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To operate a restaurant, some things are the same as they’ve always been. Inside the four walls, the focus is on hot food, clean tables, and good service. But in today’s social and mobile-centric world, the customer is completely different, and the employee is completely different. What has made restaurants successful in the past is not what will make them successful in the future. They are having to adapt quickly—or die.

In a recent episode of the Talent Playbook Podcast, we talked to Joni Doolin, founder and CEO of TDn2K, a market research organization that provides insights and analytics for the restaurant industry. Having founded this organization in 1995, Joni has seen the evolution of the industry and experienced restaurant industry trends first-hand.

Two Seismic Shifts Happening in the Restaurant Industry

We asked Joni: What restaurant industry trends have caused the most upheaval, and what are the biggest challenges facing the industry today? Here’s what she said.

1. The on-demand delivery model

There’s a fast food restaurant outside our office. There’s a drive-through, which is always quite full. There’s place to pick up call-ahead or text-in orders. There’s a constant coming and going of third-party delivery drivers (from services like Uber Eats or Grubhub). But you look inside the restaurant, and it’s empty.

Restaurants are trying to manage the consumer’s expectation of ‘I want it now.’ They’re having to balance all kind of third-party ordering and delivery services, or they’re having to shift their business model to focus on delivery versus in-store experience. It’s an enormous complexity for our industry, and something we’re still working to figure out.

2. The onslaught of information

In the past decade, we’ve gone from driving with our eyes closed to TMI (too much information). It’s happened that fast. Think about insights or analytics teams. They didn’t exist ten years ago. Now, we’re swimming in so much data that we need teams of people to tell us what it means, what to pay attention to, and what to act on.

We’re even seeing restaurant companies with data analysts on the HR team. That’s how important people and talent analytics have become. In the past, if you were going to open a hot dog stand at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, you would know foot traffic, you would know consumer profiles, you would know competitive pricing with in a 2-mile radius… All of that was readily available, but there were no metrics on the HR side. We’ve come to realize that those metrics matter too, and have a huge impact on the success of a business. But, it can quickly become a mess of data where we need dedicated people to make sense of it and help companies understand how to use it to their advantage.

Bonus Question: Which restaurants rise to the top?

Throughout her career, Joni has worked with all different types of restaurant companies. Young companies, established companies, “it” companies (and not-so-“it” companies) from fine dining to quick service and everything in between. Each year, Joni’s team at TDn2K recognizes outstanding restaurant performance through their Restaurant Industry Best Practices Award. In 23 years of giving this award, Joni has found that top-performing restaurants—when looking at financial performance, human capital performance, and guest satisfaction performance, as well as work practices in areas such as community involvement and employee engagement—come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter if you have high guest checks or low guest checks, she says. It doesn’t matter if you’re the industry darling or the hot new trend.

What does matter, then? What ultimately determines a restaurant’s success?

Joni’s answer came easily in one word: Leadership.

For more on restaurant industry trends, and wisdom about embracing change, check out episode 9 of the Talent Playbook Podcast with Joni Doolin.

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