Data can unlock valuable information about your guests, of course. Now Uber Eats is demonstrating that data can also reveal demand for restaurants that don’t yet exist (but could, with a little help). Uber Eats is currently the fastest-growing food delivery app, serving 70 percent of the U.S. Much of that growth is due to the development of virtual restaurants — brick-and-mortar restaurants operating one or more restaurants that deliver food via Uber Eats and exist only on that platform. For example, Eater reports that the Dallas sushi chain SushiYaa, which operates five brick-and-mortar locations, houses about two dozen other virtual restaurants — all with their own separate menus that consumers can access on the Uber Eats platform. Uber Eats actually approached SushiYaa about the opportunity more than a year ago and suggested they start a virtual restaurant to meet rising consumer demand for poke. Uber Eats data indicated demand for the food was increasing and SushiYaa had the necessary ingredients for it already on hand. All that was required of the restaurant was a business name, menu and logo. Uber Eats then provided the tablet used for processing orders and sent a photographer to take photos of menu items. The process took less than two weeks to take fruition and has been a win for the restaurant, which can now use its existing space and labor force to serve a much larger volume of business.
Know the signs of an unsafe journey
Is meat, fish or poultry on your menu? Those items have likely taken a multi-step journey to get there. While you have to rely on others in your supply chain to uphold food safety practices along the route, you can find clues about it when inspecting shipments. Restaurant Owner & Manager suggests these red flags that a shipment should be rejected: cartons that aren’t intact, dirty wrappers, colored spots on the item (purple, white, brown or green), strange odors (including an ammonia smell to fish), flesh with a soft appearance or that leaves a finger imprint when you press on it, fish eyes with a sunken-in appearance, and open shells on fresh shellfish.
If your restaurant does not have a blog — or could stand to improve its existing one — now is a good time to work on it. A solid blog presence will make your website more of a destination for consumers at a time when they are eager to interact with restaurants online. (A Technomic survey found that 42 percent of consumers said they would choose one restaurant over another if it offered the ability to order online.) A strong blog can be a hub for your other content, referencing your social media accounts and featuring the kinds of images and personality that infuse your website with your restaurant’s atmosphere. To build engagement via your blog, Next Restaurants suggests you first set it within the right URL structure — i.e. host it on your website via a subdomain or subdirectory. Next, think about the kinds of terms people would use when searching for your restaurant online so that your blog content meshes with what terms people are using to search for restaurants like yours. A search term such as “restaurants with creative cocktails” might spark an idea for a blog about how you weave local, seasonal ingredients into your beverage menu — or a recipe for how guests might make their own version at home. There are some blog post-building tools available online if you need more help in triggering ideas. Finally, don’t be a stranger. While you don’t have to post content daily, you should post at least once a week. Each year or each season, you can take a look at what’s happening on your menu or with events you have planned and then write (or outsource the writing of) a large chunk of related blog content at once. When business is busy and you don’t have time for pulling together a post, you will have a ready supply of content to choose from throughout the year.
What does loyalty mean to you?
Any restaurant consultant will tell you to have a strong loyalty program. But within those programs, there is plenty of opportunity to differentiate your particular restaurant. Take McNellie’s Restaurants, an Oklahoma chain that is using different methods for generating traffic and valuable feedback via their loyalty program. For one, members of the program are invited to come to the restaurant on specific days and get 50 percent off their bill if they ask to meet with one of the restaurant’s managers and have a conversation about their experience. Another offer encourages members to bring a friend (and get a discount if that friend signs up for the loyalty program). The brand also has different levels of loyalty and associated benefits that members need to work to retain. For example, the restaurant gets a 90 percent conversion rate when they send an email to guests telling them they need to come to the restaurant at least once that month to retain their VIP status.
Being able to do so may help you avoid a foodborne illness outbreak at a time when the supply chain is becoming increasingly complex. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, Ecolab’s vice president of food safety offered operators a couple of tips to find the most reliable growers. She said the larger ones, those with $5 million in sales and more, tend to have strong food safety practices and testing already in place. Further, she advised operators to identify growers who
use third-party facility audits. Those growers, she said, spent two to 10 times more on food safety than those who didn’t.
‘Tis the season for holiday feasting — and leftovers. Just make sure you have plenty of space in your refrigerator and freezer to accommodate them. Overloading shelves or placing food too close to the refrigerator’s circulatory fan could impede the smooth circulation of air. This could lead to a food safety issue or potentially affect the lifespan of the refrigerator. Make sure to clear some space in the midst of the holiday rush.
