As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
If your guests are game to load funds onto a digital wallet or prepaid gift card in exchange for a special offer, you can help cut back on the fees you have to pay to support credit card transactions. While retailers are charged a fee by credit card companies each time a customer pays with a credit card, Skift Table reports that many of those retailers are bypassing the fees by joining the lower-cost Automated Clearing House network, which was set up decades ago by U.S. banks to facilitate the exchange of money between banks. Other companies, like Starbucks, are encouraging customers to load funds onto a prepaid gift card — a setup that means Starbucks only pays a swipe fee when a customer loads funds onto the cards, not each time she buys a latte. Still others are joining networks (LevelUp is one) that help businesses band together and use their combined scale to negotiate more
How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
Launching a loyalty app? Walk your talk.
Having a loyalty app is a great way to build a strong following — if you don’t look at it as a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of tool. As Cake suggests, having a loyalty app can go far in helping you connect with your audience — especially Millennials and Gen Z, who are apt to spread the word about you on social media. But on the flip side, those guests also have high expectations of your transparency. If you’re targeting this population with your app, be willing to share details about how your food is made, where it comes from and how you manage your business (or at least be ready for questions about it). Having an app is a strong upselling tool, helping you to build check totals by suggesting menu items that may not have been front-of-mind for customers. Just be sure to focus on your guests’ preferences and frequency of visits, as visibly focusing on check tallies (and tying rewards to dollars spent) can be a turnoff. Finally, having a loyalty app can be a data goldmine — but you need to have the foundational technology in place to funnel that data into insights that feed your broader marketing strategy.
The New Year is a good time to get your restaurant’s financial affairs in order. As you look to gain greater control over your food costs, the formula you use needs to flex to suit your restaurant category and priorities. Does yours? You could start by calculating the cost of every dish on your menu, but you’ll likely get a more accurate cost of a dish against the overall cost of running your business if you use a target based on your cost of goods sold (COGS). Depending on the type of restaurant you run, that COGS will vary. While food costs tend to fall between 28 and 30 percent of total food sales, they skew higher for full-service restaurants, which sell higher-margin alcohol and include a premium for table service, according to the accountancy and business advisory network Baker Tilly. Orderly suggests several ideal COGS targets based on different restaurant profiles. Full-service restaurants should aim for a COGS in the low-to-mid 30s and may find room to trim costs if they manage their bar costs closely and also monitor market prices of fresh, local produce. Bakeries, on the other end of the spectrum, should have a COGS in the low 20s or below — the same goes for pizza restaurants. The challenge in these restaurants is managing food waste and playing close attention to inventory so you’re not over-ordering or buying ingredients at premium prices. Pizza restaurants have the added challenge of watching market prices of fresh ingredients but can manage that with lower labor costs and the addition of higher-margin items to the menu. Ethnic restaurants should target a COGS in the high 20s. While they benefit from less-expensive ingredients like noodles, pasta and rice, they may need to rely on more specialized suppliers of sauces and spices — that’s where they’re more likely to see costs spike. In general, the more specialty offerings you have, such as premium cuts of meat or hard-to-find toppings or other ingredients, the higher your COGS will rise. That’s okay — it’s just important to look for ways to balance those costs with careful inventory and supplier management, menu innovation (especially at the bar) and labor cost management. (Need help? Team Four can advise you in these areas.)
Go with your gut
As medical research continues to point to digestive health as the foundation for a person’s overall health, both nutrition consultancies and food distributors have identified “gut-healthy foods” as a top food trend for 2019. Food Business News reports that probiotics are finding their way into products such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters and soups. The good news is that it’s easy for restaurants to accommodate the trend. To give your menu a probiotic boost, incorporate cultured or fermented foods like buttermilk, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and yogurt. For prebiotic fiber, try bananas as well as asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions.
