Restaurateurs grouse about a step up in competition from convenience stores and supermarkets. Last week, they were invited to do something about it. About 800 foodservice executives from all meal channels—c-stores, grocery stores, restaurants and so-called noncommercial facilities like college dining halls—gathered in Dallas to learn from one another and get a bead on what’s happening in the other sectors vying for America’s dining-out dollars. They participated in an unusual conference called FARE, which looks at the entire ready-to-eat food market. The event is presented by Winsight, the parent company of Restaurant Business.
Here are some of the insights that were provided.
1. The shrinking kitchen
One of the ways Another Broken Egg Cafe is bolstering its business has nothing to do with traffic, sales or the menu. The 60-unit breakfast and lunch cafe is updating its kitchens with new, more efficient and often smaller equipment.
“We’re reducing our kitchens sometimes 15 to 20%, which comes out to an ROI that’s better than what we’ve done in 10 years,” said founder and CEO Ron Green. “You could knock a couple of hundred thousand off the cost of a restaurant.”
2. A regional sales peculiarity
Another Broken Egg began and is still clustered largely in the Gulf Coast states, where local dining habits have been a boon to the concept (none of the units serve dinner, Green said).
“Located along the coast, people tend to eat two meals: They each brunch, and then they eat dinner,” Green explained. “It saves them a little money.” And makes Another Broken Egg a high-frequency option, he suggested.
3. What’s selling in Walt Disney World? Think octopus.
One of the newest restaurants in Disney’s sprawling Orlando, Fla., entertainment complex is proving how adventurous the dining public has become, said Beth Scott, global VP of food and beverage for Disney parks and resorts. The high-end restaurant, Tiffins, promises foods a globetrotter would encounter in far-flung sectors of the world. For that reason, the restaurant decided to put octopus on the menu. Sure enough, said Scott, the appetizer became a best-seller—even at $16 a serving.
Tiffins also features head-on prawns with a sea urchin butter sauce ($37) and whole fried fish flavored with fermented black bean sauce ($43).
4. Meanwhile, those turkeys in China…
Scott also illustrated how small the culinary world is becoming. At Disney’s theme park in Shanghai, the hottest sellers by far are turkey legs, the offbeat item U.S. operations adopted years ago because of the novelty—it’s difficult not to look like a caveman while gnawing on the oversized drumsticks.
“In Shanghai, they wait in line for two hours to get a turkey leg,” said Scott. “We only sell them for two hours because of the supply.” Disney can’t get enough of the legs because turkeys aren’t raised in sufficient volume in China. The birds also tend to be smaller.
Scott noted that the flavor of the legs is tweaked for Chinese tastes, but didn’t reveal specifically how the spicing is localized.
5. Microsoft wants this sort of bugs
The most unusual tip for making a foodservice operation greener, hands down, came from Mark Freeman, a closet fly promoter who’s better known as senior manager of global dining services for Microsoft Corp. Freeman revealed that his operation promotes a robust life for black soldier flies because the larvae eat five times their body weight daily. Microsoft feeds the larvae food scraps.
When the wigglers morph into actual flies, Microsoft uses food waste to fertilize plants. The refuse does double duty as fly bait, resulting in the insects being eaten by chicken and fish, which in turn end up being served by Microsoft. Any scraps become food for the larvae, and the cycle continues, Freeman explained.
6. Drone on
Why are some food sellers racing to make deliveries via drones? Sure, there are speed and labor advantages, but another part of it—at least for now—is the social-media buzz that consumers would drive. “Gen Z is really interested in drone delivery,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Restaurant Business’ research sister, Technomic. “They want to watch the drone come in, take a picture and post it to social media.” The meal provider who gets there first reaps the benefits.