A National Restaurant Association (NRA) survey of more than 1,800 professional chefs — members of the American Culinary Federation — reveals that alcohol has gained a firm foothold among top restaurant menu trends. According to the survey, locally produced wine and beer is the fifth hottest trend on restaurant menus in 2010, and culinary cocktails and artisan liquor both rank in the top 20. Additional alcohol trends to be seen in restaurants in 2010 include organic beer/wine/spirits, food-beer pairings, craft beer, bar chefs/mixologists, gluten-free beer, specialty beer and organic cocktails.
“Alcohol can be an important part of the restaurant experience, and the “What’s Hot in 2010” survey clearly shows that wine, beer and spirits are essential menu items,” said Dawn Sweeney, NRA’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “In addition to the local sourcing trend that is also big in food items, we are seeing a fresh approach to integrating beer into meals, with chefs and beer sommeliers working closely to select complementary solid and liquid flavors. The culinary cocktail is another concept emerging as a top trend, taking guests beyond the traditional drink into more complex and adventurous culinary landscapes, often with savory ingredients such as bacon, hot peppers and fresh herbs.”
According to American Culinary Federation National President Michael Ty, “The culture of food preparation has changed dramatically. Consumers are more affluent, and they are bold and more demanding when it comes to their dining expectations. They want chefs to tempt their palates by pairing food and drink to ensure a superb dining experience.”
NRA surveyed 1,854 American Culinary Federation member chefs in October 2009, asking them to rate 214 individual food and beverage items, preparation methods and culinary themes divided into categories as a “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news,” or “perennial favorite” on restaurant menus in 2010.
Local sourcing is a central theme of the top trends in the survey, with locally sourced produce and meat/seafood ranking No. 1 and No. 2. More restaurants are exploring options for wine and beer that is made locally to build their drink menus and support local business. Minimal transport also holds appeal from an environmental standpoint.
Other alcohol trends ranking high in the survey also mirror general food and societal trends, NRA says. Culinary and savory cocktails and mixologists illustrate how American palates have grown more sophisticated and adventurous than before, the association says. Organic and artisan-made alcohol reflect popular philosophy-driven choices. Gluten-free beer is an example of increasing awareness of food allergies and intolerances, by adding new options for diners on restrictive diets, NRA says. While pairing wine with food is a long-established practice, recommending specific beers with menu items also shows a level of sophistication, deeper interest in foodie culture and recognition that all types of alcohol can enhance the dining experience.