Combine forces with your tech
As restaurant technology helps manage a range of food safety concerns in foodservice businesses, complementary technologies can meet a broader assortment of needs than many operators realize. That’s according to a report in Food Safety Tech, which found that even tech-savvy operators weren’t using technology to their fullest advantage. For example, many operators have automated the HACCP food safety reporting process or are considering it. They are starting to replace time-consuming, error-prone manual data collection with mobile apps that digitize those tasks and make data easy to find when needed during review by management or inspectors. Fixed temperature sensors, wireless or wired, are also catching on as a means to accurately monitor refrigerators and food-warming appliances. The frequent monitoring that these sensors offer, along with alerts when a temperature slips beyond a prescribed range, can help operators minimize the time required for HACCP monitoring. Yet according to the Food Safety Tech report, the vast majority of restaurant brands they surveyed that have automated food safety reporting or are looking to do so have implemented one or the other but not both of these approaches. Taken individually, automated temperature monitoring systems don’t address all aspects of the food safety process and mobile technology can’t provide real-time alerts about food safety problems — and they require staff time. Try testing out both on a trial basis. One restaurant operation studied in the report used fixed temperature sensors in refrigeration and other equipment, but still collected data manually. After testing a mobile digital task list app in a group of its restaurants it winnowed its HACCP data collection process from 17 minutes to two minutes and saved a significant amount of time for staff.
Can a consultant help?
According to research about the reasons for restaurant failure by Professor Dr. HG Parsa of the University of Denver’s college of business, 59 percent of hospitality facilities fail in the first three years. During that period, the first year is the most critical, with 26 percent of businesses failing. Do you know when to ask for outside help and prevent a closure? Perhaps it makes the most sense before the business opens, or when sales decline, or after the buzz begins to wear off after a strong launch. Even when you have positive reviews, steady traffic and a strong professional background, something about your restaurant can still feel not quite right. That’s what happened for chef Ari Kolender and his Los Angeles restaurant, Hayden. Skift Table reports that though the restaurant had a positive debut in July 2017 and Kolender had a devoted following (he had previously worked at respected Los Angeles restaurants like Red Medicine and Providence, and was pegged for a James Beard Rising Star Award while at Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop in Charleston, S.C.), the restaurant wasn’t performing as well as could be expected. Instead of experimenting or letting the challenges run their course, Kolender and his partners called in a consultant right away. They hoped that conducting a forensic analysis of a restaurant —from financials to menu to décor, and with help from someone who could bring objectivity to the assessment — would help the restaurant meet its potential. Holly Fox, whose firm Last Word Hospitality advised Kolender and his partners, said the restaurant had all the right pieces but not in the right order. In the end, they changed from a counter-service model to a full-service model (without adding staff) to help justify larger ticket prices, added a host stand to direct traffic in the restaurant’s large space, changed the lighting, added artwork, high-top tables and counter seating, and installed a new wall that accommodates a new banquette. They also now serve one menu throughout the day instead of two — and feel like business is back on track.
Keep large batches of food out of danger zone
Bacteria grow especially well in the temperature range between 135˚F and 41˚F. It’s important for the food you cool to pass through this zone quickly to prevent safety hazards. Large batches of food, in which the cooling temperature is inconsistent throughout, require special attention. In addition to stirring these foods to even out the internal temperature, consider separating it into smaller containers. StateFoodSafety.com says it’s especially important to cool rice in this way, as its ability to retain heat well makes it pose more of a risk.
Global innovation without the commitment
Want to add more global flavor to your menu, or test out emerging trends — all while using ingredients you already have in the pantry? Try infusing your condiments with international flavor. As Flavor & the Menu reports, condiments explain why concepts like burgers and tacos are such ideal platforms for innovation: “Their formats are safety nets, ready to support all sorts of daring menu moves.” Consider the gochujang-spiked mayonnaise-dijon mixture on Ando’s pork and pickle sandwich, or the five-spice mayo in the fried-chicken banh mi at Starbird Chicken. Rob Corliss of All Things Epicurean suggests ketchup as a good foundation for heat in a dish. He created a ketchup with togarashi and fresh lime that he adds to Korean cole slaw on a hot dog, along with caramelized kimchi and nori.
Unimpressive web traffic? Check your speed.
Your website has key information about your restaurant, along with professional photos and an updated menu. So why is your SEO not where it should be? Check your page load time. Surveys by Akamai and Gomez.com found that nearly half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less —and are likely to abandon a page that does not load within three seconds. A report in Social Media Week suggests several areas that might impact your website load time: lack of browser cache and Gzip compression, slow hosting, the use of many fonts and scripts, and images that haven’t been optimized for your site.
Accounting for delivery
As operators consider how to accommodate food delivery via third parties and whether it makes financial sense, they also need to consider the accounting behind the contract — it may not be as straightforward as it seems, according to the accounting and business advisory firm BDO. Operators need to clarify who is responsible for food and pricing, and who is the real consumer of the delivery so they can present their revenue at gross or net under the FASB’s accounting rule Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606). In other words, if the food arrives and isn’t the proper temperature or the pizza was delivered vertically instead of horizontally, whose responsibility is it? If you control the food prior to it being received by the customer, you are deemed the principal in the arrangement and record revenue at a gross amount. If not, the delivery entity is deemed the principal, and you record revenue net of the delivery costs. Ensure you read and analyze contracts with third-party delivery services so you’re clear about where your control ends and theirs begins in the arrangement.
Ready for takeout
Nearly one-quarter of consumers in Gen Z order food for takeout three of four times each week — more than any other generation. That’s according to a study by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and the Center for Generational Kinetics. In the study, millennials followed suit (21 percent) followed by Gen Xers (17 percent) and Baby Boomers (6 percent) in their rate of ordering takeout. Be prepared to wow those consumers online. Recent data from the National Restaurant Association found that 74 percent of millennials in the U.S. report that being able to view a restaurant menu online makes them more likely to choose one website over another.
Verify and prepare
The foodservice industry has long relied on immigrants—both documented and not—to build its labor force. In fact, second only to the construction industry, the restaurant industry is the largest employer of undocumented workers — there are an estimated 1.1 million people illegally employed in the industry, according to a Foodable report. Restaurant operators may have reason for concern in light of recent comments from the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who said his organization is looking to crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. These businesses could face fines of up to $10,000 per illegal employee. Foodable suggests restaurants take several steps to protect themselves: Operators cannot knowingly hire an employee who isn’t authorized to work in the United States and so they must complete an Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 and maintain it for at least three years after hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later. The I-9 mentions a list of documents operators can use to verify eligibility. While you don’t need to be an expert when it comes to verifying the authenticity of the documents presented, you cannot accept documents that are obviously not authentic either. To prepare for a possible inspection, keep your I-9 forms in separate personnel files that are easy to access, and provide your management team with guidance about who to call, what to do, and what to say or not say when an inspector visits. It can also be helpful to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law and can advise you on the best ways to protect your business. The National Restaurant Association has been advocating for immigration reform that includes a reliable federal employment verification system and a new program to legally match willing workers with willing employers, among other principles.
