Barney Wolf

Barney Wolf is an Ohio-based freelancer for <em>QSR</em> magazine.

2013: A Year In Review

Nine stories that shook up the limited-service industry in the last year.

Despite a year filled with turmoil in Washington, the limited-service restaurant industry showed moderate growth and promise in 2013, thanks in part to creative new ideas and products, plus another good gain from fast-casual units.

With issues such as sequestration, a payroll tax increase, the government shutdown, and the Affordable Care Act hanging over the industry, it’s perhaps not surprising that gains have only been nominal, despite employment increases and an improving economy.

Vegging Out

Beef, pork, poultry, and seafood may be the staples of the limited-service restaurant industry, but non-meat items aren’t taking a back seat on the menu these days. Although vegetarians make up a small percentage of the American dining population, an increasing number of consumers are deciding to eat less meat.

“Ten years ago, it might have seemed like a fad, with just a small population, but it’s been constantly increasing,” says Jesse Gideon, corporate chef and chief operating officer for Fresh To Order, a 10-unit fast-casual chain based in Atlanta.

Just Desserts

Baked desserts aren’t always at the forefront of customers’ dining decisions, but that doesn’t mean they need to be an afterthought. Cookies, cakes, pies, and other sweets have made their way onto menus of all types of limited-service restaurants, giving operators additional sales opportunities during lunch, dinner, and, increasingly, snacking periods.

Sbarro’s New Kitchen

An exclusive sneak peak at the pizza chain’s new fast-casual prototype.

Sbarro is rolling out a new fast casual prototype with more premium menu items.
The interior of the prototype restaurant features seating for 88 guests, with tables and parts of the ceiling and foyer featuring reclaimed wood.

As fast-casual pizza concepts make their mark across America, one of the nation’s top 10 pizza chains is joining the growing movement.

Sbarro will open its first Pizza Cucinova restaurant next week in a strip at Columbus, Ohio’s popular shopping center, Easton. The concept’s second and third units will open in early 2014 near downtown Columbus and in Cincinnati, respectively.

For Future’s Sake

Sustainable practices are all the rage across the restaurant industry these days.

The expansive show floors at the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show in May confirmed that the momentum behind these initiatives isn’t waning. From tableware and takeout containers to faucets, lighting, and cleaning products, green was the word. That also extends to the proteins most quick-service and fast-casual restaurants use as their menuboard centerpieces.

Flavors of the World

Although most restaurants will change ingredients in an entrée to meet a guest’s request, a growing number of pizza and ethnic eateries are letting diners build their own menu items from scratch.

“It’s a system that delicatessens and street-food vendors worldwide have used for years. For many consumers, the concept of having restaurant staff assemble fresh, high-quality food in front of you to your design has great appeal,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc.

Right on ’Cue

A great way to start an argument is to talk about America’s best barbecue. It’s a dispute that won’t be resolved.

“A lot depends on where you were raised, because you get an emotional allegiance to one particular type of barbecue,” says Peter Reinhart, chef on assignment in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte, North Carolina, campus.

Wonder Food

Look, up on the table! It’s a burdock. It’s a plantain. It’s … superfood!

Although there’s nothing really super-heroic about eating nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables, the foods give customers an opportunity to pursue healthier options at a time when many Americans are trying to rein in their eating habits. As such, these ingredients are showing up on more limited-service restaurant
menus.

Recapping the NRA Show

New food, equipment innovations point to future of restaurant industry.

Innovations like the Marinara Tower were featured on the NRA Show floor.
Terry Douglass and Eric Ribarits puts skewers of bread in the Marinara Tower at the NRA Show. Barney Wolf

As the lights went out on the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (NRA Show) in Chicago on Tuesday, there was plenty to consider about the future of the industry.

The show featured no shortage of technological advancements, not just in computing hardware and software, but also in equipment and food-safety solutions.

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