5 Ways America’s Restaurant Industry Has Changed Over the Last Decade

The concept of evolution doesn’t only apply to Darwinian theory. The restaurant industry has continued to transform and adapt since the first known dining establishment opened its doors in 18th century France. We’re not going to delve that deep into the history of dining out, but we’ll explore 5 ways the U.S. restaurant industry has changed in the last ten years.

1. Fluctuation in the U.S. Economy Affects Restaurant Business

Time-travel back to 2008 for a moment. For some of us, it was a time we’re still trying to forget (fur-lined Crocs and Uggs, anyone?) It was also a time of economic plight, not only for America, but the entire world.  Between 2007 and 2008, the global financial crisis hit hard and was compared by multiple economists to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The catalyst for the financial downturn? The United States mortgage bubble that quickly turned into a full-on banking crisis. From there, the Great Recession sent shockwaves through the entire globe.

Unsurprisingly, this state of economic unrest severely affected the restaurant industry. A CNN Money report from mid 2008 noted that casual dining chains were taking a major hit as people turned to cheaper food alternatives. A number of restaurant businesses filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors.  At the same time, the job market was just as bleak, with unemployment rates reaching up to 10% in the years following the Great Recession.

Like anything else, the economy has since bounced back. Things took a positive turn around mid-2009 and have been steadily looking up ever since. Unemployment rates are currently at an impressive low, with a rate of about 4% holding steady throughout 2018. Total US food sales also increased year after year, with 2017 total retail and food services sales reaching 5.75 trillion.  In 2009, food sales were only at about 4.06 trillion, a true reflection of the economy’s downward spiral.

According to the National Restaurant Association, as of 2017 there are over 1 million restaurant locations in the United States employing 14.7 million people in the field. Predictions for the next ten years in the food-service industry continue to look up, and we hope that to be true.

2. The Rise in Popularity of Organic Food Creates a New Standard

In today’s world, the term organic in reference to food is as ordinary as the common cold. When you go to the grocery store you have the option choose between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables, a decision that can have an influence on both your health and your wallet.

According to the Organic Trade Association, the consumer demand for organic products has grown by double-digits every year since the 1990s. In 2008, total U.S. organic sales and growth was sitting at about $20 billion. By 2015, that number had nearly doubled to almost $40 billion.

Although organic food items tend to be pricier, people are buying them. Today, America is spending nearly $50 billion on organic products each year, with over 82% of households buying it. Top reasons? A 2016 Treehugger survey reveals people buy organic for health reasons, concerns for the environment, and better taste.

The organic craze doesn’t just apply to household preferences and the grocery industry. Restaurants have followed suit in order to cater to the ever-growing demand for organic products. We’ve seen a rise in locally-sourced, farm-to-table concepts that center around healthy ingredients and environmental sustainability.

Today’s savvy restaurateurs are giving the people what they want – delicious food with ingredients that have a clear, local origin. And this trend isn’t just prevalent in single location restaurants. Fast-casual chains like sweetgreen and Dig Inn pride themselves on mindful farm-sourced menu items that include rotating seasonal selections.

Over the years, our population has taken a stand, demanding the right to know where food is coming from before it enters our bodies. In response, the restaurant industry has made strides to become more transparent, more inclusive of local agriculture, and more vocal about their use of high-quality ingredients. An inclusion of organic products isn’t just a foodie trend, but a standard of quality with a permanent seat at America’s dining room table.

3. Social Media Impacts Where and What We Eat

Social media is tremendously influential, a notion that isn’t the slightest bit groundbreaking. But, think back to 2008 again for a moment. Most of us were awkwardly navigating our newfangled Facebook pages and kissing Myspace goodbye. Instagram was probably not yet even a figment of Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger’s imaginations. Twitter wasn’t as flooded with politically and humorously charged tweets, retweets, and favorites. It’s a bit nostalgic to think back to those days of infancy of social media, when everything was new and exciting. Today, social media is a fabric of society, often too hard to escape even for an hour.

Pew Research shows that in 2018, 68% of Americans use Facebook, 35% are on Instagram, and 24% have a Twitter account. The average person uses three social accounts and most people access their social channels at least once per day.

The authority of social media has had a significant effect on the restaurant industry as well. If I could sum it up in one hashtag, it would be #FoodPorn (which by the way currently has 171 million posts attributed to it on Instagram alone). You probably follow at least a few accounts, whether it be restaurants themselves, food magazines, or the bloggers and influencers who have made a living out of snapping irresistible photos of what they’re eating. And this foodie phenomenon has altered the way that we look at food, where we go to get it, and what we choose to eat.

In order to keep up with the demands of a social-centric society, your restaurant needs to be present on social media. And you’ve got to do it right. You should not only be posting quality content to your own handles, but reaching out to foodies and influencers to cast a wider net.

Restaurant marketing has experienced a paradigm shift over the years and traditional advertising tactics just don’t cut it anymore. What was new and exciting on social media in 2008 is now an essential piece of the marketing pie for restaurants, so it’s important to attract new customers by being social.

4. Food is Easily Available Whether You’re Dining Out or Staying In

Along with being present on social media and more tech-savvy than ever before, Americans are growing increasingly impatient. Technology lends itself to a “I want it right now” culture. You can get an Amazon Prime delivery in two days and even get grocery stores to do the shopping for you. This concept translates to restaurants as well. A vast  landscape of restaurants lie between fast food and fine dining. The fast casual dining concept has experienced a boom in recent years with its ability to juxtapose a slightly elevated in-house dining experience with quickness and convenience.

Brands like Shake Shack, Panera Bread, and Moe’s Southwest Grill (to name a few) have made a business out of being the middle ground between fancy and fast. Of course, fast casual existed in 2008, and was a crutch during the recession, but picked up speed in years following.

The fast casual scene as a whole has had its ups and downs, with brands like Chipotle and Starbucks making national news for everything from foodborne illnesses to social injustices. However, according to Restaurant Business, fast casual chains grew sales by 8.9% in 2017. People like having the option to dine out without having to dress up and enjoy being able to place an order with a staff member but not rely on a waiter each step of the way. Convenience is key when it comes to fast casual.

