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How We Got Here: 2010s

Illustration by Restaurant Business

The decade brought a pressing need for restaurateurs to revamp their vocabularies. “Technology” had previously been the term for sophisticated new ovens, POS systems and other devices that were virtually unknown to the guest. Suddenly, that label was being applied to the new capabilities of cellphones, tablets and other connections to customers, including a whole new form of communication called social media.  

Similarly, operators began hearing the terms “local,” “transparency” and “clean label,” which they attributed to consumers’ growing demand to know exactly what they were eating. Health, once a marginal matter to most chains, became far more important, and consumers no longer accepted the loss of flavor as the price of getting something better for them.  

The biggest redefinition came with the infiltration of the business by tech-based disruptors such as Uber, Amazon, DoorDash and Postmates. Suddenly, “delivery” no longer referred to the off-premise advantage enjoyed by pizza and Chinese joints. The third-party entrants opened the way for operations of all stripes to offer delivery—albeit for a steep price paid to the new middlemen.

Third-party delivery sales halfway through 2018 would have made the combined services the industry's third-largest chain. 

The boom in off-premise business would be a salve to an industry smarting from a prolonged and largely still unexplained downturn in customer traffic. Some blamed overexpansion from the influx of PE capital. Others cited the Netflix effect, a desire to nest and watch streaming entertainment instead of dining out. Some diagnosed the industry’s challenge as the new normal of a mature business.

Where we are

Even with the slowdown, the restaurant business stands today as an economic engine generating annual sales of $825 billion from more than 1 million establishments, which collectively employ 15.1 million people.  

All signs suggest it’s ready for the next 100 years.

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