Food Trends for 2016

Dec 30, 2015

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look into the coming food trends for 2016. We’ve touched on a few of these trends in our newsletters and blog articles such as the “root-to-shoot” (or “root-to-stalk”) style of cooking and the growing popularity of the poke bowl trend.


But as some foods and tastes rank higher, others naturally move down on the list. The National Restaurant Association noted in their What’s Hot in 2016 Culinary Forecast that underutilized fish, kale salads and fresh beans/peas actually decreased on the trend scale. So what exactly made it to the top?


We aren’t surprised to see locally sourced meats and seafood, chef-driven fast casual concepts, locally grown produce, hyper-local sourcing and natural ingredients/minimally processed foods rounding out the top five spots. In 2015, we saw Chipotle go non-gmo, Panera Bread dropping artificial ingredients, and a plethora of other big brands opting to replace the artificial ingredients with natural ones.


And Sriracha will soon find other ethnic condiments to share the limelight with: think harissa, curry, chimichurri and peri peri. See the full National Restaurant Association forecast here.


We are looking forward to a tasty 2016!


The Control of Heat

Dec 22, 2015

Remember when chipotle chiles were the next big thing, then Sriracha? Now hot and spicy flavors and ingredients are a permanent part of the American pantry and have become entrenched in every segment of foodservice. They’re not just a trend, they’re a fact of life.


According to Technomic, in fact, more than half of all respondents in the firm’s most recent Flavor Consumer Trend Report said that they preferred “very spicy foods and sauces.” And that was two years ago, when the trend was still gathering steam. Flavor supplier Kalsec revealed in its January 2015 research that, among other thingfs, 70% of consumers choose hot/spicy options when dining out.


Pundits may hold Millennials responsible for the emphasis on tongue-tingling food, but there’s more to it than just adding ghost peppers to a burger sauce and calling it a day. Global cuisine has shown us that the manipulation of hot and spicy ingredients is just one aspect of creating flavor. Anyone who has visited Thailand, for instance, knows that sophisticated cuisine for its balanced, controlled use of not only heat but also salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami flavors.


It takes skill and restraint to make spicy food that goes beyond the burn—it’s not just about singeing the tongue, it’s about flavor intensity with nuance. Balance is what makes spicy food taste more delicious and leave a memorable impression, not just pain.


Here’s how to do it:

• Look to the global pantry for balance; some of the most successful contemporary recipes mix culinary cultures, using products such as Korean gochujang or North African harissa to create a signature flavor experience

• Different chiles and chile-based products add different characteristics of fruitiness and flavor; experiment to find the ones that accomplish the desired effect

• “Layering” different sources of heat, such as chiles and hot sauces, adds to complexity, since these ingredients not only possess different flavors but also release sensation at different times

• Add vinegar or citrus for acidity and brightness, and also to intensify other flavors, including spiciness; wine can also add acidity

• Fermented products such as kimchi and even pickle juice can add both heat and that zing of acidity

• A bit of sweetness—not just sugar but also products like fruit or fruit juice, caramelized onions, a sweet spirit such as Madeira—will add dimension and help bring flavor into balance. Even serving spicy food with a sweetish wine, such as Riesling, will help round out the flavors

• Flavor-rounding smokiness can be provided with an ingredient such as Aleppo pepper, chiles en adobo, pimentón, toasted spices or even bacon

• Salt is important for balance in all food, and doubly so in spicy recipes. Note that some spicy ingredients can be quite salty on their own, such as certain brand of harissa and gochujang

• Adding an umami component can go a long way towards balancing heat. Miso, fish sauce, soy sauce, tomato, Maggi seasoning…. all pack a umami wallop

• There’s a reason products like yogurt, cream, coconut milk and tahini appear so often in spicy cuisine; they mellow flavors (the fat actually prevents the capsaicin molecules in chiles from binding to the VR1 pain receptors on the tongue). These ingredients also add a richer texture, mouthfeel and “cling.”


For help with menus and recipes, spicy or not, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.


Food: The New Paradigm

Dec 22, 2015

You know the old saying, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Well, it’s not your father’s restaurant industry either. Arguably, it’s not even his food.


Think about it: Not so long ago, a guest might go into a restaurant, order a steak, a baked potato and a generic glass of red wine, and call it a day. The only choices might be how you wanted your steak cooked and whether you wanted sour cream and bacon bits with the potato.


