These eight trends might not have made it to the Top 10 list we ran in this month’s edition of Restaurant Business, but they are worth watching.
1. Hops-free suds
In response to a hops shortage, some brewers are making lower hops or hops-free beers with flavor profiles more like IPAs and sour beers. These brews pair better with food, says Kara Nielsen, trendologist with Sterling-Rice in Denver. Gruits are one hops substitute brewers are tapping.
2. Sized-right portions that are priced right
Small plates have been popular for awhile, but often a meal composed of these downsized servings adds up to a bigger check. Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst with The NPD Group in Chicago sees some operators offering a variety of portion size choices and pricing them accordingly.
3. Ugly produce
Fruits and vegetables are taking up more space on the plate but many menus seem to offer the same old beets, Brussels sprouts, kale and butternut squash. It’s time to see the beauty in ugly produce, says Maeve Webster, senior director of Chicago research firm Datassential. Gnarly root vegetables and twisted citrus can make menus healthier and more interesting.
4. The new deal
Instead of tying frequency of restaurant visits to a loyalty card or app, give customers special deals on items they order frequently, says Riggs. Several coffee bars do this now, giving away a free cup of joe when you buy 10. The same is going to happen for burgers, salads and desserts.
5. Oysters are back
Farmers are reseeding old oyster beds and discovering new ones, bumping up oyster supply and bumping down the price, says Baum + Whiteman in its annual trends forecast. Bars are selling $1 oysters on the half shell to have along with drinks, and bartenders are mixing up cocktails and purchasing wines that pair well with the shellfish. Oyster love will continue into 2015.
6. Gen Z alert
The first truly digital generation is coming onto its own and demanding technology and experiential excitement in the restaurant space. Plan on including these tweens and teens in the challenge of appealing to customers of all ages, says Chicago research firm Technomic.
7. Out of Africa
Flavors and influences from across the African continent are emerging in global mashups and on their own, says Webster. Some internationally inspired menus are mixing flavors and ingredients from Africa and Asia, but maintaining authenticity and integrity is a priority.
8. Eat. Drink. Play.
Look for more places that combine food, booze and fun, says Andrew Freeman, president of AF&Co. in San Francisco. Beer gardens with bocce, bowling alleys serving signature cocktails and chef-created menus and barcades filled with video games, high-end snacks and craft beers. Unlike earlier eatertainment venues, these boast quality food and drink.