Testing delivery? Remember your leverage
Offering food delivery has become a must, thanks to rising consumer demand and a growing number of third-party companies offering restaurants a variety of delivery options. While the industry experiences growing pains as it adapts to these changes (a recent New Yorker article detailed how many operators that offer delivery claim they are seeing shrinking profit margins as a result of the shift), there is also ample room for restaurants to shop around for a model that helps them build business. For instance, Skift Table reports that the restaurant El Pollo Loco recently expanded its partnership with DoorDash, with one caveat: While it uses DoorDash to provide its delivery service, El Pollo Loco still receives and processes all customer orders through its own website and app, which allows it to retain customer relationship data instead of relinquishing that information to DoorDash. Other companies are trying test runs with a number of partners to find the best options. Remember that as more restaurants sign on with third-party delivery partners, those companies will benefit from economies of scale. While fees from delivery services can amount to 20 to 40 percent of a sale, there is more room for restaurants to negotiate those fees downward as other restaurants sign on. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney told the Wall Street Journal recently that “scale drives efficiency.” As third-party delivery companies grow, they will have greater flexibility to minimize their restaurant partners’ costs.
Smart, simple social media
If social media hasn’t become central to your marketing strategy yet, it will soon need to be. About 90 percent of consumers aged 18 to 29 use social media and one-third of them say it is among their preferred channels for communicating with businesses, according to research from Business 2 Community. To strengthen your social media strategy, Social Media Today suggests you create an audience persona. Think of your ideal guest: Is the person male or female? How old is he? What kind of work does he do? How much education does he have? What are his hobbies and interests? Where is he most active on social media? Develop content that speaks to this person and post it where he is likely to be looking for it. Second, specify your top goals. For many, those goals are to build brand awareness, increase website traffic and generate new leads. Align each of those goals with specific metrics that can help you track progress. Finally, if you need help simplifying social media campaign development, consider using blog aggregator tools (Feedly, for one, can aggregate all of your blog feeds in one place and let you select content to share with your followers), automation tools like Hootsuite or Buffer, which can schedule your posts to go out at specific times and then analyze your results, and social following tools like ManageFlitter or FollowerWonk, which can help you identify and follow the consumers in your target audience.
Do you have an Open Kitchen?
If your guests value transparency when it comes to the food you prepare, they likely value it when it comes to your business environment as well. If your restaurant is among the 45,000 that use OpenTable to manage reservations, consider becoming an “Open Kitchen.” The Washington Post reports that OpenTable launched its Open Kitchen campaign to help restaurants demonstrate to the public that they are safe, equitable places for women, LGBTQ and minorities to work. Restaurants that sign a pledge committing to these values can display a sign from OpenTable that advertises their support of the principles. While signing up is voluntary and the restaurants who do so must police themselves, this may be the first step of more to come from OpenTable. In an industry that often lacks human resources personnel at the restaurant level, OpenTable is stepping out as a potentially unifying force to help develop standards and offer training to operators across the industry. (On April 11, they offered a webinar led by human resources professionals about how to prevent sexual harassment.)
Put it on (clean) ice
As the weather warms up and guests are looking for more options for alfresco dining, take precautions with any food and drink you’re trying to keep chilled outdoors. StateFoodSafety.com advises that when you’re making ice for keeping items cold, make sure you’re using drinking water — and, of course, discard any ice and melted water afterwards.
Make a clean break
Chances are, many of your guests have tried some kind of a cleanse to motivate themselves to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A new report in QSR says a number of restaurants are trying to ride the detox wave by offering items that claim to provide cleansing benefits. Take Brodo Broth Company in New York, which offers broths made from organic vegetables and the bones of grass-fed animals. While the company has not yet exclusively pushed its broths for their detoxifying potential, their customers have identified those benefits themselves. Other operators that offer a juice menu have created special cold-pressed options that are sold as packages to support cleanses for single or multiple days. Does your grab-and-go food and beverage menu have cleansing potential?
A tool to test food transparency
As consumers demand transparency from the restaurants they frequent, a new system on the horizon is aiming to help food purveyors confirm the origins and quality of the food they provide. The Food Marketing Institute and the Center for Food Integrity recently released a white paper entitled “Transparency Roadmap for Food Retailers: Strategies to Build Consumer Trust,” which offers food retailers and suppliers guidance to provide clear background information about the products they offer. The two groups are now working on a transparency index that gives food distributors a tool to help assess and improve their levels of transparency. It covers such areas as the impact of food on health and the environment, food safety, labor and human rights, the treatment of animals raised for food, and business ethics in food production.
Luxurious touches that justify higher menu prices
From rising labor expenses to the cost of investing in technology, restaurant operators are facing pressure from multiple sources to increase the prices of menu items. But as Skift Table reports, a number of operators are incorporating touches of elite ingredients into their menus and, in the process, are making those items into reasonable splurges for guests. Operators are using ingredients ranging from specialty vinegars and olive oils used for marinades to flavored butters that are rarely found in U.S. restaurants. While these ingredients certainly add to a restaurant’s expenses, they’re also not used in vast quantities —and they lend subtle luxury to foods that can make a restaurant special and memorable for guests
Three changes, big results
Even if you have a finely tuned menu selection and friendly staff, a number of factors beyond your food and service are responsible for bringing your guests back—and whether or not they spread the word about you. Upserve recently shared some tips that can help you boost business. For one, design your menu with the knowledge that your guests will spend just 109 seconds or less reading it. In that time frame, you must connect your guests with your brand and ensure you have steered them to the menu items you most want to sell. Pay attention to sweet spots including the upper-right-hand corner of your menu, as well as the first and last items you list, which tend to get the most attention. Using (but not overusing) shaded boxes, pull quotes and photos can help too—for instance, photographing one item on each menu page can help drive sales of those items by 30 percent, according to menu engineer Gregg Rapp. Second, mining your sales analytics to create menus that mesh with customer preferences can help you ensure you’re pricing your menu according to what the market will bear. If you’re going to put your technology dollars in one place, consider investing in software that will help you pull data from your business and adjust your menu accordingly. Finally, choose your décor colors carefully. While red is a color known for making people hungry, it can overpower (or come across as too obvious) if used as the predominant color in your restaurant. Mary Lakzy, a London-based creative director who advises foodservice clients about décor, suggests light, cool colors to make a room feel larger and more airy; dark, warm colors to give a space an intimate feel; and bold, primary colors to help encourage a faster turnover.
Where’s the tipping point?
