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Ceviche and hibiscus tostada at Fonda Fora restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, on Sept. 9, 2021.Todd Korol/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

As COVID-19 marches onward for the foreseeable future, restaurants are more keen on successful operations as opposed to chasing a cool new ingredient or cooking technique. This will not be “the year of broccoli” or anything of the sort. Instead it will be a year of large-scale mentality changes in an industry that continues to find itself in flux.

While some of the accompanying shifts could be viewed as a rising trend (or hope) in the eye of the beholder, others feel like notable tidal waves.

Non-alcoholic craft drinks as menu mainstays

While the idea of a non-alcoholic beer is nothing new (looking at you, O’Douls), the drink category has seen massive growth over the past couple of years. Now, many Canadian craft brewers have set out to create their own booze-free brews under their own brand or as new subbrands.

Harmon’s Organic, from one of the co-founders of Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery, is the latest offering to hit the market nationally, while other producers such as Libra and Sober Carpenter have been gaining popularity for some time. Locally in Calgary you can easily find non-alcoholic beers by Partake, One For The Road, Village Brewery and Tool Shed Brewing at liquor stores, select grocers and, of course, some pubs and restaurants too.

The proliferation of non-alcoholic drinks applies to “spirits” as well. One can now track down all sorts of alternative products that draw inspiration from amaro, Aperol, gin and more.

Will we see a non-alcoholic “liquor” store pop up in the Prairies this year? I’d say it is not out of the realm of possibility.

Diversity at hospitality awards, festivals and events

Social media platforms and recent culinary television productions are to thank for helping create a new crop of food personalities that better showcase Canada’s diverse population. Top Chef Canada’s 2021 season making a star out of non-binary chef Kym Nguyen is a perfect example of this.

Now, here’s to hoping our awards systems, food festivals and collaborative chef events take note when they are able to resume normal operations.

This week, an e-mail from the head of a national restaurant awards system landed in my inbox explaining an evolution to its (what many have viewed as) out-of-date approach to determining the country’s best eateries. Perhaps a baby step in the right direction, but a step nonetheless.

The death of the solo restaurateur and continued growth of hospitality groups

Ever-escalating operating costs will make it incredibly difficult for a new restaurateur to open a business in 2022. There is always strength in numbers, and in food service multiple locations or concepts can in some ways help with shared labour, buying power and just easier operations overall.

Restaurant groups aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and are typically responsible for some of a city’s most popular spots. Their pooled resources allow for a new eatery to open with plenty of buzz, seasoned staff and less risk.

With the prominence of hospitality groups across Alberta (Banff Hospitality Collective, Century Hospitality Group, Concorde Group), Saskatchewan (Taste Hospitality) and Manitoba (Academy Hospitality), it is more likely we will see talented young chefs being given their own restaurants to run under an existing umbrella, as opposed to venturing out on their own.

The reinvention of convenience stores and small grocers

Calgary has been a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to funky convenience stores (Lukes Drug Mart, the Blue Store) and small-scale grocers (Bridgeland Market) – now it’s time for the rest of the Prairies to catch up.

If what has happened in Calgary in the past few years – and, much more recently, Vancouver – is any indication, we will see a new generation of corner-store owners getting creative with humble neighbourhood shop spaces by stocking more locally minded products and including grab-and-go food stalls.

Yes, I still want the occasional slushy, but if I can pick up some craft sodas made by Dandy Brewing Co. and some cured meats by Empire Provisions too, all the better.

Collaborations between restaurants and local creatives

It’s becoming commonplace for businesses, including restaurants, to collaborate with visual artists, muralists and illustrators. The trend is fuelled in part by an earnest interest in supporting the local arts scene – but also by a desire to stand out in a crowded scene.

In Calgary, contemporary Mexican eatery Fonda Fora boasts striking portraits by Maya Gohill; the General Block building in Bridgeland (which houses Una Pizza, Village Ice Cream and Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters) regularly asks local muralists to create stunning artwork on its north-facing exterior.

And while it’s not an art collaboration per se, the new EQ3 flagship store in Winnipeg, the furniture maker’s home base, uses its wares to bring to life a café concept by celebrity chef Mandel Hitzer.

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