• Mike Hughes

Current Restaurant Trends

I dine out often.

Typically once a week with my wife, in a full service, usually higher end setting. It is what we enjoy doing, and we try to be consistent in our frequency.

Now as a now former restaurant manager, while I still can’t arrive somewhere and not immediately try to internally fix everything I see wrong, my views have changed a little and I really enjoy being taken care of. I can relax (usually) and have a great time.

There are some things I have taken note of in my travels, and wanted to run them through a Blog story to share…and get some feedback on. Some are just observations and some are true pet peeves.

It wasn’t too many years ago where your choices were, fast food, casual dining and fine dining. The landscape is now littered with places like; Fast food, fast casual, casual, premium casual, fine dining and $75 a steak fine dining.

The sub categories are even more cluttered; Breakfast only, BBQ, bistro, buffet, café, coffee house, table top, food truck, pub, brew pub, Themed, wine bar and so many others.

If I were to add ethnic categories, we could literally be here all day. My point to all this is that the choices we have as diners is growing by the day. I actually find it a bit much, as I could eat at a Steak house 4 nights a month. It could be the competition factor, as casual dining competition got to be brutal, whereas the competition for a Mongolian Barbeque Teppanyaki-style is less blurred.

Now there are also the dietary specific choices, which I will be careful not to torch too much here, but if you are a Gluten only restaurant, or vegan only, you must be booking horse races, or selling drugs, because I find it hard to believe that the bills are paid feeding people who can’t eat flour, or ANYTHING that walks, fly’s or swims.

Once you get inside, there are a few notable observations that stand out to me. So you like beer. Many of us like beer. As you ponder the tap selections and run from left to right; Hopothermia, suicide squeeze IPA, Hop hunter IPA, Moon juice IPA, Hop drop and roll IPA, All day IPA, Hop stoopid, Hopslam, Modus Hoperandi, and 14 other India Pale Ale choices before you get to the ONE beer you like…Maybe. In all seriousness, if you happen to be in the small number of drinkers that don’t care for an IPA, you are screwed. This IS a fad, right? The names are catchy and they do have a supreme following. Someday all these 26 year olds will get old and want something tasty, like Guinness or maybe something with an I.B.U scale under 85!

To accompany that beer, you may want to choose a burger. As you peruse the menu for a ½ pound 80/20, on a decent bun, with a few condiments, you only see this; Wagyu with white truffles, pata negra, Cristal onion Straws, Himalayan rock salt with Shallot mayo or some other combination of wildly expensive ingredients.

The price? $140! This is an extreme example, but real. Most fine dining burgers in my area have decent offerings, with not too many frills, and are about $20.

It used to be only in Manhattan where you would find a $20 “basic” hamburger.

Google expensive burgers and be prepared to have your mind blown by the $295 burger served at Serendipity 3, in you guessed it, NYC. I guess it’s all relative.

Now lets have a look at one area of the restaurant where the person makes the difference…the host(ess). The host is your restaurants first and last impression and if you think for a minute that you can cheap out here, you are sadly mistaken.

Cell phones, selfies, chewing gum, one-word greetings and farewells and looking annoyed that you are standing there prepared to drop a couple hundred bucks happen far too often. God forbid if you don’t have a reservation, because then you will get a look that is similar to if you just errantly ran over his or her pet ferret.

Welcome me sincerely…hold the door for my wife…smile and understand social media will be there after work…and pretend you are happy to see me. Then there is this; if a restaurant is going to run with no host and just have the bartender grab the door, or a free server, I will run back to my car. Spend the 10 bucks an hour…Or 15 and get someone good. Speaking of cell phones, the whole cell phone sticking out of the back pocket of 90% of your team needs to end now. The excuse they will use is their aunt Betty is gravely ill, and they need to be able to be reached. With a few rare exceptions, Aunt Betty is either fine, or simply doesn’t exist. Your “uncle Bob” could call the restaurant if “Aunt Betty” takes a turn for the worse.

So are all recent developments horrible? Of course not! Here are a few things that I’ve noticed that I am happy about.

Good-bye Inedible garnishes – Curley Parsley, endive with pickled crab apple rings, kale, sprigs of thyme or rosemary…they are becoming extinct and edible concoctions like smeared sauces are taking over.

Bacon in everything – Controversial, yes; however this one is ok with me.

Craft beer – I know I ranted about the I.P.A trend a minute ago; however, the rising popularity of craft beer is a win for consumers. You just need to find variety.

Better table bread – Once upon a time, round, nasty store bought rolls showed up way more often than they should. Crusty bread, with dipping oils or soft, seasoned butter has thankfully been the standard these days.

Overall service – Social media, while a huge negative for your staff on shift, has raised the bar in the overall service department. Seeing as a few bad yelp or trip advisor reviews can destroy a restaurant, many operators have taken notice and training seems to have improved, giving the guest more prompt, friendly service.

Honorable mention…French Onion soup! I like it, and I haven’t had a crappy crock in years!

So there you have it. What trends do you like and what needs to be 86’d? Drop me a line or leave comments.

Enjoy your meal.



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