A service model that answers labor challenges
Struggling with labor costs or shortages? Some restaurants are trying out a service model that's less common in America, though it's a familiar one if you've spent any time in an English pub. Restaurant Insider reports that in the Charleston, S.C. area, where nearly 90 restaurants opened last year, restaurant operators have had to get creative in order to address already-high labor concerns and preserve sales volume amid increased competition. They're implementing a counter-service/front-of-house hybrid model whereby guests order their food and beverage at the counter, then, once they've sat down with their meal, a server visits the table to provide follow-up service. Operators are finding that this model allows them to have fewer staff on the floor but still provide face-to-face service that goes a step beyond what one might find in a quick-service establishment. Guests open a tab at the counter, much like they would when ordering drinks at a bar, and they can add to their tab over the course of meal. Each server does a bit of everything, from running food, to closing tabs, to resetting tables. While the model may not be for everyone, operators have found that in addition to addressing labor shortages, it also speeds up table turnaround times.
The all-powerful iPad
As technology expands its presence in restaurants, the most hard-working piece of equipment may be the iPad. Running Restaurants reports that the tablet has played a powerful role in helping restaurants personalize service and save time and money. They're especially useful in three areas, according to the report: First, they bring efficiency to wait list management that a paper or pager system can't provide. At busy times, hosts can use one interface for reservations and wait list, get automatic tables status updates and provide accurate information to waiting guests. Second, the iPad can streamline your service, allowing servers to send orders to the kitchen immediately, process more types of payment easily and without delay, and provide increased security with that payment. Finally, tablets can serve as an extension of your point-of-sale system, allowing operators to add extra point-of-sale units that are easy to update and replace. They give servers immediate access to guest food preferences, allergy information and other details that can help them enhance the experience they offer everyone who dines with you.
All hail the mocktail
The mocktail is having a moment. Creative operators are concocting sophisticated combinations that appeal to the tippler, to the health conscious, and to the youngest restaurant guests alike. What's more, these drinks can add a 30 percent increase to the tab of a table for two. Restaurant Insider reports that at Sofitel New York, a drink that combines housemade cucumber and apple shrub, fresh lime juice and Perrier is a hit with children. At the Katharine, a French brasserie in North Carolina, guests love the lemon lavender sparkling mocktail. At Cindy's in Chicago, mocktails are designed to tell a story, and to complement the food menu and the flavors of the season. One of the restaurant's popular non-alcoholic drinks, the Reanimator, combines blueberry, ginger, demerara, lime and activated charcoal, which gives the drink an inky color and is known for its detoxifying benefits.
The app is changing the game
Restaurant visits paid via mobile app increased 50 percent over the previous year, according to The NPD Group. Offering convenience, the group says, often through technology like mobile ordering, delivery apps and ordering kiosks, is helping to set quick-service restaurants apart at a time when foodservice traffic has been relatively flat over several years. Their research found that consumers especially like the time-saving features mobile apps can provide, such as allowing for ordering and paying in advance of a visit, then having food ready upon arrival. They also appreciate the engagement and special offers apps offer through loyalty programs. The NPD Group did note that not all consumers like a tech-heavy service model, with some still preferring to pay in cash or to get human interaction when they order. Just try to build convenience and time savings into these low-tech transactions.
Apprenticeship program could ease food distribution challenges
In an effort to offset labor challenges, many restaurants have turned to apprenticeship programs, like those offered by the National Restaurant Association. Now that model could be applied to food distribution as a means of controlling food costs. Legislation know as the DRIVE-Safe Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in March, would pave the way for more young adults to become truck drivers for food distributors and suppliers. The apprenticeship program would help address the current shortage of truckers, which is likely to impact costs and delivery schedules across the food supply chain.
Prevent a pesty season
As the weather warms, insects and other pests come out to play. To proactively prevent an infestation, Food Quality & Safety recommends operators keep an up-to-date master sanitation schedule -- and follow it. If you have broken equipment, remove it from the premises (or at least get it up off the floor) before it becomes a haven for pests. Monitor your waste management in and around your facility so you minimize waste residue or leakage. Watch and clear any areas around your facility where water collects and stands. Now is also a good time to check through your facility to seal cracks in flooring, fix doors that leave gaps or don't close, and clear away any vegetation growing close to walls and doors.
