The Trend of the Line: F&B Trends to Watch in 2017 (and Beyond)

One of the aspects that make F&B so fascinating for professionals who work in this space is the speed with which new ideas and innovations are introduced and integrated into the industry. F&B trends are not just a reflection of what is going on in the hotel and restaurant industries, but what is happening in the nation—and the world—at large. While there are a number of specific trends—such as products that are hot each season—broader movements are oftentimes a driving factor of those more granular trends.

With that in mind, here are some of the most important or interesting broader F&B trends that I think bear watching in 2017:

Extreme Urgency

F&B trends are not just a reflection of what is going on in the hotel and restaurant industries, but what is happening in the nation—and the world—at large.

It might seem like a stretch to tie global politics and climate to F&B trends, but what we eat—and to some extent how and when we eat it—is directly tied to growing seasons and shaped by the contours of a climate that is changing. Regardless of your politics, the world is quite literally changing, and, particularly at a time when more value is being placed on food that is locally sourced and seasonally consumed, any disruption in production and distribution is a potentially big deal. I expect to see more attention being paid to issues surrounding climate change, and, as recent severe droughts in the South and Southwest have demonstrated firsthand, the potentially significant economic impacts of a changing world.

The good news is that positive change is possible, if we decide to take action. I’m inspired by stories like Israel’s commitment to solving its fresh water shortages, where the country went from struggling with severe droughts and getting less than 1 percent of its fresh water from desalinization, to more than 30 percent in less than a decade. Today, Israel—a desert country—actually produces more water than it needs. The same kind of creativity and sense of purpose will be needed here, and I expect to see some signs of that in the months and years ahead.

Waste and Means

Closely tied to the issue of climate, food production and sustainability is the issue of food waste. As a society, we waste more food than we consume every year—which is mind blowing. I admit that I’m cheating a little bit here, because addressing food waste is something I wish would become a trend in 2017. However, the initial awareness is present. Unfortunately, I think this issue is still years away from taking its place at the forefront of our collective industry and national consciousness.

A handful of brands and businesses in the U.S. and abroad are making an effort to use or sell “ugly” produce, making use of an enormous quantity of food that currently goes almost entirely to waste. Famously, the French grocery chain Intermarché—the third largest grocer in the country—implemented an Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables Campaign, a successful initiative which gave “ugly” fruits and veggies their own designation and sold them at a discount in their own section of the store. Ultimately, the distaste for less-than-perfect produce and foodstuffs that don’t meet our aesthetic ideals will need to change.

But it’s not just “ugly” produce that leads to waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. goes to waste. Companies like Zero Percent, which employs drivers to pick up surplus food from Chicago grocery stores and restaurants and deliver it to food nonprofits that same day, are trying to eliminate that waste. From juicing to creative programs like Zero Percent and the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables Campaign, we will continue to find new ways to waste less and consume more.

Tech-nically speaking

Speaking of creativity­—which has always been such a huge part of F&B—I expect to continue to see the development and deployment of new concepts and big ideas that leverage technology in new and creative ways. From dining conveniences like reservation systems, server communications, pay-at-your-table devices, to creative new ideas like self-serve kiosks and the exploding home-chef concepts (where boxed recipes and ingredients are delivered right to your door), I expect to see tech continue to play an important role in expanding boundaries, meeting the expectations of increasingly tech-savvy consumer base, and overcoming new challenges in a world where priorities and perspectives are changing almost as fast as the tools and technologies we rely on. Tech will continue to play a large role in virtually everything we do in restaurants and hotels, from how we communicate (both with customers and with ourselves) to how we hire, and how we prepare and serve food.

One in a Millennial

The influential and much-discussed Millennial generation continues to exert a profound demographic influence on F&B trends. The Millennial preference for experience and creativity has helped inspire a number of hotels and restaurants to continue to push the envelope and to eschew cookie-cutter menus and environments for bold new dining concepts.

From new flavors and new ideas, 2017 should continue to show innovation and experimentation that have been evident in F&B in recent years. Convenience and flexibility is also a Millennial priority, and it’s no coincidence that we are seeing major hotel brands like Crowne Plaza moving into 24 hour operations with room service and some restaurants. I expect to see more emphasis on fast, accessible and specialized service offerings in 2017.

Out of Workforce?

One of the most urgent—and potentially worrisome—trends to watch in 2017 is the continuing shortage of qualified line cooks and other experienced kitchen workers. Financial realities and the rising cost of living in the urban centers where so many new restaurants are located have made a career in the kitchen anywhere from challenging to impossible for many. As restaurants and hotels continue to pay more for talented chefs and culinary professionals, that will inevitably have an impact on menu prices.

Another financial concern is connected to the potential impact of a new administration in Washington, D.C. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “undocumented workers account for 67 percent of people harvesting fruit,” and “61 percent of all employees on vegetable farms.” If a Trump Presidency follows through on his promises to crack down in immigration, and the bedrock of employment in agribusiness is disrupted in a significant way, that will have an unavoidable ripple effect that could be devastating—and everyone from restaurants down to grocery stores and, ultimately, consumers would feel the pinch of rising prices. If there is a lack of labor, there are real questions about who’s going to step in to fill that void.