There are a lot of demands on today’s full-service restaurant operator but keeping up with the trends shouldn’t be one of them. FSR has gathered together, from leading trend organizations and individuals, a selection of what you can expect to see in restaurants as we enter 2020.
The success of both Impossible and Beyond burgers have proven that meat eaters are interested in and open to non-meat burger options, says Maeve Webster, president of foodservice consultancy Menu Matters. However, she says, “there are growing rumblings about the degree to which these products are processed, even though they’re based on natural ingredients. As a result, restaurant operators with the staff and skill back of house will move back to creating plant-based burgers unique to their operation.”
With our consciousness more aware of Syria than ever before, Americans are ready to embrace Syrian food, which is not a far cry from the Middle Eastern food we’re already aware of, says Kara Nielsen, food trend expert in Oakland, California. “We’re understanding the plight of refugees and have an interest in supporting them and gaining deeper understanding of their food culture.”
A new restaurant, Sakib, recently opened in Brooklyn, New York, serving dips, kibbeh (fried meatballs/patties) and spinach cheese pies. Kibbeh, in fact, is one thing we’ll see a lot more of, Nielsen says, because there are already packaged versions of it, as well as kunefe, a filo dough pie with cheese. The cheese is stretchy, which means this dish is getting a lot of attention on Instagram. And on the dessert side, there’s booza, a stretchy ice cream from Syria, which is already available at restaurants like Le Mirage Pastry in Anaheim, California.
We’re approaching the day when you go out for dinner and don’t order an entrée, says Gary Stibel, founder and CEO, New England Consulting Group in Norwalk, Connecticut. “There will be dinner tables in white tablecloth restaurants where no entrée is served unless it’s to share. There will be a constant flow of tapas-like plates so people can share food and experience it together.”
Brian Hinshaw, VP of food and beverage, Cameron Mitchell restaurants, expects to see this, too, with items like flavored popcorn, roasted nuts, edamame, and even contemporary pop tarts, and in fact, these dishes are already appearing on Cameron Mitchell menus. Lincoln Social in Columbus, Ohio, features white cheddar and caramel popcorn; Ocean Prime serves garlic edamame; and The Pearl, Dublin, Ohio, has added homemade Slim Jim meat sticks to the menu.
“We always interpret trends and add our own twist to them that stays true to each restaurant’s concept,” Hinshaw says. “We’ll see these dishes mostly as starters or snacks, but there has to be something fun about it, something different, maybe it’s even the vehicle it’s presented in.”
Overlapping with Thai cuisine is food from Lao (northeast of Thailand). The food, says
af&co, a restaurant and hospitality consulting firm in San Francisco, is “bright, herbal, and delicious.” Food includes spicy meat “salads” (larb), fresh herbs, simple grilled meats and fish, and sticky rice; with less focus on coconut milk and the sweet flavors found in Thai cooking. Hanumanh in Washington, D.C., and Khe-Yo in New York City both serve Lao food.
The world is waking up to the environmental impact of the food we eat, how it’s raised, how it’s packaged, and restaurants are starting to listen and source and serve food accordingly.
Restaurants participating in the Golden Gate Restaurant Association's San Francisco Restaurant Week in January pledge to donate 1 percent of the prix fixe menu price to Restore California. This organization fights climate change by helping fund farmers who implement practices designed to reduce, contain or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The James Beard Foundation has established Good Food for Good, its set of values that support creating a better, more sustainable food system
With the rise of delivery and take-out, restaurants will start getting creative with the dining experience, U.S. Foods says. This will range from live entertainment to tableside shows and unexpected flavors, textures and serving modes.
“Restaurant owners are hosting specialty nights featuring themed menus with specialty wines, drinks, and other beverages,” says chef Franklin Dye, part of U.S. Foods’ culinary team. “These nights are often held to promote a cause and raise money for charities. This is a great way to attract all kind of diners, but works especially well with younger, cause-minded diners, like Gen Z.”
From the Middle East to Asia, Central and South American and Europe, there are spice blends that sound foreign to the general population such as za’atar and baharat. However, “for operators with available labor back of house, they will likely start to experiment with made in-house or custom blends that create a unique point of differentiation,” Webster says.
“This year was the year of the fake beef patty and I think next year we’ll have a response to that in the form of celebrating real veggies and having them as the centerpiece of a menu,” Nielsen says. She points out that the non-meat burgers that are proliferating are designed for meat eaters; meanwhile, vegetarians don’t want to eat products that taste like meat. Nielsen points to fast-casual restaurants such as Tocaya Organica and B.GOOD that are focusing on plant-based ingredients and expects to see this transition to full service in 2020, “because they can charge the price point to support the effort going into these things.”
Stibel believes we’ll see a reversal in the plant-based trend in 2020. Right now, he says, “it’s more the novelty for flexitarians and carnivores, but they will try it and find it’s not as good and it costs a lot more.”
Ethan Lowry, co-founder of Crowd Cow, an online marketplace for high-quality meats, based in Seattle, believes we’ll see better meats. “If you taste a really great beef burger side by side with an alt meat burger, there's really no comparison. Do your research and you can get great tasting meat that’s healthy and raised in ways that respect the planet.”
Consumers are becoming more and more aware of what we’re removing from the ocean, says af&co. Duende (Oakland, California) features less popular (and more sustainable) fish on its menu, such as surf fish; and Bleu Northeast Seafood in Burlington, Vermont. The James Beard Foundation requires all Taste America events to abide by its Smart Catch program to serve seafood in environmentally-responsible ways, so expect to see more sustainable seafood on menus next year.
Expect to see fruit coming front and center next year, especially in savory dishes, Webster says, and she believes we’ll see everything from the commonplace to the exotic to hybrids. “Varying the preparation techniques can have an incredible impact on texture, taste, and appearance, making fruit far more versatile than typically considered. Furthermore, the functional discussion will continue and, as such, fruit needs to play a role given the vast array of benefits available from this category of produce.”
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics coming up, Webster expects to see more interest in Japanese cuisine, beyond tempura, sushi, and ramen. “Okonomiyaki, shabu shabu, and takoyaki are likely to increase in availability and awareness, while gyoza and katsu sando will continue to expand,” she says. “We'll also see an expansion of the ingredients, spice blends, and other flavors common in the cuisine but used well beyond any traditional applications.”
In 2020, we’ll see more exotic alcoholic drinks, mostly due to more exotic mixers. “Those mixers will be taught at bartending schools; they’ll be online, but they’ll be mixed in house,” Stibel says. “They’ll be exotic because they’re unique to that restaurant and also because they feature exotic ingredients like jackfruit. There’s nothing more exotic than taking a photo of yourself for Instagram than taking a photo of yourself with a provocative drink.”