Think Tank

Jun 29, 2022, 3:00
New Beginnings: The Year of the Restaurant
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New Beginnings: The Year of the Restaurant

31 January 2022

Working together to make 2022 a year for restaurant and culinary school reinvention and success.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC
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Well, here we are - entering our third year encumbered by a pandemic that has grown to infect every part of our lives. But even though its grip remains strong, there is light at the end of the tunnel. As more and more Americans line up for vaccinations and booster shots, and science presents us with more advanced treatments for those infected, there are signs that 2022 will be the year we can bring things under control. If we do our part, we can beat this!

With this in mind, I am inclined to make a prediction: 2022 will be the year of a rebirth for the restaurant industry and a subsequent opportunity for the same rebirth in culinary education. Those with a historical perspective from the beginning have talked about pent-up demand. They also have provided ample examples of how the restaurant industry recovered after wars, economic downturns, and Mother Nature’s catastrophic events. It seems safe to bet on the same occurring in 2022. But wait, it’s not that simple.

If we expect to simply wait it out, then recovery may not happen as we hope. The restaurant industry over the past 24 months has been decimated with a far greater failure rate than it has ever experienced, customer expectations have changed, the supply chain is in disarray, and the once-enthusiastic labor pool is in terrible shape. The year 2022 will become the year of the restaurant only if the restaurant industry and its supporting stakeholders face those challenges and actively participate in a time of change.

We have a unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves and at the same time, this opportunity is supported by a flashing red-light warning. That sign says: Change to survive. Change to flourish in the future.

As we shift from hoping to eliminate COVID-19 to anticipating that it will be with us, in some form for years to come, we must find ways to effectively adapt and reinvent what we have been comfortable with for some time.

2022 will be the year the restaurant industry and culinary education unite to: address significant challenges; identify what tomorrow’s restaurant customers will need, want and expect; and approach everything they/we do with an open mind and willingness to evolve. A successful 2022 formula does not include waiting and seeing, hoping for the best, or returning to the way it was. Complacency is a formula for failure.

Collectively, those in the restaurant business and culinary education need to find answers to the following:

  • With concerns over supply chain challenges - what will restaurant menus look like in the future?
  • How can we set the stage for greater profitability in restaurants?
  • How do restaurants attract, train, reward, and retain employees?
  • How does the restaurant industry offer greater comfort levels with restaurant health and safety for both customers and employees?
  • How do restaurants become more efficient and accomplish more with fewer people?
  • How can restaurants build a “dining experience” in take out and home delivery options for customers?
  • How might restaurants and culinary schools collaborate more effectively in the process of training and teaching tomorrow’s chefs and managers?
  • How might culinary programs redesign their portfolio of options to best serve the needs of restaurants at all levels?
  • How can culinary education become more cost-effective for both the school and student?
  • What does the position of chef, manager, cook, server, and restaurateur look like post-pandemic and how should culinary schools change to prepare for this?
  • What role should online education and continuing education play in preparing individuals for a career in food?

The list of challenges and the need for change is far greater than this list details. However, the willingness to change is the most important first step. Everything must be on the table - push aside the sacred cows and start with a clean slate. Let’s work together to make 2022 a year for restaurant and culinary school reinvention and success.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER


Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..