Reinvent your menu
You can’t be everything to everyone – it’s why Chili’s just announced it is shrinking its menu by 40 percent after trying unsuccessfully to follow food trends and serve too broad a range of customer, resulting in a “fuzzy food reputation.” When is the last time you fine-tuned your menu? The restaurant coach Donald Burns says there are a few important reasons why you should always be updating your offerings. For one, your guests’ tastes are changing, so you should be aware of what’s on trend and in demand. (With that in mind, of course, you should incorporate trends in a way that extends your brand in a positive way and doesn’t dilute it.) Second, food prices are always in flux. While avocados from Mexico have skyrocketed in price recently, eggs have fallen in value. When you are paying a premium for an item – and when you’re getting a good deal on another – reflect those prices on your menu. Customers will notice your transparency. Finally, staffing is a big challenge for restaurants – it’s the biggest challenge of the year according to Toast’s 2017 Restaurant Success Report. If you evaluate your menu, you will be able to make improvements to your staffing plan. You may discover there are stations in your kitchen that are overstretched and could be giving you food quality issues. Or perhaps you could be cross-utilizing ingredients in a number of dishes (and requiring fewer staff to prepare them). Maybe you need fewer, more highly skilled cooks, or perhaps your current team simply needs some better tools. Taking a fresh look at your menu can have a positive ripple effect across your operation.
Turn allergy sufferers into loyal guests
Allergies and food sensitivities are more the norm than the exception these days – and that is expected to become even more pronounced in the future. The gluten-free market, for example, is expected to grow to $7.59 billion by 2020, up from $3.81 billion in 2013, according to Statista. If you can accommodate a range of dietary requirements in the years ahead, you’re sure to build loyalty (and more business, since people with food intolerances typically have the most say in where their group dines). In an interview with Eater, the Boston restaurateur Ming Tsai said, “You will never get a more loyal client than someone that has a food allergy, comes to your establishment and feels welcome.” To serve this market well, the foodservice technology company Nextep Systems recommends you re-engineer your menu so it doesn’t feel restrictive to those with food intolerances. Having a series of menus – whether in paper or kiosk form – that cater to certain requirements will ensure your guests can scan your menu and see options instead of limitations. Transparency about nutrition and ingredients is important too. Make sure you can provide dietary information about your menu – and the shorter and more pronounceable you make your list of ingredients, the better. Finally, approach food sensitivities in a positive way. If your staff welcomes (and can readily answer) questions about how you cook your food and what ingredients you use, you can connect with your guests, build trust and keep them coming back.
Repurposing food? Be mindful of food safety.
Repurposing food waste can be good for business on several levels – so good that some operators are starting to open restaurant concepts around food that has been discarded by farms and wholesalers. If you repurpose food, make sure you take extra precautions with handling and sourcing, in particular. Restaurant Business suggests that to avoid a food safety problem, focus on using wholesome food that has cosmetic damage (versus food that is past its prime). Make sure the food was handled properly before you received it – i.e. it came from a farm, wholesaler or other approved vendor and was not handled by consumers. Use strict food safety practices when receiving and storing the food, in particular, as items coming in as surplus may need to be used right away. Finally, check with your attorney and health department to ensure you’re protecting your customers and your business.
Step up your curbside pick-up
For many restaurants, offering curbside pick-up is a win-win: Operators gain sales without having to add seating, while customers can pick up their food without leaving their car. If you’re considering offering curbside pick-up, the National Restaurant Association suggests you fine-tune your service plan. For one, ensure your curbside pick-up customers have designated parking near your entrance (or in a location where your staff can observe their arrival). Plan staffing carefully so neither your in-house guests nor your curbside customers are left waiting for service. Those handling curbside service should know the make and model of the car arriving for the order and have correct change or a wireless credit card terminal/mobile payment app when they deliver it. Finally, use packaging that will advertise your restaurant and keep foods at the right temperature until they reach the customer’s destination.
Be social media savvy in 2018
Now is a perfect time to develop a strong social media strategy for 2018 – and it’s an ideal way to capture guests’ interest: a MarketingSherpa report found that 95 percent of online adults aged 18 to 34 (and the vast majority of people in older demographics) are likely to follow a brand on social media. Inc. just announced a number of emerging trends to keep in mind if you want to use social media to your best advantage in the New Year. Strong social analytics are making it possible to deliver personalized content. Harness your data to ensure that what you post is relevant to your audience. Many platforms are offering similar features – Snapchat and Instagram both offer timed video, for example, so assess site analytics and reporting features to ensure you’re investing in the platforms appropriate for you. To help you track your performance, note what kind of content your competitors are developing and sharing, as well as what people are saying about it. Mobile optimization is a must. Finally, consider using a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to interact with your audience quickly in a way that feels personal to them.
New products target restaurant hygiene problem spots
What are your top hygiene concerns at your restaurant? If you’re in the market for a few products that can help you eliminate them, Restaurant Hospitality recently pointed out several new ones on the market that might help: If you’re battling flies in your kitchen or elsewhere, the Stealth LED Fly Light from Ecolab uses an LED light to trap flies and can be used in both front- and back-of-house locations. It eliminates the need for fluorescent bulbs and reduces energy consumption too. If sanitized, spotless glassware is your concern, Meiko’s M-iClean with GiO Module does the job in a compact, energy-efficient washer that fits under a counter. Finally, ice machines can pose a range of food safety challenges for restaurants but BioZone’s IceZone santitation system promises to eliminate mold, yeast and bacteria, as well as reduce cleaning time and extend the life of your ice machine.
Make way for pumpkin’s rival
The cooler temperatures of the season mean that everyone has pumpkin fever. But there’s another, less ubiquitous flavor that is vying for the top spot this season. According to Technomic, sales of maple-flavored products have increased 86 percent in non-alcoholic beverages and 14.6 percent in alcoholic beverages this year. Beyond coffee and cocktails, maple is at home on your food menu too.
Snap to it
While it’s possible to overdose on Facebook and select other social media – everyone seems to need a break from it now and then – a new study says the communication experience on Snapchat is more positive and rewarding than it is on other platforms. Social Media Week said the University of Michigan study measured how college students responded to a variety of social media. It found that Snapchat, above other platforms, is being used to communicate spontaneously with friends in an enjoyable way. The study’s participants paid more attention to their Snapchat messages compared to other platforms – which may make it a good place for businesses to focus their marketing dollars. So how do you make the most of the platform? Snapchat posts expire in 24 hours, so instead of using it for rehearsed content, use it to test out new material and show creativity. Toast suggests you release special deals on Snapchat that expire in 24 hours (e.g. offering a free appetizer to the first 15 people to arrive at the restaurant and show you a particular video), to create special geofilters for your restaurant that customers can add to their photos and videos, or to give people a sneak peek at your restaurant behind the scenes. Restaurant Den recommends you offer a small discount to your customers to snap their food at your restaurant, or use it to show off your community and local attractions that happen to be near you. Of course, Snapchat works best when combined with other media. Place your Snapchat code on your website, menus, flyers, table-top ads, and use it as your Facebook cover photo or Instagram profile image.
