The Dining Experience of the Future

Alan Someck Shirley Whelan Jim Lopolito Joseph Cozza Peter Van Allen

Restaurant Industry Challenges and Opportunities

The future of the restaurant industry has so many compelling challenges and opportunities facing it.  

  • How will technology and social media impact the way restaurants operate?  
  • What will menus look like and will there be significant shifts in the way people eat and what is served to them? 
  • Will there be a new dining experience awaiting the restaurant guest of the future or will some of the primary reasons people have eaten in restaurants (food, service, atmosphere, and desire for communal experience through dining) continue to exist, but possibly in different forms?  

Our team of food and beverage consultants converged to give their take on the respective questions.

Impact of Technology and Social Media

  • Alan Someck: Technology has already begun to impact the industry and will continue to do so in terms of food prep, operations, and customer profiling. There will be continued pressure on restaurants to deliver a “wow” experience so that social media takes notice.  This can be in the form of food presentations, interior design, and differentiated customer experiences.
  • Jim Lopolito: The use of personal devices will mostly be significant to the dining experience prior to arrival. Just how good you are with keeping in touch with former guests will help achieve better performance, provided you have the right information and get the delivery correct.
  • Joseph Cozza: With continued labor shortages restaurant operators must continue to embrace technology to remain profitable. Technology should allow for a seamless take-out order, a restaurant reservation, a table selection and to communicate special requests. Social media needs to be personalized, authentic, and meaningful.  
  • Shirley Whelan: Updating technology can be intimidating and expensive for a restaurant owner. In the new reality of finding and retaining talent, technology can be the key to streamlining restaurant operations. The greatest advantage of social media to a restaurant operator is the ability to communicate to both their loyal and future guests in real-time. 
  • Peter Van Allen: Technology will become more important to the extent that it can enhance the guest experience, improve the capabilities of the front-line staff and kitchen and grow profit.

Menu of the Future

  • Shirley Whelan:  Independent restaurants that do not benefit from the buying power of regional and national chains will need to shop local and change menus seasonally in order to control their costs and protect their already razor-thin profit margins. Food delivery and takeout is not a trend but a new restaurant staple.
  • Peter Van Allen: Food menus will need to include vegan/vegetarian and smaller portion/low-calorie options and drink menus with a good mix of drinks. All menus should still offer an array of pricing options in each category so that the highest price is at least twice the lowest price to enable guests to find what they want at the price they want to pay. 
  • Joseph Cozza: Fewer options/simplification of menus but with a unique differentiation. Adaptability and customization of menu items will be a necessity along with various portion sizes. 
  • Alan Someck: There will be a time when the movement towards customization will take the form of guests knowing their specific nutritional profile and ordering food that meets the needs of that profile.  Those that have whatever nutritional needs or imbalances will be able to order specific meals.
  • Jim Lopolito: Electronic menus lead the way. Adaptability to the guest’s demands will be necessary. While not all items on a menu can be modified at the customer’s will, there will have to be a section outlining the items that can be modified with their parameters of adjustments.

The Dining Experience of the Future

  • Peter Van Allen: The basics of security and cleanliness will become more important. With increased casualization and demand for quicker service, the lines between takeout and full-service dine-in will continue to blur with the increased use of online ordering, self-service kiosks, and ordering via your personal device at the table.
  • Jim Lopolito: The dining experience will take on many new directions in the coming future. The ability to select a restaurant and pick a table beforehand will become common practice, and the guests before you may even receive a “nudge” that you are coming. Timed table use is coming. There will most likely be a screen for ordering at each table. 
  • Shirley Whelan: Finding the right balance of technology-driven service with delivering a personalized guest experience can be tricky business. Giving the guests the ability to opt in and out of the level of personal service they receive can be key in customizing their experience. The server becomes more of an Ambassador or Concierge for the restaurant experience, requiring a keen ability to read the guest, knowing when to engage and when to be invisible in the flow of service. 
  • Alan Someck: There will always be a primal need to fulfill for guests who want to gather and share community over food. However, many people will also eat quick meals and have no need/desire to interact with other people either friends or restaurant staff: contactless dining will have a stronger niche in the future.
  • Joseph Cozza: The dining experience will certainly vary based on the customer’s objectives, needs, and wants. Key components will include creative seating options, expanded bar/dining seating, and engagement zones that feature a unique experiential activity/ entertainment. Outdoor spaces will continue to be a popular option and preference for many customers. 

Thank you to each of our Cayuga Hospitality Consultants for sharing their respective viewpoints.

About the Panel

Alan Someck

Alan Someck has a 42-year career in the hospitality industry. He has been an operator of high-volume restaurants for 25 years where he has been involved in running all facets of the business. His experience and expertise have led him to develop a well-regarded expert witness practice and consulting business. Alan has worked with many clients to create and build their concepts. In addition, he has worked on developing food products for market. Alan has also been awarded 7 EPA grants to train operators in Green sustainable industry practices. He has created an extensive network of industry professionals who he works with on a regular basis. Throughout his career, Alan has supported the success of entrepreneurs through executive coaching and training. For the past 14 years, Alan has taught at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC and at NYIT where he has taught all aspects of culinary management. His students have opened fast-casual restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and fine dining operations all over the country and internationally. Alan is an active consultant at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.

Shirley Whelan

Shirley is co-founder of Kody & Co. F&B Asset Management and a consultant at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants. She found her passion for the hospitality industry while working every position in her family’s restaurant in Banff, Alberta. After opening three successful, award-winning restaurants of her own and assisting independent and regional restaurant groups to create, launch and operate profitable concepts throughout South Florida, Shirley decided that hotels would be a refreshing change of pace. Recently retired from Hilton, she has returned to consulting, applying her wide range of experience to ensure that every concept and location delivers on its’ full potential for both ownership and their guests.

Jim Lopolito

Jim Lopolito, President of Lopolito Hospitality Consultants, Corp. is a veteran of the restaurant, country club, catering & concert industries offering expert assistance with club management consulting, restaurant consulting, and other foodservice development. He has worked as an executive chef and general manager and has performed in a consulting role for more than 20 years. His proprietary “Expense Loss Review” program has been a highly sought after resource for his broad client base. Jim is a member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.

Joseph Cozza

Joe Cozza has had an extensive and distinguished career in the hospitality industry. His most recent positions were with Marriott International as the Catering Sales Leader, Northeast Region, and previously as Catering Sales Leader for New York. Prior to these positions, he was Vice President, Sales, and Marketing for Cipriani, where he was responsible for several premier, historic, and iconic event locations. Joe was the opening Executive Director of Marketing/Catering at the New York Marriott Marquis and held this position for 22 years. Prior to the Marriott Marquis he was the opening Director of Catering at the Grand Hyatt in N.Y. and the Philadelphia Fairmont hotel where he held senior leadership positions in food and beverage operations and catering sales. Earlier in Joe’s career, he held executive positions with Sheraton and Hyatt Corporations in Florida and New Jersey. Joe is an active partner and consulting member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.

Peter Van Allen

Mr. Van Allen served for 5-1/2 years as global leader for Non-Room Pricing for all Hilton brands, developing tools & processes globally for hotels to price non-room products and services, including food & beverage, meetings, parking and spas.  Van Allen Associates provides marketing, pricing and business strategy to the hospitality industry.  Van Allen Associates can also work with you in the way that is best for you, from up-front analysis, to recommending revised pricing, to ongoing tracking and price revisions. For more details and tools to help you revise your pricing to increase revenue, profit and customer satisfaction, go to www.vanallenassociates.com. Peter is an active member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.


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