What’s next in data and delivery? As usual, Domino’s is trying some ideas that could spark some new approaches for other brands looking to build business. Its latest promotion, Points for Pies, urges consumers to upload photos of pizzas of all kinds (not just from Domino’s) to the Domino’s app — that could include a competitor’s pizza, a homemade pizza or even a dog’s chew toy in the shape of a pizza. The brand then uses AI technology to identify those pizzas and award points to each person who posts an image. A person can win up to 10 points by posting one pizza each week and 60 points earns them a free medium-size, two-topping pizza from Domino’s. By making this game about the consumer and not directly about Domino’s — and showing a clear, achieveable path toward redeeming those points — the brand has made it more appealing for consumers to share data. Eater reports that this latest move is a creative plan to help Domino’s gather and dissect consumer data, then enhance their menu and service accordingly. The photos and data from Points for Pies will give Domino’s information about how often consumers think about, buy, make and eat pizza, what ingredients and combinations they crave, as well as what pizzas competitors are making. The results could impact how Domino’s makes pizzas or adjusts it menu, and how it manages its staff, store expansions and delivery strategy.
Need another reason to invest in technology? The fast-casual segment is poised for a tech-powered boom in the next five years. A Wired report says that in the wake of the rise of such tech-friendly, fast-casual industry darlings as Sweetgreen, venture capitalists have been pouring hundreds of millions of investment dollars into what they call “early-stage scalable restaurant concepts.” Technology is the common foundation of these concepts, with AI and data-mining apps making it possible for them to tweak menu offerings quickly based on customer diets and preferences, or even minimize waste by using machine learning to study historical purchases, weather, local events and even growing conditions on farms.
Looking for a loyal guest who will drive miles out of his way to eat at your restaurant? Boost your operation’s allergy awareness and communication. People with food allergies are a vocal and close-knit group, notes Francine Shaw of Savvy Food Safety, and they won’t hesitate to share their
experiences in restaurants with others. Shaw told Modern Restaurant Management that communication is paramount: Your staff should ask each party if there are allergies in the group, and if so, there should be constant communication between the manager, chef and server throughout the preparation, plating and serving of the meal. When guests have questions, direct them to the chef, who should have up-to-date information on allergens and allergen aliases. All employees need to be part of the effort, so have regular training sessions and refreshers on how to manage allergies in various scenarios.
Consumer taste trends change fast — often faster than operators are able to forecast themselves. Now, AI is helping food companies stay a step ahead of consumer demand. Food Dive reports that the tech startup Tastewise surveys billions of food and beverage data points including one billion food photos shared monthly, 153,000 U.S. restaurant menus and more than one million recipes. It then synthesizes that information to pinpoint up-and-coming, on-trend ingredients and other market opportunities to meet consumer demand. The insights are both local and national so they may help operators identify micro trends as well as more widespread consumer preferences.
Long relegated to side dishes and light options for the calorie conscious, vegetables are getting comfortable in the center of the plate as entrées, presented as filling and complete on their own. A GrubHub report found that its customers ordered vegan food 19 percent more in the first half of 2017 than in the same period a year earlier. Sports icons are also lending their star power to the plant-based trend — Shaquille O’Neal and more than a dozen other top athletes recently invested in the vegan Beyond Meat to promote the performance-enhancing benefits of plant-based diets. Menu trends analyst Nancy Kruse told Nation’s Restaurant News that vegetables are standing out on menus in three key categories. One dish doesn’t necessarily work for every restaurant, however, so if you understand who your guests are and what they crave, you can add subtle nuance to your vegetable-based dishes in ways that boost sales. First, veg-focused foods feature vegetables in place of grains and meats in dishes such as the potato lo mein (with potato strands standing in for noodles) at Philadelphia’s Vedge. Veg-forward options promote the craveability and health of vegetables, with well-sourced animal proteins playing a supporting role as condiments or a condensed choice of entrées. At DC’s Beefsteak, for example, the BEETSteak burger features marinated beets and condiments like pickled onion, lettuce, sprouts and vegan chipotle mayo. Finally, veg-friendly options vie for the attention of carnivores, flexitarians and vegetarians alike. Operators have to get creative here to stand out. Kruse says Park City, Utah’s Twisted Fern succeeds with dishes such as a root-veg cassoulet with stewed white beans and herbs, then adding roasted root vegetables in place of animal protein. If you need help with plant-based menu and ingredient development, new options are appearing on the horizon all the time. (One example is Fieldcraft, the Austin-based startup that is rapidly developing a large B2B marketplace for plant-based ingredients.)
