Consultants Roundtable Review: A Look at the Future of Foodservice
As with everything lately, it seems like there's good news, bad news, conflicting data, and uncertainty as to who to trust and what to believe.
Based on topics from a recent roundtable with renowned consultants Karen Malody of Culinary Options, Ken Schwartz of SSA Foodservice Consultants, and Georgie Shockey from Ruck-Shockey Associates, the one common thread is we're all working through this together, and we need to consider all perspectives in order to make the best individual choices for our businesses.
Some bad news: 75 percent of operators don't expect to make a profit in the near future. Some good news: Restaurant transactions are on the rise. Some uncertainty: We still don't know for certain how the coronavirus spreads, and you'll get conflicting opinions based on who you ask.
"We've all been baffled about what the source of truth is about COVID," Malody said.
Though all three agreed that, while information may be unreliable, it doesn't necessarily translate to a paralysis in terms of action. No matter what the science or data says, the real key for restaurants and other foodservice operations is in perception. Making guests (and staff) comfortable, giving them confidence in the establishment and its processes, is the key.
"You have to be demonstrative about your cleanliness," Shockey said.
All three agreed the perception of sanitation process is not only critical, but it should also be part of a restaurant's marketing process at this point. With new phrases like "cleanliness theater" and "sanitation theater" making it into the everyday foodservice vernacular, what guest think about a restaurant's commitment to cleanliness will determine the overall comfort levels in the dining room.
THE RESTAURANT OF THE FUTURE
So what can we expect in the future? What lasting effects can we expect to see two years from now? How will new innovations impact tomorrow's restaurant?
For starters, socially distanced dining rooms will not be viable. The math just doesn't add up. Schwartz compared the style of dining in Europe versus the profit models we have in the United States, and urged the industry to rethink our current calculations. In Europe, tables are most often not intended to be turned, he said. When you reserve a table, it's often for the entire night. Compare that to the United States, where everything is determined by the number of seats multiplied by the number of turns.
"Operators need to ensure they have a relative yet reliable business plan," Schwartz said.
Part of that recommendation is considering the math. By cutting portion sizes by 20 percent and raising prices by 25 percent, margins will become a lot kinder to operators, and this style of thinking falls more in line with foodservice habits in Europe.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXPERIENCE
Even before COVID-19, there was enormous focus placed on the guest experience. This hasn't changed, but now it's just morphed into something else, mainly safety and sanitation, as mentioned above. There's still an overall experience to consider, though.
Malody described her recent visit to one of her favorite restaurants near Seattle. Instead of finding what she used to love about this establishment, what she found was what she feared -- a restaurant that had morphed into a takeout hybrid with brown bags everywhere and a lot of chaos between the kitchen and the front-of-the-house. At some point, she suggested, there has to be a balance between sales and a diminished experience for those dining in.
There could be some great innovations that come out of this commitment to experience, too. From cloching and covering dishes to detail-oriented takeout packaging, restaurants are adapting to still provide positive dining experiences regardless of what's happening with public health.
As all three agreed, it's just really important to stay in touch with customers to determine confidence.
Have comments or questions about this summary? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and let us know how your operation is moving forward in the age of COVID-19.