Restaurant C-Suite Magazine | Summer 2022

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SUMMER 2022 04 Editor’s note 05 Bear Robotics tests Servi in Arkansas 07 Restaurant chains embrace loyalty marketing 11 Trend pages 15 Digital restaurant trends 2022 20 Inflation impacting consumer dining habits 22 Evolving flavors, preparations, ingredients quite promising

BUSINESS Executive Editor Rick Zambrano Eatery Pulse Director of Photography Anthony Torres Assistant Editor Margaret McConnell

About Restaurant C-Suite Magazine Restaurant C-Suite Magazine is distributed by Eatery Pulse Media. Eatery Pulse is a primary source of national restaurant industry news and content, providing information services, consulting and a creative, customcontent studio for business. This digital magazine was specifically created for multi-unit restaurant executives. It delivers the most highly-impactful news for the restaurant industry’s top leaders and visionaries. Today’s C-suite executives and their managers need information that is carefully selected, meaningful and delivered in a seamless, cohesive fashion. Stay updated with all our content at Copyright 2022 - 2023 Eatery Pulse Media.

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On the cover: Photo by Nowadays. Photo by Thanx.


C3 tested the Coco robot in select markets with the goal of increasing speed and convenience for customers, while providing more affordable delivery. Photo by Cyan Robotics.

Editor’s Note Every year, we take a look at what’s meaningful and exciting in restaurant and food trends as we navigate the back half of the year. Now more than ever, restaurant operators have the opportunity to leverage technology to make their businesses more successful. In this issue, we take a closer look at some of these technology trends. The digital ordering experience: As consumers have clearly embraced the convenience of order-ahead,

operators must now fine tune the digital journey. Consumers want easy, fast and frictionless. There’s very little room for error: no operator wants customers heading over to a competitor whose app or website is easier and more enjoyable to use. We’ve also included some important news briefs, as well as an article on not only the benefits, but the delicate balance involved in loyalty marketing, which operators must emphasize

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and refine as they fight to capture digital sales and repeat business.


Rick Zambrano Executive Editor, Eatery Pulse Media

Testing Bear Robotics’ Servi robot By: Rick Zambrano

Arkansas restaurant chain to test Servi’s ability to improve guest satisfaction, increase efficiency and help retain staff Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant has launched a test of Bear Robotics’ hospitality robot in Rogers, Arkansas. The goal of the test is to help servers with service tasks, while increasing the time servers have with guests. In the pilot at the Rogers restaurant, Abuelo’s seeks to understand Servi’s proficiency in improving guest satisfaction, increasing efficiency and helping retain restaurant staff in a tight labor market. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 5

Servi can not only run food and drink to tables, but can also help bring dishes, glasses and flatware back. Photo by Bear Robotics.

With Servi, restaurants can automate repetitive tasks in the dining room. For example, the robot can run food and drinks to guests as soon as items are ready and help servers bus tables and return dishes to the back of the house for washing. According to Bear Robotics, Servi can enhance servers’ interactions with guests. Servers will feel reduced physical demands; as a result, they can focus on providing better service and having “quality interactions with guests,” per a company statement. “Since our first restaurant opening in 1989, it’s been our mission to provide superior service to every Abuelo’s guest,” said Robert Lin, president of Abuelo’s. “We’ve explored many innovations over the years to improve the guest experience, and the Servi pilot program is the latest test of how we can use technology to enhance efficiency while RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 6

providing the best service in the industry.” Designed with agile movement and versatile functionality, Bear Robotics’ robot uses advanced LiDar sensor and multiple cameras. Consequently, Servi is capable of sensing obstacles and navigating spaces easily and safely; for example, while carrying trays of food and drinks to guests, Servi can avoid any person or barrier that crosses its path. “Our vision is to elevate hospitality by automating the hustle behind it,” said John Ha, founder and chief executive of Bear Robotics. “Restaurant servers are hardworking people who provide memorable moments for guests. At forward-thinking restaurants like Abuelo’s, Servi hospitality robots don’t replace restaurant staff, but they do help servers provide an incredible dining experience.”