Lessen your back-of-house stress
Is your kitchen feeling frenzied? Try to streamline and simplify your back-of-house operations. The National Restaurant Association suggests you first review the complexity of your menu. Can any of your recipes be simplified so fewer ingredients are needed? If you have signature dishes, make sure you walk through each step of the recipe with new employees to ensure consistency, and consider stocking batches of sauce or key ingredients so they’re ready to go during busy periods. Next, harness your data so you know exactly how much of each dish you’re selling and how much you should prepare in advance. If you typically sell 70 vegetable and hummus appetizers, your team can cut up sufficient produce in advance and assemble any custom condiments so they’re ready to grab and serve when your kitchen is busy. This will also help you identify your most popular (and least popular) items so you can adjust your menu accordingly, avoid ordering too many or too few products, and cut back on wasted food. Finally, take a look at your pantry. Make sure you’re using your space as efficiently as possible. Can people access the ingredients they need when they need them? Are items that are frequently used together stored near each other? Are they stored in containers that are the ideal size? Make sure the items you need are easy to open and can be quickly returned for storage afterwards.
Six steps to restaurant cleanliness
Better hygiene means better business. Need help before your next inspection, or do you just want to avoid any possibility of a foodborne illness outbreak? Your daily, weekly and monthly cleaning routines will get you there. The HACCP app recommends a list of six categories your cleaning schedule should include: List all areas and pieces of equipment inside and outside of your premises that must be cleaned. Next to each item that needs cleaning, list the exact cleaning product(s) to be used. Describe how the product is used (e.g. diluted, wiped with a cloth, sprayed, scrubbed). Mention how often (or after what activity) that cleaning must take place. List the person responsible for carrying out the task. Make sure the designated person signs off and lists when he or she completes the task.
Restaurants give back
Disaster brought out the best in a group in restaurant operators in Houston recently – and created a model for others going through similar events. In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, a group of operators and others connected to the industry came together to form the Midtown Kitchen Collective, which coordinated an effort to get more than 200,000 meals to people in need during the five-day period after the hurricane, when food was scarce for many and the safety of food was at risk. The group’s action plan included pre-, during- and post-disaster strategies; recommended people and organizations including nonprofits, secure kitchens, city officials, purveyors of ingredients and other resources needed to store, transport and coordinate the distribution of food; provided a list of helpful supplies and ingredients; and suggested communication strategies and tools. Access the collective’s plan here.
Hop on the fun train
Does your team groan when they hear the word “training”? Two training firms, Convergence Training and Service that Sells, suggest some tips to make it a fun, engaging experience that encourages participants to talk instead of listen for long periods. Adopt the format of a pub quiz or a well-known game like Jeopardy and apply it to food safety, challenging players to choose easier and difficult clues for a chance to win prizes. Use humorous photos or videos of the wrong way to complete a task. Of course, food makes anything more fun. Try incorporating food tastings into break periods or preparing and serving a family-style meal with front- and back-of-house swapping roles to help demonstrate (and then address) the challenges each side faces.
Domino’s dips a toe into driverless delivery
Driverless delivery isn’t far away – if one restaurant tech pioneer has anything to say about it. Domino’s Pizza and Ford Motor Co. are teaming up to test out robotic pizza delivery. Specifically, Skift reports that the companies are testing out how customers respond to a driverless Ford Fusion delivering their pizza. Instead of opening the door to a delivery person, the customer must approach the car and collect the pizza from a locked warming compartment. In all fairness, the cars used in the tests will have drivers because the companies want to monitor how people respond to “the last 50 feet” of their experience – having to walk out of their homes to collect their pizza. The drivers will collect that feedback. Customers who take part in the testing, which is happening only in Ann Arbor, Mich. for now, will also be able to track their pizza via app as it rolls along the road toward their house.
Harness the power of texting
If you’ve yet to become a social media maven when it comes to promoting your restaurant, how about using basic texts to build business? While your guests may be segmented when it comes to social media, smartphones and texting are likely ubiquitous among your target demographics. Next Restaurants suggests four ways you can connect with guests through texting: When business is slow, try offering a time-sensitive deal to fill empty seats or increase take-out orders. Allow guests to order via text. Are you located in a shopping area or near scenery where guests are likely to stroll before their meal? Untether them from the dreaded buzzer by texting them when their table is ready. After their meal, send a survey via text and pay attention to the data you collect. When those guests become loyal ones, text them a coupon every once in a while to thank them for coming back.
Are profits in the cards for your restaurant?
Believe it or not, it will be soon be gift card buying season. Data from past National Retail Federation Holiday Consumer Spending Surveys found that 40 percent of holiday shoppers begin their shopping before Halloween. What’s more, restaurants edged out department stores as the most popular category for gift card purchases. So are you ready? According to Restaurant Business, many operators make marketing mistakes when promoting gift cards. To avoid them, remember these recommendations: Expand your sales channels beyond your restaurant. A study by American Express and Technomic found that 27 percent of the study’s participants buy restaurant gift cards in grocery stores and 20 percent from mass merchandisers. Avoid accounting headaches by using a gift card software provider that allows for automated tracking of gift card costs and discounts. The gift card program should be integrated into your point-of-sale system and work seamlessly with any franchisors you have too. Make it easy for guests to acquire gift cards and redeem their value in your restaurant and online (one study found that 65 percent of gift card holders spend an extra 38 percent beyond the value of the card). Finally, consider using gift cards to make things right with guests when they have experienced problems. Comp cards can be set for the exact amount of a meal and can have an expiration date so the guest has motivation to return in the near future.
Check the health of your sickness policy
How do you respond when your team members get sick? Your restaurant’s food safety record may hinge on your answer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 48 million people are infected with a foodborne illness in the U.S. each year and half of those cases can be linked to eating in restaurants or delis. The blog Unsafe Foods reports that one CDC study, which tapped data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, found that among 457 foodborne disease outbreaks tracked, 300 were restaurant-related. Of those, the most common contributing factor resulting in 137 outbreaks was “handling by an infected person or carrier of pathogens.” Another CDC study, which polled food workers, found that 60 percent of those surveyed had worked while sick. Many of those people took steps to avoid passing on their illness while at work, such as not handling food and washing hands more frequently. But according to the study, nearly all of the workers who had reported to work while sick said it was their own decision to come to work and not their manager’s, and four in 10 said their manager did not know what their symptoms were. Respondents said they had decided to work while sick for a range of reasons: the restaurant’s lack of paid sick leave or any sick leave policy, the restaurant being shorthanded and needing coverage for the shift, and doubt that they would actually pass their illness on to others. When asked to name factors that affected their decision to work while sick, seven in 10 workers cited the severity of their symptoms and the likelihood of making others sick, six in 10 mentioned their dedication to their jobs and not wanting to leave others shorthanded, half considered not getting paid and one in four said their fear of losing their job was a factor in their decision to work while sick.