The power of daily prep
How accurate is your daily ingredient preparation? Are you preparing too much—and therefore wasting food or facing quality-control problems? Or are you preparing too little and having to waste precious minutes in the kitchen, or worse, deny guests a preferred dish? To help ensure accuracy when preparing ingredients before the start of a shift, RestaurantOwner.com suggests operators use this kind of daily plan for ingredient prep. Your POS may offer you a similar mechanism to help you stay on track. It can ensure staff time is used efficiently, that ingredients are prepared in order of priority, and that you can track ingredient usage and monitor quality more accurately. Buzztime Business advises having cooks check off items on the prep list, which you can review regularly to identify where the cook may be slowing down or where he or she is able to handle more than one station. Make sure your prep list is a living document—your “par” numbers can and should fluctuate based on the day of the week, season or other factors. Consider adding additional categories, such as how any excess ingredients must be stored after use. Using and regularly updating your prep list can help you identify bottlenecks and waste, make it easier for substitute workers to step in when needed, and in the process, help you save thousands of dollars each year in food and labor costs.
Bowls are still big. Not only are they appealing to consumers looking for colourful, healthy, conveniently eaten combinations, but they are also a perfect platform for chef innovation, the incorporation of global flavors and the application of plant-based ingredient trends. Further, operators are finding that bowls can help them minimize waste by repackaging menu items from other day parts. As Philip Smith, director of culinary and product development for D’Angelo Grilled
Sandwiches told Flavor & the Menu, “Bowls, more than sandwiches, lend themselves to the idea of a plated entrée—repositioning bowls might be a means to extend our appeal into the evening daypart.”
Everyone knows the importance of handwashing but not enough people actually do it, and the effects can be dramatic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that in cases where food was contaminated by food workers, 89 percent of the outbreaks spread from the hands. In addition to washing hands with soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds, consider addressing sources of recontamination too—bathroom faucets and door handles can recontaminate the hands of someone who has just washed them. Have paper towels within reach of these places so they can be used to turn off faucets and open doors, and make sure these surfaces are cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Act fast following an outbreak
Acting quickly in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak can not only contain the spread of it but limit the potential damage to your business. StateFoodSafety.com suggests taking these steps—and training your staff to take them as well—in case of a suspected outbreak: First, close for business so you can determine which food(s) caused the problem. Don’t discard any food, since a review of your ingredients, equipment and other parts of your establishment will be needed to determine the source of the problem. Alert the local regulatory authority and explain the situation honestly and clearly. Comply with the investigator to help ensure you can resume operations as safely and quickly as possible. Employ any new safety practices recommended in the investigation and train your team to follow them—and to honestly and reassuringly respond to any customer inquiries that follow the event.
Understand the restaurant tech ecosystem
There is a dizzying assortment of technology offerings designed to improve the efficiency of restaurants’ front- and back-of-house operations. To help operators make sense of it all, The Mixing Bowl and TechTable developed this map of the restaurant tech ecosystem. While not exhaustive, it lists many of the major players in various functions, from reservations and waitlist technology to purchasing and inventory applications. It’s a handy reference if you’re in search of new tech providers or simply want to take stock of the range of tech companies aiming to help operators manage various aspects of business.
Put your POS in charge
Delivery and off-premise dining occupy a growing segment of restaurant sales, making it critical for restaurant technology to handle orders accurately and preserve the guest’s positive impression of your restaurant. A report in QSR Magazine says online ordering and takeout can present special challenges when it comes to managing orders and pricing items accurately. It suggests several tips for using your point-of-sale system to manage sales: First, by having orders go directly to your POS, you can improve order accuracy and also free up your staff for other tasks. Second, it can be updated with information on daily specials, promote items that can be cross-sold, and also pull up a customer’s order history and suggest an item that can boost average checks. Your system should be flexible enough to manage orders from callers, walk-in traffic and online traffic. To add an extra layer of service, your system may offer delivery tracking and dispatching, along with support for choosing the best routes to a waiting customer.
Be smart about suppliers
When the air conditioning breaks down or a server fails to arrive for a shift, it’s easy to focus more attention on fixing these urgent, day-to-day problems than on the expenses creeping up in your inventory orders. But by building in some controls to manage your supplies, you can avoid costly surprises. To keep tabs on supply costs, Orderly suggests some tips: First, your supply needs vary from week to week, so your order should, too – if you purchase the same quantities each week, you’re likely generating a surplus or a deficit, which adds up to lost money in either scenario. Second, know what you pay week to week. This ensures you spot areas where you are paying too much and can take action promptly. Having technology to monitor your supply helps you stay on track, as does keeping a detailed weekly budget that you order against. If profits are declining, you will be able to better see how much you can trim an order to help save on your fluctuating expenses each month. Finally, having regular supplier reviews will help ensure you’re getting the best deal from your suppliers—you may find that a different supplier would be a better value. It also sends the message that you care about modest price escalations and are prepared to find new suppliers when they occur. (Coming soon: Watch for a new Team Four product called Alignment4, which is designed to help operators monitor and manage their supply costs.)
The minimal service model catches on
From the escalating minimum wage and cost of living to the ongoing debate about tipping, managing the rising costs of labor and real estate has been a perennial challenge for operators looking to hire talent. But instead of bemoaning the current landscape, Charles Bililies, owner of the Greek counter-service restaurant Souvla in San Francisco, says: “We can sit around here, and we can complain and whine and moan. We can be very negative about this. Or we can sort of turn this on its head and see an opportunity.” In a recent article in the New York Times, Bililies and others are finding ways to offer the benefits of fine dining—such as healthy, fresh ingredients, appealing décor, ceramic plates and a well curated wine list—but without the table service that has traditionally come with it. Like many other cities around the country, San Francisco has a minimum wage has been on the rise in recent years, climbing from $10.74 in 2014 to $15 as of July 1. Operators are identifying the cost of servers as a fluctuating expense guests are willing to sacrifice in the name of quality food, even if it means bussing their own tables and filling their own water glasses. At the original location of Souvla, a brand that has become a model for this type of service, guests order at a counter right inside the door, so the line spills outside and doesn’t take up valuable real estate inside. The restaurant has 40 seats for those wanting to dine in, but thanks to a model that accommodates takeout business as well, churns out more than 900 meals a day.
New changes to FDA Food Code
The FDA has revised its Food Code, which is designed to protect the public health and ensure the safety of food served in retail and foodservice operations. So what will the latest changes mean? Vito Palazzolo, the National Restaurant Association’s food safety expert, identified the biggest three: First, the Person-In-Charge will need to be a designated person in the business, a certified manager, and available during all times the business is operating. Second, the required time for cooking through the center of ground meats has changed from 17 seconds to 15 seconds at 155˚F. Finally, anyone with cuts on fingers and hands must cover them with a finger cot or impermeable bandage, then single-use gloves over the covering. While local, state and federal jurisdictions typically adopt the code, that doesn’t always happen as soon as the code’s updates are introduced, so be aware of the challenges those gaps can pose to your compliance.
