Restaurant Menus: A Panel of Philadelphia Operators Talk Trends, What’s Popular

What’s trending with restaurant food and beverage menus right now? What’s popular with consumers? Bar & Restaurant News spoke with a panel of Philadelphia restaurant owners and operators who cited value, vegan options, spicy chicken, the growth of fast-casual offerings, a pull away from fine dining, how everything old is new again, and European-style leisurely lunches with wine or a cocktail.

Restaurateur Justin Veasey, the co-owner of the soon-to-be-launched SIN - Steak Italian Nightlife, said the biggest menu trend he’s seeing in the industry is guests voting with their wallets more than ever.

“Consumers are more educated than ever and are pickier than ever,” said Veasey. “They know when they're being sold a lemon. We keep that in mind with every decision we make. It's not to say we don't have higher prices, but when we do, we are certain it's justifiable with the quality of product and service we're offering.”

Justin Veasey - SIN - Steak Italian Nightlife
Justin Veasey, the co-owner of the soon-to-be-launched SIN - Steak Italian Nightlife. (Photo: Courtesy of SIN - Steak Italian Nightlife)

Veasey also noted that low and non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails continue to be a big movement right now. “It's just going to get bigger,” he said. “For us, that's an exciting challenge to our creativity and an opportunity to try new things.”

Two examples of mocktails that they'll be serving at SIN include “Dante’s Tea” with raspberry and hibiscus tea, wildflower honey and lime, as well as a Strawberry Mule that’s made with house-made strawberry purée, non-alcoholic ginger beer, and lime.

Vegan Options, Spicy Chicken and More

Marlo Dilks, owner of P'unk Burger, SliCE and Nipotina, said they’re seeing more amazing vegan steak and vegan chicken options. Some of the Nipotina options include: “The Imposter,” a vegan steak sandwich with portobello mushroom, caramelized onions, and vegan cheese; “The Hottie,” a vegan steak with vegan cheese, fried onions, long hot peppers, sriracha ketchup, and hot pepper oil; “The Fugazi,” a vegan chicken cutlet with portobello mushrooms, fried onions, fried long hot peppers, vegan cheese, and vegan mayo; and “The Cugino,” a vegan chicken cutlet with vegan cheese, fried red peppers, arugula, and vegan mayo.

“As for beverages, unique soda offerings like probiotic sodas and unique flavors and combinations are definitely trending,” Dilks shared.

Marlo and Jason Dilks of P'unk Burger, SliCE and Nipotina
Marlo and Jason Dilks of P'unk Burger, SliCE, and Nipotina. (Photo: Courtesy of Nipotina)

Dilks added that their SliCE venue, an artisan pizza joint, is seeing a shift to smaller menus in the artisan pizza industry, and this means limited toppings and options but out-of-the-box options. At P’unk Burger, Dilks is seeing chicken become more popular in more than one way. “Fried chicken is increasingly popular, as is spicy chicken,” she said. “In addition, loaded burgers are making a comeback especially as we go into the winter. People want hearty food that makes them feel warm and cozy.”

Chicken and spicy chicken options are also popular with customers at Love & Honey Fried Chicken.

Laura Lyons, co-founder of the business, which is franchising its brand, said the Nashville hot chicken trend has become a major sensation, especially in Philadelphia.

In just a year, five new hot chicken establishments have popped up in the Philadelphia area, according to Lyons, reflecting the shift towards spicier and bolder flavor profiles compared to traditional buffalo-style dishes. 

“Love & Honey Fried Chicken has led the way by serving genuine Nashville Hot Chicken for over six years,” said Lyons.

Lyons added that Love & Honey is also seeing a growing demand for authentic, place-based culinary experiences. “Diners are not just looking for a meal; they long for immersive connections to cultures and locales,” she said. “As the restaurant landscape evolves, these trends underscore the importance of crafting unique dining experiences that resonate with adventurous, flavor-seeking patrons. We also strive to create memorable interactions with guests, so they can start to know the friendly faces of our brand.”

