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Ingredient fatigue: Don't become one of many

Once trendy dishes can become an antidifferentiator.
ingredients table food

You know what I don’t want to hear about any more? Sriracha. I’ll second that sentiment for salted caramel. Don’t get me wrong; both are solid ingredients that I enjoy tasting in restaurant dishes. But the never-ending media mentions have made them overhyped, in effect diluting their appeal for consumers—or, at least, consumers like me.

Still, McDonald’s tested a Sriracha Big Mac at the end of 2016, and Wendy’s has been promoting its new Bacon Sriracha Fries LTO of late. Which begs the question: At what point of saturation do these once on-trend ingredients begin to lose their marketing appeal? When super-popular ingredients hit the menus of the biggest chains, can they no longer be used as effective differentiation points for other restaurants, even if consumers still like the taste?

On the flip side, when does an ingredient simmering on indie menus have enough of a following to bring curious, trend-seeking diners into chain restaurants? To identify what some of those flavors poised to pop in the next year might be, the editors of Restaurant Business partnered with our colleagues at Technomic. The data reveals the flavors percolating at independents and emerging chains that could make their way onto mainstream menus. But are there flavors the numbers aren’t picking up on?

To answer that question, we turned to the RB team—an admittedly fickle group of diners, but also a prime audience and idea factory for restaurants. Most of us order from restaurants at least a few times a week, so it takes a lot to wow us, but we’re not afraid to spend when we are intrigued by certain unfamiliar dishes or flavors. What are we seeing on indie menus that we wish more chains carried? Those ingredients and menu items we want to be more accessible? And which don’t we want to hear about anymore as a faux point of differentiation—even if we don’t mind them showing up on menus?

The results from our informal poll of the staff are at right. Personally, I can’t get enough of the fancy breakfast sandwiches, especially on an all-day menu. And while I do love a well-cooked Brussels sprout, I’m over it being on so many menus as a way to make the restaurant feel edgy and hip.

Bring it on

  • Authentic tacos
  • Ramen
  • Fancy bacon-and-egg sandwiches
  • Rice bowls
  • Curry
  • Fish besides salmon and tilapia
  • Cauliflower as a main course
  • Grits
  • Anything Korean
  • Lentils
  • Khachapuri
  • Spinach

Go away

  • Pickles on chicken sandwiches
  • Avocado on everything
  • Bacon in desserts
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Quinoa
  • Nashville-style
  • Anything "curated"
  • Blue cheese as a premium option
  • Kale in only salads
  • Fancy cheese on pizza

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