With the rise of remote work blurring traditional mealtimes, operators are focusing on new opportunities to entice customers at all hours with engaging offerings, including off-hours or slow-day value deals, flexible pricing, multi-course meal bundles, meal kits and subscriptions, apparel, and more. Meanwhile, many operators plan to add to their menus healthier and nutritious meal options, eco-friendly items, and dishes tailored to takeout in 2023.

Customers are eager to return to restaurants and reclaim a sense of community in 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, which offers a detailed look at the topics, trends and products expected to drive restaurant menus in the coming year across a variety of categories. Despite the popularity of off-premises restaurant meals and snacks during the pandemic, demand is high (70%) for in-restaurant experiences including socialization, celebration, and culinary exploration.

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association, points out that inflation is shifting consumer spending habits, and while there is a heightened appetite for restaurant experiences and connection, diners are laser focused on finding value. “The challenge is how to fuse consumer desires for the new and trendy with their expectations for price paid.”

The top trends for 2023 include experiences/local culture and community; comfort fare; flatbread sandwiches/healthier wraps; menu streamlining; and zero waste/sustainability/upcycled foods.

Yet the pace of life and volume of commitments are also fueling fast casual and quick service restaurants. 57% of survey participants said sharing a meal with a friend or family members in the car suits their hectic lifestyle, according to Culinary Visions.

“In 2016 Culinary Visions coined the term Oxy-Modern to describe a world of cultural contradictions that were driving food culture,” says Sharon Olson, executive director of Culinary Visions. “In the most recent study, we found that trends and counter-trends are very much at play in today’s menus.”

The desire and willingness to pay for local and sustainable foods has become a mega-trend. Survey participants expressed an appreciation for everyone involved in bringing their food to the table. Furthermore, 77% said they are willing to pay more for food that comes from local producers. Having the opportunity to meet the producer adds to the appeal. 75% of consumers surveyed said they like talking to food vendors who are passionate about the products they sell.

Food savvy consumers want to know as much as they can about the food they consume, and that goes beyond required ingredient statements on packaged goods. Technology that makes information easily accessible at the point of sale can encourage purchases of freshly prepared foods. 80% of shoppers agreed that they would like to have more information about the sources of the fresh items they purchase in the grocery store readily available to them in-store.

Although shoppers want the convenience of shopping that technology has enabled, when they come into the store, they want a worthwhile experience. 72% said that experts available to answer questions on specific food items made them feel like it was worth the trip to the store.