Last week, Oxford Dictionaries declared “youthquake” its word of the year. The pick describes “a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.”
The words and phrases that made their way to this year’s restaurant industry lexicon similarly reflect the changes shaping foodservice. These new terms signified changing tactics for addressing workforce hurdles and differentiating restaurant concepts from the ever-growing field of competitors.
Here are the utterances that caught our ear in 2017, with implications for the industry at large.
The term McDonald’s coined for its recruitment effort aimed at attracting millennial applicants. Job seekers view an ad and, from there, can apply for a position through the Snapchat app. After launching snaplications this past summer, McDonald’s says it saw a 35% increase in applications and a 30% increase in traffic to its Careers page thanks to the program and other marketing efforts. It brought the program back in October to hire for seasonal jobs.
The have-it-your-way model is no longer just about letting customers choose their toppings. Technology has given way to personalization—the goal of which is to create “microcustomized experiences,” using data to tailor the restaurant experience to each individual customer, said futurist and trendspotter Shawn DuBravac at 2017’s FSTEC conference.
Businesses may not be able to stop valuable employees from leaving—especially with national unemployment at a 17-year low. But some are taking steps to make the most of the exit by turning departing employees into brand ambassadors. “If you’re not thinking about boomerang employees, you’re missing out,” said Nichole Upshaw, director of human resources for the RaceTrac Petroleum convenience-store chain, encouraging businesses to keep a list of team members they would like to have back.
Some restaurants aim to avoid losing employees in the first place by conducting stay interviews. Like an exit interview—but one that takes place before a resignation occurs—stay interviews are a formal opportunity to check in with employees, ask what’s working and learn what the company can do to improve day to day and long-term.
Though it didn’t originate this year, the term—which describes delivery-only concepts with no dining rooms—was resurrected when a pair of high-profile, separately owned ghost restaurants, Maple and Sprig, shuttered within weeks of each other in May. The model isn’t dead, however; this fall, Red Robin launched a delivery-only spinoff in Chicago and third-party delivery company DoorDash opened a commissary kitchen, allowing concepts to produce food for delivery without the expense of opening a brick-and-mortar unit.
Variations on this term include “headless restaurants,” “nonrestaurant restaurants,” and our favorite, “lack of house.”
Another comeback term, “lapsed users” garnered new focus this year as brands invested in strategies to win back customers who had scaled back their visits. McDonald’s vowed to pay 55% of the cost for franchisees to upgrade their stores in accordance with the burger chain’s tech-fueled Experience of the Future initiative, complete with self-ordering kiosks. And take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy’s partnered with a software company to deliver precision-targeted ads, with coupons, to lapsed customers through social media.
In yet another attempt to differentiate themselves from the masses of high-quality limited-service restaurants, some operators are defining their slice of the segment as “comfort casual.” Maryland chain Grilled Cheese & Co. uses the term to describe its twist on the childhood staple; Mersea, a concept housed in shipping containers and coming soon to San Francisco’s Treasure Island, promises “comfort-casual seaside treats.” It’s a swing in the opposite direction of terms like “fast fine” or “polished casual.”
Burger King and McDonald’s this spring adopted the gimmick of baiting consumers with some seemingly innocuous action in an ad. A 15-second BK television spot stirred controversy when it triggered voice-activated Google Home devices to read a Wikipedia entry for the Whopper. McDonald’s took a different tack, rolling out an unbranded YouTube video in which actress Mindy Kaling invites viewers to Google the phrase “That place where Coke tastes good.” Doing so initially linked searchers to McDonald’s-related sites; now, the top search results are media articles covering the buzz around the ad campaign itself.
This word is used by at least one restaurant techie to refer to something measured by sensors. Cava is one restaurant chain using sensors to improve the customer experience by monitoring everything from wait times to the path of delivery trucks to seating configurations to decibel levels at the counter.