The Good Food 100 2017

2020 Restaurant Industry Trends To Look Out For: People, Planet, and Profit

By Sara Brito

As we step into a new decade, Good Food 100 co-founder and president Sara Brito examines the trends that will impact the way we live, work, and eat in the New Year and beyond.

People, along with water and soil, are critical ingredients in our food system. There can be no good food without people to farm, ranch, fish, cook, and serve it.

1. Saving farmers and independent family farms
A recent Time magazine article reported that the U.S. lost more than 100,000 farms between 2011 and 2018; 12,000 of those between 2017 and 2018. Being able to source good food consistently will continue to challenge chefs, so we’ll see an increased focus on saving America's most endangered species: farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Companies and organizations such as Niman Ranch and National Young Farmers Coalition are at the forefront of this fight.

2. Labor shortage
Low unemployment and a shortage of skilled labor with less accountability and loyalty will continue. In some states such as California and Colorado, we’re increasingly seeing an exodus of cooks to more lucrative job opportunities in other industries (e.g., cannabis).

3. Underrepresented chefs and cuisine
Women and minority chefs will continue to garner attention and recognition that's long overdue. We see this with chefs such as Ashley Christensen winning the 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef and Mashama Bailey winning 2019 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. Likewise, the spotlight will focus on traditionally underrepresented cuisines. We see the latter in full force with restaurants such as Teranga in New York City specializing in West African food and former Top Chef contestant Gregory Gourdet’s still-unnamed, Haitian-inspired restaurant coming to Portland. 

4. Chefs are political influencers
Chefs as cultural influencers is nothing new, but at a time when Americans are losing faith in their political leaders and institutions, chefs are in a unique position to expand their influence and become community and political leaders who are able to bring people together and get stuff done. We see this with chefs such as José Andrés in his work feeding victims of natural disasters, which even earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

From rising CO2 levels to water scarcity, climate change impacts all aspects of our food system. In 2020, the climate crisis and how best to solve it will continue to play out on the center of the plates across America.

1. Veggie-forward eating, beyond traditional vegetarian restaurants
Planetary and individual health issues will continue to collide on diner's plates in the form of more plant-centric and plant-forward dishes and menus. FnB in Scottsdale, AZ gets this right by serving a globally inspired, seasonal menu that celebrates sustainable local foods –especially vegetables– and wines.

2. Plant-based meat alternatives vs. good meat, fish, and seafood food fight
What’s better for the environment:  plant-based meat alternatives, even if they’re highly processed, or meat, fish, and seafood that is sustainably raised and caught? There's no end in sight for this debate about which type of diet is better for the planet. Expect this discussion to continue well into the next decade. 

3. Zero waste 
Given the many and complex issues surrounding our food system, there's one issue most people seem to agree on: food waste. It’s also an issue eaters can immediately address. Because this issue doesn't require policy or systemic change it continues to gain traction with the general public. The small but significant act of limiting waste is something that anyone can do at home every single day. #NoWaste trailblazers such as Dan Barber and Steven Satterfield model ways to reduce waste in professional and home kitchens. Just like voting with our forks and dollars, small steps can make a big impact. Together, we can change the food system for good. 

The most important and critical step in running a sustainable restaurant is profit, but that doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment and the other links in the food chain.

1. Chef-driven fast casual restaurants
Rising labor costs and changing consumer demand will continue to make Good Food fast casual options attractive to business owners and eaters alike. We see examples of fast-casual restaurants that serve Good Food such as Billy D's Fried Chicken in North Carolina; Grand Central Bakery in Portland and Seattle; Tender Greens in California, Massachusetts, and New York; and Farm Burger in the Southeast.

2. Evolving definition of a restaurant
If a restaurant doesn't have a physical location where guests can go, is it still a restaurant? Ghost restaurants, third-party delivery, gourmet grocery, and takeout options will continue. We see examples of this with The Farmer's Hand in Detroit and Farm Runners Station, Hotchkiss, CO.

3. New business models, including hybrid markets-restaurants
As $15 minimum wage laws go into effect across the country, we’ll see chefs and restaurants forced to reinvent their business and operating models. Examples of this trend include Mercantile Dining & Provision (Denver, CO), Salt & Time (Austin, TX), and Bellina Alimentari’s (Atlanta, GA).