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WINTER 2021 ISSUE

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MENU TRENDS | SHARED KITCHEN | INDUSTRY REPORT


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TABLE OF CONTENTS | WINTER 2021 04 Editor’s Letter 06 Menu trends to watch 08 Self-pour taproom 10 Technology trends 14 Q&A collaborative trio: Astro, Prescription Chicken, Salteña 18 National Restaurant Association releases State of the Restaurant Industry Report 20 Opinion - Think and act big to survive 24 Restaurant trends shift in 2021 26 Top 2021 food trends

BUSINESS Executive Editor Rick Zambrano contactrick@eaterypulse.net

About District Restaurant News District Restaurant News is the trade magazine for the fastpaced and competitive Washington, DC restaurant scene. A hotbed of design, concept and culinary innovation, Metro DC is becoming the place to experience cuisine at its best. It isn’t just for foodies: the DC area is also the perfect location for restaurant and culinary innovators to realize their dreams and build businesses. These visionaries, along with the larger industry of vibrant restaurant owners and operators, deserve expert tools to succeed. Powered by Eatery Pulse, District Restaurant News is published quarterly.

Swizzle Chill TV Photography Anthony Torres Assistant Editor Margaret McConnell Editorial Designer Ashley McCarty Contributors Eric Nomis To place an ad or for business development opportunities, contact sales@eaterypulse.net

Powered by Photo left: Warming up with Prescription Chicken. Photo by Olga Berman. On the cover: Photo by Saya Salteña. Copyright 2021 Eatery Pulse News Media.

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Editor’s Letter Unprecedented times challenge DC area restaurant owners as they look to overcome the impact of high coronavirus case numbers, and wait while local health departments work through the logistical challenges of administering vaccines to numerous individuals in the region. Many restaurant operators have dialed up their digital presence to get them through this pandemic. To remain competitive, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends so in this issue, we’re highlighting segments of the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report. Coronavirus impacts on the industry and shifts in how operators are responding to off-premises business are among the featured analyses. As we do in the early part of each year, we have gathered a variety of updated food and menu trend information, including the reprise of a popular article on 2021 food trends that appeared recently in Restaurant C-Suite Magazine. Collaborations can help restaurant operators expand their reach and clientele while keeping expenses in check. Our Q&A in this issue explores how three different restaurant operators are using a shared kitchen space in the Shaw neighborhood to better manage costs and fulfill food orders for pickup and delivery. I look forward to sharing more news shortly. Please sign up at subscribe. districtrestaurantnews.com.

Sincerely, Rick Zambrano Executive Editor 4 District Restaurant News

Immunity foods, including turmeric, are trending. Photo by Charissa Kenion.


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Menu trends to watch in 2021 By Eric Nomis

Guisada, Birria and Fried Chicken are hot Some consumers want to experience a culinary journey they can’t create in their own kitchens, while for others, food is functional. About 78 percent of Millennial consumers say that restaurants serve foods that provide flavor and taste sensations they can’t easily duplicate at home, according to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry report.

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Guisada According to the “Trend Forecasting 2021” issue of Foodbytes by Datassential, guisada is a menu item to watch. The deep-flavored stew-style meat can be enjoyed solo or in tacos, recommends the trend-tracking firm. At Republic Cantina on N Street, the versatile carne guisada is featured on three different menu items: on the Cantina Pupusa, guests can add guisada to make it Texan-style. The Taco Nortena comes with carne guisada, grilled onion, avocado, and melty chihuahua cheese. The house Chile con Queso comes with carne guisada, guacamole, and pico de gallo.

Birria Also a hot menu trend, identified in Yelp’s top trends of 2020, birria is a spicy stewed meat made from goat, beef or mutton, originating in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The rate of review mentions for birria jumped 228 percent in 2020. Yelp notes that birria dishes have found additional homes beyond tacos: variations like “birria quesadillas, fondly called ‘quesabirria,’ and birria pizza” are cropping up. Growing taco concepts Taco Rock and Taco Bamba carry birria on their menus. At Taco Rock, Birria Tacos feature braised beef, melted cheese, onion, cilantro, guacamole, and beef consomme for dipping. Birria Tacos are one of the most popular dishes at Taco Rock’s newest location in Alexandria. At the Taco Bamba chain started by Chef Victor Albisu, the Birria Tacos feature onion and cilantro in a corn tortilla.

