The OpenTable team spent the past few days in Chicago at the 2015 National Restaurant Association Show, the largest single gathering of restaurant and foodservice professionals. When we weren’t meeting restaurant owners face to face and serving local Bow Truss pour-over coffee at our booth, we were attending the many speeches and panels given by the industry’s top experts on subjects from technology and marketing to staffing, training, trends, and more. Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways to grow your restaurant business.
America’s culinary community can’t get enough of Japan. We’re beyond eating sushi and slurping ramen; now brands like Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, Rene Redzepi’s Noma, and Chad Robertson’s Tartine have zeroed in on Tokyo for their newest locations.
Which begs a couple of questions: What does it take to open a restaurant in Japan, and what is dining really like there? OpenTable has offices in Tokyo, so we have unique insight into the country’s restaurant scene and industry trends. Recently we were thrilled to host Yoshitaka Hayashi, Chairman of the restaurant group Wondertable, at OpenTable HQ in San Francisco. His group operates 60 restaurants, which they organize in three segments. The first are what they call “inbound” restaurants imported from overseas, such as the Brazilian Barbacoa, Lawry’s the Prime Rib, and Union Square Tokyo, an offshoot of New York’s Union Square Cafe. The second segment is “outbound,” restaurants created in Japan and franchised to overseas, such as Mo-Mo Paradise, a shabu-sukiyaki hot pot restaurant. Finally, there are the “domestic” brands, created and operated in Japan.
We sat down with Hayashi to talk about what makes dining in Japan unique, his biggest challenges, and what makes a successful concept. Here are 10 things we learned during his visit.
The OpenTable team spent last weekend at the Austin Food & Wine Festival, where we hosted a Chef’s Lounge for the talent, complete with cocktails, ice cream and, most importantly, air conditioning. We also took the opportunity to talk to some of the city’s top chefs all about the trends they’re seeing in the industry today — in Austin, in Texas, and beyond. Here are some of our favorite quotes from the weekend!
“I think more and more people are starting to get excited about knowing the farmers that grow their food, and the people that fish, and the people that raise animals. That’s very exciting for both of us, and important.”
— Sam Hellman-Mass, Chef/Partner of Odd Duck
“Since we opened the trailer four or five years ago, it’s been a huge part: knowing where our food comes from, and sharing it with our customers. And you’re seeing a lot more people be interested in that, and really appreciating that there’s more and more chefs really taking on that challenge of trying to source things as local as possible and create the menu based off of that stuff. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”
With states like Colorado, Washington and California passing new legislation to legalize the sale of marijuana, we started to wonder: what does this trend mean for the restaurant industry? Cannabis-infused foods are more popular than ever, thanks to their availability at medical and recreational dispensaries — and although restaurants cannot legally serve marijuana yet (more on that later), businesses are finding creative ways to integrate it into the hospitality experience.
Garyn Angel is the founder and CEO of Magical Butter, a company that makes culinary devices designed to infuse soups, sauces, salad dressings and more. Garyn’s customers are mainly residential consumers and small restaurants that, he explain, love the tool for its consistency. Since restaurants can’t currently serve cannabis legally, they use Magical Butter devices to create their standard recipes but, Garyn adds with a laugh,”I’m not saying at home that’s what they’re doing.” Magical Butter technologies are also popular in dispensaries and cannabis kitchens, and last year the company debuted the first-ever cannabis food truck.
Guests love seeing “house-made” salumi and sausages on restaurant menus, because it signals quality, freshness, and care. But is it really worth it to make in house what you can just as easily buy from a producer?
In a word, yes — but only if you do it right.
Salvatore Cracco is the Executive Chef at San Francisco’s Trou Normand, where he oversees the kitchen and the restaurant’s acclaimed charcuterie program. The team makes up to 40 types of salumi and charcuterie — from fresh pates to dried and fermented products like coppa, mortadella and lardo — which they slice and serve on boards for guests.
We sat down with Sal to learn the business behind the craft of charcuterie and how to make it economically viable for a restaurant. As with everything in the world of food, it starts at the source.