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November 30, 2023

Our 2024 Menu Trends Report

Tony Treadway

2024 Menu Trends Report article

Creative Energy has been tracking the most important trends affecting foodservice menus for more than three decades. Our annual blog post on the topic is one of our most popular as we   synthesize industry trend data, witnessing top chef presentations and vibes seen on restaurant menus. Thank you.

Here’s what you should be tracking for the year ahead in our Creative Energy Top 10 for ‘24:

1. Vinaigrette Explosion –

For decades vinaigrette was relegated to the backwater of salad dressings but no more. Consumers are being drawn to imaginative vinaigrettes using ingredients of the indulgent and the unique. For example, white balsamic grew 12% in the past year followed by pepper, ginger, sesame, and cider vinaigrettes. Pour it on gem lettuce (+30%), red leaf lettuce (+24%), and spiced pecans (+36%), and you have a winner that is trending.

2. Turn Up the Color –

Enough of the ho-hum tans and browns of fried foods, or the expected clarity of a quality martini, operators should turn up the volume on color in bar drinks, snacks, and their food. ADM recently took a deep dive into the matter with some interesting outcomes. The trend is driven by consumer wanderings online and experiencing AI-generated food and beverages; they now want to see those colors in real drinks and foods. Some examples they offered are below that can be expressed in everything from icings for pastries to salad ingredients to beverages.

menu color inspirations image
menu color inspirations image 2
Trend-worthy colors for menu development.

3. MSG Is OUT Of the Closet –

One of the most unexpected trends on the horizon is the return of MSG to menus after decades of being a phoria as an ingredient. As long ago as 2012, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration said MSG was generally safe to eat, it has taken a dozen years for chefs to step up to the plate and add monosodium glutamate to their menus.

MSG monosodium glutamate image.
MSG was invented in the early 1900’s by Ajinomoto Foods as a flavor enhancer.

Attendees at the 2023 Flavor Experience were delivered the surprising news and were offered samples of soups made with and without MSG. The difference in flavor was stunning. First, Asian chefs like Tim Ma, founder of Lucky Danger, a Chinese-America restaurant in Washington, D.C. brought MSG to all his dishes. In 2024 and beyond, more and more will do the same because of what it can do in cravability. Known as the “fifth taste” umami, is one as important as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

4. White Coffee? –

Technomic identifies white coffee as a menu item to Be On The Look Out (BOLO) for in 2024.

Let’s riff a minute on color and white coffee that should be on your radar for 2024. White coffee is coffee roasted half of the way through and at a lower temperature, thus the whitish colored bean that is higher in caffeine and higher in natural nutrients. Purveyors say that it has a nuttier and sweet flavor profile. Gen Zs and Millennials will love it. I’m not either, but count me in. Might want to order some now and test it with customers. I pick it as a hit for 2024.

5. Go Go Osso Buco? –

Osso buco image.
Osso buco on menus was the fastest growing entrée in the past year, according to Datassential.

For years the acquired taste for osso buco on an Italian menu was accepted and sometimes ignored. Something happened in 2023 that saw the dish of bone-in stewed meat and vegetables skyrocket. In 2022, Datassential reported that the dish was down by nearly 15% nationwide, yet in just a year the dish grew by 35% and is now on just over 4% of all U.S. menus. At least during cold weather months, look for osso buco to not be a flash in a pan.

6. Catch A Ride on Rising Global Cuisines –

Menu adoption cycle chart.
Datassential’s Menu Adoption Cycle Chart heading into 2024.

Let’s talk about Datassential’s Menu Adoption Cycle Chart. The data company surveys more than 400,000 menus across America to discern what is happening now and in the future. As a foodservice operator, you want to look at cuisines on the rise in the “adoption” and “proliferation” phase. Flavor-focused publications I read are excited about the growth of two cuisines found in the adoption phase, Vietnamese and British for next year. Yep. Pho and Fish & Chips ought to be on the radar.

When it comes to regional U.S. cuisines to hang your hat on, Nashville is still number one for obvious reasons, but menus mentioning Wisconsin (can you say cheese?) grew by 13% followed by Kansas City and Carolina. If you want to label a menu item accordingly, I won’t tell where you heard it.

7. Keep On Spicing It Up –

With growing diversity within the population, the need to spice up a dish will continue to grow in 2024. Today, 71% of all menus mentioned at least one spicy item and three of five consumers say they either love or like spicy foods according to Datassential.

Pepper popularity graph.
Many of the peppers within the adoption and proliferation phase are globally inspired.

The Menu Adoption Cycle Chart offers insights on trending pepper varieties and largely filled with those from around the globe. The best advice is to look at your customer demographics by age and race to select the level of heat your new dishes will impart.

Popular peppers chart.
This chart can help menu developers pick the right pepper from Datassential.

Spiciness goes beyond just the hot sauce you offer. Wasabi mayo for example grew 17% in the past year. Jalapeno ranch dressing grew 12%. Spice it up for success in 2024.

8. Appetizing Apps for Next Year –

Roasted corn image
Roasted corn may be the most versatile item for your kitchen next year.

Fried or not, there is some clear direction for next year that captures opportunity. Among the winners of fried items were artichokes, cauliflower, and okra. Among the non-fried category roasted corn came out of nowhere to grow by more than 30% according to Datassential. Roasted corn is likewise extremely versatile, served on the cob or used in salads, salsa, or handhelds. What was the fastest-growing sauce to accompany those winning appetizers? Parmesan garlic is up 47% in just a year and 61% over the past four years.

9. Get Liquored Up –

Bringing excitement to your bar may be one of the best ways to add profit and return visits in 2024, so consider featuring a new cocktail each month. Looking at the latest data, consumers boozed it up big in the past 12 months with nine cocktails growing on menus by more than 20%. Rye whiskey-based Vieux Carre grew by nearly 80% in the past year.

Top cocktail trends graphic
Cocktails grew by more than 20% in the past year according to Datassential.

10. Indulgent Minis –

Sopapillas image.
Sopapillas are our pick for a top trending mini dessert for 2024.

Since COVID and especially among young remote workers, a mini dessert is like taking a quick dive into indulgence morning, noon, or night. Last year, churros were king of the hill among mini desserts. This year our pick is another Hispanic-inspired dessert, the Sopapilla. And why not? This fried pastry has a hollow center and is often filled with yummy goodness, then drizzled in honey, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Be on the lookout for these menus in 2024.

These are our picks for menu greatness for a new year. Let us know if you spot some of our predictions on menus you find. If you are in search of more inspiration, we are happy to have a discussion.