Top 10 menu stories of 2014

Customization ruled on menus—even McDonald’s jumped on the trend. Seafood thrived in fast casual, fried chicken went upscale and appetizers embraced new ingredients. Barrel aging cocktails in-house took a high-tech turn and marijuana came to the menu. While grab-and-go continues to boom, fine dining is far from dead.

1. McDonald’s details plan to slim down, localize menu

Following the trends toward menu simplification, local ingredients and healthier choices, McDonald’s plans to customize its menu toward regional preferences and better-for-you items starting in January 2015—a move that also gives franchisees more input into the menu. 

2. Fast casuals catch a wave

Seafood might have been a little late to the fast-casual scene, but now a number of concepts are menuing better quality, chef-driven fish and shellfish menu items. Sustainability, flavor and a reasonable price point are all priorities.

3. The state of fine dining

The obits get written year after year, but fine dining is still alive and kicking. It’s just more casual and simple. The most successful high-end menus feature steakhouse staples, seafood classics, consistent preparations and sometimes a little flash. 

4. Elevating fried chicken

Attention to sourcing and preparation techniques is taking humble fried chicken to new heights.

5. Localizing for the Colorado market

Now that marijuana can be sourced for menus in Colorado and Washington, it opens up a new R&D frontier for chefs and culinary directors.

6. Promoting protein

Consumers are into eating more protein and operators are pushing it on the menu. Today’s choices go beyond meat and seafood to protein-enhanced beverages, veggie-based chicken and protein-rich grains.

7. Breakfast forward

Grab-and-go is the way to go to fuel the weekday morning customer. The time is right to offer something more than the standard breakfast sandwich.

8. Fries with a nacho twist

Wendy’s put pulled pork on the menu for the first time, piling it on top of French fries in an LTO that resembles poutine but tastes more like nachos. The item worked as a side, a snack or a light lunch.

9. New-age cocktails

Sous vide technology has moved from the kitchen to the bar. One inventive mixologist is using the technique to barrel-age spirits.

10. Market forces

Restaurant-retail hybrids offer one-stop shopping for groceries, prepared foods and a sit-down dinner—all under one roof. Chefs have input into both, creating menus and stocking ingredients that draw in a greater number of customers than either concept would alone.

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