Salad days are here
Warmer weather, sprouting vegetables, swimsuit season on the horizon..It all adds up to more salad! But grains, fruit, legumes and even noodles can help your salads evolve well beyond greens. Restaurant Business suggests adding ingredients like quinoa, wheatberries or farro for a healthy grain-based option. Rice noodles can add texture to Asian-inspired salads. Even standards like the Caesar provide a good foundation for your signature twists -- Restaurant Business reports that items like proscuitto chips and sesame seeds are appearing on some Caesars along with the romaine and parmesan. If you'd like to be on trend, consider the appeal of poke and try something similar, like a Tataki-style protein, on a new salad.
At last, gluten-free bread as good as traditional loaves
If you have gluten-sensitive guests, you've likely struggled to provide a taste-tempting alternative to traditional bread. Let's face it: Most gluten-free loaves provide an experience that falls far short of the one you get with a chewy sourdough. But according to Food Ingredients 1st, researchers at Hiroshima University may have struck gold with a new rice-flour bread that closely mimics the texture, volume and consistency of wheat-flour loaves. The secret to better gluten-free loaves, according to the researchers, lies in the kind of wet milling used to process the rice flour. The report predicts that the successful development of the rice-based bread could conceivably shift bread exports and production from the world's wheat fields to Asia's rice paddies in the not-so-distant future.
Pizza proves its economy-proof power
Toast reports that while one-third of consumers report eating out less these days, pizzerias continue to grow, with 41 percent of Americans having a slice (or three?) every week and 68 percent ordering a pizza to go at least once a month. Why? Toast says it helps that pizza continues to reinvent itself -- take the "Detroit-style" pizza currently winning fans in Austin and Los Angeles. Pizza is also the original customizeable food and, paired with its presence in fast-casual chains, is continuing to win support from Millennials. Finally, pizza chains happen to be among the brands harnessing technology to great effect right now. Domino's, which has implemented both employee-facing and customer-facing technology effectively, now gets 55 percent of its revenue from digital orders and has seen its stock continue to climb since 2012.
Chick peas get a promotion
Long gone are the days of cold, water-logged chick peas relegated to a lonely compartment of the salad bar. According to Flavor & the Menu, hummus has paved the way for a much bigger role for chick peas. Now they're being used not only as a hearty addition to salads but as garnishes, as bar bites like fritters, as a vehicle for glazes like maple syrup and harissa, and as a base for more creative hummus flavors. If you're trying to bring more global flair to your menu, they're a good place to begin.
Food delivery gains a dubious addition
As the food delivery industry becomes cluttered with new players, there's yet another one coming on the scene. But this one begs the question, "who is paying attention to food safety?" TechCrunch reports that the Santa Clara, Calif. startup JoyRun has raised about $10 million in funding for a concept that allows people to place a food order and scan the area for people about to head out to that restaurant. For a small tip or even for free, these ad-hoc delivery people (who have agreed to the terms beforehand) will bring the food order back to the person who ordered it. The company is focusing its attention on college campuses, where students are often looking for ways to make money on the side and where bringing food back for friends has long been a norm.
Remember the spectrum of food safety risks
Food safety is not just about preventing pathogens from entering your supply. Enlist your team as partners in an effort to eliminate a range of hazards. Anything from glass to metal shavings could enter your products if equipment malfunctions at your supplier or even if their disgruntled employee purposefully adds them to a product. Last summer, P.F. Chang's was able to avoid a crisis when an alert employee noticed metal fragments in an ingredient used to make a sauce that accompanies two dishes on the restaurant's menu, Food Safety Magazine reports. The incident was found to be purely accidental but if not for the vigilance of one employee, it could have caused injury and a public relations disaster for the restaurant.
High-pressure processing chosen by more producers of refrigerated foods
As food production companies review their procedures to ensure compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, many of them are finding that traditional methods used to protect food, such as heat pasteurization, aren't suitable anymore, Food Safety Tech reports. As consumers have demanded chemical-free processing, cleaner ingredients and foods with pure flavor, color and texture, more producers of refrigerated foods are turning toward high-pressure processing. The method, which uses pressure (vs. heat or chemicals) to remove pathogens from food, has the added benefit of increasing the distribution radius of foods, extending shelf- life and minimizing food waste.
How Panera's bet on tech has paid off
Three years ago, Panera launched its 2.0 initiative and implemented a range of guest-facing and employee-facing technology to improve the guest experience. So how is it going now? Motley Fool says their investment is paying off, and while Panera sees its technology as a differentiator, it's actually becoming what consumers expect when they visit quick-service or fast-casual restaurants nowadays. Digital ordering has been a strong positive, enabling Panera to more effectively present its menu and customizeable options than it could on a static menu. In the kitchen, color-coding technology has helped employees more quickly and accurately assemble orders and notice guest allergies and preferences. Nearly one-quarter of the chain's sales now come digitally and there is a clear sales gap between company stores that have been fully converted with Panera 2.0 technology and those that haven't (yet).
Complexity of food supply chain makes vigilance critical
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one in 10 people become ill each year after eating contaminated food. Our food supply has become so complex that it's difficult, despite our best intentions, to ensure food is safe. Food Safety Tech suggests that because consumers demand traceability, from sourcing information to a list of ingredients, you should use suppliers who have obtained third-party certifications pertaining to food purity and safety. The supply chain is fragmented so get to know the people at each step and ensure communication is clear. Finally, pay attention to opportunities to fight food fraud by talking to legislators about it and watching out for helpful technology -- for example, Food Safety Tech says the blockchain, the technology underpinning Bitcoin, has applications in the food industry and can provide a transparent ledger of food products at every step of their journey.
The secret's in the sensors
At Cava, the Washington, D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants, virtual tracking technology called Raspberry Pi helps manage everything from food safety to seating. Fast Company reports that to help avoid giving guests the impression of long lines and wait times, Cava has used motion sensors to detect where guests congregate -- like at the menu boards and serving station -- and then redesigned the spaces to keep traffic moving (lines now move 10 percent faster and hold 12 percent more people). Sensors have also predicted Cava's need for more seating in suburban stores, where guests tend to linger -- boosting revenue by 20 percent per square foot in those stores. Kitchen sensors track how long refrigerator doors have been open and if there have been humidity or temperature spikes. After sensors showed that its grill burners heated unevenly, cooks adjusted their approach and food quality complaints dropped by 28 percent.
Help your menu send the right message
Just as your guests assess your brand and identity as soon as they walk through the door, they're also taking in this information from your menu. Is yours having the best impact on sales? Foodable recommends you consider several elements: Is it structured so guests can read it easily, like they would read a book? Does your typography and layout help guests categorize your dishes? Use headings, borders, boxes, complementary font changes and even empty space to help guests change gears and process what's on offer. If you use photography and illustration, less is more -- and make sure photos are well lit and appear professional. Color is important too, as its psychological effects should stimulate the right emotions.