Eating in has also become wildly simpler in recent years. Delivery services like Grubhub, Postmates, and Slice are dedicated to getting food to people in the comfort of their own homes. What used to be a landline call to your local chinese restaurant is now a few taps on a smartphone app. As a comparison, in 2008 only 22% of people owned smartphones. Today, that number has risen to 77%.

Online delivery currently represents 43% of all delivery orders. The market has increased steadily since 2011 alone and there are no signs of this trend slowing down. According to CNBC, the investment firm Cowen is forecasting a 79% surge in total U.S. food home delivery over the next 5 years, an increase from $43 billion in 2017 to $76 billion by 2022.

The cuisines people are ordering are more diverse as well. Typically, Chinese food and pizza were go-to order-in items. Now, especially in large metro areas, people have access to anything from Mediterranean kebabs to bagels and lox, delivered quickly to their door. People are expanding their cultural palates within the comfort of their own living rooms.

If your restaurant isn’t making it efficient for hungry couch potatoes to order food online, you’re missing out on opportunity for more profit.

5. The #MeToo Movement Breaks Silence About Workplace Culture

 #MeToo march via Vox #MeToo march via Vox

It’s no secret that brave individuals of all industries have been more vocal about their rights than ever before. What started out as a shocking scandal involving Hollywood’s elite quickly reverberated through a number of other sectors. And the restaurant world wasn’t omitted from the conversation. Celebrity chef Mario Batali and other restaurateurs, like John Besh and Ken Friedman, have been accused of inappropriate acts in the workplace. Case by case accusations quickly turned into a larger stand against sexual harassment and inequality everywhere. The #MeToo movement continues to send a clear message that injustice will no longer be tolerated.

The restaurant kitchen has long been known to be male-dominated, and was referred to by the New Yorker as “bro” culture. But, because these horrible truths within the workplace finally surfaced, positivity started to come as a result.

For the first time, women have a prominent voice that echoes loudly through the discussion. Empowerment has been a result of the destruction. In the aftermath, we’re seeing more female powerhouses in the restaurant and hospitality industries band together to create a statement and a difference.

Earlier this year, OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles started an Open Conversation dinner series dedicated to women in food. Just this month, Saveur magazine released an issue completely created by and about women. Women are taking on more prominent roles in the industry, proving that they can make light of a negative situation, turning it into a mission for good.

The truth about workplace culture has been brought to light and the dynamic is continuing to evolve; what was once swept under the kitchen rug is now the topic of dinner conversation. There’s still work to do to make the workplace a safe place to be, but we’ve made larger strides than ever before. And for that, we should be proud.

In Closing

Change is inevitable in any industry and has been especially prominent in the restaurant sector over the past ten years. From shifts in technology and trends to developments in acceptable work behavior, we have seen an evolution that will continue to advance in years to come.

As part of a larger entity of food, hospitality, and restaurants, we’ll be along for the ride and looking forward to seeing where it’ll take us next.

SinglePlatform Customers on Food & Wine’s 40 Most Important Restaurants List

Food & Wine Magazine just released “The 40 Most Important Restaurants of the Past 40 Years.” These restaurants have played a part in defining dining in America over the decades. The list is comprised of restaurants new and old, open and closed, across the entire country. We examined the lineup and found several SinglePlatform customers who were chosen as standout establishments. Below, we explore each restaurant part of the SinglePlatform family and what makes them unique.

Brennan’s of Houston

 Via Brennan's of Houston Via Brennan’s of Houston

This Houston spot has endured its fair share of ups and downs. It’s one of the best Southern restaurants in the country, but that doesn’t come without challenges. 2008’s Hurricane Ike resulted in a fire that burned the restaurant down. But, like the Phoenix, Brennan’s rose from the ashes and continued on.

Brennan’s of Houston opened in 1967 and is the sister restaurant of the famous New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace. For over 50 years, Brennan’s has been serving up Texas Creole cuisine like the Holy Trinity Crudo, Hunter’s Honey Roasted Duck, and Snapping Turtle Soup, just to name a few.

But, the food isn’t the only contributor to decades of success. Brennan’s of Houston is immensely proud of the Southern charm that their staff exudes, a sense of hospitality that can make anyone feel at home.  If you visit their website, you’ll see a section in the “About Us” dedicated to the staff. You can read their bios to learn more about the people who uphold Brennan’s standards. Plus, they’ve got a great blog with recipes, events, and more.

Spago

 Via Spago Via Spago

Spago of Beverly Hills is the brainchild of famous chef Wolfgang Puck. Back in 1982 when he opened its doors, Wolfgang was at the forefront of the “celebrity chef” concept. Spago is his flagship restaurant that attracts A-listers of the L.A. dining scene. Since, he has built up the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group with a host of restaurants, bars, and lounges nationally and internationally.

Spago’s concept is modern fine-dining and a 2012 renovation gave way to a sleek design. The menus are inventive and modern to match. Guests can enjoy items ranging from caviar to ricotta gnocchi and Japanese Wagyu. For a taste of the west coast, diners can choose to try the California Tasting Menu.

As for Wolfgang Puck, he got his start in Austria when he began cooking alongside his mother. At age 24 he moved to the states and immersed himself in the restaurant industry. Today, he is the famous face behind the brand that has expanded to three companies: Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Wolfgang Puck Catering, and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc.

Daniel

 Via Daniel Via Daniel

Just the name Daniel is synonymous with restaurant royalty. The chic Park Avenue NYC restaurant opened in 1993 and is known for its European cuisine and a wine cellar that houses over 25,000 bottles. Named after the acclaimed chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, the restaurant is steeped in French culture and cuisine.

Daniel is a Michelin 2-star restaurant that offers seasonal menus of the finest ingredients. Daniel offers prix-fixe menus and also hosts special pairing events, like the La Celebration Du Fromage, boasting an array of fine cheeses and wines. On the dinner menu? Foie gras, Quebec roasted suckling pig, and strawberry tarts, among much more.

As for the man behind the restaurant name, Daniel Boulud was named a “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine in 1988. Since then, he has grown his restaurant empire with establishments in the US, Montreal, London, and Singapore.

Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House

 Via Emeril's New Orleans Fish House Via Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House

BAM! It’s no surprise to us that former Food Network star Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant made the list. It’s just one of many locations owned by the celebrity chef known for his bold personality and even bolder cooking. The Fish House is located in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand and boasts a twist on Louisiana’s classic Creole. The menu kicks it up a notch with items like PEI Mussels, Pecan crusted Texas redfish, and Emeril’s banana cream pie.

Emeril’s opening of the New Orleans Fish House prompted an influx of new restaurants on the Vegas strip. He was a pioneer of the dining scene that now exists in the flashy Nevada tourist hub. He also owns other restaurants across the country, including Emeril’s New Orleans and Emeril’s Coastal Italian.

Although born in Massachusetts, he is known for his “new New Orleans” cooking style. He even won the National Best Recipe award in 2003 for his turkey and hot sausage chili. Emeril is more than just a chef, restaurateur, and TV legend. He has written various cookbooks and created a cookware line as well.

No. 9 Park

 Via No. 9 Park Via No. 9 Park

Chef Barbara Lynch’s flagship restaurant is located in Boston’s Beacon Hill. It boasts elegant European design and dishes inspired by France and Italy. Barbara is a James Beard Award winner who has been on the food scene since age 13. In 2017 she was included in Time Magazines “Top 100 Most Influential People of the Year.”

No. 9 Park opened in 1998 and was immediately named one of the “Top 25 New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit and “Best New Restaurant” by Food & Wine. Twenty years later, the Boston favorite is still being recognized for its uniqueness and influence on the Boston restaurant scene.

The menu offers everything from caviar and gazpacho to swordfish au poivre and caramel souffle. As for Barbara, she is the head of the Barbara Lynch Group which boasts 8 restaurants in the Boston area, including No. 9 Park.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

 Via Eater Via Eater

The small ramen shop in New York’s East Village has spiraled into so much more since its 2004 opening. Owner David Chang is not only known for his inventive food and restaurants, he also has a hit Netflix show, Ugly Delicious and a media company, Majordomo.

Head to the noodle joint for lunch or dinner and enjoy items like shiitake buns, smoked chicken wings, and ginger scallion noodles (FYI: the Momofuku pork buns originated here).

Since the opening of the first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku has expanded to a full restaurant group that includes Milk bar, Majordomo, and Nishi, among others. David’s endeavors combine his Korean heritage, a passion for cooking, and an inventiveness in the kitchen. We’re patiently waiting to see what he’ll do next.

Red Rooster

 Via Red Rooster Via Red Rooster

Yet another well-known chef, Marcus Samuelsson is one of the men behind New York’s Red Rooster. Located in the heart of Harlem, the restaurant boasts a schedule of live music performances and signature dishes that celebrate American cuisine. Along with Andrew Chapman, Marcus opened the restaurant in 2010 with the goal of positively influencing the Harlem culinary scene.

Red Rooster’s Americana menu offers items like chicken and waffles, ribeye, and Marcus’ cornbread. Down home style cooking can be enjoyed while patrons listen to live music. Plus, downstairs at the Red Rooster you’ll find Ginny’s Supper Club, a speakeasy with food and cocktails.

Aside from Red Rooster, Marcus has opened a number of other restaurants, appears on Food Network shows like Chopped and Cooks vs. Cons, and was named “Best Chef: New York City” by the James Beard Foundation in 2003.

Junebaby

 Via Junebaby Via Junebaby

Chef Edouardo Jordan is behind both Seattle restaurants JuneBaby and Salare. We recently mentioned him on our list of Top Chefs: 11 Amazing Restaurateurs To Keep On Your Radar Right Now. Junebaby puts a new twist on Southern food but stays true to its roots that are steeped in culture and history.

The primarily walk-in only restaurant brings Southern charm to the West coast. For lunch, you can enjoy buttermilk biscuits, chicken gizzards, and Gulf shrimps. For dinner, try the fried catfish or Momma Jordan’s oxtails.

Edouardo Jordan has been hot on the restaurant scene lately. He took home two awards in 2018 from the James Beard Foundation, Best New Restaurant in the country and Best Chef: Northwest. He was the first African American recipient. Junebaby just opened in 2017 but has already received tons of acclamations and praise.

We at SinglePlatform are lucky to work with some of the top talents in the restaurant industry. Congratulations to all of the restaurants who were represented on the list.


Should Restaurants Go Cash-Free?

One of the hottest debates in the restaurant industry is whether or not restaurants should go “cashless.”

Cashless restaurants do not accept cash payments and instead require customers to use credit cards, debit cards, cash cards, or contactless payment systems.

So, should your restaurant go cash-free? We’ve done some research and rounded up the most common arguments for and against going cashless.

Danny Meyer, who has led the charge against going tip-free, has already gone cash-free at four of the restaurants in his Union Square Hospitality group, mega chains Sweetgreen, Dos Toros, and Tender Greens have banned cash at all of their locations, and Dig Inn has gone cashless at most of its locations.

 Sign at the register of Meyer’s Daily Provisions via FourSquare user Chris M. Sign at the register of Meyer’s Daily Provisions via FourSquare user Chris M.

There are some clear reasons that more and more restaurants have been ditching cash.

First, it’s safer for restaurants to not have large sums of cash on site. If you don’t have cash, you’re far less likely to be robbed. Park Cafe in Baltimore was robbed five times in just four months before it went cashless in 2017. Not only is it safer to not keep cash on-site, it’s also cheaper. When restaurants accept cash, they transfer it to banks in armored vehicles. Doing away with cash lets restaurants cut that cost.

Going cash-free makes things easier for restaurant employees as well. At most restaurants, employees spend time counting cash and also change out cash trays in between shifts. Without having to manage cash, employees will be able to devote more time to their other job duties.

Many restaurants believe that going cash-free is better for customers too. Salad chain Tender Greens, says that going cash-free has been popular with their customers who are often in a hurry. At cash-free restaurants, customers merely need to slap down a card instead of searching for the right amount of cash and waiting for change. If everybody at a fast-casual restaurant pays with a card, the line will move much faster.

