Salad days are here
Warmer weather, sprouting vegetables, swimsuit season on the horizon..It all adds up to more salad! But grains, fruit, legumes and even noodles can help your salads evolve well beyond greens. Restaurant Business suggests adding ingredients like quinoa, wheatberries or farro for a healthy grain-based option. Rice noodles can add texture to Asian-inspired salads. Even standards like the Caesar provide a good foundation for your signature twists -- Restaurant Business reports that items like proscuitto chips and sesame seeds are appearing on some Caesars along with the romaine and parmesan. If you'd like to be on trend, consider the appeal of poke and try something similar, like a Tataki-style protein, on a new salad.
At last, gluten-free bread as good as traditional loaves
If you have gluten-sensitive guests, you've likely struggled to provide a taste-tempting alternative to traditional bread. Let's face it: Most gluten-free loaves provide an experience that falls far short of the one you get with a chewy sourdough. But according to Food Ingredients 1st, researchers at Hiroshima University may have struck gold with a new rice-flour bread that closely mimics the texture, volume and consistency of wheat-flour loaves. The secret to better gluten-free loaves, according to the researchers, lies in the kind of wet milling used to process the rice flour. The report predicts that the successful development of the rice-based bread could conceivably shift bread exports and production from the world's wheat fields to Asia's rice paddies in the not-so-distant future.
Pizza proves its economy-proof power
Toast reports that while one-third of consumers report eating out less these days, pizzerias continue to grow, with 41 percent of Americans having a slice (or three?) every week and 68 percent ordering a pizza to go at least once a month. Why? Toast says it helps that pizza continues to reinvent itself -- take the "Detroit-style" pizza currently winning fans in Austin and Los Angeles. Pizza is also the original customizeable food and, paired with its presence in fast-casual chains, is continuing to win support from Millennials. Finally, pizza chains happen to be among the brands harnessing technology to great effect right now. Domino's, which has implemented both employee-facing and customer-facing technology effectively, now gets 55 percent of its revenue from digital orders and has seen its stock continue to climb since 2012.
Chick peas get a promotion
Long gone are the days of cold, water-logged chick peas relegated to a lonely compartment of the salad bar. According to Flavor & the Menu, hummus has paved the way for a much bigger role for chick peas. Now they're being used not only as a hearty addition to salads but as garnishes, as bar bites like fritters, as a vehicle for glazes like maple syrup and harissa, and as a base for more creative hummus flavors. If you're trying to bring more global flair to your menu, they're a good place to begin.
Food delivery gains a dubious addition
As the food delivery industry becomes cluttered with new players, there's yet another one coming on the scene. But this one begs the question, "who is paying attention to food safety?" TechCrunch reports that the Santa Clara, Calif. startup JoyRun has raised about $10 million in funding for a concept that allows people to place a food order and scan the area for people about to head out to that restaurant. For a small tip or even for free, these ad-hoc delivery people (who have agreed to the terms beforehand) will bring the food order back to the person who ordered it. The company is focusing its attention on college campuses, where students are often looking for ways to make money on the side and where bringing food back for friends has long been a norm.
Remember the spectrum of food safety risks
Food safety is not just about preventing pathogens from entering your supply. Enlist your team as partners in an effort to eliminate a range of hazards. Anything from glass to metal shavings could enter your products if equipment malfunctions at your supplier or even if their disgruntled employee purposefully adds them to a product. Last summer, P.F. Chang's was able to avoid a crisis when an alert employee noticed metal fragments in an ingredient used to make a sauce that accompanies two dishes on the restaurant's menu, Food Safety Magazine reports. The incident was found to be purely accidental but if not for the vigilance of one employee, it could have caused injury and a public relations disaster for the restaurant.
High-pressure processing chosen by more producers of refrigerated foods
As food production companies review their procedures to ensure compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, many of them are finding that traditional methods used to protect food, such as heat pasteurization, aren't suitable anymore, Food Safety Tech reports. As consumers have demanded chemical-free processing, cleaner ingredients and foods with pure flavor, color and texture, more producers of refrigerated foods are turning toward high-pressure processing. The method, which uses pressure (vs. heat or chemicals) to remove pathogens from food, has the added benefit of increasing the distribution radius of foods, extending shelf- life and minimizing food waste.
How Panera's bet on tech has paid off
Three years ago, Panera launched its 2.0 initiative and implemented a range of guest-facing and employee-facing technology to improve the guest experience. So how is it going now? Motley Fool says their investment is paying off, and while Panera sees its technology as a differentiator, it's actually becoming what consumers expect when they visit quick-service or fast-casual restaurants nowadays. Digital ordering has been a strong positive, enabling Panera to more effectively present its menu and customizeable options than it could on a static menu. In the kitchen, color-coding technology has helped employees more quickly and accurately assemble orders and notice guest allergies and preferences. Nearly one-quarter of the chain's sales now come digitally and there is a clear sales gap between company stores that have been fully converted with Panera 2.0 technology and those that haven't (yet).
