NRA releases 2013 culinary forecast

The National Restaurant Association today released its "What's Hot" forecast of menu trends for 2013. The list was derived from a survey of more than 1,800 professional chefs.

Some of the top trends — including children's nutrition and local sourcing — have carried over from last year's forecast.

The top 10 menu trends for 2013 include:

1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Healthful kids' meals
4. Environmental sustainability as a culinary theme
5. Children's nutrition as a culinary theme
6. New cuts of meat (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, teres major)
7. Hyper-local sourcing (e.g. restaurant gardens)
8. Gluten-free cuisine
9. Sustainable seafood
10. Whole grain items in kids' meals

The top three trends forecasted for the coming year are unchanged from last year's predictions. Children's nutrition moved up a spot from last year.

"It is encouraging to see that children's nutrition remains a top priority for chefs and that they continue to put their creativity in healthful kids meals to work on restaurant menus," said Joy Dubost, Ph.D, R.D., director of Nutrition & Healthy Living for the NRA.

This trend is particularly evident in the NRA's Kids LiveWell program, which was launched in the summer of 2011 and quickly grew to include 110 restaurant brands. Additionally, numerous brands — including McDonald's, Arby's, Popeyes, Jack in the Box and Chick-fil-A — rolled out healthier kids' meals featuring sides such as apple slices and yogurt, a reduction in french fry portion sizes and grilled chicken nuggets.

Boloco's recently launched children's menu features sides such as organic applesauce from Vermont and steamed broccoli, as well as organic milk. And in the past year, pizza chains Uncle Maddio's and Chuck E. Cheese's introduced gluten-free options for their younger guests.

"Local sourcing is another macro-trend that will maintain its momentum in the restaurant community in 2013. Whether purchased from local farms or grown in onsite gardens, many chefs make use of seasonal ingredients to showcase on their menus," Dubost added.

Trends 11-20 include: Farm/estate branded items; non-wheat noodles/pasta (quinoa, rice); non-traditional fish (Arctic char, barramundi); ethnic-inspired breakfast items (Chorizo scrambled eggs); fruit/vegetable children's side items; health/nutrition; half-portions/smaller portions for a smaller price; house-made/artisan ice cream; black/forbidden rice; and food trucks.

Beverage trends

The chefs also ranked the top (non-alcoholic) beverage trends for the coming year, including:

  1. House-made soft drinks/soda/pop
  2. Gourmet lemonade
  3. Organic coffee
  4. Specialty iced tea
  5. Coconut water
  6. Dairy-free (rice, soy, almond, etc.) milk
  7. "Mocktails"
  8. Agua fresca
  9. Green tea
  10. Flavored/enhanced water

Alcohol trends

The NRA also surveyed nearly 200 United States Bartenders' Guild member bartenders in October and November 2012 to come up the alcohol trends list, which includes:

1. Onsite barrel-aged drinks
2. Food-liquor/cocktail pairings
3. Culinary cocktails (e.g. savory, fresh ingredients)
4. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
5. Locally produced spirits
6. Locally sourced fruit/berries/produce
7. Beer sommeliers/Cicerones
8. Regional signature cocktails
9. Beer-based cocktails
10. Locally produced beer

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge at the NRA, said these beverage trends mirror recent food trends, such as artisan, local sourcing and creativity.

"Increasing recognition of mixology has elevated restaurant drink menus to a new level that allows bartenders to showcase their skills in blending textures and flavors similarly to how chefs approach food in the kitchen. This is good news for today's increasingly sophisticated and adventurous consumers, who have a wider variety of alcoholic beverages from which to choose when dining out," he added.

And while fast casual and pizza brands increasingly diversity their beer menus, the survey's top five beer trends include:

  1. Locally produced beer
  2. Cask beer/ale
  3. Craft beer
  4. House-brewed beer
  5. Gluten-free beer

Trends off the menu

Also included in the surveys were questions about other restaurant and bar trends. More than half (55 percent) of the chefs surveyed said they always make efforts to adjust dishes and recipes to be more healthful, while 37 percent said they cook with nutrition in mind, but that not all recipes are easily adjusted.

When asked how to best handle the increasing cost of ingredients, one-third (32 percent) of the chefs said changing menus, one-quarter (25 percent) said adjusting plate composition, and another quarter (24 percent) said exploring new sourcing options. Only 4 percent said that raising menu prices is the best strategy.

In addition, 67 percent of the bartenders said that adding culinary cocktails to drink menus is a good way to build business, and 26 percent said culinary cocktails are fun to make because they let the bartender's creativity shine.

When it comes to technology trends, just over one-quarter of the chefs (27 percent) ranked tablet computers, such as iPads, as the hottest technology trend in restaurants in 2013, followed closely by smartphone apps (25 percent), and mobile/wireless/pay-at-the-table (19 percent).

Among the bartenders, two out of five (40 percent) ranked social media marketing and loyalty programs as the hottest technology trend in 2013, followed by tablet computers, such as iPads (29 percent), and smartphone apps (14 percent).

Click here for the NRA's full report

Read more about trends and statistics.

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