It’s snack time
Occasions for snacking now outnumber traditional daypart meals as most consumers eat snacks four or five times each day, according to Datassential. What’s more, their survey of more than 3500 consumers found that 62 percent of respondents agree that anything can be a snack. A wide range of food and beverages now qualify as snacks – and that creates new possibilities for restaurants looking to appeal to snacking guests. The top non-traditional snacks in the survey were sandwiches, wraps, pizza, breakfast cereal, burgers, sliders and chicken wings or nuggets.
Do you have an activist investor?
Activist investors abound in the restaurant industry and they have a reputation for shaking things up: Note Chipotle's recent move to eliminate its co-CEO structure under pressure from one investor. QSR Magazine says these investors can be helpful in lifting a struggling company's stock price, though they often do this by changing up the board and eliminating fat in the form of bureaucracy and waste. While they often have great skill in certain areas of business, they usually need lots of help from the operator. They tend to advise companies to focus on one thing, not several, in order to stengthen their core business. Finally, it's important to watch them and understand their time horizon, which will help you ensure they are there to help you fix problems.
Expand your seasonal coffee menu
If you’re looking to innovate your beverage menu by incorporating seasonal flavors throughout the year, consider your hot and iced coffee selection. According to Mintel research, 43 percent of consumers surveyed prefer seeing seasonal ingredients in coffee drinks. In the survey, coffee came out well ahead of tea, beer and cocktails as the ideal beverage to showcase the tastes of the season.
Innovate with seafood
When is the last time you changed up your seafood offering? According to Datassential research, 53 percent of consumers are interested in trying global seafood items. Nation's Restaurant News suggests you find ways to make it more interactive and experiential -- think Korean barbecue or Asian hot pot. Consider new twists on favorites as well -- like the calamari gunkan sushi with tzatziki sauce served at the international seafood restaurant concept Ocean Basket. And while seafood doesn't have a large presence on take-away menus, it should: 65 percent of consumers surveyed said they were interested in both hot and cold seafood dishes at buffets, especially those offered as grab-and-go options.
Where's the bacon?
Thanks to a devoted following, bacon has evolved well past its position as a breakfast side dish. In recent years, it's been equally at home garnishing a cocktail or adding savory flavor to a dessert. But perhaps the American love affair with bacon has finally gone too far. Grub Street reports that according to the Ohio Pork Council, demand for frozen pork belly is outpacing supply. Farmers can no longer keep up, even as they are raising "more pigs than ever." You can sleep well knowing there are still 17.8 million pounds of frozen pork belly available, but expect prices to rise.
Easy actions to improve food safety
Want a few low-cost tools to boost your food safety readiness? Food Navigator shared these tips from Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannas, who addressed the recent Consumer Food Safety Education Conference: Consider clothing – it impacts performance. Studies have shown that a person wearing a uniform that conveys responsibility performs better than one performing the same task while wearing street clothes. Teach the right way AND the wrong way – and show what can happen when mistakes occur. Make food safety the norm. If you talk about how 75 percent of workers wash their hands with soap and water (and not about the 25 percent who don’t), most people will follow suit to be part of the norm. Finally, make it rhyme. Walmart made up a rap song and video to help teach food safety standards to deli employees. Those lessons are more likely to stay with employees than those delivered on a Powerpoint deck.
Make your kitchen pass muster
Would your kitchen pass a surprise inspection? In a report in Food Safety Magazine, Breann Marvin-Loffing of HOODZ International recommends you take four actions to ensure you comply with state and local health regulations. First, make sure you know those regulations, as well as the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code, and stay abreast of updates. Have a kitchen cleaning checklist for use during and at the end of a shift. It should include items such as washing and sanitizing all surfaces and emptying trash bins. Ensure you properly maintain your kitchen exhaust system, which can be a fire hazard and impact the taste of food if not adequately cleaned and maintained. Finally, conduct self-inspections at different unannounced times and note common violations that occur during specific day parts or when particular team members are working.
Mobile ordering, Disney style
For a look at how mobile technology and food ordering can intersect, take a look at Disney, which prides itself on creating seamless guest experiences. Food & Wine reports that at Satu’li Canteen, a new fast-casual restaurant opening at the resort in May, a mobile ordering feature will allow guests to customize their meals, pre-pay for their order and notify the restaurant when they arrive via an “I’m here” button on their My Disney Experience app. At that point, the app prompts the kitchen to start preparing the order, then tells the guest when the order is ready and where to pick it up. Disney’s aim for the technology is to shorten lines and minimize wait times.
A tech trailblazer must defend its choices
Eatsa, the quick-service brand that has made headlines for its quinoa bowls and high-tech, low-human-contact approach, is getting some negative publicity for its technology choices. Specifically, a lawsuit filed against the chain in New York claims that the entire process of purchasing food at Eatsa, from ordering through pick-up, is inaccessible to the visually impaired. According to Recode, the suit claims that while technology is available to make touchscreens and self-service pick-up accessible to the visually impaired, Eatsa has neglected to adopt it. Further, while the restaurant has a staff person on hand to help guests who need assistance, the suit claims that the touchscreen method guests must use to summon that help is not accessible to blind or low-vision guests and there is no audible cue to signal when food is ready.
Is 2017 your time for tech?
Even if you’re hesitant to adopt new technology, it affects you, whether through online reviews or the new delivery apps luring your customers to the restaurant down the street. Even if you don’t plan to invest in technology right away, Toast suggests you note where your pain points are. For example, do you have three servers lined up at your point-of-sale system? If so, is that because it’s malfunctioning or unnecessarily complicated to work with? What do your online reviews say about you? Have you responded constructively to negative ones? Are your phone lines busy on Saturday nights, when potential guests might be calling to snag a last-minute reservation? Is your employee scheduling system too time-consuming? Review the parts of your routine that make you procrastinate or struggle. From there, research which solutions are making the biggest impact on the industry and which provider is the best fit for you. If you don’t know what’s available and at what cost, you won’t be able to catch deals that could make the investment worth your while.
Turn the tables
Empty seats at slow times? You can take some steps to fill them. FSR recommends you connect with local businesses – message HR leaders on LinkedIn and develop VIP experiences you can pitch to business leaders looking to make a positive impression on clients. Connect with local Meetup groups who might be able to use your restaurant for their next quiz night or wine-tasting event. Consider joining the gig economy and charging remote workers a monthly fee in exchange for wifi, free coffee and a quiet table to work – you can often find them by contacting your local business registrar and asking for a list of newly launched small companies, or by joining co-working apps like Spacious or TwoSpace.
