In the restaurant industry, accreditation is a powerful way to separate the who’s who: which chefs are worth the hype and which ones fall flat. It also brings to light which more obscure establishments are beaming with talent. In the past five years alone, restaurant reviews have changed significantly, with consumers in the driver’s seat, typing away their opinions on platforms like Yelp. There are few institutions, however, that take restaurant reviewing to a more serious level, where a rigid set of guidelines must be met in order to grant the restaurant any published review at all. Michelin is most notably one of them. But what if you took the same type of principles as the Michelin Guide — where a score is based on consistent factors across the board for each restaurant — and brought that into the land of social media, where the analysis of consumer sentiment, engagement and influence in relation to a restaurant determines the ultimate score of achievement?
Enter the Foodable Five Star Awards.
In October 2015, Foodable will be kicking off its premier Foodable Five Star Awards at the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Innovation Summit in San Diego.
Consumers continue to get more social and tech-savvy, causing consumer-brand engagement to become a driving force in today’s business environment. To thrive, restaurants must learn how to navigate the social landscape, not just the kitchen and front of house. But which brands stand out as leading players? Who are the champions of the foodservice industry that elevate food, service, brand, digital, and leadership to the highest level, analyzed by social media consumers and peers? Foodable Labs works with the Restaurant Social Media Index to pull unstructured data of consumers’ social media activity to determine brand sentiment, engagement, and, ultimately, influence.
The Foodable Five Star Awards brings this analysis full-circle, focusing on key performance metrics to recognize the foodservice companies, chefs, and executives who inspire the industry as a whole.
Below, in alphabetical order, are the finalists in the running for this year’s awards. The winner of each category will be announced at the Restaurant Innovation Summit October 27th-28th. Congratulations to all those in the running, and good luck!
The Nominees: Foodable Culinary Star
Based on the highest excellence in food sentiment. This Foodable Star award is one that delivers beyond consumer expectations, analyzed across 160K culinary terms, menu items, and brand terms from Foodable Labs’ insights.
Marc Forgione, NYC: Nestled in Manhattan, Chef Marc Forgione’s eponymous restaurant, from its exposed brick and dark aged wood to its boxy hanging lanterns filled by candlelight and dimly lit dining room, breathes new, sophisticated life into its rustic feel. Co-owned by business partner Chris Blumlo, the restaurant serves up New American cuisine. Its menu, like many others we’re seeing, is on rotation to cater to seasonal ingredients. A sample menu includes starters like kampachi tartare with avocado, pinenut, saratoga chips, and sechuan button; Creekstone 28-day dry aged rib eye, short rib, bone marrow, sunchoke, and Béarnaise reduction; and Jurgielewicz duck with yogurt and granola, quinoa, vadouvan curry, and a langue de canard jus. As per Yelp, a customer favorite staple on the menu seems to be the Bell & Evans Chicken Under a Brick, a popular sharing dish.
RPM Steak (Lettuce Entertain You), Chicago: A modern steakhouse by Bill and Giuliana Rancic along with Executive Chef/Partner Doug Psaltis and Lettuce Entertain You, RPM Steak is well-known for its modern take on the traditional chophouse. The menu features an array of premium meats and cuts, including bison, wagyu, and 28-day prime dry-aged steaks. But offerings are not limited to meat lovers. An array of salads (from the Shredded Kale to Artichokes & Arugula), a cold bar (chilled west coast oysters to Alaskan king crab), alternative main dishes (Spicy Miso-Roasted Maine Lobster and Mac & Cheese, to name a couple), and an expansive selection of veggies (with four different variations of mushrooms) are all up for grabs. Bonus: RPM Steak has an entire gluten-free menu. Cocktails include both classics and modern mashups, as well as a full wine list and beer.
Sinatra, Las Vegas: Helmed by Executive Chef Theo Schoenegger, who grew up working in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant in Italy, Sinatra is not only an ode to the late, great Frank, but also to authentic Italian food. Housed in the iconic Wynn Las Vegas, Sinatra boasts a menu that celebrates traditional Italian dishes and the evolution of Italian-American culture. The menu includes straightforward dishes like Carpaccio (thinly sliced beef tenderloin, salsa verde, wild arugula, shaved parmigiano, croutons), Agnolotti (small pockets filled with bufala ricotta, herbs, and asparagus sauce), Branzino (Mediterranean sea bass, haricot vert, fingerling potatoes, tomato, yellow pepper emulsion, and salsa verde), Ossobuco “My Way” (braised veal ossobuco, risotto Milanese and gremolata), and sides including Polenta and Melanzana (eggplant parmigiana). Because sometimes, authentically simple paired with great execution is key to ultimate flavor.
