What's hot and what's not is always a popular discussion among those in the foodservice business. As we head toward 2015, Technomic and Plan Your Meetings have shared what they are expecting to see in the new year.
Here are 10 trends that consultants and experts at Technomic believe could transform the food scene in 2015.
1. Lights! Camera! Action!
Dining is no longer just a personal experience, but a staged event that imparts bragging rights. 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 crowdsourced.
Small is in: Diners demand petite plates and flexible portions; units are smaller with shrunken, laser-focused menus, multiuse 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, according to Technomic. 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 health-halo teas.
5. There's something about Asia.
Asian foods have been trending for years, but the world's biggest and fastest-moving continent always delivers something new. 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 citywide distributors gain share. An "anti-chain" ethos prompts chains and multiconcept operators to debut quasi-independent restaurants fine-tuned to local market demands, according to Technomic.
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.
Plan Your Meetings asked Culinaire International's Senior VP David Wood to predict what the biggest catering trends might be in 2015:
No. 1: Local sourcing
"This generation is the food-savviest generation ever," Wood said. "People want to know where their food is coming from." This desire is what's behind the consumer-fueled farm-to-table trend that's showing up with more frequency on catering menus. To ensure kitchens can produce the volume of food needed with seasonal, local ingredients, smart venues and chefs are forging relationships with local farms and working with the farmers to decide what will be planted so they can plan their menus in advance.
A side benefit of using locally sourced food is that it reduces the need for transportation, which reduces the event's carbon footprint. Trendsetters are going niche with this trend too, focusing on locally crafted cheeses, beers, wines, ciders—even things that may be foraged from the wild.
No. 2: Vegetarian dishes
Fifty percent of all Americans have at least one meatless meal a week, Wood told Plan Your Meeting. That percentage rises when you consider international attendees. That's why savvy planners need at least one vegetarian option at every meal function.
This trend is also a nod to the health and well-being of attendees, since more than 35 percent of Americans are medically obese. Serving vegetarian food doesn't have to be boring, either. For ideas, look to international cuisine, raw-food blogs and vegan restaurants.
No. 3: Gluten-free dishes
Gluten-free is huge in catering, Wood said. Instead of wheat, barley, rye and spelt, chefs are using ancient grains like quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. These grains are more nutritious than wheat-based flours and more interesting than a rice pilaf. Pasta noodles can be made from buckwheat, rice, quinoa, corn or even julienned vegetables like zucchini.
No. 4: Ice cream combos in gourmet flavors
Wood predicts that attendees will start seeing more liquid nitrogen ice cream stations at event. "The freezing process makes it possible to create custom desserts in 90 seconds," he said.
No. 5: Upscale comfort food
The uncertain economy means people are still in the mood for comfort food, but with a sophisticated twist. "Think macaroni and cheese, but served Italian-style with sautéed salami, garlic, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and basil," Wood said.
No. 6: Mash-up dishes
"Ever heard of dessert pizza?" Wood told Plan Your Meetings. Think coconut, chocolate and strawberry with fresh mint on a savory cracker crust. Another mash-up combination he's seeing is a variation on the slider. Instead of bread, cheeseburgers are served on grilled ramen noodle buns.
No. 7: Umami
We all know about the common flavors our taste buds pick up: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, but don't forget about the "umami" factor. "The best way I can describe it is as a meaty flavor," Wood said. Examples include soy sauce and ketchup. It's a taste you can add to beef, sauces and soups.
No. 8: Biscuits
"Move over pretzel rolls, croissants and buns," he said. Biscuits are the new "it" ingredient in comfort food trends. Wood predicts that biscuits will be 2015's most popular handheld food container for miniature passed sandwiches, salads, apps and more.