This year’s F&B trends highlight tech, THC

NATIONAL REPORT—Robots, THC infusions, Instagram. Seemingly unrelated topics that happen to have one important—and possibly tasty—thing in common: some of this year’s food and beverage trends. Last year, we saw the demand for local flavors and insect options, and while some trends are still just as relevant, expectations for F&B are ever-evolving.

According to international food and restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman’s “2019 Trends Report,” all of these categories represent what to watch this year. While some haven’t reached the hospitality space just yet, they’re all on the horizon.

Younger guests expect out-of-the-box experiences, which they can share on social media.

Fast-casual options are popping up with guests wanting food quickly and conveniently. According to the report, these options are “taking aim at midscale, sit-down restaurants in high-rent locations that are crippled by high labor costs and lots of overhead. These new entrepreneurs offer similar meals at a bit more than half the price.”

Michael Whiteman, president of Baum + Whiteman, said that he doesn’t expect many fast-casual formats in hotels, however, because hotels’ peak meal period is breakfast, while the weakest meal period is lunch—not exactly the formula for a successful fast-casual outlet.

However, adding to the speed component is technology, specifically robots, both for delivering and making food. These bots are no stranger to the hotel front desk and guestrooms, but now, AI-powered ordering systems may be replacing waiters and food store cashiers, something for hoteliers to take into consideration.

“It is not hard to imagine humans becoming superfluous in lots of areas,” Whiteman said. “Chatbots that take your reservations without you knowing you’re talking to a machine; self-driving trucks delivering pizza cooked to order on the way to your house; facial recognition doing away with actual money; robots preparing your food or taking care of ill people (and actually conversing with them); no front desks as we currently understand them in hotels; machines producing meals based on your DNA or medical condition; cellular food grown in laboratories and making ranchers and farmers unnecessary; gizmos that read MRIs better and faster than doctors—all this already exists, or is about to. The challenges will be social: What do we do with armies of people ousted from their jobs?”

From fully automated restaurants in China to a beverage robot on a San Francisco sidewalk, hotels may be seeing these bots creep into operations; maybe not tomorrow, but it’s rapidly approaching. According to the report, none of these robots appear to be economically logical as one-offs, and even scaled up may not even be the best financial choice for hotels.

For Devin Burns, VP of food and beverage for Omni Hotels & Resorts, while bots may be the future, they can never replace the human touch.

“We pride ourselves on our customer service and giving our guests an experience they will not forget,” Burns said. “We believe in treating each guest as an individual and accommodating to individual needs in ways robots just cannot do.”

However, don’t discount having a robot prepare your morning coffee in the lobby just yet.

The future may be looking a little greener as well. With the legalization of marijuana on the rise, the F&B space may be seeing new ways to incorporate THC and Cannabidiol, or CBD (which gives you a mellow without the high and could possibly aid in pain relief). The hotel space, however, hasn’t jumped on board just yet, but Whiteman isn’t ruling this out.

THC- and CBD-infused options could be brewing soon.

Beverages, specifically, are getting a fair dose in marijuana-friendly states with coffee, teas and even beer companies jumping on the bandwagon.

“With respect to hallucinogens, this may be a good time for hotels to be behind the curve. There’s no sense in risking damage to a hotel company’s brand equity, which is why Coke and Pepsi are presently sitting on their hands when it comes to marijuana,” Whiteman said.

According to the trend report, as marijuana continues to be legalized, “Big Beverage’s ‘legacy’ products, from generic beer to sugar-filled soda, face a shaky future…anticipating a massive consumer shift to hemp and marijuana drinkables.”

Favored by innovative mixologists, the wellness-focused and millennials, the trippy ingredients are still new to the food scene—and even newer to hospitality. Stay tuned.

Wellness, however, is a trend that has taken hold of the hotel industry, becoming more of a hotel initiative or strategy rather than simply a menu item. However, Whiteman predicts this as more of a marketing move than anything else.

“Most major hotel chains these days have ‘wellness’ programs that started out with expanded gyms and then morphed into full-fledged spas,” Whiteman said. “Menus have followed along with more juices, smoothies, sneaking kombucha into cocktails and devising ‘healthy’ dishes—but my sense is these items provide fodder for their PR departments, but they don’t move the needle much on the revenue side of the equation.”

As for the younger generations for whom these types of programs are commonplace, more and more guests are seeking food “experiences.” These guests want foods that aren’t only adventurous, but plates worthy of a portrait. Edible art.

“The next generation of eaters has broader palates. We have noticed younger generations love international food, which helped increase the popularity of Italian, Mexican and Chinese food today,” Burns said. “This encourages chefs not to be afraid to add inspiration and flavor from other cultures, such as Japan, Spain, Portugal and Korea, into dishes—because more and more guests are willing to explore.”

In order to gain the attention of these groups and compete with off-site F&B venues, however, hotel teams need to expand, moving outside of more traditional comfort zones.

“Younger guests are less patient and more demanding. Like it or not, their Instagram mindset means they seek experiences that provide a series of ‘wows.’ Hotel F&B venues rarely get it all together,” Whiteman said. “Either the food has been retailored to look prettier, or a tepid new design concept has been installed, or a menu is full of contemporary buzzwords—but after passing through corporate filters and ‘brand standards,’ the effort rarely adds up to very much, and guests are still greeted by someone with a name tag.”

This may present a new perspective on F&B operations, as it is part of a larger, more inclusive traveling trend.

“I think younger generations are more diverse, they are traveling more, experiencing more cultures and their palates are just more enhanced from this,” Burns said. HB

To see content in magazine format, click here.