Boost your online influence
If you haven't yet tapped into the micro-influencer market, these social media users can help you make genuine connections with potential guests on a large scale. Social Media Week defines a micro-influencer as any social media user with between 10,000 and 80,000 Instagram followers who commands a niche audience in a specific market. Being in that zone allows followers to use Instagram tools such as Instagram Stories, while also taking advantage of the engagement levels of this group. (The Social Media Week report says influencers in this group generate 50 percent more engagement than influencers with more than one million followers, and they have more than 22 times more conversions than the average Instagram user, making them more powerful than celebrities when it comes to motivating consumers to take action.) When identifying potential micro-influencers for your brand, make sure the influencer's followers match your own audience, that their posts are reaching a lot of people who demonstrate a high level of engagement with the influencer's posts, and that the influencer's content style matches your own. Connect your Google Analytics and Instagram Insights to monitor an influencer’s actual reach, follower demographics, impressions, and engagement.
Do you ever offer free samples? Views are mixed when it comes to giving away anything in an industry where profit margins are slim but a recent report in Upserve indicated that providing free samples -- or tastings, in the case of beverages -- can indeed help elevate check sizes. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” as Dan Ariely, behavioral economist at Duke University, told The Atlantic. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.” Further, you feel you owe the person who gave you the sample. “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct, Ariely said. "If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them." The snack manufacturer Snack Factory has found that more than one-quarter of those who have sampled their products have been converted into customers. If you're looking for ways to entice new guests and turn them into brand ambassadors, samples can boost your business: Upserve suggests they can help you introduce your product to new audiences unfamiliar with your business, build relationships and loyalty with existing customers, expand guests' awareness of the products you offer, encourage repeat customers and more sales of new menu items, and earn attention for your brand leading up to an event. Grand openings, special events or the launch of a new menu are ideal occasions for making some samples available. As a study conducted by Cornell University's Miguel Gomez found, tastings can turn a “satisfied customer” into a “highly satisfied customer.”
Food safety beyond the certificate
Many companies choose to obtain a food safety certification because their customers demand it and not because they are intrinsically motivated to improve their hygiene and food safety -- which puts them at greater risk for having a food safety issue. That's according to research from Ghent University, which found that individual behaviors tend to play the most important role in an organization's food safety efforts, with the attitudes of a company's leaders having influence on to what degree those individuals value food safety protocols. Elien De Boeck, a researcher involved in the study, said foodservice operations need to decide whether to prioritise safe food or more production. "If you give employees sufficient time to do their job well, they will get the signal that quality and food safety are more important than quantity," she said. "Furthermore, stress and burn-out are clearly linked to a weak food safety culture."
Your employees drive guests' food safety perceptions
Do your guests perceive your restaurant as a clean, safe place to eat? Their answer may have as much to do with their perception of your employees' cleanliness as it does with the condition of your restrooms or how thoroughly you have washed your salad greens. That's according to new research from the University of Missouri, which found that restaurants are underperforming significantly in this area. Researchers surveyed 300 adults who dined at a casual restaurant at least once a month and asked them to rank various food safety factors based on their restaurant experience. They said three factors were highly important -- that employees keep fingernails clean, wear clean uniforms and wear gloves when handling food. But they gave the restaurant low ratings, indicating that they may be harming consumer perceptions of their brand by not following through in these areas.
Plant-based protein is for carnivores too
Have you jumped on the plant-based trend yet? Plant-based food sales increased 20 percent in the past year to more than $3.3 billion, according to data from Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association, and veggie burgers are only a portion of it. These food products include non-dairy milk, plant-based creamers, cheese, yogurts and meats. Bloomberg reports that it's not just the vegans or vegetarians who are demanding these products, but people who are leaning towards eating less red meat, as well as reducing cholesterol and saturated fat.
Protect against a cyber attack
In recent months, cyber attacks ranging from viruses to malware to data breaches have impacted major restaurant brands including Tim Hortons, Applebee's and Domino's. Are you doing everything you can to prevent cyber crime at your restaurant and protect the customer data you manage? QSR Magazine suggests some tips. First, vet your vendors carefully so you're aware of not only their customer service practices but their security protections as well. Then ensure your computer system has anti-virus protection with the latest updates and patches, as well as web filters and firewalls to control what content is accessible. Next, monitor your WiFi -- make sure you're selective about who can access it and keep one portal for your employees and customers, and another for your POS system. Finally, block off areas of your network to make it more difficult for malware to spread. Segmenting your network can help you keep business information off-limits to third parties.
