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December 30, 2019

We're going to divide this into two blogs. Tomorrow will be a frivolous look at some of the more wacky foods we might be scoffing over the next twelve months.

Today, we're going to get all serious.

Along with every other food site, magazine and commentator, the blog has long banged on about the rise of plant-based food. We're not stopping now.

While the number of vegans or vegetarians may or may not be on the rise, the prominence of plant-based foods and meat alternatives certainly is.

As we mentioned last week, you know that big changes are underway when Wetherspoons and Greggs get serious about their vegan options.

Greggs got a lot of attention at this time last year when it launched its vegan sausage roll. Word has it that that they are about to repeat the exercise and are on the cusp of unveiling a vegan version of their steak bake.

Now, there is even a dating app, Veggly, for people who find the idea of dating a meat-eater beyond the pale.

The trend towards eating less meat looks set to continue.

For most of us, fully embracing a vegan lifestyle seems unlikely but cutting back on meat, eating more plant-centred meals and trying to be more ethical about the meat we do buy are all on the increase.

The food industry and the restaurant industry have not been slow to pick up on this.

Lab-grown meat

Lab-grown meat is becoming a reality and some think that it will put an end to the meat industry and go some distance towards saving the planet.

Others are rather more sceptical about its health-giving qualities and the motives of those developing it.

Slightly less controversial but increasingly popular are the new faux meats or alternameats. If you can eat a burger that has the texture and taste of meat, why would you eat a burger made from a cow?

Critics point to the long list of ingredients that go into making most meat alternatives and ask how that can be any healthier than eating meat - as the human race has done since forever.

The arguments will continue but, where there is demand, food producers will supply.

Whether you are a big fan of alternative meats and milks or not, they are here to stay.

For those who are not fans of highly processed foods, restaurants are already beginning to mix plant and meat ingredients to make products which simply contain less meat. Think of hamburgers that include mushrooms as well as beef.

Moving on from the meat/veggie divide, the effects of Brexit will bite more deeply in 2020 and, due to rising food prices and labour shortages, you won't find many restaurateurs rubbing their hands with glee.

Scotland's first ghost kitchen

The industry is also changing due to the rise in ghost or dark kitchens. These are kitchens for rent which can be hired by existing restaurants or virtual brands to service the demand from delivery companies such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo.

The latter recently reported that they had 2000 virtual restaurants on their books in the UK. That is 2000 restaurants that do not have bricks and mortar premises where customers can go to eat. They are delivery only restaurants. Or rather they are delivery only restaurant brands.

What is thought to be Scotland's first ghost kitchen will open in Edinburgh's Sighthill shortly.

What does this mean for old school restaurants where guests can go and - quaint idea this - sit down and order three courses from a menu? This blogger doesn't know the answer to that but we suspect that it is not good news.

Have it your way

The final trend that we think worth mentioning is that many people are predicting that restaurants are going to have to become more nimble when it comes to servicing individual customer's requirements.

A couple of times in 2019, the 5pm Food blog has mulled over how far chefs should go to meet their customers' requests.

Food allergies and requests for vegan or veggie dishes are a given but what about customers who don't like red food or want an omelette that isn't too eggy?

This blogger reckons that there is a difference between what customers can expect from a restaurant kitchen which is open to the general public and a private chef who is at your beck and call.

As it turns out, we may be out of step with the opinions of many. Or we will be soon.

A recent survey of 2000 diners found that more than half (53%) of restaurant diners in the UK would like a fully personalised menu tailored to their specific needs, likes and dietary requirements.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Gen Z were most keen on the idea.

One to chew on.

Tomorrow, the final blog of 2019 will take a more light-hearted look at the ingredients which we may see on our plates in 2020.