New Facebook metrics to help you drive engagement
If you buy advertising on Facebook or plan to, the company recently announced some new analytics that could help you understand and engage with your audience better. Social Media Week sees these potential benefits in Facebook’s new reporting metrics: A landing-page-views metric will help you understand how people are finding you on the web after clicking on an ad – and how optimizing your mobile web experience could boost traffic. A second metric will help you see how much of your traffic is from new visitors as opposed to previous ones. Finally, if you are a page owner, there will be several new metrics available, including information about the demographics of your followers, how your followers have grown or declined over time, how many people saw your page in a hover state without clicking through, and how often your page has been referenced in a recommendation.
Curry favor with spice
Spice is on the rise. As fall arrives, curry flavors can tick a lot of boxes on your menu – and in items beyond traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Turmeric, for example, has become a superfood for delivering a high dose of antioxidants, and it can bring warmth, earthy flavor and bold color to your menu. Foodable suggests gin- or rum-based cocktails infused or shaken with peeled, fresh turmeric root for best effect. Or try mixing turmeric into smoothies, antioxidant-dense frittatas, sauces for roasted vegetables, or mixed into hearty seasonal soups, like carrot-ginger.
Scan away your allergy woes?
If your restaurant is serving a greater number of allergy sufferers these days, take heart in some developing technology that could help them (and, in turn, you) in the not-so-distant future. Food & Wine reports that at IFA, Berlin’s consumer electronics and home appliance trade show, Bosch’s new X-Spect food scanner was attracting a lot of buzz for claims that it can tell you the nutritional content and presence of allergens in a dish. The report says at the moment, the technology works best on homogeneous foods like fruit or chicken; getting an accurate reading from a sandwich requires scanning each individual ingredient, then rebuilding it.
Up your website’s wow factor
Your online presence is what will bring new guests through the door. But did you know it takes just 1.7 seconds for a visitor to your site to decide whether to read on or move on? The National Restaurant Association says offering compelling video on your site is a key way to keep visitors there – and bring in new traffic. In fact, offering video will make it 53 times more likely that your website will appear on the first page of a Google search, according to the web design firm Mopro. To make your video connect with people, think about your ideal customers. What interests them? How old are they? How do they spend their time? Then create a video that appeals to that demographic and shows off your restaurant’s authentic self. What are you most proud of? What are the key aspects of your business that set it apart? Humor helps (and so does brevity – remember that 1.7 second rule).
Ensure your order-ahead tech gets you ahead
Order-ahead technology can help you serve more guests more efficiently – but even with systems designed to streamline business, there can be kinks. If you have already embraced order-ahead technology – or you’re thinking about it – the National Restaurant Association recommends some tips from the mobile technology development firm LevelUp: Walk through the process of ordering as if you were a customer. Is the process simple, seamless and intuitive? Store your guests’ favorite orders so it takes minimal clicks (ideally just one) to place an order again. Provide accurate wait times so customers aren’t waiting around or having to eat cold food – and make sure those orders are accurate too. Dedicate prep and pick-up areas for order-ahead meals. Make it easy for customers picking up orders to know where to go – clarify the process with simple directions on your website and clear signage at your restaurant.
There’s a crisis. What’s your food safety plan?
While natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t common, we’re living in an era when sudden weather events are taking a major toll on people’s lives, not to mention their food supply. Even storms on a smaller scale could cause contamination from flood water, pests, insufficiently cleaned equipment and compromised food sources. Do you have a plan for if and when the safety of your operation is at risk? The FDA recommends a number of guidelines when you’re managing such an event. First, ensure all rodents and other pests have been cleared from the facility, seal any cracks that could provide entry for them and discard spoiled food that could attract them. Discard and properly dispose of any food that has been submerged in flood waters – the only exception is food in undamaged, hermetically sealed cans that have had labels removed and have been washed and sanitized. If your facility has been in contact with flood waters, confirm that your well has not been flooded, wash all facility surfaces in a hot detergent solution followed by a sanitizing solution, recondition or replace surfaces with mold growth, and clean your exhaust system and hood and have it inspected. Examine your equipment, utensils, display cases, filters and other equipment and thoroughly clean and sanitize them. Some equipment, such as dishwashers and ice machines, should run through three cycles following cleaning to ensure they’re free of contaminants. Make sure all equipment can cool or heat to the required temperatures for maintaining food safety. All food supplies should be provided by a licensed, approved food source and received by a person who is responsible for ensuring the food containers are undamaged and that food requiring cold storage arrives either frozen or at temperatures below 41˚F. You may need to serve a limited menu until your operation has its usual inventory and roster of employees on hand.
Don’t make your neighbors hunt for you online
How do locals find you? The National Restaurant Association says 83 percent of adults consult their smartphones or tablets to find restaurant locations, directions, and hours of operation, and 55 percent of adults read restaurant reviews. Further, Google says searches with the words “near me,” “closest” and “nearby” have doubled since last year. To best capture your local online audience, Modern Restaurant Management suggests you have a clear local marketing strategy, along with a thorough, mobile-friendly website that includes the essential information customers need, shareable content and a connection to online reviews. First off, make sure people can find you when they’re looking for nearby restaurants. Check your listings on review sites like Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and Google My Business to ensure they’re updated with your location, contact information and latest menu. Enhance your SEO with keywords and links that will elevate your standing in online searches. Next, find out where your best guests spend time on social media and focus your efforts on those sites (and with the content that does best on those platforms). If you know your target demographic well, consider Facebook advertising to help you deliver content to people based on factors like gender, age, interests and location. Finally, monitor your online presence and be ready to act when you get reviews – provide a constructive, professional response when a negative one comes through and share any positive feedback on your website and social media channels to get the most mileage from your happy guests.
A restaurant more like a memorable dinner party
Some millennial chefs around the country are testing out new alternative restaurants – pop-up dinner parties that feel more like social gatherings with friends than dining establishments – and they’re generating a lot of buzz. Food & Wine reports that these chefs are cultivating a special social environment – it could be a homey space filled with couches, chairs, friends’ artwork and musical entertainment – and then hand-picking attendees who gather for a flat price to enjoy the company along with a selection of food (though not necessarily anything from a menu). Consider hosting occasions like these for your most loyal guests, or if you’re looking to test new menu ideas or concepts on a willing audience.
We all wish we could be more efficient. Mobile technology can help and the U.S. wants it -- Pew research indicates 77 percent of Americans now own smartphones. Modern Restaurant Management says there are three key ways having a robust mobile strategy streamlines your day-to-day operations. For one, mobile ordering opens you up to a larger customer base that will likely place larger orders because they don’t have to wait for them. Automating the ordering and reservation-making process will free up your staff’s time too. Even an app just for your staff can make ordering, payment, scheduling and bookkeeping more efficient. Next, allowing people to order ahead minimizes errors and therefore, waste. You’ll quickly see what your most popular items are, which will help you know how to tweak your menu. Finally, having a mobile strategy helps you build a better loyalty program. No more punch cards to lose. Your customers will receive points automatically with each purchase, and you will be able to see patterns in how they redeem their rewards (so you can offer more of what they like and bring them back in the door more frequently).
