While in South Beach, FL for Food Network South Beach Food and Wine Festival, we had the opportunity to attend a few intimate industry panels with Food Network’s celebrity chefs at the boutique Hotel Victor on Ocean Drive, South Beach.
Friday afternoon, we got to listen to Chefs Marc Murphy, Michelle Bernstein, Michael Solomonov, Tony Maws, and John Kunkel talk about where they thought restaurant dining was headed in the industry panel, “Restaurant Diners: The Next Generation”, moderated by Jennifer Baum of Bullfrog and Baum.
Candid conversation ensued, and James Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein commented that, although diners were more casual by trend, and not necessarily the sophisticated ‘high brow’ of days, they were truly concerned with where food and menu items were sourced from. Customers are also attracted to the venue itself as well as the food, its all about having furniture in fashion which will set the environment of a restaurant.
“Locally own, locally sourced”‘ is more important to today’s diner, and brand loyalty was a key factor. “Customers want to know”, said Bernstein, “where their fish comes from, and how the meat was slaughtered”, and what you as a restaurant owner or chef were doing that supports local economy.
Price has become an important decision making factor, but quality in food and dining still reigns with customers dining out in 2012. Gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian were hot topics among the group, with Chef Marc Murphy and Michael Solomonov commenting on the importance of having options for diners with dietary needs-either on or off the menu. John Kunkel from Yardbirds added that variety in liquors and mixology were two trends they saw in their restaurants, and the wide selection of bourbons and brown spirits are well received by both regular and new diners at his highly acclaimed South Beach restaurant.
The conversation turned briefly to social media and review sites, with all chefs expressed a sincere wish that diners give thought to enjoying and appreciating food ‘in the moment’, versus spending an inordinate amount of time photographing and ‘live tweeting or reviewing’ about their experience.
For so many of us on social media today, those comments gave us real pause. Perhaps the use of social media in eating establishments should be flipped where it is the restaurants that are leveraging these sites, rather than the diners. This way, they could be reaching out to a whole new, untapped audience. Sites like Instagram are ideal for posting images of food onto and restauranteurs could consider making use of services like Nitreo to better manage their accounts and grow their following organically.
“Food, to these chefs and restaurateurs, is like making great music, and we their concert audience. How much more enjoyable an experience when we allow ourselves to taste and experience here and now, versus always acting as the ‘critic’.”
Jennifer Baum closed the panel discussion with a few questions from the audience, and the team from UrbanSwankBlog asked the chefs if they felt they cooked based on a demographic, or to please a certain crowd.
All agreed that, although it’s important to work within your ‘brand box’, and serve based on food costs, season, and price points, they felt that it was more important to create dishes that were true to form and concept, versus attempting to please an every changing dining crowd at their venues.
So what about you? If you’re a foodie or regular restaurant diner in your city, what trends do you see happening in the dining scene? How do you feel about live photos and tweeting in fine dining and local establishments? We consume data like food in the tech-centric age, but is there a line that we’ve crossed?
If you have an opinion, we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at editor (at) CraveLocal dot com. Comments will be selected for our next set of articles on restaurant and dining trends for 2012.