Restaurants do more than just feed us. They connect us with friends, family and co-workers. They introduce us to new cuisines, ingredients and cooking techniques. They can thrill and entertain us or be means to escape and unwind. They offer us convenience and our make our lives easier. However, in today’s growing foodie culture, we expect more than ever from our eating out experiences and as competition in the restaurant industry heats up, restaurants are eager to excite us with new trends to keep us coming back for more. Here are seven trends making an impact in restaurants around the world. Some have already made it to our shores and others are set to shake up our dining experiences in the near future.
San Francisco restaurant Eatsa has a menu that revolves around healthy quinoa bowls and no servers. Orders and payment are taken via iPads and dishes are placed in cubbies by faceless, behind-the-scenes servers. Eatsa is not the first of its kind. This is only one of several cutting edge eateries world-wide that allows businesses to interact directly with their diners through different forms of front-facing technology and it definitely won’t be the last. It can be debated whether such automation is good for the economy but such technology allows tables to turn faster, to cut down on employee errors while involving the guests directly in their ordering and check out and has the potential to decrease labour costs, thereby increasing profit margins. Automation, in rudimentary forms, is already part of many restaurants in Ireland. But perhaps it won’t be long before restaurants with servers become the trendy novelty.
Survival of the Fittest Dish
A recently opened Copenhagen restaurant Work in Progress is just that. A work in progress. The name of the restaurant is temporary and the menu too is in flux. The owners had an opportunity to take over the restaurant space very quickly and instead of closing it down while they decided on a concept, they allowed the decision process to be part of daily life at the restaurant. Since April, diners have been served four dishes in a tasting menu model, voting on how much they liked the dish at the end. When service is over, the chef counts the votes and sees which dishes get to ‘survive’. The testing period was due to end in late September, but so popular has this Hunger Games-esque concept been in Copenhagen that perhaps we soon could see the power being handed over to Irish diners. May the tastiest dish win.
Tick, Tock, Ticketing
You buy tickets for sporting event and concerts without questioning the process but how would you feel about buying a ticket for a restaurant and paying for your meal far in advance? The software system Tock is on mission to transform restaurant reservations, introducing prepaid tickets. Tock solves the problem that has plagued restaurants since time immemorial, no-shows. What’s more, advocates say that it offers transparency to a broken system whereby restaurants hedge bets on their availability, claiming they have fewer spots than they do and patrons cancel for a host of fictitious reasons. However, there is a downside. Tickets bought for more in-demand times cost more than ones at dead hours. However, as the ticketing system continues its roll out across the US, it seems we soon will be lining up to buy tickets for dinner. Early to the trend, Chef JP McMahon who often vocalises his displeasure on Twitter about no-shows at his restaurant Aniar in Galway, has introduced a system offering discounts on his tasting menu when meals booked and paid for in advance.
The Return of the Plate
Twitter campaign We Want Plates is against the restaurant trend for serving food on it seems anything but a plate. The page tweets photographs, largely submitted by its 75,000 followers, of food served on breadboards, in miniature shopping trolleys, flat caps, plant pots, and even atop garden shovels. However, it now is becoming a real life protest as Twitter devotees have begun rejecting dishes in restaurants due to their baffling presentation. The page now features ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of members of the public transferring their meals from slate to plate. In Ireland we adopted the former trend with enthusiasm, but now perhaps its time to ditch steak served on roof slates, jam-jar drinks and chips in mugs and re-embrace the plate.
Single Item Restaurants
In today’s consumer culture we are bombarded with too many choices, too many decisions and often too little time. So is it much of a surprise that there is a movement away from extensive menus with elaborate dish descriptions. Single option restaurants offer diners simplicity and a certain menu mindfulness. The trend is firmly established in London with The Melt Room in Soho serving only grilled cheese, Cereal Killer Cafe offering 120 cereals from around the world and you can guess the singular item on the menu at BAO. While there are few such extremes in Ireland, there are restaurants such as Mulberry Garden with menus so small there is almost no choice. Just a few menu items, done well, you eat what you’re given and sometimes that can be a welcome relief.
Art is on the Menu
Well, it’s on the walls. But lately it’s not in a typical framed fashion. Instead, restaurants across the US are commissioning large-format murals and graffiti on their walls including The World’s 50 Best Restaurant nominees Milktooth in Indianapolis and New York restaurant Momofuku Ko. Talented street artists often don’t have a permanent space to showcase their works, this trend is giving them artistic homes alongside dining room tables and restaurant kitchens. It brings more than colour to a restaurant, it brings a sense of community by showcasing the talents of local artists and perhaps will bring a welcome detour indoors along The Dublin Street Art walking tour.
‘Fusion’ was a trend in the 1990s whereby chefs around the world started combining unexpected flavors, ingredients and techniques. With sometimes less than favorable results, the term ‘con-fusion’ was born. Now fusion is back in an evolved form of ‘hybrid’ menus. The emphasis now is on combining unusual ingredients with flavours that complement rather than contrast. The street food revolution of recent years has led the way crafting new and daring concepts, such as Korean tacos and Mexican sushi. The flavour mash-ups gaining favour in restaurants across the world include US/Korean and Japanese/Peruvian in the US, and in China, British/Spanish is surprisingly big. In Dublin’s South George’s Street alone, Taste at Rustic combines the flavours of Japan, Spain and South America, while Soder + Ko is Scandi-Asian themed.
So, if our predictions are correct, you may soon be eating at a restaurant where you buy a ticket in advance, customise and pay for your Sushirrito on an iPad, then collect your meal from a vending machine; served, shock horror, on an actual plate.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.