Are profits in the cards for your restaurant?
Believe it or not, it will be soon be gift card buying season. Data from past National Retail Federation Holiday Consumer Spending Surveys found that 40 percent of holiday shoppers begin their shopping before Halloween. What’s more, restaurants edged out department stores as the most popular category for gift card purchases. So are you ready? According to Restaurant Business, many operators make marketing mistakes when promoting gift cards. To avoid them, remember these recommendations: Expand your sales channels beyond your restaurant. A study by American Express and Technomic found that 27 percent of the study’s participants buy restaurant gift cards in grocery stores and 20 percent from mass merchandisers. Avoid accounting headaches by using a gift card software provider that allows for automated tracking of gift card costs and discounts. The gift card program should be integrated into your point-of-sale system and work seamlessly with any franchisors you have too. Make it easy for guests to acquire gift cards and redeem their value in your restaurant and online (one study found that 65 percent of gift card holders spend an extra 38 percent beyond the value of the card). Finally, consider using gift cards to make things right with guests when they have experienced problems. Comp cards can be set for the exact amount of a meal and can have an expiration date so the guest has motivation to return in the near future.
Check the health of your sickness policy
How do you respond when your team members get sick? Your restaurant’s food safety record may hinge on your answer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 48 million people are infected with a foodborne illness in the U.S. each year and half of those cases can be linked to eating in restaurants or delis. The blog Unsafe Foods reports that one CDC study, which tapped data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, found that among 457 foodborne disease outbreaks tracked, 300 were restaurant-related. Of those, the most common contributing factor resulting in 137 outbreaks was “handling by an infected person or carrier of pathogens.” Another CDC study, which polled food workers, found that 60 percent of those surveyed had worked while sick. Many of those people took steps to avoid passing on their illness while at work, such as not handling food and washing hands more frequently. But according to the study, nearly all of the workers who had reported to work while sick said it was their own decision to come to work and not their manager’s, and four in 10 said their manager did not know what their symptoms were. Respondents said they had decided to work while sick for a range of reasons: the restaurant’s lack of paid sick leave or any sick leave policy, the restaurant being shorthanded and needing coverage for the shift, and doubt that they would actually pass their illness on to others. When asked to name factors that affected their decision to work while sick, seven in 10 workers cited the severity of their symptoms and the likelihood of making others sick, six in 10 mentioned their dedication to their jobs and not wanting to leave others shorthanded, half considered not getting paid and one in four said their fear of losing their job was a factor in their decision to work while sick.
New Facebook metrics to help you drive engagement
If you buy advertising on Facebook or plan to, the company recently announced some new analytics that could help you understand and engage with your audience better. Social Media Week sees these potential benefits in Facebook’s new reporting metrics: A landing-page-views metric will help you understand how people are finding you on the web after clicking on an ad – and how optimizing your mobile web experience could boost traffic. A second metric will help you see how much of your traffic is from new visitors as opposed to previous ones. Finally, if you are a page owner, there will be several new metrics available, including information about the demographics of your followers, how your followers have grown or declined over time, how many people saw your page in a hover state without clicking through, and how often your page has been referenced in a recommendation.
Curry favor with spice
Spice is on the rise. As fall arrives, curry flavors can tick a lot of boxes on your menu – and in items beyond traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Turmeric, for example, has become a superfood for delivering a high dose of antioxidants, and it can bring warmth, earthy flavor and bold color to your menu. Foodable suggests gin- or rum-based cocktails infused or shaken with peeled, fresh turmeric root for best effect. Or try mixing turmeric into smoothies, antioxidant-dense frittatas, sauces for roasted vegetables, or mixed into hearty seasonal soups, like carrot-ginger.
Scan away your allergy woes?
If your restaurant is serving a greater number of allergy sufferers these days, take heart in some developing technology that could help them (and, in turn, you) in the not-so-distant future. Food & Wine reports that at IFA, Berlin’s consumer electronics and home appliance trade show, Bosch’s new X-Spect food scanner was attracting a lot of buzz for claims that it can tell you the nutritional content and presence of allergens in a dish. The report says at the moment, the technology works best on homogeneous foods like fruit or chicken; getting an accurate reading from a sandwich requires scanning each individual ingredient, then rebuilding it.
