Strategies to thrive in 2017
It looks like 2017 will be a low-growth year for the restaurant industry. To stay the course, Foodable recommends you raise your operation’s game in these areas: Embrace social media marketing and use it less for selling and more for engaging with your guests – consider Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram Live and Facebook to bring video to your guests. Ensure you have a top-tier team, which means releasing bad hires, training well and always looking out for new talent. Make your menu a profit machine by costing out your food, analyzing your product mix report from your point-of-sale system and updating your menu pricing at regular intervals. Finally, be careful about entering the discount game – choose your offers carefully. Foodable suggests value-driven appetizers or a three-course prix-fixe menu on slow days, for example.
Produce is the new protein
If you’re looking to build a better sandwich (or provide non-salad options for health-conscious guests), many chefs are demonstrating that vegetables can be a key attraction in sandwiches – either alongside meat, fish or poultry or in place of it. Flavor & the Menu reports that at Oak + Char in Chicago, one of the most popular sandwiches is filled with stacked smoked eggplant, pepper jam, curried chickpea mash, smoked cilantro yogurt and Upland cress. Other chefs are stacking plantains and testing combinations like roasted cauliflower and peppers with Vidalia onions and shallots. At Plenty Café in Philadelphia, a housemade tasso ham baguette with spicy aioli was transformed into a mega-hit when the chef added sliced tart apples, fig jam and melted Gruyère. Experiment with produce to add crunch, meaty texture or unexpected spice to a dish.
New superfoods on the horizon
Consumers are showing signs they want nutritious foods that make them feel good about what they consume all year long. Datassential, which tracks “functional” foods that promise a healthy heart, along with boosts in energy and brainpower, has predicted three categories of superfoods we’ll see more of in 2017. Look for the next kale in algaes like spirulina and chlorella, which often appear in detox drinks (or even with alcohol for a saintly spin on cocktails). Aquafaba, the thick chickpea-soaking water, is a close substitute for egg whites and is adding frothiness to cocktails and condiments. Sprouted grains are being touted as an easier-to-digest, high-protein alternative to whole grains in pasta, bread, pizza crust, cereal and more.
Spices and stealth food risk
Spices from around the world can give your menu the authenticity and flavor guests crave – but food safety risks are bringing the industry under increased surveillance by the FDA and CDC, Food Safety magazine reports. There are approximately one million Salmonella infections per year, which is a high estimate compared to the relatively low discovery of outbreaks, the report says. That has led experts to believe that many of the illnesses are coming from “stealth” foods used at low levels in a variety of applications, such as spices in condiments and garnishes. It’s a good time to ensure your suppliers have sufficient sanitation practices and training programs in place, as well as hygienic equipment design and repair practices.
Weigh in on healthy food labels
The FDA just extended its deadline for accepting public comments regarding the use of the term “healthy” on food labels. Food Safety News reports that the FDA wants the new definition of the term to be specific due to push back from the food industry on existing law concerning use of the term. Currently, for example, eggs cannot be labeled “healthy” because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content, even though they are recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can submit a comment at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/30/2016-31734/use-of-the-term-healthy-in-the-labeling-of-human-food-products-request-for-information-and-comments#open-comment until April 26.
Protect yourself against wage and hour violations
In the past 30 years, the Department of Labor has prosecuted more than 23,000 foodservice operations for wage and hour violations, resulting in the industry having to pay $247 million in back wages and civil money penalties, Toast reports. Many affected establishments simply failed to follow complex rules. With minimum wages in flux, it’s critical to know where related violations can crop up, such as in tracking employee time over multiple restaurant locations, irregular employee scheduling, poor record keeping and violating the minimum wage. To protect yourself in a dispute, Toast recommends you move quickly and cooperate, with the goal of resolving problems without litigation (or starting litigation without delay). If you have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act knowingly or not, you will likely owe money in damages, so know your value and what you can afford. Finally, take corrective action right away with systems to prevent ongoing problems.
