With a new year of dining underway, the expert team behind the Chicago-based Mercadito Hospitality shares their insight on culinary, beverage, marketing, and design trends for 2014.
As a restaurant group on the rise, identifying and launching trends in the hospitality market has been vital to the growth and success of Mercadito Hospitality, which owns and operates Mercadito restaurants nationwide. The group also owns Double A, Tavernita and Barcito, and Little Market Brasserie, all in downtown Chicago. In 2013, MH Catering was launched and the group's newest concepts, Tippling Hall (Chicago), Mercadito Counter (Chicago), Mercadito Wheels (San Diego), and additional projects in Las Vegas and Philadelphia are slated to open in 2014. Comprised of industry leaders ranging from top culinary talents and beverage innovators, to business leaders and design pioneers, Mercadito Hospitality is among the nation's key visionaries and predicts the following new movements in the year ahead:
Mercadito Hospitality's Managing Partner Alfredo Sandoval, who developed and leads the Mercadito brand with his 30 years of industry experience, foresees the following:
- Open Kitchen Concepts: More restaurant spaces are embracing the open-kitchen trend as diners have gotten into the habit of watching chefs on TV due to a fascination with what goes on behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens. It is both transparent and entertaining.
- Restaurant Groups on the Rise: Not only are restaurateurs using brand equity of their flagship establishment to help build a diverse, multi-concept portfolio, but they are also utilizing the formulation of a restaurant group to help leverage partners and new concepts.
- Concept Concentration: There are more concepts evolving that focus on one or two types of food as opposed to offering an endless variety of dishes. For example, Da Lobster and Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago and Burger and Lobster in London.
Mercadito Hospitality partners and founders of the leading beverage consulting company, Tippling Bros., Paul Tanguay, and Tad Carducci–who bring decades of award-winning expertise in the wine and spirits industry–predict:
- Return of Drinking Rituals: Fresh takes on classics such as Irish Coffee and Sake will make a comeback but with an emphasis on traditional beverage presentation.
- Take-home Tipples: The portable cocktail trend will continue to grow beyond growlers of beer, with tasty take-aways complete with creative packaging and cheaper price tags.
- Interesting Syrups: The use of interesting and flavorful syrups from non-traditional sources, such as tree syrups, will be used more and more in drinks in 2014.
- Beer Flights: More menus will be offering beer flights, similar to that of wine flights, where guests can taste a variety of samples in smaller portions.
- Kegged Cocktails: The kegged cocktail trend will continue due to the need for efficiency combined with premium quality, including the batching of non-alcoholic components such as agua fresca and cocktail mixes to maintain freshness.
Mercadito Hospitality's newly added chef/partner Guillermo Tellez, who now oversees concept development and culinary execution for the group's restaurant projects, including Tavernita, Little Market Brasserie and Tippling Hall, anticipates the following trends in 2013:
- Lighter Fare: Diners will still be on the hunt for lighter options and seafood and nutrient-rich greens and grains will remain at the forefront.
- Sustainable Seafood: As additional regulations are introduced and the industry becomes more responsible across the board, diners will continue to see an increase in farm raised seafood on menus.
- Adventurous Eating: As chefs continue to utilize obscure ingredients and new cooking techniques, the public's thirst for different experiences and flavors will remain strong. Non-traditional cuts of meat, exotic ingredients, and unique flavors will continue to be tested and in-demand.
- Fermentation: The popularity of fermented items will continue to grow. It may become just as popular as pickling.
Other hot ingredients for 2014 according to Mercadito chef/partner Patricio Sandoval, include:
- Octopus: Versatile and served in many cuisines, and boasting a great flavor and texture when cooked properly, octopus will be a universal trend. Not only less common, but also less expensive, octopus on the menu also means a better profit margin.
- Tortas: Tortas are traditional Mexican-style pressed sandwiches with avocado, napa cabbage, black bean puree, tomato, and oaxaca cheese. Featuring all the components of a great sandwich: spicy, creamy, different meats, and unique ingredients, etc., crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside, tortas are the next new thing in sandwiches.
Natalie Levine, director of Marketing and PR at Mercadito Hospitality, has significantly amplified the restaurant group's business status and increased the revenue, setting the company's standards for future growth through her campaign efforts. Her trend contribution includes:
- Short Videos: Videos should continue their upward spiral in the social media market.
- Applications such as Instagram, complete with filters and easy integration with Facebook make for quick, inexpensive and efficient visual ways to share the brand. It's a perfect way to showcase a space, introduce a chef, display a dish, or hype an event.
- Theme Nights: By attaching themes to develop a PR hook, restaurants are filling seats on slow days/nights. For example, a tropical themed luau brunch with party favors and tiki drinks makes the meal an experience and gives it a reason to stand out in a sea of brunch options.
- Loyalty Programs: Due to a desire to establish a direct relationship with consumers, restaurant groups are beginning to place more emphasis on rewarding customer loyalty programs. This connection will help sway diners to book reservations and events directly through the restaurant.
Vincent Celano, founder and principal of New York City-based Celano Design Studio, has made his name in hospitality design and architecture, working with a roster of internationally acclaimed hotels, nightclubs, and restaurants, including many in Mercadito Hospitality's portfolio. For 2014, Celano foresees the following trends:
- Small Spaces: Great food concepts in not so expected areas such as airports, sporting venues, retail shops, and urban street markets. Many great restaurant concepts can extend their exposure and client base in these types of venues (usually these are small sized locations with limited menus, but with unlimited marketing abilities). On the design end, focus is heavy on bringing forward the brand via the materials, graphics, signage and how the food (and food experience) is displayed and presented.
- Food Markets: Restaurateurs along with developers are getting together to create one-stop-shop food concepts while also integrating some retail elements into the space. Eataly has set the tone for this, but expect an evolution of this concept when it comes to design and food offerings.
- Beverage-inspired Design: As bartenders are getting more crafty and inventive, more people are welcoming these concepts and are willing to pay more for the experience. Just as a kitchen needs to work well with the chef, designers will be presented the challenge of designing a bar that best represents what bartenders craft.