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#2 Food Trend for 2012: Inconspicuous Consumption

This is one of The Food Channel's Top 10 Food Trends for 2012, based on research conducted in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International. For the full list, click here.

Not everyone is broke. We all recognize conspicuous consumption by its over-the-top, in-your-face obviousness and excess. But inconspicuous? This is the new luxury—spending quite a bit, but making it look like we’re not really spending much at all. We’re seeing it in restaurants and in travel experiences, particularly with the rise in culinary tourism and food-related travel. In fact, what we used to think of as more generic, non-branded hotels can actually become the hotels of choice when their restaurant and food offerings are upgraded.

This rethinking hospitality may be the result of the Recession, in that the industry appears to have taken a good look at its offerings and decided to do better. We’re seeing hotels brand their restaurants with a celebrity chef, hotel lobbies becoming the latest coffee café, and all kinds of other offerings that keep the clientele in the hotel rather than roaming the streets. It’s the Starbucks effect, where having a known brand as part of any establishment makes it feel more upscale.

In fact, we think this trend is all about the upscaling of small chains in both food and hospitality. The McMansions are gone, and boutique hospitality is in. It’s why Bed & Breakfasts are offering culinary weekends and expanding what they do by giving classes and longer weekend escapes. It’s about river cruises that are smaller and more upscale for a shorter period of time. It’s food involvement over just eating food.

However you package it, food is the key to these vacation events, where people are looking for indulgence and adventure and are willing to pay as long as it doesn’t look like they are being decadent.

People don’t want to boast that they stayed at the Four Seasons – they want to have discovered something unusual and quaint, something boutique; fine art in the hotel lobbies, and finer foods on the restaurant menu. Hotels have recognized their limitations and are working within them. They are picking their hero point of difference – and it’s often in the area of food or upgraded service. There’s a recognition that quality takes attention, and is best done on a smaller scale.

The fact is, not everyone is broke. But those who aren’t don’t want to rub it in to those of us who’ve been forced to cut back. Perhaps they’re doing it in small ways -- buying craft beers, which cost more, but supports small business, and likely a local one.

CultureWaves® connections: Private Pampering, Brandalism

For further evidence read:

Food Tourism Sparks Regional Businesses

The Bar Is Sel High for Artisan Bistro

Playboy and Dream Hotels Host Soire During Art Basel

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