Experts Predict the Top Restaurant Industry Trends for 2016

 

Restaurant Trends for 2016

It’s a new year, and there’s no shortage of new challenges and opportunities for the restaurant industry. From minimum wage hikes and tech innovations to guests’ evolving tastes and preferences, it seems restaurants are constantly breaking new ground to stay current in an ever-competitive landscape.

We asked some of the top chefs, restaurateurs, and experts in the industry to share their predictions for restaurants in the year ahead. Here are the restaurant industry trends for 2016 that they expect to see in food, drinks, business, and beyond (and take a look back at last year’s predictions to see where experts got it right).

BUSINESS BREAKTHROUGHS

Eamon Rockey“We will see the ground-up restructuring of restaurants as we know it. There are major changes ahead for restaurants legislatively, and with technology, labor, tipping, etc., restaurants will have to rethink operations and how they take care of their customers across the board.”

— Eamon Rockey, General Manager, Betony

Laws and regulations have never been more important to the restaurant industry, changing the way businesses fundamentally operate. Kevin Boehm, Co-Founder of Boka Restaurant Group, predicts that 2016 will be an experimental year for the economic framework for restaurants. “From increased kitchen pay to tipping structures to the inevitable menu cost inflation, we will all be keeping a close eye on what works and what doesn’t,” he says.

Maureen Cushing, Director of IT at Union Square Hospitality Group, says that identifying back-of-house efficiencies will be a major priority for her team in the coming year.

Maureen Cushing“We are always looking for ways to control costs. Scheduling software is something we implemented in 2015, and integrating it with real-time data to control payroll expenses is a focus for 2016. Purchasing software is critical, but the challenge of all businesses is maintaining the recipes for accurate costs.”

— Maureen Cushing, Director of IT, Union Square Hospitality Group

Anthony Rudolf, Founder of Journee, a community for restaurant professionals, sees a future of gratitude over gratuity. “Service included is here to stay,” he says. “That’s a great thing! While guests may be resistant at first, once they understand that the perceived power of tipping was only an illusion, they will realize that leaving behind their gratitude instead of their gratuity is far more satisfying and productive to everyone. Even more so is honest feedback provided in the moment, whether positive or negative.”

Sabato Sagaria, Chief Restaurant Officer at Union Square Hospitality Group, agrees that tipping is on its way out.

As the cost of doing business continues to rise around the country, the traditional model of tipping will further fuel the disparity between dining room teams/culinary teams and make it more of a financial hardship to enter into management,” he predicts. “As a result, more restaurants at varying price points will shift to an all-inclusive pricing model in order to fairly compensate the ENTIRE team, in turn providing more inspiration for others to follow and bring us one year closer to saying… ‘Remember when we used to tip?'”

ADVOCACY

Erin Fairbanks“We’re gonna get more political! 2016 will be a huge election cycle and so many of the core policy issues facing the restaurant industry are influenced, mandated, or stymied by our elected offices (think mandatory minimum wage, tipping laws, alcohol sales and distribution). I think industry leaders and trade groups will be looking to advocate for enhancements in the dining/beverage sector.”

— Erin Fairbanks, Executive Director, Heritage Radio Network

Leaders in the industry are using their voices to raise awareness and protect their interests. Paul Kahan, Executive Chef and Owner at One Off Hospitality Group, adds that chefs play a particularly important role in fighting for change.

“I would hope that 2016 would be the decline of the celebrity chef, and the rise of the chef as a contributor to food education and advocacy,” he says. “The only way we can institute change in our country is through younger generations.”

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Let’s Begin Dinner By Carb Loading: A Dozen Delicious Restaurant Bread Baskets

There’s a reason why it’s called “breaking bread.” Offering up bread at the beginning of a meal is an age-old gesture of hospitality, a way to make guests feel welcome as soon as they sit down. Rather than simply offer soft rolls and hard butter, plenty of restaurants are offering boss breads. We’re talking the likes of crème frâiche biscuits, Gruyere-laced popovers, and jalapeno cornbread muffins. The kind of stuff that makes you forget you’re on a carb-free diet. Here are a dozen delicious restaurant bread baskets (with apologies to our gluten-free diners – look away!).

Birch & Barley, Washington, D.C.
There’s a word that always makes us smile when we’re dining out: free. The thing is, we would happily pay for this bangin’ bread board, but we’re more than happy to enjoy it on the house. The selections rotate regularly, but it might include a pretzel roll, a crème frâiche biscuit, and an olive roll.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Barton G The Restaurant, Los Angeles, California
There’s a bit of magic at work here. When your bread comes to the table, you’ll probably think that the server accidentally brought out some dessert doughnuts instead. Actually, the rounds are savory, finished off with basil, cheddar, pink peppercorn, and black truffle “frostings.”

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Urban Farmer Steakhouse, Cleveland, Ohio
Hey, nice cans! The tin tubes are used to bake mini silos of cornbread for dinner service. During brunch, they hold zucchini bread, which gets a shower of freshly grated chocolate when served.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Andiron Steak & Sea, Las Vegas, Nevada
Meet the pop stars of the bread basket world. These Gruyere-laced popovers boast a crackly crust. The warm puffs arrive with whipped butter dusted with black Hawaiian lava salt.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Nashville, Tennessee
Chef Maneet Chauhan serves an Indian-inspired bread basket. Freshly baked naan is accompanied by a selection of seasonal chutneys, sauces, and butters. Selections in the past have included spicy pineapple chutney and traditional raita.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Osso Steakhouse, San Francisco, California
A boule of sourdough topped off with rosemary and garlic is very nice. It’s even better when it arrives in a small cast iron skillet brimming with a creamy chorizo sauce. And it’s even better still when it’s finished off with a shower of cheddar cheese and quickly baked. Certifiably addictive.

