Cheers to a real food year in 2014

I am married to a chef and have marketed and pitched products for another chef many of you may know. My birth father developed two household food brands which, 35 years later, still occupy space in grocery stores while my dad spent three decades with a well-known wine company. I have friends who have built restaurant empires and business associates who have launched products including one that is a best seller worldwide!

So why would I begin this week’s trend report sharing a page from my personal F&B network? Because these are a few of my sources who consistently and generously pass along “insider” trend tips in support of the Trend Whisperer! And in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I am very thankful for their support.

Let’s take a look at their contributions as they relate to F&B trends that are sky high on the trend charts. As you read through the trends, depending on the character of your property and the DNA of your F&B operation, there are a few I’m sure you will agree have excellent hospitality potential.

1. Fashionable food

If you happen to be a mega-resort or property with a retail-leasing component, be aware that a growing number of retail stores are back in development mode, building out their own brand-themed restaurants inside their flagship stores. Whether the adoption of a “restaurant inside a store” is borrowed from the success of Tommy Bahama, the Café’s at Nordstrom or a few Ralph Lauren boutiques, several retailers are following suit. Cult-fave Urban Outfitters, luxury big box Saks Fifth Avenue and the classically safe phenom Brooks Brothers are all in the midst of unveiling their own unique dining concepts. The key attraction to this trend is relatively simple, as it’s the amount of time shoppers spend in a given store when a restaurant outlet is incorporated. Simply said, it equates to additional purchases!

A retail leasing executive recently shared an impressive fact supporting the value of this trend. He stated the Tommy Bahama store and restaurant combos are enjoying an increase of 2.5 times the profit per square foot than the units that haven’t followed suit.

2. The real deal

Consumers want the assurance that what they’re eating is real — in every sense of the word. Menu developers are describing items far more thoroughly, listing not only the ingredients but also where they are from along with how the item was prepared. Certainly “local sourcing” is more important than ever, but beyond that, authenticity is going to be crucial in 2014. 

3. Goodbye food court, hello food hall

Expect to see upscale “food halls” taking over where food courts left off. The halls market artisanal food from local, name-brand restaurants that may be a little pricey but are always unique and deliver that feel-good rush of supporting something local.

Leading the trend is the overwhelming success of the 50,000-sq-ft (4,645-sq-m) Eataly in New York City, which I have no doubt has sent developers into think-tank mode to create and unveil their own spin on a food hall.

4. Solo cuisine restaurants

If you’ve got a good thing, why not make a restaurant out of it?

The trend of focusing on one item (similar to noodle houses) will continue at a faster-than-ever pace in 2014. Take, for example, the ramen burger, cronut, (half croissant, half doughnut) and meatballs. All are singular-cuisine dining hits in New York with restaurants devoted and focused to a solo offering. I’ve also spotted others devoted to hummus, baked potatoes and macarons. What a great concept for hotels looking to lease out a unique space, especially if the operators you sign are local.

5. Welcome back, starch

Starches are staging a comeback — from ramen to buckwheat noodles to pasta made with unusual ingredients. Rice bowls (and jasmine, basmati and brown rice) will all be big because of the continued fascination with Asian fare as well as the association of healthfulness. Also look for more in the way of flatbreads, wraps and all kinds of artisan breads.

Side note: Waffles as a base or side make traditional savory items seem edgy.

6. Faster, please

“Fast-casual” has hit a hiccup thanks to customers specifying every ingredient in their salad, burrito or sandwich and slowing down the service line. This has sent operators in every segment out to find better ways to use technology for faster and more accurate ordering.

I predict iPad and iPhone orders placed tableside will spring up more than ever in 2014, and rumor has it diners may even be encouraged to bring their own devices as an option to expedite order placing. (Count me in!)

7. Haute diggity dog

The out-of-control build-your-own-quality-burger trend is showing no signs of slowing down in 2014. In fact, its immeasurable level of popularity has ricocheted over to its stepsister as a satellite trend. Yes, hot dogs are making a comeback, and this time they are not the all-American delight enjoyed at ballparks or Costco. Trending extraordinarily are double-smoked dogs featuring blends of pork and beef topped with exotic options such as truffle mayo and caramelized lettuce.

Some are even pairing the new fascination with trendy craft beers or shots of whiskey!

Side note: Keep one classic among your hot dog choices, and think about offering a melted cheese, grilled onion version minus the meat.

Bonus trend for travel warriors, students and military personnel

Cooking while on the road is difficult, but some have turned to a hotel coffee pot (if it has a decanter) as a solution. Soldiers in Afghanistan complaining about bad food and being equipped with just a coffeemaker started steaming, poaching and grilling food using the coffeemaker’s basket, pot and burner! The technique caught the eye of a publisher who was so fascinated with the unusual cooking technique, as well as others that have been floating around, that next year the recipes — including mac n’ cheese, shortribs and chicken soup — will be published for the rest of the world to enjoy!

Now it’s your turn. Do any of the above make the cut for your 2014 F&B plans? If not and you have a different trend-worthy idea or creation you’d like to share with other readers, please do!