A recent food tour of New York was inspired by this list of culinary trends guests are seeking in 2018. These insights from your UFS chefs can help you incorporate the trends into your menu. Plus see how top restaurants are leading the way.
What We’re Seeing
69% of consumers are making an effort to increase veggie intake.1
One restaurant doing an outstanding job of using vegetables in new ways is Beyond Sushi in New York. They have a full menu of infused noodle salads. The Green Root is made green tea noodles, seaweed salad, roasted almonds, sesame seeds, parsley, and cilantro, and topped with a ponzu sauce. They also have the Zany Carrot, which has a base of soba noodles mixed with carrots, baked tofu, cashews, avocado, sesame seeds, and cilantro topped with a jalapeño peanut butter.
How to Incorporate Veg-Centric On Your Menu
Chef Dana Cohen says, “Consumers want options that sound healthier, but they also want bold flavors. Explore different ways to incorporate bold flavors like new cooking methods or different textures so the vegetables don’t just sound like ‘cauliflower rice.’ For example, ‘stir fried cauliflower rice with gochujang and fried egg’ sounds much more appealing.”
Chef Rudy offers up some menu solutions for adding veggies in unique ways:
- Veg-centric Sandwich: This twist on the classic uses sautéed mushrooms, pickled vegetables, crispy cucumbers, spicy jalapeños, fresh herbs and a sesame ginger mayonnaise on a French roll.
- Roasted Cauliflower and Arugula Pizza: Use herb and balsamic roasted cauliflower with red peppers and shaved Parmesan on a quality crust.
What We’re Seeing
Indian mash-ups are going to be hotter than ever. Chefs across the country are taking elements of Indian cuisine and adapting it to their menus to add on-trend global flavor.
Paratha, an Indian flatbread, is being used as a new bread for pizzas, dipping or handhelds. Think of it as a cross between naan and puff pastry. When it’s cooked on the griddle, it becomes a crispy, flaky, indulgently oily and truly craveable bread carrier.
For instant Indian cuisine on your menu, consider the kati roll. It’s a classic Indian street food that uses paratha as the base with grilled vegetables and chutney inside.
Other forms of Asian fusion are also becoming more popular. Chinese bao is moving beyond the traditional stuffings of pork, shrimp and scallions. Chefs are exploring all sorts of flavor combinations—both savory and sweet.
Bao are only found on 1% of U.S. menus, but have grown 54% over the past four years.2
Chef’s Club in New York serves a Bao Veggie Burger made with chickpeas, avocado spread, stracciatella, and Taro Chips.
Sometimes fusion isn’t in the flavors, but how they’re presented. Chef Brian Tsao of Mira Suchi & Izakaya in New York created tacos using his Korean grandmother’s beef bulgogi stuffed in a wonton taco shell with an Asian pear and kimchi slaw.
How to Incorporate Global Fusions on Your Menu
Start by serving updated dishes as part of a combo so guests unfamiliar to a cuisine can try something new, but also have something familiar.
40% of operators offer a combo deal with ethnic sandwiches.3
Appetizers give your guests a route to sample newer, exotic flavors without fully committing to an entire meal. Consider tweaking a current guest favorite to bring in some of those popular fusion flavors.
What We’re Seeing
The South has long been known to hold culinary gems, and now those secrets are spreading across the nation. While some consumers are looking for healthier fare at restaurants, there’s always going to be a large segment of diners wanting to indulge, and southern fare always delivers.
Some of that growth is fueled by guests’ desire for fried produce like okra, green tomatoes and pickles. While another source of growth is expanded interest in regional fried chicken techniques.
- Nashville Hot Chicken menu mentions jumped 112.5% according to Technomic’s Menu Monitor.
- Carolina Gold, the mustard-based BBQ, brings new flavors to your BBQ pizzas or sandwiches, giving guests a taste of the Southeast.
- Smokey Mountain BBQ is a sweet and spicy technique you can make your own with ingredients like chipotle peppers, whisky, fruit flavors and natural smoke flavoring.
The main even at Red Rooster Harlem is their take on Nashville hot chicken. It’s juicy and spicy and not for the faint of heart. Be sure to drink plenty of sweet tea with that. Also, Pigs ‘n’ Thighs in Brooklyn has an amazing thing going with their hot-sauce-coated, honey-butter-sweetened chicken biscuit.
How to Incorporate Southern Charm on Your Menu
Cajun and creole cuisine is also a good method to bring the flavors of the South to your menu. Consider creole seasoning on common items like fries, dips/sauces, or on your traditional fried chicken.
Adding southern-inspired sauces to common sandwiches and entrées is a good start. Or Chef Rudy recommends going all in with a spicy jambalaya made with a mix of various peppers, andouille sausage, chicken thighs, shrimp and plenty of creole seasoning.
What We’re Seeing
Research shows that ongoing multicultural changes in the U.S. and a desire for authentic recipes are expanding the condiment category with a focus on exotic flavor profiles.
Two of the most popular and fastest growing condiments are aiolis and jams.4
Demand for barbecue sauce has also shown healthy growth over the past five years as consumers increasingly tried new flavors—especially spicier varieties. Even if you’re not a barbecue joint, having quality options on hand is a good idea.
A couple of restaurants visited on the food tour that showed they’re embracing the trend are Cosme and Mira. Cosme serves a tostada with a plantain aioli sauce, and Mira Sushi offers up togarashi fries with house-made spicy mayo sauces.
How to Incorporate Elevated Condiments on Your Menu
Adding new condiments to a burger or sandwich allows for flavor exploration with a safe/known carrier. Take a traditional condiment like ketchup or mayonnaise and add some new or unexpected flavors. Other condiments to consider adding to your mix:
- Bacon jam
- Chili pepper and fruit combos
- Blueberry ketchup (very popular at Yard House)
What We’re Seeing
Outrageous ice cream desserts and decked out milkshakes are all the rage. It’s likely you’ll see more and more of these options available in mainstream eateries—not just specialty locations. Watching customers’ faces when items like these are delivered to the table can be priceless.
Desserts are the 2nd most craveable item on your menu behind only chicken.5
Tipsy Scoop creates boozy floats and even serves them as a flight if a guest can’t pick just one. Sweet Churros takes the traditional churro and dips it in icing and crunchy toppings like strawberry, chocolate and matcha tea. It’s hard to only eat one of those.
How to incorporate Over-the-Top Desserts on Your Menu
Depending on the menu item, up to half of consumers prefer to try new flavors and varieties as opposed to ordering their favorites. Desserts, which make up only 15% of chain LTOs, may be an untapped category.6
Go bold by adding pastries like a donut or slice of cake to sundaes. Other ways to make desserts extreme:
- Capture crave-worthy photos for social media
- Offer up a free dessert with naming contests
- Ask your guests to submit their ultimate sundae, cookie or other dessert item to then offer as an LTO in your restaurant
1 Datassentials, Foodscape Plant Based Revolution Session 2017
2 NRN, “Flavor of the Week: Bao straddle tradition and innovation.” August 2017
3 Technomic 2016 Prepared Sandwiches Report
4 Technomic Grab & Go Report: Burger Q1 2017
5 Technomic Attribute Snapshot: Most Craveable Items at Restaurants, May 2017 6Technomic Attribute Snapshot: Most Craveable Items at Restaurants, May 2017