af&co. & Carbonate Announce 2022 Hospitality Trends Report

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Through The Looking Glass: Finding Your Way In A New Era Of Hospitality

af&co., one of the country’s leading boutique restaurant and hospitality consulting firms, and Carbonate, a boutique creative services and brand communications agency, are thrilled to debut this year’s hospitality trends report: Through The Looking Glass: Finding Your Way In A New Era Of Hospitality. Now in its 14th edition, the af&co./Carbonate trends report has become an anticipated industry resource for hospitality professionals. Compiled from extensive year-long research, the report provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and practices that will shape the hospitality industry in 2022 by identifying key influences in food, beverage, hotels & travel, sustainability, business & marketing, and design.

This year’s theme "Through The Looking Glass" reflects the topsy-turvy nature of the last two years, with the ground constantly shifting beneath our feet, and the need to chart a new path forward in this seemingly upside-down reality. As Alice herself said, "It's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then." - Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)

“This year was supposed to be a year of recovery, yet it feels like we’ve all gone ‘down the rabbit hole’ and must figure out how to adjust to this strange new world,” says Andrew Freeman, Founder of af&co.”While the unknown can feel daunting, it also presents opportunities to create a more equitable, efficient, and profitable hospitality industry, and we’ve seen some incredible innovation and progress on these fronts.”

“The challenges of 2021 have inspired quite a bit of soul-searching as hospitality businesses have to determine how they want to operate going forward,” says Candace MacDonald, Co-Founder of Carbonate. “What is the right pricing structure and labor model that will allow for profitability and retention of top talent in the industry? What additional “emergency” revenue streams that were launched during the pandemic need to be refined and properly marketed? How can we create a strong digital presence in order to communicate directly with our audience? What are our values, and how do we reflect these in our actions? These are all questions that need to be addressed in order to create stable, long-lasting businesses.”

This year af&co. and Carbonate will use the release of the trends report to raise funds for two charitable organizations that support hospitality professionals, specifically, women in the industry: The LEE Initiative’s Women Culinary and Spirits Program and the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. af&co. and Carbonate have committed to matching up to $5,000 in donations per charity, which means a possible $10,000 donation to each organization. Donations can be made directly to either organization through custom links at:

Freeman and MacDonald will present Through the Looking Glass in entirety in a webinar on Wednesday, November 10 at 11am PT / 2pm ET. A second presentation will be held on Thursday, November 18 at 11am PT / 2pm ET.

Here is a preview of several top trends you can expect to see in the report:

Food City of the Year: Nashville, TN
After reeling from tragedies including a tornado and a holiday bombing (not to mention a global pandemic), Music City has demonstrated its resilience, and its already stellar food scene is only getting better thanks to a spate of new openings, and its ability to attract some of the top food and beverage talent in the country. The best of both worlds, it’s a destination where southern food and hospitality meets urban sophistication and culinary innovation.

Ex: Audrey, renowned chef Sean Brock’s most ambitious project to-date celebrates his heritage growing up in the rural South, Appalachian cuisine, his love of Japanese culture, and the traditions impressed on him from his grandmother; at Yolan, Michelin-starred chef Tony Mantuano and his wife, wine and hospitality expert Cathy Mantuano, brought their signature Italian fine dining from Chicago to Nashville; Drusie & Darr, legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new restaurant in the Hermitage Hotel will showcase Tennessee’s rich culinary heritage, and its abundance of regional produce.

Hottest Dish of the Year: Laksa
One of Singapore’s best-known signature dishes, Laksa (which can also be attributed to Malaysia, but Singapore has their own unique style) combines the best of the Far and South East in an amalgam of flavors. Slurpable noodles, fragrant aromatics, creamy coconut curry, a bit of funky spice paste, and some underlying heat, all topped with tasty garnishes from hard boiled eggs, to fresh prawns, or fried tofu.

Ex: Lion Dance Cafe (Oakland, CA) is a hugely popular pop-up-gone-permanent, plant-based restaurant whose signature dish is a vegan Laksa Lemak; Dabao Singapore (San Francisco, CA) is a popular Singaporean pop-up with a bi-weekly changing menu, but the laksa is the dish upon which they built their reputation (and available every week).

Cuisine of the Year: Caribbean
Caribbean Cooking is Hot! - and we’re not talking about the chilis. Caribbean cuisine is taking the stage as chefs explore the diverse range of flavors, ingredients, and culinary influences of this region. “Caribbean” is a catch-all term for the islands of the West Indies and the Caribbean Sea, as well as coastal countries like Belize and Guyana. The area encompasses a melange of culinary traditions including African, Creole, Cajun, European, Latin American, and more.

