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.
New year, new restaurant?
Though last year may have been tough for restaurants, Zagat reports many hotly anticipated openings this year. If you’re planning one, RestaurantOwner.com’s poll of 700 owners may help put costs in perspective. The survey found that on average, owners spend $500,000 in start-up costs when not purchasing land, about $4,200 per seat without a land purchase, and overspend from initial estimates by about 33 percent. To curtail spending, Toast recommends you seek out second-hand equipment, comparison shop and forgo items not absolutely needed at first. Be realistic about staffing costs for recruiting, training, wages, meal comps and time off. You’ll also need to spend on marketing, which may include advertising online or via other media, offering promotional discounts, buying a domain name and hiring a pro to optimize the site or launch an app. What about technology? While tech investments may seem excessive early on, they may also help you manage finances, inventory and guest relations better from the start.
Build business in 2017
Restaurant traffic is expected to be stagnant this year but there’s still plenty you can do to draw a bigger share of those dining out. NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs recommends you boost innovation with a menu and overall experience that feels relevant to guests. Play to consumers’ desire for restaurant food whenever and wherever they like it by offering delivery via whatever means you can make it effective and affordable (just keep consumer costs to $5 or less, Riggs says). Taking that a step further, find ways to allow guests to customize their choices – digital menus and touchscreens, as well as mobile ordering, can help with that. Finally, attract less-frequent guests with the opportunity for rewards – expanding your loyalty program to entice all kinds of users can increase traffic.
It’s time to clean up. For many operators, eliminating chemicals has become more important than counting calories, Food & the Menu reports. That means having an ingredient list that looks like what you’d have in your home kitchen pantry and includes items produced sustainably and without antibiotics – think transparent and authentic. Last year, Panera became the first national restaurant company to assemble a “No No List” of ingredients it was removing from its menu, including artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. It undertook an effort to review 450 ingredients and several levels of its supply chain to identify additives, reformulate 122 ingredients and partner with more than 300 food vendors to replace ingredients and recast recipes. This month, the chain announced its menu was now “100 percent clean.”
Plenty of fish in the sea
According to last week’s Global Seafood Market Conference in San Francisco, there are lots of opportunities in seafood right now. Seafood Source reports that overall, industry analysts at the event said foodservice operators have a great opportunity to entice Millennials with fish, since they value seafood’s health benefits, notice its sourcing and acknowledge that it’s something they may not like to (or know how to) prepare at home. Specific to fish varieties themselves, salmon is expected to continue its rise this year, with a rebound in farmed supply stabilizing or even lowering prices later in the year. Barramundi is also looking good – consider adding it to your menu as a premium option. It happens to be Oprah Winfrey’s favorite, but that’s not all – one chef said it’s a great-tasting fish that freezes well and, because it is a saltwater-raised farmed fish, it often tastes better.
Salads are here to stay
Green salad consumption is growing – as appetizers and entrées, at home and away from home. That’s according to Datassential’s new MenuTrends Keynote Report. That has helped salad-centric concepts grow and premium salad offerings at other restaurants to get attention. What’s helping is the broadening array of ingredients on offer. Far from just greens and raw vegetables, salads are including items like roasted Brussels sprouts and curried cauliflower with increased frequency. Smartbrief reports that Chicago’s Roots Pizza, for example, says its salads “ain’t rabbit food.” Indeed, with 50 ingredients including grilled gyro sausage and pickled fennel, there’s a lot the chain is doing to make salads exciting.
Want to embrace global flavors on your menu? Take a look at the street food scene in your city. Datassential’s Creative Concepts report says street food is finally getting street cred: It found that of the 500 consumers asked about street food, 36 percent love the idea and have visited, and 63 percent would visit if given the opportunity. Make it accessible to your guests by including descriptive language on your menu to encourage guests to try unique items. Make those items (as well as your marketing, signage and décor) as authentic as possible so the experience transports guests to a different place. Offer samples of drinks or dishes that might be a tougher sell, and consider combining two kinds of complementary street food to help you create your own new twist.
Stop a food contamination crisis short
Having a food contamination crisis plan can take some stress out of your business, particularly if you produce food yourself or work closely with local suppliers – a common occurrence in today’s farm-to-table food culture. Food Safety magazine suggests you consider taking these steps to protect yourself: First, acknowledge the risks – one food contamination or adulteration claim is made to the FDA daily and the Food Safety Modernization Act will likely increase that number. Establish a team who can respond quickly and thoughtfully in a food contamination crisis. They should develop a written plan ahead of any crisis that outlines how to handle various scenarios if they occur, such as how and what to communicate in a worst-case scenario, and what procedures can be implemented immediately to prepare for that outcome. Finally, test your plan once a year at a minimum and consider hypothetical scenarios and potential responses.
