Save your energy
Restaurants in the United States are among the most intense energy consumers when compared to other commercial spaces, using an average of 38 kilowatt hours of electricity and 111 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot each year, according to Business Energy Advisor. Which appliances and devices throughout your restaurant consume the most energy? Business Energy Advisor says in a typical restaurant, refrigeration and cooking are the two main uses of electricity. Cooking represents roughly two-thirds of natural gas usage and the remaining third is split fairly evenly between water heating and space heating. If you don’t know for sure where your biggest energy drains are, conduct an energy audit. Not only can an audit help you save money, but it can also help you understand where your biggest energy challenges actually are — so you can focus less on the things that are not generating significant expense. For example, you may already have smart devices in your restaurant that monitor the freshness of different foods you’re storing. It might then make good sense to invest in a smart thermostat that reduces your energy consumption when you’re not there. But what if your biggest energy drain is actually one of your ovens? Or what if a dirty HVAC filter is making your system work much harder than it should to cool down your restaurant? Month to month, monitor how much energy you’re using throughout your restaurant so you can more easily spot spikes and then take steps to decrease energy consumption in those areas. To eliminate the guesswork, Modern Restaurant Management suggests working with a restaurant energy consultant. It can help you home in on the top priorities at your business when it comes to conserving energy and then take action steps to rein in your biggest expenses.
How is your marketing mojo?
At a time when the majority of consumers have used Facebook to decide where to eat—75 percent of them, according to a study by Social Media Monthly—the game is clearly changing for restaurant marketers. Social media, the drive for customized service and advertising, competition from outside of the restaurant market, and the need to capably navigate a through a dizzying supply of data are making the marketing role evolve. And as Restaurant Business reports, when a restaurant business has a tough period, marketers are easy to scapegoat—in recent weeks, there have been a number of comings and goings of chief marketing officers at such brands as Papa John’s, Jimmy John’s and Chipotle. If you need to fine-tune your marketing efforts or are looking to hire new talent for the role, note the most critical skills marketers need right now, according to Restaurant Business: First, they need to know how to build effective digital campaigns. Then, just as importantly, they must know how to collect the data those campaigns generate and translate that data into action steps that will drive traffic and increase sales. Now, more than ever, marketers must learn in real-time how to select and use the tech tools available that can build business—so flexibility is important, along with an ability to identify which platforms are best suited to the business. They must understand how to respond to customer feedback provided in a variety of forms, ranging from Yelp reviews to post-meal surveys conducted at the table. Finally, when conceiving of campaigns, marketers need to know when they need the resources of an outside firm and when they can handle an effort in-house.
Avocados—and perhaps other produce—get a new lease on life
If you serve a lot of avocados and struggle to keep them fresh, take heart in the rollout of a new technology that promises to more than double the shelf-life of the popular fruit. Food Dive reports that Apeel Sciences has developed a powder, made from leftover plant skins and stems, which can be sprayed onto produce close to harvest. The coating forms an extra layer that slows the process of oxidation and loss of water, which cause produce to decay. Apeel Sciences says the technology could help reduce the $2.6 trillion in annual food waste. So far, the technology is being used at Costco stores nationwide and at Harps Food Stores in the midwest.
As a growing list of restaurants bans the use of plastic straws, some groups advocating for the disabled have said eliminating straws completely could be harmful to people with disabilities. Looking for a happy medium? Mic suggests a few alternatives to plastic straws that can accommodate consumers while providing an environmentally conscious option: Try paper straws (the brand Aardvark, though costlier than others, came out on top in a test performed by a bar in the Union Square Hospitality Group, according to Bloomberg). Bamboo straws, while more expensive, can be washed with soap and warm water, then reused. There is a wide variety of other materials used to make straws as well, ranging from stainless steel to even pasta. (Some restaurants are offering drinks with a long tube of bucatini standing in for a straw—for guests without a gluten allergy, of course.)
Summer is prime time for Salmonella
Salmonella, which causes one million foodborne illnesses annually in the United States, is more common during the summer months. The combination of warm weather and unrefrigerated foods create ideal conditions for the growth of Salmonella. To prevent it, the Centers for Disease Control advise taking care to refrigerate or freeze perishable foods, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours. If the air temperature is 90˚F or warmer, chill foods even more promptly—within one hour is best.