New research from Fogelson & Co. about the Food Connected Consumer — a group of food-focused consumers representing 62 percent of Americans (and $835 billion in food spending) across demographics and locations — found that Millennials and Generation Z are the most food-connected of the bunch. They are eager to try and share new foods (think global flavors), are mindful of their food’s origins, and are twice as likely to plan their travel around food and restaurants. They follow food trends via social media and technology and they are more likely to post about food on social media, follow food bloggers and rate their food experiences online. These consumers are loyal to the brands that speak to them and tell stories that relate to them. Can your restaurant provide the kind of experience that brings them back?
McDonald’s and Panera had an unfortunate trait in common in recent months: Both brands served salads that were linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. But they’re hardly alone. Healthline reports that between 1973 and 2012, 85 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. that were caused by leafy greens were traced back to a restaurant or caterer. As restaurants accommodate consumer demand for these fresh ingredients, operators need to be extra aware of the food safety vulnerability that comes along with that shift. While produce and other raw, fresh foods may be healthier to eat than processed foods, they also carry an increased risk of spreading illness. Modern Restaurant Management reports that a number of factors exacerbate the problem, ranging from operators’ reliance on pencil-and-paper processes that are easy to skip and don’t hold staff accountable, to a lack of awareness of the supply chain. The report advised that as menus offer fresh ingredients, operators must step up their focus on food safety and ensure they prevent cross-contamination of ingredients, cook food to the proper temperature and sanitize equipment. But beyond that, they must also have a good understanding of the origins of their produce and how it has been stored along its route. Without that, even a restaurant with a spotless kitchen and vigilant staff can serve produce that sickens a guest.
A new grab-and-go option takes on groceries
As grocery stores raise the bar on prepared foods, some restaurants are fighting back with meal kits or other grab-and-go options. QSR Magazine reports that one brand, Newk’s Eatery, which has 120 locations in 15 states, has launched a related concept that allows people to prepare restaurant-quality food at home and provide the kind of meal customization consumers seek from restaurants. Its program, Express Market, involves having an open-air refrigerator at each location with different protein entrees (choices include flash-seared ahi, broiled shrimp, char-grilled salmon and sliced chicken), as well as pastas, sandwiches, salads, rotating soups and sides, and dressings and cakes. The idea is that consumers can build their own dinners from these building blocks — not necessarily follow a set recipe.
Second only to the retail industry, the restaurant industry is a top employer of Generation Z, the demographic defined as those aged 21 and younger. In 2018, 19 percent of Gen Z worked in restaurants, up from 15 percent in 2017, according to data shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in Orlando. If you are looking to hire a lot of staff in this demographic, are you doing what it takes to attract and retain them? First, just like your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices, your job postings should be too. Gen Z scours job boards, restaurant websites and social media for job leads, and most of that searching is done on their phones. They prefer to be able to apply for jobs that way too, so don’t insist on a written application. Once hired, your Gen Z staff are more likely to stay if you offer them opportunities for training, development and mentorship. According to the research, 60 percent of Gen Z say that the coaching and education they received on the job made them want to stay on and pursue longer-term opportunities there. When it comes to receiving workplace training, Gen Z has clear preferences too: The vast majority (88 percent) like one-on-one and on-the-job training, with online or mobile training modules or videos not far behind. When it doubt, swap out classroom-based or paper-based learning with highly visual platforms that deliver quick, easily digestible lessons.
Safeguard your mobile strategy
Your mobile presence has power: Mobile search behavior by people who search for food using their phones or tablets has a nearly 90 percent conversion rate, according to the study “Mobile Path-to-Purchase” by xAd and Telmetrics. You may be pouring a large portion of your ad spending on mobile as a result, but proceed with caution. Research from the online advertising firm WordStream found that unless a business has a thoughtful mobile strategy, it’s too easy to miss out on business opportunities. Since so many businesses want a piece of the mobile market, the mobile click-through rate decreases 45 percent faster in lower search positions than it does on desktop or tablet computers. The share of impressions on mobile is low as well, with mobile ads less likely to be shown (even in top positions) than they are on desktops. Search costs per click for mobile have also been increasing dramatically in the past year.