Tipping in restaurants—and whether or not to discontinue to practice—has been in the news for months as restaurant operators struggle to find ways to level the playing field between front- and back-of-house staff. A new report from Eater introduces an additional perspective: Data about tipping clearly shows that the practice encourages racism and exploitation, both from guests and servers. For example, Eater analyzed date from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that from 2010 to 2016, the median estimated hourly tip for white servers and bartenders was $7.06; for black servers it was $5.58 and for Asians it was $4.47. The practice of tipping draws out the biases of servers as well. Zachary Brewster, a sociology professor at Wayne State University and the author of several studies about racial profiling in restaurants, said his research has found that it is more common for servers to provide slower service to black guests or to try to avoid serving them altogether because of preconceived notions about how much those tables are likely to tip. A survey of restaurant employees that Brewster conducted in 2012 found that respondents admitted to providing different levels of service based on race, or witnessing other servers do so. Of course, these stereotypes can also set in motion a self-fulfilling cycle that affects the service restaurant workers provide and, as a result, the tips they receive.
When visitors bring unwelcome germs
What visitors are passing through your kitchen? Inspectors, electricians, children, sales representatives, delivery personnel—all of them can introduce bacteria to your food and work surfaces. Make sure you take the necessary precautions before and after visitors come through to protect any food you have out and to clean and sanitize surfaces before any food preparation resumes after a visitor has left.
Ethics should extend to grab-and-go foods
A new report from Culinary Vision Panel’s Mindful Dining Initiative found a clear opportunity for restaurant operators to showcase their ethics in the snacks and grab-and-go foods they offer, according to a Nation’s Restaurant News report. The study, Ethics on the Go, which surveyed 1,500 consumers in the U.S., found that 82 percent of respondents wish operators would use more environmentally friendly business practices. The trend was especially pronounced among consumers aged 18 to 34, who value ethical eating choices more than any other demographic. These respondents reported in the survey that they see a lack of ethical grab-and-go eating options in the market—and that they’re willing to pay more for these items when they find them. Plant-based foods are a priority for these consumers, so keep them in mind when planning your grab-and-go menu options.
Retaining employees during the transition to new tech
Kiosks, mobile apps, table-top ordering via tablet…The desire to provide technology that improves the customer experience has unleashed rapid-fire rollouts at many restaurants, particularly quick-service establishments. In the process, the employee experience may be suffering. That’s what’s been happening at McDonald’s, according to a recent report in Skift Table. The brand has been revamping its technology as part of its “Experience of the Future” campaign, which has included new technology, delivery, curb-side pickup and a revamped menu. The complications have made it an easier choice for low-wage workers to leave for other jobs than to learn new systems. Indeed, turnover at quick-service restaurants in the U.S. is currently 150 percent, the highest it has been since People Tracker began measuring the results in 1995. As you plan technology rollouts, ensure you have training initiatives in place to help keep employees on board.
Order aggregator can streamline ordering tech
If you have embraced the consumer demand for online ordering, you may be facing a related problem: having to juggle a tablet for every partner platform you have. As mobile platforms multiply—there are now more than 100—operators increasingly have to monitor an unmanageable number of devices. Pymnts.com reports that Ordermark is one company that can help streamline the process by aggregating orders from all of the mobile platforms. Ordermark is able to send orders directly to your kitchen in one format, eliminating the restaurant’s need to translate orders from different platforms. The setup requires just a tablet and an Epson printer designed for cranking out orders.
What’s on your music menu?
Do you get positive comments about your music selection? Your guests could be coming in for more than your menu—and that could be something to weave into your marketing plan. Consider Darden Restaurants’ new burger concept, Capital Burger, which is being promoted not just for its food and beverage but for the ambient sound that will be playing at the restaurant (Darden calls it “an innovative soundscape for the musically curious”). Restaurant Business reports that the brand has created a Spotify channel called Capital Burger Beginnings to help promote the sound and, ideally, bring people in for a burger.
Evolve your allergy awareness
Allergens were a key topic of discussion at the National Restaurant Association’s recent Nutrition Executive Study Group in Seattle. One roundtable session touched on how to communicate about the presence of allergens in menu items that had not contained the allergen before, so allergy training in foodservice is an evolving activity. As consumer allergies are continuing to change and become more complex, are your servers and kitchen crew ready to respond? Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions shared some tips to help restaurant teams stay nimble and avoid triggering a dangerous reaction when preparing foods for people with allergies. First, train your servers to ask guests about allergies and to communicate that information clearly to the manager and head chef. Any questions from guests should go directly to the manager or head chef so there is a main point of contact managing any concerns. When they are cooking and plating items, your kitchen staff should be in constant communication to prevent cross-contamination with foods that contain allergens. Of course, it helps if you can sequester common food allergens in a separate part of the kitchen, use color-coded cooking tools and separate fryers when preparing those items, and even serve those items on plates that are a different color or shape than other foods served to the table. Create different modifications for dishes with special sides or sauces so you can still provide a tasty dish when accommodating an allergy. As you purchase new ingredients, study the lingo: Your staff should know that casein and whey are dairy products and semolina contains gluten, for example. Finally, be aware of multiple or complex allergies—something operators see with increasing frequently—and have a plan that can flex to accommodate them. It’s one thing to prepare a meal that’s free from the “big eight” allergens and another to be able to prepare one that avoids less common (but equally severe) triggers.
Don’t let business slip behind a cloud
Making the transition to cloud-based platforms to manage point-of-sale logistics makes sense for many operators—but if your Internet were to go down or you experienced other technology challenges, would your business come to a crashing halt? Even a temporary interruption could throw off a day of sales, but Modern Restaurant Management suggests some tips to ensure you have a back-up plan when things go wrong. Identify key staff who can become familiar with your Internet wiring, access points and routers, along with other important network connections. Train staff to use your system in offline mode and have a documented procedure in place (and practice it periodically) so you can operate through disruptions. If you’re fortunate enough to have time to develop a plan before a problem occurs, it may be time to find vendors who can promise the best service through events that would interrupt business. Consider purchasing a commercial internet connection plan, which may provide a stronger, more powerful connection that helps you avoid problems down the line. Determine what sort of service your vendors provide through internet disruptions. Can they ensure that you will, at minimum, be able to accept credit cards, split checks and create kitchen tickets during outages? Do they have a good history of providing software updates that offer stability and security? Make sure you know what support you will (or won’t) get when you need it most.
A recycling tool that pays dividends
How do you manage recyclable waste at your restaurant? If you have a bulky recycling bin taking up valuable real estate in your facility, Upserve suggests an appliance that can allow you to save space, recycle more efficiently, earn green credentials, and reduce costs: a waste compactor. Having one enables a restaurant to remove recycling bins from the premises and generate recycled waste in bale form. The bales must be collected but typically for just a small fee—and some recycling companies will even pay a rebate depending on the size and quality of bales received. The compactors can handle large pieces of plastic and boxes, which are time-consuming to break down and can often make a bin overflow, increasing the odds that they will end up in a waste bin heading to a landfill.
The best way to halt norovirus
It only takes one particle of norovirus to infect a human, compared to 100 particles of flu virus, NPR reports. That’s why norovirus can spread like wildfire in crowded places like schools, hospitals and restaurants. A new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that while wiping down surfaces with chlorine bleach could reduce a norovirus outbreak by 10 percent, handwashing was far more powerful: If 80 percent of those who didn’t wash their hands changed their habits, the effect could halt an outbreak. It’s important to first wet hands, then apply soap and work it into a lather, which helps break down the norovirus proteins. Experts recommend spending 20 seconds on the task.
