Posts Tagged ‘Service’

Food, Dining, Service, and Life: An Overview of 20 Food and Dining Trends for 2011

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

The food, dining, and service trends for 2011 posted to satedepicure.com were compiled based on my own expertise, thoughtful observations from visiting or eating in 2010 at over 60 fine dining restaurants, more than a dozen supermarket brands, and multiple (more than 10) fast casual restaurant concepts in more than a dozen U.S. cities including Boston, New York, Providence, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco, Denver, New Orleans, St. Louis, Charlotte, Baltimore, and Miami. When visiting a city I preplan an itinerary that involves visiting at a minimum, one fine dining restaurant rated 26 or higher for food (if available) by Zagat guide, one quick service restaurant (preferably independently owned) and a visit to the prepared food section of a least one high-end supermarket. It isn’t unusual for a visit to include multiple restaurants and retail markets as time and budget allows. My primary goal is to gauge the culinary talent, menu trends, restaurant design, service, wine and beverage, pricing and overall economy as measured by restaurant pricing and volume, even if based on a limited sampling of the local market.  

During my visits, in addition to dining, I usually talk with the chef or owner of the establishment and spend time prior to the visit studying the establishments web site and menu if available. After dining at a restaurant and taking notes, my experiences from select visits are posted in simple form on satedepicure.com along with a photo record of the dishes I enjoyed and, in some cases, comments and reflection. Through the past year I have collected hundreds of photos of dishes as they were served. One of the interesting things about satedepicure.com is that the site features photos of what I was served rather than studio shots of dishes created for public relation purposes. Satedepicure.com captures an experience in actual form along with notes based on expert opinion.

Early in December I synthesized these data while searching for patters in cooking methods, ingredients, menu descriptions, décor, service, and philosophy that I experienced in the prior year. If provided a tour of the restaurant, I look through my notes for trends in design and equipment as well. Once I have compiled a rough list of patterns from the past year I sort them according to ones that are emerging (gaining momentum), ones that are fading, and ones that have become so ubiquitous that they have transitioned to permanent. With so much data on hand, this process of sorting and listing is time-consuming but surprisingly easy to do; the patterns become obvious at the macro level.  For ease of publication and search I have posted four sets of trends:

  1. 2011 Top Five Emerging Food Trends
  2. 2011 Top Five Menu Items/Ingredients
  3. 2011 Top Five Trends that are now Permanent
  4. 2011 Top Five Trends that are Fading

The items listed are based on the synthesizing and sorting process outlined above. They are my own (with all their limitations) and represent, to the best of my knowledge, where food, dining, and service is headed in 2011. Happy New Year and thank you for reading Satedepicure.com!

2011 Top Five Food Trends that are now Permanent

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     The $5.00 Lunch

By the end of 2010 consumers resolved that lunch costs $5.00, a shift that started with the” five dollar foot long” promoted by Subway. Nearly every major competing fast food chain joined in. Value-added and prepared foods retailers jumped on the bandwagon as well, particularly Harris Teeter with their $5.00 meal solution (entree and two sides). When fast food operators and supermarket retailer’s latch on to a trend like the $5.00 lunch, the trend tends to become long term due to stubborn consumers who, once exposed to value, refuse to pay more for a meal. It will be years before we see a shift up in prices and I predict that fast food and meal solution retailers will be stuck with a price range for lunch and value added meals between $5.00-$9.00 per portion for the next 3-5 years.

 2.     Concern for Food Safety

With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, the supply chain, manufacturing and distribution practices that have served the foodservice industry for decades will undergo a seismic shift. Many of the provisions in the act are long overdue while some are examples of excessive regulation. In 2011 chefs will make food safety and supply chain transparency part of the broader discussion on food integrity. Look for chefs to have a greater influence on how ingredients are handled from source to table.

 3.     Value Prix Fixe

Like the $5.00 lunch, value prix fixe has become ubiquitous at restaurants around the country. Restaurants are using the $20-$30 three to five course prix fix menu as a promotion to draw consumers out Monday through Thursday. Having sampled value prix fixe menus around the country, I am pleasantly surprised by the quality and value I experienced. Talking with chefs who offer value prix fix, few were considering the elimination of the option. Value prix fixe will continue for the foreseeable future.