No farm nearby? No problem
The demand for farm-to-table food has encouraged many foodservice operations to bring the farm to the city. Restaurant Hospitality reports that technology is continuing to fundamentally change how and from where restaurants source their produce, enabling urban farms and traditional ones to work together to meet year-round demand. Hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic technology is making it possible for companies to grow food in small shipping containers, on rooftops, in converted steel mills and other locations – and without pesticides, weather concerns or, for some, even soil. The technology is helping producers create the ideal conditions for the growing season and then repeat it at faster intervals so a new harvest is available many times throughout the year. While price is still a barrier for many foodservice operators, a drop is likely as more urban farms enter the market and investments continue from the likes of Costco, Whole Foods and Safeway.
New hospitality apprenticeship program grooms management-level talent
A new hospitality industry apprenticeship program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor is now underway in restaurants and hotels. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the program was designed to groom more than 400 people for management careers in the industry this year. Last month, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Association signed a $1.8 million contract with the Labor Department for the program, which places workers in paid, management-level positions. So far, the restaurant and hotel partners in the program include Firehouse Subs, Golden Corral, TGI Friday’s, White Castle, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton and Waldorf Astoria.
Favorite flavors ripe for experimentation
Foodservice operators like to be on trend – but it can be too easy to become a slave to those trends. Instead, consider adding creative, on-trend touches to ubiquitous favorites. In a report in Flavor & the Menu, culinary development experts say it’s about studying what makes a dish a consumer favorite, then adding depth and dimension to make it your own without straying too far from what people love about it. The report proposes some new spins on four flavors ripe for expansion – Alfredo, Buffalo, ranch and teriyaki. For example, reinvent Alfredo sauce in a rich, creamy dip or a drizzle over tacos. Make a Buffalo rub or vinaigrette for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or seitan. Use teriyaki to add flavor to bowls, burgers or burritos. Create a Japanese-style ranch with wasabi, pickled ginger and avocado.
What does “healthy” mean to you?
About 64 percent of consumers say “healthfulness” is a driver in making food and beverage choices, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey 2016. If you don’t have a clear story to tell about the health of your menu, your guests will make it up – and you may not like the one they write. Edward Hoffman of the Food and Beverage practice at PadillaCRT suggests you define “health” and what it means for you and your guests before you develop any new, healthy menu line. Does it mean organic? Locally and sustainably sourced? Hormone free? Low in sugar? Smaller portions? Make sure any changes you make dovetail with the most beloved parts of your brand, like your signature burger or loaded nachos. Don’t alienate or confuse guests by scattering a selection of “healthy” options through the menu and hope they’ll get it. Do have a clear story to tell from that and tell it confidently so you’ll be prepared when guests ask about it.
Don’t fear the fat
Sure, imitation fats have been on the way out for some time. But now food preferences are turning in the opposite direction and the whole milk, lard and other fats that were staples in your grandmother’s kitchen are having a renaissance – even getting some press as a perfectly acceptable part of a healthy diet. Datassential reports a rise in fat-infused cocktails, with drinks including duck fat, brown butter and pork fat appearing across the country. These fats are getting more play on the dinner menu as well: The bread course at Cleveland’s Trentina features a wild fermented pane pita served with…wait for it…an edible beef suet candle.
Food safety research likely to face large budget cuts
Food safety experts believe substantial proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture could make food safety a low priority for the organization, Food Safety Magazine reports. In the 2018 federal budget, potential cuts of $4.7 billion to the U.S.D.A. would drop the agency’s budget to $17.9 billion. Budget items for food safety and international food aid were categorized as discretionary spending. The U.S.D.A. controls the vast majority of food inspections nationwide. While the draft budget does not appear to cut the U.S.D.A.’s Food and Safety Inspection Service, which oversees the safety of meat, chicken and eggs produced in and imported to the United States, funding of agriculture and food safety research has been cut in the draft budget.
Drive-thru business drops off
For many consumers, the convenience of a drive-thru simply isn’t convenient enough. A Mintel analyst says because convenience now means technology, mobile apps and delivery, drive-thrus are taking a hit. While there has recently been a 2 percent uptick in snacking purchases from drive-thrus between 2 and 4 p.m., NPD Group reports, that increase hasn’t been enough to offset the drop-off in drive-thru business at lunch. The gig economy is playing a role as well – people who work from home can eat at home more cheaply, or, if they crave restaurant food, can usually summon it with a few taps to their Smartphone.
UberEats launches analytics to improve restaurant delivery
Uber Eats is releasing an analytics platform to restaurants participating in its food delivery service, TechCrunch reports. Skift says just as restaurants analyze their online reviews and point-of-sale data to improve their performance, they could use this new platform and apply similar metrics to improving delivery service. UberEats has expanded quickly in cities throughout the world to capitalize on its name recognition in an increasingly crowded market. Skift predicts the new analytics should help restaurant partners but also help UberEats assess how its service has been impacting customers to date.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
Take the right steps after an accident
Accidents happen – even if you have an airtight safety program. Does your team know what to do? An FSR report recommends you quickly asses the need for medical attention – if calling 911 isn’t required, call your insurer’s injured employee hotline (if applicable) or transport the employee to a medical facility. Secure the area with barriers so you can adequately investigate the area and prevent secondary injuries. Collect information for an incident report – not to assign fault but to identify root causes. Maintain a record of the incident using OSHA form 300 and consult your insurance carrier for additional help. Institute a return-to-work program for the employee and ensure it’s flexible and won’t aggravate the injury – less-physical clerical work may be appropriate for a person who injured his back while moving inventory, for example. Finally, reinforce and revise (if needed) your safety program with your team to help prevent future problems.
Build an authentic emotional brand
Even if you weren’t a fan of the hit show “The Golden Girls,” you have likely heard about the recent opening of the New York City restaurant it inspired. As Inc. reports, the restaurant represents “emotional branding at its best,” right down to the color scheme and cheesecake selection. Does your brand hit the right notes? Far more than your logo and look, your brand is about what others are saying about you and the emotions your business evokes in guests. Foodable recommends you start by ensuring your customers know what you do best. Is there a special ingredient or process that makes you different? Your guests should know that and trust they’re seeing the real you when they visit your restaurant and interact with anyone from your team.
A new badge of trust for food transparency
Consumers demand food transparency – and food industry buzz words like “organic” and “sustainable” can make restaurant guests feel good about what they order – but how do consumers know who backs up these claims? Eater Denver reports that a new program, Good Food 100 Restaurants, provides a “badge of trust” that helps educate consumers and recognize chefs and restaurants that are transparent with their purchasing and sustainable business practices.” It’s a rating system designed to demonstrate how restaurant chefs are developing a better food system and supporting good food economies at state, regional and national levels. The effort started in Colorado but is gaining a national following and includes chefs from organizations including Union Square Hospitality Group, Frontera and Bateau.
