Navigate food delivery – and come out ahead
Offering food delivery is becoming more of a need-to-have option than a nice-to-have option, as restaurants struggle to bring in new customers and find ways to manage decreased foot traffic. In fact, NPD Group found that food delivery sales have climbed 20 percent in the past five years. If GrubHub, Uber Eats or other large food delivery operators have started up in your vicinity, don’t forget about the smaller, independent operators who might give your restaurant a boost. A recent report in Skift Table says business for these operators has been strong overall, despite some early concerns that the larger operators could eat up their market share. The report found that in some cases, the larger operators were slow to make requested menu updates and that a restaurant might not appear as an available option during periods when the updates need to be made. While a smaller operator may not have the advantage of scale, it may be able to provide personalized service to its restaurant partners and their customers. If your take-away menu includes items that require special care or if your delivery business has a loyal customer following, using a smaller player might help you customize your service to that base. They may also be more willing to negotiate with you to earn your business — an important benefit at a time when delivery slims down profit margins for many restaurants.
E. coli inspires technology that prevents it
The E.coli outbreak at Chipotle a few years ago inspired two engineers to start working on a device that would help prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Now, Business Insider reports that they have developed a product called PathSpot that uses light to determine whether or not there is bacteria present on a person’s hands (which, when not properly washed, can cause 89 percent of foodborne illnesses). PathSpot is a small black box attached to an iPad with a connected sensor. When the iPad scans the light reflected by a person’s hand, it runs an algorithm to show how it fluoresces — wavelengths of light fluoresce differently in contaminated versus clean hands. PathSpot will flash red if it detects bacteria on a person’s hands and blue if the person’s hands are clean. It also maintains extensive employee records and can alert a manager if an employee doesn’t rescan within a few minutes of getting a red light, or if an employee is skipping scans altogether. The technology is in the early stages of a rollout — it is already being used in 20 farms, packaging facilities and restaurants in the U.S. The engineers behind the technology have their sights set on making PathSpot the go-to device for sanitation regulation in restaurants, hospitals, schools and airports — and to eventually make PathSpot a portable device that could attach to a smartphone and be used by individuals.
Food inspection schedules impact likelihood of foodborne illness
The time of day when a food safety inspection takes place can have a big impact on foodborne illness rates. That’s according to a new Harvard Business School study, which found that 19 million foodborne illnesses, 51,000 hospitalizations and billions of dollars in medical costs could be avoided every year if food safety inspections are scheduled at the beginning of the day instead of at the end. Food Safety Magazine reports that according to the research, inspectors cited fewer violations at each establishment inspected throughout the course of a day. This is likely due to workday fatigue and an eagerness to complete work toward the end of a day — and it likely provides some operations with better scores than they deserve.
Technology to help you manage labor challenges
Managing swings in the labor market, as well as the costs, are top challenges for restaurant operators. At the recent National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, many technology companies were on hand with offerings designed to help operators manage those challenges. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a number of companies, including HotSchedules, Harri and Snag, are looking to help operators with labor forecasting to help them avoid the high costs of turnover. Consider them if you’re looking to monitor shifting consumer demands, adapt to the rise of off-premise business, fill staff vacancies quickly and manage other factors that can help you navigate the labor landscape.
Restaurant technology: Experts weigh in
How is your restaurant preparing for technology? If you struggle to use technology effectively, several technology executives from Papa John’s, KFC and Long John Silver’s made recommendations at the recent Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville, Ky. The primary takeaways: When you’re considering new technology, approach it from a holistic perspective. Your app or digital signage won’t be as effective if you’re not coordinating it with changes to your full operation — and ensuring the technology you have works as an ensemble. They also addressed a popular myth: that embracing digital ordering will help operators reduce labor costs. In reality, they said, your head count may increase because as you become more efficient at accepting orders more quickly, you’ll need people helping to prepare them. Finally, as you incorporate technology to improve customer experience, remember your employees’ experience by providing digital training tools and other resources that can improve their work, such as online shift-trading tools.
Fine-tune your online marketing
There is so much information available about restaurants online that most of your guests have likely researched you on Yelp, Google Business, TripAdvisor or all three before stepping through your door. To reap the most benefit from your online marketing budget, Cake recommends you optimize your listings with specific, relevant service categories and keywords. Ensure you have a brief write-up that uses these keywords to describe your restaurant and menu. Use professional photos and ensure your restaurant’s menu and contact information is updated across platforms. Put your menu online and link it to your listings on review sites. Update your website so it’s optimized for mobile, can accept reservations online and incorporates local SEO to improve your online rankings. Have a complete social media profile and allow guests to book a table through your page. Any email you send should be personalized with names, locations or other information — and easily read on a mobile device.
A tabletop tablet for independent restaurants
Did you think tabletop tablets were out of reach for independent restaurants or small chains? Ziosk, a top player that has in recent years focused on the larger chains, including Chili’s, Red Robin and about two dozen others, is now looking to expand its tablet technology into small chains and some independent restaurants. Skift Table reports that in addition to payments, the Ziosk tablets offer games and also prompt guests with post-meal surveys that can only be taken immediately after making payment (helping operators avoid having servers take surveys and inflate their ratings artificially). Pricing for Ziosk’s offering for independent restaurant starts at $260 per month for 24 devices.
