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CHICAGO -- The financial turmoil of 2008 hurt restaurants as many people lessened occurrences of dining out to save money. Consumer research conducted by Mintel in January 2008 showed 54 percent of people who dined out regularly were cutting back on restaurant spending because of the economy. But from fast food to fine dining, the restaurant industry is determined to get people back in the door in 2009, according to the research firm.
Mintel Menu Insights, which tracks U.S. menus, expects five trends to influence foodservice in 2009 as restaurants will: re-invent comfort food, mix up their cocktails, focus on fresh ingredients, take Mediterranean food to the next level, and tell stories.
Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights, believes next year will be telling for the restaurant industry. "This recession will persist into early 2009, and potentially much longer, so restaurants need to be ready for customers who feel tired, overwhelmed and tapped out financially. Foodservice leaders need to find innovative methods, enticing entrees and fun, new preparations to keep people excited about going out to eat."
She cited Mintel research that showed nearly half of Americans said they spend their extra money dining out. "There are plenty willing diners out there. Restaurateurs just need to focus on the key elements of food and experience that resonate," she stated.
In 2009, Mintel Menu Insights expects:
-- Comfort food to be reinvented: Often connected to times of economic recession, comfort food is what people crave when they're feeling down. Mintel expects this phenomenon to hold true in 2009 as people look for warm, familiar favorites on the menu. Restaurants will make comfort food new by increasing their use of slow-cooking. Slow-baked, slow-grilled, braised and poached will become the "it" preparation methods as chefs find ways to provide maximum flavor affordably.
-- New cocktails that rock: Mintel Menu Insights forecasted a rise in classic, creative and even alcohol-free cocktails for 2009. Caranfa thinks 2009 will feature an explosion of exciting new cocktails. Next year, expect interesting new ingredients to add flavor and texture. Ginger, cucumber, chile pepper and even beer could gain a strong presence paired with gin, tequila, pisco or framboise.
-- Fresher food: Fresh, natural and pure will take over menus. Mintel Menu Insights has already seen "fresh" labeling increase 22 percent since early 2006, and the company expects 2009 menus to abound in fresh foods and artisan ingredients. "I think we'll see a strong increase in the presence of local farm names on menus, as restaurants attempt to convey the fresh, inherently good nature of their food," said Caranfa.
-- More Mediterranean: Encompassing the flavors of Spain, Italy, Greece and the Middle East, Mediterranean food is already relatively popular in the U.S. But in 2009, restaurants will stretch beyond familiar items like tapas, gyros and hummus, Mintel forecasted. Menus will begin to call out the specific country of origin for "Mediterranean foods" like Spanish olives, Greek cheese and Middle Eastern yogurt sauce. Also, more authentic Mediterranean dishes may start appearing in fast-casual restaurants.
-- Storytelling: Surrounded by negative news about the economy and obesity rates, restaurants will try to make diners happy. By telling stories about a food's preparation, health benefits or origin, restaurants can help people feel good about what they're eating. "We've already seen an increase in positive messaging on the menu," Caranfa stated. "Next year, we expect a further move away from yesterday's 'lows' and 'no’s' of eating well."