Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked restaurant and food and beverage industry experts for their insights on what trends will be on the radar for restaurant owner and operators in 2021. Here are their views.
af&co Do The Hustle
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, af&co. produce its latest trend report with its partner company Carbonate. Do The Hustle is a preview of the trends and practices that will shape the hospitality industry in 2021. This comprehensive annual report identifies key influences in restaurants, hotels, food, beverage, and hospitality marketing.
Now in its 13th edition, the report is compiled from extensive year-long research and intended to serve as a guide to help operators prepare for the coming year.
“As we prepare to exit a year that has challenged the hospitality industry with a nearly continuous stream of unimaginable circumstances, it is with a measured sense of hope that we look forward,” says Andrew Freeman, Founder and CEO of af&co. and Co-Founder of Carbonate. “From wildfires to a pandemic to addressing racial injustice head-on, we’ve been forced to reevaluate every single aspect of how we do business. It has been an emotional time, and an incredibly difficult one. Challenges have come from all angles. As we prepare for the future with cautious optimism, we’re celebrating this remarkable resiliency.”
“The silver lining for our industry is that so many – from restaurateurs and hoteliers to suppliers and distributors – have determinedly said ‘I will survive’ this year,” says Candace MacDonald, Co-Founder of Carbonate. “This has brought about a level of creativity that we believe will continue to fuel innovation for the year ahead.”
Here is a preview of several of the top trends you can expect to see in the report:
Food Trend of the Year: Quesabirria. Stemming from queso (cheese) and birria, a Mexican meat stew traditionally made from goat but now often made with beef or lamb, this addictive dish trending on both coasts is comprised of a tortilla usually dipped in a chili laced broth, melted cheese crispy on the edges, and tender stewed meat, often served with a side of consomme for sipping or dipping. It has been surging in popularity first in Los Angeles (by way of Tijuana) and then San Francisco, and now it is beginning to take hold on the East Coast. This dish is perfect for this moment: comforting, made from inexpensive ingredients and a mash-up of tastes and textures.
● El Garage (Richmond, CA) grew from a pop-up with cult-like following to a restaurant
● Birria-landia (New York, NY) has been lauded for some of the best street food in New York
Drink Trend of the Year: Hot Cocktails. Hot Cocktails will make a comeback this year as many people will continue to gather and drink outdoors and as restaurants and bars have built up outdoor dining spaces. While we can expect the Hot Toddy, Hot Buttered Rum and Irish Coffee to proliferate, we look forward to seeing many new creative additions to the cocktail cannon incorporating hot tea, mulled wine, and cider as well as other drinks designed to be served warm.
● Dead Rabbit’s Taproom (New York, NY) offers Spiked Hot Chocolate with Irish whiskey, amaro, sherry, Chartreuse, oat milk, cream
● Sobre Mesa (Oakland, CA) Cremosa de Cocoa with spiced rum, red wine, sweet potato liqueur, chocolate, toasted marshmallow, ginger, coconut crema (photo, courtesy of the restaurant)
Cuisine of the Year: Chinese-American. Chinese American cuisine had delivery down way before it became popular. It is also a taste of comfort for people of all ages and nationalities despite where they grew up. While it may have been out-of-fashion for a while, we believe Chinese-American food is about to make a comeback. Chinese American food presents an opportunity for reinvention, offering people the tastes they know and love but with a bit more transparency to ingredients and where they come from. Perhaps refining some recipes or preparations to reduce sugar or oil. It is dependably delicious, but for many of us, not something readily made at home. We’re not going to say the food is authentically Chinese, but rather that it has evolved into its own identity now enshrined in the American taste memory.
● P.F. Chang’s announces plans for 27 P.F. Chang’s To Go delivery-only locations by end of 2021 and we anticipate more growth from other smaller chains to come.
Cuisines on the Rise. While we have named Chinese American cuisine as our trend of the year, we want to acknowledge many of the other cuisines we see rapidly rising in popularity. Some of these are rising particularly in specific regions of the country, and we expect them to take some years before they expand beyond the local or state level, others have more national traction and we expect to see them take hold and continue to grow.
