Food is serious business. Now, on The Main Course, host Barbara Castiglia will invite insiders on the front lines of food to share their expertise, strategies, and forecasts for navigating the ever-changing restaurant industry.
The dining experience has endured a seismic shift during the pandemic. What have experts learned in the last year, and what does the future hold? Taking on the topic, host Barbara Castiglia welcomed Buck Sleeper, Director of Retail and Restaurants at EPAM Continuum.
Sleeper, an architect by trade, now focuses on experiment design at EPAM, specializing in restaurants and other verticals. The company has been an innovator and thought leader in the area, and Sleeper has a keen eye for the dining experience.
As the pandemic began, Sleeper wrote an open letter to the industry. “Everything was shutting down, and there was a helpless feeling. My letter focused on three points—lifting up employees, supporting communities, and expanding offerings,” he said.
By expansion, he noted pivoting to curbside and delivery, and succeeding would require both function and feeling.
He believes curbside is here to stay, but increasing human interaction is still a challenge. The delivery conundrum is weighing heavily on restaurants, with rising costs associated with it. Sleeper urged restaurants to be “transparent about costs.” That honesty can also build loyalty.
Sleeper also spoke about research from the EPAM group on currents of change, which identified six major trends ahead. He said, “One is the isolation impact of the pandemic, and restaurants can learn from this by understanding the context of how people are dining now.”
He also added that outdoor dining is here to stay—“It’s a little bit of Paris to downtown America.”
He also feels optimistic about the future post-COVID, noting that people will want to connect and celebrate, and there’s no better place to do that than over a shared meal.