Make the most of that email
Having a social media presence is important, of course, but do you know what’s even more critical? According to The Rail, email addresses are twice as valuable as Facebook or Twitter followers because they represent direct, unfiltered lines of communication between you and your guests. Of course, you need to make your messages count. It helps to assume your guests will be reading your message on a mobile device (55 percent of email is opened on such a device, according to Litmus). Also, since they are likely multitasking when they open your message, ensure you’re able to capture your guest’s attention in just three seconds, the span of time that passes before they decide whether to read on or move on. Next Restaurants suggests you consider five steps for a strong mobile-based email strategy: When encouraging people to sign up, make it easy, with mobile-optimized landing pages and QR codes, and provide an immediate incentive that would make it worthwhile for a guest to hand over an email address. Second, follow up promptly with a welcome email message and an accompanying offer that solidifies the relationship. Third, format your message and images for a mobile device, limit your subject line to four to six words, and ensure you get your main point across in three seconds or less. Fourth, provide just one call to action in any message you send and include an incentive for guests to follow through. Finally, set metrics so you know what you want to get out of your contact list, then study your analytics to assess what’s going well and how you can improve.
Score your tech options
If you’re thinking of investing in technology improvements in 2018, some new data from Starfleet Research may give you some food for thought. According to the company’s third-quarter 2017 survey of close to 200 operators with first-hand experience in restaurant management and POS systems, 78 percent of full-service restaurants and 62 percent of quick-service and fast-casual operators achieved “significant” or dramatic” improvements in operations and revenue performance after launching a next-generation system. What features fueled these improvements? Advance ordering, payment processing, inventory control, labor management, sales and marketing, guest relationship management and loyalty management tools all helped elevate restaurants to the next level. Of course, it helps to know how to extract the data you need from these features. If you’re assessing different options, find out how well they can answer questions about your operation. For example, what will your revenue forecast look like and how you can improve upon it? How are customers finding you? How do they make reservations with you? How well can you manage labor and inventory costs? Can you create customized trigger notifications to alert you when some function falls short? How well does the technology integrate with third-party CRM, marketing and guest-management technology? Don’t assume the systems will offer what you need. To evaluate your options, Starfleet suggests you create a scoring sheet that lists all of your buying considerations (e.g. ordering capabilities, payment and security functionality, performance reporting and analytics, type of hosting offered, etc.). Assign a weight to each one to calculate a final score and an option that meets your greatest needs.
Where is that tip going?
The plot thickens regarding the tipping debate, in the wake of the Department of Labor’s recent proposal to allow employers to pool tips and use them as they see fit, under the condition that their employees are all paid at or above the minimum wage. The New York Times reports that Labor
Department officials say this will help restaurants direct more funds toward back-of-house workers who likely receive less pay due to a lack of tips. However, operators would be under no obligation to do so and could apply the funds to other areas of the business. If the proposal passes, it’s possible that restaurant guests who don’t know where their tip is going could either slip cash to their server or decline to leave a tip at all. In an age when consumers demand transparency, be prepared to provide it when it comes to your tip allocation policy.
Time for a temperature check
The New Year is a good time to start fresh and make sure your equipment is in proper condition to carry you through the months ahead. Since temperature control is central to your food safety efforts, take the time to make sure your thermometers are in good order. Use thermometers you can calibrate onsite so that you can run a test for boiling point (212˚F, depending on elevation) and freezing point (32˚F), which you can test in a slurry of ice. The National Restaurant Association recommends you calibrate your thermometers any time they have been bumped or dropped, after they have been exposed to extreme changes in temperature, before deliveries arrive and before every shift.
A better food safety partnership
Health inspections are based on a snapshot of what the inspector sees during the time he or she visits a restaurant—they’re an important part of the overall picture of food safety, but only part of the picture, according to a recent Food Safety Magazine podcast with Hal King, a public health professional who has investigated foodborne and other disease outbreaks for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A better model, King says, is surveillance by both restaurant employees and public health officials, with shared responsibility for spotting trends. He suggests checking out Annex Four in the FDA’s food code for a section about how managers can perform tasks on a daily basis to keep tabs on potential problems. This way, when inspectors call, they are not merely scoring a problem; rather, they are collaborating with the operator to brainstorm steps to fix problems already on the operator’s radar.
