Kruse’s State of the Plate points a path to future trends

Kruse’s State of the Plate points a path to future trends

DALLAS —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Diners are seeking hearty, comforting foods at affordable prices, she said, during her annual “State of the Plate” speech, given during the recent Menu Trends & Directions conference, co-presented by Nation’s Restaurant News, Technomic Inc. and The Kruse Co. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

In other words, Kruse joked: “When the going gets tough, the tough turn to meatballs.” —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

In addition to meatballs, which have been featured in a sandwich at T.G.I. Friday’s [3] and in a variety of dishes at Noodles & Company [4], chains are zeroing in on such Southern staples as biscuits, gravy, grits, and even fried bologna. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Kruse cited Country Kitchen’s [5] Southern-style skillet, which contains buttermilk biscuits, sausage, eggs and gravy, as an example of the type of hearty, one-bowl meals that are currently popular. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Some operators have even incorporated childhood favorite bologna, which has shown huge sales gains in grocery stores recently, she said. Hardee’s [6], for example, has offered a Fried Bologna Biscuit sandwich, for $1.89, which Kruse called “culinary catnip for anyone living below the Mason-Dixon line.” —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

As cash-strapped Americans have foregone vacations, there’s been a renewed interest in experiencing the character of one’s own region, Kruse said. That’s led to a number of “staycation specials” that give diners a chance to revisit a local favorite or even take metaphorical vacations without the expense, Kruse said. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

For example, Domino’s [7] this year has promoted its line of American Legends pizzas, which include Philly Cheese Steak, California Chicken and Memphis Barbecue Chicken. Steak ‘n Shake plays on the regional theme with its Wisconsin Buttery Steakburger and Western BBQ ‘n Bacon Steak burger. Red Lobster, for its part, takes diners on a trip to New Orleans with shrimp jambalaya. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Some operators are finding success by aiming to recreate even more exotic locations with flavors typically associated with the tropics. IHOP [8], for example, earlier this year debuted Hawaiian pancakes, in such flavors as pineapple, banana-macadamia nut and strawberry-passion fruit. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

But even when dealing with humble comfort foods, Kruse warns, chefs still need to elevate dishes with eye-catching presentation or unexpected cooking techniques, she said. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

“You have to make the product such that a customer can’t resist it,” she said. “It has to be something they can’t get at home.” —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Cracker Barrel’s [9] Campfire Grill, or meat and vegetables cooked and served in a packet of tin foil, and Domino’s pasta-filled bread bowls are two examples of simple dishes served in a surprising manner. Similarly, Uno Chicago Grill [10] has served its Golden Pumpkin soup in a hollowed-out kabocha squash bowl. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

“We’re getting away from round food on a round plate,” Kruse said. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Looking ahead, classic French is the next emerging ethnic cuisine, according to Kruse. That trend not only plays to consumers’ desire for comforting classics, but also reflects the influence of pop culture, specifically the success of the movie “Julie & Julia” and the renewed interest in the late Julia Child. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

“You’ll be seeing lots of boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin,” Kruse said, affecting Child’s singsong tone when mentioning the names of the dishes. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Even as diners are drawn to classic comfort foods, there are still opportunities for chefs to experiment with spice. There is an increasing acceptance of spicy foods, she said, particularly when paired with a sweet flavor, as in Panda Express’ [11] new Sweet Fire chicken or in Bahama Breeze’s [12] seafood, avocado and mango salad, which has a spicy honey-red pepper drizzle. —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.

Other hot ingredients in chefs’ pantries and refrigerators are blackberries, lobster, sweet potatoes and flat breads, Kruse added.— [email protected] [13] —Restaurateurs hoping to attract recession-weary customers should entice them with familiar favorites that create a temporary escape from the pressures of the day, food trends expert Nancy Kruse told operators recently.