Restaurant outlook for 2017 favors quick-service
If you’re a quick-service restaurant, you’re among the lucky ones: NPD Group predicts the sector will experience 1 percent growth this year, full-service restaurants will see a 2 percent decline and the industry overall could see little to no traffic growth. To buck that trend, Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, suggests operators stay relevant in consumers’ minds, focus on innovative products and promotions, provide a good value and demonstrate the benefits of the experience of eating a restaurant as opposed to staying home. CNBC suggests watching these brands, which have fared better in recent months: Domino’s (revenues were up nearly 17 percent in the third quarter over the previous year), as well as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s.
The power of your public
You know it’s important to have a compelling story behind your food and to promote it well to the public. But chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson recently learned exactly how critical that can be when New York Times food critic Pete Wells awarded zero stars to the chefs’ Oakland, Calif. Restaurant LocoL, the quick-service restaurant that aims to bring wholesome, fresh, affordable foods to underserved neighborhoods. Eater reports that while Wells had earned popular support after withdrawing two stars from Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se restaurant last year, he generated serious social media backlash with his treatment of LocoL. One reader said his review was akin to booing at an elementary school musical, while others suggested he “take on soup kitchens next.”
Voice-ordered food to your door in less than an hour
Amazon continues to push the limits of food technology. The company just announced that its Prime customers can now order food via voice command from Amazon Restaurants on Alexa-enabled devices and have any meal they’ve ordered previously delivered for free in less than an hour. A customer can say, “Alexa, order sushi from Amazon Restaurants,” and the service pulls that customer’s order history from a specific restaurant or cuisine type and lists meal options available for reorder. The selected meal is then sent for delivery to the customer’s default address. The new option allows customers to reorder food from any restaurant available on the service in more than 20 cities.
Investing in tech-assisted food ordering
Among 18-to-34-year-olds, 77 percent want or expect mobile ordering at quick-service restaurants and 83 percent feel the same about fast-casual outlets. In the Middle East and Asia, a majority of consumers report being able to do just that – but the percentage falls to just 32 percent in North America. That’s according to Technomic’s 2016 Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Consumer Trend Report. The U.S. lags behind Asian and Middle Eastern countries when it comes to tech-assisted ordering programs due to the expense of investing in technology in a low-margin business. But the risk may pay off: According to the data, U.S. consumers choose delivery or takeout for 51 percent of all foodservice needs – that is a bit more than in Asia and only slightly less than in the Middle East.
Are your employees brand ambassadors?
Regular employees have more credibility than CEOs, according to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer. So what do your employees say about you? Restaurant News recommends you take these actions to ensure your team represents you well and promotes your brand: Clarify your values – once you know what you care about, you can identify employees who share that vision. Review your employees’ performance regularly and reward their achievements. Give your trusted employees freedom to talk up your restaurant online. They’ll have good things to say if you treat them honestly and offer reasonable benefits and hours. Remember to keep communicating about your brand and help employees learn by your example – every meeting or event you hold for employees should amplify your brand image so your team can project it to your guests.
Boost your efficiency behind the bar
Your bar can be a boon to your business – and you don’t have to choose between high standards and high sales volume if you improve your efficiency, says FSR magazine. Can you trust your team to keep the operation running smoothly? What design changes can you make to ensure the elements they need are within reach, including your freezers, carbon dioxide system, faucets, glasses and measuring tools? Finally, which tech tools can help you minimize empty seats? Award-winning bar owner and operator Ross Simon recommends apps like No Wait, which can help you seat guests on a first-come, first-serve basis so you’re not hurt by last-minute cancellations, and Breadcrumb point-of-sale systems and Upserve, which can help you generate analytics to ensuring you’re ordering inventory and scheduling staff accurately.
Subtlety wins on the dessert menu
If you’re itching to test cutting-edge flavors and ingredients, you may want to stick to appetizers and entrées – guests at mainstream restaurants tend to like (and expect) sweetness and tradition on the dessert menu, according to Flavor & the Menu. While savory touches like bittersweet chocolate and salted caramel are common and an avant garde ingredient may create some short-lived buzz, the report indicates that guests want dessert to provide a comforting, nostalgic experience. Feel free to try out savory touches – just keep them subtle.
