Restaurant clairvoyants churned out enough predictions this week to drain a crystal ball, but a few virtual certainties failed to worm through the Carnacs’ turbans. Unfortunately, the omissions from their forecast lists are also the developments most likely to hit the industry like a pail of ice water. Here’s a few visions that escaped their ESP but could jam your future.
1. Clothing-optional restaurants
The cheekiest restaurants overseas had to be the ones that dared patrons to try dining in the buff with strangers. They might also have been the most successful. Despite fixed prices in triple figures, the clothing-optional joints had to turn away reservations during their limited run. The pop-up in London (and by that we mean a restaurant) was booked solid for its three-month run, and the waiting list extended to 46,000 names. The Bunyadi was so successful that its proprietor has decided to build a permanent place.
Operators of pop-ups in Australia and Japan had similar success. Spain’s first bare-butts restaurant is scheduled to open in two weeks.
It’s just a matter of time until restaurateurs here in the States bare all.
2. Virtual reality restaurant-style
Social pundits contend that 2017 will be the year virtual reality catches hold in a big way, and restaurants aren’t likely to be left unenhanced. The wilder speculation calls for a virtual immersion in a faraway hotspot that foodies are otherwise limited to reading about, or putting takeout or delivery customers inside a restaurant when they’re really parked on a couch.
The on-premise entertainment possibilities are also impressive, as this demonstration illustrates. And a mundane setting could be transformed into a setting many are able to enjoy, as Samsung proved earlier this year. Where else but in a virtual world could you eat with dolphins?
Not yet explored have been the training possibilities. Classroom settings could be turned into virtual kitchens, sans the fire and sharp objects.
3. Feh to standard items
The more common an ingredient or brand seems to be, the more likely it is to be banished from restaurants this year. Craft brews’ gain on the mega beer brands is an old story, but the trend is upshifting, with mass-market brands like Chili’s jumping on board. Standard milk is being bumped from condiment arrays by almond, soy and cashew creamers, allergies be damned. The big national soda brands are being challenged by regional craft shops. Old-school popsicles are being replaced with more elaborate high-craft versions. We ran a story recently about restaurants going beyond salt in flavoring the rims of cocktail glasses.
Clearly, if a familiar mass-market element can be replaced with something more intriguing, it’s likely to be gone this year. There’s even a new alternative to chopsticks and sporks, a hybrid called the chork.
4. More local-scale political brawls
The labor movement is dialing down its push for higher wages, more benefits and widespread unionization, as we reported elsewhere today on Restaurant Business Online. But that’s on a macro basis. The restaurant industry is likely to find itself battling more municipal and county-level proposals, and two sorts in particular.
Unions are already pushing hard for limits on employers’ leeway to make late changes in their labor schedules. The so-called secure scheduling measures typically mandate that shifts be set two weeks in advance, and that a penalty be paid by the employer (but not the employee) if any changes are made within the 14-day window.
The proposals are most likely to arise city by city. Urban areas are still strongholds of pro-labor forces, and unions have the attention and indebtedness of local politicians. New York City will likely pass its secure scheduling measure any day now, following the lead of Seattle and San Francisco. Look for a domino effect.
The other local flashpoint will likely be soft drink taxes, where bottlers or distributors charge a per-ounce surcharge for drinks—usually the sugared ones, but not always. In the pilot city, Berkeley, Calif., the extra charges dramatically dampened soft drink purchases.
Its aim was to discourage consumption of high-calorie drinks. But Philadelphia and Chicago embraced the notion of a soda tax purely to raise much-needed revenues. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending millions of his own fortune to push through the surcharges in other areas.