The Future of Food Service
Will restaurants and bars make a comeback after the coronavirus pandemic?
As we head into week 4 of social distancing in the United States, there’s no doubt certain industries are being hit hard – or arguably obliterated beyond repair – in our country right now. One of those industries in the food service industry, specifically restaurants, food stands, bars, and clubs. Without foot traffic, they’re virtually dead, grasping at any kind of food delivery structure they can find right now.
I don’t know about you, but it breaks my heart. There’s nothing better than stepping foot inside a restaurant that makes you feel like you’re at home. It’s a kind of nourishing escape, one in which you can forget about your worries of the day with a hot meal in front of you and a glass of Pinot Noir to wash it down.
I know so many of these restaurant owners are fierce workers, savvy entrepreneurs, and passionate food aficionados that could never in their wildest dreams have imagined the end of their business would come at the hands of a virus that originated thousands of miles away from the United States. None of us could have predicted that.
It’s this concept that got me thinking this week. It goes without saying that we need food. Besides water, food is a necessity – it keeps our bodies moving, our brains thinking, and our organs churning. Without food, we die. It’s not like it’s a new video game or a piece of clothing. It’s something that has sustained man since the beginning of time. We’ve even gone to war over the stuff!
So with food service tanking while we speak, and potential post-corona restrictions that punish restaurants even further, what is the solution here? How does the food industry survive this? Surely people will want a better food experience than shopping at the local, mundane grocery store where everyone is giving each other the stink eye right now. Many of us don’t want to cook, don’t know how to cook, or don’t have the time to cook.
Yet, we want prepared food. We want an experience, an ambiance, and a story behind the meal. We want a place where we can slip away from reality, if only for a moment.
As a writer for Fiverr.com, I have the pleasure of learning about the latest innovations around the world right now. This week, I had an order placed for a cloud kitchen company. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. In the darkest of times, people can be so creative that it blows my mind. This is what moved me to write this article.
By combining my personal experience as a mobile bar business co-owner, as well as working with brands on Fiverr.com, here are my predictions for the future of food service.
The most challenging side effect of this corona meltdown on restaurant owners right now is paying rent. It’s still due on the first of the month (not including different breaks or regulations across the states right now). With no patrons, no parties, and no celebrations, these restaurant owners aren’t making any money, yet they owe that $3,000 every month to keep their restaurant location.
If rent is the worst part of this for these restaurant owners, then wouldn’t a post-rona world be one in which food preparers avoid paying rent?
Enter the idea of a Floating Kitchen.
Floating kitchens are fully stocked kitchens, scattered about the country, that are available on a per rental basis. These kitchens are decked out with the fanciest of food appliances, resembling a five-star food preparation space that many restaurant owners would never dream of accessing today.
How do floating kitchens work?
Floating kitchens are available for rent on an hourly basis. Depending upon the company, the kitchen can be rented anywhere from 2-hours to a few days at a time. Once you are done using the kitchen, that’s it. You no longer have to pay for it. Here’s what this kind of flexibility will do for restaurant owners:
They will be able to cater events like weddings, etc. without owning an actual restaurant.
They will be able to test out new food concepts and ideas they can then sell out of mobile food truck.
They will be able to potentially offer takeout for 1-2 hours every evening before closing up shop.
One company, CloudKitchens, is even bringing IoT into the mix by coupling their kitchen space with smart software. By using one iPad, the kitchen renter can turn certain appliances on and off with just the tap of a thumb. Thanks to this kind of technological infrastructure, the cook can therefore whip up twice the amount of food they could in their old, outdated restaurant kitchen.
One of my ideas for this concept could also include a fun, industrial-style warehouse space attached to the kitchen with seating for 50-100 people. Every night of the week, a different restaurant could take over the cloud kitchen. They could rent it for free during this time and make as much money as possible off of the patrons sitting down for a meal (potentially 6-feet apart for however long). The kitchen company would make money off of the predictable schedule of 7 different food providers using their kitchens from 6-10PM each week, renting out the kitchens to everyone else from 3AM-5PM (can’t forget the bakers), etc.!
