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What's Hot in Foodservice for 2011

We scoured various research firms for the top foodservice and design trends for the new year and paired those with some of our own equipment and operational considerations.

Return to Indulgence: Consumers are "frugality-fatigued," says Technomic. Look for a return to luxury, from a comeback by fine dining and higher end restaurants to more indulgent menu items.

E&O Considerations: To up the ante from the presentation perspective, operators will look to employ fancier dishware for fancier dishes, to go along with a greater overall focus on tabletop and décor. In the kitchen, larger workspaces for plating and chef's corners may become necessary.

Food Trucks. Popular in cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Austin, New York City and possibly Chicago, this trend is sweeping major metro areas as a cheaper alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar spots.

E&O Considerations: Foodservice equipment manufacturers and dealers are learning how to design and supply products for these trucks. The equipment packages in these mobile kitchens can include full-range cooking equipment, gas-powered refrigeration and compartmentalized prep space.

Cocktails and the Gastropubs: Coming out of a recession, consumers are spending more on alcohol, and they're turning to the kind of classic cocktails that take time, care and good-quality ingredients to make.

E&O Considerations: Operators are increasing their focus on staffing and seating in the bar area, which includes longer bars, additional hi-top tables, plush couches and banquettes. Other operational considerations include building more time into orders in main dining rooms as the bar works to get these cocktails out, bartenders making cocktails tableside, sourcing fresh herbs and other ingredients for garnishes and mix-ins, and better quality glassware and barware.

Technology: From kiosk ordering to flat screens displaying food images and chefs cooking, operators will continue to use multimedia to market the idea of fresher, made-for-you food. Technomic points out that more wine lists and menus are available on in-store iPads and mobile phone ordering will continue to rise in popularity.

E&O considerations: Operators are increasing their investment in technology upgrades for kiosks, TVs, iPads and more, and expanding their budgets to include higher end marketing initiatives and address menu labeling requirements taking effect this year.

Smaller Everything: Things are shrinking in foodservice: smaller farms are providing restaurants and other foodservice operators with fresh, seasonal foods; smaller, independently owned mom-and-pops are taking advantage of the affordable real estate market and opening up more shops; even plate and portion sizes are getting smaller.

E&O considerations: Operators are purchasing more smaller-sized, creatively-designed plates for starters, sharable dishes and amuse-bouche. And they are upgrading their cold storage and prep areas to accommodate farm-fresh vegetables and naturally raised meats that must be stored properly and processed or butchered in-house.

Meatless Monday: This trend is catching on around the country as the fixation on local produce and relationships with the farms that provide it intensifies. National chain restaurant Big Bowl has latched on to the trend to highlight its new vegetarian menu.

E&O Considerations: Operators require extra prep space for farm-fresh vegetables, separate coolers for vegetables, less meat deliveries, more menu changes.

Comfort Food and Baked Goods: Andrew Freeman & Co says pie will reign as the top comfort food next year. Technomic says it will be more savory comfort food in the form of Southern fare like fried chicken, shrimp and grits. Even though consumers are looking to eat healthier, many still seek indulgence when dining out.

E&O Considerations: Additional baking and bread-making equipment such as specialty ovens, proofing units and even combi ovens will become prevalent.

C-Stores: For the past decade, consumers have shown a growing appreciation for the foodservice options offered by convenience stores. As a result, c-stores are emerging as real competition to more traditional foodservice operators.

E&O considerations: This segment sources more refrigerated prep tables, Panini grills and ventless cooking pieces. Self-contained cooking units, requiring little or no HVAC, are also gaining ground in this arena, as is more custom fabrication and equipment.