It’s not enough to have a loyalty program: 59 percent of millennials quit loyalty programs because the rewards were not valuable enough, according to a recent study by Software Advice. Other common complaints: Guests feel like some restaurants string them along too long before they can earn a reward, and they feel bombarded with emails and other notifications. The right use of tech can help. The Rail suggests operators first find ways to clarify the path to rewards. So instead of saying “50 points earns you a free appetizer,” show the guest how many meals she has purchased or points she has earned toward that free offer. If you have a mobile app, integrating mobile payment into it is a bonus because it helps guests speed past the steps typically required to make an online purchase. Finally, when you send notifications, aim to customize them based on the guest’s past buying behaviors to better your chances of translating promotions into sales.
Does your restaurant have creative ways of sharing what you do best — whether it be inventing new dishes or surprising guests with unexpected pairings or presentations? For years, operators have used Restaurant Week offers to bring guests in during slow periods, attract people who wouldn’t normally visit and test new menu ideas — but the event needs some reinvention. While it can be profitable for operators, many say that Restaurant Week turns off regular clientele, can be costly to manage and has grown to include so many restaurants that it is difficult to stand out in the crowd. In place of Restaurant Week, operators are coming up with more experimental concepts. Upserve reports that “Off Menu Week,” a joint effort between Resy and Capital One, is taking off in six food-focused cities ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. Participating restaurants will serve dishes that may appear on a future restaurant menu, off-menu items, or one-hit wonders that didn’t make it to the menu. Bloomberg reports that participating restaurants could offer such experiences as having guests try a dish with a selection of wines designed to draw out different flavors, or demonstrating different approaches to making sushi. The goal isn’t about showcasing signature dishes or trying to attract guests looking for a good deal — it’s about providing a behind-the-scenes experience visitors will remember.
Operators typically consider restaurant technology options with an eye toward improving the guest experience or boosting the efficiency of front- and back-of house teams. But it just might help you attract and retain employees too. A recent Deloitte study found that 74 percent of millennials indicated they want technology to be part of their workplace. It doesn’t have to cost operators a lot either. The Rail reports that even free tools like What’s App and Google Groups can help, as can more-targeted paid apps like HotSchedules and RedEApp. Streamlining communication, assigning tasks, shift scheduling and switching, and managing employee payment via tech are all important, though even the quality of your wifi can make a difference to employees looking to log on during breaks. Before a new employee even joins you, tech can help you manage the talent pool more effectively. Tools like RoboRecruiter, for one, which has a multilingual platform, use an online chatbox to automate messaging and help you sort and engage your candidate pool.
The food you offer your guests has specific time and temperature requirements for serving and storing. Are your thermometers coming through for you? Thermometers should be calibrated if it is ever dropped, if it is used to register a wide range of temperatures, and if it is new. A thermometer used daily should be calibrated daily, but you can keep tabs on other thermometers using the ice point method. Statefoodsafety.com suggests filling a cup with ice water, letting it sit for a few minutes, and then placing the thermometer in the cup. Once the temperature reading on the thermometer stabilizes, it should read 32˚F. If it doesn’t, calibrate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
On-the-job accidents and injuries are widespread in the foodservice industry. In quick-service restaurants in particular, a 2015 poll taken by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health found that 87 percent of employees had experienced a workplace injury the previous year. Slips, trips and falls are a key cause of these injuries and can be prevented with proper precautions. QSR Magazine suggests operators at a minimum have employees wear non-slip shoes, and non-slip mats are an additional help when placed in front of sinks, cooking areas and ice machines. Your floor-cleaning schedule should include protocol for deep-cleaning areas prone to heavy grease buildup and should enforce using separate mops for the front and back of the house.
As consumers are demanding their favorite foods whenever and wherever they like, an important trend has taken shape that may be here to stay: The barriers between meal times are becoming more fluid. NPD Group expects that afternoon and evening snacking will continue to grow in popularity, and industry analysts are looking at the trend as a reason for operators to offer all-day menus and extend their hours to make better use of their real estate. Skift Table reports that Taco Bell has made a push to claim lucrative late-night business, McDonald’s has won over customers
with its all-day breakfast, and Starbucks has even shifted its employees’ administrative tasks to closing time so they have more opportunity to engage with guests in the afternoon and give stores a more homey feel that encourages snacking.