Fried Chicken As pandemic consumers seek to indulge in comfort foods, fried chicken is having more than a moment. It has become a top comfort food that appears in a range of restaurant segments. Fried chicken’s popularity shows no signs of dissipating, so restaurant operators that don’t carry it should seriously reconsider. Those who already feature fried chicken, can create excitement by switching things up. Variations on style, preparation and

The dippable Birria Taco at Taco Rock 2 in Alexandria, Va. Photo by Taco Rock.

inspiration, especially on a rotating basis, offer ways to bring back customers and perk up appeal. Asian fried chicken has forged a pathway for unconventional creativity. According to Yelp, the rate of reviews for Korean fried chicken increased 28 percent last year. Korean fried chicken follows a time-honored method of double-frying. Washington-area independent restaurant operators, who have a deep creativity that is often unmatched, should consider tweaking this style of fried chicken for their menus. Spicy fried chicken is an additional notable trend, according to Yelp. Review mentions of Nashville Fried Chicken increased 60 percent in 2020. Bantam King in DC has embraced this trend, and is offering a Nashville Fried Chicken Plate, consisting of chicken prepared in a savory dunk & spice mix and served with a side of steamed rice topped with chicken drippings, tamari and butter. Restaurants that stand out and engage customers have much to gain by monitoring these trends, particularly as every sales dollar counts so much currently. These foods are packed with flavor, sought-after by consumers, and very Instagram-worthy. As they compete in a digital world, with food offerings that must stand out online and on social media, restaurant operators should consider adopting some of these menu trends. District Restaurant News 7


Self-pour taproom opens in Navy Yard By Eric Nomis

Restaurant and pub features measured, RFID-enabled enjoyment

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Tap99 is coming this spring to Navy Yard. Photo by Tap99. Photo center: Jason Cherry, Tap99 founder. Photo by Tap99.

A new taphouse and restaurant will open just steps from Nats Stadium this spring. Founded by Jason Cherry, a former race car driver who participated in the Pirelli World Challenge, and business owner, Tap99 will bring self-service beer, wine, cider, and premixed cocktails to the Navy Yard neighborhood. Located in a 2,800-square foot space, the self-pour taproom and restaurant will rotate brews to reflect seasonal arrivals and local craft brewers. Communal tables will comprise the bulk of the 92 indoor seats, and will be complemented by an outdoor patio with additional seating.

The Tap99 kitchen will dish out artisan pizzas made in a Marra Forni brick oven, small plates and shareable plates. Customers will connect an RFID card with their preferred form of payment to purchase a variety of adult beverages by the ounce. “Not only will our selfpour experience translate into shorter wait times, it will allow customers to sample small amounts of a variety of our 99 beverages on tap,” says Cherry, who also owns Mission Escape Rooms, the largest escape room business in Maryland. “We look forward to welcoming Navy Yard residents, visitors and Nats fans alike to experience this unique concept.” District Restaurant News 9


TECH

TRENDS

INVESTMENT IN TECHNOLOGY Half of restaurant operators have invested more in technology since March 2020. Online or in-app ordering, mobile payment and delivery management have been their main focus. One in four operators has added technology that allows customers to order through mobile apps.

Source: State of the Restaurant Industry Report from the National Restaurant Association.

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Photo by Clay Banks.


TECH

TRENDS

APP ORDERING EXPECTATIONS Customers now expect to order through mobile apps. In fact, 26 percent of consumers say the ability to order through an app for takeout/delivery makes them more likely to choose one restaurant over another. They are also a great way to engage customers: the mobile app for Hank’s Oyster Bar, for example, provides users with an easy way to order and to learn of new specials and restaurant updates.

Source: State of the Restaurant Industry Report from the National Restaurant Association.

Photo by Douglas Bagg.


TECH

TRENDS

DIGITAL MENUS PERCENT OF OPERATORS WHO HAVE ADDED QR CODE-ENABLED MENUS:

48%

54%

50% 32%

Restaurant operators are featuring digital menus among their technology upgrades. By scanning a QR code, a customer can navigate directly to an online menu that displays on their smartphone, tablet or computer. These are the percentages of restaurants that have added QR-code-enabled menus.

21% 13% Family dining

Casual dining

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Fine dining

Quick service

Fast casual

Coffee & snack

Source: 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report from the National Restaurant Association.

Photo courtesy of iWallet, a provider of contactless QR code-based menus.


TECH

TRENDS

Source: 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report from the National Restaurant Association.

Photo by Clay LeConey.

BABY BOOMERS (56-74)

GEN-XERS (40-55)

MILLENNIALS (24-39)

SEATING OPTION

GEN Z ADULTS (18-23)

Technology has surfaced as an important tool for restaurant operators to engage customers and take in orders with ease. In a tableservice environment, however, customers still want human interaction, according to the 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report. Sixty-four percent of customers prefer that a server take their order and bring them the bill. Only 36 percent prefer to do so through a tablet at the table or smart device.