Fresh ingredients generate unique food safety costs
At a time when consumers demand fresh, quality ingredients, produce-heavy restaurants can attract a loyal following. But the price for that, according to a report in QSR magazine, is the steep price of food safety controls that operators who use a large amount of frozen or processed foods may avoid. “There’s a balancing act to be had between labor and operational costs for a plant-based food operation and food safety,” says Chris Boyles, vice president for the Steritech Institute at Steritech, which conducts food safety assessments. To find that balance, operators stress the need to have controls in place to monitor the supply chain closely (albeit remotely) or to rely on small, regional suppliers they can visit regularly—both of which generate higher operational costs. Some operators are relying on a mix of small, carefully vetted local farms and large, established companies that closely monitor the supply chain to manage food safety threats. Others are employing a “Whole Foods” approach, whereby they divide the country into regions and seek out farms in each region that they vet as potential suppliers.
First straws, now utensils
Now that restaurants across the country are doing away with plastic straws, plastic utensils are next on the list of items to eliminate. In Seattle, for example, a rule that recently went into effect requires foodservice businesses to discontinue use of plastic straws and utensils in favor of the compostable variety. Those who don’t comply face a fine of $250. While Seattle is believed to be the first city to ban plastic utensils along with straws, expect others to follow suit — and if you don’t currently provide compostable straws and utensils, start shopping around for suppliers.
Lessons from a grocery app
If you have a restaurant app, how do you see it evolving? There may be an opportunity to use it to build loyalty in new ways. Consider what the midwestern grocery chain Woodman’s is testing across its 16-store enterprise: an app developed by myUpside that can help customers find healthier brand options and earn rewards in the process. According to Progressive Grocer, customers can earn cash and other benefits —as opposed to coupons or temporary prices reductions — via purchases and social engagement with the app, all while learning about better-for-you brands. If you have an app that aims to encourage guests to post on social media or provide a review, consider how effectively the incentives you provide are delivering the outcome you want—and if there is an opportunity to educate as a means of building engagement.
In the race for data, look for trouble spots
While tablets promise efficiency when it comes to turning tables, a recent Grub Street article finds a number of restaurants struggling with the effects the technology may have on servers. Specifically, servers are reporting issues of harassment and unfair use of customer feedback. Since customer feedback is no longer attached to a name and a face, the report says, the survey respondent could be a five-year-old or an unfiltered adult irked by something unrelated to the quality of service received. (For example, if a guest’s experience at the restaurant was poor because of the ambiance of the restaurant and not because of the server’s performance, negative survey feedback could still be tied to the server’s record.) Servers say the accumulation of negative feedback leads to the reassignment of shifts to less-desirable slots.
The foodservice and accommodation industry is the fourth-most-automatable sector in the United States. That’s according to an article in The Atlantic that cites research by Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. Chui’s research found that 54 percent of the tasks that workers perform in American restaurants and hotels could be automated using currently available technologies. Automating restaurant tasks or using robots to assemble the ingredients in a dish can save on labor costs and potentially save money, but many in the industry remain skeptical about the potential for restaurants to lose the human touch with increased automation. Not so, according to Michael Farid, cofounder and CEO of Spyce, a new restaurant in Boston with a robotic kitchen. In an interview with Toast, Farid dispelled some beliefs about robots in restaurants: For one, he said, they will not replace human employees in restaurants but will change (and likely improve) the kinds of roles they have. In fact, Farid believes robots can help enhance hospitality in a restaurant — and even help a restaurant’s turnover rate—because they allow employees to focus more on serving guests and less on mundane kitchen tasks. Second, robots can minimize a restaurant’s costs because they don’t waste food, and they assemble orders correctly and consistently. Finally, Farid says though the robots in Spyce’s kitchen are an interesting novelty for guests at the outset, they don’t dominate the experience. In the end, it’s about the food—and the robots are simply there behind the scenes to ensure the operation churning out the food is running as smoothly as it can.
The price is right
Menu items are moving targets. Especially now that point-of-sale systems can track the appeal and profitability of menu items, there is always a need and an opportunity to tweak or replace the choices in your lineup. So when you debut a new dish, how do you ensure you’re pricing it correctly from the start? According to an article in RunningRestaurants.com by restaurant veteran Warner Siebert, operators should first list every ingredient that goes into a new item and the amount of each ingredient. Next, price each ingredient starting with the bulk price of each item and calculate the fraction of the bulk item that was used in the dish. Then consider the overhead costs required to prepare and serve the item, from the cost of the wrap needed to cover it in the refrigerator to the amount of labor hours needed to prepare it. Your total food cost + your total equipment cost + your total labor cost = your total cost. From there, your total cost + your profit margin = the price you charge guests. Siebert suggests choosing a low, but reliable, profit margin so that every sale helps your bottom line. Finding the price that feels fair is an ever-changing process due to ingredient price fluctuations and other factors, of course, so leave room for adjustments that still keep you in the black. According to Toast, restaurant profit margins can vary widely, from 0 to 15 percent, with most falling within the 3 to 5 percent margin.
Trust through transparency
Amid the FDA’s rollout of menu labeling requirements for larger restaurants, it’s easy to think this enforced transparency could scare off customers. Reframe it as an opportunity. While Americans may understand that making healthier choices is easier when cooking at home, convenience still often wins out: The average American eats out four times every week and a Millennial is apt to eat out even more frequently, according to a 2016 survey by Zagat. At the same time, Statista reports that more than half of Americans are buying organic produce, and the health and wellness market continues to climb. Even if your restaurants is not among that that must post calorie information, Toast suggests giving your staff talking points about modifications and substitutions they can make that would improve the health of a dish, or calling out menu items that allow guests to adhere to trending diets like the Whole30 and Keto, so eating out doesn’t force guests to derail health-conscious habits.
Be an 80/20 operator
Do you apply the Pareto principle to your restaurant? The concept, named for the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, says that for many situations, about 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Restaurant coach Donald Burns sees several applications to the restaurant industry: Identify the 20 percent of customers who are helping your restaurant make money and the 20 percent who are giving you headaches—focus the bulk of your time on the former group and try to minimize the latter group. The same goes for employees who drag down the team, menu items that cost you more time and energy than they should, or time-consuming tasks that could be delegated to others. In sum, spend 80 percent of your energy on what you do well and 20 percent on everything else.
Go with your gut
Gut-friendly menu items are emerging as a top trend of 2018. Recent research has linked the bacteria in a person’s gut to immune system regulation and the control of challenges ranging from depression to obesity. To expand the digestion-friendly items on your menu, the BBC suggests adding fermented items like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kefir to the menu, as well as foods high in inulin—leeks, onion, chicory and asparagus are all good sources that add beneficial bacteria to the gut.
