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What’s Next for Hospitality?

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By Sophie Brochu

The hospitality industry has been rocked in the past months. Despite unprecedented challenges, thousands of restaurants across the country have doubled down to launch creative takeout programs, outdoor dining experiences, and virtual events. We’ve seen parking lots converted into patios, 5-course wine dinners take place over Zoom, pop-up drive-thrus, and DIY cooking/plating experiences prepped and packaged by some of your favorite chefs. One thing has remained and that’s great hospitality.

In this series, we’re asking industry leaders to tackle the question: What’s next for hospitality?

“We can all agree that the system has been broken for a long time. Let us not put bandaids on the brokenness or be distracted by the short term. Let us all—restaurants, providers, and most of all customers—take the opportunity to rebuild for a better future.”

“I would like to put the focus on the culinary aspect of this question and not the financial. I am sure that many owners can answer that much better than me. It is such a big question and the hardest part is that no one knows, and I think that is what is most frustrating. When you are a chef, you plan. You are always 6 months ahead in your head on what is to come and if you do not, you will fall behind. Right now, no one knows what is next because we are all so focused on the now and on how to stay alive. I am hopeful that we will slowly go back to what has always been. We will see tasting menus again, full restaurants and bars, because there was a reason we had them in the first place. People like to come together over food and drinks. That is what makes many of us happy. So yes, I believe slowly and steadily we will find our way back. It will take time but I believe that we will.”

—Emma Bengtsson, Executive Chef

“When thinking about what’s next for hospitality, I keep returning to a wartime analogy: a lot of us won’t survive and those that do will likely be physically and mentally scarred. It’s a pretty grim forecast.  As someone who naturally tries to find the bright spots, regardless of how bleak things look—and they look extremely bleak right now—it’s a challenge. But the optimist in me would argue there are a few reasons why we might not be stuck in a permanent black hell.  For those independent restaurants fortunate enough to survive, there will be a desire—on the parts of both diners and operators—to get back to basics:  great service, exciting food, conversations between diners and FOH, and a sense of fun.  All of us in restaurants miss the energy that diners bring to the experience.  We miss the feedback.  It’s such an abstract, disconnected exercise to ‘dine out’ right now that the human connection has essentially been lost. Additionally—and I’m ambivalent about this one because it’s essentially opportunity built in part on those who won’t survive—there will be an opportunity for young chefs to strike out on their own. Closures and a shifting real estate market will lower the barrier to entry and hopefully inject new life into dining scenes that have stagnated because of high rents, unrealistic investors, and poor access to capital.  Access to capital will still suck, but at least you’ll need less of it to get started!”

– Steven Dilley, Chef/Owner/Sommelier
Bufalina & Bufalina Due,
Austin, Texas

“I, like so many others, am slogging along with the tatters of my heroic core team through this “Damnation Alley” (1977 reference) of existence, but I’m understating it. Many like me are looking for the world to shift back to its center axis (November 3rd). So what do I see for the future in hospitality? It’s a loaded question, but I’ll speak to my hope and what we’re doing to promote change. The culinary brain trust I have created for myself and Reverence has actually not amended as far as hospitality and its future. We’ve been a consensus of thought and actions centered on improving the food system, availability, education, diversity, and advocacy. My hope is that independents, as well as corporates, will continue to refine and hyper localize their work, ultimately leading the way towards change. That’s to say—restaurant groups, chefs, owners, investors, providers, and their supporting staff should start by looking inward for what they can do in order to recreate the reality of dining for the future in an inclusive, positive, equitable, and fair system. Become more centered on telling the important personal stories in how and why food is inspired, created, and served. Evolve your practices and continue to cut away the red tape, along with the inefficient and illogical systems that have plagued us, and that have made our industry so fragile and disadvantaged that all of us needed saving after 2 weeks of closure. I hope that the true heroes of the industry are raised up and that we can extinguish the systemically broken past. We can all agree that the system has been broken for a long time. Let us not put bandaids on the brokenness or be distracted by the short term. Let us all—restaurants, providers, and most of all customers—take the opportunity to rebuild for a better future. Speak out, feed the disadvantaged, and support your community towards health and a grounded existence. Live up to the idea that we are the essentials. Be the agents of change. Lead the way.”

—Russell Jackson, Chef/Owner

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