As 2021 draws to a close, food and restaurant experts are making their predictions for the trends that will shape the way we eat in the coming year. This past year was another difficult one for restaurants as the pandemic continues to stir up uncertainty around everything from safety protocols to supply chains. Some of the top trends on the horizon for next year are reactions to how the pandemic has affected foodservice and consumer habits, while others are continuations of movements that have been steadily growing since before the pandemic.
Here are five of the most-talked about trends that you can expect to see playing out in restaurants and on grocery store shelves in the year to come:
Robots in restaurants
The pandemic sparked a surge of technology investments among restaurants as they ramped up digital ordering capabilities and touchless payment options, and 2022 will see many restaurants go even more digital.
“Accelerated adoption of robots and other forms of automation in the restaurant industry will be the #1 trend for 2022…and for years beyond,” food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman said in its 2022 trend prediction report.
The Takeout also included robots on its list of 2022 trends, noting that automating certain tasks can help alleviate some of the strain restaurant operators are feeling from being understaffed, as well as reduce the spread of germs by minimizing person-to-person contact.
Jim Balis, managing director of CapitalSpring’s Strategic Operations Group, also noted thel benefits of robots for restaurants in his recent remarks to FSR, saying that robots can allow restaurants to reduce staff hours and minimize liability when it comes to safety and sanitation. Many restaurants are already using robots to assist with flipping burgers, bussing tables and taking orders – an area where Balis sees particular potential for growth. He predicts thousands of restaurants may add voice artificial intelligence capabilities to drive-thrus by the end of next year.
Supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic are forcing many chefs and restaurant operators to change menus on the fly and get creative with whatever ingredients they are able to get. The new year will likely bring sweeping changes to menus to accommodate rising food costs and focus on local ingredients that are more reliably available.
“2022 dining menus will see a streamlined, localized approach that will keep in line with what is locally fresh and readily available, forcing chefs to innovate their menus with ingredients and products already on hand due to the current state of industry hurdles,” RJ Cooper, owner and chef of Nashville, Tenn., restaurant Saint Stephen told Food & Wine during the magazine’s survey of chefs.
Downsized menus also showed up on Technomic’s list of 2022 trends as well as the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast, which put “streamlining menus” as the No. 6 trend for the coming year.
One of the biggest food and beverage trends of the past year is alcohol-free beverages, with sober curious consumers driving demand for sophisticated soft drinks. This category is expected to continue its massive growth in the new year, with Baum + Whiteman, The Takeout, Whole Foods Market and the Speciality Food Association all including booze-free beverages in their 2022 trend predictions. “The low- and no-alcohol trend is booming and one new area within it is dealcoholized wine,” said Kara Nielsen, a member of the Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel.
Several chefs surveyed by Food & Wine mentioned the growing popularity of zero-proof cocktails with flavor profiles that can hold their own against drinks made with liquor. “These new drinks are no longer simply a mix of fruit juices but feature an elevated eye appeal with fresh, seasonal ingredients,” said Fernando Soberanis, executive chef of Laurel Brasserie & Bar in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The continuing popularity of alcohol-free beverages may also spark new types of drinking occasions. Pinterest predicts that “afternoon tea will be the new happy hour” in its trend report. Marketing firm AF&Co also sees more tea parties in store for 2022, like the tea service at Thaimee Love in New York City, which features the color-changing butterfly pea flower tea.
An eye on the environment
Another movement that will continue growing in 2022 is a focus on foods, packaging and business practices that minimize damage to the environment. Many experts foresee continued growth for plant-based foods, which made a strong showing in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot report, with plant-based burgers, sandwiches and breakfast sandwiches among the top trends in the dinner, lunch and breakfast dayparts, respectively. Among the 350 professional chefs surveyed for the report, plant-based foods were predicted to be the second-hottest trend in 2022, coming in behind sustainability. Sustainable packaging ranked as the top trend for 2022, according to the report, and it’s likely that many restaurants will make efforts to offer recyclable or reusable packaging in the coming year as consumers continue to rely on off-premises dining.
In addition to plant-based foods and sustainable packaging, The Takeout predicts the rise of more alternatives to products that have a large environmental impact, such as coffee, while Whole Foods sees a bigger future for “grains grown via agriculture practices and farming processes that help address soil health.”
Food with roots
While growing concern for environmental issues has consumers focusing on the future, they’ll also be looking to the past to seek out dishes with ancestral roots, some experts predict.
“Questions about where our food comes from have gotten much more complex as chefs and artisan food producers of color have started to dig deep into very specific culinary traditions,” according to AF&Co, which included “food with history” on its 2022 trend forecast. The marketing firm predicts more chefs and food makers will bring back “ingredients and techniques that have been misappropriated or all-but disappeared.”
Baum + Whiteman also mentioned heritage cooking as a top trend for 2022, predicting the coming year will bring “deep explorations of narratives, histories and roots of cultures and cuisines hitherto neglected by mainstream media,” with a focus on African American foodways as well as the cuisines of Thailand, Korea and the Philippines. Pinterest’s forecast of a growing trend around “ancestral eats” supports this theory. Searches on the social media platform for ‘authentic’ and ‘heritage’ recipes have been on the rise, with searches for “Filipino recipes authentic” up 35% and “South African recipes traditional” up 150% between October 2019 and September of this year.
- Worlds of Flavor: Global influences and local roots drive the future of dining
- Why more Americans are becoming sober curious
- Consumers consciously invest in a sustainable future through purchases
If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletter from the Consumer Brands Association or the Restaurant Innovation email newsletter from the National Restaurant Association. They are among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.