Experts Reflect on Bar and Restaurant Trends in 2023, Make Predictions for 2024

What were some of the top bar and restaurant industry trends in 2023, and what can owners, operators, and industry professionals expect in 2024?

Bar & Restaurant News spoke with numerous industry leaders, all of whom reflected on the last year and offered predictions for the months ahead.

Key topics include: experiential and immersive concepts, advances in technology, a focus on rising costs while maintaining value for customers, a shift from pretentious to classic offerings, omakase and tasting menus, specialty spirits, and a resurgence of certain mixology methods, among other trends.

Conservatory Red Rose Installation at Virgin Hotels New Orleans
"Experiential" is important at Virgin Hotels New Orleans, where they elevate dining, deliver unique activations, pop-ups, and art installations. (Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Hotels New Orleans)

Experiential Dining, Immersive Concepts, and Low-Key Venues

Steven Rogers, director of food and beverage at Virgin Hotels New Orleans, La., said “experiential” was top of mind in 2023.

“Experiential dining was at the forefront of everything we did in 2023,” explained Rogers. “We really leaned into Virgin’s vibrant DNA and elevated our standard dining periods with unique activations. Throughout the year, guests experienced burlesque brunches, local fashion pop-ups, art installations, and other themed events, such as our Beyonce brunch and happy hour when her tour was in town.”

Jason Asher, founding partner and vice president of beverage at Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment in Phoenix, Ariz., pointed to an increase in immersive concepts.

“Operators are continuing to drive new concepts around a more immersive and visually aesthetic places,” said Asher. “On the flip side of consumer-focused immersive concepts, I believe we have also been seeing an increase in industry-focused, low-key style concepts continuing to pop-up. The environment and space may be low cost, but they serve incredibly diverse and culinary driven cocktails. Examples of these types of places include our recently opened Sunny’s Lounge – Say Less in Phoenix, as well as Yacht Club in Denver, True Laurel in San Francisco, and Killer Whale Sex Club here in Phoenix. These bars were made for the cocktail nerd but are no frills when it comes to design and decor.”

Mickey Mullins, the beverage director at The Bower Restaurant & Bar in New Orleans, indicated that whether it’s experiential dining, an immersive concept, or something else, providing an accessible experience for guests to enjoy is key for bar and restaurant operators in 2024. “We really like to bridge the gap between your super fine dining experience and the more dive bar spot,” he said. “Our aim is to be approachable and maintain our neighborhood feel and focus.”

Mickey Mullins - The Bower Bar and Restaurant - New Orleans
Mickey Mullins, beverage director at The Bower Bar and Restaurant in New Orleans (Photo: Courtesy of The Bower Bar and Restaurant)

Tech Advancements, a Focus on Rising Costs, Creating Value for Guests

Grant Kneble, co-owner of Freddy J's Bar & Kitchen in Mays Landing, N.J., said 2023 was pivotal for the bar and restaurant industry because of technological advancements and a shift back to pre-pandemic practices.

“Integrating AI tools like ChatGPT revolutionized customer service and brought fresh perspectives to creative aspects such as menu development,” shared Kneble. “This technology allowed us to tailor customer experiences and foster innovation in our culinary offerings, setting new industry benchmarks.”

Kneble said the industry also experienced a resurgence of pre COVID-19 marketing strategies, which benefit from new tech. “The revival of traditional sales and coupons mirrored an industry-wide trend toward normalizing prices and dining experiences,” he explained. “Alongside these positive developments, we faced the challenge of reduced organic reach on social media platforms. This required a strategic shift towards more innovative and engaging content creation. In this realm, tools like ChatGPT were instrumental in helping us maintain a compelling online presence in an increasingly competitive digital space.”

Looking ahead to 2024, Kneble added: “With the ongoing evolution of social media, using AI for targeted content creation will be crucial. I advise embracing technology for operational efficiency and crafting distinctive, immersive dining experiences that align with customers' evolving preferences.”

David Zhao, founding partner of Chubby Cattle International – a chain of restaurants that embrace technological innovation and Asian cuisine from around the world – said the bar and restaurant industry experienced significant wins in 2023, with technology and innovations taking center stage.

“Our launch of the world's first lifetime [dining] memberships via Web3, the integration of more robust robot servers, and the implementation of advanced iPad ordering systems mark substantial strides,” shared Zhao. “As we pave the way for improved customer loyalty and engagement on mobile and web platforms, these achievements stand out as game-changing steps for the F&B space.”

