Chef’s survey reveals 2011 menu trends

Nov. 30, 2010 | by Valerie Killifer

The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” survey of more than 1,500 professional chefs has revealed that local and hyper-local sourcing, healthy children’s meals, sustainable seafood and gluten-free cuisine will be among the hottest menu trends in 2011.

“The top trends identified by these culinary professionals for 2011 are reflecting larger societal trends, underscoring that American diners are becoming more and more interested in what’s on their plate. Sustainability and nutrition are becoming key themes in our nation’s nearly one million restaurants.” Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research and Knowledge Group for the NRA, said in a survey release.

The list ties in somewhat with the top trends for 2011 recently released by Technomic. One cross-referenced theme is the use of farm-branded ingredients. According to Technomic, farm-branded ingredients and the rise in popularity of farmers as celebrities will be big in the coming year.

Healthy options

Several trends outlined for 2011 have led the way for the past two years.

The top 10 menu trends
  1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  2. Locally grown produce
  3. Sustainability as a culinary theme
  4. Nutritious children’s meals
  5. Hyper-local items
  6. Children’s nutrition as a culinary theme
  7. Sustainable seafood
  8. Gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items
  9. Back-to-basics cuisine
  10. Farm-branded ingredients

For example, in 2009 and 2010, the NRA identified children’s nutrition and menu items, healthful options and locally sourced produce as top trends.

“Locally sourced food and a focus on sustainability is not just popular among certain segments of consumers anymore; it has become more mainstream. Diners are requesting to know where their food comes from, and are concerned with how their choices affect the world around us,” said Michael Ty, American Culinary Federation national president.

In tune with increased consumer awareness and interest in food sourcing and farm-to-fork practices, the leading culinary theme revealed by the survey is sustainability, which occupies four of the top five trends. The top two items – both with 86 percent of chefs identifying them as a hot trend – are locally sourced meats and seafood and locally grown produce.

Nutrition – children’s nutrition in particular – is another umbrella trend identified by the survey. Nutritionally balanced children’s dishes is ranked as the fourth hottest trend on menus next year, while kid’s nutrition as a culinary theme comes in at number six. Gluten-free and food allergy-conscious items are number eight in the trends survey, with nearly eight in 10 chefs agreeing it’s a hot trend. Nutrition and health as a general culinary theme is number 15. (Read also, Preparing gluten-free dishes.)


Rounding out the top 20 hot menu trends in the beverage category are artisan liquors, locally-produced wine and beer and culinary cocktails, all of which were also highlighted by Technomic.

On the drink menu, micro-distilled spirits is the top item, with nearly three-quarters of the chefs ranking it as a hot trend. Other alcohol items high on the list include locally produced beer and wine, culinary cocktails, food-beer pairings and beer dinners. Additionally, the rise of culinary cocktails is being aided by the popularity of television shows such as "Mad Men."

According to Technomic, the cocktail trend could be beneficial for fast casual restaurants looking to differentiate themselves in 2011.

Also, giving a repeat performance is specialty iced tea and organic coffee in nonalcoholic beverages, trends that have gained ground in the past two years.

Other categories highlighted within the survey include street food-inspired items and black-forbidden rice and quinoa in sides/starches.

In her blog, Suzy Badaracco said the trend toward food and beverage flights and black foods (black garlic, black mushrooms, black truffles, etc), stem from the Deep North travel-industry's popularity. The Deep North is considered colder, sometimes arctic, climates such as Norway, Finland and Siberia. This travel trend is indicative of consumers' renewed search for adventure as they emerge from the economic recession, she said.

Mobile food trucks and pop-up restaurants will continue to proliferate across the restaurant industry. Their popularity has even led to the development of food-truck districts and rodeos. The food truck was named hottest operational trend in 2011. Meanwhile, 18 percent of the chefs surveyed said restaurants with gardens will be the top trend, and 17 percent said social media marketing.

* Flickr photo by sea turtle

Topics: Associations , Business Strategy and Profitability , Food & Beverage , Online / Mobile / Social , Operations Management , Trends / Statistics

Valerie Killifer / As the founder of P-O-P Content & Communications, Valerie Killifer brings her passion for creative thinking and relationship development to the forefront of her business. She spent 15 years as a professional journalist and continues to write about the brands, people and trends impacting the restaurant industry.
www View Valerie Killifer's profile on LinkedIn

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