What germs lurk in restaurant linens?
Many foodservice operators are replacing disposable linens with cloth varieties in order to present a more environmentally friendly image to guests. Just take precautions to make sure your linens don’t harbor bacteria that could cause illness. Within your restaurant, StateFoodSafety.com recommends you replace any linens used in foodservice, such as the napkins lining a bread basket, for every new guest. When choosing a linen cleaning vendor, look for one that provides a Hygienically Clean Food Safety Certification, which, according to Joseph Ricci, head of TRSA.org, an international organization representing companies that supply laundered garments, uniforms, linens and other items to businesses, is important to demonstrating a commitment to providing hygienically clean linens that have been verified by a third-party inspection and ongoing microbial testing.
Reach the final straw
Do you have an eco-conscious clientele? Create a campaign to ditch your plastic straws — and talk it up to your customers. Many media outlets have reported that 500 million plastic straws are used in the U.S. each day. Restaurant industry expert David Henkes claims the number is closer to 175 million, but any way you look at it, straws generate a lot of (largely unnecessary) plastic. While there are worse pollutants, plastic straws are small and lightweight enough that they escape recycling efforts and are usually discarded as waste. That waste eventually ends up polluting oceans, where fish and other marine life regularly get entangled in them or consume them.
A digital menu experiment
Digital menus can offer operators flexibility on food selection, pricing and promotion—all at the touch of a button. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of investing in one, watch how the experiment works at Starbucks. Skift Table reports that because the brand’s growth has been stagnating in the U.S. in recent months, it is testing digital menu boards in several locations and airport stores in order to boost sales, particularly during slower afternoon periods. One location, according to the report, has a large, six-panel digital menu that changes throughout the day and highlights the Starbucks food line, which the brand is trying to promote to help consumers see their stores as places to come for a meal, not just a cup of coffee.
Clean and sanitize it right
In any foodservice operation, it’s important to use cleaning and sanitizing agents in ways that help prevent the transfer of microorganisms and residues that could be unsafe when left on food preparation surfaces. Are your procedures for cleaning and sanitizing being followed? According to a report by Dr. Angela Fraser, associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, cleaning agents comprise four categories: detergents, like those used for washing dishes, surfaces and equipment; solvents that help remove grease; acid cleaners that are used periodically on mineral deposits that detergents can’t remove; and abrasive cleaners used to clean (and sometimes disinfect) areas with heavy soil. It’s important to know which cleaners can be used on specific surfaces (glass and metal cleaners, for example, as well as some bathroom cleaners, are not safe to use on food preparation surfaces) and to clean items thoroughly before attempting to sanitize them (that goes for hands too!). When you use chemicals to sanitize, make sure you use approved ones including chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium — and be aware of their properties, since each one has benefits and disadvantages that may be applicable to your restaurant. For example, chlorine deteriorates during storage, iodine should not be used in water hotter than 120˚F and quaternary ammonium is incompatible with some detergents and hard water. While restaurants commonly use heat to sanitize, it’s important to ensure specific temperatures are reached when doing so. Hot water used in the third compartment of a sink must reach 171˚F, the final rinse of a machine used to sanitize clean dishes must reach 180˚F, and stationary-rack, single-temperature machines must reach 165˚F, with the dishes exposed to those temperatures for 30 seconds in each of the scenarios.
Turn around your turnover
When employee turnover rates are as high as they are in the restaurant industry, some operators may not make it a priority to build an employee-friendly culture. But the payoff is still worthwhile: A new study from the University of Warwick in England found that taking steps to make employees happy led to a 12 percent increase in productivity, whereas unhappy workers proved to be 10 percent less productive. What’s more, according to reports from the Sasha Corporation, which reviewed 15 studies about workplace turnover, the average cost to replace one employee earning $8 and hour is more than $9,000. Upserve says if your employees are doing just the minimum amount required—not going above and beyond what is expected in any way—consider offering some acknowledgement, appreciation or incentives to boost their level of motivation. Create a culture where friendships are formed so your employees have a reason to stay, even if restaurant work isn’t part of their long-term plan. Creating a relaxed atmosphere can help, as well as issuing periodic surveys, challenging employees to games and competitions, and scheduling team-building outings and other social activities. Ask for their feedback and ideas, and provide some opportunities for growth and recognition, which can help make them feel more responsible for and invested in the success of the business.
Botanical ingredients pack a flavorful, nutrient-dense punch
If your customers are looking for ways to integrate more plants with healing properties into their diets (and they likely are, if the trend forecasters are on target), it’s become increasingly easy for chefs to pack some nutritional power into their menus. Ingredients like ginger, matcha, cardamom, turmeric and lavender are gaining a growing following, according to Thomas Griffiths, vice president of Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute. He also touted the natural, global, clean-label and chef-friendly benefits of these items. It helps restaurants that major manufacturers are getting on board: Food Dive reports that the packaged herb company McCormick & Co.’s purchase of the Botanical Food Company of Australia in 2016 will make herbs with health benefits even more accessible to chefs and consumers alike.
Avoid pathogens when pickling produce
House-made pickles made the National Restaurant Association’s most-recent “What’s Hot” culinary survey. During the months when fresh produce isn’t as readily accessible from local producers, you may well use pickled vegetables in salads and as garnishes—and of course, pickles themselves are expected on burgers regardless of the season. If you aspire to offer more house-made pickled items on your menu, pay attention to your preparation methods to ensure you don’t introduce foodborne pathogens — and obtain the proper reviews from health safety officials. The National Restaurant Association says if you want to set up a canning operation for dry storage, you need FDA review as well as a third-party lab that can conduct a shelf-life test (make sure any supplier abides by these criteria too). If you would like to refrigerate pickled items for quality, you need a variance, a HACCP plan and approval from your local health department. The items should be refrigerated at 41˚F or below to maintain food quality. Finally, if you simply want to give foods a more acidic flavor, you can immerse them in a vinegar-water solution, refrigerate them at 41˚F and treat them as TCS foods.
Walmart’s spoilage prediction technology generates savings
Walmart has developed a technology called Eden that can inspect produce for defects and accurately predict the exact date when an item will spoil, Food Dive reports. The company expects to save $2 billion in avoided food waste over the next five years as a result. Since Walmart deployed the technology to 43 distribution centers in January of last year, Eden has saved Walmart $86 million. Eden taps into the kinds of data that restaurant operators are also looking to collect via blockchain: It tracks storage area temperatures, temperature control devices on trucks, and, in the future, will use data from drones that can fly over farms and monitor temperatures.
