Restaurant trends 2018: belt-tightening, tasting-menus and natural wines

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

16 January 2018

Three big beasts of the on-trade give us their predictions of what the restaurant world can expect from 2018

The Business Numbers by Will Beckett, Hawksmoor

'The words "perfect storm" come up again and again...'

Ask around in the restaurant world and you won’t find a lot of optimism; in fact the words, ‘perfect storm’ seem to come up again and again, especially in London. Costs are on the rise – in the Budget the National Living Wage has risen to £7.83 and is on its way up to £9; the pound has collapsed in the last 18 months, which has seen the price of food and wine rise sharply; property costs are on the up as landlords take their share of the last few years’ restaurant boom; and business rates have spiked alarmingly. There’s a simple solution to all that, right?  Put your prices up to reflect the true cost of having a nice meal in a good restaurant…

Wrong! You’ve just run in to a different problem, which is that at the same time as customers have got a bit twitchy about their ‘discretionary spend’ (why spend money in restaurants when there are bills to pay and uncertainty ahead?) there are more restaurants than ever for them to do so in, meaning a smaller slice of the pie for everyone. Oh, and the pipeline of willing staff from the EU to wait the tables and man the grills is being shut down.

Is it a nightmare? Well, yes and no… all of the above is undeniable, but one restaurant’s threat is another’s opportunity. Hard economic times are not like an ebbing tide – it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. As before there will be winners and losers, for every closure there’ll be an opportunity for someone. Start-up costs will come down, incentives will improve from landlords, rents may follow.  Clever people will start restaurants that chime with customers in a new way, or work on a new financial model that the rest of us can’t compete with. Great companies will adjust and thrive. There may not be lots of space in the market for new restaurants, but there’s always space for great restaurants.

In March last year, Imbibe editor Chris Losh posed the question: Have we passed peak restaurant?

The Wines by Hamish Anderson, Tate Group

'A shake-up of listings...'

Having spent 10 days there in 2017, I am convinced we will see even more of the brilliance that is emerging from South Africa’s cellars in 2018. Not just the hipster old vineyards from Swartland but also refined, classy bottles from rejuvenated classic areas like Stellenbosch. Wherever they are from, their value, particularly in the mid-priced by-the-glass slot is rarely less than stunning.

Sadly, Burgundy will become less relevant to a wide audience as prices preclude them from being listed in all but the top establishments. The brilliantly poised and vibrant southern Rhône reds of the 2016 vintage will start to appear on lists and help change perceptions of region defined by the heavy-handed wines of the past.

After a number of small crops generally across Europe, including, the powerhouses of France, Italy and Spain, there will be a bigger than usual shake-up of listings in early 2018 as price rises and allocations on previously freely-bought wines are enforced. Much to the annoyance of many, Prosecco’s bubble does not look like bursting, but the way it has normalised the ordering of a glass of fizz in a restaurant must present opportunities for others. A rejuvenated Cava scene or perhaps Crémant seem best placed to take advantage.

Stylistically it feels that 2018 could herald the return of rich textural whites; customers are less afraid of their bold flavours and appreciate their 'vinuosity' with food. Producers from around the world of both red and white who reacted against the brash, over-blown wines of the past by looking to ultra-fresh, early picked, often reductive styles will let the pendulum swing back a bit, finding a happy medium between the two extremes. Lastly the only prediction that I would lay a large wager on being correct is that natural wine will agitate the trade and stimulate passionate debate like no other trend I have seen.

Restaurant Trends by Charlie Young, Vinoteca

'More tasting menus between £50 and £75...'

The main focus will continue to be casual dining, but the category will broaden further, making it even harder to distinguish between ‘casual’ and ‘fine casual’. The buzzword will be value. If a restaurant offers true value, consumers will be much more willing to embrace a selection of food and wine which bridges ‘every-day’ and ‘special occasion’ pricing.

Having said that, offerings at the lower and higher price level bands will thrive, with quality and value driving their appeal. High quality and accessible ‘speciality’ establishments such as Padella have paved the way for simple, authentic and superbly executed establishments offering brilliant value for money and a true ‘everyday’ offering. We’ll see more in 2018, with operators choosing venues and styles which allow them to keep their costs and prices low while nailing quality and service.

At the higher end, we’ll see more restaurants offering tasting menus between £50 and £75 and keeping margins sensible on wines, giving punters the confidence to order wines that would otherwise be out of their grasp.

Wine service will continue to become less formal and more friendly, and the styles on offer will be broader and more innovative, allowing food and wine matching to jump to the next level. We’re all in for a treat!

Wine in keg is a wonderful thing, but shouldn’t be added to a list just to follow a trend.

Burgers and chicken? Perhaps more consolidation than growth here, as there are more than enough excellent offerings out there, and its time to solidify those brands.

And we’re also spoilt for Asian restaurants, from fast casual through to Michelin stars. I’m tempted to say the trend for modern Thai will soften, but such is the public’s appetite that both authentic and innovative/fusion establishment will continue to boom, as proven by our unparalleled selection of Indian, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Nepalese, and the rest!

Future too hideous to contemplate? Want to look back instead of forward? Read Imbibe's favourite launches and top quotes from 2017.



Related content

News |  Wine

Natural wines: The risks and rewards of ditching sulphur

The use of sulphur (or not) in wines can be as divisive as Brexit, with about as much middle ground.

News |  Wine

Restaurant trends 2019: Ingredients provenance, unusual grapes and the challenges of Brexit

From using locally sourced ingredients to listing unusual wines and dealing with the uncertainties of Brexit, these are the restaurant trends that wil

News |  Wine

Isabelle Legeron MW on setting standards for natural wine

Raw Wine was held last week in London, presenting labels from 150 natural, organic and biodynamic winegrowers to both consumers and trade professional


Over 1,000 restaurant companies have gone bust so far in 2018

To date, 2018 is showing even worse numbers for restaurant insolvencies than the overall total for the previous year.