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The chefs have spoken: Menu trend predictions for 2015

After years on the rise, gluten-free cuisine has fallen out of the top 10 list of the National Restaurant Association's annual survey.

The chefs have spoken: Menu trend predictions for 2015

| by Alicia Kelso — Editor,

Nearly 1,300 chefs from the American Culinary Federation have put in their 2- cent predictions on what menu trends will emerge in the New Year. Their prognostications are part of the National Restaurant Association's annual "What's Hot Culinary Forecast."

And, judging by their expectations, not much has changed: Locally-sourced proteins and produce remain Nos. 1 and 2 on the list, respectively, for the third year in a row

Additionally, environmental sustainability and healthful kids' meals stayed put at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.

The biggest change on the top 10 list for 2015 is the notable absence of gluten-free cuisine. It was No. 5 last year, up from No. 8 the year prior.

In its place at No. 5 this year is "natural ingredients/minimally processed food" – a new trend category all together.

"As consumers today increasingly incorporate restaurants into their daily lives, they want to be able to follow their personal preferences and philosophies no matter where or how they choose to dine," NRA SVP Hudson Riehle said in a news release. "So, it’s only natural that culinary themes like local sourcing, sustainability and nutrition top our list of menu trends for 2015. Those concepts are wider lifestyle choices for many Americans in other aspects of their lives that also translate into the food space."

Rounding out the top 10 this year are:

6. New cuts of meat (No. 14 last year)

7. Hyper-local sourcing (No. 6 last year)

8. Sustainable seafood (No. 9 last year)

9. Food waste reduction/management (N/A)

10. Farm/estate-branded items (also No. 10 last year)

Besides gluten-free, other trends that fell off the top 10 list this year include children's nutrition (No. 7 last year and No. 5 two years ago) and non-wheat noodles and pasta, such as quinoa and rice (No. 8 last year)

The remaining top 20

Some of the trends that fell out of the top 10 still managed to make it into the top 20. Rounding out the NRA's list are:  

11. Non-wheat noodles/pasta

12. Gluten-free cuisine

13. Ancient grains

14. Whole grain items in kids’ meals

15. Non-traditional fish

16. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items

17. Nutrition

18. House-made/artisan ice cream

19. Fruit/vegetable kids’ side items

20. Artisan cheeses

Broken down by category

The survey broke down these food trends into more specific categories, such as daypart and ethnic flavors. Those survey results, in order, include:

Appetizers:Vegetarian; house-cured meats/charcuterie; ethnic/street food-inspired; seafood charcuterie; and amuse-bouche/bite-sized.

Breakfast/brunch:Ethnic-inspired; traditional ethnic; egg white omelets/sandwiches; prix fixe brunches; and breakfast burritos.

Dessert:House-made/artisan ice cream; bite-sized/mini; savory; hybrid; smoked ingredients.

Ethnic flavors and cuisines: Ethnic fusion; authentic ethnic; regional ethnic; Peruvian cuisine; Southeast Asian.

Kids' meals:Healthful; whole grain items; fruit/vegetable sides; kids' entrée salads; oven-baked items.

Center of the plate: Locally-sourced meats/seafoods; new cuts of meat; sustainable seafood; non-traditional fish; and grass-fed beef.

Produce: Locally-grown produce; heirloom apples; unusual/uncommon herbs; organic produce; and exotic fruits.

Starches/sides: Non-wheat noodles/pasta; ancient grains; quinoa; black/forbidden rice; and pickled vegetables.

Preparation methods:Pickling; fermenting; fire roasting; smoking; and sous vid.

Other ingredients: Farm/estate-branded items; artisan cheeses; non-wheat flour; house-made/artisan pickles; artisan/specialty bacon.

Drinks, please

On the beverage menu, the survey respondents predict the following trends for the New Year:

1. Micro-distilled/artisan spirits

2. Locally produced beer/wine/spirits

3. Onsite barrel-aged drinks

4. Regional signature cocktails 

5. Culinary cocktails (e.g. savory, fresh ingredients) 

Whittled down more specifically, the top alcoholic beverage predictions include: Micro-distilled/artisan spirits; locally produced beer/wine/spirits; "New Make" whiskey; Food/beer pairings; and house-brewed beer. 

And the top cocktail and cocktail ingredient trends are: Onsite barrel-aged drinks; regional signature cocktails; culinary cocktails; food/liquor/cocktail pairings; and edible cocktails.

And the top non-alcoholic beverage trends are: Gourmet lemonade; specialty iced tea; house-made soft drinks; organic coffee; and coconut water.

Bacon-covered chocolate, we hardly knew ye

The survey also analyzed what trends are new to the top 100 list this year, and those that seem a bit passe. New to the list this year are:

  • Natural ingredients/minimally-processed food, at No. 5
  • Food waste reduction/management, No. 9
  • Artisan butchery, No. 23
  • House-made condiments, No. 40
  • Oven-baked items in kids' meals, No. 53

The trends considered "yesterday's news" by the large swath of chefs include:

1. Insects, 74 percent

2. Foam/froth/air, 64 percent

3. Gazpacho, 61 percent

4. Bacon-flavored/covered chocolate, 61 percent

5. Popovers, 57 percent

6. Mini-burgers/sliders, 56 percent

7. Molecular gastronomy, 56 percent

8. Flowers, 56 percent

9. Flavored/enhanced water, 52 percent

10. Tater tots, 51 percent

Macrotrends identified

For the first time, the What’s Hot survey is spotlighting overarching trends to watch in 2015, including:

  • Environmental sustainability remains among the hottest trends, with restaurateurs focusing on food waste reduction as a way to both go green and manage rising food costs. 
  • Hyper-local sourcing continues to gain momentum with restaurants including house-made, farm-branded and artisan items.
  • Children’s meals are becoming increasingly gourmet and healthful, as well as more adventurous in flavor profiles.
  • Ethnic cuisines are continuing to become more mainstream and ethnic ingredients such as cheeses, flour and condiments are increasingly being used in non-ethnic dishes.
  • Common preparation methods are returning with a new twist, such as pickling with specialty vinegars and fermented flavor profiles.

When asked which current food trend will be the hottest menu trends 10 years from now, environmental sustainability topped the list (42 percent), followed by local sourcing (22 percent), nutrition and ethnic cuisines/flavors (13 percent each) and gluten-free cuisine (6 percent).

Off the menu

Finally, while the survey had the chefs' attention, two non-menu questions were added:

What is the hottest technology trend for 2015?

  • Tablets for menus, wine lists and ordering, 29 percent;
  • Smartphone/tablet apps for consumers, 26 percent;
  • Smartphone/tablet apps for chefs/operators, 22 percent;
  • Mobile payments, 21 percent;
  • Other, 2 percent

How do you feel about customers taking photos of their food and posting them on social media while dining? 

  • It's free advertising and should be encouraged, 52 percent;
  • It's fine as long as they're discrete, 32 percent;
  • It's disruptive and should  be discouraged, 9 percent;
  • Other, 2 percent.

The full survey is available online here

Alicia Kelso

Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.

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