Four Important Takeaways from “Restaurants in the Hot Seat”

One of the highlights of the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show was “Restaurants in the Hot Seat,” an exciting fast-paced debate featuring Technomic expert Joe Pawlak and top operators Tracey Ayres (Papa Murphy’s International), Tana Davila (P.F. Chang’s) and Luis Velasco (Jollibee Foods Corporation). During the session, the operators were given four minutes to share their opinions on today’s most pressing foodservice issues. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways from their discussion:

1. Ghost kitchens and virtual brands are exciting opportunities—but they aren’t for everyone.

The entire restaurant industry is abuzz over ghost kitchens and virtual brands. Many operators see these opportunities as avenues for brands to extend themselves with low capital investments. Tracey Ayres agrees that “ghost kitchens are a great way to experiment” and try out “different products than you have in your brick-and-mortar store.” However, Ayres and fellow panelist Tana Davila both contend that ghost kitchens and virtual brands may not necessarily work for everyone if they do not have the proper technology and marketing resources in place to support these ventures.

2. As labor challenges continue, operators must reexamine how they recruit and develop employees.

According to Technomic’s latest insights, 70% of restaurant operators are having trouble filling open positions. For Luis Velasco, these challenges provide employers with the opportunity to “review what [they’re] about and what [they] offer to employees and team members.” Tracey Ayres expands on this idea, adding that operators should be thinking about how they can develop the “holistic person” and become a brand that employees are “proud to work for.” Tana Davila sees the need for operators to change their approach to recruiting by allocating digital marketing and advertising resources typically used to reach consumers to reach potential team members.

3. There’s no single, sure-fire way to approach inflation and supply chain issues.

Operators are utilizing a number of tactics to deal with the effects   of high inflation and ongoing supply chain disruption. As costs rise, Tracey Ayres acknowledges that restaurants may need to increase menu prices outright, but also recommends “reducing costs within the item but maintaining menu prices” or “providing value offers by co-branding or through add-ons.” In managing supply chain disruption, Tana Davila sees the benefit in continuing “the theme of menu simplification” that began during the height of the pandemic. Luis Velasco advocates doing more “regular monthly reviews” to properly evaluate raw material needs.

  1. Technology’s role in restaurants will continue to increase.

When one thinks of the future, one inevitably thinks about technology. 60% of operators say that they are going to increase their technology budget in the next two years, according to Technomic. What kinds of technology are they going to invest in? For some, it may be inventory management and scheduling software, online training modules and food waste solutions. Tracey Ayres and Tana Davila are among the more adventurous operators who see robotics potentially playing a big part in both back-of-house and front-of-house operations within the new few years. Ultimately, all three panelists agree that any new technology must work for a restaurant’s brand and offer customers a better product and better value in order to have true staying power.

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