According to the National Restaurant Association's Hudson Riehle, American restaurants are slowly but surely turning into "America's family room." This tidbit of information and a whole lot more were announced last month in Washington, D.C., during an unveiling of the NRA's 2006 restaurant industry forecast.
I'll report more on that forecast in next month's issue. But this whole idea of restaurants becoming America's family room was intriguing and somewhat disturbing. One in four people surveyed said they would watch a small TV at the table of a full-service restaurant if it was available.
Hmmm! I can see it now. Guys who can't get dates sitting around at restaurant tables swilling beer, burping, scratching, looking for the channel changer. At other tables there would be bored couples ignoring each other while watching Fear Factor or Lost (even if the food is not good the irony is delicious).
It could be the next big thing—restaurants for the disenfranchised. I can see Brinker opening a chain of these restaurants called The Family Room, but instead of tables there would be TV trays. Wear your robe, leave your hair curlers in. Relax.
I jest, of course, but only slightly. In Miami Beach there is a restaurant called Bed where patrons are served meals while reclined on beds. Sexy? Maybe. Silly? Definitely. But Riehle was making a valid point about restaurants as family rooms.
"Consumers are really in the driver's seat in terms of having restaurant operators respond to creating a climate they wish to patronize," he said. "It really is the beginning of a new entertainment option."
Entertainment options come and go, but the forecast has always been the same: give customers what they want and you'll succeed. I poked fun at the TV thing, but Damon's, a 100-unit, Columbus-based casual concept has for years successfully provided customers with table-top tuners that allow them to connect to one of several large screens for sports, television programming and interactive games.
Technology is advancing quickly and being integrated into all facets of consumer life, including foodservice. It's no longer unusual to walk into a cafe and see people using wireless technology to connect to the internet. As on operator you have a duty to keep up with technological advances and determine which ones your customers may expect from you.
However, as much as customers want your restaurant to be their home away from home, they expect you to offer food much better than they can prepare. "Two of every three people said their favorite restaurant food has flavors that can't easily be duplicated in their homes," Riehle said.
So, provide your customers with a small TV if that's what they want, but if your meatloaf isn't great you'll end up like a loser on Fear Factor.
A NEW LOOK. I hope you noticed that this magazine has recently freshened up its look with a redesign. Magazines, like restaurants, have to renovate and redecorate every so often. You'll find that the new look is more modern and easier to read. If you have any comments or questions, drop me an email.