ALL ONPREMISES CUSTOMERS

TABLESERVICE: TECHNOLOGY HAS ITS LIMITS

Traditional table service, where a server takes the order and brings the bill at the end of the meal

64%

45%

57%

67%

69%

Customers order food and beverages and pay the bill using either a computer tablet at the table or an app on their smartphone

36%

55%

43%

33%

31%


Q&A | Astro, Prescription Chicken, Salteña Three local eateries share kitchen in Shaw, DC Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken recently moved into a shared kitchen space with Prescription Chicken and Saya Salteña in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. The local chain will use the space to expand service in the local area. Saya Salteña joined the shared kitchen venture in December. We caught up with Astro co-owner Elliot Spaisman, Prescription Chicken (PC) co-founder and coowner Valerie Zweig, and Saya Salteña (SS) founder and owner Maria Itturalde to find out more about this new collaboration. District Restaurant News: First, how will this new location impact the Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken menu and how will business expand in its to-go only format out of Shaw? Astro: This is a great opportunity for us to expand in a new neighborhood. People are working from home these days, and a lot of people live in the Shaw neighborhood, so we’re able to serve our popular menu to new and old customers alike. Because we partner with third party delivery apps we don’t get to control our delivery radius. This new location opens up an opportunity to deliver to more parts of the city, which we can’t reach as easily from our G Street location. Most of our menu items are available at the Shaw location: our chicken and sandwiches are made-to-order right there, and our doughnuts are made at our G Street location and delivered every morning to Shaw. DRN: Please give us an update on Satellite Sandwiches and how that virtual concept from Astro’s is doing. Astro: Satellite has been doing well and it has given us an opportunity to keep our kitchen busy and creative during a challenging time. The warm, made-to-order cookies have been a huge hit and we figured out a way to bake them on-site in Shaw so we hope they’ll be a nice complement to our doughnut and chicken offerings. 14 District Restaurant News

Cookies for sister virtual restaurant of Astro Doughnuts, Satellite Sandwiches. Photo by Scott Suchman for Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken.

DRN: Tell us about how this arrangement came together for Prescription Chicken. PC: We lost our home this summer (COVID Casualty) and we needed to find a centrally located base for our deliveries. We spotted 1819 7th Street and approached the landlord whom we knew to be progressive due to the concepts that had previously lived in this corridor. He was excited about our idea to use this as a shared kitchen space to help small food businesses during a crazy time. DRN: Can you dive deeper into Prescription Chicken’s menu, its genesis and how customers can order from this location? PC: Everyone knows that chicken soup is liquid gold, and chicken soup – that you don’t have to make yourself—can cure whatever may be ailing you today. Prescription Chicken is all about making and delivering chicken soup to help you feel better! Prescription Chicken was started after I got laryngitis two times in 6 weeks and couldn’t find good


chicken soup to be delivered to my door. I mentioned this to my cousin Taryn and we decided to create a business dedicated to making and bringing delicious chicken soup to the DC area and beyond! We focus on over 8 different chicken and chicken-style soups along with complementary items like homemade mini challahs, freshly-baked salted chocolate chip cookies and challah slider sandwiches. We have a variety of packages that make a perfect gift for someone you love. Guests can walk in and order, or order through our website for pickup or delivery, or through delivery sites like UberEats, Postmates and more. Prescription Chicken soup is also carried at independent grocery stores such as Glen’s Garden Market, Odd Provisions and select Streets Markets, as well as Whole Foods and Balduccis. DRN: Please share how this collaboration with shared space and resources helps

Prescription Chicken and its partners. PC: Rent and utilities are expensive, and for a small business, that can be a lot to shoulder. Collaborating with other businesses helps lessen the burden as we can share some of the monthly expenses. We got our start in a shared kitchen and have always operated in shared spaces, so our plan was always to share and collaborate, which helps support our business as we look to grow. Astro and Saya Salteña are long-time friends and so we knew it was a natural, complementary fit! DRN: Bolivian food is rising in popularity in the Metropolitan Washington area. Tell us about Saya Salteña’s story and its menu. SS: I moved from La Paz, Bolivia in 1999 to attend George Washington University. I started cooking as a break from the demands of my studies and found a passion for cooking and sharing Bolivia’s unique gastronomic heritage. As a starting point, I started dreaming about bringing the salteña, a unique

A Salteña (Bolivian empanada). Photo by Saya Salteña.

