Consider these to be the Donald Trumps of the restaurant world. Though not all of them are people, all of these forces from the past year have shaken up the conversation and shaped the way restaurants are doing business today.
1. Third party delivery services
There always was GrubHub, but seemingly out of nowhere, a slew of food delivery companies stepped up, thanks to generous investors, offering to bring to-go bags to the homes and desks of preoccupied customers. Restaurant chains such as Starbucks and Chipotle lent validity to their ventures by partnering with San Francisco-based startup Postmates midyear. Now a host of delivery companies, large and small—including UberEATs, Caviar and Amazon—are getting into the game, forcing restaurants to think carefully about how well their packaged meals will travel. There have been potholes along the path, however: In November, In-N-Out Burger sued DoorDash for delivering its burgers and fries without its permission.
2. E. coli and norovirus
Mexican chain Chipotle suffered a double whammy when it closed 43 restaurants in Seattle and Portland, Ore. in response to an E. coli outbreak. That was followed by more cases in California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Maryland. In December, it was dealt another wallop when more than 140 patrons at a Chipotle near Boston College fell ill from norovirus. Although the chain was quick to respond, and to trumpet those actions to the public, its actions offered lessons in what to do and what not to do for other operators. One important takeaway: Restaurants—whose employees cause about 70 percent of norovirus outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—still need to do more to improve food safety.
3. Richard Griffin
The National Labor Relations Board’s general council technically may have kicked over the apple cart last year when he decided that McDonald’s (and, by extension, some other franchisors) could be considered “joint employers,” culpable for the labor missteps of its franchisees. But he continued his disruptive ways in 2015 by interpreting the law to hold companies responsible for the labor infractions of other partners as well, including vendors.
4. Cats and dogs
To all the naysayers who thought cat cafes were just a silly, passing fad, consider this: The name for the restaurant concept that combines felines and frappuccinos—included among our list of 10 groundbreaking concepts in 2015—was further legitimized by the informal-language police, Oxford Dictionaries, this August. And now most major cities, including Chicago and New York City, have their own versions. Not to be left out, cats’ tongue-wagging archrivals (dogs) now are welcome on restaurant patios in New York state thanks to legislation that became law in late October.
Despite the public’s growing embrace of pot beyond its medicinal uses, cannabis has been slow to waft onto restaurant menus. But following legalization in Colorado, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Washington State and Alaska, chefs are beginning to show—publicly at least—their interest in exploring marijuana-laced recipes. In early December, James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal announced that she is developing THC-laced snacks and treats that will bear her name. And as RB reports in its upcoming January issue, Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg recently sold tickets to a special dinner showcasing pot pairings—ventures that scratch only the surface of this growing opportunity in foodservice.
There’s no denying that the Nov. 13 terrorist acts in Paris, which included an attack on restaurant La Bonne Bière, have some American customers and operators wondering about our own vulnerability to acts of terror here at home. And it’s already happened, albeit in a much less violent but still violating way. Earlier this year Mississippi restaurant The Shed revealed that its website was hacked by a group professing to be ISIS and the FBI investigated a potential explosive device that was planted but didn’t ignite at a KFC in Reno, Nev. (the agency did not speculate the source of that scare).
7. The clock
Restaurant operators still thinking in traditional dayparts are sleeping on potential sales. Today, half of adults snack two to three times a day, according to research by Mintel. Chains and independents are aiming to snag these between-hour eaters with everything from shareables and small plates to healthy grab-and-go bites to mini desserts. Further busting the Bulova: the proven success of all-day breakfast in the hands of the country’s largest restaurant chain McDonald’s. Other chains, even if publicly hesitant to follow suit are surely watching.