Get ahead with Facebook’s new algorithm
In the wake of Facebook’s recent algorithm change, which prioritizes newsfeed content from a user’s family, friends and social groups over content from brands, restaurant operators with a large following on Facebook have been concerned that their content will now be more difficult for followers to see on the platform. That said, brands that are developing original, creative content shouldn’t have much reason to worry. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said pages that people comment on, or which “prompt conversations between friends,” will be less impacted than those that rely on content that does not generate discussion or engagement in the form of shares with friends. According to Hootsuite, your post will get a boost in the Facebook newsfeed if it generates replies to comments, a “love” instead of a “like,” or if a user shares your link via Facebook Messenger with one or more friends. Hootsuite suggests that to maximize your Facebook performance, create content that sparks some discussion among your followers. Focus on live videos – like a chef demo, for example – that will generate a response from your guests. Try to focus on local events and community building instead of broad messages that could come from a restaurant across the country. Invest in Facebook ads to ensure you’re targeting the right potential customers. Finally, connect with influencers who have a built-in following and are willing to promote your message on your behalf – just make sure it’s something that will generate discussion.
Work effectively with influencers
Your ability to attract new guests by personal referral is a strong testament to your business. Since many personal recommendations happen via social media, social media influencers have gained power through their ability to help brands get the word out. Influencers have built large followings – typically of around 10,000 people – by posting content that their followers trust and find engaging. To help incorporate the right influencers in your marketing strategy, the business consultancy Deputy suggests you improve your social media presence by having a complete online profile and by posting content that’s more engaging than promotional. When considering different influencers who might help you build business, check out their followers’ level of engagement to make sure they are responding well to it. Align with influencers who are passionate about food and restaurants. Opt for influencers who have a strong, local presence on a single platform versus those with a diluted, broad-based presence on many platforms. Start a relationship by responding to their content. Once you have established a rapport, you can contact them directly to propose they come to your restaurant for a free meal. Deputy says influencers may expect compensation beyond a free meal and in that case may mention the conditions of a business relationship at the outset. Make sure those conditions work for your business, or contact an agency that works with influencers and can recommend guidelines to follow, as well as other influencers who could be potential partners. Once your relationship is established, you can take care of it by offering discounts to the influencer’s followers, involving the influencer in events and branding decisions, or making them an ambassador by offering a monthly fee or free meals in exchange for promotional content.
Be aware of Gluten sensitivity
Approximately three million people in the United States have celiac disease and just five percent are aware of it, according to the National Restaurant Association. To accommodate those guests, as well as many others with gluten sensitivity, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) reminds operators to ensure you communicate about guest allergies across the entire team. Your wait staff should be able to discuss ingredients and cooking techniques with a gluten-intolerant guest if needed. Check the cleanliness of tables and chairs, where cross-contamination can happen, as well as the placement of tongs, ladles and other implements that might be used with the wrong foods inadvertently. Finally, having your manager or chef deliver the plate to the guest with a gluten allergy ensures the plate won’t be contaminated with items from other plates and also sends the message that you care about guest safety.
Avoid foodborne pathogens in produce
The E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce has become more extensive than the deadly spinach outbreak of 2006, according to Food Safety News. As of May 9, it had impacted 149 victims across 29 states and caused one death. While foodborne illness outbreaks are on the rise due in part to improved surveillance measures, as well as increased year-round consumption of produce grown worldwide, it’s still critical to manage your risk. To help, the public and environmental health consultancy EHA Group suggests operators purchase unbruised/undamaged produce, chill any processed produce that has been cut, peeled, or needs to be transported, avoid cross-contamination with poultry, seafood or meat, and take care to wash hands before handling produce, wash fresh fruits with warm water, and wash and sanitize all surfaces that your produce touches.
Manage the talent challenge
If you’re like most operators around the country, your biggest business struggle relates to finding and keeping strong talent. National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney, who recently attended the National ProStart Invitational, the country’s premier secondary school competition focusing on restaurant management and culinary arts, said the event gave her reason for optimism. In a recent op-ed piece, she said nearly 400 students competed for more than $200,000 in scholarships from culinary and restaurant management programs. The ProStart program encourages experiential learning and career exploration to help develop new talent in the foodservice industry. Participants earn credit in the association’s restaurant manager apprenticeship program. Sweeney said the National Restaurant Association, along with its educational foundation and state partners, are working to expand the number of students who take part in these programs. For more information about the association’s efforts to build industry talent, visit ChooseRestaurants.org.
The positive side to menu labeling?
After many delays, federal menu labeling requirements are now a reality for grocers and restaurants with 20 or more locations. While many businesses have fought the change, there may be a bright side to it. Food Dive reports that Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said these requirements would give not only consumers a new tool to help them manage what they consume, which has been more of a challenge when eating at restaurants, but a new tool for operators as well: The labels should allow for much stronger data collection. This would enable operators and the foodservice industry overall to monitor to what extent people respond to food labels and calorie counts, giving those businesses ongoing insights into the combinations consumers prefer.
The robot is waiting to speak to you
If your restaurant takes reservations, you may soon be fielding more inquiries from a new kind of caller. Google just unveiled a new AI feature that can phone a restaurant and speak in a lifelike voice to a human reservationist. Eater reports that the feature can make an alarmingly convincing phone call. Expect Google to use the technology for other purposes too – such as updating information for its Google Maps service. And who knows? Perhaps restaurants will soon be able to use this technology themselves to field the AI calls they are receiving.
