Grilled is quickly becoming one of the hottest cooking preparations on the restaurant menu. Simply “grilled” accounts for 84% of grilled preparations, with a 5% increase over last year. However, grilled is not just grilled anymore. According to Mintel Menu Insights, char-grilled, mesquite-grilled, flame-grilled, wood-grilled and fire-grilled preparations are infusing rustic flavor into menu items. These grilled presentations have been turning up the heat with double- and triple-digit growth over the past year.

The popularity of grilling is based on its perception as being healthy and the flavor that it infuses into food. Many restaurants incorporate different grilling techniques into menu items that are labeled healthier. Restaurants are specifically creating grilled versions of popular fried menu items. T.G.I. Friday’s created Zen Chicken Potstickers--fire-grilled dumplings stuffed with minced chicken and vegetables, sprinkled with pico de gallo and served with a sweet and tangy Szechwan dipping sauce. Elephant Bar Restaurant serves Fresh Fire Grilled Catfish with Tropical Fruit Salsa.

Many restaurants, such as Bertucci’s Brick Oven Ristorante, have installed open-flame grills to broaden their menus with authentic grilled meals. Bertucci’s introduced eight new dishes that focus on the grill, including Salad Firenze with Grilled Steak.

Going Green

The restaurant industry is going green. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has formed a new task force, the Green Task Force, to take the lead on implementing the association’s environmental initiative. The task force aims to encourage the nation’s 935,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets to adopt practices that are good for both business and the environment. According to the NRA, the goal of the overall initiative is to “identify practices that conserve energy, water and other natural resources; increase recycling; and encourage the creation and use of sustainable materials and alternative energy sources that also reduce operational costs for restaurants.”

The green initiative by the NRA is in line with consumer behavior and needs. According to Mintel Reports, 35 million Americans are “True Greens,” those who regularly buy green products. However, consumers from all income categories have the ability to be green. Green marketing could be very profitable for the restaurant industry. More than three in four consumers polled by Mintel Reports changed their purchasing habits due to a company’s green image.

Green living puts a focus on organics. According to Mintel Menu Insights, organic ingredients have increased by 64% on restaurant menus of all dining types. Restaurants such as Panera Bread Company have altered their menus to include organic ingredients that appeal to parents, as well as introduce children to organics. Panera offers squeezable organic yogurt and a choice of organic milk, organic chocolate milk or organic apple juice alongside organic and natural children’s menu items.