What factors are set to define the food choices that diners make this year — and more importantly what does it mean for the equipment you buy? Zoe Monk uncovers 10 key food trends likely to shape what goes out of your organisation’s kitchens.
01 – Petite plates
2015 will reinforce the fact that size really does matter. Diners are demanding smaller dishes and flexible portions served up in a relaxed atmosphere, but with a seriously-run approach. First-class foodies will also be on the lookout for more creative engagement and the introduction of petite plates will enable restaurants to do so. Bite-size dishes also encourage sociability among groups and are popular with the corporate crowd as well. Equipment purchasers with responsibility for tableware and light equipment take note!
02 – From across the pond
The latest Booktable survey results from this year revealed that Tex Mex flavours saw a whopping 120% increase on the previous year and the rise in South American restaurants grew 61%, with the Brazilian World Cup in June giving this sector a particular shot in the arm. The impact of foods making their way across the pond to the UK market has been substantial over the past year and looks set to continue well into 2015. Smokey and spicy flavours from this area are huge right now and also demonstrate the increase in the reputation of barbeque-style foods. Naming the provenance of American-themed dishes will boost a dish’s popularity even further; the New Yorker salad at Frankie and Benny’s and slow roasted pulled pork Denver fries at Best Western, are just a few examples. Stock up on smokers because this piece of kit will help to produce the best barbequed results; cooking meat slowly over an indirect fire and infusing it with a naturally smoked flavour.
03 – No care for calories
If you thought the days of the deep fat fryer might be numbered, think again. According to 2014’s Menurama research, 29% of people are now affected by calorie counts on menus, compared with 40% in 2013 — a noticeable drop in appeal. More consumers are seeing eating out as a treat and the chance to indulge, rather than keeping an eye on calorie intake. The survey also found that diners are being overwhelmed with too many messages about healthy eating, leaving them struggling to keep abreast of the latest nutritional advice, leading to a fall in food of this nature.
04 – The rise of ‘flexitarianism’
With meat reigning almighty this year, 2015 will see a drift into more vegetable-based dishes for many people. Following the implementations of the Allergen labelling requirements at the tail end of 2014, operators will need to be more transparent on ingredients and it’ll no longer be acceptable to just have a couple of vegetarian or gluten-free options on the menu. This year we will see a surge in ‘flexitarianism’ – meat eaters who are more than willing to eat non-meat dishes. As well as this, there will be more demand for gluten-free dishes, even though only a small portion of the population suffers from celiac disease; consumers are interpreting that anything added to food must be objectionable, and therefore prefer to steer clear. Kitchens could find their pasta boilers and stockpots almost as overworked as their ranges and fryers!
05 – Sharing is caring
Dining this year will take a more European turn if predictions by website Lost in Catering prove to be correct. Inspiration from the continent will come in the form of share tables and group dining areas, with cuisines to match, as more consumers opt to graze, share and eat late at less conventional times; drinkers are drinking earlier and diners are eating later. It’s being driven by the growing number of younger, more affluent diners who eat out numerous times a week and place a strong emphasis on informality. There will also be a rise in counter-eating, with more sophisticated solo diners seeing an increase in bar snacks as a result.
06 – Get it salted
While calorie counting is on the decline, alternatives to promote ‘eating a little better’ are translating in different ways. Lost in Catering has indentified that after years of removing ‘nasties’ such as salts, transfats and artificial flavours, there will be a demand for additives that are healthier. Consumers are taking more of an emotional stance on how they choose their dishes, opting for meals that make it more of a memorable experience. The idea is to shift the conversation away from financial issues and to get customers focused on personal well-being. Chefs and caterers might take on board techniques like adding omega-3 and plant sterols to breads to alleviate stress and lower cholesterol, or antioxidants and probiotics to improve the immune system.
07 – Interaction counts
Think ice-cream bars, cocktail stations and make-your-own tacos; tailor-made foods are on the increase and looks like they’ll be here to stay. Driven predominately by the trend for stations such as these featured at weddings, there will be a demand for the amount of interaction had at the dinner table next year. This will also expand into allowing consumers to ‘make their own’ or swapping one ingredient for another, giving diners the opportunity to be more flexible with their portions. The importance of chef’s demonstrations will also be highlighted in 2015, so theatre kitchens will again be a key theme, while the potential for juice stations could also be considered. Either way, purchasers are going to have to think as much about what their kit looks like as what it does.
08 – Capitalise on comfort
Comfort food is making a comeback with a sophisticated twist, according to Technomic’s food trends 2015 survey. Mac and cheese served Italian-style with sautéed salami, garlic and peppers is a good example; dishes which ooze nostalgia and indulgence. The use of high quality ingredients for flavoursome flavours in dishes which are fun, classic and contemporary will be particularly popular on menus next year. But ingredients don’t mean anything without the right kit, so operators will need to ensure they have the correct range of appliances to cater for consumers’ ever-diverse appetite. Flexibility in equipment design will be important.
09 – The customer knows best
The National Customer Satisfaction Index highlighted a decline in general satisfaction in restaurants last year as diners struggled to find exactly what they wanted. This led to operators working harder to make consumers feel more involved in the dining experience and that will set the tone again this year. Chains will take to a range of mediums to garner feedback and discover how to make the customer feel more appreciated. Social media continues to play a huge part, as operators use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to determine their next business move: from opening their newest unit to deciding on what items they should be having on menus. As owners uncover new ways to cater to customers, such as improving the personalisation of their online services, you can guarantee there will be a knock-on effect on kitchens — and how much is spent on them.
10 – Mix it up
Generation Z and Millennials will have an impact on operator decisions next year, as consumer demand for innovation steps up a gear, according to Technomic’s food trends survey 2015. Restaurants chains, including KFC and Pizza Hut, are expanding beyond their comfort zone and making unexpected changes to their operations and menus to appeal to this audience. Operation-wise, new prototypes and service styles teamed with more technological advances should be anticipated, while menu-wise expect more mash-ups and hybrids that surprise and delight diners. This will extend to new cocktail combinations that bring a touch of originality to drinks’ menus too.