Updates to Food Code
The FDA recently released an updated version of the federal Food Code and it includes several significant changes, such as a section on the use of bandages among foodservice workers and revised recommendations about cooking temperatures, according to Food Safety News. The Food Code provides guidance for restaurants, retail food stores, vending operations and food service operations including those in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and child care centers. The major changes include a revised requirement for the person in charge to be a certified food protection manager; a new section that covers the use of bandages, finger cots or finger stalls; harmonized cooking times and temperatures for meat and poultry for consistency with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service; and updated procedures for retail food establishments to continue operations in an extended water or electrical outage. Find the Food Code in full at http://www.fda.gov/FoodCode.
Testing delivery? Remember your leverage
Offering food delivery has become a must, thanks to rising consumer demand and a growing number of third-party companies offering restaurants a variety of delivery options. While the industry experiences growing pains as it adapts to these changes (a recent New Yorker article detailed how many operators that offer delivery claim they are seeing shrinking profit margins as a result of the shift), there is also ample room for restaurants to shop around for a model that helps them build business. For instance, Skift Table reports that the restaurant El Pollo Loco recently expanded its partnership with DoorDash, with one caveat: While it uses DoorDash to provide its delivery service, El Pollo Loco still receives and processes all customer orders through its own website and app, which allows it to retain customer relationship data instead of relinquishing that information to DoorDash. Other companies are trying test runs with a number of partners to find the best options. Remember that as more restaurants sign on with third-party delivery partners, those companies will benefit from economies of scale. While fees from delivery services can amount to 20 to 40 percent of a sale, there is more room for restaurants to negotiate those fees downward as other restaurants sign on. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney told the Wall Street Journal recently that “scale drives efficiency.” As third-party delivery companies grow, they will have greater flexibility to minimize their restaurant partners’ costs.
Smart, simple social media
If social media hasn’t become central to your marketing strategy yet, it will soon need to be. About 90 percent of consumers aged 18 to 29 use social media and one-third of them say it is among their preferred channels for communicating with businesses, according to research from Business 2 Community. To strengthen your social media strategy, Social Media Today suggests you create an audience persona. Think of your ideal guest: Is the person male or female? How old is he? What kind of work does he do? How much education does he have? What are his hobbies and interests? Where is he most active on social media? Develop content that speaks to this person and post it where he is likely to be looking for it. Second, specify your top goals. For many, those goals are to build brand awareness, increase website traffic and generate new leads. Align each of those goals with specific metrics that can help you track progress. Finally, if you need help simplifying social media campaign development, consider using blog aggregator tools (Feedly, for one, can aggregate all of your blog feeds in one place and let you select content to share with your followers), automation tools like Hootsuite or Buffer, which can schedule your posts to go out at specific times and then analyze your results, and social following tools like ManageFlitter or FollowerWonk, which can help you identify and follow the consumers in your target audience.
Do you have an Open Kitchen?
If your guests value transparency when it comes to the food you prepare, they likely value it when it comes to your business environment as well. If your restaurant is among the 45,000 that use OpenTable to manage reservations, consider becoming an “Open Kitchen.” The Washington Post reports that OpenTable launched its Open Kitchen campaign to help restaurants demonstrate to the public that they are safe, equitable places for women, LGBTQ and minorities to work. Restaurants that sign a pledge committing to these values can display a sign from OpenTable that advertises their support of the principles. While signing up is voluntary and the restaurants who do so must police themselves, this may be the first step of more to come from OpenTable. In an industry that often lacks human resources personnel at the restaurant level, OpenTable is stepping out as a potentially unifying force to help develop standards and offer training to operators across the industry. (On April 11, they offered a webinar led by human resources professionals about how to prevent sexual harassment.)
Put it on (clean) ice
As the weather warms up and guests are looking for more options for alfresco dining, take precautions with any food and drink you’re trying to keep chilled outdoors. StateFoodSafety.com advises that when you’re making ice for keeping items cold, make sure you’re using drinking water — and, of course, discard any ice and melted water afterwards.
