A restaurateur concerned about the state of his industry recently asked me what I thought the future of restaurants might be.
I’m no futurist and have no crystal ball, but it seems pretty clear that the already competitive industry will only continue to get tougher. Get ready for accelerated change that will bless diners with a wider array of options from unexpected players, but bring pain to those who can’t see beyond their direct competitors.
No doubt restaurants are already feeling the pain of grocery stores taking a share of their market with their hot bars and other quick dining concepts, and coming next year to a neighborhood near you, grocery store-managed, full-service restaurants.
Market forces are challenging everyone to innovate, so any business with a food- service component is competition. Diners’ increased sophistication and needs push everyone to up their game. Here’s a look at just two of these challengers.
Various locations, consolidatedtheatres.com
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of dinner and a movie at the movie theater. I’m not talking any old dinner but one themed to tie in with specific films, sort of a mukbang (videoed feast allowing others to vicariously eat with you) brought to life. So, if watching an Italian film, pasta may be the order of the day, or if it’s a romantic comedy, you can follow the on-screen couple’s date night and have what they’re having.
But the reality of what you can and cannot get at the cinema is far from that, due to multiple concerns — i.e. prep time, odors, spill and drop factor, etc. — but there’s gotta be a starting point, right?
Consolidated made its first foray beyond standard popcorn, hot dogs and processed cheese nachos three years ago. It was quaint that their idea of a bahn mi hot dog ($7.50) was not Vietnamese at all, but a repurposing of standard resources of slaw, plus jalapenos from the nachos, to deliver a form of pork-and-vegetable sandwich. But I actually order it all the time now, because of the guilt factor: a hot dog with vegetables is more justifiable from a health point of view than one without.
Dishes were still largely reheated, rather than cooked, but no doubt the gambit worked. Otherwise the company wouldn’t be forging ahead by adding kitchens, starting in the west. To date, only the Kapolei and Mililani theaters have the full kitchens, which have enabled the addition of three burgers and a loco moco to their menus.
The strategy must be working again. During a recent visit to Mililani to see “Frozen 2,” I noticed the burger baskets were piled high as people deposited them at the exit.
The signature burger wasn’t one I’d crave in the outside world, as mine was dry, but it was boosted by red wine caramelized onions, roasted garlic mayo and cheddar, plus the crunch of crispy fried onions. For $11.50 it includes a choice of slaw or sea salt fries with one of the theater’s signature sauces. Avid moviegoers probably know these by heart: Sriracha ketchup, creamy ranch, chipotle mayo, BBQ sauce, lemon cilantro aioli or jalapeno mustard. My favorite is the chipotle, which I also added to the burger to make it more satisfying.
We were never asked for doneness preference but because of the general, all-ages audience, I’m guessing the freshmade burgers are cooked through due to safety concerns.
The loco moco ($9) with an over-easy egg provided enough fluid yolk to make up for the lack of moisture in the hamburger patty, especially when combined with the housemade gravy.
The other burger options are a bacon cheeseburger and teriyaki burger ($10.50 each). Also new is a honey chicken sandwich ($10.50) on a choice of brioche bun or toasted waffle. Waffles are also available topped with fruit ($7.50).
The last time I wrote about theater food, I was asked by a reader, perhaps facetiously, if wine were available. If it wasn’t then; it is now. The alcohol menu may be even larger than the food menu, with local and craft beer available at $10 draft, $7 a bottle. California and Washington reds and whites by the glass are $10. You can also get moscato and prosecco ($10) and a range of cocktails.
It all adds to a bottom line under seige from video streaming.
A friend wasn’t all that impressed by the food, but he’s not their audience anyway. He’s one who is not above sneaking food into a theater.
I don’t think anyone eats movie food expecting greatness. I just want convenience — my friends tend never to leave time for dinner before a show. And considering an order of popcorn runs $7.25 to $9.25, I’d much rather fill my belly with a chili cheese dog ($7.50) or sesame chicken salad ($8.50), and the more options the better. I couldn’t live on a diet of popcorn, gummy bears or Junior Mints.
KAPIOLANI MEDICAL CENTER FOR WOMEN & CHILDREN
1319 Punahou St.; free parking for the first 30 minutes, $3 for two hours
There’s little reason to visit a hospital outside of necessity, but the new Kobayashi and Kosasa Family Dining Room at Kapiolani Medical Center had me thinking otherwise.
On opening day last week I overheard employees saying, after finishing their lunch, “Everyone’s gonna want to eat here.”
They were probably referring to fellow staffers, but I think their sentiment could easily extend to the outside community. Who knows? Because babies often arrive at inconvenient hours, it might even become a late-night option for those who get the munchies at 2 a.m. (The dining room is closed only between 3 and 6 a.m.)
Anyone who serves food knows how important it is to keep up with trends to keep customers happy and it’s no different here, where the spacious dining room doubles as a hangout for families awaiting new additions, and medical staff who may take two meals here a day, with an eye toward healthy options.
The dining room has tripled in size to 14,000 square feet and the kitchen has doubled to 9,000 square feet, allowing the capacity to offer pizzas daily instead of just once a week as in the past, and make the popular breakfast fried rice for lunch and dinner as well.
With seven food stations and a Starbucks, the options are many, which is so important for this captive community, because leaving the premises for lunch or dinner can be difficult. In a deli area and salad bar, diners can build their own salads or sandwiches with cold cuts and cheese, many taking advantage of a toaster oven to make grilled cheese sandwiches.
Doing so means they don’t have to wait to be served by a kitchen staff busy with a rotating roster of such hot entrees as pork ribs ($4.90) or fresh catch with ginger sauce ($6.29) and sides of fried rice ($1.79), pasta ($1.79) or vegetables of the day ($4.90). Portions are comparable to any plate lunch.
In another area, a changing roster of international specialties is sold by weight. When I was there, the theme was Greek, and herbed chicken and mini spanakopita were priced at 52 cents per ounce. Baklava was available for dessert at $1.59 for two pieces.
As at any steam-table operation, that Greek chicken dries while sitting, but the flavor was good. The same went for the pork ribs. Timing is everything. If you can catch these dishes just as the trays are coming out of the kitchen, you’re in luck.
Considering this is a medical center, I thought the food descriptions could be better. They include information important to nutritionists, like portion size, and calorie, sodium and fat counts, but forget the bigger picture.
Someone new to the system would like to know which pan pizzas ($8.99) have the cauliflower crusts, and that the cheese used on a spinach pizza is mild provolone that doesn’t add much flavor. When I was asked if I wanted meatloaf on my rib plate, I said yes, only to find at the table it was vegan “meat” of mashed beans, rice and veggies. Surprise!
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at email@example.com.