Industry experts at LJR Hospitality Ventures, ConStrata Consulting, and FoodserviceResults announced the release of IMPACT! (Immediate, Measurement, Pivot, Actionable, Competitive, Tactics)

June 29, 2020

June 25, 2020 – Industry experts at LJR Hospitality Ventures, ConStrata Consulting, and FoodserviceResults announced the release of IMPACT! (Immediate, Measurement, Pivot, Actionable, Competitive, Tactics) a program developed by the partnership to support multi-unit foodservice operators in assessing their current operations, technology, and positioning as they
emerge from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with new challenges and opportunities.

Combining their unique experience and expertise in operations, technology, and data analytics, the joint IMPACT! Offering was the brainchild of industry thought leaders Larry Reinstein, CEO of LJR Hospitality Ventures, Robert Grimes, Founder of ConStrata, and Darren Tristano, CEO of FoodServiceResults.
IMPACT! provides a “holistic” assessment of existing key business processes, technology, consumer connections, digital footprint, and competitive metrics to provide recommendations that are immediately actionable while considering the reality of limited funds, time, and resources available. IMPACT! focuses on key areas that can immediately impact an operator’s ability to survive, take advantage of new opportunities and thrive in the “new normal.” Although uncertainty lies ahead, an operator can quickly implement the recommendations IMPACT! in 100-days.

IMPACT! begins with research followed by executive and departmental interviews, including a review of operations processes and technologies used to connect with the guest, provide service, and offer owners, operators and management key information needed for effective decision-making. This view, when coupled with data on the competitive landscape and market forecasts, provides a unique, clear, and customized view for the operator to act upon, leveraging what they already have in place and have invested in.

“It’s exciting to be working with ConStrata and LJR Hospitality Ventures to provide high-level advisory services through IMPACT! to operators who have be fundamentally disrupted with the current Covid-19 pandemic,” says Darren Tristano of FoodserviceResults. “The strength and expertise of the team at ConStrata in Technology, coupled with Larry Reinstein of LJR Hospitality Ventures’ keen view of operations allows us to provide sound strategic support to any size operator in need of a second set of eyes in a time when scaling back can dampen the customer experience.”
Recognizing the immediate needs of operators, IMPACT! is designed for quick delivery and is provided at a fixed fee. Add-on services are offered for multi-concept operators and those with Franchisees.
For more information regarding IMPACT!:,, or call +1-866-604-7833.

About LJR Hospitality Ventures: LJR Hospitality Ventures works together with restaurant owners and operators to identify opportunities and execute solutions to create profitable business strategies. We partner with our clients to provide an in-depth look at their business to achieve the level of success they envision for their restaurants. For more information contact: Larry Reinstein –, or call +1-704-661-0006.

About ConStrata Consulting: ConStrata’s experienced technology professionals and industry veterans help businesses navigate the challenges of technology investment and chart a winning course to greater efficiency and profitability. For more information contact: Toby Malbec –, or call +1 800-287-1811.

About FoodserviceResults: FoodserviceResults is a market research and consultancy based in the Chicago Market. Led by former Technomic President Darren Tristano, the firm relies on deep knowledge and experience in the foodservice industry to develop solutions for restaurant operators, foodservice suppliers, distributors, and other allied organizations. For more information contact: Darren Tristano –, or call +1 708-228-1427.


The Keys to Guest-Pleasing Fusion Cuisine

June 29, 2020


In 2008 then-unknown chef Roy Choi opened his food truck, Kogi Korean BBQ, in Los Angeles. Serving Korean-Mexican fusion food such as kimchi quesadillas, the concept ushered in a new era of cross-cultural mashups. Choi’s creativity gave chefs of all backgrounds license to push beyond tradition. His work also raised the question: If you can mix Korean food with Mexican, what can’t you mix?

Even a dozen years ago, fusion food was nothing new; Choi and other enterprising chefs simply brought it to prominence. For as long as people from different cultures have been fraternizing, there’s been a melding of flavors, techniques, and dishes. Now such combinations are ubiquitous.

“This is a real marker of a moment in time,” says Kara Nielsen, a food trend expert and consultant based in the Bay Area. “Fusion is how any cuisine functions. People immigrate and bring new ingredients; this is how cuisines evolved. This will flit through and a few things could stick. We’ll just have to wait and see what they are.”

