The foodservice and culinary news that shaped 2018

A look at the most read stories from SmartBrief’s Restaurant and ProChef newsletters over the past year reveals a few key themes. Stories about restaurant revamps -- whether that meant a new look or even a new name -- caught readers’ attention. In culinary news, many of the dishes that garnered headlines in 2018 fell into one of two camps: plant-based cuisine or hearty comfort food. Here’s a look back at some of the stories that stood out this year.

Restaurants got new looks, menus and monikers

McDonald’s debut of a new, modern store design at its Chicago flagship was the most clicked restaurant story of the past year. Previously known as the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's, the restaurant’s new look includes a glass, timber and steel structure with sustainable features such as solar panels and walls covered with living plants.

Wendy’s also made a splash with its refreshed store design, one of many recent restaurant redesigns driven in part by the addition of self-serve kiosks and other tech features.

Sandwich chain Schlotzsky’s grabbed readers’ attention with its new look and name change that added Austin Eatery to its title. Dunkin’ dropped the Donuts from its name this year in a move that won big news coverage for the chain. Earlier in the year, IHOP issued a name change announcement that turned out to be a media stunt. While the chain didn’t change its name to IHOb, it has increased the focus on burgers on its menu.

Other big menu news from 2018 includes McDonald’s launch of fresh beef burgers and its first new breakfast item in five years -- the Triple Breakfast Stack.

#MeToo sparked changes in restaurant leadership, culture

Allegations of sexual harassment led to shakeups in the restaurant world this year, causing changes in leadership and culture at several big-name restaurant companies. Lidia Bastianich and Nancy Silverton stepped up to leadership roles at Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group this year after several women accused chef and partner Mario Batali of sexual misconduct. At Besh Restaurant Group, new CEO Shannon White has spent the past year revamping the culture after 25 employees accused former CEO John Besh of sexual harassment.

Last week, Washington, D.C., chef Mike Isabella became the “first big-name chef to have his company completely collapse in the wake of a #MeToo scandal,” Washingtonian reported. The chef, along with his business partners Nick and George Pagonis, are faced with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Isabella’s restaurant company, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Dec. 12, will go out of business by Dec. 27.

The dishes that defined the year

Diners craved both hearty comfort food dishes and lighter, plant-forward fare this year, based on the most popular stories in ProChef SmartBrief. Le Bernardin in New York saw high demand for its vegetarian tasting menu, which chef Eric Ripert called a “creative challenge.” Another popular plant-based dish was the smoked watermelon at Ducks Eatery in New York City, which was in such high demand that there was a months-long waiting list.

In the comfort food category, a feature on modern bread pudding and a story about the puffy pancake known as the Dutch baby were a hit with SmartBrief readers.

Remembering those we lost

The obituaries of several famous chefs were among this year’s headlines. French chefs Paul Bocuse and Joel Robuchon both passed away in 2018, at the ages of 91 and 73, respectively.

News of Anthony Bourdain’s tragic death by suicide in June shocked and saddened many in the culinary world and beyond. The 61-year-old chef, author and television host was a celebrated storyteller, known for his books and travel shows. "He presented such a fascinating doorway to so many other things that aren't within your narrow doorway of what you do," Josh Homme, composer of the theme song for Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" TV show, said in a recent GQ article.

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