New payment app eliminates waiting for the bill
If your table turn time is being held back by delays in processing customer checks, take note of an up-and-coming payment app that is allowing customers to dine, pay their bill and dash — all without a word to their server. Skift Table reports that Barclaycard, the payment services arm of the U.K. bank Barclay’s, is testing out a system that allows users to download a mobile app, enter their bank details, then touch their smartphones to a device on the table when they sit down at a restaurant. The system then takes payment at the end of the meal and the table-top device changes color to let the server know when the payment has gone through. Diners can apply discounts and split a bill via their smartphone, then receive a digital bill. The payment system rolled out in March at a London branch of the Italian restaurant chain Prezzo, according to the report.
Instagram is among the top-five most popular social media apps in the United States, with 800 million active users. More than other platforms, it has become the place to go for consumers looking for their next crave-worthy meal. New research from Upserve helps restaurant operators fine-tune their approach to Instagram. First, make sure your account bio fits your restaurant brand, states what your restaurant wants to achieve and lists your location. It should also link to your website, Facebook page and online menu. When you take photos, frame the shot from above to make the plate stand out and ensure the food you’re picturing takes up one-third of the frame. Use the color blue to appeal to your followers: It gets 24 percent more likes than other colors, according to research from Salesforce.com. Finally, determine which hashtags appeal most to your audience — sites like Hashtagify, Display Purpose and Dehaze can help you find out which hashtags are trending as they relate to restaurants.
Do’s and don’ts following a harassment claim
Renowned chefs and restaurants have made headlines in recent months for allegations of sexual harassment. Even if you have a clear policy in place for managing workplace conduct, it’s important to know how to respond in the immediate aftermath if and when an employee comes to you with a complaint. Juliette Gust, who created Ethics Suite, a platform for the hospitality industry to report workplace misconduct, theft and fraud, has some recommendations for operators. First, it’s important to investigate the allegation promptly, giving both the accuser and accused ample opportunity to provide their perspective, and document each step you take. Use an objective, methodical, confidential and consistent approach to help you prevent a complaint from ballooning into news headlines. After the complaint is made, thank the accuser for bringing it to your attention and ask that they make themselves available for follow-up questions as needed. Don’t make assumptions about the accuser or the accused, or confront the accused without a plan in place for how best to research the matter (and who should conduct the investigation). Before putting the accused on notice, make sure you (or a separate investigator) have had time to collect any key evidence that could be destroyed or manipulated during the course of an investigation. Then take decisive disciplinary action and follow up at regular intervals to ensure the steps you have taken can help prevent future incidents.
Digital seating for better guest management
If you’d like to incorporate on-demand technology but don’t know where to start, consider investing in a digital table and reservation manager as a first step. The software, named one of Fast Casual’s seven technologies transforming the restaurant industry, can help address long wait times by notifying guests via text when their table is ready and also allowing them to inform you of their approximate time of arrival. It can also ensure you’re scheduling staff efficiently and making best use of the tables you have available by suggesting ideal seating arrangements based on a party’s size and arrival time. Seating maps and specific server sections give hosts visual cues to help manage guest flow. As with any technology that improves the customer experience, a digital table and reservation manager can help you offer more personalized guest treatment. The system can provide servers with guest food preferences and important dates, as well as allow them to update customers about the status of their food at any point in the cooking process. The added efficiency can help speed up your turnaround times too. Nowait, one popular digital table management platform, reports that using a seating management app can help reduce table sit time by 50 percent. What’s more, by being efficient with your staff and table management, you can master the Two Minute Drill—what restaurant consultant Joel Cohen considers the optimal amount of time you should use to recognize a guest’s desire to leave and process their payment. Allowing a guest to leave soon after they show signs of wanting to depart can both enhance their experience and help you get new guests seated without delay.
An opportunity for bedtime beverages
If you’re looking to build out your beverage menu, there’s a window of opportunity with drinks designed to help consumers wind down at the end of the day. Mintel reports that while sales of fruit juice are falling due to concerns over sugar, the drinks that are performing better are intended to suit a specific purpose, such as kombucha as an aid to healthy digestion, for example. Very few brands market themselves for evening consumption, however. Mintel research indicates that 31percent of consumers are interested in juice with added probiotics. Consider offering less sweet juices with ingredients like ginger, probiotics and fennel to appeal to consumers who want a non-alcoholic drink to relax after dinner.
Step up the range and quality of gluten-free offerings
Chances are, you offer some breads and other bakery items that can accommodate the dietary needs of celiac sufferers. But new research from DuPont Nutrition & Health found that even among those who don’t have celiac disease, there is clear demand for gluten-free bakery products containing high-quality ingredients designed to support a healthy lifestyle. This includes foods high in fiber that contain no preservatives and are low in saturated fat, carbohydrates and calories. Research from The Hartman Group found that 35 percent of consumers in the U.S. who consume gluten-free products have no specific reason for doing so. Sales of gluten-free products in the U.S. were approximately $973 million in 2014 and are projected to exceed $2 billion by 2019, according to Packaged Facts.
Reduce your seafood risk
If you’re serving seafood to a clientele increasingly concerned about transparency—or simply want to avoid making the wrong kind of headlines when it comes to your food safety practices—take note of a new tool that helps ensure you’re providing a humanely harvested product. NPR reports that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which developed a red, yellow and green sustainable seafood-rating system, recently launched the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool. It’s a database intended to help seafood buyers determine the risk of forced labor, human trafficking and hazardous child labor in the seafood they purchase. Designed in partnership with Liberty Asia and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the tool assigns critical, high, moderate, or low-risk ratings for fisheries based on a set of criteria. It can help you pinpoint which fisheries (and fish) around the world present the highest and lowest risks.
Don’t let turnover impact food safety
High turnover is a fact of life in the restaurant industry, but the food safety vulnerability that often results doesn’t have to be that way. Food Safety Magazine reports that leaders across the food supply chain say they suffer from poor food safety performance or inconsistency after employees leave for new roles. To help, they suggest people across the food supply chain make an effort to simplify their food safety procedures, make sure food safety is built into every role in your organization and confirm that your team knows the tasks for which they are responsible (top-down and bottom-up training helps reinforce those lessons). Try demonstrating your expectations for a food safety task in three seconds or less, or in a video no longer than 30 seconds. Quick snippets of content are easier to remember and share—and they can help you onboard new people more easily.
Protect the safety of your kitchen
Where does your team take breaks between shifts? Your kitchen should not be an employee break room. Having clear guidelines about what is (and is not) allowed in the kitchen can help keep that space free from contamination. StateFoodSafety.com recommends you designate a separate break area and set guidelines designed to confine to that area any food and drink consumption by employees. When employees are ready to return to work, make sure that after they wash their hands, they dry them using a jet dryer or paper towels—not their clothes or a kitchen towel.