When your food supplies arrive, do you have time to inspect each delivery? If not, you could be allowing food into your operation that you would otherwise reject, increasing your chances of spreading harmful pathogens. To ensure you’re allowing only thoroughly inspected shipments into your facility, Statefoodsafety.com suggests scheduling shipments to arrive at different times and not at peak hours when you may feel pressed to rush through an inspection.
Expecting a sales slowdown in the first weeks of the New Year? Use it as a time to set yourself up for success later in the year and to test out some new ideas. To bring in traffic despite the cold temperatures, OpenTable offers some suggestions: If you’re looking to launch or revamp your email newsletter or website, now is a good time to get the word out about special promotions, events and specials — and make sure all of the basic information on your website and other public-facing materials is up to date. You could also do something a little different with your menu: add some hot beverages to your offering, or if you have outdoor space, fully embrace the cold by turning your patio into a winter wonderland with string lights, make-your-own s’mores and warm blankets. If your city holds a Restaurant Week, join in to help attract dining-room traffic, but also focus on building your delivery business for customers less eager to brave the elements.
Customers who engage with businesses on social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money on those businesses than on others, according to research from Bain & Company. In your efforts to reel in those customers, remember to focus on the relationship instead of the sale. To avoid turning followers off by being too promotional, focus on making 80 percent of your content about topics that will spark conversation and just 20 percent on promoting new offers (though keep your content focused on topics related to your business). It helps if your brand has a distinct voice so that anyone on your team can post content and come across consistently. While it can be tempting to automate responses or use a selection of canned responses, use this approach sparingly — it can backfire if followers see through it.
The better consumer data you have, the more you strengthen your capabilities to personalize service, forecast guest demand and labor needs, and ensure the accuracy of guest orders. But as you look to use data to provide superior service and make your guests’ experiences more customized, be careful to not step across the line into invading your guests’ privacy. Consumers know you want their data — and they may not be so comfortable about it — so be prepared to defend how you manage it. If any of your guests were to ask you about how you collect and use their personal information, could you respond to them in a way that demonstrates you’re being careful and thoughtful? The California Privacy Act of 2018, which goes into effect in 2020, is designed to serve as a bill of rights for consumers whose data have been collected by businesses. It will enable consumers to request an accounting of what personal information of theirs a business has collected, how the business gathered and is using that information, and who can access it. Consumers can have their data deleted upon request and can demand that a business not sell any of the information it has collected. While this particular legislation will apply to just California, note that it may serve as a blueprint for other states — and encourage consumers everywhere to take steps to protect their data. To pre-empt that, partner with your suppliers and other vendors to set standards for data protection and encourage collaboration now. For some help in assessing your needs and how to protect the data you collect, consult the National Restaurant Association’s two guides on cybersecurity and data protection, Cybersecurity 101 and Cybersecurity 201.
Know your beef supply chain
At a time when consumers are becoming more vigilant about the use of antibiotics in the meat they consume, industry watchdogs are ready to call out businesses that aren’t sufficiently vetting their suppliers. In a newly released report card that rates 25 burger chains for the degree of antibiotic use in their meat sources, all but three businesses received failing grades (and one of those three received a D-minus). Restaurant Business reports that the Chain Reaction report, which was authored by the U.S. Public Interest Group and co-authored by Consumers Union, the National Resources Defense Council and other public interest groups, found that most chains lack meaningful policies on antibiotic use in their beef supply chains. Shake Shack and Burger Fi came out on top, scoring A’s for sourcing beef without antibiotics. If guests asked you about your beef supply chain, what would you say?
After the holidays, many restaurants see a dip in business. Motivating your best guests to come back will be especially important to keeping business on track. But when you think of your best guests, does a specific person come to mind — or just a list of traits? Creating a set of guest personas can help you understand who you’re trying to attract and fine-tune your marketing so you encourage them to return. According to The Rail, it’s important to combine both qualitative and quantitative data in your research. Studying your Google analytics data may tell you the age and sex of your average website visitor, for example, but may be less specific about their food preferences. For qualitative information, interview and survey your guests — canvass your mailing list and offering a discount or other promotion for their participation — and ask what they care about. Try to elicit quotes from them to understand what influences them. Your final guest personas — and you can have several categories of them depending on the diversity of guests you serve — can be given a name, vocation and other personal information but shouldn’t necessarily be specific individuals you know in real life. Instead, they should be composites of people who encompass the range of qualities you see in your guest community.
