Covering the restaurant business requires the content team of Restaurant Business Online to dine out more often than the typical consumer. We’re still working on a passable excuse for being so finicky when we do. Some (if not most) might say we’re nightmares armed with credit cards, sniffing at what dazzles most civilians and recoiling at the slightest operational hiccup.
But if you can please us, chances are high the rest of your clientele will be dabbing tears of joy from their eyes. With that in mind, here are the things we super-consumers would love to see the industry change in 2017. Accompanying the suggestions is each editor’s focus when not whining.
Sweat the little things
From Lauren Hallow, RB’s concept specialist:
Drone delivery and voice-activated ordering are great and all, but I’m more impressed when a restaurant incorporates simple yet inexpensive details that can really improve the dining experience, such as offering purse hooks underneath bar counters and tables, or having nice-smelling soaps in the bathrooms.
Guns or nuns?
From Peter Romeo, editor of Restaurant Business Online:
Have you thought about providing a Nerf gun at every table? It’d be a surefire way of resolving two issues that don’t exactly enhance a dine-in restaurant experience. When the loudmouth two tables away starts yelling into his cell phone, distracting a nearby party as it tries to hold a pleasant conversation, a guest could plink a foam-rubber projectile at the middle of the offender’s forehead. Slide the trigger mechanism to the rapid-fire setting to combat that other nails-on-a-chalkboard moment: a server who interrupts a lively conversation because he or she doesn’t have the manners (or training) to wait for a pause. A hail of harmless bullets might make them think twice. A nun with a toothache and a remarkably bad attitude could also be used as a deterrent.
Get hooked on phonetics
From Alaina Lancaster, associate editor for RB:
Besides a hairstylist, the thing Donald Trump and I share is a way with spoken words—they seem to get a way from both of us. I also fall squarely in line with all those millennials who get a real kick out of trying new flavors and cuisines. The two traits combine to twist my tongue every which way. Gracious servers are nice enough to hide their smirks and repeat the phrase correctly, others—usually my dining companions—are not as merciful. With a simple phonetic spelling alongside menu items, operators could resolve to spare everyone in earshot from having me sound out Acharuli Khachapuri.
Buh-bye, high tops
From Sara Rush Wirth, editor of Restaurant Business:
Please, operators, consider your shorter patrons when designing your restaurants. Among the banes of shorties’ existence: high-top tables. Not only is it awkward for height-challenged diners to hop up into a chair that’s beyond their reach, then somehow use the table to wriggle themselves in; but dangling feet fall asleep pretty quickly. And that tingly feeling can detract from a positive experience, as well as have guests shifting around in their chairs uncomfortably. To boot, high tops often are surrounded by backless stools—a surefire way to make customers uncomfortable and search for a backrest after 15 minutes. And what about the many millennials who are aging into parenthood, the exact guests restaurants were targeting when they installed the high-top communal tables? You know who can’t sit at these tables? Millennial parents with strollers, who are often coming in for an evening out and have the capacity to spend. For a quick-service place, fine. But any restaurant that wants customers to stick around—especially if they want them to stick around and order more drinks to rack up the bill—should consider making sure diners’ feet can reach the floor.
From Jill Failla, RB’s consumer behavior specialist:
It’s 2017, so why is splitting the check still so hard? At full-service restaurants, dining with several friends or co-workers can be a nightmare (for customers and servers alike) when it comes time to divvy up the bill. At limited-service restaurants, I’d like to be automatically assigned the same table number as my friend, even though we’re paying with different credit cards. In this age of tech innovation, can’t we just click a button on an iPad and pay for our own tab, tax and tip? I wish.
RIP Sriracha. Please?
From Lizzy Freier, RB’s menu specialist:
I hoped 2016 would be the year the restaurant industry would find its new Sriracha, but somehow it’s still holding strong. I’m twiddling my thumbs awaiting operators to be as sick of it as I am. And McDonald’s just recently caught on to the trend—it’s befuddling. Other sauce options need to abound. Huzzah harissa! Go gochujang! Cheers chermoula! Literally any new sauce will do at this point.
Make shared appetizers really shareable
From Patricia Cobe, RB’s menu specialist:
Making a meal of small plates or appetizers is the experience many restaurant customers look forward to when they go out to eat. And I’m among them. But more times than not, when my table of four orders a shared plate of oysters or fish tacos or sliders—you name it—only three come out on the plate. Or if I’m dining with one other person, we end up dividing that third oyster in half (no easy feat!). It’s time restaurants adjusted the order to the number of people sharing the dish. I would vote for adding one more slider or oyster for free. How much could that escalate food costs? But if that’s not an option, the least a server can do is add an extra piece or two for the nominal price of a dollar each.
‘Get me out of there’
From Jackson Lewis, RB’s social media specialist:
We’ve all been there. You’re full. You’re tired. You’re ready to leave the restaurant, credit card in hand, but you can’t seem to get your waiter’s attention. Then, unless your waiter is really attuned to your needs, you have to wait for them to go to the register and print your check. But that’s not the end; you have to wait for the waiter to give you time to read the bill, go back to the register and run your card. We live in the 21st century. This system of payment is outdated and inconvenient. Personally, I feel that a tablet at the table is a bit obtrusive, but is it too much to ask to have a few portable chip or swipe readers on hand?
‘Better burger’? Bah.
From Kelsey Nash, editor of FoodServiceDirector.com:
Can we scrap the “better burger” moniker already? Now, I love a good burger as much as the next guy, but with how burgers have been elevated in the last few years, a so-called better burger should be a given at many kinds of establishments. Creative preparations and offbeat ingredients are more likely to draw my eye than a generic term connoting higher quality. And while we’re at it, let’s forget “better chicken” in 2017, too.
From Dana Moran, editor of FoodService Director magazine:
While gluten-free as a trend rather than a health concern seems to be backing off, the non-GMO, organic, no additives, cage-free, straight-from-Mother-Gaia movement is still going strong as a selling point on many menus. I’m all for chefs and restaurateurs actively sourcing sustainable food, especially from the community, but the marketing blitz has gotten so intense that the words have almost been rendered meaningless. Focus on one special business partner or ingredient to highlight in a given period and the sentiment will go much further.
Get rid of the rainbow trend
From Benita Gingerella, intern for RB and FSD:
Along with frose (frozen rose), rainbow-colored food took Instagram by storm this year. The trend is said to have started when the owner of The Bagel Store in Brooklyn posted a video of a rainbow bagel, which became so popular he had to close temporarily because supplies were depleted. It wasn’t long before others jumped on the rainbow trend, and soon everything from coffee to grilled cheese had been given a splash of color. While it was fun in the beginning, rainbow foods have long overstayed their welcome. My advice to the restaurant industry this year is to ditch the dyed foods and move on to something new, preferably where the food retains its natural color.