Working in restaurants has often been seen as a stepping-stone first job, but let no one take away the fact that the restaurant and bar industry leads employment growth and new job creation in this country. And the industry may take heat for minimum wage status and large number of part-timers, but it has also started the careers of many of its most successful chefs and entrepreneurs.
In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, nine out of every 10 managers started at entry level, and eight in every ten owners worked their way up from the lowest rungs. And that makes this industry a tremendous source of opportunity.
Fedele Bauccio, the CEO of Bon Appetit Management Co., started out as a dishwasher. Clarence Otis Jr., former chief of Darden, waited tables. Top toque Grant Achatz, of Chicago’s Alinea, flipped eggs in his parents’ diner. There’s nothing you can’t do with the social skills, work ethic, and love of food that come along with restaurant work.
By Jeffrey Manno, Operations & Finance
In the heyday of full-service dining—before the existence of the internet, smartphones and omnipresent phone apps—technology was merely an option for restaurants to use to improve their service. But in the modern era of 2015 and beyond, a comprehensive understanding of restaurant technology is a prerequisite for entering the highly competitive arena of restaurant operations. With a variety of consumer benefits, technology is not only something that consumers want, but it is something they have come to expect and even demand, regardless of their age. That means that operators must be aware of the various technologies available for restaurants, and they must also understand how they benefit the guest, so they can successfully incorporate them into their service model.
In late 2014, USA Today cited a National Restaurant Association study indicating “more than one-third of all consumers are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now than they did just two years ago.” Going one step further, “Almost one-third of consumers with smartphones say they would use a smartphone app to pay their check instead of using cash, a debit card or credit card,” according to the national survey of 1,007 consumers.
Oftentimes, the ill-informed restaurateur may think, “Yeah, but technology is just for kids and college students. My customers don’t use technology to interact with the restaurant.” To which I say, “Are you ready to bet the house?” While it is well-known that younger consumers are likely to accept, and even sometimes request, technology options as part of their dining experience, they are no longer the only diners who want them.
The truth of the matter is that consumer-facing technologies are no longer just for Millennials: The National Restaurant Association also reported that “more than half (56%) of consumers age 45-64 have recently used technology options in restaurants.” Specifically, says the NRA, four out of 10 have ordered food or looked up menus on a computer in the past month; about one-third have looked up restaurant locations on a smartphone; and more than one in 10 has ordered takeout/delivery, looked up nutrition information, or made a reservation via smartphone or tablet apps.
In addition, the association reports, among Baby Boomers (which make up nearly 20% of the U.S. population), “about six out of 10 say they would order online using a computer or look up directions to a restaurant on a smartphone; and about four out of 10 say they would place an order…using smartphone or tablet apps.”
This is great news for the restaurant industry, because an increased use of technology may help lower overhead costs and increase sales, by allowing restaurants to more effectively market and cater to their clientele. A growing number of restaurants, from popular regional brands such as Stacked in San Diego and L.A., to nationwide chains like Chili’s, have installed tableside tablets. With these tablets, customers are in control of ordering, paying bills, and even playing games (for a fee, of course).
The result? Bloomberg Business recently reported that “tablets give the dining experience a novel and modern flair…and they reliably increase the size of the average check.” In fact, it was reported that tablets help boost appetizer sales by as much as 20%, and dessert sales by as much as 30%. Going further, tips are up approximately 15% more than average, which leads to happier staff. Most importantly, guests really like it since they can often leave the restaurant an average of five minutes faster, paying their bill tableside as soon as they’re ready. This may not seem like a lot of time, but for guests on a short lunch break, or in a rush to attend an event, this can make a significant difference.
So what does this all mean? If current behavior is any indication of future trends, then it’s apparent that restaurant clientele of all ages, from Millennials to Baby Boomers, have come to thoroughly enjoy technology as a valuable part of their dining experience. Successful restaurateurs will leverage loyalty programs, websites and smart phone apps to better appeal to and attract their desired clientele. Then, once guests are onsite, restaurants will leverage technology to complement the service staff and enhance the guest experience, by allowing guests the freedom to order food and drinks, pay for tabs, and even play games whenever their hearts desire. Finally, guests are not the only ones who benefit. Waitstaff enjoy increased tips and also have more time for interacting directly with guests, rather than racing to drop off checks and take orders.
Bottom line, the restaurant wins with increased average checks, happier staff, and happier guests.
By Joan Lang, Editorial Director
The diner is a beloved American icon—so it stands to reason that this humble “concept” would be getting an upgrade.
