The latest issue of the Washington Restaurant Association's trade journal lists trends that are likely to affect restaurants in 2008. The list is full of platitudes -- "let's start considering some commonsense solutions to help solve this problem," WRA president Anthony Anton writes in regard to nutrition and obesity -- and virtually devoid of actionable solutions.
I've got a few ideas, so I'll share them here. Whatever appears in italics is from the WRA's Anton; all other opinions are mine. Feel free to chime in. We are all restaurant customers, and as you know from another platitude, the customer is always right.
Labor crunch: Recently I talked about the perfect storm: immigration crackdown, full employment, wage stagnation, industry growth, tight margins and existing tight crews. While this storm won't rip doors and ceilings off your restaurant, I urge you not to underestimate the possible impact this forecast may have on your business.
If you can't afford to pay your employees living wages, then get out of the business you're in and go work for someone else.
Continuance of dining dependence: With full employment projected for 2008, the pace of family life won't be slowing down any time soon. What does this mean? Let's just say that people won't be taking a lot of vacations -- just continuing to work those long, grueling hours. The result? Families will continue to have less and less time to prepare their own meals. In the United States, we should expect families to increasingly rely on others to provide those meals. Expect our industry to play a larger role in filling this need -- operators should seriously consider how they can capture this growing reliance on meal outsourcing.
Serve good food, provide good service, and clean your restrooms at least twice a day.
Nutrition and restaurants: If you've been watching the industry for the past six months, this trend will come as no surprise. The country and much of the world is dealing with an obesity crisis. Those on the front line include regulators inside the medical community, local activists and professionals who encompass our industry. In fact everyone seems to be scrambling to manage this complex issue. Without suggesting that restaurants throw out their menus, let's start considering some commonsense solutions to help solve this problem.
Perhaps the WRA could throw its weight around and force food vendors (Hello, Food Services of America! Hello, Sysco!) to provide nutrition information on the foods they stock and sell. Pierce County restaurants' efforts to put nutrition information on their menus have been stymied, in part, because nutrition information on their ingredients are difficult to obtain.
And let's take a look at the obesity not just of customers but of restaurant operators and their staffs. Obesity, like most bad things, rolls down hill. That unhealthy cook, I'd argue, is more likely to cook unhealthful food.
Pressure on disposable income: We all know that gas and food prices will remain high, inevitably creating a sustained squeeze on our discretionary income. If people choose to lockdown (sic) their finances in response, restaurants may feel the brunt of the impact. Rolling the dice, there's a chance that consumers' dining dependence may offset this trend somewhat but lookout (sic) -- appetizer and dessert sales may take a direct hit as your patrons keep a closer eye on that final bill.
This one applies in good economic times and bad economic times. Customers vote with their wallets. Good food and good service are worth paying for. If you can't find good food and good service in the marketplace, I urge everyone to stay home and cook for themselves.