What’s Hot in 2016

Every year, the National Restaurant Association reveals its anticipated What’s Hot survey results collected from chefs and other members of the American Culinary Federation, which sheds light on new trends in the industry as well as perennial ones making it to more mainstream status. While the list revolves mainly around food trends, it has many implications when it comes to design and equipment. We picked out a few of our favorites.

Top Trend: Chef-Driven Fast-Casual Concepts

Ranking No. 2 on this year’s “What’s Hot” list is chef-driven fast-casual concepts, which have come about as chefs and restaurants look for additional revenue streams and to broaden their customer reach. Several years ago the food truck filled this need, but now it seems going more casual and quick has filled this void, with many independent restaurants or restaurateurs opening or investing in fast-casual concepts, from Jose Andres’ vegetarian-focused Beefsteak to Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack.

Take Gerard Craft, executive chef/owner of the St. Louis-based Niche Food Group, which operates the upscale Niche restaurant along with Brasserie, Taste and the more casual Pastaria. Most recently, Craft opened Porano Pasta + Gelato, the fast-casual version of Pastaria serving made-to-order, customizable pasta dishes at affordable prices.

“Sometimes people are just really busy and want to go somewhere that has good, honest food for a good price and they can bring their kids or their wife and enjoy the same quality that anyone would serve in a fine dining restaurant,” Craft said in an interview with FE&S.

Design & Equipment Implications: Modeled after the open serving line made famous by Chipotle, new fast casuals are adopting a similar platform with long, stainless steel inlaid sandwich-style prep tables with flexible hot- and cold-holding options. Kitchens are more open so cleanliness and aesthetics are more important in this segment. Customizable pizza concepts might use gas-fired ovens, but they look like wood-burning, Italian made ones, often with bright colors and/or custom stonework. Refrigeration and additional prep space is also necessary: most of these fast casuals prepare their food fresh daily.