 4.     Chef Quality Value Added Foods at Retail

Sophisticated retailers like Wal Mart, Harris Teeter, Wegman’s, and Whole Foods will continue to offer chef inspired value added foods at retail. Pricing for these items will typically fit within the $5.00 meal trend mentioned above and, due to the extreme lead-time required by major retailers to get food products from concept to store shelf, the trend will continue for the next 24-36 months at minimum. Retailers like Wal Mart will broaden their “chef quality” meal solution offerings while continuing to offer consumers extreme value.

5.     Quality Fast Casual Restaurants

Consumers have had their say and quality fast casual has come out the winner over fast food. Restaurants like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Noodles & Co, have found success in a tough economy and will spawn expansion into fast casual by additional themed concepts (look for Asian in 2011) in the coming years. Consumers will continue to support high quality fast casual restaurant growth now that they have tasted quality.

2011 Five Food Trends that are Fading

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     Artisanal Cheese Carts & Courses

As a cheese lover, I can’t understand why the broader dining public has failed to embrace cheese. During the early part of 2010 I noticed cheese courses or cheese carts at fine dining restaurants from coast to coast. By the end of 2010 more than a few of these restaurants pulled their cheese courses or carts due to low volume. This disappoints me but I am encouraged by the high quality and often local cheeses available a local markets and at retail. Although restaurants are shifting away from the cheese course and cart, great cheese is more available than ever.

2.       Micro Greens as Universal Garnish

The “micro greens as garnish” addiction among chefs in America is abating. As I wandered the country in 2010, micro greens were everywhere. They were so prevalent that they were no longer special. A shift had taken place where micro greens were no longer a complimentary component of a specific dish, adding flavor, texture, and eye appeal. Instead they had become the equivalent, in many cases, of the standard curly parsley garnish of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; garnish for garnish’s sake. Look for smart chefs to shift away from micro greens as a universal garnish or find better and more thoughtful ways of using microgreens in the year to come.

 3.     Constrained Spending

Finally, after three years of suffering, fine dining is expanding again as individuals and organizations open up their wallets to spend on the finer things in life. As 2010 comes to an end, more than one of my colleagues operating fine dining restaurants are reporting the best second half they have had in years. Spending has not returned to the unrestrained mode that existed prior to 2007 but the constrained spending that hampered fine dining restaurants has shifted and opened up a bit. This fading trend may contradict my earlier comment about the $6.00 meal but they are two separate things. Consumers are willing to spend from time to time but seek out value as well; both trends will continue in the coming year. As an eater, I am happy to see the extreme constrained spending of 2010 fade a bit. However, let’s not go too far and return to the excess of the early 2000’s.

 4.     Chef Gardens

In 2011 chefs will shift away from tending their own gardens. In the past year I visited more than a handful of restaurants that were operating their own full-fledged garden. These weren’t small herb gardens or token plots with a few vegetables growing, they were large gardens intended to provide a source of raw ingredients for daily restaurant operations. To a person, the chefs I spoke with about their gardens agreed that they had become a pain to operate and were money loosing ventures. Although some restaurants have found real success and profitability in operating a chef’s garden (Arrows in Ogunquit Maine and Fruition in Denver come to mind) most restaurateurs and chefs are shifting toward allowing local farmers to handle growing high quality products rather than do it themselves. For reasons of cost, time, expertise, and quality of life, chefs will focus on the kitchen in 2011 and leave the gardening to qualified local farmers.

 5.     Organic Foods Fade, Integrity Reigns

In 2011 chefs will continue to move toward a position of sourcing “food with integrity” rather than emphasizing organic foods in a effort to find balance while providing consumers with quality.  The lack of universal standards for organic foods has contributed to this shift. Chipotle restaurants started the “food with integrity” movement, a shift driven by founder Steve Ells of whom I am a huge fan. Chipotle gave momentum to the fast casual restaurant market and provided a road map for restaurants across the country through its “food with integrity” focus. Rather than draw attention solely to organics, the “food integrity movement” seeks to find ingredients that are sustainably raised (often organic) with respect for the environment, animals, farmers, and consumers in terms of value. Look for a decrease in organics in 2011 and an increase in food integrity.

