Back when V8 engines ruled the road, movie theaters had ashtrays, and terms like "Google" and "Twitter" meant nothing, there was one Asian cuisine that found a place on the plates of American consumers – Chinese food.

Foodservice market trends researcher Technomic, Chicago, says today's diners are more familiar with Asian cuisine than ever before, as Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian and regional varieties of Chinese cuisines have become commonplace on menus and marquees across the country. As popular as Asian cuisines are, however, Asian concepts still occupy a relatively small share of the Top 500 restaurant chains in the U.S., leaving room for chain operators to grow their market share, perhaps more than any other dining segment.

"Looking at sales and unit numbers, we see that established Asian concepts have been able to grow, while newer Asian concepts have also been emerging. Both limited- and full-service Asian concepts within the Top 500 were even able to grow sales and unit counts through a sluggish economy, signaling strong opportunities for chains within this underrepresented segment," says Mary Chapman, a Technomic director.

Chapman points to the emergence of Chipotle's new Asian fast-casual concept as an indication of things to come in the segment, and also feels that traditional varied menu chain operators can benefit from consumer familiarity with Asian cuisines by adding new appetizers and entrees to their menus.

To help restaurant operators and others aligned with the foodservice industry understand where growth opportunities exist in Asian cuisine, Technomic says it has developed the Market Intelligence Report: Asian.

Interesting report findings include:

    * Among the Top 250 restaurant chains, there were 19 percent more Asian items on menus in the second half of 2010 compared with the same time period one year earlier.

    * Between 2008 and 2010, the number of consumers who said they would be very likely to order a Chinese-style beef dish at a restaurant increased from 30 to 46 percent.

    * Fifty-eight percent of surveyed consumers have tried and liked Asian sauces (teriyaki, soy, sweet and sour, Szechuan). These sauces were second only to barbecue in the number of consumers who said they had tried and liked an Asian sauce with a pork dish.

Technomic says its latest "Market Intelligence Report: Asian" includes data from Technomic's MenuMonitor, the exclusive online trend tracking resource which analyzes the menus of more than 1,200 top chains, emerging concepts and leading independent restaurants on a continuing basis. The report contains proprietary consumer data from Technomic's Consumer Trend Reports, and examples of restaurant industry successes with Asian cuisine, including the newest menu items and the concepts that are driving innovation.