If you throw a dart at my collection of podcasts to date you'll likely strike an episode where I ask my guest about their take on the hospitality industry at the moment. Where it is now, and where they see it going. This question generally leads me down the path to speaking about QSR's (or Quick Service Restaurant) and my concern with where they and the industry are taking us.
While I love progress, efficiency and readily available fresh and healthy food, the success of the QSR model and the adoption of this model is leaving me feeling a bit disenchanted about where we are going with our food culture, and more specifically our dining culture.
With a QSR you're almost always guaranteed to get your food quickly, hot, and in an ideal world, at an affordable price. Another perk of this style of restaurant is its ease of use on us the consumer. You are able to enter the space, quickly eye up your choices on a well placed menu board that is usually bright and attractive to catch your attention, you then make your selection, place your order, pay for you order and then sit and wait. For a lot of us this allows for a very relaxed way to dine, not to mention a very quick and easy transaction.
Generally speaking, there is not much need to engage even more than one staff member, you simply place your order, find a seat and wait.
And that's exactly my issue.
Food isn't getting any cheaper to produce, which means the 3%-5% margins that were once an industry standard are being challenged by the rising cost of doing business. "Traditional" restaurants are finding it harder and harder to make it as they are unable to keep up with the food system economics. Unless they are open to changing the model.
By adapting an existing traditional restaurant into a QSR model you're likely going to see that small margin of 3%-5% increased up into the double digits. This increased margin is attractive to anyone in any type of business and especially those that have been at it for years hacking away in the restaurant game. This renewed hope that the QSR model provides is too attractive for some to ignore. They are quick to invest more time, and money, into this model that has proven to be successful so many times over.
Economics aside here is what I am afraid of.
I am afraid we are seeing the growth of this model to the point where we are fuelling a world (at least locally) that spends very little time socializing and interacting with others face to face. When I picture going out for a meal, casual or not, I look forward to enjoying that meal with people that I love, friends and family, and connecting with them over an enjoyable feast. I feel that with the QSR model we are promoting a dining experience that is void of that interaction, void of that personal touch, and void of what I consider to be the attributes of dining out.
When you step into a truly great restaurant, there is truly nothing better. The room is busy, your senses are on fire with the sights, smells and sounds and you embark on a journey involving those same very senses. You'll be told stories of the Chef and his specials, new menu items that have been popular, a suggestion on drinks, and perhaps an entirely curated meal where you and your crew just sit back and relax while you're taken care of for the next 90 to 120 minutes. This is what I am afraid of losing.
While I love seeing this industry and everyone in it thriving I am just not prepared to let go of what I think true dining is. It is hospitality to it's core. It is what I want my kids to experience and my grandkids as well. I don't need stuffy white table cloth, heck I don't even need a 90 minute meal, but I am not willing to let go of what for me has always defined what going to a restaurant for a meal means. Community, interaction, and a memory.
I am excited by our food scene today and ALL of its positives, I am just not ready to order my food in an orderly queue, and then sit down alone while thumbing through social media to be the new style of dining.