What Will We See on Future Menus?

Diners should expect to be delighted by modernized comfort food and low-waste menus, according to Unilever Food Solutions’ Future Menus Top North America Trends 2024 report. It also acts as a recipe guide with solutions to industry-wide challenges, from cost-saving initiatives that ease labor shortages to recipes backed by forward-thinking trends. 

Modernized Comfort Food reflects the evolution of familiar dishes, making way for new recipes that reflect the heritage of the chef and the restaurant’s locale. The rising cost of ingredients and an ongoing commitment to sustainability is the driving force behind the Low-Waste Menu trend which encourages resourcefulness to reduce waste and maximize ingredient usage. In the face of sustainability concerns, 65 percent of foodservice operators consider this trend the most relevant and expect this trend to grow.1 

Other top trends identified in the report include Irresistible Vegetables, Local Abundance and The New Sharing. 

With nearly one-third of the US population showing a strong affinity for plant-based food and more than 40 percent of consumers agreeing that the availability of plant-based food enhances the restaurant experience2, it’s no surprise that Irresistible Vegetables is a key trend that will impact foodservice in the coming year. The Local Abundance trend is about celebrating local ingredients and producers. It’s also a profitable trend since over three-quarters (77 percent) of Gen Z diners and 70 percent of Baby Boomers are willing to pay more for dishes with locally sourced ingredients. The New Sharing trend also highlights the growing demand for unique, playful, and multi-sensory shareable dish experiences. 

Detroit style foccacia

“As the restaurant industry continues to evolve to satisfy diners’ changing expectations and dietary preferences, our Culinary Team is committed to bringing operators the resources and tools to navigate the challenges faced within our industry,” said Chef Brandon Collins, Corporate Executive Chef NA, Unilever Food Solutions 

To learn more about these trends, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine reached out to Collins. 

What is the process of coming up with new trends? 

We speak to a lot of operators and chefs and rely on our data providers to make sure that the trends we develop are relevant and executable.  We look at what is popping up on menus, what social cues there are out in the market, and what flavors are popping up.  

What do you hope restaurant operators take away from reading about these trends?

  I hope at the end of the day they can be inspired.  Our hope is that at least 1 if not multiple of these trends will resonate with each operator.  I also think there can be some sort of confirmation in some cases that operators are in touch with what is happening out in the market.  And lastly, I hope they are able to take the recipes within the report and adapt them to their operation.  We wanted to make sure that these recipes were ones that could be replicated in market.  

In what ways should operators go about creating an interactive experience for their guests?  

From something as simple as allowing the operator to create their own item, take for example, the concepts of Sweetgreen, Five Guys and Chipotle. Some operators add a seasoning packet to their fries in order to create their own flavors by shaking them in the bag. Limited words on the menu gives server the opportunity to interact with their guest more.  Creating shareable items that encourage people at the table to interact with each other.  Try offering shareable DIY menu items such as bao buns with all of the ingredients on the side so  that guests can customize their own and talk about it.  There are also a lot of ways to interact with guests via social media such as giveaways, asking followers to pick a favorite LTO to be a permanent menu item, etc.

Korean pull apart bread
How important is the element of storytelling to engage with guests?  

For me storytelling is as important as the food and plating. I feel like it greatly impacts the overall experience. Guests will gravitate towards an establishment that has food on the menu that serves a purpose, supports something or someone local, or just all around appeals to what they enjoy.  It doesn't have to necessarily be in the dish they are buying but even the concept as a whole, if there is a great story behind it people will come. 

With guests and operators both being cost-sensitive, what are some tips for being on trend, but still providing good value? 

 I think trending flavors are the easiest way to stay cost effective and stay on trend.  To make it manageable, add trending items that are easily utilized across multiple sections and day parts of your menu.  For example, local asparagus can be utilized across the menu as an appetizer, entree, side, breakfast, dinner, flat bread etc. or if you want to use an on-trend flavor like gochujang, you can add it to a variety of applications like ranch dressing, hollandaise, grains, etc. Small steps can slowly grow over time and allow you to be able to appeal to a broader audience.