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Editor's Letter: Coming together

Editor's Letter: Coming together

Just days after a lively discussion among our editorial team on the pros and cons of communal tables, I found my party of four seated at one in a New York outpost of Le Pain Quotidien.

Since I was in the Greta Garbo camp — “I want to be alone” — the incident was ironic and unexpectedly delightful. I did not leave with newfound friends, but I did get to see a variety of prepared dishes, eavesdrop on a little French and enjoy more room than I would have had at a four-top. All told, the experience was more festive and agreeable than I would have imagined.

Looking to build such feelings of bonhomie and community into their operations, a growing number of chains are taking a cue from indie peers who have long embraced the trend and incorporating communal tables into their dining rooms. We explore the sales-building merits of large-party seating and pose some questions to consider before sitting down to the idea.

We also look into the creation of The American Pizza Community, a newly formed coalition of big-name pizza companies representing 20,000 locations. The group, born out of frustration with the yet-to-be-promulgated federal menu-labeling guidelines, intends to push its agenda in meetings with Washington lawmakers in late June. As included in the sweeping health care reform act of 2010, companies with 20 or more units will be required to disclose nutrition information on menus and menu boards.

“A Big Mac is a Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go,” said Jeff Rinke, vice president of marketing at Hungry Howie’s, a TAPC member with 550 units based in Madison Heights, Mich. “But pizza is totally customizable with every order. So how do you label an item [that hasn’t been built yet] accurately on a menu board?”

While TAPC’s formation points to the diverse factions comprising the foodservice industry, members insist they feel no dissatisfaction with other foodservice trade groups, such as the National Restaurant Association or National Council of Chain Restaurants.

In fact, operators large and small gathered together in Chicago earlier this month for the NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. The annual event was a success by many measures: Attendance was higher than projected, available exhibit space sold out, and optimism was in the air at meetings and events throughout the Windy City. Look for a recap of the four days of whirlwind activity in this issue’s Special Report. [Editor's note: NRN's full coverage of the NRA Show can be found here.]

With the NRA Show now behind us, operators are gearing up for summer. In Food & Beverage we examine the wide array of cold drinks cooling off customers and heating up sales nationwide. From the proprietary lemonade at three-unit Havana Central in New York to strawberry water at Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco, these nonalcoholic quaffs are energizing business.

If alcoholic beverages are more in line with your concept, The NPD Group has refreshing news: The opportunity to increase alcohol sales in full-service restaurants is huge. In a recent survey NPD found that 35 percent of diners who frequent places serving alcohol order a drink — and that figure has held steady for three years.

“Full-service operators have been focusing on the food because that’s how [consumers] decide where to eat; beverages have been lost,” said Warren Solochek, NPD vice president of client development. “If operators focus simply on food, they’re forgetting a very important part of their menu.”

So don’t forget to turn to the Consumer Trends feature in the Marketing section to pick up some ideas that operators are employing to augment alcoholic-beverage sales.

It’s just one more way that restaurants can enhance the dining experience and welcome customers to their tables.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @RobinLeeAllen.

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