Restaurant operators remain stuck in a rut, dealing with the same list of recurring challenges: slow traffic, labor issues and accelerating real estate costs. Adding to their roster of woes are disrupting entities such as Whole Foods, now under the Amazon umbrella; and cashierless Amazon Go stores, which attract would-be restaurant diners with lower prices, home delivery, more convenient payment methods and other perks. And with customer-facing technologies such as mobile app ordering, third-party delivery providers only make the future of the industry cloudier than ever before.
Future Factor: Efficiency
Increasing efficiencies will always be part of the future.
“The move to a smaller footprint, maximizing wall space and using technology and equipment to fill every nook and cranny in your four walls has been one of the biggest changes for us,” says Marc Jacobs, partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), Chicago. He points to LEYE’s Beatrix restaurants in particular as becoming “smarter” in terms of design and equipment.
In the back of the house that means combi ovens for more flexibility as well as a blast chiller to conduct more batch cooking safely. Efficiency can also come in large sizes, such as industrial-scale cooking equipment like tilt skillets that prepare everything from braised meats to stir-fries and big batches of stock, soup and sauces.
At Beatrix’s larger, almost-open location in Oak Brook, Ill., additional hand sinks cut down on the steps staff will need to take. Also, as the brand shifts from third-party providers to building its own delivery service, separate zones were created in the kitchen to designate space for packaging food specifically for delivery and takeout. That might mean more counter space, shelving and undercounter refrigeration for holding dressings, condiments and other add-ons, as well as zones for allergen-friendly cooking.
“Another big change we’re focused on is getting more meal periods out of one space,” Jacobs says. “We’re not just interested in lunch, we also want to grab the breakfast, brunch and dinner daypart crowds because it’s a greater win for the restaurant overall.”
At Beatrix, ample charging outlets, Wi-Fi, brighter lights and flexible seating in the form of high-top tables, shared tables, traditional tables and couches help make the space work friendly during the morning hours. At lunch the lights go down just a touch, and in the evening they get even dimmer while the music slightly increases in volume.
“We have guests that might come for coffee and a meeting in the morning, come back for lunch and even stop by for a to-go dinner, all in one day,” Jacobs says.