2011 Top Five Menu Items/Ingredients

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     Vegetables in all their Complexity

Earlier in the decade chefs made headlines by offering multicourse menus featuring vegetables exclusively. Charlie Trotter was one of the first to do this and other restaurants follow around the country. Although the multicourse vegetable menu trend hasn’t subsided it has been outpaced by restaurants offering a vegetable course as part of a broader non-vegetarian menu. Over the past year I noticed a growing number of restaurants offering one or two vegetable courses (other than a salad) as part of a prix fixe menu with some restaurants. Stella in New Orleans is a great example as is Manresa in Los Gatos, CA. Look for more restaurants offering interesting and, in some cases complex, vegetable courses on multicourse menus and broader vegetable offerings on a la carte menus.

Composition of Carrots, Stella Restaurant, New Orleans, LA

2.     Salumi and Charcuterie & Retro Garde Manger

If 2010 was the year of Salumi, 2011 will be the year of classic charcuterie. Across the country, charcuterie is making a resurgence with restaurants like Butcher in New Orleans and Sidney Street Café in St. Louis leading the way.  In 2011 chefs will return to offering charcuterie items like country style pate, rillets, liver mousse, foie gras torchon, and other classical preparations as they reconsider the lost art of garde manger in modern cuisine.

Pate & Charcuterie Plate, Sidney Street Cafe, St. Louis, MO

 3.     Eggs in all Forms

Eggs were everywhere in 2010. One of my favorite egg dishes was the pasta carbonara at Fruition restaurant in Denver. Chef Alex Seidel’s perfect sous vide egg was a sensual and delicious addition to the pork belly and pasta paired with it. I encountered egg front and center on menus in St. Louis, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, and New York. Look for more interpretations in 2011, the fun with eggs has just begun.

Pasta Carbonara, Fruition Restaurant, Denver, CO

4.      Gluten Free Professional Cooking

In 2011 restaurants and retail will take gluten free food preparation and service more seriously than ever. In response authors like Peter Reinhart of Johnson & Wales University and Richard Coppedge of the Culinary Institute of America plan to release new books on gluten free cooking in 2011 adding further momentum to the trend and providing deeper professional perspective on a food trends that, until now, has received greater attention at retail and in home kitchens. Professional chefs will pay more attention to the gluten free movement in 2011 than in years prior.

Gluten Free Apple Cinnamon Crisp, Chef Rick Coppedge, CIA, Hyde Park, NY

5.     Oysters are Back (did they ever go away?)

Over the past six months I have noticed a resurgence in oysters on fine dining menus across the country. Perhaps this is a counterpoint to the devastation to the fishery caused by the gulf oil spill; perhaps not. Either way, the trend is gaining momentum and I am noticing expansion on menus of east coast and west coast farmed oysters as well as select oysters from the gulf that have sound provenance. Look for oysters on menus in 2011.

Composed Oyster, Manresa Restaurant, Los Gatos, CA

2011 Top Five Emerging Food Trends

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     Modernist or Molecular Techniques in Cooking

Molecular gastronomy has gained traction over the past decade and nearly all of the fine dining restaurants I visited (approximately 80%) employed at least one molecular technique (usually a stabilized foam). In 2011 modernist techniques will gain greater momentum based on several factors. Major academic institutions gave the modernist movement further momentum beginning with MIT’s hosting of the TEDx Cambridge conference “How do you Eat” which featured presentations on multiple modernist topics. Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science followed last autumn with an 11 part series on science and cooking that featured globally renowned chefs including Ferran Adria.  Attention from Harvard and MIT elevated the modernist movement to a new level but it’s Nathan Myhrvold’s epic work “Modernist Cuisine” due out in March 2011, that will give even greater momentum to scientifically based cooking and will assure that by 2012 the science behind cooking and food will become central to how young cooks learn their craft and force old cooks to learn anew. The science of food and cooking, otherwise known as molecular or modernist cuisine, will blossom in 2011 and reach full bloom in 2012. I predict that culinary schools will be abuzz with curriculum changes in the coming year in reaction to this seismic shift in how we think about food and cooking. We should all thank Nathan Myhrvold for his great intellectual (not to mention financial) commitment to advancing our knowledge of food.

