Experts Predict: What’s in Store for Restaurants in 2015?

2015 is here, which made us start wondering what the next year has in store for the restaurant industry. To find out, we gathered predictions from some of the most influential people in the business: chefs, restaurateurs, editors and more. From menus and cocktails to service and technology, here are the trends they expect to see play out this year. Read on, then tell us in the comments: what are your predictions?

FAST CASUAL

Dana Cowin“Star chefs known for the power of their personal vision will open up fast casual: Dave Chang, Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, Josh Skenes, Jose Andres. We’ll be eating better burgers and vegetables, quickly.”

– Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief, Food & Wine

By far, the most common prediction among industry leaders is a revolution of traditional fast-food restaurants, and a growing interest in casual, affordable dining from top-tier chefs.

As Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer tells us, “Everyone wants to be the Chipotle of (fill in the blank).” Author Ruth Reichl added that chefs are addressing a serious problem by offering affordable food in underserved neighborhoods. “I think that’s going to mushroom and they’re going to be really successful,” she adds.

COMPENSATION

Francis Lam“I don’t know if this will truly be a trend, but my heart holds out hope for it: better pay for cooks.”

– Francis Lam, food writer and judge, Top Chef Masters

With some restaurants eliminating tipping and exploring alternative methods of compensation, fair pay continues to be a hot topic in the industry. Corney Burns and Nick Balla of San Francisco’s Bar Tartine tell us, “We see restaurants moving away from tipping, coming up with alternative ways to compensate staff.”

GRAINS

Michael Tusk“I expect to see more awareness and discussion of monocultivar grains in the coming year. I was just involved in a film called “The Grain Divide” with such chefs and experts as Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, Chad Robertson, Marc Vetri, Sean Brock, and more regarding the benefits of small mills over mass produced product and its effect on health and flavor profiles.”

– Michael Tusk, Chef/Owner, Quince and Cotogna

In 2014, whole grains were popular on menus and cookbooks alike — and 2015 should be no different, as chefs rediscover a variety of heirloom and specialty grains.

Izabela Wojcik - James Beard Awards Foundation“Rye was the big grain of 2014. I predict chefs will explore other grains for breads, pastas and especially desserts.”

– Izabela Wojcik, Director of House Programming, James Beard Foundation

RETURN TO FRANCE

Danny Meyer“Expect to see more chefs return to France as a source of culinary inspiration. Because so many current restaurants have been serving a predictable farm-to-table Italian-ish kind of menu, it’s tempting for a culinary chef to be drawn to the kind of cooking that involves sauces, braising, roasting, and charcuterie. These restaurants won’t be given French names any more than the Italian-influenced restaurants are given Italian names. But the food will have unmistakeable Gallic influence.”

– Danny Meyer, CEO, Union Square Hospitality Group

Experts including Cowin predict a new appreciation of French fare, with Meyer citing his lower Manhattan restaurant North End Grill as a prime example. (Speaking of regional cuisine, Cowin also says we’ll see the influence of Mexico on menus around America, while Tusk thinks German food is on the rise, wondering if Berlin could be the new Copenhagen.)

TECHNOLOGY

Jocelyn Mangan“2015 will be a year of technology, with restaurants experimenting even more with new concepts like ticketing, exclusive access, and auto check-in.”

– Jocelyn Mangan, SVP, Product Management, OpenTable

No surprise here: technology is now a major player in the restaurant space. With delivery services like Sprig, Munchery and Caviar on the rise, restaurants are generating revenue outside their four walls, says Ryan Cole, Owner/General Manager at San Francisco’s Stones Throw. He also predicts the rise of streamlined payments systems and new ways to gather guest data, along with iPad menus.

Instagram will become a bigger marketing tool for everyone, predicts Dominique Ansel, Chef and Owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery. And not just Instagram — Wojcik foresees more marketing of food, restaurants, and beverages in general through consumer mobile and social platforms.

“There are some very smart and restaurant-passionate people who are spending time building thoughtful technological solutions to remedy chefs’ and restaurateurs’ pain points,” says Jared Rivera, Co-Founder of Chefs Feed.” I’m certainly not endorsing every new technology, but be open to learning about new things that may be outside your comfort zone. You’ll save time and money, often in the short-run. And they will help you to stay more connected to your industry.”

