The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the the restaurant industry, forcing countless restaurants to shut their doors, and leaving many others deeply in debt. For those that still have their eyes trained on the future, though, a few things are clear. In particular, the future of the restaurant industry will rely heavily on a shift towards new technology and sustainability – two areas, in which women are leaders.
Technology Tackles Supply Chain Waste
In home kitchens, one of the leading causes of food waste is simply forgetting what’s in the refrigerator. Things go bad and then they land in the trash. Professional kitchens, while more structured, experience some of the same problems, which is why the National Restaurant Association’s report discussing the industry’s future prioritizes a number of waste-reduction issues, including improved supply chain and inventory management. But why wait to start making these changes?
Today’s restaurants already have access to platforms with integrated future POS systems, allowing them to manage orders for future obligations like catered events, menu changes, and other major inventory issues. This ensures that they receive the right orders just in time, minimizing waste, preventing unnecessary duplication, and much more.
The Sustainability Advantage
Sustainability is at the heart of today’s culinary conversations, whether the focus is on the growth of plant-based meat alternatives or no waste food practices. In order to talk about culinary sustainability, though, we also have to talk about the critical role women play in this conversation. Indeed, it’s been said that in order to “go green,” businesses also need to “go pink” – because sustainable businesses prioritize women’s leadership. What does that look like in practice, though? One example might be the interest behind cultured meat.
Cultured meat, as well as other cultured animal products like dairy, are considered the future of food, offering a sustainable, ethical alternative to conventional animal products, and cultured dairy has actually begun hitting grocery store shelves. As for meat, Natalie Rubio, a PhD student at Tufts University, is working to tackle that problem. Rubio’s research seeks to develop the necessary scaffolding for growing muscle tissue in vitro, with the goal of producing less resource intensive meat products. Given how much animal agriculture contributes to climate change and related environmental issues, Rubio’s research could help restaurants minimize their carbon footprint without compromising their cuisine.
Reimagining Food Worlds
Technology has helped keep restaurants afloat during the pandemic, allowing them to pivot away from reusable menus to QR code-based tools, take more mobile orders, and communicate efficiently with their communities, but for many, these changes still aren’t enough to make business as usual work. That’s why a growing number are shifting away from in-person dining models and embracing cost effective ghost kitchens.
At a time when in-person dining is largely unsafe, ghost kitchens are delivery only sites, often housing multiple restaurants in the same or adjoining trailer-style buildings. Though they predate the pandemic, ghost kitchens have seen a spike in popularity these last few months and could define how restaurants operate in the years to come, minimizing their physical footprint and emphasizing small, sustainable operations instead of high waste in person dining.
In this time of uncertainty, many people are leaning on their favorite restaurants for culinary reassurance, a good meal to soothe their nerves amid the stress. As for those behind the scenes, they’re looking in another direction: toward those high tech solutions that might drive down costs, reduce waste, and keep them afloat, month by month. Though born out of crisis, this is the start of a revolution.