Nachos get a makeover
Nachos are a food for the times: shareable, customizeable, interactive, comforting, and an appealing foundation for any number of proteins, toppings and spices. What’s more, the dish is evolving on menus well past the salty-chips-and-processed-cheese variety that have long been a staple at arena events. Flavor & the Menu reports that chefs are reinventing nachos in a number of new ways, like the tuna poke nachos at Next Door in Dallas, which include cucumber, pine nuts, wasabi crema and wonton crisps. In Los Angeles, Petty Cash Taqueria’s roasted cauliflower nachos include crema poblano, Jack cheese, rainbow cauliflower, kale and pickled Fresno chiles. Nachos are becoming a platform to show off both regional flavors (think barbecue or grilled shrimp) and global tastes (from Bolognese to béarnaise).
Handheld foods reign
Sandwiches, burgers and other foods consumers can hold in their hands accounted for about one out of every four dollars spent in the foodservice channel in 2016 – that’s $205 billion in sales according to Technomic’s new “Foodservice Prepared Sandwich Category” study. Burgers led with 44 percent of total handheld food sales in the U.S., deli and submarine sandwiches accounted for 13 and 11 percent, respectively, and other favorites included tacos, burritos, breakfast sandwiches and wraps. While 53 percent of handheld sales occurred during lunch, those sales have begun to spread into other dayparts too. In the study, respondents noted that while handheld foods are a natural fit for take-out, the packaging and delivery of these foods need improvement to become greener, more cost effective and capable of maintaining food temperature.
Lights, camera, foodborne illness!
The next time you watch a cooking show, note whether the featured chef follows food safety protocol. As Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, noted in Restaurant News recently, on-air personalities often skip handwashing, have hair or clothing dangling down near the food they’re preparing, fail to use meat thermometers and often use the same cutting board for vegetables and raw meat. Lax food safety protocol sets a bad example for home cooks and those in the restaurant business who prepare food before an audience (whether on television, via a live demo or simply on a video that goes on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page). Shaw urges chefs to remember safety whenever they’re preparing food – wash hands, avoid cross-contaminating foods, cook food to the appropriate temperature (and keep hot and cold foods at their required temperatures), clean and sanitize all equipment and prioritize safety over fashion.
Utensil design for joyful, mindful eating
New research has found the design of eating utensils impacts consumers’ perceptions of food quality and taste. The men behind it are Andreas Fabian, a PhD, and Charles Michel, chef-in-residence at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. They collaborated on a teardrop-shaped glass wand used to eat creamy foods like peanut butter, yogurt or hummus, Fast Company reports. Their goal was to recreate what a person does when eating something so mouth-watering he forgets manners – like licking a finger while cooking or a plate after eating. The utensil Fabian and Michel created, dubbed a Goûte, is actually shaped like a finger. Their research showed that when taste testers ate yogurt with it, they perceived it as being better and creamier. Fabian and Michel started a design studio and are conducting further grant-funded studies to develop new utensil designs aimed at making people more mindful about eating so they choose healthier diets.
Creating an Instagram hit
Searching for a food destined to become an Instagram sensation? Try a kitschy or familiar twist on an unrelated food, give it some interesting color and texture and voila! Note the success of the sushi donut, which vegan cookbook author Sam Murphy claims she invented while playing around with a donut mold last summer, according to the Washington Post. (She presses sushi rice into a mold greased with coconut oil, lets it set, then pops it out and decorates it with salmon, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger and a range of other ingredients.) The ring-shaped sushi concoctions have recently gone viral on Instagram and a number of restaurants are testing versions to add to their menus.
Better communication via kiosk
Kiosks are getting a lot of play lately as vehicles to help restaurants cut labor costs and speed up service. But Hospitality Technology recently identified some additional benefits for restaurant operators, particularly those that serve diverse populations. The kiosks, supported by customizeable technology, can help restaurant overcome a range of communication challenges they experience with guests. They can offer foreign language and sign language translations, for example, or an easier means for those with physical and mental disabilities to place an order. They can also help you avoid triggering a guest’s allergic reaction by allowing the guest to specify their sensitivities.
Out with the buzzer, in with the phone alert
Disappearing are the days of the black buzzers used to signal to restaurant guests that they have moved up the waiting list and their table is ready. In their place is technology like that of Nowait, a waitlist company that alerts guests on their phones. Skift reports that Yelp Reservations just acquired Nowait in a move to compete with other booking services aiming to help restaurant operators manage their tables. The Nowait app, available on Apple and Android platforms, lets guests browse a list of participating restaurants to check the wait times at each one and add their names, reports SFGate. As they move up the list en route to the restaurant, they receive a notification by text.
What’s your upsell strategy?
The book Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance by Paul Farris says the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent. (A new customer? Only 5 to 20 percent.) So how smart is your upselling strategy? Toast suggests three ways to improve. Have your servers offer tailored suggestions based on strong knowledge of the menu and your CRM software – it helps to know that merlot is the wine guests order most often with pasta primavera, for example. Second, have servers focus on the customers they’re serving – if your server discovers his guests are vegetarians, he can avoid gushing over your filet mignon special. Finally, make sure your technology supports smooth service. Your point-of-sale system should be structured so servers waste no time in taking orders – the less time they need to explain the menu to hungry guests, the more time they have to promote items that enhance the meal.
Tip the scale
If you want your restaurant to stand the test of time, it’s a given that you should make your business memorable, consistent and profitable. But Foodable adds one element to the mix: make your business scalable. In other words, how well does your operation adapt to market changes? Do you have a strategic plan for how to grow through changes to your menu, fluctuations in ingredient pricing, or increased competition in your neighborhood? It’s also important to tap into the local community, so you can offer products from local farms, breweries or other producers – but at the same time, weave those practices through operations of different sizes while staying true to your mission and core values.
It’s innovation time for salad
Long the go-to lunch option for guests trying to eat healthy, salads can be short on surprises. That’s changing. Flavor & the Menu reports that the bowl trend, along with the international flavors often woven in, is challenging chefs to rethink the salad bowl by incorporating more superfoods, a range of proteins, bold flavors and layers of crispy greens like iceberg and romaine. Consider the When in Romaine salad by José Andrés at Beefsteak, which combines romaine with cucumber salad, seaweed salad, toasted seaweed, cherry tomatoes, radishes, sprouts and scallions. The crunchy greens on trend can be more filling, due to their higher water content, and they’re also versatile. Try charring or grilling them for your next salad.