Combine food and entertainment for growth
Who doesn’t love mixing food and entertainment? Restaurants that provide entertainment along with food (premium bowling and high-quality food, for example) are a key growth category right now, according to the commercial real estate advisory Welsh. The fast-casual boom has contributed to higher rents and lower landlord concessions as the number of concepts looking for locations has exceeded the available locations, according to a Welsh vice president of retail. Operators, as well as mall designers and architects, are looking to get creative with their spaces to create new possibilities.
Do your customers know they’re safe with you?
Food safety doesn’t have to conjure negative headlines for a restaurant. If you have a strong safety record, create a conversation about it. Food Safety Magazine recommends you weave a food safety element into all of your marketing materials. Add a one-sentence message about your food safety standards to your website, Facebook page, direct mail, advertising and menus. If a food safety problem occurs that could make people hesitate to eat out, respond quickly with information that can reassure guests. For example, if an outbreak was traced back to imported produce and you rely on local growers, post a message to your Facebook page or create a direct mail campaign to tell that story.
Tech trends that boost the guest experience
Toast says consumers are now more interested in how they buy than what they buy. In fact, in the past two years there’s been a 50 percent rise in restaurants providing technology to deliver the experience guests want, with mobile apps, online ordering platforms, tabletop tablets and mobile payment services topping the list of desired platforms. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, focus on technology that stands to provide your guests with the most improved experience. For many, that’s online ordering – or enhancing your existing online ordering with mobile-friendly options. There’s less room for error because guests can check their order before they confirm it and it’s easier to upsell guests when you can show them images of mouth-watering appetizers or desserts before they check out – in fact, Toast says online ordering can increase check size by 23 percent.
Slow food speeds up
A number of health-conscious concepts are demonstrating that health and quick-service can go together, all while offering competitive prices and conveniences like drive-thrus, reports Restaurant Business. The Dallas quick-service concept Start offers organic food, has no fryers in its kitchens, and churns out options like grass-fed, free-range beef burgers and stuffed sweet potatoes in six minutes or less for checks averaging $12. Arizona’s Salad and Go concept provides nutrition at an appealing price point – less than $6 for a choice of 10 options that can be served as a salad or wrap. Miami’s Grown is an organic quick-service destination offering options like falafel, wild-caught salmon and grass-fed brisket in both individual and family-size portions.
Get creative with winter salads
Who says salads are for summer? Even though local produce may be less plentiful, the fruit and vegetables available during the winter months – take avocado, citrus, greens and root vegetables – can add vibrant color and unexpected textures to your salad menu. Foodservice Director recommends pairing seafood with a potato salad that combines Yukon Gold potatoes with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower in vinaigrette. Grains can add richness and warmth to a winter salad that can serve as a side or stand on its own. Consider quinoa (or brown rice, wheatberries or couscous) with onion, garlic, kale, seeds and dried fruit.
No cash, no problem
Fast-casual chain Sweetgreen will go cashless in nearly all of its 64 stores this year, having tested the idea successfully for about a year, reports Fast Company. Other restaurants in the U.S. may not be ready to make this leap but there are some good reasons for thinking twice about it, according to the report: Stores without cash have a reduced likelihood of robbery, eliminate the expense of transporting cash in armored cars, and significantly minimize hygiene problems that can occur when employees handle both cash and food. There is also a boost to efficiency – managers can spend
more time mentoring and transactions move faster. Sweetgreen says its employees can process 5 to 15 percent more transactions per hour when not handling cash.
Self-serve kiosks and chatbots to cut labor costs
Some quick-service brands are circumventing rising labor costs in a couple of key ways – both involving automation. Restaurant Business reports that self-service kiosks are one trend with room to grow – Wendy’s plans to replace some workers with kiosks and McDonald’s is introducing some form of self-service kiosk ordering at all of its U.S. units. Chatbots are also on the rise, with Taco Bell, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Wingstop all using them to take orders.
Keep customers coming back in 2017
Everyone likes to feel appreciated – here are some ways to show customers love in the New Year. First, value your existing customers before those you hope to attract, which Toast says is more profitable and 10 times less expensive than the opposite. Celebrate them on social media – especially those who won a restaurant contest or shared a birthday with you. Listen to and incorporate their best ideas, then talk up the latest customer suggestion with other guests. Use your loyalty program to offer giveaways and enter guests into contests that bring them back for meals – and when someone new signs up, send a personal note to thank them and encourage their feedback and continued business. Finally, remember them and encourage conversations. Toast says having servers and chefs simply smile and say “how are you?” goes much farther than a simple nod and can launch conversations that form connections.
