Food trends for 2016: top six predictions

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What’s going to be hot on restaurant menus next year?
Our top six predictions for the next big thing in restaurant dining for 2016
By Rob Clifford

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The food business moves fast. What’s hot and fresh this year can quickly become dated and dull the next. The very best chefs and restaurant owners are on top of consumer food trends—and setting the agenda for what we’re all be eating next year.

Working with many of Australia’s top chefs and restaurant owners has given me unique insight into the changing landscape of the Australian restaurant scene – these are my top six predictions for 2016 dining.

Food trend #1: value for money

Value for money is priority number on for any successful dining experience, but how can it be done? With diners looking for the very best in produce as well as value, this can be a tricky balance to get right.

Achieving value for money doesn’t always mean the highest quality, or selling expensive items cheaply to bring in customers – that’s disastrous in the long run. Just like a stylish dresser might combine designer labels with department store fashions, so too must the restaurant know where to invest and where to be economical. Planning and procurement processes need to be tight to deliver the best value for money.

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Food trend #2: casual dining

The shift towards more relaxed, informal eating will continue unabated next year. No need for linen tablecloths, fine stemware or buttoned up waiters. But customers do expect to see an effort—and personality. Customers still demand a memorable dining experience, and they prefer the energy and expense to be invested into the food, wine and ambience instead of the fancy trimmings.

How to create that unique experience that diners expect? Think quirky signage to give diners a laugh, magazine-worthy design and fittings, and quirky menu items (like freakshakes) that inspire customers to post on Instagram.

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Food trend #3: regional Asian

Western culture has only experienced the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Asian cuisine. There are hundreds of different cultures across Asia, all with their own culinary secrets. The emphasis in 2016 will be on regional and local produce. Diners are increasingly interested in a dish’s backstory, so calling your meal ‘Malaysian’ or ‘Korean’ is not enough. Pinpointing exactly which city a meal comes from will add to its appeal. Knowing which Korean province inspired their kimchi or that their chicken dish comes from Malaysia’s Hainan Island in Malaysia is what diners will demand in 2016.

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Food trend #4: everything but the food

A successful dining encounter is about so much more than the food, and ambience will be everything in 2016. The most successful establishments will create unique experiences with seating, lighting, service and atmosphere chock full of personality anstyle. Diners expect to be wowed with amazing décor, impressed with well-presented menus and of course, given attentive, responsive service. How can this be created? Look to what others are doing and do it better. Take bookings where others won’t, give more on social media, invest in a refurb for better atmosphere, and or retrain your front of house staff to get them firing—whatever it takes.

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Food trend #5: localisation

Consumers have moved beyond local beers to local everything: salts, honey, artisan breads, meat, fruit, vegetables—local is best. When it comes to produce, grown on-site is even better.
Diners are mindful of their environmental footprint and value unique and bespoke ingredients that offer a new culinary experience. Savvy restaurateurs will be making sure everything local is highlighted strongly on menus in 2016.

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Food trend #6: healthy

Diners don’t want to break their healthy lifestyle to enjoy a night out. And with so many food based lifestyles (not diets) like paleo, vegan, clean eating, vegaquarian, low carb or countless others, restaurants with options that cater to these diners will reap the rewards. Diners will expect to be able to customise a meal to meet their needs, so flexibility is key. Studies show that diners are willing to pay more for healthier foods, so catering to these expectations can be very beneficial.

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