Leith Steel, Head of Insights at Carbonate, shares the 2023 Hospitality Trends:
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the annual af&co. and Carbonate Hospitality Trends Report. Our first was published in 2008—the year after the iPhone was released. At the time we couldn’t have imagined all the ways this would impact how people would find and engage with restaurants.
The last 15 years have been a time of massive change for the industry, driven by both internal and external factors ranging from new technologies, to the vegan movement, to “me too,” and the global pandemic. These, coupled with inflation, labor challenges, supply chain disruptions, and the desire to create more inclusive and supportive workplaces, continue to shift the way the industry operates.
As we enter 2023, technology is more important than ever, vegetarian and plant-based menu items are a must, foods once considered foreign are familiar, and guests are more discerning than ever—holding everyone accountable beyond just the food on the plate or service at the table.
Read on to see some of our top trends for 2023, or download the full report.
Hottest Dish of the Year: Maitake Mushrooms
Creative chefs looking for meaty alternatives to actual meat have long favored mushrooms—and maitakes are the new “it” varietal, taking the place of yesteryear’s grilled portobellos. Often served roasted or fried, the craggly surface makes for an explosion of texture, while also capturing any bit of flavorful sauce or dressing.
Cuisine of the Year: Filipino
Over the last decade, Filipino food has gained increased recognition. Popular pop-ups have become multi-store brick & mortars; Filipino chefs have won international awards or become YouTube stars; Filipino mash-ups have attracted large audiences; and Filipino-based Jollibee Foods Corporation is launching 300 stores across the U.S.
Dessert of the Year: Baked Alaska
Thanks to its tableside theatrics and show stopping presentation, the classic Baked Alaska is back in full force. Modern iterations may be super-sized to share, flamed tableside, or deconstructed.
*Mid-City Restaurant (Cincinnati, OH) offers a seasonally changing inexpensive Baked Alaska
Drink of the Year: The New Seafood Cocktail
In the 80s and 90s popular cocktails tended toward sweet; in the early aughts bitter was big; now briny is back in style. We’re not just talking about dirty martinis, but the newly branded “coastal” cocktails that embrace oceanic flavors and ingredients, often with an eye-catching edible garnish.
*Bluestem Restaurant & Market’s (San Francisco, CA) “Cioppino” cocktail includes salted tomato water, tequila, lime, citrus, serrano chili and clam juice
Ube is Ubiquitous
Popularized in large part due to Filipino desserts, such as Halo Halo or bubble tea, fans love the pleasant sweet flavor and bright, eye-catching hue. The vibrant purple color has propelled this ingredient’s popularity on Instagram. Don’t limit it to Asian flavors or preparations—consider ube a purple version of a Southern sweet potato.
Two Digit Tasting Menus
Distinctly different from the largely European, white-tablecloth versions more commonly known, the format allows chefs to express their creativity and to menu plan more accurately, controlling costs of both food and labor. Consumers love the unique opportunity to experience the breadth of a chef’s creativity—for a fraction of the price.
*Lengua Madre (New Orleans, LA) offers a five-course tasting menu for $80, rooted in traditional Mexican cuisine
Nigerian Food Pops Up
Nigerian food is gaining prominence and prestige. Incredibly rich and varied, it often features rice, legumes, soups, and stews layered with aromatic spices and chilis. Signatures include Jollof Rice prepared with tomato, onion, spices, and fiery-hot scotch bonnet chilis; or Suya, seasoned, grilled meat skewers. Some Nigerian chefs are using fine-dining, dinner-party style meals as an educational opportunity to teach others about their culture; others are presenting Nigerian foods in novel ways such as tucked into tacos, or stuffed into soup dumplings.
Cocktails for a Crowd
There has been an exuberant return to the conviviality of shared large-format cocktails, as people throng together looking for some fun and personal connection. But don’t expect the pitchers or scorpion bowls of the past—hip and happening cocktail bars are introducing new, aesthetically pleasing and interactive ways for people to share a spirited drink.
Salted Egg Yolk: The Next Pumpkin Spice
Thanks in part to the rise of bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee, another Asian favorite has started to cross over to mainstream America—salted egg yolk drinks. The rich custardy flavor is backed by umami notes, creating something that is sweet, savory, and a bit elusive, drawing you back for more. Torani called Salted Egg Yolk the “Flavor of the Year” so expect to see it coming to your local coffee shop soon.