Based on the “What's Hot in 2012” of professional chefs, who are also members of the American Culinary Federation, by the National Restaurant Association, it seems that the top center of the plate trend this year is nutrition ("Restaurant.org"). In the survey, nearly half of the items, particularly the top 5 main dishes/center of the plate, which includes produce, are related to health. Additionally, in a National Restaurant Association survey in 2011, 73% of claimed that unlike two years ago, they try to eat healthier food when eating out.
Offering More Choices
When it comes to calorie count and portion size, many restaurants are giving diners a choice. For instance, the menu items that are offered at the Lenexa, Kansas headquarters of Applebees are Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories,” and are also Endorsed By Weight Watchers ("Applebees.com"). Wendy’s Living Without Gluten menu allows customers to avoid gluten in their diet by giving them the choice to choose gluten-free products ("Wendys.com").
What’s Hot? Top 5 Center Of The Plate Trends
Every year, professional chefs, who are members of the American Culinary Federation, are surveyed by the National Restaurant Association. Around 1,800 chefs presented their input for the “What’s Hot in 2012” survey ("Restaurant.org").
1. Meats and seafood that are locally sourced,
2. Sustainable seafood,
3. Newly fabricated cuts (Denver steak, Petite Tender, pork flat iron),
4. Non-traditional fish (Arctic char, barramundi, branzino),
5. Smaller portion sizes/Half-portions
1. Locally Sourced Meats and Seafood
During the transition from the previous year to the present one, the concept of locally sourced ingredients, especially meat and seafood, seem to be in vogue. So it is not surprising local sourcing of meats and food is the number one center of the plate trend for 2012. This trend actually has a lot to do with the interest of consumers in understand understanding the food and beverage supply chain. However, at the same time, consumers have become a lot more interested in the sourcing and the production of the food they eat. The consumers of today serious want to know where their food comes from and what methods are used to produce that food. Locally sourced meats and seafood also cost less to transport because the distances to stores are shorter and restaurants are able to get deals from the farmers. Thus, dishes made of local ingredients prove to be cost effective for the customer too. The concept of locally sourced ingredients, especially meats and seafood when it comes to center of the plate dishes, is not only attractive but is practical too in regards to health and nutrition. Since consumers continuously grow conscious, so this center of the plate trend is here to stay.
2. Sustainable Seafood
The sustainable food movement has grown to such an extent that it has spread from the farm to the sea and from the sea; sustainable seafood seems to have found its way among the top center of the plate dishes for 2012. Many chefs and operators have also discovered that it is actually more flavorful and less expensive to serve sustainable seafood, while it allows them to be more creative in the kitchen. Moreover, by using sustainable seafood, those in the restaurant business are relieved of stress and do not have to worry about declining fish stocks. Of course, customers are also happier with the sustainable fish used for main dishes and the planet stays healthy. Many restaurants have actually gained customers because of using sustainable fish. Thus, the trend of sustainable seafood seems to be sweeping the industry ("SeafoodSource.com").
3. Newly Fabricated Cuts
There seems to be a constant evolution goes on in the way been is fabricated or butchered. There are many cuts of beef that consumers seem to have never heard of and these and these newly fabricated cuts also seem to have become quite trendy among consumers when it comes to center of the plate dishes. Although National Restaurant Association’s only gave examples of newly fabricated cuts such as Denver steak, Petite Tender, pork flat iron, but there are several other cuts that consumers might never have seen yet, such as braison and merlot. These newly fabricated cuts are also referred to as “heel” of the beef round. Center of the plate dishes that are prepared using newly fabricated cuts such as these tend to be less expensive, which is another reason they have become a center of the plate trend. The braison, as its name suggests, is ideal for braising and the merlot can be cooked whole or grilled.
4. Non-Traditional Fish
There aren’t many customers who tend to order a plate of grilled sardines or pan fried mackerel when in a restaurant. However, it is more likely that they are more willing to try non-traditional fish such as Arctic char, barramundi and branzino. Non-traditional center of the plate fish dishes have been identified as coming trend in restaurants in the United States. Moreover, these non-traditional choices of fish are not radical. Apparently, consumers are taking small steps with fish that are different from the fish they have been typically eating for quite some time. If this trend continues, this could lead to the emergency of more “exotic” species of fish as center of the plate dishes in some of the finest restaurants in the country.
5. Smaller Portion Sizes/Half-Portions
Another center of the plate trend that seems to be on the rise this year is the interest in portion control, or in other words, smaller portion sizes/half-portions as a part of a healthy lifestyle. For consumers, a smaller center of the plate option is ideal on numerous levels. Consumers seem to have become fond of smaller portion sizes because they are cheaper. Consumers do not have to waste money on a full entrée when they want to try a new dish. Even if they don’t end up liking it, the low price makes it easier for them to swallow. By order smaller portion sizes, consumers are also able to enjoy variety. Offering smaller portion sizes has several benefits for restaurants as well; most important one is that people tend to order more of small plate items because they cost less.
Making Produce a Priority
Almost 73% operators, i.e. three out of every four operators, have emphasized that fresh produce is the reason that more consumers tend to be attracted to their restaurants. The National Restaurant Association and the Produce Marketing Association, along with the International Foodservice, are working together to achieve an aspiring goal, which is to double the use of fresh produce in the food service sector over the court of the next ten years.
Chefs Continue to Use Creativity with Center of the Plate
When it comes to producing quality local produce, the United States is certainly among the best in the world. The response from consumers is quite obvious. A majority of Americans not only prefer to purchase produce that is produced right there in the United States, rather than produce imported from other countries, but they are also becoming more accustomed to ordering center of the plate dishes when dining out that are made of local produce as well. However, this trend has also chefs an opportunity to reconsider their center of the plate showpieces. It is apparent that customers seem to enjoy and recognize American produce. Thus, this is also an opportunity for restaurant operators to take advantage of this and the rest of the trends with their center of the plate dishes. High-end restaurants can actually boost their business by using local, sustainable produce for their center of the plate and keeping up with trends such as the ones mentioned here.
"What's Hot in 2012." Restaurant.org. National Restaurant Association, 8 Dec 2011. Web. 20 Oct 2012.
"UNDER 550 CALORIES." Applebees.com. Applebee's International, Inc., 2012. Web. 20 Oct 2012.
"Living Without Gluten." Wendys.com. Wendy’s International, Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Oct 2012.
. "The sustainable seafood trend." SeafoodSource.com. Seafood Source, 17 2009. Web. 20 Oct 2012.