Technomic, the nation's leading foodservice research and consulting firm, brings together the best judgments of its consultants and editors to peer ahead into 2014, identifying trends that may significantly impact the restaurant industry. These expert insights are based on site visits evaluating the restaurant scene in cities across the country as well as interviews and surveys of operators, chefs and consumers, backed up by qualitative data from its extensive Digital Resource Library and quantitative data from its vast MenuMonitor database. Some of these developments reflect larger societal trends while others point to specific, emerging food preferences that may or may not take hold in restaurants across the U.S.
1. Convince me it's real: Consumers want assurances that what they're eating is real—in every sense of the word. Today's menus describe items far more thoroughly, listing not only the ingredients but also where they came from and how they were prepared. Local sourcing is more important than ever, but beyond that is the idea of being true to place; if the restaurant positions itself as authentically Italian, for instance, it must use ingredients sourced from Italy and/or prepared using authentic Italian methods.
2. Pushing the parameters of proteins: Rising commodity costs for beef mean (of course) that chicken will be big again in 2014. However, the latest protein star is pork—appearing in regional barbecue items, in Hispanic and other ethnic fare, in charcuterie and as pulled-pork sandwiches. Also getting time in the spotlight are lamb and game meats, from duck to bison. Beyond meat, look for creative center-of-the-plate egg dishes as well as vegetarian alternatives, from mushrooms to beans to soy-based products like Gardein and Chipotle's Sofritas.
3. Return of the carbs: Starches are staging a comeback—from ramen to buckwheat noodles to pasta made with unusual ingredients. Rice bowls (and jasmine rice, basmati rice, brown rice) will be big, in part because of continued fascination with Asian fare and in part because of an association with healthfulness. Look for more in the way of flatbreads, wraps and all kinds of artisan breads, including healthy whole-grain varieties. Waffles as a base or side make traditional savory items like chicken seem edgy.
4. Creamy, cheesy, high-fat goodness: The demand for healthier eating is real, but so is the backlash. We'll see even more cheese melts, pasta with creamy sauces, fried appetizers and sides, and oddities like doughnut-based sandwiches. Don't take super-indulgent items too seriously, though; outrageous LTOs like Wendy's nine-patty burger are crafted more for social-media buzz than for eating.