CHICAGO – Looking to 2011, Technomic predicts big changes are on the way on menus, in concept development and in the competitive landscape.

Last year, food trucks, which are facilitated by social media, were an LA and Manhattan fad. But now they’re popping up throughout the US. Restaurants are using food trucks as brand extensions and catering aids; food-truck districts and “rodeos” are starting to appear; and regulatory agencies are scrambling to keep up. Temporary or seasonal pop-up eateries and kiosks are also becoming more popular.

More restaurants will feature their celebrity suppliers by offering special menus, inviting them to comment on blogs, even hosting visits. Farmers and artisans will be recognized in highly-detailed menu descriptions. More attention to the supply chain also means more attention to food safety and product traceability as well as local sourcing will be made.

Constant changes in applications for marketing and operations will be seen more, such as kiosk ordering and tableside payment systems. Couponing Web sites and location-based social media will grow and the apps fad will continue to evolve.

The Korean taco signals the increase of Korean barbecue and Korean food, in general; multicultural tacos with world ingredients, sometimes in surprising combinations; and portable street food and small plates from around the world.

Consumers who can will return to luxury dining in 2011. Look for, indulgent specials even on staid menus. Middle class consumers will gravitate to reasonably-priced but high-experience-value, exciting concepts with memorable menus. Pricey, full-service concepts will continue pushing bar menus, bringing in new customers at a lower price point, and gastropubs will proliferate.

Consumer demand will continue for price deals. As food input prices increase next year, sustaining the bottom line will continue to be a crucial issue for operators. Look for more restructuring of price deals.

Once the restaurant industry emerges from recession and capital spending increases, there will be more fast-casual brand extensions by full-service restaurants and even non-restaurant brands; more ultra-niche eateries with narrowly focused menus and high-concept ambiance; investment in brand refreshes and remodels instead of unit growth. New units will be smaller, sustainably built, with more efficient layouts, often in nontraditional locations.

Demand for comfort food will and include variety such as homestyle Southern fare, from grits to seafood; retro Italian, including meatballs; gourmet donuts and popsicles for dessert; family-style service formats and family-size portions.

The hottest action against restaurants could come from convenience-store operators upgrading their foodservice, where margins are 40%-60% instead of the 5% typical for gas. Consumers are responding positively to upgraded offerings, variety and ambiance.

Look for more items and detailed descriptions on “healthy” menus. Limited-time offers (including seasonal fare) will trend up because they attract attention and they don’t require posting nutrition data that consumers would rather not know. “Eating a little better” will translate into menu modifications, such as slightly-lower-sodium, slightly-more-glamorous sea salt; “eating better some of the time” will lead to more innovations like “Meatless Mondays,” Technomic predicts.