What the Industry’s soothsayers are predicting in 2022

Restaurant and hotel brands, professional trendologists, industry groups and food and beverage companies are all having a say in what the next year will bring to menus and operations. We culled through the reports to find the common threads.
Photo illustration by RB Staff

Starting as early as October, the trend reports landed in our inboxes predicting what the industry can expect in 2022. Although everyone has a unique point of view, there was some overlap and agreement among the forecasters. These are the common themes that rose to the top.

Recovery and reboot

The Year of the Climb” is how Restaurant Business’ sister company, Technomic, describes 2022, and other forecasters agree. Operators will keeping learning to do more with less—less labor, supply shortages, smaller menus and smaller store footprints.

AF&Co/Carbonate’s “Through the Looking Glass” report describes how restaurants are adapting flexible service models to meet the labor challenge, blurring the division between FOH and BOH jobs, even cross-training staff to take on multiple roles.

The National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey of 350professional chefs cites “menu streamlining” as one of the top 10 trends, which covers reducing SKUS and the number of menu items. Flexibility is also an important part of menu planning, as supply chain challenges will continue to make it necessary to swap out ingredients and dishes and cross-utilize more products in multiple preparations.

Elevating the experience

“Experience” is one of the buzzwords of 2022, as restaurants and hotels strive to create memorable experiences for guests whether they’re dining in or taking food and drink to go.

Joel Montaniel, CEO and co-founder of SevenRooms, recalls seeing the trend of immersive and elevated experiential dining pre-pandemic; now as we return to a new “normal,” consumer expectations are only going up, he said. Collecting guest data can help meet these expectations by tailoring personalized experiences to each customer and boosting loyalty.

The folks at Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group believe that dining experiences as a whole will become more transformational—think restaurants that transition guests to new spaces throughout each part of the meal, differing music tempos to accompany each course, and more.

AF&Co/Carbonate predicts that tableside prep and other “theatrical” touches will come back. With restaurant visits curtailed during the pandemic, consumers are yearning for connection, luxury and a bit of theatrics with their meal—something they can’t get at home.

But there is still strong demand for takeout and delivery, and these platforms can be experiential, too. Curated carry-out experiences will continue, with a virtual presentation by a chef or bartender demonstrating the crafting of a cocktail or the cooking of a fancy dinner. These are especially popular with companies as a perk and point of connection for remote employees.

Despite the return of dine-in, virtual events remain popular, say the trendologists. And even at fast casuals and casual chains, special packaging, branded swag, recipes or gift cards included in a delivery order can elevate that experience.

Ghost kitchens can take up the slack

With consumers continuing their reliance on delivery and takeout, restaurants should use current and future ghost kitchens to take care of these functions, removing off-premise business from brick-and-mortar storefronts, recommends The Culinary Edge, a food-and-drink innovation company. Customers dining in crave that elevated experience, and sitting surrounded by pizza boxes, bags of food and delivery drivers doesn’t cut it.

Most customers don’t even realize they are ordering from a delivery-only location when they use an app or digital platform. And an overwhelming 79% of consumers say they are likely to order from ghost kitchens, a trend which is 20% greater than a year ago and 32% higher than two years ago, according to Deloitte’s report, “Restaurant of the Future: A Vision Evolves.”

The sustainability revival

Sustainable packaging came in as the No. 1 trend to watch in 2022 in the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” survey. The huge increase in to-go orders in the last 20 months has really put packaging waste in the spotlight, and it tops sustainability concerns.

Marriott Hotels also cited sustainable packaging as a major goal in 2022, working to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastics and disposables across all its brands. Compostable, recyclable and reusable packaging is the ideal, but the supply chain currently is not keeping up with demand on even the most basic packaging.

Food waste reduction and sustainable sourcing are also up there. While local sourcing has long been seen as more sustainable, it’s become more of a priority as distribution and transportation slowdowns continue to impact the supply chain. Sourcing locally cuts the carbon footprint and supports small farmers and producers.

Another sustainability trend mentioned by the soothsayers is the growth in meat alternatives. While in the last couple of years, everyone was talking about plant-based meats and chicken as a way to decrease animal proteins, the conversation this year revolves around cultured meats and seafood.

