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6 menu predictions for 2019

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Putting together annual predictions is often an enjoyable exercise, though the projections made have the potential to be pretty off-base. While some of the menu trends coming ’round the bend this year are based on extensions or enhancements of 2018’s best and brightest, others may seem a bit off the cuff. So take a look at what Restaurant Business predicts will be rocking menus in 2019 and see if you agree.

1. Delivery-friendly food and packaging

Off-premise sales continue to grow, and restaurants in every segment are jumping on the delivery bandwagon, but not all have menus that adapt well to off-premise. Grilled cheese sandwiches, fried foods and smoothies are some items that lose quality and texture in transit. But the coming year should see recipe reformulation, new product development and packaging innovations to help these items and others adapt to the delivery boom.

2. Meat vs. plants

No doubt plant-based burgers will move into more chains as the two mega-suppliers ramp up marketing efforts and production. And veg-forward dishes will continue to come out of restaurant kitchens in creative new iterations. After all, 84% of consumers believe that vegetables are key to a healthy diet. But 2019 will see a record-high beef supply, according to industry reports, and prices have declined for prime rib-eyes and loins. More favorable beef costs may translate to more of this red meat on menus, perhaps in smaller portions in sync with healthy eating trends.

3. I can’t believe it’s butter

Like eggs before it, butter had been maligned as a precursor of heart disease. Eggs got a reprieve after scientific evidence disproved that connection, and it’s hard to find a burger menu or bowl of ramen that doesn’t include eggs these days. Now it’s butter’s turn, enhancing everything from coffee to grilled meats with rich flavor. Elizabeth Moskow, creative culinary director for Sterling-Rice Group, called butter “the new bacon” in her trend report, attributing part of its ascent to the popularity of low-carb, high-fat diets. But like bacon, butter’s flavor is the key driver. Next up: tangy cultured butter spreading to more applications.

4. Exploring Africa

Americans are familiar with some Moroccan, Tunisian and South African dishes, but the rest of Africa remains largely unexplored on stateside menus. Plant-forward eating is in the culinary DNA for many of these countries, so their cuisines fit right into today’s trends. West African grains such as fonio and millet are packed with nutrients and can be used much like quinoa in bowls, salads and sides. To tempt the taste buds of heat-seeking consumers, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants points to the emergence of African seasonings, such as berbere, a fiery Ethiopian spice blend.

5. CBD in high places

Cannabidiol, or CBD, the hemp derivative that doesn’t get indulgers high, is coming to a menu near you. It started with the packaged food industry, and now The Specialty Food Association reports that consumers can expect to see CBD go beyond candies and snacks to products including coffee, cooking oil, tea, beer and pasta. Mixologists are already introducing CBD into cocktails, and in states where marijuana is legal, bartenders are rimming margarita glasses with cannabis powder. Trendspotting consulting firm AF&Co. predicts more of this to come. Some fine-dining chefs are planning multicourse CBD tasting dinners, and a CBD-dedicated restaurant and bar called Adriaen Block has opened in Astoria, N.Y., with a menu that includes everything from a Stoney Negroni to CBD-accented steak sauce and whipped cream.

6. Pucker power

The fermented flavor craze of yesterday has morphed into the extreme sour trend of today. In its annual roundup, restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman point to the rise of Persian and Filipino cuisines for pushing sour into the mainstream, with their emphasis on ingredients such as vinegar, tamarind, pomegranates and sour oranges. Beverages both with and without alcohol are also taking on sour flavor profiles, infused with ingredients such as calamansi (a tart citrus fruit) and super-sour candies. 

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