More than 1,500 culinary pros weigh in on 120 dishes, ingredients, flavors, beverages and restaurant menu macro trends for 2024.
From world-stage soups and stews to global chicken wings to international BBQ, customers want to experience flavors from around the world in a form that’s comforting, recognizable and shareable.
Those dishes topped the list for the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast. More than 1,500 culinary professionals ranked over 120 items in the categories of dishes, ingredients, flavors, condiments, non-alcohol and alcohol beverages, and macro trends to reveal key culinary currents for the coming year.
Consumers’ desires for comfort and community—many top-trending items are shareable dishes—come through in the rankings, but comforting doesn’t mean boring. World-stage soups and stews, such as chilled salmorejo, coconut-based laksa and tom kha, upscale ramen, and spicy, smoky birria (so versatile it made the top five for ingredients, too) serve up new flavors in ways customers feel safe to sample.
Comfort also comes through in dishes such as grilled/cooked cheeses and stuffed vegetables, which also broke into the top 10 overall trends.
The top macro trend in this year’s survey is incorporating social media into restaurant menus and marketing. Customers are quick to share culinary discoveries through social media. Making use of platforms like TikTok and Instagram to market menus is top of mind for operators, and that marketing works in both directions; users can make restaurant fare go viral and restaurants often riff on online food fads, parlaying them into new menu items or LTOs.
In addition, chefs are looking to regional standouts for inspiration, and finding ways to make them their own. Nashville Hot is one such standout, a natural flavor to emerge after Fried/Chicken Sandwiches 3.0 topped 2023’s Hot list.
In beverages, more clear trends emerge. The common denominator in non-alcohol beverages is the demand for products boosting energy—but those, like functional waters that also promise health benefits to enhance focus, improve gut health or reduce inflammation, for example, are gaining market share fast. And, ingredients such as elderflower, hibiscus, passionfruit and others, add flavor to function.
Botanical cocktails top the alcohol beverage category. Elegantly scenting and flavoring spirits with recognizable natural elements (like spices, herbs, flowers, berries, seeds, and calyxes) also lend perceived health benefits to cocktails. Health plays a part in the popularity of low- and zero-alcohol versions of cocktails, beers, spirits, and wine as well. Restaurants that manage to market high-end, low- and no-alcohol cocktails can leverage a beverage upsell that has a sweet food cost.
As a top beverage trend, coffee is evergreen. While energy-boosting nitro brew tops the non-alcohol list, hard coffees are second on the alcohol lineup.
The 2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast delivers the top trends in seven categories, as well as those trends pros predict as emerging. Are you on track to strike while the trend iron’s hot?
Download the free 2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast here.