Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down: What's the Next Big Trend?

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Knowing what’s hot is easy enough—knowing what’s next is a bit tougher. For operators, being aware of cutting-edge trends before they break is always important. Upserve, a provider of restaurant POS, payments and analytics software, recently released its inaugural annual report. Topics include hot-button labor issues like employee turnover and tipping, but the report’s data-driven food trend predictions for 2018 offer valuable insight for operators.

The methodology developed and used by Upserve consisted of selecting menu items from sorghum to kombucha (predicted to be among the top food trends for 2017), collecting the sales data of millions of transactions from nearly 3,000 restaurants across the U.S. from 2015 through 2017. Upserve then measured the actual sales performance of each item and assigned each a score. They developed a metric that takes an item’s sales volume and compares it against the sales volume across all sales, which they believe is a better signal of staying power among diners. The metric is within a range between 0 and 10, where a higher number indicates stronger sales volume. A low UP score indicates a low fraction of total sales for restaurants.

The report found that some items—like the bitter liqueur sub-category amaro—trended slightly upwards in 2017, but was essentially flat compared to years prior. “It might have predicted to be hot, but is more likely to plod along,” says the report. Charcoal, however, gets a thumbs up. “This lump of coal in the stocking has a smaller share of sales, but menu items involving charcoal (including cocktails) have been trending up consistently. Charcoal menu items from 2015 to 2017 were way up, signaling continued demand in 2018.”

Coconut, too, is considered an upcoming item, with understandably higher peaks around the spring and summer months. “It’s year to year trend line is largely flat, but it remained popular in 2017.” Coffee deserves more attention, the report says. “This perennial favorite drink has been growing incrementally in popularity year over year, with larger sales in the winter. So, when the temps drop, brew another pot.

Fermented items were deemed iffy, the trendline indicating the possibility of slightly more demand in 2018. However, kombucha (fermented tea) had a strong 2017, jumping from prior year sales. Finally, mead: “Mead is experiencing a renaissance... While this honey-hyped drink saw a dip between 2015 and 2016, it trended strongly in 2017. It may be worth a sip.”

Access to the full report can be found here.