Top Menu trends for 2011

The National Restaurant Association's "What's Hot" survey 1,527 professional chefs-members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF)-reveals that local and hyper-local sourcing, healthy children's meals, sustainable seafood, and gluten-free cuisine will be among the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2011. In addition, the chefs said that mobile food trucks and pop-up restaurants will be the top operational trend in restaurants next year, reports QSR.


The top 10 menu trends for next year will be: locally sourced meats and seafood; locally grown produce; sustainability as a culinary theme; nutritious kids' dishes; hyper-local items; children's nutrition; sustainable seafood; gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items; back-to-basics cuisine; and farm-branded ingredients. Rounding out the top 20 hot menu trends are: artisan liquor; locally produced wine and beer; smaller portions for a smaller price; organic produce; nutrition; culinary cocktails; newly fabricated cuts of meat; fruit/vegetable children's side items; ethnic-inspired breakfast items; artisan cheese.


Sustainability is the leading culinary theme, occupying 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. Ranked as the third hottest trend is sustainability as a culinary theme.

Nutritionally balanced children's dishes ranked 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.


Topping categories within the survey are: street food-inspired items and amuse bouche/bite-size hors d'oeuvre in appetizers; black-forbidden rice and quinoa in sides/starches; ethnic-inspired and traditional ethnic items in breakfast/brunch; house-made ice cream and bite-size items in desserts; regional and fusion in ethnic cuisines; artisan cheeses and ethnic cheeses in ingredients; sous-vide and braising in preparation methods; and specialty iced tea and organic coffee in nonalcoholic beverages.


Also included in the survey were questions about recession strategies, operational trends, promoting nutrition, and using social media. The chefs said that offering value specials, simplifying menus to save on prep labor and ingredients, and increased marketing efforts were the most successful strategies for building business during the period of economic weakness. Thirty percent said that mobile food trucks and pop-up restaurants will be the hottest operational trend in 2011, 18 percent said restaurants with gardens will be the top trend, and 17 percent said social media marketing. The chefs were also asked how chefs and restaurateurs can best promote health and nutrition. Twenty-one percent said create diet-conscious menu selections (including lower-sodium, -calorie, and -fat items); 19 percent said increase fresh produce options on menus; and 17 percent said get involved in school nutrition/children's education efforts.