Up your website’s wow factor
Your online presence is what will bring new guests through the door. But did you know it takes just 1.7 seconds for a visitor to your site to decide whether to read on or move on? The National Restaurant Association says offering compelling video on your site is a key way to keep visitors there – and bring in new traffic. In fact, offering video will make it 53 times more likely that your website will appear on the first page of a Google search, according to the web design firm Mopro. To make your video connect with people, think about your ideal customers. What interests them? How old are they? How do they spend their time? Then create a video that appeals to that demographic and shows off your restaurant’s authentic self. What are you most proud of? What are the key aspects of your business that set it apart? Humor helps (and so does brevity – remember that 1.7 second rule).
Ensure your order-ahead tech gets you ahead
Order-ahead technology can help you serve more guests more efficiently – but even with systems designed to streamline business, there can be kinks. If you have already embraced order-ahead technology – or you’re thinking about it – the National Restaurant Association recommends some tips from the mobile technology development firm LevelUp: Walk through the process of ordering as if you were a customer. Is the process simple, seamless and intuitive? Store your guests’ favorite orders so it takes minimal clicks (ideally just one) to place an order again. Provide accurate wait times so customers aren’t waiting around or having to eat cold food – and make sure those orders are accurate too. Dedicate prep and pick-up areas for order-ahead meals. Make it easy for customers picking up orders to know where to go – clarify the process with simple directions on your website and clear signage at your restaurant.
There’s a crisis. What’s your food safety plan?
While natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t common, we’re living in an era when sudden weather events are taking a major toll on people’s lives, not to mention their food supply. Even storms on a smaller scale could cause contamination from flood water, pests, insufficiently cleaned equipment and compromised food sources. Do you have a plan for if and when the safety of your operation is at risk? The FDA recommends a number of guidelines when you’re managing such an event. First, ensure all rodents and other pests have been cleared from the facility, seal any cracks that could provide entry for them and discard spoiled food that could attract them. Discard and properly dispose of any food that has been submerged in flood waters – the only exception is food in undamaged, hermetically sealed cans that have had labels removed and have been washed and sanitized. If your facility has been in contact with flood waters, confirm that your well has not been flooded, wash all facility surfaces in a hot detergent solution followed by a sanitizing solution, recondition or replace surfaces with mold growth, and clean your exhaust system and hood and have it inspected. Examine your equipment, utensils, display cases, filters and other equipment and thoroughly clean and sanitize them. Some equipment, such as dishwashers and ice machines, should run through three cycles following cleaning to ensure they’re free of contaminants. Make sure all equipment can cool or heat to the required temperatures for maintaining food safety. All food supplies should be provided by a licensed, approved food source and received by a person who is responsible for ensuring the food containers are undamaged and that food requiring cold storage arrives either frozen or at temperatures below 41˚F. You may need to serve a limited menu until your operation has its usual inventory and roster of employees on hand.
Don’t make your neighbors hunt for you online
How do locals find you? The National Restaurant Association says 83 percent of adults consult their smartphones or tablets to find restaurant locations, directions, and hours of operation, and 55 percent of adults read restaurant reviews. Further, Google says searches with the words “near me,” “closest” and “nearby” have doubled since last year. To best capture your local online audience, Modern Restaurant Management suggests you have a clear local marketing strategy, along with a thorough, mobile-friendly website that includes the essential information customers need, shareable content and a connection to online reviews. First off, make sure people can find you when they’re looking for nearby restaurants. Check your listings on review sites like Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and Google My Business to ensure they’re updated with your location, contact information and latest menu. Enhance your SEO with keywords and links that will elevate your standing in online searches. Next, find out where your best guests spend time on social media and focus your efforts on those sites (and with the content that does best on those platforms). If you know your target demographic well, consider Facebook advertising to help you deliver content to people based on factors like gender, age, interests and location. Finally, monitor your online presence and be ready to act when you get reviews – provide a constructive, professional response when a negative one comes through and share any positive feedback on your website and social media channels to get the most mileage from your happy guests.
A restaurant more like a memorable dinner party
Some millennial chefs around the country are testing out new alternative restaurants – pop-up dinner parties that feel more like social gatherings with friends than dining establishments – and they’re generating a lot of buzz. Food & Wine reports that these chefs are cultivating a special social environment – it could be a homey space filled with couches, chairs, friends’ artwork and musical entertainment – and then hand-picking attendees who gather for a flat price to enjoy the company along with a selection of food (though not necessarily anything from a menu). Consider hosting occasions like these for your most loyal guests, or if you’re looking to test new menu ideas or concepts on a willing audience.
