In less than three weeks, 2024 will arrive. Amazing. For many in the restaurant industry, this has been a year of contradictions. Our brand-loyal customers returned in droves and even forgave us when our lack of servers meant a few more drinks at the bar before being seated. They even understood why the rising menu prices couldn’t be avoided as they faced the same scenario at the grocery store. And suppliers came up with some unique alternatives when the supply chain failed us. It’s been quite a year.
And, as always, restauranteurs and operators rose to the occasion with creative menu items that were both exquisitely beautiful and extraordinary. Entertainment (or should I say, eatertainment) included soccer while dining and pickleball, which recently received the title of the most popular racket sport by Apple.
Let’s explore some of the trends that shaped 2023. Perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of what’s to come.
The Drink of the Year
Negroni was still one of the most popular drinks in 2023. One wonders if it will ever lose its prestigious title. Made with Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, it’s remained “hot” thanks to viral videos and quality ingredients.
You’ll also find plenty of negroni variations that trade the sweet vermouth in for botanically driven vermouths. Mezcal Negroni is made with Cappelletti Aperitivo, Cocchi Dopo Teatro, and, of course, Maguey Mezcal. Then we have Lazy Betty Negroni, Ophelia’s Negroni, and Crystal Signature Negroni.
Another top contender was the dirty martini, along with nearly every other possible martini drink, like Expresso martinis and the MSG martini. Yes, MSG, monosodium glutamate, a drink made famous by Bonnie’s in Brooklyn. Instead of vermouth, you’ll drink Shaoxing wine, a Chinese rice wine, and salty olive brine.
The Food of the Year
Nation’s Restaurant News graces us with their flavors and foods of the week throughout the year. As the end of the year approached, they looked back and came up with the 10 most popular ingredients of 2023.
One of the foods that appeared on more menus in 2023 was shoestring fries. I know, who would have thought? They do provide a bit of nostalgia, and they are thin and crispy. I think I’m beginning to understand.
It appears avocado toast was also still on the hot list, along with Takoyaki, a Japanese snack made of meat, ginger, and garlic dipped in batter. Bento boxes, the Japanese lunch box-like item with different compartments of delicious goodies, also made the list. For flavor, think Salsa Roja or Mexican red salsa.
When the New York Times scouted restaurants across the country in search of the best American dishes of 2023, a few of their favorites were fried chicken at Tavern on State in New Haven, Thai red curry yellowtail at the Katherine in Fort Lauderdale, brisket tacos at Garcia’s in San Antonio, and whole grilled dorado at Clandestino in Portland, OR.
The Ambiance of the Year
First things first: Is it Instagrammable? While some restaurants created mind-blowing décor and aesthetics with no intention to ignite a social media frenzy, many top designers say it’s one of the first new client requests. And then there are those restaurants that knew exactly what they we’re doing when they combined bold color with water fountains, sculptures, and greenery that rivals the Amazon. Instagrammable.
TGI Friday’s was recently recognized as the most Instagrammable restaurant chain with 1.3 million posts. It’s hard to say whether it’s their eclectic artwork and memorabilia or the iconic white and red striped interior.
Food Network gave the thumbs up to Catch in Los Angeles, a restaurant with a dazzling entrance inspired by vineyards. With a retractable rooftop, open-air dining, and breathtaking views of the Hollywood Hills, it’s hard to beat.
Some of the other most “Instagrammable” restaurants in the U.S. are Uchi, a restaurant in Denver that incorporates glass bricks into the walls, allowing flickering beams of sunlight to fill the interior. At Vida in Indianapolis, their herbs and greens are grown on the restaurant wall. Hard not to take a picture of that.
And the Award Goes to the Funhouse
Bon Appétit describes the hottest new restaurant aesthetic in 2023 as the “overwhelming funhouse.” Their case in point is Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson, NY, a restaurant offering tropical comfort food that leans toward maximalism design. One look at their website says it all, with brilliant neon colors, pineapples, and dancing jellyfish. It’s definitely the place to leave your cares behind and have fun while you dine.
At EMERGING, we work with restaurants and entertainment concepts nationwide, helping them achieve their goals and expand their reach. And, of course, have fun along the way. To learn more about our many divisions and the benefits they bring, contact EMERGING today.