Top trends in hospitality 2016

Amelia Levin looks at the latest report on the hospitality sector from US agency Andrew Freeman & Co and runs the rule over the key trends set to make headlines in 2016

Now in its ninth year, the industry-anticipated trend report by Andrew Freeman & Co. details the top trends in food, drink, design, concept development and operations across restaurants and hotels nationwide. Here then are the major trends, the burning issues and some examples of the operators already ahead of the curve and ‘on trend’ for the year ahead.

Trend: Vegetable-focused dishes
Vegetables have become the centre of the plate, just a side dish or small plate. They also cater to vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free eaters and make great “bar nosh” snacks for lighter fare.


  • King Oyster Mushroom “BLT” with Basil Mayonnaise at Chef Richard Landau’s V Street (Philadelphia)
  • Quinoa Fritters with Aji Amarillo Aioli from the chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Border Grill (Santa Monica)
  • Proteins served only as sides at Al’s Place (San Francisco)

Trend: Hawaiian cuisine
Hawaiian food is the latest regional ‘New American’ food that’s getting its place in the spotlight.


  • Grilled spam and other Hawaiian delicacies by award-winning Chef Ravi Kapur at Liholiho Yacht Club (San Francisco)
  • Poke rice bowls, salads and wraps from Poke To The Max (Seattle) food truck
  • Noreetuh (New York City) serves up casual Hawaiian fare in the East Village

Trend: Fiery foods
From chili oil to the now-ubiquitous sriracha, American palates are embracing the heat in savory and sweet dishes as well as beverages.


  • Pisco Punch #1 with house made Thai chili infused pisco, mango puree, lime and coconut water at Presidio (Chicago)
  • Strawberry Sichuan Sorbet and Ancho-Chocolate ice cream at Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream (San Francisco)
  • Pastry chef Kierin Baldwin’s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding with Arbol-spiced cinnamon ice cream at The Dutch (New York City)

Trend: Waste is food
Amidst rising food and labour costs, chefs and restaurants have focused on creating less waste, using bits and pieces for all sorts of ingredients previously thrown out.


  • Blue Hill Chef Dan Barber created a burger made entirely from food waste for a three-week pop up event at Madison Square Park’s Shake Shack (New York City)
  • Belcampo (California) uses discarded beef trim meet for lower cost burgers
  • Saucy by Nature (Brooklyn), a “zero waste” concept changes menus daily to ensure ingredients from the night before are utilized in new ways

Trend: Flour power
Expanding on the house-made trend, restaurants and cafes are sourcing small grain mills to create small-batch flours for breads, desserts, pizza and more.


  • Strawberry Lemon Chiffon pie and Biscuits and Gravy made from in house milled flours at Baker Miller (Chicago)
  • Josey Baker Bread mills flours for a bread at The Mill (San Francisco)

Trend: Table service
Table service rolls in the dining adds an extra touch to upscale restaurants worldwide.


  • Mangalica and other cured Spanish meats sliced tableside at Barcelona Wine Bar (Boston)
  • Cheese carts with two dozen imported and domestic cheeses for tasting rolls through the dining room at Restaurant Daniel (New York City)

Trend: Brunch and Bloody Marys
Breakfast and brunch go full-throttle with decadence and indulgence while Bloody Mary bars allow guests to build their own beverage.


  • One-Eared Stag (Atlanta) serves up pancakes with duck liver butter, coddled egg with salty salmon roe, and pork belly atop kimchi
  • Longman & Eagle (Chicago) pairs brioche French toast with Foie Gras frosting
  • Main’s Bloody Mary Cart (Napa) has over 20 choices for add-ons including fried oysters, duck pastrami, fried shrimp cocktail, sriracha salt, fresh grated egg yolk cured in salt, kimchi Brussels sprouts, and candied jalapenos

Trend: Fried chicken
Fried chicken continues to grow in popularity from authentic, southern-inspired to ethnic-influenced twists on the favorite comfort food.


  • Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc (Napa) serves their buttermilk fried chicken with two sides and cornbread
  • David Chang’s newest concept, Fuku (New York City) serves only four menu items, including spicy fried chicken sandwich with Korean-inspired spice

Trend: Technology
All diners, from Millennials to Generation Z and Gen X, are expecting technology-friendly service in casual restaurants and are becoming heavy users of online ordering and mobile payment.


  • Eatsa (San Francisco) subscribes to a “No lines. No cashier. No nonsense. We’re engineered to get you in and out fast” mission
  • Muten Kurazushi Japan delivers sushi via “bullet trains,” or quick-moving conveyor belts
  • Starbucks announced that guests will be able to order for pick up via mobile app at select locations

Trend: Pet-friendly concepts
From pet cafes, where the concept is actually focused on the opportunity to hang out with kittens, to doggy happy hours in bars and restaurants, there are lots of ways to bring your pet along.


  • Cat’fe (Chicago), Meow Parlour, (Chicago) and Meowtropolitian (Seattle) have kittens for cuddling
  • Art & Soul (Washington DC) allows guests to order sirloin steaks and non-alcoholic beers made of chicken broth and malt extract for their dogs
  • Medium Rare (Washington DC) hosts a daily doggie happy hour on the patio
  • Governor Coumo in New York passed a law allowing dogs on outdoor restaurant patios in the city

Here are some other top issues set to be high on the agenda in the sector in 2016:

  • Hard to find help – More restaurants this year are dealing with labor shortages, but some have coped in creative ways, from automation at the front and back of the house to employee-focused environments to combat turnover. Ocean Prime focuses on an employee-centric culture, resulting in some of the industry’s highest retention rates at 87% for managerial staff and 60% for hourly associates. And, Cheddar’s Casual Cafe incorporates recruitment incentives such as bonuses for recommended hires
  • No tipping – Danny Meyer’s announcement that all Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants will be “Hospitality Included” changed the game for many restaurants, which have also followed suit, including Dirt Candy and Per Se in New York, Next & Alinea in Chicago, Bar Marco & The Livermore in Pittsburgh, and Petit Crenn in San Francisco

Beverage boosts  

  • Elevated coffee – coffee shops and restaurants alike have collaborated with local coffee roasters and introduced nitro-coffee from Guinness-like taps to elevate beverage service
  • Tap wine – More restaurants and wineries are now offering wines on tap rather than popping open cork bottles to keep service moving and maintain the freshness of open bottles longer
  • Boozy FCRs – Fast casual restaurants including Chipotle, Taco Bell and Smashburger offer margaritas and beer to boost profits through higher margin alcohol sales

Haute hotels

  • Poshtels – posh hostels are no longer just for college students backpacking through Europe. Modern hostels, like the Freehand in Miami, combine budget-friendly, urban chic living with craft cocktail-friendly bars
  • No-service room service is in, traditional room service is out. Guest no longer want to wait in their room for a burger so hotels have offered more grab-and-go options and box lunches for pick-up in the lobby
  • Restaurant-Style Events – “Banquets” have become simply “events”. Guests want that restaurant service with made-to-order food via action stations and cocktails served by quality bartenders

Amelia Levin