With The Focus On Casual-Dining, What Is The Future Of Our Industry?

In this episode of On Foodable Weekly, guest host, Eric Cacciatore, the man behind Restaurant Unstoppable, sits down with Michael Cheng, director of the Food and Beverage Program at Florida International University  and Christopher Koetke, vice president of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College. They talk about how FIU and Kendall College are preparing the next generation of food industry leaders— millennials studying hospitality or in culinary school— through the introduction of culture within the restaurant business.

Understanding Food Culture

Culture could mean many different things, especially when talking about food and the restaurant business, as a whole. Culinary students learn about international cultures through the diverse dishes they are taught to make, cultures within the food world, and amongst other topics, business culture within foodservice.

As Koetke explains, culinary school means more than just mastering soft skills, like “learning how to chop something.” He believes business skills, nutrition and sustainability are critical to the development of a sound food business culture.

“Food has gotten really competitive, and it’s hard to say, to do food better than we’re already doing it… What’s going to make you successful in this industry is how well your culture is, how well you take care of your employees, how well you tell your story through your brand, creating something that means something, that people want to be a part of… What trends are you seeing in culture, in that regard?” asks Cacciatore.

From Chef Hats to Baseball Caps

Cheng replies “When you’re moving into the casual dining environment, you’re no longer wearing ‘chef whites,’ you know? They are wearing aprons and baseball caps in the kitchen,” says the Malaysian-native whose passion lies in restaurant management. “... I think it’s not because they don’t respect the chef’s white jackets, but really more the focus is on the food and the quality of the food and the experience that the customer gets from it.”

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Sweat the Small Stuff?

“The difference between a very good restaurant and a truly great restaurant is just a million details,” says Chris Koetky. “...it’s not that they are somehow doing something [monumentally] different, okay? But what they’ve managed to do is get all the pieces in place and do all of them really well, they treat their employees well, they know how to manage them well, they get the greatest products, they have design features that are done really well, their bathrooms are exquisite.”

Trend To Watch

It may sound cliche, but like with trends in the fashion world, what’s old now becomes new in a matter of years, sometimes decades. Who knows how long it will be until it is true for the fine-dining industry, but one thing is for sure… experience is king and it may just be a matter of time until a specific type of experience resurfaces to become the next hot thing. At least that’s what Koetky, believes:

“People say fine-dining is dead, I think it’s just… I think the focus has moved away, but now there’s an opportunity,” says Koetky, who has traveled all over the world and can attest that casual-dining is fast growing in popularity. “I recently ate in a great fine-dining restaurant, I mean like... old school… And I walked out and I said, you know “All this casual stuff, is awesome, you know? But that experience…” (Looks like it left him speechless.)

Watch the episode to learn more about trends within the foodservice business culture and tips when hiring millennials!

Authenticity and Innovation Make up the Secret Sauce for Emerging Fast Casual Brands

In this episode of On Foodable Weekly, our host, Paul Barron, discusses emerging brands and how to be successful in the fast casual space. To shed light on this topic, Chris Schultz, Senior Vice President of MOD Pizza, and Eric Cacciatore, founder and host of the podcast: Restaurant Unstoppable, stopped by our remote set in Chicago to share their experience and knowledge.

A Clear Mission Is Key

Eric Cacciatore, the man behind the restaurant podcast empowering independent restaurant owners/operators to be successful, believes that fast casual brands with a purpose and story that resonates with their base consumer are the ones coming out on top.

“Society in general is trending towards the why, the reason behind everything...,” said Eric Cacciatore, who started his Restaurant Unstoppable podcast as a pupil to the restaurant industry and hopes of opening his own restaurant concept one day.

Cacciatore has learned that “...those brands that really do what they say they do, and live their brands… And their brands, are actually a reflection of what they are… they are not trying to be anything, they just are...” will be the brands coming out on top.

Chris Schultz agrees that authenticity is necessary because so much information is now available at everyone’s fingertips and this allows people to see right through a brand’s identity.

For MOD Pizza, millennials are not only their customer base but also this segment makes up their workforce. 

“The millennial folks want to stand for something and want to believe in what they are doing,” said Schultz. “I think other organizations are starting to realize they have to do that… That’s the ticket now, is to be involved in something and to stand for something more than just profits.”

Challenges Ahead

According to Cacciatore, bigger is not necessarily better, when looking to expand one's business and grow as a brand.

“It’s how well you do it and how well you develop that culture, how well you care for your people and developing them, mentoring them, giving them the skills the knowledge to be successful,“ said Cacciatore.

Schultz comments that innovation will be the biggest challenge yet for the industry as an emerging brand.

“At MOD we continue to innovate. Whether it’s on a product perspective or the way consumers want it, right? Whether it’s fast, digital, third-party delivery— whatever that looks like…,” said Schultz, who has been working for MOD Pizza since the very early stages. “At MOD, we consistently look and see: What’s out there?... Not just today, but six, 12 months from now, so we can get ahead of that curve.”

Watch the episode above to learn about MOD Pizza’s company culture and where these show guests think the market for emerging brands is going to be in the next five years!