Innovate with pasta
Pasta is an easy win for a menu: It’s popular, low-cost and provides fertile ground for creativity. Flavor & the Menu recommends several ways to innovate with pasta this year: Substitute an unusual, upscale shape (like bucatini for spaghetti or torchio for macaroni) to add authenticity and distinction to your menu. Gluten-free pastas are growing in variety too, with bases ranging from quinoa to black beans to chestnuts. Pasta is also an ideal vehicle for customization with a variety of shapes, sauces, toppings and proteins. You can keep menu costs low and calorie counts in check by using it to present new proteins on the menu. Finally, pasta helps you mine regional flavors to lend international flair to your menu – consider lending Latin American flair to soups by cooking with fideos, or translating Roman specialties like Amatriciana or cacio e pepe into new signature dishes.
Small restaurants, growing appeal
Americans are favoring smaller, local restaurants over larger chains, according to Bank of America credit card data. Business Insider reports that this may be happening, in part, because smaller restaurants can more easily adjust their prices when ingredient prices drop. This is in play now, with grocery prices in decline and restaurant prices on the rise. Instead of protecting and growing margins like a large restaurant, the report says, smaller restaurants can more easily scale down menu prices as ingredient prices decrease. So in addition to having local appeal, these businesses are earning points for good value.
Some fearsome hand-washing facts
It can’t be overstated: Handwashing is perhaps the most important practice to get right in your establishment. Food Safety magazine recently shared these facts: Only 20 percent of people wash their hands before preparing food – yet 80 percent of communicable diseases are spread by touch. Fewer than 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Each time a toilet is flushed with a lid up, a fine mist containing bacteria like Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus is spread over an area of six square meters – the area around sinks in public bathrooms is 90 percent covered in this bacteria. Most bacteria on our hands are on the fingertips and under the nails (particularly on the dominant hand), though most people wash only the palms of their hands.
2017 presents an opportunity for wine
While the economy may be shaky for restaurants, retail wine sales are flying high – and Uncorkd says this poses a big opportunity for restaurants to grow their profits. First, wine is getting relaxed – sales of canned wine nearly grew 125 percent this year, which could make it a good fit for laid-back establishments and outdoor spaces. There’s also growing interest in young wines and small, growing producers based well beyond France and California. That means providing wine information will likely become more important, especially as up-and-coming generations insist on knowing the back story of the food and drink they consume.
You’ve got game
Gamification – or driving performance through the use of competitive games – is the easiest way to engage employees and positively affect metrics you care about, like sales, guest satisfaction, upsells and average bill size, according to FSR magazine. Say you need to sell a set amount of specials each day. Using a simple back-of-house chalkboard to track servers and their specials sold can boost the team’s motivation to compete. Managers can then use the board to write public praise or share positive guest feedback. In a high-turnover industry, this meritocratic approach can help you retain your best performers. Turning service into a game means you have a steady stream of data pointing you to your top employees, so you can recognize and reward them accordingly.
Harness the power of Facebook for online ordering and more
Facebook has 500 million users and 50 percent of them log in daily – a huge potential audience for you. Restaurant Engine recommends you make the most of Facebook by using the site’s live video functionality to stream a live event, show your chef preparing a dish, or take viewers with you on a shopping trip to the farmer’s market. Encourage guests to post food photos and content to your page and check in to your restaurant on Facebook in exchange for a food or drink offer. Perhaps most importantly, Facebook is the most feasible of social media platforms to place and fill online orders, Restaurant Engine says. You just need to include a Facebook Ordering App on your page and customers can then see your menu, place an order and pay directly from your Facebook page.
