Special Report | April 2011 | By Lori Zanteson

2011 Chef’s Survey

QSR asks the industry’s leaders to share insights on the segment’s hottest menu trends.

Each year QSR surveys the best and the brightest culinary professionals in the industry to find out what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to your menu. The exclusive annual Chef Survey, unveils innovative menu items that reflect the year’s newest and most exciting inspirations.

Among their insights, the chefs reveal that despite a more favorable economy, price remains top of mind for customers. With that, diners' focus on flavor and quality is back and hotter than ever. Literally. Exotic chilies and ethnic spices have never been more prevalent or enticing, and back-to-basics and healthy breakfasts are getting a fresh twist, too.

And, of course, they weigh in on social media!


Instructions
Street Food
Nutrition
Ethnic Flair
Social Media
Back to Basics
Going Local
Beverages
Value
Kids' Meals
What's Hot
Breakfast

Street Food: How are street foods and food trucks influencing the quick-serve menu in 2011?

“These carts and trucks are showing how you can make high-end food portable.” Nola Krieg, Director of Research and Development,
Kahala Corp.

“Chefs are looking at street food to learn how they can bring simple, high-quality, and fresh dishes, yet ones that can still be built quickly with better execution, to a larger audience.” Ted Stoner, Director of Strategic Product Development,
Qdoba Mexican Grill

“In the coming year, I believe we will start seeing dishes like the Kogi taco, the grilled cheese hamburger, and other street food/mobile food truck menu items appearing on quick-serve menus.” Judson McLester, Executive Chef and Ingredient Sales Manager, McIlhenny Company

“I think it is expanding people’s food horizons. They are trying new foods because it is easy and a very low risk of time and money.” Stan Dorsey, Vice President, Research & Development, Executive Chef, Focus Brands

“Quick serves like Carl’s Jr, In-N-Out Burger, Burgerville, and Jack and the Box have launched mobile service with catering and street food trucks.” Marc Halperin, COO, Culinary Director, Center for Culinary Development

Nutrition: How will menus reflect the newly released USDA Dietary Guidelines?

“Incorporating more whole grains into the diet will be the easiest transition for most restaurants.” Steve Hodge, ConAgra Mills Senior Executive Chef

“Stealth health will continue to drive this category as consumers seek ways to add healthy components to their diets without a major impact on daily living.” Melanie Auxer,
Director of Food Science and Technology, Auntie Anne’s

“It will cause operators to put out ‘correct’ portions and not huge items, so the nutritional information that provided looks more like what the consumer wants to see.” Dave Danhi, President & Chef, The Grilled Cheese Truck

“Quick serves choosing to make amendments to menus will be looking to reduce sodium and portion size.” Marc Halperin, COO, Culinary Director, Center for Culinary Development

“I believe many restaurants will start doing a lot more limited-time offers, because you do not need to post caloric information for items that are on the menu for less than 90 days.” Dan Barash, Executive Chef, Moe’s Southwest Grill

Ethnic Flair: Which ethnic ingredients and flavors will dominate?

“We believe Southeast Asian will continue to develop and expand, and an Americanized version of Indian cuisine will make a strong move to mainstream.” Volker Frick, Executive Chef, Kettle Cuisine

“The popularity of our Asian menu items is growing, and people are willing to step outside of their comfort zones and try more adventurous, spicy dishes like our Indonesian Peanut Sauté.” Tessa Stamper, Chef, Noodles & Co

“I think we’ll see more tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and more varieties of chilies—there are hundreds of varieties that give completely different flavors and heat.” Ted Stoner, Director of Strategic Product Development,
Qdoba Mexican Grill

“The robust combination of heat with fruit flavors, such as habanero with mango or watermelon. Spiced chocolates and specialty coffees will also add ethnic flair.” Melanie Auxer, Director of Food Science and Technology, Auntie Anne’s

“We see a lot of growth potential for Mediterranean flavors. We also see opportunities within Southern Mediterranean and North African cuisine, particularly Moroccan flavors and spices.” Chef Chris Kline, Sara Lee Foodservice

Social Media: How are quick serves powering their success with social media?

“Rotating menu selections daily and publicizing them via social networks is leading to increased traffic and increased ticket prices.” Volker Frick, Executive Chef, Kettle Cuisine

“Social Media is a great tool to engage with guests, and more importantly, to get their feedback.” Jennifer Holwill, Director of Research & Development, Cinnabon

“By instantly connecting with those in the neighborhood and offering unique discounts.” Lawrence Payne, Director of Dining and Hospitality,
Kahala Nui Senior Living Community

“These types of websites allow the customer to find out specials or receive discounts to their favorite restaurants. This can also help a consumer decide where to eat that day.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“We are talking to our consumers one on one. I personally tweet to the guests (@danbarash) and also look at our Facebook comments to see what flavors our guests like and want to see more of.” Dan Barash, Executive Chef, Moe’s Southwest Grill

“It's a microscope to look through at your demographic. It's also an amazing way to get promotions out there with new products, surveys, and so many other aspects that owners need to know!” Dave Danhi, President & Chef, The Grilled Cheese Truck

Back to Basics: What back-to-basics foods are nostalgic consumers craving?

“Empanadas, pasties, samosas, and nonsweet pastries are making a resurgence in the marketplace.” Steve Hodge, Senior Executive Chef, ConAgra Mills

“Our industry will see the continued development of back to basic foods, such as macaroni and cheese and oatmeal, but with a premium twist.” Melanie Auxer,
Auntie Anne’s Director of Food Science and Technology

“Sweets! Drinkable desserts, mini desserts, baked goods.” Jennifer Holwill, Director of Research & Development
for Cinnabon

“Pies. As cupcakes lose their momentum, pies are taking their place. You will start to see pie shops with new flavors (sweet and savory) and sizes popping up.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“Malteds, custom-made shakes and other soda fountain classics are being revived in food-loving locales like Brooklyn.” Marc Halperin, COO, Culinary Director, Center for Culinary Development

Going Local: Is it possible for large chains to locally source ingredients?

