Travelers today want more out of their food and drinks, including global flavors, a focus on sustainability and interactive experiences.
VIENNA—“Experience” is a must-have across all aspects of the global hospitality industry, and nowhere is it more tangible in hotels than in food-and-beverage offerings.
“We are all in the experience business,” said Reinhard Pohorec, founder of Vienna-based Pohorec Sensory Experience, speaking at the recent International Society of Hospitality Consultants meeting. “Why would you just sell a product or service if you can provide an experience?”
Pohorec and Ken Taylor, VP of strategic development at Las Vegas-based MarkeTeam, outlined a few of the macro trends driving today’s focus on experiential F&B at hotels, and hint: It’s not all about the ingredients.
1. Population statistics are changing, driving new living … and eating environments
While a lot of attention is paid to millennials and Generation Z when it comes to branding and marketing, Taylor and Pohorec pointed out that global population statistics show the gap between the young and old is shrinking, and that influences how people live around the world.
“In the 1960s and ’70s, we had more young people than old people, and if you compare that with (projections for) 2020, we see the similarities in age ranges are more comparable,” Taylor said. “It’s not uncommon now to see a 60- or 70-year-old at a bar sitting across from a 20-something, and that’s great. The 65-plus bracket is growing, and by 2035 there will be more people over 65 than under 18.”
These shifts in demographics and economies around the world mean we’re seeing younger people moving to suburbs or other secondary cities that are more affordable, Taylor said, and many baby boomers downsizing to cities. As a result, mixed-use developments are cropping up in all types of markets that encourage community.
“In these (mixed-use) communities you see this fusion,” Pohorec said. “Before you’d see hotels, restaurants and living spaces all in separate places, and now we think of how we can merge F&B with hotel and retail to create an experience, because younger and older people are looking for these communal spaces.”
What emerges, Taylor and Pohorec said, is a more democratized approach to F&B, in which people from all age groups and locations have access to cool F&B trends and approaches, regardless of their location in a gateway city or a suburb.
2. ‘Fusebiquity’ brings safe experimentation to all
As population demographics changed, Taylor said the idea of “fusebiquity” in the F&B world was born: “It’s the idea of modern cuisine mixed with safe experimentation,” he said. “You’re seeing it across the globe. You go into a place and say, ‘This looks sort of familiar, but it’s also unique.’”
He cited churros, ramen and loaded French fries as examples of fusebiquity.
“We see churros on menus 30% more than they used to be,” he said. “And ramen is about as common as it gets, but once you add a little something—like ahi tuna or Korean spices—you’re into the ‘safe experimentation’ mode.”
“And loaded fries? This is a very safe item,” he said. “But what if we threw some brisket on there? Now it’s more unique.”
3. Interactivity ups the experience quotient
Most people have seen YouTube or Instagram videos of restaurant guests interacting with social-media-friendly desserts that smoke or crack or otherwise transform at the table, and this underlines the role interactivity plays in creating an experience, speakers said.
“We want interaction, we want cool activity,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to just have a cocktail; we want to know what’s cool about it and deliver the craft experience fast.”
In the beverage world, that means things like mixing bespoke cocktails based on a guest’s whim, smoking drinks under glass and “presentation, presentation, presentation,” Taylor said.
“The experience is multisensory now,” Pohorec said. “It’s about the visuals. The look and feel of the drink. The music that’s playing. The interaction of the people.”
4. Know the differences between for-now and forever trends
It can be tough to gauge which F&B trends will stick around for one season and which ones will last, Taylor and Pohorec said.
While some trends—like using local food and seasonal ingredients—are part of the canon now, others may last just a little while. And that’s OK, speakers said.
They mentioned a few trends hitting tables now, including interactive mashups (think donuts served with injectable fillings), international ingredients, “handhelds” replacing “sandwiches” to incorporate delivery via arepas or tortillas, and a big focus on protein sources, leading to talk about lab-grown meat.
5. Origin stories are part of the experience
As consumers of all ages adapt more sustainability into their lifestyles, they’re extending that to their restaurant and bar experiences, speakers said. In addition to demanding sustainable items such as straws and packaging, diners and drinkers need to know the paths these products take to the table.
“We want to know who’s handling our food and what method is being used to handle and deliver it,” Taylor said.
Pohorec added that interest goes far.
“It goes beyond the restaurant,” he said. “People want to know where the produce is from, where the beef was sourced. Young people are much more aware of these questions and they want to go deep.”
6. No alcohol? No problem
Today’s enlightened younger generation is embracing non- or less-alcoholic drinks, and Taylor and Pohorec said savvy restaurants and bars are running with this trend.
“Top bars are building menus around (non- and low-alcohol drinks),” Taylor said. “They’re not just on the back page anymore.”
He cited the rise of low-alcohol products from major liquor companies, and craft non-alcoholic spirits from emerging companies.
“It’s all about how we can bring flavor and aroma to the table, which doesn’t have to be through spirits” Pohorec said. “You have to think about things that can bring depth and complexity to your drinks.”