2011 Top Restaurant Trends

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2011 Top Restaurant Trends

Design trends and chic food go hand in hand. As promised last month, I am sharing the second half of Andrew Freeman’s Article in Absolute Procurement’s September Blog.

Thank you to Andrew Freeman + Co. for his article (Andrew Freeman & Co. is a high-energy hospitality consulting agency with a unique blend of expertise in marketing, public relations and creative services with offices in San Francisco & New York).

The Pie’s the Limit

Move over cupcake, make way for pie, as pies in all sizes move from the State Fair to seriously craveable fare. Decadence is endless with everything from, savory, sweet, individual deep-fried pies, bite-sized minis and even pies blended into shakes.

Pie Happy Hour at Hill Country Chicken (New York, NY)

Crispy Creamy Chewy Chunky Dessert of the Month Club at Buttercup Grill & Bar highlights their signature pies (multiple locations, CA)

New Mom & Pop Shop

Realizing the time is now, and if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it your way; partners united in passion are opening self-financed and self- built restaurants. These are small places with less than forty seats, designed by friends or family, where the owners’ hands touch every ingredient and every part of the restaurant. Driven purely by their vision, they offer no compromises and present unique experiences you won’t likely find elsewhere.

Hand-poured concrete tables at eVe (Berkeley, CA)

Sons & Daughters (San Francisco, CA)

You’re the One

Single purpose restaurants are serving variations on one thing. Don’t be surprised to see the Peanut Butter Palace, French Dippity Dog or even The Big Biscuit, serving biscuit sandwiches and benedicts, opening soon.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches at American Grilled Cheese Kitchen (San Francisco, CA)

Sliders at SliderBarCafe (Palo Alto, CA)

Shrink Wrapped

Traditional meals are going way of the fun size snack pack. Smaller portions are perfect for smaller wallets and eating on the run. Look closely for mini–pizzettas and bagels, two-bite hotdogs, miniature tacos or burritos, cake truffles bound with frosting, even pot roasts and pot pies all done in less than ½ size. Small is big.

Mini Tenderloin Sandwiches at The Capital Grille (Palm Beach, FL)

Marketing 101 Night & Day

Restaurants and high-end quick service food providers join with farmers, artisans and specialty purveyors reinventing the food hall. Restaurants are also expanding by opening quick-service windows – opening a “window” of opportunities. Come one, come mall.

Marketplace at Eataly (Turin, Italy and New York, NY)

Desert Menu

Restaurants abandon descriptive menu jargon (like cooking method, sides or adjectives) instead highlighting only the key ingredients. You don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, but trust us, it’ll be good.

Examples: Plate Shop (Sausalito, CA); Eleven Madison Park (New York, NY)

Talk Dirty to Me

In search of simplicity and pure flavors, chefs are abandoning sauce. Instead find powders, crumbles, dusts, and dirts crafted from cookie crumbs, dried mushroom powder, dehydrated beets, and anything else that can be dried, ground or crumbled to add intriguing texture.

Radishes in Edible “Dirt” (toasted malt) at Noma (Copenhagen)

Fire it Up!

Extending way beyond wood-fired pizza, restaurants all over are roasting vegetables directly in embers and slow-roasting whole animals or large cuts of meats over wood-burning fire.

Examples: Tokyo Turnips Roasted in Embers, Shaved Raw and Bonito Poached at Saison (San Francisco, CA); Wood Roasted Whole Chicken at E&O Trading Co. (San Francisco, CA); Oak Roasted Whole Young Pig at Poggio (Sausalito, CA)

Haute Dogs

Hot dogs are the new burger as chefs re-imagine them with boutique-style sausages and gourmet toppings. Hot dogs will escape from specialty stands and venture into restaurants as chefs dress them up for service. This wiener is a winner.

Organic House Merguez with Lamb and Pork, Fig Chutney, House Mustard and Arugula at Show Dogs (San Francisco, CA)

Ahhhhhhh Veg Out!

Even meat-minded chefs are vegging out as flexitarian goes mainstream. Meatless Mondays and vegetable based tasting menus are gaining traction as guests realize it’s not all about the meat on the plate. There’s nothing to beef about.

Monday vegetarian and vegetable centric tasting menus at Dovetail (New York, NY)

It’s Fry Time to Eat Your Veggies

It’s the revenge of the dreaded vegetable as we discover those yucky vegetables everyone loves to hate taste really good – fried. New favorites include Fried Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts Chips and Kale Chips. Forget the potato chip – try it with turnip instead. Bet you can’t eat just one.

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich at Rainbow Falafel and Shwarma (New York, NY)

Chefs are Going Soft

Soft serve plays hard ball as chefs and restaurants dress it up in designer duds. We’ll see savory soft serve, soft frozen fruit, high-end interpretations and cocktail driven creations.

