It’s never too soon to peek around the corner to see what’s next, and in the rapidly changing restaurant and bar business, tomorrow is already here. The research and consulting firm Technomic took a swing at what they predict will be important trends in 2015, based on research including consumer and operator surveys and site visits, and its MenuMonitor database, among other inputs.
Here are 10 trends for 2015:
1. Lights! Camera! Action!
Dining is no longer just a personal experience, but a staged event that imparts bragging rights, says the firm. Plating and lighting are increasingly designed with phone snapshots and social-media sharing in mind. Customers collaborate to put on the show; menus, marketing, even charitable efforts are crowd sourced.
Small is in with diners demanding petite plates and flexible portions; units are smaller with shrunken, laser-focused menus, multi-use equipment and expanded hours to leverage fixed costs; labor pressures mean leaner staffing and more technology (though a backlash is brewing as many diners seek to unplug and be waited on).
3. Foodservice everywhere.
Alternative forms of foodservice swallow share - from retailers' ever-more-sophisticated onsite restaurants to fresh-food-and-drink vending to enterprises that deliver ingredients to your door. Meanwhile, in the restaurant world, fast casual shakes out, segment lines blur further, pop-ups proliferate and demand for tech-enabled delivery heats up.
4. Signature beverages.
Cocktails may come in kegs; classics like the Negroni ride the retro wave but get competition from new wine, beer and cider cocktails; flavorful and flavored whiskeys trend up along with spiced rums and liqueurs. Operators are increasingly differentiating themselves with non-alcohol drinks, too—from handcrafted or small-batch sodas to pressed juices to healthy teas.
5. There's something about Asia.
In 2015, look for the breakout of Korean, mainstreaming of Vietnamese and upscaling of spicy ramen noodles, the quintessential Asian street food.
6. Bitter is the new bold.
Look for darker coffees, deeper chocolates, next-gen cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and collard greens, hoppy beers and cocktails with the bite of bitters.
7. DIY health.
More consumers care about healthy eating—but what does that mean to them? Menus increasingly display pick-and-choose options for everyone from gluten-free eaters to vegans to paleo-diet partisans; offerings are switched out as nutrition fads and fashions come and go.
The stay-close-to-home spirit heightens interest in everything from house-purified water to regional seafood to locally manufactured products like beers and liquors. Even as the supply chain consolidates, specialty and city-wide distributors gain share. An "anti-chain" ethos prompts chains and multi-concept operators to debut quasi-independent restaurants fine-tuned to local market demands.
9. Up with people.
The meaning of corporate social responsibility evolves as consumer concerns shift to the human factor. Diners care that restaurants deal fairly with their employees and offer opportunities for advancement. Others in the food chain also gain visibility as farmworker and Fair Trade movements win victories.
10. Channeling Z.
The challenge of appealing to all ages intensifies as younger diners step up demands for speedy high-tech service, heightened experiences, louder music and kinetic visuals... and a new teen cohort of digital natives begins to make its voice heard.