Planning next year’s menu or your next great concept? 2016 will be a wildy interesting year with hundreds of exciting possibilities. But fear not! We’ve talked to chefs, experts and those in the know to narrow down what you’ll need to know in the year ahead.
For a start, great chefs will continue to open casual concepts. Bowl foods and restaurants specializing in them will keep growing. Wage wars? Unfortunately. Food halls? You know it. Vegetables? Keep ’em coming. Snacks throughout the day? Yes. Here’s what to expect in ’16.
Bowl foods will show up on more menus. Heard of Acai bowls? They’re the new smoothie, according to consultants and trend watchers Baum + Whiteman in their annual trends report. Acai bowls start with frozen pulp from the superfruit, thinned out to a scoopable texture with milk (usually soy), and finished with fruit, granola, chia seeds, coconut flakes, peanut butter or other toppings. Like the one above from Jugos in Boston, they menu for about $10.
Savory bowls are also easy to serve up and are growing in popularity. Jose Andres’s expanding three-unit fast casual Beefsteak chain specializes in bowls of cooked-to-order vegetables assembled with different grains, sauces and toppings, as well as optional meats or other proteins.
Poke bowls are next on the raw fish front. Cubed ahi tuna or other fish is marinated in a bolder, more savory sauce than its ceviche cousin and served over seaweed-seasoned rice. The Hawaiian dish is all over L.A. and is also popping up in Boston, New York and Salt Lake City.
Snacks and blurred dayparts
Make room on your menu for snacks as customers continue to want customizable experiences and something to nosh whenever the craving hits. Increasingly, guests are looking for snacks that deliver protein and other nutrients. The ideal snack combines sweetness with salty, spicy or smoky flavors. The chorizo-stuffed dates at Paul Kahan’s Avec in Chicago are a perfect example.
Here are some more:
• At The Violet Hour cocktail lounge in Chicago, snacks include roasted nuts with cayenne, paprika, sugar and oregano; and a truffled ricotta tartine of toasted rye bread topped with ricotta, truffle oil, herbs, honey and arugula.
• At Bryant Ng’s Cassia in L.A.: Kaya (coconut jam)-filled toast made from brioche and served with a slow-cooked egg.
• At Al’s Place in San Francisco: French fries served with smoked apple sauce.
• At Sambar in L.A.: Chicken wings finished with Malabar hot sauce and summer fruit chutney.
2016 will embrace the South and its ultimate culinary icon, fried chicken—a carryover trend of the last few years that’s showing no signs of fatigue.
In fact, the experts at Baum + Whiteman have called 2016 “the year of fried chicken.” The dish not only crosses geographical lines, but the dining spectrum as well. A host of startup and independent fast casual chicken concepts (including David Chang’s Fuku, a fried chicken sandwich shop in NYC, and Danny Meyer’s Chicken Shack) will expand and give the chicken chains a run for their money.
Americans’ hankering for down-home foods is also bolstered by their growing distaste for mass-produced foods—and a yearning for the days of simply prepared dishes. Take Kevin Gillespie’s recently opened Revival in Decatur, GA. The James Beard winner is serving up his grandmother’s fried chicken as well as items like spiced Mississippi catfish in low country tomato gravy.
Similarly, at Muscadine in Portland, OR, Mississippi native Laura Rhoman serves up dishes true to her roots (many recipes are eight generations old), taking full advantage of the produce of the Northwest. Rhoman offers comforting meat-plus-threes with choices like fried chicken, salmon croquettes, Andouille sausage, red peas and collard greens.
Chefs are getting creative with chicken frying techniques. At Leon’s Oyster Shop in Charleston, SC, executive chef Ari Kolender experimented for weeks to come up with a signature brine and breading regimen that results in a thin, bound-to-the-skin crust that shatters when bitten.
The latest fried chicken trend is Nashville style, or “hot,” chicken. It’s popping up in unlikely places such as Brooklyn, NY, where “The Chew” host Carla Hall has just opened Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, selling this iteration. Hot chicken gets a kick from a final douse of pepper-based sauce (each chef has his or her own). Hall marinates her chicken in pickle brine, rolls it in seasoned flour, then pressure fries before it gets sauced. (Hot chicken is usually served on bread to soak up any errant juices and oils).
As Americans’ appetite for casual dining shows no signs of waning, savvy upscale operators will implement a high-low strategy.
For example, last year, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson opened the funky Street Bird Rotisserie in Harlem. Michael Mina of Bourbon Steak and Michael Mina restaurants launched a fast casual Ramen Bar in San Francisco. Karen and Quinn Hatfield shuttered their minimalist haute cuisine L.A. restaurant, Hatfield’s, and opened the bakery-café, Sycamore Kitchen, and a casual churrasco concept, Odys + Penelope.
2016 will bring more examples. Joshua Skenes of Michelin-starred Saison is testing the world of casual dining with Fat Noodle, a fast-casual Chinese concept that’s slated to open soon in San Francisco.
In San Diego, Mike Rosen and Richard Blais—the duo behind the upscale Juniper & Ivy—just opened The Crack Shack, a quirky, downscale fried chicken joint serving an all-day menu of dishes centered around chicken and eggs.
