It's Future Week over on Eater.com, and across the country, Eater city sites are asking local industry professionals this question: What do you think the future of dining looks like? Eight Seattle chefs, bakers, and other industry professionals weighed in on what they're expecting as far as overall concepts, ambiance and service styles, locations of restaurants, and more below.
What are your own thoughts about what's coming on the dining scene? Shout them out in the comments.
Chef/Owner, Monsoon, Ba Bar
I think that the dining scene will continue to embrace a casual attitude. Casual, but with high quality ingredients and service. No one is interested in overly formal and stuffy restaurants anymore. People have gotten used to eating better ingredients, more flavorful dishes, and expanded their palates. The days of homogenized food are nearing an end. Even though things are more casual in the dining room, guests still want fresh, flavor-driven food that pops.
Chef/Owner, Chop Shop, Canal Market, Volunteer Park Cafe
I think that after the last 10 years of extreme dining (think molecular gastronomy), things are tipping towards simpler and healthier. I think that the average diner and home cook are much more aware of what it means to eat healthy—and they have come to expect quality ingredients and great food that they can relate to.
Owner, Tom Douglas Restaurants
Hopefully folks with still come out to eat and be more social, not just get delivery at home. I think we will continue to get smaller and more focused in our dining choices. Food courts like Whole Foods will continue to grow.
Chef and Proprietor, Huxley Wallace Collective
I think that food will continue to get more and more local as regions across the country further develop their own cuisine. With that chefs will focus even more on simplicity, ingredients that are truly local and seasonal, and cooking food that is comfortable, delicious, and well-executed. I think the future of restaurants is more exciting than ever . . . The innovation in food is being pushed to new levels and that creates motivation for everyone in the industry to work hard and excel.
Chef/Owner, Amandine (opening by the end of the month), the now-shuttered Le Gourmand and Sambar
I think that the trend toward informality is here to stay. That is no bad thing except when it is an excuse for poor service. My hope is that restaurateurs will go back to specializing as opposed to the homogenized catch-all restaurants that we see right now. In an era that is 100% concept-driven, it is amazing how vague those concepts seem to become.
Sustainability will become more of a priority in all aspects of the food world. I fully expect to see more insects on menus (as in Noma's lemon flavored ants and ground grasshopper in Naan at Vij's)! They are delicious and nutritious.
I am happy to see that there is finally a vigorous debate going on locally about seafood sustainability. I am not sure that it is vital that everyone have Smart Catch certification if they are conscientious and knowledgeable but pressure to have that certification for organizations that are not scrupulous about their supply chain is crucial.
Co-owner, Ethan Stowell Restaurants
I think traditional retail is being redefined now by so many purchases happening online. Not saying it's good or bad, it's just happening. That being said, it leaves a lot of retail spaces open for service based businesses like restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons, massage parlors, etc... Basically things you can't get on the Internet. So I would expect more service based businesses, like restaurants, to get opportunities. I have no idea if the success rate of restaurants will get better but I expect to see many more restaurants open and, unfortunately, close. But my belief is that the good ones will survive.
CHRIS YOUNG and GRANT CRILLY
The key word [of what's coming in the future of dining] is diversity. Traditionally, dining meant restaurants. You can draw analogies to companies like Uber and Airbnb. It used to be that there was this transport company, for example, and it owned taxis and limousines, maybe buses. There were very distinct categories of business, vertically integrated and very black and white. Dining's been the same way. You have fast food, fast casual, all the way up to the various shades of fine dining. And they're all essentially distinguished by price point and convenience.
But at its core, a restaurant is a crowd-sourced phenomenon. Someone says, "Hey, I want to cook," and a bunch of people come along that want to get involved in the kitchen and in the front of the house. And then they hang up a sign and this is a signal to the community—whether it be a neighborhood, people driving by, whatever. At its core, a restaurant is just a matchmaking mechanism. But the way we've traditionally approached them is very high risk. It takes lot of capital, a lot of people, and it's not nearly as profitable as people think because you have demand imbalance—it's empty during the week and packed on the weekend.
That's going to change. The next generation of chefs is going to say, "Why do I have to take millions of dollars from an investor to build a not-very-good business?" Instead they'll say, "I'm going to serve food in my home, or on a truck, or I'm going to let this place be a retail store that sells clothing during the day, but then is a restaurant two nights a week. From one-off events on a massive scale—Ferran Adrià, live at the Acropolis!—all the way down to somebody you've never heard of taking over a boutique clothing store, things are about to get way more diverse.
The challenge, of course, will be that health department regulations and liquor licensing won't keep up. But what we've seen from technology is that people are going to break the rules anyway. And then a group of facilitators will spring up to deal with the logistics. Those are the new restaurateurs, and they'll operate far more like event producers. They'll know the available venues, how to work with liquor boards, what the chefs need. Dining will be much more ad hoc and flexible.
In the future, there won't be good and bad restaurants. They'll be good, or they'll be nonexistent. The barrier of entry will be so high, because there will be so much choice, so much access, and people will want better and better food. Look at Chipotle already! The scale and the food quality are incredible. And McDonald's is hurting for it.
Historically, you ate and cooked at home every day. Restaurants were these big, crazy-ornate operations and every once in a long while, on special occasions, you would go out to have an extravagant Italian or French dinner. But now, people are eating out more than ever—at every price point. They're cooking for themselves less and less as a practical activity, and more in a hobby sense, an inspiring sense, with an I-can-do-that-too kind of attitude. Every time they eat—at a restaurant, at home—they want it to be an event. I see dining, whether it's a food truck or a fancy restaurant or cooking at home, moving away from mere convenience and more towards joy. It's no longer enough to just get fed.