French restaurants have been the mainstay of popular cooking culture since cooking culture became popular. We eat from a la carte menus. We pop into cafes. I’m off for a petite aperitif with a chic brunette shortly. You, me and Steve (remember him?) are all Francophiles.
So, I’m guessing the following won’t come as a joyous bit of news: When we look at the restaurants of the future, not a single one will be French.
Here’s what society does. We take a pure, unadulterated, innocent idea, strip it bare and sell it for parts. We’re pragmatic, unappreciative bastards with a magpie-like eye for any shiny detail prone for compartmentalisation. We appropriate food, drink, fashion, design, from other cultures and integrate it into our fluid, agitating lives.
And while our predecessors might have lauded and lionised French food, younger generations will predictably place less value on something that lacks the novelty, rarity and aura that it once did. Call it progress.
We’re also much more likely as consumers, in an age of mass distribution, to find specialists for niche services at a click of a button. In food terms, a 6/10 restaurant within 20m of the office might have taken most of my lunch money a few years back but sinks into irrelevance in a food delivery powered present when their competitive landscape includes 7, 8, 9 and 10 out of 10 restaurants around the digital corner.
There’s a saying in marketing – well, a question anyway – that goes like this: What do you want to be famous for? Pick something, do it, do it well, get better at it, focus your business on it, tell everyone about it, and you’ve got a shot at being the ‘x company.’ Sure, you might make the ‘second leap’ and dive into a few more fun things later, but start by nailing that first idea:
– Sell books online (Amazon)
– Be a private social network for colleges (Facebook)
– Offer a taxi service that can be booked online (Uber)
These are, or at least were, niche concepts. Oh, they’re all tech companies huh? Sure, so go and look at the origin of your favourite fashion brands. Or car manufacturers. Or whatever.
Restaurants are fairly transactional businesses. You’re hungry and you need filling, or you’re lonely and need company, or you’re bored and need something to entertain you.
The nature of this blatancy dictates that most consumers make very quick decisions (this obviously doesn’t include your parents or anyone over 60 that is still trying to figure out where to go for Lunch. On Tuesday. In 1978.)
Most restaurants respond by distilling their offer into something simple to understand. Think tacos and tequila. Or pizza and beer. Basically, you’re playing Neil Rankin concept bingo until something sticks.
The pesky internet has honed demand even further. Where once we would visit an Italian restaurant, now we go to a pasta bar. Chinese? I only want dumplings. Indian? Why doesn’t someone just open an Aloo Chaat kiosk outside my flat? If you’re after a quick and easy identity, pick a dish and run with it. Pick two. See what I care.
Banh mi, Lobster roll, Bifana, Shawarma. 4 different cuisines, and 4 different restaurants in 2018. In the future, you’ll be able to find these – along with a whole bunch of other sandwiches – in the same place. That restaurant will be ‘the sandwich place’. And there’ll be an orzo/spaghetti/fideos/sorrentinos place too, obviously. Breathe.
Buying decisions will be made by dish, not by cuisine. But everywhere will still serve pastries at breakfast, potatoes at lunch and more potatoes at dinner, so croissant, frites and dauphinoise should be safe. But Coq au vin? Escargots? Fougasse? These tasty morsels cling onto their more famous, French brethren today. And will be cut adrift in the future.
What will this do for the identity of national cuisine? How damaging will this be for the education, training and development of the next wave of kitchen teams? Where the fuck will I get my damn fougasse? Find out none of this, and more, in the next edition of the future of restaurants.