Make a clean break
Chances are, many of your guests have tried some kind of a cleanse to motivate themselves to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A new report in QSR says a number of restaurants are trying to ride the detox wave by offering items that claim to provide cleansing benefits. Take Brodo Broth Company in New York, which offers broths made from organic vegetables and the bones of grass-fed animals. While the company has not yet exclusively pushed its broths for their detoxifying potential, their customers have identified those benefits themselves. Other operators that offer a juice menu have created special cold-pressed options that are sold as packages to support cleanses for single or multiple days. Does your grab-and-go food and beverage menu have cleansing potential?
A tool to test food transparency
As consumers demand transparency from the restaurants they frequent, a new system on the horizon is aiming to help food purveyors confirm the origins and quality of the food they provide. The Food Marketing Institute and the Center for Food Integrity recently released a white paper entitled “Transparency Roadmap for Food Retailers: Strategies to Build Consumer Trust,” which offers food retailers and suppliers guidance to provide clear background information about the products they offer. The two groups are now working on a transparency index that gives food distributors a tool to help assess and improve their levels of transparency. It covers such areas as the impact of food on health and the environment, food safety, labor and human rights, the treatment of animals raised for food, and business ethics in food production.
Luxurious touches that justify higher menu prices
From rising labor expenses to the cost of investing in technology, restaurant operators are facing pressure from multiple sources to increase the prices of menu items. But as Skift Table reports, a number of operators are incorporating touches of elite ingredients into their menus and, in the process, are making those items into reasonable splurges for guests. Operators are using ingredients ranging from specialty vinegars and olive oils used for marinades to flavored butters that are rarely found in U.S. restaurants. While these ingredients certainly add to a restaurant’s expenses, they’re also not used in vast quantities —and they lend subtle luxury to foods that can make a restaurant special and memorable for guests
Three changes, big results
Even if you have a finely tuned menu selection and friendly staff, a number of factors beyond your food and service are responsible for bringing your guests back—and whether or not they spread the word about you. Upserve recently shared some tips that can help you boost business. For one, design your menu with the knowledge that your guests will spend just 109 seconds or less reading it. In that time frame, you must connect your guests with your brand and ensure you have steered them to the menu items you most want to sell. Pay attention to sweet spots including the upper-right-hand corner of your menu, as well as the first and last items you list, which tend to get the most attention. Using (but not overusing) shaded boxes, pull quotes and photos can help too—for instance, photographing one item on each menu page can help drive sales of those items by 30 percent, according to menu engineer Gregg Rapp. Second, mining your sales analytics to create menus that mesh with customer preferences can help you ensure you’re pricing your menu according to what the market will bear. If you’re going to put your technology dollars in one place, consider investing in software that will help you pull data from your business and adjust your menu accordingly. Finally, choose your décor colors carefully. While red is a color known for making people hungry, it can overpower (or come across as too obvious) if used as the predominant color in your restaurant. Mary Lakzy, a London-based creative director who advises foodservice clients about décor, suggests light, cool colors to make a room feel larger and more airy; dark, warm colors to give a space an intimate feel; and bold, primary colors to help encourage a faster turnover.
Where’s the tipping point?
Tipping in restaurants—and whether or not to discontinue to practice—has been in the news for months as restaurant operators struggle to find ways to level the playing field between front- and back-of-house staff. A new report from Eater introduces an additional perspective: Data about tipping clearly shows that the practice encourages racism and exploitation, both from guests and servers. For example, Eater analyzed date from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that from 2010 to 2016, the median estimated hourly tip for white servers and bartenders was $7.06; for black servers it was $5.58 and for Asians it was $4.47. The practice of tipping draws out the biases of servers as well. Zachary Brewster, a sociology professor at Wayne State University and the author of several studies about racial profiling in restaurants, said his research has found that it is more common for servers to provide slower service to black guests or to try to avoid serving them altogether because of preconceived notions about how much those tables are likely to tip. A survey of restaurant employees that Brewster conducted in 2012 found that respondents admitted to providing different levels of service based on race, or witnessing other servers do so. Of course, these stereotypes can also set in motion a self-fulfilling cycle that affects the service restaurant workers provide and, as a result, the tips they receive.
