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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

10 trends we might see in restaurants in the near future

By Kate Leahy, Senior Associate Editor -- in Restaurants and Institutions, 5/21/2009 9:18:00 AM

Green technology. Equipment with smaller footprints. More than one seminar dedicated to environmental concerns. This was one side of this year's NRA Show. The other side was, simply, survival.

But the economic slump may be a good thing for the show, as exhibitors stripped back their wares to showcase innovations. This hasn't always been the case. In 2007, Peter Backman, owner of London-based foodservice consultancy Horizons, found the show's exhibits to be less about what was new and more about what was comfortable:

"I sense that the new ideas, the real innovation, have gone out of the U.S. market and there has been a flight to the center," he told R&I. Click here for the video.

Old habits die hard. But unprecedented challenges in the marketplace make today the ultimate time to shake things up. Even Backman acknowledges that this year's show demonstrated the many ways in which U.S restaurateurs are approaching their businesses with a fresh pair of eyes. Here, 10 comments and ideas collected from the show’s exhibits, seminars and keynote speakers:

On Food

Kimchi quesadillas 1. Korean/Mexican fusion, the next big thing.
Already popular among street-food savvy eaters in Southern California, the kimchi quesadillas served by the team from Kogi, a mobile Korean barbecue concept in Los Angeles, demonstrated how well Korean and Mexican flavors meld together.

2. Fresh Iberico pork, now available.
It wasn’t until last year that USDA allowed Spain's prized Jamon Iberico into the country. Now chefs in Chicago are experimenting with a few fresh cuts from the acorn-fed pata negra pigs. At Latin-focused Carnivale, Chef Mark Mendez is braising the pork collar in duck fat for a rich confit. Because it's a pricy product (the collar wholesales for about $12 per pound, the loin even more) he is planning on running the meat as part of an appetizer special.

3. Made-to-order ice cream.
It might be the next incarnation of cold-surface blending scoop shops such as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Cold Stone Creamery: ice cream frozen to order on a icy metal slab. The advantage of this style of preparation is more about customization than flavor and texture. For example, because each serving frozen to order, customers can opt for their ice cream to be made with low-fat or lactose-free milk.

On Green

4. A restaurant that runs on French fries.
Well, not exactly, but close. Instead of paying for a service to haul away used fryer oil, a generator on display at the Green Restaurant Pavilion converts used fryer oil into electricity that can keep the lights and the water hot.

5. Telling customers "no."

Chef Charlie Ayers Chefs acknowledge that one necessary evil of year-round food purchasing is buying out of season produce, such as tomatoes, in order to meet customer expectations.Chef Charlie Ayers of Calafia in Palo Alto, Calif., doesn’t think it has to be this way. He tells customers "no" whenever they request out-of-season produce. But in order to do so gently, he trains staff to explain why he avoids serving the items. (Ayers sources food within a 150-mile radius of his restaurant.)

6. Power in numbers.
Nearly 500 NRA attendees, from operators to suppliers, pledged to reduce waste, energy use and water use as part of the NRA’s Conserve initiative. For a place to start, here’s the initiative’s Top 10 restaurant greening tips.

On Business

7. Discounting dangers.
In an aggressive effort to retain customers counts, upscale eateries are offering low-priced, prix fixe menus. But the revenue generated from the promotions isn’t aways enough to cover operating expenses, reminds Joe Bastianich, partner in New York City-based B&B Hospitality Group. “That kind of slash-and-burn discounting is overall a negative trend,” he says, because it puts the pressure on nearby restaurants to lower prices to unsustainable levels.

8. The importance of being specific.

CEO Sally Smith CEO Sally Smith of Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings recommended that operators look beyond check averages when encouraging servers to boost sales. “We break it down by sales per hour. To help your servers understand what you need from them, get specific. Don’t tell them: ‘We need to increase sales by $300 this hour.’ Tell them: ‘We have to sell 30 more hamburgers this hour.’”

On Service

9. Store-level leadership.
With customers acutely sensitive to how much they spend on food, bad service can hurt opportunities for repeat business. To encourage strong leadership at the store level, Denver-based Chipotle recognizes general managers who have a track record of training staff and grooming future managers through its “restaurateur” program, which includes a bonus for participants.

10. Embracing social media.
According to Damian Mogavero, CEO of New York City-based restaurant consultancy Avero, everyone will be using social media in the future. The differentiation factor will be found in how well-integrated it is into the company’s culture. The time to start experimenting with the technology? Now.

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