Food is fuel. Without it, the human body ceases to function. Like cars need gasoline to drive and fires need oxygen to burn, people need nourishment in order to live, love and work. But food isn’t just functional. Along with calories, it can be a source of creativity, community and comfort. In the year ahead, restaurants will nurture that perspective by embracing new formats and flavors that facilitate not only sustenance for the body, but also relationships and experiences for the soul, with obvious ramifications for meetings and events.
So predicts Gert Kopera, executive vice president of global restaurants at Hakkasan Group, a worldwide hospitality company whose portfolio includes restaurants and nightclubs across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Known as the “Chef Hunter” because he maintains meticulous records of the dishes he encounters during his culinary travels, he recently made his predictions for the top food-and-beverage trends of 2019.
“As we approach 2019, we’re seeing an overall shift in the way people view dining and culinary experiences,” says Kopera, who finds that consumers crave restaurants that are more accessible and communal than ever before. “In many ways, restaurants are now serving as the type of social hubs that retail stores used to be in the past.”
Kopera is right, of course: Once upon a time, shopping was an experience. Department stores and shopping malls blossomed in the 19th and 20th centuries not only because consumers needed material goods, but also because they needed spaces in which to commune and socialize. Thanks to e-commerce, however, retail can no longer be counted on to play the role of social facilitator. Restaurants therefore have a unique opportunity to fill the void.
“More than ever, restaurants are social experiences,” Kopera continues. “A restaurant should offer great food, of course, but also should create a vibe conducive to group gatherings and friendly conversation.”
What’s true of restaurants is also true of F&B at meetings and events. “As a professional in the hospitality industry, it’s important to take these trends into consideration when working to curate memorable experiences for your guests,” Kopera says. “My predictions indicate a larger shift in consumer attitudes and expectations.”
Among the trends that are poised to shake up F&B next year, according to Kopera:
Although many malls have closed, the format remains alive and well in many urban and suburban centers -- with restaurants instead of retailers as anchors. For example, Hakkasan Group recently opened its high-end dim sum concept, Yauatcha, at The Galleria in Houston. Although meetings don’t typically take place in malls, the continued opening of fine-dining restaurants in such venues showcases the convergence of food and socialization, according to Kopera, who notes an “overarching theme of community and togetherness.” Kopera also expects that theme to influence restaurant menus and design in ways that meeting planners can imitate; at Yauatcha, for example, the dim sum menu is engineered for sharing, as is the bench-style seating that permeates the space.
Kopera says the pop-up restaurant trend offers up-and-coming chefs and restaurateurs the opportunity to showcase their menus to a wider audience before committing to the expense of opening a restaurant. Conversely, it offers customers the chance to try new cuisines at lower prices. For meeting professionals, the trend suggests an appetite for experiential and experimental F&B; ad-hoc restaurants could even “pop up” on trade show floors.
“I believe in 2019, the demand for diverse cultural cuisines will continue to rise,” predicts Kotera, who is especially bullish on Mexican and Nordic food -- the former because consumers are craving bolder and spicier flavors, the latter because they also are attracted to clean, simple flavors and health-oriented ingredients. “People are expecting more accessible and authentic renditions of these international cuisines. We’ve seen this previously with Chinese food, which was perceived as cheap and low-quality. Hakkasan was ahead of the curve when it began to curate an elevated dining experience using Chinese cuisine, showing off the complexities of the flavors traditionally seen in Chinese dishes. I think diners are growing increasingly curious. They will continue to become more adventurous and call for the most authentic flavors that aren’t watered down for American palates.”
Because of their perceived health and environmental benefits, vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, according to Kopera, who says the popularity of plant-based dishes also is thanks to social drivers: “Consumers are demanding more plant-based dishes so that groups of friends don’t need to worry about dietary restrictions when choosing restaurants. We’ve taken note of this trend at Yauatcha, where we’ve created a shareable menu that incorporates healthy and creative vegetable dishes that are treated with just as much thought and craftsmanship as our meat-based dishes.”
The inclusive ethos that’s driving plant-based cuisine also is driving a resurgence in nonalcoholic beverages, so that people can participate in experiences with their friends even if they don’t drink. “Expect to see as much craft go into nonalcoholic drinks as into cocktails,” Kopera says. “The dreaded mocktail -- often full of sugary fruit juices -- will be replaced by more balanced drinks that are based around teas, herbs and vegetables.”
Ultimately, though, successful F&B isn’t about being trendy. Rather, it’s about being responsive.
“Customization and availability of options are key here, because there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ option for private events,” Kotera concludes. “Planners need to be flexible and look for different culinary options that fit their guests’ needs. Consider your audience’s needs and expectations, and then think outside the box to create something truly memorable and special that seems catered to them.”