Here are five top dining trends observed by Benchmark Hospitality properties.

Trend 1: Build Your Meal

Today's consumers are educated in the kitchen and discerning in the restaurant. This is sparking a trend toward customer freedom while dining out: building their own entrees. Guests are getting involved with assembling and accenting their own entree plate at restaurants, suggesting alternative side dishes,

Trend 2: $20 Cuisine

Restaurants are taking leaps toward more affordable yet creative menus, sometimes by featuring less expensive cuts of meat that are exquisitely seasoned and prepared. Top restaurants are holding prices to around $20 per entree, making up the difference in volume and creative cooking techniques. Brisket, bottom round, duck, and seafood such as squid, bay scallops, clams, and mussels are favorites.

Trend 3: Focus on Flavor

Ever been to a tuna sandwich tasting or had tastings of clear soup varietals using seasonal ingredients? Believe it or not, this is a strong trend that may have its roots in classic caviar tastings. Today, mini sandwiches featuring albacore with seaweed salad, a miniature tuna burger, and cured ahi with cucumber relish can be a delicious and fun luncheon experience. Small glasses of potato leek soup, shiitake mushrooms, and consommé with simple croutons, a trio tasting, is becoming popular.

Trend 4: Reinvent Snacks

Restaurants are creating simple yet delicious “snacks” to help guests take the edge off while ordering and kicking back before dinner. Even mundane popcorn is being spiked with flavor, such as fragrant truffle oil; potato chips are given panache by adding roasted garlic and other seasonings.

Trend 5: Fresh, Simple

The freshest ingredients are coupled with simple, uncomplicated preparations. This trend is so hot that many chefs have redesigned their kitchens, bringing prep areas out to their guests. In these exhibition kitchens, guests can select the freshest ingredients, in some cases straight from the chef's kitchen garden.