Improving the evolving app
Now that so many restaurants have apps to help them handle everything from managing orders to enhancing loyalty, where do apps go from here? A number of brands are now bringing additional value-added services to their apps to make them stand out from the crowd. As Restaurant Business reports, Dunkin’ Donuts has formed partnerships with companies such as the navigation app Waze, which now allows Dunkin’ Donuts customers to place orders from its app. Those who own new GM cars can also now place orders at Dunkin’ Donuts via their car’s dashboard. But naturally, not all brands can pull off changes of this scale – and the changes you make don’t have to be big to be effective. Simply updating your app to continue to improve the customer experience can be sufficient. Ensure the extra items that customers order in-house – like condiments, sweeteners and other items – are also readily available via app. Also monitor the functionality of your app so it’s delivering the results you seek. Are people navigating it as you envisioned? Are there processes the app is not handling well that are then coming to you and requiring your time? Are you getting guests to use the app to provide reviews? Collecting metrics from your app and then making regular changes to enhance it can help you ensure you are bringing in new guests, offering special deals and services to reward those who return, offering convenience and gaining insights that will help you improve the experience you offer.
Seize the seafood season
Your seafood menu is a promising place to innovate right now, with more consumers willing to experiment. According to new research from Datassential, that means bringing seafood onto the breakfast menu in dishes like frittatas or eggs benedict, and incorporating seafood varieties beyond the ever-popular shrimp, salmon and tuna. Kyle Anderson, general manager of the Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Charleston, S.C. told Toast that he recommends experimenting with options like tilefish, triggerfish and black sea bass, among other varieties. Just as consumers are willing to branch out and try new seafood varieties, they are also showing an interest in the different ways seafood can be prepared. From smoking to brining to seasoning seafood with unexpected spices, seafood can provide a solid base for experimentation. One area where the seafood industry is lagging behind other industries – for now – is in sustainability and transparency, despite the efforts of organizations to hold suppliers accountable for reliably tracing the origins of their catch. It’s expected that as millennials’ purchasing power increases in the coming years, there will be growing consumer interest in transparency and sustainability when it comes to seafood that will require operators (and, of course, suppliers) to be held responsible for the products they provide.
Clean ice is nice
As warmer weather brings people out for cooling beverages, take extra precautions with your ice. As Foodable points out, the FDA lists ice as a food. So serving guests ice from a machine that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks is like serving them drinks in dirty glassware. Bacteria, biofilm, fungi, mildew, mold, scale and slime can all grow in an ice machine that hasn’t been properly cleaned and maintained. While many machines have sensors that can tell you when it’s time to clean your machine or change its filter, Foodable suggests you also simply monitor the quality of your ice. Cubes that are smaller, softer or cloudier than they should be – or which have a funny taste – indicate it’s time for a cleaning using the materials recommended by the manufacturer.
Make sure frozen food shipments arrive frozen
As the warm weather arrives, so does the need for extra vigilance when it comes to keeping foods at the proper temperature. StateFoodSafety.com suggests that when you receive a new shipment of frozen food, it’s important to check for signs of temperature inconsistencies or other problems. Reject any food that is fully or partially thawed, or which has ice crystals in the packaging.
Tech to remove table wobbles
What’s more annoying than sitting down at a restaurant and finding your table is wobbly? If you spend too much time leveling unsteady tables in your dining room, there’s some technology that can help you solve that problem. The company FLAT Tech has developed a stabilization system using hydraulics. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the company offers table bases that use a system that distributes fluid through the bottom of the base to the feet, which expand and compress to account for any unevenness. Operators not wanting to invest in new tables can try the FLAT Equalizers, which can replace the screw-in feet on your existing tables. When you press on an uneven table, the hydraulic feet shift fluid inside them and then lock to stabilize the table.
What does your packaging say about your brand?
If you’re trying to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, your packaging is a strong place to start: A recent QSR report referenced consumer research showing that millennials consider the use of environmentally friendly packaging the most important step a brand can take to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability. (Packaging ranks higher than the use of renewable energy to produce and transport products, the report says.) As consumers boost demand for foods that can be eaten off-premise, your restaurant could be relying on packaging more and more to represent your brand values. Brands like McDonald’s are already taking action with plans to generate all of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.