Loyalty paying dividends By: Rick Zambrano

Restaurant chains adopt loyalty programs to increase revenue, competitiveness in a digital market


Velvet Taco, which utilizes Thanx’s loyalty platform, has an enticing and creative menu offering, which is enhanced by a rewards program. Photo by Velvet Taco.

Marketers have long embraced reward programs to engage customers and encourage increased order spend and frequency. Restaurant chains are seeing the value of loyalty first-hand in the context of the digital ordering explosion. A number of brands have recently launched or revamped loyalty programs in recent months, including Burger King (improved), Velvet Taco (launched), and IHOP, which rolled out its International Bank of Rewards. Paytronix, a Newton, Mass.-based marketingservices company providing SaaS-based customer experience management solutions, reveals that there is a delicate balance between diner spend and the value of rewards. A restaurant can invest more in rewards to increase customer spend; however, at some point, the value of rewards can be so high that it becomes counterproductive. At that tipping point, customer spend can actually decrease. In other words, there’s a science to managing these programs. RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 8

Data from the 2021 Paytronix annual loyalty reports suggest that in 2020, loyalty members’ checks were 6% larger on average than those of non-loyalty members. For eight months of that year, the top 10% of loyalty members accounted for more than half of all loyalty spend at their favorite brands. Per its 2022 report, Paytronix found in-store orders in 2021 were down 42% versus the pre-pandemic year of 2019; meanwhile, unsurprisingly, digital orders were up 113%. Digital orders now account for a third of all orders, while they only made up 12% of orders pre-pandemic. Thanx, a guest engagement platform that offers loyalty programs, has been working with fast-rising restaurant chains, including Pincho and Dig. Its tiered-loyalty program with fast-casual Dig has attracted attention. Dig’s custom app now connects to the Thanx

loyalty program via APIs and a cloud platform. For restaurant companies that may not have a mobile application, Thanx steps in with a mobile solution. This engagement program can provide a white-labeled experience and digital ordering solutions, in addition to loyalty. Dig maintains control of their app experience while up-leveling for better data capture, as well as automated enrollment, easy-to-use marketing tools, and integration with online ordering provider, Open Tender (previously Brandibble). According to Thanx, loyalty programs offer great data capture opportunities. “When a customer enrolls in a loyalty program and identifies themself for subsequent transactions, all of their transactions are captured, enabling restaurants to paint a complete picture of who their guests are, their preferences, and what motivates them,” said Zach Goldstein, chief executive and founder of Thanx. In addition, loyalty programs create personalization that generates worthwhile return on investment. Restaurants can better channel their marketing and send targeted offers. This lowers the cost of promotions, notes Goldstein, while increasing the incremental revenue per customer. A restaurant can send a customer offers based on personal preferences and purchasing habits. Non-discount offers are another good way in which reward programs can be used. In the past, loyalty programs have gotten a bad rap for discount promotions such as generic coupons. For example, a restaurant can persuade customers to save money and accrue loyalty points by ordering direct versus through third-party providers, where fees can be higher.

Photo by Velvet Taco. Photo center: Thanx.

With the program deployed at Dig, customers receive $5 when they sign up through an easy-enrollment process. No passwords are required and the program works with guests’ credit cards. Dig customers earn $5 for every $50 spent. The multitiered program entices customers to increase their reward level as they move through “kitchen ranks.” With Sous Chef status, for example, perks include birthday and referral rewards. At the top rank, Executive Chef, they can take advantage of free monthly featured menu items and bowls. Dig executives tracked a 24% increase in RESTAURANT C-SUITE 9