Stand firm and deliver
The demand for food delivery continues to climb and operators are embracing the need for it—though not so much the pricing of third-party services or the relinquishing of customer data that can go along with hiring a delivery provider. As a result, new delivery models are emerging all the time, giving restaurants power to find an ideal arrangement. Restaurant Hospitality reports that several businesses in certain markets are changing the game for delivery and have the potential to challenge the larger third-party players. For example, ShiftPixy, which helps restaurants find shift workers on demand, is testing a potential network of on-demand delivery drivers. Another player, EpiFruit, allows restaurants to request and set a price for deliveries, and couriers then bid on the ones they want to accept. EpiFruit then takes part of its commission from the restaurant’s delivery fee and part from the courier’s accepted fee. A third player, Jolt, lets operators choose between paying a flat delivery fee or a 10 percent commission for the delivery, plus a delivery charge.
Harness technology to manage inventory pricing
Can your back-of-house technology tell you what you should be paying for supplies? To ensure you’re paying the right price for the items you receive, the restaurant technology company Orderly advises operators to look out for consistent price rises over time, unexplained price spikes and drops, prices charged in relation to those paid at average restaurants, and the efficiency of pack sizes. Schedule a quarterly business review with each supplier and before each meeting, tally your total spend with them since your last meeting and what percentage of your total food spend they represent. Focus on your top-20 items according to spend and compare that expense to the previous quarter. Then identify your top-10 items by price increase and your top-10 most-purchased items, and find out what other suppliers are charging for those items. Of course, consider the less tangible positives and negatives about the relationship too—but having the statistics at your fingertips will give you power to ask a supplier for price relief, particularly on frequently purchased items that had the highest percentage of increase during the quarter.
Save your energy
Restaurants in the United States are among the most intense energy consumers when compared to other commercial spaces, using an average of 38 kilowatt hours of electricity and 111 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot each year, according to Business Energy Advisor. Which appliances and devices throughout your restaurant consume the most energy? Business Energy Advisor says in a typical restaurant, refrigeration and cooking are the two main uses of electricity. Cooking represents roughly two-thirds of natural gas usage and the remaining third is split fairly evenly between water heating and space heating. If you don’t know for sure where your biggest energy drains are, conduct an energy audit. Not only can an audit help you save money, but it can also help you understand where your biggest energy challenges actually are — so you can focus less on the things that are not generating significant expense. For example, you may already have smart devices in your restaurant that monitor the freshness of different foods you’re storing. It might then make good sense to invest in a smart thermostat that reduces your energy consumption when you’re not there. But what if your biggest energy drain is actually one of your ovens? Or what if a dirty HVAC filter is making your system work much harder than it should to cool down your restaurant? Month to month, monitor how much energy you’re using throughout your restaurant so you can more easily spot spikes and then take steps to decrease energy consumption in those areas. To eliminate the guesswork, Modern Restaurant Management suggests working with a restaurant energy consultant. It can help you home in on the top priorities at your business when it comes to conserving energy and then take action steps to rein in your biggest expenses.
How is your marketing mojo?
At a time when the majority of consumers have used Facebook to decide where to eat—75 percent of them, according to a study by Social Media Monthly—the game is clearly changing for restaurant marketers. Social media, the drive for customized service and advertising, competition from outside of the restaurant market, and the need to capably navigate a through a dizzying supply of data are making the marketing role evolve. And as Restaurant Business reports, when a restaurant business has a tough period, marketers are easy to scapegoat—in recent weeks, there have been a number of comings and goings of chief marketing officers at such brands as Papa John’s, Jimmy John’s and Chipotle. If you need to fine-tune your marketing efforts or are looking to hire new talent for the role, note the most critical skills marketers need right now, according to Restaurant Business: First, they need to know how to build effective digital campaigns. Then, just as importantly, they must know how to collect the data those campaigns generate and translate that data into action steps that will drive traffic and increase sales. Now, more than ever, marketers must learn in real-time how to select and use the tech tools available that can build business—so flexibility is important, along with an ability to identify which platforms are best suited to the business. They must understand how to respond to customer feedback provided in a variety of forms, ranging from Yelp reviews to post-meal surveys conducted at the table. Finally, when conceiving of campaigns, marketers need to know when they need the resources of an outside firm and when they can handle an effort in-house.
Avocados—and perhaps other produce—get a new lease on life
If you serve a lot of avocados and struggle to keep them fresh, take heart in the rollout of a new technology that promises to more than double the shelf-life of the popular fruit. Food Dive reports that Apeel Sciences has developed a powder, made from leftover plant skins and stems, which can be sprayed onto produce close to harvest. The coating forms an extra layer that slows the process of oxidation and loss of water, which cause produce to decay. Apeel Sciences says the technology could help reduce the $2.6 trillion in annual food waste. So far, the technology is being used at Costco stores nationwide and at Harps Food Stores in the midwest.
As a growing list of restaurants bans the use of plastic straws, some groups advocating for the disabled have said eliminating straws completely could be harmful to people with disabilities. Looking for a happy medium? Mic suggests a few alternatives to plastic straws that can accommodate consumers while providing an environmentally conscious option: Try paper straws (the brand Aardvark, though costlier than others, came out on top in a test performed by a bar in the Union Square Hospitality Group, according to Bloomberg). Bamboo straws, while more expensive, can be washed with soap and warm water, then reused. There is a wide variety of other materials used to make straws as well, ranging from stainless steel to even pasta. (Some restaurants are offering drinks with a long tube of bucatini standing in for a straw—for guests without a gluten allergy, of course.)
Summer is prime time for Salmonella
Salmonella, which causes one million foodborne illnesses annually in the United States, is more common during the summer months. The combination of warm weather and unrefrigerated foods create ideal conditions for the growth of Salmonella. To prevent it, the Centers for Disease Control advise taking care to refrigerate or freeze perishable foods, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours. If the air temperature is 90˚F or warmer, chill foods even more promptly—within one hour is best.
The gloves are off
If your kitchen staff wears gloves during food preparation, do they follow set guidelines for when those gloves must be changed? While gloves can help prevent foodborne illnesses, using them inappropriately can encourage bacteria to spread. To prevent problems, StateFoodSafety.com advises that before slipping on a pair of gloves, you should wash hands thoroughly to get rid of potential contaminants. Always change gloves when switching tasks, such as taking out the garbage or returning from a break, when gloves become torn or dirty, or when you have touched your hair or face. Even if gloves stay clean, the FDA advises a handwashing and change of gloves after four continuous hours of use.
Technology lets consumers design their own burger
Burger-flipping robots have been in the news for a while now, but in June, the first robots that make burgers from scratch hit the restaurant market in San Francisco. Bloomberg reports that Creator, a culinary robotics company that brings together engineers from top Silicon Valley companies and alumni from elite restaurants, has developed a machine that grinds meat to order, seasons the patties, adds toppings to order and slices and toasts the buns—all in just five minutes (and for $6). Such technology has the potential to change the model for restaurants: Creator has higher food costs than other burger restaurants but far lower labor costs, and the small footprint needed for the actual burger preparation allows for more seating space. In September, Creator plans to launch an app that lets guests customize their amount of sauces in millilitres, adjust the mix and amounts of cheeses used, and even select which part of the bun gets extra seasoning.
