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The best of Restaurant Business 2022

From the Editor: Here are the top stories, blogs and podcast episodes from a complicated year in the restaurant industry.
The Best of Restaurant Business
Here's a look at some of the best journalism RB had to offer in 2022. / GIF by Nico Heins.

It’s difficult to assess just what kind of year this was for restaurants. Costs were up, margins were down despite historically high menu price increases. M&A was virtually nonexistent. Uncertainty ran rampant. And yet companies invested heavily in technology and expansion. And then there’s this: Customers continued to spend at restaurants.

The editors of Restaurant Business kept track of all this during the course of 2022 and went deeper than ever on the challenges and opportunities affecting restaurant owners, operators, employees and customers. We told the stories of independent restaurants and giant chains. We delved deep into all kinds of vital topics.

As we head into the last week of the year, it’s a great time to look back at our best work. Most of these stories are for subscribers of RB+. But we are making them available for everyone. But I’d urge you to subscribe and get this kind of journalism all year long. Use the code MAZE22 for a free month. I promise it’s worth it.

Restaurants’ substance abuse problem

The combined team from Restaurant Business and sister publication Foodservice Director examined the serious problem of substance abuse in restaurants, which worsened during the pandemic. We told this story from every angle. We spoke with dozens of people, including executives, operators, employees, advocates and social workers. We compiled data. And we put it all together in one important package.

Killer in the Kitchen: Restaurants face an evolving epidemic of addiction.

We also told you about Ben’s Friends, a group created specifically to help restaurant workers struggling with addiction.

Group takes aim at restaurants’ substance abuse problem.

And we told you about sober bars to give people who do not partake in alcohol but still want to have a good time and socialize over fancy beverages.

Sober bars and zero-proof drink lists add buzz to alcohol-free socialization.

The issue with ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens were all the rage during the pandemic. But they were plagued by regulatory and operations challenges. Technology Editor Joe Guszkowski was all over this story. His investigation into one of the most notable ghost kitchen companies, CloudKitchens, revealed the struggles operators have had to make those spaces work. This was our most groundbreaking work of the year.

CloudKitchens sold these restaurants a dream. What they got was a nightmare.

He followed that up with an examination of problems at the Cleveland CloudKitchens location.

At a Cleveland CloudKitchens, operators say they were set up to fail.

And Joe examined overall problems with ghost kitchens, including their difficulty finding labor and various regulatory issues.

Ghost kitchens prove a dead end for many restaurants.

McDonald’s franchisee dispute

A record number of McDonald’s franchisees sold their restaurants in 2021. That included some of the chain’s oldest and most well-known operators. Was it because of high prices? Probably. But some people described the situation as a “mass exodus” due in part to frustration with management and changes in its relationship with franchisees.

“Mass exodus”: McDonald’s franchisees are leaving the system.

The Top 500

Our annual look at the Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report is a must-read piece of work. It’s annually the best in data journalism—the package has won a Jesse H. Neal Award for each of the past three years and four of the past five. Nobody provides the level of insight and analysis that RB editors do for this package every year.

Top 500 restaurants 2022.

The Fast Act

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a significant piece of legislation when he put his signature on the Fast Act, a bill that would create a 10-person committee that makes regulatory decisions for fast-food chains. Its passage generated an uproar and a rare public rebuke from McDonald’s. Nobody covered this topic like Restaurant Business. We told the story from all angles, provided our own analysis and even showed why it may affect more than just chains.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs historic fast-food wage bill.

California’s FAST Act may still hurt the small chains and independents it’s meant to spare.

Here is who would be affected most by California’s fast-food wage bill.

Restaurants turn to ex-offenders

The industry faced a massive labor problem in 2022, so much so that many operators couldn’t remain open for as long as they needed. In response, many restaurants started working with ex-offenders, giving them a second chance, thanks to the HOPES Program, a pilot program from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

In their search for labor, restaurants turn to ex-offenders.

Virtual brand taste test

Virtual restaurant brands were all over the place in 2021. In 2022, RB editors made the ultimate sacrifice, getting food from several such brands to judge them for taste, appearance and value. We do the hard work so you don’t have to.

Test of virtual brands reveals both promise and problems.

Ramen wars

Ramen chains are all the rage these days. A number of brands are vying for supremacy to be the go-to spot around the country for noodles and broth. We spoke with a few such chains and have the video to prove it.

Ramen wars: Emerging chains aim to become Americans’ top spot for noodles and broth.

Food waste problems

Inflation was clearly a serious problem last year. Our associate editor, Reyna Estrada, examined the way restaurant companies have been working to cut back on food waste as one way to solve that particular challenge.

As inflation soars, restaurants work to cut back on food waste.

Podcasts and commentary

We would also be remiss if we didn’t remind you of the top-notch, award-winning blogs, columns and podcasts RB features.

Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo began a podcast this year looking back at historic moments in the restaurant industry, called Restaurant Rewind.

There is the finance-focused podcast A Deeper Dive.

The menu-focused Menu Feed.

And don’t forget your daily dose of news, RB Daily.

Menu maven Nancy Kruse writes a superb menu-focused column, State of the Plate, where she writes about current trends in food. It’s a great read every month. I was particularly fond of this one on horchata.

Menu Editor Pat Cobe regularly does a deep dive on some of the latest menu additions with her Behind the Menu column. This one on Velvet Taco was particularly excellent.

There is also Tech Check, the regular technology column from Guszkowski.

And Peter Romeo regularly taps into his many decades of experience covering the industry for Reality Check.

Finally, there is my blog, The Bottom Line, which has won a Neal Award for best blog for each of the past two years.

Design and editing

While you see the names of the editors behind this work, the design is done by our art director, Nico Heins. Nico is fantastic at what he does, and it’s his talent that gives RB its unique look. I recently challenged him to do something that said, “pizza chain Fountain of Youth.” Check out the result.

Pizza Hut searches for the Fountain of Youth.

And then there is our podcast editor, Kimmy Kaczmarek, who works feverishly every week to edit somewhere around 1 million podcast episodes. She is spectacular, and I’m not just saying that because she hears all of my podcast bloopers every week.

Thanks for reading Restaurant Business. We look forward to bringing you more superb journalism in 2023.

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