Top Restaurant Appetizer Trends

What's Hot Culinary Forecast

Each year the National Restaurant Association (NRA) releases its annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, outlining menu trends for the coming year. The survey studies all aspects of restaurant menus, from appetizers, to starches and side items to main dishes and desserts. Appetizers are a great way to upsell any restaurant meal and they are also easier to experiment with when trying out new menu trends. Customers are more willing to try something new if it doesn’t cost a lot. So they may take a chance on new appetizer, so long as they know they can still order their favorite main course for dinner. Below are the top five appetizer trends for 2014, as rated by the NRA What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, which have staying power far beyond 2014. 

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Charcuterie (House Cured Meats)


According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, house cured meats (also known as charcuterie) are the top trend among the 1200 chefs polled by the NRA. With 63% of chefs rating it as a hot trend, this is the second year in a row that cured meats has been the number one appetizer trend. If you look at popular items in other categories, you’ll see a strong emphasis on house made items, local produce, beef and seafood and other close-to-home menu trends. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and there is value in having it made on site.

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Vegetarian Appetizers

Jeff Gunn

A separate report from the Nation’s Restaurant News, cited health concerns as the number one reason people will dine out less often in 2014. Just as people want to know where their food is coming from, they also want healthier options. Vegetarian menu choices appeal not only to vegetarians but those watching their cholesterol, weight, blood pressure or other health concerns.

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Ethnic/ Street Inspired Appetizers

Jason Lam

For the second year in a row, ethnic/ street-inspired appetizers is number three on the list of hot appetizer trends. Items like tempura, taquitos and kebabs will continue to be popular menu appetizers. Also greatly influencing the popularity of street inspired foods is the rise of food trucks. Food trucks as a culinary theme were rated by 61% of chefs as a hot trend, so it is no surprise that brick and mortar restaurants are adapting food truck items for their own menus.

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Ethic Dips

Breville USA

New to the culinary forecast top trends this year are ethnic dips. Dips have always been a crowd pleaser, no matter if you were throwing a back yard barbeque, tailgate party or ordering appetizers with friends. A few years ago spinach and artichoke dip burst onto the scene and is now a fixture at many chain restaurants value meals. Menu trends look toward the middle east and lesser known Mediterranean fare, including roasted eggplant dip and muhammara, a traditional dip made from hot and sweet red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate molasses and spices. Check out these fresh new ingredients that can help spice up your restaurant menu.

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Amuse Bouche

Ewan M.

The term amuse bouche is French for appetizer. It typically refers to one or two bite portions with lots of flavor. Only 42% of chefs surveyed rated this trend as hot. 32% thought it was considered yesterday’s news, while 26% view it as a perennial favorite. While this type of appetizer may be a bit fussy for some restaurant concepts, it is ideal for fine dining and various catered events. Even if it falls off the hot trends list in the coming years, I’d wager this French classic will still be on select menus for years to come.

The above restaurant menu trends are trendy but have staying power that extends beyond 2014. Trends like street food and ethinic dips transend restaurant concepts, fitting menus at fast casual, fine dining, food trucks and more. It's important to remember though that menu trends come and go; it's important to keep continued focus on good food and food service to keep customers coming back. That is the secret to a succesful menu.