Challenged with one of the toughest years on record, restaurant operators may be looking ahead to 2010 with an eye toward further cost-cutting measures. Menu innovation will play an essential role for restaurant operators looking to entice recession-weary diners with compelling reasons to eat out.
 
Technomic sees these five trends as continuing to stand out for restaurant operators in 2010:
 
New Spin on Old Favorites: Comfort Foods.  Look for increased menuing of upscale comfort foods, with an explosion of simple foods with a small number of "real-food" ingredients. Expect to see a fresh, premium or high-quality spin on familiar, humble foods, such as artisan cheeses used in macaroni and cheese. Interest in premium burgers and burger concepts will continue, with even greater emphasis on freshness, customization, toppings and condiment bars. Sandwich and other concepts will focus increasingly on hearty melts. Cassoulets, chili and other rustic bean-based dishes may get new respect.
 
Exploring New Corners of Asia (and the world). Korean foods (including Korean barbecue and Korean-style tacos) will hit the mainstream. Look for new interest in Indonesian and other Southeast Asian fare as well. The fascination with global street foods also will play out in the proliferation of Baja-style fish tacos, now moving beyond Mexican restaurants. Expect to see continued emphasis on regional versions of ethnic cuisines, especially with Mexican and Italian fare.
 
Frontiers of Flavor. It's time for umami to become a household word, at least among foodies. Expressions of the savory, earthy "fifth taste" will range from burgers and other hearty meat dishes to truffle- or truffle oil-accented pasta, cheese, french fries and pizza. Beverage flavor frontiers of 2010 will include tropical ingredients (hibiscus flower, agave nectar, pure cane sugar). Starring in the American regional flavor pantheon is bourbon, used to sauce or spike everything from burgers to chili to desserts.
 
Back to the Future: Tending Our Gardens and Farms. With the First Lady now tending an official White House garden, look for more chefs to follow suit with proprietary herb or vegetable gardens. The emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients will grow and flower. Fascination with heirloom farm products — from tomatoes to pork — will continue; by the 2010 holiday season, look for a flap of interest in heirloom poultry breeds.
 
Breakfast 'Round the Clock. Look for breakfast to break out of its traditional boundaries, with breakfast-style fare available all day (and night) at both full-service and limited-service eateries. As fast-food restaurants expand and upgrade their menus of budget-priced breakfast sandwiches and wraps, more full-service operators will be offering hearty brunch buffets well into the afternoon on weekends. A Technomic study released Dec. 1 highlights a growing number of consumers seeking all-day breakfast options from restaurants.
 
According to the research firm Mintel, restaurants will push quality over price in 2010. Mintel recently released its five menu trends for 2010 that also reflect comfort foods and regional ethnic flavors.

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