published Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Side Orders: Predicting dining trends for 2014

Prognosticators of food trends need not look into a crystal ball. They simply do what they do best: Consult with chefs and others who deal with food and the public on a daily basis. They’re right in the middle of things and are the best at knowing what’s hot and what trends may be on the chopping block.

“But we also use our proprietary software system, CultureWaves, and look at evidence of human behavior — how people are eating, what they talk about, where they eat, everything,” says Kay Logsdon, editor in chief for The Food Channel. “We monitor blogs, recipe sites, commentary and evidence across a range of categories. Then we put it all together and interpret what has staying power. We don’t want flash-in-the-pan trends but things that are really catalysts for change.”

The predictions for 2014 appear quite interesting and on target for those who choose to dine out frequently. There’s a touch of generosity with pay-it-forward dining, as well as a pinch of self-obsession with a rise in those of you who can’t seem to stay off your cellphones when dining out.

Take a look and see if your dining styles fit with trends for 2014.

• Paying it forward. More people are paying for others at restaurants, for military service personnel or just to be nice. Stories abound of people who pick up the tab just because they see people praying over their food.

“We’re hearing about how people are going on the offensive when they’re having a bad day, stopping for coffee and then paying for the next person in line so they can feel good about themselves. Interesting to see how a bad economy actually turns people onto unusual forms of giving,” Logsdon says.

• The rise of breads. Artisanal breads are all the talk, even overtaking the now-mainstream trend of pretzel bread. “Our culinary teams are looking carefully at what’s next, but breads continue to be big, even in a gluten-free world,” Logsdon notes.

• Distracted dining. Restaurants are beginning to put their menu items into forms that accommodate the cellphone obsessed so they can eat with one hand, while the other holds the phone. Sandwiches, wraps, small bites are all sticking to the menu and growing because they don’t require two-fisted dining. These restaurants have given up the fight to have people concentrate on their food (or on their companion) and are bowing to the pressure to make it easy to eat and not run.

• Globalization. Doritos took its Super Bowl advertising global for an American game. Wingstop opened a store in the United Arab Emirates. If you don’t think that the world thinks globally, think again. We’ll see more global flavors, forms, and more and more melting pot foods.

• Virtual food. Think 3D printers are just for architecture or tech toy modeling? There are now 3D food printers that take paste and extrude it into any shape, meaning complicated food “structures” like decorator icings can be printed. There is more on this horizon.

• Bulk fast food. Restaurants such as McDonald’s are joining the KFC-style “bucket” brigade, offering bulk food for parties and large families. It used to be that you could only get a bucket of chicken, but bulk menu items are on the rise.

• Personal shoppers. Having someone shop for your groceries and deliver them to your home is no longer just a convenience or novelty option just for the wealthy. As the population ages, weíre seeing more people who require assistance, meaning the stores will begin to accommodate it on a more universal level. “People want delivery of more than just pizza, they want meals, they want groceries, and they want customization, just like they see in urban cities. And, Logsdon predicts, a willingness to pay the price, when they compare it to the cost of other care, is on the rise.

• Midwestern food movement. This one is all about farm fresh and local taken to the next level, using the types of food readily available in the Midwest, including root vegetables and steaks. The East Coast is known for Italian; the West Coast for seafood, the South for grits and fried chicken. But chefs all around will be focusing on foods from the Midwest.

• In general, we’re looking at lemon as a hot flavor, and Indian food as an ethnic trend. We’re also calling for “low tea” as a new meal occasion. Low tea is a light meal or snack, usually served around 4 pm, and often shared with guests. We see a return to this extra meal Apps will continue to evolve, as well.

That’s it, and it will be interesting to see if these trends come true in our area. My prediction for 2014? Many will.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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