Sit-Down Dining Poised To Stand Back Up

Sit-Down Dining Poised To Stand Back Up
As more consumers opt for meals at home, spending their eating-out dollars on gourmet cupcakes for dessert, the past few years have seen a shift in America’s eating habits.

But market news suggests the culinary industry appears positioned to re-focus on traditional dining, as now the novelty food market seems to be shrinking.

Buoyed by reality television series featuring bakeries and cupcake shops–often incorporating competition between such establishments–many markets have become saturated with the products, to the fatigue of buyers.

While some in the industry insist the niche remains strong, the numbers seem clear for firms like Crumbs, whose earnings are 22% below the year’s projections.

Certain markets remain strong, and new bakeries are still opening up. But by and large, cupcakes seem to be riding the wave of the 1990s frozen yogurt craze.

Time will tell whether the struggles in novelty baked goods are a temporary hiccup in sales or the precursors to a greater downturn, but the shift away from display cases and wrought-iron chairs has restaurateurs excited at the potential for an uptick in business.

Restaurant supply firms–especially those that provide wholesale towels, garments, and linens, like Image Textiles–stand to see an uptick in orders as sit-down dining returns. While most bakeries utilize chef’s apparel in quantities comparable to restaurants, table linens and waitstaff garments have significant room for growth as meal-based eateries expand.

Purveyors of wholesale foods expect a shift in their shipments as well, with some decrease in baking inputs like flour and sugar while meats and vegetables bounce back. Suppliers expect to see a scramble for available contracts with farms and agricultural cooperatives as demand surges for savory foods.

The real estate market appears in line for an impact as well. Free-standing food service facilities have declined in value and proven increasingly difficult to move. Most are difficult to re-purpose, so they languish on the market for interminable months.

The flip side of the coin does not concern them. Because most trendy bakeries utilize smaller locations, such as vintage downtown buildings or narrow units in strip malls, they are more easily diverted into other uses should a baking tenant shut down.

Probably the most immediate in line for good news with the return of fine dining are the waitstaff, bartenders, and bussers who have been jockeying for ever-scarcer work as consumers have supplanted restaurant spending with bakery spending.

Most bakeries employ few frontline personnel and have no staff working the floor, so the potential for new establishments (or expansion at existing ones) presents real earning opportunities for non-kitchen staff, as well as for chefs whose expertise ranges beyond baked goods.

The American palate has proven notoriously fickle over the decades, moving from 1950s diners to 1980s microwaved fare, then into the foodie craze of the last decade that has stocked refrigerators with lemongrass and pomegranates.

While the ultimate fate of specialty bakeries remains undetermined, trends point to the choosy American dine looking toward sit-down meals over high-dollar desserts.

Sam Peters