That's an order
Enabling new tech-based options for ordering food – and making them a profitable part of business – has become a must for restaurant operations looking to grow. Note some new research from Tillster's Online and Mobile Ordering index: The firm partnered with the research group SSI to survey 2,000 restaurant customers across the U.S. about how online and mobile ordering impacts guest behavior, Modern Restaurant Management reports. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of fast-casual customers expect to order online in the next year and more than 65 percent would order more often if a restaurant offered online ordering. While individuals will order online just as often as they'll order in-store, families and groups are more likely to order online, which typically leads to larger checks. More than 73 percent of those surveyed said they would visit a restaurant more often if it offered pre-ordering via mobile app for pick up or dining in. What's more, this trend isn't only about catering to Millennials. The survey found that customers in older generations appreciated having tech-based ordering options, too, and they are using them more often. Study what combinations of options would be most welcomed by your customers – communicating about them could require a range of approaches.
Take charge of gratuities
At a time when labor costs are rising and restaurants are struggling to balance wages between front- and back-of-house staff, operators have had to get creative with the fees structures they use. As a result, restaurant guests are starting to scrutinize their tabs for charges they deem to be unfair or unscrupulous, such as being charged an automatic gratuity without being informed it was included. The automatic gratuity sometimes leads to guests paying a double tip – one they knowingly pay and another they overlook – and many operators don’t have policies in place to prevent servers from collecting twice when that occurs. If you use automatic service charges, The Rail recommends several ways you can preserve transparency at your restaurant and ensure guests know what they’re paying. For one, inform large parties at the time of their reservation that you have an automatic service charge for large groups. You can also post the policy on your menu so that if a guest questions it when the bill arrives, you can point to the menu as evidence you made an effort to clarify guest charges. You can always take the direct approach of highlighting the automatic charge on the bill and informing the guest about it when the bill is presented. Finally, you can mark each credit card slip with a “service included” notation – or even require manager approval if a customer wants to add a tip on top of your included service charge. It may sound like overkill but it will send the message to guests that you are their advocate.
Master your menu
Winter isn’t the easiest time to get guests in the door. To entice people to visit during slow times – and to make things more manageable for your kitchen staff to prepare large numbers of dishes – consider promoting different prix-fixe menus throughout the season. They need not be just for fine-dining establishments. The Balance suggests you consider a special two-for-one menu, a prix-fixe lunch menu or a wine-and-cheese tasting menu to bring people in – or try offering fixed-price menus as an alternative to a buffet for smaller catered events. Slower times may also be good times to debut (and fine-tune) a new menu. Make sure all menu items are easy to prepare either in advance or on the spot, that they include some popular dishes as well as some that are unique to you, and that any pricier ingredients you use are doing double duty (or more) in other dishes across the menu so you avoid waste.
Light the way to food safety
Hands are washed. Food preparation surfaces are freshly cleaned. But don't forget to look above when monitoring your food safety practices. Lighting fixtures can not only harbor dust and other particles that could drop onto food preparation surfaces, but they can also pose risks if a fixture is broken. StateFoodSafety.com recommends that all lighting in your food preparation areas is either shielded or made from shatter-proof material to prevent glass shards from falling onto preparation surfaces.
Prevent this top kitchen safety risk
Lacerations and punctures are among the most common restaurant kitchen injuries. Taking some precautions with knives and cutting surfaces can help prevent them. Balance Point, the human capital management firm, suggests you take an inventory of your knives, replacing those with dull blades and tightening or repairing handles if needed. Don’t leave knives on the counter: Make sure they are stored in a rack or block in a designated place. To reduce the risk of accidental slips and cuts during food preparation, use non-slip pads or damp cloths under cutting boards and consider using cut-resistant gloves. Everyone cutting food should receive training on how to properly use knives, safely exchange cooking tools with other food preparers and maintain their condition.
Automate that purchase
Does your inventory management need a little boost? Among the top technologies transforming the food industry this year, according to Fast Casual, are automated purchasing tools. The technology links directly to your inventory system, alerts you to low product levels and can initiate an automatic order once a product in your inventory is reduced to a certain threshold. It can also make purchasing recommendations based on vendor product lead times and forecasted sales. A mobile app helps you manage the full process, from vendor bid review to order approval.
When tech gets personal
When can technology make the restaurant experience feel more customized and personal for your guests? It tells you when to expect their arrival, allows you to anticipate their order and helps you serve them promptly. Those were three takeaways from Deloitte’s latest analysis of what the restaurant of the future will look like – particularly quick-service and fast-casual operations with multiple locations – and how restaurants can capitalize on trends in order to improve sales and meet consumer demand. It suggested a few ideas likely to become far more prevalent in the years ahead: Use location-awareness technology to sense the arrival of a regular customer. Be able to ask “Would you like your usual order?” instead of “What would you like?” regardless of which restaurant location your guest visits. When you have more than six cars in your drive-through, send servers outside with tablets to take orders, and use a similar approach to line management inside to keep customers moving.
Ace your inventory
Is your restaurant among the 60 percent of restaurants that don’t take a careful inventory each month? If so, you’re leaving money on the table. According to the Restaurant Resource Group, taking a regular inventory increases profits by 24 percent annually. The restaurant technology provider Orderly says setting yourself up to take accurate inventories involves five steps: First, organize your items so you store everything by category in the proper place, move older items to the front so they are used first, and combine contents of open containers where possible. Doing this prior to the arrival of weekly deliveries makes it easier to store new items. Second, customize your count sheet so it looks just like how you have stored your ingredients on the shelves, then count each item by the pack size number (e.g. pounds of chicken or cases of barbecue sauce). Use the same staff for inventory each time to avoid having to train someone new— and consider incentivizing with preferred hours or comped meals for accurate inventories. Third, review your invoices for the most recent price you paid for every item you just counted and plug those prices into your spreadsheet. Have an organized system (ideally, an online reference) for managing invoices from the moment you receive one until it’s processed. Fourth, calculate your cost of goods sold (beginning inventory costs + purchases - ending inventory costs) and your prime cost (cost of goods sold + labor costs) / total sales). These figures will help you monitor your restaurant’s financial health. For example, aim for your inventory to be no more than 1.5x your cost of goods sold and for your prime cost to be 60 percent or less of your total food and beverage revenue. Finally, communicate to your staff that you are using this system to monitor waste and theft and to ensure you order only what you need.
Protect your intellectual property
In an age when ideas spread around the world in seconds and restaurants are eager to win new social media followers, protecting restaurants’ intellectual property is becoming increasingly important. Modern Restaurant Management relates how in 2013, New York pastry chef Dominique Ansell created the Cronut, which started a sensation after a food blogger wrote about the cream-filled, donut-croissant hybrid. People from around the world visited Ansell’s bakery to claim one of the several hundred Cronuts he made daily, and Ansell registered for a federal trademark to prevent other bakeries from selling the popular pastry under the same name. His success with the Cronut helped him launch new bakeries in New York, London and Japan, as well as a full-service restaurant that opened in Los Angeles this year. Even if you aren’t sitting on a creation as lucrative as the Cronut, you likely still want to prevent employees from taking signature recipes or food preparation techniques with them to the restaurant across the street. Modern Restaurant Management recommends you understand the four ways your intellectual property is protected: through trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents. A trademark can protect your restaurant’s name, logo, menu-item names and, in certain cases, food designs. Copyright law protects your website, menu designs and marketing materials. Trade secrets can comprise your recipes, customer and vendor lists, and special food preparation techniques that give you an advantage over operators who don’t have the information. Finally, patents can protect (for a limited time) machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes and chemical compositions, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To decide what you want to protect, take stock of what is most valuable to your restaurant and makes it unique. Also consider your relationships with partners and employees – if you were to part ways, how would your intellectual property be treated?