Employee morale need a boost? The New Year is a good time to retool your management approach and set a motivating tone for the months ahead. The one-on-one meeting is an ideal place to have a back-and-forth about challenges, opportunities for the employee and the learning behind the feedback they’ve (hopefully) been receiving. Feedback about behavior that needs to be changed is better delivered on the spot, soon after it happens, while status updates are best shared in daily team huddles and scorecards posted in the restaurant. The restaurant consultant Mike Ganino shared this 25-minute framework with QSR for more effective one-on-ones: First, review action items from the previous week and catch up on personal life (7 minutes), then have employee set the agenda and share items to review and problem-solve together (15 minutes). Next, recognize good work/share important company news (3 minutes), and wrap up by reviewing commitments (yours and theirs), accountabilities and action items (5 minutes). You or the employee should post notes on those items in your digital meeting invitation or in another shared document you both use to track progress. If you find that the content of your meeting could have been delivered via email, it’s likely that your one-on-one needs some adjustment. Amid busy schedules, these meetings can be easy to overlook but, done well, they go far in helping you impart values, identify what drives an employee, and build engagement and trust.
Is your POS up to the challenge?
If you’re fine-tuning your technology in 2019, your point-of-sale-system — the nerve center of your business — is a natural place to start. Here are five areas you want to make sure it can manage, according to The Restaurant Technology Guys: It needs a customer relationship management and loyalty program so you can manage email campaigns, personalize offers and promotions, (which all have the potential to increase customer spending by up to 41 percent). Next, it needs to help you manage your staff rotations so you can track attendance and productivity, as well as keep staff informed. Third, your system should help you manage your inventory so you are alerted when you need to reorder an item. Finally, you need a system with reporting options that allow for customization and file exporting so you can monitor trends in relation to your goals — having the option for remote access can help you make business decisions more quickly too.
You know the importance of cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces — especially when preparing different raw meats. But if you’re also aware of the cooking temperatures of various proteins, you can save some time on cooking and sanitizing by preparing items in an order that doesn’t require extra precaution. For example, as StateFoodSafety.com reports, it’s not required to
clean and sanitize if you are switching to a food that has a higher cooking temperature — such as starting with ground beef, pork, veal or lamb (which is ready at 160˚F) and then moving on to turkey or chicken (which is done at 165˚F).
There is a new reason to source your protein from farmers that don’t feed their animals routine antibiotics. The bank HSBC recently issued a report predicting that the use of antibiotics in meat production could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, making antibiotic resistance a more common cause of death than cancer. The report indicated that more than half of the world’s antibiotics are currently used in agriculture, with the U.S. using antibiotics in 70 percent of its agricultural products and China using them in 60 percent of its agricultural products.
A new study published in the journal Public Health reports that a restaurant’s costs resulting from a foodborne illness outbreak can range from $4,000 (for a single outbreak in which five people get sick) to nearly $2 million (for a single outbreak in which 250 people get sick and there are lawsuits, legal fees and fines). The best preparation, according to the research? Two actions have the biggest potential payoff: Invest in infection prevention and control measures, like the National Restaurant Association’s training program ($15 per employee for the online course), which focuses on food safety, cross-contamination, time and temperature, and cleaning and sanitation. Also, allow enough time for an employee to recover from an illness before returning to work — the cost of a week off of work, which the study indicates can range from $78 to $3,451 depending on the person’s wages and length of illness, are still small when compared to the potential cost of a foodborne illness outbreak.
In 2019, one of the top trends Technomic forecasts for the restaurant industry is a deeper consumer demand for transparency — and not just about the food you serve. There is a growing expectation from consumers that you will be up front about your packaging, health and safety, corporate social responsibility, corporate performance and other aspects of business that demonstrate your values. Perfection isn’t critical: 85 percent of participants in a Cone Communications/Echo study said they are satisfied if a company is transparent about their practices even if those practices need improvement. The benefits of transparency can range from improved health and safety reports to simpler menus to improved connections with employees and the public. To enhance the transparency of your business in 2019, look at your shortcomings and find ways to be more open and clear about how you’re trying to solve each problem. For example, Mike Husman, a coach with the executive consulting firm The Entrepreneur’s Source, said a quick-service client who struggled with long wait times (and customer complaints about them) placed a timer in the restaurant to show its average serve times, which then decreased substantially. If you struggle with a foodborne illness outbreak, get approval from your lawyer to inform people about the problem and announce the steps you’re taking to fix it. When you share financial information, help people connect the dots: How do your employees’ actions translate to more sales and visits? How does your business spend the money it earns and where are your biggest expenses and investments? Even if your employees don’t have an actual stake in your business, approach them like they do by finding ways to gather and implement their input and show how they impact the organization.