average check as a result of the program, installed early last year and announced in 2022. Tracy Kim, chief operating officer at Dig, notes that the loyalty program offers a great way to provide a best-in-class experience. She says, “As we do when guests are in the restaurant, we want to make our digital guests feel special and like part of the team as well. Loyalty has been a great tool in creating that brand connection. Being able to offer perks and freebies to brighten up somebody’s day is the cherry on top.” Velvet Taco and Curry Up Now are additional Thanx customers, launching creative loyalty programs for their guests. In February, Velvet Taco created The Velvet Room, a tiered program to increase guest spend without leaning on discounts. According to Thanx’s Goldstein, the need for restaurants to communicate with guests was accentuated during the pandemic, and has accelerated the launch of loyalty programs among chains, including McDonald’s, which has been widely-viewed as successful. He says, “The value of knowing who your customers are, especially in light of competition from third-party delivery companies, is more acutely understood now. What’s more, to differentiate from third-party channels, restaurants are leaning into loyalty programs to promote ordering directly and to drive digital engagement.” With digital orders on the rise, restaurant companies can effectively use mobile apps combined with loyalty to keep customers engaged and ordering on their channels. Marketplaces and third-party providers have not historically shared customer data and can compete for guest loyalty. Reward programs clearly position restaurants more competitively in a digital world. RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 10

Velvet Taco’s innovative loyalty program Velvet Room. Photo by Thanx.

Coming Soon FALL

Stacking Hot drinks Packaging trends Compensating staff

WINTER Libation nation Economic trends Fast casual entrenchment South American cues



CONSUMERS EATING OUT LESS, SPENDING LESS More than half of consumers are eating out less often and about one third are reducing their spending due to inflation. Just over half of consumers consider quality the top priority when eating out, but price is definitely on the rise. (See article on page 20.) Restaurant operators should weigh specials and promotions as consumers tighten their wallets. All the while, they need to maintain quality and service.

Source: “The Why? Behind the Dine” by Acosta Foodservice.

Photo top: by CORE Foodservice. Photo right: by Xavier Wolf.




TAKING OFF WITH TAKEOUT According to the 2022 “State of the Restaurant Industry” Report from the National Restaurant Association, offpremises business remains a significant opportunity for restaurant operators, particularly while on-premises may be soft. As consumers continue to increase their demand for off-premises dining, restaurant operators appear to be all too willing to oblige. A total of 41% of fine dining establishments and nearly half of casual dining say off-premises will be their best chance of sales growth.

Space to grow % of operators who say off-premises presents the best opportunity for growth in ’22.

69% 54%

Family Dining


Casual Dining

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Fine Dining

Source: National Restaurant Association, National Trends Survey ‘21, published in 2022 “State of the Restaurant Industry.”

Photo by Ambitious Creative Co. Rick Barrett.



Fast casual

Coffee & snack



MULTIPLE PARTIES BENEFIT WITH GHOST KITCHENS MOVING INTO HIGH-TRAFFIC AREAS Consumers want more delivery/ carryout-only restaurant options Consumers that order food for delivery and carryout in the United States are looking for more to-go only units, opening up opportunities not only for chain restaurant operators, but also for independent restaurant companies. Kitchen United Mix is an example of ghost kitchens facilitating food & drink purchases in high traffic areas, including malls and grocers. CPG partnerships can also benefit. The trend is opportunistic as producers partner with ghost kitchens, notes Mintel.


of US food delivery/takeout consumers agree they’d like to see more delivery and takeout-only restaurants.

Source: “Mintel 2022 US Foodservice Trends”

Photo by Kitchen United.




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Digital restaurant trends By Eric Nomis

For 2022 and beyond, operators double down on ‘digital’ As the restaurant industry prepares to move past the pandemic, it is facing challenges of epic proportions. Inflation is at historically high levels and although unemployment is low, the industry faces workforce challenges. To attract talent, an industry that has traditionally offered workers their “first job,” now has started to reflect inward and revise tactics, compensation and career paths. These pressures have impacted how owners and executives are strategizing their next steps, and have redefined the trends currently gaining momentum. Let’s explore some of the most prevalent trends: RESTAURANT C-SUITE 15