Are you among the many operators trying to figure out how to make delivery profitable? At a time when off-premise sales account for 38 percent of restaurant sales, according to Technomic, delivery has become a must for restaurants, even when the margins aren’t necessarily making the service profitable for those brands. Fortunately, new models are beginning to make the numbers work out. Recent Technomic forecasts have predicted that “subscription models that eliminate per-delivery fees in favor of a flat-rate subscription will emerge to present a clearer value proposition to customers.” The Spoon reports that a number of third-party delivery providers have come up with palatable offers for restaurants and consumers alike: DoorDash’s DashPass offers a monthly subscription of $9.99 for delivery of orders priced $15 or higher from a selection of restaurants, and Postmates has a similar offer. In the UK, Deliveroo is offering a £7.99 per month subscription for orders of any amount, and Uber Eats is reported to be testing a loyalty program that could eliminate delivery fees — if the experiment works there, it is likely to make its way across the pond eventually. Even operators who aren’t opting for subscription models are finding ways to make delivery profitable. In fact, delivery may be helping Chipotle make a comeback. Skift Table reports that delivery sales climbed 13 times in the fourth quarter of 2018 as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Chipotle’s CFO credits a couple of factors for the success: the creation of a separate, digital food assembly line for off-premise orders, which enables the restaurant to process a greater number of orders, as well as a delivery-friendly menu (burritos and taco bowls are good travelers).
At a time when many operators are looking to scale down their restaurant footprints to accommodate service model changes and stay profitable, every square inch of food preparation space counts. At the recent NAFEM, the show hosted by the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers of Chicago, the theme was about helping operators do more with less, using tools ranging from multifunctional prep stations on wheels to compact, high-efficiency ovens to electric bakers with interchangeable molds for accommodating a wide range of snack foods. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a highlight of the show was a collaboration between the equipment company Vulcan and the quick-service seafood restaurant Captain D’s. The restaurant had challenged Vulcan to devise a more efficient fryer, and the result was a smaller fryer that can be mounted on a freezer base and allows a worker to complete a task while standing in place. In stores currently using the fryers, fry times decreased 30 percent and the stores saved $10,000 annually. Where is there an opportunity to increase the efficiency of your kitchen?
Could your Instagram presence carry more weight than your Yelp reviews? Instagram influencers are surpassing Yelp Elite — the review site’s subgroup of users that Yelp has recognized for their quality recommendations and reviews, among other qualities — according to a recent Eater report. Considering a Fundera poll that found that 69 percent of millennial diners photograph their food before eating it, Instagram’s power makes sense. It is an ideal platform for you to benefit from user-generated content if you create the right conditions for it. To help boost your Instagram presence, Next Restaurants suggests you add some eye candy — have one distinctive visual element in your restaurant that belongs in photos. That could be accomplished with eye-catching flowers or plants, unusual art or wallpaper that serves as a memorable backdrop, seasonal décor, or unique signage. Add photo-friendly lighting, attractive plates and food presentations, and you have the components you need for compelling photos. Then entice guests with a freebie or discount in exchange for posting a photo with your hashtag and geotag, along with tagging your account. When you have a special event or a new menu to promote, up the ante by running a contest that awards a gift certificate as a prize for the best post. When your guests post content, be sure to do your part and like, comment and share their posts (with credit) to build on your connection. If you know of some Instagram influencers who resonate with your target market, it may be worth your while to invite them in for a free dinner when you want to make a big splash for a grand opening or a rebrand.
Restaurant operators have reams of data at their fingertips to help make business decisions — but quickly distilling all of that data into actionable steps is another story. That’s where artificial intelligence is starting to make a difference, according to Rajat Suri, founder of the tech company Presto. In a recent Restaurant Dive report, he predicted that tabletop technology, connected with wearable technology for restaurant staff and a restaurant’s POS, will increasingly improve service efficiency and — perhaps more importantly — be able to translate data into staff alerts that anticipate guest needs. Presto technology can currently inform staff via wearable technology that there is a line at the door and they need to speed up service, for example. It can also analyze tabletop tablets and change up the menu items they promote in an effort to increase revenue at different parts of the day. Watch for AI to continue to ease the burden of decision making in the years ahead.
Guests make inferences about the cleanliness of your kitchen based on the condition of your restroom. And if your staff share restroom facilities with guests, those inferences tend to be correct. A Modern Restaurant Management report said that in addition to putting a business at risk of negative word of mouth, a dirty restroom can result in a lower food hygiene rating during
inspections. Make sure you have waste bins large enough to avoid overflow, that you have staff monitor the cleanliness of your restrooms at regular intervals, and that you keep the restrooms well stocked with toilet paper, towels and soap. If guests have to chase your staff down for toilet paper in the middle of the dinner rush, they may get the message that you’re overlooking other details of the guest experience in your restaurant.
If your restaurant prides itself on its ability to cater to guests with food allergies or other special dietary needs, new opportunities are becoming available to help you connect with those consumers quickly. For example, Fast Casual reports that the food sensor company Nima has developed an online tool that displays gluten-free and peanut-free items available at chain restaurants. Consumers simply visit the site, register their location and the site shows a map of nearby restaurants with allergy-free items. There are now 250,000 restaurant locations contained in the site’s database. At a time when consumers can indulge their cravings with just a couple of clicks, the ability to quickly direct people with allergies to their best options could become a key differentiator for restaurants.
