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Editors' Picks: Top Developments of 2013

Looking back over the year, our editors chose these trends and developments as the most arresting of 2013.

Peter's Pick: Unionization finds traction

Peter Romeo
Vice President & Editorial Director

Years from now, restaurateurs will look back fondly on the days when unionization wasn’t a worry, and labor costs reflected it. They’ll have to rewind memories past 2013, because labor organizers made larger strides in the business this year than arguably they ever have, though you wouldn’t know it from the industry’s reaction.

If franchisees were warned five years ago that their restaurants would be subjected to multi-city walkouts and strikes, they might’ve chuckled in disbelief. If operators were alerted that a grassroots movement would arise to double the minimum wage, and succeed in one area, they’d have shaken off the news as a cry of wolf. If they knew that union representation would quietly be put to a vote by the wait staff of a casual chain restaurant in the Southeast, or at other chain places here and there, they might not have believed it.

No matter. The level of reaction would have been no different than it was this year, when the industry largely sat mute, surrendering in the battle of perception. It let union organizers work through a new proxy, the work center, to focus on what the industry does wrong. There was nary a word offered in defense about the positives, like outpacing the nation in job growth, or teaching young people the fundamental job responsibilities that schools or parents hadn’t.

Straight-lining this year’s union activity, even if it wasn’t correctly identified as such, foreshadows crippling strains on restaurants’ labor budgets in the years ahead. As far as I can tell, that’s a story the business might lament for some time to come.

For more on this topic, Peter suggests reading:
Silence of the lambs
Labor unions set their sights on restaurants
How to stay union-free
How ROC - and its attempts to unionize the industry - kept it's profile high

See page 2 for more picks

Looking back over the year, our editors chose these trends and developments as the most arresting of 2013.

Kelly's Pick: Obamacare delays the pain

Kelly Killian
Executive Editor

The restaurant industry's collective sigh of relief was practically audible when the Obama Administration announced this summer that the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act would be delayed one year. But that sentiment was short lived; uncertainty lingers and some operators face a daunting set of administrative tasks starting Jan. 1.

When we ran our story, "Obamacare: what to know now" back in June 2013 following the National Restaurant Association Show, operators were overwhelmed by the complicated rules and daunting potential costs of the looming law, including the employer mandate requiring employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees to provide health insurance to all full-time employees. A temporary reprieve came in the announcement on July 2 that the Administration would delay enforcement of the employer mandate until 2015 in response to concerns raised by the business community.

One obstacle down, operators survived their first Obamacare mandate Oct. 1, the date by when employers large and small were required to notify their workers about healthcare options.

On the horizon: Starting, Jan. 1, 2014 new rules will kick in requiring employers who may qualify as an “applicable large employer” to begin tracking employee hours to determine their status for 2015. The calculation isn’t an easy one (more on calculating your status here), and more changes and announcements keep coming, including news around the time of the Thanksgiving holiday that the Administration would delay the rollout of the so-called SHOP exchanges where small business could browse plans online. These developments led Restaurant Business to create a new feature in the magazine called Obamacare Watch. Stay tuned to our pages and our website for more updates as the new rules are implemented for individuals and businesses.

For more on this topic, Kelly suggests reading:
Obamacare: next steps
Obamacare: what to know now
Health care reform’s deep cuts

See page 3 for more picks

Looking back over the year, our editors chose these trends and developments as the most arresting of 2013.

Pat's Pick: Chicken

Pat Cobe
Senior Editor

The humble chicken achieved haute status in 2013, a development I followed with great interest. I was lucky enough to sample Daniel Humm’s Roast Chicken for Two at NoMad in New York City, prepared with a stuffing of foie gras, black truffles and brioche tucked under its skin. I also polished off chef Roxanne Spruance’s brined, air-dried Spit Roasted Chicken twirled on a custom rotisserie at Alison Eighteen. Thomas Keller’s fried chicken is on my short list.

Not only have some of the most celebrated chefs and restaurants transformed the bird into a menu star, they raised the standard of living for these chickens by supporting small farms that feed and treat their flocks with extreme TLC. One Pennsylvania producer goes so far as to use kitchen scraps from four-star restaurants to create a custom chicken feed.

Some say it’s the high price of beef and seafood that is putting chicken in the limelight. Restaurants certainly see higher profit margins with chicken dishes and often menu them to offset the cost of pricier proteins. NoMad’s sells for $79 and even with the high cost of truffles and foie gras, the chicken’s pedigree and the labor that goes into the prep, it has to make a very good profit for the restaurant. But what do diners care about most? All the extra attention both farmers and chefs are lavishing on the bird is making for some mighty tasty eating.

For more on this topic, Pat suggests reading: 
Super chicks
Chicken takes a spin on the rotisserie
A Memphis chef's take on chicken pot pie
High beef prices mean more chicken and pork on the plate
Menu mandate for attendees: Better but less costly food and deals, too

See page 4 for more picks

Looking back over the year, our editors chose these trends and developments as the most arresting of 2013.

Sara's Pick: The Cronut: a legacy

Sara Rush
Associate Editor

Who would have thought a new pastry hybrid could create as much buzz as that of the Cronut from Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City? The fact that consumers would stand in line for three hours for a taste of this half croissant, half doughnut reinforces—albeit in an extreme way—that people will go out of their way for new flavors or something unique. If it’s only available in limited quantities—even better.

The Cronut is a prime example of how limited quantities, thus exclusivity, can spur a craze. There are only so many Cronuts baked each morning, and consumers must endure the long line for the chance to be among the lucky few to get their hands on one. Now, more than six months after the initial rollout, diners still line up at 5 a.m. to get their hands on a Cronut. To keep the crowds coming (and thus keep up the hype), Ansel has tweaked his wait-time practices. To accommodate for colder temperatures this winter, for example, the bakery is offering a Winter Pass. Guests can get the pass in the morning and come back at a later pre-assigned time to wait in a shorter indoor line. The bakery even launched an online preordering site at the end of November, but the demand is so high that it’s constantly swamped and Cronuts sell out immediately. Ansel certainly figured out the formula for creating a craze-worthy item—and keeping up the hype.

And while his culinary craze was big enough to make the list of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year 2013, Ansel has also laid the groundwork for what many predict will be a big trend of 2014—hybrids. Consulting company Andrew Freeman and Co. expects to see more chefs turned mad scientists next year. Familiar dishes will be blurred and combined with others, forming hybrid versions of classic crowd pleasers. Similarly, the National Restaurant Association named hybrid desserts as the top dessert trend for 2014 in its annual What’s Hot culinary forecast. So the big question remains—what will be the Cronut of 2014?

For more on this topic, Sara suggests reading: 
Limited run, big buzz
Dessert differentiation
Think different

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