Amy Roberts: Local restaurants must find way to keep pace with trends
September 8, 2018
There's a series of commercials promoting Snickers candy bars that start off with an unlikely character acting comically foolish — Betty White badly playing football in the mud, all the while berating her teammates — is probably the most notable 30-second episode of the advertising series. Near the end of each commercial, someone hands the star a Snickers, and the star quickly morphs back into the friend or colleague everyone else in the commercial is familiar with. Then an announcer justifies the previous off-the-wall behavior by claiming, "You're not you when you're hungry."
This is probably the most applicable commercial to my life. It's almost as if the word "hangry" was coined with me in mind. When I am hungry, there's a sense of urgency from those around me to produce food quickly. I tend to be less than pleasant.
For this reason, I have always loved the concept of food trucks. They offer a delightful array of options, prepared and served quickly and affordably. Many are also decked out in darling décor, giving a vibe you're dining in the utopia of a different era. It's like the food is happier when served out of a retrofitted, turquoise Airstream.
I ate a lot of happy food over the weekend.
Just like local retail stores have had to adapt to Amazon, local transportation companies have had to adapt to Uber and local hotels to Airbnb, perhaps it’s time for restaurants to adapt as well.”
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I spent Labor Day in Sun River, an idyllic community located near Bend, Oregon. It's sort of a Mayberry-like hybrid of the ultimate beach and mountain towns. No one was ever in a hurry, the average garage housed more bikes than cars, people waved from the other side of the river as I paddled by them in a kayak.
There were a lot of things I found charming about Sun River. But the one that stood out the most was its food truck park. One could eat every meal there for a week and never repeat the same order. The food trucks ran on solar power and all the serving ware was compostable. Dogs romped in a small fenced area nearby while their owners struck up conversations with strangers at the communal tables. Kids played cornhole and other yard games, their laughter spilling over the live music. Next to the food trucks, there was a beer and wine truck.
Everything about the scene felt happy. Cell phones were not a centerpiece on any table; instead people were connecting in real time. The dialogue wasn't sent instantly or posted online, it came the old fashioned way — true conversation. Strangers shared food, and stories, and belly laughs. This isn't to say this can't happen at a brick and motor restaurant. But does it?
I understand why restaurant owners in the Park City area are less than thrilled by the idea of food trucks entering the dining scene here, no one welcomes competition. But just like local retail stores have had to adapt to Amazon, local transportation companies have had to adapt to Uber and local hotels to Airbnb, perhaps it's time for restaurants to adapt as well.
Last session, state legislators voted to allow mobile food trucks to operate in multiple jurisdictions, thus restricting the control of local governments looking to prevent them from doing so. So now the County Council is grappling with how to best regulate them.
This seems like a real opportunity for local restaurant owners to figure out a way to get in on the trend. It might take some creativity and a switch in the 'business as usual' mindset, but many of these restaurants employ chefs who could make a duct tape and Styrofoam salad sound appealing and taste amazing. Surely they can find a way to drive this trend.
There will always be reasons to gather at real restaurants: Birthdays, romantic dinners, winter. But ultimately, people crave connection just as much as they do food. A gathering place that offers affordable variety, convenience, and social connection isn't something to resist. It's something to aspire to.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.