Restaurant Trends Continued: What to Watch Out for in 2018

Restaurant Trends 2018

Posted: Dec. 18, 2017

Restaurant Trends Continued: What to Watch Out for in 2018

It’s that special time of year for the restaurant industry—and we aren’t talking about the holiday-related upswing in sales. Every year in December trusted food and restaurant consulting agency Baum + Whitman releases their annual food-trend forecast, and their predictions are out for 2018.

Here’s the summary: Plant-based dining is going to be the leading food trend in 2018. We’ll see new businesses featuring exotic cuisines, and experimental restaurants embracing new technology. That’s not all: flavor injectors remain the ultimate foodie fad, ramen becomes “dry,” and single-item restaurants aren’t withering away.

Find more details below on these 2018 food and dining trends.

New-Wave Cuisines

In 2018, three cuisines are given the spotlight; two are revamped, and one new-ish addition to the American dining scene:

  • Indian food goes Fast Casual
  • Korean barbecue is updated
  • Filipino cuisine is introduced

Fast-Casual Indian Food

Indian street food is getting the attention from chefs. In 2018, we will see fewer curry buffets and more inventive fast-casual street food. New restaurateurs are remixing typical street foods from India into modern, fast-casual recipes. Think tandoori chicken burritos and chicken masala pizza.

New fast-casual Indian restaurant businesses are following the Chipotle method of preparing food. While delicious, these new foodie start-ups have one major obstacle to overcome: American diners aren’t too familiar with Indian cuisine. If they can teach Americans to be as comfortable ordering a paneer kati roll as they are a beef burrito, they will be successful.

Upscale Korean Restaurants

Korean barbecue restaurants are long-time favorites in the United States. Jam-packed with umami and addictive spices, Korean cooking has quickly earned new fans. Recently, some Korean chefs are moving away from the barbecue and opening sophisticated Korean kitchens.

Korean is going upscale, and that’s exciting for all food lovers across the country.

Introducing Filipino Food

Recent political conflicts in the Philippines have led hundreds to flee and make new homes in the United States; mostly in neighborhoods developed and inhabited by immigrants before them in Los Angeles, New York, and Florida. With them came the arrival of their fragrant, spicy cuisine.

Baum + Whitman writes that food critics can’t get enough of the new flavors. Different from their Southeast Asian counterparts, Philippine dishes are vinegary or citrus-based, and entirely tantalizing. The public likes it, too. Since 2012, Google sees that searches for Filipino food have doubled.

With several notable restaurants serving food from the Philippines, “like Bad Saint, and Purple Patch in Washington; Ricebar and Sari Sari Store in LA; Oriental Mart in Seattle's Pike Place Market; Purple Yam, Jeepney and Ugly Kitchen in New York; and Guerilla Street Food in St, Louis”—we’re going to see more Filipino fusion kitchens in the upcoming year.

New Restaurant Technology in 2018

Restaurants are turning to technology that delivers speedier customer experiences.

Going Cashless

Going cashless isn’t a brand-new concept. But until recently, it has only been done by small restaurants. Now, Sweetgreen and Shake Shack have decided to cease accepting cash at all locations. Without a bank account, someone can no longer order food from either company. Their decision raises questions about the type of customer they don’t want and the ethical implications.

On the other hand, going cashless offers speed and security. Despite credit card fees, accepting cards has its benefits for restaurants:

  • No more bank runs.
  • Reduces or eliminates employee theft.
  • Eliminates the careful counting of the cash box at the end of a shift.
  • Gives servers more agility.
  • Customers need less time to pay.

Cash-free restaurants are common and very popular in China. Restaurants use QR codes to scan orders and get customer payment information. Food can be ordered, delivered, and paid for without human interaction.

Naturally, not everyone is thrilled by cashless technology. We can expect to see pushback from organizations and towns that want to make sure everyone can get a meal, with or without a banking account.

Also, Baum + Whitman writes that US brick-and-mortar retailers that see the highest growth are cash-accepting dollar stores.

Facial Recognition Technology

A KFC store in China recently added facial recognition technology to its operations. This is how it works: When a return customer walks through the door, the system recognizes his or her face and using this data, pulls up the customer’s previous orders. If a repeat order is wanted, the diner simply pays and the transaction experience is over. It’s fast, but hardly simple technology.

Facial recognition software has the potential to give customers the most personalized experience ever, but it’s potential to be wildly invasive is concerning. If a customer doesn’t want other people to know that he or she has been to the restaurant before, this fact cannot be hidden. If the data from facial recognition is aggregated and sold to ad agencies, customers could start receiving sales calls from dentist’s offices, dermatologists, and other services because of their features.

Baum + Whitman also wonders where the line will be drawn. The example used in the report was related to health care. If the customer was recorded as diabetic, could the restaurant employee refuse to serve him or her a high-calorie dessert? Would the company later send a message to the customer’s health care provider?

Seeing how new facial recognition technology is, there is no precedent for how this information will be used. This is a trend that is just now taking shape and will continue to develop over the years.

Foodie Trends

Funky one-item restaurants, flavor injectors, and dry ramen indicate we have an adventurous year of dining ahead of us.

Flavor Injectors

Flavor injectors were a couple of this year’s buzzwords, and it seems they are still “in” for next year. Restaurants are having fun injecting sweet and savory creams and sauces into foods. Among customers, the appeal lies in the element of surprise and interactive food play. At least for now, shooting flavors into one’s dish is expected to be popular restaurant trend in 2018.

One-Item Restaurants

Another 2017 food buzzword, one-item restaurants are predicted to keep popping up. But Baum + Whitman are skeptical of the 2018 trend, and warn would-be investors from tying up their funds lest the single-ingredient-restaurant-bubble burst.

Dry Ramen

In 2018, “they’re taking the soup out of trendy ramen, creating an even trendier version.” What’s this new ramen called? Mazemen. Instead of an umami-rich broth, noodles are served in a bowl with a flavorful sauce. Untraditional ramen toppings are then tossed in, like bacon and feta, salmon and beets, tahini and eggplant, and other oddball combinations (that are, nonetheless, tasty).

Ramen is all about the broth. For mazemen, it’s all about the noodles.

That’s it for now! Keep a lookout for these quirky and exciting food trends next year, and possibly integrate a few into your own menu.

Posted: Dec. 18, 2017 | Written By: Emma Alois

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