 Tender Green on a busy day via Inc Tender Green on a busy day via Inc

Moreover, when customers always pay with cards, it is easier for restaurants to track their purchases. According to Toast:

[It’s difficult to understand an individual’s buying patterns or reward them for their loyalty when they always pay with cash. If they use the same card every time, your machines will remember them. The same is true if customers pay with their smartphone using an app like LevelUp, which also helps them accumulate rewards points (plus, mobile payments are forecasted to grow to $142 billion by 2019). You’ll gain a better understanding of your individual customers with this data, which will drive your business insights.]

Also, paying with cards is way more sanitary than paying with cash. TIME reported just how germy cash really is:

[In a 2017 study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers swabbed $1 bills from a bank in New York City to see what was living on paper currency. They found hundreds of species of microorganisms. The most abundant were ones that cause acne, as well as plenty of harmless skin bacteria. They also identified vaginal bacteria, microbes from mouths, DNA from pets and viruses.]

The report also noted that cash can carry E. coli, salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which can cause serious illness.

It’s pretty unnerving that the same people who handle and deliver customers’ food are also regularly handling cash, isn’t it?

A statement released by Dig Inn about why they chose to go cashless at most of their locations echoes many of the sentiments of other cash-free establishments and adds that most customers now pay with cards anyway:

[In some of our restaurants, we’ve chosen to eliminate cash, accepting only debit/credit cards and payment through the Dig Inn app. We made this change in restaurants where 8% or less of transactions were cash. We exhaustively debated the decision, considering it from all angles before finally opting to go cash-free.

At Dig Inn, we carefully examine how every business action aligns with our values of sourcing ingredients from as close to home as possible, investing in our chefs, and serving delicious, vegetable-forward food. Most of our chefs’ time is spent prepping and cooking fresh produce, coaching kitchen teams, creating innovative lunch and dinner specials, and getting to know guests. All of this contributes to their growth and development as culinary leaders. But a sizable chunk of each day was dedicated to cash management – two hours to be specific. While we’ve got amazing cashiers tending the registers, our chefs are also restaurant managers and responsible for counting the cash, writing deposit slips, making bank runs, and buying change. Since we’ve removed the burden of cash from our teams, they can now devote their time and energy to serving guests and cooking great food.

Investing in our chefs also means investing in their safety. Moving to card-and-app-only payments means our teams aren’t holding onto large amounts of cash at any time, making them less of a target for theft in the restaurants or on the way to the bank.

As for your experience as a guest, eliminating cash leads to a more efficient and faster checkout, meaning more time for you and your sweet potatoes.]

Going cash-free sounds like a no-brainer, right? Not exactly.

Although there are some pretty compelling arguments for going cash-free, there are also some hidden costs.

By not accepting cash, restaurants are inadvertently discriminating against people who don’t have debit or credit cards (including ⅓ of Americans ages 18-37).

According to Linnea Lassiter, a former analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, employment status, income, race, and immigration status are among the biggest factors influencing whether or not somebody has a bank account. For example, many low-income individuals don’t have bank accounts so that they can avoid fees if they fail to meet a minimum balance requirement.

Cash-free restaurants also discriminate against teenage diners who are old enough to visit restaurants without their parents but too young to have their own bank accounts.

Some argue that refusing to accept cash payments violates customers’ legal rights:

[State lawmakers, a civil rights group, the National Retail Federation and a company servicing ATMs are all pushing back against the trend, claiming that refusing the greenback—on which  the US Treasury writes “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private”—is simply un-American.]

Two years ago, Massachusetts signed a bill barring cashless restaurants into law. Now, other cities and states are mulling over legislation of their own.

On June 26th, D.C. city council member David Grosso introduced a bill that would prevent local restaurants from going cashless. The bill would make it illegal to discriminate against cash as a form of payment, post signs that cash is not accepted, and charge different prices for customers who pay with cash as opposed to a card.

Many restaurant owners also stand against the cash-free movement.

In an email to the Washington Post, Amsterdam Falafelshop owner Arianne Bennett wrote:

[Not everybody is able to buy a smartphone. Not everybody is in a position where they can get a credit card. Not everybody is even in a position where they have a stable bank account to be able to use the debit card. But they are hungry too and have $10 in their pockets and they would like to spend their legal American form of tender, known as cash, with you.]

So, should your customers put their cash away? As you can see, there a number of factors that you need to consider before deciding if going cash-free is right for your restaurant.

SinglePlatform Customer, Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers, Honored on TripAdvisor’s List of Top 10 Burgers in America

Yet another SinglePlatform customer was recognized on TripAdvisor’s recent Top 10 Burgers in America. We know, our customers rule!

Travel site and our partner, TripAdvisor, released the juicy list last month. To qualify, the restaurants had to have at least 200 reviews, at least 4.5 out of 5 stars, and 10 locations or fewer. The ranking was based on the millions of reviews and opinions the site has accumulated, so we’re pretty confident that spots on the list were well deserved. And Pearl’s Deluxe, a SinglePlatform customer, was one of the deserving burger joints to make the cut.

We talked about the other SinglePlatform winner, Brooks Burgers, last week on our blog. Today we’re focusing on the other honoree, Pearl’s Deluxe.

Pearl’s Deluxe

  • Where: San Francisco
  • Since When: 2003
  • Signature Burger: “The King” 1/4 pound patty topped with a 1/2 pound hot dog, American cheese, cheddar cheese and 1000 island dressing

Pearl’s Deluxe is a pleasant surprise where you least expect it. The small facade on a San Francisco strip has been home to some of America’s best burgers for fifteen years now. And although the outside isn’t all glitz and glam, what they’re serving up inside is something to talk about.

The menu items are a mixture of simplicity and specialty. All burgers can be made with a chicken breast, turkey, or veggie patty instead of beef. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also upgrade to a buffalo or Kobe patty. The classic burgers come topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. If you’re feeling more adventurous, go with one of Pearl’s 11 “special burgers,” all of which come in ¼ pound and ½ pound sizes. The Phat Bob boasts BBQ sauce, bacon, mayo, onion rings, and jack cheese. The Bula is topped with jack cheese, bacon, mayo, and spicy BBQ pineapple sauce. The Bomb? An open-faced burger with homemade chili, shredded cheddar, and diced red onions.