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mix of a soup dumpling and pot pie enjoyed on every street corner in Bolivia, to an American audience. Bolivians have enjoyed the salteña’s slightly sweet, crispy pastry and savory stew it contains for hundreds of years. Salteñas are extremely labor intensive to make and require practice to perfect the intricate roping that visually distinguishes salteñas from empanadas and similar meat pies. They take three days to make: on the first day we make the bone broth and vegan broth and peel and dice all the vegetables and proteins. On the second day the jigote (filling) and the dough are prepared, and on the third day we build the salteñas. Additional painstaking tasks include tracking down the unique ingredients and adapting the recipe from Bolivia’s high altitudes to Washington, DC, which is only about 400 feet above sea level. Saya Salteña also offers a variety of Bolivian staples such as “humintas” (pureed andrea corn, spices and singani), “Sandwich de Chola” (roasted pork shoulder topped with pickled carrots & red onions on brioche bun), “Pukacapa” (a spicy cheese empanada) and the classic beverage “Mocochinchi” (peach pit cider & spices) that is very popular during summer. DRN: What does the shared kitchen space mean to Saya Salteña and how has it helped expand your reach? SS: It’s all about location and the right partnership. I met the “soup ladies” back in Mess Hall, long before Prescription Chicken, and we kept in touch all this time. We reconnected a few months ago and the idea of joining them in this shared space was just the right fit. This location is central and convenient for deliveries; it also has great potential for walk-ins. So joining forces with Prescription Chicken as well as Astro Doughnuts is a great opportunity for us. The three companies offer quality products that complement each other. During this pandemic we all have to be extremely creative and make the best out of such difficult times, especially in the food/hospitality industry that has been hit so hard.

Coming Soon SPRING Veggie menu trends Tech tools for growth Employee of the future Baseball season ...and more!

SUMMER Salads Cocktails trending Supplier connections Fast casuals ...and more!

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Where we are By Rick Zambrano

Off-premise, technology trends Today, the 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, prepared by the National Restaurant Association, became available. The report reflects industry practices as well as advances in technology, off-premises business and prime costs in restaurants. This year, amid the unprecedented challenges of coronavirus, the report’s measurement of the pandemic’s impact is timely and critical.

Photo left and right: Photo by Louis Hansel.


Restaurant industry sales totaled $659B, a loss of $240B on the original, pre-pandemic projection of 2021 sales. In addition, more than 110,000 eating and drinking places closed either temporarily or permanently, based on data available as of December 1. The State of the Restaurant Industry Report incorporates a survey of 6,000 restaurant operators, as well as an assessment of important trends in consumer behavior, as revealed by a survey of 1,000 adults. “While we still have a long way to go, we are confident in the resilience of the industry’s workforce, operators, suppliers, and diners,” said Tom Bené, president and chief executive of the National Restaurant Association. “The year ahead will be critical as we continue to advocate for muchneeded recovery funds to help get our industry back on track. Working together as one, I am confident in our ability to continue safely serving our guests and supporting our communities.”

Consumer appetites and loyalties drive significant off-premises demand Technology use by consumers and by restaurants has accelerated during the pandemic. Consumers are embracing takeout: delivery and carryout are the new normal. Sixty-eight percent of consumers say they are more likely to purchase takeout from a restaurant now than before the health crisis. A total of 53 percent of consumers say that carryout and delivery are “essential to the way they live.” Consumers are increasingly aware of the economic impact of the coronavirus on restaurants. Sixty-four percent of delivery customers prefer to order directly from restaurants, while 18 percent prefer to order through a third-party service. Moreover, 72 percent of adults say it’s important their

delivery orders come from a location that they can actually visit in person—as opposed to a virtual kitchen space.

Technology a critical tool in adapting to pandemic Eighty-eight percent of consumers and Millennials say they enjoy going to restaurants, so they’ll return to dining rooms as circumstances allow. In the meantime, technology is helping restaurants to gin up sales during the pandemic. Half of fine-dining and casual-dining restaurants have invested more in technology, while 39 percent of quick-service restaurants have done so. Ghost kitchens, whether cloud or dark, are on the rise and reflect another advancement as apps and online ordering platforms facilitate customers ordering from any location. As an example, a growing cadre of technology companies, including United Kitchen and Reef Kitchens, continue to set up remote, fully-equipped cloud kitchens that can accommodate to-go only business. Nonetheless, only five percent of restaurant operators have added service from a ghost kitchen thus far, notes the State of the Restaurant Industry report. Contactless ordering and payments have also stepped into the spotlight during the pandemic. Forty percent of restaurant operators have implemented these technologies during the health crisis. About one-fifth of diners say they’re likely to factor in availability of these safer ordering and payment options when making decisions about dining on-premises. To learn more about the State of the Restaurant Industry Report, navigate to https://www.restaurant.org/research/ reports/state-of-restaurant-industry. District Restaurant News 19


Acting big can help independent restaurant operators succeed Op-ed by Rick Zambrano

20 District Restaurant News

Photo by Lycs Architecture.


Photo by Olu Gbadebo.

Independent restaurant operators have been struggling since mid-2020 to recoup lost sales. Understandably, customers have been put off the dining experience by both their own caution and state and local restrictions on operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In good news, independent operators can muster their characteristic energy and creativity to succeed as the health crisis continues, by emulating larger restaurant chains in some very specific ways. Let’s take a look at three strategies you can implement to “act big” while remaining independent and agile: • Customer acquisition • Delegation to and consultation with staff • Investing in technology

Customer acquisition Shifting from a mindset of transaction counts to customer acquisition has its challenges, particularly as restaurant operators pivot to third-party delivery to bolster their sales.