Fusion restaurants can be very enticing to Americans, and it’s important for operators to put a more contemporary spin on items, says Darren Tristano, CEO of Chicago-based consultancy Foodservice Results. “There are so many flavors that are unexplored by American consumers so researching, testing, and offering new ingredients can be very exciting and create continued demand,” he says.

Three years ago Michael Ryan opened Flip Sigi, a Filipino taqueria in New York City. In that time, the concept has become so popular that Ryan is now looking to expand.

The food, he says, is not authentic Filipino but instead focuses on Filipino flavors such as calamansi (a citrus hybrid) and tamarind. The restaurant plays with these flavors but puts them in a format people can understand, such as tacos and rice bowls, because, as Ryan points out, many consumers are intimidated by Filipino cuisine.

Initially Ryan did try more authentic dishes, but it wasn’t a huge success. Staples like sisig, which is made with pig head, “freaked people out,” he says. To that end, he’s unlikely to offer other items, such as balut (fertilized duck egg, thus featuring a duck embryo).

“You have to listen to your guests,” he says. “We’re not looking to cater to the diehard Filipinos; we’re trying to be a little more mainstream.”

To that point, the crowd at Flip Sigi tends to be women aged 18–34. He says those patrons are foodies and often Instagram savants. “They are the ones looking for something interesting, and they’re aware of what’s going on,” he says.


Across the country, Gursewak Gill opened the first Curry Pizza House in Fremont, California, in 2012. What started as a single fast casual has now grown to nine locations, including one full-service outpost in downtown Palo Alto.

Gill, who grew up in India and moved to the U.S. in his teens, wanted to combine two cuisines he loved. “The idea was that all cultures can come in, and it’s a blend,” says Neelu Gill, director of operations and Gursewak’s wife.

Curry Pizza House offers traditional pizzas, but by far the most popular, accounting for about nine out of 10 orders, are the craft curry pizzas such as the Curry Chicken Masala and the Palak Paneer.

The traditional pizzas do well with kids and diners who prefer to play it safe, but Gill continues to push the envelope by offering dishes patrons may have never before encountered.

Wes Avila opened his food truck, Guerrilla Tacos, in Los Angeles in 2012. A classically trained chef born to a Mexican father and raised in L.A., he offered unorthodox fusion dishes such as foie gras tacos and sujuk sausage (a Middle Eastern food) with fried egg, arbol chile salsa, and sumac onions.

Avila now operates Guerrilla Tacos as a fast casual, but he has also transitioned part of the business to full-service, in the form of omakase dinners. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Guerrilla Tacos transforms into a fine-dining experience. For $95, guests are treated to a seven-course meal featuring ever-changing, fusion dishes.

At these dinners, Avila has free rein to flex his culinary muscles. His guiding post in creating new dishes? “To be authentic to me, to represent Los Angeles, and to interpret Mexican food through the eyes of an Angeleno,” he says. “It’s more important for me to enjoy making the food than try to replicate what someone else is doing.”


Shalom Japan in Brooklyn, New York, is a fusion of Jewish and Japanese food, reflecting the respective heritage of the husband-wife owners. Sawako Okochi trained at the New York Restaurant School before working as sous chef at Anita Lo and then head chef at The Good Fork. Her husband, Aaron Israel, previously worked under some of New York City’s most acclaimed chefs, including Tony Liu at August and Andrew Carmellini at A Voce.

Robert Sniffin worked with the couple as a server just after they opened in fall 2013 and recently returned to the restaurant as general manager.

“It’s important to know the rules and when to break them,” he says of Shalom Japan’s culinary mashups. “You can always find different ways to do things.”

Still, the menu isn’t exclusively fusion. Some dishes are simply Japanese (scallops with maitake mushrooms and miso butter) while others, like the Jew Egg (with hummus, spinach, pine nuts, currants, and feta) are more reflective of Jewish cuisine.

“I think when you get locked into fusion as an idea, you think it must be 50-50, but you can lose the essence of what you’re trying to do with your food if you do,” Sniffin says, adding that the couple has also experimented along the way. “We’ve done fluke dishes—steak dishes, schnitzel, duck—but we’ve streamlined the menu to make sure we’re providing the most ‘us’ dishes.”