Plant-based foods go prime time
People are hungry for “plant-based” menu options these days (and consumers prefer that term to “vegan,” perceiving those foods as healthier and more flexible, according to a survey by the food consultant Mattson). Many restaurant brands experimenting with different variations of plant-based foods are using traditionally meat-based dishes as inspiration – after all, Technomic found that almost 30 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 say they’re likely to try plant-based burgers designed to taste like beef. The bleeding “Impossible Burger” is selling well in restaurants, for example, and operators are getting inventive in replacing other meats too: At Fare Well in Washington, D.C., they serve up southern fried seitan, and the San Francisco startup Terramino Foods has created a faux salmon burger made from fungi and algae that looks, tastes and smells like the real thing, Food Dive reports.
Study projects financial consequences of foodborne illness outbreaks
New research suggests a single foodborne illness outbreak could cost a restaurant millions of dollars in lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, insurance premium increases, inspection costs and staff retraining. Science Daily reports that the study, published in Public Health Reports by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is based on the results of a computational simulation model designed to demonstrate the effect of a single outbreak of a particular pathogen at a restaurant. It then assessed results for fast food, fast casual, casual and fine dining restaurants. The model also ran different scenarios to determine the impact level of smaller outbreaks that might incur fewer costs and larger outbreaks that incur substantial costs. The researchers found that a single listeria outbreak in fast food and fast casual restaurants could cost $2.5 million or higher in lost meals, lawsuits, legal costs, fines and insurance premiums for a 250-person outbreak. Projected costs were slightly higher for fine-dining restaurants. The costs of these outbreaks can have long-term and even lasting consequences on the business. In light of the findings, the study suggested restaurants invest in specific training that minimizes the risk of outbreaks, as well as consider policies for employee time off to recover from illness.
What’s your food delivery plan?
Food delivery is poised for continued innovation—and restaurants are wise to find a way to make offsite dining work financially. Food delivery sales have increased 20 percent in the past five years, while restaurant traffic has remained relatively flat, according to a new study from NPD Group. There is room for food delivery sales to climb even higher: Technomic forecasts predict food delivery to grow 12 percent annually over the next several years. One factor helping to drive that growth, Technomic found, is the growing demand for off-premise dining by millennials. To compete, operators are finding ways to accommodate consumer demand for their favorite food whenever and wherever they want it. Skift Table reports that delivery innovator Domino’s is launching a program that will let customers receive their food delivery at a “hotspot” location that lacks an address (e.g., a park, beach or destination where people are apt to gather for pizza). CBC Radio Canada reports that to adapt to the competitive delivery market, restaurants in many Canadian cities are trying an online-only model whereby they have no in-house or walk-up traffic, but instead offer delivery exclusively via app-based ordering systems. Operators are finding that if they must decide between offering food in-house or via delivery, off-premise options are winning out.
Manage your fruit and vegetable waste
American consumers throw out about a pound of food each day, with those eating the healthiest diets generating the most waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This could make it more urgent for everyone -- foodservice operators included -- to manage their fruit and vegetable waste effectively. In a recent Upserve report, chefs around the country shared their waste-reduction tips. The owner of Crêpe Bar in Tempe, Ariz. sources his produce locally and asks farmers to send it with tops intact so he can use the entire item in his recipes. The bartender at Boleo Restaurant & Bar in Chicago takes produce that would otherwise go to waste and created special cocktails featuring the ingredients —a portion of the cocktails’ proceeds benefits Zero Waste Chicago.
Prevent the spread of Hepatitis A
Foodservice workers have been linked to a recent multi-state outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus that infected 1,200 people and killed 40 people, Food Safety News reports. While the most recent cases occurred in Arkansas and Indiana, food safety officials around the country are working to contain the outbreak and inform the public about it. The virus can cause serious liver problems and sometimes death in those it infects. Food and beverages can become contaminated with Hepatitis A when an infected person transfers microscopic traces of feces from their hands to the items being consumed. Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus, which can survive on surfaces and when frozen.
Avoid contamination when chilling foods
When it comes to food safety in your restaurant kitchen, the shelves of your refrigerator can speak volumes. To prevent contamination of the items being chilled, StateFoodSafety.com advises that in the refrigerator, ready-to-eat foods are stored on the top shelves, followed by raw whole meats and seafood below them, then ground meats and seafood, then raw poultry products at the very bottom.
