Washington, D.C.’s First Annual Restaurant and Specialty Retail Summit - The First of Many for Local Industry Leaders


Future Enterprise strives to provide a platform for business leaders to better understand and adapt to today’s rapidly changing technological landscape. Today, Future Enterprise brings you some insights into how leaders in the specialty retail and restaurant industries are adapting to technological changes. Many of the reflections below are trends that Future Enterprise clients deal with every day, and Future Enterprise platform can be instrumental in helping restauranteurs and  specialty retailers succeed in a rapidly-shifting technological ecosystem. 

On Wednesday, June 12, the Seyfarth Shaw DC office hosted its first Restaurant and Specialty Retail Summit. Together with co-hosts Streetsense and CohnReznick, Partner Andrew Sherman, creator and moderator of the event, sought to bring together local restauranteurs and specialty retail businesspeople to start a conversation about the latest trends at the forefront of the restaurant and retail industry. The event drew in around eighty local leaders in the restaurant and specialty retail industries, some of whom contributed their own restaurants’ signature dishes to the lunch buffet. Panelists discussed a variety of topics over three separate panels, including subjects like building a strong foundation for a successful restaurant, site design and customer experience, current legal and regulatory challenges inherent in building retail brands and systems, and important, inescapable trends in the industry.

Here are some of the major trends to expect for 2020 and beyond:

  1. Industry leaders will need to work harder, smarter, more efficiently, more creatively, and with a more targeted approach in order to survive rapid changes within the industry - They will need to find new and creative ways to draw in customers who want speed and customization. Some have reacted to these demands by designing kitchens for efficiency, opening new locations in a variety of interesting locations while being extremely picky about which locations to choose, and offering new incentives to create return customers.  

  2. Health and diet trends are not going away - Industry leaders need to cater to customers who want healthier foods and dietary restriction-compliant options. Panelists recognized that a targeted approach in this area becomes necessary for survival, because individual establishments and brands cannot cater to every trend, but offering options in line with a couple of dietary trends can create a loyal customer base. 

  3. Keeping brands relevant - The panelists recognized that unless brands work to remain relevant, they will end up becoming less exciting, less sought after, and less successful. Panelists shared interesting ways they sought to stay relevant, such as moving into interesting locations, periodically reinvigorating menus and the business’s image, and offering unique experiences for customers.

  4. Changes in technology - Over and over, panelists reflected on contending with the influx of new technologies. Especially important were the effects of delivery services, and panelists noted that delivery sometimes accounted for 20 to 30% of their business. The main trend to look out for is the new ways that industry leaders will seek to exert control over technology. One panelist interviewed delivery services, eventually landing on Caviar as the best, and aimed to get deliveries out in 20 minutes or less. He also noted that first time customers who received deliveries promptly tended to re-order within just three days. Other panelists sought balance between using new technologies to enhance the consumer experience while also minimizing the use of third parties in doing business.

  5. Competition with purely online and delivery services - If there was one thing to take away from the Restaurant and Specialty Retail Summit, it is that these businesses are not going away, contrary to news lamenting the downfall of brick-and-mortar retail establishments and sit-down restaurants. Customers still are seeking out interesting, unique and personalized experiences that they cannot get in their own homes and the industry is taking advantage of those trends. Offering quality-controlled delivery services, moving products into new markets like ready-to-drink beverages and offering order online and pick up in-store services are all ways in which industry leaders are fighting back and getting ahead.

Aliya Brown, Summer Fellow in the Washington, D.C. Office, contributed to this article.

Emma Fiander