When visitors bring unwelcome germs
What visitors are passing through your kitchen? Inspectors, electricians, children, sales representatives, delivery personnel—all of them can introduce bacteria to your food and work surfaces. Make sure you take the necessary precautions before and after visitors come through to protect any food you have out and to clean and sanitize surfaces before any food preparation resumes after a visitor has left.
Ethics should extend to grab-and-go foods
A new report from Culinary Vision Panel’s Mindful Dining Initiative found a clear opportunity for restaurant operators to showcase their ethics in the snacks and grab-and-go foods they offer, according to a Nation’s Restaurant News report. The study, Ethics on the Go, which surveyed 1,500 consumers in the U.S., found that 82 percent of respondents wish operators would use more environmentally friendly business practices. The trend was especially pronounced among consumers aged 18 to 34, who value ethical eating choices more than any other demographic. These respondents reported in the survey that they see a lack of ethical grab-and-go eating options in the market—and that they’re willing to pay more for these items when they find them. Plant-based foods are a priority for these consumers, so keep them in mind when planning your grab-and-go menu options.
Retaining employees during the transition to new tech
Kiosks, mobile apps, table-top ordering via tablet…The desire to provide technology that improves the customer experience has unleashed rapid-fire rollouts at many restaurants, particularly quick-service establishments. In the process, the employee experience may be suffering. That’s what’s been happening at McDonald’s, according to a recent report in Skift Table. The brand has been revamping its technology as part of its “Experience of the Future” campaign, which has included new technology, delivery, curb-side pickup and a revamped menu. The complications have made it an easier choice for low-wage workers to leave for other jobs than to learn new systems. Indeed, turnover at quick-service restaurants in the U.S. is currently 150 percent, the highest it has been since People Tracker began measuring the results in 1995. As you plan technology rollouts, ensure you have training initiatives in place to help keep employees on board.
Order aggregator can streamline ordering tech
If you have embraced the consumer demand for online ordering, you may be facing a related problem: having to juggle a tablet for every partner platform you have. As mobile platforms multiply—there are now more than 100—operators increasingly have to monitor an unmanageable number of devices. Pymnts.com reports that Ordermark is one company that can help streamline the process by aggregating orders from all of the mobile platforms. Ordermark is able to send orders directly to your kitchen in one format, eliminating the restaurant’s need to translate orders from different platforms. The setup requires just a tablet and an Epson printer designed for cranking out orders.
What’s on your music menu?
Do you get positive comments about your music selection? Your guests could be coming in for more than your menu—and that could be something to weave into your marketing plan. Consider Darden Restaurants’ new burger concept, Capital Burger, which is being promoted not just for its food and beverage but for the ambient sound that will be playing at the restaurant (Darden calls it “an innovative soundscape for the musically curious”). Restaurant Business reports that the brand has created a Spotify channel called Capital Burger Beginnings to help promote the sound and, ideally, bring people in for a burger.
Evolve your allergy awareness
Allergens were a key topic of discussion at the National Restaurant Association’s recent Nutrition Executive Study Group in Seattle. One roundtable session touched on how to communicate about the presence of allergens in menu items that had not contained the allergen before, so allergy training in foodservice is an evolving activity. As consumer allergies are continuing to change and become more complex, are your servers and kitchen crew ready to respond? Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions shared some tips to help restaurant teams stay nimble and avoid triggering a dangerous reaction when preparing foods for people with allergies. First, train your servers to ask guests about allergies and to communicate that information clearly to the manager and head chef. Any questions from guests should go directly to the manager or head chef so there is a main point of contact managing any concerns. When they are cooking and plating items, your kitchen staff should be in constant communication to prevent cross-contamination with foods that contain allergens. Of course, it helps if you can sequester common food allergens in a separate part of the kitchen, use color-coded cooking tools and separate fryers when preparing those items, and even serve those items on plates that are a different color or shape than other foods served to the table. Create different modifications for dishes with special sides or sauces so you can still provide a tasty dish when accommodating an allergy. As you purchase new ingredients, study the lingo: Your staff should know that casein and whey are dairy products and semolina contains gluten, for example. Finally, be aware of multiple or complex allergies—something operators see with increasing frequently—and have a plan that can flex to accommodate them. It’s one thing to prepare a meal that’s free from the “big eight” allergens and another to be able to prepare one that avoids less common (but equally severe) triggers.