Touchscreens aren’t all alike
Touchscreens have become ubiquitous at restaurants — at point-of-sale terminals, on tables and in the hands of servers. But as Modern Restaurant Management reports, there are pros and cons to the types of touchscreen technology that dominate the industry right now. The report advises that before deciding which type of touchscreen is best for business, operators should ask themselves how their customers will interact with the technology, whether the screen will need to resist grease, water or other spills, if employees will be wearing gloves or using a stylus to operate the touchscreen, and if users will need a zoom feature. For instance, projected capacitive touchscreen technology, common in smart phones, can be more expensive and may be difficult to use with gloves. But its touch accuracy tends to be higher, it has a more modern appearance and it allows for zooming and other image adjustments. Conversely, wire resistive touchscreens are less expensive and tend to resist the grease and spills that can be problematic in restaurants, but the screens aren’t as sensitive and may be more vulnerable to dings and scratches.
AI helps craft the perfect cocktail
As casual restaurants work to improve sales, they are eagerly incorporating technology to draw in millennial and Gen Z consumers. TGI Friday’s, for one, is using artificial intelligence in a way that could appeal to a wide range of restaurant guests. Adweek reports that in a pilot program at its Texas restaurants, the chain is having guests answer a series of questions on an iPad about their mood, likes and dislikes, which a virtual bartender then uses to create a personalized cocktail recipe that the real-life bartender mixes up. There may be room to bring this technology into restaurant kitchens as well.
Deconstruct down time
How does your team use slow periods at your restaurant? Striking the right balance between productivity and sanity is important to making the most of the labor you have (while keeping your team engaged and satisfied). A recent Restaurant Insider report asked chefs around the country to share their ideas. Kate Edwards of the Institute of Culinary Education said it’s important for every staff member to understand what the business needs at various parts of the day. She said there should be clear expectations for managing down times and she advised operators to divide slower periods into tasks related to organization and others related to education. Organizational tasks might involve having several staffers help with a tedious task that would take one person several hours, or providing servers with background information to read about new menu offerings so they are well-versed about the items when interacting with guests. Perhaps you have longer-term projects your team can help you with. Maybe they can help you come up with ideas for a new social media promotion. You can also stagger the beginning and ending times of shifts across a team to ensure everyone present has plenty to do. On the flip side, you can use down times to treat team members who have been going above and beyond expectations. In an industry where long hours and hard work are the norm, letting someone leave an hour or two early on a rotating basis can help balance the busy times when you ask a lot from your team.
Time to hire? Ask the right questions
How can you spot a first-rate server? It isn’t always easy when you interview candidates out of the context of a busy day in your dining room. Cake shared some favorite interview questions that can help operators identify candidates who can respond well to the challenges the role may throw at them. First, ask candidates how they handled a situation when a customer got upset (or present it as a role-play scenario). This happens to the best of servers and their responses can help you see how likely they are to listen calmly and de-escalate problems. Ask about their interests outside of work, which can give you hints as to how likely they are to mesh with your restaurant culture and connect with guests – it also shows you’re invested in your team beyond their work at the restaurant. Have candidates share an example of when they received superior service at a restaurant, which can help you predict the level of service they are likely to deliver. Have they ever dined at your restaurant? If so, what was that experience like and how could it have been better? Hearing an outside perspective may help you identify issues to address. Finally, ask candidates how they prioritize tasks when waiting tables. Are they likely to get ruffled when managing multiple requests? Do they make the most of each trip to the kitchen? Their answers can help you predict the kind of experience guests will have with them during busy periods.
Perfect your plant-based fare
When McDonald’s tests a meat-free burger (the brand is currently offering its McVegan burger in Finland and Sweden), it’s clear that plant-based meat alternatives, and vegetarian and vegan foods in general, have hit the mainstream. Indeed, Technomic research found that 34 percent of consumers around the world say they buy vegetarian foods in restaurants, while 28 percent report looking for vegan foods. A larger group of consumers consider themselves to be flexitarians. Restaurants in even the strongest meat-eating cultures are responding. Technomic reports that some of the most inventive meat-free recipes are coming from countries like Brazil and Australia.