Digital ordering evolves Consumers have continued to embrace frequent off-premises ordering post-pandemic. According to the National Restaurant Association’s “State of the Industry’’ report, 68% of adults are more likely to order carryout from a restaurant and 58% are more likely to order delivery now than before the pandemic. As to-go ordering has become more prevalent, the ordering experience has increased in importance. For restaurants simply to offer digital ordering is not enough, says Carl Turner, chief executive and founder of Swipeby, a digital arrival platform to make any business a drive-thru for customers. “To merely process a transaction is not meaningful enough to stay competitive in the marketplace. Creating an outstanding ordering experience from placing the order, to tracking to the final pickup is what are the new key differentiators in the marketplace.” Ordering technology should have features that enhance the experience by making it more memorable. Does it remember your favorites and recent orders? Can you finish the transaction in just a few clicks? Does it seem to be designed to make your life easier, not harder? Moreover, these features should also create stickiness with the customer, create higher transaction sizes or upsell, and open new customer channels. As an example, many apps, such as Dunkin’s, use location to offer a point of entry for ordering, allow the customer to recall last or saved orders, and proceed to the checkout within seconds. During the ordering process, the app also suggests items “you may also like,” to prompt an increased order size. Panera Bread’s ordering kiosks in-store are fashioned much like their smartphone app, allowing log-in in seconds and recalling last order information and favorites. Kiosks typically allow more efficient ordering than having to wait in line, particular when these cafes may also be dealing with staffing issues. In addition, a digital order is improved by RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 16

capturing customer location. The location will not only enhance an off-premise experience, but also “augment the entire arrival and departure journey” of that customer within any physical store, adds Turner.

Ghost kitchens no longer invisible Ghost kitchens used to lurk in remote parts of town where only third-party delivery drivers could reach. Now they’re out in the open and in high-traffic areas, Mintel notes in its 2022 US Foodservice Trends. Twenty-eight percent of consumers want to see more order delivery and carryout options, but only 15% of restaurant delivery users have ordered from a ghost kitchen, according to data from the research firm. This disconnect has opened up collaboration opportunities for restaurant chains and ghost-kitchen operators. Take Kitchen United for example: Its MIX platform allows for in-store kiosk ordering from various food providers, food pick-up and even on-location dining, where feasible. When Kitchen United opened its MIX ordering platform in Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, California, it brought a suite of ordering and fulfillment capabilities to the shopping mall. Customers could order within the mall from various foodservice providers, but neighborhood customers could also order from the platform for delivery. Plus, customers were able to order from multiple providers on one ticket. A conveyor belt was installed to transport food from the mall’s participating food providers to the lower floor for pick-up by third-party delivery drivers. Koja Kitchen, Pizza My Heart, Big Fish Little Fish, Men Oh Ramen, and Haagen Dazs participated in the original rollout. MIX acts as an extension of the ghostkitchen concept because in these instances, Kitchen United was not involved in the food preparation. More recently, United Kitchen installed digital to-go ordering in Ralph’s and Krogers grocery stores. Through the service at The Heights in Houston, Texas, customers can order

restaurant food via mobile app, website, or in-store kiosks. Deployed in February, the system allows users to choose food pick-up at the Kroger location. Alternatively, orders from restaurants can be directed through third party delivery, and multiple-restaurant orders can be batched on one ticket. The launch of DoorDash Kitchens shows how having a prominent, physical presence in a market can further connect the ghost kitchen into mainstream dining. The original Redwood City, California location also emulates the ghost kitchen model, preparing food remotely for restaurants. However these locations enhance ghost kitchen appeal with visibility. With the launch of a San Jose location, DoorDash implemented its Full Service program to offer outsourced staffing and operational support to restaurant operators looking to expand to new markets, but not wanting to invest in physical, brick-and-mortar locations. DoorDash takes care of meal prep, equipment procurement and day-to-day operations. This allows smaller restaurant operators to test new markets without ever having a physical restaurant, offloading many of the operational headaches, while partnering with DoorDash on a revenue-share basis. DoorDash’s foray into providing a restaurant within a ghost kitchen operation represents one more way ghost kitchens are coming out into the open. With 69% of QSR and 66% of fast-casual operators acknowledging offpremises dining presents the best opportunity for growth in 2022, the use and adoption of ghost kitchens by multi-unit operators will only continue to grow.

