The Team at Eatery Pulse includes writers and editors with restaurant industry expertise and know-how. Count on Eatery Pulse to provide restaurant news using original-source industry articles, executive interviews, news briefs and feature pieces & videos that inform and inspire restaurant leaders.
Rising star becomes a culinary mover and shaker in Washington, DC
Chefs in the Washington, DC area are seeing the fruit of their labor as the city gets recognized as one of the top food destinations in the country. It wasn’t easy—the town was known for political power lunches and an abundance of steakhouses not too long ago. Chefs and restaurateurs knew this moment would come, however, as they attracted new chefs and culinary talent to this city, and the growing private sector spurred an interest in the global flavors that had already been imported by immigrants and foreign embassy teams.
Restaurant industry sales once again showed stalled growth during May, notes a Blackbox Intelligence report from TDn2K. Across the restaurant industry nationally, May showed a same store sales decline of 1.1 percent for chain restaurants (negative comparable sales vs. LY) and a traffic (guest count) decrease of 3.0 percent. The Blackbox Intelligence report captures chain sales from 155 brands and reflects $67B in total annual revenue, approximately 10 percent of sales produced from all restaurants across the U.S.
This May’s restaurant sales report shows the fragility of growth for restaurant business. Additionally, the last three months of (rolling) sales ended in May have resulted in a decline of 1.0 percent. The story in March, the end of a financial quarter for several chains, wasn’t much different: March same store sales were down by 1.1 percent and traffic was down 3.4 percent.
Another report this spring from Pentallect, which was prepared for restaurant industry distributors and suppliers, shows that independent restaurants are projected to gain more sales than chains in years 2017 to 2020. Independent restaurants are projected to post sales growth of 4 to 5 percent for the three-year period while chain restaurants are projected to grow only 2 to 3 percent over the same period. Consumers may be showing a preference to independents based on key factors of preference and restaurant performance that diners value.
Independents have an advantage and are outperforming chains in the following key areas by more than 15 points: consumer orientation, a special feeling, personalized services, a sharing of values, food quality, good service, and innovative menus. In these categories rated by consumers in 2017 restaurant research conducted in partnership with the firm Critical Mix, independents outperformed chains by a spread of at least 15 points (see Figure A).
FIGURE A: Pentallect and Critical Mix
Are independents going to overtake chains and what are the key opportunities?
Are independents going to be the benefactors of the increasing sophistication of consumer preferences and their positive rating by consumers in several key areas of performance? Can independents outperform chains in the near future? It’s not necessarily clear. Chain restaurants tend to be better capitalized and have more strategic prowess behind them. However, it is apparent that over-expansion within concept types and within the chains themselves continue to be a problem.
Despite the strength and capitalization of chains, the number of chain restaurants did not increase in 2016, according to a report by NPD Foodservice, while independents restaurants decreased by 3 percent. Overall, the total number of restaurants actually decreased by 1 percent. In terms of shear unit growth, chains are still fair better than independent counterparts, but the story is not rosy.
Regarding chain sales, the TDn2K report shows that fine-dining is the best-performing segment, followed by quick-service. Fine-dining was “slightly positive” in same store sales in May, notes TDn2K, and the only segment to post positive same store sales.
A key finding of this report is that takeout sales were positive and clearly outperformed on-premise (in-house) dining sales. Takeout sales showed year-over-year comparable growth of 2.9 percent. Additionally, delivery, drive-thru and catering were also strong performers for chains.
Independents clearly have an opportunity to emulate some of the takeout and delivery programs being launched by chain operators. As consumers increasingly favor convenience, and benefit from lower food prices at grocery stores, offering diners convenience options can boost revenue growth for restaurateurs.
A 2017 report by AlixPartners indicated delivery as a key opportunity for restaurants based on consumer research and found that food quality and price were the key factors in consumers choosing delivery.
Consumers are starting to define healthy in new ways and on their own terms, say experts. In this show on our Swizzle+Chill TV channel, we discuss these changing attitudes and spotlight the restaurants that are responding to these new trends to build revenue. We cover functional foods, caloric intake, allergy-friendly foods and juice cleanses and plant-based foods.
An American Express report indicates restaurateurs will spend more on tech. According to the 2017 American Express Restaurant Trade Survey, 65 percent of them plan spending on restaurant tech in the next 12 months. Twenty six percent of restaurant owners plan on adopting self-service customer technology, including kiosks and digital ordering devices. A significant 26-percent share of consumers overall would use customer-facing technology if offered at a restaurant, and an even greater share of Millennials show a desire to do so (39 percent).
There is much buzz in the restaurant industry regarding consumers embracing local foods. Beyond an interest in supporting their own regions, “People feel they’re doing right when they support companies that are connected to locally sourced ingredients, donations to charities, sustainable environmental practices, and animal welfare practices,” research firm NPD said this year
Consumers are looking to align themselves with companies that share their values. Local foods are a manifestation of these desires.
Rockville, Md.-based research firm Packaged Facts estimates in a report that sales of local foods could generate $19B in sales by 2019. The firm estimated local foods produced more than $12B in sales in 2014. Forty four percent of restaurateurs are offering foods containing locally-sourced ingredients. An additional 15 percent plan to include those ingredients on menus and 24 percent are currently considering offering them.
Consumers are also supporting food waste reduction, and restaurateurs are responding, notes American Express in its survey. Approximately 60 percent of restaurant owners assess inventory or train staff for the purposes of waste reduction.
The Riggsby, a classic American dining destination at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel in Dupont Circle, Washington DC, has a new chef de cuisine. Jay Caputo, who has been under restaurateur Michael Schlow’s wing in previous stints in Boston, including at Radius, joins the restaurant. Caputo also operated Espuma Restaurant and Martini Bar and CABO Modern Mexican Tequila Bar, both in Rehoboth Beach, De., and has a more-than-20-year culinary career.
A study by New York-based corporate advisory firm AlixPartners finds tech is not a clear enticement to draw in customers to restaurants . The study, conducted in February and released in April, notes that 42 percent of Millennials see tech as influential in deciding whether to patronize a restaurant, compared to 18 percent of Baby Boomers, representing a significant generational gap. The top two technologies influential as a draw to restaurants are online ordering and Wi-Fi, selected by 40 percent and 35 percent of respondents, respectively.
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) has grown its restaurant industry membership base to nearly 1,000. As it approaches a century of its work, RAMW team members are at their busiest, providing advocacy, networking and business support to the area’s restaurateurs, and preparing for the annual RAMMY awards gala this July, which celebrates the best of what the local industry has to offer.
Finalists were announced at celebration event April 3
The 2017 RAMMY Awards Gala, held by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, is fast-approaching. The “Who’s Who” of the local restaurant industry in Washington, D.C. will be in attendance July 30, 2017 at the 35th Anniversary Event .