To be found online, think local
Can people find you in online searches and maps? To be certain, Restaurant Insider suggests you think of several non-branded key words to describe who you are and what you offer—for example, people are more apt to search for “Italian food” or “happy hour specials” than your business name if they haven’t visited before. If you have multiple locations, you will need a landing page (including a desktop and mobile-optimized page, as well as a distinct social media presence) for each location in order to ensure you appear in local searches. Finally, tune in to local, ongoing events that are likely to draw crowds and offer incentives to bring those people in the door when they’re in the neighborhood.
Burgers as you like them
Burgers are big —and even though they have saturated the restaurant market, chefs are still finding new ways to innovate with them. From patty to bun, almost anything goes. For example, Flavor & the Menu reports that the ingredients at the foundation of burger patties now range from lamb to short ribs to fire-roasted beets, and naan bread is sometimes standing in for more traditional rolls. Datassential reports that the penetration of lamb burgers on menus has increased 120 percent in the past four years due to the popularity of Mediterranean, Indian and Middle Eastern foods, quinoa burgers have spiked 260 percent and black bean burgers have increased 49 percent.
Transform your team into an army of marketers
That time of the year has arrived —the holidays are over and the winter weather means it requires a bit more motivation for people to get out of the house and dine with you. So it’s more important than ever that your team sell your menu effectively. If you’re hiring, the Rail suggests you ask behavioral questions — have candidates tell you a joke or try and sell you something to demonstrate how well they handle the task. Even if they struggle, it’s a chance to see how professionally they respond and to discern where they might fit best, in case you have positions available that require less sales skill. When you train your team, teach methods for approaching sales in order to help them improve and also demonstrate that sales ability is something you value. Have your best servers take part in role-play activities during staff meetings so you can reinforce sales approaches with your larger team. Then, incorporate some friendly competition. Your POS may allow you to set up a system (Springzy is one example) that tracks performance and then updates your team via email so servers have regular feedback about where they stand against the rest of the team, as well as motivation to improve. Create incentive programs during set periods throughout the year to help identify the best performers and also allow the full team to see their progression over time. It can help them appreciate how their check sizes (and gratuities) have increased because of their sales efforts. Finally, look outside your restaurant and consider aligning with social media influencers: Asking some well-known people in your local food scene to come in, try your specials, and then post about the experience on social media can help you boost the numbers of people walking through the door.
Restaurants’ billion-dollar meal-kit opportunity
Meal kit companies like Blue Apron and Plated represent a $5 billion industry. While it’s natural for restaurant operators to view these businesses as competitors, they may actually represent more of an opportunity to operators who learn from their example. According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 percent of restaurant customers say they would buy a meal kit from their favorite restaurant if it were offered. There’s also ample room for growth, with just under 4 percent of households having tried a meal kit, according to the consulting firm Pentallect. How can restaurants seize market share? They have the advantage of greater flexibility to offer either subscription-based or one-off sales, for one. They also have freedom to determine what the kits look like: In a report in Nation’s Restaurant News, Matt Drewes of the intelligence platform Cardlytics said restaurants are still defining what a meal kit is, whether it’s a meal that has been prepared and needs only a finishing touch or two at home (a more common occurrence now), or if it’s a collection of scratch ingredients that the customer brings home to prepare (a less common situation). Regardless, presentation of the dish or ingredients sold is critical to attracting customers, according to Steven Johnson, the industry expert and self-styled Grocerant Guru. Preparing food to be served immediately is a restaurant’s strength — preparing food to be consumed later may require more creativity.
Use FSMA requirements to hold suppliers to high standards
Your food safety program is only as strong as the weakest link in your distribution chain, but how can you adequately monitor the practices of other companies? Hal King of the consultancy Public Health Innovations suggests operators lean on the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act to make their food safer. King’s book, “Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) — Improving Food Safety in Human Food Manufacturing for Food Businesses,” suggests operators look beyond the audits of facilities and safety programs when assessing suppliers. He suggests operators evaluate manufacturers’ food safety plans with an eye toward ingredients, facilities and processes for every product they buy from that manufacturer. As a customer, you have power to require suppliers to provide plant-inspection reports and other government data that can help you thoroughly assess each product you purchase.
