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Stayin' alive across foodservice channels

As a teenager in the 1980s, I hated disco. Hated it with the heat of a thousand suns. I’m pretty sure I even owned a “Rather Dead Than Disco” T-shirt.

Well, at least I claimed to hate it. You see, I was a rock ‘n’ roll fan (I don’t think we called it “classic rock” yet), and if you liked Led Zeppelin and The Who, you were honor-bound to loathe the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. Tight lines were drawn between musical genres, and you crossed those lines at your own peril. 

And yet, somehow, I know most of the words to “Stayin’ Alive.” And there is plentiful wedding video footage of me getting down to “Last Dance.” At the end of the day, music is music, and a good melody can hook you, whatever genre the artist has been tagged with. (If my 14 year-old self knew I was ever going to write this paragraph, he’d borrow Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine, zip to the future, and bop me on the head with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “One More from the Road” double LP.)

So, too, with restaurants. We’ve spent a lot of time the past 10 years debating the definitions of different restaurant categories. What qualities make a restaurant fast casual? What’s the difference between casual dining and family dining—or is it midscale? Is polished casual a thing? Can you call a place fine dining if you’re allowed to dine in (fashionably) ripped jeans? And what the heck is a ghost restaurant?

As hard as we’ve tried to put restaurants into categories, you restaurateurs keep defying definition. 

From Angus steak with Gouda at Arby’s to burgers and fries at the Four Seasons, menu creep has been going on for years. When Chevy Chase said, “I’m so hungry I could eat a sandwich from a gas station,” in “Vacation” back in 1983, it was funny. Now, a made-to-order Turkey Veggie Hoagie from a Wawa convenience store is as good as anything you can get at your local deli. 

Perhaps more importantly, restaurant concepts of different stripes learn from each other. The traditional menu life cycle—from ethnic indie to fine dining to casual dining to QSR, the journey that took hummus from Mediterranean restaurants to a full selection at your local CVS—is old news. Now, food types, service styles and more jump genres all the time. David Chang aspires to Taco Bell’s tech game. Subway was offering Sriracha before most of us knew how to pronounce it. 

So, beginning with this issue, we’re expanding the circulation of Restaurant Business magazine to 100,000. Our readers run everything from one-unit independents to global mega-chains, and everything between. Top content appeals to all of you, and as a result, our readership keeps expanding. Even though we’re going to keep trying to put you in boxes—calling you casual dining and fine dining or whatever—you’re going to keep busting out of those boxes. 

And at the end of the day, you’re all trying to do the same thing. Bring guests to your restaurant and give them a wonderful experience, so they come back again. And again. (And again.) 

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