To-go-only restaurants grow Certain restaurant chains have done exceedingly well with to-go ordering; Chipotle Mexican Grill is a strong example. Growing rapidly, the fast-casual operator’s digital orders now account for 41.9% of sales. Its order-ahead drive-thru locations, “Chipotlanes” represent an astonishing 80% of new-store units. So it was no surprise when Chipotle

Kitchen United has partnered with Kroger’s to set up ghost kitchens inside grocery stores. Photo by Kitchen United.

announced a digital-order-only restaurant opening in Highland Falls, New York last November. Then, in December, the Mexican-style chain opened yet another to-go only location in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with no seating or indoor ordering kiosks. At the time, Tabassum Zalotrawala, chief development officer for Chipotle, said, “Chipotlanes are a key growth strategy for the brand. Our portfolio of approximately 300 Chipotlanes perform with the highest margins across the board, so we continue to evolve our restaurant design with formats such as the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen to best suit our growing digital business.” There’s good reason restaurant chains are eyeing the opportunity to enhance orderahead. According to a Rakuten study in 2020, customers are looking to spend less than two minutes from the time they drive up/walk up to a restaurant and the moment they have RESTAURANT C-SUITE 17

their pre-ordered food in their hands. While Chipotle continues to make great strides in the area of order ahead, it’s obviously not alone. Many restaurant chains are emphasizing their curbside and pick-up shelf fulfillment options, particularly Applebee’s, which scored in the top ranks (shortest wait times) in Rakuten’s time study, and a growing number of casual-dining chains. P.F. Chang’s investment in its To Go fast-casual concept is noteworthy: It recently opened another offpremises-focused location in Washington, DC, leveraging onsite and order-ahead capabilities.

Restaurant robotics get deployed The use of robotics is on the rise, to both reduce labor and increase efficiency. Robotic applications are numerous, from preparing

pizza and burgers in the kitchen and blending shakes in vending machines, to delivering food to customers’ tables and homes. The trend is expected to continue, particularly as labor and supply costs continue to increase. Miso Robotics had already committed to deploy 100 Flippy 2 frying units at White Castle restaurants in its partnership with the quick-service slider chain when it announced a partnership with Wing Zone this spring. A franchise of the chicken-wing chain will test and deploy the Flippy 2 robot at new units. Wing Zone Labs, the franchisee, will make good use of the second generation autonomous cook, which followed the rollout of the famous Flippy, the burger-flipping machine. “We couldn’t be more excited to announce a

C3 tested the Coco robot in select markets with the goal of increasing speed and convenience for customers, while providing more affordable delivery. Photo by Cyan Robotics.

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truly groundbreaking partnership with Wing Zone to incorporate back-of-house automation into all of its future restaurants from this point forward,” said Mike Bell, chief executive of Miso Robotics, in the announcement. “No other brand has accepted automation to this degree, and we don’t take their trust in us lightly. We want to establish Wing Zone as the franchise of the future, and this is just the first step in doing so.” Nala Robotics will help Slice Factory prepare its pizza, pasta and salads as the pizza chain continues to expand. Announced in June, the installation of its automated chef, Pizzaiolaä, in new units, will help Slice Factory continue to dole out its pies and 28-inch jumbo slices to customers. At its flagship store in Chicago, Pizzaiolaä will take over nearly all the offpremises kitchen operations and fulfill offpremises orders. Domino’s Pizza launched a test in Houston last year with Nuro’s R2 Robot. The R2 delivers pizza in autonomous fashion to select delivery customers. In this new delivery experience by the pizza behemoth, customers who are selected for robot delivery will receive text messages to update their pizza’s location, or they can check a confirmation page to track the order by R2’s GPS. Upon arrival, a PIN can be used to open the compartment holding the hot pizza order. Announced last year, Coco will deliver food for C3, the digital, virtual restaurant brand platform that includes Umami Burger, Krispy Rice, Sam’s Crispy Chicken, Cicci di Carne, and new brands including Sa’Moto by Chef Morimoto, EllaMia, and Cindy Lou’s Cookies. The mobile cart robots on wheels were deployed on Broadway and Main Street in Santa Monica, The Grove in West Hollywood and Los Feliz to service C3 kitchens within a two-mile radius. Coco can also provide faster delivery times and consistency, notes C3. The robots are not impacted by traffic patterns and peaks, so they are able to deliver 30% faster than driver-based services with 97% accuracy. C3 delivery via Coco also enables higher-quality