Waste not, want not
An increasing number of restaurant operators nowadays are looking to cut back on their food waste, whether for the health of the bottom line, the good of the planet, or both. But some operators are taking the trend to new levels. Take Copenhagen chef Matt Orlando of the restaurant Amass, which has adopted a zero-waste policy. According to Skift Table, Amass incorporates food from the restaurant’s organic garden, uses only a limited amount of refrigerator space, and keeps stems, skins, seeds and other often-discarded items to use as seasonings, misos and crisps. The restaurant uses dehydrators to ensure food byproducts are dried and incorporated into recipes instead of taking up space. While the restaurant offers many high-end items on its 10-course, $163-per-person prix-fixe menu, it spends only 18 percent of its budget on food by finding uses for everything. One case in point: The restaurant has a nightly bonfire where guests eat s’mores browned with recycled coffee vinegar. At the end of the evening, the bonfire ash is used to make lye that is then used to soak vegetables for extra texture. At Washington, D.C.’s Kyirisan, chef Tim Ma looks at food waste as a challenge to his creativity, in addition to a means of saving money. NPR reports that at the restaurant, carrot tops are blended into a creamy pesto and carrot peels are fried and used as a crunchy garnish. Sea bass bones are used to make stock and their heads could be deep-fried and served as an off-menu item. Ma told NPR, “At the end of the day, it's a business decision. You do this as a function of saving every penny that you can, because the restaurant margins are so slim right now."
Blockchain fact and fiction
The market for blockchain is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, according to Statista, and a number of companies in the food industry, from Tyson to Starbucks, are launching pilot programs to explore the technology further. That said, it’s important for restaurant operators to appreciate what blockchain is and is not before they entrust it to solve the next contamination crisis. Food Safety Tech shared some tips to help separate blockchain fact from fiction. First, blockchain has the potential to do for the supply chain what email has done for communication, but it may take a while – perhaps 10 years – for the technology to become ubiquitous enough to be that powerful. Second, you need much more than blockchain software to create a traceability program. Blockchain is about speeding up the existing traceability processes in place, expediting the flow of data between partners in the supply chain. The foundation needs to be strong in order for the overlying technology to deliver. Third, blockchain does have the power to reduce the time needed to issue food recalls from weeks down to minutes, but that’s only true when there is a food traceability program already in place. A traceability program that protects food safety is achievable without blockchain; the technology merely accelerates the communication between partners in an already-established system. The potential for blockchain is enormous and, when developed further, should give restaurant operators significant predictive powers when making decisions about everything from inventory to energy costs. In the meantime, shore up the foundation supporting you and your partners in the supply chain.
Be a treat for tourists
Summer holidays are on the horizon. Is your restaurant a destination for tourists – or would you like it to be? For many people, eating meals at restaurants is a big part of the appeal of travel: the U.S. Travel Association reports that tourists spend $209 billion on eating out each year. To claim your piece of that pie, Ctuit suggests you form partnerships with your local travel bureau and nearby hotels and inns, offering discounts (to both the concierge who tries your restaurant, as well as their future guests) so you’re front-of-mind when tourists ask for suggestions. Play up your local appeal by using and promoting regional products on your menu – and give visitors an authentic feel for the region where you’re located. Finally, make sure you have a presence on travel sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, then commit to tracking and responding to comments so you can build up the ratings that will bring travelers through the door.
Wash twice to prevent contamination
Do you enforce double hand washing at your restaurant? Ensuring your employees understand the need to wash hands in the restroom and once again before resuming work can help to not only reduce the risk of contamination but also send the message to your guests that you prioritize food safety. StateFoodSafety.com advises you not only enforce this practice but ensure your team appreciates the reasons behind it. Since it’s likely that not everyone using your restroom follows proper hygiene, one person who doesn’t wash hands in the restroom can spread pathogens to restroom door handles and other areas. When food handlers on your team wash their hands in the restroom and then wash once again in your handwashing sink prior to returning to work, they (and your guests) get extra assurance that they won’t be spreading germs inadvertently.
Dubai’s model of food delivery regulation
In the race to provide delivery to hungry consumers, the growth of food delivery companies has happened faster than the development of guidelines to ensure their safety. According to McKinsey & Company, the home food delivery market comprises about 1 percent of global food business and the number of food deliveries by UberEats, the leader in food delivery, grew 24 times in one year. Global Food Safety Resource says that in most countries seeing a boom in food delivery, to include the U.S., there are no regulations in place to ensure food stays out of the temperature “danger zone,” that the driver does not contaminate the food and that the food doesn’t come into contact with areas of the delivery vehicle that could pose a safety threat, for example. Dubai, on the other hand, is an example of a country with a regulated food delivery industry. Global Food Safety Resource says food delivery drivers there must be registered, operators must follow strict guidelines pertaining to food temperature, delivery drivers cannot deliver food using general-purpose vehicles, and food can be traced door to door. As food delivery comprises a growing part of many restaurant businesses, Dubai’s example is worth considering.
Automation changes restaurants and retail
Costco is considered the fourteenth largest pizza chain in the U.S. due to the retailer’s store count – and automation is allowing the company to leverage that scale to make sure it churns out consistent pizzas quickly. Business Insider reports that Costco’s special mechanical saucing process ensures tomato sauce is spread on each pizza evenly and to the edge of the crust. As this kind of automation continues in restaurants as well as in retail establishments that sell food, expect significant changes to the labor force. A 2017 report from the investment advisory firm Cornerstone Capital Group said between 6 million and 7.5 million retail jobs could become automated in the years ahead – currently 16 million people are employed in the retail industry, compared to nearly 15 million in the restaurant industry. How do you see your kitchen and your team adjusting?
