Restaurant menu development is a never-ending game. And, with the modern consumer looking for variety, affordability, new experiences and uncompromised freshness all in equal measure, the pressure is really on R&D teams and chefs to provide exciting, trend-hugging options to keep bums on seats in 2020.
And while the modern consumer is certainly more discerning, they’re also more health and environmentally conscious, with menu development having to go beyond taste, texture and smell and into the realms of sustainability, food waste and flexitarianism.
To gain insight into the directions and focuses of the restaurant industry over next year, Casual Dining surveyed over a dozen leading figures in the foodservice game including chain restaurants, pubs and suppliers.
Among the many forecasts (which include providing for consumers’ growing sense of wellbeing, creating an experience around a meal and another big year for meat substitutes), those questioned discussed the impending Asian explosion, new avenues for flavour innovation and how changing beef perceptions could bleed over into fish.
The beef anti-trend and sustainable shellfish
Amir Ali, culinary innovation strategist at Mitchells & Butlers, said that the move to ‘better beef’ – smaller quantities of high-end cuts of British beef – is a good example of how mainstream innovation and trends are “anchored to something familiar.”
“It’s a great anti-trend to the now-ubiquitous vegan influences – if you’re going to eat meat, you need to make sure that it was worth killing for.”
“Other considerations [for beef innovation] include longer aging and different ways of getting marbling, from feeds to breeds (e.g. Wagyu Crosses or North American grain-fed).”
This more mindful approach to beef, continues Ali, extends to a move to more sustainable fish, with shellfish particularly highlighted.
“It’s hard to sell fish that are not one of the big five (cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns),” explains Ali.
“Aquaculture has traditionally been given a bad rap – but things are changing and eating mussels is one way of getting very good quality protein while having a very small impact on the planet.
“Oysters have the same sustainable benefits, although they are more of an occasion.”
Tim Futter, development chef at Panasonic UK & Ireland, also believes seafood could play a big part in menu development next year, spurred on by the rise in Japanese cuisine and a variety of cooking and preparation methods.
“Seafood could also be about to see a huge resurgence, with more Japanese-inspired sushi-style dishes and ‘Seacuterie’ being adopted with brining, pickling and smoking playing a big part in making fish more exciting.”
Our recent Food Trend Predictions 2020 report highlighted the potential for botanical flavours and woody herbs next year, with Jane Treasure, food and beverage director at PizzaExpress, echoing these sentiments this week:
“Smokey and aged flavours will be popular, the use of herbs and botanicals will find new recipes outside their traditional areas and sweet savoury flavours will be enjoyed everywhere.”
Also featured in our white paper report is the predicted rise in Asian cuisines, with Andy Briggs, menu development manager at Punch Pubs, saying that the company are doing away with Mediterranean and South American dishes next year, replacing them with light Asian offerings and broth-based dishes.
Meanwhile, Nisha Katona, CEO of Mowgli Street Food restaurants, believes that UK consumers will look to the east for meat-free, small plates and relaxed character.
“Indian, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese cultures major on flavour, colour and chaos,” she said.
“People are far keener to have a table full of colour, flavour variety and a sharing way of eating. I see this on my Instagram posts too — photos of tables laden with a myriad of dishes, colours and entirely lacking in formality are the ones that inspire the most appetite.”
Pasta, banana blossom and the death of the avocado
Paul Lewis, chef director at Prezzo, claims that “the mighty, water sucking avocado” will disappear off shelves and menus next year (an endgame prediction stemming from growing environmental concerns, with a single avocado needing approximately 70 litres of water to grow).
He also sees pasta trends continuing because “people have a better understanding of consuming the right amount of carbs to maintain a healthy diet and all the fantastic, meat-free alternatives to classic pasta dishes coming back on the market.”
Meanwhile, Mark Teed, food implementation manager at Star Pubs & Bars, says that he expects to see banana blossom enter mainstream menus and vegetables to be added into meat products for the benefit of taste, texture and to cut carbon emissions.
Banana blossom, packaged in just water, was one of the more interesting products in the soon-to-be-released Plant Pioneers range from Sainsbury's, as it gives consumers the opportunity to cook their own meals with the emerging ingredient.