Complexity of food supply chain makes vigilance critical
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one in 10 people become ill each year after eating contaminated food. Our food supply has become so complex that it's difficult, despite our best intentions, to ensure food is safe. Food Safety Tech suggests that because consumers demand traceability, from sourcing information to a list of ingredients, you should use suppliers who have obtained third-party certifications pertaining to food purity and safety. The supply chain is fragmented so get to know the people at each step and ensure communication is clear. Finally, pay attention to opportunities to fight food fraud by talking to legislators about it and watching out for helpful technology -- for example, Food Safety Tech says the blockchain, the technology underpinning Bitcoin, has applications in the food industry and can provide a transparent ledger of food products at every step of their journey.
The secret's in the sensors
At Cava, the Washington, D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants, virtual tracking technology called Raspberry Pi helps manage everything from food safety to seating. Fast Company reports that to help avoid giving guests the impression of long lines and wait times, Cava has used motion sensors to detect where guests congregate -- like at the menu boards and serving station -- and then redesigned the spaces to keep traffic moving (lines now move 10 percent faster and hold 12 percent more people). Sensors have also predicted Cava's need for more seating in suburban stores, where guests tend to linger -- boosting revenue by 20 percent per square foot in those stores. Kitchen sensors track how long refrigerator doors have been open and if there have been humidity or temperature spikes. After sensors showed that its grill burners heated unevenly, cooks adjusted their approach and food quality complaints dropped by 28 percent.
Help your menu send the right message
Just as your guests assess your brand and identity as soon as they walk through the door, they're also taking in this information from your menu. Is yours having the best impact on sales? Foodable recommends you consider several elements: Is it structured so guests can read it easily, like they would read a book? Does your typography and layout help guests categorize your dishes? Use headings, borders, boxes, complementary font changes and even empty space to help guests change gears and process what's on offer. If you use photography and illustration, less is more -- and make sure photos are well lit and appear professional. Color is important too, as its psychological effects should stimulate the right emotions.
It’s snack time
Occasions for snacking now outnumber traditional daypart meals as most consumers eat snacks four or five times each day, according to Datassential. What’s more, their survey of more than 3500 consumers found that 62 percent of respondents agree that anything can be a snack. A wide range of food and beverages now qualify as snacks – and that creates new possibilities for restaurants looking to appeal to snacking guests. The top non-traditional snacks in the survey were sandwiches, wraps, pizza, breakfast cereal, burgers, sliders and chicken wings or nuggets.
Do you have an activist investor?
Activist investors abound in the restaurant industry and they have a reputation for shaking things up: Note Chipotle's recent move to eliminate its co-CEO structure under pressure from one investor. QSR Magazine says these investors can be helpful in lifting a struggling company's stock price, though they often do this by changing up the board and eliminating fat in the form of bureaucracy and waste. While they often have great skill in certain areas of business, they usually need lots of help from the operator. They tend to advise companies to focus on one thing, not several, in order to stengthen their core business. Finally, it's important to watch them and understand their time horizon, which will help you ensure they are there to help you fix problems.
Expand your seasonal coffee menu
If you’re looking to innovate your beverage menu by incorporating seasonal flavors throughout the year, consider your hot and iced coffee selection. According to Mintel research, 43 percent of consumers surveyed prefer seeing seasonal ingredients in coffee drinks. In the survey, coffee came out well ahead of tea, beer and cocktails as the ideal beverage to showcase the tastes of the season.
Innovate with seafood
When is the last time you changed up your seafood offering? According to Datassential research, 53 percent of consumers are interested in trying global seafood items. Nation's Restaurant News suggests you find ways to make it more interactive and experiential -- think Korean barbecue or Asian hot pot. Consider new twists on favorites as well -- like the calamari gunkan sushi with tzatziki sauce served at the international seafood restaurant concept Ocean Basket. And while seafood doesn't have a large presence on take-away menus, it should: 65 percent of consumers surveyed said they were interested in both hot and cold seafood dishes at buffets, especially those offered as grab-and-go options.
Where's the bacon?
