The U.S. Economy and Food: A Survey Part Three

Question 3. Whither from here? While there is no question that people are concerned and in some cases scared, most are see a winnowing of current dining options. One chef from the Southwest opined, "Personally, I think the two types of business that will survive are either specialist operations, doing an area of food well or "High End" restaurants that are limited seating ( no more then 45/60 seats)and would be classified "Luxe" I think it would be easier to sell food that costs a lot to customers then beat around the bush, give people a premium product," while another chef from the southeast predicted, "the official death of "fine dining" as we knew it 10 years ago."
A Chicago chef prognosticated, "I think we are going to see a lot of small plates, half portion, prix fixe sort of thing in the next year. People are going to continue to eat out, just be much more selective. I think established restaurants will do well but newer places will have a hard time and i think we'll see closings and/or "reconcepting". People are going to get food to go or delivered more often and a lot of restaurants are going to start catering to this. I also foresee a lot of cheaper drinks or happy hour sort of promotions since liquor is highly profitable." These sentiments were echoed in this response from a NYC chef who finished with a warning, "I feel that we are going to see less of the finer dining restaurants opening and surviving in these lean times. I also foresee that the average size of restaurants will decrease as it becomes more difficult to fill a large restaurant and more importantly, harder to raise the capital to open large operations. There will also be a greater shift towards pick up/ take out meals and prepared chef meals purchased for finishing at home. As a business we will see the job pool increase and the opportunities to hire better qualified personal at lower salaries due to staff cut backs. Conversely, Chefs and managers with higher salaries may find themselves being replaced by cheaper, younger, hungrier persons."
Not everyone is pessimistic, however, A chef at a NYT four star restaurant in NYC wrote, "At the end of the day, our vision as a restaurant hasn't swayed: we're essentially a 'family' business, so the staff has been and will continue to be taken care of, and in terms of food and service, we remain focused on the quality and integrity of our product." Another NYC chef wrote looking on the bright side, " i think restaurauteurs (and chefs) are forced to re-evaluate spendings and business structure. for the first time, we had to be open for thanksgiving and christmas with limited menu/staff, which turned out to be good for us and a lot of people who are used to travelling during the holidays stay in town. optimistically speaking, it's possible that the same thought applies to summer season which is notorious for being slow for restaurants as most travel out of town." Philip Preston of PolyScience concluded, "We work in niche areas so as these techniques gain broader acceptance we need to continually innovate to stay ahead of threats from the giants in the industry. I see a general trend toward quality. Today with most Americans able to tell you the names of the Iron Chefs and innovators like Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller, Wylie Dufresne, Jean George Vongerichten, and Charle Trotter among many others, the bar is going up. I believe that this higher expectation will filter to the sales meetings and conference centers and the days of rainbow beef and rubber chicken are numbered."
Perhaps when all is said and done, the wine importer said it best, "Most of what is happening is cyclical. It will shake out the bad operations and the businesses who don't manage their cash well. But if you can survive the short run, things will turn around and business will be easier. The trick is to make it that far."


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