The Seven Heavy-Hitting Dining Trends for 2015

By Rick Zambrano, Foodable Industry Expert

The prediction of trends for the coming year is just as scientific as it is at odds. In terms of food, ingredient and dining trends– are they gaining momentum and how are they being measured? For food and ingredients, it’s fairly straightforward to gauge consumer interest. Databases and data tools can be utilized to look at both ingredient lists in packaged foods– in addition to penetration on restaurant menus; and that comparison between one year and the next can be a guide. Google Trends can be used to see how popular certain ingredients and foods are in searches.

For dining trends, validating predictions can be based on the contextual and anecdotal using periodicals, books, and news reports. Here are some dining and food trends that I noticed, through a combination of research and observation, that are likely to gain momentum in the coming year.

Restaurateurs and foodservice operators can take cues from the list to see what’s meaningful for their operations in 2015:

Fluid Dining - Consumers are eating at their convenience and in their own ways. Most of them don’t know what their next meal will be. So decisions around dining that aren’t bound by a calendar appointment or social gathering will be quite fluid. Today, it’s just as easy to grab Pad Thai noodles from a food truck as it is to satisfy a burger craving at the local franchise of a casual dining chain.

Meals are no longer “standard” or “traditional.” And it’s getting harder to differentiate between a snack and a small meal that is simply eaten more often or in between the traditional 12 o’clock lunch hour and the 6 pm dinnertime. So in this way, eating outside of normal hours, having a “snack,” or eating smaller-size meals during the day, is also part of this fluid dining trend. It’s this ambiguity of eating that is driving the formation of new businesses and trends, including meal kits delivered to customers’ doors, chefs-for-daily-hire, and on-demand meals waiting for us at the pick-up curb of the local restaurant, or even at the sandwich counter of the local deli.

Digital Detour - Consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to help them make decisions about eating, and these devices help guide their decisions around dining and meal purchases. The digital detour trend is about how mobile devices help shape what we eat and can take us “on a detour” from a previously planned meal decision. For example, if I use my phone at 3 pm after deciding it will be no-cooking night, what I see on the mobile device can shape my next decision on what to eat and where. This unlikely competitor to many a restaurateur, the smartphone, offers me a plethora of offers on email, through push notifications, and e-coupons, ready to lure me to quick-service restaurant for take-out, or perhaps a mobile order for delivery.

Expect wearable technology and geo-fencing (messaging and alerts service to mobile devices based on proximity) to add to the digital detour in 2015 and gain real momentum going into 2016.

Convenience As The Trump Card- I wrote about the growing “culture of convenience” last year. For the consumer, convenience is becoming more important than ever and is that trump card for many a meal decision. This has real opportunity for independent and chain restaurants alike. (From the previous trend) We already know there are many additional touch points that competitors can use to steal customers away. Embracing technology, taking a hard look at the way your restaurants are designed, and implementing order-ahead, delivery and take-out solutions. are just a few ways to elevate your restaurant’s game to the next level. Consumer research firm NPD lists convenience as a top factor in a diner’s decision to patronize a restaurant.

The Consumer = Restaurant’s Celebrity - Within the table-service restaurant, it started with the diner taking pictures of meals, then it moved on to “behind-the-scene” invitations, chef cooking classes and VIP clubs and supper clubs. The patron, not the chef, is now taking the rock star role in the restaurant. From selfies with the executive chef to special event invitations, the consumer is the star as he or she should be. It made them feel special, taking in the full experience that the restaurant is willing to offer. Sit-down restaurants should follow this trend carefully and elevate experience for diners, especially the most loyal and “regulars.” Savvy restaurateurs have already raised the bar and now a loyalty program is just the simply the price of admission to play on this turf.

A Quest for Flavor, Health and Juxtaposition

Southeast Asian - There’s a good amount of demand for flavors from Southeast Asian, including those from Vietnamese, Filipino and Malaysian cuisine. Consumers are becoming more adventurous and touring the world through their dining experiences. When they’ve made up their mind of going out and spending good money, they’ll want flavors that are interesting, unique and memorable. This is what Southeast Asian food delivers and, in many respects, celebrity Chef Andrew Zimmern and his Bizarre Foods show on the travel channel have further enhanced the interest in this corner of the world.

South American 3.0, a Resurgence of South American Foods - Dishes from South America are growing in popularity, with increased tourism and exposure to its cultures, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Ecuador. 1.0 was about consumers perceiving South American cuisine as exotic, with the arrival of immigrants from South America in the 60’s and 70’. Next there was 2.0, with a Hispanic population growing and booming in the U.S, preparing traditional foods and opening up new restaurants. Now we’re in a 3.0 stage with foods and dishes from South America being embraced as better for you and world-renowned chefs, like Gaston Acurio, becoming ambassadors and promoting cuisine from the entire region.

Quinoa, the Incan berry (pichuberry, a.k.a. Physalis Peruviana) and purple corn are just some of the ingredients that are now attributed to the Incas, the ancient civilization indigenous to the Andean region in South America, and to the Incan diet. As the “better-for-you” halo gains traction, South American diets and cuisine are being seen in a new light and becoming more mainstream. Combined with the bold flavors of restaurant-served Brazilian and Peruvian dishes, expect there to be a booming demand for more South American-style restaurants, particularly in the fast-casual segment.

Juxtaposed Flavors - Sweet and salty, caramel and salt, dark chocolate and aji peppers - these are all flavor combinations that used to be far less popular. While chefs have traditionally strived to bring balance to dishes with the right amount of contrasting flavors, consumers are increasingly devouring dishes with flavors that are polar opposites. From sriracha-berry cocktails to kale-mango sorbets, opposites are in, and 2015 will see some of the most creative combinations ever.