The gloves are off
If your kitchen staff wears gloves during food preparation, do they follow set guidelines for when those gloves must be changed? While gloves can help prevent foodborne illnesses, using them inappropriately can encourage bacteria to spread. To prevent problems, StateFoodSafety.com advises that before slipping on a pair of gloves, you should wash hands thoroughly to get rid of potential contaminants. Always change gloves when switching tasks, such as taking out the garbage or returning from a break, when gloves become torn or dirty, or when you have touched your hair or face. Even if gloves stay clean, the FDA advises a handwashing and change of gloves after four continuous hours of use.
Technology lets consumers design their own burger
Burger-flipping robots have been in the news for a while now, but in June, the first robots that make burgers from scratch hit the restaurant market in San Francisco. Bloomberg reports that Creator, a culinary robotics company that brings together engineers from top Silicon Valley companies and alumni from elite restaurants, has developed a machine that grinds meat to order, seasons the patties, adds toppings to order and slices and toasts the buns—all in just five minutes (and for $6). Such technology has the potential to change the model for restaurants: Creator has higher food costs than other burger restaurants but far lower labor costs, and the small footprint needed for the actual burger preparation allows for more seating space. In September, Creator plans to launch an app that lets guests customize their amount of sauces in millilitres, adjust the mix and amounts of cheeses used, and even select which part of the bun gets extra seasoning.
Off-premise dining poised for further growth
What’s your formula for off-premise success? Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group, said 63 percent of all restaurant traffic is off-premise and he sees the off-premise market becoming even more important in the coming decade, with takeout, delivery and food trucks driving growth. A number of speakers at the recent National Restaurant Association Show said the same thing: Consumers are craving chef-prepared meals but don’t necessarily want to sit down at a restaurant to eat them. Modern Restaurant Management suggests several areas where operators can improve their chances of building their off-premise business. First focus your menu on items that are easy and quick to prepare and will maintain their quality if not eaten immediately after purchase. Fine-tune your packaging so it insulates foods that need to be kept hot or cold. Then you need technology that can manage different streams of guest traffic, taking into account orders from different channels and providing reliable quote times to guests — you may be able to upgrade your current platform to better support off-premise business streams. Study your sales of menu items across the ordering platforms you use to understand which items are popular and which need to be removed. Having this information can also help you test different price points for a popular item. Are guests clicking on the link to your website, or to special discounts and promotions? Measure which items are generating the best response so you can adjust your formula accordingly.
No space for a garden? No problem
Fresh, local produce has become an expectation of consumers dining out. To create space to grow that produce within the footprint of a restaurant, some operators have to get creative. As a result, they are finding ways to produce on rooftops, in cool climates, in cities, small spaces and other spots where bountiful gardens are a surprising find. Plate reports that at Coltivare in Houston, chef/owner Ryan Pera maximizes space in his restaurant’s patio garden by finding plants that are good partners and can be planted in the same bed. Long beans and peppers grow in one bed, basil and tomatoes in another. Operators just starting to grow their own produce can plant herbs and salad greens in boxes staggered along a patio wall. Pera also suggests planting smaller vegetables, such as quick-ripening small tomatoes instead of larger tomatoes that can collect water and rot. To protect what he grows, Pera makes an effort to prune frequently and manage water runoff after heavy rain to maintain the soil’s nutrients. Or you can avoid soil completely: Hydroponics are taking root in cities, allowing operators (and, on a larger scale, entrepreneurs) to raise greens in basements with the help of LED cultivation lamps. Finally, consider seeking an outdoor gardening space (and sharing an indoor growing space) with other nearby restaurant operators who have an interest in offering their own produce on the menu.
Manage rising recalls
In the past five years, the U.S. food and beverage industry has seen the biggest increase in product recalls of any industry. According to the Stericycle Recall Index, which tracks product recalls in the U.S., food recalls by the F.D.A. jumped nearly 93 percent between 2012 and 2017, while recalls managed by the U.S.D.A., which largely oversees meat production, climbed 83 percent during the same period. Bacterial contamination from such pathogens as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria was the most common cause. When recalls occur, do you have a reliable system for sequestering potentially contaminated items? StateFoodSafety.com advises that when a recall is announced, check to see if
you have the item in question. If so, remove it and store it away from other food and equipment that may otherwise come into contact with the item.