If you can’t tell, I am incredibly excited and motivated by this kind of food prepping innovation.
Mobile Food Trucks
Don’t let the concept of an ice cream truck fool you into thinking all food trucks look the same. They don’t, and I can tell you that as someone who makes mobile bars in vintage horse trailers and campers. Food trucks can take any shape and form, so long as they are outfitted to meet any food service or health department codes in their area.
Forget the boring box shaped van. You can run a lucrative food business out of a structure that used to bring horses between barns 40-years ago. Cool, right?
Naturally, as restaurant owners think of a future in which they aren’t destroyed by their rent, they are considering the value of taking their food on the road. I can say this with confidence amid the coronavirus shutdown: people are still inquiring about our horse trailer bars through Campfire Trailers.
Food trucks will enable restaurant owners to sell food from 8AM-10PM, as well as avoid the hassle of paying rent, cleaning up commercial spaces, and keeping customers happy at their tables (although, there’s no reason why people can’t ‘wait’ on patrons at picnic tables outside of the trucks every day). They can pull the trucks up to food spots, serve their staple snacks, and do it all over again the next day.
Even better, niche menus perform remarkably well with food trucks. You don’t need to offer 50 entrees anymore. You can simply take your “thing,” whether that be cotton candy or avocados, and build an entire menu around it.
Savvy marketers have been doing this for years now with food trucks in New York City and at music festivals. They understand the food truck Instagram movement, whereby any kind of “insta-worthy” food item is snapped and posted to Instagram for free publicity and marketing. Anyone can do this with a rainbow food item, a not-so-typically colored drink, or anything else that is worthy of a photograph.
Here are just a few ways mobile food truck owners can leverage their businesses:
Go rent-free by pulling your truck up to pre-approved serving spots every day.
Register to be part of food truck parks or food festivals like Smorgasburg in Brooklyn where you can join in a food truck market.
Invest in a massive warehouse space with 10 other food truck owners where you can park your trucks in the winter while shoppers mull around and grab their favorite bites to go eat at indoor picnic tables.
Best of all, when you buy something like a refurbished camper or horse trailer as your restaurant business, you’ll be doing the environment a favor by using recycled materials as your business structure.
The only action the food industry is getting right now is on-demand food delivery or pickup. We can’t sit down at restaurants right now, but we can have the food ordered to our homes to respect social distancing mandates.
This shining glimmer of hope is the only activity ride-sharing apps, like Uber, are getting right now as well. That’s why they’ve been brainstorming and innovating beneath the scare-tactic coronavirus headlines that clog your feeds today. Uber launched Work Hub in select cities a few weeks ago to help their drivers find alternative work, like Uber Freight for commercial deliveries.
A huge part of Uber’s Work Hub is expanding their food delivery capabilities and networks. This means that on-demand food delivery will continue to be a big part of the future of food service. If you don’t have a restaurant that works with food delivery, you need to fix that immediately.
And for those operating out of food trucks or rented kitchens, you should be offering on-demand delivery, too! Uber is desperate to keep their app humming along right now, which is why they’re in a position to say yes to just about any kind of pick up or drop off.
Don’t Worry Restaurant Owners – We’ll Always Love Food!
For all of the food preparers out there reading this, I hope you take away the following things today: floating kitchens will enable you to cater big events and celebrations without the cost of restaurant rent, food trucks can help you serve food all day long without the confines of a commercial space, and Uber/Lyft (and other delivery apps) are ready to support your business with any kind of on-demand delivery service.
We will always love food! We don’t, however, love change. That’s a natural psychological predisposition.
I am here to tell you that the vessel in which you deliver your food to patrons will change. If you see the positivity and potential in that shift, you will be just fine.