Two weeks ago, restaurant industry professionals gathered in Toronto to learn from one another, discover new management strategies and food trends, connect with vendors, and dive deep into this year’s theme: Heart and Hustle. After kicking off with a beautiful smudging ceremony led by Anishinaabe cultural consultant Kim Wheatley, the event began.
The RC Show is part trade show, part restaurant leadership conference, and an overall great networking opportunity for the food and beverage industry. Attendees loved watching the always-exciting competitions, like the Bocuse D’Or, the Beyond the Rail cocktail competition, and the oyster shucking competition. They also spent time sampling delicious products like cachaça and kofte, and checking out the latest in restaurant technology, from leveled-up dishwasher machines to online ordering platforms.
Industry leaders like Trevor Lui of Quell Now and the Highbell Group, Sam Kashani of Too Good to Go, and Juanita Dickson of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group shed light on some of the most pressing issues in the industry today. They touched on food and labor costs, debt, employee mental health, and more, inspiring audiences to embrace change and the infinite opportunities ahead.
It was an amazing three days, and we spent lots of time at our creative diner-inspired booth where industry professionals could come explore the ways DoorDash can partner with restaurants to grow their businesses.
Here’s a recap of ten of the most prevalent themes and consumer trends at this year’s RC show.
10 biggest trends and themes seen at RC Show Toronto 2023
1. Stabilizing inflation and restaurant operations
Keep an eye on your metrics at all times, and align your budget and profit goals with your food cost thresholds. Both profit margin and COGS should always be taken into account. If the cost of an ingredient becomes too much to bear, find ways to adjust pricing or portions to make it work — or find a new supplier.
Simplify your menu and get strict about dish portioning — both these strategies can yield massive reductions in food waste.
2. Generating more business with multiple revenue channels and great branding
During challenging economic times, businesses still need to keep generating more revenue — enough to cover rising operational costs and keep the business profitable. At various sessions, industry experts advised that restaurant operators invest deeply in multiple revenue streams and in their branding. Adding revenue channels like delivery, takeout, catering, and meal kits can help you reach more customers more frequently.
The National Restaurant Association recently found that 55% of diners say ordering takeout or delivery is an essential part of their lifestyle — so only offering on-premise dining means you’re only meeting the needs of about half your potential customers.
After the pandemic, people are ordering more food at home. We have to focus more on delivery – we’re looking at how packaging maintains our food quality and how fast we can deliver.
You can list your business on various delivery and takeout apps, and integrating a product like DoorDash Storefront, which offers commission-free online ordering for your website, can significantly boost revenue. It’s also worth it to proactively build a great delivery customer experience.
It’s also important to build your brand online and make it as engaging as possible. In an era where consumers have dozens of options no matter what kind of food they’re looking for, ensure you stand out online by using video to tell your food and brand story.
3. Building a supportive workplace culture + psychological safety as the key to recruiting and retention
Kris Hall, of The Burnt Chef project, led an engaging and moving session on the importance of mental health support for restaurant workers and owners.
Raia “Coach” Carey spoke on the role of managers and owners in creating environments where employees from all walks of life can feel truly included and elevated. And Chistina Veira, of Toronto’s wildly successful Bar Mordecai, moderated a panel on building a healthy bar culture that supports employees and provides customers with memorable experiences.
Finally, WSPS presented a session on psychological safety in restaurants. One major takeaway was that managers and owners shouldn’t assume what their workers need in order to feel safe — they have to ask them.
4. Sustainable restaurants are reducing waste and promoting mindful consumption
Younger consumers continue to actively seek out sustainable food and beverage products, and love to support restaurants with good sustainability practices. The Eco Pavilion helped attendees learn about how to navigate Canada’s ban on single-use plastics.
Attendees also learned about food waste and how to cut it way down to increase efficiency and profit. In a panel, “Selling Surplus Food is Good for Business” hosted by Too Good To Go’s Sam Kashimi, experts discussed innovative ways to reduce waste and how to deal with surplus food — including selling it on Too Good To Go.
5. NO/LO: meeting and exceeding the needs of sober-curious consumers
One of the biggest consumer trends we saw at the show was non-alcoholic beverages — there was significantly bigger focus on no or low alcohol (ie, “no/lo”) options this year compared to the 2022 RC Show, indicating that this trend is really taking off. Sarah Kate led a compelling session on building a profitable no/lo alcohol menu that leads to a more inclusive restaurant and repeat customers. Sober or sober-curious customers will remember where they were able to easily find a delicious and celebratory drink without alcohol, and they’re willing to come back for more.