More restaurants see efficiencies in going cash-free
The march toward cash-free restaurants continues to build momentum. According to a Federal Reserve study in 2016, non-cash payments, including payments made with credit and debit cards, grew more than 5 percent annually between 2012 and 2015. Those figures are likely to continue to rise as more merchants accept Apple Pay and other contactless payment systems – and as more consumers start to trust those payment systems more readily. USA Today reports that despite millennials’ preference for paying in cash, restaurant operators are likely to see greater benefits in going cashless, from cutting seconds off of each transaction to seeing greater tips for staff.
Improving the evolving app
Now that so many restaurants have apps to help them handle everything from managing orders to enhancing loyalty, where do apps go from here? A number of brands are now bringing additional value-added services to their apps to make them stand out from the crowd. As Restaurant Business reports, Dunkin’ Donuts has formed partnerships with companies such as the navigation app Waze, which now allows Dunkin’ Donuts customers to place orders from its app. Those who own new GM cars can also now place orders at Dunkin’ Donuts via their car’s dashboard. But naturally, not all brands can pull off changes of this scale – and the changes you make don’t have to be big to be effective. Simply updating your app to continue to improve the customer experience can be sufficient. Ensure the extra items that customers order in-house – like condiments, sweeteners and other items – are also readily available via app. Also monitor the functionality of your app so it’s delivering the results you seek. Are people navigating it as you envisioned? Are there processes the app is not handling well that are then coming to you and requiring your time? Are you getting guests to use the app to provide reviews? Collecting metrics from your app and then making regular changes to enhance it can help you ensure you are bringing in new guests, offering special deals and services to reward those who return, offering convenience and gaining insights that will help you improve the experience you offer.
Seize the seafood season
Your seafood menu is a promising place to innovate right now, with more consumers willing to experiment. According to new research from Datassential, that means bringing seafood onto the breakfast menu in dishes like frittatas or eggs benedict, and incorporating seafood varieties beyond the ever-popular shrimp, salmon and tuna. Kyle Anderson, general manager of the Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Charleston, S.C. told Toast that he recommends experimenting with options like tilefish, triggerfish and black sea bass, among other varieties. Just as consumers are willing to branch out and try new seafood varieties, they are also showing an interest in the different ways seafood can be prepared. From smoking to brining to seasoning seafood with unexpected spices, seafood can provide a solid base for experimentation. One area where the seafood industry is lagging behind other industries – for now – is in sustainability and transparency, despite the efforts of organizations to hold suppliers accountable for reliably tracing the origins of their catch. It’s expected that as millennials’ purchasing power increases in the coming years, there will be growing consumer interest in transparency and sustainability when it comes to seafood that will require operators (and, of course, suppliers) to be held responsible for the products they provide.
Clean ice is nice
As warmer weather brings people out for cooling beverages, take extra precautions with your ice. As Foodable points out, the FDA lists ice as a food. So serving guests ice from a machine that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks is like serving them drinks in dirty glassware. Bacteria, biofilm, fungi, mildew, mold, scale and slime can all grow in an ice machine that hasn’t been properly cleaned and maintained. While many machines have sensors that can tell you when it’s time to clean your machine or change its filter, Foodable suggests you also simply monitor the quality of your ice. Cubes that are smaller, softer or cloudier than they should be – or which have a funny taste – indicate it’s time for a cleaning using the materials recommended by the manufacturer.
Make sure frozen food shipments arrive frozen
As the warm weather arrives, so does the need for extra vigilance when it comes to keeping foods at the proper temperature. StateFoodSafety.com suggests that when you receive a new shipment of frozen food, it’s important to check for signs of temperature inconsistencies or other problems. Reject any food that is fully or partially thawed, or which has ice crystals in the packaging.
Tech to remove table wobbles
What’s more annoying than sitting down at a restaurant and finding your table is wobbly? If you spend too much time leveling unsteady tables in your dining room, there’s some technology that can help you solve that problem. The company FLAT Tech has developed a stabilization system using hydraulics. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the company offers table bases that use a system that distributes fluid through the bottom of the base to the feet, which expand and compress to account for any unevenness. Operators not wanting to invest in new tables can try the FLAT Equalizers, which can replace the screw-in feet on your existing tables. When you press on an uneven table, the hydraulic feet shift fluid inside them and then lock to stabilize the table.
What does your packaging say about your brand?
If you’re trying to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, your packaging is a strong place to start: A recent QSR report referenced consumer research showing that millennials consider the use of environmentally friendly packaging the most important step a brand can take to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability. (Packaging ranks higher than the use of renewable energy to produce and transport products, the report says.) As consumers boost demand for foods that can be eaten off-premise, your restaurant could be relying on packaging more and more to represent your brand values. Brands like McDonald’s are already taking action with plans to generate all of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.