Pearl’s uses natural beef from Niman Ranch, and offer other Americana staples like hot dogs, milkshakes, and an assortment of fries in addition to the burgers.

In fact, Pearl’s signature burger, rightly dubbed “The King” is topped with a ½ pound hot dog! The massive creation also features American cheese, cheddar cheese, and thousand island dressing.

 The King via The Hungry Muse The King via The Hungry Muse

If you’re not in the mood for plain fries, Pearl’s Deluxe also serves sweet potato fries, garlic fries, and homemade onion rings that TripAdvisor user Peterisme called “out of this world.” Can’t choose between fries and onion rings? The restaurant is also known for its “Frings,” a mixture of the two served in a single dish.

 Frings made with Pearl’s sweet potato fries via TripAdvisor user magnoliaeleven Frings made with Pearl’s sweet potato fries via TripAdvisor user magnoliaeleven

As for the owner, Sylvia Yi is a Korean American born and bred in San Francisco. She describes San Fran as a “food mecca” which influenced some spicy additions to the Pearl’s Deluxe menu.  And Sylvia’s family is no stranger to the restaurant industry. Her mom ran American diners, while her aunt and uncle had a fish and chips place. At Pearl’s Deluxe, Sylvia’s love for spicy foods has inspired her to mix south of the border ingredients with flavors from her Korean heritage.

The TripAdvisor reviews attest to the large selection in such an unassuming place:

“Wow wow wow wow wow!”

“Quite possibly the best burger I’ve ever had! I’ve had a fair few in my time and this really does rank somewhere in the top 2 ever. The place only has about 14 or so spaces to sit so you may have to take away but it’d be well worth it for sure. There’s a broad selection of both meat and veggie options and a plethora of sides, drinks and options to make the meal your own. The chips and onion rings (Frings) were sublime and the coffee milkshake brilliant. All in all a great establishment and one I hope to visit again before the end of my stay here.”

“Best Burger I’ve Ever Eaten!”

“I can not recommend Pearls enough. It’s a tiny little place, very friendly with a really varied menu. My burger was delicious! I shared ‘Frings; with my husband which onion rings and fries together. The portions were huge! You can eat in but there are limited seats. Nice clean place. Located a short walk from Union Square. Please don’t miss this place out, it’s well worth the short walk there!”

“You won’t find a tastier burger across San Francisco!!”

This small, little cafe type burger bar is a hidden gem; especially if you want something quick and tasty. The staff are very helpful and the food is so good, we have been back twice. If you really fancy a good burger, and don’t mind squeezing into the small cafe, you won’t b disappointed!!”

And this isn’t the first accolade Pearl’s Deluxe has received. Did we mention that Tyler Florence chose Pearl’s Deluxe as his pick for The Best Thing I Ever Ate?

He’s not the only celebrity chef to give Pearl’s Deluxe two thumbs up. On GrubStreet’s The Food Chain, Susan Feniger called the Spicy Sly burger topped with jack cheese, grilled onions, grilled peppers, mayo, and habanero sauce a personal favorite. “I really love a gooey burger,” she said. “And this one is really gooey.”

 Spicy Sly via TV Food and Drink Spicy Sly via TV Food and Drink

Burgers are an American staple. But, the mastery of burger making goes far beyond the grill in our backyards. Pearl’s Deluxe has perfected the art of burger-making, from the quality of the ingredients to the abundance of the toppings. And after they were chosen as one of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Burgers in America, it’s safe to say their burgers are pretty darn delicious.

Congratulations Pearl’s Deluxe!

Pearl’s Deluxe has been a SinglePlatform customer since 2013.  

To Tip or Not to Tip? For Restaurants, the Debate is Just Beginning

Imagine the last time you went out to eat. When your server cleared your plates and returned with your check, you probably started calculating a tip without even thinking about it. Tipping is now just an automatic step in restaurant experience (and has arguably improved our mental math skills a bit!)

The origins of tipping can be traced at least as far back as the Roman Empire. Wealthy Americans brought tipping to the states from Europe in the 1850s so that they could show off their knowledge of European customs. And the rest is history.

While tipping has been phased out in Europe in favor of a hospitality-included model, tipping is now as American as apple pie. However, over the past few years, some restaurateurs have begun chipping away at the well-ingrained cultural norm by banning tipping at their restaurants and instead absorbing service charges into menu prices (once again taking a cue from Europeans).

Celebrity restaurateurs Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio were at the helm of the movement. In 2015, Meyer announced that he would do away with tipping at all 13 restaurants in his Union Square Hospitality Group. His decision was decades in the making. In a 1994 newsletter, he wrote:

[The American system of tipping is awkward for all parties involved: restaurant patrons are expected to have the expertise to motivate and properly remunerate service professionals; servers are expected to please up to 1,000 different employers (for most of us, one boss is enough!); and restaurateurs surrender their use of compensation as an appropriate tool to reward merit and promote excellence]

 via Eater via Eater

When he finally abolished tipping in 2015, Meyer cited closing the gap between tipped, front-of-house workers’ and non-tipped back-of-house workers’ earnings as one of his main motivators. Under his tip-free model, every individual employee benefits from revenue-sharing.

Colicchio was also a vocal supporter of restaurants moving toward the tip free-model when he eliminated tipping at his flagship restaurant Craft in 2015. He told CNBC’s “On Money” that he chose to go tip-free so that he could compensate his staff members more fairly.

[We know through Studies at Cornell University that the amount of money left in the tip has very little to do with service, it has more to do with your accent, your race, or your gender.]

 Tom Colicchio via Bravo TV Tom Colicchio via Bravo TV

Meyer and Colicchio removed the line on the check where customers would typically add in a tip. To compensate for lost tips, the chefs raised menu prices around 20% so that they could increase their staffs’ wages. Hundreds of restaurants across North America have followed suit.

 via CityPages.com via CityPages.com  via Chicago Tribune via Chicago Tribune

However, some restaurants who have tried the model have abandoned it, citing lost business. Colicchio’s Craft is one of them. Colicchio reversed his tip-free policy in 2016. Although he still believed in the reasons that restaurants are going tip-free, he conceded that the model cannot be successful until all restaurants adopt it.