A balancing act

Guests who gravitate toward fusion dishes tend to be curious and eager to learn more about different foods and cultures. With a captive audience, chefs have the enviable opportunity to bring old ingredients and cooking traditions together in new ways. In a sense, they are culinary ambassadors who welcome guests into new territory without overwhelming them.

“Diners still need education and bridges to new experiences, so chefs create those bridges,” Nielsen says. “The dishes often end up not as authentic as those intended for native diners.”

Still, there are limits to the combinations and applications of fusion. In some cases, the seasoning of one may clash with the spices of another. Other times, the cooking techniques are too dissimilar to reconcile. “There are fundamentals to how you build taste and flavor so one thing doesn’t drown out the other,” Nielsen says. “You can’t just slap together so many things that don’t taste good.”

That said, if something has proved too difficult to mesh in the past, it doesn’t mean an inventive chef might not finally crack the code. At the end of the day, the final product—and guest reaction—will determine which mashups work. Beyond that, anything goes.

“You can mix any cuisine types as long as the outcome is appealing,” Tristano says.

Future of Restaurants – Corona Time – June 10th Air Date

June 16, 2020


How many restaurants will close for good? Thirty year restaurant industry analyst Darren Tristano with FoodserviceResults joins show host/broker Michael Bull to discuss the state of the restaurant industry.

Listen to the Michael bull CCIM and Foodservice Results CEO and Industry Expert Darren Tristano discuss the ramifications of our industry, real estate and the Pandemic.

Future of Restaurants – Corona Time

Devastated US Restaurants Look to Landlords for Rescue

June 16, 2020

Food and Beverage Industry Seeks New Rent Structures, Partnerships to Survive COVID-19

By Linda Moss
CoStar News

June 12, 2020 | 4:17 P.M.

Link to Original Story

Some U.S. restaurants are going to great lengths to try to protect patrons during the pandemic. In Ohio, tables are partitioned by clear vinyl shower curtains in an attempt to create a safer haven for diners. In Ocean City, Maryland, a restaurant rolled out tables that look like large inner tubes so customers maintain appropriate 6-foot social distancing. And an upscale eatery in Virginia is using mannequins to fill empty seats as it keeps diners apart.

(The first of two parts examining the future of restaurants in the commercial real estate industry.)

While these initiatives may prompt chuckles, they also reflect serious business issues that run to heart of the survival of the food-and-beverage industry, a key component of the U.S. economy. Restaurants are trying to lure customers back in a public health environment in which officials say crowds risk increasing exposure to a potentially fatal illness like the coronavirus. And it’s an open question how long it will take for diners to feel comfortable enough to return.

Until patrons return, restaurant owners and landlords must figure out how to make ends meet. Some are considering lease changes making them joint-venture partners, or allowing payments to change with income or just not opening until they can reasonably expect customers will come.

Few are immune. National chains face challenges and independent restaurants — from high-end eateries to mom-and-pop operations — are ill equipped to survive monthslong shutdowns and, when they reopen, operating at less than 100% capacity. Many have already, or will, close permanently.

“This is the equivalent of the asteroid hitting Planet Restaurant,” said Phil Colicchio, Cushman & Wakefield executive managing director and co-lead of its food, beverage and entertainment consulting practice.

The numbers show the devastation to the industry. More than 8 million restaurant workers were laid off or furloughed, and the industry lost roughly $80 billion in revenue in March and April, according to the National Restaurant Association. Restaurants fail because of lack of cash flow, and COVID-19-related shutdowns have virtually stripped them of that, said Jeff McNeal, president of the hospitality consulting firm Fessel International.

For the commercial real estate industry, at the very least, permanent restaurant closings will leave landlords with vacant space that experts said won’t be easy to fill, at least immediately. The effects could be worse because, pre-pandemic, developers often cited restaurants as the must-have amenity, the secret sauce, to add vibrancy and appeal to shopping malls, office and apartment properties, and mixed-use projects that tout their “live-work-play” environments.

In the coming months and perhaps years, until there is a COVID-19 vaccine or other solution, those restaurants may not be able to survive paying fixed rents under traditional long-term leases. Some restaurateurs are looking for their rents to be adjusted as they are financially squeezed, struggling because they must operate dining rooms at smaller capacities to observe social distancing and invest in costly COVID-19-related safety measures such as face masks, design changes, temperature checking and more frequent cleaning to keep employees and customers as safe as they can be.