We all wish we could be more efficient. Mobile technology can help and the U.S. wants it -- Pew research indicates 77 percent of Americans now own smartphones. Modern Restaurant Management says there are three key ways having a robust mobile strategy streamlines your day-to-day operations. For one, mobile ordering opens you up to a larger customer base that will likely place larger orders because they don’t have to wait for them. Automating the ordering and reservation-making process will free up your staff’s time too. Even an app just for your staff can make ordering, payment, scheduling and bookkeeping more efficient. Next, allowing people to order ahead minimizes errors and therefore, waste. You’ll quickly see what your most popular items are, which will help you know how to tweak your menu. Finally, having a mobile strategy helps you build a better loyalty program. No more punch cards to lose. Your customers will receive points automatically with each purchase, and you will be able to see patterns in how they redeem their rewards (so you can offer more of what they like and bring them back in the door more frequently).
Panera steps up beverage transparency
Panera is making a new push to be transparent with its guests – even if its beverage sales suffer in the short term. Business Insider reports that Panera’s strategy to promote its new low-sugar craft beverage line, which includes options like blood orange lemonade and passion papaya green tea, will include serving drinks in cups labeled with the calories and grams of sugar that its broader line of beverages contains. This will likely steer customers away from high-profit-margin soft drinks (which pack a whopping 17.25 added teaspoons of sugar) and toward Panera’s new craft beverages, which are more expensive to produce but include far less sugar. The chain’s CEO hopes the effort will build loyalty. Panera commissioned a survey that found that 99 percent of Americans were unaware of the sugar their beverages contain. It wants to help educate its guests – and along the way, demonstrate that it’s a reliable place to go for a healthy meal.
Food traceability gets a boost
Food traceability is becoming increasingly important as our supply chain gets more complex. Food Safety magazine reports that a new guideline was published recently by a special traceability workgroup of suppliers, distributors and foodservice operators who wanted to enhance traceability practices in the wake of foodborne illness outbreaks. The guideline suggests case-level traceability processes that use GS1-128 barcodes to track cases of product across the foodservice supply chain. As consumers continue to demand food transparency, locally grown products and sound animal welfare practices, traceability efforts such as these could be critical to business. (A recent study from the Center for Food Integrity found that consumers want transparency around a company’s business practices just as much as they want food product labels.)
Redesign your way to a new vibe
The right restaurant design can take a business from good to great (assuming your food is just as good as its surroundings). In a Bloomberg interview, the design guru David Rockwell shared some design tweaks that can help transform a space. Some of the details he pays attention to? First, the entrance should have a sense of theater – it’s where guests make snap decisions about how welcoming the place is, what kinds of people eat there and how good the food is likely to be. Second, notice the noise – and make it appropriate for the space. In pockets of the restaurant where you want less of a din, ceiling perforations or fabric can absorb sound. Next, adjust your flow. A room with more than four tables across can feel like a cafeteria, so interspersing long and short tables and different levels can provide contrast. Just don’t create seating areas where people don’t want to go – use banquettes in corners or install displays that transform potentially unwanted areas into focal points. Use lighting as a way to vary the ambience between lunch and dinner and to bring a warmer or cooler vibe.
Look behind your website
When it comes to mining the best data to market your restaurant, your website is the best place to look -- if you know what to look for. To understand how people are responding to it, NextRestaurants recommends you first look beyond the general traffic you're attracting. While it's easy to associate a rise in general traffic with a successful site, it can merely mean that your SEO is doing well. General traffic figures are more reliable when combined with your bounce rate, website flow and traffic sources. A high bounce rate isn't always a bad thing -- it could indicate that the visitor found the needed information and just moved on -- but on a more densely packed page that takes time to load or one with pop-up ads, a high bounce rate might indicate that people are frustrated with the page and are abandoning your site without investigating it further. Understanding the user flow of your site will provide a visual representation of how people use it. If they're navigating the site in ways that differ from the ideal flow you envision, there may be links that are difficult to find or items that are distracting visitors from where you'd like them to go. Finally, if you study your numbers of new and returning users, you'll have a sense of how many people are visiting your site. While attracting new visitors is important to growth, it's also important to attract return visitors. Make sure you're offering content -- whether promotions, coupons or other timely offers -- that succeeds at bringing people back.
