Last year’s fine dining trends were all about health: Vegan dishes went mainstream, and people looked for meat substitutes—faux beef, chicken or veggie burgers. Even menu selections targeting male consumers —juicy burgers, wings, and other bar foods — included new plant-based choices. In addition to being health-conscious, hungry patrons expressed a greater appreciation for how food is sourced, choosing locally-grown fruits and vegetables, pasture-raised poultry, and other sustainable options.
At the halfway point of 2018, this year’s hottest fine dining trends show continued evolution of what consumers want from dining experiences. Here are NCC’s top five restaurant must-haves this year:
1. Open concept kitchens with a focus on take-out: An open concept kitchen that integrates the back-of-the-house and the dining room entertains guests with the non-stop action of meal preparation. A well-designed open concept kitchen captivates its audience while shielding them from kitchen hazards like grease, steam, and fumes, and creates an engaging, comfortable atmosphere for solo diners. And although open kitchens make dining out a true experience, many restaurants are also incorporating open concept into their take-out business, allowing customers to see food prepped and packaged for them to take home.
2. Chef and bartender education sessions – There’s a new focus on dining out as an experience that extends beyond the meal. People can’t get enough of restaurant outings that satisfy their appetites and their curiosity—meals that feature an educational component from the chefs themselves or information from bartenders about drink pairings. Consumers, especially millennials, crave new experiences and guest appearances from chefs and mixologists give them an exclusive look into the restaurants they love.
3. Cuisine from the Far East: Although most people enjoy Chinese food, world travelers and diners with adventurous palates are looking beyond spare ribs and lo mein. Incorporating selections and flavors from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are attracting new customers who want to indulge in flavors from the other side of the globe. Filipino food is also growing in popularity as restaurants featuring this fragrant cuisine have been opening in New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles and other major cities.
4. Healthier Kids Menus: Healthier fine dining trends aren’t just for adults. This year, smaller guests are indulging in more adult flavors, shifting away from traditional choices like macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers with French fries. Instead, children’s menus list smaller portions of some adult selections, as well as creative, organic meals, choices that are baked instead of fried and fresh fruits or salads.
5. Cold-brewed coffee and craft sodas: Small-batch ingredients have been standouts this year, and cold-brewed coffee made with beans from exclusive roasters are all the rage. Cold brew coffee and tea are premium beverages that are inexpensive to make but sell for a pretty penny. Another fine dining trend is adding craft sodas and beers, which gives your menu an edge over competitors with more pedestrian selections.
As the profile of your typical customer and their preferences change, so will the fine dining trends your restaurant must respond to. Critique the dining experiences your restaurant offers against these growing trends to determine if customers will be drawn to your door for the experiences they are looking for.