Local, healthy top the 2014 restaurant menu forecast

For a second year in a row, the prognosticators at the National Restaurant Association predict "local" to be the big menu trend for the New Year. This year's "What's Hot" culinary forecast includes menu predictions for 2014 based on a survey of nearly 1,300 American Culinary Federation chefs.

Repeating as No. 1 on the list is locally-sourced meats and seafood. Also, like with last year's forecast, locally-grown produce is No. 2. Although children’s nutrition themes fell slightly on the prediction list for 2014, they remain relevant in the top 10, as does gluten-free. Perhaps benefitting from the continued growth of gluten-free cuisine is non-wheat noodles and pastas, which debuted on this year's list.

Other themes to expect, according to the forecast, include sustainability and nutrition.

"Today's consumers are more interested than ever in what they eat and where their food comes from, and that is reflected in our menu trends research," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA's research and knowledge group. "True trends — as opposed to temporary fads — show the evolution of the wider shifts of our modern society over time, and focus on the provenance of various food and beverage items, unique aspects of how they are prepared and presented, as well as the dietary profiles of those meals."

Although many children’s and family entertainment centers, bowling centers and similar entertainment venues don’t offer upscale sit down dining, these trends are still relevant to them as they reveal the dining value and expectations of their guests. A guest brings their food preferences, values and expectations with them to entertainment venues, which influence their desire to purchase foods (or not!) even at concession stands. The food that an entertainment venue offers also significantly affects a guest’s overall impression of their experience there and the brand’s overall value.

The top 20 predictions for 2014 are:

  1. Locally sourced meats/seafood
  2. Locally grown produce
  3. Environmental sustainability (up a spot from No. 4 last year)
  4. Healthful kids' meals (No. 3 last year)
  5. Gluten-free cuisine (up from No. 8 last year)
  6. Hyper-local sourcing, such as restaurant gardens (No. 7 last year)
  7. Children's nutrition (No. 5 last year)
  8. Non-wheat noodles/pastas, such as quinoa, rice and buckwheat (N/A from last year)
  9. Sustainable seafood (even from last year)
  10. Farm/estate branded items (N/A from last year)
  11. Nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking, reduction of waste
  12. Whole grain items in kids' meals
  13. Health/nutrition
  14. New cuts of meat
  15. Ancient grains
  16. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items, such as Asian-flavored syrups and coconut milk pancakes
  17. Grazing, or small-plate sharing and snacking
  18. Non-traditional fish
  19. Fruits and vegetables as children's side items
  20. Half-portions/smaller portions