The hospitality industry has bounced back since the pandemic saw an estimated 2,500 restaurants closed in North Texas, but the industry still faces plenty of challenges. 

Speaking at the Texas Restaurant Show July 10 in Dallas, Texas Restaurant Association president Emily Williams Knight said the industry was returning to health with an eye toward innovation. 

“I think after COVID it’s really about what are those new innovations and ideas that they can get from here and the support for the situation they’re in,” she said. 

There were plenty of technology innovations and point-of-sale systems on display. 

“I think there’s that balance of technology to the human touch because it is a hospitality business, and so you have a lot of tech companies here,” she said. 

David Shaw, owner of Shaw’s Patio Bar & Grill and a co-owner of Lazy Moose, both in Fort Worth’s Near Southside area, said the technology was fine, but he’s hoping the industry will return to its former strength. 

“I’m afraid a lot of people have left the industry in the pandemic,” he said.

Still, he is glad to see the show back in Dallas. The annual event was virtual in 2020 and returned to San Antonio last year. 

Knight estimated between 5,000 to 6,000 would attend the three-day show this year. 

“It’s very exciting. It’s definitely going to be one of the biggest in several years,” she said. 

Restaurants are still facing labor and supply chain issues, Knight said. 

“We have so much growth right now, but people can’t get stoves, walk-in coolers, or basic supplies once they open,” she said. “That supply chain is by no means fixed yet.” 

Shaw said he invested in new equipment in recent years and is glad he did. 

“If I was going to try to do that now, I don’t know what I would do, because some things you just can’t get,” he said.

Knight said the restaurant association has seen some softening in some restaurant segments since the economy slowed and inflation increased. 

“We’re seeing a little bit of the softening happening in the value segment,” she said. “That consumer, we think, has been impacted more quickly with inflation.” 

Labor remains an issue with restaurants, Knight said, noting that many of the technology solutions at the show – including robotic waitstaff – offer a variety of solutions to the problem. During one of the education segments of the show, Knight spoke with Norman Abdallah, CEO of Gordon Ramsey North America, which is based in Los Colinas. Abdallah was previously CEO of Southlake-based Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group. 

Aside from expanding Ramsey’s restaurant concepts in the U.S., Gordon Ramsey North America is partnering to bring Ramsey’s culinary education concepts to North Texas via a partnership with Dallas Community College. Knight said the ideas will be key to further restaurant growth in Texas and around the country and create a well-trained labor pool for restaurants with associate’s degrees available after a short training course. 

“We know that a lot about what happens in the kitchen has changed since the pandemic,” she said. “He wants to sort of reimagine what that might look like. We want to build that pipeline of talent faster.”

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Bob Francis

Bob Francis is business editor for fortworthreport.org. He has been covering business news locally and nationally for many years. He can be reached at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org