From Atmosphere to the Menu, Find Trends That Matter

Our Northeast culinary experts point out trends aimed at sensory aspects – the look, feel, sound and flavour of your restaurant.

The restaurant landscape is always changing. Amid such challenges as a tight labour market and persistent inflation, operators are on the lookout for trends to elevate the dining experience.

Latching onto the right trend is tricky. Doing the same thing as everyone else doesn’t help your brand stand out. That’s why we asked two Gordon Food Service Culinary Specialists to explain some of the subtle trends they’re seeing at restaurants in the Northeast United States. Operators throughout North America can benefit from their insights to pursue new avenues for success. 

There are no runaway flavours or special ingredients – we’re talking to you, pumpkin spice everything, kale salad and fried eggs on burgers. Instead there are many suggestions about trends that help make the dining experience special.

Every food photo guests share on social media and every positive comment they make to friends and family adds up to more business. And you can implement almost all of these ideas without a major menu makeover or additional staff, making them perfect for today’s needs.

Consider Restaurant Ambience

First impressions matter. You keep your building tidy outside and in. Your greeter is well-trained to smile and be welcoming while showing people to your tables. That’s a good start.

Once seated, customers should have a sense they are in for something special, says Culinary Specialist Rachel Mazur. It can be as simple as recognizing how music sets the mood.

“We are seeing restaurants recognize the synergy between music and food more and more,” she said. “Some operators curate playlists to complement specific cuisines that enhance the overall sensory experience.”

Music selection and volume can be customized to fit your establishment’s feel. A bustling fast-casual business may choose peppy, louder tunes. A fine-dining experience may benefit from softer instrumental music. Selections from a particular region or nation may align with the menu at an ethnic restaurant.

Another avenue is a vinyl night, where guests are encouraged to bring albums to be played during the evening. Your team also can be involved, both front and back of house.

“I’ve seen chefs collaborate with musicians to create themed events that align auditory and gastronomic aspects of the meal,” Chef Rachel said. “This helps to evoke a cohesive and memorable dining experience for their customers.”

There’s more to the ambiance than meets the ears. The eyes get to have their say when it comes to plating. Culinary Specialist Leo Asaro recommends tight plating, composing food in the centre of the plate.

“Use lots of bright colours, adding lines or circles with sauces that are part of the meal,” he said. “I’m also seeing chefs cover up proteins with herbs or crunchy texture elements. The mystery and intrigue of added flavours or textures costs little but adds a lot to the experience.”

Chifa — A Fresh Take on Fusion

If you’re looking to enhance the menu, Asaro believes chifa is an emerging favourite. Chifa is a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese food popular in South America for well over a century. 

Roughly translated from the Cantonese dialect, chifa translates to “cooked rice.” But it’s so much more than that. It’s the inclusion of colorful peppers, pineapple, potatoes and more, all cooked in a wok and served in generous portions.

Despite the name, chifa isn’t exclusively a rice dish. Noodles are a popular addition. Chef Leo provides a perfect example: lo mein noodles with bay scallops, roasted vegetables, Peruvian pepper butter and fried corn-chili crunch. You can add this recipe on Gordon Culinary Pro here.

“Fusion cooking has always been popular in many cultures,” he said. “The Asian food elements mixed with traditional Peruvian dishes makes for a hot, tangy, sweet and fresh new approach with tons of creativity.”

Pickling and Its Cousin … Escabeche

Pickling has long been popular among chefs. They use it to preserve the life, enhance the flavour and retain the crispy texture of fresh vegetables. Quick-pickled veggies like onions, radishes, cauliflower, carrots, spicy peppers are great as an appetizer, condiment or side dish. 

Escabeche is a type of pickling that traditionally uses brine made with water, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, salt and peppercorns. It’s popular in Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino and Latin American cuisines, and it’s used as a marinade for fish, meat and vegetables.

Foods can be brined or even cooked in the escabeche, sometimes with the addition of paprika, saffron or citrus. Chef Leo believes a dish like cod escabeche brandade with lemon tempura and truffle emulsion can elevate a familiar seafood to a meal with unique flavours guests will remember. You can add this recipe on Gordon Culinary Pro here.

“Pickling or escabeche is another way to preserve and incorporate a flavourful punch to raw foods,” he said. “Add another level by taking that product and grilling it or searing it.”

Trends can be fickle. As with fashion, what’s popular this season can fade quickly. That’s why it’s important to watch your competitors, reach out to your customers and consult with your Gordon Food Service Sales Representative to find the right fit.

One trend that never goes out of style is creating a memorable dining experience. Whether you’re incorporating new music, new dishes or new technology, it’s vital to tailor every change to your customers and your business. 

Maintaining this mindset helps operators navigate challenges with confidence and keeps customers excited for what’s next.

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