2013 culinary forecast

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has 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.

Menu Trends
The top 10 menu trends for 2013 are:

  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.

"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. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
  4. Locally produced spirits
  5. Locally sourced fruit/berries/produce
  6. Beer sommeliers/Cicerones
  7. Regional signature cocktails
  8. Beer-based cocktails
  9. 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.

Beer Trends
The survey's top five beer trends were:

  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%) of the chefs surveyed said they always make efforts to adjust dishes and recipes to be more healthful, while 37% said they cook with nutrition in mind, but that not all recipes are easily adjusted.

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

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