Putting UberEATS data to work
Since the UberEATS app launched just two years ago, it has grown to include more than 60,000 restaurants in 112 cities. Now the company wants to continue to push the boundaries of food delivery by building more trust with restaurants and helping advance restaurant technology, according to Chetan Narain, senior product manager for UberEATS restaurants. In a recent Skift article, he discussed how analytics are helping to make that happen. For example, the UberEATS Restaurant Manager tool includes a customer satisfaction section where for every dish it asks what fraction of customers gave it a “thumbs-up” and what tags are associated with the “thumbs-down” ratings received. Say a dish is rated 75 percent thumbs up, for example. Of the people who gave it a thumbs down, 90 percent mention portion size, or 90 percent mention presentation or how the dish held up. This feedback, in turn, is giving restaurants a lot of guidance about how they can change or adapt their menu for not just delivery but for what they're doing in-house too. One operator, Narain says, uses delivery as a testing ground for new dishes, taking in detailed reviewer feedback to make tweaks to dishes that eventually appear on the menu in-house.
Amazon technology to watch
Amazon's latest forays into the food business could pose a challenge to restaurants. Reuters reports that Amazon is exploring a technology first developed for the U.S. military to prepare ready-to-eat meals that don't need refrigeration. Amazon is preparing to sell prepared meals including beef stew and vegetable frittata as early as next year, according to the report. The items are easy to stockpile and ship and could be sold inexpensively, adding a potential new area of competition for restaurants and grocery stores that offer take-out options.
Out with room service, in with restaurant meals
Are hotels (and their employees) part of your marketing plan? Hotel room service -- traditionally a money-loser for hotels -- is becoming a benefit fewer travelers are demanding, according to USA Today. It says the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that 37 percent of hotels offered room service in 2014 as opposed to 22 percent in 2016, and 71 percent of luxury hotels offered alternatives to room service last year. Restaurants and grocery stores are stepping up by providing prepared meals, grab-and-go foods and meal kits to offer some of those alternatives. It can pay to be on the radar of hotels in your region, along with those who work there. Hyatt Centric, for one, has partnered with Grubhub to provide meal delivery from restaurants selected by hotel employees.
Picture-perfect food safety training
When you conduct food safety training, to what extent do you use images to convey important messages? An FDA study recommends it -- both for those who speak English as a second language and native speakers. Food Safety Market says visual presentations and storyboards that use graphics and colors more predominantly than text do a more effective job of communicating safety messages in any language, so when posting food safety signs and conducting training, complement any text with a related image. Use color-coding to help your team readily identify important warnings, as well as kitchen tools used for different foods.
Even if your kitchen has an ideal flow, your sinks are located away from sources of contamination and you have a well-planned sanitation routine, you could still have a contamination problem if your ventilation system isn't operating as it should. Do you have a plan in place for inspecting, testing, maintaining and cleaning it regularly to avoid the build-up of contaminants? If not, Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions says your ventilation system could be spreading flour dust, nut particles or other allergens throughout the facility. Those particles could contaminate virtually everything. Be sure to cover all flours, nuts and other common allergens to prevent cross-contact.
Ensure food safety door to door
Consumers want speedy, inexpensive food delivery -- but operators have to balance those desires with the need for food safety. Be specific about your needs when negotiating with third-party delivery providers. As Catering Insights put it recently, food safety mandates may vary state by state, but restaurant contracts with third-party delivery companies should be negotiated to include food safety specifications. Consider whether you need to require that drivers use hot/cold bags to keep food temperatures safe and that no more than a fixed amount of time can pass between pick-up and drop-off, for example. Have clear standards in place when it comes to pick-up procedures, complaint processing, minimum insurance levels and limiting the number of stops drivers can make.
Save time on social media
No time for social media? Most operators handle social media in-house in addition to a host of other responsibilities, so it's easy to give it less attention than it needs. To help you save time, Social Media Week suggests some tips: For one, use a social media management system to set up a consistent posting schedule and streamline your efforts across different channels -- and consider using a dashboard that allows you to look at all of your social media activity in one place. Next, focus on two or three platforms and handle them well instead of dabbling in many of them. This will help you make a bigger, more visible impact on the platforms you select, as well as facilitate management of the customer comments and inquiries that come to you via social media. When someone mentions your brand online, make sure you know about it. Google Alerts is one free service that will send an email when a brand is mentioned. Mention.com and Hootsuite will also track social media and other online mentions and send you an email when they happen. Finally, create a bank of social media posts for different platforms -- sample tweets, Google+ updates or Facebook posts for example, using the language and word count appropriate for each site. Then grab an item from the bank in a variety of situations, such as when you profile an employee or announce specials or contests.
