For two days earlier this week, over 10,000 restaurateurs swarmed into the Convention Center, where some 500 exhibitors at the Northwest Foodservice Show were offering samples (deep-fried churros, prepackaged burgers, imported desserts), showing off new equipment and point-of-sale systems, offering consulting services. Keynote address from Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association, who took us on a quick tour to show off ecologically correct green packaging (forks made of cornstarch). "We have to get ahead of the regulators," he maintained.
The R-word was never spoken. Other parts of the country might be in trouble, he says, but not this state. Instead, Anton talked about rising food costs (not getting better anytime soon) and the growing labor crunch (going to get worse if there's an immigration crackdown this summer).
Over 50% of all food dollars are being spent outside the home, Anton points out. Five meals a week, on average. And the economic drivers in this state remain strong: Microsoft, Boeing, agriculture (the weak dollar helps exports), ports (again, exports), and construction (with transportation projects picking up the slack of the weak housing market).
Two solutions for restaurants: sell lottery tickets (seriously), and buy labor-saving equipment.
Oh really? Our inbox gets a flurry of press releases from restaurants, and the theme past month has been downsizing: simpler food, comfort food, even (at Veil) TV dinners. One longtime restaurant operator, facing skyrocketing food costs, lack of qualified staff, high gas prices, and an increasingly nervous clientele, says "the industry's response is head-in-the-sand denial."