Monetize your website
Is your website working for you as well as it could? Skift Table suggests you harness it to generate the kinds of big-ticket purchases that can improve margins -- and to enable guests to complete as many stages of a transaction as possible, from the scheduling of an event to the issuing of a deposit payment. For example, your site should offer gift cards for purchase, process catering orders and event requests from the contract through to deposit, sell tickets and conduct other e-commerce. Posting an online form to enable guests to make inquiries can also help increase the traffic that can generate sales.
Set the stage for productive staff reviews
As summer winds down and some of your more-temporary staff transitions out, it’s a good time to review your employee evaluation standards so you can set objectives and clarify expectations with your team. Upserve suggests several steps to keep in mind. At the outset, define your expectations and make sure all employees, new and existing, have the tools and training they need to do their jobs well. Follow up regularly to provide positive reinforcement or to help correct mistakes before they become larger issues. Let your team know they will have a review meeting and provide at least two weeks’ notice beforehand to avoid surprising them. In the weeks and months before that meeting, take notes on what is going well and what needs improvement, and also gather any data from your POS that can help complete the picture when you’re evaluating an employee’s performance. Next, ask for feedback from the employee. If there are tools or training that would help your team do their jobs better, they need to feel free to mention that to you. Finally, hold any discussion of money for a different meeting — perhaps timed in accordance with the employee’s work anniversary — so the focus of your evaluation meeting can stay on building trust and fostering communication.
Avoid social media pitfalls
A strong social media presence can help drive your brand — but if not handled well, your posts can also do damage. Social Media Week suggests some tips to remember in order to avoid inadvertently harming your brand on the networks where you post content: First, don’t overshare. Avoid posting about politics or making sarcastic remarks about goings on in the community. Before posting anything, ask yourself if it will help or hurt your restaurant’s brand. (If you have something personal you feel the need to say, you can restrict it to your personal accounts, though since it’s easy for consumers to connect your business and personal profiles on social media, do keep your brand in mind when posting content and comments there too.) Second, remember that anything you post is connected to your brand for the long haul — which may cause you to rethink posting something that might come back to haunt you in the future. Third, don’t attack competitors — or anyone else, for that matter. It will make you look unprofessional if you feel the need to get into petty arguments online. Finally, pace yourself when it comes to promoting your business. You need to do that, of course, but just mix up your posts with different kinds of content and conversations so people will stay interested in what you’re putting out there.
Hygiene scores become more visible online
Your restaurant’s health inspection report may soon get a lot more powerful. Yelp recently announced that it will be displaying hygiene scores for restaurants in New York, California, Texas, Illinois and Washington, D.C., with more metro areas to be added in the coming months. As CNN reports, though restaurant health inspection reports aren’t kept secret, it can take some digging to find them on government websites and consumers aren’t apt to search for them. But the scores are likely to carry a lot more weight when they appear in plain sight on a restaurant listing. Yelp augments its data with help from HDScores, a company that collects and processes restaurant inspection data from public and private sources.
Protect yourself after a recall
A product recall can have both health-related and financial impacts on your business. To avoid negative consequences, Restaurant News Resource suggests some steps you can take to protect yourself. First, confirm the product’s brand and code date, lot number and manufacturing facility. Then remove the recalled items from your inventory, label them clearly as recalled, and secure them away from any food, utensils, equipment, linens or single-use items you plan to use. Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces and utensils used to prepare, serve and store any potentially contaminated products and wash your hands with soap and hot water afterwards. Review the vendor’s notification notice of the recall and take any actions required by the vendor to claim reimbursement. Finally, prepare a communications plan with suggested talking points to guide staff who are likely to have to answer guest questions about the recall.