Where germs lurk in your restaurant
You’re trying to crack down on contamination in your restaurant. Where should you focus your energy first? In Restaurant News, the University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba pointed out the places in a restaurant that harbour the most germs: First, clean that table – he says the sponges or cloths restaurants use typically aren’t soaked long enough in disinfectant to be effective, allowing germs to move from table to table. Silverware is a likely target too, since it picks up bacteria when placed on dirty tables – it’s always best to provide a fresh set when guests arrive and place it on a napkin. Plastic menus and child seats should be wiped down with disinfectant but often aren’t. Lastly, the rind of a lemon is often contaminated, so be aware of how lemons are cleaned and stored for use in drinks and other items.
Tech investment is big in 2017
Last year wasn’t a stellar one for restaurant sales, so what are operators doing to change that? Jonathan Maze of Nation’s Restaurant News says many are making substantial investments in technology. He says at the recent ICR Conference in Orlando, executives spoke about investing in online and mobile ordering and using technology to connect with consumers overall. But by far the biggest technology dollars seem to be going into delivery. Executives from a number of quick-service, fast-casual and polished-casual chains discussed plans to test delivery this year, some through third parties and others by running delivery themselves.
Are you PCI compliant?
If you accept credit cards at your restaurant, you must be PCI compliant – Toast reports that as of January 31, Visa is requiring all businesses (regardless of size) to validate their compliance unless they qualify for an exemption. These are the six categories of PCI compliance: maintaining a secure network, protecting cardholder data, protecting systems against malware, establishing strong access control measures, monitoring and testing your networks, and creating an information security policy. To achieve compliance and maintain it, it’s important that you know the policies and train your employees in order to protect your business and guests from data breaches.
How do your guests eat when they’re not with you?
Do you know how your guests eat at home? What do they buy in grocery stores? Do they prepare their own meals from scratch? Buy prepared foods or meal kits? Their answers could give you important insights that could help you build you menu – and help you determine how to influence their purchasing decisions at the store. According to Edward Hoffman, who oversees the food and beverage practice of the PR firm PadillaCRT, having a broader understanding of consumer preferences, motivations and contradictions deepens your knowledge of your guests and helps you engage them in more meaningful ways. So for example, do your guests eat a healthy breakfast so they can indulge in a cocktail or dessert at dinner? Find out and you can market to them with those preferences and contradictions in mind.
National Restaurant Association launches Restaurant Law Center
If you’re trying to follow restaurant industry legislation or other legal issues pertaining to restaurants, check out the National Restaurant Association’s new Restaurant Law Center. Headed by the association’s senior vice president and regulatory counsel, the center will provide legal advocacy and strategy to the restaurant industry on cases before state and federal courts that may threaten restaurant businesses, operators and employees. Among the first cases the center is managing is Oregon Restaurant and Lodging et al v. Perez, et al., which challenges the U.S. Department of Labor’s rule that allows it to stop employers from tip pooling.
New organic practices set to change animal treatment standards
Things may be changing for animals raised on organic farms in the U.S. – and for operators whose guests demand humane practices. According to Civil Eats, a new set of rules called the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) was just approved by the Office of Management and Budget and could become law within days. The OLPP establishes comprehensive animal welfare standards for living conditions (particularly for poultry), healthcare, slaughter and transport. Previously, buying certified organic meat wasn’t a guarantee that the animals were treated humanely. While some advocates say the ruling does not go far enough, it does provide significantly enhanced safeguards.
Bring on the buzz of winter-weather warmers
Baby, it’s cold outside! (And even if it’s not cold where you are, winter is still a great time to bring in specialty brews to warm up your winter menu.) FSR magazine says pie-spiced beers are plenty, along with malty ones that incorporate nutty, chocolate and caramel flavors. Brews can also help you bring out flavor on your food menu as either accompaniments or additions to marinades and sauces. Goodkind, a popular bar and kitchen in Milwaukee, pairs local brewery Karben4’s coffee stout with its own chocolate stout cake. At Band of Bohemia, a new brewpub Chicago, each of its beers is turned into flavoured beer vinegar to use on the food menu. The chef takes the brewpub’s own black ale made with cocoa nibs, figs, bay leaves and chilies, for example, and creates vinegar he uses to pickle the kohlrabi he serves with a fried chicken dish.
