Anyone who's spent a lot of time in the restaurant industry can tell you that the trends come and go. You don't have to be an insider to notice this, though—anyone who simply dines out in a major metropolitan hub on a regular basis can tell you the exact same thing.
Restaurant consultant Abbe Diaz has 25 years in the industry under her belt, both as a former maitre d' and as a regular, food-loving civilian. She spoke to CNBC.com about the trends she's seeing in Big Apple eateries, some of which are driven by consumers and others that are driven by restaurants.
"Japanese gastropubs," she said. "They deal primarily in sake, with good food to keep you there. ... It probably has a lot to do with restaurants finding it easier to obtain a beer and wine license, and sake falls under those categories. Full liquor licenses—'ABC licenses'—are much harder and more expensive to get."
Diaz said she believes many other restaurant-driven trends are a function of economics as well.
"Since rents keep going up, places get smaller and smaller, so you'll see specialized things," she said. "Five or six dishes that are easy to make, more takeout than fine dining."
She also observed that "Jamaican might be the new Mexican."
CNBC.com spoke with experts on the front lines of the restaurant industry and got their takes on the trends you may see when cooking fatigue sends you away from your home to dine. Read ahead and find out what some of them are.
—By CNBC's Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 30 July 2014
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Local Foods is a Chicago wholesale distributor and retailer of locally farmed food. It was founded in 2013 by partners Ryan Kimura, Andrew Lutsey and Dave Rand, and in a short period of time they've seen a surge in requests for local, grass-fed beef, which they've seen turn up in jerky dishes in top Chicago restaurants.
The jerky you'll find in these restaurants is a far cry from the stuff the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage used to hawk in television commercials in the 1990s. Barbecued beef jerky is available for a mere $5 at the restaurant Trenchermen, just a little more than what you'd pay for the mass-produced stuff at 7-11, but executive chef and co-owner Pat Sheerin doesn't mind the association.
"Well-made beef jerky is superdelicious, especially when you¹re using great beef for it," he said in an email.
The taste of smoked foods has always been popular. According to some of the culinary realm's leading lights, it's also a stylish cocktail enhancer, as The Huffington Post demonstrated earlier this year.
Aspiring mixologists wishing to infuse their own creations with smoky flavor are advised to visit the website of Arizona's go lb. salt. Their Bloody Mary rim-licks (pictured) contain hickory and applewood-smoked salt to add some flavor to your hangover helper.
The lionfish is normally found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. But within the last decade it's been making an appearance as an invasive species in the Caribbean and off the East Coast of the U.S., killing native wildlife and depleting their food.
Chefs Michael Schwartz and Thomas Tennant of Michael's Genuine Food and Drink in the Cayman Islands have turned this ecological disaster into a featured entree. Fodor's Travel called it "an inspired solution to the invasive lionfish population." If the fish becomes more of a problem for U.S. waters, expect it to appear on stateside menus.
No matter how old you get, some foods commonly associated with children never go out of style. Some restaurants seem to have taken this to heart, and are now serving upscale, adult versions of some childhood favorites.
One such restaurant is Malibu Pier Restaurant & Bar in Malibu, California, which serves spot prawn corn dogs. Another is The Must in Los Angeles, which serves sharp cheddar gooey mac & cheese with a Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crumble.
In the immortal words of Elmer Fudd, it's "wabbit" season. At least it is if you visit the New York City eateries that have begun serving rabbit to discriminating diners.
One such establishment is Glasserie, in the beard-besotted Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. It's found on the "large dishes" portion of the menu and sells for $78.
According to Grub Street, the restaurant review section of New York magazine, it's "not so much a single dish as it is a feast, a spread that takes up an entire table." So bring an appetite.
One restaurant trend has nothing to do with food. It's the emergence of apps that allow customers to give restaurants real-time feedback as they dine, so establishments can respond to problems—and hopefully correct them—before they reach the one-star Yelp review stage.
One company that manufactures this technology is Restaurant Customer Feedback. Another is Humm, which is presented to customers at the end of a meal via a survey on a tablet device. According to The Austin (Texas) Chronicle, restaurants that use it have reported up to a 45 percent decline in negative online reviews.
If you enjoy drinking alcoholic cocktails, but you feel like not enough blowtorches are used to create them, then molecular cocktails are for you. They combine the joy of drinking with the childlike wonder of playing with a chemistry set, and have become a fad.
The Liquid Chef Store, run by cocktail inventor Junior Merino, sells gear for the aspiring molecular mixologist. Products include guava chipotle foam and a floral enhancer to give your cocktail a whiff of spring mist. All atomic cocktail product pages advise buyers to "atomize responsibly."
Some restaurant trends don't have anything to do with what we eat, but where. The Japanese and the French have been concluding their meals for many years by retiring to a separate room to eat dessert, and according to restaurant designer Josh Zinder, this practice is taking hold on American shores.
He also noted that many restaurants are beginning to offer private dining rooms. "To maximize their offerings and keep tables full, more restaurateurs will use 'flex spaces' that can serve as regular dining areas, or be enclosed and separated for private groups," he said in an email.
In addition to Japanese gastropubs and Jamaican food, Diaz has noticed an emerging trend among New York City's epicurean aesthetes that's close to her own Filipina-American heart—Filipino food, such as lumpia (pictured).
"Suddenly there are new Filipino restaurants opening," she said. "And a lot of people—white ones—seem to be eating it out in existing obscure Filipino restaurants for the first time ever."
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