Look close and you will find that many menu trends start out in major metro markets and in fine dining, but they eventually make their way all the way down the spectrum to fast food restaurants and impact main stream American dining behavior. If you want to spot restaurant menu trends early, look at what they are doing in fine dining restaurants and you will often get a glimpse at a trend that will spread across the whole industry in 5-7 years time.
Origin of Menu Trends
Take organic foods, for example. That wasn’t something you’d expect to see in McDonald’s if you went back in time 5-7 years. Organic has long been at the root of celebrated restaurants like The Herbfarm in Seattle, but that was hardly the place you would look for a trend that would later be found in McDonald’s promotional campaigns. Organic has gone from the kind of thing you would only find in fine dining restaurants or hippie compounds to now being one of the fastest growing food segments in the world.
Another example is to look at the new sea salt fries at Wendy’s. Sea salts were all the rage just a few years ago and many fine dining restaurants even offered an assortment or variety of artisan sea salts. There are lots of examples of this notion of fine dining offering a glimpse of the future. I’m not suggesting this is the only place for restaurant industry trend-spotters to look, but certainly it is one fertile source. What’s working today in fine dining can’t immediately be transported into a mainstream QSR or fast casual concept, but it can often be put up on the whiteboard for those restaurant chains with the foresight to look years out in their efforts to remain innovative segment leaders (in QSR, fast casual and even casual dining).
Another place to look for a number of emerging trends that will reshape menus around the world is the hit documentary Food, Inc. If you are in restaurant menu planning, marketing, culinary development or can influence the direction of a large restaurant chain, you will certainly find the movie compelling and find courage to make bold improvements to your menu. Even if you have nothing to do with the restaurant industry except for eating out, you will find this film and a number of other recent food documentaries fascinating.