News Mar 13, 2023
By Dominic Calabrese, Past PCC President
The latest developments in Chicago's food and beverage industry were served up by an outstanding panel of experts at PCC's luncheon meeting on March 8. The luncheon was hosted by Carlucci's Chicago, 400 E. Randolph, which offered guests an assortment of tasty appetizers.
Sharing their thoughts were David Manilow, creator of the popular Chicago-based program, "Check, Please!" who also has a new podcast through Crain's Audio Studio called "The Dining Table;" Ally Marotti, who writes about consumer products, food restaurants and retail for Crain's Chicago Business; and John Digles, executive vice president and the Midwest GM at MWW Group who serves as a senior leader of the firm's Health and Wellness practice.
Digles, who moderated the discussion, is a Golden Trumpet award-winning public relations and marketing executive who has taken top honors for his work in the food and beverage arena.
The panel notes that one of the major developments impacting the Chicago dining scene has been the growth of new restaurants in the suburbs.
"There are some interesting things going on in the suburbs, especially the North Shore area," Manilow says.
All three panelists attributed the growth in suburban dining to such factors as fears about crime in the city and changing lifestyles brought on by the pandemic.
"Because many suburbanites who normally would patronize city restaurants are working from home, dining options in the suburbs are becoming more attractive," Marotti maintains. Along these lines, she points out that dining out on a weeknight such as a Tuesday or Wednesday is gaining in popularity.
While acknowledging that the restaurant industry hasn't fully recovered from the pandemic, Digles observes that due to rising wages, the hospitality sector in general is the "hottest place to hire right now."
Manilow notes that technological innovations like using TikTok to make restaurant reservations will continue to impact the dining scene.
Turning to trends in grocery shopping, the panel points out that grocery stores are the number one place where people see inflation.
"As a result, we are seeing customers change their buying habits and purchase more brands with private labels," Marotti says, adding that while heritage brands like Kraft and Heinz will likely continue to thrive thanks to having deep pockets in invest in innovation, research and development, smaller brands who don't have those resources may fare less favorably.
She admits to be following with great interest, the possible merger between Albertson's and Kroger's to see what impact that could have on consumers' buying power.
Looking to the future, Digles thinks that restaurants may take another look at their marketing and PR budgets as a way to help recruit new workers to cope with the ongoing staff shortages that have plagued the industry even before the pandemic set in.