Panera steps up beverage transparency
Panera is making a new push to be transparent with its guests – even if its beverage sales suffer in the short term. Business Insider reports that Panera’s strategy to promote its new low-sugar craft beverage line, which includes options like blood orange lemonade and passion papaya green tea, will include serving drinks in cups labeled with the calories and grams of sugar that its broader line of beverages contains. This will likely steer customers away from high-profit-margin soft drinks (which pack a whopping 17.25 added teaspoons of sugar) and toward Panera’s new craft beverages, which are more expensive to produce but include far less sugar. The chain’s CEO hopes the effort will build loyalty. Panera commissioned a survey that found that 99 percent of Americans were unaware of the sugar their beverages contain. It wants to help educate its guests – and along the way, demonstrate that it’s a reliable place to go for a healthy meal.
Food traceability gets a boost
Food traceability is becoming increasingly important as our supply chain gets more complex. Food Safety magazine reports that a new guideline was published recently by a special traceability workgroup of suppliers, distributors and foodservice operators who wanted to enhance traceability practices in the wake of foodborne illness outbreaks. The guideline suggests case-level traceability processes that use GS1-128 barcodes to track cases of product across the foodservice supply chain. As consumers continue to demand food transparency, locally grown products and sound animal welfare practices, traceability efforts such as these could be critical to business. (A recent study from the Center for Food Integrity found that consumers want transparency around a company’s business practices just as much as they want food product labels.)
Redesign your way to a new vibe
The right restaurant design can take a business from good to great (assuming your food is just as good as its surroundings). In a Bloomberg interview, the design guru David Rockwell shared some design tweaks that can help transform a space. Some of the details he pays attention to? First, the entrance should have a sense of theater – it’s where guests make snap decisions about how welcoming the place is, what kinds of people eat there and how good the food is likely to be. Second, notice the noise – and make it appropriate for the space. In pockets of the restaurant where you want less of a din, ceiling perforations or fabric can absorb sound. Next, adjust your flow. A room with more than four tables across can feel like a cafeteria, so interspersing long and short tables and different levels can provide contrast. Just don’t create seating areas where people don’t want to go – use banquettes in corners or install displays that transform potentially unwanted areas into focal points. Use lighting as a way to vary the ambience between lunch and dinner and to bring a warmer or cooler vibe.
Look behind your website
When it comes to mining the best data to market your restaurant, your website is the best place to look -- if you know what to look for. To understand how people are responding to it, NextRestaurants recommends you first look beyond the general traffic you're attracting. While it's easy to associate a rise in general traffic with a successful site, it can merely mean that your SEO is doing well. General traffic figures are more reliable when combined with your bounce rate, website flow and traffic sources. A high bounce rate isn't always a bad thing -- it could indicate that the visitor found the needed information and just moved on -- but on a more densely packed page that takes time to load or one with pop-up ads, a high bounce rate might indicate that people are frustrated with the page and are abandoning your site without investigating it further. Understanding the user flow of your site will provide a visual representation of how people use it. If they're navigating the site in ways that differ from the ideal flow you envision, there may be links that are difficult to find or items that are distracting visitors from where you'd like them to go. Finally, if you study your numbers of new and returning users, you'll have a sense of how many people are visiting your site. While attracting new visitors is important to growth, it's also important to attract return visitors. Make sure you're offering content -- whether promotions, coupons or other timely offers -- that succeeds at bringing people back.
Putting UberEATS data to work
Since the UberEATS app launched just two years ago, it has grown to include more than 60,000 restaurants in 112 cities. Now the company wants to continue to push the boundaries of food delivery by building more trust with restaurants and helping advance restaurant technology, according to Chetan Narain, senior product manager for UberEATS restaurants. In a recent Skift article, he discussed how analytics are helping to make that happen. For example, the UberEATS Restaurant Manager tool includes a customer satisfaction section where for every dish it asks what fraction of customers gave it a “thumbs-up” and what tags are associated with the “thumbs-down” ratings received. Say a dish is rated 75 percent thumbs up, for example. Of the people who gave it a thumbs down, 90 percent mention portion size, or 90 percent mention presentation or how the dish held up. This feedback, in turn, is giving restaurants a lot of guidance about how they can change or adapt their menu for not just delivery but for what they're doing in-house too. One operator, Narain says, uses delivery as a testing ground for new dishes, taking in detailed reviewer feedback to make tweaks to dishes that eventually appear on the menu in-house.
Amazon technology to watch
Amazon's latest forays into the food business could pose a challenge to restaurants. Reuters reports that Amazon is exploring a technology first developed for the U.S. military to prepare ready-to-eat meals that don't need refrigeration. Amazon is preparing to sell prepared meals including beef stew and vegetable frittata as early as next year, according to the report. The items are easy to stockpile and ship and could be sold inexpensively, adding a potential new area of competition for restaurants and grocery stores that offer take-out options.
Out with room service, in with restaurant meals
Are hotels (and their employees) part of your marketing plan? Hotel room service -- traditionally a money-loser for hotels -- is becoming a benefit fewer travelers are demanding, according to USA Today. It says the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that 37 percent of hotels offered room service in 2014 as opposed to 22 percent in 2016, and 71 percent of luxury hotels offered alternatives to room service last year. Restaurants and grocery stores are stepping up by providing prepared meals, grab-and-go foods and meal kits to offer some of those alternatives. It can pay to be on the radar of hotels in your region, along with those who work there. Hyatt Centric, for one, has partnered with Grubhub to provide meal delivery from restaurants selected by hotel employees.
Picture-perfect food safety training
When you conduct food safety training, to what extent do you use images to convey important messages? An FDA study recommends it -- both for those who speak English as a second language and native speakers. Food Safety Market says visual presentations and storyboards that use graphics and colors more predominantly than text do a more effective job of communicating safety messages in any language, so when posting food safety signs and conducting training, complement any text with a related image. Use color-coding to help your team readily identify important warnings, as well as kitchen tools used for different foods.
Even if your kitchen has an ideal flow, your sinks are located away from sources of contamination and you have a well-planned sanitation routine, you could still have a contamination problem if your ventilation system isn't operating as it should. Do you have a plan in place for inspecting, testing, maintaining and cleaning it regularly to avoid the build-up of contaminants? If not, Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions says your ventilation system could be spreading flour dust, nut particles or other allergens throughout the facility. Those particles could contaminate virtually everything. Be sure to cover all flours, nuts and other common allergens to prevent cross-contact.
Ensure food safety door to door
Consumers want speedy, inexpensive food delivery -- but operators have to balance those desires with the need for food safety. Be specific about your needs when negotiating with third-party delivery providers. As Catering Insights put it recently, food safety mandates may vary state by state, but restaurant contracts with third-party delivery companies should be negotiated to include food safety specifications. Consider whether you need to require that drivers use hot/cold bags to keep food temperatures safe and that no more than a fixed amount of time can pass between pick-up and drop-off, for example. Have clear standards in place when it comes to pick-up procedures, complaint processing, minimum insurance levels and limiting the number of stops drivers can make.