Restaurants have devised creative ways to help their customers feel safer. Kim Shapiro, the owner of the Twisted Citrus cafe in North Canton, Ohio, uses clear plastic shower curtains hung from rolling racks as protective barriers for her seated customers. Revolution Event Design in Baltimore created the special bumper tables that debuted at the restaurant Fish Tales in Maryland, and the firm will customize them for other eateries to use. And The Inn at Little Washington, an upscale restaurant in Washington, Virginia, has seated mannequins at some of its table so its dining room looks occupied, even with social distancing in place.

Even when restaurants across the nation can reopen, restaurateurs don’t know how quickly sales will return to prior levels. When Georgia first allowed its restaurants to reopen their dining rooms in April by allowing only 10 customers per 500 square feet, large numbers of patrons weren’t flowing in, according to Anita Summers, an architect and principal in the Atlanta office of the Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, a design and architectural firm specializing in hospitality and restaurants. A coalition of local restaurateurs even balked at the Peach State’s early timetable for reopening eateries.

When the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain had several outbreaks of food-related illnesses that sickened more than 1,000 customers in several states, it took time for people to return, said Darren Tristano, CEO of consulting firm FoodserviceResults. He predicted a similar scenario will play out because of the ongoing pandemic.

“Consumers are very forgiving, but it took them [Chipotle] 18 months before things started to get back on track,” he said. “This is affecting all of us, and those that are older, those who are affluent, those who have underlying health risks are probably going to wait three to six more months.” And, he added, “I think they’ll be a lot of consumers that just hold out for the next 12 months because they fear for losing their life.”

Revenue Sharing Versus Rent

For restaurants, options such as short-term leases and paying landlords based on revenue sharing instead of having to fork over a set monthly rent could be the lifeline they need to weather the current coronavirus pandemic, and a potential second wave of infections. In some cases, the typical landlord-tenant relationship will need to evolve into a partnership, a joint venture with developers willing to invest in tenant improvements to give eateries a lift, according to Colicchio, an attorney as well as consultant who has advised more than 50 James Beard Award-winning chefs and restaurateurs.

“From our experience and data, and seeing it working already prior to the pandemic, it’s going to be the commercial real estate industry that is going to be able to dictate how quickly and how sustainably the restaurant industry will come back,” said Colicchio.

Restaurants in the United States occupy 1.4 billion square feet, according to an estimate from CoStar. The National Restaurant Association in a letter told Congress in April that 15% of the nation’s restaurants had closed permanently or were at risk of closing shortly. Based on CoStar’s data, that would equate to more than 200 million square feet of empty retail space. Other forecasters have far more dire predictions. In April, a report by UBS said as many as 20% of U.S. restaurants may end up permanently shuttered.

About 7 of 10 U.S.restaurants are independent, not affiliated with a franchise brand, and as such are the most vulnerable, according to food and beverage industry data.

“You will see a lot of independent full-service restaurants closing permanently,” Tristano said. He pegged overall permanent U.S. restaurant closings this year between 12% and 13%.

But even big chains are at risk. The likelihood of publicly traded restaurants defaulting on their debt has jumped since the start of the year because of the pandemic, according to a recent report by S&P Global Market Intelligence. As of mid-May, the chance of default was 24%, compared with 5% in the early months of 2020, S&P said. That calculation is based on the odds that a company will default on its debt within the next year based on fluctuations in its stock price and other risks based on its country and industry.

Perhaps one of the biggest reality checks from the COVID-19 crisis has been that the public, and some business sectors, never realized how vulnerable the restaurant sector was, some industry executives said. Independent restaurateurs often get their financing from friends and family, and have limited or nonexistent cash reserves, leading to the devastation and massive layoffs the food and beverage sector has seen.

“I think landlords have been very forgiving [to restaurants] in the short term,” Summers said. “And in the long term, I kind of think this has been eye-opening for landlords and everybody else to see” the financial fragility of the restaurant industry.