When you need to revamp your strategy
Any restaurant can experience peaks and valleys in sales – so how do you know when you need to rethink your restaurant’s strategy? In a recent Toast blog, restaurant coach Donald Burns identified a couple of key areas to consider: First, does your restaurant plan need adjustment? Consider how your guests see your brand, how that compares with how you see your brand, and how you might need to reposition your brand in your market. Also ask yourself if your product mix is right – review your sales reports to determine what is selling (not what you want to be selling). Second, do you need to replace staff? Perhaps you have a culture that doesn’t attract top talent, or you made bad hires and kept them. Address snags in these areas – and in any other areas that keep you awake at night – to set your business on a positive course.
Gift card give and take
Last year, 90 percent of consumers either purchased or received gift cards, First Data Corp. reports. To stand out from the crowd of retailers offering them, it’s important to get creative. Restaurant Hospitality recommends you offer foods rewards instead of monetary ones – or let the person buying the card get a piece of the reward too. Saladworks in Conshohocken, Penn., for example, offers a free salad with a gift card purchase instead of a cash reward. Other brands offer menu items or cash bonuses that correspond with different gift card price thresholds. Try to use your restaurant’s personality to help make the sale, like Chicago-based Portillo’s, where employees in the drive-through are known to dangle gift cards from their hats – the tactic helps the brand sell more than half of its gift cards for the year.
Growing pains for operators who don’t accept tips
For restaurant operators that have gone the no-tipping route, running a business has become like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – or, says one director of operations, like opening a new restaurant. In a New York Times report about restaurants that have made the switch, the businesses have tried different strategies to adjust to the tip-free model: adding bulk to a plate to better justify a higher charge, adding a smaller cut of meat to the menu to balance a larger and more expensive one, limiting some organic produce, working with a smaller kitchen crew, and buying ingredients in bulk and in partnership with other restaurants to save on expenses. Expect more adjustments to come as operators test their pain points – and those of their guests – when it comes to adjusting menu items, prices and staff.
Back to basics for Chipotle
While Chipotle would surely like to say good bye to 2016, the brand’s challenges this year provide a valuable list of lessons for the rest of the industry. The Chicago Tribune reports that its efforts to win guests back following its brief wave of contamination incidents have fallen flat, with sales down 22 percent in the most recent quarter. While Chipotle has tried overhauling food safety measures, adding chorizo to the menu, launching a summer rewards program and offering free kids’ meals, it now seems to be running into trouble on such customer service no-nos as long lines, messy dining rooms and drink stations, and missing ingredients. Now it sounds like the brand is refocusing on the basics that made it a darling of the industry in the hopes that guests will return.
Automation spreads from coast to coast
Eatsa, the eatery that offers quinoa bowls from a high-tech dispensary with minimal human involvement, now has a New York restaurant to match its west-coast outlet. Guests order food from tablets in the restaurant or via smartphone app and pick up their food from electronic cubbies. While humans do work at Eatsa, they’re limited in number, working behind the scenes making food and standing out front to answer guest questions. Eater reports the model helps the brand cut costs and customize orders too – Eatsa owner Scott Drummond hopes to bring the cost of a quinoa bowl from $7 down to $5 and further develop its technology to offer custom bowls to guests based on their past orders.
The bar menu gets reinvented
Seventy percent of people between the ages of 21 and 34 purchase alcoholic beverages away from home at least once a week, reports Technomic and Beverage Marketing Corp.’s new On-Premise Intelligence report. That’s compared to just 48 percent for everyone older than those in that bracket. To capitalize on younger consumers, the report predicts we’ll see more alcohol popping up on menus at limited-service restaurants – Taco Bell and Starbucks are already cashing in on this idea. These consumers like to branch out and try new flavors, so bars targeting the demographic will offer a broader variety of alcohol categories, brands and styles, limited-time drink specials that rotate through the menu, and craft beer made on site.
Restaurant industry flexes to accommodate the independent worker
More cafes and restaurants are finding ways to embrace the 35 percent of the workforce who work independently. Eater recently reported on some newer approaches for appealing to these guests, such as cafes charging guests a $6 flat fee for their first hour spent onsite, then five cents each hour thereafter, which grants each person a workspace and unlimited coffee, tea and snacks. Others offer hybrid hospitality/workspace for monthly fees ranging from $95 to $220. In cities with bustling happy hour and evening business but non-existent lunch business, restaurants are offering space to independent workers during the day when they purchase either a monthly or day pass.