However, acquiring and retaining customers can strengthen your business for the long haul. Customer acquisition is about winning over customers and keeping them. Ambiance and service (along with great food, of course) have served you well in keeping loyal dine-in guests, but what about when they cannot see and experience your venue? Loyalty programs are a great way to acquire and keep customers. By having quick calls-toaction on your website, your restaurant can win over customers right as they’re browsing online. Offering an initial prize on a customer’s first order is a great way to get someone to sign up for a rewards program. It sounds expensive, but may be well worth the cost if it comes with a name, email and other marketing information. Another customer acquisition tactic essential to restaurant websites is direct access to online ordering. Would you rather have customers ordering directly through your website or through a third-party provider that charges a substantial fee? By steering customers to your ordering platform from the onset of their online experience, you can keep more profit and retain District Restaurant News 21


Chipotle has made significant investments in technology. Photo by Chipotle.

customer data allowing you to send them future emails and offers. A number of DC area restaurants have been using pop-up boxes on their websites’ home pages to steer customers easily into ordering mode. Restaurant-branded packaging and/or menus that appear inside third-party orders, with a URL or phone number for that restaurant, are a great method to redirect customers to your website for future orders.

Delegation and consultation What tasks can you delegate to certain employees? In the type of downturn restaurant operators are experiencing these days, it’s increasingly difficult to maintain the staffing levels that give operators confidence that they can delegate. On the other hand, it’s critically important: consider having valuable employees that are not scheduled for full-time hours start training to take important tasks off the hands of owners and managers. Tasks that will immediately pay off are related to food cost: taking inventory, receiving orders, calling in vendor orders, overseeing prep work in the kitchen. Having another set of eyes on 22 District Restaurant News

activities that measure depletion and the use of food can help reduce waste, spoilage and pilferage, thereby lowering food cost. Consulting with and including staff is another approach to tapping resources you already have to improve your sales. Fine-dining restaurants have benefited from pre-dinner meetings for years. Meetings and one-onone sessions with staff can help you develop bigger and bolder ideas to drive sales. Daily short meetings can boost morale and center all associates and owners. Casual-dining and other limited-service restaurants can hold short meetings throughout the day when specific shifts arrive. Here are some of the benefits: • Provide a chance to reset • Allow staff to provide ideas and give feedback to management • Incentivize staff to upsell and suggestive sell (even when dining rooms are closed and orders are taken on the phone and in the drive-thru)


Investing in technology Large restaurant chains invest continually in technology; it’s part of their budgeting process every year. This mentality should be adopted by independent restaurant operators. Chipotle, McDonald’s and Panera Bread continually tout their achievements through an ongoing investment in technology. Where are you in the technology continuum? In its recent State of the Restaurant Industry Report, the National Restaurant Association has illustrated the accelerated adoption of digital ordering by both restaurants and customers. (See examples throughout this magazine issue.) Tock, GoTab and other technology vendors can partner with independent restaurant operators to help them make food ordering easier and frictionless, while providing more ways to take in orders. Online and app ordering have become commonplace; these are two areas on which restaurant operators can easily focus. Online ordering capability on a restaurant’s website can help increase orders significantly. And due for the most part to the ubiquitous smartphone, in-app ordering is massively popular. If

developing your own app is cost- or timeprohibitive, consider a technology provider that makes it easy for restaurants to take in orders through a mobile app. The free-flowing creativity and pace of an independent restaurant company must be balanced with approaches that can keep a restaurant operation growing. By rethinking customer acquisition, learning to delegate and collaborate, and investing even modestly in new technology, restaurant operators can compete on the local scene and create an environment that is conducive to building/re-building sales.

About Rick Zambrano With nearly two decades consulting in food businesses, Rick Zambrano has experience in menu analysis, menu rollout support, financial analysis, video marketing and research. A thought leader specialized in menu analysis and restaurant trends, Rick’s insights appear in research reports, foodservice magazines and business periodicals. He is also the producer of The Swizzle Chill Channel. Zambrano began his career in the fast-casual industry, and can now be seen around DC scoping out new stories and consulting with clients.

