Top Hospitality Trends for 2020

Leading restaurant & hospitality consultant af&co. is announcing the launch of Carbonate, a new creative strategy and brand communications agency. The two agencies have partnered on this year’s Hospitality Trends Report, where they predict the top food, beverage and hospitality trends for the coming year. Here is a glimpse of some of their favorites. 

Vegan Goes Viral

Wildseed (San Francisco) is a new plant-based restaurant & bar by the same owners of Super Duper burgers. 

Environmental concerns have pushed vegan cuisine from fringe to mainstream as plant-based options are more plentiful and delicious than ever before and chefs of all genres are devoting more attention to vegetables. It isn’t just about animal welfare, but about what’s good for the environment and what’s good for us, without sacrificing flavor or presentation.

People First, Profit Second

4505 Burgers & BBQ (SF, Oakland) increased their staff benefits and reduced turnover by half. 

Companies are finding ways to be more aware of how work integrates into their employees overall physical and mental health, realizing that happier employees makes for a healthier bottom line. Why now? The labor shortage has played a large role (good benefits help with employee retention), but this focus is also reflective of reverberations from the #metoo movement and an industry acknowledging - and trying to change - its storied history of anxiety, stress and drug use.

Hospitality Leaders Take on the Climate Crisis

What we eat has a huge impact on the health of our planet; the food production system accounts for roughly 25%-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions! Food leaders are coming to the forefront of the climate crisis by taking a vocal stand, educating the public, supporting small farmers and organic farming and making it all easier and downright enjoyable for us all to do our part in creating a healthier place to live.

Food City of the Year: Raleigh/Durham

Sister Liu’s Kitchen (pictured) was named one of the Top 50 Best New Restaurants by Bon Appetit alongside Benchwarmers Bagels, M Tempura, and Heirloom Brewshop.

The burgeoning food scene here is expanding so much that it takes two cities to contain it. A wide and incredibly diverse range of stellar-quality food options includes: highly-acclaimed bagels, beerhouses, a seafood shack, a temple of tempura, and the foods of Zimbabwe.  

International Food City of the Year: Lisbon

Arkhe (Lisbon) Chef João Ricardo was born to a Portuguese father, raised in Brazil, and trained in French cuisine. His menu features dishes including the pictured rice terrine with roasted aubergine with teriyaki sauce, avocado cream, sambal, and nasturtium. 

This picturesque port town is attracting chefs from near and far, and the city is becoming known for cuisine that is unabashedly modern while still rooted in Portuguese tradition. The adventurous fare will remind you that Portugal was once home to some of the world’s greatest explorers, and the country has assimilated many flavors and ingredients from around the world; it’s Europe by way of India, Asia and South America.

Cuisine of the Year: Lao

Khao Noodle Shop (Dallas) is famed for their Laotian cuisine

And you thought you like Northern Thai cuisine? There’s notable overlap between Lao and Thai cooking, particularly where the borders meet, with many of the most common Northern Thai dishes come from Laotian cuisine. Expect spicy meat “salads” (larb), lots of fresh herbs, simple grilled meats and fish, and plenty of sticky rice; but don’t expect much coconut milk and don’t be surprised if flavors were more sour than sweet.

Dish of the Year: Porridge

Kantine  (San Francisco) serves savory porridge with homemade farmers’ cheese, kale and roasted squash  as well as sweet variations with poached peaches, berries and cream.

Whether it’s Portuguese papas, Japanese okayu, Chinese congee or jook, Filipino arroz caldo, Vietnamese Chao Ga, Scandinavian rice porridge, or old-fashioned Quaker Oats, chefs are elevating the versatile dish with creative, modern spins. Porridge represents a comfort food inspired by their childhood and is an ideal, cost-effective platform for creativity. Just don’t expect it to be cheap! Curated ingredients and attention to detail have elevated many executions of this humble dish. 

Dessert of the Year: Churros

Jack’s Restaurant & Bar (California; Multiple locations) serves up a craveworthy churro waffle.

The original cinnamon-sugar-dusted creation has given inspiration to new fleet of churro-inspired dishes and desserts. We’re talkin’ churro doughnuts, croissants, waffles and ice cream sandwiches. Familiar but adventurous, today’s iterations are as photo-friendly as they are delicious. 

Top Food Trends

A better bagel? Technically, Jerusalem bagels aren't “real” bagels, the texture is softer and more bread-like and it is often used for dipping instead of schmearing. It is extra large, extra gorgeous, and often comes with unexpected dips such as za’atar and olive oil.

Aba (Chicago, Coming soon to Austin) Features a popular everything Jerusalem bagel. 

Square pizza may sound like a joke until you’ve had Detroit-style Pizza. Based on Sicilian sfincione, the dough is more focaccia than pizza, with toppings pressed into the dough. Often served on racks placed over a sheet pan, that thick doughy crust, stays extra crisp on the bottom and soft on top.

Square Pie Guys (San Francisco) opened in 2019 serving Detroit style pizza

Cross-cultural cuisine is taking new form as Americans adopt flavors from immigrant communities and as chefs pay tribute to their mixed race upbringings. The idea of “authentic cuisine” has lost its traditional meaning, as these industry leaders are true to themselves and the personal experiences that guide them. 

Kaya toast from Bread Belly

Hot Ingredients

-Aquafaba (the vegan liquid in a can of chickpeas that can be whipped into a foam)  

-Chinese chili crisp  

-Gochujang (Korean chili paste)  

-Homemade XO sauce  

-Toum (Lebanese garlic sauce)  


-Kaya toast (toast with coconut jam made popular in Singapore and Malaysia)  


-Japanese Milk bread (used in konbini sandwiches)  

-Miso & Koji  

-Mochi waffles, donuts and other gluten free goodies   

Top Beverage Trends

Meso (San Jose, CA) offers a spirit-free menu section that includes their “Tonic + Orange Blossom” made with Mediterranean tonic, peach bitters, orange blossom water, and grapefruit salt.     