Eatertainment takes off
One new restaurant and bar in Austin, Texas is taking the “eatertainment” trend to a new level and building community among guests, all while wrapping in some tech-driven benefits. Eater Austin reports that the concept, dubbed Vigilante, offers more than 150 games and special tables designed for game playing, with cup holders and trays connected to the outside of tables to provide more space for play. The tables have electrical outlets, buttons that allow guests to summon their server, and “join me” signals to invite other guests to join their game. The menu, which includes easily handheld items like sliders and skewers, promises not to distract from the games in progress.
Help employees take ownership
Want to keep your top talent? Consider giving your employees a stake in the business. Take Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., which was built around an open-book management philosophy. Restaurant Hospitality reports that the deli is part of a portfolio of 10 businesses all developed by the brand’s 700 employees. Employees have weekly huddles to review profit-and-loss statements in which every line item has an owner. Employees can buy shares in the business after two years. The structure has been good for business – between 2011 and 2016, labor costs at the deli alone dropped from 16 percent to 15 percent and employee turnover declined from 65 percent to 48 percent.
Study finds children’s menus have much room to improve
Back in 2011, the National Restaurant Association launched the Kids LiveWell initiative to improve the nutritional profile of children’s menus at 15,000 chain restaurant locations around the country. A report by The Lunch Tray says more than 150 restaurant chains with 42,000 locations are participating in the program. However, it also says a recent study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine indicates the average children’s restaurant meal in 2015 contained twice the recommended calories and more than 60 percent of their recommended daily allowance for sodium. And while soda is no longer a default beverage on children’s menus, sugar-sweetened milk, juices and teas often are.
Inspect, replace and protect the tools of your trade
Employing the best sanitation practices in your kitchen only goes so far when your team is using damaged tools. Food Safety magazine recommends you inspect your tools regularly and replace them when you find excessive abrasions or gouges, damaged bristles, extreme discoloration or staining, or wear that could be hazardous to the user. When replacing tools, look for ones with ergonomic, one-piece design and store them in clean, protected areas – avoid high-humidity areas that can encourage the growth of bacteria, as well as cold areas that can fracture equipment.
Restaurants ripe for investment? Not so fast
Investors see restaurants as a hot market right now. Restaurant stocks have surged in the past few months and are up 6 percent so far this year, according to the NRN Restaurant Index. Restaurant sales remain stagnant overall – but is the industry poised for a comeback? Nation’s Restaurant News, for one, doesn’t see the industry’s challenges going away any time soon. It’s still unclear whether middle-class consumers will have the kind of increased discretionary income that will drive visits in the coming months. What’s more, while regulatory requirements should let up, immigration limits could further boost labor costs and restaurants that import produce may face new border taxes.
Striking the balance between value and quality
As quick-service brands are moving away from speed and frugality in the interest of delivering higher-quality ingredients, Taco Bell’s thriving dollar value menu provides some evidence that “easy beats better,” as its parent company’s CEO said in an earnings call last year. Eater reports that while the brand has mentioned in advertising that it has improved the quality of some of its food, that doesn’t have to take priority when its “speed and value” model are working so well – and in fact, are being perceived by guests as a measure of a quality experience. (The report says this hasn’t been the case at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, where past dollar value menus have not helped the bottom line and have evolved to combo meal deals offered at slightly higher prices.) Taco Bell told Eater that its breakfast and all-day dollar menus were major sales drivers last year.
Omnivore launches App Marketplace to drive restaurant tech
Looking to try out some new tech? Take a look at Omnivore’s new App Marketplace, which aims to connect restaurant point-of-sale systems to technology that can help restaurants enhance service and brand engagement. Hospitality Technology reports that the App Marketplace is an open online exchange that helps connect restaurants to a range of technology services. DoorDash, MenuPad and SeatNinja are among the more than 25 app developers currently signed on to join the platform in areas such as ordering and payment, gifting, seating, analytics and payroll.
A model for slashing food waste
Minimizing food waste is not just good for the planet – it’s good business. In the U.S., food waste accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s $161 billion worth of food based on 2010 figures. The two largest grocery trade groups in the U.S. just announced plans to clarify food labels, which will better identify waste for consumers – but note what’s already happening in Denmark, the European country leading the fight against food waste. The Huffington Post reports that many restaurants there, especially those with buffets, use an app called Too Good to Go. It tells its million-plus Danish and international users which restaurants have excess food. Users get an inexpensive meal from the restaurant’s buffet and the restaurant eliminates food waste. Supermarkets are also offering “stop food waste” bargains and an app called YourLocal helps consumers find the best offers.
Farm-to-table has made it to the bar
Food and Drink Resources reports that increasingly, restaurant bartenders are skipping the bottles of juice and relying on fresh, local produce to add flavor to cocktails – or saving that produce for later by freezing herbs in ice or pureeing fruits and vegetables and pouring them into ice cube trays. It’s not just about jazzing up alcohol, either. In a Flavor & the Menu report, a representative of NPD Group says on-premise, non-alcoholic beverage sales are down due to guests turning away from carbonated soft drinks in favor of options they perceive to be healthier, including fruit-flavored water and juices made with fresh fruit. There’s a big opportunity to expand sales by offering fruit-and-vegetable juice flights, pairings or cocktails.
Foreign-born workers important to industry growth
Foreign-born restaurant employees are critical to the industry’s ability to expand as the number of 16-to-24-year-olds in the labor force continues to shrink. That’s according to the National Restaurant Association’s Chief Economist Bruce Grindy. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey says restaurants employ nearly 2.3 million foreign-born workers, more than 8 percent of the foreign-born workers in the U.S workforce. More than 23 percent of those employed at restaurants are foreign-born, versus 19 percent for the overall economy. Foreign-born workers are also comparatively more likely to hold higher-paying jobs in the restaurant industry – 45 percent of restaurant chefs and 24 percent of restaurant managers are foreign-born. This means such employees will be increasingly important to the industry’s ability to create jobs in the future.
The fast casualization of fine dining
Fast fine, fast casual premium, fast casual 2.0…Whatever you want to call it, Mintel reports that a new kind of restaurant is emerging that offers high-quality meals, a full bar, a comprehensive menu and no wait staff. Mintel analysts say the trend may make operational sense for restaurants that
want to source fine ingredients while streamlining and automating the ordering process – and it could appeal to Millennials. Still, servers are often what make a fine dining experience memorable, and as one analyst says, “something is lost when a plastic buzzer tells you to pick up your food, no matter how fancy the dish is.” These restaurants are likely the next step for fast casuals but won’t replace fine dining.