- Regional Indian – We’re excited to see more variety and specialization in Indian food, presenting a bounty of flavors and dishes from all over the country
- Afro-Carribean – These flavors are taking hold often in unexpected ways and forms, let’s see greater appreciation for the subtle and not so subtle variations of food from this vast region
- Singapore/Malay – It was only a matter of time before Singapore and Malay cuisine began to take hold. Laksa may be the gateway dish and we are predicting (and hoping!) to see it proliferate in coming years, bringing with it a wealth of other dishes and flavors to get excited about.
- Jewish – Bagels, babka and Jewish style delis are popping up everywhere, as both restaurants and popups, creating great fanfare and devoted fans.
Plant-Based Global Fare. 2020 Trend of the Year “Vegan Goes Viral” (cringe)
While we may never use the word “viral” again, 2020 was still the year that vegan cuisine entered the mainstream. Plant-based foods are so mainstream now that we’re seeing entirely plant-based restaurants specialize in world cuisines not associated with the concept: plant-based Italian, Mexican, soul food, tacos, Tinidadian and more. OZO is the official “Plant-Based Food Choice of the Denver Broncos,” so it’s clear this way of eating has gone way beyond the fringe. No longer a polarizing dietary choice, plant-based menu items are popular for their taste and presentation well beyond any health drivers. Added benefit: plant-based menu items often have lower food costs, allowing for increased profit margins or lower price points for your guests. The only question is what do you call that “mozzarella” on the vegan pizza or the “shrimp” in the plant-based gumbo?
● ShadoBeni (Pittsburgh, PA) vegan Trinidadian street food
● Souley Vegan (Oakland, CA) vegan Louisiana style comfort food
● Casa del Vegano vegan taqueria (Dallas)
High Quality Coffee Quickly, Finally! It takes a little more effort to go out for coffee when you’re not going into the office, and most homes aren’t equipped with the magically refilled office coffee pot. Realizing that there was an opportunity with many more working from home, coffee brands are developing ways to produce high quality single brew coffee in the most convenient way possible, whether you’re at home or on the road. See you later, Sanka.
● Mr. Espresso has introduced coffee bags for steeping single brew servings
● Sudden Coffee offers “your favorite coffee brands – made instant”
Mirror Mirror on the Wall… Who’s the Fittest of Them All? Offering both convenience and the safety of an in-room workout, hotels will offer rooms with integrated wall mounted home gyms like Mirror and Tonal for a way to work-out without going to the gym. Others will partner with Peloton, taking advantage of their dedicated user base and offer not just Peloton equipped gyms or in-room equipment but also digital memberships to provide guests access to the wide range of branded fitness classes that they can follow even without special equipment.
● Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley (East Palo Alto, CA) offers Fitness guest rooms with integrated smart Tonal all-in-one fitness system with personal trainer
● Yotel New York’s (New York, NY) VIP Suite has a Peloton bike
Business Travel Has Subscribed to the Subscription Model. Realizing that many are and will be working remotely for the foreseeable future, hotels and airlines eager to get business travel back have launched subscription programs offering remote workers a place to work (and a place to stay) anywhere they want with subscription based travel packages and offering companies an easy way to bring employees from across the globe together.
● CitizenM’s subscription model gives members access to workspaces in any citizenM hotel living room along with a monthly three-night stay with complimentary welcome drink and breakfast the following morning
● Selina offers the subscription based Selina Nomad Passport and the Selina CoLive program for digital nomads seeking long-term stays
● United Airlines paired up with Peerspace to bundle flights with meeting space rental offering companies working remotely an easy way to book regular meetings including flights, meeting spaces, airport club lounge use, etc.
Freeman told MRM, while it was challenging to deduce trends during the pandemic, he anticipates that innovation and creativity will play crucial roles in the restaurant recovery."
"Crisis does indeed create creativity," he said. "People will be cautious, but the setbacks will get behind us."
UniFocus Co-founder and CEO Mark Heymann and VP of Restaurant Development Dave Gates
DG: Third party services are here to stay
The uptick of third-party delivery apps is not exclusive to COVID-19. Its popularity is here to stay largely due to the convenience factor. People are accustomed to having access to their favorite dishes from their favorite restaurants from home — all on their smartphones. So, in response, it’s imperative that restaurants realign their budgets and labor structures to account for increased third-party service even when in-person dining returns.
