Forecasters come out in full force this time of year, making predictions about the trends that will catch fire in the coming months. Identifyng those with real staying power can keep you steps ahead of customer demand and the competition. We sifted through top industry reports to pinpoint the 10 trends worth watching in 2015.
1. Segment blurring
With celeb chefs such as Michael Voltaggio growing sandwich concepts, and QSRs including Burger King serving alcohol, it’s time to rethink industry segments. Chef casual, polished casual, fine fast—these hybrids are poised to expand.
2. Small cities rise
Minneapolis, Asheville, N.C. and Oakland, Calif., are emerging as go-to places for restaurateurs looking for affordable locales. Chefs are finding that denizens of these second-tier cities, despite their size, have cosmopolitan tastes.
3. Next-gen Asian
Spicier, funkier, fattier is the new direction for already-hot Asian cuisine. Now that Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese are mainstream, Americans are ready to explore regional differences and new Asian niches. Expect Filipino to break out this year.
4. Shrinking menus
Following in the footsteps of chains such as BJ’s Restaurants (pruning choices from 181 to 150) and IHOP (200 to 170), operators are seeing the payoff of editing their menus and SKUs, focusing on what they do best to differentiate and assert their identity.
5. Bitter is the new bold
Dark-roast coffees and ever-darker chocolate forged the way for consumers to embrace bitter flavors. Menus will expand on the theme; bitters in cocktails, collards and other bitter vegetables (beyond kale) and hoppy beers are a few of the vehicles.
6. Seating singles
About 50 percent of eating and drinking occasions take place when Americans are alone, and demographics are in favor of that trend continuing. Operators are adding more bar seating, Wi-Fi and even tables for one to accommodate single diners.
7. More matcha
This Japanese green tea is moving beyond the teacup to lattes, smoothies and cocktails in operations ranging from hip bars to fast-casual lunch spots. Consumers are seeking out matcha for its energy-boosting and wellness perks—even mixed with alcohol.
8. Charcoal is hot
Odorless, flavor-imparting, hot-burning “incendiary” charcoal is catching on as an indoor cooking technique. Since it creates little smoke and cooks food quickly, the fuel can fire up small grills in the dining area to wow guests.
9. Protein takes new form
Protein is driving healthy eating. So chefs looking to feed consumer demand are broadening what protein looks like—especially with meat prices so high—playing with plant-based proteins (nuts, legumes, seeds), ancient grains, soy and even cricket flour.
10. Delivery dials up
Starbucks and Panera plan to roll out delivery in 2015 and other quick-service concepts are sure to follow. Higher-end restaurants are getting in the game, too, aided by a number of tech-enabled third-party services that bundle menus from many operations.