Training new team members about food safety
If you’re among the operators preparing to hire new staff to accommodate the summer season, take care to apprise this group of your most pressing food safety concerns. Food Quality & Safety suggests you focus on refrigeration temperatures, pathogenic and cold-loving bacteria, food storage and power failures. Refrigerated products must be kept at 41˚F or colder, while frozen foods at 0˚ or colder. Ensure new staff follow procedures for leaving food out to cool – and make sure they know
that food can still look, smell and taste fine and be in the danger zone for growing bacteria. Allow food to thaw in the refrigerator, or, if it must be left out, monitor the food’s temperature as it cools. When ready-to-eat foods are delivered, ensure they are wrapped and refrigerated/frozen appropriately to avoid contamination. In the case of a power failure, leave frozen food in the freezer or transfer it to an alternative freezer. Allow food in the process of defrosting to continue thawing, then cook it as soon as possible. Immediately cook any fully defrosted food – such as meat, fish or poultry – before refreezing, and discard any food that is thawed and can’t be cooked immediately.
Don’t contaminate clean dishes
In a hurry to dry dishes and cutlery? If your dishwasher doesn’t sufficiently dry the items you clean, resist the urge to towel-dry them. Towels, especially those being used for long periods, can be breeding grounds for pathogens. StateFoodSafety.com advises you let dishes and utensils air-dry in order to avoid contaminating these items.
Follow a social media checklist
Is social media an afterthought in the midst of the myriad responsibilities you’re juggling day to day? If you handle social media in-house, following a checklist helps to keep your social media consistent regardless of what’s happening in your restaurant. Buffer Social suggests that on a daily basis, you reply to posts, check your mentions on various networks, monitor social media for key words, prepare your content for the following day, follow back people who follow you, and connect with one new person. Each week, check your social media stats, engage with your partners and influencers, check your progress toward goals, and update your social media ads. Every month, take a step back and conduct an audit of your social media to see what’s working well and what needs adjustment. It’s also a good time to set new goals, brainstorm new campaign ideas and plan for the month ahead.
Chip technology phases out credit card signatures
As EMV technology has taken hold in U.S. restaurants, card providers including Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express are no longer requiring restaurants to have their guests sign credit card slips following a meal. The card companies, Eater reports, say chip technology has minimized fraudulent card use. The change in payment procedure will likely speed up the turning of tables, though it remains to be seen whether U.S. restaurants will evolve toward the payment model common in Europe, where chip technology has long been the norm and it’s customary for guests to ask a server to add a tip to their credit card before their payment is processed in front of them.
Three data streams to manage the crowd
Today's consumers are looking for meals whenever and wherever they want them. That requires restaurants to support delivery and dining away from the restaurant. To do that well, Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to harness and bring together data from their front of house, back of house and operations. For instance, your front-of-house technology should store data on your number of guests served, average wait times and table turn times. Analyzing this data will help you understand how efficiently you're managing your seating and waitlist. If you integrate that system with your back-of-house data, you'll help your kitchen staff see what's happening in your dining room. Having a Kitchen Display System (KDS) can be even more helpful in bringing together data from your point-of-sale system about your various streams of traffic, then expanding or contracting waiting times based on your in-house traffic and the bandwidth of your kitchen. When you know precisely how long an order will take to prepare, you can set accurate pick-up and delivery times for guests (and even keep guests in the loop on the progress of a dish as it's being prepared). In your back of house, your KDS reports can help you track the speed of your kitchen, from food-prep time to the number of minutes the food sits in the delivery window, and help you benchmark performance and set staff goals for improvement. By marrying all of this data with your operations data, you can assess the resources you have to support your delivery and off-site dining strategy. It can tell you whether you need to adjust staffing levels at certain times, for example, or if you should outsource delivery.
What is your labor cost?
