In every society on earth, for probably millions of years, humans have come up with communal methods of eating that reflect their particular human condition. In our world we’ve married eating with capitalism. We’ve devised a method of paying other people to prepare meals for us in spaces we call restaurants.
As our communities have gotten bigger and restaurants have proliferated, the competition among them has gotten more serious and – as it is when any market gets saturated with competitive choice – prices come down to attract customers.
Keeping a restaurant open requires more than just the ability to cook good food. For example, the biggest restaurant chains in the world, if you ask a food critic, have the worst food. In this kind of topsy-turvy business, what do you do to keep a restaurant profitable? Do you stick with quality and hope you find an appreciative market? Or do you turn to big data, AI and IT systems designed for the restaurant business?
Stephanie Riegel puts this question to Gabe Piccoli, the Edward G. Schlieder Chair of Information Sciences and a member of the Cultural Computing group at the Center for Computation and Technology at LSU.
Gabe has held tenured academic positions at Cornell, as well as universities in France and Italy. During his tenure at Cornell in the early 2000s, Gabe was on the faculty of the Hotel School, where he became interested in the hospitality industry.
During his 25 year career, which started at LSU with a PhD in information systems, Gabe’s work has focused on the value creation potential of new technology. His academic, teaching and consulting interest is in digital strategy and digital customer service systems. He watched and the studied the digital intermediation of the hotel industry in the 1990s and sees interesting parallels going on today in the Quick Service Restaurant industry – of which Baton Rouge not only has many but is actually home to popular chains like Raising Cane’s.
Stephen Hightower is on the front line of Baton Rouge’s hospitality industry. Stephen is Managing Partner of the City Group Hospitality Restaurant Group, which does not own QSRs but does own and operate 11 operations with 7 unique concepts, including City Pork, Beausoleil, City Slice Pints and Pizza, Proverbial Wine and Bistro, Rouj Creole and Hub and Spoke, as well as Turning Point Food Services, which runs the cafeteria at Catholic High School.
Stephen is steeped in Baton Rouge hospitality know-how. He began his restaurant career at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge and worked his way up the ladder. After launching a couple of his own ventures, he hit on just the right concept for Baton Rouge in 2012 with the launch of City Pork. In the decade since, he has become one of the most successful restauranteurs in the city.
Out to Lunch is recorded live over lunch at Mansurs on the Boulevard. Photos by Erik Otts . And check out this recent lunchtime conversation with Baton Rouge restaurateurs Misti and Brumby Broussard from BLDG 5.