Cravings for restaurant meals are outpacing inflationary pressures, and customers are eager to share meals that can’t easily be replicated at home, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) annual report, What’s Hot Culinary Forecast. The survey offers a detailed look at the topics, trends, and products expected to drive restaurant menus in 2023 across various categories, including daypart occasions, menu categories, beverages, flavors, global inspirations, and industry macro-trends.
Consumers will be most attracted to trendy global flavors, including Southeast Asian and Caribbean cuisines and comfort foods with a twist, the NRA said. Charcuterie boards, meanwhile, are an example of the type of shared, satisfying dining experience that more guests are expected to seek out in 2023.
Despite the booming popularity of off-premises restaurant meals and snacks in recent years, pent-up demand for in-restaurant experiences — socialization, celebration, and culinary exploration — is strong, with 70% of respondents noting customer desire to gather on-premises.
“The What’s Hot forecast for 2023 is an evolutionary reflection of both pandemic trends and current economic pressures,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research for the Association. “Inflation is shifting consumer spending habits, and while there is a heightened appetite for restaurant experiences and connection, diners are laser-focused on finding value. The challenge is how to fuse consumer desires for the new and trendy with their expectations for the price paid.”
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Top 10 Hot Trends for 2023
- Experiences/local culture and community
- Fried chicken sandwiches & Chicken sandwiches 3.0 (i.e., spicy and sweet-heat fusion flavors on chicken, etc.)
- Charcuterie boards
- Comfort fare
- Flatbread sandwiches/healthier wraps
- Menu streamlining
- Sriracha variations
- Globally inspired salads
- Zero waste/Sustainability/Upcycled foods
- Southeast Asian cuisines (Vietnamese, Singaporean, Philippine, etc.)
The Association reported that ingredient costs are expected to remain high next year. Restaurant operators are looking to streamline menus and create dishes with new ingredients to preserve value for guests. Additionally, value meals, particularly in the breakfast category, are expected to draw customers.
Another phenomenon impacting the industry is the evolution of remote work, which is profoundly disrupting the typical dayparts and effectively dissolving traditional meal and work times.
With the convenience of accessing any meal or snack through delivery, curbside pickup, counter pickup, and drive-thru, any time of day or night, food ordering present a unique opportunity to entice customers. Handheld menu options, such as French toast sticks, chicken & waffle sandwiches, and more, will satisfy growing customer demand for convenience around the clock.
“Understanding changing consumer desires is essential to the success of restaurants in every community across the country,” said Michelle Korsmo, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “The What’s Hot report provides an invaluable lens through which operators can evaluate and adapt emerging trends to create dining experiences that stimulate and engage their consumers, and perhaps even push the envelope forward on what’s hot next year.”
More than 500 ACF professional chefs from the ACF and Association members with chef titles provided insights that supported a comprehensive outlook to develop the annual What’s Hot survey on the leading food and menu trends for 2023.