Nowadays, a restaurant might offer the option of Wagyu or grass-fed beef—perhaps from a specific farm—cooked over oak or hickory, accompanied by a variety of different seasonal or locally sourced side dishes, and accessorized with a wine-by-the-glass list offering a dozen or more selections identified by vintage, varietal and producer.


Most of these developments have been fairly recent. The 21st century seasonal food movement began four decades ago at Chez Panisse, and the locavore movement is said to have originated in 2005. The Cruvinet came to California in 1979, but it took another decade or so for wine dispensing and preservation systems to become widely popular outside of wine-producing areas. Most Wagyu beef raised in the U.S. (a.k.a. American Kobe) was exported back to Japan until the early aughts and—like the majority of luxury food products—was only available to high-end chefs and the occasional specialty butcher shop.


The implications of these changes for both consumer and operator are huge. Now of course, customers not only know what heritage meats and organic farm-raised produce and keg wines are, they’re also clamoring for them.
This amounts to a whole new paradigm for the restaurant industry. Its hallmarks are:


Story Telling

You’ve heard it before but the maxim bears repeating: Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from. At its simplest, that means calling out the provenance of ingredients such as proteins and produce on the menu, website and other forms of customer conversation. Synergy client LYFE Kitchen is a case in point; the website makes it totally clear what the company’s mission is in terms of sourcing and menuing, as well as commitment to the community and to responsible business practices.


Today’s consumers also want to engage with brands via social media, particularly in the visual universe of Instagram and Facebook, and savvy operators make it easier for their guests to become their ambassadors through these platforms.


Keeping it “Clean”

“Free from” is the new mantra. Free from artificial ingredients and colors, from GMOs, from antibiotics, from gluten and other trigger foods, from unnecessary processing. The trend goes hand-in-glove with the industry’s more to greater transparency and traceability in the food chain, as consumer desire for cleaner eating grows.


For chains that are dependent upon prepared products that contain high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, growth hormones, and any of the above, the impact has already been significant. Ultimately, it means that many industry players will have to make the switch from processed ingredients to fresh—which will effectively change the way they do business.



While the exact definition of sustainability may be highly mutable, there’s no doubt that more guests are looking for it. According to the Hartman Group, in fact, 42% of respondents in a new “Diners’ Changing Behavior” report say they are receptive to meals that are sustainable and healthy. Many of these are members of the all-important Millennial cohort.


Issues range from sourcing (buying local allows family farms to continue thriving, and addresses the high carbon costs of imports and other foods from far away) to recycling and composting. One of the latest planks in the sustainability platform is the move to cut down on food waste, a movement that has gained surprising traction in the “garbage-to-plate” trend.


Emphasis on Craft

Artisanal, hand-shaken, small batch, made in house…. These signifiers of the “craft” movement in food and beverages have become very important in beverage marketing. It may have started with craft beer and craft cocktails, but the trend has rapidly expanded to include concepts like farmstead cheeses, nose-to-tail butchering, bread baked on premise, housemade pickles (witness Good Times Burgers’s new program), and even dishes and furniture made by local potters and woodworkers. It can also be as simple as menu descriptions verifying how carefully food is made, such as “made to order” and “smoked for hours over natural hardwood.”


The notion of craft means being honest and relevant, standing for quality, tradition and flavor. It also links back to freshness, transparency, sustainability, and the importance of connecting guest to experience through storytelling.


Welcome to the new paradigm.


Craft beer photo credit: CK Golf Solutions license CC by SA 2.0


Five Great Ways to Stay Relevant

Dec 22, 2015

By Randy Lopez Marketing and Branding Strategy


Stay relevant. It’s a common phrase in the news, in articles like “How to Stay Relevant in the Rapidly Changing World of Work,” “How to Stay Relevant in an Age of Disruption,” “Millennials and Staying Relevant” and even “How to make sure your menus are relevant.” Today it’s a struggle to make sure you and your restaurant brand are relevant for today’s guests and trends, while always keeping an eye out for the future. The industry’s landscape is riddled with the corpses of once-famous brands that just couldn’t remain relevant for today’s tastes and consumer expectations.


This year, make it your New Year’s Resolution to stay relevant. Personally, I’ve always tried to understand trends and be able to see what’s coming down the road. As brand builders and marketers, people of my ilk tend to look forward, since forecasting is something we keep in our toolkit. Even so, most marketers might just look at their own industry’s marketing trends, strategies and tactics and in doing so, remain relevant… but only in their own world. Truly successful and innovative businesspeople stay relevant in all fields.


