2019 has been sort of a blah year in restaurants. The biggest opening was Demi, which is amazing—it was my Restaurant of the Year. But it’s so small and so popular, most of us aren’t able to get a reservation. I’ve been once. I hope that will change in 2020.
We haven’t seen a huge wave of restaurant closings, and, as usual, many of the places that did close have already reopened. Meyvn closed and became Trattoria Mucci’s. Just/Us closed and reopened in a new spot. Spoonriver is closing, and already Birchwood Cafe’s team is going there.
Two food halls opened in the North Loop, bringing about a dozen new restaurants just within the last couple months. But I’m hearing from many operators that they are struggling. And we’ll see if 2020 is the year we start to see a real shift in our dining scene.
So, what do I expect in 2020?
More food halls:
People are desperate for vibes and experiences, and food halls seem to be scratching the itch. Malcolm Yards Market should open up near Surly, joining North Loop Galley and Graze. The new food hall at Rosedale Mall, Potluck, is spectacular. I think the food hall experience would kill in a suburb. Imagine the soccer and hockey moms and dads popping into a food hall in Woodbury or Eden Prairie: plenty of parking, each kid can get whatever they want, a great alternative to Chipotle or Noodles.
Struggles in the middle:
Cheaper (or perceived as cheaper) counter-service restaurants will continue to thrive. Food halls will be incubators for the next generation of fast-casual spots. The high-end is also doing well: steakhouses, Spoon and Stable, Bachelor Farmer, Smack Shack. But the places in the middle are going to struggle to price their food at a spot where they can make money.
The lack of tip credit here means that, in July 2020, Minneapolis restaurants with fewer than 100 employees will be paying servers $11.75 an hour. More than 100 is $13.25 an hour. I’m not making excuses for restaurants; they’ve known this is coming, and they have to figure out how to make their business work, or decide to shut it down. These are good things for workers. But the economics of paid sick time, higher minimum wage, no tip credit, and technology costs are all adding up for restaurants. We will see more closings.
Innovation in delivery and reservation software:
Third-party costs are a bigger threat to restaurants than even the minimum wage. That service you use to make a reservation online? That costs money. The web interface you use to order pickup? Money. Third-party delivery services: Whoa! Those cost restaurants huge money. As more and more of us are getting food delivered, I’m told in many cases this is nearly eliminating restaurant profit margin.
More plant-based foods:
This is a no-brainer. The success of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King and the Impossible MyBurger—it’s been mind-blowing. Expect plant-based meats to start showing up in tacos, on pizzas, beyond tofu in Asian restaurants. They’ll be everywhere.
I heard a term from a friend yesterday describing younger diners as “sober-curious.” We’ve seen NA bars opening in New York City. I don’t see that happening here. But I do expect more in line with what the Lynhall has been doing with it’s sober supper series. Special events and drink menus that more prominently show that you can have a great experience without alcohol. Will we get an NA craft brewery…?
More ticketed events:
I have been blown away by the appetite for special wine dinners, chef collaborations, family-style meals—all ticketed and generally not cheap. But this goes in the “experiential dining” file, and there’s no question we are seeking that.
So, that’s what I think. How wrong am I? Weigh in, in the comments. We’ll check back in 2020!