It’s fairly safe to say that most people have heard of the farm-to-table movement that has taken over the restaurant industry the past few years. So the question is, what now? Now that we expect to be served fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients in every dish, whether we’re dining at a Michelin star restaurant or grabbing a quick bite from our local McDonald’s drive-through, what else can restaurants possibly offer, when locally sourced, organic ingredients are the standard? There are a few overarching themes grabbing our attention this year, and they have more to do with presenting an experience than the newest trendy ingredients or the fusion of cultural dishes. We’re beginning to see more designs around quaint and intimate spaces that reflect a bar atmosphere, collaborative and community orientated dining experiences, and the removal of the dining space altogether to offer fine dining delivery.
Restaurant owners have found it difficult to keep their tables occupied as convenient delivery services like GrubHub and culturally diverse food trucks have become go-to options for dining out. Chef David Chang, of the Momofuku restaurant group, is eliminating dining rooms altogether as he shifts his focus toward delivery-only restaurants with his new concept, Ando. With Ando, Chang concentrated on a mobile app combined with UberRush delivery services to create a fine dining delivery hub–eliminating the need for an elaborately decorated brick-and-mortar restaurant and forced interactions with wait staff. This is just the beginning of what we see as the evolving “Uberization” of the restaurant industry, as mobile ordering services gain momentum.
For diners who still prefer to wander outside their homes in search of new experiences, there are restaurants like Intro in Chicago. Intro is giving guests a new experience every few months, with revolving chefs. Rather than changing the menu seasonally or swapping out the decor, Intro is offering an entirely different menu and changing the style of service according to each chef’s preferences. Well-known chefs from all over the world arrive at a new location and make it their own for a few months to ensure guests never settle on a go-to item on the menu, and instead receive a unique experience with every visit.
Restaurants are looking for ways to positively impact their communities. With the CharityWait app, a guest can adjust their wait time to be seated at a restaurant based on their charitable giving. The minimum donation fluctuates in accordance with how long the wait in line is, and the donation allows you to skip the line and be seated immediately. Some restaurants are also taking a stand against discrimination. The Works, a chain of bakeries in New Hampshire, used this year’s national Equal Pay Day to emphasize the wage discrepancies between women and men; they offered women a discount in which they only had to pay 79 cents for every dollar men paid.
The restaurant industry is paying attention to consumers’ wants and needs with open ears and open hearts. Continuing to focus attention toward providing unique experiences in familiar, comfortable settings will only increase a restaurant’s appeal. In addition, by raising the awareness of community supported social issues, restaurants will continue to strengthen the relationship and the trust between themselves and their guests.