Restaurants are serving up futuristic food trends

From THC beverages to gene-edited salads.

Cupcakes. Avocado toast. Fast-casual bowls.

A robot holding a silver tray with a piece of avocado toast on it.

What do all of those items have in common? At one point in the last decade, they were the biggest trend in the restaurant industry.

But today, restaurants are getting ready to blow the kale and pumpkin spice of the past out of the water. And it was all on display at the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show.

There were, of course, a few expected trends that emerged from the show:

  • THC-infused drinks have burst onto the market as consumers increasingly reach for nonalcoholic options. Using hemp — a form of cannabis with less than 0.3% THC — beverage manufacturers can skirt marijuana regulations.
  • AI and automation were still stars of the show. From semi-autonomous burger grills and robot food runners, to drive-thru and kiosk AI voice assistants, companies are moving quickly to apply new tech to restaurant ordering.
  • Plant-based and eco-friendly: Brands have not given up on elevating plant-based protein options, like tuna tartare made from roots and chickenless chicken salad. And packaging is no longer an afterthought as restaurants look for compostable, chemical-free, or water-based solutions.

But there were also some surprising new additions, per Axios:

  • Pipedream Labs is an “underground logistics” startup digging tunnels below ground for grocery and meal delivery.
  • Pairwise is using CRISPR gene-editing tech to make salad greens tastier.
  • Aerobanquets RMX is bringing mixed reality to restaurants with “multidimensional, immersive gastronomy experiences.”

Then there’s Project Nourished, a VR startup that wants to make “human consumables” — food, drinks, and medicine — more “therapeutic and utilitarian.”

If that sounds a little confusing, you’re not alone — so let’s go back to that old trusty avocado toast. Even that is being innovated: The Avocado Bread Co. is actually baking the guacamole into the loaves.

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