Crunchy Salty Sundae Made with Banana Fruizo, Bananas, Pretzels, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chips at Simply Peeled (New York, NY)

Press Junk-it

Munchies are moving to the forefront as chefs reinvent junk food in gourmet ways. We’re waiting to see what talented chefs come up with as they reinterpret Cheetos, Bugles, jerky, Slurpees and Fun Dip. We’re all junkies for junk food.

Cereal Milk Ice Cream at Momofuku Milk Bar (New York, NY))

Pop Goes the World

And the chefs follow suit with spiked, salty, sweet and savory popsicles in exotic and alcoholic flavors. Pop Rocks!

Sugar Snap Pea with Orange at Sol Pops (Portland, OR)

Cultural Integration

Yogurt moves from snack to staple as it takes leading roles in sauces, dips, spreads and desserts. Expect to see it in new form including: sundried, freeze-dried, smoked and pressed as well as cultural variations like skyr (from Iceland) and Lebanese labne. It does a body good.

Knisa Lamb Chops with Smoked Yogurt at Zaytinya (Washington, DC)

Swede Inspiration

Thanks to Noma and Nordic innovation, northern ingredients and culinary trends are headed south. Call it the Scandinavian Invasion.

Examples: Grilled Rabbit Terrine with Skyr at Uchi and Uchiko Restaurant (Austin, TX); Maine Skate Wing with Gooseberries, Butter Beans, Salsa Verde, Fresh Black Eyed Peas at étoile at Domaine Chandon (Yountville, CA)

Our Daily Bread

Chefs are reexamining the bread basket and serving special house-made breads with intention and attention – including special plateware and butter service. It’s certainly not “plain white bread.”

Fresh baked Popovers at Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco, CA)

Going Belly Up

Goat & lamb belly gain on the ever-popular pork as prices rise and chefs and guests look for the next favorite ingredient. There’s no such thing as a belly flop.

Belly Confit at Girl and the Goat (Chicago, IL)

Hot Ingredients in 2011:


Its smooth, spreadable and spicy and it has nostalgia–we’re bringing it back

(Pimento Cheeseburger photo courtesy of Brick & Bottle, Corte Madera, CA)

In the NECK of Time

Lamb, beef, goat or pork neck

Show Me the WHEY

Chefs are cooking with whey in salads, sauces and as a cooking medium


Kumquats appear in salads, relishes and desserts

Thank You For SMOKING

Smoked olive oil, smoked butter, and smoked cumin finishing dishes

HAY There Pard’ner

Hay is for roasting, smoking and even braising

Pop Star

Sweet or spicy flavored POPCORN pops up on dessert menus, bar tops, scattered across ceviche or as a crispy crust on meats or fish.


As a sauce, spread or ingredient


Homemade pretzel sticks with sauce, pretzel wrapped sausages, pretzel buns and chocolate tarts with a pretzel crust

Who You Callin’ HONEY?

Partnerships with beekeepers provide signature honey to be featured in sauces and dressings

Drinks trends:

Omakase Cocktail

You pick your poison, but let the bartender mix the drink. Super talented bartenders now custom-create a drink based on your flavor or liquor preferences. You’ll never know what hit you.

Copa d’Oro (Santa Monica, CA)

Shrub Your Enthusiasm

What was old is new again as do-it-yourself bartenders bring back the old-fashioned house-made fruit flavored vinegar syrups known as shrubs and add them to cocktails.

Champagne Shrub at The City Tavern (Philadelphia, PA)

Everything is Better with Bacon

In a process called fatwashing, ambitious bartenders and mixologists are infusing liquors with fats and savory flavors. Bacon-infused bourbon, brown butter rum and chorizo-infused tequila… Now we drink the fat, not just chew it.

“De” Still my Heart

Micro-distilleries are the movement of the moment when it comes to artisan spirits proving that the more things change, the stills are not the same. Small-batch distilleries are making it big as bars and restaurants keep it local when they select their whisky, gin, vodka, bourbon and rye. Call it the all new microbrew.

House Spirits Distillery (Portland, OR); Leopold Bros (Ann Arbor, MI)

Cherie, Sherry

Sherries and port make a comeback as they take a leading role along with other low-alcohol fortified wines in cocktails. Bartenders love their sipping potential, enhanced food friendliness and aromatic properties. Guests like being able to order more than one drink.

Smoke Signals Cocktail with Tennessee Whiskey, Manzanilla Sherry, Pecan Syrup, Lemon Juice, Bitters, and Smoked Ice at Laurelhurst Market (Portland, OR)

Get Off the Bottle

As alternative packaging takes off in the wine industry, expect to see more and more restaurants offering wine not by the bottle, but poured from kegs, barrels, taps and even canteens.

Metrovino’s Enomatic wine system (Portland, OR)

Getting a “Head” on the Game

Private label and house custom-blended wines are common enough – now chefs are doing customized signature brews.

