MRM at Five: What Issues Have Impacted Restaurants?

As Modern Restaurant Management Restaurant (MRM) magazine celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, we reached out to industry insiders to garner their insights on what issues have impacted the industry over the last five years and what issues they feel will impact restaurants in the years to come. 

What issues have affected the industry over the last five years in the topics of marketing, design, operations, law, finance, technology and equipment?

Mark Hoefer, General Manager, Le Bilboquet Atlanta

In terms of technology, just like the rest of our lives, the trend has been toward mobility and flexibility and the last year has pushed this faster than we would have otherwise seen under “normal” conditions. 

Tableside ordering via tablets, tableside payment, POS systems designed with mobility and flexibility in mind have dominated the market growing out of the fast casual. environments and are now seen everywhere from fine dining to counter service and everywhere in between. In a way this has led to a more European feel as there it is the norm rather than the exception to pay tableside with a mobile device.

In terms of operation, we are constantly discussing social media, both in good ways and bad. “Will this look good on Instagram?” when designing cocktails has become a normal thought while even a few short years ago this was an afterthought, if it was a thought at all.  

Ashley Kirkland, NCIDQ, Director of Interior Architecture, GrizForm Design Architects

Over the past five years, green-focused designs have continued to gain momentum within the restaurant industry. We’re continually learning about new and innovative ways to help our clients be more sustainable—whether that be choosing eco-friendly materials and fixtures or finding new products that use recycled or compostable packaging. Think paper straws versus plastic.

We’re also seeing many of our clients find new ways to be more sustainable in sourcing their food products. The focus is to cut down the impact we have on the environment. For example, we have one client who has moved away from traditional meat options, and their focus is on sustainably sourced oysters and oyster mushrooms, which are grown on-site. This movement toward more sustainably sourced food in both our fast-casual and fine dining restaurants will continue to expand in the future.

Ilona Knopfler, Partner, Le Bilboquet

Social media has taken on a major role. From business pages posting their own content to reach a broader audience, and bloggers posting to their followers, to various reviewing platforms or methods by way of “tagging” or “checking in,”we have gone beyond paper or radio ads. Your website is no longer the go-to place for information on a business. People rely on others’ feedback to form an opinion.

In a society constantly bombarding us with information, people are searching for release and calm. We have seen changes in marketing and design created to either help us escape, dream, have fun or to calm us with a serene or familiar setting. We’ve seen this in modern minimalist designs and color associations.

Taka Tanaka, CEO of AUTEC Sushi Robots 

It’s bittersweet to see how much technology has immersed itself into the food industry in the last five years. On the one hand, I’ve championed technology to become more prevalent in the restaurant industry, and the momentum as of late has been tremendous. On the other, technology’s need has accelerated this past year because it was the industry’s solution to survive.  

It’s bittersweet to see how much technology has immersed itself into the food industry in the last five years.

In 2016, there was plenty of compelling robotics technology geared for the restaurant industry. From robots that created up to 2,000 recipes to robots that served diners, the world saw what the future would hold for this industry. I remember the excitement when I learned of the world’s first automated burger restaurant in San Francisco, Creator, in 2018. The restaurant industry was heading in a robotic-friendly atmosphere, and most likely, the public would follow. 

Fast forward to two years later, where the industry was in a dire situation and technology was the answer to the challenges many faced, such as abiding by the ever-changing public guidelines or the ongoing continuation of the labor shortage that rose even more due to the pandemic. Businesses pivoted their operations with technological tools such as contactless payments, delivery platforms, and kitchen assisting robots to battle these challenges. 

Although the acceleration of adoption was due to a pandemic, I was glad to see that technology could help these businesses during unprecedented times. 

Chelsea van Hooven, Global Industry Advisor at Choco

So much has changed in the food world in the past five years. From food trucks and third-party delivery to farm-to-table restaurants and a new wave of young chefs coming up to challenge the old guard, we have seen innovation and creativity throughout the world.

