The future of food in the downtown core

3 minutes

Montreal centre-ville

  • © Time Out Market
Gourmet fast food, robots at the stove, and minimalist menus: the restaurant of the future is already upon us. And Montreal establishments are coming up with ingenious ways to join in the parade.

Rethinking food courts

Once the food trucks are gone, what’s left? The harsh Montreal winters make it difficult for food trucks, leaving them in hibernation for months on end. The underground city obliges, drawing inspiration from the alternatives used by cool cities such as Brooklyn, Oslo, and Lisbon: gourmet fast food, a new concept taking food courts by storm.

This is the case for the Time Out Market (opened November 14th), an ambitious display of culinary options set up in Montreal’s old Eaton Centre, in the heart of downtown. In total, some 16 chefs and restauranteurs join this gastronomic and cultural market, which includes a demonstration kitchen, three bars, artistic and cultural spaces, and a shop.

The mouth-watering food selection includes Normand Laprise burgers, Grumman ’78 tacos and Olive+Gourmando sandwiches. The goal is to represent the best the city has to offer in a casual, festive (exciting cultural animations are also on the menu), and inviting atmosphere. Goodbye, globalization; hello, ultra local!

Didier Souillat, President and CEO of Time Out Market, is talking about democratizing high-end offerings. The businessman hopes to bring new life to Sainte-Catherine Street once the stores close. “It needs to be busy! We want the workers and the students, but we also want lots of tourists. We want to be a destination,” he adds.

Didier Souillat - Photo : Arévalo Photography
Didier Souillat - Photo : Arévalo Photography

The future is near

Robotics and artificial intelligence have already proven themselves in the medical field. And they are now making their mark on the restaurant industry as well.

For Christian Gosselin, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Université Laval, the possibilities remain limited. “With limit comes adaptability. However, when it comes to repetitive work, robots are very strong,” he explains.

Fast food chains could benefit from these cooks of the future. Robots could also be the solution to the crying need for workers. Of course, it would cost a fortune for now, but “the days when it could be profitable are not that far away,” expresses Professor Gosselin.

Moreover, artificial intelligence provides personalization opportunities, a major trend that restaurants—both fast food and high end—are using. And it doesn’t cost a fortune either!

“Data mining software are already making it possible to send targeted ads to consumers based on their previous orders. Other technological advances help engineer menus and inventories so as to maximize revenue and minimize loss,” explains Jordan LeBel, Associate Professor in Food Marketing at Concordia University.

Going small

Downsizing is in right now, even for restaurants! In Montreal, micro-restaurants and minimalist menus are slowly popping up. We’re thinking specifically of the cramped Japanese restaurant Ryõshi, or the very succinct menu at Nevski, a casual Russian fast food joint nestled on Stanley Street.

Photo : Alison Slattery
Photo : Alison Slattery

For Midia Navine, co-owner of the establishment, it was first and foremost a strategic decision. “We wanted to have good control over the quality of our products without having to turn to frozen food,” she says. A large inventory, however, often means lots of loss… and therefore more waste. “With Nevski, we wanted to stay true to our values,” she adds.

Everything can be composted there, even the straws and napkins. “Such a waste management system does come with additional costs,” she says. The small menu helps balance the budget and protect our planet. Slowly but surely, a revolution is taking place.