It’s a new year, and there’s no shortage of new challenges and opportunities for the restaurant industry. From minimum wage hikes and tech innovations to guests’ evolving tastes and preferences, it seems restaurants are constantly breaking new ground to stay current in an ever-competitive landscape.
We asked some of the top chefs, restaurateurs, and experts in the industry to share their predictions for restaurants in 2016. Here are the trends and transformations they expect to see in food, drinks, business, and beyond (and take a look back at last year’s predictions to see where experts got it right).
“We will see the ground-up restructuring of restaurants as we know it. There are major changes ahead for restaurants legislatively, and with technology, labor, tipping, etc., restaurants will have to rethink operations and how they take care of their customers across the board.”
— Eamon Rockey, General Manager, Betony
Laws and regulations have never been more important to the restaurant industry, changing the way businesses fundamentally operate. Kevin Boehm, Co-Founder of Boka Restaurant Group, predicts that 2016 will be an experimental year for the economic framework for restaurants. “From increased kitchen pay to tipping structures to the inevitable menu cost inflation, we will all be keeping a close eye on what works and what doesn’t,” he says.
Maureen Cushing, Director of IT at Union Square Hospitality Group, says that identifying back-of-house efficiencies will be a major priority for her team in the coming year.
“We are always looking for ways to control costs. Scheduling software is something we implemented in 2015, and integrating it with real-time data to control payroll expenses is a focus for 2016. Purchasing software is critical, but the challenge of all businesses is maintaining the recipes for accurate costs.”
— Maureen Cushing, Director of IT, Union Square Hospitality Group
Anthony Rudolf, Founder of Journee, a community for restaurant professionals, sees a future of gratitude over gratuity. “Service included is here to stay,” he says. “That’s a great thing! While guests may be resistant at first, once they understand that the perceived power of tipping was only an illusion, they will realize that leaving behind their gratitude instead of their gratuity is far more satisfying and productive to everyone. Even more so is honest feedback provided in the moment, whether positive or negative.”
Sabato Sagaria, Chief Restaurant Officer at Union Square Hospitality Group, agrees that tipping is on its way out.
“As the cost of doing business continues to rise around the country, the traditional model of tipping will further fuel the disparity between dining room teams/culinary teams and make it more of a financial hardship to enter into management,” he predicts. “As a result, more restaurants at varying price points will shift to an all-inclusive pricing model in order to fairly compensate the ENTIRE team, in turn providing more inspiration for others to follow and bring us one year closer to saying… ‘Remember when we used to tip?'”
“We’re gonna get more political! 2016 will be a huge election cycle and so many of the core policy issues facing the restaurant industry are influenced, mandated, or stymied by our elected offices (think mandatory minimum wage, tipping laws, alcohol sales and distribution). I think industry leaders and trade groups will be looking to advocate for enhancements in the dining/beverage sector.”
— Erin Fairbanks, Executive Director, Heritage Radio Network
Leaders in the industry are using their voices to raise awareness and protect their interests. Paul Kahan, Executive Chef and Owner at One Off Hospitality Group, adds that chefs play a particularly important role in fighting for change.
“I would hope that 2016 would be the decline of the celebrity chef, and the rise of the chef as a contributor to food education and advocacy,” he says. “The only way we can institute change in our country is through younger generations.”