How do I find on-trend items to add to my restaurant's menu?

Advice Guy
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Dear Advice Guy,

My menu is feeling stale. What suggestions do you have for on-trend menu items that I can be adding to my menu for the new year, either as specials or permanent additions?

– Chef


First, well done on aiming to keep things current. It seems the world is getting smaller and faster thanks to social media. Guests are hearing about new dishes daily and want to see them reflected on menus. A word of caution: while I am all for updating a menu to be aligned with what guests want (or think they want), I caution against trend-chasing. Offering the hot new thing if you don’t have the capabilities or comfort with the cuisine can backfire. Before incorporating a new menu item, be sure you can execute it well, make business sense, and that it is aligned with your concept.

With that caveat, there are a few ways I’d suggest keeping up on trends. At this time of year, many food industry organizations such as the Specialty Food Association, business information companies such as Technomic (sister company of Restaurant Business), and the popular press produce trend predictions for the coming year (disclosure: I am a Trendspotter for the Specialty Food Association). These reports can be helpful in validating what you may be hearing from guests and staff or pointing you in some new creative directions.

Suppliers, especially broadline distributors, often typically produce some sort of trend-oriented newsletter or magazine on a regular basis. The advantage of those resources is that they feature products and menu innovations that can be easily sourced from those distributors. Of course, the disadvantage is that these items may not be truly trending so much as promoted by the distributor or manufacturer.

Finally, artificial intelligence (AI) has been a fun tool to play with trend predictions for the coming year. For example, I asked Google Bard to create a trendy restaurant menu item for 2024 and it responded with a recipe for “Spicy Glazed Ube Bao Buns with Crispy Tofu "Fish" and Kimchi Aioli,” citing trends in bold flavors, plant-based protein, bold colors for social media sharing and a global pantry as inspiration for this dish. Like much AI-generated content, it would need a human touch to be feasible on a menu but it sounds tasty!

Keep in mind that much of the trend research is national or global and each market is different. No one knows what your guests will like better than your team on the ground.

More on trendy menu development here.