Pimp My Plate
I read recently that an increasing number of customers are cancelling their ESPN subscriptions. With so many new ways to access scores and highlights instantly on smart phones and the internet, sports fans are now taking an a la cart approach to watching their favorite team. Apparently, this trend is spreading across the entirety of cable as subscribers dump costly packages in favor of a more nimble apps and services. I think the same trend is changing the restaurant industry.
Like the old cable model, early versions of restaurants were set up to appeal to a large swath of customers with a one size fits all approach. Expansive menus, cavernous dining rooms and clunky operational platforms were positioned to herd the masses.
Today’s consumers, in love with speed, adventure and instantaneous gratification are in a constant pursuit of new lifestyle models. Their phone, their Uber, their 30 minute workout all reflects a trend towards customization, agility and one-upmanship. Their palate and plate, it should be no surprise, is following suit, and any restaurant unable or unwilling to reciprocate is vulnerable to obsolescence.
Atlanta has seen a handful of well known chef driven restaurants close of late. Their shuttering was a surprise to many in the local food scene who quickly pointed to a saturation theory. Too many restaurants not enough demand. These closings, I believe were more associated with a change in the way people are eating these days. How we consume food has ascended. Just as communication and technology have been on a meteoric rise towards sophistication, so has eating.
This shift toward customization is splintering the restaurant industry into highly specialized operations leaving consumers with a slew of new options. Food halls, single item focused restaurants, prepared food kiosks, food delivery services and neighborhood bodegas are emerging as the new whiz bang toys for a generation of consumers trained to follow shiny objects, push buttons and personalize everything. Give it to me now, give me what I want and make me feel special, could be the mantra for a hyper society seeking innovation, specialization and speed. Pimp my plate bitches!
How this trend flushes out will be fun to watch. I expect consumers will continue to flock towards the market’s fringe, spending their food dollar in those establishments that offer the latest in innovation, convenience and experience. By the way, nobody has the time or skill to cook meals at home anymore, at least not in the way previous generations used to. The street is now providing these meals. So, restaurants, while becoming more specialized are also becoming more utilitarian, and with the increased demand there will be even more restaurants. As long as consumers still want eggs cooked to order the market is far from being saturated.
Consumer demands are also greatly affecting the size, shape and operational platforms of restaurants themselves. Future iterations will probably consume much smaller foot prints and be less mechanical. With rents in Atlanta exceeding $40 a square foot, restaurant space is extremely expensive. Big kitchens, storage and production areas will move offsite to less costly space leaving more room for what pays the bills; customer service and experience.
Speaking of customer service, it’s terrible and needs to turn around in a hurry if more restaurants, industry wide don’t want to shutter. Occasionally a good waiter comes along but for the most part these days when you pay $18 for a ridiculously shallow glass of wine and $35 for a subpar entrée you also get an untrained server with an indifferent attitude. But I digress.
One trend that could have its coming out party this year is better fast food. I still can’t believe a chef hasn’t jumped all over this idea yet. Convenience is here to stay and in more demand that ever. Consumer’s relationship to food is now more adventurous; thank you Anthony Bourdain and the Food Network, and these new minted foodies can handle a little go-go gastro in their drive thru experience.
Other trends I am watching – vending machines, food delivery 2.0 and the convergence of food service management operations with street offerings. Until next time…