How much are delivery apps costing you?
Offering delivery has become compulsory for many restaurants. But as restaurant delivery orders climb, often replacing (and not augmenting) sales from customers who visit the restaurant in person, they are taking a bite out of profits, according to a New Yorker report. One operator, who has three fine-casual restaurant outlets in New York City, finds that for every delivery order she sends out, 20 to 40 percent of revenue goes to third-party operators and couriers like GrubHub and UberEATS. While she once managed delivery in-house, she could not keep up with the demand. Now she estimates she is losing money or, at best, breaking even, on her delivery orders. What’s more, delivery orders across the industry are on the rise: While deliveries comprised 7 percent of total U.S. restaurant sales in 2016, Morgan Stanley predicts that number could eventually represent 40 percent of all restaurant sales – even higher in urban settings and in casual restaurants.
Keep sinks separate
Your food preparation sink be just that—not used for any other purpose. If your employees wash their hands in a food preparation sink, they can easily leave behind pathogens that could contaminate food prepared in the sink, Statefoodsafety.com reports. Have a strict policy about which sinks onsite should be used for handwashing and keep an ample supply of soap (and perhaps sanitizer to use after washing) in the dispensers at those sinks.
Show your falafel flair
Is falafel on your menu? It’s one of those rare items that appeals to carnivores and vegetarians alike, thrives in a range of applications and is an on-trend global flavor ripe for the mainstream. Flavor & the Menu says falafel “sets itself up nicely for signaturization and customization,” which can help you make the most of your inventory. In addition to serving falafel in a traditional style inside a pita with hummus, tahini and vegetables, consider adding it to your burger menu with a layer of avocado, creating a Mediterranean-style taco with falafel and pickled vegetables, or offering it as an added protein on salads.
Delegate scheduling to an app
Restaurants that use scheduling software can cut labor costs by up to 2 percent, according to Fast Casual. App-based scheduling stands to save you a lot of time as well. If you haven’t transitioned from manual scheduling yet, consider some potential benefits of a digital system: It can help you set shift times and positions according to historical staffing patterns. It can anticipate sales, which can help you prevent scheduling too many – or too few – staffers during a shift, and avoid paying unnecessary overtime charges. Finally, scheduling software can help you oversee and manage employee availability, shift swapping and time-off requests – all via an app.
Free app tracks ingredient pricing trends
Ingredient prices are moving targets. In a study of more than 410,000 purchases from more than 4,000 food distributors recently, Orderly found great inconsistencies in the prices offered to different clients. The company reports that 92 percent of restaurants are overpaying their suppliers, with mark-ups on certain items hitting 201 percent. Tracking your prices against your historical charges and the overall market will boost your negotiating power. Orderly offers a free app that can give you a sense of national and local pricing trends for more than 100 of the most popular ingredients restaurants are buying. Make sure you scrutinize costs for your most popular items and meet with suppliers regularly to discuss pricing and service.
Are you in the sweet spot?
The National Restaurant Association’s latest Restaurant Performance Index found that operator expectations are at their highest point in three years. Yet for many restaurants, razor-thin margins, employee turnover, fickle consumers and quickly shifting trends mean there is a fine line between being poised for growth or on the cusp of a decline. Restaurant coach Donald Burns says operators should ask themselves several questions to get a reliable reality check. First, do you think you’re the best at what you do? If you do, it’s likely a signal you’re missing opportunities for improvement – and up-and-comers could be targeting you as the restaurant to beat. Second, when a customer or employee suggests an idea that would change how you operate, do you quickly dismiss it because it would not work in your market? Your willingness to hear and apply ideas that don’t come from you is critical to both anticipating problems down the line and retaining top talent, since the people on your team want to feel their contributions matter. Finally, do you think you don’t need to change? It’s tempting to rest on your laurels when business is strong, but there is always a need to make tweaks that could help you improve and win loyal customers. On the flip side, perhaps you are eager to take risks and embrace change by expanding your brand to an additional location. Before you do, make sure you have a reliable pool of talent (working at a rate you can afford) to sustain both your existing and new locations. In addition, ensure you have a solid training system to help you deliver consistent service. You should also be making any move because your existing business is strong and you have a talented team who would be able to develop further as they help you build your brand – not because you see a chance to pick up a real estate deal or you want to keep up with the competitor across the street.
Study the psychology behind your menu
Did you know the average guest spends less than two minutes looking at your menu? That isn’t much time to hold a person’s attention, so it’s important you use every second to direct people to the items you most want to sell and communicate the messages you most want to send about your business. Upserve suggests you tap into human psychology when designing your menu layout. For one, don’t use dollar signs (a Cornell Hospitality report found that consumers tend to spend less when they see them on a menu) or draw attention to prices by placing them next to a series of dots or in a column that makes it easy to identify the most and least expensive items on the list. Make credit card payment easy, since cash payments tend to make consumers feel a greater sense of loss after a purchase. Make every word on your menu count and use language that tells people the story of the food they’re ordering, such as if it came from a local bakery or was raised on a nearby family farm using sustainable practices. List your most expensive dishes first: Guests tend to order the top two dishes on any menu more than any other item and they will compare what they see farther down the list to the first items they noticed. To highlight items you’d like to sell more of, consider placing them in a box to attract attention. Finally, remember the golden triangle, the pattern people’s eyes follow when reading menus. The items you most want to sell should fall within the boundary of a triangle whose points fall in the middle, top-right and top-left corners of your menu.
Produce and pathogen prevention
Fresh produce is responsible for most of the foodborne illness in the United States, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. As you chop fruit and vegetables for menu items, keep some health and safety tips in mind to help prevent the spread of pathogens. Statefoodsafety.com recommends chilling salad greens promptly after cutting them, since bacteria multiply quickly in moist greens left out at room temperature. That goes for other sliced vegetables too: If you use pre-sliced produce in your kitchen to save time and minimize labor costs, research published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America may make you reconsider. It found a high degree of contamination in pre-sliced vegetables, which highlighted the importance of proper cooling, transport, reheating and distribution of these items.
Panera (the consultant) can clean up your menu
Panera has long attracted attention for its efforts to remove additives from the food on its menu and has led efforts to supply calorie counts on menus and raise awareness about the human health implications of meat containing regularly administered antibiotics. Now, Restaurant Business reports that the company is creating a consulting business called Panera Clean Consultant to help other restaurant businesses assess their menus as a whole and substitute clean ingredients for those with artificial colors, flavors and other additives. Panera’s founder told Reuters it wanted to help other restaurants end the practice of reformulating one product to make it more natural, only to serve it alongside sauces loaded with artificial ingredients. In 2015, Panera examined and overhauled its menu, then publicized a list of 150 artificial ingredients that it planned to remove from its products.