Get fired up
‘Tis the season for a fire in the fireplace. While preparing foods over a roaring fire is hardly new, the practice is on trend at the moment for the way it brings together basic cooking methods, local ingredients and memorable dining experiences. It can also help you infuse your menu with unexpected flavors. As the owner of the London Log Company told the Telegraph, salmon smoked over firewood has a different flavor depending on the color of the wood. It also allows a chef to constantly monitor a food as it cooks — all while putting on a show for guests. (Use dry woods for a more even burn.) Even if you don’t have the facility for cooking over fire, you can adapt a barbecue by soaking wood chips in water and then sprinkling them over charcoal for similar effect.
Chemicals abound in and around your kitchen. Just don’t let them create a food safety problem. To avoid cross-contamination, Statefoodsafety.com advises you store chemicals away from food storage and contact areas, label all chemicals clearly and wash hands after handling them. In case of spillage, discard the excess chemical — don’t put it back into its original container. Be aware of any pesticides used on produce you buy and wash those ingredients or use other approved methods for removing pesticide residues. Also note that chemicals that may be in your cooking equipment and utensils: Avoid using copper, lead and pewter cookware and utensils, which can leach harmful chemicals into foods.
Participating in a farmer’s market can help you connect with your community year round, promote your support of local ingredients and help you test out potential menu items. It’s easy to fall short on food safety in casual market environments, though, so take care to protect your customers and your business from claims of foodborne illness. Ensure that those serving food have clean hands and fingernails, that they use gloves or tongs when handling food, and that they aren’t handling money and food at once. Take care to avoid cross-contaminating any utensils used to serve samples and food orders. The state of your booth is a reflection of your restaurant, so keep food preparation surfaces clean and dispose of used toothpicks or other utensils left behind. Finally, mind the temperature danger zone so you keep hot foods at 140˚F or hotter, cold foods at 40˚F or colder and frozen foods at 32˚F or colder.
Consumers have come to expect free wifi when they visit a restaurant — and chances are good that you offer it. But are you making the most of this valuable connection to your guests? For example, how can you collect useful insights (and make offers to help turn visitors into loyal guests) whenever someone logs in? How long do these guests stay and how can you make the most of the lulls that happen during the day? GoZone Wifi is one supplier that offers businesses marketing tools, guest analytics and the opportunity to earn income through targeted ads shown on their wifi network. If you’re currently offering wifi without collecting insights that could benefit your business, consider the potential benefits you could be generating when you make decisions about your internet service.
Does this sound familiar? Third-party delivery services can be like a drug that addicts restaurant owners: You sign up at a significant expense to get quick hits in the form of incremental sales, then pay even more to sustain business as more companies join the platform. That’s the view of Noah Glass, the CEO and founder of Olo, a mobile and online ordering platform. Glass advises restaurant operators to control their own online ordering site and he built his company to help them do that. While it can be more work to get customers to visit your site or download your app, he says, you will reap the benefit of more money earned on each sale. Others agree. Keeping your ordering in-house could increase your profitability by 35 percent, according to Software Advice, which advises operators to use a simple equation to determine how much they could be spending on third-party platforms. (Take the value of your monthly revenue and multiply that by 25 percent, which is the average percentage of commission fees charged by the platforms, and your answer will be the amount of money you will lose each month.) Instead, you could keep your ordering in-house for a lower monthly fee and supplement your system with Google’s My Business to benefit from the marketing exposure in your area. Then, when you capture the contact information and order history of customers, you can send targeted push promotions to them to entice them to return. Finally, keeping your ordering platform in-house keeps you in the driver’s seat when making menu changes or updates, or when managing issues with orders. Even if your third-party vendor seeks to provide a good customer experience, the may not be able to update your information as quickly as you would and they don’t necessarily value your business over the growing numbers of other restaurants on their platform.
Speak your guests’ language
Do you have an item on your menu that should be popular with guests but somehow doesn’t get many takers? Before you exchange it for something new, consider adjusting how you describe it on your menu. Even if you use colorful language to paint a mental picture of a dish, it may not strike an emotional chord with a guest. Cake suggests guiding guests to make a decision using nostalgic language rather than logic. It worked well for Dolester Miles, who earlier this year was named the best pastry chef in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. The Washington Post reports that she created a layer cake containing zabaglione — a foamy custard sauce flavored with marsala wine — but no one ordered it when the menu description mentioned the ingredient. When she changed the name of the dessert to Frank’s Favorite Cake, however, “it started flying off the shelf.”
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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