Environmental issues are what’s hot on restaurant menus — and have been for years, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual culinary trends survey.

This year, the first and third slots on the survey are locally sourced meats and seafood and locally sourced produce, respectively. “Hyper-local sourcing,” environmental sustainability, sustainable seafood, and food waste reduction management all made the top 20.

While those top trends often overlap, myths and misinformation still exist around environmental sustainability and food. That’s because of the complex and often confusing trade-offs that can occur. Here are three eco-myths to explore:

Eco-myth No. 1

Assumption: Local food is always better for the environment.

Fact: Chefs often cite how local or hyper-local food offers fresher flavor, better quality and the excellent potential for telling customers a story on their menus. Customers often believe shrinking the food miles, or distance the food has to travel before it is eaten, will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of their food (i.e., local is better for the environment). (read more…)

After a great MURTEC keynote speech by Capriotti’s CMO/CIO Jason Smylie, I was inspired to read the futurist mainstay “The Singularity is Near” by Ray Kurzweil. In it, Kurzweil spends many of the early pages ruminating on the wonder of exponential growth. He references Moore’s Law in which Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed the exponential improvements in processing power of integrated circuits (because of a doubling of the density of transistors). Moore’s Law is now broadly interpreted to suggest a doubling of processing/computing power each year: the exponential growth of computing power.

At my company, Olo, we are witnessing this same kind of exponential growth in the restaurant industry with the rise of digital ordering: enabling customers to place orders from their own devices for faster, more accurate and more personal service. We are witnessing a doubling every year of our digital ordering user base: 1 million users in January 2012; 2 million users in January 2013; 4 million users in January 2014; 8 million users in January 2015; and more than 12.5 million users now, suggesting that we’ll see more than 16 million users by January 2016 (indeed, we’re now adding more than 1 million users per month). (read more…)

It may have started with sriracha, but the demand for hot and spicy flavors in restaurants and supermarkets continues to grow as consumers demand more heat from a wider variety of sources. Chili peppers and spices from cayenne to cinnamon are bringing the heat to a range of foods and beverages, including main courses, snacks and even alcohol.

Jalapeno is the most popular spicy pepper on menus, followed by chipotle, according to Datassential MenuTrends. The market researcher found that operators are seeking to make spicy flavors more approachable by adding heat to a traditional, non-spicy sauce such as mayonnaise, ranch, vinaigrette or aioli.

Beverage makers are burning out a niche with spicy drinks in both the alcoholic and soft drink categories. Non-alcoholic options are mainly juices that tout the functional benefits of spices such as cinnamon and turmeric. Cayenne, which gained popularity as a beverage ingredient thanks to cleanse-focused drinks, is now showing up in products that highlight its spicy flavor rather than its metabolism-boosting properties. (read more…)

This summer, I had dinner with a friend at a restaurant that focuses on a mix of Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese cuisines. As we perused the menu, we quickly dismissed items we were familiar with and homed in on the more unusual dishes, like skewers of duck tongue and cape gooseberry.

My friend and I — like 25% of consumers in the US — are people who enjoy eating unconventional food.

That is, unconventional by American standards, as these items are common in those respective cuisines. But it’s a good example of how the typical consumer is a more adventurous eater than he or she used to be. One in four is a pretty significant number when it comes to culinary exploration.

Overall, ethnic cuisines and global flavors are a long-evolving trend on restaurant menus, both when it comes to restaurants that specialize in one cuisine — or several, as in the example above — and those that have integrated into more mainstream menus. (read more…)

If there’s any question how popular barbecue can be, just look to Franklin Barbecue, an Austin, Tx., restaurant that has garnered massive amounts of national and international praise just six years after opening. Their Texas-style Franklin brisket catapulted them to stardom, and now they regularly attract five hour-plus waits, even inspiring locals to dream up ways to make the line more bearable — a local teenager opened a business as a professional line stand-in, and another entrepreneur rents out lawn chairs. Earlier this year, owner Aaron Franklin even won a “Best Chef, Southwest” James Beard Award, the first pit master to receive the honor, according to Texas Monthly magazine’s TM BBQ, an online community of barbecue lovers.

Of course, the world of BBQ goes far beyond Franklin’s Texas-style ‘cue, with distinct styles from Memphis to Kansas City, Alabama to North Carolina, with barbecue flavor profiles that range from sweet and tangy to smoky and spicy. (read more…)