Protect your proteins from pathogens
When you refrigerate, freeze and prepare foods, you likely already separate the produce from the protein. Be sure to separate each type of protein from the others as well. From poultry to pork to beef, the risk for pathogens differs. While E. coli is a main concern for beef, it’s Salmonella in poultry. If possible, use vacuum-sealed packaging for each category of protein when storing it, as well as separate (or newly cleaned and sanitized) cutting boards and utensils when preparing it for cooking.
Thawing in microwave? Cook immediately
If you’re using a microwave to thaw frozen foods, take care to transition the food to the cooking stage immediately. As StateFoodSafety.com reports, allowing the food to sit out after thawing in the microwave will increase its time in the temperature danger zone (between 40˚F and 140˚F) when pathogens can grow to harmful levels.
Put your restaurant’s real estate to work
In an industry of slim margins, restaurant operators in recent years have begun to open during off-hours for freelancers and others in the gig economy who are willing to pay for a workspace (along with wifi and a cup of coffee) for the day. Now, more operators are finding additional ways to earn money — even when they’re not selling food and drink. Foodable reports that consumers are using mobile phone apps to rent out not only restaurant dining rooms but coat checks and bathrooms. For a fee ranging from 99 cents to $5, Luluapp will help people desperate to find the nearest available restroom, paying willing restaurants 65 percent of the fee for offering up their restroom. A restaurant in New York City’s Penn Station earns about $2,000 each month by storing travelers’ bags for a few hours each day as they roam the city. About 25 percent of people who store their bags end up picking up a drink or a meal at the restaurant. Could your space be earning you any extra business?
Combine forces with your tech
As restaurant technology helps manage a range of food safety concerns in foodservice businesses, complementary technologies can meet a broader assortment of needs than many operators realize. That’s according to a report in Food Safety Tech, which found that even tech-savvy operators weren’t using technology to their fullest advantage. For example, many operators have automated the HACCP food safety reporting process or are considering it. They are starting to replace time-consuming, error-prone manual data collection with mobile apps that digitize those tasks and make data easy to find when needed during review by management or inspectors. Fixed temperature sensors, wireless or wired, are also catching on as a means to accurately monitor refrigerators and food-warming appliances. The frequent monitoring that these sensors offer, along with alerts when a temperature slips beyond a prescribed range, can help operators minimize the time required for HACCP monitoring. Yet according to the Food Safety Tech report, the vast majority of restaurant brands they surveyed that have automated food safety reporting or are looking to do so have implemented one or the other but not both of these approaches. Taken individually, automated temperature monitoring systems don’t address all aspects of the food safety process and mobile technology can’t provide real-time alerts about food safety problems — and they require staff time. Try testing out both on a trial basis. One restaurant operation studied in the report used fixed temperature sensors in refrigeration and other equipment, but still collected data manually. After testing a mobile digital task list app in a group of its restaurants it winnowed its HACCP data collection process from 17 minutes to two minutes and saved a significant amount of time for staff.
Can a consultant help?
According to research about the reasons for restaurant failure by Professor Dr. HG Parsa of the University of Denver’s college of business, 59 percent of hospitality facilities fail in the first three years. During that period, the first year is the most critical, with 26 percent of businesses failing. Do you know when to ask for outside help and prevent a closure? Perhaps it makes the most sense before the business opens, or when sales decline, or after the buzz begins to wear off after a strong launch. Even when you have positive reviews, steady traffic and a strong professional background, something about your restaurant can still feel not quite right. That’s what happened for chef Ari Kolender and his Los Angeles restaurant, Hayden. Skift Table reports that though the restaurant had a positive debut in July 2017 and Kolender had a devoted following (he had previously worked at respected Los Angeles restaurants like Red Medicine and Providence, and was pegged for a James Beard Rising Star Award while at Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop in Charleston, S.C.), the restaurant wasn’t performing as well as could be expected. Instead of experimenting or letting the challenges run their course, Kolender and his partners called in a consultant right away. They hoped that conducting a forensic analysis of a restaurant —from financials to menu to décor, and with help from someone who could bring objectivity to the assessment — would help the restaurant meet its potential. Holly Fox, whose firm Last Word Hospitality advised Kolender and his partners, said the restaurant had all the right pieces but not in the right order. In the end, they changed from a counter-service model to a full-service model (without adding staff) to help justify larger ticket prices, added a host stand to direct traffic in the restaurant’s large space, changed the lighting, added artwork, high-top tables and counter seating, and installed a new wall that accommodates a new banquette. They also now serve one menu throughout the day instead of two — and feel like business is back on track.