Leveraging technology will create positive customer experiences
COVID-19 has diversified the formula for fostering a positive customer experience. For restaurants, it’s no longer just about smiling faces from your wait staff, great food and timely service. Customers expect personalized experiences regardless of how they dine — whether it’s in-person, takeout, third-party or even drive-thru. Restaurants need to explore how their solutions stack aligns with the digital shift and identify concepts of the customer experience that can be enhanced by technology. It might be helpful to assess how retail has addressed this issue as well.
MH: Workforce optimization is more important than ever
The pandemic has taught us the importance of workforce optimization. Once occupancy levels begin to return, hotels will face an uphill climb toward maintaining sustained success again. Service expectations based on COVID-19 guest experiences may well impact future service offerings. In turn, their approach to labor will need to be proactive. Leveraging a workforce optimization system that can streamline labor budgeting, enable flexible scheduling, and align labor levels with advanced forecasting data will empower hotels to foster pathways to profitability within a volatile market.
Contactless interactions will continue to grow
COVID-19 has ushered in a new wave of contactless interactions, but the innovative concept isn’t going anywhere after the pandemic. From digital touch screen ordering to contactless check-ins with a mobile app, customers will continue to desire streamlined experiences through technology. The restaurant and hotel sectors shouldn’t plan to pivot away from contactless. It’s the way of the future.
Tastewise offers real-time industry insights on how consumers order, cook, and eat and predicts changing consumer needs based on 880,000 restaurants and delivery menus, 22-billion social interactions, and 3.8-million home recipes.
The latest Tastewise report shares the top 10 food trends in the U.S.for the coming year:
Global Cuisines, Local Mentality
Foods for Moods
Cocktails with a Purpose
“Out of the box” Kits
Plant-Based, with No Sacrifice
Planetary Health is Back
Gluten-free for More than Celiac
Foodmix Marketing Communications
Foodmix Marketing Communications is sharing its 30 years of experience to shed light on how food brands across all channels will prosper in 2021. From changes in technology, to getting creative with pampering guests, to the support of mental health initiatives, these 2021 post pandemic predictions created by Foodmix CEO Dan O’Connell and the Foodmix team will aid in kicking off the new food era we are about to embark on.
Foodmix Marketing Communications’ 2021 Predicted Food Trends
Ghost kitchens will foster adventurous foodies
The investor community got behind ghost kitchens in 2020 in a big way. These are no longer locally-based entrepreneurs – networks are being created. Branded concepts tapping specialties from across the globe will follow.
Food will embrace mental health
The mental health costs of the pandemic are becoming increasingly clear. The role of food in mental health will be brought to life through both suggestion and fact. True food fixes, or partial fixes, to common mental health maladies will lead to a new dimension of brand love.
Creative and innovative ways to sample food will keep everyone happy and healthy
Food is a sensory experience as we all know – the smell, appearance and even sound of food matters – but taste matters most. Sampling at grocery stores, food shows for food buyers and even food festivals and events are going to struggle. The challenge for food marketers/promoters/mass feeders will be finding more intimate ways to lead people on the sensory path to brand love.
Technology advances will make it convenient to keep distance and buy dinner
The restaurant industry has led with “contact-free” food buying – but other channels will catch up. Both AI and scanning technology will not only make it easy to keep your social distance while making a transaction but will also help lead you to the right product – and yes, the right brand for your lifestyle.
Contactless pampering coming soon
We’ve been cooped up and serving ourselves or others for too long. Many Americans will remain hesitant to return to large dining rooms – but will still want to be pampered and served. Food providers that find ways to serve and pamper individuals and small intimate groups – while maintaining social distance – will create brand love for the safe worry-free environments they create.
Meal kits will expand beyond a brown box
Services that lock consumers into several days of food and boxes of ingredients delivered in bulk will continue to struggle. But restaurants (with those large empty dining rooms), grocery stores (with the large food bars that germaphobes hate), convenience stores (who realize the roller grill is not the answer) and even retailers’ parking lots will offer pre-packed meal components that let consumers assemble a meal on their terms – fast and easy – thus, creating brand love for those who understand flexibility, safety and delicious matter.
Plant-based made easier and more approachable
To recruit and keep more consumers in the plant-based movement, plant-based foods will need to taste better and be easier. We talked about eliminating the “yuk” factor last year and while work still needs to be done, the focus will shift to full meals and even meal plans. Food brands that figure out not just how to offer plant-based ingredients, but can help lead the consumer to a full plant-based meal – or longer-term meal plans for the whole family – will win the hearts and love of the health conscious.