Play the Instagram game
Everyone loves a game — and concocting some simple ones can help you drive traffic and interest in your restaurant. Have a new menu for 2019? Next Restaurants suggests creating Instagram polls, quizzes, word plays or crosswords to encourage people to guess what new items you’ll be adding. Offer points or discounts to the first x number of people who guess correctly. If you need some contest ideas to incentivize people to engage, challenge people to suggest a new appetizer or creative burger topping, put it to a vote on Instagram and feature it for a limited time on your menu. Or, offer an experience that would make for a fun night out with a group: A cooking class with your chef, a food photography workshop with a professional, or an evening of food/wine tastings with a sommelier.
Fish fraud continues to ramp up, and regulations for the industry still lag behind other industries — Oceana reports that more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported but less than 1 percent is inspected by the government specifically for fraud. In the meantime, researchers are identifying ways to ensure that a fish represented as wild-caught actually is, and that its species and source are presented accurately too. Marine ecologist John Bruno told QSR that red snapper and shrimp are among the biggest offenders when it comes to fraud (Oceana research found that red snapper is far and away the most commonly mislabeled fish) and generic white fish is also ripe for fraud because it can often pass without raising suspicions. Bruno teaches a course about seafood forensics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and leads a team that works with restaurant operators to extract DNA from fish tissue, sequence it and compare it to a database to determine if the vendor is trustworthy. The QSR report said operators who aren’t ready to fund such testing (Bruno’s team charges $20 to $30 per sample) can do well by asking suppliers for as much information about the fish’s origins as possible — suppliers of fraudulent fish often fall short in this area — and opting for suppliers that package and label their products thoroughly. Prioritizing strong relationships with local vendors helps too.
In an ideal world, your technology isn’t removing the human element from your restaurant but improving it. Consider your business at its busiest hour. Amid the rush, will your cashier remember to ask your guest if he wants to add avocado to his burger or a dessert to his order? Maybe or maybe not. Your digital ordering technology, however, won’t ever miss making that offer. As a result, you will be armed with data you can pour into your marketing strategy. Have several add-ons that are popular with guests ordering sandwiches? Your tech can tell you how profitable each item is so you know which one to promote first. The restaurant technology company Tillster says you can consider the data you collect from your online, mobile and kiosk ordering as a real-time guest survey, empowering you to make quick decisions about how to accommodate guest preferences profitably.
A new computer model stands to make the identification of foodborne illness sources more accurate than traditional methods and significantly faster too — in fact, close to real time. That’s according to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, which co-led research with Google on a computer model that uses machine learning and aggregated search and location data from logged-in Google users. The model classifies Google searches indicating foodborne illness (e.g. “stomach cramps”), then connects those searches with de-identified and aggregated location history data from users who have saved it. That helps the model identify restaurants that people who searched for the terms have visited recently. A test of the model found that the rate of unsafe restaurants it detected was 52.1 percent, compared to 39.4 percent for inspections initiated by a complaint-based system.
Do you know how to determine your inventory’s magic number? If you can find your optimal inventory level it will help you set your ideal food cost percentage, all while helping you minimize waste and decrease the frequency of selling out of your most profitable menu items. Upserve suggests operators use this formula to determine how much they should be spending on inventory each day: Average monthly food sales x food cost percentage / days in the month.
Delivery isn’t just for Friday-night dinner anymore. As restaurants accommodate consumer demand for off-premise dining options, they are experimenting with non-traditional day parts and occasions to boost the benefits of delivery to their bottom line. Three cases in point: Panera, Cinnabon and Applebee’s. Restaurant Business reports that Panera, one of the rare large brands that uses its own employees to deliver meals to customers, is expanding its small-delivery service to include breakfast (allowing it to better compete with McDonald’s and Starbucks, which offer delivery via third parties). Cinnabon and Applebee’s are venturing into occasion-based delivery, with Cinnabon adding gift boxes containing different-sized orders of its signature cinnamon rolls. Applebee’s, on the heels of Taco Bell offering delivery of its 12-taco party packs for the holiday party season, is offering delivery of catering packages and “Monday Night Football” food packages designed for groups. If single-meal delivery during your Friday dinner rush doesn’t make financial sense for you, what other delivery options might?
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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