Examples: Lüke Fru at Lüke (New Orleans, LA) Picán IPA at Picán (Oakland, CA)

Root for Beer Floats

Something’s brewing in the sweets kitchen as restaurants introduce beer based desserts.

Examples: Cherry Kriek Beer Ice Cream at Café Boulud (New York, NY); Tecate Cake at Kiss My Bundt Bakery (Los Angeles, CA)

Un-Tapped Potential

Non-alcoholic drinks offer new ways to boost beverage business with homemade root beers, fresh seasonal lemonades in never tried before flavors and studied mocktails; shaken not stirred.


Examples: Saltwater Taffy Lemonade at David Burke restaurants (New York, NY); Ginger Lime Soda from Pranna Restaurant | Bar

Lounge (New York, NY)

Top Drinks in 2011:

SOURS Patch Kids

And not just the Pisco variety, but rum and tequila, too

FIVE (Berkeley, CA)

A Lighter Shade of Whiskey

WHITE WHISKEY or “white dog” are being used in cocktails for their lighter flavors

We All Scream for EGG CREAMS

It’s the revival of the old classic, a chocolate soda, no cream and no egg

We Hear a RUM-bling Going On

Tiki drinks, rum punch, and riffs on the ever-popular mojito not to mention growing appreciation for aged rums

SANGRIA, I Just Met a Girl Named Sangria

House-made sangrias

Going Coco for COCONUT WATER

Appearing in cocktails and blended juices


There is growing appreciation for fine mezcals taken neat

Some Like it Cold


Tom & Harry Make a Comeback

Tom Collins, Harvey Wallbangers and other RETRO MAD-MEN ERA COCKTAILS make a comeback

Marketing trends

Love the One You’re With

Keep in contact with fans to keep them coming in for more. Embrace all the tools available including direct mail, email, social media channels, as well as grass roots marketing and traditional PR efforts. Find your personality and express it. Highlight key personalities and build the personal connection.


“R. U. Bot or Not” campaign billboard

Face Time

Make a guest’s experience unique by offering truly distinctive service and building a relationship. Adopt innovative training techniques to differentiate service styles and ensure happy, returning guests. Improv classes give staff insight in how to react best, life coaching for staff members makes for happy staff – ensuring happier guests.

Examples: Andaz 5th Avenue (New York, NY); Elysian Hotel (Chicago, IL)

You’ve Got Mail

We’re set to see snail mail return, as we’re all overwhelmed with email, strategic selective and well-planned use of direct mail, gets attention and gets them in the door.

Get Your Just Rewards

Guests now expect the right to customize everything. Be flexible and go with the flow. Hotels allow guests to “pick your perks” and select from a range of options. Restaurants can provide a personalized experience going the extra mile to recognize repeat guests and add an unexpected touch for special celebrations.

Examples: Pick your Perks at Kimpton (hotels nationwide); Rewards at Marriott (nationwide)

Pump Up the Volume

Reality TV has trained us all to expect to be entertained. Guests want a full experience and expect more from food & wine; or from a hotel. Provide educational opportunities, competitions and interactive events that keep everyone tuned it.

Examples include seasonal or cultural celebrations, bartender show-downs, guided tours and classes.

Examples: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Heirloom Tomato Wine Dinner and silent screening at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar (Sonoma, CA); SF Chefs (San Francisco, CA)

Text Appeal

Texting is the new form of communication for reservations, confirmations and ticketing. Wente Vineyards texts fans for last minute deals on concert tickets. Modern hotels text confirmation upon booking and room number upon landing.

Examples: Avista Resort (Myrtle Beach, SC); Wente Vinyards (Livermore, CA)


Creative marketers are making the most of apps and the popularity of the new ipad. We’re already seeing the ipad wine list. Expect hotels to have ipad walking tours (sponsored by local restaurants and galleries), restaurants can create an appealing platform for recipes for food or cocktails.

Examples: Guest registration at The Upper House (Hong Kong); Ordering food, Requesting a waiter on ipad at Hilton San Diego Bayfront (San Diego, CA); IPad Concierge at The Iron Horse Hotel (Milwaukee, WI)

Bed Time Stories

Guests want to know the stories behind a dish or an experience. What was the inspiration for the dish on the menu? What’s the connection to this art? Why were these materials selected for the design? Tell the story – and they’ll tell their friends.

Examples: Grand Cafe Brasserie & Bar Chef Sophiane Benaouda will introduce a series of French regional dinners inspired by his recent travels around France (San Francsico, CA)

Absolute Procurement is a full-service FF+E Procurement company specializing in managing the procurement process for projects of all budgets, sizes, and scope.  We would love to hear from you; please contact carrie@absolute-procurement or (503) 708-0262.

Carrie Gates

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