Plant-based foods go prime time
People are hungry for “plant-based” menu options these days (and consumers prefer that term to “vegan,” perceiving those foods as healthier and more flexible, according to a survey by the food consultant Mattson). Many restaurant brands experimenting with different variations of plant-based foods are using traditionally meat-based dishes as inspiration – after all, Technomic found that almost 30 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 say they’re likely to try plant-based burgers designed to taste like beef. The bleeding “Impossible Burger” is selling well in restaurants, for example, and operators are getting inventive in replacing other meats too: At Fare Well in Washington, D.C., they serve up southern fried seitan, and the San Francisco startup Terramino Foods has created a faux salmon burger made from fungi and algae that looks, tastes and smells like the real thing, Food Dive reports.
Study projects financial consequences of foodborne illness outbreaks
New research suggests a single foodborne illness outbreak could cost a restaurant millions of dollars in lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, insurance premium increases, inspection costs and staff retraining. Science Daily reports that the study, published in Public Health Reports by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is based on the results of a computational simulation model designed to demonstrate the effect of a single outbreak of a particular pathogen at a restaurant. It then assessed results for fast food, fast casual, casual and fine dining restaurants. The model also ran different scenarios to determine the impact level of smaller outbreaks that might incur fewer costs and larger outbreaks that incur substantial costs. The researchers found that a single listeria outbreak in fast food and fast casual restaurants could cost $2.5 million or higher in lost meals, lawsuits, legal costs, fines and insurance premiums for a 250-person outbreak. Projected costs were slightly higher for fine-dining restaurants. The costs of these outbreaks can have long-term and even lasting consequences on the business. In light of the findings, the study suggested restaurants invest in specific training that minimizes the risk of outbreaks, as well as consider policies for employee time off to recover from illness.
What’s your food delivery plan?
Food delivery is poised for continued innovation—and restaurants are wise to find a way to make offsite dining work financially. Food delivery sales have increased 20 percent in the past five years, while restaurant traffic has remained relatively flat, according to a new study from NPD Group. There is room for food delivery sales to climb even higher: Technomic forecasts predict food delivery to grow 12 percent annually over the next several years. One factor helping to drive that growth, Technomic found, is the growing demand for off-premise dining by millennials. To compete, operators are finding ways to accommodate consumer demand for their favorite food whenever and wherever they want it. Skift Table reports that delivery innovator Domino’s is launching a program that will let customers receive their food delivery at a “hotspot” location that lacks an address (e.g., a park, beach or destination where people are apt to gather for pizza). CBC Radio Canada reports that to adapt to the competitive delivery market, restaurants in many Canadian cities are trying an online-only model whereby they have no in-house or walk-up traffic, but instead offer delivery exclusively via app-based ordering systems. Operators are finding that if they must decide between offering food in-house or via delivery, off-premise options are winning out.
Manage your fruit and vegetable waste
American consumers throw out about a pound of food each day, with those eating the healthiest diets generating the most waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This could make it more urgent for everyone -- foodservice operators included -- to manage their fruit and vegetable waste effectively. In a recent Upserve report, chefs around the country shared their waste-reduction tips. The owner of Crêpe Bar in Tempe, Ariz. sources his produce locally and asks farmers to send it with tops intact so he can use the entire item in his recipes. The bartender at Boleo Restaurant & Bar in Chicago takes produce that would otherwise go to waste and created special cocktails featuring the ingredients —a portion of the cocktails’ proceeds benefits Zero Waste Chicago.
Prevent the spread of Hepatitis A
Foodservice workers have been linked to a recent multi-state outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus that infected 1,200 people and killed 40 people, Food Safety News reports. While the most recent cases occurred in Arkansas and Indiana, food safety officials around the country are working to contain the outbreak and inform the public about it. The virus can cause serious liver problems and sometimes death in those it infects. Food and beverages can become contaminated with Hepatitis A when an infected person transfers microscopic traces of feces from their hands to the items being consumed. Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus, which can survive on surfaces and when frozen.
Avoid contamination when chilling foods
When it comes to food safety in your restaurant kitchen, the shelves of your refrigerator can speak volumes. To prevent contamination of the items being chilled, StateFoodSafety.com advises that in the refrigerator, ready-to-eat foods are stored on the top shelves, followed by raw whole meats and seafood below them, then ground meats and seafood, then raw poultry products at the very bottom.
Touchscreens aren’t all alike
Touchscreens have become ubiquitous at restaurants — at point-of-sale terminals, on tables and in the hands of servers. But as Modern Restaurant Management reports, there are pros and cons to the types of touchscreen technology that dominate the industry right now. The report advises that before deciding which type of touchscreen is best for business, operators should ask themselves how their customers will interact with the technology, whether the screen will need to resist grease, water or other spills, if employees will be wearing gloves or using a stylus to operate the touchscreen, and if users will need a zoom feature. For instance, projected capacitive touchscreen technology, common in smart phones, can be more expensive and may be difficult to use with gloves. But its touch accuracy tends to be higher, it has a more modern appearance and it allows for zooming and other image adjustments. Conversely, wire resistive touchscreens are less expensive and tend to resist the grease and spills that can be problematic in restaurants, but the screens aren’t as sensitive and may be more vulnerable to dings and scratches.
AI helps craft the perfect cocktail
As casual restaurants work to improve sales, they are eagerly incorporating technology to draw in millennial and Gen Z consumers. TGI Friday’s, for one, is using artificial intelligence in a way that could appeal to a wide range of restaurant guests. Adweek reports that in a pilot program at its Texas restaurants, the chain is having guests answer a series of questions on an iPad about their mood, likes and dislikes, which a virtual bartender then uses to create a personalized cocktail recipe that the real-life bartender mixes up. There may be room to bring this technology into restaurant kitchens as well.
