The last two years have brought a radical change to how we do everything from grocery shopping to dining out.
The pandemic has fundamentally altered what, how and where consumers eat. More recently, pricing and supply chain issues brought on by COVID have caused challenges. The hospitality industry responded with technology and adaptations, sometimes not without a few hiccups. These factors have caused trends that we will see playing out this year.
High-end dining has not only fallen out of favor among consumers but also, investors aren’t as interested in that category as they are with more casual concepts. Fine dining will become “less fussy” and “more hip,” appealing to younger diners, who want quality with a more relaxed approach to service, ambiance and style of menu.
Many restaurants are changing their formats from table service to fast-casual counter service. That shift also allows restaurant management to focus on kitchen staff, allowing for fewer workers per shift and more room in the back to the prep to-go and virtual orders which are becoming a higher percentage of restaurant business. With customers increasingly ordering food to go, even from higher-end restaurants businesses are inaugurating tech-enabled locker pick-ups with temperature controls to keep food fresh. Drive-through pick-up and order are not just for fast food anymore. These new pick-up windows not only accommodate customers but also third-party delivery couriers, such as Grub Hug and Uber Eats.
Robots are cooking in some kitchens. Robots are also delivering meals from the kitchen, and some cities around the country are seeing delivery companies using autonomous vehicles for deliveries. Tech is also taking over in the bathroom with, hands-free restroom faucets and soap dispensers and doors that open automatically. Fast food operations have fewer drink and condiment dispensing stations, and those that are available will be smartphone-based. Often, customers will be able to pay from their table.
The changes in the industry are not just in the physical operations of restaurant operations, but also in the fare offered. Contrary to the 1973 sci-fi film “Soylent Green”, which was set in the (then) distant future of 2022, we are not moving to a cannibalistic society, instead more plant-based foods are available. Burger King led the way with its Impossible Whopper, and now KFC offers a plant-based chicken substitute and even McDonald’s is test-marketing a plant-based burger. Many restaurant menus offer a few vegetarian (and in some cases, vegan) options.
As diners get used to trying more exotic meat alternatives, they are also more willing to experiment with world cuisines. Consumers want food that excites them. Here are trends that you’ll find on menus from fine dining to fast food.
Hummus – not only the traditional version, but flavorful variations such as citrus-beet, Kalamata olive, roasted mushrooms, and harissa with sun-dried tomato.
Nixtamalizing fruit and vegetables (pre-soaking in lime or potash) is a Central American cooking technique that makes French fries crispier and fruit juicier and firmer.
The flipside of the rise in plant-based cuisine includes more extensive use of Wagyu, a breed of cattle prized for its rich marbling. The ultra-high priced Japanese beef has inspired a domestic version.
West African cuisine, especially the area ranging from Mauritania to Cameroon. As Black chefs explore their heritage, expect to see dishes such suya (grilled meat, including goat), Jollof (an ancestor of Jambalaya) and stews made with seeds and nuts.
Singapore cuisine offers a distinctive mix that reflects the Chinese, Malay, and Indian heritage of most of its citizens.
Caribbean cuisine, familiar to most South Floridians, is also becoming more popular across the U.S.
The expanded palate of consumers is not limited to food. Flavored beer and seltzers which include easily recognizable flavors that strike a nostalgic chord, such as watermelon, strawberry, cherry, apple, and grape are more popular.
One reason for these strong flavors might be a result of the loss of taste that sometimes comes with COVID. Whatever the reason, the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come.
Closings, Openings & Moves
The last location of a once-mighty chain, Bobby Rubino’s, quietly closed after 43 years of serving prime rib and colossal onion ring loaves. The Pompano Beach spot will be demolished later this year, to be replaced by another chicken tender franchise, Raising Cane.
Pagoda Kitchen has just opened at Delray Marketplace. It features “home-style Chinese cuisine,” such as Peking duck, bao buns, glazed Chinese barbecue spareribs and shaved ribeye.
Spud’s, a coffeehouse and brunch café, in Fort Lauderdale’s North Beach Shoppes, will serve house-smoked pork belly eggs benedict, burrata toast and fluffy, sticky cinnamon buns, and coffee creations.
Coyo Taco has migrated from Wynwood to Las Olas in the former SuViche space. Expect hand-pressed corn tortillas, cochinita pibil, alambre, pollo al carbon and crispy duck, as well as salads and burrito bowls.
If you’re looking for Leaves & Roots Lounge in Flagler Village, it’s moved to a larger space just near the up-and-coming NE 13th Street neighborhood.