[At Craft, if I were going to pay my servers an hourly wage that is on [a] par with what they’re currently making, it would be in the neighborhood of $34 an hour. So back waiters or bussers in the range of $22. They’re making a good wage because of tips. Now, we do away with tips. The only way to fund that would be through raising prices. If the average tip is about 20 percent, we still have to raise prices 23 percent, because then you’re going to push up wages for everyone else. If I were to do it tomorrow, it puts me at a competitive disadvantage to someone who is just shopping online looking at prices. If everyone does it, then I think we’ll see some change.]

So, should your restaurant ban tipping? We’ve rounded up some of the most common arguments for and against going tip-free.

Arguments For Going Tip-Free

Higher BOH Wages

One of the most compelling arguments in favor of going tip-free is that it leads to higher wages for back-of-the-house workers like cooks and bussers. At restaurants where the average check size is steep, back-of-the-house workers typically make less than tipped servers even though their base wages tend to be higher. This data from Bon Appetit is pretty staggering.

 via Bon Appetit via Bon Appetit

Under the tip-free model, BOH workers are included in the restaurant’s revenue-sharing policy. That’s why Meyer reported raising menu prices just over 20% (20% is widely acknowledged as the standard restaurant tip). After going tip-free, Meyer raised the starting hourly pay for line cooks at the Modern from $11 to $14.

A Better BOH Staff

A positive side effect of higher BOH wages—in addition to more appropriately compensating staff members hard work—is a stronger BOH staff (which translates into higher quality food!). According to Seattle restaurateur Renee Erickson, who went tip-free at Sea Creatures, eliminating tipping is a good investment for restaurants because it results in less BOH turnover. Less turnover means less rehiring and retraining on your end as well as more experienced cooks.

More Wage Stability for Servers

Another reason many restaurants are going tip-free is to increase their servers’ wage stability. As you probably know, in many states, the minimum wage for tipped workers for tipped workers is lower than the minimum wage for non-tipped workers. In fact, only seven states require employers to pay tipped workers the full minimum wage. In the other 43 states, the minimum wage for tipped workers can dip as low as $2.13 an hour. Workers are expected to make up the difference with tips (employers are legally obligated to make up the difference if servers earn less than minimum wage after tips, but investigations by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor between 2010 and 2012 found an 84% non-compliance rate).

 via dol.gov via dol.gov

Although tipped workers have the potential to make great money through tips, that is entirely dependent on check size and what percent of the total bill customers decide to tip. So, while tipped workers can make a lot in a day, they can also make very little. At restaurants with lower menu prices or where diners tend to tip less, FOH workers can actually make much less than BOH workers. In fact, a 2011 EPI study found that tipped workers are more than twice as likely as non-tipped workers to fall below the poverty line.

Moreover, research has shown that perceived service quality explains less than 2% of the variation in tip percentage. Clearly, your servers are being tipped based on factors that are out of their control. For example, young diners typically leave smaller tips. About ⅓ of millennials tip less than 15% (whereas only 16% of older demographics admit to doing so). In a recent survey, 10% of millennials said they don’t tip at all!

Replacing the tipping model with a revenue-sharing one leads to less income variation from day to day and moderates the effect of working a slow shift or serving particularly stingy diners.

Tipping is Discriminatory

Additionally, as Colicchio said, tip sizes are often unfairly based on factors like race, age, and physical appearance. On average, nonwhite servers make less than white servers for equal work. Dr. Michael Lynn, a professor of food and beverage management at Cornell University’s school of hotel administration and a leading authority on tipping research, says that this data qualifies tipping as discriminatory and therefore calls the legality of tipping into question. He explains:

[Specifically, the results suggest that the use of tips as a means of compensating workers may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The idea that employers might be held liable for the discrimination of their customers will come as a surprise to many, so it deserves elaboration. In Grigg’s v. Duke Power Company (1971), the Supreme Court rules that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits business policies that have a disparate impact on protected classes of applicants and employees even if those policies and practices appear at  face value to be neutral and are not intended to discriminate.]

Tipping Perpetuates Sexual Harassment

Living off of tips provides an incentive for employees to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers. According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United report:

[Tipped workers experienced higher rates of harassment via media from customers than non-tipped workers. Tipped workers reported higher rates of inappropriate letters, ‘sexts’ or texts of a sexual nature, and photos from customers. Tipped workers also reported higher rates of harassing physical behaviors from customers, including pressure for dates, suggestive looks, deliberate touching, and inappropriate kissing. Tipped workers also experience higher rates of certain verbal harassing behaviors from customers such as sexual teasing and being told to flirt and expose themselves.]

 via rocunited.org via rocunited.org

The same report revealed that tipped workers also experience more sexual harassment at the hands of their employers. For example, female tipped workers’ uniforms are typically more suggestive than female non-tipped workers. Moreover, a server from Houston explained that hiring criteria often places demands on women’s appearances. The server reported, “[They] would say, ‘I want this many servers, none of them fat, none of them ugly.”

Arguments Against Going Tip-Free

Many Servers Oppose the Policy

Regardless of your intentions, servers may not be happy about you banning tipping at your restaurant. Many servers, especially those who are used to collecting generous tips, are opposed to the tip free model. After Bar Agricole went tip-free, servers made an average of $20-35 an hour instead of $35-45 an hour. The pay cut led 70% of servers to leave the restaurant. Likewise, Meyer says he lost 30-40% of his FOH staff after eliminating tipping at his restaurants (one Union Square Cafe server claims that her annual pay dropped $10,000). So, while going tip free has been shown to reduce BOH turnover, it can increase FOH turnover.

Customers Oppose the Policy

Apparently, customers aren’t too happy about restaurants going tip-free either. A 2016 survey found that 81% of Americans were opposed to the idea of eliminating tipping. Why? There are a few plausible reasons. First, people believe that the service is worse at tip-free restaurants because there is no incentive for servers to perform well. Second, research shows that people are happier when they can leave a large tip. Third, people have the urge to penalize poor service. So, when customers lose the ability to adjust tip size, they feel alienated.