food, as it will arrive fresher, according to the announcement, and food is delivered sans courier handling, increasing sanitation and reducing the risk of contamination. C3 is taking a digital-first approach to expand into new markets faster than any of our delivery-focused competitors,” said Sam Nazarian, founder and chief executive of C3, during the rollout. “As an industry leader with a rapidly growing food empire, we are responsible for making sure our growth is sustainable for the environment and the consumer. We are proud to support a fellow disrupter that has created a techadvanced delivery solution and we hope other restaurateurs follow our lead.” In its seed capital fund raise, C3 invested in Nommi robotic kitchens. The kitchen technology that autonomously prepares food bowls raised $20M in the financing round. Digital restaurant ecosystem C3 will invest as part of a 50/50 deal to add robotic Nommi kitchens to the C3 community, including a pilot program through its Sa’Moto restaurant brand. Nommi is creating a standalone robotic kitchen able to produce and dispense dishes made of any grain, noodle or lettuce through a fully-integrated cooking system. Nommi is backed by Wavermaker Labs, a robotic incubator. As part of a mostly-virtual collection of restaurant brands, C3 is behind Umami Burger, Sam’s Crispy Chicken, Krispy Rice, Cindy Lou’s Cookies, EllaMia, Plant Nation, and Kumi, as well as new concepts such Sa’Moto, a collection of Chef Morimoto’s favorite Pan-Asian fare, El Pollo Verde, serving rotisserie from Chef Dani Garcia, Cicci Di Carne, a local deli and butcher’s shop helmed by world-renowned Chef Dario Cecchini, and Mediterranean-style Soom Soom Fresh. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 19

Cost of inflation By Eric Nomis

About a third of consumers are choosing less expensive restaurants + deploying tactics to save money on meals Consumers continue to dine out despite inflation; but with prices rising, 54% of consumers are doing so less often. This is one of the observations that sales-and-marketing firm Acosta revealed via a recently-released report from its CORE Foodservice Division. Moreover, according to “The Why? Behind the Dine,” about a third of consumers are trading down rather than not going out: opting to eat at less expensive restaurants due to inflated pricing. These diners are also seeking deals and choosing lower-priced meals, indicates the report, which utilized an online survey to gather consumer insights. Consequently, meal price has grown in importance, with 41% of respondents indicating it is “most important” when choosing a limitedservice casual restaurant (fast casual). This statistic has increased 6 percentage points from the previous survey, and elevates meal price to the second-most important reason in choosing a fast-casual eatery, after food quality (53%), which is the most important factor. Menu variety (38%) came in third. RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 20

A total of 54% of consumers are dining out less often, according to CORE Foodservice. Photo by Louis Hansel.

In the casual dining category, food quality is the most important factor in choosing a restaurant (54%), while menu variety (40%) and service (37%) rank second and third in importance. In upscale casual, food quality (46%) is also the top factor in choosing a restaurant. There, though, service is second (31%) and menu variety (28%) is third most important. “COVID-19 hit the foodservice industry hard,” said Travis King, president of CORE Foodservice. “While recovery remains on track for 2024, consumers are feeling the pinch of inflation and reacting accordingly. To continue participating in dining out activities, many are sharpening their focus on costs.” So, what are the top reasons to eat out at a restaurant overall, regardless of segment? A total of 53% of respondents said lack of motivation to cook is the top reason to dine out, while 51% said craving a certain meal is important, ranking it #2. Having no time to cook (33%), ranked #3, up 13 percentagepoints from the last survey. “Consumer priorities are evolving, but interest

