A lot of year-end trend reports are coming through my inbox right now, as industry insiders predict the forces that will impact restaurants in 2016. Last week, the National Restaurant Association released its What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, based on a survey of 1,600 chef-members of the American Culinary Federation. The chefs came through with many trends I was happy to see will endure and evolve. But as a baby boomer consumer and frequent restaurant customer, there are others I would like to see go away.
1. Healthful kids meals
So glad this has moved up to No. 7 of the Top 20 food trends. When my kids were growing up, the children’s menu offered slim pickings—all loaded with fat and salt. Chicken fingers with fries and grilled cheese were the default meals until my boys developed bigger appetites and better palates. (My youngest already was in college by that time!) It’s reassuring to see that my grandchildren will be exposed to healthier choices and more exciting ingredients and flavors so they can develop those discerning palates and smarter eating habits earlier. Now all I need are those grandchildren!
2. Culinary cocktails
Jumping from what’s good for the kids to what’s good for me—and many restaurant operators. Cocktail culture continues to thrive, with inventive drinks tempting patrons to experiment with unique spirits and flavor combinations. Cross-utilizing ingredients from the kitchen, including fresh herbs, seasonal produce and spicy condiments, not only differentiates a bar program, it’s a cost-effective move. Especially when these specialty cocktails fetch $12 to $15 each.
3. Housemade/artisan ice cream
On the NRA’s list, this climbed into the “Movers and Shakers” category, rising more than 5 percent from 2015 to 206. Admittedly, it’s a very subjective pick for me—ice cream truly is my favorite guilty pleasure. Although some sort of vanilla variation is my go-to, I love the fact that I can get a sampler of homemade ice creams for dessert in many restaurants, choosing from exotic, chef-inspired flavors like lavender, smoked butterscotch, yuzu and ginger. And I don’t like to share.
4. Small plate menus
This was named as a New Top Trend in 2016. New? Really? Restaurants and menus specializing in small plates are getting as long in the tooth as some baby boomers. Many chefs are focusing on this trend because it supposedly appeals to millennials who like to share and sample. Well, this boomer likes to share, too (except for ice cream) but it’s very awkward to divide one small plate into four servings. Even if a table orders six small plates, each guest, at most, gets one or two bites of a dish. Presenting a platter of food family-style is a much more effective way to encourage sharing.
5. Locally grown produce
Local sourcing remains a buzzword, pushing this trend once again into the Top 20, where it occupies the No. 3 spot. But realistically, menuing locally grown fruits and vegetables is unattainable for most restaurants a good part of the year. Many of the chefs I interview are focusing on seasonality as a priority instead, using produce that may not be grown within a 100-mile radius but will lend relevance, variety and flavor to the menu.
6. Home-delivered meal kits
Unlike small plate menus, here’s a New Top Trend that lives up to its newness. I’m not opposed to these dinner-in-a-box kits—they are convenient and have the potential to produce restaurant-quality meals. But the per-person cost can be comparable to a casual-dining or quality takeout experience. And preparing the recipes is time-consuming. Plus, there are just too many of these home delivery brands glutting the market. While we wait for some to shake out, I’m going back to my cookbooks and recipe files for dinner ideas—and back to my favorite restaurants to eat.