We’ve seen “upscale” diners before, but this time it’s different, as a new generation of chefs transform old streamliners into contemporary destinations, and sophisticated restaurateurs put a fresh spin on the egalitarian neighborhood classic. That means elevated versions of favorites like patty melts and milkshakes; cheffy signatures based on thoughtful local/artisanal sourcing; and amenities like craft cocktails and distinctive microbrews merged with the casual atmosphere and all-day schedules the diner is already known for.
Many operators are drawn to the idea of diners because of their approachable formula of reasonably priced comfort foods that everyone loves, and because they harken back to the simpler times that everyone seems to crave right now.
According to Datassential, the trend can be clocked to post-recession consumer desire for a value-oriented casual dining experience, and chefs’ interest in providing it with a level of quality and creativity that would help mainstream their brands. The trend brought some heavy hitters into the field, including Gordon Ramsey with the now-defunct Fat Cow in Los Angeles, and Stephanie Izard with the groundbreaking Little Goat in Chicago. But now it’s really picking up steam, taking the best of the diner/coffee-shop/luncheonette tradition and kicking it up a couple of notches. Daily specials and all-day breakfast never had it so good.
• Bradley’s Fine Diner, in Houston and now Menlo Park, CA, is the brainchild of award-winning chef Bradley Ogden, who honed his craft in fine-dining bastions like The American Restaurant (one of the nation’s first “new American restaurants,” in Kansas City), San Francisco’s Campton Place, and the influential Lark Creek group of farm-to-table restaurants. Working with his son Bryan as executive chef, “BFD” brings fresh, simple, seasonal food to the man on the street: Oak Grilled Chuck Burger with caramelized onions; Iceberg Wedge salad with Sweet 100 tomatoes and housemade blue cheese dressing; daily Blue Plate Specials; signature cocktails and happy hour bar bites like the Sloppy Joe Biscuit Slider and Spring Garlic Dip with flatbread. Many of the specialties were honed over years of successive and deliberate downscaling, at such approachable concepts as Lark Creek Grill and Yankee Pier, finding ways to make quality and freshness affordable and accessible enough for everyday enjoyment
• The entry of Chicago’s much-lauded Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, and Nico Osteria) with Dove’s Luncheonette is big news for the new-wave diner landscape; after all, he’s already conquered the chef-driven fine dining, wine bar, gastropub and contemporary Italian segments. An homage to the ‘60s lunch counters of Kahan’s early food memories, with its all-day menu and local blues soundtrack, Dove’s captures the spirit of an earlier time. Specialties like brisket tacos and pork pozole riff on the West Side’s neighborhood Mexican roots, extending a tradition that’s been successfully mined with Kahan’s Big Star taqueria next door
• Also in Chicago is Eleven Lincoln Park, which hails itself as an “Old School Diner, Delicatessen.” Owner Brad Rubin opened the more straightforward Eleven City Diner in the South Loop in 2008, but when the location for the late, lamented Belden Deli in Lincoln Park became available, he did the logical thing and created a mashup. It’s not so farfetched: both the diner and the deli are friendly, low-key places with a penchant for counter seating, overstuffed sandwiches, and breakfast served all day. Like Ed Debevic’s back in the 1980s, the two restaurants border on parody, but it’s out of love and respect for the tradition of the neighborhood family restaurant
• When Food Network chef Amanda Freitag reopened the legendary Empire Diner in New York City as a “locavore diner” in 2014, she faced down decades of devotion from neighbors, club kids, celebrities and others who made the old chrome and stainless steel dining car their late-night hangout. Though she and her partners have had to scale back on plans to keep the place open 24/7, the menu succeeds in bringing a chef’s twist to urban diner standards with specialties like Bruléed Grapefruit Toast, Charred Octopus “Greek Salad,” Buffalo Skate Wings, a lamb burger with whipped goat cheese and chili jam, and such over-the-top desserts as Brooklyn Blackout Cake and cheesecake with fig compote
• Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar, in Somerville, MA, touts “honest food and drink” in the form of regional American comfort food. Restoring and repurposing an Historic Register (1941) family-owned Greek diner car, co-owners Joe Cassinelli and John Delpha turned the Davis Square landmark into a hip urban barbecue joint showcasing a Smoke n’ Fire cooking platform. Menu specialties range from St. Louis ribs and a griddled cheese burger to BBQ “It’s Not a Ramen” Pork Noodle Soup and an Asian BBQ Hog Head sandwich with gochujang BBQ, kimchi, and ginger-scallion relish. The restaurant is also famous for its Grandma-type pies and ambitious cocktail and craft beer programs. There’s live music and a robust schedule of events, many involving tap takeovers and other artisanally spirited themes