Protect your dry goods storage
Start your new year with a food supply that meets safety standards. Food Safety magazine shared some simple rules for making sure your dry goods are stored safely: Rotate your food – the first item in should be the first out. Keep your storerooms dry, well ventilated and cool (between 50 and 70˚F), with humidity of 15 percent or less. Avoid storing food in direct sunlight. Store food at least six inches from the floor and at least 18 inches from walls to minimize the development of condensation and ease cleaning and vermin control. Keep doors and windows sealed and shut whenever possible to prevent the entry of rodents, insects or birds. Finally, have adequate space to accommodate what you store. Use this equation to help determine if you have sufficient space: Required storage area (sq. ft.)= (Volume per meal x number of meals between deliveries)/(Average height x fraction of usable storeroom floor area).
A purple blow torch promises safer food
A major food safety innovation on the horizon could help restaurants prevent norovirus. Food Safety News reports that cold plasma treatment, also known as a purple blow torch, kills 99.9 percent of norovirus on blueberries without harming the fruit. The researchers report that the method has the potential to extend shelf life by slowing spoilage rates. While they say there is further research needed before the cold plasma method is available commercially, they expect the technology to be accessible and affordable for the food industry to use. Food Dive reports that when that occurs, it could revolutionize the industry, benefiting the security of meats, poultry and produce.
Do you have the right point-of-sale system for you?
Are you using a retail point-of-sale system at your restaurant? Toast outlined why even if it offers you the basics, it’s likely holding you back. A system designed for restaurants will offer you table management, online ordering (without having to pay a third-party ordering site), and analytics that will help you see what sold best that day, how you can create sales forecasts and which server generates the best tips. It will help you develop a reliable customer database that tracks who your most loyal guests are, what they love about you, and what they order -- information you can use to deliver communications and promotions that resonate with them. Finally, it offers efficiency by helping you integrate your inventory, sales, employee scheduling, loyalty program and customer database. Does your current system offer these tools?
Play some pricing tricks
Between rising labor costs and declining restaurant visits, you may feel pressure to raise prices. Profitable Hospitality suggests these strategies to boost sales: Decoy pricing, or selling one item at a high price, can increase the perceived value of other items. Prestige pricing, inflating prices to indicate higher quality, can work if you also boost the quality of the presentation or packaging. Nine and zero pricing sends a message about value and quality – price an entrée at $15.99 to highlight a bargain or a steak at $30 to demonstrate quality. Middle pricing – providing small, medium and large sizes/prices – can help you steer guests toward the middle price point because it’s not too cheap and not too expensive. Bundle pricing can also work with groups – tempt them with a wine and dessert package or a birthday party package and ensure the items you bundle also appear individually on the menu so guests notice the cost savings.
Boost your online reputation
If a restaurant earns a half-star improvement in an online review, it is 30 to 49 percent more likely to sell out its evening seats, according to economic research cited in FSR magazine. Manage your online reputation by taking these steps recommended in the report: Polish your online image with attractive photos and detailed menus, and maintain your listings on websites like Yelp, Google, OpenTable, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Zomato. Encourage happy customers to post reviews online, which boosts your restaurant in web search results. When guests do leave reviews (positive or negative), respond to them all – whether personally, via a marketing firm or through an automated platform. Your responses are opportunities to focus readers on the positive, subtly market your restaurant’s menu and promotions, and increase your chances of having guests return. Of course, reinforce your online presence by providing a solid in-person customer experience. Ensure you have some mechanism for collecting feedback – once hundreds of customers weigh in, you have actionable insight to help you improve.
What’s all the noise about?
If your restaurant creates a little too much buzz, literally, try making some adjustments. Research conducted by an Oxford University experimental psychology professor found that loud noise can impact people’s ability to taste food, USA Today reports. Loud volume can diminish sweet and salty flavors, while intensifying extra-savory flavors like those of bacon or mushrooms, for example. Beverages are affected too – the research found that loud noise makes it harder for guests to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail and therefore how they think it tastes. If you need to turn the volume down, consider installing noise-absorbing ceiling panels, investing in a quality sound system that makes it easier to improve your atmosphere without adding noise, and conducting hourly noise checks to ensure your guests aren’t having to yell at each other across the table in order to be heard.