What data do you consult when setting your labor budget? Many operators consider indicators like the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Industry Operations Report, which says the median ratio of labor cost versus sales across restaurant categories is about 33 percent. While that figure may be useful when looking at the overall industry landscape, RestaurantOwner.com cautions against putting too much stock in this data when setting a restaurant budget that leads to profit. Your best tools are your own historical records of guest counts and sales, which can help you build a schedule that flexes day to day and week to week based on fluctuations in your traffic and sales. The RestaurantOwner.com report advises operators to use a weekly scheduling form that makes it easy to see each employee's pay rate and hours. From there, you can quickly subtotal employee hours and expense by job category and day. Having this information at your fingertips and comparing it to your sales on a particular day will help you spot inefficiencies in your staffing and business overall. Your weekly schedule should become your labor budget -- and it should be flexible enough that you can adjust it based on current and predicted guest traffic on a particular day, or other factors affecting sales volume, such as upcoming holidays or inclement weather.
Clean that screen!
Throughout your restaurant, you could see dozens of touch screens operating at once, from tabletop ordering screens to server tablets to the touch screens used during inspections. This doesn't even account for cell phones of employees on break or those belonging to guests. These screens are ideal places for thousands of germs to change hands. According to research referenced in Food Safety News, the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat and major pathogens like Streptococcus, E. Coli and MRSA have been routinely found on these screens. To prevent the spread of harmful germs, follow a strict cleaning protocol: Food Safety News suggests wearing and changing single-use gloves regularly, washing hands often, cleaning screens with digital-friendly sanitizing wipes (Windex Electronic Wipes are one option) or a soft cloth dipped in a solution of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol, and sticking to a cleaning schedule. If employees use their phones during breaks, ensure they wash their hands (and, ideally, disinfect their personal electronics) before returning to work.
Cool it now
To limit the growth of dangerous bacteria when cooling food, the FDA advises food be cooled from 135°F to 41°F in six hours or less. But the FDA Food Code has an additional rule that food must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F in two hours or less. It's important for food to pass through this range quickly because bacteria at this temperature can double in as little as 20 minutes. To help train your staff to cool foods quickly, StateFoodSafety.com suggests kitchen workers separate food into smaller portions that are four inches deep or less. Cover food loosely as it cools (or keep it uncovered if you can ensure it won't be contaminated). Stir loose foods to help heat escape. Place containers of food in an ice bath, ideally one where the water level is higher than the level of the food. You can also use a blast chiller or tumbler for quick cooling.
What is your pest-reporting protocol?
Your employees are your first line of defense when it comes to preventing pests from spreading dangerous pathogens around your facility. Establishing clear protocols for monitoring and reporting the presence of pests can keep them at bay. Food Safety Tech suggests employees follow these steps after spotting pests: If possible, capture the pest or take pictures of it to help a pest management professional advise you on treatment. Next, fill out a pest-sighting log to track when and where pests were seen and how many were observed. Season to season and year to year, your records will help you anticipate problems, notice which pests thrive in different conditions and hopefully give you time to prepare your facility to prevent pests from entering.
Legislation could ease FDA Menu Labeling Rule requirements
A House bill that could ease certain requirements of the FDA's Menu Labeling Rule, which is set to go live in early May, is currently stalled in the Senate. The rule in its current form requires chain restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering generally the same menu items to list calorie counts of those items and provide other nutritional data upon request. Food Quality & Safety reports that the new legislation, dubbed the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would ease certain requirements pertaining to listing calorie information for variable menu items and combination meals. At take-out restaurants where customers frequently order online or by phone, posting calorie counts online (not in the shop itself) would suffice. Operations covered by the rule would also have a 90-day grace period to address violations without penalty.
Fine-tune your brand
If you asked 10 guests to describe your brand using a few adjectives, would they use similar words? If not, your brand may need strengthening. The Collaborative Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in companies looking to do good and turn a profit, advises operators to be consistent -- with everything from mission statements to logos to websites to packaging -- to build a brand and reputation with staying power. To ensure your brand is not only strong but also appealing, it should have a mission at its foundation that permeates all aspects of the business. And since your visual identity communicates your brand's values before guests even walk through the door, someone (whether from your operation or hired outside) must always be paying attention to presenting it in its best form and in the context of industry trends. Next, be known for doing difficult things well, whether that means limiting your menu to what's available locally or seeking out suppliers with environmentally friendly practices. Finally, the Collective Fund stresses the importance of community to a strong brand. You can start building yours by committing to providing strong customer service online and in-store, launching a referral program and hosting events.
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