2024 brings comfort and function to menus

We’ve seen many menu changes come to pass over the last few years, and as we head towards the end of the year, it’s time to take a look at what trends are ramping up for 2024. From flavours and ingredients to the customer experience, next year’s menus offer more nostalgia, global influences, and more.

Comfort and joy

Winter menus are bringing back the comforts of home with a modern spin, including classics like braised meats and pies making their way onto the menu for the colder months. Birria, one of the newest additions, is a rich soup typically made with beef, goat, chicken, or even mutton, and it is up over 300 per cent on menus in the last four years. This speaks to both the demand for comfort food and the way that global influences are treating guests to new and interesting flavours.

Functional foods

The idea of natural eating evolves in 2024 to celebrate the beauty and bounty of nature, with ingredients like oak moss, partridgeberries, and pineapple weed making their way into dishes and beverages. Botanicals like flowers, herbs and roots will be featured more in beverages, with elderberry, echinacea, and lavender topping the list for teas.  The beauty of this trend is that often the ingredients are indigenous, allowing operators to feature local farmers and producers, as well as seasonal ingredients as the stars of their dishes.

Menus will also see more dishes with reduced fat, salt, sugar (and more). These “minus” dishes are up 54 per cent on menus so far, showing that there us a real drive towards perceived healthier dining for consumers. Fermentations like pickling, vinegar and kombucha will also become more mainstream. The hashtag #guthealth receiving 4.7 billion views on social media, and this tells operators that there is a significant shift towards prioritizing gut health as part of the consumer wellness journey.

Sweeten the deal

As many consumers are moving towards a healthier lifestyle and away from refined sugars, there is a move towards natural sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia, and allulose, which still fill that sweet craving, with less negative health effects. This trend is expected to have the most impact on beverages and desserts.

Condiments with a twist

Condiments are getting elevated next year with upgraded ingredients and flavours. Think mustard with grapes, ketchup with salal berry, aioli with yuzu, mayonnaise with bottarga, and beyond. These evolutions allow restaurants to show off their creativity, make the most of their kitchen ingredients, and offer guests something innovative off the menu.

Tomato time

As a hot menu item, tomatoes will have their day in the sun starting next year. Technomic predicts that menus will take on the tomato in non-traditional ways like globally-inspired sauces and dips like Mayan sikil pak, Libyan chraimeh, and Japanese yum yum.  It’s also possible that tomatoes make their way into cocktails beyond the Bloody Mary, with vodka-inspired drinks and clarified tomato water for mixers.

Knock it off

The word “dupe” has been used as an alternative to “knock-off” as a cheaper or easier way of experiencing popular dishes. In today’s economy, affordability is on consumers’ minds, with the word “dupe” increasing in Google searches over 53 per cent in the last few years. As consumers continue to want to try new items, social media serves as a way to get foodies engaged, with dupes motivating customers to find more affordable ways to experience their favourites.

Get into specifics

Menus will also get “granular,” including very specific descriptions of ingredients and dishes. Rather than reading “red wine vinegar,” guests will see “Barolo wine vinegar.” Rather than simply “apple,” menus will read “Granny Smith apple.” These descriptors are seen as additional ways to intrigue guests and pique their interest, allowing the flavours and ingredients to stand out on the menu.

Make it mini

Single-serve desserts have been made popular on social media and will be popular on next year’s menus, too. Dubbed “little treat culture,” the practice of indulging in mini desserts is addressing the increased snacking trend, allowing consumers to indulge in sweets in small doses. This trend also incorporates the idea of a smaller spend and healthier choice, with a lower cost and a smaller portion.

As consumer habits change, so do menus and 2024 brings many new and interesting flavours, ingredients, and items to restaurant menus.