Intentional food sourcing has been a significant trend in the restaurant industry for the past several years. As menu ingredient origins grew in importance to consumers, restaurateurs began to pay more attention to where their food was coming from, as well as the natural health benefits of fresh meals. Hormone-free, GMO-free and all-natural have become commonplace terms — simply because customers demand it. We see it throughout the industry: quick casual restaurants now feature free range chicken, fast food establishments are boasting all natural beef, and even grocery stores stock naturally sweetened products. These classifications now have widely accepted perceptions, while a negative connotation surrounding synthetic and processed foods has gone mainstream.
Responsible food sourcing is becoming the baseline. So now, it’s important to look ahead at how these trends may evolve. I believe that over the next couple of years we will see a distinct shift in focus. Consumers won’t solely be concerned with where their food comes from but also how it is being prepared. Quality isn’t just about using real ingredients; it's also about how we’re cooking them. Significant advances in specialty cooking and holding equipment and multi-modal technology have made this even more of a focus. Diners will lean more toward cooked-to-order meals, which gives them the opportunity to alter the dish for dietary needs and flavor preferences. No matter how good the establishment is with their cook and hold process, the more educated a diner becomes, the more they will look for food being prepared when the order is placed.
If you’re currently using cooked-to-order processes in your restaurant, it’s important to celebrate it. There are numerous ways to highlight this through restaurant layout and design. Featuring an expo kitchen allows diners to see your operation clearly and being transparent establishes a high level of trust between you and your guests. People won’t care if things aren’t spotless and gleaming – they understand that it is what it is. Instead, they’re interested in viewing the food being cooked there. They want to see what’s taking place on site – and have the opportunity to watch their personal meal take form.
Incorporating your use of real ingredients and cooking processes into your design is vital. These are part of your story – and developing a way to tell that story is important. What makes you unique? It could be your history, recipes, food origin, cooking processes, etc. Today’s customers are interested in these aspects. They want to know how, and more importantly, why your business runs. Whether you’re integrating it through graphics, signage, taglines or even materials and textures – it all paints a picture of who you are as a brand. And that is what will resonate with your guests.
To make a cooking process a key part of your brand takes a significant commitment. It doesn’t end at telling the story. Although the graphics and interiors are a vital piece of the messaging, they can only set the expectation. Your operation then needs to deliver on the intended experience, which at times can be complicated to execute. In order to leave an impression, accuracy is key. The meals should be prepared both quickly and correctly.
Other factors will be impacted by your change in the cooking process. Preparing cooked-to-order meals will limit the number of menu choices you can offer, due to a more intense labor process. Moving in this direction can also cost more, as well as limit the throughput. So it’s important to decide if you would rather have quality food at a lower cost, or quality cooked-to-order food that resonates with your customers. However, if it is a key part of your brand, it’s important to stay true to your values and execute it flawlessly. Going this extra mile is something that makes you both memorable and remarkable.
Featured in Fast Casual magazine.