Socialization, globally-inspired salads, alfajor, huacatay: ‘What’s Hot Forecast’ 2023

Top trends inspired by emerging global, comfort foods, consumers craving connection amid inflation

The National Restaurant Association released its “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast” 2023. The report highlights trends in the restaurant industry, along with products that will drive the popularity of restaurant menus next year. From local culture to comfort fare, and menu streamlining to globally-inspired salads and huacatay, 2023’s trends are shaping up to be divergent.

The forecast examines trends across dayparts, categories, beverages, flavors, global inspirations, and industry macro-trends, said the Association.

Off-premises dining has been popular in the recent past, but in-restaurant experiences are now in. There is strong pent-up demand to be inside restaurants enjoying socializing, celebration and culinary exploration, per the Association. It’s no wonder that 70% of survey respondents note their desire to gather on restaurant premises.

Top 10 hot trends for 2023

Here are highly-relevant and meaningful trends for next year:

  • 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 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 price paid.”

The Association also noted three macro trends: experiences/local culture, comfort fare and menu streamlining.

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Top Emerging Trends 2023

Top “Ones to Watch,” list was also released. The “What’s Hot Forecast 2023” notes that globally-inspired cuisine is playing a strong role in elevating emerging trends. Diners, especially from GenZ, are interested in experimenting and sampling, and posting these experiences on social media.

Here are the top emerging food trends:

  1. Globally inspired sandwiches (Chinese Rou Jia Mo or jianbing, Argentine choripan, etc.)
  2. New sandwich carriers (paratha, roti, pastry buns, crepes, etc.)
  3. Amazake (Japanese drink made from fermented rice)
  4. Alfajor (sweet of almond paste, nuts, breadcrumbs & honey)
  5. Balkan (Croatian, Bulgarian, Turkish, etc.)
  6. Raki (Turkish alcohol made of twice-distilled grapes & anise)
  7. Automation technology (monitoring volume, temperature & time)
  8. Hawaiian haupia (coconut pudding)
  9. Huacatay (Peruvian black mint sauce)
  10. Elevated breakfast bowls (breakfast rice bowls, breakfast pasta bowls, etc.)

Despite inflation, consumers are craving for the restaurant dining experience, including partaking in meals not easily replicated at home. Diners are drawn in by trending global flavors, including Southeast Asian and Caribbean cuisines, and comfort foods with a twist. Meanwhile, charcuterie boards are a clear example of the shared dining experience that more guests are expected to seek out in 2023.

“Understanding changing consumer desires is essential to the success of restaurants in every community across the country,” said Michelle Korsmo, president and chief executive 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.”

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Inflation, work-at-home disruption

While ingredient costs remain high, restaurants are looking to streamline menus. They will create dishes with new ingredients, maintaining value for guests. In addition, value meals, specifically in the breakfast category, will appeal to consumers, according to the survey.

Because there are so many formats in which to experience restaurant meals, from delivery to drive-thru, remote work has helped disrupt traditional dining and meal times. With consumers seeking convenience, and having multiple options to access restaurant food, snacks are an opportunity and handhelds take a larger role at the table. According to the Association, French toast sticks, chicken & waffle sandwiches are examples of around-the-clock, high-appeal menu items.

The National Restaurant Association partnered with consultancy Technomic, a subsidiary of Winsight, in which it has a majority stake, and the American Culinary Federation (ACF) to produce the “What’s Hot Forecast.” A total of 500 professional chefs from the ACF and Association members with chef titles supported the insights and perspectives leading to compiling the leading food and menu trends for 2023.

Get the complimentary forecast here.

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