Jack Gibbons, CEO of FB Society, on why the best is still to come.
Last year, the pandemic shook the restaurant industry to its core. But as many restaurants endured the most challenging year in history for our industry, there were also countless stories of perseverance that proved our industry has strength and staying power. With our backs against the wall, brands across the country showed their grit and that they’re adaptable no matter the circumstances.
We watched several inventive initiatives come to life: the growth in ghost kitchen operations, the creation of virtual brands, digital enhancements, experiential to-go programs and more. At FB Society, we dug in, focused even more heavily on our people and brand DNA to emerge even stronger.
When Winston Churchill famously said, “never let a good crisis go to waste,” he was speaking to our brand along with many in our industry. Survival mode led many brands to up their game in different ways and that drives my excitement for the future.
Five reasons I’m excited to see what’s next for our industry:
The consumer connection is back.
Restaurants have long been special places for people to gather with friends and family and connect over delicious food and drinks. That need for human connection is wired into our DNA, and it’s going to be more important now than ever. Now that our country has started to re-open, its been amazing to watch guests enthusiastically return to restaurants, ready to make up for all the lost time. Employees have been welcoming guests back into their restaurants like family. Brands have been connecting with their guests once again in person and the entire hospitality ecosystem is ready to once again thrive. There seems to be a new appreciation for something we had perhaps taken for granted, and I’m reengergized by it greatly.
Restaurant equipment and technology has scaled new heights.
I’m a restaurant equipment geek, so it was incredible to see our industry embrace technology as a way of surviving the pandemic. When brands ramped up their digital capabilities, restaurant equipment companies grew right alongside us. Going forward I believe this will lead to amazing results for brands and their guests. It has already led to many new service styles. At our full-service concepts like Ida Claire and Whiskey Cake, we’ve eliminated paper menus in favor of digital menus. At Son of a Butcher, our newest fast casual brand, almost 30 percent of our to-go orders now come through online ordering and are then picked up in the drive-thru. New ways of using digital have elevated the consumer journey instead of replacing hospitality, and resulted in improved top lines too.
Creative operators stand out.
Our industry has become a network of innovation, and the future of the industry is in the hands of the more creative operators. Restaurant operators had to be inventive to overcome obstacles like capacity restrictions and dining room closures. For example, over the past year, Whiskey Cake has introduced numerous curbside kits and Sixty Vines created drive-thru and virtual events, giving guests fun and interactive ways to safely enjoy the brand experience at home. Now, with a hiring crisis looming as well, we’re watching creative operators find new ways to enhance the employee value proposition. We will all continue to raise the bar on experiential dining, experiental cultures and the industry will be better for it.
Restaurants’ digital footprints are now designed for the future.
Though the pandemic caused many challenges for our industry, we can thank it for the rise in mobile ordering, curbside pickup and QR codes. The digital presence of many brands has improved tremendously through these new or enhanced ordering channels. Some restaurants implemented digital payments too, limiting touchpoints and streamlining the ordering process. In addition to all of this, brands have had to work harder to connect with their guests and are making huge strides on social media communication. As technology continues to advance, a strong digital presence is going to be imperative and basic to a successful business.
Company cultures are evolving.
Over the past year the character of our industry was tested and our resolve showed through. If we learned anything last year, it’s that the restaurant industry is a family, and a rising tide lifts all boats. Our industry is dependent on people, and this became incredibly apparent as we were all challenged together. As we move forward, a people-first culture will become even more important to the talented people working in our restaurants. The culture we are creating at our restaurants will become just as important as the experiences we create for our guests. What you believe, and how you live those beliefs, may become the most important differentiator.
As an industry, we’re not out of the weeds quite yet. We still have work to do to get back to the booming business restaurants had pre-pandemic, but through relentless innovation and resiliency, we have emerged from the deepest trenches. I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.