Last week, restaurateurs and industry professionals gathered for the OpenTable Innovation Summit New York 2017 at Hudson Mercantile. Hosted by OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles, the summit was a look into the state of the industry, from its current challenges to future opportunities. Featuring speakers such as Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group, hospitality expert Anthony Rudolf, Scott Jampol, SVP of marketing at OpenTable, Dana Cowin, former Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine, chef Angie Mar of The Beatrice Inn, chef Akhtar Nawab of Alta Calidad, among others, we unpacked the issues restaurateurs are facing as well as the many ways that Quarles and her team at OpenTable are “all in” when it comes to supporting restaurants. Here are four key takeaways.
Reports of dining out’s demise have been exaggerated.
Meyer points out, “Dining out is not dead. It’s not dying. There are just more ways to do it.” From delivery to home-cooking kits as well as fast casual experiences, consumers now have many methods for connecting with quality food. “You can eat really well at different price points in many ways,” he notes. Hospitality is key to drawing diners back to your restaurants. At any of the Union Square Hospitality Group’s restaurants, he said, “Every single time someone walks into our restaurants, we ask ourselves, ‘Are we giving them a reason to think they made the right choice? Are we happy to see you?’”
Attracting and retaining talent remains difficult.
In an era in which restaurants are competing with one another for staff, companies are working to make things attractive and equitable for workers, with some eliminating tipping to more evenly distribute wages between front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff and creating better maternity leave policies. Nawab said, “My biggest problem is always labor.” However, Meyer admits, “Every time you pull a lever to make it better for the company, you make margins tighter.” It is simpler to initiate a no-tipping structure at a restaurant from the ground up, as it’s harder to get buy-in from staff who are used to earning a wage based on gratuities. Still, as more states are raising minimum wage, Meyer suggests that restaurants still employing tipping will face pricing pressure that non-tipping restaurants won’t. Nawab rallied fellow restaurateurs to band together to create a co-op of sorts to support one another when addressing the labor shortage.
New York diners use OpenTable to discover new restaurants.
Jampol shined a light into the behavior of foodies in the Big Apple. The majority of guests who come into your restaurant through OpenTable will be first-time diners – a whopping 80%, in fact. Just 11% dined at the same restaurant in a year’s time when booking through OpenTable. This speaks to the competitive nature of the business, the plethora of options diners have, and the trend of eating for the Insta, clearly. Travelers make up a fair share of patrons; 25% of OpenTable diners in New York came from out of town.
Wellness is the thread that bonds restaurants and diners in 2017.
Cowin has spent the last year traveling around the country, dining out and observing burgeoning trends in different markets. While there are a variety of trendlets emerging (Korean barbecue! Suburban restaurants! Bars the next frontier!), restaurants are putting an emphasis on the restorative nature of their businesses. In years past, she observes, “The only comfort food was mac n’ cheese, but there are changes in the notion of what comfort food can be. Food that’s healthy can be craveable,” pointing to restaurants like Gracias Madre and Dimes. People are embracing “foods with promise,” moving, she notes, from caviar and foie gras to fermentation, restorative tonics, such as those served at ABCV, sustainable ingredients like crickets and sea kelp, natural wines, and plant-based foods, particularly the Impossible Burger. The wellness movement is extending beyond the menu to the restaurant environment, including addressing depression and substance abuse and helping staff achieve balance with enforced time off and access to beneficial activities, such as yoga.
Thanks to those who joined us for the OpenTable Innovation Summit in New York. Stay tuned for more events like this in 2018.
Photo credit: Bonphotage.