Feeding the Fast and the Curious

My brother's a Gen Xer, and he sure knows his way around a menu. He travels the world for his job, and likes to boast that he turned me, his Boomer sister, on to sushi and ceviche. This, from the college kid who subsisted on chicken nuggets and Captain Crunch for months at a time.

Many Gen Xers were raised by parents who worked, and for them, eating out wasn't the special occasion it was for me and my pals. They grew up on carryout and dining out and likely possessed more sophisticated palates than their parents' generation. Dad stuck to steak and potatoes. Brother favors osso buco and risotto. When Dad ate out on the company dime, it was all about long and leisurely lunches, fine table linens and Manhattans. When Brother entertains clients, it's PowerPoint presentations over tapas and Mojitos in a hip bar or casual eatery.

Like the hotel guestroom, the restaurant landscape has evolved to meet the needs of my brother's generation.

Bob Puccini understands this demographic. He's chairman and CEO of The Puccini Group, a leading restaurant design and development firm specializing in full-service concept development, construction and operations management, and interior design. For seven years, Puccini worked for Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group and grew the restaurant division from four restaurants to 18 restaurants and more than $100 million in revenue. Puccini, a Boomer, and Rob Polacek, the firm's creative director (and, at age 31, a Gen Xer) offered some thoughts on dining today.

“My generation got into organic, sustainable farming, but eating organics and the highest quality ingredients has really taken off with the Gen Xers,” says Puccini. “Hoteliers should strive to better understand the needs and wants of this demographic — Gen Xers want a unique and customized experience.” Kimpton Hotels has become very successful in its restaurant operations by promoting them separately from their hotels, with separate entrances, creative chefs, stimulating ambiance and the goal of operating competitively.

Grab and go is extremely important, adds Polacek. “It requires top quality selections with a unique presentation. It has to be better than what you can get at the local Starbucks and it has to be fresh. This can be a great additional revenue source if done properly.”

Waiting in general is not part of the Gen Xer's vocabulary. The Hotel Indigo concept recognizes this in its f&b offering — a gourmet fast casual concept. “The concept appeals to the Gen X traveler because it engages the customer in the service element,” says Jim Anhut, senior vice president, brand development, InterContinental Hotels Group. “I call it involved service, modeled on the Panera Bread and Wolfgang Puck Express kind of eateries. Guests take control of the order process, walking up to the counter with their order. Then it's delivered to their table or packaged to go.

“The food product must be really high quality,” continues Anhut. “The service model is less labor-intensive and less costly to the operator, which allows us to invest more in the food and its presentation.”

IN THE KNOW

Marriott's Robin Uler, senior vice president of food & beverage, spas and retail services, and Brad Nelson, VP of culinary and corporate chef, are finely tuned into today's other dining trends as well. Here are a few of the top trends they're following:

  • Back to basics and sized to order: Gone are the days of jackets and ties and three-hour dining experiences. Guests are looking for great food served with friendly, professional care in a “buzzing” contemporary setting that offers a sense of place. Menus reflect this as well. Chef-crafted plates of varying sizes create a variety of tastes and flavors, and allow for a more social, casual dining experience than traditional courses.

  • Breakfast is back: The most important meal of the day is becoming even more important. Approachable comfort food, eggs cooked to order and healthy options with “good carbs.” Low in fat and high in protein and nutrition are starting diners' days. French toast and waffles are a growing trend.

  • In good company: Communal tables have become a staple in many contemporary restaurants. But that will be taken a step further with the advent of gathering areas. Many food and beverage arenas will be the new living room/dining room. Enclaves for small groups and quick quality snacks and beverages are making their way into the hospitality industry.

  • Takeaway: Upscale takeout service at full-service restaurants is growing. Restaurants will need to have items available to go that adapt well to traveling.

  • From the kitchen to the bar: With the advent of more premium spirits on the market and push for ever-more-creative cocktails, the pairing of food and spirit in one will be on the menu. From the appetizer paired with a special cocktail to tea- and truffle-flavored vodkas, food and drink will be a bar and restaurant menu highlight. Look for premium liquors to be paired with freshly squeezed juices and herbs, as in the thyme Cosmo or basil Mojito.

  • Soft, comfortable, hip: The pendulum will start swinging away from the very angular, overly retro or stark look of many restaurants in favor of the softer and more opulent ambience. Clean, not Victorian, but comfortable and contemporary. Gone will be the sparse white plates, replaced by an more elegant but comfortable feel.

  • Non-“engineered” product: More diners are looking for purity of product. Diners will search for a more natural product, like buttery Boston lettuce and sweet bib varieties. Fresh and locally grown. Many chefs are utilizing their local farmers. Some cultivate their own gardens on restaurant grounds and are attuned to utilizing the whole product — no waste.


Visit www.LHonline for more information and related articles.

THE BIG IDEAS

What's the buzz in f&b?

Cyber cafes, entertainment eateries, ethnic eats, flavored vodkas, anything organic, informal, branded, multicultural comfort food, grazing meal options and extended hours for food and beverage operations and selections.

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