Five chain-restaurant trends that should continue in 2013

Saved by the Bell.
This last year has brought us some terrible chain restaurant trends, including serving up sodium-soaked "healthy" meals; shrinking dessert sizes and charging the same prices; peddling fancy cocktails with more ingredients than a hair-relaxing solution; and restaurants labeling everything "natural." But despite the obvious failures, 2012 also produced five trends that have some juice -- let's hope they stay hydrated in 2013.

Here's our list of five chain-restaurant trends that should continue in 2013 -- because we can't serve up big glasses of Hater-Aid all the time.

See also:
- Five food trends that need to die with 2012
- District Meats exec chef Jeff Russell on food trends, Paula Deen and spring
- Real or Fake? Eleven food trends that may or may not exist

It's a bundle in the neighborhood.
5. Meal bundling.

Bundles take the guesswork out of cable-internet-phone services, and they also make ordering "meal-in-a bag" dinners infinitely easier on customers who want food -- not intellectual stimulation. Over the past year, the ol' meat, taters and veg formula has been expanded to include appetizer, entrée and dessert -- all for one low price. This sort of promotion is ostensibly to help cash-strapped customers continue to dine out in this still-weak economic climate, but it's also a brilliant marketing strategy on the part of participating restaurants, because sometimes when diners save money on one thing, they spend it elsewhere -- on such add-on items as drinks, sides, extra desserts, appetizers and to-go meals. And fixed-price meals also work well for restaurants because they bring in frugal diners who may have friends and family members with them who order plenty of regular-priced items.

Chain restaurants would be smart to milk this trend like an amiable cash-cow.

4. Angel/devil menus.

Offering high-calorie/fat/sugar/sodium choices on one side of the menu, while simultaneously touting healthy menu items? This double-sided trend appeals to the dual nature of diners who want grilled chicken breasts with steamed veggies and salad sometimes, and at other times want bacon-wrapped steaks with loaded baked potatoes and slices of quadruple-layer chocolate cheesecake, while also offering health-conscious diners AND calorie-junkies what they want. Playing both sides can paid off.

BK's kid's meal--now with apples.
3. Health-friendly kid's meals.

For all the talk over the last few years about making healthier restaurant meals for kids, the idea got a massive boost from Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, and now we are seeing more lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and less emphasis on sugary drinks and snacks than ever before. Sure, the First Lady has taken plenty of flak from folks opposed to perceived "nanny state" politicking over what their kids are eating, but chain restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King, Chili's, Denny's, IHOP, Joe's Crab Shack, El Pollo Loco and Outback Steakhouse have made significant changes to the traditional triumvirate of chicken fingers/pizza/mac & cheese. These and other spots serving up nutritious eats for the kiddos have tapped into a trend that they shouldn't abandon even if the politics change, because even parents who don't have the healthiest diets still want better for their children.

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The Gay Vegans
The Gay Vegans

We have loved all of the amazing vegan food being served at restaurants like Linger and Root Down. It's great going into a wonderful restaurant and have several options that are all delicious.

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