The stories of the restaurant industry’s impending demise may be greatly exaggerated, but they shouldn’t be ignored. We find ourselves in the proverbial woods where two paths diverge. One will take the restaurant industry down a trail of exciting new scenery, where the changing habits of Millennials will lead us all to a beautiful new dining paradigm. And the other path will apparently send us all hurtling off a cliff. So perhaps we will be sorry if we choose one over the other!
Many of the people examining the problems currently facing restaurants identify the two main issues: too many restaurants and a lack of skilled staff. While the latter is somewhat of a good thing for programs dedicated to training a culinary workforce, the former should be cause for concern for any food service social enterprise.
New York super-chef David Chang has been ringing the apocalypse bell for several years now. In an article he wrote for GQ in 2016, Chang lists the “five things that could kill restaurants, sounding the warning that the math for restaurants simply does not add up. He’s not all doom and gloom, though, and offers several actionable solutions, the best of which is eliminating tipping in order to forge a much fairer wage distribution within restaurants.
Much of the doomsday talk about restaurants is focused on high-end, chef driven venues, but a recent story in The Atlantic identifies the “middle class of restaurants” as the most threatened segment. These “casual dining” establishments are among the hardest hit by changing trends in American dining. One very interesting graphic (below) details the change in foot traffic for different meals, showing that breakfast is the only category growing over the past five years. Be sure to read the whole piece, it offers a terrific analysis of the changing landscape faced by restaurateurs across the country.
Change in foot traffic by meal, since 2011
Kevin Alexander, writing at Thrillist, warns of a restaurant bubble about to burst. “I want you to understand why America’s Golden Age of Restaurants is coming to an end,” he writes. Alexander also emphasizes that the middle is being hollowed out of the industry, with a shift from full service to “hip iterations of fast-casual restaurants, with smaller menus, counter service, and a skeleton crew of front- and back-of-the-house staff.”