Off-premise dining poised for further growth
What’s your formula for off-premise success? Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group, said 63 percent of all restaurant traffic is off-premise and he sees the off-premise market becoming even more important in the coming decade, with takeout, delivery and food trucks driving growth. A number of speakers at the recent National Restaurant Association Show said the same thing: Consumers are craving chef-prepared meals but don’t necessarily want to sit down at a restaurant to eat them. Modern Restaurant Management suggests several areas where operators can improve their chances of building their off-premise business. First focus your menu on items that are easy and quick to prepare and will maintain their quality if not eaten immediately after purchase. Fine-tune your packaging so it insulates foods that need to be kept hot or cold. Then you need technology that can manage different streams of guest traffic, taking into account orders from different channels and providing reliable quote times to guests — you may be able to upgrade your current platform to better support off-premise business streams. Study your sales of menu items across the ordering platforms you use to understand which items are popular and which need to be removed. Having this information can also help you test different price points for a popular item. Are guests clicking on the link to your website, or to special discounts and promotions? Measure which items are generating the best response so you can adjust your formula accordingly.
No space for a garden? No problem
Fresh, local produce has become an expectation of consumers dining out. To create space to grow that produce within the footprint of a restaurant, some operators have to get creative. As a result, they are finding ways to produce on rooftops, in cool climates, in cities, small spaces and other spots where bountiful gardens are a surprising find. Plate reports that at Coltivare in Houston, chef/owner Ryan Pera maximizes space in his restaurant’s patio garden by finding plants that are good partners and can be planted in the same bed. Long beans and peppers grow in one bed, basil and tomatoes in another. Operators just starting to grow their own produce can plant herbs and salad greens in boxes staggered along a patio wall. Pera also suggests planting smaller vegetables, such as quick-ripening small tomatoes instead of larger tomatoes that can collect water and rot. To protect what he grows, Pera makes an effort to prune frequently and manage water runoff after heavy rain to maintain the soil’s nutrients. Or you can avoid soil completely: Hydroponics are taking root in cities, allowing operators (and, on a larger scale, entrepreneurs) to raise greens in basements with the help of LED cultivation lamps. Finally, consider seeking an outdoor gardening space (and sharing an indoor growing space) with other nearby restaurant operators who have an interest in offering their own produce on the menu.
Manage rising recalls
In the past five years, the U.S. food and beverage industry has seen the biggest increase in product recalls of any industry. According to the Stericycle Recall Index, which tracks product recalls in the U.S., food recalls by the F.D.A. jumped nearly 93 percent between 2012 and 2017, while recalls managed by the U.S.D.A., which largely oversees meat production, climbed 83 percent during the same period. Bacterial contamination from such pathogens as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria was the most common cause. When recalls occur, do you have a reliable system for sequestering potentially contaminated items? StateFoodSafety.com advises that when a recall is announced, check to see if
you have the item in question. If so, remove it and store it away from other food and equipment that may otherwise come into contact with the item.
The struggle for sustainable seafood
In an industry where seafood fraud is widespread, the US distributor Sea to Table had become a favorite in the sustainable seafood movement for its purported mission to sell local, sustainably caught seafood — guaranteeing that its products were wild and could be traced to a U.S. dock or even a specific boat. But an AP investigation found that the business is linked to some of the practices it claimed to fight. It reports that DNA tests performed on Sea to Table’s yellowfin tuna indicated the fish originated from the other side of the world. AP research also found that Sea to Table was offering seafood varieties in different parts of the US that were illegal to catch, farmed and out of season. Further, when reporters traced the company’s supply chain, they found foreign fisherman who described labor abuses and poaching. For background about how you can make sustainable seafood choices, visit www.fishwatch.gov.
Keep your ice bin contaminant-free
Hot weather calls for icy beverages, so ensure your ice bin is ready for action. Dust, dirt, algae, bacteria from ice scoops stored unsafely, incoming water — all create conditions for unsanitary ice. The industrial ice machine provider EasyIce suggests a rough schedule for maintaining the cleanliness of your ice machine. First, conduct regular cleanings: Turn off your machine and soak a sponge in a solution of 1 oz. chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water. Wipe all surfaces of the bin that people handle — the lid, interior of the bin near the lid, and the plastic baffle inside that directs falling ice toward the back of the machine. Don’t rinse. Let the bin air dry. If scale is present, de-scale and rinse with water before bleaching as the products don’t mix well. Twice annually, do a deep cleaning. First, use a spray bottle to disperse de-liming and de-scaling products and scrub the bin’s interior with a brush or cloth. Rinse with water, then clean the bin interior with the bleach solution and air dry.
Be safe with shellfish
Nothing says summer like a lobster or clam bake. Food Safety News says that since the warm-water habitat of many shellfish is in areas of high water pollution from nearby cities, it’s important to cook this seafood well — to 145˚F, never consume it raw — to kill any lurking pathogens. Further, it advises that you do not cook or eat shellfish with open shells, which indicate the shellfish are dead and inedible. When storing shellfish, put it on ice or refrigerate or freeze it immediately after purchasing it. Take care to wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling shellfish, and to clean with hot, soapy water all utensils and surfaces that come into contact with the shellfish. Avoid cross-contamination during storage or prep by ensuring no juices from the shellfish touch other ready-to-eat foods.
Want loyalty? There’s an app for that
When you introduce user-friendly tech at your restaurant, consumers take notice and may become loyal customers. According to a recent survey of 1,000 diners by the hospitality integration platform Flyt, 58 percent of respondents said their perception of a restaurant improves — and makes them interested in visiting more frequently — if the restaurant uses technology effectively. In many cases (42 percent), that meant having an app that offers users the option of making voucher redemptions, ordering food delivery, making bookings and collecting loyalty points. Respondents said that for an app to be worth using again, it had to be easy to use (64 percent), provide key information (52 percent) and able to be used quickly (42 percent).
Use data to expand your “share of stomach”
“When we talk about share of stomach, we’re not just talking about supermarkets, but we are talking about restaurants, and all places that customers go to for their meal needs.” That’s what a spokesman for the food retailer Kroger said to the Cincinnati Business Courier recently. At a time when supermarkets and even convenience stores are steadily improving the ready-to-eat meals they have on offer and Amazon is in prime position to transform consumers’ ability to access quality foods quickly, how is your restaurant setting itself apart? Restaurant operators currently have a leg up on retailers when it comes to identifying their best guests via customer segmentation — they just need to use their data to generate the kind of call to action that results in increased guest visits and improved loyalty. For instance, Bloom Intelligence suggests restaurant operators identify a customer segment that dines with them once every week. Offer those guests a coupon or promotion when they refer a friend or write a Yelp review. Tap into a customer’s buying history to know who might enjoy the new appetizer on your menu. Your high-frequency, low expenditure guests aren’t likely to visit you more often, so focus on helping them attract new guests and on enticing them with offers that might encourage them to add an appetizer or dessert to their usual order. Are there any big spenders in your guest database? Offer them promotions that could encourage more frequent visits.