“While in its infancy, lab-grown meat will be part of the solution to keeping meat accessible, affordable and sustainable in a more populated world,” states the trend forecast from FoodMix Marketing Communications, a foodservice firm.

Graham Humphreys, CEO of The Culinary Edge, agrees. “I think we’ll see more energy around cultured meat that’s not grown inside an animal. It has a similar environmental impact as plant-based meats.”

Regenerative farming, solar-powered kitchen equipment and greater availability of environmentally conscious building materials are also on the horizon.

Rethinking the bar

Low- and no-alcohol drinks are now available on the majority of cocktail lists, but these should get even more inventive and dominant in the year ahead. Hotel bars are increasingly targeting these libations to sober-curious consumers and wellness seekers.

Hyatt Hotels just introduced a Zero Proof, Zero Judgement cocktail program tying into the physical and mental wellbeing movement, the chain states. The hotel bars are using zero-proof spirits, small-batch mixers and seasonal ingredients to upgrade these drinks. Hyatt even has a “sober bar manager” at its Revival Baltimore property, who frequently updates the alcohol-free list.

Hotel Selina in Chicago is deliberately going after the nomadic traveler and remote worker seeking a wellness experience. Its beverage menu is completely alcohol-free, populated by drinks crafted with zero-proof rum, whiskey and tequila, along with fresh herbs, fresh juices and organic ingredients.

Some of the Hilton hotels offer a “palate cleanser” cocktail menu that includes low ABV drinks as well as a Zero Cocktail list. These focus on lighter, less sweet combinations with sophisticated flavors.

Monin Gourmet Flavors, a supplier of syrups and concentrates, calls the trend “the maturity of the mocktail into a swanky socialite.” Bars are creating drinks with multi-dimensional layers of flavor combined with functional elements to give them a healthy angle. Younger consumers are driving the popularity of these beverages, says the company, but many bars are moving away from labeling them “mocktails.”

Even the retail side is jumping on this trend. In its annual forecast, Whole Foods reported that the sober-curious mindset isn’t going away any time soon. A new lineup of drinks is entering the space, providing the taste and sophistication of cocktails without the buzz.

The Caribbean flavor wave

It’s always tricky to name one cuisine, dish or ingredient that is going to rise above all others in the year ahead, but AF&Co/Carbonate and the National Restaurant Association both singled out Caribbean. Close to our shores with readily accessible ingredients, Caribbean dishes can transport diners to the islands without traveling far from the table.

AF&Co/Carbonate called Caribbean “the cuisine of the year,” describing it as a catch-all term for the islands of the West Indies and Caribbean waters, as well as coastal countries such as Belize and Guyana. It blends a melting pot of culinary traditions including African, Creole, Cajun, European, Latin American and other influences. 

Stateside restaurants are embracing these cultures. Kokomo in Brooklyn employs staff from over 29 countries in the Caribbean, while Canje in Austin focuses on Puerto Rican, Jamaican and Guyanese cuisines. Sobre Mesa in Oakland, Calif. features Afro-Latino cooking influenced by the chef’s Dominican roots.

In the What’s Hot survey, chefs named Caribbean No. 3 in global cuisine trends, pointing to Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican specifically.

One of the signature dishes that characterizes Caribbean cooking is pork pernil style, a pork shoulder marinated in garlic, herbs and orange then slow-cooked until meltingly tender. All types of seafood ceviches, oxtail, plantains and tropical fruits are also important to the island culinary culture.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Trend or fad? These restaurant currents could go either way

Reality Check: A number of ripples were evident in the business during the first half of the year. The question is, do they have staying power?


Starbucks' value offer is a bad idea

The Bottom Line: It’s not entirely clear that price is the reason Starbucks is losing traffic. If it isn’t, the company’s new value offer could backfire.


Struggling I Heart Mac and Cheese franchisees push back against their franchisor

Operators say most of them aren't making money and want a break on their royalties. But they also complain about receiving expired cheese from closed stores. "Don't send us moldy product."


More from our partners