food trends

Foodservice Trends: What’s on the menu for 2020?

The big changes in foodservice for 2020 aren’t just about shifting tastes – they’re also about consumers’ changing lifestyles. Here are seven trends that will shape what’s on the menu and how you serve it up this year.

7 trends every menu planner needs to know

1. Quality and creativity rule
Quantity was once king of the menu, both in terms of portion size and number of items offered. This year should bring a slight downsizing in the average number of menu items, as foodservice operators from restaurants to cafeterias concentrate on creative new offerings versus “item overkill.” (The matter of portion size is still up for debate; concerns over obesity, as well as the impact of food waste, will keep it an active discussion between the industry, its customers and its regulators.)

2. Healthy means more than ever
Seventy percent of consumers surveyed agreed with the statement, “I’m eating more food because of its specific nutritional benefits than I did two years ago.”

A decade ago, that might have simply meant, “bring on the kale,” but these days consumers use “healthy” to encompass concerns of body, mind and even spirit.

So while physical health is seen to be served by the boost in, say, meatless burgers, menus in 2020 and beyond will also be implicitly promising greater peace of mind, with special (and especially expensive) teas, or perhaps enhanced sleep via CBD-infused sauces on everything from eggs benedict to surf and turf specials.

3. Ingredients get sexy – but risky, too
Ingredients like those just mentioned above have lots of consumer appeal,
and you could be at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t at least explore them. However, as with any exploration into uncharted territory, caution is called for. Foodservice organizations will do well to consult their nutritionists, before including “cutting edge” ingredients or making specific health-related claims.

4. Sourcing is a new source of appeal
Consumers – especially the younger segments – increasingly pride themselves on being aware of health and environmental concerns. This extends well beyond what they eat to where their food comes from and how it gets to them. So, including a meatless meat dish, for instance, may attract both health-conscious and environmentally conscious customers. And featuring the local farmers you get your eggs from will add both an air of authenticity and a reassurance that you’ve lightened your carbon footprint by not trucking the makings of your meals halfway across the country.

5. Taste buds are traveling
While consumers may want the feel-goodness of eating local, they also want the taste-goodness of cuisines that are global. In 2020, taste buds will be particularly drawn to traveling east, with Far-Eastern flavors popping up in everything from Kung Pao burgers to Kimchee Bloody Marys. Middle Eastern influence will also continue to rise well beyond Middle Eastern-themed restaurants.

6. Drinks go high concept
2020 will also be the year that high concept meets high margins, as restaurants raise the bar on mocktails. These low or no-alcohol drinks rely on complex flavors and a new breed of spirit, such as distilled cane vinegar. They satisfy a growing consumer urge, driven by greater health consciousness, to sip socially without getting a buzz.

Exotic ingredients, however, can be costly, so to maintain the kind of margins traditionally associated with a drink menu, bartenders may need to experiment with their own combinations of fruits, spices, herbs, essences and alternative spirits.

7. Nothing is too crazy
More than ever, foodservice is about more than food. Like many consumer segments, it’s also about new, interesting, share-worthy experiences. And if you want your dishes to show up on Instagram, you’ve got to get creative. Noodles on a sandwich? Your competitors are already serving up Spaghetti Burgers and Ramen on a Bun. So, don’t just go to the tried-and-true – go a little crazy in 2020.
Your customers will thank you.

NRA presentation: Menu Forecast: 2020 and beyond
Deloitte: Consumer product trends 2020
National Institutes of Health: Acai
Food Business News: Mocktail Movement