Take, for example, Richard Branson from Virgin, the perpetually “relevant” guy. He hangs out with celebs and influencers, is always doing something interesting, and is consistently attached to important and timely causes and global initiatives. Though his #1 job is to support the Virgin brand, he is always at the forefront of any given trend or issue, and pushes his organization to continuously stretch boundaries and to “do good.” Though we all wish we could be like Branson, chances are we’ll never have as many trips around the world or into space as this guy.


We can, however, push ourselves to “Stay Relevant.” As restaurateurs—whether owner, president, marketing manager, chef, COO, trainer… or whatever—we owe it to ourselves to stay on top of trends and to best understand the world of our current guests as well as understanding the motivators that will change our industry in the future.


Some simple resolutions to stay relevant this year might include the following:


1. Try new foods. Though we work in the restaurant industry, I still come across owner-operators and brand builders who don’t try ethnic foods, new flavor profiles or anything besides the menu items served in their own locations. Get out into your neighborhoods to sample new food experiences flavored by different cultures, or developed by hybrids of new tastes and takes on classics.


2. Think like a designer. Build a vocabulary of art styles, favorite fonts, colors, and interior designs. Collect cool ads and menus. Look at table tents and collateral and keep a record of things that resonate. Colors and design elements are as important to staying relevant as food is, and you need to have a basic understanding of this if the look of your brand is current rather than 20 years behind the times.


3. Use sites like Thrillist, The Cool Hunter, and Eater to see what’s going on in culture, design, food, business, and lifestyle and to have an understanding of what’s new and what can possibly have an application for your business in the future.


4. Get a Moleskine or other small journal. Though we’re all using our laptops and smartphones to communicate and document, there’s something about keeping a journal to jot down notes, ideas, brainstorms, and random thoughts that makes the process more engaging and creative. If it helps, think of your journal as a collection of “many napkins” (for those of us who made some of our best notes on a two-ply piece of paper found on a restaurant table).

5. Listen to podcasts or take an online class. Learn about something new in a completely different industry or area of responsibility. Think of a long drive as an opportunity to listen to TED Talks to be inspired and educated in minutes.


Life is moving faster than we ever thought possible. Embrace the notion that the “who” we are today is going to be different from the person we will be in the future. Change is good. Continue to learn, challenge yourself, and take ideas and values from other industries, people and cultures to grow yourself and your business. Heed the warning: Stay Relevant.


Closed photo credit: Bryan Mills license CC by 2.0


Taking A Look Under the Hood

Dec 22, 2015

A post by David Bloom, Executive Vice President Business Development & Strategy


As Dean Small, Founder of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, said to me earlier today, “when it rains it pours”, in response to back-to-back inquiries we received this morning from prominent Wall St. Investment and Private Equity groups that are extremely active in the restaurant space. They were both interested in engaging us to help “take a look under the hood” specifically in the areas of supply chain management and purchasing efficiency opportunities, as well as food safety and supply chain threats to their portfolio of restaurant investments. Many of the brands represented by these groups are household names.


While are often engaged for our expertise and extensive experience in the areas of operational efficiency, innovation and brand development, recent high profile foodborne illness events in the news regarding issues in Chipotle’s supply chain has definitely highlighted the exposure that all restaurant operating and investment groups have in this area.


As in every other area of life, the devil is in the details, and that’s where we come in. By allowing us to take a deep dive into their supply chain and purchasing programs, food safety procedures and processes, and to see how those policies are actually being executed in the field, we typically pay for our services many times over. Many of these great brands will engage us on an ongoing basis as we tackle their toughest issues, and make the seemingly impossible, possible.


At any given point in time throughout the year, Synergy Restaurant Consultants is engaged by multiple high profile brands to conduct operating efficiency studies and to provide them with actionable plans and processes to substantially improve their profitability, while simultaneously dramatically improving the guest and employee experiences.


We at Synergy Restaurant Consultants take great pride in providing actionable and scalable solutions to the real life problems restaurant operators, executives and investors face on a daily basis. We work hard every day to build on our 25-year reputation of working with over 250 national and international brands, investment groups and numerous highly successful restaurateurs in every niche of the industry. If you are interested in having us take a look under the hood, or simply want to find out more about our wide array of services, please contact us.