Don’t let business slip behind a cloud
Making the transition to cloud-based platforms to manage point-of-sale logistics makes sense for many operators—but if your Internet were to go down or you experienced other technology challenges, would your business come to a crashing halt? Even a temporary interruption could throw off a day of sales, but Modern Restaurant Management suggests some tips to ensure you have a back-up plan when things go wrong. Identify key staff who can become familiar with your Internet wiring, access points and routers, along with other important network connections. Train staff to use your system in offline mode and have a documented procedure in place (and practice it periodically) so you can operate through disruptions. If you’re fortunate enough to have time to develop a plan before a problem occurs, it may be time to find vendors who can promise the best service through events that would interrupt business. Consider purchasing a commercial internet connection plan, which may provide a stronger, more powerful connection that helps you avoid problems down the line. Determine what sort of service your vendors provide through internet disruptions. Can they ensure that you will, at minimum, be able to accept credit cards, split checks and create kitchen tickets during outages? Do they have a good history of providing software updates that offer stability and security? Make sure you know what support you will (or won’t) get when you need it most.
A recycling tool that pays dividends
How do you manage recyclable waste at your restaurant? If you have a bulky recycling bin taking up valuable real estate in your facility, Upserve suggests an appliance that can allow you to save space, recycle more efficiently, earn green credentials, and reduce costs: a waste compactor. Having one enables a restaurant to remove recycling bins from the premises and generate recycled waste in bale form. The bales must be collected but typically for just a small fee—and some recycling companies will even pay a rebate depending on the size and quality of bales received. The compactors can handle large pieces of plastic and boxes, which are time-consuming to break down and can often make a bin overflow, increasing the odds that they will end up in a waste bin heading to a landfill.
The best way to halt norovirus
It only takes one particle of norovirus to infect a human, compared to 100 particles of flu virus, NPR reports. That’s why norovirus can spread like wildfire in crowded places like schools, hospitals and restaurants. A new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that while wiping down surfaces with chlorine bleach could reduce a norovirus outbreak by 10 percent, handwashing was far more powerful: If 80 percent of those who didn’t wash their hands changed their habits, the effect could halt an outbreak. It’s important to first wet hands, then apply soap and work it into a lather, which helps break down the norovirus proteins. Experts recommend spending 20 seconds on the task.
What germs lurk in restaurant linens?
Many foodservice operators are replacing disposable linens with cloth varieties in order to present a more environmentally friendly image to guests. Just take precautions to make sure your linens don’t harbor bacteria that could cause illness. Within your restaurant, StateFoodSafety.com recommends you replace any linens used in foodservice, such as the napkins lining a bread basket, for every new guest. When choosing a linen cleaning vendor, look for one that provides a Hygienically Clean Food Safety Certification, which, according to Joseph Ricci, head of TRSA.org, an international organization representing companies that supply laundered garments, uniforms, linens and other items to businesses, is important to demonstrating a commitment to providing hygienically clean linens that have been verified by a third-party inspection and ongoing microbial testing.
Reach the final straw
Do you have an eco-conscious clientele? Create a campaign to ditch your plastic straws — and talk it up to your customers. Many media outlets have reported that 500 million plastic straws are used in the U.S. each day. Restaurant industry expert David Henkes claims the number is closer to 175 million, but any way you look at it, straws generate a lot of (largely unnecessary) plastic. While there are worse pollutants, plastic straws are small and lightweight enough that they escape recycling efforts and are usually discarded as waste. That waste eventually ends up polluting oceans, where fish and other marine life regularly get entangled in them or consume them.
A digital menu experiment
Digital menus can offer operators flexibility on food selection, pricing and promotion—all at the touch of a button. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of investing in one, watch how the experiment works at Starbucks. Skift Table reports that because the brand’s growth has been stagnating in the U.S. in recent months, it is testing digital menu boards in several locations and airport stores in order to boost sales, particularly during slower afternoon periods. One location, according to the report, has a large, six-panel digital menu that changes throughout the day and highlights the Starbucks food line, which the brand is trying to promote to help consumers see their stores as places to come for a meal, not just a cup of coffee.
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