NEXT ISSUE: Tech tools, employee of the future, 2021 baseball and more


Shifts in restaurant trends in 2021 By Eric Nomis

Bundled meal deals, offpremises, alcohol to go + more Restaurants are facing a changed future in 2021. Several challenges have manifested during the lengthy pandemic, forcing restaurant operators to compete in highlydigital and off-premises arenas. Thus, bundled meals and meal kits, along with several other unlikely contenders, find themselves among the top ten restaurant trends for 2021, released by the National Restaurant Association. As consumers sidestep the on-premise dining experience--whether by caution or by local safety regulation--it is critical that restaurant operators embrace an omnichannel role. Retail is a big opportunity; restaurant operators can create branded products that reflect their cuisine or concept. For example, barbecue concepts can bottle up their famous sauce. Groceries and alcohol to-go—two other top restaurant trends—enable restaurants to remain competitive while serving consumers who are seeking safety and simplicity. As consumers stock up on both staples and guilty pleasures, restaurants can make themselves top outlets of convenience. 24 District Restaurant News


This list of top restaurant trends published by the National Restaurant Association includes their commentary: • Streamlined menus – More targeted choices help reduce inventory and keep operations lean • Off-premises takes precedence – By necessity, it’s the name of the game today • Blended meals, a team effort – Millennials are mixing things up with portions of a meal, such as sides ordered from a restaurant, with the main dish prepared at home • Bundled meals? Considered deals! – In family packs or for individuals, bundled meals are multicourse experiences assembled into a value deal • Meal kits make cooking fun – More than half of adults and 75 percent of Millennials and Gen Zers would order meal kits if prepared by a restaurant • Meal subscriptions – Customers sign up for pickup or delivery meals on set days for a set price • Selling groceries – More than half of consumers would purchase pantry items if restaurants offered them • Alcohol to-go – One third of consumers of drinking age have purchased an alcoholic beverage with a takeout meal from a restaurant since the start of the pandemic. As local ordinances have relaxed, to-go adult-drink sales opportunities have increased • Comfort foods – Burgers, pot pies, lasagna, soups, curries, sandwiches, pizza and noodle dishes, are trending • Healthy and diet-specific food – Healthful menu options can also attract new consumers

Several top food and restaurant trends were covered in our Restaurant C-Suite Magazine Winter issue. In addition to the above restaurant trends, the Association also released a list of top menu sellers in full-service restaurants and limitedservice restaurants. To download the full trend report, navigate to the National Restaurant Association website.

Comfort foods, like burgers, are popular as a result of the pandemic. Photo by Szabo Viktor.

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Top food trends for 2021 By Rick Zambrano This article was published earlier in the winter in Restaurant C-Suite Magazine.

To say that 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement. Restaurant operators have found themselves in a precarious position as they face increasing amounts of government regulation and take cautious approaches to help forestall transmission of the coronavirus in their communities. Along the continuum of food trends, consumers will still want to find new flavors and new experiences in the coming year, whether at home or dining out. According to global consultancy Alix Partners, some of the areas receiving the most consumer attention these days are health, hygiene, home, and habits. 26 District Restaurant News


Vegan cheese Oatzarella by Rucksack Foods has a consistency that is better for baking and cooking. Photo by Rucksack Foods.

Immunity food and beverage Foods promoted as boosting immunity are “booming,” says research firm Packaged Facts. Turmeric, ginger and orange juice have been highly sought-after as consumers seek to strengthen themselves amid the pandemic. In the beverage category, immunity has been a particularly hot topic. Turmeric has long been believed to ward off disease and illness. It has also been identified as a top trend by the food practice of WGSN, a global trend forecaster based in the UK. It “contains the functional phytochemical curcumin, which may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties,” according to its Immunity Supporting Ingredients report. Turmeric has been perhaps the hottest ingredient to boost immunity in foods and beverages,” according to the US Beverage Market Outlook 2020 by Packaged Facts.

Boathouse Farms, now a popular natural juice brand at the retail level, added a Carrot Ginger Turmeric Juice. True Food Kitchen, a chain featuring better-for-you foods built on a nutritional pyramid, offers an Ancient Grain Bowl, with miso sesame glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snap pea, grilled portobello, avocado, and hemp seed. Sales of turmeric are set to grow 7.2 percent on a compounded annual growthrate basis through 2026, according to ResearchandMarkets.com, a research report syndicator. Whether in food or drink, incorporating turmeric is a smart move for foodservice operators as consumers seek out immunity-boosting ingredients. Ginger, which has long been a remedy for stomach ailments, is another popular perceived immunity booster. As the Beverage Market Outlook notes, Coca-Cola’s new AHA sparkling water is on trend with its Apple + Ginger beverages. As another example, sweetgreen offers a Cranberry Ginger Fresca District Restaurant News 27


and incorporates ginger into its Miso Sesame Ginger Dressing. Orange juice sales have been going through the roof as consumers seek to boost their immune systems. Orange juice already accounts for 44 percent of the juice category. Following initial pandemic stay-at-home orders in several states, Citrus Industry reports that orange juice sales grew by another 44 percent in the four-week period ending April 11, compared to the prior year. Restaurants can incorporate turmeric and ginger into more food and beverages; the easiest implementation is in beverages and proteins, but ongoing experimentation will yield further innovation. These ingredients will remain popular well beyond the pandemic. Orange juice’s resurgent popularity could be short-lived after 2021; but having orange juice available as a staple beverage this year can definitely reap short term rewards.

