Legend has it that Alan Stillman launched the original T.G.I. Friday’s on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1965 in an effort to meet airline stewardesses. He aimed to create a lively environment within the four walls of the restaurant to encourage men and women to gather to consume food and drink and connect with one another. Promotions like Ladies’ Night did the trick and Stillman’s Friday’s became an institution that set the table for the rise of the casual dining segment. In the decades that followed, new casual dining competitors cropped up with less of a singles focus, but with the same drive to create a meeting place inside the four walls. Perhaps they became the original “third place,” to borrow Howard Schultz’s phrase, that was neither the home nor the workplace.

Over recent years, the restaurant industry has grown and stolen market share away from grocery, as both compete for what Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President, Research & Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association calls “the food dollar.” That has led to less cooking at home and more depending upon the restaurants whose food we love to serve as our surrogate home kitchen, sparking new opportunities for restaurants in off-premise sales: food prepared in the restaurant kitchen, but not consumed by the guest in the restaurant dining room. (read more…)

I recall a business meeting where my team hosted 20 colleagues from Japan. At the end of the meeting, each and every one of our guests twisted the cap back onto his soda bottle and placed it in his bag. I had noticed cultural differences via greetings and meeting behaviors throughout the day. This action, however, transcended customs and geographies and I realized in that moment that appreciation for beauty and art is a universal human trait. These people “liked” this showstopper packaging design and decided to keep it. These particular bottles were the streamlined metal Coke and Diet Coke bottles, and would undoubtedly be put on display when they returned home.

Historically, consumers held onto packaging only if it served a functional purpose. Cigar boxes, coffee tins and Quaker Oats canisters were repurposed as storage or toys. They ended up sticking around for days, months or years as subtle reminders of the brand. (read more…)

Websites and technology are pretty much ubiquitous these days, no matter what industry you work in, but there are challenges that can come with incorporating technology into an existing business model, especially in more traditional industries like food retail and restaurants.

As consumers become more connected via smartphones and other gadgets and technology like mobile payment systems take root across industries, it is vital that retailers and restaurants keep pace with technology and keep customers engaged. And sometimes that means facing the challenges that come with such technology head-on and overcoming them.

Mobile payments is an arena in which retailers and restaurants are seeing a lot of change right now, especially with the introduction and increasing adoption of Apple Pay. High-profile chains and smaller merchants alike are incorporating Apple Pay into their point-of-sale systems, just as customers are starting to incorporate paying without cash or a card into their daily routines. (read more…)

A dear friend and avid scuba diver recently said to me, “If you never explore the ocean, you will only ever see half of the world.”

Above water, enjoying the same kind of pure oxygen I’ve been breathing my entire life, is a more comforting environment by nature. Unfamiliar places are the ones we tend to fear. Yes, you’re still reading a restaurant column. I’ll come back to this.

Speaking of oceans, Olo Founder & CEO Noah Glass turned the ICR XChange’s Mediterranean Ballroom blue during a part of his presentation showing a blue pie chart at 75%. It represented the three quarters of all restaurant purchases that are consumed outside of the restaurant property itself according to Hudson Riehle, SVP of the National Restaurant Association’s Research & Knowledge group.

The chart on the screen seemed infinitely large — and not just because it towered over the audience in a fifteen foot radius of blue. (read more…)

For restaurateurs, practicing sustainability can be challenging, but ultimately rewarding. It is important to start small and make incremental steps, but sometimes it’s fun and illustrative to think big.

Going zero waste is thinking and acting big! It can also boost your business.

So what is zero waste? Basically, it means reducing the amount of material you send to landfills by 90% or more.

Restaurateurs undertaking zero-waste efforts are essentially using nearly all of their raw resources efficiently (e.g., food, packaging, service ware) and adopting a “thou shall not waste” mentality. It is a mentality that they teach (and enforce) to their employees and, perhaps, even their guests. Once you do though, it could position your business to operate extremely efficiently.

If you’re wondering why you should care about practicing this zero-waste concept, here are four solid reasons:

  1. It can save you cash. The former Chicago restaurant Sandwich Me In,[1] which didn’t create trash for two years, is a great example.
  2. (read more…)