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Ring in a Better Year: 2016 Menu Trends

Although the economy is heading toward an alleged rebound, wallets are still tight— something the restaurant industry is all too familiar with. With less discretionary income than before, customers and operators are both downsizing and looking to extract the most value out of every experience.

This past October, Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) featured San Francisco-based hotel and restaurant consultancy, Andrew Freeman & Co.’s, 2011 menu predictions. Agile Chef has taken those top trends and broken them down into seven key categories:

The Fall of the Cupcake
The days of haute, celebrity-endorsed cupcakes may soon be dethroned. This year, don’t be surprised if you see people lining up for a slice of sweet or savory pie, a cup of exotic infused soft-serve ice cream, or a grownup version of the popsicle, which has been reinvented in a variety of seasonal and sophisticated flavors, ranging from peach-ginger, watermelon-cucumber and sugar-snap pea.

The Rise of Mom & Pop Restaurants
Last quarter we discussed whether it was outrageous or opportunistic to start a restaurant in a down economy, and as it turns out, cheap real estate and self-financed restaurants go hand-in-hand.

The flip side however, is that in order for a small startup restaurant to succeed, owners have to be extremely involved in the day-to-day operations. Seek out multi-purpose spaces that allow you enough flexibility to devote a corner of your restaurant to a market, or bakery counter.

Bite-Size is Big
Sliders. Shot glass desserts. Fillo cup innovations. Mini is in, in a big way. Smaller portions allow the consumer to experience as much as possible, leave satisfied and still stay within budget. According to Freeman, “Everybody wants a little more of everything.”

Sweet Simplicity
The trend of single ingredient restaurants is extending. Niche menus built around classic comfort foods such as hearty biscuits, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches are growing in popularity.

Enjoy these favorites classically prepared, or pair with artisan cheeses, your signature bread and robust spices for a sophisticated twist. Don’t be surprised either if you see gourmet junk food on menus, including house-made jerky or chips.

Scandinavian Influence
Everything from edible dirt to imported yogurt is making its way to local menus. Voted the best restaurant in the world, Denmark’s Noma, is trading lavish sauces and opting to top their dishes with earthy, rustic “dirt,” and the trend has caught on in some of Manhattan and San Francisco’s finest dining establishments.

So, what is it exactly?

Dirt is usually made from a vegetable, plant or malt and beer base, which is then dried or charred. Dust it over steaks, poultry, steamed vegetables, or whatever you like for a burst of added flavor and palette-pleasing surprise.

Another treat we can expect to see is skyr (pronounced skeer). Popular in Iceland, Skyr is a creamier and more decadent version of traditional yogurt, but just as healthy. Try flavored skyr as a hearty smoothie base, or plain to create healthy dips and sauces.

Farm to Market
Locally grown produce is becoming a perennial favorite. Restaurants are celebrating their relationships with farmers, diverse clientele and backyard gardens by offering meatless Mondays. For more variety and perhaps more appeal, vegetables like Brussels sprouts, turnip chips and cauliflower are being served up crispy and golden fried.

The New Pork Belly
Maybe you’ve tried pork belly, but with prices rising and the continued weak economy, goat and lamb belly are a more feasible alternative, and just as delicious. This tender cut of meat is known for its bold flavors, and can be barbequed, cured, stuffed or served anyway you like