Wage dispute claims are rampant in the foodservice industry. In 2017 alone, the Department of Labor heard more than 7,000 wage and hour claims and recovered more than $483 million in back wages for employees — nine times more than any other industry. The threshold is low for workers looking to file suit. A QSR Magazine report says foodservice operations are vulnerable if they don’t have clear policies around such topics as compensation for time needed to change into uniform, rounding employee hours, calculating overtime, or taking additional breaks. To help, the report advises you have detailed written information describing your wage and hour-related policies, as well as about meals and break periods — and that you review timecards carefully to ensure staff take their breaks. Consult an employment attorney to make sure your policies are clear and then reinforce them with staff.
Do you have an eye on trying a new concept, expanding locations or adjusting your service model this year? While there is no shortage of challenges to launching a new foodservice business, one area where operators have a lot of support for tapping into new opportunities is in shared kitchens. These kitchens are becoming increasingly common in the industry, and because they minimize the overhead expenses of launching a business or making significant changes to an existing one, they are making it easier to test new ideas. A Medium report indicates that these shared kitchens, typically offered via a membership fee or charged by the hour, are taking a variety of forms. Delivery-only or ghost kitchens (Kitchen United is one example) can provide not only food preparation space but also business intelligence that operators can use to build a delivery program. Culinary flex spaces might better serve operators looking to test new food concepts or launch a new idea with help from the latest tools and equipment. Incubator kitchens (Kitchentown in San Mateo, Calif. is one example) are another form of shared kitchen space giving foodservice entrepreneurs a boost right now. They’re good places for entrepreneurs to build community and find resources to fuel the expansion of an idea: It’s possible to connect with food industry consultants, access technology and manufacturing space, and potentially tap sources of growth capital. At another incubator, the Hatchery in Chicago, entrepreneurs can access a talent pipeline and find new employees to help launch an idea. Finally, food truck commissaries (Kansas City’s Food Truck Central is one) are helping operators test out food truck concepts by providing power and water, along with waste disposal services.
How well does your restaurant accommodate delivery? Amid the rise in demand for delivered food, many operators are rethinking their restaurant layouts and footprints — but what if such major changes aren’t an option? As Panera, Chipotle and others are discovering, shelving is one small move that is making a big difference in delivery efficiency, enabling drivers to quickly grab prepared orders and go. Fast Company reports that Eatsa is taking this concept a step further with its Spotlight Pickup System. It’s a small, modular, digital shelf that can connect with third-party delivery providers like Uber Eats. When an order is complete, the shelf lights up with a customer’s name and can sense when food has been placed on it or removed. It will even alert a manager if food sits on the shelf for too long. The shelves could be ideal for small spaces, since each shelf is self-contained and can be assembled in different numbers and configurations.
As labor costs rise, your ability to monitor and manage your team’s schedule has the power to protect your restaurant’s bottom line. A Restaurantowner.com report advises operators to start by auditing the first last 15 to 30 minutes of a shift. A leisurely pace of work during those times could indicate that you need to make staffing adjustments. Then look to your anticipated sales and guest counts and build your schedule around that instead of leaning on a repetitive schedule that doesn’t flex when business speeds up and slows down. Cost out each schedule by multiplying each person’s hourly rate by hours worked and compare that figure to your sales each day to understand where you can be more efficient with staffing. If you find you have lulls but still need staff on hand in case a large group comes in, plan to have prep work available throughout the day (versus at the start of a shift) to make best use of the people you have on hand during the day. If your shift manager carries a shift card listing employees and hours, it will be easier to see who can be assigned some prep work or cleanup, or who can be sent home. Finally, find the right balance of part-and full-time employees. Restaurantowner.com advises operators maintain one-third to one-half of staff as part-timers. It can help you avoid paying excessive overtime costs and keep staffing affordable.
At the pace restaurant technology is evolving, it can feel like restaurant manager candidates should be just as capable of navigating IT challenges as they are of handling guest complaints. But according to The Spoon, one nascent tech tool — voice-enabled ordering via Google Assistant or Alexa — could soon be an easy, plug-and-play solution for operators, with some help from a firm called Orderscape. The company makes a voice-ordering software layer that works with browsers, mobile phones and watches, and Alexa speakers, and partners with restaurant platforms like Olo, Onosys and Monkey Media. Orderscape can then tell users where a desired food item is available in their area. If someone asks Alexa where to find a bacon cheeseburger nearby and you serve a popular one, your restaurant would be suggested among other options in the area. Marrying a menu with voice-enabled tech isn’t normally a seamless process for restaurants but Orderscape is looking to make the process possible with no installation or training on the restaurant’s part, and no downtime.
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