Keep large batches of food out of danger zone
Bacteria grow especially well in the temperature range between 135˚F and 41˚F. It’s important for the food you cool to pass through this zone quickly to prevent safety hazards. Large batches of food, in which the cooling temperature is inconsistent throughout, require special attention. In addition to stirring these foods to even out the internal temperature, consider separating it into smaller containers. StateFoodSafety.com says it’s especially important to cool rice in this way, as its ability to retain heat well makes it pose more of a risk.
Global innovation without the commitment
Want to add more global flavor to your menu, or test out emerging trends — all while using ingredients you already have in the pantry? Try infusing your condiments with international flavor. As Flavor & the Menu reports, condiments explain why concepts like burgers and tacos are such ideal platforms for innovation: “Their formats are safety nets, ready to support all sorts of daring menu moves.” Consider the gochujang-spiked mayonnaise-dijon mixture on Ando’s pork and pickle sandwich, or the five-spice mayo in the fried-chicken banh mi at Starbird Chicken. Rob Corliss of All Things Epicurean suggests ketchup as a good foundation for heat in a dish. He created a ketchup with togarashi and fresh lime that he adds to Korean cole slaw on a hot dog, along with caramelized kimchi and nori.
Unimpressive web traffic? Check your speed.
Your website has key information about your restaurant, along with professional photos and an updated menu. So why is your SEO not where it should be? Check your page load time. Surveys by Akamai and Gomez.com found that nearly half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less —and are likely to abandon a page that does not load within three seconds. A report in Social Media Week suggests several areas that might impact your website load time: lack of browser cache and Gzip compression, slow hosting, the use of many fonts and scripts, and images that haven’t been optimized for your site.
Accounting for delivery
As operators consider how to accommodate food delivery via third parties and whether it makes financial sense, they also need to consider the accounting behind the contract — it may not be as straightforward as it seems, according to the accounting and business advisory firm BDO. Operators need to clarify who is responsible for food and pricing, and who is the real consumer of the delivery so they can present their revenue at gross or net under the FASB’s accounting rule Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606). In other words, if the food arrives and isn’t the proper temperature or the pizza was delivered vertically instead of horizontally, whose responsibility is it? If you control the food prior to it being received by the customer, you are deemed the principal in the arrangement and record revenue at a gross amount. If not, the delivery entity is deemed the principal, and you record revenue net of the delivery costs. Ensure you read and analyze contracts with third-party delivery services so you’re clear about where your control ends and theirs begins in the arrangement.
Ready for takeout
Nearly one-quarter of consumers in Gen Z order food for takeout three of four times each week — more than any other generation. That’s according to a study by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and the Center for Generational Kinetics. In the study, millennials followed suit (21 percent) followed by Gen Xers (17 percent) and Baby Boomers (6 percent) in their rate of ordering takeout. Be prepared to wow those consumers online. Recent data from the National Restaurant Association found that 74 percent of millennials in the U.S. report that being able to view a restaurant menu online makes them more likely to choose one website over another.
Verify and prepare
The foodservice industry has long relied on immigrants—both documented and not—to build its labor force. In fact, second only to the construction industry, the restaurant industry is the largest employer of undocumented workers — there are an estimated 1.1 million people illegally employed in the industry, according to a Foodable report. Restaurant operators may have reason for concern in light of recent comments from the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who said his organization is looking to crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. These businesses could face fines of up to $10,000 per illegal employee. Foodable suggests restaurants take several steps to protect themselves: Operators cannot knowingly hire an employee who isn’t authorized to work in the United States and so they must complete an Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 and maintain it for at least three years after hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later. The I-9 mentions a list of documents operators can use to verify eligibility. While you don’t need to be an expert when it comes to verifying the authenticity of the documents presented, you cannot accept documents that are obviously not authentic either. To prepare for a possible inspection, keep your I-9 forms in separate personnel files that are easy to access, and provide your management team with guidance about who to call, what to do, and what to say or not say when an inspector visits. It can also be helpful to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law and can advise you on the best ways to protect your business. The National Restaurant Association has been advocating for immigration reform that includes a reliable federal employment verification system and a new program to legally match willing workers with willing employers, among other principles.