Ex. Canje (Austin, TX) from the renowned Emmer & Rye team focuses on Guyanese, Puerto Rican, and Jamaican cuisines; Caribbean restaurant Kokomo (Brooklyn, NY) employs staff and chefs from over 29 countries, highlighting the various cultures and traditions found within the West Indies; Chao Pescao (San Francisco, CA) offers Latin-Caribbean home cooking based on the chef’s Cuban-Colombian heritage; Sobre Mesa (Oakland, CA) features Afro-Latino cooking influenced by the chef’s Dominican roots, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean countries.

Cuisine on the Rise: Indian
Whether spotlighting the culinary nuances of India’s many diverse regions, putting a modern spin on time-honored dishes, or showcasing traditional recipes and cooking techniques, Indian cuisine is rising in prominence across the country. Chefs are delving deeply into its rich and vibrant foodways, boldly championing lesser-known dishes or ingredients that push the boundaries of what many in the States have tasted—such as Gurda Kapoora at Dhamaka (NYC), a dish of goat kidney & testicles, red onion, and pao.

Ex: Aurum (Los Altos, CA) Chef Manish Tyagi’s menu highlights “the best of forgotten traditional recipes” regularly showcasing varied dishes from different regions of India, while using local California produce; Unapologetic Foods (New York, NY) Restaurateur Roni Mazumdar and chef Chintan Pandya are on a mission to “redefine Indian food” and have created a mini-empire of restaurants showcasing regional Indian cuisine (including Adda, Semma, Dhamaka, Rahi and Masalawala); Amber India (multiple locations, San Francisco Bay Area) credited with introducing Butter Chicken to the Bay Area over 30 years ago, Amber India continues to preserve Indian culinary traditions, bringing in highly trained chef artisans well versed in Indian culinary history.

Would you Like Some History With That?
Questions about where our food comes from have gotten much more complex as chefs and artisan food producers of color have started to dig deep into very specific regional culinary traditions to bring back ingredients and techniques that have been misappropriated or all-but disappeared.

Ex. Roux40 (Oakland, CA) will focus on Black heritage cuisine with modern interpretations of traditional dishes and a farm-to-table sensibility, with most produce sourced from farms owned by people of color; Owamni by The Sioux Chef (Minneapolis, MN) serves modern indigenous cuisine “without colonial ingredients such as wheat flour, cane sugar and dairy” to present a “decolonized” dining experience; at Barrio Bread (Tucson, AZ) Don Guerra is known as a pioneer in the “ local-grain movement,” working with southern Arizona grain growers, the Indigenous San Xavier Cooperative Farm, and other groups—baking exclusively with grains grown in southern Arizona, and helping revive types of indigenous grains. He’s even traced wheat to its deepest roots in North America, the Sonoran region.

Empanadas: The New Hot Pockets
From Argentina, with its flaky pastry wrapping, to Colombia with its cornmeal masa coating fried to a golden crisp, empanadas have taken hold, grabbing the 8th top spot in GrubHub’s "State of the Plate" report on the most popular foods during the first half of 2021. With fillings that showcase regional flavors like braised beef with raisins and olives in Argentina, and Aji de Gallina in Peru, empanadas are appearing as both appetizers and the main event.

Ex. Claudy’s Kitchen (New York, NY) offers 9 flavors of empanadas, including Chicharon, Aji de Gallina, and Lomo Saltado; Chao Pescao (San Francisco, CA) offers 4 flavors of Colombian Empanadas de Vallunas; Empanola (New Orleans, LA) offers 10 different empanada flavors from “Latin” like Beef Argentina or Chicken Peruvian to “Nola” Crawfish Étouffée or Gumbo; Frizata, a Latin American frozen foods company about to launch in the US, offers four signature empanadas including Spinach & Cheese or a vegetarian “beef” version.

Global Gins, Local Flavors
It might not carry the cache of whiskey with its barrel aging, but Gin is gaining steam and distillers around the world are producing unique gins based on their own local flavor profiles.

Ex. Jin Jiji (India) is distilled with wild Himalayan juniper berries, tulsi (an aromatic leaf popular in Ayurvedic tradition), and local cashew nuts; Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin (Australia) combines gin with shiraz grapes; Sông Cái (Vietnam) incorporates green turmeric, jungle pepper, black cardamom, heirloom pomelo, and white licorice root into its gin.

The Smoothie in the Cuzzi
After years of hazy IPAs, some beer makers are looking for something a little smoother with “smoothie” or “slushy” style beers that have a thicker texture. These sweet sounding brews are actually based on sours and packed with fruit puree after the first fermentation, creating a thick smoothie or slushy-like consistency with a lot of fruit flavor.