Save time on social media
No time for social media? Most operators handle social media in-house in addition to a host of other responsibilities, so it's easy to give it less attention than it needs. To help you save time, Social Media Week suggests some tips: For one, use a social media management system to set up a consistent posting schedule and streamline your efforts across different channels -- and consider using a dashboard that allows you to look at all of your social media activity in one place. Next, focus on two or three platforms and handle them well instead of dabbling in many of them. This will help you make a bigger, more visible impact on the platforms you select, as well as facilitate management of the customer comments and inquiries that come to you via social media. When someone mentions your brand online, make sure you know about it. Google Alerts is one free service that will send an email when a brand is mentioned. Mention.com and Hootsuite will also track social media and other online mentions and send you an email when they happen. Finally, create a bank of social media posts for different platforms -- sample tweets, Google+ updates or Facebook posts for example, using the language and word count appropriate for each site. Then grab an item from the bank in a variety of situations, such as when you profile an employee or announce specials or contests.
To boost your online power, look to peers with best formulas
As you build your online presence, from your website to your social media platforms, you have to keep a range of best practices in mind to ensure your content is as effective as it could be. Looking for tips from some pros? Toast recently shared the names of several operators who excel in different areas of online content: Sweetgreen, for example, is great at projecting a consistent voice. To weave their clean, modern look throughout their brand, they use only lowercase letters on social media (consistent with their app, logo and website), the same photography across all of their marketing materials, as well as a strategy for emoji use on social media. Looking for guidance in responding to reviews? Check out Paris Creperie's positive, professional approach. Pieology Pizzeria successfully attracts and posts consumer-generated content -- essentially free marketing -- on all of their social media channels and follows up by offering online coupons. Mei Mei Street Kitchen is great at posting features about employees, which has humanized the business and enhanced its image as a friendly brand. To engage followers, Which Wich asks funny questions on social media, managing to make something as mundane as a BLT into a fun discussion topic. If you feel you're lacking for content, try chiming in on some news already happening. For example, when a Nor'easter hit Boston, Upper Crust Pizza hopped on social media and used already-trending hashtags (like #openinBOS) to post a photo of their staff with a local weatherman.
Turn food waste into a business opportunity
Want to minimize food waste? One major food processor, New York City-based Baldor, is turning organic waste into big business, according to Fast Company. Baldor washes, chops and packages produce for grocery stores and restaurants -- and finds creative uses for the trimmings it once discarded. The company, which once sent 150,000 pounds of food waste to landfills or composting facilities each week, now sends nothing. It sells vegetable leftovers to chefs for use in stocks or sauces. Fruit scraps go to juiceries that use them in cold-pressed drinks. Rinds and other items not suitable for people are made into animal feed. Items that fall on the floor or arrive rotten are sent through a waste-to-water machine that turns the food into a slurry that can go down the drain. The company is using some vegetable waste to create completely new products as well, like a dry vegetable blend that can replace wheat in some recipes while increasing the nutrient content.
A better, faster, cheaper way to detect E. coli
The expansion of the food supply chain has made it that much easier for foodborne pathogens to spread, but technologies are aiming to keep up. Food Safety magazine reports that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new detection system for E. coli, which causes 73,000 illness and 60 deaths in the U.S. each year. The test uses a liquid that binds to bacterial proteins and can be detected by either the naked eye or a smartphone, which could provide a much faster and cheaper alternative to existing food safety tests. MIT hopes to launch a company to commercialize the new technology within the next year and a half.
Get juiced about food safety
If you offer fresh juices on your menu, take note: Fruits and vegetables contaminated with harmful bacteria cause 46 percent of food poisonings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- and much of that contamination comes not from the produce itself but from how it is packed, stored and prepared. Food Safety magazine recommends you wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after prep, give leafy greens a cold-water-and-vinegar bath for five to 10 minutes and rinse, wash all other produce in running water (scrubbing those with firm rinds), cut away damaged or rotten areas, and dry produce afterwards to reduce surface bacteria.
Regulatory hurdles for burger that bleeds
Impossible Foods, which generated positive buzz in recent months because of its plant-based burger that "bleeds" like real meat, may have inadvertently hurt itself by seeking FDA approval for its secret ingredient. Food Dive reports that Impossible Foods is being encouraged to pull its burger from the market (which includes dozens of restaurants in New York, California, Texas and Nevada) until it can prove it is safe to eat. The burger includes a material called soy leghemoglobin, a protein from soy roots that gives the meat its flavor and texture. FDA regulators have yet provide that acknowledgment, though they didn't say the burger was unsafe. While Impossible Foods said their burger was lab tested and that it did not need FDA approval to sell it, it sought the agency's designation of "generally recognized as safe" in order to build its brand.
When following trends, strategize first
It can be tempting to seize on whatever the hot ingredient du jour might be and find a way to work it onto your menu. But trend cycles move faster now than they used to and it no longer takes years (or even months) for a popular ingredient to progress from food producers to restaurants to consumers' kitchen pantries. Instead of constantly playing catch-up to deliver on-trend ingredients, Flavor & the Menu suggests that when temptation arises, take a step back, look at the larger trend surrounding an ingredient and embrace that instead. So in other words, a consumer fascination with Sriracha may not be about the Sriracha itself but about the desire for added heat. Guests who order kale don't necessarily love kale -- more likely, they love the idea of a healthy lifestyle. If you deliver on the wider trend while staying in line with your brand, you're less apt to jump from one passing fad to another.
Protecting food safety when a storm hits
Hurricane season is now near its peak and as extremes of weather become increasingly common, it's important to remember practices to protect the safety of food compromised by power loss or flooding. Temperature is key to controlling most biological contaminants. In the case of power loss, food items must be kept at 41 degrees or less in the refrigerator or zero degrees or less in the freezer. Prior to a predicted power loss, place as many perishable items as possible in the freezer. The Washington State Department of Health suggests sourcing a refrigerated truck to help store perishable foods. In the event of power loss, keep track of the time it begins. Stop using gas or solid fuel cooking and heating equipment if the exhaust hood and make-up air systems stop working. Using this equipment without proper ventilation can lead to the build-up of toxic fumes. Throw away any foods that are in the process of being cooked but haven't reached their final cooking temperature. Once power is restored, check thermometers to ensure food is being kept at a safe temperature. Discard perishable foods including meats, milk, eggs or other items that have been kept in the refrigerator or freezer above 41 degrees for more than four hours. If a well has been flooded or damaged, have it tested for contaminants that can affect water safety. Note that portable generators will prevent loss and can help with recovery efforts, but they are not intended to replace approved power sources for foodservice operations.