Don’t call these plants vegetarian
More than half of consumers are boosting their fruit and vegetable intake as compared to last year, citing taste and health as motivating factors. That’s according to Datassential’s SNAP! Keynote Report: Plant-Based Eating. Plant-based foods had a major presence at the recent National Restaurant Association Show — and while plant-based proteins are on the rise and becoming more creative (KFC recently announced plans to test a vegetarian chicken recipe with consumers this fall), you don’t necessarily need to imitate meat to offer a filling meal. Datassential’s report indicates that 85 percent of consumers believe plant-based foods can be just as satisfying as animal proteins. Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole and ancient grains can add heft to a plant-focused dish. Datassential found that more than half of consumers surveyed eat legumes once a week and one-third of consumers surveyed eat seeds at least once a week, often as part of a snack. The company advises that on the menu, operators avoid terms like “vegan” or “vegetarian,” which can make a dish sound less hearty or filling than it is. Instead, consider adding global seasonings to local, in-season produce to easily justify the presence of fruits and vegetables in the center of the plate. Promote the specific health benefits of the ingredients you offer, such as a smoothie with cleansing or energizing components.
Make a tough call on bacteria
Our phones have become extensions of us — and unfortunately, they carry with them bacteria that far outnumber what we typically encounter in a bathroom or other area where we are more likely to think of washing hands. According to research from Mashable, phones carry 25,107 bacteria per square inch, compared to 1,201 bacteria on a toilet seat, 1,736 bacteria on a kitchen counter, 4,500 bacteria on a checkout screen, and 8,643 bacteria on a doorknob. Do you have a firm policy about the use of phones by staff in your restaurant? In addition to encouraging the washing of hands, have guidelines about the use and cleaning of phones. A soft towel dipped in a mix of 60 percent water and 40 percent isopropyl alcohol works, or even a UV light that kills surface bacteria.
Food producers face new risk
Much like the threat of bacteria in food that resist treatment by antibiotics, there is now an increase in food crops’ resistance to antifungal treatments. That’s according to new research published in the journal Science. The study’s authors say the overuse of antifungal chemicals is making crops and livestock more resistant to treatments, which could lead to an increase in the loss of crops and livestock to fungal pathogens, as well as an increase in human fungal diseases. Fungal pathogens could include blights that impact food crops, as well as yeast and mold-related infections in both livestock and humans. The study calls for more selective use of existing antifungal treatments, which are currently limited in number, and also the development of new drugs and treatments.
The menu of the future is here
Ever been to a restaurant and ordered a dish you noticed someone enjoying at the next table? Augmented reality (AR) technology is tapping into our need to visualize the food we order. Upserve reports that the burger chain Bareburger has partnered with the AR food menu app Kabaq to make their meatless burgers appear on guests’ plates in 3D via Snapchat. The technology is designed to encourage guests to “eat with their eyes first,” Upserve reports — and, perhaps, order a little extra. According to a study Kabaq conducted, guests viewing virtual dessert options on a tablet on the table boosted dessert sales by 25 percent. Kabaq currently has more than 150 restaurants on board.
The best of both worlds in food delivery?
Delivery is here to stay — but the debate about how restaurants can make it profitable continues. Fortunately, in addition to handling delivery in-house and farming it out to third-party vendors, there is an emerging third category of delivery management that enables operators to manage delivery growth and retain the data they would otherwise be losing to third parties. In its 2018 Restaurant Tech EcoSystem report, Forbes mentions the emergence of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, essentially B2B software, which helps restaurants expand and serve their customer base and manage volume at the same time. Check out ordering platforms like Olo and logistics platforms like Bringg.
When you’re talking about restaurant technology, how is the conversation different if you’re operating a 1-to-5-unit business versus a restaurant that’s part of a 500-to-1000-unit ecosystem? It’s more similar than you might think. On a recent episode of Foodable’s Takeout, Delivery and Catering Show, Mo Asgari, president of MonkeyMedia Software, discussed technology deployments across the restaurant industry and said tech providers are all moving quickly to develop offerings that can serve the full spectrum of customers. For small operations, it’s critical to have a tech provider that can provide a scaleable product that flexes as your business does. Before you invest in technology, make sure you understand any challenges your business faces that may not be tech-related (and will need attention before you invest). Where to begin? Take stock of your operating model – MonkeyMedia’s “5 Pillars of Successful Restaurant Takeout, Delivery and Catering” can help.
How the Internet of Things can help your restaurant leap forward
Restaurant technology that makes an operation run more efficiently brings together pieces of information from multiple sources at the front and back of house to help improve the way we work. That’s where the Internet of Things (IoT), the range of interconnected devices that share information, stands to help operators manage through change and rely on data instead of guesswork to make decisions. The benefits can help restaurants take a major step forward now (though eventually, the information IoT technology provides may be required by health departments). According to Upserve, a connected restaurant can help operators remotely manage all equipment, troubleshoot problems and potentially avoid equipment failure. That means it can uphold your food safety standards by monitoring refrigeration (even shelf-by-shelf) round-the-clock and alerting you when a process or piece of equipment is out of compliance or when pathogens may be present. It can improve communication between your front- and back-of-house staff, manage orders more efficiently and make informed decisions about what dishes are and are not working on your menu. A smart oven with IoT technology can allow you to use one oven for different types of cooking and to monitor its operation remotely. Of course, not every operation is ready to make the best use of this kind of connectivity – Upserve suggests you ask yourself if you will act on the data provided, if you have the space for new kitchen equipment as needed, and if you understand the ways in which IoT can help increase your revenue. That said, you don’t need to make a substantial investment to take steps toward better connectivity – even a smartphone app that connects to sensors in an operation (Swift Sensors is one option) can help your restaurant save money, manage inventory better, minimize waste, monitor and improve energy usage and serve a consistent menu.
Boosting employee engagement through sustainability (but that’s not all)
It's no secret that consumers are demanding greater transparency and quality when it comes to the food they eat, its impact on their health and the environment, and the conditions in which it was produced. But a focus on sustainability could also make your restaurant a more appealing place to work at a time when staff retention is a significant challenge for many operators. That's according to the National Restaurant Association Sustainability Executive Study Group, which held its second annual meeting recently. At the session, business leaders focusing on sustainability efforts at Chick-fil-A, Darden Restaurants and other businesses made the connection between sustainability programs at work and employee engagement. A panel during the session reported that at companies with sustainability programs, 76 percent of employees agreed that their company was making a positive impact on the world (compared to 62 percent of employees at companies without sustainability programs). Further, 86 percent of employees from companies with sustainability programs said they are somewhat or very excited about their work, compared to 79 percent of employees at companies that don't take part in sustainability programs. (Of course, these operators aren’t only building sustainable operations to break the cycle of short-term employment in the restaurant industry – they are approaching employee engagement from different angles. Chick-fil-A, for one, has made headlines recently for its decision to give its hourly employees a $5 wage increase to between $17 and $18 an hour, as well as paid sick leave for all employees and paid time off for supervisors.)
