Xavier Mariezcurrena grew up in the restaurant industry, starting out as a busboy at age 15 and spending the next nearly 20 years on the job as a general manager, director of operations and owner, and now as co-owner of ChouxBox, an online inventory management system he founded with fellow industry vet Tony Aiazzi. With his experience both on the floor and behind the scenes, he dished on six trends the restaurant industry can expect to see in 2018.
1. Managing food waste more responsibly
“Food waste is something that people are becoming more and more conscious of and it’s, number one, because it’s very expensive to throw things away, but I think it also comes back to running sustainable operations and making sure you’re getting the most of your product. I think it all stems from restaurateurs wanting to offer as many operations as possible to their guests because it gives them an opportunity to draw as much business as possible. … For example, if you’re going to be doing a dinner service for 100 people, you’re actually prepping for 150 because you have so many different offerings that, at times, it’s impossible to know exactly what you’re going to sell.
We’re in the beginning of this kind of trend to really streamline the offering and use social media as a way to communicate what you have available. So, for example, instead of offering five different dishes of fish items, maybe you have two standard, like a scallop dish and a salmon dish. Then, the interaction we’re seeing more and more on social media is a way to communicate, ‘Hey, we’re also offering steak.’”
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2. Minimum wage increases leading to staffing issues
“I have some pretty non-traditional views on the raising of the minimum wage. From the front-of-the-house perspective, the raised minimum wage has really put front-of-house [employees]–servers, bartenders, barbacks–in an interesting position because they don’t have the flexibility they used to have. So, in other words, if you raise my wage, now you’re very, very conscious of how many hours I work. It’s creating a situation where front-of-the-house staff, be it servers or bartenders, don’t have the flexibility to pick up shifts. In many cases, they’re forced to get second jobs because now management is really, really inclined to keep an eye on how many hours they’re working. I’ve had a lot of my friends tell me that they’re not able to offer the same level of service because, in many cases, instead of having 10 people on the floor who are all working in unison to provide a great service, they’re now scheduling five or six because there’s a bigger financial impact on them, which means now you’re running around when it gets busy. You don’t have the same amount of support staff. It’s really created some issues as far as providing great service.
It’s very hard to have a livable wage in this industry. Without the passion, you really have no incentive to stay in.
On top of that, we’re seeing a lot of people from the back of the house, whether it be dishwashers, line cooks or even just hourly kitchen managers, moving to the front because they’re like, ‘Before the incentive was to make tips, but there was no guarantee that money was there. Now you’re telling me I can make a great minimum wage and make tips?’
It’s also created some issues in the back of the house, because let’s say you’ve been a line cook or a very skilled broiler cook for the last 10 years and you make 16 bucks an hour, and now all of a sudden the salad person, who’s maybe only been in the industry for a year, is going to be making $13 or $14 without necessarily putting the time in. There’s this sense of disconnect as far as experience compared to the people who have really been in for a long time. … But I am 100 percent for it because I know a lot of super hardworking people that have put their kids through school and a variety of different things. It’s very hard to have a livable wage in this industry. Without the passion, you really have no incentive to stay in. So I applaud the wanting to increase minimum wage, but culturally, we’re so embedded in tipping.”
3. Reservation ticketing–a way to book your seat and pay for your meal in advance–rising in popularity
“Right now, it’s been applied to a more fine dining culinary experience, which I think is where you see a lot of trends start. I think people are becoming more conscious. I think people care more about what’s happening just with the food ecosystem. … Ticketing really provides a level of control that hasn’t necessarily been there. For example, there’s a reason why for catered events, people say, ‘Hey, you’re invited to a wedding and you can choose salmon or beef.’ It’s really a way to control the chaos that is food service for a catering facility. I think that in this case with restaurants, ticketing can give you an idea of your business volume so you can make responsible decisions. That could be from how much product you buy or how much staff to put on.
I think it’s going to take some time for the guest-facing interaction to start to make more sense, but I think as people start to learn why ticketing could be a huge benefit, not only for the profitability of a restaurant and its sustainability, but also to ensure staff is happy, ensure the guest experience is well-timed, and to make sure you’re not wasting product. I really do think that it provides so many values. Education is first, and I think the guest will drive that more and more. … I think it’s definitely all about restaurants letting their customers know why. At that point, people will get behind it because there are a lot of positives to it.
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With the ability now to communicate with your guests through social media, and the ability to post your menus on a website, we see that this model can not only be replicable but create engagement and really be a model for success. What do we mean by that? Simplicity means maybe being open fewer hours, maybe cutting your menu in half. You don’t have to have as much staff because of the increase in minimum wage. … It’s high-quality–much easier to execute, much easier to train.”
4. Marijuana-infused cuisine becoming more mainstream
“Marijuana has been a part of our culture for a long time, especially in the restaurant industry because it’s much more free thought, kind of a party environment, in many cases. I’m noticing quite a bit, even amongst my friends, that there’s a lot more curiosity and engagement with marijuana from a culinary perspective, whether it’s for flavoring or it’s for just nuance to food. I’ve seen it quite a bit in the candy and pastry realm. Maybe they’ll infuse some pot into candy or they’ll infuse pot into a gummy. What’s interesting is that friends of mine that I didn’t even know partook in this kind of stuff are like, ‘I figured out how to make awesome olive oil and I like to add a little bit to my eggs in the morning if I’m feeling down or if I have a migraine.’
I think people are going to start to experiment more because there’s a lot more information about there through the web about how to get the most use out of cooking with pot. I think it opens people up to cooking with oils and how to get the most flavor. The active compounds are what you’re after, but then you’re like, ‘Wow, if I don’t overcook my butter, and then add some herbs to it, it really infuses some cool flavor.’ I think, as a side effect, you might see some people applying some of these techniques they learn to just normal household herbs.”
With restaurants, ticketing can give you an idea of your business volume so you can make responsible decisions.
5. Immigration issues leading to a labor shortage
“I’m a first-generation American. I grew up in the restaurant industry. … I think there’s definitely a climate where people are afraid. I’ve got a bunch of old Mexican friends who just won’t apply for new jobs because they feel like there’s a much more intense eye overseeing what they’re doing and where they’re going. A lot of these people have been living here for a decade and have family here, and they’re just afraid to expose themselves, especially in applying for employment, because they feel like they’re being targeted.
Now I think everybody’s just A.) afraid to put themselves out there, but B.), there is this ever-expanding casual realm where there are tons of jobs. New restaurants open all the time. I think also a lot of immigrant workers have become much savvier because there’s information out there. Why make 10 bucks an hour washing dishes when you can make $15 or $20 on a construction site? The growing sectors of our economy have been attractive to them because if you’re going to get a fine or be deported for going through some application process…you might as well do it just going after a job that’s more lucrative.”
6. Restaurants going cashless
“More and more, there are so many benefits to going cashless, whether it’s tracking your payment or, of course, not carrying cash around because that’s never the safest place for it to be. More and more in our industry, people are being paid by check instead of being paid by cash that they make in tips, even if it’s a tip-forward restaurant. I think especially for restaurant operators and owners, and just business owners in general, there’s so much more control–whether it’s understanding who’s buying what, or just having control over inventory and what’s moving in and out of the restaurant.”