When it comes to video, spread it far and wide
In a recent survey of 500 marketers by Animoto, 92 percent of marketers said they repurpose existing content and assets to create videos. The video marketing firm Tubular Insights says there are a number of benefits to repurposing video content, including improved search engine optimization, better audience targeting, a wider distribution and more views. To get a bigger bang from your video, Tubular Insights recommends you transcribe the video you create, which can make your videos more searchable because Google can index the closed captions. Next, try breaking your video content into shorter clips that can be used on different platforms. The ideal video length for a YouTube video is 14.5 minutes versus 1.3 minutes for Facebook. The maximum length of a video on Twitter is 30 seconds and for Instagram is 60 seconds. Cross-posting different versions or parts of the video on different platforms can generate more views -- and may lead those viewers to click on the longer video on YouTube after they've watched the teaser on Twitter. You could, for example, shoot a video of your new chef giving a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen, then feature the full content on YouTube (or a condensed version of it on Facebook), post quotes from the video in a blog entry on your website, share a clip on Instagram showing your chef wecoming that day's shipment of seafood or colorful produce, and post a humorous, stand-alone question or comment from the chef on Twitter.
September is National Food Safety Month
A recent study of restaurant food safety practices by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among the 486 workers surveyed in nine states, there were clear patterns in the workers and establishments most likely to spread foodborne illness. Many workers reported engaging in risky behaviors that threatened food safety, including not washing hands or changing gloves between touching raw meat or poultry and ready-to-eat food, not using a thermometer to check the temperature of cooked foods, or working while they have vomiting or diarrhea. The findings suggested that younger, less-experienced workers in independent restaurants (as opposed to chains) were more apt to engage in risky behaviors with regard to food safety -- and that restaurant managers and food safety programs should adjust to focus on those areas.
Retain to avoid recruitment pain
Unemployment is at a 16-year low, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, making it more important than ever to keep the top talent you have. A recent report in Restaurant Business Online shared some retention tips that have worked for successful operators. TaKorean in Washington, D.C. offers achievable bonuses each month based on mystery-shopper-type evaluations that track customer service and speed of food delivery, for example. The average score determines how much the whole team receives -- most months, they take home an extra $30 to $50. Dead-End BBQ in Knoxville, Tenn. offers workers a profit-sharing bonus after three months on the job. LouVino in Louisville, Ken. offers sign-on bonuses of $600, part of which is payable after 60 days of work at the restaurant and the other part after 120 days. Other ideas that employees have received well: Commuter benefits, education benefits and paid vacation time.
Use your website to boost revenue
While online reviews get a lot of attention, don't discount the importance of a well-crafted website. A 2015 OpenTable survey reports that 84 percent of diners visit a restaurant’s website before making a reservation. Since they're the one place online where you have complete control over the message guests are receiving, they're a business opportunity worth your attention. In a Skift article, the CEO of the website development firm BentoBox recommends you build in ample opportunities to boost revenue. That can include giving visitors a place to buy digital gift cards, place catering orders, submit private event requests from contract all the way down to a deposit, or buy tickets and restaurant merchandise.
Strapped for cash? Get creative with social media.
The push for food delivery has given delivery companies a lot of power. These companies charge for both delivery and marketing, the latter being critical for the emerging set of restaurants-without-dining-rooms. but Skift reports that one Los Angeles restaurant, Trap Kitchen, has worked around those marketing costs by relying on its free Instagram account. It posts menus each day to Instagram and solicits orders there too. Two years in, the restaurant has 230,000 followers -- and it has lifted the prospects of the new business. The success of Trap Kitchen on Instagram has encouraged its operators to open a brick-and-mortar location.
How does your marketing measure up?
In the U.S., 82 percent of restaurants reserve at least part of their marketing budgets for social media, which makes it the most popular marketing channel today, according to a new TripAdvisor survey of 4 million restaurant operators worldwide. Print advertising and online listing services were rated the next most effective tools by U.S. operators. Most of those operators are relying on internal expertise to drive their marketing efforts: While 85 percent of respondents said they should be promoting themselves more, only 17 percent of operators have hired someone to handle marketing and 1 percent have hired outside marketing consultants for guidance.
Be a content king
Do you have a comprehensive content marketing strategy – or is posting photos, sending emails or tweeting content about your restaurant a bit of an afterthought? A study by the marketing research firm Demand Metric found that content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates three times as many leads, so a sound strategy can pay off. To build one, Restaurant Engine recommends you identify your target audience and find ways to be a resource for them. Then build a calendar that plots out content around holidays, special events and seasons and cross-promotes that content on your blog, website, email list and social media networks. Create a branded, unified look that includes your restaurant logo and is easily identifiable by your guests. Using a combination of text, images and video will help keep your content interesting. Use consistent key words on your website and blog, optimize your content with tags on images and titles, and reduce your image file sizes for faster loading. Finally, you’ll want to monitor and measure your progress, so give your plan some time but ensure you have tactics in place to track how people are responding so you can adjust as needed. If you need a cheat sheet to help you stay on top of the tools and terms that are part of your content marketing strategy, check out this infographic from Curata, which tracks 29 content marketing metrics. Need help cranking out content? Consider launching a blog on your restaurant website that covers topics of interest – from gluten-free eating to wine pairings to seasonal recipes. Feature a monthly video of chef’s tips. Showcase your employees and their unexpected talents or interests. Select one day each week or month and do the same type of post – having the format in place and ready to go can help you stay on track.
Tune up your down time
Even restaurants at the very top of their game have a bit of down time now and then. Those minutes are valuable. Are you using them to improve how your operation runs? Foodable suggests you first take a look at your scheduling to ensure you don’t have a lot of extra waitstaff standing around during slow periods. Or if you do, prepare detailed lists of jobs they can do so business can run without hiccups during busier parts of the day – have them stock beverages, fill salt and pepper shakers, roll flatware and clean up in advance of the next rush. Down times are also ideal for keeping tabs on inventory and ordering. While this responsibility lies with you, apps and point-of-sale programs are making it possible to get other staff involved too. Do you have a monthly or quarterly advertising and marketing plan in place? Review it each week to monitor results, check online reviews and prepare a summary to share with your staff, and to review your social media accounts. Review your point-of-sale reports to get a handle on revenue, guest counts, labor costs, and food and beverage costs and identify areas where tweaks are needed. Have new menu items, tech tools or kitchen processes? Use down time to train employees, have taste tests, discuss new ingredients or role play new service processes. Walk through your operation to conduct preventive maintenance in order to avoid interruptions later. Do filters need cleaning or replacement? Is your equipment using more energy than it needs to? Finally, use down time for meetings, whether as a team or one-on-one, to review personal or operational goals.
Build a social media army
Partnering with your employees can extend your social media reach exponentially if you have a coordinated plan in place – just ask brands like Starbucks and Southwest, which do a top job of engaging their teams to spread their brand message. Social Media Examiner recommends a range of tools to help. Slack is a good one to support centralized communication. You can easily create different channels to address different groups. DrumUp is another that lets you import the RSS feed of your blog so employees can share it across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It isn’t always convenient to schedule group meetings, so to capture ideas between sessions, Trello lets employees make suggestions and tag the topic of their feedback. You can also build engagement with employees by posting their social shares on your blog. Try creating a unique hashtag and encouraging employees to use it when tweeting about your restaurant. You can do the same with Instagram with Yotpo, which allows you to identify the best posts and publish them to your page.
Ready to go cashless?