Kate suggests highlighting your no/lo alcohol offerings — not putting them at the very back of your drinks menu. These drinks are extremely profitable and are in increasingly high demand, so showcase them!
We also learned from Ipsos that taste and flavor are paramount for no/lo alcohol customers, and they don’t want to sacrifice quality. They’re willing to pay for premium no/lo options if given the chance. Over in the Bar Pavilion, attendees sampled products from exhibitors like Clearsips’ elegant zero-proof options, Harmon’s Non-Alc Craft Brewing, and Lyre’s non-alcoholic classic spirits line, to name a few. Plus, Better Rhodes Canada led an engaging Taste & Learn workshop.
6. Financing and real estate intel for restaurateurs in today’s economic climate
Farm Credit Canada ran a great session on how Canadian food businesses can prepare to get funding. Check out their Business Ratios calculator for Food and Beverage businesses looking for a loan, as well as their Net Worth Statement template.
In another session, OMG Real Estate provided real estate and lease negotiation tips for restaurant operators, plus insights on choosing the perfect location that balances amenities and cost.
7. Social media as a key growth lever for restaurants
In a session called Turn Neighbours into Regulars with Social Media, social media expert Dre Pao shared all about what to expect when you start building your social media presence, including the high highs and low lows that come as you iron out your social strategy and overall restaurant marketing plan.
He said that it’s important for restaurants to vet who they hire to run their online channels — but that once they’re on board, trust they know what they’re doing. Some months won’t perform as well as others, and it takes trial and error to find out what each restaurant’s audience loves.
8. Menu engineering: a bottom-line gamechanger
In an extremely informative session by David Hopkins, President of The Fifteen Group, attendees learned to maximize profits by analyzing the profitability and sales of each menu item. This yields four types of menu items: Puzzlers, Stars, Opportunities, and Dogs, each with their own course of action.
Puzzlers, which are high profit but low sales, usually need a marketing boost and better placement on the menu.
Stars, which are high profit and high sales, require no change.
Opportunities, which sell well but are not profitable, are typically underpriced and can be improved with a slight price increase.
Dogs, which don’t sell well and aren’t profitable, likely need to be taken off the menu entirely.
Educate your customers, so they’re not ordering the same thing over and over again. Give them choices and make sure they know their options. Make sure your customers have the best possible ordering experience.
9. How customer data collection can help boost revenue
In a session on the future of restaurants, speakers from Square discussed customer segmentation, saying it’s an important aspect of any restaurant marketing plan.
A great CRM system can help you learn about your customers and what they want from your business. Then, when it’s time to choose target audiences for social ads (or recipient lists for email newsletters), easily accessible customer data and preferences will help make for more effective marketing.
At least once, if not twice each year, evaluate your restaurant technology stack and see what’s working efficiently, and what could use an update.
10. Diversity and inclusion in restaurants
In an educational session, Chef Philman George and Elle Asiedu of The Re-Seasoning Coalition shared experiences and statistics on anti-Black racism in the restaurant industry. The Re-Seasoning Coalition is a non-profit dedicated to helping the restaurant industry improve representation of Black Canadians, and they offer training to restaurants looking to improve the experience for Black employees and customers alike.
Continuing to stay educated on racism — and knowing how to respond when it happens — isn’t just the right thing to do: it also helps attract conscious customers. More than half (58%) of Canadians aged 18-34 want to support food businesses with a clear emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can watch the full Re-Seasoning Coalition webinar here.
In another session called Black Excellence in Foodservice: Turning Passion into Performance, four Black food entrepreneurs shared their success stories and tips for emerging Black-owned businesses. SK Cookks shared how their restaurant invested in creating an immersive experience from the moment you enter with a mural that makes you feel like you’re right in Lagos.
Margarette Leandre from CharisMaggie TV gave her insights on how apps like DoorDash can help restaurants to be more equitable while promoting growth.
Delivery apps help restaurants get discovered on the app by those who can’t go there physically. Better accessibility is beneficial to restaurants.
Learn how DoorDash can help your business in 2023 and beyond
At our booth on the trade show floor, we were delighted to chat with so many incredible restaurant professionals. We can’t wait to work with you this year and beyond. Get to know our Merchant Suite and our Entrepreneurship & Access Program, and find out how DoorDash can help you reach new customers, boost revenue, and become a neighbourhood favourite.