2.     Seafood with Integrity

Simply put, pressure will be ongoing to assure that seafood, whether farmed or wild, will have integrity. With so many varying types of eco-labeling and certification programs (including MSC, ASC, ISO, Friends of the Sea, Global Aquaculture Alliance) in use, chefs lack a reliable way of determining whether the seafood they serve has integrity. This has resulted in a shift toward hyper-local sourcing of seafood (in some cases) and chef driven source and supply chain verification to assure sustainability and integrity in farming  or wild catch practices, wholesomeness, freshness, and the technologies used to increased yield and improve shelf life. Writer Paul Greenberg hinted at the concerns many chefs have is in his excellent book “Four Fish” and I suspect that chefs and consumers will grow increasingly concerned with the integrity of the fish they serve and eat and emerging issues such as genetic manipulation of farmed fish and advances in modified atmosphere shipping and packaging (including the use of carbon monoxide). The higher the degree of seafood integrity at a restaurant, the better the restaurant will do. Consider Legal Seafoods as the trend leader.

3.     Café Cuisine and Culture

In 2011 America will experience a resurgence of café cuisine and culture as an extension of the smart casual shift in fine dining of the past three years. As I traveled the country in 2010 I noticed this shift although it started the year before. Late in 2009 the New York Times described the trend as smart casual. While fast food restaurants shifted upscale in quality (not price) to fast casual, fine dining shifted down from formal to smart casual without losing focus on food quality. The smart casual movement provided consumers with great quality fine food in a casual dining environment that was more approachable and comfortable but didn’t tip too far to the casual side. Today smart casual is shifting again to a more complicated café cuisine reminiscent of the quality you can find in local full service restaurants in continental Europe. Chef Francisco Migoya added momentum to the café cuisine trend by publishing a fantastic book titled The Modern Café (John Wiley & Sons) in 2010. Migoya is a one of the leading chefs in the country and the hands (along with some others) behind the outstanding food and service at Apple Pie Bakery at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I consider Migoya one of the catalysts behind the café cuisine trend. For an example of café cuisine in real-time visit the Apple Pie Bakery.

4.     The Necessity of Social Media and Custom Apple/Android Apps

Chefs and foodservice operators better be social media savvy and offer valued customers a custom application that works on both Apple and Android formats by the end of 2011. Having spent the past six months investigating the workings of applications for hand-held devices, it is clear to me now that we are experiencing the beginning of what will be a much larger movement in years to come. I particularly enjoy Zagat’s NRU, Yelp,  Open Table, Epicurious, and Urbanspoon as examples. In addition to applications for mobile devices chefs and restaurateurs will increasingly use social media and digital communications to build their customer base and increase customer loyalty. Facebook will lead the way (this is not new news) along with savvy email campaigns and direct to consumer promotions and loyalty programs. Companies like Campbell’s (see the Campbell’s Kitchen App) are mapping the way for restaurants and other food manufacturers to participate in mobile marketing and social networking (yes Campbell’s is a leader) in innovative and new ways while restaurants spend more time and resources than ever engaged in social networking and digital communications.

5.     Source Mapping and Transparency

In 2011 restaurants will continue to focus on the integrity of their products with an emphasis on supply chain and source management. It is likely that food purveyors, manufacturers, distributors, and restaurant operators will engage in increased source transparency and use technology to do so. Leo Bonnati, a researcher at the Media Lab at MIT, has developed a source tracking system and established sourcemap.org as an open source platform for tracking products through the supply chain and estimating their carbon footprint. In the coming year mapping technology will be applied in a larger scale and savvy restaurateurs will be proactive and ready to disclose where their products come from by mapping from source to table digitally and making this data available to the public. 2011 will be a year of expanded source mapping and transparency. Look to Stonyfield Farm as a leader.

