Restaurant owners today need to worry not only about consistent service and good food. They are also looking for ways to make better use of technology.

They are dealing with clients who are more aware of healthy eating and sustainable foods and want to keep their employees longer and happier.

Mia Littlejohn is the co-founder of Proof Bar and Incubator, a food and beverage resource center with a shared kitchen, restaurant incubator and craft cocktail bar. Littlejohn said Chattanooga restaurant owners are following some of the national trends found in a recent survey by, but are also dealing with local issues.

For an industry that received a severe blow during the pandemic, the good news for many of those who managed to survive is that the global market is poised for growth. While this increase in some of the larger markets may be in online orders – especially from so-called “ghost” restaurants that do not have shop windows – Littlejohn said it seems the Chattanoogans are ready to leave home and dine somewhere else.

“This increase in popularity in online ordering and delivery, I see more in the big markets,” she said. “People here still want to get together. It will be interesting in the coming years to see if something like ghost kitchens are set up here, but you need a lot of technical support with this. [service], but you need technology.

“And, I think there’s more interest in the specialized experiences and dining room experience here,” she said. “Something is something people have wanted for a year.”

The study predicted an increase in the use of things like touchless menus and free or cashless payment options, and Littlejohn said they would likely be found in chains and franchises that could allow them to have dedicated staff. for such things.

A bigger concern for local, independent owners is how to find, train and retain quality employees, she said.

“Another trend we’re seeing is that employers are really working hard on how to keep a well-trained staff, and that’s falling down to the service industry workers,” Littlejohn said.

“Whether it’s paid leave or an hourly wage increase or a tuition fee, they’re looking at whatever it takes.

“We have made a small reset, and having a well-trained staff continues to be a challenge.”

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Employee health, happiness, technology, healthy foods are the main trends of restaurants

Littlejohn said the old days of managers treating staff, especially house staff, harshly yelling at them to work faster or more are over.

“Now the focus is on understanding and supporting the mental health and happiness of the staff,” she said.

Proof is collaborating with the Michael P. Hennen Culinary and Hospitality Center in Chattanooga State and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center to create a workforce development course for managers and entry-level employees to train them that what to expect when entering the field.

The goal is to create a workforce that wants to stay in the industry for a long time.

The research survey also found that more and more Americans are focusing on ethical considerations and consistency when making food choices. As a result, more and more brands are paying attention and focusing on “healthy, high-quality menu items, diet-friendly options like these, vegan or vegetarian, responsive and certified source ingredients, by “including non-GMO and plant-based., and sustainable business practices to reduce waste,” the study said.

Chains such as Chipotle, Panera Bread and Starbucks have menus that emphasize high ingredient quality through ethical sources such as cageless animals, raised pastures and antibiotic-free livestock. Metro asks for “Eat Fresh” dinners.

Littlejohn said the Chattanoogans are embracing that attitude in ways not seen in recent years. While most of us are not 100% vegetarian or vegan or anything, we are more aware of the issues, she said.

“It goes beyond just eating from a farm to the table,” she said. “Customers are just tuning in. Yes, we eat farm on the table, but we also have a fried chicken in the fridge, and I still think ‘vegan before six’ is a good idea. We are more aware of the big issues. , and local restaurants are responding. “

Giardino co-owner Jake Leonard said he tries to celebrate the menu item sources at the Italian restaurant in Missionary Ridge whenever he can.

“We put the farm name on the menu and I constantly talk about our bosses. I have supported this topic left and right,” he said.

Littlejohn said she believes the restaurateurs who survived the pandemic, especially those who survived with little or no staff, have realized that they are better at adaptation and pivoting than perhaps they knew, and that they will continue to do so.

“I think in the long run, people will continue to increase efficiency to grow their business,” she said.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.