Restaurant analysts have begun forecasting what lies ahead for food and beverage in 2012, so it seemed like an opportune time to check how well


How Accurate Were Restaurant Analysts' Trend Predictions for 2011?

Restaurant analysts have begun forecasting what lies ahead for food and beverage in 2012, so it seemed like an opportune time to check how well they read their crystal balls at the end of 2011. Here, the trends that Technomic - perhaps the most quoted name in the restaurant prediction game - claimed would seize the nation this year. We've rated the firm's accuracy according to what happened in Seattle, which may tilt the odds in Technomic's favor, since our eaters tend to be early adopters. Just because a trend rings true here doesn't mean it made its way to Dubuque.

1. Action in adult beverages

Technomic predicts that as optimism grows in 2011, consumers will want to celebrate with some higher-end alcoholic drinks. As such, retro cocktails and high-end spirits may get more play at fine-dining and independent establishments.

Background: Optimism may be a stretch, but something drove Seattleites to drink well this year. Canon got the most press for its rarefied liquor selection and crew of all-star barkeeps, but nearly a dozen bars specializing in serious, high-end spirits opened this year.

Verdict: It is certain.

2. Beyond bricks and mortar

Food trucks are poised to move beyond New York and Los Angeles into more U.S. cities. Not only will gourmet food trucks proliferate, but traditional restaurants also will begin using the tactic as a way to extend their brands into new areas or add revenue streams like catering.

Background: Plenty of new food trucks hit Seattle's streets this year, and revised city regulations mean another batch of trucks is likely to gear up for next summer. But established local restaurants have largely resisted the truck race: Seattle's still waiting on the wheeled version of Canlis.

Verdict: Reply hazy, try again.

3. Farmers as celebrities

The era of the celebrity chef may soon give way to that of the star farmer. Look for more attention to be paid to producers and suppliers on menus across the nation as a growing back-to-the-source mentality takes hold in the industry. Farmers and producers may soon be high-profile spokesmen for restaurants and host more special events and dinners.

Background: Another instance of "been there, done that" for Seattle diners. Restaurants in the Puget Sound have long acknowledged the farmers, foragers and fishermen responsible for their ingredients, although Local 360 this year made name checking a core component of its business plan. As for the farmer-as-spokesman shtick, restaurants around here apparently prefer the chef-as-farmer approach.

Verdict: As I see it, yes.

4. Social media and technology: Evolutionary spurt

Look for more restaurants to gain a competitive edge with new technologies and applications, including kiosks for ordering and displaying nutritional information, iPads containing wine lists, and hand-held devices for tableside payments.

Background: At Poquitos, you can order and pay with your smartphone. At Palisade, the wine list is an iPad.

Verdict: It is decidedly so.

5. Korean and beyond

The Korean taco -- an only-in-America synthesis of Korean-style fillings and a Mexican format -- signals the rise of Korean barbecue and Korean food in general.

Background: Korean food isn't new to Seattle, but thoroughly modern dishes with Korean sensibilities put Revel and Marination Station atop many eaters' lists of favorite new restaurants.

Verdict: Without a doubt.

6. Frugality fatigue

Consumers who are able to treat themselves again in 2011 will do so -- meaning that restaurants with a few indulgent menu items or experiences could see an uptick in orders of high-margin and high-price-point dishes.

Background: Food lovers could certainly get by in 2011 without their mink stoles and top hats, but a few new restaurants in Seattle gave big spenders a chance to transcend the comfort food rut. There are bottles on RN74's wine list that cost more than the price of every menu item at nearby restaurants combined, and The Coterie Room didn't flinch at charging $35 for a steak. But it still feels like a recession out there.

Verdict: My sources say no.

7. How low can you go?

On the other hand, customers will continue to demand everyday value when dining out. As part of any balanced-menu strategy, restaurants should have permanent value fixtures available, not just limited-time offers.

Background: Remember RN74? What really clicked with Seattle diners this year was its happy hour menu. In response, the upscale restaurant this month released a lengthy all-the-time bar menu with four "poppers", four "sticks", popcorn, pretzels, French fries and chicken liver toasts. The priciest item is a $16 set of foie gras sliders.

Verdict: Signs point to yes.

9. Back to our roots

Consumers will continue to turn to comfort foods when dining out, creating demand for traditional Southern foods, retro Italian favorites like meatballs, or gourmet updates to nostalgic favorites like doughnuts and popsicles. There also could be more opportunities for family-style service and family-size portions.

Background: It's hard to be a loner on Sunday nights, when Seattle restaurants do their family-style thing. New restaurants Brave Horse Tavern, Cuoco, Marche and Golden Beetle all inaugurated communal suppers this year.

Verdict: Yes - definitely.

10. New competition from C-stores

Retailers have been encroaching on restaurant turf for some time, but now the hottest action is among convenience-store operators upgrading their foodservice, where margins are 40 percent to 60 percent instead of the 5 percent typical for gas.

Background: West Seattle's Super Deli Mart is the template for a convenience store turned beer Mecca, but there aren't too many stores copying it. There are lots of reasons for Seattle restaurant owners to worry, but competition from convenience stores probably doesn't belong on that list.

Verdict: Very doubtful.

So what's up for 2012? Technomic says more beans, allergens cited on menus and free desserts "out of the blue." Check out the complete list here.

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