The Nominees: Foodable Service Star
Based on the highest excellence in service sentiment. This Foodable Star award has taken the cornerstone of the restaurant industry — service — and is awarded to the highest scorer on a variety of key elements, including the 25 points of service in the Foodable Labs system.
Abacus, Dallas: A Kent Rathbun concept, Abacus is clear to note that it is anything but an “ordinary” experience. When the restaurant opened in 1999, Rathbun’s primary goal was to bring back polished, unpretentious service to the fine dining space, according to the restaurant’s website. And as a semi-finalist of a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Service, it’s evident that this goal has been carried through. Abacus’ menu features contemporary global cuisine of both small and large plates, highlighting the Mediterranean, Southwest, and Pacific Rim. The team of chefs at Abacus also teach a Dirty Dozen cooking class, where guests get the opportunity to cook alongside Rathbun and his team “to learn their secrets and practice their techniques taught by the masters themselves.” After the four-course cooking experience, all enjoy the fare with an intimate dinner, complete with paired wine. To personalize the experience even further, each Dirty Dozen “inductee” receives a personalized, monogrammed Kent Rathbun Concepts chef’s coat.
Mastro’s Steakhouse, Beverly Hills: Mastro’s Steakhouse, which has locations in Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, New York, and Washington, D.C., is a sleek, upscale steakhouse that started in 1999 as a family operation in Scottsdale, AZ. Now owned by Mastro’s Restaurants, LLC, the steakhouse’s ambiance is sexy and elegant, with tables donned in white cloth and the room filled with dim lighting. While seating options are aplenty, each section is secluded and intimate, some separated by curtains, like the Chef’s Room and Mastro’s Room, each lending a different experience. At the Beverly Hills location, there are nine different rooms to dine in, and private dining is available. According to its website, “At Mastro’s Restaurants, we aspire to create the finest experience for our guests by combining the highest quality steaks and seafood with exceptional service in a cosmopolitan and entertaining atmosphere.”
Work & Class, Denver: A recurring Foodable Top 25 Restaurant in Denver, Work & Class is as unpretentious as it gets. The cozy establishment is known for its Southern, Latin, and American cuisine and friendly neighborhood charm. The restaurant, co-owned by Tony Maciag, Delores Tronco, and Dana Rodriguez, carries the ethos of “square meal, stiff drink, fair price.” Work & Class does not take reservations, and each of the three co-owners plays a big part in the operations. Maciag’s other role is barkeep, Tronco is also operations manager and waits tables on Saturday nights, and Rodriguez is also the executive chef. See? Humble pie.
The Nominees: Foodable Brand Star
Based on the highest excellence in overall consumer sentiment. This Foodable Star award is the coveted best-in-class of food, service, and brand in social sentiment across hundreds of millions of consumers who have open discussions on social media every second about restaurant dining occasions. Receiving this star is a special award that recognizes top-level performance in all areas of a consumer dining experience.
Chick-fil-A: Chick-fil-A is one of those brands people seem to either love or hate. The chicken chain has been very vocal in the past about its conservative beliefs, but since then, Chick-fil-A has managed to shine in a more positive light with its branding. With the incorporation of more videos (the cover image of its YouTube page boasts a “lights, camera, chicken” slogan), nutritional facts (including a meal calculator), a story archive on their website (where guests can talk about their own Chick-fil-A experiences), and a noticeably strong tie to local communities and adopting a healthy lifestyle, Chick-fil-A has certainly integrated a ton of ways for consumer interaction and engagement. Did you also know that customers have the chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A headquarters?
Chipotle Mexican Grill: Chipotle reaffirmed its brand message earlier this year by announcing the removal of all GMOs throughout its ingredient list. Chipotle became the first national restaurant company to use only non-GMO ingredients. In Q2, the fast-casual chain announced a scholarship program where middle school and high school students could submit an essay about a memorable food experience. Ten winners would be granted a $20K scholarship and have their essays featured on cups and bags in Chipotle restaurants. The combination of sustainable practices and healthfulness, focus on community, and direct consumer engagement and interaction, make Chipotle a strong Top 3 competitor.
Panera Bread: Speaking of strong brand messages, Panera Bread has been putting up a fight this year, strengthening its mission to do away with artificial ingredients. This mission is the backbone of Panera’s “Food As It Should Be” mantra, and led to Panera’s “No No List,” resulting in 150 artificial ingredients (artificial preservatives, colorings, sweeteners, and flavors) being taken off the menu. Just like Chipotle, Panera is not just trying to differentiate itself from the competition, but rather to make a difference in the food system as a whole.
