Do’s and don’ts following a harassment claim
Renowned chefs and restaurants have made headlines in recent months for allegations of sexual harassment. Even if you have a clear policy in place for managing workplace conduct, it’s important to know how to respond in the immediate aftermath if and when an employee comes to you with a complaint. Juliette Gust, who created Ethics Suite, a platform for the hospitality industry to report workplace misconduct, theft and fraud, has some recommendations for operators. First, it’s important to investigate the allegation promptly, giving both the accuser and accused ample opportunity to provide their perspective, and document each step you take. Use an objective, methodical, confidential and consistent approach to help you prevent a complaint from ballooning into news headlines. After the complaint is made, thank the accuser for bringing it to your attention and ask that they make themselves available for follow-up questions as needed. Don’t make assumptions about the accuser or the accused, or confront the accused without a plan in place for how best to research the matter (and who should conduct the investigation). Before putting the accused on notice, make sure you (or a separate investigator) have had time to collect any key evidence that could be destroyed or manipulated during the course of an investigation. Then take decisive disciplinary action and follow up at regular intervals to ensure the steps you have taken can help prevent future incidents.
Digital seating for better guest management
If you’d like to incorporate on-demand technology but don’t know where to start, consider investing in a digital table and reservation manager as a first step. The software, named one of Fast Casual’s seven technologies transforming the restaurant industry, can help address long wait times by notifying guests via text when their table is ready and also allowing them to inform you of their approximate time of arrival. It can also ensure you’re scheduling staff efficiently and making best use of the tables you have available by suggesting ideal seating arrangements based on a party’s size and arrival time. Seating maps and specific server sections give hosts visual cues to help manage guest flow. As with any technology that improves the customer experience, a digital table and reservation manager can help you offer more personalized guest treatment. The system can provide servers with guest food preferences and important dates, as well as allow them to update customers about the status of their food at any point in the cooking process. The added efficiency can help speed up your turnaround times too. Nowait, one popular digital table management platform, reports that using a seating management app can help reduce table sit time by 50 percent. What’s more, by being efficient with your staff and table management, you can master the Two Minute Drill—what restaurant consultant Joel Cohen considers the optimal amount of time you should use to recognize a guest’s desire to leave and process their payment. Allowing a guest to leave soon after they show signs of wanting to depart can both enhance their experience and help you get new guests seated without delay.
An opportunity for bedtime beverages
If you’re looking to build out your beverage menu, there’s a window of opportunity with drinks designed to help consumers wind down at the end of the day. Mintel reports that while sales of fruit juice are falling due to concerns over sugar, the drinks that are performing better are intended to suit a specific purpose, such as kombucha as an aid to healthy digestion, for example. Very few brands market themselves for evening consumption, however. Mintel research indicates that 31percent of consumers are interested in juice with added probiotics. Consider offering less sweet juices with ingredients like ginger, probiotics and fennel to appeal to consumers who want a non-alcoholic drink to relax after dinner.
Step up the range and quality of gluten-free offerings
Chances are, you offer some breads and other bakery items that can accommodate the dietary needs of celiac sufferers. But new research from DuPont Nutrition & Health found that even among those who don’t have celiac disease, there is clear demand for gluten-free bakery products containing high-quality ingredients designed to support a healthy lifestyle. This includes foods high in fiber that contain no preservatives and are low in saturated fat, carbohydrates and calories. Research from The Hartman Group found that 35 percent of consumers in the U.S. who consume gluten-free products have no specific reason for doing so. Sales of gluten-free products in the U.S. were approximately $973 million in 2014 and are projected to exceed $2 billion by 2019, according to Packaged Facts.
Reduce your seafood risk
If you’re serving seafood to a clientele increasingly concerned about transparency—or simply want to avoid making the wrong kind of headlines when it comes to your food safety practices—take note of a new tool that helps ensure you’re providing a humanely harvested product. NPR reports that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which developed a red, yellow and green sustainable seafood-rating system, recently launched the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool. It’s a database intended to help seafood buyers determine the risk of forced labor, human trafficking and hazardous child labor in the seafood they purchase. Designed in partnership with Liberty Asia and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the tool assigns critical, high, moderate, or low-risk ratings for fisheries based on a set of criteria. It can help you pinpoint which fisheries (and fish) around the world present the highest and lowest risks.