in dining out remains stronger than expected during an inflationary period,” added King. “This is largely due to pent up demand resulting from COVID-19 and an increased reliance on foodservice as employees return to the office. But inflation’s tipping point is yet to come. As financial strain worsens, quality service is becoming increasingly important. Providing a valuable dining experience will be critical to incentivize cost-wary consumers in the coming months.” COVID-19 accelerated consumers’ carryout and delivery, seemingly for the long term. Indeed, 75% of consumers participated in carryout in the last three months, according to CORE’s “The Why? Behind The Dine,” and 48% participated in delivery in the same time period. When it comes to carryout and delivery, packaging is king. Consumers ranked packaging supporting ready-to-eat food as most important (74%) in this area. Packaging that preserves food quality ranked second (64%). In third place was packaging that “you can eat out of,” ranked “most important” by 44% of consumers. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 21

Exciting trends for the kitchen By Rick Zambrano

Evolving flavors, preparations, ingredients quite promising

With all the challenges facing restaurants during and post pandemic, and myriad hot topics to be addressed, chefs and restaurant owners still must allocate time to focus on the hottest culinary trends. After all, style and preparation of food will always be the key to attracting customers. Spices, Caribbean flavors, Masa and plantbased chicken are highly-relevant trends that can boost creative opportunities on the menu. RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 22

Masa offers versatile applications. Photo by Frederick Medina.

Spice as the headline

Trinidad & Tobago flavors

Tajin is a chili-lime spice from Mexico, gaining a lot of traction over the past few years. It has hit the mainstream with independent restaurants and chain restaurants, which are tapping into its flavor profile and reputation. Pinkberry used Tajin in its Mango Tajin frozen yogurt even before the pandemic.

Trinidad & Tobago is an example of food diversity and richness. The medley of cultures on the Island, including those of Indian descent, emerges in its flavorful dishes and exemplifies how Caribbean flavors are permeating restaurant and foodservice menus. Roti choka and chana, imported as a result of this Indian influence, are two dishes Mintel has called out.

In Washington, DC, Chicken + Whiskey, a South American rotisserie and whiskey joint, serves both its fries and its green plantain chips with a dusting of Tajin. In collaboration with the Mexican company that makes Tajin, Chef Dennis Prescott prepared a Grilled Tajín & Maple Chicken Wings on YouTube. Identified in the “What’s Hot Culinary Trends,” furikake and za’atar have been trending, particularly as a spice to create globallyinspired fries. Recently, furikake fries have become a standout item on some menus, and can provide a differentiated dish that can appeal to foodies looking for something outside the norm.

In DC, the recently-opened St. James restaurant will introduce many diners to a modern take on Caribbean flavors. Jeanine Prime, sister of famed chef Peter Prime, of fast-casual Cane fame, offers a menu of Trinidadian-inspired food. Coo and Callaloo with Fried Smelts is prepared with corn masa, okra, peppers, chiles, fried fish, and served with callaloo sauce. Callaloo, made with coconut milk, vegetables and spices is a Trinidadian dish highlighted by The local bounty provides for a variety of vegetables and roots, including RESTAURANT C-SUITE 23

yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, and taro. Coo Coo is a corn meal-based dish prepared with vegetables. St. James also serves Pepper Shrimp, including whole jumbo shrimp, scotch bonnet & pimento chili sauce with creamy coo coo. The Trinidad pimento pepper, the most popular pepper on the island, is used in several dishes and has the potential to provide inspiration in the commercial kitchen. A deeper exploration of Trinidadian cuisine can take specific menus beyond the more-common flavors of jerk and mango-pineapple.

