With slightly more than two months left in the current year, many foodservice professionals have begun planning for 2014, including looking ahead to what's on the horizon in terms of changes and trends in the industry. 

Global Going Strong

Global Hospitality Insights, a report by Ernst & Young, anticipates an increase in tourism across the globe during the next 12 months as a result of renewed efforts in destination marketing, increased use of technology and a growing interest in travel among the middle class in emerging economies. And, as major cities continue to invest public funds to improve the movement of travelers from the airport to tourist attractions, hotel and foodservice businesses are positioned for even further growth.

The continued evolution of the global landscape will lead to business opportunities for the foodservice industry, specifically in the restaurant and hotel sectors. For example, Starbucks recently unveiled a pair of flagship stores in China, as other chains look for ways to expand their brands globally.

The travel and tourism industry ranks among the largest and fastest-growing industries worldwide, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, which predicts this business segment will support 328 million jobs by 2022. In the United States the industry accounts for one out of every eight jobs. To help meet the growing demand for professionals to serve this area, educational institutions like Kendall College's School of Hospitality Management are shifting curriculum to better prepare students.

Hotels in particular have bumped up expansion efforts, including Starwood Resorts and the Ritz-Carlton, the latter of which announced a major expansion and development initiative this summer that will bring the total number of properties in its portfolio to over 100 hotels and resorts around the world by 2016.

Digital Word of Mouth

Rankings mean business, according to Kendall College's School of Hospitality Management's first-ever trends outlook report for the hospitality industry. User-generated, online ratings and reviews, such as those commonly found on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Grubhub and city-focused sites, have more power than they ever have. While word of mouth still reigns as a top vehicle for referral business, this is the age of digital referrals. User reviews and websites, in combination with social media, can drastically impact a business's revenue, Kendall's survey points out. There are 3.3 billion brand mentions in 2.4 billion brand-related conversations within the United States every day, according to the American Marketing Association. In fact, the typical American mentions brand names 60 times per week in online and offline conversation.

That said, foodservice professionals are wise to work together to harness the power of social media and user review site marketing by creating flawless customer experiences that overlook no details. Staying on top of those sites — responding to negative reviewers with certificates to come back in for a second try, for example — can help boost ratings and, thus, referrals.

Boosting the Bar

Addressing changes in bar design amidst a continuing "cocktail culture" and drinking preferences that lean toward craft beers, small batch spirits and local wines remains a critical element for commercial foodservice operators looking to capture this high-margin business.

Classic is the new contemporary when it comes to cocktails, the Kendall report says. While whiskey hit the top trend list over the last few years, vermouth seems to be a frontrunner for 2014. Even one of the most classic beverages, tea, is giving cocktails a makeover. Mixologists and bartenders across the country use different tea-like infusions and tinctures, from floral hibiscus teas to smoky lapsang souchong, a Chinese black tea.

When it comes to beer, the Kendall report notes an increasing trend toward sour beers, a method of beer making from Belgium and Germany that uses wild yeast and natural bacteria for fermentation, created before the advent of refrigeration. Modern brewers, however, can better control the process to make unique, food friendly flavors. Thanks to their high acid content, sour beers pair well with heavy, comfort and fried foods.

Sustainability Is the New Standard

Sustainability and becoming more eco-conscious is not just a marketing tool or "nice" thing to focus on anymore. It's becoming the standard customers expect.

From legislative bodies regulating waste in the Pacific Northwest to LEED building standards becoming the new norm in major cities across the U.S., 2013 seemed to mark the "tipping point" for sustainable hospitality, according to Kendall's report, which predicts more of the same in 2014. Expect to see increasing green practices, products, programs and packages becoming the standard for the industry as demand for these things go up and prices come down.

According to research released earlier this year by Travel Advisor, 62 percent of travelers expect hotels to have some type of environmental program in place. Forty-three percent of restaurant diners say they would pay up to 10 percent more for a meal in a sustainable restaurant, according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).

Now that several years have passed since the first forays into sustainable operations, foodservice and hospitality businesses are generating a return on their green investments. Energy, water and waste management in the form of efficient equipment, design and operations means major cost-savings, and the group of measurement tools on the market demonstrates this. Developing a green plan of action is easier than ever for today's foodservice community.

Room Service Reinvented

Many hotels are reinventing their room service programs amidst declining sales in that area, according to Kendall's report. Some hotels, like the New York Hilton, are forgoing the amenity entirely. Others, however, have sought to improve the food offerings and even technology associated with the program.

Celebrity chefs and concept-driven restaurants are gaining ground in hotels nationwide, and the artfully crafted menu items have been expanded to in-room dining menus. Some hotels, including the Omni Hotel in Chicago, offer digital room service menus with pictures and better descriptions of meals, and even online ordering for brown-bag meal deliveries. "The term 'at your service' will continue to evolve to support consumer needs for simple, fast and quality service," Kendall's report stated. Combine these changes with the fact that hotels account for nearly 5 million guest rooms in the U.S. alone means that room service — and the option for extra profits in this area — disappearing any time soon

Hospitals, too, have discovered the benefits behind boosting their in-room dining programs. What once amounted to a plastic wrapped tray of bland food now resembles more of hotel-type room service with online menus, customizable meal plans and patient databases and meal records to address special diet needs to deal with allergens and food sensitivities.