In a risky act of foodservice subversiveness, well-known L.A. chef Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson of Coi and Alta in San Francisco are taking on the fast food giants where they’re most in demand—the inner cities of places like San Francisco, L.A. and Detroit. Their fast food concept, LocoL, is looking to disrupt Big Fast Food with a cleaner and healthier alternative.
Vegetables are still stars
As Restaurant Hospitality predicted last year, vegetables will still be center stage in restaurant dishes in 2016, often taking center-of-the plate roles and pushing protein over to the side.
Consumers seeking more antioxidants and fewer hormones, rising beef prices, locovore-ism, a preponderance of farmers’ markets…these are some of the forces driving the trend. Plus, vegetables’ seasonal nature and variations among species make them exciting for chefs and patrons alike. The radish plate at Vedge in Philadelphia, for instance, features eight different varieties of the vegetable, prepared in eight different ways.
Vegetable-forward eating is shedding its earthy-crunchy rep and associations with odd meat substitutes. Hearty cauliflower or portobello steaks aren’t trying to be something they’re not. They’re out and proud because chefs are making them delicious and satisfying. Watch for the “root to stem” movement (similar to the zero-waste, nose-to-tail movement) to gain traction, says Baum + Whiteman.
That’s not to say meats are going away. Not at all. Aaron London of Al’s Place in San Francisco uses meats as sides, garnishes or elements of composed plates. Along with your yellow-eye bean stew, you can order a side of duck breast with peach sauce. That balanced approached is the real future of eating.
Another great example comes from Nico Osteria in Chicago, where the Brussels sprouts sandwich shows the how beautifully vegetables can headline a dish. Served on grilled toast, the crispy sprouts are topped with stracciatella and hazelnuts and finished with drizzled olive oil and honey.
The U.S. got its first taste of the modern iteration of the food hall in 2010 when Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich launched Eataly in New York. Influenced by European markets, today’s food halls are showcases for local restaurant operators, food artisans and other purveyors.
2015 saw a food hall boom, and more will join their ranks in 2016. Often housed in repurposed urban spaces, and featuring attractive communal dining spaces, these elevated offspring of the 1970s food court are showcases for local creativity and a stylish, social and convenient way to eat and shop. Some developers have even seen fit to include short-term incubator spaces for emerging concepts (Avanti, Denver; 4th Street Market, Santa Ana, CA.)
Recently-opened food halls have included additional Eataly outposts, Manhattan’s popular Gotham West Market, the Southern food-focused Ponce City Market in Atlanta, revamped markets in L.A. (Grand Central Market) and New Orleans (St. Roch Market). St. Roch is emblematic of the taste level, depth and sophistication of the food hall movement, featuring a craft cocktail bar and coffee roaster, butcher, oyster bar and a handful of ethnic restaurant stalls.
Like Eataly, another food hall chain-in-the making is Seattle’s Market Hall, a project by Los Angeles restaurateur Tony Riviera. It’s being followed up by locations in Dallas, San Diego and San Francisco.
Other food halls in development include:
• Anthony Bourdain’s yet-unnamed 155,000-sq.-ft. food hall at Pier 57, lower Manhattan. Once completed in 2017, the “chaotic, in a good way…Asian night market,” as the No Reservations star has described it, will be New York’s largest food hall.
• James Beard Public Market, Portland, OR, is named for the culinary icon born there. The indoor-outdoor waterfront space will be served by 90 vendor stalls.
• The Marketplace at the National, Chicago: On the ground floor of a historic 1907 building, with 10 stalls featuring “many of Chicago’s most respected chefs and restaurant groups.”
• Dekalb Market Hall, a 26,000-sq.-ft. space in Brooklyn, NY.
• Detroit Ship Yard, 10,000 square feet of restaurant, retail and gallery space in repurposed shipping containers.
• The Hall at 400 Fairview, located in a new suburban Seattle office tower promises the “spirit and energy of an open-air market.”
Watching wages and workers
Tips and minimum wage are the hot-button issues for restaurants in 2016.
First, tipping: A few restaurants have tried doing away with tipping in recent years with limited success, only to lose good servers to the competition. But with high-profile restaurateurs like Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer (citing the public’s often-arbitrary and unfair tipping practices) testing the no-tip waters, experts, including Baum + Whiteman, think the trend stands a chance of catching on. Bel Air Bar + Grill will go tipless in 2016. “I think that we will soon see a lot of restaurants converting to a tipless system, with the restaurants paying both higher wages at the front-of-house and back-of-house...Wages should be determined by the employer and not the customer’s whim,” opines Chris Emerling, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine.
A Quinnipiac survey released last month showed the public isn’t buying in just yet. The majority of New York City residents surveyed called increasing menu prices or charging a 20 percent administrative fee to cover compensation a “bad idea.”
Minimum wage? That’s a differnt story. In the Quinnipiac survey, 70 percent of those polled said they favored New York’s plan to up the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 per hour over the next three years.
The National Restaurant Association, however, predicts mandatory wage hikes will have a devastating effect on the industry and workers. In a position paper on the topic, the group states that restaurants “are labor-intensive businesses that already devote about a third of their sales to wages and benefits...Pre-tax profit margins for restaurants typically range from 3 to 6 percent. Many restaurateurs would be forced to limit hiring, increase prices, cut employee hours or implement a combination of all three to pay for the wage increase.”