The power of daily prep
How accurate is your daily ingredient preparation? Are you preparing too much—and therefore wasting food or facing quality-control problems? Or are you preparing too little and having to waste precious minutes in the kitchen, or worse, deny guests a preferred dish? To help ensure accuracy when preparing ingredients before the start of a shift, RestaurantOwner.com suggests operators use this kind of daily plan for ingredient prep. Your POS may offer you a similar mechanism to help you stay on track. It can ensure staff time is used efficiently, that ingredients are prepared in order of priority, and that you can track ingredient usage and monitor quality more accurately. Buzztime Business advises having cooks check off items on the prep list, which you can review regularly to identify where the cook may be slowing down or where he or she is able to handle more than one station. Make sure your prep list is a living document—your “par” numbers can and should fluctuate based on the day of the week, season or other factors. Consider adding additional categories, such as how any excess ingredients must be stored after use. Using and regularly updating your prep list can help you identify bottlenecks and waste, make it easier for substitute workers to step in when needed, and in the process, help you save thousands of dollars each year in food and labor costs.
Bowls are still big. Not only are they appealing to consumers looking for colourful, healthy, conveniently eaten combinations, but they are also a perfect platform for chef innovation, the incorporation of global flavors and the application of plant-based ingredient trends. Further, operators are finding that bowls can help them minimize waste by repackaging menu items from other day parts. As Philip Smith, director of culinary and product development for D’Angelo Grilled
Sandwiches told Flavor & the Menu, “Bowls, more than sandwiches, lend themselves to the idea of a plated entrée—repositioning bowls might be a means to extend our appeal into the evening daypart.”
Everyone knows the importance of handwashing but not enough people actually do it, and the effects can be dramatic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that in cases where food was contaminated by food workers, 89 percent of the outbreaks spread from the hands. In addition to washing hands with soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds, consider addressing sources of recontamination too—bathroom faucets and door handles can recontaminate the hands of someone who has just washed them. Have paper towels within reach of these places so they can be used to turn off faucets and open doors, and make sure these surfaces are cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Act fast following an outbreak
Acting quickly in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak can not only contain the spread of it but limit the potential damage to your business. StateFoodSafety.com suggests taking these steps—and training your staff to take them as well—in case of a suspected outbreak: First, close for business so you can determine which food(s) caused the problem. Don’t discard any food, since a review of your ingredients, equipment and other parts of your establishment will be needed to determine the source of the problem. Alert the local regulatory authority and explain the situation honestly and clearly. Comply with the investigator to help ensure you can resume operations as safely and quickly as possible. Employ any new safety practices recommended in the investigation and train your team to follow them—and to honestly and reassuringly respond to any customer inquiries that follow the event.
Understand the restaurant tech ecosystem
There is a dizzying assortment of technology offerings designed to improve the efficiency of restaurants’ front- and back-of-house operations. To help operators make sense of it all, The Mixing Bowl and TechTable developed this map of the restaurant tech ecosystem. While not exhaustive, it lists many of the major players in various functions, from reservations and waitlist technology to purchasing and inventory applications. It’s a handy reference if you’re in search of new tech providers or simply want to take stock of the range of tech companies aiming to help operators manage various aspects of business.
Put your POS in charge
Delivery and off-premise dining occupy a growing segment of restaurant sales, making it critical for restaurant technology to handle orders accurately and preserve the guest’s positive impression of your restaurant. A report in QSR Magazine says online ordering and takeout can present special challenges when it comes to managing orders and pricing items accurately. It suggests several tips for using your point-of-sale system to manage sales: First, by having orders go directly to your POS, you can improve order accuracy and also free up your staff for other tasks. Second, it can be updated with information on daily specials, promote items that can be cross-sold, and also pull up a customer’s order history and suggest an item that can boost average checks. Your system should be flexible enough to manage orders from callers, walk-in traffic and online traffic. To add an extra layer of service, your system may offer delivery tracking and dispatching, along with support for choosing the best routes to a waiting customer.
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