Specifically, technology and digitization has been coming to the front of house. Today it’s common to see monitors that double as order kiosks greeting you as you walk in, POS systems that conveniently allow you to pay and tip in one place and tablets that waiters use to keep track of reservations and customer orders.

Reaching customers through word-of-mouth marketing and relying solely on the quality of the offering are also long gone. Restaurants now have to translate their restaurant concept onto the web, since online presence and digital image have become key decision-makers for the success of a restaurant. The rise of Instagram and the obsession with images, has created a real hype for food in society. According to a recent survey by MGHUS, 77 percent of diners visit a restaurant's website or social media before they choose to dine somewhere. 

Many restaurants have added staff to the team to update their online activities, work on design and to help them adapt to new marketing trends. The past five years have been about the digitalization of the FOH, culminating in the pandemic during which restaurants have had to rely more than ever on online tools to continue operating curbside pick-up and delivery. 

What issues or trends will have impact in the next five years?

Mark Hoefer, General Manager, Le Bilboquet Atlanta

My gut tells me that the “travel dining experience” the big steak house and the “wine and dine clients” destinations will continue to struggle for a couple years as travel and economies continue to adapt to and respond to Covid-19 and the economic repercussions but that in time, just as they boomed again following the 2008 crisis, these will become a big thing once again. But for now, and for the next few years I believe restaurants that are located in and are tapped into neighborhoods, places that can make people feel a sense of community and belonging, no matter the style of service or cuisine, these will be the destinations that survive and thrive. 

Ashley Kirkland, NCIDQ, Director of Interior Architecture, GrizForm Design Architects

We see a big focus on take-out right now, which will continue to evolve. Many of our clients opt for to-go windows and/or an area allocated only for takeout. Additionally, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on take out branding; there’s been a considerable push to overhaul packaging to highlight the restaurant’s identity. 

Many restaurants have also pivoted to outdoor dining amid the pandemic. A dedicated outdoor dining area used to be a concept that was nice to have, now it’s a must-have. Restaurants are taking advantage of any outdoor space available—from dining areas in parking lots and side streets to operable windows; a connection to the outdoors is essential. 

Another trend that’s here to stay—the digital dining experience. We’ve seen a big push in the use of technology from touchless menus and scannable QR codes to contact-free kiosk ordering systems, especially in fast-casual concepts.

Ilona Knopfler, Partner, Le Bilboquet

As we were reminded this past year, if you want to make God laugh, make plans. Hard to know which way this will turn. We will continue to navigate the in-between in the meantime. 

Taka Tanaka, CEO of AUTEC Sushi Robots 

I am looking forward to what’s to come in the next five years. Allied Market Research has reported, “the robotics market was valued at 1,535 million in 2016 and projected to reach $3,612 million by 2023.” With the adoption of technology on the rise, I believe this projection will be proven correct. Even in the past couple of months, large corporations have been running pilot programs utilizing technological advancements such as autonomous vehicles and fully automated restaurants that are sure to be the norm in the coming years.

Chelsea van Hooven, Global Industry Advisor at Choco

For the next five years, back of house digitization, sustainability and ghost kitchens will be the “big thing” for independent restaurants.

The pandemic has emphasized the necessity of creating a resilient business model and streamlining processes in all parts of their organization.

The pandemic has emphasized the necessity of creating a resilient business model and streamlining processes in all parts of their organization. Therefore, digitization and optimizing the back and front of house will increasingly become common and important.

Sustainability will also play a big role in food in the next five years, as the world shifts to tackling the changing climate through the way we eat. In order to foster a more local food economy, we foresee restaurants working more closely with suppliers and vendors to communicate to diners the source of their ingredients. Farm to table concepts will also trickle down from high end fine dining establishments to everyday eateries.

Another interesting development that is fundamentally changing the industry are ghost kitchens. With the principle of "good things delivered to your home fast," these concepts offer high flexibility in the range of dishes and low costs in the choice of location. The delivery market is highly competitive – and the balance of power between delivery services and restaurants is increasingly shifting. The restaurant industry will further adapt their business models to the delivery segment, developing menus directed at customers ordering from home.