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The best of Restaurant Business 2021

From the Editor: RB journalists covered every facet of an up-and-down year in the restaurant industry. Here is a look at some of our best journalism of 2021.
Image by Nico Heins

It’s amazing to think just how much of a roller coaster the past year really was. The year began with continued COVID challenges and political upheaval that evolved into hope with vaccines and reopenings and a surge in sales. And then more challenges and now, unfortunately, yet another surge.

Restaurant Business journalists have been covering these events every day. As we head into the holidays, it’s worth taking stock not just of the year that was, but of the work that we published on these pages.

Most of these stories are typically behind a paywall. You can subscribe here and use the code MAZE21 for a free month.

The Impact of the $15 Wage

The $15 wage has long been a goal of labor activists and the stuff of nightmares for restaurant operators. That wage arrived in 2021, not because of a change in the minimum wage but because of a historic shortage of labor. RB editors examined the history of the wage and its impact on all facets of the industry, including workers’ lives, the push for more technology and the shift in menus.

Read the article here.

Why investors are pouring billions into restaurant technology

Since the start of the pandemic, investors have rushed to put money into anything that used the words “restaurant” and “technology" in the same sentence. There were IPOs, major investments and tons of venture capital. RB Technology Editor Joe Guszkowski compiled all these investments in his deep dive into this trend, which could fundamentally change the restaurant industry. Or it could lose a lot of people money.

Read the article here.

How the Restaurant Revitalization Fund let restaurants down

The $29 billion fund was supposed to save restaurants and in many cases provided cash for them to weather the COVID storm. But it was underfunded from the beginning. And then lawsuits forced the SBA to rescind thousands of awards. Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo examined the problems with the fund and the impact those problems had on operators.

Read the article here.

For indies, omicron brings a terrifying déjà vu

Entering 2022, many Americans hoped they would soon see an end to a two-year pandemic. And then scientists discovered a new variant, called omicron, and it quickly spread through the population. While shutdowns and restrictions seem unlikely, it nevertheless is already proving to be a major disruption, especially for small operators already struggling. Independents Editor Heather Lalley, with some help from Menu Editor Pat Cobe, told their story.

Read the article here.

Why a Big Mac costs more in Seattle than in Austin

With labor and supply chain costs rising this year, many restaurants have raised prices on their menu items. We examined the prices for one of the country’s most ubiquitous chains, McDonald’s, looking specifically at the prices of Big Macs and cheeseburgers in cities around the country. We found massive differences, frequently driven by local wage rates.

Read the article here.

It’s been one heck of a year to be a first-time restaurant owner

Imagine getting to the point of realizing your dream of opening your own restaurant. And then a pandemic hits. That’s what happened to numerous operators in 2020. Menu Editor Pat Cobe talked with some of these operators to understand the challenges and opportunities of opening at a time of major restrictions and COVID concerns.

Read the article here.

At Worlds of Flavor, food memories drive innovation

I have long been a fan of menu maven Nancy Kruse, her wit and her wonderful writing. So, one of the personal highlights of the year came when this column first appeared. Nancy joining the RB team as a menu trends columnist promises to upgrade our editorial content considerably, both with her State of the Plate column and her back-and-forth with Peter Romeo, Sweet & Sour.

Read the article here.

And check out the first post of Sweet & Sour.

Then listen to my podcast episode with Nancy where she schools me on all sorts of things.

Boston becomes Starbucks’ newest battleground

I am also a fan of Working Lunch, the political-focused podcast from Align Public Strategies’ Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley. The inner-workings of government and politics have become more important to operators than ever, and the debut of this podcast on RB is part of a broader effort to improve overall coverage of government as it relates to restaurants.

Check out the episode here.

How Golden Corral survived the pandemic

One of my favorite things to do every week on a personal level is “A Deeper Dive,” the podcast I’ve hosted since 2018. My favorite episode from the year was with Lance Trenary, the CEO of Golden Corral. We were curious about how the chain was surviving the pandemic when buffets were persona non grata. Lance did not disappoint.

Check out the episode here.

As the year winds down, easy-to-execute, easy-to-eat items steer menus

Pat Cobe works diligently every week to collect and gather new menu introductions and limited-time offers from the nation’s restaurants and restaurant chains. She works with designer Nico Heins and web producer Kimberly Kaczmarek to give it a format and a design unlike anything you can find anywhere else. If you’re interested at all in new menu items, this weekly feature is for you.

Read the article here.

How Chris Scott taps his food science, nutrition and culinary expertise as head chef at KFC

Pat also hosts the weekly menu-focused podcast Menu Feed. In this one, she speaks with the head chef at the Louisville, Ky.-based chicken chain, which has been focused on menu innovation to get customers’ attention at a time when competition in that sector has only grown tougher.  

Check out the episode here.

Old Country Buffet did not die from the pandemic

It’s easy to say that the pandemic killed the buffet business. But that certainly wasn’t the case with Old Country Buffet, HomeTown Buffet, Ryan’s and Furr’s, the concepts operated by the bankrupt Fresh Acquisitions. The Bottom Line blog examined the downfall of the buffet empire and finds that mismanagement killed the concepts.

Read the post here.

Tech Roundup: The next step for robot delivery might be a small one

Technology is playing an increasingly critical role inside restaurants. Joe Guszkowski has been keeping up with these trends with his weekly roundup of news on the intersection of restaurants and technology. In this one, he writes about the next step of robot delivery—the subject of considerable curiosity in and out of the industry.

Read the article here.

For Famous Dave Anderson, adversity definitely had its advantages

Peter Romeo spoke at length with Dave Anderson, the barbecue master and founder of Famous Dave’s. Anderson is one of the industry’s most fascinating figures. Peter details how Anderson not only overcame his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but used them (and his high I.Q.) to his advantage.

Read the article here.

Technomic Top 500

Every year we detail the largest restaurant chains in the U.S. by sales, as measured by our sister company Technomic. This year proved especially difficult, and fascinating, given the ranking measured sales from a year interrupted by a pandemic and its widespread closures of dine-in service. It is, in essence, a record of the industry’s most difficult year on record.

Read the package here.

Last, but most certainly not least, have been the people behind the scenes who put it all together. Art Director Nico Heins is the person who creates so much of the innovative artwork included with many of these pieces.

Kimberly Kaczmarek, our do-it-all web producer, ensures that our newsletters are sent and the trains are run on time. She also edits our podcasts and oversees RB’s social media.

Thanks to everyone for reading Restaurant Business, and here is to a healthy 2022.

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