The struggle for sustainable seafood
In an industry where seafood fraud is widespread, the US distributor Sea to Table had become a favorite in the sustainable seafood movement for its purported mission to sell local, sustainably caught seafood — guaranteeing that its products were wild and could be traced to a U.S. dock or even a specific boat. But an AP investigation found that the business is linked to some of the practices it claimed to fight. It reports that DNA tests performed on Sea to Table’s yellowfin tuna indicated the fish originated from the other side of the world. AP research also found that Sea to Table was offering seafood varieties in different parts of the US that were illegal to catch, farmed and out of season. Further, when reporters traced the company’s supply chain, they found foreign fisherman who described labor abuses and poaching. For background about how you can make sustainable seafood choices, visit www.fishwatch.gov.
Keep your ice bin contaminant-free
Hot weather calls for icy beverages, so ensure your ice bin is ready for action. Dust, dirt, algae, bacteria from ice scoops stored unsafely, incoming water — all create conditions for unsanitary ice. The industrial ice machine provider EasyIce suggests a rough schedule for maintaining the cleanliness of your ice machine. First, conduct regular cleanings: Turn off your machine and soak a sponge in a solution of 1 oz. chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water. Wipe all surfaces of the bin that people handle — the lid, interior of the bin near the lid, and the plastic baffle inside that directs falling ice toward the back of the machine. Don’t rinse. Let the bin air dry. If scale is present, de-scale and rinse with water before bleaching as the products don’t mix well. Twice annually, do a deep cleaning. First, use a spray bottle to disperse de-liming and de-scaling products and scrub the bin’s interior with a brush or cloth. Rinse with water, then clean the bin interior with the bleach solution and air dry.
Be safe with shellfish
Nothing says summer like a lobster or clam bake. Food Safety News says that since the warm-water habitat of many shellfish is in areas of high water pollution from nearby cities, it’s important to cook this seafood well — to 145˚F, never consume it raw — to kill any lurking pathogens. Further, it advises that you do not cook or eat shellfish with open shells, which indicate the shellfish are dead and inedible. When storing shellfish, put it on ice or refrigerate or freeze it immediately after purchasing it. Take care to wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling shellfish, and to clean with hot, soapy water all utensils and surfaces that come into contact with the shellfish. Avoid cross-contamination during storage or prep by ensuring no juices from the shellfish touch other ready-to-eat foods.
Want loyalty? There’s an app for that
When you introduce user-friendly tech at your restaurant, consumers take notice and may become loyal customers. According to a recent survey of 1,000 diners by the hospitality integration platform Flyt, 58 percent of respondents said their perception of a restaurant improves — and makes them interested in visiting more frequently — if the restaurant uses technology effectively. In many cases (42 percent), that meant having an app that offers users the option of making voucher redemptions, ordering food delivery, making bookings and collecting loyalty points. Respondents said that for an app to be worth using again, it had to be easy to use (64 percent), provide key information (52 percent) and able to be used quickly (42 percent).
Use data to expand your “share of stomach”
“When we talk about share of stomach, we’re not just talking about supermarkets, but we are talking about restaurants, and all places that customers go to for their meal needs.” That’s what a spokesman for the food retailer Kroger said to the Cincinnati Business Courier recently. At a time when supermarkets and even convenience stores are steadily improving the ready-to-eat meals they have on offer and Amazon is in prime position to transform consumers’ ability to access quality foods quickly, how is your restaurant setting itself apart? Restaurant operators currently have a leg up on retailers when it comes to identifying their best guests via customer segmentation — they just need to use their data to generate the kind of call to action that results in increased guest visits and improved loyalty. For instance, Bloom Intelligence suggests restaurant operators identify a customer segment that dines with them once every week. Offer those guests a coupon or promotion when they refer a friend or write a Yelp review. Tap into a customer’s buying history to know who might enjoy the new appetizer on your menu. Your high-frequency, low expenditure guests aren’t likely to visit you more often, so focus on helping them attract new guests and on enticing them with offers that might encourage them to add an appetizer or dessert to their usual order. Are there any big spenders in your guest database? Offer them promotions that could encourage more frequent visits.