Are cash payments on the way out? Visa hopes so. The credit card giant recently announced the Visa Cashless Challenge, whereby it would offer up to 50 restaurants and food vendors $10,000 apiece for upgrading their technology and marketing costs. In exchange, these businesses must pledge to begin a “journey to cashless” by allowing customer payments via debit card, credit card or cellphone app. A 2016 Gallup poll found that just 24 percent of Americans report making all or most of their purchases with cash, as compared to 36 percent five years ago. If you’re ready to get on board and take part in the cashless challenge, watch the Visa website for more information coming soon.
TripAdvisor tool promises restaurant marketing power
If your restaurant relies on TripAdvisor comments and ratings and doesn’t have substantial resources to manage a comprehensive website or several social media networks, a subscription-based tool from the site may help you harness TripAdvisor feedback into actionable steps to help your business. TripAdvisor Premium, offered by a monthly or annual fee, can help you customize your TripAdvisor Page to receive data and analytics, Skift reports. TripAdvisor’s senior vice president of restaurants says while the service can’t measure how many people are going to a restaurant, it can increase engagement in a restaurant’s page by 25 to 30 percent by monitoring clicks to a restaurant’s website, reservations or phone number.
Clean and green
Aqueous ozone has long been used to disinfect water, preserve meats and prevent the growth of mold and yeast in fruit, according to Food Safety Magazine. Now it is gaining momentum as a green alternative to chemically based cleaning solutions – and as a means of demonstrating your commitment to sustainability. Green Seal, a green certification organization for products and services in a range of industries, including hospitality, recently certified aqueous ozone as safer for users and the environment than traditional cleaning products. One key selling point is that it is generated on site when needed, so there’s no need to walk to and from a supply closet to collect cleaning products. It also cuts back on the number of plastic bottles, cartons and other containers used to ship cleaning materials. Look for more businesses to offer the technology to keep hospitality facilities clean and healthy.
How healthy is that beverage?
Consumers have high expectations when it comes to beverages right now: They expect them to serve as healthy snacks and meal replacements, all while delivering a low-sugar nutrient boost. If you have added “healthy” beverages to your menu to stay on trend, make sure your team can capably walk the line between overpromising their benefits and under-delivering on them. According to Harvard Health Publications, cold-pressed juices made from a combination of fruits and vegetables retain more vitamins and minerals than regular juice – and a wider array of them – but have a higher glycemic index than whole fruits. They also tend to be less satiating. Smoothies tend to contain more fiber and be more filling than regular juice but they can pack in the calories (and sugar, if you’re not careful). If you’re adding almond milk or yogurt to boost protein, make sure they don’t contain excess sugars. For customers looking for a beverage that keeps calories in check, consider offering sparkling or still water flavored with fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Two-thirds of restaurant diners prefer locally sourced meat and produce, according to Statista. So how local is your menu? Toast says food sourced within 100 miles, within your state or by a small-scale production facility typically qualifies as local. These purveyors are increasingly critical to your marketing efforts with guests. Consumers tend to believe that local products taste better. Beyond that, serving local fare can provide you with a compelling story to share with guests – especially if you create memorable experiences around the farmers, cheesemakers, brewers, and others who produce the local items you feature on your menu. To identify more local food producers, the Sustainable Restaurant Association suggests you challenge your largest supplier to tell you what produce is available in your area. Look online too – keeping tabs on Instagram and Twitter can help you uncover new suppliers in your region. When you find those local producers, meet with them face-to-face and look for ways to partner with them as both ingredient suppliers and storytellers you can showcase at exclusive events with your guests. Forging a close partnership with local producers may help you influence what they plant in future growing seasons, or spark your chef’s creativity by alerting you to the produce that will be the freshest, tastiest addition to your menu at a given time – and what you’d be better off omitting.
What does your restroom say about you?
A recent study by the consulting from King-Casey found that 78 percent of restaurant guests rank a clean restroom as a sign of a clean kitchen. So like it or not, your guests could very well be assessing the cleanliness of your kitchen before they’ve tasted a bite of food. To keep your restrooms as clean as possible, Food Quality & Safety suggests some tips: Offer paper towels, which dry hands quicker and keep customers safer from germs (a Journal of Applied Microbiology study found that jet dryers spread germs 1,300 times more than paper towels). Offer high-quality paper products that dissolve and biodegrade easily – they will help you avoid expensive, unsightly clogs and keep your stall floors free of torn and shredded paper. If possible, install touchless soap dispensers, faucets and paper towel dispensers. Consider touchless or foot-pedal-activated trash receptacles and entrance doors as well. To help maintain a clean restroom, use a cleaning log with a step-by-step list of areas to check multiple times daily. Have a cleaning cart dedicated to restroom use to ensure you have all cleaning supplies and paper goods on hand and are reducing the likelihood of cross-contamination with your kitchen. Finally, make sure your supply closet has an ample supply of restroom products and is easy to access throughout the day.
Build a better burger
Creative burgers are on the rise – and adding inventive ingredients to your patties can help you pack in more nutrients, reduce costs and improve the environmental impact of the burgers on your menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that operators are experimenting with ingredients like barley, quinoa, mushrooms, tofu and even seaweed as burger mix-ins. These additions can help you retain the flavor, moisture, texture and thickness of your burgers while using less meat. At the same time, you’ll have a good story to share with your guests: The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates far more man-made greenhouse gas emissions than transportation, so using less of it can help slow that trend.
Clean ice is twice as nice
There’s nothing like an ice-cold beverage to beat the summer heat. Just make sure your ice machine isn’t serving up harmful bacteria. The BBC consumer affairs program Watchdog recently carried out a test of coliforms in ice at 10 branches each of McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC and found indicators of possible contamination with feces in more than half of the samples collected. To help keep your ice clean, Food Safety magazine advises operators train all employees to wash hands before collecting ice. Store the scoop outside of the machine on an uncovered, impervious tray that is washed daily in the dishwasher. Hold the scoop by the handle only and do not handle ice or return any unused ice to the machine. Clean ice storage chests monthly (if not weekly) and consider regular testing of ice and the surfaces around it to help you adjust your cleaning frequency and methods.
Accepting tips in the EMV age
If you accept tips at your restaurant, is your technology keeping up with the most convenient ways for customers to offer them? FSR magazine says that as more operators adopt EMV, which includes a secure PIN option, they will have to prepare their payment systems to accept all kinds of payments. That could mean ensuring your point-of-sale system can handle all transactions with tip allowance or transitioning away from a central checkout system in favor of a mobile, pay-at-the-table model. The latter system is widely used in other countries and appears to be where the U.S. is evolving. Though it puts customers in the somewhat awkward position of stating the tip amount at the time they pay their bill, the security offered by these PIN-enabled transactions is likely to outweigh the negatives.
Following a new trend? Adapt your safety protocol
There’s always pressure to stay on trend in the restaurant business, but catering to the latest consumer need raises food safety challenges, according to Food Safety magazine. Hydroponic gardens popping up in restaurant dining rooms – or rooftop gardens used to grow produce used on the menu – can pose risks when guests are in close proximity to ingredients that will land on someone’s plate. The push to provide local ingredients poses another risk. If you purchase from a local co-op, your produce may have come from dozens of growers, so traceability is especially important. If you offer smoothies or other produce-packed beverages, note that some frozen produce wasn’t intended to be served without cooking and may contain pathogens. The demand for delivery is raising safety concerns too – if you use a third-party service, who is responsible for the temperature and quality of the food during transport? Is the food protected from intentional or unintentional contamination?
