Let's Play: Playful food trends 2024

With pressure on their purse strings, but a growing taste for adventure, consumers are looking for great experience when they eat out.

What is the Let’s Play trend all about?

66% of Britons tell us they love trying new experiences when it comes to eating out.* It’s all about really engaging them, whether that’s by stimulating their senses visually, emotionally or through new taste sensations they’ve not tried before.

Flavour contrasts are a great example of this, combinations of sweet, and either savoury, salty or spicy flavours are enticing to more than two thirds of consumers.

Inventions such at the Gelato burger really capture their imaginations and appeal to the playful side of diners, whilst giving chefs the opportunity to be creative, inventive and attract attention on social platforms.

2 things operators need to know about the Let’s Play food and drink trend 2024

1. What’s driving this trend?

The cost of living crisis has been deflating consumer confidence, and consumers are looking to cheer themselves up with a treat and look forward to celebrating special occasions with a special experience when they eat out.

People are looking for instagrammable dishes or drinks, meals out that they can look forward to and remember, sprinkled with a little bit more excitement, theatre and novelty!

2. Who’s driving this trend?

It’s no surprise that different types of experience appeal to different types of consumer:

  • Younger and city or town-based consumers are more interested in venues that are playful, exotic, or which offer a fantasy, multisensory or even a bougee/luxury feel than their older, more rural counterparts.**
  • Older consumers enjoy venues that have a vintage, rustic or rural feel – click here to learn about the rustic and rural trend.**

Food Contrasts

The contrast of sweet with savoury (salty, spicy, sour or even bitter flavours) can really enhance a dish, balancing out the overall sweetness.  And the fun of trying novel flavour contrasts also appeals to consumers’ sense of adventure and desire to experiment a little.


2 things you need to know about the Food Contrasts trend

1. Consumers seem to favour flavours that they are familiar with in new combinations

Consumers seem to favour flavours they are familiar with in new combinations (41%**) vs those that are completely different to anything they have tasted before (31%**). So, which combinations are out of home consumers most interested in? Sweet and sour, sweet and spicy and sweet and salty are the preferred choices.

2. Make sure you add that touch of theatre, novelty or playfulness to your menus

...by mixing up flavours with unexpected formats, and giving that dish the wow-factor, which consumers can’t wait to share on social platforms.

3 ways to leverage the Food Contrasts trend

  • Sweet and savoury contrasts that tempt consumers

  • Key ingredients for this trend:

  • This trend works well across all dayparts, not just on dinner menus.

Food contrasts

Sustainable solutions

  • Sustainable solutions

Sustainable solutions

  • Sweet ingredients like sugar or chocolate offer the opportunity to promote Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance on your menu.
  • A quarter of consumers consider the regional provenance of ingredients as essential information. So if you’re using British or locally sourced ingredients like ice-cream, honey or stilton don’t forget to highlight their region or provenance on your menu.

Cocktail recipes

For further inspiration check out our spectacular playful drinks and cocktails recipes…

Playful Drinks

35% of consumers drink cocktails at least once a week****
8.3million consumers typically drink cocktails out of home****
£9.27 on average is spent by consumers on a cocktail****

Demand is still growing for rum and tequila, which are a great basis for cocktails and offer consumers something a little less mainstream as well as the opportunity to experience unusual favours and ingredients.

2 things you need to know about the Playful Drinks trend

1. 57% of consumers would pay more for a better quality cocktail****.

That’s why this year, many operators are taking cocktails to another level. These playful cocktails are imaginative, theatrical, or themed using dry ice, colour-changing ingredients, even sparklers to tempt spend.

2. 43% of younger consumers (18 to 34 year olds) take a picture of their cocktail and post it on social media every time/almost every time****.

4 ways to leverage the Playful Drinks trend

  • Pair flavours with desserts or seasons

  • Add mocktails or virgin cocktails

  • Offer a sensational spritz

  • Place cocktail menus prominently

Sustainable solutions

  • Sustainable solutions

Sustainable solutions

  • Where the theming is relevant, consider making a donation to charity for every cocktail sold on one of your signature cocktails.
Let's Play


Feta and pickled melon salad with a honey chilli and sesame dressing

View recipe

Buttermilk chicken burger with hot honey drizzle

View recipe

What are the latest food presentation trends?

