Apparently, the likes of ‘climate strike’, ‘prorogue’ and ‘woke’ are leading contenders among the list of key words of 2019. This set me thinking about what would be among the nominations within foodservice and hospitality? For sure any short-list would have to include labelling, restructure, sustainability and veganism, but I am going to make a case for a potentially left-field candidate, that is the verb to ‘curate’.

While the more traditional definition of curating something might mean to select, organise and look after works of art, the term has begun to have far wider usage in terms of offering better informed and edited choices of food & beverage assortments, and which also works across multiple levels.

One of the reasons that curating has become more important relates to the growing presence and popularity of food hall-type concepts. Done right, these are not just some multiple cuisine tick-box exercise, whereby the usual suspects of burgers, craft beer, craft coffee, dim sum, gelato, kebabs, pasta, pizza, tacos, etc. are assembled. When well-managed, this is also about ensuring there is always some newness, pop-ups, seasonal events, exclusive short-stays and added theatre. In short, good curation involves offering new and different reasons to visit.

A similar point also applies to major shopping centres. It is interesting to note the rising importance of food & drink and leisure facilities within the total propositions now available. A proportion of 5% of total floorspace being allocated to food, drink and leisure was not unusual with early shopping centres such as Brent Cross, but this steadily increased to 15% with the likes of High Cross in Leicester and the Oracle in Reading. Subsequent vintages, as with Cabot Circus in Bristol and the Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, raise the bar further to 25%. The migration of retail from bricks & mortar to online and consumers moving from collecting more stuff to enjoying more experiential outings, are clearly key drivers, but these changes need to be embraced and managed within the on-going curation.

Similarly, evolving consumer trends in terms of desires for more adventurousness, authenticity, premiumisation and responsibility need to be recognised within menu assortments and how these are refined. Sustainability fundamentals underline the rising importance for operators of doing more with less. This means executive chefs and brand managers making more edited choices based on both consumer intelligence and the core USPs of the business. This is not easy with seemingly accelerating and proliferating trends, but at its heart is good curation.

Looking ahead, menus of tomorrow will not involve 100+ items and quantity of choice over product quality. The shopping centre arena of tomorrow is going to involve fewer centres, but better ones that offer higher quality eating out, leisure and retail experiences, that are either highly localised or multi-regional in focus. Equally the casual dining market of tomorrow will polarise further between being more value-led, more service-led, or more convenience-led. Come what may, more skilful curation is going to become an increasing valuable and multi-faceted competence.