Zhao said he foresees automation and customer loyalty tech as pivotal trends that will drive substantial growth in the bar and restaurant industry. “Embracing automation will enhance efficiency, while investing in cutting-edge technology to strengthen customer loyalty is paramount,” he noted.

Founder Partner David Zhao of Chubby Cattle
Founder Partner David Zhao, Chubby Cattle (Photo: Courtesy of Chubby Cattle)

Indeed, while technology is a hot topic and benefiting the bar and restaurant industry, rising costs and creating value for customers may be one of the most important topics of 2023 and 2024.

“With the world returning to a more normal pre-pandemic state, we’re all still faced with higher costs and unreliable availability of the products we want and need,” said Chef Jeffrey Kollinger of Spice of Life Catering in Dallas, Texas. “There has been a focus on getting more bang for your buck without sacrificing the quality we’ve come to expect. We’ve adapted with new menu items that cost us less but still exceed the quality and taste expectations of our clientele.”

Kollinger added: “I can’t imagine inflation slowing down any time soon. I predict the rates and increases we’ve experienced in 2023 will continue on in 2024.”

Mullins, of The Bower in New Orleans, said that with the rising cost of living and goods, having an affordable product that’s of good quality is important. “Guests are more mindful of how they spend their money and time, so providing something of great value and quality for our guests is important.”

Food Trends: a Shift from Pretentious to Classic Dishes, and Omakase and Tasting Menus

In addition to some of the big-picture trends of 2023, certain food trends emerged this year, which may continue into 2024.

Jay Boginske, director of culinary development for the Orange, Calif.-based Wild Thyme Restaurant Group, noted, “As a chef who comes from the world of fine dining, I know that people don’t want to eat pretentiously anymore. They don’t want us changing their forks, they don’t like the formality,” he said. “What diners appreciate now is intentional cooking and preparation – chefs and restaurants focused on the best way to cook something for the best result taste-wise, rather than manipulating it to make it something it’s not. People want to know what they are eating, and they want to enjoy it. Simple as that.”

Jay Bogsinske - Wild Thyme Restaurant Group
Jay Bogsinske, director of culinary development for Wild Thyme Restaurant Group (Photo: Courtesy of Wild Thyme Restaurant Group)

Boginske noted that "homemade" is also gaining steam. “Store-bought dressings? No, thank you,” he said. “With access to high-quality ingredients, chefs and restaurants will continue to embrace the ‘homegrown’ way of cooking and make more things in-house, from scratch, rather than outsourcing – especially when it comes to simple things like sauces, dressings, marinades – things where you really want to be in control of the flavor. It’s also a good way to save money, especially in this economy.”

Boginske added that restaurants and chefs will begin to revisit the idea of classic, American cooking. “We’re going back to the way our moms and grandmas did things, and just adding a bit of a new-age twist,” he said. “Guests want meals that make you feel something, and by going back to that ‘50s, Americana style cooking, the nostalgia comes through in every bite. It’s familiarity, re-done.”

Along the lines of classic and homemade dishes, a “use what you got” mentality has been emerging, according to Corporate Executive Chef Roberto Madrid of Molé Comida in Sedona, Ariz. and Palm Desert, Calif.

“Nowadays, you can make ‘bread’ out of almost anything,” explained Madrid. “Chefs and home cooks will use ingredients they have on hand, like root vegetables, lentils, or beans, to be turned into bread, flatbreads, noodles, tortillas and more. Just think about the pasta aisle nowadays. Red lentil pasta, edamame pasta, sweet potato noodles... bread products are quickly becoming the same way.”

And in the spirit of using what you have on hand, no-waste will also continue to be important in kitchens everywhere, shared Madrid. “When using a lemon, we’re no longer just using the juice. We’re using the zest for a different sauce or preserving the lemon for a dessert – we’re using the entirety of produce nowadays.”

Giacomo Pizzigoni, co-owner of San Diego-based Ambrogio15 Restaurant Group – which includes Ambrogio15 and Ambrogio by Acquerello – said a standout trend this year is the popularity of omakase and tasting menus.

Omakase is a Japanese term that means “I leave it up to you,” and the industry can expect to see more of this in 2024. “This personalized and chef-driven approach resonated well with diners, elevating their dining experience,” said Pizzigoni, who believes omakase and tasting menus create a sense of anticipation and culinary adventure.

