The U.S. restaurant industry is evolving in profound ways, according to Technomic’s newest study, which lays out top trends that may prove transformational in 2016.

The Sriracha effect. Having learned that Sriracha sauce can add instant ethnic cachet to something as straightforward as a sandwich, chefs are scouting the world for other assertive flavorings to employ in similar ways.

Elevating peasant fare. Meatballs and sausages are proliferating. Also on the rise are multi-ethnic dumplings, from pierogis to bao buns.

Trash to treasure. Rising prices for proteins raise the profiles of under-utilized stewing cuts, organ meats and “trash” species of fish, but the “use it all” mindset has moved beyond the center of the plate. How about a veggie burger made with carrot pulp from the juicer?

Burned. Smoke and fire are showing up everywhere on the menu—in charred or roasted vegetable sides; in desserts with charred fruits or burnt-sugar toppings; in cocktails featuring smoked salt, smoked ice or smoky syrups.

Negative on GMOs. Some diners will gravitate to restaurants touting GMO-free fare, while others will demand GMO labeling on menus. That’s a big issue for the supply chain, since many crops have been modified to boost productivity.

Modernizing the supply chain. Climate destabilization, mutating pathogens and rising transportation costs, among other challenges, will lead to increasingly frequent stresses on the food supply chain. Consumer demand for “fresh” and “local” fare also challenge a distribution system based on consolidation, centralization, large drop sizes and long shelf life.

Fast food refresh. Consumers gravitate to “better” fast food. “QSR plus” concepts with fresher menus and bright units exploit a price niche between fast food and fast casual. “Build your own” formats are springing up in more menu categories. Many quick-service eateries are also adding amenities like alcohol.

Year of the worker. In today’s tight labor market, mandates to boost minimum wages will reverberate up and down the workforce with experienced staffers demanding proportional raises and skilled workers (already in short supply) even harder to hire. Front-of-house technology and back-of-house automation will help restaurants do more with fewer or lower-level workers, and companies will devote more resources to training and retention.

The delivery revolution. Proliferating order-and-pay apps and third-party online ordering and delivery services make “dining in” easier than ever.

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