66% of UK consumers say they love trying new experiences when eating out. So dishes that stimulate their senses visually, emotionally or through new taste combinations or contrasts that they have not tried before are becoming more popular, and great a great way of helping eating out venues differentiate themselves in a very competitive market. Using colour, playful presentation or novel styling, a touch of theatre or very large or unusual sizes, for example giant croissants, are all ways to really engage consumers and offer them that exciting experience they are looking for. Mixing up different sweet and savoury tastes and formats are another way of surprising and delighting diners, for example, the Gelato Burger which is trending right now. Dishes that look fun and creative also lend themselves well to social media, which fuels their popularity.

Are consumers bothered about food presentation?

We eat with our eyes as the expression goes, and consumers are increasingly drawn to visually appealing and stimulating dishes, as they seek new and interesting experiences when eating out. Great presentation not only indicates care and attention has been paid to a dish, but enhances its appeal and provides eating out venues with the opportunity to sell at a higher price point and achieve more margin, or gives the perception of greater value.

Are rainbow foods returning to popularity in 2024?

Consumers are certainly looking for new experiences right now, and dishes that are visually stimulating by being more colourful, playful or even vintage-themed are growing in popularity. Rainbow desserts or dishes achieve this very well. But aside from presentation, consumers are also looking for healthier choices. Nearly half of UK consumers are interested in eating more foods that are beneficial to their physical health when eating out of home, and 44% would consider ordering a dish that features vegetables if they were seeking one that offered health benefits. The expression ‘eat the rainbow’ has given rise to the concept of rainbow salads which offer a variety of different coloured vegetables and therefore a range of different nutrients.

How colourful dishes will be popular in 2024?

Consumers have become more adventurous in their tastes over the last few years, partly influenced by the lockdowns we all endured as a result of the pandemic. So fuelled by this, they are now seeking new experiences when they eat out. Visually stimulating dishes, creatively presented and colourful dishes are a great way of exciting consumers, driving spend as well as capturing interest on social media platforms.

Why are flavour contrasts becoming more popular?

Nearly three quarters of UK consumers are looking for something new at least ‘some of the time’ when they dine or order out**. And, 70% of consumers find the idea of flavour contrasts appealing because they enjoy trying new tastes and combinations they haven’t tried before**. The most popular flavour contrasts are sweet and sour, sweet and spicy (for example, honey and chilli), and sweet and salty (for example, honey and feta).

What flavour contrasts will become popular in 2024

The appeal of flavour contrasts is growing as consumers look for taste combinations they haven’t tried before, driven by their interest in trying something new or seeking new experiences. In fact, 70% of UK consumers find the prospect of flavour contrasts appealing**. The most popular flavour contrasts tend to include an element of sweetness i.e. sweet and sour, sweet and spicy and sweet and salty. Great examples of flavour contrasts that are popping up on menus include: chilli and chocolate, feta and watermelon, chilli and honey, feta and honey, and of course the highly popular salted caramel.

What cocktail trends will be popular in 2024?

Cocktails are increasingly popular, with demand growing particularly for rum and tequila-based drinks, as well as mocktails and virgin cocktails. More than half of consumers would be likely to pay more for a better quality cocktail. Many out of home venues are creating their own signature cocktails to take advantage of this and to create something unique that can encourage spend. Creative, theatrical or themed cocktails are also on the rise as these appeal to consumers’ sense of adventure.


* Mintel Attitudes towards menu Trends 2023

** Bidfood & CGA by NielsenIQ Trends 2024 bespoke consumer survey, sample: 2,003 UK consumers

**** CGA Mixed Drinks Q1 2020-2023

Discover all of our food trends in 2024

  • Mind, Mood and Body - Health food trends 2024
  • British Fusion - Fusion food trends 2024
  • Let's Play - Playful and popular food contrasts 2024
  • Rustic and Rural - British food trend 2024
  • British fusion - Fusion food trends 2024
Food and drink trends 2024


*Mintel  Menu Trends UK 2023

**CGA UK Mixed Drinks report, 2023

*** CGA and Bidfood 2024 Food and Drink Trends consumer survey, sample size 2,003 (UK adults)

**** Bidfood & CGA by NielsenIQ Trends 2024 bespoke consumer survey, sample: 2,003 UK consumers

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