Andrew Friedman, founder and partner at af&co, delivered a well-received, engaging Smart Meetings webinar on Dec. 5, “2018 Industry Forecast: Strategies & Tips for the Year Ahead.”

The webinar can be viewed here. Smart Meetings followed up with Friedman after the webinar to glean some additional insights into his annual forecasts.

How long have you been forecasting yearly trends? How do you determine trends?

This year marked the 10th edition of our yearly trends report.  The tricky part of predicting trends is determining whether they are really trends and not fads, so it’s a timely process, and lots of delicious research is required. Our main methods for forecasting trends are:

  • Meet and eat (client interactions, industry conversations, conferences and events)
  • Read, read, read (consumer and trade publications)
  • Eat and sleep around (national and international travel)
  • Research (We go out a lot!)

How can meeting planners best make use of your trends forecast?

Keep an open mind, and experiment. It’s time to break the rules and have fun. Be prepared to change with the times. We’re talking breakfast for dinner, rainbow everything, and comforting childhood throwbacks. Embrace technology by planning an interactive element or by playing an app-based icebreaker game. In the age of Instagram, meeting venues are of utmost importance. With people traveling to meetings and events from all over the world, they want to experience the venue in a local, fun, authentic way that doesn’t feel forced.

What do you feel was the main thrust of your 2018 trends forecast, in terms of its applicability to the meetings industry?

The theme of the 2018 trends report is “Change is the New Black,” because change is here to stay, and the trends reflect the industry’s acceptance of this state of flux. Successful meeting planners are using their creative resources to innovate faster than ever to keep up with national economic, political and social shifts, as well as significant cultural changes in the way people dine, socialize and travel.

What were the most significant specific findings?

One of the most significant findings is that people are embracing and utilizing trash in the most creative of ways. People are not afraid to communicate their values through their businesses. We’re no longer selling a meal—we’re selling a lifestyle.  The fast uprising of “fine-casual” cuisine has also been significant. The term was coined by Danny Meyer less than a year ago, and the industry has already accepted and embraced this higher-end version of fast casual cuisine. And vegetables! Vegetables are more important than ever before—both for their superfood properties and photo-friendly colors (purple cauliflower! purple asparagus!). Thanks to Instagram, picture-perfect food and venues are of the utmost importance.

What surprised you about the forecast?

I was surprised—and reminded—about how inventive and resilient this industry is. It might be corny, but people are truly making lemonade out of lemons. As an industry, we are challenged by the world, limited budgets, and out-of-the-box thinking, but we really do rise to the occasion.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the 2018 trends forecast, and what it means for the meetings industry?

For those averse to change, it’s easy to be pessimistic right now. But keep your head up. The creativity and invention that is being embraced right now will only make for more exciting and effective meetings ahead.

Generally speaking, do you see any distinct trends in the trends forecasts over the past few years, such as increased emphasis on sustainability and customization?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen vegetables come into the limelight and truly become mainstream. Long gone are the days of offering one vegetarian entree. Vegetables are at the center of the plate—with entrees such as rotisserie cauliflower, beet steaks and jackfruit tacos becoming standard (even expected) across the country. And yes, for sure—the millennial generation really brought the notion of wanting to experience meetings and events at a much deeper level, and wanting to have everything customized.  Creating unique experiences and allowing for customization are now cultural.

Looking further ahead, what are some things likely to become trends in 2019?

You’ll have to tune into our report next year to find out! But we’ll give you a sneak peek. Looking ahead to 2019, we’re expecting to see more Georgian cuisine for one (the country, not the state). People are embracing cuisines they know little about, and view the process of learning more as part of the authentic experience. We know that more lesser-known cuisines will emerge, and who knows where technology will take us?  It’s all very exciting.