Thanks to a devoted following, bacon has evolved well past its position as a breakfast side dish. In recent years, it's been equally at home garnishing a cocktail or adding savory flavor to a dessert. But perhaps the American love affair with bacon has finally gone too far. Grub Street reports that according to the Ohio Pork Council, demand for frozen pork belly is outpacing supply. Farmers can no longer keep up, even as they are raising "more pigs than ever." You can sleep well knowing there are still 17.8 million pounds of frozen pork belly available, but expect prices to rise.
Easy actions to improve food safety
Want a few low-cost tools to boost your food safety readiness? Food Navigator shared these tips from Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannas, who addressed the recent Consumer Food Safety Education Conference: Consider clothing – it impacts performance. Studies have shown that a person wearing a uniform that conveys responsibility performs better than one performing the same task while wearing street clothes. Teach the right way AND the wrong way – and show what can happen when mistakes occur. Make food safety the norm. If you talk about how 75 percent of workers wash their hands with soap and water (and not about the 25 percent who don’t), most people will follow suit to be part of the norm. Finally, make it rhyme. Walmart made up a rap song and video to help teach food safety standards to deli employees. Those lessons are more likely to stay with employees than those delivered on a Powerpoint deck.
Make your kitchen pass muster
Would your kitchen pass a surprise inspection? In a report in Food Safety Magazine, Breann Marvin-Loffing of HOODZ International recommends you take four actions to ensure you comply with state and local health regulations. First, make sure you know those regulations, as well as the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code, and stay abreast of updates. Have a kitchen cleaning checklist for use during and at the end of a shift. It should include items such as washing and sanitizing all surfaces and emptying trash bins. Ensure you properly maintain your kitchen exhaust system, which can be a fire hazard and impact the taste of food if not adequately cleaned and maintained. Finally, conduct self-inspections at different unannounced times and note common violations that occur during specific day parts or when particular team members are working.
Mobile ordering, Disney style
For a look at how mobile technology and food ordering can intersect, take a look at Disney, which prides itself on creating seamless guest experiences. Food & Wine reports that at Satu’li Canteen, a new fast-casual restaurant opening at the resort in May, a mobile ordering feature will allow guests to customize their meals, pre-pay for their order and notify the restaurant when they arrive via an “I’m here” button on their My Disney Experience app. At that point, the app prompts the kitchen to start preparing the order, then tells the guest when the order is ready and where to pick it up. Disney’s aim for the technology is to shorten lines and minimize wait times.
A tech trailblazer must defend its choices
Eatsa, the quick-service brand that has made headlines for its quinoa bowls and high-tech, low-human-contact approach, is getting some negative publicity for its technology choices. Specifically, a lawsuit filed against the chain in New York claims that the entire process of purchasing food at Eatsa, from ordering through pick-up, is inaccessible to the visually impaired. According to Recode, the suit claims that while technology is available to make touchscreens and self-service pick-up accessible to the visually impaired, Eatsa has neglected to adopt it. Further, while the restaurant has a staff person on hand to help guests who need assistance, the suit claims that the touchscreen method guests must use to summon that help is not accessible to blind or low-vision guests and there is no audible cue to signal when food is ready.
Is 2017 your time for tech?
Even if you’re hesitant to adopt new technology, it affects you, whether through online reviews or the new delivery apps luring your customers to the restaurant down the street. Even if you don’t plan to invest in technology right away, Toast suggests you note where your pain points are. For example, do you have three servers lined up at your point-of-sale system? If so, is that because it’s malfunctioning or unnecessarily complicated to work with? What do your online reviews say about you? Have you responded constructively to negative ones? Are your phone lines busy on Saturday nights, when potential guests might be calling to snag a last-minute reservation? Is your employee scheduling system too time-consuming? Review the parts of your routine that make you procrastinate or struggle. From there, research which solutions are making the biggest impact on the industry and which provider is the best fit for you. If you don’t know what’s available and at what cost, you won’t be able to catch deals that could make the investment worth your while.
Turn the tables
Empty seats at slow times? You can take some steps to fill them. FSR recommends you connect with local businesses – message HR leaders on LinkedIn and develop VIP experiences you can pitch to business leaders looking to make a positive impression on clients. Connect with local Meetup groups who might be able to use your restaurant for their next quiz night or wine-tasting event. Consider joining the gig economy and charging remote workers a monthly fee in exchange for wifi, free coffee and a quiet table to work – you can often find them by contacting your local business registrar and asking for a list of newly launched small companies, or by joining co-working apps like Spacious or TwoSpace.
