Every year the trends team at af&co. and Carbonate releases their annual hospitality trends report, which provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and practices that will shape the hospitality industry in the year to come.
Now in its 14th edition, this year’s theme: Through The Looking Glass: Finding Your Way In A New Era Of Hospitality reflects the topsy-turvy nature of the last two years, with the ground constantly shifting beneath our feet, and the need to chart a new path forward in this seemingly upside-down reality. As Alice herself said, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” – Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)
“This year was supposed to be a year of recovery, yet it feels like we’ve all gone ‘down the rabbit hole’ and must figure out how to adjust to this strange new world,” says Andrew Freeman, Founder of af&co. ”While the unknown can feel daunting, it also presents opportunities to create a more equitable, efficient, and profitable hospitality industry, and we’ve seen some incredible innovation and progress on these fronts.”
Check out some of the top food and beverage trends from this year’s research.
Food City of the Year: Nashville, TN
After reeling from tragedies including a tornado and a holiday bombing (not to mention a global pandemic), Music City has demonstrated its resilience, and its already stellar food scene is only getting better thanks to a spate of new openings from such culinary legends as Sean Brock, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Tony and Cathy Mantuano, as well as its ability to attract some of the top food and beverage talent in the country. The best of both worlds, it’s a destination where southern food and hospitality meet urban sophistication and culinary innovation.
Audrey, renowned chef Sean Brock’s most ambitious project to-date celebrates his heritage growing up in the rural South, Appalachian cuisine, his love of Japanese culture, and the traditions impressed on him from his grandmother.
Cuisine of the Year: Caribbean
Caribbean cuisine is taking the stage as chefs explore the diverse range of flavors, ingredients, and culinary influences of this region. “Caribbean” is a catch-all term for the islands of the West Indies and the Caribbean Sea, as well as coastal countries like Belize and Guyana. The area encompasses a melange of culinary traditions including African, Creole, Cajun, European, Latin American, and more.
Canje (Austin, TX) from the renowned Emmer & Rye team focuses on Guyanese, Puerto Rican, and Jamaican cuisines.
Cuisine on the Rise: Indian
Whether spotlighting the culinary nuances of India’s many diverse regions, putting a modern spin on time-honored dishes, or showcasing traditional recipes and cooking techniques, Indian cuisine is rising in prominence across the country. Chefs are delving deeply into its rich and vibrant foodways, boldly championing lesser-known dishes or ingredients that push the boundaries of what many in the States have tasted—such as Gurda Kapoora at Dhamaka (NYC), a dish of goat kidney & testicles, red onion, and pao.
Aurum (Los Altos, CA) Chef Manish Tyagi’s menu highlights “the best of forgotten traditional recipes” regularly showcasing varied dishes from different regions of India, while using local California produce.
Dessert of the Year: Shaved Ice
Shaved Ice desserts are popular across many cultures, in numerous variations, and known by myriad names—from Halo Halo in the Philippines, to Kakigori in Japan, Bingsu in Korea, shave ice in Hawaii, and more. Traditionally finished with toppings such as chopped fruit and condensed milk, some chefs are introducing new ingredients and flavors from salted caramel, to espresso syrup. La Perla (El Paso, TX) the signature dessert is the Spiked Ice from Pastry Chef Marisol Puentes featuring Cream Shaved Ice with exotic fruit, served with a midori-filled perfume bottle.
Would you Like A Side of History With That?
Questions about where our food comes from have gotten much more complex as chefs and artisan food producers of color have started to dig deep into very specific regional culinary food and beverage trends to bring back ingredients and techniques that have been misappropriated or all-but disappeared.
Empanadas: The New Hot Pockets
From Argentina, with its flaky pastry wrapping, to Colombia with its cornmeal masa coating fried to a golden crisp, empanadas have taken hold, grabbing the 8th top spot in GrubHub’s “State of the Plate” report on the most popular food and beverage trends during the first half of 2021. With fillings that showcase regional flavors like braised beef with raisins and olives in Argentina, and Aji de Gallina in Peru, empanadas are appearing as both appetizers and the main event.
Empanola (New Orleans, LA) offers 10 different empanada flavors from “Latin” like Beef Argentina or Chicken Peruvian to “Nola” Crawfish Étouffée or Gumbo; Frizata, a Latin American frozen foods company about to launch in the US, offers four signature empanadas including Spinach & Cheese or a vegetarian “beef” version.
While the tradition of afternoon tea dates back to the mid-1800s, it’s gaining newfound popularity as both hotels and restaurants seek ways to reach additional guests and introduce new meal periods for income potential. It’s a relatively easy formula for operators (with everything prepared in advance), while guests appreciate the relaxing sense of indulgence the experience provides. We’re also seeing some put their unique stamp on high tea service, offering teas and accompanying bites that reflect a particular culture.
San Francisco Proper Hotel offers a hugely popular weekend afternoon tea all year long; at Thaimee Love restaurant (NYC) Chiang Mai native Hong Thaimee recently introduced a Thai-inspired afternoon tea service.
Already a cultural phenomenon across Asia, Bubble Tea has taken hold in the US—especially amongst Gen Z. This has led to the rapid expansion of brands in the category, and the cross-over addition of flavor-filled bubbles to other sweet drinks by major national brands.
Popular Taiwan-based bubble tea brand Gong cha recently opened its 130th US store; fast food chain Sonic (multiple locations) introduced slushies with blue raspberry or cherry “bursting bubbles” that explode in the mouth for a flavorful surprise in sodas or slushes.
The Smoothie in the Cuzzi
After years of hazy IPAs, some beer makers are looking for something a little smoother with “smoothie” or “slushy” style beers that have a thicker texture. These sweet-sounding brews are actually based on sours and packed with fruit puree after the first fermentation, creating a thick smoothie or slushy-like consistency with a lot of fruit flavor.
450 North Brewing Company (Columbus, Indiana) offers 10 slushy style beers including their PB&J Slushy, a smoothie style sour ale with blackberry, banana, grape, peanut butter & marshmallow;
BUSINESS & MARKETING
A House Divided Cannot Stand
Restaurants are adopting more flexible service models, even eschewing the traditional division between front and back of house in some cases and cross-training staff to take on multiple roles. The new service model helps encourage equality, eliminating hierarchy while helping protect against being short staffed especially during a labor shortage.
Flea Street Cafe (Menlo Park, CA) eliminated tips for a shared service charge and trains front and back-of-house on tasks throughout all parts of the restaurant; At Bluestem Restaurant & Market (San Francisco, CA), each staff member may play multiple roles including host, server, busser, or runner. Additionally, guests can order and pay on their phones, which frees up staff time for tasks such as answering menu questions and focusing on hospitality.
Employer Branding Becomes Essential
The “Great Resignation” is upon us, with many leaving the hospitality industry workforce in droves. In order to attract and retain top talent, operators must both create competitive compensation packages, and foster a positive company culture rooted in empathy and opportunity. Knowing what you stand for as a business, and how you’ll help your employees thrive, are vital to continued success.
According to a recent survey by Culinary Agents, 31% of hospitality workers are looking for career growth opportunities in a job description; The Alinea Group (Chicago, IL) has begun offering a 401K program with a 4% employer match, DEI training, generous PTO, and major holidays off; Gott’s Roadside (multiple locations in CA) created a recruiting campaign that offered a $250 gift card for every employee referral.
Visit www.carbonategroup.com/insights to download a copy of the full report.