Bring on the vegetables
Consumers are making room for vegetables on the plate and, according to Flavor & the Menu, the latest way chefs are innovating with vegetables is through plant-based purees. They are appearing as a flavor-packed, colorful alternative to pesto in pasta dishes, as a warm base for salad greens, or a sauce for seafood (in the last case, Flavor & the Menu suggests an edamame puree blended with mint and fresh lime juice as a vibrant complement to fish). Consider adding a plant-based puree or two when enhancing the vegetarian and vegan-friendly options on your menu.
What does the survey say?
You know customer feedback is critical. But do you know how to ask questions that will elicit the most actionable information for your business? When you design a customer survey, Foodable advises you start with a clear, specific goal you’re looking to achieve. Determine when you want to ask customers for their feedback – shortly after a visit? At regular intervals? Continuously? When designing questions you’d like to ask, keep them simple and concise. Avoid overloading a sentence with multiple questions. Start off with some easy yes-or-no, multiple-choice or scaled questions and then balance those with some specific open-ended questions that give customers freedom to share ideas about a topic you care about. Consider offering an incentive at the close of the survey without telling guests about it beforehand (it could skew their answers otherwise) and offering the survey in a mix of physical and online forms.
Digital displays promise ambiance and entertainment
Technology is making it possible for restaurants to change the atmosphere of their dining rooms at the flip of a switch. Restaurant Hospitality reports that restaurants are using digital wall displays and table-top animations to keep guests interested while waiting for their food – and to make them intrigued enough to return and book tables that offer those features. In addition to adding to the ambiance of a dining room, these systems have more functional potential as well, such as allowing guests to scroll through visual menus and place orders. One system, Kodisoft, allows guests to link their social media pages to the table and play games to entertain children while they wait.
Minimum wage on the rise? Get creative.
Rising labor costs in many U.S. cities have forced operators to rethink their service models – and how they pay the people serving and preparing food for their guests. Eater reports that Oakland, Calif. seafood restaurant AlaMar, which once prided itself on its attentive, full-service model, recently had to switch to a counter-service model in order to accommodate minimum-wage hikes in the region (wages increased by 37 cents to $13.23 per hour beginning in January). The owner slashed the majority of menu prices by 30 to 50 percent by cutting some staff who were no longer needed. The result has been a happy surprise for the owner, who has seen restaurant sales increase by 17 percent since the transition, with a higher volume of customers. At other restaurants, cooks are helping to serve food and are therefore sharing the gratuities. Technology improvements are helping too, by helping operators automate functions that once required more workers in the kitchen and more time from servers at the front of the house. QSR reports that more operators are using value-added products that can simplify food prep and eliminate the need to have a maximum of staff on hand. But cutting staff hours isn’t always a feasible option for restaurants. For that reason, Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen has eliminated tipping altogether in favor of a 20 percent service charge. Servers earn a commission based on sales and performance, which accounts for 14 percent of the service charge. New servers earn a starting commission between 10 and 12 percent of the service charge. Managers rate servers based on factors such as knowledge of the menu and communication. The remainder of the revenue earned from the service charge goes to support staff, and back-of-house staff are paid out of the restaurant’s operating budget.
Mine the data behind your menu
Is there a data-driven purpose behind every item on your menu? If there is, you could drive profits higher by double-digit margins with each menu redesign. The data analytics firm Unlock Insights says menu engineering – the use of data analytics to assess the popularity and profitability of dishes and determine their ideal placement on your menu – is a critical way to drive profits at restaurants. Using certain adjectives, fonts and colors can pull guests’ attention to items on the menu. A broad menu without helpful visual cues can slow service and turnover. While drastically winnowing down your menu may not be necessary, you should know your most popular, profitable and fastest-moving menu items from your laggards in order to assess your inventory effectively, avoid over-ordering and minimize the waste you generate. Your data should also help you connect specific dishes to your guests so you can contact them when they’re away from your restaurant with offers that appeal to their tastes. Menu Cover Depot suggests you conduct a four-step assessment to improve your menu: First, break down every menu item into its individual ingredients and determine how much you spend to prepare each dish. Second, divide your menu into broad categories (appetizers, entrées, desserts, etc.) and then subcategories (vegetarian entrées, seafood entrées, etc.). Then rate each menu item as a star (high profitability and high popularity), plowhorse (low profitability and high popularity), puzzle (high profitability and low popularity) or dog (low profitability and low popularity). The ratings will help you determine which items must stay, go, be reinvented or repriced. Third, design your menu using visual cues to draw the eye to the items you most want to sell. Keep lists within each menu category short, with your most important items toward the top. Avoid listing prices down the side of a page, which can influence people to select the least expensive items. Finally, test your menu regularly to find new ways to improve it.
Tune in to turnover
Finding and keeping good employees is an ongoing challenge across the restaurant industry – but you may have more power to keep your most valuable people than you think. Upserve's recently released State of the Restaurant Industry report found that according to data pulled between July and September 2017, an employee’s position in the restaurant was a stronger indicator of likely turnover than region of the country or even base pay. Holding on to a quality employee seems to be more about offering new responsibility than pay raises. The highest turnover was seen in roles including counter service/cashiers, support staff like bussers, dishwashers and runners, and among staff like sommeliers and caterers. Bar staff and managers had the lowest turnover, which was consistently the case across regions.
Local and sustainable reach a new level
In the National Restaurant Association’s most recent annual survey of 700 chefs, participants identified the top predicted concept trend of 2018 as “hyper local” food. As Skift Table reports, this trend is about restaurants making their sustainability more visible. Restaurants are making their waste management efforts more apparent to guests, as well as taking away the middleman by growing, picking and processing their own food onsite in a way that guests can experience it. Operators are doing such things as returning used oyster shells to the waters where they were fished in an effort to minimize waste, and operating indoor hydroponic farms that guests can pay to visit while they’re having a meal that features the items being grown. Complementary businesses are capitalizing on the potential opportunity too: Take Smallhold, a company that runs a distributed farming network of mushroom mini-farms. Mission Chinese in New York had one of the company’s mini farms installed prominently above their bar and the owners take pride in being able to offer fresh-picked mushrooms in the dishes they prepare.
Do your boards make the cut?
Your cutting boards could be ground zero for foodborne illnesses if you neglect to maintain and replace them regularly. The foodservice consultancy Letter Grade Consulting recommends that when you choose cutting boards, you opt for those with rounded corners that don’t break or chip. They should be made of nonporous surfaces hard enough that knives don’t leave nicks and gashes, which can harbour bacteria. Color-code boards for different purposes (e.g. those for cutting meat and others for cutting items like vegetables and bread that won’t be cooked before serving). After use, clean each board, sanitize it with a tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, let it stand for five to 10 minutes, rinse it with fresh water, and let it dry completely before storing. To extend the life of your cutting boards, use bleach and fine sand paper. Discard any boards that are permanently discolored, feel rough to the touch, or snag the fibers of a damp cotton ball rubbed on the surface.
