularity.
- Foie Gras – Forbidden fruit always tastes better. The re-legalization of Foie made it loose it’s cool.
- Lumberjack looking hipster servers and bartenders – Every hip restaurant is starting to look the same, as a result of the facial hair, flannel, and man bun trifecta worn by their hipster service staff.
- Nordic Cuisine Movement – Nordic Cuisine with it’s Foraged lichen and forest mushroom minimalism approach never fully took hold in the United States.
- Yelpers and compromised bloggers – The backlash against Yelpers has grown and will continue to grow. Yelp will continue to influence dining decisions, but advice from Elite Yelpers and Kartman style food critics will be taken with a VERY large pinch of salt.
Down and Out Food Trends
- Charge for bread service – This trend failed just as quickly as it started. Most consumers weren’t fooled by “really fancy bread and flavored butter” for $10.
- Sliders – Swindling consumers with less meat and more bread for the same price a burger… scandalous. The consumer finally caught on, this trend is out for the count.
- Pricy Tater Tots is the trend that had to die. House made tater tots are great, but $15 house made tater tots will always be a bad idea.
- Food Trucks – Now food trucks are just a place to grab a bite to eat while outside your office building.
- Cupcakes – Sooo 2010, only the absolute best and high-end cupcakeries survived.
- Pasta – The carb fallout persists. Since vegetables are taking center stage…pasta is at the ropes in the 8th round.
Normalized Food Trends
- Pulled Pork – Couple years ago, I couldn’t throw a Hawaiian roll in a restaurant roll without hitting a plate of pulled pork. This trend remains stale and out.
- Flat Iron Steak – This inexpensive cut was pushed hard by chefs and wait staff, as it is profitable. The flat iron steak never gained traction.
- Frozen Yogurt- After several years of too many yogurt stores saturating the scene, we are seeing the final wave of closures. The remaining stores will be successful.
Revitalized Food Trends
- Bacon -Bacon is the former party girl of ingredients. It was hot and everybody wanted a piece; although, it became overexposed and used up by suitors. This noble salty meat, once again regains its proper place at the table.
- Korean BBQ – Korean BBQ is regaining a proper place after a couple years of hype with 4 hour lines. Lines are down to a respectable 1-2 hours….on par with pre-hype levels.