Can Fresh Focus on German Restaurants Save Them?

BY Courtney Huckabay
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Yelp Data Scientist Carl Bialik says German food ranked number 83 of the 100 biggest restaurant categories in growth. Unfortunately, all across the country, German restaurants are calling it quits. Converting traditional German eateries into biergartens and transforming menus into fresh takes on German cooking could be the trend that saves them.

"In a 2015 National Restaurant Association study, only 7 percent of respondents said they ate German food at least once a month — less than Italian (61 percent), Mexican (50 percent), Chinese (36 percent) and 11 additional categories, including Southeast Asian, and even Belgian," Maura Judkis writes in The Washington Post. "It tied French and Vietnamese, and eked out a small lead over Indian, Caribbean and Scandinavian food. Respondents said they were more likely to eat German food at home than at a restaurant. But the cuisine ranked high in familiarity. People know about German food, but apparently aren’t seeking it out."

Moms and grandmas could be the last vestiges of German restaurant lovers. Traditional German eateries can promote Mother's Day menus to remind diners what they love about German food. The newest AudienceSCAN survey revealed 21% of Americans celebrated Mother's Day in restaurants.

"German food’s decline “reflects the cultural mix of this country toward more Latin American, Asian and African American culture, and less of the mainstay Germanic culture that influenced this country for many decades,” said Arnim von Friedeburg, an importer of German foods and the founder of Germanfoods​.org. “The cultural shift is going on, and German culture has to fight or compete to keep its relevance.”

"The cuisine’s long history here might be part of the reason, too. It’s “Grandma’s food,” Chef Thomas Hauck said. Not to mention that in the age of Instagram, it suffers from an acute case of brown. “It’s that meat and potatoes stigma,” Alex Herold, the owner of Old Europe, said, even though in northern Germany, dishes are lighter and have much in common with trendy Scandinavian food."

Targeting grandmas and mothers with radio spots could resonate for Mother's Day. The latest AudienceSCAN study showed 17.5% of Mother's Day Diners learn about nearby events from the radio.

"That heaviness carries over to the style of the restaurants, which feel like time capsules. Some German restaurants would like to become more modern, but operators say they’re thwarted by regulations."

"As German restaurants struggle, biergartens are thriving. You might not think there’s much of a difference, but the distinction lies in the business model: Biergartens have high-​volume beer sales and a limited menu; German restaurants have more table seating, a wider variety of traditional dishes, and an atmosphere closer to fine dining."

German restaurants branching out, refreshing, renovating and still hanging on could benefit from advertising what makes them special and healthy – especially if they want to attract new, younger audiences. The most recent AudienceSCAN research reported 38% of Mother's Day Diners took action after seeing ads on social networks in the past 30 days.

"The future of German restaurants in the United States might be similar to Metzger Bar and Butchery, a petite corner spot that seats about 30 people. It’s bright and airy, decorated with subway tile and nose-​to-​tail butchery posters. The servers do not dress in lederhosen."

"Instead of reproducing German dishes faithfully, the owner puts more modern versions on her menu, often inspired by Mimi Sheraton's “The German Cookbook.” Instead of gravy on her schnitzel, they top it with salad. “German food is so much more related to French food than people give it credit for,” Founder Brittanny Anderson said. If enough other chefs do that, perhaps German food could become trendy again."