WASHINGTON — While off-premises dining options continue to grow increasingly popular and inflationary pressures are forcing consumers to prioritize value, the National Restaurant Association anticipates 2023 will see a strong demand for restaurant experiences and local flavors that can’t be replicated at home.
The increased interest in unique meal opportunities ranked first in the NRA’s “What’s Hot” report, an annual survey that combines the insights of more than 500 industry professionals to determine the upcoming year’s biggest trends.
Data from restaurant review hub Yelp supports this trend. A review of popular search terms on the site found a spike in searches for “underwater restaurants” and “dinner theaters,” an increase of 253% and 109%, respectively, over the last year.
Restaurant occasions are also likely to remain popular as rising grocery prices are outpacing dining costs, increasing 13% year-over-year in October compared to 8.5%, according to the NRA. Technomic, a Chicago-based research and analytics firm, also predicts the value gap will continue to close, motivating consumers to both eat out and spend more per meal to make the most out of each visit.
In order to capitalize on this price discrepancy, operators will need to balance their own cost increases through streamlined menu offerings, another top trend for 2023, made with cheap, practical ingredients. Menu items should also aim to engage consumers’ emphasis on sustainable, upcycled and zero-waste foods, the report’s No. 9 trend.
A variety of familiar foods also may be found in the NRA’s top 10, with fried chicken sandwiches ranking No. 2, charcuterie boards ranking No.3 and comfort fare ranking No. 4.
The association also predicted the rise of several flavor and functional twists on traditional staples. Popular variations likely will include chicken sandwiches made with flavor fusions, like sweet and spicy, globally inspired salads and flatbreads and wraps focused on health and wellness.
Other notable flavor trends in the top 10 include the resurgence of sriracha and growing interest in Southeast Asian ingredients and dishes.
Along with the next year’s rankings, the NRA’s report also identified key emerging trends that may evolve into major opportunity areas. Increased demand for tastes from around the globe, particularly from Gen Z consumers, is a driving factor for many of the entries.
Possible trends include a general interest in international sandwiches, such as choripan and bàhn mì, new sandwich bases, like pastry buns, crepes and roti, and Balkan-inspired dishes. Specific meals and ingredients listed range from a Peruvian mint paste called huacatay, to haupia, a traditional Hawaiian coconut desert.
Amazake, Japanese alcohol derived from fermented rice, and raki, a Turkish spirit made using twice-distilled gapes, also made the list.