To say that the past year has been a challenging one for the food and restaurant industry would be an understatement. While restaurants were finally able to open their doors to enthusiastic, hungry customers after months of lockdowns and restrictions on dining, the pandemic has left a lasting mark on the way we dine and eat, which will carry on into the new year and beyond.
In particular, we’ll see this in the rise of cloud kitchens for optimised food delivery and the introduction of robots in dining venues. A strong focus on eating in a way that’s better for your health as well as the environment’s is also on this year’s forecast, with the expansion of new meat-alternatives, alcohol-free cocktails and nose-to-tail dining. Keep scrolling for all the food and dining trends to expect in 2022.
Plant-based and alternative meat
This year, those partaking in Veganuary might consider keeping up those plant-based eating practices even after the month is over, especially with the growing range of vegan-friendly restaurants and food products available. For 2022, the meat alternative sector will see more inventive options that go further than your average soy, wheat and pea combo of sausages and burger patties. Along with ingredients like jackfruit that mimics the fibrous stringy texture of meat, new innovations are making non-meat items more meaty in taste and texture than ever before, including the incorporation of plant-based fats to bring a more meat-like mouth feel.
Embracing Dry January this year after a particularly overindulgent holiday season? Then it’s good news that we’re seeing a trend towards more range and variety in non-alcoholic beverages as more people adopt a mindset of moderation when it comes to drinking. To cater to the growing ‘sober-curious’ segment of the population, creatively crafted alcohol-free beverages are on the rise, offering innovative flavours that go beyond your regular soda-and-juice mocktail. Low ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks also continue to gain popularity, with more local bars now serving low-proof cocktails at request.
Step aside, ribeyes and tomahawks, 2022 is the year for offcuts to shine. Once considered less desirable compared to some of the more glamorous cuts, the use of skirt steaks, flat iron steaks, and Teres Major are now increasingly championed by chefs keen on finding ways to bring out their distinct flavours through experimentation and innovation. A trend towards using the rich, intensely flavoured cuts of older, mature animals such as retired dairy cows should also be noted in this offcut renaissance, which is in line with the general push towards sustainability and mindful eating.
Popping up on the menus of more and more restaurants, small plates allow diners a level of freedom to try several different dishes and not be bogged down by just one entrée that they might not even end up enjoying. The snack-sized portions signal a shift from the formality of fine dining as more eateries are choosing to offer high quality, well-crafted meals in a casual setting. Driving the small plates trend are millennial customers, who tend to have a preference for grazing appetisers over a full dining experience. For chefs, the popularity of small plates means more opportunities to experiment with new flavours and combinations without committing to a full main dish.
Kidneys, livers, intestines, sweetbread – organs as ingredients are finally getting their moment as we see an uptick in offal consumption. Gone are the days when only a select few parts of the animal were deemed worthy of menu space, now that more chefs are seeing the potential for these flavourful, nutrient dense foods. No longer relegated to simple pates or kept under the purview of traditional cooking in non-western cultures, these meats are interpreted in a variety of ways, from charred and grilled with chimichurri to braised and served in pasta ragù.
With the increased reliance of food delivery services that Covid-19 has brought about, cloud kitchens are becoming more popular than ever as an option for food and restaurant businesses. Also known as ‘ghost kitchens’ or ‘virtual kitchens’, these food preparation spaces are solely designed for delivery service, providing a cost-efficient, streamlined operation that benefits both the restaurant and the diner. GrabKitchen in Desa Sri Hartamas, for example, offers 11 brands to combine in a single order, allowing higher efficiency for the brands and more variety for the customer.
Buzzword or not, sustainability is becoming a top concern for restaurateurs and food businesses as a sense of urgency about addressing climate concerns grips the general population. Chain outlets in the UK like Nando’s and McDonald’s have initiated efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions, while independent restaurants are not far behind, with Jikoni in London becoming carbon-neutral last year. Meat-heavy establishments and steakhouses have begun aiming for B Corp certification, while we’re seeing a trend towards more ethical and sustainable practices like nose-to-tail dining, where as much of the animal is incorporated into the menu as possible.
Coming hand-in-hand with the sustainability trend is an increased focus on locally sourced produce. With an ongoing global supply chain crisis spilling over from last year, along with the food supply disruptions caused by the pandemic, it’s now local farmers, butchers and suppliers to the rescue, providing fresh ingredients for dishes that are truly representative of the region. In addition to supporting the local community, the use of locally grown produce tilts the spotlight onto close-to-home ingredients and flavours that may have been overlooked in the past.
Robot food service
The pandemic has sped along a lot of structural changes for the food and dining industry, though not everyone anticipated that it would bring about the arrival of robots in our restaurants, kitchens and bars. Aside from the novelty factor, robot servers can come in handy when trying to reduce person-to-person contact, as well as lessen the workload for understaffed businesses.
Eateries like Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar and NALE The Nasi Lemak Co. have embraced the robot revolution by introducing robot waiters, while in countries abroad, robots are already being tasked with flipping burgers, taking orders and clearing tables.