According to Dr. Lynn, tip-free models can lead to negative reviews. When Dr. Lynn looked at Google reviews and yelp ratings for 18 Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants where the company temporarily suspended tipping. Ratings on a five-point scale decreased by a third of a point on average during that time.

Some customers have gone beyond leaving negative reviews. In October, consumers in New York and the Bay Area filed a class action lawsuit against, Meyer, Colicchio, and other notable restaurateurs who have gone tip-free. They alleged that the owners were holding secret meetings and eliminating tipping for the sole purpose of raising prices as part of an anti-competition conspiracy.

Diners May Experience Sticker Shock

According to Dr. Lynn, customers experience “bundled” prices differently than they do “partitioned” prices. So, even though customers will eventually have to add gratuity at restaurants that accept tips, they see menu items as cheaper than at restaurants where hospitality is already included in the menu price. When NYC restaurant Fedora went tip-free, customers ordered less food or lower-priced wines. This led to a loss in revenue, so the restaurant reinstated tipping after four months. Colicchio reported a similar experience.

To be fair, customers do end up paying a bit more at tip-free establishments because restaurants often raise menu prices more than 20% so that they can share revenue with FOH and BOH employees. This means that customers could pay up to 5% more if they usually tip 20%, or more if they usually tip less than 20%.

It’s pretty clear that whether or not you should tip free depends on a number of factors. For example, when determining what’s best for you and your employees, think about the average check size at your restaurant and how your customers would react to higher menu prices.

So, where do you stand in the tipping debate?

Restaurants Banning Plastic Drinking Straws are on the Rise: Will Yours Be Next?

As the trend away from disposable plastic, particularly plastic drinking straws, builds momentum, the restaurant industry is taking notice and adopting alternatives.  Compostable straws, utensils, and packaging are now requirements in some markets.  Many businesses, from large franchises to individual establishments, are jumping out in front of the legislative wave and replacing their own offerings proactively.  What else can we expect as plastics are slowly phased out?

New Precedents Appear

On July 1, 2018, Seattle became the first major city to ban the distribution of plastic drinking straws and utensils.  The move was virtually concurrent with the Seattle-based Starbucks franchise switching to straw-less lids in its shops throughout the country.  And while Starbucks has no trouble making news headlines, there is an ever-growing number of businesses following suit.  Foodservice distributors, hotel chains, ballparks, airlines, and of course cocktail bars have all joined the ranks of the eco-friendly.  McDonald’s has set a target timeline of 2025 to phase out its own non-compostable utensils.

Miami Beach and Fort Meyers, Florida, as well as Malibu, Davis, and San Luis Obispo, California, have similar prohibitions on single-use plastics.  New York is expected to eventually enact its own similar ban in due time.  Elsewhere in the world, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union as a whole are weighing proposals banning plastic straws.  From there, it’s easy to foresee the domino effect continuing.

The legal precedents away from plastics are nearly a decade old: in 2009, Washington D.C. enacted a law requiring businesses to charge a $.05 surcharge for plastic shopping bags.  In grocery stores especially, there has been a longtime push to at least offer alternatives, such as lightweight reusable bags.  You can see the footprint of plastic bag legislation here:

 Source:  http://bit.ly/2v7UuB7 Source:  http://bit.ly/2v7UuB7

Motivations Behind the Change

Environmental consciousness lies at the root of the movement away from plastics.  Marine wildlife has been hit hard by the effects of pollution.  Even responsible sanitation practices will inevitably yield some spill-off into rivers, lakes, and oceans.  Since it can take hundreds of years for a typical straw to decompose, birds and sea creatures of all sizes are left vulnerable to this floating junk.

Garbage patches (or trash vortexes) are collections of marine debris that have formed in the world’s oceans.  The debris consists of various plastics, chemical sludge, and other garbage, clumped together as a result of the cyclical currents.  Garbage patches float near the top of the water.  As well as a tremendous eyesore, they can be toxic and ultimately lethal to the nearby marine wildlife.

 Garbage patches accumulate and circulate around oceanic gyres.Source: http://bit.ly/2A8IViG Garbage patches accumulate and circulate around oceanic gyres.Source: http://bit.ly/2A8IViG

In the social media era, it’s easier than ever to make a cause célèbre out of unfortunate wildlife hurt by pollution.  But it’s just as prudent to consider the limited space for the waste products of expanding human populations.  Plastic is a natural target for replacement with biodegradable alternatives.

There is a human health risk in play as well.  Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to harden plastics, has been flagged as a concern by the Food and Drug Administration.  Infants are considered especially vulnerable to the effects of ingesting BPA, with possible brain development and behavioral issues cited as potential symptoms.  The effects of BPA on adults is still an ongoing study.  The FDA recommends reasonable precautions, such as avoiding heating foods and drinks stored in plastic.

While plastic drinking straws account for only a very small fraction of total plastic pollution, environmentalists believe that this small step can raise overall awareness and inspire the public toward more significant change.  Individuals who wouldn’t otherwise consider the environment in their daily choices will be more conscientious when the issue is presented in their daily routines.  The hope is that this modest measure will inspire people to further their recycling efforts on an even greater scale.

How Will This Affect the Restaurant Industry?

 Source: http://bit.ly/2v9IOO7 Source: http://bit.ly/2v9IOO7

Even if plastics have not been outright banned in your area, expect the phasing out process to proceed slowly but surely.  If you own a business that uses disposable utensils, there are some considerations to keep in mind in the coming months and years.

The cost of compostable utensils currently sits higher than the plastic status quo.  The precise cost of upgrading might be hard to calculate.  Vendors have cited anything from 10% to 200% above, depending on the size of the order and the quality of the biodegradable supplies.

If you replace a plastic drinking straw that costs $.02 with a compostable drinking straw that costs $.04, that microtransaction looks rather insignificant.  But if you serve thousands of straws every month, that small uptick can account for hundreds of dollars against your bottom line.

