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New Independent Restaurant Trend: Beverages As Ingredient To Specialty Dishes

Our favorite beverages cola, coffee, tea, soda, beer and spirits, are apparently not just meant to quench our thirsty throats –they are perfect for our food, too. This, according to a new study conducted by our often-used research firm Technomic. The consulting group examined the menus and menu covers of one hundred independent restaurants across America to spot emerging trends that are taking shape in restaurant food and beverage, and found out that independent eateries prepare their menus in creative and innovative ways. One interesting trend that came out is their use of colas and other beverages as a primary ingredient in preparing specialty dishes.

Colas, sodas, tea, coffee, beer and spirits contribute sweet, spicy, savory and tart flavors to restaurants’ specialty dishes, and restaurant chefs are said to take great advantage of these flavors when they use it as ingredients in creating their specialty menu items.

“Chefs have been exploring flavored beverages when they cook for some time now, but the way these beverages are being used as an ingredient today helps redefine the boundaries that the industry have set between gourmet cuisine and comfort food,” says Laura McGuire, editorial manager of Technomic. “Beer or soda as an ingredient brings a touch of casualness to a menu item, even when the main ingredients are uncommon. Independent restaurants have been revisiting comfort food these days and are placing contemporary changes on old, long-standing themes.”

With the aim of helping restaurant operators and its suppliers understand the trends that are gradually taking shape in the independent restaurants’ arena today, Technomic has published the bi-annually released Independent Insights. The report gives wide ranging accounts on how industry experts appraised 100 menus in elegant yet inexpensive menu covers from independent restaurants around the U.S. and drew inferences and conclusions on possible leading trends in the industry today. Restaurant concepts that were examined ranged from fine dining concepts to food trucks, giving a more comprehensive report for all possible consumers and markets, and providing helpful applications and insights for the restaurant industry professionals.

To get a glimpse on how restaurants interestingly utilize beverages in their menu items as an ingredient, Technomic provided a few examples:

Pork Chop In Sweet Tea Brine from Benjy’s in Houston, TX

Pork Belly Braised In Pepsi from Second Empire in Raleigh, NC

Blueberry Guinness Cheecake created by Walter’s in Portland, ME

• A coffee pan-seared duck breast called Aztec Duck from The Fort in Denver, CO

• Bacardi-rum spiked caramelized bananas called Bananas Foster French Toast from Frontier in Chicago, IL

“The inclination to use spirit-based beverages were found in the Midwest markets,” said McGuire. “A great number of restaurants that were featured in the report were those in casual-dining and upscale-dining categories. We also anticipate that the trends that we have featured will eventually stream down to the limited service concepts, both independent restaurants and chain.”

This trend could also prove handy, considering the results of a recent study done by Mintel that independent restaurants appeal more to customers than the bigger restaurant chains. Realizing the potential to outpace the chains, independents should be able to capitalize on beneficial trends that could capture and draw consumers to their establishments.