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Luxury is back in food, and redefining trends in the hotel and restaurant business. Post-recession dining is definitely going all in for opulence — costly tasting menus, chicken priced like steak, exotic custom spices, upscale food halls, spare-no-expense tabletops — according to Baum+Whiteman, one of the largest food and restaurant consulting firms.
It has come out with its annual list of hospitality-meets-food trends for 2014, and they make for an informative and entertaining read:
- Restaurants are back in retail stores: Thirty years ago, American department stores kicked out their restaurants, believing they were too messy and unproductive. But they are now making a comeback as retailers discover the magic of “dwell time” in their stores: The more time guests spend, the more money they’ll spend. The restaurant in Tommy Bahama’s New York flagship sells hamachi crudo, coffee-crusted ribeye with marrow butter, and fish tacos with Asian slaw. In Chicago, Saks is opening its first Sophie’s global-American restaurant; Brooks Brothers will build a 15,000 sq.ft. steakhouse prototype in New York called Makers and Merchants.
- Tasting-only menus are everywhere: A three-year bull-market is fueling a proliferation of tasting menus around the country. Great for restaurants’ economics, guaranteeing a specific average check along with pre-costed, highly controlled inventory. $270 at French Laundry with $175 supplement for white truffle pasta, $208 for the Grazing, Pecking, Rooting menu at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, $185 for the all-veg menu at Grace in Chicago, $155 at Menton in Boston, $225 at 11 Madison Park. Many are using custom tabletops to emphasize the ceremony and the occasion.
- Chicken is no longer humble: The humble bird is going haute. Rôtisserie Georgette , a new upscale chicken-focused restaurant in Manhattan, is no mere takeout joint. Run by Georgette Farkas, Daniel Boulud’s former right hand, it has grand space, two rotisseries and a French-accented menu with occasional fried chicken specialties. chefs around the country are ramping up prices as they play flavor one-upmanship. Poulet vert ($24) at Marlow in San Fran is marinated in an anchovy-green sauce. In Boston, Cragie on Main’s roast chicken for two ($74) is cooked sous vide in chicken fat and spices, then finished with butter and togarashi salt.
- Food halls are the new food courts: Cookie-cutter mall food courts serving repetitive same-old chain food are on the downslide. Enter upscale “food halls” … “artisan” food staffed by local, name-brand restaurants. Best of these combine on-premises manufacturing, eating, takeaway and retail. In New York, see animated basement of The Plaza Hotel. Or the 50,000 sq. ft. Eataly, so successful it raised all rents nearby.
- Anchovies!: The no-no of Caesar salads has become respectable, people are ordering anchovies, especially Spanish salt-packed ones called bocquerones, and even fresh ones. You’ll find them on Nicoise salads and fresh mozzarella, or tossed with breadcrumbs atop pasta.
- Bubbles and fizz, the new trends in beverages:
- Tea: With Starbucks committed to converting America to tea, look for others to amplify the attention. Teavanna opened a tea bar/cafe in Manhattan, with more to come, as brands are discovering people are more likely to buy food with tea than with coffee.
- Sodas: SodaStream contraptions have consumers experimenting with sodas at home, even making carbonated cocktails. Restaurants also crafting sodas using house-made fruit syrups and infusions, some bottled, some on-tap. The craft beer movement spawns craft sodas.
- Pressed Juices: Juice bars are no longer for health nuts and body cleansers. Lots of investors pouring into cold-pressed juiceterias now that millions of people are too busy to eat an apple or carrot but willing to pay someone to juice it for them.
- Beyond butter: EVOO and balsamic vinegar are too old-hat. Now the ante is upped as chefs litter your table with creative spreads. At The Pass, Houston, you get black garlic mostarda, vanilla tapenade, tomato jam, salted butter. Other places offer whipped lardo, rosemary hummus, roasted garlic butter, smoked ricotta, whipped beet butter, porcini oil, jalapeno oil, smoked eggplant dip, salsa butter, whipped chicken liver butter.
- Green is the predominant color, and sentiment: Healthy food investments finally are paying off as a niche market rolls into the mainstream. More than one factor propels this profound market change: the gluten-rejecters, Paleo people, diabetics, weight challenged, vegetarians, vegans. Sweetgreen, a 20-unit chain based in Washington, established beachheads in Boston and Manhattan, where lunchtime lines snake out the door until mid afternoon. Chipotle can’t be left behind and is expanding its tests of vegan Sofritas, tofu braised in chilies and spices. At the other end of the price spectrum, bold-face chefs are adding vegetarian tasting menus to their offerings. Restaurant Daniel has three courses for $116.
- Pop-ups and item restaurants: Weekend popup markets (Smorgasburg, Brooklyn; Ferry Terminal, San Fran, food truck fairs) make room for wacky food creations that often graduate to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Meatball shops are cropping up around the country. Cupcakes may be passé but here are some recent one-item restaurants: a baked potato shop, oatmeal only, churros, Greek yogurt, Nutella Bar coming to Eataly, Chicago.
- Adding entertainment and adventure to food: Restaurants are enhancing the dining experience by fiddling with our senses, redefining “eatertainment.” Avant garde restaurant Ultraviolet, in Shanghai, shanghais ten high-spending diners nightly to a secret room that radically shifts moods with each course: uplights in the floor, 360-degree high-def projectors, swings in air temperature, four smell diffusers, 22 speakers, LEDs, waiters changing customers to suit the food. Chef-owner Paul Pairet calls it “psychotasting”, you go from Zen to hell in 20 courses over four hours in a night of sensory integration. At the Casino de Madrid building, star chef Paco Roncero built a 9-seat invitation-only techno-dining room. In Brooklyn, a restaurant serves meals in utter silence.
- Beyond the generic Asian flavors: Friday’s offers sriracha aioli and kimchee has gone mass market. Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce — foul-smelling fermented stuff — is being snuck into Western dishes that need an umami boost, from roasted chicken to grilled meat sauces. Shisito peppers will mainstream as snacks and garniture.
- Mideast cooking is making a comeback: Forget Spain and Greece, the south side of the Mediterranean and the Levant are where new tastes and dishes are coming from: Turkey, Israel, Morocco, Iraq, Iran. Explore Turkish street food for ideas. The cookbook “Jerusalem” is flying out of bookstores and you need to read it. Zaatar and pomegranate molasses already have made it to kitchens here, and shakshuka will appear on America’s breakfast and brunch menus. Global riffs being added to falafel and hummus.
For more details on these, check out the full trends PDF from Baum+Whiteman, here.