attention of the consumer public. ;is new hybrid is
a mix of the self-service model from fast food and the
consumer selection options presented by a traditional
cafeteria system. Table service is replaced by a modified
multiphase counter service, with customers being given
more customizable options, whether by a barista or a
burrito maker. ;is customization is made possible with
the return of an on-site short-order cook who assembles
to-order food, which has the appearance of being hand-crafted but is prepared in a batch style and often brought
in from an o;-site commissary.
;is brings us up to the present day, where we are witnessing an explosion of segments and dining choices.
Today, we see a marketplace of narrow segments (casual
elegant, food trucks, grab-and-go, build-your-own, gas-tropub, convenience store, market hall, delivery) and
other fine-grained niches that defy simple categorization.
For example, Panera Bread is a leader in the fast-casual
segment while filling the role of the top retail bakery/
café o;ering. But it also leads in the technology of smart-phone-based, customized takeout. ;e top of the food
chain for fine dining is a celebrity chef-driven stratospheric o;ering, such as Keller’s French Laundry, or a
standardized, national prime-aged steakhouse chain like
For the dining public, what exactly does “casual elegant”
mean, except there are no tablecloths or chefs, but there
are wine lists and expensive cocktails (and the waitsta;
wear logos on their shirts)? What is the di;erence, really,
if I buy a packaged turkey sandwich at Pret a Manger,
7-Eleven or Whole Foods?
WHERE ARE WE HEADING?
So the answer to the question, “What is a restaurant?” can
really only be answered with, “It depends.” What does it
depend on? Mainly how the dining public continues to
redefine how, when, why, where and what a meal actually is. Is a smartphone or tablet a modern-day vending
machine? Is a communal table in a market hall a dining
room? Is a “sous vide” pouch heated by a chef in a two-star restaurant a freshly prepared dinner? Is chef David
Chang’s Ando really a restaurant or just a conceptual
kitchen? Are GrubHub, Just Eat, Deliveroo, UberEats
and Amazon Prime just waiters expanding the last square
meter of personal restaurant service?
;e answer to all of those questions is probably yes.
When someone wants to eat, it might be better to ask,
“What isn’t a restaurant?”
Christopher Muller is Professor of the Practice of Hospitality Administration at Boston University.
This article originally appeared in Boston Hospitality Review.
Is a smartphone or tablet a modern-day vending machine?
Are Grub Hub and UberEats just waiters expanding the last
square meter of personal restuarant service?
Thanks to online ordering,
customers no longer have
to speak to another human
being to place a food order.