Build a better beverage business
There are big profits in beverages right now -- from exotic new takes on coffee and tea to alcoholic drinks -- but do you give your beverage menu the same treatment you give your food menu? Typsy offered some suggestions to boost sales and customer engagement. For one, simplify your selection to avoid overwhelming guests (aim to limit your menu to 12 options per category) and use brief descriptive words, like "tangy" or "smooth," to paint a picture of each option and give each drink a creative title. Harness your POS data to determine your best-selling and most profitable drinks. In the category of beverages where you generate the most profits, increase your premium ingredients to help expand your margins. Finally, don't forget price psychology: place drink prices next to item descriptions (not off on their own) and price drinks so they end in $.95 or $.97 -- consumers perceive them as better deals than those priced on the dollar.
Safe summertime cookouts
The season for barbecues is upon us. If you’re cooking and serving outdoors, Foodsafety.gov advises you take extra precautions when it comes to preventing the spread of pathogens. For one, use your food thermometer to determine when meats are fully cooked. Beef, pork, lamb and veal must reach an internal temperature of 145˚F with a three-minute rest time. Ground meats need to reach 160˚F and poultry must reach 165˚F. Hot dogs are cooked when steaming hot. While food can be left out at room temperature for two hours, food sitting out in the sun should not be left for more than an hour.
Fashioned for food safety
Are your standards for staff dress threatening food safety at your restaurant? Insisting on having servers and kitchen staff keep uniforms clean, eliminating elements like neckties or vests that can accidentally brush up against food and cross-contaminate ingredients, having your staff wear shoes with a tread that prevent slips, trips and falls, and keeping their hair tied up and away from food can all help prevent food safety problems.
Instagram update brings guests a step closer to the dishes they view
Instagram has become the go-to social media platform for restaurants looking to showcase their latest dishes, offer promotions and build their audience. Now, the platform is making it easier for consumers to make plans to consume the mouth-watering dishes they see on the platform. Instagram, through its partnerships with OpenTable, GrubHub and Resy, is letting consumers order food for delivery or make reservations directly from the platform – they no longer have to call the restaurant or toggle over to its site to order delivery or book a table.
It’s the new drive-thru
Could this be the reinvention of the drive-thru? Chipotle has begun adding drive-thru lanes to some of its new locations – but guests can’t use them to place food orders. (Dunkin’ Donuts did the same at one of its locations this year.) CNBC reports that at Chipotle, the lanes are to serve guests who have placed orders via the chain’s mobile app and want the option of staying in their car when picking up their food. Those who place an order via mobile app can do so hours in advance and choose the time they’d like to pick up their order. Guests will receive a text when their order is ready and can park in dedicated spots outside if they arrive prior to that time. The challenge will be to monitor data to be able to anticipate when ordering rushes occur – and to schedule staff accordingly.
Turn around your turnover rate
The cost of employee turnover is about $5,800 per person for the average front-line employee, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. That turnover is especially damaging if you lose a strong general manager, who is “the one person you have to hold accountable for everything about the brand standard,” according to Roz Mallet, CEO of PhaseNext Hospitality who spoke in a session at the recent National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. But you can limit the damage. A report in Foodservice Director recommends some strategies in use at various foodservice operations around the country. Towson University’s foodservice operation, for example, uses an online application designed to help match applicants with job openings and also identify candidates who may already be planning their exit from the job. Hiring managers there must connect with at least two references before making a hire, and new hires must take part in safety and company policy training and orientation before their first day on the job. The goal is to provide a transparent process and avoid surprises later—so Foodservice Director suggests operators not hold back about the challenges of a position (and about how the candidate’s skills and talents are needed). Also, make an effort to consider new demographics. For example, a school district in Lee’s Summit, Mo. makes a special effort to promote job openings to retirees and caregivers who are less likely to jump from job to job than younger workers may be. They advertise job openings during school events that are likely to draw people committed to the community. Finally, go fishing. TJ Schier of SMART Restaurant Group said he passes out business cards to any people he meets who give him top-notch customer service and invites them to apply for a job at his restaurants.
Look to the future with practical, on-brand technology
What does the restaurant of the future look like? While kitchen robots, autonomous delivery vehicles and facial recognition software are certainly on the rise, operators considering new technology don’t need the latest bells and whistles to benefit from technology. Industry experts weighed in on the topic at the National Restaurant Association Show—and their comments served as a reminder to put new technology in perspective. When considering whether to implement new technology, Restaurant Business reports that Sarah Lockyer of Winsight suggested operators ask whether or not their guests are demanding that technology and if it meshes with their restaurant’s brand. While voice recognition may be a helpful addition for some restaurant kitchens, for example, there are other technology applications that may be more practical across the board. Restaurant payments, Lockyer said, are in this category. Do you know to what extent technology can help streamline your guest payments? Do you offer mobile payments? Does your restaurant have a clientele that would accept a cashless payment option? Lockyer also sees opportunity for restaurants to use dynamic pricing to their benefit. For instance, during a slow day part, a stormy weekend, or a day when your supply of a popular menu item is running low, your spur-of-the-moment pricing adjustments can help increase traffic and boost sales of certain items. Dynamic pricing can also help you make special offers to your most loyal guests.
Take back your bookings
At a time when data is king, think twice before surrendering your customer information to third parties. For example, while using a third-party service to manage your bookings can be a helpful part of your marketing strategy, it shouldn’t be your only strategy. You’re likely losing not just money but also weakening your connection to your guests because their data is going to the third-party provider instead of you—and if you have no tables available at a requested time, you’re also losing out on an opportunity to suggest a table at another restaurant in your portfolio. Modern Restaurant Management suggests offering benefits to guests to incentivize them to book directly from you: Create memorable experiences by offering kitchen tours, special classes or preferred seating times and locations. Consider offering rewards such as custom wine pairings or a complimentary appetizer. Finally, make the third-party sites worth your while by having them enforce cancellation fees and a require credit card to hold a reservation.
Plant-based foods take off
If the National Restaurant Association Show is any indication, plant-based foods aren’t just for vegans and vegetarians anymore—and they’re becoming much more than burger replacements. Restaurant Business reports that attendees of the recent event crowded the show floor for a taste of products such as “bleeding” meatless burgers, dairy-free cheese, soy-based gyros, plant-based scrambled egg replacements, and burgers and sausages made from pea protein. How innovative is your kitchen when it comes to creating plant-based menu options? More guests may be clamoring for them in the coming months.
