Courtesy of Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman

Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co. are creators of high-profile restaurants around the world...
Their predictions follow:

#1 NEW PRIORITIES FOR BEATEN-UP CONSUMERS: Too many restaurant and hotel execs are grappling with pre-recession consumer issues, while people today are expressing entirely new – and more complex - sets of concerns. These concerns might tamp down consumer spending for another five years – and are difficult for hotel and restaurant professionals to deal with. Why? Because what worries people today no longer reflects abstract and idealistic pre-recession issues. Now people are focusing inward.

#2 PUTTING FOCUS ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE MENU … because that’s where the emotional resonance is! Look for more creative snacky things, more small plates, more portion options … things sized for one, for two, for a crowd. This isn’t just a “small plates phenomenon” … because it isn’t about the size of the plate: Sharing is the key … sharing responds to consumers’ needs for comfort and safety, for intimacy and friendship.

#3 UPSCALING THE DOWNSCALE: No question that consumers are trading down. Steakhouse sales slipped 25%-30% since last year, and $100 bottles of wine gather dust. Predictably, hamburger and hot dog sales are on the rise but not because they’re cheap. What’s important is that consumers are using these vehicles as trade-up treats! That’s what’s behind the explosion of “gourmet” hamburgers smothered in the likes of manchego cheese and Iberian ham; or fanciful hot dogs served with goat cheese and guacamole; or french fries revved up with parmesan cheese and truffle oil. Consumers are trading down in order to trade up!

The words “organic” and “natural” are so diluted (polluted, actually) by big-brand food companies that they’re being replaced in consumers’ minds by “fresh” and “local” and “hand-made.” That’s why farmers markets are catching on everywhere even though food there costs more than at chain retailers: People are looking for edibles they can trust, and for food communities that stand personally behind their products.
Restaurants and hotels are spotlighting house-made or locally-made bread, artisan-cured salami, chef-pickled vegetables, locally- butchered beef, honey from nearby hives, food purchased from regional farms.

#5 FRIED CHICKEN IS THE NEW PORK BELLY: Fed up with globs of pig fat from undercooked pork belly? Say hello new-fangled fried chicken -- crisped in all sorts of inventive ways by lowly diner cooks and exalted chefs alike. Ahead of the curve: Korean fried chicken, invisibly coated, amazingly flavorful and fried twice for ultra-crunch, moving out of traditional Korean-towns into mainstream neighborhoods. Global players from Southeast Asia are eyeing the US market, their birds fragrant with lemongrass, fish sauce and warm spices.

#6 PUTTING IN “GOOD” ADDITIVES INSTEAD OF TAKING OUT NASTY ONES: After years of purging their food of such “nasties” as transfats and other greases, preservatives, sodium (still work to do there), and artificial flavors and colors … food companies now are scrambling for additives that make you healthier and more beautiful. Savvy restaurateurs ought to take note of shenanigans like adding omega-3 and plant sterols to breads to alleviate stress and lower cholesterol; antioxidants and pro-biotics to goose your immune system; vitamins to already adulterated bottled water; collagen to dried fruit (you can’t make this up) for women sidestepping the ravages of aging; and various unpronounceables that blunt your appetite so you’ll(maybe) lose weight!

#7 THEY LAUGHED WHEN WE SAID “TONGUE”: Last year, some bloggers said we’d gone bonkers by predicting that tongue – beef and veal – would be hot in 2009. Well … here’s the Offal Truth: For 2010, it’ll be tongue (including lamb) and oxtail along with beef and pork cheeks, chicken gizzards, tripe, and other innards and odd parts.

Hotels and restaurants no longer control what’s said about them … or who says it. The old experts … travel and food journalists … are disappearing, along with their newspapers and magazines. Instead, authority is dispersed among the Instant Opinion Makers: bloggers, texters, twitterers, facebookers,... who broadcast “buzz” and bad news to a million gullible people in the blink of an eye. So we’re swapping good gourmet-journalism for dubious opinions.

A decade or so back,palates made a profound shift from sweet to bitter – which explains the rise of strong coffee, dark chocolate, broccoli rabb, Brussels sprouts and other bitter food. There’s been another, quieter shift, from sweet-sweet to tart-sweet. That’s why chefs are now pickling their own vegetables to serve with newly trendy rich and fatty meats.

#10 MENU CHURN: A crummy economy and declining consumer traffic forces restaurants to poach each other customers by stealing competitors’ top menu items. This happens all the time in a copycat industry, but it has accelerated. Fast food chains are adding up-priced imitations of gourmet burgers. Pizza chains are suddenly becoming pasta, sandwich and chicken wings specialists. Specialty juice chains fight back by adding pizzas and flat breads. Look for juice bars and smoothie bars in fast food and fast-"en-cas" outlets in 2010.

The frequency of meals eaten away from home was sliding even before the global economic collapse – in large part because fewer women are working -- but accelerating numbers of consumers are re-discovering their dining room tables.

It’s no accident that kids’ menus are popping up on chain restaurants: The recession did it.Look for more kids-eat-free restaurant promotions, more emphasis on healthful kid’s menus, and more “adult” things for kids to eat along with their food-savvy parents.

For the complete report and other bright ideas

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