If food trends predicted for the coming year catch on, then 2013's fashionable restaurants will be pulled in two different ways. On one side, home-made, small-scale food operations should maintain their hipness, with named ingredients and fresh garden produce an ongoing vogue. On the other hand, big players such as fast-food chains will also flex their muscles, with food delivery automated like never before. Flavour-wise, new global ingredient trends might seem fairly conservative - they will at least for Middle Easterners, who may be surprised to find their long-standing food traditions gaining an international foothold in 2013. Here are some key internationaltrends to look out for.
Food made from scratch
America's National Restaurant Consultants claim "from scratch" will be a key phrase in 2013, building on the yen for all things local and handcrafted. Though most of us expect restaurants to do this anyway (despite the creeping use of catering-pack French fries and the like), many dining spots will be drawing particular attention to their artisanal, start-from-the-beginning ethos, especially in the cheaper and mid-range sections of the market where such standards don't always go without saying.
This trend has already begun in the Emirates, as restaurants as diverse as Dubai Mall's Texas Roadhouse and the eclectic pan-Arabic restaurant Tanjara in Abu Dhabi's Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre have been trumpeting their "from scratch" credentials. Expect to read the term on yet more menus.
Fast-food giants strike back
Given the current climate of global economic uncertainty, it's perhaps not surprising that much of 2013's restaurant action may take place at the market's cheaper end. Baum & Whiteman, the international food and restaurant consultancy, believes that big chains such as McDonald's and Taco Bell will be fighting back against recent knocks to their market share and prestige. They've recently been hit by competition from "fast casual" chains (essentially upscale fast-food places) such as America's Chipotle or the Crepe Café branches that have sprouted across the Middle East. Modifying their products while keeping their best-sellers, many chains can be expected to offer local specialities and upgrades, such as the superior black and white buns McDonald's has rolled out in China.
Black cherries, citrus fruits, vinegars and pickles - all these will be up-and-coming ingredients in 2013, says the US marketing company Sterling Rice Group. Mouth-watering, refreshing sharpness and tartness will be given centre stage in modish restaurant recipes, insists the food industry consultant. For Gulf diners, long familiar with the frequently tangy seasonings popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, this is unlikely to sound particularly groundbreaking.
In fact, Middle Eastern traditions will often lie behind this trend, with pomegranate a key sour ingredient mentioned by Baum & Whiteman, and sharp lemon-flavoured sumac another strong candidate for worldwide dissemination.
Middle Eastern goes global
Sour, tangy flavourings aren't the only Middle Eastern trait likely to break through internationally in 2013. While Baum & Whiteman also mentions cinnamon (rarely used in the West in savoury dishes) as a flavour on the rise, the trend predictors Technomic also suggests that Middle Eastern food will carve out a major niche in the fast-casual sector currently storming across America. In doing so, they'll be catching up with the UK, whose growing (and excellent) Lebanese fast-casual chain Yalla Yalla is already showing the way. So if you're travelling in the US or UK next year, don't be surprised if the local versions of Middle Eastern-style street food on offer turn out to be radically better than they used to.
Cutting staff overheads, automated food service will also become more common in the coming year, says Baum & Whiteman. Already the Los Angeles cupcake chain Sprinkles has its own cake ATM and McDonald's is rolling out touch-screen ordering across Europe and the US. France, meanwhile, has an automatic bakery and Spain even has a vending-machine butchery. While international travellers are more likely to come across this trend in 2013 than those who stay in the Emirates, that's not necessarily cause for regret. Hungry Dutch people have used hot food vending machines for decades, and while using them is fun, eating their greasy wares is anything but.
In 2013, you may be as likely to find flowers on your plate as in a vase on your table. Nasturtium petals, elderflower blossoms, geranium leaves - all these extremely delicate but interestingly flavoured garnishes should be in vogue, suggests Baum & Whiteman, brightening up plates and making food feel fresh and home-grown.
This is perhaps less strange than it sounds - we already eat flowers in the form of artichokes, while hibiscus, another Baum & Whiteman prediction, already makes a popular tea in the Middle East. Should you find strewn petals taking centre stage on your plate, you'll know you've found a dining spot committed to modishness.