What consumers want in prepared foods
Supermarkets are proving to be worthy competitors for restaurants that offer prepared foods. If your local market fits that mold or you sell prepared foods for take-away, ensure you’re providing what Datassential says consumers want from their local markets: 35 percent of consumers surveyed say they want unique or new items or flavors, 33 percent want healthier food options, 30 percent want healthier versions of foods they consider to be bad for them, and 27 percent want food items they can customize.
Service with a : )
Emojis are adept at getting a point across – and a growing number of restaurants are using them to engage guests in their menus. While Domino’s has been using emojis in online ordering for some time, Eater reports that full-service restaurants are now using emojis on more traditional food and drink menus, streamlining menu items down to pictures of ingredients. In doing so, they’ve simplified their menus while making them playful and memorable. At the Little Yellow Door in London, for example, a seared steak roll with truffle mayo, caramelized onions, and rocket is presented on the menu as a “cow face” “baguette" with "mushroom" "chestnut" "rocket ship." While emojis aren’t for every restaurant, they can bring fun and novelty to a restaurant while breaking down barriers between wait staff and guests.
Reduce the spread of foodborne pathogens in juice
Juicing is a great way to offer guests a boost in vitamins, minerals and enzymes – and potentially a concentrated dose of foodborne pathogens. Food Safety News recommends you ensure the bacteria on your produce doesn’t end up in the drink you serve by taking these steps: Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water pre- and post-preparation. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water and scrub firm produce like melons or cucumbers with a produce brush under running water before peeling it. Give greens a bath in a clean basin with cold water and a half cup of vinegar, soak for five to 10 minutes and rinse leaves well in a colander with cold water. Dry produce with a clean towel to further reduce any remaining bacteria present.
What temperature makes this food safe?
Could you pass a quiz asking you to confirm the temperature you need to cook various proteins to ensure their safety? To ensure fish and shellfish doesn’t contain foodborne pathogens, cook it to 145 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If it’s a whole chicken or turkey you’re cooking, it’s finished when it registers 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the wing and thigh. Beef, pork, veal and lamb need to reach 145 degrees and rest for three minutes, whereas ground meats need to reach 160 degrees.
New tech to boost your traffic
Want to attract more guests – and turn them into loyal ones? Coffee shops and other quick-service establishments are beginning to offer wireless phone chargers to help guests repower their devices while they grab a bite to eat. QSR reports that these chargers are simply thin mats that are placed on the table or built into it. Guests place their phone in a special charging case that uses magnetic induction technology to charge the device. Right now, they’re just an added convenience but that could change (wifi was merely a convenience at one time – now guests expect it). Starbucks has begun a nationwide rollout of the wireless chargers.
Be a smooth operator
It’s a new year – take a fresh look at your restaurant’s efficiency. FSR recommends you consider these ideas: What steps does your team have to take from creating the menu to delivering service? If you analyze each step, you’ll uncover processes that are slow, messy or inefficient. Where is technology needed – or not? Too little capacity can stall your growth during peak periods and too much adds unnecessary expense, so ensure you have the right support to ease your biggest pain points. Is your restaurant’s layout as efficient as possible? More space means greater costs so make it count by considering how employees and guests move throughout the restaurant. Are your menu items and promotions easily prepared during peak periods? If not, simplify. Do you have the right staff in place at the right time to increase sales? Remove bottlenecks and roadblocks so the smallest number of people can capably provide the best hospitality.
Moneyball for restaurants
Can you quickly answer questions such as “Who are my best- and worst-performing servers?” or “Why are my ingredient costs rising?” Your competition may be able to. Consider tuning in to software companies like Damian Mogavero’s firm, Avero, which advises 10,000 restaurants in 70 countries about how to use data to maximize performance – much like how statistics were applied to make a winning baseball team in the film Moneyball, Skift reports. The company scrutinizes data that can get lost in a spreadsheet. It consults about such topics as how to identify and stop theft in a restaurant as technology evolves, or for seasonal operators, how weather patterns affect business and how to make the most of the weather they get. Mogavero details the power of analytics in his new book, The Underground Culinary Tour.
How a food trend is born
Do you know how avocado toast, broccoli rabe and kale became hot menu items? The Wall Street Journal and food and beverage consulting firm PadillaCRT analyzed trendy foods’ paths to stardom and found they have qualities in common: It must be approachable and easily understood by a mass audience – something a person could assemble without tracking down special ingredients. It must be seeded with the right group – PadillaCRT’s Jason Stemm said avocado toast took off after it was served to clean-living aficionados at the Wanderlust “Yoga in the City” event in New York in 2012. Finally, the trend must have a means to expand, whether that’s adoption by celebrities, an Instagram-worthy appearance, or a mention on a popular food blog. For the record, Stemm predicts kale sprouts could soon have their moment in the spotlight.
Starbucks commits to hiring refugees, providing healthcare
As the restaurant industry adapts to a new administration, Starbucks has stepped out with an announcement that may make waves: CEO Howard Schultz announced recently that Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 refugees over five years and will continue to offer health insurance to employees, whether or not the Affordable Care Act is repealed. QSR magazine reports that Schultz said the company will focus first on hiring those refugees who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support staff in countries where the U.S. has needed support. He promised that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, employees will be able to reclaim their insurance coverage within 30 days of losing it, rather than wait for open enrollment.
Food delivery industry’s bumpy ride
Industry analysts point to food delivery as the big space for growth in 2017. But there’s much to learn from the industry’s growing pains: Take Munchery, the San Francisco startup that cooks and delivers meals to hundreds of thousands of customers in several cities. Bloomberg reports that according to current and former employees, Munchery has had to cut back on premium ingredients like organic chicken and wild salmon to keep budgets in check, and that from September 2014 through July 2016, Munchery’s San Francisco kitchen made more than 653,000 meals that were never sold. While a company spokesperson said overproduction was a given in the food industry, the startup’s challenges reveal difficulty in striking the balance between profits and losses in food delivery.
Tap into the wedding market
Domino’s has found an innovative way to appeal the Millennial consumer base and capitalize on guest loyalty: Pizza lovers who are engaged to be married can now create a wedding registry on the site. Registrants who prefer receiving gifts of pizza instead of the traditional wedding china can register for pizza to be served at wedding festivities like bachelorette parties or offered as a take-away to guests as they depart the wedding reception. Couples can also register for gift cards good for a low-key date night or night off of cooking sometime after their wedding. Registrants can share their wish list with guests on social media, of course.