Cocktails & Spirit Trends: Specialty Offerings, Asian Spirits, Mixology Techniques

When it comes to cocktails and spirits, the industry will see niche and specialty spirits continue to trend, as well as Asian flavors and spirits, wine cocktails and innovative mixology methods.

“Niche and specialty spirits continue to increasingly come into the market,” shared Asher of Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment, which is home to the award-winning Century Grand cocktail destination. “Haitian Rum [Clairin] is a good example. This product has never been wildly available in the U.S. market and just started seeing small producers bring it in around 2019/2020. It continues to be small and niche, but there is a focus around curating products from very specific regions and countries, and education is tied around the distribution and brand strategy of those brands.”

Jason Asher - Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment
Jason Asher, founding partner and vice president of beverage at Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment  (Photo by: Tara Lund / Courtesy of Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment)

Asher said Holmes Cay Rum is another good example. “They’re making it their mission to re-educate people around rums that are not from the Caribbean, as sugar cane grows everywhere – it’s indigenous to Southeast Asia – and many people produce distillate out of it,” he said. “This is a continuation of hyper-local, terroir-driven products and its growing appeal in the U.S. market.”

Brandon Hill, founder and master distiller of Tokki Soju, the first American, handcrafted traditional rice soju – Korea’s noble spirit – believes Asian flavors and spirits will continue to rise and be big in 2024.

“With the rise of Asian bars and bartenders on the global stage, I predict Asian flavors and spirits will become more commonplace in western hospitality in 2024,” said Hill. “Spirits like Tokki Soju have definitely seen an increased presence in innovative cocktail programs in places like North America. These trend setters usually set the tone for the rest of the world, so hopefully we are in for an Asian wave of spirits and ideas in the hospitality scene.”

In terms of mixology methods that will continue to trend, Asher said clarification and forced carbonation are two techniques to watch.

“Many places have been incorporating clarification [which focuses on improving the clarity of a drink] for a long time, but we are seeing a surge in a more scientific and specific approach to clarifying ingredients,” said Asher. “For example, 10 years ago, someone may have been using a fining agent like Agar Agar or clarifying an entire drink through a centrifuge. But there are many more options nowadays for fining agents, and people have gotten more methodical about the process of clarifying. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are people still clarifying the entire drink, but this process typically strips all the sugar and the texture from a drink, so selecting certain ingredients to clarify as singular ingredients has been the point of advancement in the use of the technology.”

Asher pointed to Dave Arnold, writer of Liquid Intelligence, who’s now teaching digital and in-person classes about clarification. “So, I’m sure we will continue to see a movement in that direction,” Asher said.

Asher also identified forced carbonation as a rising trend. “The Perlini System [for making carbonated cocktails] has existed for nearly 10 years and people have been using the forced carbonation system in varying environments, predominantly at events, but we are seeing an increase in this being installed into people’s under bar set-ups,” he explained. “I think this goes hand in hand with the increase in the clarification technique. A lot of people are backing it up with using forced carbonation to add an interesting texture element to their drinks, since they’ve removed the solids of certain ingredients.”

In 2024, Make the Experience Better for Guests, Focus on Customer Preferences

With so many exciting developments and 2023 almost to an end, Mat Yuriditsky, the Skybar director of operations at Mondrian Los Angeles, summed up how he’ll approach the New Year, upcoming opportunities, trends, and new challenges the industry may face.

Skybar Pool - Skybar at Mondrian Los Angeles
The Skybar pool at twilight (Photo: Courtesy of Skybar at Mondrian Los Angeles)

“We will continue to learn how to navigate through this ‘post pandemic’ landscape, especially in the hospitality industry,” shared Yuriditsky. “I do think it will gradually get easier. Skybar is an iconic brand, in one of the most competitive cities in the world. We challenge our team to explore new opportunities, to stay relevant and fresh, in addition, creating new systems to streamline our operations by using new and exciting technologies. Maintaining an amazing guest experience is a challenge that will always be at the forefront. We don't look for strategies that make our jobs easier, we look to make the experience better.”


Aaron Kiel, based in Raleigh, N.C., has worked in the beverage, tea and coffee industries for nearly two decades, as well as hospitality and technology. He’s a journalist and writer/reporter at heart, but he also wears a PR hat through his consultancy, ak PR Group. He works as the editor of World Tea News with Questex’s Bar & Restaurant Group, as well as a contributing writer for Bar & Restaurant News. He also sits on the advisory board for the annual World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, which is co-located with Bar & Restaurant Expo. Connect with him on Instagram: @adventurer_explorer.

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