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Survival, resilience, and comfort connect the hospitality industry’s trends of the year, identified by af&co, a creative and strategic consulting firm with a focus on hospitality and lifestyle, and Carbonate, a creative services agency specializing in food, beverage, hospitality, and food tech, in the recent webinar, Do the Hustle: Hospitality Insights & Trend Report.

Hustle in this case refers to a hospitality industry hustling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic, devastating stay-at-home mandates, and ongoing economic uncertainty. “The creativity, innovation, and willpower has been amazing,” said Andrew Freeman, president and founder of af&co, and co-founder of Carbonate. “People are looking at everything with nimbleness, agility, and hustle as they work to survive.”

Freeman and Candace MacDonald, co-founder and managing director of Carbonate, identified four Big Picture trends, or key themes, that will impact 2021.

1. I will survive. This trend exemplifies the hustle and innovation of hospitality operators and chefs as they pivoted with new ideas and business models including pop-up restaurants, brand extensions such as going direct to consumers or launching virtual cooking classes, or solo ventures like micro-bakeries. “Sometimes crisis breeds creativity,” noted Freeman.

2. Embrace the great outdoors. Consumers wishing to safely socialize and dine out will be spending more time in open-air spaces as the pandemic continues and operators are figuring out logistics, especially as we head into winter. Freeman and MacDonald expect to see convertible, covered, and heated outdoor areas as well as hotels adding more outdoor activities and options for guests. For example, some operators like Table for One in Sweden are serving full solo meals in a meadow and Ett in Atlanta offers a five-course meal in the woods.

3. Uncovering systemic bias and raising the bar on inclusion. Business owners of all sizes will have to closely consider how they are actively seeking diversity. A focus is needed on raising awareness, equal pay, and supporting BIPOC businesses. This is a major issue for the industry, and we should be the leaders, said Freeman.

4. Future of sustainability. While sustainability seemed to take a backseat early in 2020 as COVID-19 spread, it is again top-of-mind and hitting the mainstream. We’ll see more innovations in sustainable packaging like wine bottles made from recycled paperboard. There will be a renewed focus on food waste. The pandemic changed mindsets, says Freeman, as people stayed home and tried to use everything in the fridge, making items like imperfect product more accepted. Also expect more direct to community distribution. The inefficiencies in the system were highlighted by images of rotting crops juxtaposed with empty supermarket shelves. We’ll see more coordination with this, he said.

Freeman and MacDonald also revealed the trends of 2021 in food, beverage, and cuisines, highlighting things that continued to trend or tipped to the point of becoming cultural.

• Food Trend of the Year: Quesabirria. Described as the most comforting comfort food during a difficult year, this is a meat and cheese stew from Mexico traditionally made with goat but now often made with beef or lamb. Originally popular in Los Angeles and San Francisco, it is beginning to take hold on the East Coast. 

• Beverage trend of the Year: Hot Cocktails. With consumers embracing dining in the outdoors as the cold weather approaches, Freeman anticipates we’ll see more inventive cocktails served hot along with more tea-based drinks, mulled wines, and ciders.

• Cuisine of the Year. Chinese American. Known as a comforting traditional takeout item, it is making a comeback and along the way refining some recipes to reduce sugar and oil. Freeman pointed out that the cuisine is not authentically Chinese but has established its own identity in American taste memory. Other cuisines on the rise include regional Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Singapore Malay, and Jewish, including bagels, babka, and deli, said Freeman.

Related: Plant-Based Meat, Vegan Chocolate Among Trends Poised for 2021 GrowthLabriculture, Brain Food Among Trends for 2021.

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