Vegan WOW and the vegan bakery As the number of omnivores and flexitarians grow, the value proposition of vegan products has increased. A new trend popping up across menus and restaurants is craveable vegan, according to Kara Nielsen, director of Food & Drink, WGSN. Vegan is permeating menus across categories, popping up on American, Mexican and soul food. According to Packaged Facts’ Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers report, 17 percent of consumers are eating more plant-based meats than in 2019. When thinking about the possibilities of vegan, one only needs to turn to Vegan MOB, a soulfood operation out of Oakland, Calif. The MOB Combo plate features plant-based brisket, ribs or fried BBQ shrimp. The MOB Gumbo Bread Bowl is prepared with a vegan shrimp and sausage in a rue, with Creole spices, and rice. As with the Kung Pao Cauliflower dish on Truluck’s menu in Chicago and increasingly a vegetarian and vegan option replacing the more traditional chicken version on menus nationwide, Nielsen notes there is much exploration yet to be had in global 28 District Restaurant News

vegan dishes. Mexican, Chinese, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine can yield dishes that are ripe with flavor and unique vegan ingredients. The availability of plant-based meat alternatives expands the range of options. Vegan tacos have been trending lately and some operators are getting on board without embracing meat alternatives. Chaia Tacos, a restaurant chain in Washington, DC, creates hearty vegetarian tacos with a flavorful combination of legumes, vegetables, fungi, root vegetables, and yogurt. A popular example is the Braised Mushroom Tacos, prepared with feta, salsa roja and cilantro. Chaia can easily make many of their other dishes vegan-style as well. With so many plant-based products emulating eggs, cheese and meat, a complete vegan menu can easily be developed in today’s restaurants. The vegan bakery/baked goods category also presents a ripe opportunity. With a few adjustments, restaurants can tap a wide swath of consumers seeking plantbased options. According to Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers, 28 percent of consumers are eating more protein from plant-based sources in 2020 than in 2019. In addition, 24 percent of consumers say they are eating more plant-based dairy. Nielsen notes a growing opportunity in chickenless egg products and vegan cheese. Chickenless eggs make it possible to prepare all types of baked goods and breakfast sandwiches without using normal eggs. Clara Foods and Just Egg are two mainstream brands that are helping foodservice providers create vegan egg menu items. Dairy-free cheese is getting a boost from oat milk, which on its own is a popular plant-based product. Oat milk can improve the consistency, taste and texture of vegan cheese. Oatzarella is an oat milk-based dairy-free cheese made by Rucksack Foods in Mclean, Va. It has already been a star at food shows, and is said to melt for better utilization in recipes and taste more like cheese. With an increasing improvement in the taste


and texture of plant-based products, vegan is edging closer to mainstream. As with plantbased dairy beverages, vegan bakery and craveable vegan are sure to open up new opportunities for restaurant companies that want to broaden their consumer bases. As Starbucks has shown with its expanding use of plant-based milk creamers, restaurant operators will likely see the advantage of having more vegan options on their menus. Getting started is key; appetizers, sides, dressings and select baked goods can be the first step.

Low-alcohol and no-alcohol adult beverages With Dry January just around the corner, it’s a fitting time to discuss the merits of the lowABV (alcohol by volume)/no-ABV trend. Nonimbibers and those temporarily abstaining from alcohol want a taste experiences from restaurants and bars they patronize. When social settings resume post pandemic, they will want to partake in enjoyable dry options. WGSN’s Nielsen notes that there is a growing movement of “sober curious” individuals. With major breweries investing in loweralcohol and no-alcohol versions of beer, it’s clear to see the trend is here to stay. The Boston Beer Company, which produces Samuel Adams beer, recently announced the release of a non-alcoholic hazy IPA. “Just the Haze,” which is two years in the making, will be added to the Samuel Adams lineup in 2021, according to Beer Connoisseur. The hard seltzer movement has also paved the way into exploring lower-alcohol drinks. White Claw is a top brand, and Bud Light and Corona have come out with their own versions. According to market-and-information company Nielsen, for the 15-week period ending June 13, 2020, hard seltzer sales quadrupled to $1.2B from $300M for the same period the prior year. Currently, hard seltzer is on track to account for 15 percent of its category, which includes beer, flavored malt beverages and cider. It has made gains not just within its category, but also at the expense of wine.

Chaia’s vegetarian and vegan tacos have become uber-popular in Washington, DC. Photo by Chaia Tacos.

