The research revealed that while burgers remain the most popular main menu item, there were 17 per cent fewer burger dishes on menus in June 2014 compared to the same time last year. In contrast, hot dogs appeared on 86 per cent more menus than in 2013 and pork ribs rose 15 per cent.
In a bid to boost burger sales, operators continue to diversify and premiumise their burger offering, the survey found. Byron, for example has introduced its ‘Miami Slice’ - a 6oz burger with potatoes, salami, cheese, smoked paprika ketchup in a sourdough bun, while Fayre & Square is selling a pizza burger – a cheeseburger with tomato sauce wrapped in pizza bread.
However, innovation does not stop at burgers, with operators increasingly seeking to differentiate their American-style dishes as the cuisine continues to grow in popularity.
Developments include new variations of coleslaw such as blue cheese and jalapenos, Asian slaw and Spicy slaw, and macaroni cheese with new toppings such as the Pitcher and Piano’s Crayfish Mac ‘N’ Cheese and Revolution’s Fennel Sausage Mac ‘N’ Cheese.
Horizons pointed out that operators have also started mentioning the provenance of American dishes on menus, such as Chicken Louisiana Skins and New Yorker Crunchy Salad at Frankie and Benny’s, New Yorker on Rye at Pret A Manger and Slow Roasted Pulled Pork Denver Fries at Best Western.
“We are seeing a high level of innovation on menus,” said report author Nicola Knight, Horizons’ director of services. “Many of the ideas are coming from the US, but street food and ethnic flavours are also influencing menus. Operators are also working hard at providing customers with something new, often by putting a twist on old favourites.”
Street food and Asian
Other noticeable trends include the rising popularity of street food, with mainstream restaurants incorporating dishes such as burritos into their menus and increasingly experimenting with street-inspired tableware such as planks and ‘trash can’ lids.
Horizons also noted the growing popularity of Japanese Katsu dishes, which are now featuring on pub and restaurant menus, as well as Middle Eastern flavours and Korean foods.
When it comes to new flavour combinations, salted caramel topped the chart, with a 12 per cent growth in popularity year-on-year meaning it now appears in 37 dishes, having been almost non-existent in 2010.
Horizons said flat iron steaks were one of the favourite cuts of meat this year, appearing on 17 menus including those at Beefeater and Scream.
Sharing dishes such as sliders were a firm favourite on casual dining menus, up 64% year-on-year.
Horizons found that operators are becoming increasingly sensitive to dietary requirements, with free-from dishes rising 9 per cent since summer 2013. The term ‘gluten free’ appeared on 8 per cent more menus year-on-year, with ‘wheat-free’ and ‘flourless’ appearing as alternative descriptions.
Horizons predicted this would show a ‘significant increase’ when the allergens regulations come into force later this year.
“Operators are working hard at providing consumers what they want. Breakfasts menus are now offering more healthy options, such as Bircher muesli, while sharing dishes continue to be popular – wings and sliders in particular,” added Knight.
The biannual Menurama research is based on a survey of 116 branded hotel, pub, restaurant and quick service outlets in the UK.