“While they should try to purchase locally as much as possible, they should really focus more on buying close to the source, as that is much more attainable and equally desirable among consumers.” Volker Frick, Executive Chef, Kettle Cuisine

“Chipotle started this trend a few years back and showed us how it is possible to work with your local vendors and support local farms.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“Possible but costly and playing catch up as far as ag business goes.” Lawrence Payne, Director of Dining and Hospitality,
Kahala Nui Senior Living Community

“It’s not impossible, but very difficult. There are standards that need to upheld, especially when it comes to safety and tractability.” Dan Barash, Executive Chef, Moe’s Southwest Grill

“Very possible to at least incorporate into their menus.” Dave Danhi, President & Chef, The Grilled Cheese Truck

Beverages: What flavors will 2011 consumers be sipping?

“Many new available tropical fruits and berries like yumberry, maqui berry and cupuaçu. Coconut water is also becoming popular for its mineral and hydration benefits.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“I think fruit flavor blends will be hot in 2011, specifically pairing mainstream ingredients, such as berries and vanilla, with emerging flavors, such as elderflower and cucumber.” Melanie Auxer, Director of Food Science
and Technology, Auntie Anne’s

“I think there will be more interest in agua frescas – drinks made with fresh fruits and water that are healthier and not as sweet.” Ted Stoner, Director of Strategic Product Development, Qdoba Mexican Grill

“We see big potential in tea. From a culinary perspective, tea is a great vessel to transport different flavor profiles.” Chef Chris Kline, Sara Lee Foodservice

“Healthier, less sugar, more fruit related drinks with 'cool' ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, antioxidant producing ingredients.” Dave Danhi, President & Chef, The Grilled Cheese Truck

Value: What recession strategies will appeal most to consumers?

“A focus should be on upping quality and delivering amazing eating experiences at reasonable, not cheap, prices.” Volker Frick, Kettle Cuisine Executive Chef.

“The availability of mini/slider portions or shareable portions will be a popular recession strategy.” Melanie Auxer, Auntie Anne’s Director of Food Science
and Technology

“Tap water, good old local water straight from the tap.” Steve Hodge, Senior Executive Chef, ConAgra Mills

“There will be less of a focus on the quantity consumers can get for their dollar and more of a focus on the quality that consumers can get with their dollar.” Ted Stoner, Director of Strategic Product Development, Qdoba Mexican Grill

“Bundling and combo meals are still appealing to guests. Smaller portions with more variety are also very popular.” Dan Barash, Executive Chef, Moe’s Southwest Grill

Kids’ Meals: What’s new and innovative on the children’s menu?

“Mini portions of what parents like.” Lawrence Payne, Director of Dining and Hospitality,
Kahala Nui Senior Living Community

“Chefs are starting to create new items by hiding proteins and vegetables in foods that are familiar to kids.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“Kids may be more willing to experiment with flavor than previously thought. This is why ethnic inspired dishes will innovate children’s menus.” Melanie Auxer, Director of Food Science and Technology,
Auntie Anne’s

“We need to provide them with smaller portions of adult menu options that provide the nutritional elements that parents require and the taste that kids want.” Ted Stoner, Director of Strategic Product Development, Qdoba Mexican Grill

“A salad-centric Canadian chain, Freshii, has appealing kids’ items that also are more healthful; they include chicken quesadilla in honey-wheat pitas, breakfast fruit and granola wraps in whole wheat tortillas.” Marc Halperin, COO, Culinary Director, Center for Culinary Development

What’s Hot: What looks to be this year’s go-to ingredient?

“Quinoa—many chefs took a back seat last year to see where quinoa would end up, those chefs this year are realizing quinoa for its value as a great item.” Steve Hodge, Senior Executive Chef, ConAgra Mills

“Categorically, we believe whole grains will be critical to incorporate into menu items.”   Volker Frick, Executive Chef, Kettle Cuisine

“Gourmet condiments and sauces added to hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches for the more informed consumer who doesn’t just want the same or ordinary thing.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“Pork and bacon!” Dave Danhi, President & Chef, The Grilled Cheese Truck

“Greek yogurt.” Jennifer Holwill, Director of Research & Development, Cinnabon

“HOT is hot. Anything with a little bit of heat seems to be the trend. Korean bbq is very popular and has that heat aspect.” Dan Barash, Executive Chef, Moe’s Southwest Grill

Breakfast: What are the top contenders on the breakfast menu?

“The use of whole grain breads and carriers on sandwiches along with lower fat meat options, oatmeal, and ethnic flavors for breakfast (tacos and burritos) for food choices.” Nola Krieg, Director of R&D, CRC

“Iced espresso-based beverages, like mochas and lattes, represent a tremendous growth opportunity for all dayparts.” Chef Chris Kline, Sara Lee Foodservice

“Grab and go. Who's got time for breakfast?” Gerard Murphy, CEC, CCE, Culinary Educator, SW BOCES

“Egg white flatbreads, oatmeal with fresh fruit, and gourmet breakfast sandwiches will be competitors on breakfast menus.” Melanie Auxer, Director of Food Science and Technology, Auntie Anne’s

“Fresh baked, bread, muffins, coffee cakes.” Stan Dorsey, Vice President, Research & Development, Executive Chef, Focus Brands