What's Trendy In Dining Out For 2007

Trans fats and menu-board calorie counts are not on the National Restaurant Association's list of trends to watch for 2007.

However, bite-size desserts, flatbread and bottled water do emerge as product trends, based on the Washington, D.C.-based trade group's survey of 1,000 chefs.

Pomegranates, figs, fresh herbs, exotic mushrooms, grass-fed and free-range meat and whole-grain breads and focaccia also make the hot list. Chefs' favorite trendy cuisines include Mediterranean, Latin American and pan-Asian.

Organic and locally grown produce remains trendy, too. Operators of fine dining, casual dining and family dining establishments said they expect sales of such items to grow in 2007, with fine-dining leading the way at 52%.

The NRA also spotted several dining-out trends. One worth noting: Less harried eating, with 36% of adults saying they do less on-the-go eating than they did two years ago. And cars are losing favor as America's alternative dining room, with 48% of adults saying they eat in their cars less frequently these days.

Another prominent trend: Self-service ordering and paying. Some 46% of diners said they'd use self-service ordering and payment terminals if available. Younger customers are even more enthusiastic about self-service, with 71% saying they'd use the equipment if available.

The association said it expects nationwide restaurant sales to grow 5% next year, to $537 billion. Full-service restaurants are expected to see a 5.1% sales increase, to $181.6 billion, and quick-service restaurants a 5% increase, to $150.1 billion. The association expects Nevada to rack up the biggest sales increase, at 8.1%, followed by Arizona (7.6%) and Florida (7.1%).

"The restaurant industry will enter its 16th consecutive year of real growth in 2007, and will have a total economic impact that will exceed $1.3 trillion," said Steven C. Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association. The complete forecast is available online at www.restaurant.org.

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