There are some trends that seem inevitable. Facebook took the world by storm in the late aughts, and the parade of niche social media platforms that followed—Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr—was thoroughly predictable. When KFC announced its Double Down sandwich, it seemed to foreshadow the decline and fall of western civilization. Indeed, there have been a string of events that seem to confirm this. But then there are the things you don’t see coming: the gluten free lifestyle choice, or the pet rock. These are the unexpected trends, those leftfield crazes that seem to come from nowhere and then all of a sudden everyone’s doing it. If you haven’t heard of some these, so much the better: that means it hasn’t made it to your town yet and you get to be the trendsetter. Here are five trends still new enough to be trendy, ready for you to make it your own.
- Photogenic drinks. Now that all the selfies have been taken, we as a society have collectively turned to our beverages for a shareable content on social media. It wasn’t the evolution any of us had assumed, but here we are. Latte art has gotten more intricate and three-dimensional, but it’s cocktails that people want to use as Instagram props when bragging about their evening out. Garnishes like gold-dusted flowers or shaved pork belly in a cocktail are tailor-made for the trendier-than-thou crowd, which is a pretty lucrative niche.
Nation’s Restaurant News even mentions a restaurant going next-level by making video friendly drinks, a fact that’s accompanied by a still picture of the drink. Here Nation’s Restaurant News, let me Google that for you. Now, this is one of those things that reinforces my advanced age, because I think it’s dumb that a bunch of kids want you to dress up their water so they can take pictures of it. As a business owner, though, this trend is perfect for you: you create something original and profitable and it becomes popular by virtue of its beauty. People come for the beverage. It doesn’t have to be alcoholic, just something special. Then they take pictures and share it, and you’re getting some free advertising, rounding up more people to come drink the pretty drink.
- Gourmet Porridge. Yes, Goldilocks, porridge isn’t just for 9-year-old kleptomaniac adrenalin junkies anymore. The “mush” of yore is making a comeback, thanks to—yes, you guessed it—hipsters. For the record, I made a joke about hipsters making “artisanal oatmeal” a couple years ago. It was supposed to be an outrageous example of hipster predictability. They did not let me down. Food Business News tracks this porridge movement to—yes, you guessed it—Brooklyn, NY, but a few of our Aussie customers (like the Top Shop and Ruby’s Diner) have been on a porridge kick for years now. Top off your porridge with toasted nuts, fruit, and butter, and you’ve got a unique breakfast item that feels decadent, but isn’t.
- Communal Tables. I was surprised to find out this was a thing. Who wants to go eat at a table with perfect strangers. Well, it turns out restaurant owners do, because you can fit more people in smaller footprints, but the trend is catching on with customers, according to a survey of Open Table’s customers. Having communal tables changes the tone in a restaurant, and gives diners a “we’re-all-in-this-together” homespun kind of vibe. It’s also a great use of space, not just for the increased traffic you can support. Communal tables are the perfect place to stash those laptop customers who sit there all day while more traditional diners can get the smaller, more intimate tables.
- Vegan Friendly. Vegan-only eateries may still be a bit fringe in many locations, but there are plenty of places willing to go the extra mile to vegan-ise items on their menu, or, at least, highlight the items that are already vegan. As any vegan will tell you, it can be super annoying having to ask a bunch of questions to the server to find out if they can eat a meal. And as omnivores can tell you, it’s super annoying to have to eat with a vegan. But now, with even Taco Bell getting in on the action, everybody can just find something they like and not have to go into detailed conversation about their dietary choices.
- Paying it Forward. This one is a trend not even I can be sarcastic about. The idea of paying for a meal for someone, someone who is in need of food, has been around in one form or another for quite some time. It’s called basic human decency, which I heard was last a thing a few hundred years ago. OK, I guess I can be sarcastic. But now restaurants are allowing customers to pay in advance for anyone, without even knowing who they are. The story of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia went viral recently for its Pay it Forward program. The shop sells pizza by the slice, exclusively, for $1 each. People can pay for slices in advance, and a voucher in the form of a Post-It note gets stuck on the wall. If anyone is hungry and broke, they just need to grab a post it off the wall and redeem it for a slice, no questions asked.