Masa for everyone According to Eric Fernandez, R&D chef at the Culinary Edge, masa, a maize dough that comes from ground nixtamalized (process of soaking and cooking in an alkaline solution) corn, is another trending food item. Masa’s versatile uses pop up in Sopes, gorditas, panuchos, huaraches, arepas, pupusas, and tlayudas, prepared with heirloom corn. It’s a “huge opportunity,” he notes. “Just like pasta shapes, each masa shape is unique and works well with different filling types and provides consumers a new and more authentic dining experience.” Arepas, ground maize dough, eaten in the northern region of South America, are gaining ground as a popular handheld pouch bearing proteins and vegetables. The 11 North arepainspired all-day sandwich shop in Chicago is benefiting from a growing awareness of arepas. The breakfast Perico combines Venezuelan style scrambled eggs with red onion and tomato, Caribbean cheese and bacon. There is also the Pelua, with beef, plantains, Gouda cheese and garlic cilantro sauce. The Mexican gordita or “the chubby”— prepared with masa and stuffed with cheese, meat, or other fillings is similar to the arepa. Bistek Gordita at Con Madre Kitchen in Austin, Texas, is stuffed with lettuce, tomato, beans, queso fresco, and avocado.

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Masa can be used in many applications beyond handhelds. As Kara Elder of the Washington Post points out, masa can replace crackers alongside hearty soup, or in tamales with seafood, or breakfast pupusas. Married with inspired creativity in the kitchen, masa creates quite a formula for restaurants developing fresh and innovative dishes.

Plant-based chicken Fernandez feels that plant-based chicken and fish have plenty of room for growth. Many consumers are asking for plant-based substitutes, he notes, and fortuitously, this is a category-based business. Furthermore, many plant-based alternatives in milks burgers, dips, and dressings have tasted well and outperformed their animal-based counterparts. “There are a lot of interesting things happening behind the scenes with the inputs to these products as they scale, and as meat continues to get more expensive,” says Fernandez. “With the launch of the first lab-grown meat products last year, the evolution of seaweedbased proteins, and fungi-based proteins, the entire market is ripe for more upheaval.” A recent $150M round of financing in Meati Foods, a mushroom protein-based supplier of plant-based foods, led by Revolution Growth, should show no doubt of its ongoing revenue potential. It also shows restaurant operators can win when they menu meat-alternatives like plant-based chicken. Tender Food, fresh off $12M from its latest funding round in March, is certainly hopeful the plant-based food trend continues its up tempo. The company will use a process licensed from Harvard University to “spin” plant protein into strands that mimic real meat muscle fibers, like those in chicken, beef and pork. In April, Nowadays raised $10M to continue offering crispy plant-based chicken nuggets that have “a classic fried chicken taste and texture made with only seven simple and sustainable ingredients,” Nowadays noted at the time.

Meati’s plant-based Crispy Cutlet. Photo by Meati Foods.

Sous vide preparation Sous vide cooking, which uses thermal immersion circulator machines and has gained some momentum as a preparation trend recently, has some features that operators and chefs are looking for. First, its preparation method lends itself well to cooking proteins with more tenderness and flavor. Second, its delivery in unseasoned or prepared form has a longer shelf life that can be a hedge against supply chain issues found with fresh, uncooked meats. Gerard Bertholon, chief strategy officer of Cuisine Solutions, says, “Now more and more restaurants have put into place takeout and delivery operations. So, when I speak with restaurateurs, they note they have spent a lot of money to put these tools into place and don’t want to give up these revenue streams after reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.”

As labor costs rise, operators are also looking for solutions that can provide an optimal balance between in-house prepared proteins and ready-to-heat food. “By using sous vide, whether you work with us here at Cuisine Solutions or the chef does it himself, you’re able to solve this issue requiring less staff to create your menu,” says Bertholon. As cloud kitchens increase, the multi-concept mobile kitchen will also proliferate. Savvy operators are using these kitchens to produce multiple concepts with different cuisines. In this way, sous vide preparations can offer a blank palette for selling multiple menu platforms from the same proteins in a short time. Added Bertholon, “Sous vide brings consistency, the right color, and texture and because we pasteurize it, it brings real safety. Right now, people are eating differently, and they get their food differently as well from eating out at a restaurant to ordering delivery during the pandemic.” RESTAURANT C-SUITE 25