Restaurant design: In with authentic history and sophistication
Thoughtful, sophisticated design is in and the rough-hewn farmhouse look is out. That’s according to a new report from Restaurant Hospitality, which shared design trends from D.C. designers David Tracz and David Shove-Brown of //3877, the firm behind the design of the city’s Momofuku Milk Bar, Matchbox, Territory Kitchen + Bar, Capitale, 3 Stars Brewing and others. They suggest creating new experiences within your restaurant that make guests want to return, whether it’s different types of
seating, food or service. Your décor should have a purpose and a story – don’t just acquire trinkets or reclaimed wood to make it look like you have history. Show your history by taking an old door from your site and making it into a countertop or acquiring a real piece of memorabilia as a showpiece. Balance masculine elements like clean lines and concrete with more feminine ones like colourful paintings and murals.
For Ruby Tuesday, the future hinges on salad
The salad bar has become an American institution of sorts. Eater recently called the classic steakhouse salad bar a “tableau of vintage dining.” Now Ruby Tuesday is banking on its reinvented Garden Bar to turn its struggling business around, Nation’s Restaurant News reports. The brand has expanded its offerings from 36 to 58, including items like roasted vegetables, hummus and freshly made house dressings, in an effort to appeal to its target demographic of women and families. Ruby Tuesday’s interim CEO said half of the restaurant’s guests try the Garden Bar as a main meal or add-on and claims they’ve developed a salad bar with enough complexity that it will be difficult for competitors to replicate.
Train your team to be allergy aware
The top eight food allergens – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish – account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions, according to Food Safety magazine. That may help focus your allergens training, which many states now require. The National Restaurant Association estimates that guests with food allergies represent a $45 million annual revenue opportunity. (They also represent a potential PR nightmare if a guest experiences an allergic reaction while dining with you.) How are you accommodating these guests? The website Allergic Living recommends that both restaurant operators and diners check out SafeFARE, a national program offering tools and information to make dining out safer and more enjoyable for people with allergies. It includes food allergen management protocols for restaurant staff and information to help guests work closely with restaurants to avoid exposure to allergens.
These days, those who suffer from celiac disease and those who simply feel better when they eliminate gluten from their diets will seek out a gluten-free restaurant. If you’d like to operate a gluten-free kitchen, Food Safety magazine recommends you take these steps: Create your menu in partnership with a gluten-free organization (review the local branches of the Gluten Intolerance Group for potential partners). Develop gluten-free offerings for your menu that are more than just tasteless reinventions of existing items – ensure they are real foods that stand on their own. Isolate gluten-containing items in your kitchen and storage areas and dedicate a section of your kitchen (as well as equipment) to gluten-free preparation. Label ovens and warmers for gluten-free cooking only and consider assembling gluten-free kits containing tongs, spatulas, grill brushes, sauté pans, cutting board, etc. that an employee can grab and use when a gluten-free order comes in, then sanitize and sequester for later use.
Restaurant technology in 2017
How will technology change the game for restaurants this year? Toast experts made some predictions: Automation will continue to make advances to help lower labor costs and drive efficiency, but there is room at the other extreme for restaurants that are purposely technology-free. The ability to share preferences digitally will also continue to expand – consider a guest making a reservation, which allows you to know her drink preferences (red wine) and special needs (allergic to eggs), then accept her payment as seamlessly as Uber would. Biometrics including facial and fingerprint recognition will become more prevalent – for now, biometrics are used mainly to keep data and assets more secure. Finally, mobile payment options will continue to grow – for creative inspiration, look to Domino’s, which aims to have guests order food however and whenever they want it via chatbots, Facebook Messenger, emojis and one-click ordering.
A longer look at trends
While we’re thinking about the future, let’s peer a little more deeply into the crystal ball at the year 2027. That’s what presenters at Technomic’s Consumer Insights Planning Program conference did recently. Restaurant Business reports they predicted these longer-term trends: Educated working families will become increasingly important – and their disposable income will make them attractive consumers. Consider their preferences for healthy, convenient foods and penchant for posting to social media. In 2027, your 60-and-older guests will be much more tech savvy than they are today – find ways to engage them online. Finally, let them eat snacks! Technomic data indicates consumers are snacking more frequently today than they did just a few years ago. Make snack food a normal part of your foodservice.
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