Ancient Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu once wrote, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them, that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Change is the only constant in life; time changes everything. Businesses and industries also change and evolve to stay relevant. The restaurant industry has also witnessed its fair share of change over the years, from roadside inns and taverns to cloud kitchens and drive-thrus.
The world was introduced to the concept of restaurants in the 18th-century in France. According to history, after the French Revolution, many chefs, once employed by the royals and aristocratic households, were relieved of their jobs and struggling to make ends meet. Many of these chefs opened up their restaurants in Paris, introducing the wealthy French citizens to the concept of fine dining, with the delicate chinaware, cutlery, linen tablecloths, and diverse menus offering both prix fixe and a la carte options.
The whole concept of fine dining rose in popularity in France and soon made its way to Europe and eventually into the New World. Legend has it that the credit for opening the first modern restaurant 250 years ago in Paris goes to a soup salesman by the name Boulanger. However, some historians take this information with a grain of salt.
The present-day restaurant ecosystem is immensely diverse and audacious. According to the National Restaurant Association, the projected sales of the U.S. restaurant industry in 2019 was $863 billion, equal to 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Back in the 1970s, the projected sales were around $43 billion.
Award-winning food journalist Kevin Alexander predicted that in 2006 the U.S. restaurant industry would begin a transformative period. In his book, he mentions some of the innovations that rang true for the restaurant industry:
- the rise of “fine casual dining” (those restaurants with dangling Edison bulbs and exposed brick and in-your-face ambitious food that doesn’t lean overmuch on fine linens or fancy stemware),
- craft cocktails,
- farm-to-table dining,
- the hipification of non-Western food,
- the audacity of food truck culture,
- and the democratization of criticism via social media.
The farm-to-table movement is another interesting concept that flourishes in the present-day restaurant ecosystem. People, nowadays, are aware and conscious of the ethics and morality surrounding food production, which is a significant driver of the farm-to-table movement. According to Rutgers, farm-to-fork is “a food system in which food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.”
Restaurant technology has also undergone a massive evolution. For example, Point of Sale (POS) systems have gone from being just a payment tool to an all-in-one restaurant management tool. These advanced POS terminals have been an essential factor in the current state of the restaurant industry.
Some restaurants have also moved on to cloud-based POS, which uses cloud computing centric retail financial services for POS systems, and the data is backed up on remote vendor servers. It offers increased data security, remote access, centralized infrastructure in case of multiple restaurants, and also increased mobility by allowing the addition of numerous mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to your POS system. According to Hospitality Technology’s 2018 POS Software Trends Report, 61 percent of merchants said they want their next POS system to be cloud-based.
Some restaurants also use tablet POS machines, where the restaurant staff uses specially designed tablets. The restaurant tablet helps the staff with table and inventory management and also offers a new way to engage with the customers, thereby enhancing customer experience.
According to Eaters, the traditional quick-service eateries in America will be replaced by fast-casual dining. Washington Post reports that the greatest period of restaurant growth in U.S. history is ending. Hudson Riehle, SVP of the National Restaurant Association, told Forbes that, “Timing-wise, this is definitely a tipping point for the emergence of essentially a new business model for certain restaurateurs. The basic paradigm of what constitutes a restaurant in America today is changing.” According to Forbes, delivery, ghost kitchens, a more sophisticated point-of-sale system, and artificial intelligence will be the key trends of 2020.
Keep Calm And Stay Relevant
David Henkes, a senior principal at foodservice industry analyst firm Technomic told Washington Post that “for a number of years, the rate of restaurant growth has exceeded population growth. Too many restaurants are chasing too few consumer dollars.”
Amidst this changing ecosystem and competitive market, restaurants have to keenly observe the market and consumer-centric trends like a hawk and ensure that they stay relevant by adopting the right technology such as a cloud-based POS system and restaurant tablets.