Deconstruct down time
How does your team use slow periods at your restaurant? Striking the right balance between productivity and sanity is important to making the most of the labor you have (while keeping your team engaged and satisfied). A recent Restaurant Insider report asked chefs around the country to share their ideas. Kate Edwards of the Institute of Culinary Education said it’s important for every staff member to understand what the business needs at various parts of the day. She said there should be clear expectations for managing down times and she advised operators to divide slower periods into tasks related to organization and others related to education. Organizational tasks might involve having several staffers help with a tedious task that would take one person several hours, or providing servers with background information to read about new menu offerings so they are well-versed about the items when interacting with guests. Perhaps you have longer-term projects your team can help you with. Maybe they can help you come up with ideas for a new social media promotion. You can also stagger the beginning and ending times of shifts across a team to ensure everyone present has plenty to do. On the flip side, you can use down times to treat team members who have been going above and beyond expectations. In an industry where long hours and hard work are the norm, letting someone leave an hour or two early on a rotating basis can help balance the busy times when you ask a lot from your team.
Time to hire? Ask the right questions
How can you spot a first-rate server? It isn’t always easy when you interview candidates out of the context of a busy day in your dining room. Cake shared some favorite interview questions that can help operators identify candidates who can respond well to the challenges the role may throw at them. First, ask candidates how they handled a situation when a customer got upset (or present it as a role-play scenario). This happens to the best of servers and their responses can help you see how likely they are to listen calmly and de-escalate problems. Ask about their interests outside of work, which can give you hints as to how likely they are to mesh with your restaurant culture and connect with guests – it also shows you’re invested in your team beyond their work at the restaurant. Have candidates share an example of when they received superior service at a restaurant, which can help you predict the level of service they are likely to deliver. Have they ever dined at your restaurant? If so, what was that experience like and how could it have been better? Hearing an outside perspective may help you identify issues to address. Finally, ask candidates how they prioritize tasks when waiting tables. Are they likely to get ruffled when managing multiple requests? Do they make the most of each trip to the kitchen? Their answers can help you predict the kind of experience guests will have with them during busy periods.
Perfect your plant-based fare
When McDonald’s tests a meat-free burger (the brand is currently offering its McVegan burger in Finland and Sweden), it’s clear that plant-based meat alternatives, and vegetarian and vegan foods in general, have hit the mainstream. Indeed, Technomic research found that 34 percent of consumers around the world say they buy vegetarian foods in restaurants, while 28 percent report looking for vegan foods. A larger group of consumers consider themselves to be flexitarians. Restaurants in even the strongest meat-eating cultures are responding. Technomic reports that some of the most inventive meat-free recipes are coming from countries like Brazil and Australia.
Training new team members about food safety
If you’re among the operators preparing to hire new staff to accommodate the summer season, take care to apprise this group of your most pressing food safety concerns. Food Quality & Safety suggests you focus on refrigeration temperatures, pathogenic and cold-loving bacteria, food storage and power failures. Refrigerated products must be kept at 41˚F or colder, while frozen foods at 0˚ or colder. Ensure new staff follow procedures for leaving food out to cool – and make sure they know
that food can still look, smell and taste fine and be in the danger zone for growing bacteria. Allow food to thaw in the refrigerator, or, if it must be left out, monitor the food’s temperature as it cools. When ready-to-eat foods are delivered, ensure they are wrapped and refrigerated/frozen appropriately to avoid contamination. In the case of a power failure, leave frozen food in the freezer or transfer it to an alternative freezer. Allow food in the process of defrosting to continue thawing, then cook it as soon as possible. Immediately cook any fully defrosted food – such as meat, fish or poultry – before refreezing, and discard any food that is thawed and can’t be cooked immediately.
Don’t contaminate clean dishes
In a hurry to dry dishes and cutlery? If your dishwasher doesn’t sufficiently dry the items you clean, resist the urge to towel-dry them. Towels, especially those being used for long periods, can be breeding grounds for pathogens. StateFoodSafety.com advises you let dishes and utensils air-dry in order to avoid contaminating these items.
Follow a social media checklist
Is social media an afterthought in the midst of the myriad responsibilities you’re juggling day to day? If you handle social media in-house, following a checklist helps to keep your social media consistent regardless of what’s happening in your restaurant. Buffer Social suggests that on a daily basis, you reply to posts, check your mentions on various networks, monitor social media for key words, prepare your content for the following day, follow back people who follow you, and connect with one new person. Each week, check your social media stats, engage with your partners and influencers, check your progress toward goals, and update your social media ads. Every month, take a step back and conduct an audit of your social media to see what’s working well and what needs adjustment. It’s also a good time to set new goals, brainstorm new campaign ideas and plan for the month ahead.
Chip technology phases out credit card signatures
As EMV technology has taken hold in U.S. restaurants, card providers including Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express are no longer requiring restaurants to have their guests sign credit card slips following a meal. The card companies, Eater reports, say chip technology has minimized fraudulent card use. The change in payment procedure will likely speed up the turning of tables, though it remains to be seen whether U.S. restaurants will evolve toward the payment model common in Europe, where chip technology has long been the norm and it’s customary for guests to ask a server to add a tip to their credit card before their payment is processed in front of them.