The chefs have spoken – top food trends for 2017
The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation to get their take on 2017’s hottest food trends. They just released the top-10 results, which include new cuts of meat, street-food-inspired dishes, healthy kids’ meals, house-made charcuterie as a cured-meat version of the cheese plate, sustainable seafood, ethnic-inspired breakfast items, house-made condiments, authentic ethnic cuisine, heirloom produce, and
African flavors and ingredients. How many of these items are appearing on your menu in the New Year?
Coffee and cocktails…why not?
It seems coffee cocktails are popping up more frequently on menus lately as both a winter warmer and as vehicle for a showy tableside presentations. Consider Chicago-area Carlucci’s Restaurant and Bar, which offers a tableside service where they light Grand Marnier on fire, sprinkle it with cinnamon to create sparks, then combine it with coffee and Bailey’s in a mug rimmed with crystallized cinnamon and sugar. Expect more alcoholic coffee concoctions to go mainstream in the coming months, considering Starbucks announced at its recent investor day that it would feature a mixology section in its large new location in New York City.
New national seafood program holds imports to higher standard
Stricter safeguards now protect the seafood you import. President Obama just announced the launch of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which will require “at-risk” seafood imported into the United States to be tracked to its source and labeled properly, according to Seafood Source. Past studies have concluded that about one-third of market and restaurant seafood products were mislabeled and up to one-third of the wild-caught seafood imported to the U.S. is acquired through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While environmental groups say the protections must expand to include the full supply chain, the program promises to at least hold imported seafood to the same standard as domestically caught seafood, helping American fishermen and reducing consumer risk.
If you can’t beat meal kits…
Some restaurant brands are joining the trend to avoid having the services eat into their profits, Restaurant Business reports. Cracker Barrel offered heat-and-serve meals as a takeout option over Thanksgiving, and the hot dog chain Portillo’s has launched a subscription meal service. For $365 a year, their customers receive a partially cooked meal mailed to their home every other month. Their meal for January is an Italian Beef Sandwich Deluxe Package includes two pans of beef, two containers of gravy and eight rolls, for example.
USDA study finds low pesticide levels in U.S. foods
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced that its Pesticide Data Program, which collects data each year on pesticide residues in food, determined that 99 percent of produce samples it studied across the U.S. have low pesticide levels. The Pesticide Date Program, which has been in operation for 25 years, collected samples from 10 states across the country in 2015 to determine pesticide levels in a wide variety of foods including apples, cucumbers, spinach and peanut butter, to name a few. The pesticide levels are based on limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which Food Safety News reports are the strictest in the world. Residues exceeding the EPA’s levels were found in 54 samples, or less than 1 percent of the samples tested.
Make hay with your hashtags
Just about every day, there’s an occasion people recognize on social media with a hashtag, whether to build awareness of an important cause or to simply have fun. You can use these hashtag holidays to build your brand. Sprout Social recommends you first determine how relevant the hashtag holiday is to your brand – it should build rapport with your audience and not annoy them. Is the correct hashtag being used? If you have a list of hashtag holidays you’d like to promote, try plugging them into Sprout’s Twitter Listening Report to see which occasions generated the most volume and shares and to make sure you’re using the most widely used version of a hashtag. Finally, does the hashtag holiday overlap with other major holidays or events that are central to your brand? Check your calendar and prioritize before you post.
Amazon tests tech-enabled grab-and-go concept
Chef-prepared breakfasts, lunches and dinners with no cashiers or check-out lines. This is Amazon’s new grab-and-go food concept – a hybrid of a grocery store, meal kit service and quick-service restaurant. Customers use a smartphone app to gain entry to an 1,800-square-foot facility called Amazon Go that lets them collect the groceries and ready-to-eat foods they want, then leave, reports Restaurant Business. All costs are calculated and charged through the app. Ready-made foods include salads, sandwiches and baked goods prepared onsite and displayed in cases much like those in Pret A Manger, the report says. Amazon meal kits will also be available for purchase. This concept is currently in a test phase – Amazon says it intends to build 20 supermarket-style facilities.
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