Walmart finds an organic restaurant partner
In a new sign showing the mainstream appeal of organic food, a Walmart Supercenter near Orlando, Fla. is opening an organic quick-service restaurant, according to Restaurant Hospitality. The restaurant, Grown, is the first quick-service restaurant on the east coast to be certified organic by the U.S.D.A. The restaurant, which was founded last year by the former professional basketball player Ray Allen and his wife, Shannon, serves breakfast, soup, salad, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies and cold-pressed juices. Walmart pursued Grown as a partner to help promote foods local to Florida and connect guests to fresh foods sold in other parts of the store.
Signs of a vendor that protects food safety
Considering a new food vendor? Or trying to decide whether to split from another? Food Safety magazine suggests you analyze a number of factors, such as to what degree they’re innovating. For example, do they have continuous temperature monitoring so that if there’s a problem with your order, they can demonstrate the temperature of the stock at all stages of the journey? Do they anticipate your needs, stay in touch and add unexpected value? Such companies often show their leadership by serving on councils that make it a public service to share their expertise. Your vendors, whether it’s your pest control expert or the account manager of your seafood supply, should make an effort to be on a first-name basis with you and expend extra effort to ensure your needs are met.
The biggest food recalls of 2016
Food recalls surged 22 percent last year as compared to 2015 and two of the main sources were Listeria contamination and undeclared allergens. Major culprits included milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat and a smaller, but still significant, number of recalls were issued for soy and tree nuts. That's according to Food Safety magazine, which tracked food product recalls issued in the U.S. and Canada based on announcements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The recalls stemmed from a variety of causes, including insufficient food production and monitoring processes, failure to maintain facilities and equipment, failure to comply with federal food safety regulations and inability to track ingredients through the supply chain.
Mobile technology driving future of the drive-thru
Technology changes so quickly that it can be hard to know where to invest – but mobile technology seems to be at the foundation of much of it. Take the touchscreens appearing at many drive-thrus nationwide. Restaurant Business reports that in five years, those screens will be passé. It’s more likely that the drive-thrus of the future will be pick-up windows for food that guests order in a variety of ways, according to Rob Grimes of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association, such as via voice-recognition software on site, the restaurant’s website, mobile apps or their car’s GPS system. Some operators are already using mobile apps that connect to their restaurant’s point-of-sale system to order food and set a pick-up time, at which point restaurant staff bring the meal to the person’s car.
Find the positive in a split shift
Scheduling employees to work long, continuous shifts may not make financial sense when you have a long lull in traffic between your lunch and dinner rush. Toast suggests you consider the split shift – dividing the work day into separate parts, say 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Depending on your state’s regulations of split shifts, it may make good financial sense to do it. Of course, there are negatives for many employees – but for others, there could be important positives too. Toast says if your staff includes people who care for family, they may welcome having a full-time job that includes a break in the day, allowing them to pick up children from school or check on a parent. Split shifts can also allow you to offer employees more work hours without decreasing the hours of other staff.
Big Mac ATM launches a tweet storm
McDonald’s hasn’t led the pack with its technology offerings but a recent event they staged helped give them some marketing buzz as a fun, progressive company. On January 31 at their Kenmore Square location in Boston, McDonald’s activated their “customized digital Big Mac ATM.” Pymnts.com said between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day, the ATM dispensed two new Big Mac sizes – the Mac Jr. and the Grand Mac – for free. In exchange, guests (who lined up down the block for a free sandwich) supplied their Twitter handle. The ATM then generated a tweet on the user’s account.
Making a go of pay-what-you-can
In an industry of rising labor costs and low profit margins, how are pay-what-you-can restaurants faring? The Washington Post estimates there about 50 such operations in the nation that are trying to transform the way the public views food assistance and charity by bringing together people who can afford to pay for nutritious food and those who can’t. Some locations rely on volunteer workers and ask that if guests cannot pay, they do something to help. It’s obviously no easy task to run a sustainable operation. Still, some have managed to make it work: Denise Cerreta’s One World Café in Salt Lake City eked out a profit for a few years. Though Cerreta has since closed the café, she now focuses on her One World Everybody Eats foundation, which offers business plans and mentoring to community restaurant owners.
Add some surprise to your fries
French fries: They’re the ultimate comfort food. Lucky Peach mentions some international twists that could make your fries menu centerpieces. Take Kapsalon, fries topped with döner meat, Gouda cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and/or onions, topped with creamy garlic sauce and sambal. Or Kenyan Masala fries with spicy tomato sauce, coriander and lemon. In Bulgaria, fries are covered in a white, brined, lemony cheese called sirene. Chaat masala fries are coated with a spice mix common in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan that includes a sweet and sour green-mango powder, black salt, asafetida, cumin, coriander, dried ginger, red chili, salt, and pepper. To balance savory with sweet, Food & the Menu suggests Japan-inspired Daigaku Imo fries coated with soy sauce, sugar, honey, sesame seeds and salt.
Delivery-only for the masses
Could delivery-only restaurants make dine-in restaurants obsolete? A new Technomic study says take-out meals are now taking sales from grocery and dining-in restaurants – and some big-name restaurateurs are tapping into the delivery-only niche. The New York Times reports that David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group took in a $7 million first round of venture capital financing for Ando, its delivery-only restaurant. The investment is likely intended to make delivery-only a mass-market concept. Considering Chang’s portfolio includes more than a dozen restaurants in three countries, nine dessert bars, two cocktail lounges, a prepared foods business and more, he may be the person to take delivery-only global.
NASDA announces 2018 Farm Bill priorities
This month, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) announced its priorities for the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to provide consumers with access to the “safest, highest quality and most affordable” food supply. Its priorities include planning loans for farmers and ranchers who need to update infrastructure to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Market Access Program and invasive species programs, additional funding for animal disease coordination, and investment in voluntary conservation programs.
USDA paves the way for increased organic food production
If you’d like to increase the volume of organic food you serve, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken steps to make more of it available. Reuters reports that to increase the production of organic foods (sales continue to hit new highs and production hasn’t kept pace with demand), the department has launched a program to certify farmland that growers are in the process of switching to organic. By obtaining certification, farmers will be able to sell products raised in accordance with organic guidelines for higher prices than conventionally grown foods, which should help growers cover the costs of transitioning to organic farming, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Apps to take the pain out of staffing
Working in a restaurant can be a tough sell for a talented employee who wants to be valued and well compensated. So how do you find the best people out there? Technology can help. Chefs + Tech recommended a few apps that show promise, including Culinary Agents, Poached Jobs, Industry (which is planning a nationwide launch) and New York City-specific Jitjatjo, which Food & Wine referred to as the “Uber of finding restaurant staff.” Some focus on networking to find good hires and others are more focused on filling kitchen shifts – if you’re looking, give them a try.