Ex. Great Notion (Portland, OR) produces Mellifluous, a strawberry, raspberry, banana, apricot, and blood orange smoothie sour; 450 North Brewing Company (Columbus, Indiana) offers 10 slushy style beers including Hawaiian Dole Whip with pineapple, pineapple soft serve, marshmallow, vanilla, and rum flavor; 903 Brewers (Dallas, TX) Tikki Room Slushy is a Berliner Weisse with flavors of passionfruit, pineapple, coconut, and guava.

A House Divided Cannot Stand
Restaurants are adopting more flexible service models, even eschewing the traditional division between front and back of house in some cases and cross-training staff to take on multiple roles. The new service model helps encourage equality, eliminating hierarchy while helping protect against being short staffed especially during a labor shortage.

Ex: Flea Street Cafe (Menlo Park, CA) eliminated tips for a shared service charge and trains front and back-of-house on tasks throughout all parts of the restaurant; LeBlanc + Smith Hospitality Group (New Orleans, LA) designed a new work structure where everyone completes each task, so whoever makes the food or cocktail, for example, serves it to the table rather than handing it off to the waitstaff—the result is fewer positions, but employees receive higher pay.

Employer Branding Becomes Essential
The “Great Resignation” is upon us, with many leaving the hospitality industry workforce in droves. In order to attract and retain top talent, operators must both create competitive compensation packages, and foster a positive company culture rooted in empathy and opportunity. Knowing what you stand for as a business, and how you’ll help your employees thrive, are vital to continued success.

Ex: According to a recent survey by Culinary Agents, 31% of hospitality workers are looking for career growth opportunities in a job description, and that 30% want more transparency in job details; The Alinea Group (Chicago, IL) has begun offering a 401K program with a 4% employer match, DEI training, generous PTO, and major holidays off.

Who Let The Dogs In?
In 2020, pet ownership in the U.S. rose from 67% of households to an all-time high of 70%. A four legged friend served as a great companion during lockdown, and the rise of remote work afforded more people the time to care for, and travel with, their pets for extended lengths of time. Plus, the increase in outdoor dining means more restaurants are able to accommodate our furry friends. With that, many (even Michelin-starred establishments) are introducing dog-focused events, packages, and accommodations to ensure every pooch is well-pampered, and can accompany its owner wherever they go.

Ex: Michelin-starred Angler (San Francisco, CA) recently partnered with dog food brand Jinx to launch a two-item menu just for dogs—a complimentary salmon or chicken biscuit topped with “caviar” made with canine-friendly ingredients; River Terrace Inn (Napa, CA) launched a “Yappy Hour” series at the property's riverside restaurant, ALBA; Hilton Hotels and Mars Petcare (Nationwide) have teamed up to 'set a new standard' for pet-friendly hotels. As part of the partnership, all Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites will be pet-friendly by January 1, 2022.

Retro Motels For The Modern Age
With the increased popularity of road trips in lieu of flying, and no crowded lobbies, corridors, or elevators in which to congregate, motels have suddenly become the perfect pandemic-era lodging. Both individual operators and major hotel brands have taken to restoring mid-century motor-lodges, and building new ones decked out in retro decor, to tap into the nostalgia of “the great American road trips” of the 1950s, 60s & 70s.

Ex: Kimpton converted the 1960s property The Goodland (Santa Barbara, CA) into a boutique retro motor-lodge with record players in each room; Lark Hotels recently launched Bluebird, a sister brand focused on the development of boutique roadside lodges throughout New England. Their first project, Spa City Motor Lodge (Saratoga Springs, NY), transformed an iconic 1950s roadside motel into a stylish destination inspired by old-school Americana.

ABOUT af&co.:
af&co. is an innovative restaurant and hospitality consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco with clients across the country. The company has developed and launched concepts for more than 100 restaurants and hotels and provided ongoing marketing, public relations, and operations consulting for more than 200 others. af&co. has created unique culinary events of all sizes from intimate dinners to food and wine festivals drawing more than 10,000 people. The team does whatever it takes to help their clients achieve their goals and focus on what they are passionate about: hotels, restaurants, food, wine, spirits and travel. Follow along @afandco.

Carbonate is a brand communications and creative services agency specializing in food, beverage, hospitality and food tech. Services include: brand strategy, market positioning, concept development, naming, visual and verbal identity development, websites, content development and strategic public relations. Prior to launching as an independent company, Carbonate was a division of San Francisco-based af&co., a hospitality consulting firm that specializes in restaurants and hotels. Using industry insights, strategic thinking, and creative vision, Carbonate helps clients rise to the top of a competitive marketplace. Follow along @carbonategroup.

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Rachel Walensky
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