It’s all about the low and no proof drinks. It's essential to offer enticing, highly curated beverage options for those who choose to avoid (or reduce) alcohol but still want to partake in the celebration. Consumers can now find lower alcohol wines, beers and bottled beverages as well as low or no proof cocktails as more people seek to enjoy their drinks on healthier terms.  Keep an eye out for nonalcoholic spirit brands and specialty spirit-free “euphorics” that are formulated to enhance your drinking experience - naturally, of course. 

Cutwater Spirits sells a variety of crafted canned cocktails.

High quality canned cocktails (or bottled) featuring some of your favorite bar drinks will become increasingly available for those who want to have a drink at home without building out an entire bar cabinet.

Bartenders are getting super creative with drink garnishes to create memorable moments, many tying into the theme of the drinks themselves. Social media has been a platform for this trend, providing endless inspiration and further proving that drink garnishes are something to consider seriously. 


Many want to have restaurant caliber cooking at their convenience, whether that means through delivery or robotics which can offer freshly prepared food any time of day or night. Robotics also allow for “personalized nutrition” that allow customers the ability to customize meals to meet nutritional preferences and goals, not to mention reduce waste.


1 Hotels utilize reclaimed wood, bricks, marble, stone and locally-sourced glass throughout the interior of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. They also have a water reclamation system that collects rainwater for use in the adjacent Brooklyn Bridge Park for irrigation. Plenty of plants provide both physical and psychological benefit. 

Hotels are beginning to really embrace sustainability as an overall design ethos and how it relates to all of the services they provide. That means not just sustainable building materials for construction, but also eco-friendly cleaning products, and green meetings & events programs that reduce waste. Some of the best examples are also working to improve the community around them whether through rainwater irrigation systems, reforestation or animal rescue. 

Greater care is also taken to foster wellness, providing areas of calm and relaxation, using natural materials, and providing plenty of light and greenery. 

Hotels are also incorporating many elements of residential style decor and serviceware that feel more personal and comfortable. Lobbies may seem more like living rooms, with lounge style seating in residential style proportions and arrangements. 

On the other side of the spectrum, some hotels are really embracing a theme or a persona, creating a truly unique experience for their guests, with over-the-top design, destination worthy bars or restaurants and unique on-site activities, games or attractions. 

Holiday Pop-Ups Not to Miss

With so much going on before the year ends, it can be hard to stop and get into the spirit of the holidays. An easy way to get that festive feeling is by stopping in at one of these decked out holiday pop-ups. If the over-the-top decor and seriously thought-out themes don’t do it for you, the spiked winter drinks and warm seasonal snacks will.

Après Arlo at Arlo SoHo

‘Tis the season to for cozy cabins and hot cocktails. Après Arlo at Arlo SoHo transports guests to the French Alps, with heated cedar cabins, twinkling lights and faux snow. Also on offer: a full-on hot toddy menu.

Arthouse Holiday Movie Revival Pop-Up Bar

Arthouse Hotel NYC just debuted its Holiday Movie Revival pop-up bar, a nostalgic nod to iconic movie moments. The hotel lobby and bar bring Christmas classics to life, with details like a replica of the living room setting from “A Christmas Story.” The cocktails are themed, too, and will be served in vintage cans with labels celebrating the nostalgic, retro holiday spirit of the pop-up.

Chanel N°5 In The Snow at The Standard, High Line

Chanel brings a chic winter experience to The Standard, High Line for one weekend only. From December 12-15, visitors can enjoy ice skating, hot chocolate and plenty of photo ops (think: a sleigh setup and life-size Chanel N°5 perfume bottle).

Coconut Lounge at W New York - Downtown

Already over the winter? Us too. Pretend you’re at the beach at the Coconut Lounge Holiday Pop-Up at W New York - Downtown, outfitted by Studio 11 Design to resemble a lush island escape. Large-format cocktails, disco balls and palm trees await.

Clicquot Chalet at Mr. Purple

The annual Clicquot Chalet returns to Mr. Purple this winter. Hang out in a huge snow globe dome, cozy up with plenty of blankets and enjoy the whimsical ski lodge decor while sipping Veuve Clicquot champagne cocktails.

Gingerbread Houses at St. Regis New York

For the third year, The St. Regis New York is hosting gingerbread workshops. The two-hour sessions feature elegant tea service, plus kid-friendly menu offerings like hot chocolate and warm apple cider.

A Pink Holiday at Moxy Hotels

Moxy Hotels are sparing no expense to get in the holiday spirit this year, all in pink, no less. Experiences include: Pink Holiday Pop-up at Moxy Times Square; Pink Holiday with Putnam & Putnam at Moxy Chelsea; and Pink Winter Wonderland at Moxy East Village. Each property will offer festive programming like candle and ornament-making workshops with Brooklyn Craft Company, nail art with Sundays and more.

Smith & Sinclair’s Adult Candy Shop Pop-Up

Cocktail innovators Smith & Sinclair’s are inviting of-age New Yorkers to “eat your drink” at their West Village pop-up. The playful space is packed with exciting confectionaries, festive decor, photo ops, a candy confessional and more.

Snow Globe in the Sky at Ophelia

Rooftop lounge Ophelia brings on the holiday magic, as it was designed to resemble an illuminating jewel box in the sky. Take in the decor--including crystal-encrusted garlands, sparkling snowflakes and white sheepskin throws--as you try their decadent new cocktail menu.

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