Know where to look for fraud
The economically motivated adulteration of food, otherwise known as food fraud, costs the industry between $30 and $40 billion each year, according to Food Dive. Food fraud was among the main challenges discussed at Nation’s Restaurant News’ Food Safety Symposium this fall —particularly because fraud is growing and isn’t limited to product substitutions. For instance, in addition to trying to make lesser products pass for higher-quality ones through intentional mislabeling, fraud also comprises food additives that add weight to meat, false ingredients or nutritional information on labels, and items that were handled in an unsafe manner in the chain of distribution. John Ryan, president of the Ryan Systems Inc. consultancy and author of “Food Fraud,” said at the event that operators must be on high alert any time they extend the supply chain. Everything from the growth of imports to the expansion of restaurant delivery is creating opportunities for abuse.
Amazon technology poised to change restaurant guest experience
Restaurant brands are taking a step closer to offering touch-free reservations, ordering and payment as Amazon makes inroads into the restaurant industry. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that at Amazon’s recent re: Invent 2017 conference, the company announced it would bring Alexa voice ordering, along with Amazon Pay, to TGI Friday’s. Once the technology is phased in throughout the course of 2018, Amazon Prime members or any customer with an Amazon account will be able to talk to Alexa to make orders and reservations, and use their Amazon account to pay without handling a credit card.
Look for tech that builds bridges
If you’re looking to make technology upgrades in 2018, you should have plenty of leverage with suppliers as technology companies vie for business from restaurants. If your technology operates like less of an ecosystem than a collection of disparate parts, there are ample tech tools that can help you connect a multitude of functions. Start by taking a look at the worst pain points of your guest experience. Modern Restaurant Management suggests tools like Guest Center, for one, to help your front- and back-of-house business activities adapt to the patterns of your restaurant so you can run shifts more efficiently, make the best use of your inventory and reach guests more effectively.
The early bird gets the customer
Want to attract a base of loyal customers? Offer breakfast —or enhance your existing breakfast menu. QSR reports that according to analysis of five million restaurant visits from Sense360, those who eat out at breakfast are the most loyal restaurant customers. This was especially evident at coffee shops but also held true across all quick-service restaurants studied. Breakfast is a hit across categories, too. Nasdaq reports that breakfast is driving traffic at most U.S. restaurants and that is expected to continue: NPD Group projects the consumption of breakfast and morning snacks to grow 5 percent through 2019.
Save some green in 2018
Looking to reduce waste in the New Year? From your menu to your suppliers to your energy use, there are many ways to cut back. Toast shared a few hacks that can help you save money. When you adjust menu prices, use a random pricing strategy that raises the price of a few items by a nickel or dime each month, instead of conspicuously increasing prices across the board at one time. What menu items are making you the least money? Even if the items are favored by some guests or you already have the ingredients on hand, eliminate the items that aren’t making money. If you scan prices every week and buy from the cheapest vendor, avoid price manipulation by approaching your favorite supplier and offering to give them a large percentage of your business in exchange for a purchase agreement with better pricing. Consider joining a group purchasing organization, like Team Four/Value 4, to pool your buying power with others to get better pricing. Are you using out-of-season produce for menu items or garnishes? Review your options with your produce supplier every month to find alternatives and avoid anticipated price surges. Apply a similar strategy with your meat purveyor —ask for left-over or alternative cuts of meat that are high in quality but might not otherwise be used. To conserve energy, install cooler, energy-efficient LED light bulbs, limit trips in and out of the refrigerator, and run the dishwasher only when it’s full (installing low-flow toilets can conserve water, too —about four gallons per use).