Short-Term Vacancies

The reopening rules make up a patchwork, varying state to state, with the National Restaurant Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issuing their own health-safety guidelines for eateries. In some cases, restaurants were initially allowed to reopen dine-in business at only 25% capacity, while others have been allowed to reopen at 50%.

Under state restrictions, restaurants can increase that capacity as time goes on, but the reality is that they must be able to hang on until there is some semblance of normalcy. And that math just doesn’t work financially for some restaurateurs, who have opted not to reopen yet as a result.

“That is the biggest concern I am hearing,” Summers said. “We have gotten to a state where before all this, pre-COVID, the profit margins were just razor thin already — food costs and staff costing more and more. Most restaurants are trying to provide more benefits for their staff, which never used to happen, back in the day, so that’s costing more. And then leases are more. They’re just out of touch with what a restaurant can afford and so, especially a fine-dining place with higher food costs, it’s tough. It was difficult pre-COVID-19 to make a profit. Now, you’ve got 50% less table or even less than that.”

Danny Meyers, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, has said he won’t reopen his fine-dining eateries while capacity limits are still in place and there is no COVID-19 vaccine. The company, which laid off more than 2,000 employees in March, owns eateries such as the Gramercy Cafe, Union Square Cafe, The Modern and Marta.

Tristano said such decisions make sense because “most [fine-dining] restaurants need to fill 80% of their tables in peak time to stay afloat. With these restrictions, it’s going to be hard.”

Landlords will end up with vacancies when restaurants can’t hold out, and it may be hard to find tenants for that space initially, several executives said.

“What this does mean is that we’re going to have more vacant restaurants, and it will be in the short term more difficult to back fill them for a number of reasons,” said James Cook, real estate firm JLL’s director of retail research for the Americas.

“The restaurateurs out there that are closing, they’ll eventually be able to [do] whatever it is — work through bankruptcy — and then start a new restaurant eventually,” he said. “But you have to find new backers. It doesn’t happen overnight. Long term, I think it’s an opportunity for a lot reinvention for these small restaurants. But in the short term, it’s going to be tough for landlords to backfill these spaces because tenant improvements are really expensive for restaurants.”

The obvious candidates to lease that space will be other restaurants, tenants that can use the features and equipment already in place, according to Cook. Restaurant space has features such as pipes, grease traps and kitchens that make it harder for a landlord to shift it to a different type of use, Tristano said. But the battered restaurant industry is in no position for a quick rebound where it can swiftly snap up and lease vacant space.

Partnering Up

In order for restaurants to survive despite the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath, they are going to need an assist from landlords, said Cook and others. And it makes sense, because in some cases restaurants almost serve as loss leaders for developers, an attraction for other tenants and a way to build foot traffic at a property, according to Cook.

“Restaurants are a key component of mixed-use development, ground floor of multifamily and office,” he said. “A lot of developers look at them as amenities, not as money makers, which is actually good news if you own a restaurant in one of those locations, because the landlord is much more likely to cut you a break because they’re making their money on the apartment rents. They’re making their money on the office rents, depending on what kind of projects we’re talking about. So they get rent premiums [on those rents] because they have the cool restaurants in the lobby.”

Several large real estate investment trusts are giving strapped restaurant tenants one to three months of rent forgiveness, according to McNeal.

Savvy developers have already been partnering with their restaurants, at locations such as Hudson Yards in New York City, the much-celebrated mixed-use project from Related Cos. on Manhattan’s West Side, according to Colicchio.

“The restaurateur and the real estate developer have to get much more comfortable with the joint-venture model,” Colicchio said. “Those restaurants at Hudson Yards in New York are effectively joint ventures between the restaurateurs and the developer.”

In partnership scenarios, landlords can build out a restaurant space for its occupant, or perhaps fund the restaurateur’s working capital costs, according to Colicchio. Landlords can then craft a deal in which they will be repaid for their investment, perhaps taking a percent of revenue.

Related didn’t respond to several emails seeking comment. But CEO Jeff Blau recently told CNBC that Hudson Yards has startup companies and restaurants that are going to have a difficult time paying their rent.

The firm will work with them on a payment plan or “whatever needs to get done,” Blau told CNBC, “and hopefully our lenders and partners will work with us so we can accommodate them.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that some retail tenants at Hudson Yards pay Related a percentage of their sales, not a fixed monthly rent.