…AND MANY MORE

The predictions above were shared by many of the people we surveyed, but there were plenty more trends in the mix:

Pop-Up DinnersPop-Up Dinners. The pop-up dinner will become an influential part of dining, says Stones Throw’s Ryan Cole. “With more technology available, marketing, and demand for new product, the pop-up dinner will become major competition for brick and mortar restaurants.”

Sustainable Food Alternatives. “There are new sustainable food alternatives being made in labs that are aligned with the same core values we keep in our restaurant industry,” says Rivera. “You’re going to start hearing more about them in 2015. Be open to listening.” He’s an admirer of Hampton Creek and their “Just Mayo,” made with no eggs.

TeaTea. “It’ll be a slow process, but I also think restaurants, especially at the high end, are going to take tea more seriously, and, I hope, pair teas with foods,” says Lam.

Nashville. Tusk attributes the interest in “New South” cuisine largely to the success of Chef Sean Brock, who brought his Charleston restaurant Husk to Nashville. Mangan believes Austin and Asheville will continue to develop as dining destinations as well, along with boroughs like Oakland and Brooklyn in San Francisco and New York.

Farm-to-Table Ice CreamFarm-to-Table Ice Cream. Expect to see more farm-to-table ice cream appearing everywhere, says Meyer — not just on dessert menus, but in newly branded ice cream shops. “No one doesn’t love ice cream, and it’s the ideal canvas for a gifted chef to express a personal point of view via thoughtful sourcing and culinary prowess, engaging people’s minds and inner child all at once!”

Style-Specific Bars. We will see more wine and cocktail bars that focus on a specific style of spirit or specific drink, says Wojcik: the gin joint, the Negroni list, and the aperitif bar, to name a few.

Cross-Cultural CookingCross-Cultural Cooking. Don’t expect your pizzaiolo to be Italian, says Ansel. The next year will bring more chefs who don’t cook the food of their ethnicity, like Caucasian sushi chefs and French ramen chefs.

Abalone. Abalone may become the next uni, says Chef Michael Tusk. “California especially is benefitting from amazing new companies sourcing pristine abalone, which I’m seeing an increase of on restaurant menus and expect that to continue into 2015.”

Lower-Alcohol CocktailsLower Alcohol Cocktails. “Guests like to be able to have more to taste and more quantity of beverage, without getting altered too quickly,” say Balla and Burns of Bar Tartine. Look for shims, which indicate a low ABV.

Housemade Condiments. Wojcik predicts: “Chefs will be hand-crafting more condiments that were typically purchased prior, like David Chang making soy sauce and homemade sriracha sauce.”

Local Sourcing. “The focus on locally sourced produce and meat – and the marketing of it on local menus – seems to be something that is thankfully sticking around in 2015,” says Mangan. Wojcik sees the trend continuing for drinks as well, with more hyper-local spirits from new, small distilleries focusing on organic and local raw materials for their craft.

Here’s to another great year for restaurants, with more exciting developments to come!

How to connect with diners during a pandemic: Your guide to personalized email marketing

How to connect with diners during a pandemic: Your guide to personalized email marketing

The world is changing fast and restaurants are trying to adapt just as quickly. Now is the time to get...
Open for Business
10 tips to start and expand your outdoor dining experience

10 tips to start and expand your outdoor dining experience

Dining rooms are opening and closing across the country, but sitting outside is among the safest ways to eat out...
Open for Business
In it Together: taking care of the industry with Edward Lee & Jessica Koslow

In it Together: taking care of the industry with Edward Lee & Jessica Koslow

OpenTable’s new weekly webinar series, In it Together, tackles key topics facing the industry during the COVID-19 crisis. What does...
Olivia Terenzio
Q&A's See all
In it Together: tough calls and closures with Lien Ta & Shehzad Roopani

In it Together: tough calls and closures with Lien Ta & Shehzad Roopani

OpenTable’s webinar series, In it Together, tackles key topics facing the industry during the COVID-19 crisis. What does hospitality look...
Open for Business
In it Together: taking on the insurance industry with Naomi Pomeroy & Robert J. Nelson

In it Together: taking on the insurance industry with Naomi Pomeroy & Robert J. Nelson

OpenTable’s webinar series, In it Together, tackles key topics facing the industry during the COVID-19 crisis. What does hospitality look...
Olivia Terenzio