Don’t let turnover impact food safety
High turnover is a fact of life in the restaurant industry, but the food safety vulnerability that often results doesn’t have to be that way. Food Safety Magazine reports that leaders across the food supply chain say they suffer from poor food safety performance or inconsistency after employees leave for new roles. To help, they suggest people across the food supply chain make an effort to simplify their food safety procedures, make sure food safety is built into every role in your organization and confirm that your team knows the tasks for which they are responsible (top-down and bottom-up training helps reinforce those lessons). Try demonstrating your expectations for a food safety task in three seconds or less, or in a video no longer than 30 seconds. Quick snippets of content are easier to remember and share—and they can help you onboard new people more easily.
Protect the safety of your kitchen
Where does your team take breaks between shifts? Your kitchen should not be an employee break room. Having clear guidelines about what is (and is not) allowed in the kitchen can help keep that space free from contamination. StateFoodSafety.com recommends you designate a separate break area and set guidelines designed to confine to that area any food and drink consumption by employees. When employees are ready to return to work, make sure that after they wash their hands, they dry them using a jet dryer or paper towels—not their clothes or a kitchen towel.
That's an order
Enabling new tech-based options for ordering food – and making them a profitable part of business – has become a must for restaurant operations looking to grow. Note some new research from Tillster's Online and Mobile Ordering index: The firm partnered with the research group SSI to survey 2,000 restaurant customers across the U.S. about how online and mobile ordering impacts guest behavior, Modern Restaurant Management reports. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of fast-casual customers expect to order online in the next year and more than 65 percent would order more often if a restaurant offered online ordering. While individuals will order online just as often as they'll order in-store, families and groups are more likely to order online, which typically leads to larger checks. More than 73 percent of those surveyed said they would visit a restaurant more often if it offered pre-ordering via mobile app for pick up or dining in. What's more, this trend isn't only about catering to Millennials. The survey found that customers in older generations appreciated having tech-based ordering options, too, and they are using them more often. Study what combinations of options would be most welcomed by your customers – communicating about them could require a range of approaches.
Take charge of gratuities
At a time when labor costs are rising and restaurants are struggling to balance wages between front- and back-of-house staff, operators have had to get creative with the fees structures they use. As a result, restaurant guests are starting to scrutinize their tabs for charges they deem to be unfair or unscrupulous, such as being charged an automatic gratuity without being informed it was included. The automatic gratuity sometimes leads to guests paying a double tip – one they knowingly pay and another they overlook – and many operators don’t have policies in place to prevent servers from collecting twice when that occurs. If you use automatic service charges, The Rail recommends several ways you can preserve transparency at your restaurant and ensure guests know what they’re paying. For one, inform large parties at the time of their reservation that you have an automatic service charge for large groups. You can also post the policy on your menu so that if a guest questions it when the bill arrives, you can point to the menu as evidence you made an effort to clarify guest charges. You can always take the direct approach of highlighting the automatic charge on the bill and informing the guest about it when the bill is presented. Finally, you can mark each credit card slip with a “service included” notation – or even require manager approval if a customer wants to add a tip on top of your included service charge. It may sound like overkill but it will send the message to guests that you are their advocate.
Master your menu
Winter isn’t the easiest time to get guests in the door. To entice people to visit during slow times – and to make things more manageable for your kitchen staff to prepare large numbers of dishes – consider promoting different prix-fixe menus throughout the season. They need not be just for fine-dining establishments. The Balance suggests you consider a special two-for-one menu, a prix-fixe lunch menu or a wine-and-cheese tasting menu to bring people in – or try offering fixed-price menus as an alternative to a buffet for smaller catered events. Slower times may also be good times to debut (and fine-tune) a new menu. Make sure all menu items are easy to prepare either in advance or on the spot, that they include some popular dishes as well as some that are unique to you, and that any pricier ingredients you use are doing double duty (or more) in other dishes across the menu so you avoid waste.