Look to buy in bulk.  An easy way to offset the increasing cost of supplies is to simply acquire them in larger quantities.  Businesses considering this change should think about how much space they can spare in their physical inventory.

Keep tabs on price points.  Like any emerging market, increased demand for compostable utensils will drive a larger supply.  This, in turn, will eventually lower prices.  If your business isn’t ready to make the switch away from plastics just yet, remember to check back every so often to see if the market has moved.

Can you do without?  Some cocktail bars are replacing their plastic drinking straws with no straws at all.  If you typically serve, for example, soft drinks for the table with straws inserted, can you simply eliminate them?  One immediate way to reduce your plastics usage is by keeping those products complimentary, but making them available only upon request.

Flaunt it if you’ve got it.  While the cause is noble, there is no shame in advertising that your business has taken an environmentally-responsible initiative.  This is absolutely an opportunity to do a bit of status-signaling.  Adding a line at the bottom of your menu or posting a small notice about the change in policy in your storefront will let your customers know you’re mindful (without being overbearing).

The recent trend of restaurants phasing out plastic drinking straws is arguably just the beginning of a bigger movement to save the environment. Keep tabs on any updates, including that of the law, to stay informed of the latest advancements. And in the meantime, consider how your restaurant will adopt.

SinglePlatform Customer, Brooks Burgers, Honored on TripAdvisor’s List of Top 10 Burgers in America

Hamburgers are quintessential quarter-pound slices of Americana. They’re delicious whether slathered in cheese, bunned or un-bunned, and topped with virtually any fixing you can think of. We may not all agree on how best to serve a burger, but it’s safe to say that the popularity of these juicy bits of heaven stretches way beyond backyard barbecues.

When researching where the popular food got its start, the origins are a bit unclear. Legend has it that the influx of German immigrants to America in the late 1800s sparked the birth of German beer gardens and food. And with that came with “Hamburg-style” chopped steak. The rest is, well, history.

Fast-forward to modern times. And by modern we mean just this month. Travel giant, and our partner, TripAdvisor recently announced the Top 10 Best Restaurants for Burgers. This list of hits was based on millions of reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor diners. The people spoke and TripAdvisor listened. And although we didn’t get to travel across the country and try every burger joint ourselves (which, to us, is an amazing idea), we did notice that a SinglePlatform customer made the shortlist.

All of our customers are kitchen rockstars. And it’s pretty cool that Brooks Gourmet Burgers & Dogs was honored in such an exclusive list of the best of the best burgers. So, we want to showcase what makes the restaurant great.

Brooks Gourmet Burgers & Dogs

  • Where: Naples, Florida
  • Since When: 2010
  • Signature Burger: “Donut Burger” topped with American cheese and bacon between two glazed donuts

 via Brooks Burgers Facebook via Brooks Burgers Facebook

Brooks Gourmet Burgers & Dogs keeps it all in the family. Todd Brooks and his wife own the 3 location Naples chain. The couple collectively has over 40 years of restaurant industry experience, which inspired them to open up their own establishment in 2010.

Todd is no stranger to the hustle and bustle of the back of the house. He started off as a dishwasher and worked his way up, becoming an executive chef, and eventually a Vice President of a 10 unit restaurant operation. Although becoming a small business owner proved to be entirely different than serving as a VP, after the economic crash, Todd decided to dive head first into a burger joint of his own. Luckily, over the past 8 years Brooks Burgers has enjoyed much success and a few impressive accolades.

The first location is housed in the same spot that was formerly Lindburgers, a Naples staple for over 25 years. It was formerly known for having the best burger in the state, so Todd thought the location was the perfect fit for his new venture. When launching Brooks Burgers, he added a sense of Midwestern hospitality to the mix and a unique aviation theme to the atmosphere.

He also introduced a plethora of specialty burgers to the menu. The Donut Burger is a signature item, but there’s a lot more where that came from. Guests can enjoy virtually any flavor they want, from the Pesto & Goat Cheese to a fan favorite, Todd’s Way (fried egg, crisp bacon, American & provolone cheeses).

And burgers aren’t the only thing you can get here – Brooks Gourmet offers an array of salads, hot dogs, and sandwiches. And although they won the award for the burgers, TripAdvisor customers praise Brooks Burgers for their other offerings, too.

“BEST Burger EVER”

“There were 6 of us and we only had to wait a few minutes. Heather was our server. Good craft beer selection. Fun atmosphere. The food was beyond delicious. I had the Fig and F.I.N.E. AHmazing. My husband had the Pesto & Goat and he loved it. My mom had the pastrami sammie, also delicious. My dad started with the stuffed onion ring. I wish we would have ordered more. He also had one of the dogs and he said it was the best he ever had. Both kiddos had hand-dipped corn dogs…yum! The fries were so good, too. I love when a restaurant exceeds my expectations and Brooks absolutely did!”

Since opening in 2010, Brooks Gourmet Burgers & Dogs has expanded to become a chain of 3 locations throughout Naples, Florida. Each location exudes the same authenticity, freshness, and quality. Brooks Burgers uses SinglePlatform to power their online menus for all locations.

“SinglePlatform has been an essential part of our success story. It has given us peace of mind and time to focus on the most important part of our business: Our customers! We don’t have to worry about if our menu is accurate on TripAdvisor, on Yelp, on the website or anywhere else. One click and changes are made. Our menu is the most searched item on our website. For new customers who haven’t been at Brooks Burgers, this is the #1 thing they are looking for. Making sure that they find the menu easily is key to draw them into their first Brooks Burgers experience.”
-Todd Brooks – owner and founder of Brooks Burgers (visit them at brooksburgers.com).

When asked about the TripAdvisor Top 10 Burger in America honor, owner Todd Brooks said,

“This is an unbelievable recognition and I couldn’t be more proud of our staff and customers who made this happen. As a local and family owned restaurant we truly appreciate the love and support of our community. We are honored to represent Southwest Florida in such a great way not only because of our great burgers but also because our staff treats guests like family!”

Although Naples, Florida, isn’t in the vicinity of our NYC office, it’s definitely on our list of places to visit next time we travel out of state!

Congratulations to Brooks Burgers and the rest of the honorees who made the list!