No farm nearby? No problem
The demand for farm-to-table food has encouraged many foodservice operations to bring the farm to the city. Restaurant Hospitality reports that technology is continuing to fundamentally change how and from where restaurants source their produce, enabling urban farms and traditional ones to work together to meet year-round demand. Hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic technology is making it possible for companies to grow food in small shipping containers, on rooftops, in converted steel mills and other locations – and without pesticides, weather concerns or, for some, even soil. The technology is helping producers create the ideal conditions for the growing season and then repeat it at faster intervals so a new harvest is available many times throughout the year. While price is still a barrier for many foodservice operators, a drop is likely as more urban farms enter the market and investments continue from the likes of Costco, Whole Foods and Safeway.
New hospitality apprenticeship program grooms management-level talent
A new hospitality industry apprenticeship program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor is now underway in restaurants and hotels. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the program was designed to groom more than 400 people for management careers in the industry this year. Last month, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Association signed a $1.8 million contract with the Labor Department for the program, which places workers in paid, management-level positions. So far, the restaurant and hotel partners in the program include Firehouse Subs, Golden Corral, TGI Friday’s, White Castle, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton and Waldorf Astoria.
Favorite flavors ripe for experimentation
Foodservice operators like to be on trend – but it can be too easy to become a slave to those trends. Instead, consider adding creative, on-trend touches to ubiquitous favorites. In a report in Flavor & the Menu, culinary development experts say it’s about studying what makes a dish a consumer favorite, then adding depth and dimension to make it your own without straying too far from what people love about it. The report proposes some new spins on four flavors ripe for expansion – Alfredo, Buffalo, ranch and teriyaki. For example, reinvent Alfredo sauce in a rich, creamy dip or a drizzle over tacos. Make a Buffalo rub or vinaigrette for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or seitan. Use teriyaki to add flavor to bowls, burgers or burritos. Create a Japanese-style ranch with wasabi, pickled ginger and avocado.
What does “healthy” mean to you?
About 64 percent of consumers say “healthfulness” is a driver in making food and beverage choices, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey 2016. If you don’t have a clear story to tell about the health of your menu, your guests will make it up – and you may not like the one they write. Edward Hoffman of the Food and Beverage practice at PadillaCRT suggests you define “health” and what it means for you and your guests before you develop any new, healthy menu line. Does it mean organic? Locally and sustainably sourced? Hormone free? Low in sugar? Smaller portions? Make sure any changes you make dovetail with the most beloved parts of your brand, like your signature burger or loaded nachos. Don’t alienate or confuse guests by scattering a selection of “healthy” options through the menu and hope they’ll get it. Do have a clear story to tell from that and tell it confidently so you’ll be prepared when guests ask about it.
Don’t fear the fat
Sure, imitation fats have been on the way out for some time. But now food preferences are turning in the opposite direction and the whole milk, lard and other fats that were staples in your grandmother’s kitchen are having a renaissance – even getting some press as a perfectly acceptable part of a healthy diet. Datassential reports a rise in fat-infused cocktails, with drinks including duck fat, brown butter and pork fat appearing across the country. These fats are getting more play on the dinner menu as well: The bread course at Cleveland’s Trentina features a wild fermented pane pita served with…wait for it…an edible beef suet candle.
Food safety research likely to face large budget cuts
Food safety experts believe substantial proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture could make food safety a low priority for the organization, Food Safety Magazine reports. In the 2018 federal budget, potential cuts of $4.7 billion to the U.S.D.A. would drop the agency’s budget to $17.9 billion. Budget items for food safety and international food aid were categorized as discretionary spending. The U.S.D.A. controls the vast majority of food inspections nationwide. While the draft budget does not appear to cut the U.S.D.A.’s Food and Safety Inspection Service, which oversees the safety of meat, chicken and eggs produced in and imported to the United States, funding of agriculture and food safety research has been cut in the draft budget.
Drive-thru business drops off
For many consumers, the convenience of a drive-thru simply isn’t convenient enough. A Mintel analyst says because convenience now means technology, mobile apps and delivery, drive-thrus are taking a hit. While there has recently been a 2 percent uptick in snacking purchases from drive-thrus between 2 and 4 p.m., NPD Group reports, that increase hasn’t been enough to offset the drop-off in drive-thru business at lunch. The gig economy is playing a role as well – people who work from home can eat at home more cheaply, or, if they crave restaurant food, can usually summon it with a few taps to their Smartphone.
UberEats launches analytics to improve restaurant delivery
Uber Eats is releasing an analytics platform to restaurants participating in its food delivery service, TechCrunch reports. Skift says just as restaurants analyze their online reviews and point-of-sale data to improve their performance, they could use this new platform and apply similar metrics to improving delivery service. UberEats has expanded quickly in cities throughout the world to capitalize on its name recognition in an increasingly crowded market. Skift predicts the new analytics should help restaurant partners but also help UberEats assess how its service has been impacting customers to date.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
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