Rents Eat Into Sales

In the pre-coronavirus environment, fixed-rent costs didn’t typically cause a restaurant to fail, according to Colicchio.

“It is rarely rent that puts a restaurant in its grave, usually the murder weapon of a restaurant failure is poor labor management, poor food-cost management and failure to achieve top-line revenue,” Colicchio said.

But that was before COVID-19. While rents traditionally were some 8% of a restaurant’s sales, now rent has ballooned to as much as 20% of sales with eateries operating at a fraction of their usual capacity, according to McNeal.

Colicchio sai, in general, he doesn’t believe restaurants should have fixed-rent leases like other kinds of retailers.

“The idea of treating a restaurant tenant the same way you would treat a sneaker store makes no sense,” he said. “It never made sense to me, but that’s me. The expense of operating a restaurant and the business of operating a restaurant, even though it might be in the same square footage as the sneaker store, is a completely different thing. A sneaker store has a moderate labor force, a fixed cost of goods and is usually a business that has cash reserves. Yet sometimes getting a person to the sneaker store requires having a restaurant in your space, because it’s the amenity” that consumers like.

Going forward, Colicchio said, there may be a silver lining to the coronavirus outbreak.

“My deepest hope is that a more efficient, more effective profitable restaurant model can come out of this,” he said. “My instinct says that it will. My firm belief, as opposed to a hope, is it will be the commercial real estate industry that brings that resurrection.”

Restaurants Could Adapt to Coronavirus Era as Food Halls, Parisian Parlors

June 16, 2020

Large Common Spaces Give Patrons Sense of Safety Amid Outbreak

Architect Ed Eimer is a food hall advocate who maintains that the model could be an important recovery vehicle for the U.S. restaurant industry, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. And he’s not alone.

(The second of two parts examining the future of restaurants in commercial real estate. Read the first part here: Devastated US Restaurants Look to Landlords for Rescue.)

Eimer is president of Eimer Design, a Philadelphia-based architectural firm. He has been involved in some capacity in the design of 40 food halls and said some real estate projects are now changing course. His work includes the Inner Rail Food Hall in Omaha, Nebraska, as well as an outdoor mall project in Miami called The Oasis.

“We actively are having developers who were developing projects as full-service restaurants pivoting on that and moving to a collective environment because it gives them a lot more protection,” said Eimer. “A well-designed food hall has so much more flexibility than full-service or fast-casual restaurants and offer a much higher level of safe socialization.”

It can seem counterintuitive that food halls, designed to lure big crowds in an indoor space, might be an answer, but Eimer and other architects argue that the large spaces provide flexibility for social distancing in the pandemic. In addition to working on food halls, Eimer and other architects have been called on to incorporate health and safety features in existing or planned eateries. The challenge is to seamlessly install those new elements so they are not intrusive but still make diners and restaurant employees feel safe, according to design experts.

The number of U.S. food halls was dramatically rising before COVID-19 struck this year. Cushman & Wakefield released a report in May that identified 223 open and operating food hall projects, pre-coronavirus, with over 165 announced as in development. Some critics have claimed the category was approaching saturation. But now Cushman & Wakefield sees food halls as a more important, sustainable and permanent part of the dining scene.

“Large swaths of the independent restaurant community are going to need a rebuilding mechanism; one with lower inherent risks for all, a better operational model that allows for higher profit margins, and low barrier-to-entry,” the report said. “Food halls will be where the industry rebuilds first.”

While food halls often seemed crowded before the pandemic, limiting the number of people can mean added space. Amid the pandemic, seating in food halls can be easily switched around. In the projects he’s working on, Eimer is including more seats per vendor, so those extra chairs can act as place holders to separate patrons from other diners. The large common dining areas that are the hallmark of food halls can give patrons a sense of being in a safe yet social setting, with less risk of contracting the coronavirus, according to Eimer.

“We have to remember that food halls are the purveyors of lifestyle and community,” he said. “That’s why they’re popular. We can go back and socialize again, but we want to do it in a safer environment. The socialization environment of a food hall will become even more popular.”

Compared to a full-service restaurant, a food hall is “a larger space, so there’s the ability to spread out and have 100 people in a 10,000-square-foot space instead of 100 people in a 3,500-square-foot space,” Eimer said.