Best Restaurant Bread BasketsContinue Reading

Table for One: The Art of Dining Alone #hackdining

Our recent revelations about solo dining continue to captivate media and diners alike. To continue the conversation, we’ve asked contributor Nevin Martell, a frequent solo diner to share his insights and tips for a terrific dining experience for those who do so with a bit of trepidation. Here are his insights on the art of dining alone. 

“Table for one, sir?”

I get this question a lot. As a food writer, I dine out constantly to try new places and revisit familiar favorites. Though I love breaking bread with family, friends, and colleagues, it’s oftentimes not often possible to line up our schedules with my ever-present deadlines. And so I’ll find myself alone at the host stand.

While many restaurants, especially those recently highlighted on OpenTable’s Top 25 Restaurants for Solo Diners list, are thrilled to welcome solo diners, not every host makes it easy. Perhaps you sense they’re giving you a look of pity as they pick up a lone menu and lead you off to a table tucked away in a dark corner, which they think is what you want since they incorrectly assume you’re ashamed by your singleton status.

Despite any minor speed bumps that can come with solo supping, I enjoy it. The solitary time allows me to slow down for a little while, concentrate on the food, and maybe catch up on some email or make progress on my reading. It sounds oxymoronic, but it’s nice to get away from people in a room full of people. It’s the same reason why I go to bustling coffee shops packed with chattering hordes to get away from distractions when I’m writing.

However, for a long time, I didn’t like sitting across from an empty chair. I would spend most of the meal looking around nervously to see if people were staring at me, eat as quickly as possible, and oftentimes invent stories for the servers as to why I was dining alone. “My friend had to unexpectedly work late. He’s a surgeon. He’s probably saving someone’s life right now.”

It took me years to realize it, but there is an art to eating alone. Here are six ways you can maximize your experience as a solo diner.

Don’t let people make you feel like you’re a social outcast.

You’re choosing to dine by yourself, so be proud of it. Own it. Think of the meal as some quality me time. If the host asks you the most judgmental of questions – “So, it’ll just be you?” – smile widely and respond, “I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with.”

Sit where you want, not where they want you to sit.

All too often, single diners are relegated to an end seat at the bar by the service station or the most undesirable table in the restaurant. If you see the host is leading you to one of these desolate hellholes, politely ask for another seat. This is the perfect time to enjoy the view, so ask for somewhere you can admire your surroundings or do some serious people watching.Continue Reading

5 Top Restaurant Complaints + How to Prevent Them from Ruining Your Meal #hackdining

It’s happened to all of us. You’re out to dinner and something goes wrong. Maybe it’s something minor like the server accidentally bringing you a Chardonnay instead of a Chablis. Or perhaps it’s a bigger issue that threatens to derail your entire evening. No one wants to spend good money to have a bad time. So, how do you confront these problems to rectify the situation and ensure you have an enjoyable experience? From overdone steak to underwhelming service, we look at five top restaurant complaints along with tips from hospitality experts for preventing them from ruining your meal. 

Young people eating lunch in a bright modern restaurant, a waiter is serving hot food. Natural light.

You’re seated at a table you don’t like.

It’s by a drafty door, so you keep feeling a chilly breeze. Or it’s next to the bar, which is particularly loud that evening, and you want to have a quiet date night. For whatever reason, the table just isn’t right for you.

Speak out immediately, advises Jonathan Crayne, the senior captain at Marcel’s in Washington, D.C. “You have a chance to save your night or ruin your night,” he says. “Just remember you’re never going to be happy if you spend the evening thinking, ‘Maybe we should have moved.’”

If you feel uncomfortable asking for a new table, use this graceful line from Antonella Rana, co-owner of Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina in New York City. “I’m so sorry; you work here and you are used to this beautiful space,” she says. “However, it’s my first time and I truly would like to have the best memory of it. I don’t feel so comfortable at this table, could you bring me to your favorite?”

As they say, flattery will get you anywhere – including the best seat in the house.

The guests near you are behaving inappropriately.

There’s a couple next to you in the middle of a loud, profanity-laced breakup. Or the parents at the next booth brought their two-year-old son to dinner and he wants nothing more than to be a human catapult, so mushy French fries keep landing on your dinner plate.

It’s definitely not your job to police the situation. Sit tight and flag down a server or the manager. “We don’t want guests going to another table; that’s our job,” says David Fascitelli, general manager of Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. “We would like to intercede and make the situation right.”

Rana has another tactful line to use when you get the eye of a staffer. “Unfortunately I have a terrible ‘teacher’ syndrome,” she says. “Could you please help us and quiet this chaos next to our table before I do so myself?”

Your dish isn’t prepared properly.

The steak you requested medium rare is well done and your dining companion’s salad is packed with the tomatoes he asked the kitchen to hold. How do you politely send the food back?

“People are worried about making the chef upset or looking like they don’t appreciate his or her food,” says Fascitelli. “But the chef wants to make it right, too.”

Being open is your best bet. “It’s very easy to over-salt something,” says Crayne. “We sometimes don’t know it’s happened until we’re told. So, don’t hesitate to send something back.”

The food is made correctly, but you just don’t like it.Continue Reading