We have heard the musings regarding the fate of fine dining as a restaurant style the world over, and how ‘casual’ and ‘comfort’ are two big words if one analyses any food trend report published since 2011. “Fine dining makes way for casual dining with the trend leaning towards eating simple, healthy, local, street food and frequenting food trucks”. These have been the trends of late worldwide, those, bacon, and cronuts it seems!
But why is this? And what does this mean for our restaurant scene in South Africa, and to me sitting at my desk right now in Cape Town?
As we know, it takes us a season or two to embrace international trends of food, one season to understand it, and one season to be in the right season to actually implement the trend. Thus, only now are we fully embracing the rise of the casual eatery, the diner, and the burger bar. Though our food truck culture is still growing they are there, and they are selling.
Running a food truck is a tough business. That is why a lot offood truckers are supplementing their income with private events and selling their wares at food markets. Food trucks are a difficult way to make cash unless you are pounding the pavements as often as possible. This makes me think about the Halaal sausage trader outside our office in his little caravan. He is there come rain or shine; he sells only one menu item; and his product is relatively shelf stable (smoked sausage, onion, bread). He has cracked the way to make cash in this street trader market.
In contrast, I cannot imagine that someone selling a highly perishable range of more than three menu choices can make money unless they are moving a whack of stock every lunch time. The high price of ingredients, the need to make a food cost of 30% stretch within a price range of R50-R70 and the lack of serious foot traffic with R50 expendable lunch money makes the food truck market a trying game. It is hard to sell a burger, no matter how gourmet it is, for more than sixty bucks in SA.
At Source Food, we do a lot of catering, events, and private chef work, and even I am astounded by the costing we do on a daily basis. Food is expensive in South Africa, and we need to educate the public as well as keep ourselves as competitive as possible.
But we need them to survive, these energetic, food creators who are out there crafting artisan street food out of top quality ingredients. In order for our local food culture to grow and develop we need the public to support casual dining, be it by visiting their local grocer, restaurant, or food truck.
Where will this trend go? Will it survive because we South Africans love food and entrepreneurial spirit, or will the price of food kill it?