Small-plate menus, high-top tables, open kitchens and loud dining rooms—these were some of the restaurant trends that shaped 2015. And I predict they probably will continue into 2016, as operators continue to court millennial customers. But I’m putting in my vote for restaurants to cast a wider net this year, paying attention to my baby-boomer peers and other population groups who may be looking for something geared specifically toward their needs. It may just take a tweak or two to get their business—or it may mean veering off slightly in a new direction. Here’s my wish list.
Restaurants will make more seating options available
Incorporating more styles of tables and seats in restaurants can accommodate the needs of all customers. Age, mood, eating occasion and time limitations all impact where and how guests like to sit. While high-tops and communal tables are appropriate some of the time, they shouldn’t be the only choice. When I make a dinner reservation, I’d like to choose my seat to match my preference, using a seating chart much like I do when I buy an airline ticket. Open Table has experimented with this practice, but I would like to see this become routine.
Vegetables will move to the center of the glass
Veggies truly moved to the center of the plate in 2015, with consumers showing a wider acceptance and demand for plant-based dishes. In 2016, we will see vegetables moving to the center of the glass. Mixologists already are playing around with herbs and juicing seasonal vegetables to differentiate cocktail lists. Everyone from older Gen Z guests to baby boomers would welcome a boozy drink with a healthy halo. I would definitely feel more virtuous drinking a cocktail with a shot of nutrition. Take a page from veggie smoothies to make this happen.
Small plates will get bigger
Making a meal of small plates is an exciting way to order dinner or enjoy an assortment of bar snacks. But small plates are not easy to share—and sharing is an increasingly popular restaurant activity. If a table of six wants to add two to four more meatballs or oysters to a small plate so that every guest gets at least one, restaurants will make those small plates a little bigger. And upcharge for the upgrade, of course. I predict we’ll see more generous small plates and more large-format menu items served family-style. Both hungry millennials and value-conscious boomers are not satisfied with half a meatball.
All-day eating will be the new norm
Speaking of snacks, the next iteration of all-day breakfast will be all-day eating. Fast casuals already are offering more snack options for customers to grab-and-go and casual spots with bars are devoting late-afternoon and late-night menus to light appetizers and mini-desserts. With mealtime hours blurring, I see more restaurants staying open throughout the day, catering to those customers who crave anytime eating—and want adventurous food to satisfy that craving.
Alcohol will be served beyond the traditional bar
Fast casuals are increasingly adding bottled and draught beer, wine and cocktails-on-tap to their drinks selection, and more brands will jump on that high-margin bandwagon in 2016. But we will also see coffee cafes, tea concepts and bakeries adding beverage alcohol to the menu, most probably limited to early-evening and late-night time slots. And why not? These are natural gathering places where a cup of morning coffee or tea can naturally transition to a glass of wine or mug of beer later in the day. And some of those carefully crafted iced teas and housemade sodas can make a flavorful base for a complex cocktail. I would like to hang out in Starbucks with a glass of wine.
Pork will make more appearances on the entree list
It’s going to be at least another year before beef prices moderate, but pork production is way up and prices are down. The popularity of Asian, Latin and barbecue is paving the way for operators to explore other preparations. Restaurant kitchens already are moving beyond pork chops and tenderloins; I predict we’ll see pork burgers, pork meatballs, pork shanks and more esoteric cuts like pork collars coming to menus.