Light the way to food safety
Hands are washed. Food preparation surfaces are freshly cleaned. But don't forget to look above when monitoring your food safety practices. Lighting fixtures can not only harbor dust and other particles that could drop onto food preparation surfaces, but they can also pose risks if a fixture is broken. StateFoodSafety.com recommends that all lighting in your food preparation areas is either shielded or made from shatter-proof material to prevent glass shards from falling onto preparation surfaces.
Prevent this top kitchen safety risk
Lacerations and punctures are among the most common restaurant kitchen injuries. Taking some precautions with knives and cutting surfaces can help prevent them. Balance Point, the human capital management firm, suggests you take an inventory of your knives, replacing those with dull blades and tightening or repairing handles if needed. Don’t leave knives on the counter: Make sure they are stored in a rack or block in a designated place. To reduce the risk of accidental slips and cuts during food preparation, use non-slip pads or damp cloths under cutting boards and consider using cut-resistant gloves. Everyone cutting food should receive training on how to properly use knives, safely exchange cooking tools with other food preparers and maintain their condition.
Automate that purchase
Does your inventory management need a little boost? Among the top technologies transforming the food industry this year, according to Fast Casual, are automated purchasing tools. The technology links directly to your inventory system, alerts you to low product levels and can initiate an automatic order once a product in your inventory is reduced to a certain threshold. It can also make purchasing recommendations based on vendor product lead times and forecasted sales. A mobile app helps you manage the full process, from vendor bid review to order approval.
When tech gets personal
When can technology make the restaurant experience feel more customized and personal for your guests? It tells you when to expect their arrival, allows you to anticipate their order and helps you serve them promptly. Those were three takeaways from Deloitte’s latest analysis of what the restaurant of the future will look like – particularly quick-service and fast-casual operations with multiple locations – and how restaurants can capitalize on trends in order to improve sales and meet consumer demand. It suggested a few ideas likely to become far more prevalent in the years ahead: Use location-awareness technology to sense the arrival of a regular customer. Be able to ask “Would you like your usual order?” instead of “What would you like?” regardless of which restaurant location your guest visits. When you have more than six cars in your drive-through, send servers outside with tablets to take orders, and use a similar approach to line management inside to keep customers moving.
Ace your inventory
Is your restaurant among the 60 percent of restaurants that don’t take a careful inventory each month? If so, you’re leaving money on the table. According to the Restaurant Resource Group, taking a regular inventory increases profits by 24 percent annually. The restaurant technology provider Orderly says setting yourself up to take accurate inventories involves five steps: First, organize your items so you store everything by category in the proper place, move older items to the front so they are used first, and combine contents of open containers where possible. Doing this prior to the arrival of weekly deliveries makes it easier to store new items. Second, customize your count sheet so it looks just like how you have stored your ingredients on the shelves, then count each item by the pack size number (e.g. pounds of chicken or cases of barbecue sauce). Use the same staff for inventory each time to avoid having to train someone new— and consider incentivizing with preferred hours or comped meals for accurate inventories. Third, review your invoices for the most recent price you paid for every item you just counted and plug those prices into your spreadsheet. Have an organized system (ideally, an online reference) for managing invoices from the moment you receive one until it’s processed. Fourth, calculate your cost of goods sold (beginning inventory costs + purchases - ending inventory costs) and your prime cost (cost of goods sold + labor costs) / total sales). These figures will help you monitor your restaurant’s financial health. For example, aim for your inventory to be no more than 1.5x your cost of goods sold and for your prime cost to be 60 percent or less of your total food and beverage revenue. Finally, communicate to your staff that you are using this system to monitor waste and theft and to ensure you order only what you need.
