The idea of food isn’t what it used to be. Before, it was basic with limited options. Now, with the advent of new technologies and concepts, restaurants need to look for innovative ways of staying relevant. As Vice President of Third Lake Capital of Tampa, Jennifer Paul put it, "If you don't innovate, you'll get left behind."

Bring In the Food Experts

wine, beer, tea, coffee
Mary Putulin

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Honors College and Kate Tiedemann College of Business recently hosted a special food event: A Taste of Innovation: Food and Foodies in Tampa Bay and Beyond. Moderated by Mike Martin of Mike’s Pies, the audience had a chance to pick the brains of foodie panelists and hear their thoughts on both the current state and the future of food.

The theme for the night was innovation and how to stay relevant. It's 2017 and we are able to access food in a variety ways. There are delivery services like Uber Eats and Grub Hub as well as meal prep kits that are delivered straight to your home like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Why go out to eat when you can have food delivered to your house for a meal ready in minutes?

How Do Restaurants Stay Hip?

Jennifer works for Third Lake Capital, a restaurant investing company in Tampa, and discussed how innovation comes from competition. She has noticed millennials tend to prefer local breweries over chain bars and grills. She says adding local brews to her restaurants is a simple and effective way to appeal to the millennial crowd. 

Know Your Food

roast beef, lettuce, beef, cheese, pastrami, bread, sandwich
Mary Putulin

To Andy Salyards of St. Petersburg's Urban Restaurant Group, innovation means knowing exactly what you’re feeding your customers and where the food is coming from. He gave the audience the entire rundown of what made up his pastrami sliders that were served at the food tasting before the panel. He wants the customers to know what’s in the food he serves. 

Menu Modifications

One of the most common "innovations" the panel discussed is modifying menus to be sensitive to various diets. Salyards mentioned his restaurant offers a Portobello pastrami sandwich for those who don’t eat meat or if customers want to do something for "Meatless Mondays". There are adjustments that need to be made to menus to show dietary options. That way, there’s transparency between the restaurant and the consumer.

The innovations the panelists highlighted are just the beginning when it comes to staying hip with food trends. Salyards admits that many restauranteurs borrow ideas from others in the industry and modify it to suit their own businesses. It doesn't take much to enhance a customer's experience or add new items to the menu. But small changes can make a big difference.

I know for myself, I’m more interested in going to local joints that aren’t chains because those menus are different and my experiences are always positive. Local restaurants are more unique and sometimes include local brands. I think it helps us learn the history of our city through the foods we eat.