Slow Food Fast
The nature of work is changing. Open office floor plans encourage collaboration, while new technologies allow workers to engage in said collaborations from virtually anywhere – restaurants, coffee shops, airports, a tent in the woods, etc. And just as the proliferation of freelancing pushes the office toward obsolescence, Amazon is building a workplace with an indoor jungle and tree houses.
Meanwhile, whether under the shade of a low-hanging branch or illuminated by the glow of industrial lighting, the contents of the office refrigerator are changing dramatically as well. More and more, brown bags and Tupperware filled with last night’s leftovers are being replaced by prepared foods from grocers like Whole Foods, Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s, according to a study by the market research firm NPD Group.
The same study found that Millennials — who are often credited (or derided) for many of the workplace changes under way — prefer to have someone else cook for them. Ever the generation of contradictions, the study also reports that Millennials still love to shop at the grocery store. The compromise between the two would appear to be prepared foods.
According to the study, sales of takeout prepared foods from grocers have grown 30 percent over the past eight years, accounting for $10 billion of consumer spending in 2015 alone. Locally, services like Kathy’s Table in Jacksonville and Fernandina’s Savory Market have found success offering grab ’n’ go prepared lunch items that utilize local ingredients. When Native Sun opened its store at Jacksonville Beach, the expanded prepared food section reflected this growing demand for ready-to-eat choices.
The confluence of the changing nature of work and the tectonic shift in demand led by a generation with rapidly increasing purchasing power has left restaurants scrambling. Lunchtime restaurant traffic has decreased by 1 percent over the last five years, according to a different NPD study. And as consumer spending on prepared foods from grocers is predicted to increase, spending on lunch at restaurants is predicted to continue its slide.
So what are full-service restaurants to do?
Virginia Watts, marketing coordinator at Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails, thinks the farm-to-table restaurant has the answer. Moxie’s Quick Lunch Menu is designed for customers who want the kind of high-quality meal a full-service restaurant and world-class chef can offer, with an expedience that fits today’s increasingly flexible work schedule.
“The reason we created the [Quick Lunch] menu is because work is changing,” Watts said. “If you do get the opportunity to go out to lunch you may not have time to sit and enjoy course after course.” Located within the bustling St. Johns Town Center, Moxie’s proximity to an expanding business community made the need for such an offering increasingly clear, according to Watts.
“We streamlined a menu based on the time it takes to prepare certain items,” said Watts. “But all the items are still made from scratch.”
Moxie’s quick lunch menu includes two courses and customers choose either a soup or salad with main dish offerings like Rainbow Trout or a chicken sandwich. Meanwhile, chef/owner Tom Gray’s propensity for putting a new spin on old favorites remains evident in the menu’s inclusion of a Sloppy Joe.
All of Moxie’s Quick Lunch options are offered to eat-in and to-go customers, while across town San Marco’s Taverna caters to convenience through a lunch menu for pickup or delivery. With main courses like pasta salad, an Italian sub or a turkey and brie sandwich, the Taverna On the Go menu doesn’t stray far from the restaurant’s Italian roots.
“We are really proud of our regular full-service lunch. But we recognize that people today need something different,” said Kiley Efron, who owns Taverna with her husband, Sam Efron. Though they’ve been tweaking the menu for roughly two years now, Efron says she has seen demand grow significantly since word got out about the On the Go menu offerings.
“People want more ease,” she said. “I think with this generation, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, a lot of people work through lunch. At the same time, they want high-quality food. I think people are starting to figure out that independent restaurants like [Taverna] can provide quality and convenience.”