Don’t call these plants vegetarian
More than half of consumers are boosting their fruit and vegetable intake as compared to last year, citing taste and health as motivating factors. That’s according to Datassential’s SNAP! Keynote Report: Plant-Based Eating. Plant-based foods had a major presence at the recent National Restaurant Association Show — and while plant-based proteins are on the rise and becoming more creative (KFC recently announced plans to test a vegetarian chicken recipe with consumers this fall), you don’t necessarily need to imitate meat to offer a filling meal. Datassential’s report indicates that 85 percent of consumers believe plant-based foods can be just as satisfying as animal proteins. Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole and ancient grains can add heft to a plant-focused dish. Datassential found that more than half of consumers surveyed eat legumes once a week and one-third of consumers surveyed eat seeds at least once a week, often as part of a snack. The company advises that on the menu, operators avoid terms like “vegan” or “vegetarian,” which can make a dish sound less hearty or filling than it is. Instead, consider adding global seasonings to local, in-season produce to easily justify the presence of fruits and vegetables in the center of the plate. Promote the specific health benefits of the ingredients you offer, such as a smoothie with cleansing or energizing components.
Make a tough call on bacteria
Our phones have become extensions of us — and unfortunately, they carry with them bacteria that far outnumber what we typically encounter in a bathroom or other area where we are more likely to think of washing hands. According to research from Mashable, phones carry 25,107 bacteria per square inch, compared to 1,201 bacteria on a toilet seat, 1,736 bacteria on a kitchen counter, 4,500 bacteria on a checkout screen, and 8,643 bacteria on a doorknob. Do you have a firm policy about the use of phones by staff in your restaurant? In addition to encouraging the washing of hands, have guidelines about the use and cleaning of phones. A soft towel dipped in a mix of 60 percent water and 40 percent isopropyl alcohol works, or even a UV light that kills surface bacteria.
Food producers face new risk
Much like the threat of bacteria in food that resist treatment by antibiotics, there is now an increase in food crops’ resistance to antifungal treatments. That’s according to new research published in the journal Science. The study’s authors say the overuse of antifungal chemicals is making crops and livestock more resistant to treatments, which could lead to an increase in the loss of crops and livestock to fungal pathogens, as well as an increase in human fungal diseases. Fungal pathogens could include blights that impact food crops, as well as yeast and mold-related infections in both livestock and humans. The study calls for more selective use of existing antifungal treatments, which are currently limited in number, and also the development of new drugs and treatments.
The menu of the future is here
Ever been to a restaurant and ordered a dish you noticed someone enjoying at the next table? Augmented reality (AR) technology is tapping into our need to visualize the food we order. Upserve reports that the burger chain Bareburger has partnered with the AR food menu app Kabaq to make their meatless burgers appear on guests’ plates in 3D via Snapchat. The technology is designed to encourage guests to “eat with their eyes first,” Upserve reports — and, perhaps, order a little extra. According to a study Kabaq conducted, guests viewing virtual dessert options on a tablet on the table boosted dessert sales by 25 percent. Kabaq currently has more than 150 restaurants on board.
The best of both worlds in food delivery?
Delivery is here to stay — but the debate about how restaurants can make it profitable continues. Fortunately, in addition to handling delivery in-house and farming it out to third-party vendors, there is an emerging third category of delivery management that enables operators to manage delivery growth and retain the data they would otherwise be losing to third parties. In its 2018 Restaurant Tech EcoSystem report, Forbes mentions the emergence of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, essentially B2B software, which helps restaurants expand and serve their customer base and manage volume at the same time. Check out ordering platforms like Olo and logistics platforms like Bringg.
When you’re talking about restaurant technology, how is the conversation different if you’re operating a 1-to-5-unit business versus a restaurant that’s part of a 500-to-1000-unit ecosystem? It’s more similar than you might think. On a recent episode of Foodable’s Takeout, Delivery and Catering Show, Mo Asgari, president of MonkeyMedia Software, discussed technology deployments across the restaurant industry and said tech providers are all moving quickly to develop offerings that can serve the full spectrum of customers. For small operations, it’s critical to have a tech provider that can provide a scaleable product that flexes as your business does. Before you invest in technology, make sure you understand any challenges your business faces that may not be tech-related (and will need attention before you invest). Where to begin? Take stock of your operating model – MonkeyMedia’s “5 Pillars of Successful Restaurant Takeout, Delivery and Catering” can help.
Food For Thought And Profit brings you the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are part of an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.