Food trends are changing the casual dining landscape thick and fast. Last year saw diner preferences create some huge shifts, such as significant increase in demand for tasty gluten-free food, more vegetables and vegetable-based dishes on menus across the country, amongst many others.

The next year also promises some amazing things, from the continuing rise of diet driven food trends to modern takes on classic concepts and push towards completely new thinking. So here’s where we think your restaurant menus trends are heading in 2020.

Smarter snacking, shared mains.

The completely shared meal concept is ready to hit: fill ‘em up on a range of smaller entrée plates and finger foods, then present a single indulgent main to share. Sydney’s 1821 restaurant features a pastitsio, the classic Greek pasta bake, this one made from pulled pork, which could easily feed four – and does. Also, expect to see healthier bar snacks in offerings such as chickpea chips, quinoa and kale chips. Such joint also have a fair representation of gluten free food snacks and quick bites on their menu.

Plant-based alternatives.
Delicious burgers

The last few years we have an increasing patronage to gluten free food and menus. There is a global conversation currently happening where plant-based food alternatives are being developed to convincingly replace meat and dairy. Besides just veggies bowls, savvy chefs themselves are cooking up vegan and vegetable meat and dairy-flavoured alternatives from non-meat and non-dairy products such as soy, peas, cashews, and almonds. Chia seed egg whites anyone? Driving the shift, QSR operators such as Hungry Jacks, Soul Burger and Lord of the Fries are introducing or expanding their non-meat versions of traditional meaty offerings. McDonald’s Australia recently reintroduced a veggie burger after increased demand and KFC followed suit with meat-free “chicken” in the US.

Alejandro Cancino, ex Urbane and Lola’s Pantry in Qld, has launched Fenn Foods – a plant-based food manufacturing company – which now produces 2000kg of plant-based burger patties every week. He is already fielding enquiries about exporting to Spain, the US and China.

Sydney CBD Greek restaurant 1821 has a plateful of gluten-free and vegan “San Choy Bau”, which is effectively flavoured rice in a betel leaf and also has a beetroot quenelle as entree. They pose a menu that well represents gluten free food. The new Shift Cafe in Surry Hills has declared itself Sydney’s first vegan deli cafe, starting with “the World’s Best Vegan Bacon & Egg Bagel” to club sandwiches and veggie bowls.

Flexitarian diet with added protiens.
Veggie bowl diet

Meat-free Monday trends are starting to morph into a full weekday tradition. In step with the meat replacement trend, expect to see menus with a push to plant-based mains and gluten free food with protein added as an option. While the top-line offering will be a whole range of salads and veggie bowls, then the upsell will be on the choice of protein, be it grilled chicken, cured salmon, rare beef or perhaps tofu. This already exists in many hole-in-the-wall venues in shopping centre dining precincts and high street shopping strips such as Sydney venue Madame Nhu in Chatswood, which creates punchy Asian veggie bowls slathered in tamarind sauce with steamed chicken or beef strips as an option.

Brunch.

Brunch is the fastest growing meal type with many cafes jumping on the bandwagon to create more of a shift towards lunch style menus – let’s call it “blunch” rather than just “eggs benny” and smashed avo. We’re expecting to see a sophisticated menu including gluten free food with exciting drinks options. Maybe shakshuka or ramen, or combine an emerging vegetable/vegan trend in Brent Savage’s macadamia tofu, grape, celeriac and kelp at Yellow in Potts Point. Vegan brunches also are sure to stay, and feature on the hit list of food trends 2020.

Bright and bold.
Vibrant and bold burger

After a bit of a backlash, chefs are still conscious of menu items which can make a splash on Insta. Colourful ingredient options like blue algae, beets, matcha and butterfly pea flower tea, which changes colour from blue to purple when acidity is added to it, pack a visual punch. Adding brightness and colour without pimping out a dish too much will be key, such as bright, fruity acai bowls at breakfast to poke bowls at lunch filled with bright salmon cubes, edamame, beetroot and red rice.

The growth of sustainability.

There will be renewed focus on local meat and seafood including in the QSR space. Fishmonger Steve Costi has recently opened a shared casual diner space in Broadway shopping centre in conjunction with Craig Cook, The Natural Butcher. Both fishmonger and butcher wearing their locally-grown produce credentials on their menu with nothing but Australian and New Zealand seafood and Australian beef. As more and more people expect to know where their seafood comes from, chefs will need to make a stand on “local produce” and making a conscious decision about what you are putting on a patron’s plate. Also, aquaculture sales in Australia have taken over from wild caught for the first time, so expect costs to stabilise as it becomes more readily available.

Point of difference dining.

Niche dining and specialist restaurants have always played a part in modern Australian and New Zealand menus, but some venues are getting particular to the point of obsession. Their belief is that if you do something well, offer just that – a range of your house specialities on the menu and nothing else. Drumpling in Melbourne does just that by creating a global twist on a traditional classic dumpling. Think hand-wrapped traditional dumpling in flavours of Cheeseburger, Mac & Cheese, Beef Rendang, Truffle Mushroom and Pepperoni Pizza, alongside classic Chinese favourites such as Xiao Long Bao, Prawn & Ginger dumplings and Gua Baos including Pork Belly and Kung Pao Chicken.

Rising sun.
Delicious sushi rolls

On the Global influence front, expect some Japanese inspiration to filter through from exposure to the Tokyo Olympics and recent Rugby World Cup. Patrons will be more curious, experimental and confident with Japanese dishes, ingredients and flavours. Taking a step beyond the safe, such as miso-glazed salmon, tempura, BBQ grilling and traditional sushi – to more experimental takes on sushi rolls, sushi burgers, sushi bowls, sushi cones even a sushi burrito! Upscaling a little are Hôntô, in Fortitude Valley, the younger sibling to LONgTIME, featuring cutting-edge Japanese dishes such as grilled Hokkaido scallops with nori butter and bonito flakes, Moreton Bay bug katsu sandwiches. Yoko is a Japanese izakaya-inspired bar from Jonathan Barthelmess (The Apollo in Sydney, Tokyo, and Cho Cho San Sydney) which opened at Howard Smith Wharves precinct in Brisbane to great acclaim.

Head spinning?

So, there’s a lot on the horizon, and we’ll see venues go in different directions from gluten free menus to plant based alternatives to vegan brunches, either all-out or just with some tweaks to existing menus. However you choose to embrace the emerging food trends, 2020 will prove to be exciting, fast moving and delicious!

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