To Follow or Not to Follow a Trend? 4 Tips to Help You Decide

Trends are nothing new to us in the world of hospitality. As soon as we open our eyes and mouths, we see and taste fondue, martinis, gourmet burgers, protein everything, low carb, no gluten, or even Sriracha on Sriracha.

All trends seem to plateau sooner rather than later, but few ride along in full force before something takes its place or someone slanders its status. All types of foodservice outlets need to take note of trends and why they rise and fall. Quick-service, full service, fine dining, and caterers are all subjected to reviews as customers are quick to judge as soon as they read over your menu or glance over at your Instagram page and start to #hashtag.

Understanding the trend origins is key in judging which to follow or not to follow. Use the following tips as your guide:

1. Is this a health trend, such as low carb, kale, raw food, or no gluten?

This type of trend lasts for some time. Most restaurants have a dish or two that just need to be described or elaborated on a bit further to fit the trend. A great example is the popularity of turmeric, especially with its many health benefits. Many Indian, Indonesian, and Middle Eastern dishes use this trendy item — and can do so as a quick menu add-on, too. Replacing yellow Thai rice with turmeric Thai rice is an easy fixer-upper that follows this trend.

But note that health trend items can also be subjected to their downfall, as even the almighty kale has been criticized, so remember to keep your eyes and ears open to new health trends. Overall, however, this is an easy trend to follow that’s low risk.

2. Is this a cultural trend, such as utilizing Asian flavor profiles in your menu items?

This is a great way to add more variety to your menu, but be careful not to overdo it. An Italian restaurant adding Korean short ribs to their menu would never be a sound decision. A better alternative would be a short rib ravioli with spicy gochujang red sauce. This trend can be tricky to menu out, but keep in mind to remove it as soon as you see sales fading away, as this is an indicator people are not pleased or the trend is on its way out.  

3. Is this a mixed origin trend that incorporates a mix of lifestyle, health, and culture all in one (think of the vegan/vegetarian movement)?

This is hands down my favorite of them all, as these are the strongest and longest living trends that may become mainstream in the years to come. The vegan and vegetarian movement is one that will grow stronger every day as people and chefs discover its endless variety in flavors. Other great examples of mixed origin trends include things such as juicing, which has been a part of many cultures, as well as mixing other cultures’ ingredients and flavor profiles together.

Let’s not forget Cronuts — a mix of the old-time favorite doughnut with a French classic croissant — invented by a New York City pastry chef. Although the Cronut is a mixed origin trend, it is definitely riding the tail end of the wave, so be on the lookout for the next sweet trendsetter to come.

4. Is this a fad trend (such as rainbow bagels or cute sushi art rolls)?

This is a bit challenging to pull off and most don’t last longer than the goldfish you get at the carnival. Restaurants that play with this trend have to know not to invest much into it — or not have much too much to lose if they fail at the trend. I’m not saying taking a dive into this type of trend is a 100-percent no.

Some fad trends do pay off, as long as you are going at it strong and are willing to market yourself via social media. Placing your restaurant in the judging eyes of the public can start a new revolution for your trend. Not a believer? Just take a look at #RainbowBagel on social media.

How do you make sense of all this?

In order to be successful, you have to catch trends at the right time. Starting at the tail end of a trend will make many think you’re just not in touch with what the customers want and are too late. To invest your restaurant 100 percent in a trend likely won't be sustainable, either, unless you are the one doing it first.

A more recent trend we saw in 2016 was poke shops. This Hawaiian dish made its way inland and is now rooting in California. Many new poke restaurants are quickly popping up, and the ones that will still around when the wave crashes will most likely be doing it best or have something that the others don’t, such as quality, uniqueness, and value with amazing reviews to boot.

The wrong way to do a trend is to open a ramen shop just because right now everyone loves ramen. The right way to do a trend is Jon and Vinny's restaurant, for example. It's a California Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Calif. The restaurant decided to jump on board the avocado toast trend. However, they modified the toast to fit within their California Italian concept by topping it with olive oil, red pepper flakes. and Parmesan cheese. When avocado toast is sooo 2016, they will most likely take it off their menu with no damage or notice.  

The restaurant business is a passionate one. The margins for profit are already stacked against you. To put your time and energy into a trendy concept that pleases others might do well in the beginning, but that will ultimately fade. You will find yourself trying to predict the next big thing.  And the cycle continues.  

My advice would be to be true to yourself and your vision, while maintaining flexibility and always paying homage to your core menu. Being authentic to your concept will allow it to survive the waves of trends. By flexibility, I mean having a concept that can change and morph with the trends and tastes of the people you are serving. You can catch the wave, you just have to surf it your way — and without sacrificing your authenticity.