Three data streams to manage the crowd
Today's consumers are looking for meals whenever and wherever they want them. That requires restaurants to support delivery and dining away from the restaurant. To do that well, Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to harness and bring together data from their front of house, back of house and operations. For instance, your front-of-house technology should store data on your number of guests served, average wait times and table turn times. Analyzing this data will help you understand how efficiently you're managing your seating and waitlist. If you integrate that system with your back-of-house data, you'll help your kitchen staff see what's happening in your dining room. Having a Kitchen Display System (KDS) can be even more helpful in bringing together data from your point-of-sale system about your various streams of traffic, then expanding or contracting waiting times based on your in-house traffic and the bandwidth of your kitchen. When you know precisely how long an order will take to prepare, you can set accurate pick-up and delivery times for guests (and even keep guests in the loop on the progress of a dish as it's being prepared). In your back of house, your KDS reports can help you track the speed of your kitchen, from food-prep time to the number of minutes the food sits in the delivery window, and help you benchmark performance and set staff goals for improvement. By marrying all of this data with your operations data, you can assess the resources you have to support your delivery and off-site dining strategy. It can tell you whether you need to adjust staffing levels at certain times, for example, or if you should outsource delivery.
What is your labor cost?
What data do you consult when setting your labor budget? Many operators consider indicators like the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Industry Operations Report, which says the median ratio of labor cost versus sales across restaurant categories is about 33 percent. While that figure may be useful when looking at the overall industry landscape, RestaurantOwner.com cautions against putting too much stock in this data when setting a restaurant budget that leads to profit. Your best tools are your own historical records of guest counts and sales, which can help you build a schedule that flexes day to day and week to week based on fluctuations in your traffic and sales. The RestaurantOwner.com report advises operators to use a weekly scheduling form that makes it easy to see each employee's pay rate and hours. From there, you can quickly subtotal employee hours and expense by job category and day. Having this information at your fingertips and comparing it to your sales on a particular day will help you spot inefficiencies in your staffing and business overall. Your weekly schedule should become your labor budget -- and it should be flexible enough that you can adjust it based on current and predicted guest traffic on a particular day, or other factors affecting sales volume, such as upcoming holidays or inclement weather.
Clean that screen!
Throughout your restaurant, you could see dozens of touch screens operating at once, from tabletop ordering screens to server tablets to the touch screens used during inspections. This doesn't even account for cell phones of employees on break or those belonging to guests. These screens are ideal places for thousands of germs to change hands. According to research referenced in Food Safety News, the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat and major pathogens like Streptococcus, E. Coli and MRSA have been routinely found on these screens. To prevent the spread of harmful germs, follow a strict cleaning protocol: Food Safety News suggests wearing and changing single-use gloves regularly, washing hands often, cleaning screens with digital-friendly sanitizing wipes (Windex Electronic Wipes are one option) or a soft cloth dipped in a solution of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol, and sticking to a cleaning schedule. If employees use their phones during breaks, ensure they wash their hands (and, ideally, disinfect their personal electronics) before returning to work.
Cool it now
To limit the growth of dangerous bacteria when cooling food, the FDA advises food be cooled from 135°F to 41°F in six hours or less. But the FDA Food Code has an additional rule that food must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F in two hours or less. It's important for food to pass through this range quickly because bacteria at this temperature can double in as little as 20 minutes. To help train your staff to cool foods quickly, StateFoodSafety.com suggests kitchen workers separate food into smaller portions that are four inches deep or less. Cover food loosely as it cools (or keep it uncovered if you can ensure it won't be contaminated). Stir loose foods to help heat escape. Place containers of food in an ice bath, ideally one where the water level is higher than the level of the food. You can also use a blast chiller or tumbler for quick cooling.
What is your pest-reporting protocol?
Your employees are your first line of defense when it comes to preventing pests from spreading dangerous pathogens around your facility. Establishing clear protocols for monitoring and reporting the presence of pests can keep them at bay. Food Safety Tech suggests employees follow these steps after spotting pests: If possible, capture the pest or take pictures of it to help a pest management professional advise you on treatment. Next, fill out a pest-sighting log to track when and where pests were seen and how many were observed. Season to season and year to year, your records will help you anticipate problems, notice which pests thrive in different conditions and hopefully give you time to prepare your facility to prevent pests from entering.
Legislation could ease FDA Menu Labeling Rule requirements
A House bill that could ease certain requirements of the FDA's Menu Labeling Rule, which is set to go live in early May, is currently stalled in the Senate. The rule in its current form requires chain restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering generally the same menu items to list calorie counts of those items and provide other nutritional data upon request. Food Quality & Safety reports that the new legislation, dubbed the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would ease certain requirements pertaining to listing calorie information for variable menu items and combination meals. At take-out restaurants where customers frequently order online or by phone, posting calorie counts online (not in the shop itself) would suffice. Operations covered by the rule would also have a 90-day grace period to address violations without penalty.