Gone are the days of plain-Jane mocktails made with an abundance of juice, too. Seedlip is a manufacturer that was ahead of the curve when it introduced its line of non-alcoholic spirits. The company produces three varieties that are gin alternatives, with varying degrees of spice and botanicals: Garden 108, Spice 94 and Grove 42. Others have followed, including Lyre’s, which produces a non-alcoholic Dry London Spirit, American Malt and Italian Orange. On its website, the company markets its products as low-alcohol and no-alcohol alternatives depending on the amounts used in drinks. Ritual produces a tequila alternative that has ranked high on flavor from the Beverage Tasting Institute, according to the company. This is another example of a non-alcoholic beverage bringing excitement to the lowABV-no-ABV drinking experience. Customers wanting to enjoy a “virgin margarita” now they have tasty alternative, rather than a seemingly incomplete drink. When restaurants and bars add choices that offer taste while keeping ABV low, they’ll help non-imbibers and low-imbibers enjoy social outings with ease. During the pandemic, restaurants that are allowed by law to have cocktails for pickup and delivery should consider having low-ABV/noABV selections to allow diners more choice. The District Restaurant News 29


beginning of the year, when more consumers may be refraining from alcohol, is a particularly crucial time to expand these options.

Elevated pizza pies Pizza has become a staple during the health crisis; as borne out by their financials, pizza chains have fared well because of the timehonored ease of producing and delivering pies to hungry households. As pizza becomes over-commoditized, some pizza chains that have elevated their art are getting noticed. Elevated pies is a way that WGSN’s Key Trend 2021: Pizza report recommends restaurant operators stand out from the crowd. Premium ingredients can certainly enhance a pie. The main ingredient—the dough—for starters can be an differentiator. L’Industrie Pizzeria in New York cold-ferments its dough for 3 days to enhance flavor, one of a few shops taking their dough very seriously to appeal to the discerning palate, notes WGSN. Another example is Shackamaxon in Philadelphia, which serves up slices of pizza some have described as art. Its pepperoni pizza features Pilgrim Provisions pepperoni, First Field tomatoes, low moisture mozzarella, fontina, and pecorino romano; and is finished with house-dried oregano and olive oil. Due to high demand, Shackamaxon is not taking oneoff pre-orders: currently, customers must come into the shop for orders of fewer than 4 pies. WGSN recommends that operators tell the story of the origins and potential benefits of the premium ingredients they use. For those that are not primarily pizza restaurants, incorporating a distinctive pie on the menu can be a wise, strategic move throughout 2021 and beyond.

Cultured meat The sustainable aspects of cultured meat make it a trend that will eventually take hold, but not necessarily within the next few months. Eat Just, Inc, producer of Just Eggs, announced that it had begun to sell cultured meat in a 30 District Restaurant News

foodservice setting in Singapore. The restaurant debut of GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken, created from animal cells for human consumption, followed Singapore’s regulatory approval of the product in November. It’s a trend to which larger foodservice companies and restaurant chains will need to start paying attention. Although there is a fair amount of diner reticence to laboratory-grown meat, many consumers are concerned about the impact of meat processing on the environment. But the sale and consumption of cultured chicken on December 19 at 1880’s restaurant dinner series was historic, and there is no turning back. The impact on food production, particularly in countries that cannot safely or consistently rely on animal farming, cannot be overstated. While any approvals will take longer here in the US, American restaurant chains operating or licensing their brands abroad will likely consider implementing cultured meat products on their menus in the near future. According to Packaged Facts’ Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers report, “Companies may tout many reasons they make their products as an alternative to meat, such as being better for animal welfare or lessening the environmental impact of raising animals for slaughter.” Impossible Foods, producer of meatalternative Impossible Meat, and Eat Just, Inc., are doing just that: explaining the sustainable impact of their products while vilifying animal meat production.

Looking forward In 2021, those restaurants that have survived or even thrived will need to up their game. Pursuing and enhancing meaningful food trends will help them gain traction and visibility, and increase their likelihood of success. Diners will eventually return to the restaurant on-premise experience once the coronavirus has been subdued through the strategic rollout of vaccinations. This will take as long as it takes; meanwhile, COVID-19 still looms large in the United States and must be factored into any forecasts.


Photo: Saya Salteña produces humitas, a cherished dish in South America.

Photo: Astro Doughnuts’ tasty cookies are on the menu of its sister virtual restaurant, Satellite Sandwiches.

Experience Swizzle Chill TV - DC Food, Drink and Lifestyle Show. Celebrate Washington, DC eating, drinking and chilling with our ultra-HD and on-the-go video episodes. Video embed: Swizzle Chill TV at Tabla Georgian restaurant and Swizzle Chill TV at Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly. District Restaurant News 31


Restaurants are reopening for business, and we can fast-track their success: • Enhanced customer communication • Profit optimization program when every penny counts • Recipe costing program for improved food & paper margins • Marketing solutions, including coaching and loyalty programs

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Profile for Eatery Pulse Media

District Restaurant News | Winter 2021 Trends Issue  

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