Soup’s on – make sure it’s hot
A hot bowl of soup can be a perfect complement to a cold winter day. Just be cautious about food safety when preparing it. StateFoodSafety.com suggests you stir your pot of soup thoroughly before taking its temperature. This will help ensure you disperse the heat evenly, eliminating the cooler spots in thicker soups that can take longer to warm up.
Getting meat down to a science
Technology is changing what’s on the menu. One trend taking root this year is science-based foods, which aim to provide consumers with a cleaner, environmental-friendly way to enjoy the taste of meat. Food Dive reports that the products in development range from cell-cultured meat, fish and poultry to plant-based meat and sausage that mimic the experience of eating the real thing. Plant-based burgers that bleed like a conventional burger are already gaining a following in stores and restaurants (the Next Level Burger meatless burger restaurant has two outlets in Whole Foods stores). The Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute report that sales of plant-based food increased more than 8 percent last year, while Nielsen estimated that plant-based meats generated more than 2 percent of refrigerated and frozen meat product sales.
Customized, not creepy: Using guest information wisely
Social media has chipped away at the anonymity of consumers – and restaurant guests are no exception. A recent article in Vogue titled “What Restaurants Know About You Before You Walk In,” points to the many ways operators can research guests and share that information with staff in an effort to provide a customized experience. Keeping guest notes that outline a person’s preferences, habits and budget can help your staff steer guests toward menu options they prefer. Using tools like Venga to aggregate feedback across a variety of platforms and review sites, or studying comments on OpenTable and Resy, can help operators collect information about guests that helps deliver a customized experience. To ably walk the line between accommodating and invasive when it comes to using customer information, Restaurant Business has some suggestions. Managers should use the information they find to provide extra hospitality – mentioning that the last time the guests dined with you was on their wedding anniversary, for example. If on scanning the guest’s Instagram account, you find a guest has posted photos from a recent trip to Spain, you could suggest a wine from that region to help spark some conversation that enhances the experience. That said, you naturally don’t want to mention you’ve been looking through their vacation photos, so use staff training sessions to emphasize the importance of guest privacy – and run through scenarios that can help servers test out tactics for providing an experience that feels tailored to a loyal guest without getting too personal.
You have a schedule for posting social media content, quality photos of your newest menu items and plenty of ideas about what to promote. Just don’t forget about analytics so you can ensure the time you’re putting into your social media strategy is paying off. Top Rank Marketing suggests you use Google Analytics (or another analytics tool of your choice) to discover how much referral traffic you’re getting to your website, what your most-visited pages are, how much time people spend on each page and how many pages they visit, as well as conversions – how many of the clicks to your reservations page are resulting in actual bookings, for example. How many of your website visitors are new as opposed to returning? Are they searching for you through social media, via another referral source or directly? Are people visiting a page without making a single click? What page on your website is usually the last one people visit before they leave your site? Answering these questions can help you tweak pages, tune in to helpful referral sources and offer incentives to keep visitors coming back. The social data consulting firm Crimson Hexagon calls social media the perfect test kitchen for restaurants. Operators can monitor it to identify what kinds of food and beverage people are craving, monitor the social response to a new item overall and by restaurant location (you should know if a recipe isn’t being made consistently) and tune in to social media conversations to iterate existing menu items based on what guests are saying about them.
How clean is clean?
In recent years, your foodservice operation has likely tried to swap in organic whole foods in place of more processed foods containing pesticides, antibiotics or artificial additives. Now some restaurants are digging even deeper in the quest to go clean. Food Navigator reports that Panera has been examining components within the so-called “natural” ingredients it uses to ensure those items meet the brand’s standards. Their research found the balsamic vinaigrette they once used needed adjustments. While on the surface, the dressing’s ingredients – natural flavors, rosemary extract and
balsamic vinegar – looked satisfactory, a deeper dive found that the ingredients included a balsamic flavor that was highly processed, a rosemary extract that included an undesired emulsifier and balsamic vinegar made with a grape must that included caramel color. Panera since worked with suppliers to revamp the recipe with whole, unprocessed ingredients. Would your menu items pass a similar test?
Wearing gloves to prevent (not spread) contamination
Using single-use gloves in a foodservice operation can help prevent contamination – or in some cases, provide a false sense of security about preventing it. If you use single-use gloves in your kitchen, remember to have employees change them whenever the gloves get soiled or torn, before they begin a new task, at least every four hours during continuous use, after handling raw meat, seafood or poultry and before handling ready-to-eat food. Statefoodsafety.com advises that anyone with an infected sore on their hands or wrists should cover it with a bandage, then wear a single-use glove to create a double barrier between the sore and the food being prepared. Those who wear nail polish or false fingernails should also wear single-use gloves, as those employees pose a risk for contaminating food with paint chips or bacteria that hides beneath the nail.
Kelp is on the way
Is there room for kelp on your menu? A company in Maine called Ocean’s Balance hopes so. Civil Eats reports an expanding U.S. market for kelp, whose production requires no land, fresh water, fertilizer or pesticides and produces no methane emissions or nitrogen runoff – and at a time when Millennial consumers are seeking out nutrient-dense foods with minimal impact on the environment. Seaweed farms have sprung up in Mexico, California, Alaska, Connecticut and Maine, and they have the backing of the World Bank, which has touted seaweed farming as one of the best solutions for feeding the world without contributing to its deterioration. Chefs around the country who are looking to bring more vegetables onto their menus are getting creative with the product, which has an umami flavor, and have worked it into dishes in both expected ways (as an ingredient in soup broth, for example) and not (like kelp sloppy joes and even kelp berry crumbles).
Take the paper and people out of temperature testing
Food safety logs and paper checklists have long been a necessary annoyance for many a restaurant. But Bluetooth temperature sensors are helping to make them unnecessary – all while helping to protect customer safety and prevent restaurant product loss. For that, Bluetooth temperature sensors made Fast Casual’s recent list of the top seven technologies transforming the restaurant industry. The sensors allow restaurants to manually or automatically test the temperature of food or equipment in just a few seconds. Managers can receive alerts when temperatures fall outside of a set window and even have the sensors record temperature readings in an HACCP log, eliminating human error or oversight altogether.
Say yes to SMS
If you’re still using clunky pagers to alert waiting guests that their table is ready, take note: Modern Restaurant Management found that 75 percent of customers want to receive alerts via text. In addition to freeing up your hosts and eliminating expensive equipment maintenance, using an SMS system to send messages has additional advantages when it comes to guest engagement. By having an SMS system, you’re automatically collecting guest information that will help feed your database. From the first time a guest joins you, you can send special offers, rewards and other benefits, all of which can help turn each guest on your waiting list into a loyal one over time.
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