Nearly 1,300 professional chefs were surveyed for the National Restaurant Association's annual forecast of trends for next year's menus.
The categories of environmental sustainability, locally sourced and grown ingredients, and the reduction of food waste ranked in the first 11 of Top 20 trends for 2014. Locally grown produce ranked No. 2 on the list, followed by environmental sustainability at No. 3. Healthful kids' meals came in at No. 4 and gluten-free cuisine was No.5.
Hyper-local sourcing through restaurant gardens ranked No. 6, children's nutrition was No. 7, non-wheat noodles came in at No. 8, sustainable seafood was No. 9, and the use of farm/estate-branded items was No. 10 on the list.
The reduction of food waste through nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking, which means using the entire animal or plant, was No. 11 on the list.
Micro-distilled or artisan spirits are expected to be the most popular trend at the bar next year, the survey said, followed by locally produced wine, beer and spirits; drinks that are barrel-aged at the restaurant; cocktails made with savory ingredients, and signature drinks that have a regional connection.
Laura Abshire, the NRA's director of sustainability and government policy, said the practice of sustainability makes fiscal and environmental sense.
"Sustainably minded chefs and restaurateurs are realizing they can be more efficient, save on utility costs and also increase their bottom lines," Abshire said in a release announcing the findings. "Not only that, they can increase their customer engagement, especially among millennials, who often demand the businesses they frequent reflect their own values."
Market research firm Mintel said the impressive growth of the fast casual restaurant segment is fueled by the increasing willingness of consumers to pay more for food they consider to be healthier or of better quality.
Mintel said transparency in general business practices, including the treatment of employees, is also taken into consideration by diners.
Full-service restaurants are starting to mimic some of the concepts of the fast casual service model, including speedier service, healthier menu items and the use of technology, Mintel said.
The NRA said tablet menus are the top technology trend for 2014, followed by smartphone apps for customers, smartphone apps for chefs, mobile payment and social media marketing.
Food items and cooking techniques that have gotten trendier since last year include nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking, pickling, ramen, dark greens, and Southeast Asian cuisine.
What's not so hot going into 2014? Greek yogurt, sweet potato fries, new cuts of meat, grass-fed beef, and organic coffee aren't nearly as trendy as they were last year, the NRA survey said.
Chefs said trends that are on their way out include items made with foam, froth or air; bacon-flavored chocolate; fish offal and "fun-shaped" children's items. Forty-nine percent of chefs surveyed said bruschetta was "yesterday's news" and 58 percent said the same thing about gazpacho.
The NPD Group said consumers didn't increase the number of visits they made to restaurants in 2013, but they did spend more money when they went out.
The market research firm said consumer spending was up 2 percent from last year, driven by growth in average check size.
Visits to quick service restaurants -- including gourmet coffee, donut and bagel restaurants -- were up 1 percent in the year ending September, compared to a year ago, while fast casual restaurants saw an 8 percent increase. Full service restaurants, casual dining restaurants, and mid-priced family restaurants, however, have not seen gains in several years, the NPD report said.
NPD said 2014 should be a little better, with restaurant visits up 1 percent and a spending gain of 3 percent by the end of next year.
"Although consumers are expected to be cautious about their spending in the coming years, our forecast for traffic and dollar growth for 2014 shows improved performance compared to 2013," Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, said in a release.
"Despite overall industry demand holding steady, there will always be winners ... or those who can win the battle for market share."
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