The world is supposedly becoming a smaller place, but a U.S. restaurateur wouldn’t get that sense from the recent blizzard of forecasts sketching the industry’s possible futures. Those predictions have focused almost exclusively on the domestic scene, even though currents arising in faraway regions have a tendency to color the future restaurant scene in other parts of the planet as well.
Here’s a brief review of the trends emerging on that wider stage.
Plants for the masses
The plant-based menu philosophy has solidified as a bona fide trend on the global stage, moving rapidly from niche to mainstream in just a few years. While this trend is playing out in different ways from region to region, one of the overarching themes that will develop in 2019 is the democratization of plant-led and plant-only diets. This means less talk of health and ethics and more focus on everyday indulgences such as burgers and pizzas that happen to be free of meat.
We will also continue to see an outsized influence from veganism, the rise of halal-certified meat alternatives, more interest in next-generation dairy substitutes such as oat milk, new emphasis on locally branded and sourced meat analogs and further use of veggies in place of carbs.
Functionality is now a key menu draw across the world as operators look to boost the utility of their offerings in response to today’s changing lifestyles. Some of the myriad demands functional food and drink now aim to address range from nutrition, mood improvement and convenience to beauty enhancement and illness prevention.
Expect more chains to introduce function-forward menu options in innovative and unexpected ways, enhancing everything from teas and tortillas to snacks and pizzas.
Sustainability and delivery are altering the packaging landscape. If there was a villain in the global restaurant industry of 2018, it was the single-use plastic straw. Seemingly overnight, chains from the U.S., Canada and Colombia to the U.K., Australia and Hong Kong took significant steps to reduce the amount of plastic straws served in their stores.
But that’s just the start of what appears to be a larger shift away from the use of plastics that will continue into 2019 and beyond, creating new demand for innovative packaging, utensils and plateware to fill the void. Couple this emerging need with the meteoric rise of delivery across the world—and that service’s various operational challenges—and it is perhaps as important of a time as ever for the role of food and drink packaging in the restaurant industry.
New stars emerge
While macro trends tend to get the lion’s share of attention at the global level, many smaller, more regional trends are poised to make an international impact. Expect to see operators continue to recontextualize traditional teas for contemporary tastes with butterfly pea flower and cheese foam toppers, while halloumi, cauliflower and hummus will capture more space on menus across restaurant segments. Among ethnic cuisines, Mexican is positioned to see widespread growth, while specialties from maritime Southeast Asia are also set to make a mark. 2019 is also likely to be the breakout year for delivery-only kitchens in all of their various incarnations.