6 Tips for Improving Food Safety

Dec 17, 2015

With so much talk in the news regarding foodborne illnesses in relation to major restaurant chains, it is crucial to take a step back and reassess your restaurant’s food safety rules and processes. To some, food safety may seem like common sense, but it’s never a bad idea to have a refresher for your staff, especially those in the kitchen. Improper food handling can lead to disastrous results for your guests and your brand.


Here are six simple tips to help for improving food safety in your restaurant kitchen:


1)      Handwashing: This may sound like a no-brainer but it is of utmost importance that food handlers wash their hands, and do so properly and at the proper times (before work, after handling money or anything non-food, after using the restroom, etc.). See this handwashing video guide from Needlers.


2)      Clean your ice machines: Yes, even with ice there is danger of contamination. Ensure that your ice machines and bins are frequently cleaned. Find more information here at


3)      Keep your food out of the danger zone: Don’t leave your food in the incorrect temperature range wherein food-borne bacteria can grow. Regular checking of refrigerator temperatures is a good idea. Check out the USDA’s article on this topic.


4)      Keep cleaning: Don’t forget to clean grease traps, floor mats, ovens and more. See a detailed list here: restaurant kitchen cleaning list.


5)      Store meat on the bottom shelf: This can help prevent their juices from dripping down onto fresh produce and the like.


6)      Get connected with ServSafe: The ServSafe program helps foodservice professionals get educated and certified in food safety.


The Build-Your-Own Trend Lives On

Dec 09, 2015

From burritos at Chipotle, to pies from MOD pizza, operators know that guests seek customization. Take a took at some unique and notable spots in this highly popular vertical.


Poke is huge right now, and there are plenty of restaurants jumping on the trend that allows you to customize this Hawaiian staple. At Spin Fish in Los Angeles, you can create your own poke bowl: choose your fish from ahi tuna, salmon, Hamachi and more, drizzled with your choice of sauce like sesame shoyu, select toppings like panko or avocado on a base of white or brown rice, mixed greens, or noodles.


At Potatopia, the potato isn’t hiding as a side dish—it’s the star of your meal. You pick your potato, toppings, proteins and sauce. You can wind up with something like an au gratin topped with asiago cheese, sweet pepper, steak and garlic aioli or maybe a skin chip with shrimp, jalapeno, pepperjack cheese and chipotle ketchup.


Explore flavors inspired by the south of India at Biju’s Little Curry Shop in Denver. Chow down on curry bowls like coconut curry chicken and masala beef curry. Or build your own bowl—just choose your rice, proteins like chicken and beef and pick your slaw and chutneys.


Ice cream and froyo are not the only customizable desserts around. Let your imagination run wild at Poquet Donuts in Irvine, CA. First, choose your donut from glazed, chocolate cake, vanilla cake or vegan. Next, pick your filling from creams and butters, fresh fruit and jams. Finally, select candies, spices or nuts as your topping. If you’re not feeling too creative, choose from their signature donuts selection which include avocado, tiramisu and pistachio crème brûlée.

Poke bowl photo credit: Michael Saechang license CC by SA 2.0


4 Ways to Jumpstart Your Snapchat Marketing Campaign

Dec 07, 2015


If there’s one buzzword in the marketing space, it’s “Millennials.’” They are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce and recognized as the “most populous, educated and diverse generation in American history.” CMO Council states that 87% of millennials always have their smartphones by their side, so when you hear that part of your social media marketing strategy should include Snapchat, listen up! The wildly popular messaging app is becoming an integral part of a wide variety of major restaurant concepts’ marketing plans.


1)   Sneak peaks: Have an LTO or new menu item? Tease your Snapchat followers with hints that will keep them engaged and guessing until you make the official announcement. Look at how Taco Bell used Snapchat to reintroduce their Beefy Crunch Burrito.


2)   Endorsements: Do you have the budget to bring on a celebrity? Using them in your Snaps can give a great boost in spreading your message. Note McDonald’s featuring LeBron James on the Snapchat.


3)   Promotions, coupons and giveaways: There’s probably no better way to engage with your audience than with a giveaway—who doesn’t love free food? You can run a variety of contests on Snapchat: Try a scavenger hunt, a photo/doodle challenge of guests eating your food, or a trivia competition based on clues from your Snaps. Check out how McDondald’s used Snapchat for their promotion.


4)   Send special updates and reminders: Keep your Snapchat audience engaged by sending reminders of any existing promotions or specials you have for the day.

Need a primer on how to actually use Snapchat? Check out this handy YouTube video to learn the basics.


Snapchat photo credit: license CC by SA 2.0