Michael Parlapiano is managing director for San Francisco-based consulting firm The Culinary Edge, which works with restaurant concepts across all segments on all facets of operation. In addition, The Culinary Edge helped create the premium quick serve concept Starbird Chicken, along with its related virtual brands. The concept recently closed on a $12 million capital fundraise led by KarpReilly to move into the next phase of growth.
Parlapiano discussed how the restaurant operation might change in the coming year.
Looking into your crystal ball, what’s ahead for the industry in 2022 and beyond?
Unfortunately, I think we’ll be seeing more of what we’ve been experiencing over the past year — from labor to supply chain challenges to changing consumer behaviors — altering the way in which we go about producing food and serving customers.
Operators are shifting their layout from a labor and equipment standpoint and … will need to balance the in-store guest experience with the need for off-premises efficiency. So many have gravitated toward online ordering and off-premises; restaurants that were built five years ago weren’t built in a manner for the throughput and volume needs, for the experiential element that an in-store guest is looking for and for third-party delivery drivers. We will see a more focused and thoughtful redesign of restaurants to make sure the in-store guest experience remains unaffected and not impacted by amount of volume going out the back door.
We’ve seen COVID stopgap measures, with full-service — and even limited-service operators —setting up to-go stations. But we’re still seeing the dine-in guests come in the same way as the third-party drivers. It’s gotten a little messy in terms of how to truly provide great hospitality, and it’s also not ideal for the drivers, to get them in and out as quickly as possible. I think we’ll see more buildings with dedicated dine-in and guest-facing entryways and more dedicated off-premises windows or rooms to service the food that’s going out the back door.
Do you see the need for dine-in going away?
There could be some segments that wonder if there even needs to be a dining room. The thinking used to be 70% [front of the house] and 30% [back of the house], but now some operators are saying it should be 30% max front of the house and 70% back of the house.
I think there’s always going to be a need for dine in, and there’s still a lot of pent-up demand there. But it’s a mess right now. … A more thoughtful design around those two somewhat competing elements makes a lot of sense.
Any examples of an operator that’s finding that balance?
Velvet Taco has boosted sales by reconfiguring their kitchens with two production lines. They’re very dine-in centric still — they serve alcohol — but they’ve made a lot of changes in food prep that cut time in half and they’re designing the back of house to fulfill both.
What else will we see more of?
We’ll see more streamlined, asset-light models, and specifically those geared toward multi-brand operating platforms.
We’re seeing restaurant operators continue, not only to streamline operations, but to create a platform or evolve a platform to service more brands out of the same space. You’re bringing more brands online, while streamlining the back of the house to be more efficient. With labor what it is and real estate, we’ll see investment in this asset-light approach, with smaller footprints, less dining space and maybe a drive-thru. The focus will be on throughput and lower real estate costs.
It almost feels like a myth to open a restaurant that only sells one thing. For example, Starbird is growing as a concept built around the brick-and-mortar [chicken-sandwich] brand, with four additional virtual brands operated out of the same kitchen offering wings, salads, bowls and a plant-based menu.
You said you expect labor challenges to continue. How will that impact operations?
Labor is a challenge we’ll be facing for years. The winning restaurant brands will be those who invest as much in their staff as they would to earn the loyalty of a customer. That means putting a premium on high-level recruitment and retention strategies. Restaurants will have to think about what it means to become an incredible employer in our industry.
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