The last decade has been explosive in the restaurant and beverage industry. Big names have burst out of dorms, gone on TV and were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Then, in the slow march towards rapid change, we were hit with an unexpected act of disruption.
Consumers’ expectations have risen rapidly. In some cases, kitchen time was short enough that it was longer to deliver meals than to actually make them. In other instances, two hot topics, industrialization and the manufacture of frozen meals, were being conflated, in response to a more demanding environment for quick, fulfilling meals. Now, in this age of “instant” food, healthy ingredients, non-GMO—and American—crafting—innovation is poised to level off.
In theory, innovation should mean continuing to innovate and evolve as many of the in-demand concepts and processes have transitioned to online sales, or from sole store operations to larger, franchised agreements. The ink is drying, the physical processes have been captured, and there is just one brief period for disruption: to find an enticing concept that begins to gain momentum.
In practice, this transition is not so smooth. Over the past several years, several successful restaurant concepts—Le Diplomate, Superba and The Mothership—have closed their doors in dramatic fashion, likely signaling a major paradigm shift in restaurant management. These closures, including Logan Circle’s Le Poisson Rouge, serving a recent menu offering only 11 salads, have left hungry consumers confused.
It’s worth recalling that the restaurant industry is the “Soup kitchen” of commerce.
Think of New York City, as the home of endless highly diverse edibles and/or culinary originators. In an industry filled with cooks at the highest level, to find a soup that suits your palette will always be tough. As a consumer, it’s easy to gain a reputation for selecting the best food or beverage at any given time.
It is one thing to be a sportscaster and slip and fall during some low intensity nature footage, but quite another to eat dinner at home. This is where customers become active partners in the consuming process, calling out ingredient choices, tastes and flavors.
Consumers make choices about the product themselves, but they also hold the power and responsibility for their consumption experiences. They know who their neighbors are and whether they take to the cafeteria or feed themselves on a grilled cheese sandwich.
As millennials develop brand loyalties, demand consistency and the ability to share experiences with their community, they can bring choice and choice moderation to a culinary climate where you can’t walk down the street without bumping into some new casual fine dining offering.
Restaurants have a responsibility to meet customers where they are with all aspects of their dining experiences. Sometimes an evolution is required to make this happen. The changing season and way it impacts menus is the perfect example.
We’ve all heard the idiom that drinking coffee is a pick me up. Consumers want their food experiences to be a pick me up, as well.
I am thrilled that these brands were able to develop a following, but we should learn from their failures and continue to push for continued differentiation. The experience of traveling with friends or enjoying a meal with family is something that we all need to be able to share. When that element is lost, even a 4 hour lunch can begin to seem like a nightmare.
Jean-Francois Mase, MSc, MBA, CFS, CFP, COE, CBIA, FPC, CLU, CFP, is Chief Executive Officer of Engage Restaurant, a company focused on developing and managing restaurant concepts in a variety of sectors. Engage was founded in 1999. Since then, the company has grown to 25 offices with 2,000 employees at over 80 locations across the U.S. and Canada.