When delivery eats into your catering business
As corporate luncheons and entertaining have become more casual, many companies are bypassing formal catering services in favor of foods available via delivery (which have become increasingly plentiful as restaurants have tapped into third-party services who offer it). But some operators have found that the plethora of restaurant delivery options is putting a dent in their catering business — while potentially sacrificing quality. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that in the greater Chicago area, foodservice businesses that cater have begun promoting to customers the differences between hiring a caterer or relying on a delivery service to provide food. For example, catering staff will have been trained in food safety issues and will have the equipment needed to ensure food is transported and served at a safe temperature. It is unlikely there will be any such guarantees with a delivery service. If you’re a caterer who offers drop-off meals, be sure to promote any benefits you provide over a delivery service, such as menu planning, delivery, setup, and order accuracy. At the same time, it’s important to make ordering a catering spread as user-friendly as it is to order food via a delivery service: Your technology should allow customers to order food quickly and easily, and your menu should offer the variety and customization that customers expect from their favorite restaurant.
A food safety program from one who knows
When your company owns and operates more than 200 sushi outlets in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, the survival of your business depends on food safety. Josh Onishi, CEO and president of Peace Dining Corporation, talked to Food Safety Magazine recently about how he approaches it. For one, he said, operators must value food safety from the top down and manage to it. That means empowering employees to take action when something does not look right and tying rewards, bonuses and promotions to maintaining safety standards. Communicate about food safety internally and externally, and at every opportunity, whether in orientations, team meetings or advertisements. Select vendors based on their food safety standards and rate them on such factors as their quality, process, handling, storage and shipping. On top of using technology that traces your supply from harvesting to storage to shipping, aim to have real people you trust on hand at each link in the distribution chain.
Storage that promotes food safety
How you store food in your restaurant can either help you avoid a food safety incident —or set you up for one. R Magazine shared some tips to help you stay on track. First, do you follow the first-in, first-out rule? As soon as food is delivered, ensure every item carries a “use-by” label and then store your newest items behind older ones to make sure you’re making best use of your inventory. Use airtight containers for all types of food to extend shelf life and minimize the chance of cross-contamination. Meat should be stored below other items and away from produce. To ensure food maintains the proper temperature when refrigerated, don’t overload your cold storage areas. Clean equipment, shelves and storage units daily to avoid bacteria build-up, and store food items between six and 12 inches off of the floor in order to reduce contamination from water, dust and dirt.
Food delivery, with in-house quality standards intact
To preserve market share in a competitive industry, many restaurants are turning to delivery to “save the day,” according to Doug Sutton of the restaurant consultancy Steritech. Whether you’re looking to save your business or simply improve it through delivery, Sutton advises you incorporate your brick-and-mortar quality-control systems and processes into your delivery strategy. Make sure you communicate a clear pick-up process to your delivery drivers (and the company managing them) to expedite the receipt of an order. Review your packaging to ensure it preserves the appearance and temperature of your food, as well as prevents tampering. Develop standards for maintaining the temperature of hot and cold foods, then work with delivery partners to ensure they have the systems and tools in place to maintain your standards. Have a system to monitor the quality and safety of your food upon delivery and work with your delivery partner to determine steps to take if and when service falls short.
Amazon-style tech for the restaurant industry
As data gains power in the restaurant industry, a number of restaurant technology companies are looking to take their clients from a place of simply understanding customer behavior and buying patterns to a place where they can predict who their customers are online and how to reach them. In other words, they want to bring Amazon-style insight and revenue growth to the restaurant business. When leaders of restaurant technology companies shared their predictions for 2018 with Modern Restaurant Management recently, they said the next year will bring advances in how restaurants will reach customers. Not only will operators be able to identify their customers and preferences but they will be able to connect to them with customized incentives, offering them what they want before they know they want it.
More consumers go out of their way for global flavors
Want to spice up your menu this year? Look beyond our borders and try offering an unexpected ethnic food. A recent Datassential survey of more than 1,000 consumers found that people of all generations are willing to step outside of their comfort zones and sample global flavors. That includes 68 percent of Millennials and Generation Z, 50 percent of Generation X and 44 percent of Baby Boomers. Among the most recent global meals these consumers ate, Asian foods dominated, with the Americas and Europe following, then Africa and the Middle East. More than half of the survey respondents said they would make an effort to try a global food after hearing about it.
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