From the big debate over tips to the inexorable rise in the influence of new technology, Kerstin Kuhn gazes into her crystal ball to reveal the secrets to come in 2015.

The US hospitality sector will need to rethink its tipping culture in 2015, two leading industry reports have warned. As living costs are ever increasing, as operators are dealing with rising labour costs and the debate about the salary gap between kitchen and waiting staff is hotting up, “how do restaurant owners maintain a quality workforce with unbalanced pay scales?” asks hospitality consulting agency Andrew Freeman & Co in its eighth annual trend prediction report for 2015.

Indeed, the “disparity between earnings of tipped waiters and untipped back of house grunts is becoming a moral issue tinged with class warfare,” warns food and restaurant consultancy Baum + Whiteman’s latest report on the hottest food and beverage trends for 2015.

“Waiters sue over untipped sidework (5,000 bartenders and servers sued Applebee’s, demanding minimum wage for untipped hours spent folding napkins) and lower down employees are inflamed by how tips are distributed,” Baum + Whiteman adds. “One New York restaurant company settled a class action suit over tips distribution for over $5m, and Starbucks, which got enmeshed in a suit over whether baristas could be tipped, is raising their pay.”

Although many still pooh-pooh no tipping restaurants as “un-American”, the industry will have to address these issues as more and more operators are moving to a 20% automatic service charge in lieu of elective tipping, with earnings pooled and divided between front and back of house workers.

Some restaurants are taking this a step further by selling dinner tickets – another trend set to gain momentum in 2015 – inclusive of tax and service charge, hence avoiding tips altogether.

Among consumers the mantra for 2015 will be: “I want what I want, when I want it”, according to Freeman, who points to the “Pleasure Principle,” indicating that pleasure-seeking millennials – or the demand generation – are looking for “instant gratification, education and participation” in their food-and-beverage experiences. “Millennials spent upwards of $90bn dollars on food service in the past year, so it is no surprise that the hospitality industry is adapting to cater to this generation’s wants and priorities,” says Freeman.

This is echoed by Baum + Whiteman, who predict more technological innovation, with tablets, smart phones, location-based technology and face-recognition software all becoming part of the dining experience.

Meanwhile leading chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers are providing experiences that are less formal yet high in quality, more interactive and rooted in catering to the pleasure seeker. An increasing number of high-end chefs and restaurateurs will be following in the footsteps of Danny Meyer and Jose Andres by venturing into the increasingly profitable fast-casual market, both Freeman and Baum + Whiteman predict.

As far as food and drink trends go, look out for root vegetables, seaweed, spicy sauces, sour flavours, tacos, and breakfast items sneaking into dinner menus in 2015, as well as a gin and cider revolution, added theatre to drinks presentation and miniature cocktails.

Here’s a round-up of the biggest trends for 2015.


The end of tipping

With living costs rising and local governments passing “living wage” laws, lifting minimum wage and raising labour costs for operators, “restaurants are facing a unique dilemma,” warns Freeman. And as the disparity between earnings of front- and back-of-house employees is becoming more of an issue, as waiters are suing over working hours spent untipped and the debate over how tips are distributed is raging, this inequality might force operators to think more clearly about getting rid of tipping and giving everyone an hourly wage. “Most no tipping restaurants tend to be upscale. But the policy is trickling down and will continue until the deluge happens all at once,” predict Baum + Whiteman.

Fine-dining chefs venturing into fast-casual

“A growing number of higher-end fastcasual concepts (many helmed by fine-dining chefs) are emerging to satisfy the demand for great food, fast and at lower prices,” says Freeman. From Danny Meyer’s 56-unit-and-growing Shake Shack to two-Michelin-starred Coi’s Daniel Patterson and Kogi’s Roy Choi, who will launch fast food venture Loco’l in California next year; and newly crowned three-Michelin-starred chef Joshua Skenes of Saison, who has teamed up with Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman for Fat Noodle. Why the move from fine-dining to fast-casual? “The sector is probably the only area of food service showing meaningful growth right now,” say Baum + Whiteman.

Dinner tickets

Nick Kokonas and Grant Achatz may

have pioneered the movement with their restaurant Next in Chicago three years ago, but 2014 saw the beginning of a mini revolution in reservations, with restaurant ticket sales on the rise. Indeed a growing number of restaurants are now selling non-refundable dinner tickets, including tax and tip, instead of taking reservations. Although the trend is still in its infancy, Baum + Whiteman insist it will continue to gain momentum in 2015 as the policy both improves restaurants’ cash flow and gives operators a better understanding of the amount of food and drink needed, therefore cutting out excessive inventory.