Of course, Eimer has a vested interest in promoting food halls as a solution for reopening in the wake of the arrival of the coronavirus: His firm would benefit. And he has worked on projects with Phil Colicchio, a Cushman & Wakefield executive managing director who co-authored the food hall report.

Even so, they say the financial model for food halls is obvious to others in the industry who aren’t food hall builders because the model helps independent restaurateurs in terms of capital expenditures and other costs, according to Colicchio.

“If a developer will build out a food-hall space, the overhead required for the restaurant to participate in that space as a vendor is very modest, minuscule when you compare it to a standalone restaurant,” he said.

Cushman & Wakefield’s report went into more detail.

“The economic model of a food hall operates most efficiently on an all-inclusive percentage rent,” according to the report. “Revenue generated by the food hall vendors is shared, then distributed by the owner and venue operator of the food hall to resolve operating expenses (including a rent component), with heightened attention on revenue sharing of beverage sales.”

Projects Forge Ahead

Restaurant design firms across the country, including the Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, are responsible for preparing dining rooms for the COVID-19 era. The restaurant projects that company has “on the boards are moving forward fast and furious,” according to Anita Summers, an architect and principal in the firm’s Atlanta office.

“I think a lot of the people we are working for are just thinking there’s going to be a vaccine,” she said. “Most of our clients are just moving forward thinking there is going to be an ‘after,’ [when] we’ll be able to open at the same density that we have opened before. A few of ours have asked for planning for immediate purposes to space everything 6 feet apart. So we are seeing that.”

The challenge is to incorporate safety features — be it acrylic partitions, sanitizer stations, sneeze guards or using plants and mirrors to space tables — that appear to be seamless design elements, according to Summers. Wider aisles and more defined queuing spaces may be part of the equation, designers said.

“It will different,” Summers said. “There will be less energy in a dining room with tables spaced apart, but I do think with mirrors and open kitchens it can be done.”

Restaurants make most of their profits from beverages, not food, and bars on premise will no longer be allowed to have crowds three-people deep for cocktails during Friday happy hour. One way to address that issue is to create an area at the center of a bar where patrons can stand in line to order drinks, according to Eimer.

For bars, Summers said, she envisions a whole new kind of setup.

“It just seems to me maybe we go back to kind of a Paris parlor, like a salon, where there are beautiful little areas where four people or six people can be together, but they’re 6 feet apart from the next group,” she said. “And it’s a luxe kind of environment, and your drink might cost twice as much.”

With the pandemic still posing a danger to the public, restaurants are looking to expand their permitted capacity by offering outdoor dining, making up for revenue they are losing from their indoor dining rooms, which have been closed by the pandemic. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio just unveiled his “Open Restaurants” plan, which will expand the areas outside where eateries can seat and serve their patrons, including parking spaces and the miles of streets the mayor has closed to vehicular traffic for pedestrians.

“Any possible area outside the restaurant that is fair game for adding tables should absolutely be leveraged during this time, as outside dining is preferred for air circulation and lower risk for transmission,” Summers said.

“For example, we’re consulting with a local restaurateur to determine how he can repurpose an existing courtyard to cater to guests in creative new ways,” she said. “In some cases, restrictions are also relaxing on sidewalk seating to help restaurants add seats in a safe way. Even for guests that want to dine indoors, restaurants can still use outdoors spaces to create waiting areas that are designed for having a drink in groups of twos, fours and sixes, each spaced away from the next party while they wait for a table.”

Some industry analysts predict COVID-19-related regulations on restaurants will be in place for some time. Darren Tristano, CEO of consulting firm FoodserviceResults, expects the precautions to last “until we have a vaccine,” or at least until there aren’t any additional outbreaks.

“Twelve to 18 months would probably be reasonable,” Tristano said.

James Cook, JLL director of research and retail for the Americas, predicted restaurant safety measures will be phased out slowly. And even after some of those restrictions are lifted, a coronavirus flare-up could result in them being reinstated, according to Cook.

“Two years down the road, after all this is over, I do think that some of these measures will remain in place,” Cook said. “It will not be the masks but it will be a focus on visible cleanliness. And what I mean by that is that you can’t see a virus but you can see all the other things in a restaurant, how clean they keep the floors, how tidy the uniforms are.”