Fine food goes fast, best beverage programs in the summer’s hot cities, and sessions to hit at NRA.

A few months back when we were in the throes of planning and writing this issue, the U.S. Beverage Industry Expo was underway in Washington, D.C. Out of that conference came the suggestion that the industry has entered a “new normal” in beverage alcohol, driven by “disruptive” consumer behavior.

I instinctively question such buzzy hyperbole, but USBevX substantiated its theory by saying research from the newly formed Nielsen CGA Brand Index—a joint venture of New York–based Nielsen and U.K.–based CGA Strategy that provides statistics for the on-premise beverage alcohol market—supports the notion of a new normal. USBevX reported that the findings show consumers now have a tendency to “cross-drink” across brands, segments, and flavor profiles, and that what will drive success for on-premise service are “quality, transparency, and authenticity.”

Sound familiar? That’s basically what operators and chefs have been saying about food menus for quite some time, and now it applies equally to the bar scene. In naming the Best Beverage Programs for this issue, we completely embraced the idea that food and beverage are inseparable entities—at least in the world of full-service restaurants. But we put our own buzzy spin on this conversation, choosing to highlight the best beverage programs in the two cities that are likely going to be huge watering holes come July. Check out our feature, Defying Convention, (page 56) to see the restaurants in Cleveland and Philadelphia that have the most notable beverage service.

“Fine and Fast” seem to go together almost as incongruously as red and blue. But increasingly the up-and-coming fast casuals—dubbed Fast Casual 2.0 by our sister publication QSR—insist that the characteristics of their menus emulate those of high-end full serves. Fine-dining chefs and restaurateurs also see the value in superior food served fast, and you can read their strategies and insights beginning on page 44.

At the NRA annual conference later this month in Chicago, you can learn more about the Fast Casual 2.0 perspective in a panel discussion led by QSR editor Sam Oches, when chef-driven limited-service operators will talk about the next generation of standards for fast-casual menus.

FSR will be hosting two educational sessions at the NRA conference as well: On Sunday morning at 10, I’ll be leading a panel discussion on Healthy Lifestyle Choices, with chefs and operators talking about the daily stresses that restaurant employees face, how they deal with those challenges, and how operators can effect positive change in their restaurants and beyond. That afternoon, we’ll transition to a lighter topic and to the conference’s BAR venue, where the panel will explore Signature Sips and how operators collaborate with breweries, wineries, and distilleries to create their own private-label beverages, guaranteed to be a disruptive force in all the right ways.

Expert Takes, Feature