This fall, Love & Honey introduced catering options to its menu, which has seen a lot of success, serving groups of up to 30 people. “Additionally, we offer a sandwich combo designed for two people, including two of our best-selling sandwiches and a choice of two sides,” said Lyons. “Given that many couples and families opt for takeout one to three times per week, this option simplifies the ordering process, making it convenient and straightforward.”

Laura and Todd Lyons - Love & Honey Fried Chicken
Laura and Todd Lyons of Love & Honey Fried Chicken. (Photo: Courtesy of Love & Honey Fried Chicken)

A Pull Back on Fine Dining and Everything Old Is New Again

Going into next year, Dilks expects to see growth in the fast-casual restaurant scene. “With the current financial market, I expect people to lean on fast casual and continue to pull back on fine dining,” she said. “Fine dining for some – especially twenty-somethings, younger families, and middle class – seems like it's become more special, more pricey and therefore more special occasion.”

Qamara Edwards, the food and beverage director at Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadephia, featuring the Square 1682 restaurant, said the trend is keeping it simple.

“Let flavors shine and don’t bury them in overcomplicated recipes and presentations,” Edwards said. “We’re looking for more simple cuisine – lighter, heathy, uncomplicated, food flavor forward, letting vegetables shine.”

Edwards said their new roasted chicken and salmon dishes at Square 1682 are good examples of making dishes beautiful and delicious though simplicity.

Chef/Owner Christopher Kearse of Forsythia in Old City, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, said everything old is new again – just presented in a fresh way. “I do feel like that the classics are coming back around for sure. Old school is cool again, and I feel that in my own cooking,” he said. “I binge watch great chefs of the world on Netflix at night, and I see this trend reflected in many top chefs internationally.”

Plant-based Courses, Ancient Grains

Executive Chef Michael O’Meara, Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation, said a notable menu trend has been the widespread movement away from gluten for some customers. “What was once solely associated with gluten allergies has transformed into a lifestyle choice for a variety of reasons,” said O’Meara. “We accommodate this at Garden Restaurant with a range of dishes, including a beet carpaccio, salad niçoise, and roasted chicken, among others.”

O’Meara said he continues to see plant-based main dishes take center stage, especially with more creative takes on items like roasted cauliflower steaks, prepared and presented like a traditional meat entrée.

Executive Chef Michael O’Meara - Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation
Executive Chef Michael O’Meara of Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation. (Photo: Courtesy of Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation)

Izzy Kharasch, a Chicago-based bar and restaurant industry expert and president of Hospitality Works, said he’s also seeing a rise in plant-based products becoming more accepted on standard menus, and he believes this trend will continue. “The main reason that we will see this more is not because it is vegan but because chefs are getting more creative with the product and using it in unique ways,” he said.

Salads have also witnessed a “glow-up” in recent years, per O’Meara of Garden Restaurant, with fresh and unexpected ingredient combinations. He said his venue has a beet carpaccio salad made with lightly pickled beets, goat cheese mousse, candied walnuts, watercress, frisée, and a lemon caper vinaigrette.

In addition, ancient grains have established themselves as a staple on many menus, offering a nod to heritage and heightened nutritional value. “Ancient grains – like farro or quinoa – have become increasingly common in modern culinary offerings, enriching the dining experience with both texture, history, and a variety of health and gut benefits,” O’Meara said.

With Americans feeling more burnout from the demands of daily life, the joy of European-style leisurely lunches is continuing to grow in popularity, O’Meara added, suggesting it’s something to consider with menu trends. “This is certainly true at the Garden Restaurant within the Barnes Foundation [an art institute], where a few hours of strolling works – Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso – leaves guests hungry and looking for a place to relax and to reflect on what they’ve seen,” he shared. “We are delighted to see guests enjoying longer meals, and in some cases even enjoying pairing their meal with a glass of wine or a cocktail.”

Erin Flynn Jay is a reporter and publicist based in Philadelphia. She’s also an occasional contributor to Questex’s World Tea News, and Bar & Restaurant News. Other writing credits include Next Avenue and Woman’s World, among many others.

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