“It really depends on the trajectory of the pandemic,” Moskow said during a recent Menu Feed podcast. “Trends tend to come out of fine dining and the natural and organic space, but nothing has crystallized for me yet. I don’t see any life-changing trends.”
Nevertheless, she credits chefs and restaurateurs with the ability to take challenges and turn them into opportunities by applying creative thinking. Moskow suggests digging deeper into trends that rose to the top in 2021, adding innovative tweaks to freshen them up as we move into 2022. These are areas worthy of exploration.
Elevate comfort food to comfort-plus. As chefs and operators approach menu making, new items should be grounded in comfort. Think about what to layer on comfort food to make it more exciting, such as a different spice, a new global flavor or even a new platform. Moskow and her team are testing breakfast fried rice, for example. “Take familiar favorites and make them more interesting,” she said. “I call it comfort-plus.” Operators should also make room for “better for you” foods in the comfort space.
Leverage dark assets. Nextbite specializes in launching virtual brands—a move many restaurants can make by leveraging their dark assets. That means cross-utilizing ingredients to create an easy-to-deliver menu item and using existing equipment and labor to expand the menu. But virtual concepts can also follow the bodega model, adding on retail products already in house to orders. Bottled cocktails, when allowed, are one idea, as is a jar of signature seasoning or a non-food item, such as branded hand sanitizer.
Add experiential elements to dining in. The labor shortage is severe, but customers returning to restaurants are looking for something extra they can’t get with takeout and delivery. If possible, add back service touchpoints to make the consumer feel they’re being taken care of. A value-added product a customer can use or consume at home can also add to the experience, said Moskow. This can be as simple as a recipe for a signature dish or a house-made cocktail mix.
Level up packaging. Consumers became acutely aware of packaging excess during the pandemic and manufacturers are responding. There’s a race to create products that are compostable and sturdy enough to hold up during delivery. Restaurant customers will notice, Moskow said. Heatability is also important, so packaging that goes in the oven is a plus.
Plant-forward is here to stay. There have been new developments in cell agriculture and plant-based proteins beyond beef. Faux crab, faux tuna and faux pork are now available. But Moskow believes that vegetables should be showcased in the center of the plate. “Apply the umami that meat provides to vegetable preparations,” she said. And don’t focus only on plant-based. “Flexitarians are the most interesting segment and the most popular.” Consumers want the option of deciding when and how much meat or dairy they should eat, she added.