Special Report

24 Food and Drink Trends for 2022

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Touchless ordering and payment

Table cards with QR codes instead of menus; self-service kiosks at fast-food places; portable payment terminals that you just wave your credit card chip at, and more — innovations like these were introduced, or at least popularized, in the early days of the pandemic, when everybody was afraid of catching the virus from surfaces. That fear has eased, but customers and restaurateurs alike have gotten used to the convenience (and sometimes financial savings) associated with these innovations, so they’ll likely only proliferate.

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Robot servers and cooks

“Accelerated adoption of robots and other forms of automation in the restaurant industry will be the #1 trend for 2022 and for years beyond,” according to a report from the culinary consulting company Baum + Whiteman. Faced with staff shortages due to the pandemic and the concurrent Great Resignation, restaurants — primarily but not exclusively in the fast food arena — are test-driving automated order-takers, servers and bussers, even cooks who can toss salads, flip burgers, and deep-fry wings, among other kitchen tasks. Driverless delivery vehicles (and drones) are coming, too.

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Streamlined (downsized) menus

Not only staff shortages, which have become chronic on all levels of the food service industry, but also supply chain issues have already led to abbreviated and/or simplified menus, and the trend shows no sign of abating. The National Restaurant Association identifies menu streamlining as one of the top 10 trends overall for restaurants this year. The good news is that downsizing might also encourage chefs to be more creative in their offerings and draw more on local rather than nationally or internationally sourced ingredients.

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More and more ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens, also called virtual or shadow kitchens, are delivery-only “restaurants” — professional facilities producing foods of many kinds for delivery, with no actual restaurant attached. The phenomenon grew up in the middle of the last decade, but with the advent of the coronavirus and the meteoric rise in home delivery of meals, the concept took off and shows no sign of slowing down.

If any proof were needed that this is a runaway trend for 2022, consider that TikTok has gotten into the game, with a plan to open as many as 1,000 ghost kitchens across the country this year to serve dishes that get the most viral hits (for instance, corn ribs and smashburgers). Euromoniter predicts that ghost kitchens could be a $1 trillion industry by 2030.

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Alcohol-free beverages

Terms like “sober curious” and “mindful drinking” (and of course “dryuary,” or “dry January”) have become commonplace, as consumers — especially the 21-to-35 set — have begun to embrace the idea of cutting down on alcohol consumption without giving it up completely.

There’ve been alcohol-free or low-alcohol wines and beers for years, but now many bars and restaurants are serving imaginative non-inebriating cocktails (don’t call them “mocktails”) made not just with juices but with boozeless bitters, fancy syrups, and other ingredients. At the same time, operations like New York City’s Spirited Away and Boisson are offering a full range of alcohol-free versions of popular spirits (whisky, tequila, and more) as well as beer and wine — even no-proof artisanal IPAs.

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