Stay relevant through social media
Even if your restaurant doesn’t have flashy, up-to-the-minute kiosks, you can show you’re modern and relevant just by getting social media right. OpenTable recommends you try to inspire people and gain visibility by sharing what excites you – be it new menus, dining room changes, specials, or a new chef. Instagram Stories and Snapchat are good for sharing casual stories, images or video. OpenTable also recommends you live-stream content to attract viewers – using Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope to show an ingredient-buying trip or a fun exchange between staff members, for example.
Lessons learned from tech stumbles
Technology rollouts aren’t often smooth – even for Starbucks during its mobile ordering launch. The company recently said it had experienced a 20 percent increase in mobile pay and ordering during peak hours, which caused crowding that resulted in guests leaving without making purchases. In a CNBC report, restaurant analysts shared their take-aways, which might help you see what investments you may need to make ahead of adopting the technology. Specifically, they said it’s important to hire and train staff to work differently during peak times so you can avoid having to add staff. Review your traffic pattern to avoid bottlenecks and reconfigure your store if needed. Anticipate the need to accept many orders simultaneously – much like an e-commerce company has to – and use alerts and other technology to avoid overcrowding your location and overwhelming staff.
Shift seamlessly into a higher minimum wage
The start of 2017 meant an increase in the minimum wage in 19 states and a number of municipalities, with more increases expected in the next couple of years. How does a restaurant operator cope? Restaurant Hospitality recommends you take these steps: Cross-train your team, especially back-of-house employees. You will then have fewer people doing more (but higher-value) work. Then train those employees and encourage their input so they feel valued and stay. You can also adjust schedules and pay periods – try a two-week schedule instead of a one-week schedule to minimize shift switching and overtime, and shift pay periods to start midweek so instead of breaking overtime during busy weekend periods, you’re doing it when it’s easier to cut back.
What’s your overhead?
It’s hard to know how profitable you are if you’re not calculating your overhead accurately. Toast recommends you calculate it by collecting your indirect costs for a specific time period (e.g. rent, wages, utilities, advertising) and divide it by an allocation measure for the same time period (e.g. the total number of scheduled labor hours for the month). Then, reduce your overhead by cutting back on labor costs during slow periods where possible, swapping out legacy technology for newer technology that will be less expensive in the long run, reducing waste with a smart inventory system, subleasing space and asking staff where they see opportunities to improve practices.
Supermarkets step up their prepared meal game
As supermarkets become centers for fresh prepared food for people on the go, they’re proving to be worthy competition for restaurants. Now the Wegman’s supermarket chain is launching prepared Power Meals, nutritious combinations of main dishes and sides that might inspire (or compete with) restaurant operators. Each of the eight meals in Wegman’s Power Meals line has a maximum of 600 calories, 25 grams or more of protein, at least 5 grams of fiber, fewer than 1,000 mg of sodium, fewer than 10 grams of added sugar and at least one cup of vegetables, Food Dive reports. Priced between $8 and $15, the meals include entrée selections like kung pao chicken, king salmon tataki and tuna poke.
Technology can boost your wine sales
Looking to kick your wine list up a notch? Technology can help. Datassential says that even if you don’t have your food menu on a tablet, you can put your wine list on one, which makes it possible to update your inventory in real time – and avoid having to reprint your list throughout the week. A wine list app can suggest wines based on preferred flavors, prices and styles or even suggest a good pairing based on the dishes your table orders. These apps may help you tell the wine’s story by providing background videos about its makers, for example, or the origin of its grapes.
There’s no doubt restaurant delivery is taking off – and this year, much of that growth is coming from restaurants lacking a storefront. These restaurants are popping up across the country, according to a new report in Fast Company, and because they don’t need as many staff or as much square footage to operate, they’re cutting back on the costs that traditional restaurants must manage and benefiting from economies of scale. Delivery-only operators are seeing additional benefits too, notably the ability to quickly switch out a menu that isn’t working and offer a wider variety of food. For example, the foodservice company Green Summit operates a number of delivery-only brands. Peter Schatzberg, Green Summit’s cofounder, said when poke became popular, they could quickly jump on the trend because most ingredients were already available in-house for the company’s existing sushi concept.
Vegetables can be comforting!
Vegetarian comfort food is on the rise – and no, that’s not an oxymoron. As vegetables continue to appear in the center of the dinner plate, chefs are finding creative ways to disguise veggies as their guests’ favorite comfort foods. In an interview with Forbes about the top food trends of the year, Michael Whiteman, food consultant and president of Baum + Whiteman restaurant and hotel consultancy, said operators can expect more guests to order mashed cauliflower in place of rice or pasta, for example, or even vegetable-based crust on a pizza.
The return of a flavorful tomato?
Modern tomatoes have lost their flavor as growers have bred them to a size and strength ideal for shipping. But one professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, Harry J. Klee, thinks he has found a way to bring the taste back to tomatoes while retaining the traits that make them ship well, the New York Times reports. According to the journal Science, Dr. Klee and his colleagues have identified flavor chemicals deficient in modern tomatoes, along with heirloom and wild varieties of tomatoes that produce better versions of these genes. The research is ongoing but Klee thinks he can produce tastier tomatoes for more widespread consumption in two years’ time.
Economic survivors: steak and seafood restaurants
Looking for a restaurant business that can weather the economic conditions that challenge most operators? Consider steakhouses – or upscale restaurants that combine steak and seafood. Technomic’s Darren Tristano says these operations succeed because they draw affluent guests who are in search of a premium meal and are willing to add alcohol to their tabs. And because the economy is currently in good shape, these restaurants will draw business groups as well as guests celebrating a special occasion. It’s important for these operators to focus on quality beef and sustainable seafood, and in the case of seafood, to offer it at a range of price points to make it more approachable to guests.
Prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen sink
Your restaurant’s kitchen sink can be a source for cross-contamination of food. The U.S. Deapartment of Health and Human Services recommends you take steps to prevent it. Namely, be sure to wash your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds. Wash fruits and vegetables before you peel them and do not wash meat, poultry or eggs.
Plan ahead for a smooth tech rollout
Are you rolling out new technology in 2017? In an FSR report, Lee Leet, founder of restaurant technology firm QSR Automations, recommends operators take steps to ensure a smooth transition: First, ask yourself if the technology addresses your biggest pain points – and how you’ll quantify its success, whether in increased table turns or other objectives. The provider should have a thorough implementation plan, access to training, references and experience. Identify key stakeholders, from employees to executives to your bank, and communicate with them clearly about the rollout. As you develop an implementation timeline, consider the big days ahead for your business and time required for testing. When you communicate about the rollout, clarify what tools will change, what processes will be updated, how the change will help employees perform better, and what the expected timeline is. Once you have implemented the change and trained people, analyze the results and adjust accordingly.
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