Technology takeover

“Short of putting food into our mouths, technology is upending the way dining works,” say Baum + Whiteman. Guest-facing technology will be especially transformative in 2015 through devices and programmes that interface directly with the consumer. While waiters will continue to serve tables, diners will increasingly place orders from tablets and make payments directly from smartphones. Meanwhile location-based technology and face-recognition software will improve both drink ordering and delivery at crowded bars. And although convenience and speed are obvious benefits, the real drivers of these technological advances are millennials, “who want to customise everything in sight,” and rising la-bour costs, explain Baum + Whiteman.

Crowd funding

Since 2009, close to 3,000 food and restaurant projects have raised $41.5m through Kickstarter and this is a trend likely to continue in 2015. Freeman points to examples like Kyle Itani and Jenny Schwarz, who used Kickstarter to help fund their Japanese-influenced Oakland eatery Hopscotch in 2012; or chef Kevin Sousa who raised more than $300,000 through Kickstarter to fund the creation of Superior Motors in Braddock, PA. “Small pledges ($50 or less in some cases) can add up quickly and allow chefs and restaurateurs to stay true to their visions without the influence of private backers,” Freeman adds.


Five ingredients to watch out for in 2015

Ugly root vegetables including celeriac, parsnips and kohlrabi are replacing potatoes with lots more inherent flavour.

Seaweed is appearing beyond sushi in broths, seafood sauces and elsewhere for added umami and a dash of salinity.

Oysters are making a comeback across the country as farmers are reseeding old oyster beds and discovering new ones.

Hot sauces are enticing palates, with a focus on sweet-and-spicy combinations such as habanero-honey.

New yoghurt flavours are on the rise, particularly savoury, like Blue Hill at Stone Barns’ butternut squash, beet, carrot, and tomato.

Five menu trends for 2015

Tacos: Mexican food has long swept the country, but now chefs are honing in on traditional tacos.

Breakfast for dinner: Next year’s egg  is scrambled, and it’s showing up on dinner menus. Savoury pancakes in many varieties are flipping on to dinner plates, too.

Trimming down the fat: Chefs are reverting to old-world cooking techniques, such as using skewers, rotisseries and smoke, to turn up the flavour without relying on fats like oils, cream or butter.

Sour flavours From pickles to vinegary shrub-based cocktails, sour flavours will appear in everything from the bar menu to desserts.

Soft serve Seasonal flavours and innovative sundae combinations and a plethora of sophisticated toppings make this nostalgic item the new dessert.


Five drinks to watch out for in 2015

Cider is following in the footsteps of the craft beer movement, with artisanal and hard ciders now available on tap, in bottles or cans and mixed into cocktails.

Gin is the spirit of 2015. New York’s Gin Palace offers only gin and gin-based cocktails with more than 70 varieties, including gin and tonic on tap.

Spiked milkshakes are thrilling diet-be-damned adults, who are splashing booze into ice cream favourites.

Flavoured whiskey is replacing vodka, with bourbon, rye, blends and Scotch enjoying a renaissance as drinkers want more body.

“Whackadoodle hybrids” such as rum-tequila or vodka-cognac are trending as are sweetened spirits flavoured with cinnamon, apples, ginger, vanilla, cherries, even pumpkin pie spices.

Five drinks trends for 2015

Mini cocktails: The short cocktail, or miniature versions of full-sized cocktails, caters for indecisive guests or those who want to sample different drinks, offering a taste at lower prices.

Flasks: Bartenders are incorporating flasks into the mix. At Rose.Rabbit.Lie in Las Vegas large-format cocktails are served in customized glass flasks that guests can take home with them.

Creative packaging: Wines are bottled in old milk bottles, wine flights are served in test tubes, and wine labels with bold creative names like WTF Pinot Noir are removing the snobbery of

wine drinking often associated with the Boomer generation.

Liquid nitrogen: Forget Heston Blumenthal making instant ice cream, in 2015 liquid nitrogen will be the next big thing in coffee. Nitro-coffee delivers a cascading effect and rich, creamy mouth feel, much like Guinness.

Dramatic Drink Delivery: Restaurants and bars are adding theatre into the

mix. Gaspar Brasserie in San Francisco serves the Café Brulot, an after-dinner drink that is lit tableside and extinguished with coffee.