Quick – No Service? Will the Pursuit of Efficiency Take the “S” out of Q.S.R

Posted 29 Mar 2010 — by S.E.
Category Quick Service

I get a kick out of visiting quick service restaurants (QSR’s). Although my background is in the fine dining segment of

Hurry 4 Curry

our wonderful industry, it gives me great pleasure when I find an innovative QSR that serves great food. During my travels I seek out local joints or smaller regional chains that are known for something; a local dish, an innovative or gimmicky practice, or some sort of unique beverage or service.

Such was the case when I found Hurry 4 Curry in Phoenix recently. Hurry 4 Curry is located in downtown Phoenix at the new Arizona Center (400 E. Van Buren St.). The location is small and seats about 20. It’s wedged in between two other well known full service restaurants with a large glass storefront and an open kitchen.

Hurry 4 Curry is unique not because of its food but the customer interface you encounter when you enter the restaurant and place your order. Upon crossing the threshold through a glass door on the left side of the storefront, you encounter one large and two small LCD screens. The larger screen is mounted on the wall five feet off the floor and lists all the menu items for the day. The two smaller HP touch screens are located just below shoulder height on a counter and are used for placing orders.

When I first encountered the screens I found them amusing. The menu screen is brightly lit and easy to read. The smaller screens have instructions for placing an order with no human being to offer guidance in sight. This sort of customer performed ordering technology is not new but it is always interesting to see. I quickly placed an order for a Chicken Biryani and Garlic Naan by clicking through to that option. When the Biryani and Naan were confirmed, I concluded my order. Instructions came on the screen for me to swipe my credit card on the card reader just below the LCD screen. I did so and it worked flawlessly.

Once my order was in I scanned over to the right where the open kitchen is and noticed two cooks preparing items. Neither looked over at me as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do. Grabbing my receipt from the printer on the counter next to the card swipe, I decided to sit down and wait to see what would happen. After 5 or 6 minutes, one of the cooks brought me my plate of Biryani and Naan. I thanked him and he walked away without saying a word. Interesting…

Touch Screen

The Biryani wasn’t all that memorable; they grilled the chicken, diced it and tossed it with the rice and peas just before service. It was more of a stir-fry than a Biryani. The flavor was good though and the dish was hot. The Naan was hot and tasty; nicely done. What startled me more about the experience was the lack of human contact and how empty that lack of contact made me feel. After giving it some thought, I realized that the only contact we have in a typical QSR is at the service counter when placing and picking up our order. Yes, this is a blinding flash of the obvious but one based the absence altogether of service rather than an incident of poor delivery as typically is the case. In those few minutes of human contact, a QSR has the opportunity to define itself one way or the other. When that contact is missing, a great opportunity is lost (assuming the contact wasn’t negative).

Receipt Printer

I can understand why Hurry 4 Curry would make order-taking customer driven and automated. Looking around, I never saw more than two people in the restaurant although they served more than 15 people in the short time I was there. By eliminating the hourly cashiers with touch-screens, Hurry 4 Curry is achieving a much lower labor cost and a higher degree of efficiency (the hurry in Hurry 4 Curry). The labor savings and efficiency are not passed on to customers in the price of the menu items (Biryani and Naan totaled $9.00) but the savings probably give the place a higher profit margin and a much greater probability of surviving in the long run. Still, the experience left me unsettled. This was the first dining experience I have had where I entered, ordered, received and consumed an entire meal without hearing a single word from any employee in the restaurant. The complete lack of human contact aside from my food “delivery”

Biryani & Naan

 was enough to make me wonder whether the savings in labor would wind up being the Achilles heel that kills the place. I admire Hurry 4 Curry for the quality of its innovation and thoughtful approach to efficiency. However, it is clear that we have a long way to go as an industry in building the perception of service into an automated interface. Even Rosie the cleaning robot in the Jetsons offered a lilting voice and positive, yet synthetic affect. The next time I get my curry in a hurry, I hope it comes with a smiling dose of human contact (whether real or

synthetic) and service. After all, what would a QSR be without the S?