Top Five Restaurant Trends to Look For in 2020

The times are a-changing: with a new decade at hand, you may be noticing some exciting and innovative trends emerging at your favorite restaurants, bars and eateries. Since our tastes are constantly expanding, the culinary world has been keeping up with what’s hot and what its customers want to see on the menu. Because of this, we’re about to be served some truly unique dishes.

If you’re curious about what will be hot in 2020, check out the top five restaurant trends you should expect to see.  

The Growth of Plant-Based Food Alternatives 

If you take a quick glimpse around your local grocery store, you may notice quite a few plant-based products. From dozens of non-dairy milks to meatless burgers, plant-based food alternatives have certainly made their presence known. This powerful wave of plant-based and non-dairy products are popping up everywhere, especially in your favorite restaurants and cafes. Even fast food giants are jumping in on the plant-based trend for 2020 by incorporating more vegetarian-friendly options to accommodate all customers. 

One of the most popular ways you’ll see this plant-based movement is actually in your morning coffee. One of the reasons why milk alternatives became so mainstream is because coffee shops adopted them with open arms—particularly oat milk. This dairy-free milk gained popularity because it’s perfect for lattes, thanks to its rich flavor, creaminess and similarity to whole dairy milk, so cafes and coffee shops can offer a substitute that doesn’t compromise on the experience.   

Non-dairy options aren’t the only food substitute in the spotlight; plant-based “meats” are also taking off in a big way. One of the main adopters of the plant-based proteins is the fast-food segment. Heavy hitters like Burger King have jumped on the bandwagon, offering consumers the Impossible Whopper, which features a burger-like patty that has the appearance and taste of a ground beef burger, but it’s entirely plant-based. And recently, both Denny’s and even KFC are entering this sphere to offer its guests meat-free options. 

While the idea of meatless burgers and oat milk may seem perplexing to some, it’s the result of the public’s ever-growing concern with both the health and ecological impact that meat and dairy have. However, alternative options like oat milk and Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat help make that transition easier on the palette—especially for meat eaters. It’s worth giving plant-based options a try, because our options are only going to grow more in 2020. 

With Great Power Comes Greater Sustainability

We’re becoming more conscious about our environmental impact, and as a result of our increasing awareness, restaurants are trying to minimize their impact as well. The results of this sustainability movement have encouraged restaurateurs to begin composting, eliminate single-use plastic products and source locally grown or foraged ingredients. 

While this movement is slowly gaining more and more momentum, some of the biggest changes you will probably notice are: 

  • You will be able to trace where the ingredients in your meal come from.
  • An emphasis on using reusable items like to-go containers and straws.
  • Biodegradable or compostable diningware like napkins, plates and cutlery.

This shift won’t affect the food you eat or the overall experience, but it is refreshing that there’s greater emphasis on sustainability, and that the effort is being made. 

And it’s not just the small chains or independent restaurants that are making these steps. Big chain restaurants like Wendy’s, Arby’s and The Melting Pot are planning to increase their usage of sustainably-sourced food products and cut down on waste sooner rather than later. For example, Chipotle is slated to reduce its waste to 50% by 2020 and reduce plastic usage by 20%.  

So full sustainability isn’t exactly here yet, but it’ll be ramping up to near full speed at the start of the new decade. 

Rise of the CBD Infusions

CBD, or cannabidiol, has been popping up everywhere lately from upscale shops to gas stations. But CBD is beginning to find its place in the culinary scene. It’s been a rising star in the restaurant industry as drinks and other consumables make CBD appetizing to customers. And with so much hype around CBD-infused foods and drinks, it’s becoming one of the hottest additions to any dish.  

Just to clarify: CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it does not make you “high.” Rather, CBD is touted as an excellent all-natural supplement to reduce stress levels, anxiety and slight muscular pain. It’s also been described by the New York Times as a way to counteract the “ill effects of alcohol…which makes it catnip for hard-charging professionals who need to be fresh for a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting.” Because of this, CBD is the perfect new ingredient for chefs and mixologists to experiment with as it both produces a unique experience and may also be beneficial. 

Right now, one of the most popular ways to incorporate CBD is in drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Usually incorporated as a garnish on a cocktail, or emulsified in sparkling water, this is one of the trendier ways to add CBD to a menu—and one of the easiest ways to consume it. 

In the meantime, CBD-infused food products and drinks are only going to saturate the market more as the public demand for this miracle elixir continues to gain momentum. 

Care for a Mocktail?    

One of the hottest and most Instagram-worthy trends right now are non-alcoholic cocktails, or mocktails. Popping up more and more in bars, these drinks aren’t the childish Shirley Temples you once knew; modern mocktails are just as handcrafted and classy as an alcoholic mule or sangria. 

Why is there a surge of non-alcoholic drinks that are catered to adults? Well, thank the sober-curious movement for that. The sober curious—or sober-living—movement began as a way for adults to interact in social settings without the pressure to drink to excess. Out of this, non-alcoholic mixed drinks started making their way into the mainstream, with cleverly-named concoctions ranging from “nojitos” to “Cuddles on the Beach.” 

But what if you like the taste of alcoholic spirits? Don’t fret, because non-alcoholic and low-abv spirits have also entered the market to make the mocktail experience as close to the real thing, minus the buzz. 

While traditional alcohol-based cocktails probably won’t be leaving any time soon, mocktails are the perfect alternative for those who need a dry day but still want to feel included. Plus, they’re just as tasty as their alcoholic counterparts. So, in 2020, you may have to specify whether you want your gin & tonic to have alcohol or not.    

Take a Trip to Flavor Town

While we’ve seen waves of flavor trends like rose water-infusions and unconventional twists on classic dishes, we haven’t seen anything just yet. As our palates expand, we’re going to start experiencing a flavor explosion, with more experimental tastes and global influences making their way to menus.

So, what exactly should you expect to see? For starters, Whole Foods predicts that traditional flavors and ingredients from West Africa like tamarind and lemongrass will become mainstream. There’s also been a spike in popularity for Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, which will become bigger in the new year. This tells us that bright, spice-driven and bold flavors will dominate dishes to make the dining experience all the more exciting. 

There’s also a major shift from high-impact fruit flavors to more botanically-derived ones, with notes of floral for an added touch. This is prevalent in sparkling drinks and small plate menu items, making the food feel and taste more authentic to the source. 

We see these flavors best utilized in Asian cuisine, which still remains perennially-popular. Asian dishes offer bold punches and delicately sweet touches to adventurous foodies. The best examples of this is in the rise of both boba (or bubble) tea, Japanese fare, and Korean staples like kimchi. 

It goes without saying that if you’ve always been curious to expand your tastes and explore more globally-inspired flavors, then 2020 will be your year.