• When Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell, alumni of Manhattan restaurants like Jean-Georges and Gramercy Tavern, moved to Biddeford, ME, and bought the 15-stool Palace Diner they did little to mar the historic setting (a classic circa-1927 Pollard dining car that’s the oldest in the state). But they did recast the menu with seasonal specialties, local ingredients, and a menu of refined interpretations of classic breakfast, brunch and lunch foods (like the fictional restaurant in Richard Russo’s novel Empire Falls, which also takes place in a small Maine river town, the Palace is only open for dinner on the weekends). That means traditional fare like corned beef hash, made with brined local grass-fed beef, homemade banana bread griddled in brown butter, and house-cured pickles, plus a small selection of wine by the glass
• Ron Eyester, the talent at the stove behind The Family Dog, Rosebud and Timone’s in Atlanta (and is the Angry Chef from Season 12 of Top Chef, in Boston) is in the process of opening Diner in the city’s Atlantic Station. This tribute to a “classic greasy spoon” will also feature farm-to-table sourcing and a selection of classic Southern cocktails like the Sazerac, Mint Julep and Brandy Crusta. There’ll be a salmon club but the fish will be house-cured, and a selection of “yard bird” specialties included croquettes and traditional smothered chicken
By Joan Lang, Editorial Director
There’s a lot of talk about how Millennials have driven change in the restaurant industry, and not surprisingly, wine is one of those areas of change.
According to London-based International Wine & Spirit Research (IWSR), the U.S. is the largest market in the world for wine, in both total volume and measured by per-capita consumption, and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
But while Gen Y is commonly associated with the boom in craft beer, and Americans in general are more likely to drink beer than wine, there’s also plenty of data that indicates Millennials being big wine drinkers as well—in fact, they are the fastest-growing group of wine drinkers. They’re just doing it a little differently than their parents and, especially, their grandparents.
Some of the consumption trends seem self-evident, given what we already know about this generation:
• Millennials prefer less expensive wines, especially those under $15 retail, but generally in the under $40-a-bottle sweet spot
• They don’t necessarily want to drink wine in a restaurant, preferring more casual settings including bars and parties
• Millennials are having a love affair with Italian wine, particularly Prosecco and other sparklers
• They view wine as a sophisticated beverage, but they want none of the pretension previously associated with it
• They are also very open to experimentation and trying new kinds of wine
On the other hand, this could all be bunkum—and no operator ever wants to turn a blind eye on any customer, no matter their demographic.
There’s definitely a lot that’s new about today’s wine scene. The world wine market is significantly different than it was even a few decades ago, with more countries producing wine—in part we have global climate change to “thank”—and more affordable choices available. Boxed wines and wine on tap are better than ever, and their sales are growing as old prejudices fall.
The taste for huge, high-alcohol wines and oak bombs such as old-style California chardonnays is diminishing in favor of more refreshing, food-friendly wines. New technologies are making it easier to serve wine-by-the-glass and preserve the rest of the bottle. New wine blends, particularly reds, are becoming more widely available and are both delicious and affordable.
Service is important, but more approachable. Though fewer restaurants may have actual sommeliers, server training is getting more serious, so that servers can answer questions, suggest pairings, and provide guidance.
Finally, there’s a strong sense that wine should be fun, and wine lists should be both intriguing and unintimidating, and there are plenty of new restaurants that support that notion.
• The Lawrence, in Atlanta, makes wine exploration and pairing easy with an extensive selection of affordable wines available by the bottle, half-bottle, glass and carafe
• The French Hen, in Tulsa, keeps wine-loving patrons engaged with a robust schedule of wine dinners
• A new generation of wine bars is creating a place for enthusiasts to sample wines as well as elevated versions of snacks (think oysters, charcuterie, artisanal cheese) as well as more ambitious wine-friendly food
• Having already changed the quick-service landscape with food and ambience, fast-casual restaurants are also focusing on more sophisticated companion wine programs (as well as beer and in some cases even spirits)
• Louie’s Wine Dive, with locations in seven Midwestern cities, puts its money where its mouth is, priding itself on being a group of “restaurants with amazing wine lists”—including a policy of opening any bottle for a customer who buys two glasses
Now, that’s fun.
Tip of the Month
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