Here at Serious Eats, we see an awful lot of menus—dozens per week—and whether it's lamb (the new bacon), donuts or small plates, menu trends are pretty easy to spot. Well here are a few that we'd actually like to see more of in the upcoming year.
1. Recognition to butchers.
The meat trend can occasionally start to feel a little tired, but letting customers know that your restaurant is accountable for the provenance of its meat and that it supports the dying art of butchery is a good thing.
2. Improved beer programs.
Small batch microbreweries are finally reaching critical mass to get the beer movement really rolling. We'd like to see well-curated beer lists right next to the wine lists offering bottles from obscure, but terrific vineyards.
3. Less "artisan" this and "artisan" that.
There was a time when the word artisan actually meant something—it was produced by an artist. These days, anything handmade or rustic in appearance gets the artisan stamp. Let your food's flavor speak for itself. If it's truly made by an "artist," your customers should be able to taste it.
4. More diversity in meats and fish.
Even though chefs are becoming more adventurous about serving offal, we still see cow, pig, chicken, duck. How about more goat or wild boar? Or sea robins, barramundi, and mackeral, instead of the same half dozen fish that appear on every menu? Many alternative meats and fish are both more interesting, and sustainable—a double win for interested chefs and customers.
5. Strong bar programs that don't rely on flashy cocktails.
Lots of restaurants these days have house cocktails featuring multiple fresh-squeezed juices, infused or barrel-aged spirits, and three different acai/pomegranate/cardamom liqueurs, but ask them for a Negroni or a Sazerac, and you're met with blank stares (or worse—the bartender who pretends to know what the drink is, looks up the ingredients, then serves you your Manhattan shaken in a martini glass). Get the basics right, then work on the fancy drinks.
6. Drink pairing suggestions beyond wine.
Pick the perfect beverage for each of your dishes, whether it's wine, beer, or a nonalcoholic cocktail. Beverages help food shine—encourage your customers to choose good matches and you'll improve their experience while improving your bottom line.
7. Improved cheese programs.
We can never get enough good cheese, and tasting small-batch cheeses from small farms and producers is always interesting—provided that cheese list is well curated. To make things easier for cheese novices, it's always nice when "set menus" of three or five different choices are already picked—of course, the diner should always be given the choice to make his or her own groupings if desired. And for God's sake—do not serve fridge-cold cheese. Room temperature, please.
8. Smaller menus with fewer programs.
When we're confronted with a menu that's got Appetizers, Small Plates, Crudo, Salumi, Pastas, Main Courses, Side Dishes, and a half dozen other sections, we don't just get confused, we get annoyed. Customers don't come to restaurants to get a mental workout: your job is to do the work for them. Keep the menu simple, and make it clear how and how much customers are meant to order.
9. Don't list the name of your farmer or producer unless you've got something to say.
It doesn't mean much to a diner if your eggs come from Starry Grove Farm unless Starry Grove is doing something really special to make those eggs different from all the other eggs out there. Ask yourself: are your eggs really that different from the eggs they're using next door? If not, then we don't need to know about them.
10. Wording designed to inform customers rather than confuse them.
Menus written out as confusing lists of ingredients may be the hot trend designed to get your patrons to interact with the servers, but 99 percent of the time, we'd like to be able to figure out what's going on just by reading the menu. We prefer straightforward menus that describe the food in simple but evocative ways so we can at least get a sense of what we are about to eat. Also, plain English is almost always preferable. Is that sauce really an aioli, or is it just mayonnaise?
Oh, and for the record: We want more double crusted pies on dessert menus. Crumb toppings and crisps are a cop-out.