This article was mentioned on page 11 of the January 2010 issue of Chef Magazine.
Editors' note: Chef Kevin Rathbun is, among many things, a restaurateur (of Atlanta's Rathbun's, Krog Bar and Kevin Rathbun Steak), philanthropist and fascinating conversationalist. He is also Chef Magazine's 2009 Chef of the Year. Check out the January issue for the profile article on Rathbun. Here, he shares his thoughts on what will be the big trends in foodservice this year--and what it takes to sustain success.
I think the biggest thing is farm to table. It's huge right now--the local farmers are getting a lot of play--using local ingredients and really paying attention to sustainability. It's going to be bigger and bigger. ... Once people really start understanding the freshness and the care it takes to do that kind of stuff, I think it will become more prevalent in the marketplace. It's been tough. Sustainable food is very seasonal, so if you don't write menus seasonally and you keep your same menu all the time, you really can't play in that game. You've got to be constantly changing and evolving your menus and trying to keep up with who's local and who's using what. I think that's a big part of it.
I think simplicity is something people are starting to understand a lot more. The whole "10 flavors on a dish" has kind of come and gone. I think people want to get straight to the root of what they're eating. I think that's where a lot of food is going.
We always say that people come back to a restaurant most of the time for the service. The food could be okay--but if the service is great, people are coming back. If it flips and the food is great but the service isn't so good, they tend to forget about you pretty quickly. If the service is really lackluster, they can spend their dollars anywhere. You really have to have the whole package. ... [Y]ou still have to have great décor as well. People want to feel welcome and want to come back to your place. But food and service are really the top two things that continue to drive sales and drive seats.
I think more than anything ... if the operator isn't doing the right thing, then his people won't do the right thing. And I just have great people. I couldn't do it without them. I have 140 employees--from the dishwasher to the general manager at the restaurant, everybody's respected and treated like they're part of the family.
Another big thing for me that I try to instill in all my people is that vendors are an extension of us. Those days of yelling at the driver for bringing in rotten fish are over. The driver needs to get a Coke and ... come in to dinner every now and then. ... I like continuity and consistency and relationships, from insurance people to meat purveyors. I think that's what grows good business. If you're nickeling these people for price reductions all the time, you only hurt yourself. I try to tell people that in my business, and some get it and some don't. You pay a little more up front, but you always get consistency, you get quality, you get these people talking good about you around town because they have earshot of people in your business and in your community. You want to win that extended hospitality with the people in your structure, too.