Fine-tune your hashtags
If you have a presence on social media, hashtags can help you tell your story and connect to a larger online community at the same time. To use them to greatest effect, Social Media Restaurant suggests you keep them brief, memorable and easy to spell – #PerfectPizzaPairings will score higher than “BestWinesWithPizza, for example. Choose an original-sounding (but understandable) tag, use capital letters for each new word and double check it to ensure it won’t be misinterpreted or used in an unintended way. Don’t overdo them – tweets with three or fewer tags are twice as likely to be favorited, answered or retweeted. If you’re running a contest where you challenge guests to post a photo along with a single hashtag, consider using online aggregation services like Tag Board or Rebel Mouse. They will help you bring all entries together onto one easy-to-reference page.
Adopting eco-friendly practices is becoming a necessity for many restaurants – and the practices that operators once established mainly to shrink their carbon footprint and tell a compelling story to guests are now demonstrating they can save substantial money too. Cake, the technology consultancy to the restaurant industry, suggests operators start simply: Turning down the thermostat (even in cooler months), installing low-flow faucets and toilets (at a savings of 20 to 40 percent of water costs annually), winnowing down your menu to focus on a smaller number of ingredients, and replacing paper towels with hand dryers in your restrooms will all add up to substantial savings. Next, Cake suggests you take a look at your kitchen, since 80 percent of energy is wasted because of the heat and noise that appliances in commercial kitchens produce. If you’re replacing appliances, look to energy-efficient models and research what state rebates they might qualify you to get. Barring that, use an energy monitoring system that can help you adjust how much power to use when your restaurant is closed. While appliances like refrigerators obviously need to keep running, reducing power to other parts of your operation can help cut costs. Buying from local farmer’s markets (or using a larger supplier that has relationships with a number of regional farms) is another financially sound decision in addition to a means of supporting your community – especially when your alternative is to have ingredients shipped from far-flung parts of the country. Finally, take a look at your waste and find ways to reduce excess ingredients, repurpose ingredients in recipes throughout the week, and recycle into compost what you must discard. (Green Hotelier suggests that for a trial period, you collect food waste in three separate bins – preparation, spoilage and plate waste – to identify where most of your food waste is coming from so you can take steps to minimize it.)
Step up your food safety program
Would you describe your food safety program as world-class? If not (and even if so), it might be helpful to know the processes and approaches the best operations use, according to Food Safety Magazine. First, do you have a maturity modeling program? This will help you apply simple principles to measure continuous improvement in safety, productivity and quality and decrease labor, waste and unproductivity. Second, does your food safety program go beyond the FDA’s model food code and state or local variations? While the rules in this food code are an important foundation, they make it easy for operators to slip into reactive mode. You may discover and fix problems just a couple of times a year during inspections and let things slide in the interim. To fill the gap, practice (and enforce) active management, including educating and certifying food safety managers and having standard operating procedures for purchasing ingredients, equipment, facility design and maintenance, and employee health. Then you can establish food safety management programs like Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points to employ verification procedures for sanitation, temperature control, hygiene, maintenance, and safe sources of food and water. Consider the 40-item checklist used during a food safety inspection and collect the same data daily to uncover problem areas early. Finally, use your metrics to improve processes, resources and people. As you improve continuously, you can refine cost-saving opportunities including reducing food waste, power consumption and staffing hours. At this stage it will be part of your culture – and in the fabric of your team – to look for ways to make things better.
Stay a step ahead of fraud
In Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, nearly 98 percent of all recorded point-of-sale attacks resulted in a confirmed data breach, with the focus of attacks shifting from hotel chains to restaurants and small businesses. To prevent fraud, the report suggests operators request a review of third-party point-of-sale vendors and their security practices—with an emphasis on remote access. Modern Restaurant Management says accepting payments with a secure mobile payment app can help because credit card data is protected through a PCI-compliant payment processor. By ensuring your payment processors and point-of-sale system are PCI-compliant, restaurant operators can streamline and protect all reports in one place.
Social media contests that win
Running a contest via social media can help you generate traffic during slow periods and build your customer database. Just remember a few rules to ensure you maximize the impact of each campaign. Social Media Week suggests you offer more than just recognition – a tangible prize (ideally one that you can brand) is ideal. If you’re giving away a coupon or other minor item, running the contest for a few hours or days is sufficient, while contests for big-ticket prizes can run for weeks. You’re more likely to get a better outcome if you encourage user-generated content from your guests – like photos, taglines or other content they create themselves that involves your brand. Finally, have a few simple, clear rules to govern your contest, but nothing so complex that you discourage people from taking part.
A picture-perfect meal
If your guests regularly post images of their meals online – and the images they post could represent you a little better – consider one London-based restaurant’s approach. Mic reports that a location of the restaurant Dirty Bones lends guests “Instagram kits” to help cast their menu in its best light, literally. The kits include a portable LED light, multi-device charger, clip-on wide-angle lens, tripod and selfie stick, which guests can borrow to stage a perfect photo op for their meal. Food and drinks are served to maximize visual appeal (a pink cocktail served during the city’s Pride Week was topped with a rim of rainbow sprinkles) and the restaurant itself was designed with social media in mind. Guests can pose in front of neon signs that display Instagram-friendly sayings like “Keeping it real.”
Want feedback? Have a chat.
Getting candid, meaningful feedback from your customers is important, but many of the usual methods restaurants use to collect input – like comment cards, for one – don’t provide the kind of actionable information operators need. And it’s not always feasible to have an in-person conversation with your guests to collect feedback. But a recent report in Modern Restaurant Management suggests chatbots have the potential to help operators gather helpful information because they can tap into the mindset of consumers used to chatting via text. By simply transferring the questions normally used on a paper form onto a chatbot interface and sending it via text to customers who have received an online order, one operator was able to elicit descriptive feedback. (It also helps that the chatbot asks an open-ended follow-up question when a customer gives a low rating to an area of service.) Because the feedback is presented in chat form, it feels more personal – yet it is quick and cost-effective.
Clean up to keep ‘em coming back
A Harris poll conducted in 2016 found that 93 percent of adults in the U.S. would avoid returning to a restaurant if they had experienced a problem, including poor cleanliness or odor. Toast suggests tips to help you avoid that scenario. Train your staff to prioritize food safety – not just after a training session but every day. Think of the health department as a partner who can help you bring in business. If you receive a low score, respond constructively and cooperate with their guidance to bolster your food safety practices. Flies and other pests are tell-tale signs to customers that your cleaning practices aren’t sufficient, so keep your operation pest-free with help from a pro. Finally, prioritize cleanliness over customer service. Your attentive service and attractive ambiance won’t matter if your guests notice dirty cutlery or leave with a foodborne illness.
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