Here are my top ten predictions for 2015 in the world of food:
1. Restaurant prices will go up by a minimum of 8% and as high as 19%. The reason being that most of the top restaurants in major U.S. cities within the past few years have been bought or are leveraged by private capital in the form of hedge funds. The investors want more profit and they want it faster.
2. Ingredients in most restaurants will be of cheaper quality. See Prediction #1. Investors see what’s coming: Higher labor costs in the form of an increase in the minimum wage and higher costs in health care coverage. You can’t fight labor forever, but you can lower your costs of food. So have a look at the fish being served: Hake, branzino, farmed salmon, etc. Look at what else is being served: Pizza, burgers, pork, offal. (Pizza is especially profitable: One pie @ $19 has a food cost of about $2.) That beef? Chances are it’s choice grade and not prime.
3. Time spent eating in restaurants will be cut by about 40-50%. See Prediction #1. Turn the tables over faster and get in three-four seatings rather than two. You’ll make more money.
4. Home cooking will spike. People, seeing that prices are higher, ingredients are cheaper, and that they’re in and out of a restaurant in an hour for no less than $100 a couple, will learn ten basic dishes and rotate them in order to eat at home. The food will taste better because stuff that costs less than dining out, and it’ll be fresher and healthier.
5. Marketing slogans will bite the dust. The fuss about farm-to-table, sustainable, local, “natural,” and so on will be looked at closer than ever and be exposed for the “Mad Men” chimera they are. You want to buy local? Drive a Ford, use a Dell, eat Kraft cheese. I didn’t think so. It’s a global economy.
6. More vegetarian dishes will appear everywhere. As news gets out about the benefits and pleasure of eating more vegetables, people will explore the ease of preparing vegetarian food. A lot of it’s easy and quick to prepare. Here’s a secret: Add cheese or butter to whatever you’re cooking and voila! You are the top chef.
7. Pasta is proof of a higher power. No food is more enjoyable. Noodles from Japan, China, Italy, Thailand, and so on. Forget the goofing around on T.V. or radio and the complex recipes in the paper. Boil two quarts of salted water. Add noodles. Cook until you like the texture. Drain. Add any sauce. Done. See, that wasn’t hard, was it?
8. Home gardening. In order to cook at home and save $, more people will grow just a few things, even if it’s just parsley.
9. Menu items. Say goodbye to burgers, pizza, pork, and fried foods. McDonald’s is eliminating a bunch of big items, other restaurants will follow suit.
10. Consolidation of restaurants. In NYC and in Boston, along with other major U.S. cities, most restaurants are part of mini-franchises, and also have sites in other parts of the country. Wolfgang Puck helped to launch this with his delicious places in airports. Nowadays, look around: Whether it’s an international fast food chain or a local chef who owns 4-12 restaurants, the business of dining is what dining is really all about. Whatever sells, whatever critics tout, whatever the investors approve of: It’s on your plate. Hence, Prediction #4.