Fine-tune your brand
If you asked 10 guests to describe your brand using a few adjectives, would they use similar words? If not, your brand may need strengthening. The Collaborative Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in companies looking to do good and turn a profit, advises operators to be consistent -- with everything from mission statements to logos to websites to packaging -- to build a brand and reputation with staying power. To ensure your brand is not only strong but also appealing, it should have a mission at its foundation that permeates all aspects of the business. And since your visual identity communicates your brand's values before guests even walk through the door, someone (whether from your operation or hired outside) must always be paying attention to presenting it in its best form and in the context of industry trends. Next, be known for doing difficult things well, whether that means limiting your menu to what's available locally or seeking out suppliers with environmentally friendly practices. Finally, the Collective Fund stresses the importance of community to a strong brand. You can start building yours by committing to providing strong customer service online and in-store, launching a referral program and hosting events.
A service model that answers labor challenges
Struggling with labor costs or shortages? Some restaurants are trying out a service model that's less common in America, though it's a familiar one if you've spent any time in an English pub. Restaurant Insider reports that in the Charleston, S.C. area, where nearly 90 restaurants opened last year, restaurant operators have had to get creative in order to address already-high labor concerns and preserve sales volume amid increased competition. They're implementing a counter-service/front-of-house hybrid model whereby guests order their food and beverage at the counter, then, once they've sat down with their meal, a server visits the table to provide follow-up service. Operators are finding that this model allows them to have fewer staff on the floor but still provide face-to-face service that goes a step beyond what one might find in a quick-service establishment. Guests open a tab at the counter, much like they would when ordering drinks at a bar, and they can add to their tab over the course of meal. Each server does a bit of everything, from running food, to closing tabs, to resetting tables. While the model may not be for everyone, operators have found that in addition to addressing labor shortages, it also speeds up table turnaround times.
The all-powerful iPad
As technology expands its presence in restaurants, the most hard-working piece of equipment may be the iPad. Running Restaurants reports that the tablet has played a powerful role in helping restaurants personalize service and save time and money. They're especially useful in three areas, according to the report: First, they bring efficiency to wait list management that a paper or pager system can't provide. At busy times, hosts can use one interface for reservations and wait list, get automatic tables status updates and provide accurate information to waiting guests. Second, the iPad can streamline your service, allowing servers to send orders to the kitchen immediately, process more types of payment easily and without delay, and provide increased security with that payment. Finally, tablets can serve as an extension of your point-of-sale system, allowing operators to add extra point-of-sale units that are easy to update and replace. They give servers immediate access to guest food preferences, allergy information and other details that can help them enhance the experience they offer everyone who dines with you.
All hail the mocktail
The mocktail is having a moment. Creative operators are concocting sophisticated combinations that appeal to the tippler, to the health conscious, and to the youngest restaurant guests alike. What's more, these drinks can add a 30 percent increase to the tab of a table for two. Restaurant Insider reports that at Sofitel New York, a drink that combines housemade cucumber and apple shrub, fresh lime juice and Perrier is a hit with children. At the Katharine, a French brasserie in North Carolina, guests love the lemon lavender sparkling mocktail. At Cindy's in Chicago, mocktails are designed to tell a story, and to complement the food menu and the flavors of the season. One of the restaurant's popular non-alcoholic drinks, the Reanimator, combines blueberry, ginger, demerara, lime and activated charcoal, which gives the drink an inky color and is known for its detoxifying benefits.
The app is changing the game
Restaurant visits paid via mobile app increased 50 percent over the previous year, according to The NPD Group. Offering convenience, the group says, often through technology like mobile ordering, delivery apps and ordering kiosks, is helping to set quick-service restaurants apart at a time when foodservice traffic has been relatively flat over several years. Their research found that consumers especially like the time-saving features mobile apps can provide, such as allowing for ordering and paying in advance of a visit, then having food ready upon arrival. They also appreciate the engagement and special offers apps offer through loyalty programs. The NPD Group did note that not all consumers like a tech-heavy service model, with some still preferring to pay in cash or to get human interaction when they order. Just try to build convenience and time savings into these low-tech transactions.
Apprenticeship program could ease food distribution challenges
In an effort to offset labor challenges, many restaurants have turned to apprenticeship programs, like those offered by the National Restaurant Association. Now that model could be applied to food distribution as a means of controlling food costs. Legislation know as the DRIVE-Safe Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in March, would pave the way for more young adults to become truck drivers for food distributors and suppliers. The apprenticeship program would help address the current shortage of truckers, which is likely to impact costs and delivery schedules across the food supply chain.
Prevent a pesty season
As the weather warms, insects and other pests come out to play. To proactively prevent an infestation, Food Quality & Safety recommends operators keep an up-to-date master sanitation schedule -- and follow it. If you have broken equipment, remove it from the premises (or at least get it up off the floor) before it becomes a haven for pests. Monitor your waste management in and around your facility so you minimize waste residue or leakage. Watch and clear any areas around your facility where water collects and stands. Now is also a good time to check through your facility to seal cracks in flooring, fix doors that leave gaps or don't close, and clear away any vegetation growing close to walls and doors.
Updates to Food Code
The FDA recently released an updated version of the federal Food Code and it includes several significant changes, such as a section on the use of bandages among foodservice workers and revised recommendations about cooking temperatures, according to Food Safety News. The Food Code provides guidance for restaurants, retail food stores, vending operations and food service operations including those in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and child care centers. The major changes include a revised requirement for the person in charge to be a certified food protection manager; a new section that covers the use of bandages, finger cots or finger stalls; harmonized cooking times and temperatures for meat and poultry for consistency with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service; and updated procedures for retail food establishments to continue operations in an extended water or electrical outage. Find the Food Code in full at http://www.fda.gov/FoodCode.
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.
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