The Nominees: Foodable Digital Star
Based on mobile and location-based actions. This Foodable Star award has the highest trending engagement on mobile and location-based technology that allows guests to interact with restaurants for everything from reservation, reviews, and loyalty. The Digital Star is a feature award that recognizes brands representing the driving performance in metrics for restaurant trends today.
Firehouse Subs: This franchise chain, known for its fresh, hot specialty subs, offers a robust mobile experience on its Firehouse Subs app. The home screen reveals a guest’s last online order, rewards points and nearest location, and a game element, called Blaze Hopper, creates some interactivity. Rewards points can be gained both in store with purchases, as well as with points won from the game. With these points, customers can also earn badges, which puts a fun, competitive twist on earnings. The app also allows users to navigate all Firehouse Subs locations, access nutritional facts, manage payments, see online order history (to make for easier reordering), and view each location’s menu. Essentially, you never have to leave the app to get the full Firehouse Subs experience as you would on a desktop — and more.
Panera Bread: Though a bit glitchy at time of publish, Panera Bread’s app includes menus (including one for seasonal items), a café locator, in-app ordering, a placeholder for past orders (again, to make for easier reordering), MyPanera Rewards, and an opportunity to make a profile. It’s free to make a profile, and members who do so enjoy rewards, surprises, and special offers when visiting a Panera bakery-cafe, notes the description.
Sonic Drive-In: The fast food brand’s app is very straightforward. Its features include rewards and events, a location-based pull of nearby locations with the ability to search for specific stores, in-app payments, in-app gifts where users can both send and receive gifts to/from others, nutritional facts, menus, and a run-down of current deals, like half-price drinks and slushes from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sonic also has an opt-in text program for guests who wish to stay up-to-date with current promotions while they’re happening.
The Nominees: Foodable Leadership Star
This award is based on the highest performance by an executive, operator, or chef in digital brand leadership. This Foodable Star award is the only one that is awarded in part by social and digital performance and part by a selection committee.
Mark Crumpacker, CMO at Chipotle Mexican Grill: Chipotle is commonly referred to as the king of fast casual. From its stance on social responsibility to its efficient walk-through ordering system and fresh, sourced ingredients, Chipotle has become a model citizen. But with fast growth and popularity comes critics and bad press from always being under the microscope of America. Keeping Chipotle in a positive light through out-of-the-box campaigns and interactive elements for stronger brand-consumer engagement is all in a day’s work for Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief managing and development officer. What’s made recent press is Crumpacker’s stance on the brand not having a loyalty program. “We don’t believe the general supposition that loyalty will make less-frequent customers more frequent,” Crumpacker said to Wall Street analysts. In more recent integrations, Crumpacker has been behind things like Chipotle’s “Friend or Faux” game, which teaches consumers how to eat better; the burrito brand’s (RED) partnership, which allows customers to purchase special edition (RED) gift cards “to help play a role in ending AIDS around the world,” says the press release; and Chipotle’s recent Postmates partnership for on-demand delivery.
Randy Garutti, CEO at Shake Shack: This year, under the leadership of Randy Garutti, Shake Shack went public, its flagship location at Madison Square Park reopened after a 7-month renovation, and the “better burger” brand unleashed an entirely new menu item — a fried chicken sandwich called the ChickenShack. In Q2 of this year, Shake Shack has continued to expand its locations, with new stores in New Jersey, Austin and Scottsdale, and an introduction of Shake Shack breakfast in D.C.’s Union Station location. And that’s not even touching on all of this year’s impressive Shake Shack collaborations — with highly acclaimed chefs, artists, and charity foundations.
Nic Jammet, Co-Founder & Co-CEO at Sweetgreen: According to CrunchBase, good-for-you fast casual Sweetgreen, co-owned by Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru, has raised $75.5M in total since launching in 2007 — from nine investors in three rounds. Its most recent round, a Series F in July 2015, raised $35M, led by Revolution LLC, T. Rowe Price, Ted Leonsis, and Partner Steve Case, co-founder and former CEO at AOL. Sweetgreen, known for its healthy fare, has built a brand known for not only its food, but for an all-encompassing lifestyle, tied together at its Sweetlife music festival, an annual two-day event packed with grade-A musical artists and a platform for bringing light to living a healthier lifestyle. “We knew we wanted to build something different,” Jammet told The Daily Meal. “Something that wasn’t just about food or about the transaction, but about this greater lifestyle, living well, living your best life.”
Which of the nominees above will win the title for their respective award(s)? The numbers don’t lie, and only time and consumers will tell. Stay tuned for coverage of the winners after the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Innovation Summit at the end of October!