Check cleanliness of non-food-contact surfaces
When cleaning your kitchen, don’t forget easily overlooked places like refrigerator, microwave and oven handles, beverage dispenser heads, overhead lighting and vents, and walls adjacent to your food preparation areas that are likely to get splashed during cooking. StateFoodSafety.com advises keeping these non-food-contact surfaces clean to ensure food debris can’t contaminate menu items you’re preparing.
Fine-tune your back-of-house setup
Even with a well-thought-out training program in place and front-of-house staff committed to delivering quality service, the experience you provide your guests won’t be the best it can be if your back-of-house setup isn’t working. Assess your back-of-house procedures to identify bottlenecks. Are inadequate tools compromising food or employee safety or consuming too much time? Fast Casual suggests you consider using equipment such as high-efficiency dishwashers, disposals, automated oil management systems and trash compactors, which can help streamline complicated or unsafe tasks — and make your team’s work a bit easier. Also, as open kitchens continue to appeal to guests, keeping that part of your operation in order and ready for display is just as important as the presentation of the dish you serve a guest.
Virtual and augmented reality raise the game for restaurants
Looking to improve your guest and employee experience? For some operators, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are boosting engagement. A report in QSR magazine said the founder of the fast-casual chain Honeygrow has implemented a VR orientation and training tool whereby employees wear a pair of VR glasses and walk through a five-part training session that covers everything from protecting food safety to providing good customer service. There is even a gaming component where employees must place vegetables and raw meat on the proper refrigerator shelves. Other brands are using similar technology to create digital apps that allow guests to scan against features at the restaurant, prompting information, animations and games to pop up on their phone screen to educate and engage them in the brand. Starbucks has introduced such an AR concept in its new Shanghai Reserve Roastery.
Navigate food delivery – and come out ahead
Offering food delivery is becoming more of a need-to-have option than a nice-to-have option, as restaurants struggle to bring in new customers and find ways to manage decreased foot traffic. In fact, NPD Group found that food delivery sales have climbed 20 percent in the past five years. If GrubHub, Uber Eats or other large food delivery operators have started up in your vicinity, don’t forget about the smaller, independent operators who might give your restaurant a boost. A recent report in Skift Table says business for these operators has been strong overall, despite some early concerns that the larger operators could eat up their market share. The report found that in some cases, the larger operators were slow to make requested menu updates and that a restaurant might not appear as an available option during periods when the updates need to be made. While a smaller operator may not have the advantage of scale, it may be able to provide personalized service to its restaurant partners and their customers. If your take-away menu includes items that require special care or if your delivery business has a loyal customer following, using a smaller player might help you customize your service to that base. They may also be more willing to negotiate with you to earn your business — an important benefit at a time when delivery slims down profit margins for many restaurants.
E. coli inspires technology that prevents it
The E.coli outbreak at Chipotle a few years ago inspired two engineers to start working on a device that would help prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Now, Business Insider reports that they have developed a product called PathSpot that uses light to determine whether or not there is bacteria present on a person’s hands (which, when not properly washed, can cause 89 percent of foodborne illnesses). PathSpot is a small black box attached to an iPad with a connected sensor. When the iPad scans the light reflected by a person’s hand, it runs an algorithm to show how it fluoresces — wavelengths of light fluoresce differently in contaminated versus clean hands. PathSpot will flash red if it detects bacteria on a person’s hands and blue if the person’s hands are clean. It also maintains extensive employee records and can alert a manager if an employee doesn’t rescan within a few minutes of getting a red light, or if an employee is skipping scans altogether. The technology is in the early stages of a rollout — it is already being used in 20 farms, packaging facilities and restaurants in the U.S. The engineers behind the technology have their sights set on making PathSpot the go-to device for sanitation regulation in restaurants, hospitals, schools and airports — and to eventually make PathSpot a portable device that could attach to a smartphone and be used by individuals.
Food inspection schedules impact likelihood of foodborne illness
The time of day when a food safety inspection takes place can have a big impact on foodborne illness rates. That’s according to a new Harvard Business School study, which found that 19 million foodborne illnesses, 51,000 hospitalizations and billions of dollars in medical costs could be avoided every year if food safety inspections are scheduled at the beginning of the day instead of at the end. Food Safety Magazine reports that according to the research, inspectors cited fewer violations at each establishment inspected throughout the course of a day. This is likely due to workday fatigue and an eagerness to complete work toward the end of a day — and it likely provides some operations with better scores than they deserve.
Technology to help you manage labor challenges
Managing swings in the labor market, as well as the costs, are top challenges for restaurant operators. At the recent National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, many technology companies were on hand with offerings designed to help operators manage those challenges. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a number of companies, including HotSchedules, Harri and Snag, are looking to help operators with labor forecasting to help them avoid the high costs of turnover. Consider them if you’re looking to monitor shifting consumer demands, adapt to the rise of off-premise business, fill staff vacancies quickly and manage other factors that can help you navigate the labor landscape.
Restaurant technology: Experts weigh in
How is your restaurant preparing for technology? If you struggle to use technology effectively, several technology executives from Papa John’s, KFC and Long John Silver’s made recommendations at the recent Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville, Ky. The primary takeaways: When you’re considering new technology, approach it from a holistic perspective. Your app or digital signage won’t be as effective if you’re not coordinating it with changes to your full operation — and ensuring the technology you have works as an ensemble. They also addressed a popular myth: that embracing digital ordering will help operators reduce labor costs. In reality, they said, your head count may increase because as you become more efficient at accepting orders more quickly, you’ll need people helping to prepare them. Finally, as you incorporate technology to improve customer experience, remember your employees’ experience by providing digital training tools and other resources that can improve their work, such as online shift-trading tools.
Fine-tune your online marketing
There is so much information available about restaurants online that most of your guests have likely researched you on Yelp, Google Business, TripAdvisor or all three before stepping through your door. To reap the most benefit from your online marketing budget, Cake recommends you optimize your listings with specific, relevant service categories and keywords. Ensure you have a brief write-up that uses these keywords to describe your restaurant and menu. Use professional photos and ensure your restaurant’s menu and contact information is updated across platforms. Put your menu online and link it to your listings on review sites. Update your website so it’s optimized for mobile, can accept reservations online and incorporates local SEO to improve your online rankings. Have a complete social media profile and allow guests to book a table through your page. Any email you send should be personalized with names, locations or other information — and easily read on a mobile device.
A tabletop tablet for independent restaurants
Did you think tabletop tablets were out of reach for independent restaurants or small chains? Ziosk, a top player that has in recent years focused on the larger chains, including Chili’s, Red Robin and about two dozen others, is now looking to expand its tablet technology into small chains and some independent restaurants. Skift Table reports that in addition to payments, the Ziosk tablets offer games and also prompt guests with post-meal surveys that can only be taken immediately after making payment (helping operators avoid having servers take surveys and inflate their ratings artificially). Pricing for Ziosk’s offering for independent restaurant starts at $260 per month for 24 devices.
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