Protect your intellectual property
In an age when ideas spread around the world in seconds and restaurants are eager to win new social media followers, protecting restaurants’ intellectual property is becoming increasingly important. Modern Restaurant Management relates how in 2013, New York pastry chef Dominique Ansell created the Cronut, which started a sensation after a food blogger wrote about the cream-filled, donut-croissant hybrid. People from around the world visited Ansell’s bakery to claim one of the several hundred Cronuts he made daily, and Ansell registered for a federal trademark to prevent other bakeries from selling the popular pastry under the same name. His success with the Cronut helped him launch new bakeries in New York, London and Japan, as well as a full-service restaurant that opened in Los Angeles this year. Even if you aren’t sitting on a creation as lucrative as the Cronut, you likely still want to prevent employees from taking signature recipes or food preparation techniques with them to the restaurant across the street. Modern Restaurant Management recommends you understand the four ways your intellectual property is protected: through trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents. A trademark can protect your restaurant’s name, logo, menu-item names and, in certain cases, food designs. Copyright law protects your website, menu designs and marketing materials. Trade secrets can comprise your recipes, customer and vendor lists, and special food preparation techniques that give you an advantage over operators who don’t have the information. Finally, patents can protect (for a limited time) machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes and chemical compositions, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To decide what you want to protect, take stock of what is most valuable to your restaurant and makes it unique. Also consider your relationships with partners and employees – if you were to part ways, how would your intellectual property be treated?
How much are delivery apps costing you?
Offering delivery has become compulsory for many restaurants. But as restaurant delivery orders climb, often replacing (and not augmenting) sales from customers who visit the restaurant in person, they are taking a bite out of profits, according to a New Yorker report. One operator, who has three fine-casual restaurant outlets in New York City, finds that for every delivery order she sends out, 20 to 40 percent of revenue goes to third-party operators and couriers like GrubHub and UberEATS. While she once managed delivery in-house, she could not keep up with the demand. Now she estimates she is losing money or, at best, breaking even, on her delivery orders. What’s more, delivery orders across the industry are on the rise: While deliveries comprised 7 percent of total U.S. restaurant sales in 2016, Morgan Stanley predicts that number could eventually represent 40 percent of all restaurant sales – even higher in urban settings and in casual restaurants.
Keep sinks separate
Your food preparation sink be just that—not used for any other purpose. If your employees wash their hands in a food preparation sink, they can easily leave behind pathogens that could contaminate food prepared in the sink, Statefoodsafety.com reports. Have a strict policy about which sinks onsite should be used for handwashing and keep an ample supply of soap (and perhaps sanitizer to use after washing) in the dispensers at those sinks.
Show your falafel flair
Is falafel on your menu? It’s one of those rare items that appeals to carnivores and vegetarians alike, thrives in a range of applications and is an on-trend global flavor ripe for the mainstream. Flavor & the Menu says falafel “sets itself up nicely for signaturization and customization,” which can help you make the most of your inventory. In addition to serving falafel in a traditional style inside a pita with hummus, tahini and vegetables, consider adding it to your burger menu with a layer of avocado, creating a Mediterranean-style taco with falafel and pickled vegetables, or offering it as an added protein on salads.
Delegate scheduling to an app
Restaurants that use scheduling software can cut labor costs by up to 2 percent, according to Fast Casual. App-based scheduling stands to save you a lot of time as well. If you haven’t transitioned from manual scheduling yet, consider some potential benefits of a digital system: It can help you set shift times and positions according to historical staffing patterns. It can anticipate sales, which can help you prevent scheduling too many – or too few – staffers during a shift, and avoid paying unnecessary overtime charges. Finally, scheduling software can help you oversee and manage employee availability, shift swapping and time-off requests – all via an app.
Free app tracks ingredient pricing trends
Ingredient prices are moving targets. In a study of more than 410,000 purchases from more than 4,000 food distributors recently, Orderly found great inconsistencies in the prices offered to different clients. The company reports that 92 percent of restaurants are overpaying their suppliers, with mark-ups on certain items hitting 201 percent. Tracking your prices against your historical charges and the overall market will boost your negotiating power. Orderly offers a free app that can give you a sense of national and local pricing trends for more than 100 of the most popular ingredients restaurants are buying. Make sure you scrutinize costs for your most popular items and meet with suppliers regularly to discuss pricing and service.
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