To boost your online power, look to peers with best formulas
As you build your online presence, from your website to your social media platforms, you have to keep a range of best practices in mind to ensure your content is as effective as it could be. Looking for tips from some pros? Toast recently shared the names of several operators who excel in different areas of online content: Sweetgreen, for example, is great at projecting a consistent voice. To weave their clean, modern look throughout their brand, they use only lowercase letters on social media (consistent with their app, logo and website), the same photography across all of their marketing materials, as well as a strategy for emoji use on social media. Looking for guidance in responding to reviews? Check out Paris Creperie's positive, professional approach. Pieology Pizzeria successfully attracts and posts consumer-generated content -- essentially free marketing -- on all of their social media channels and follows up by offering online coupons. Mei Mei Street Kitchen is great at posting features about employees, which has humanized the business and enhanced its image as a friendly brand. To engage followers, Which Wich asks funny questions on social media, managing to make something as mundane as a BLT into a fun discussion topic. If you feel you're lacking for content, try chiming in on some news already happening. For example, when a Nor'easter hit Boston, Upper Crust Pizza hopped on social media and used already-trending hashtags (like #openinBOS) to post a photo of their staff with a local weatherman.
Turn food waste into a business opportunity
Want to minimize food waste? One major food processor, New York City-based Baldor, is turning organic waste into big business, according to Fast Company. Baldor washes, chops and packages produce for grocery stores and restaurants -- and finds creative uses for the trimmings it once discarded. The company, which once sent 150,000 pounds of food waste to landfills or composting facilities each week, now sends nothing. It sells vegetable leftovers to chefs for use in stocks or sauces. Fruit scraps go to juiceries that use them in cold-pressed drinks. Rinds and other items not suitable for people are made into animal feed. Items that fall on the floor or arrive rotten are sent through a waste-to-water machine that turns the food into a slurry that can go down the drain. The company is using some vegetable waste to create completely new products as well, like a dry vegetable blend that can replace wheat in some recipes while increasing the nutrient content.
A better, faster, cheaper way to detect E. coli
The expansion of the food supply chain has made it that much easier for foodborne pathogens to spread, but technologies are aiming to keep up. Food Safety magazine reports that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new detection system for E. coli, which causes 73,000 illness and 60 deaths in the U.S. each year. The test uses a liquid that binds to bacterial proteins and can be detected by either the naked eye or a smartphone, which could provide a much faster and cheaper alternative to existing food safety tests. MIT hopes to launch a company to commercialize the new technology within the next year and a half.
Get juiced about food safety
If you offer fresh juices on your menu, take note: Fruits and vegetables contaminated with harmful bacteria cause 46 percent of food poisonings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- and much of that contamination comes not from the produce itself but from how it is packed, stored and prepared. Food Safety magazine recommends you wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after prep, give leafy greens a cold-water-and-vinegar bath for five to 10 minutes and rinse, wash all other produce in running water (scrubbing those with firm rinds), cut away damaged or rotten areas, and dry produce afterwards to reduce surface bacteria.
Regulatory hurdles for burger that bleeds
Impossible Foods, which generated positive buzz in recent months because of its plant-based burger that "bleeds" like real meat, may have inadvertently hurt itself by seeking FDA approval for its secret ingredient. Food Dive reports that Impossible Foods is being encouraged to pull its burger from the market (which includes dozens of restaurants in New York, California, Texas and Nevada) until it can prove it is safe to eat. The burger includes a material called soy leghemoglobin, a protein from soy roots that gives the meat its flavor and texture. FDA regulators have yet provide that acknowledgment, though they didn't say the burger was unsafe. While Impossible Foods said their burger was lab tested and that it did not need FDA approval to sell it, it sought the agency's designation of "generally recognized as safe" in order to build its brand.
When following trends, strategize first
It can be tempting to seize on whatever the hot ingredient du jour might be and find a way to work it onto your menu. But trend cycles move faster now than they used to and it no longer takes years (or even months) for a popular ingredient to progress from food producers to restaurants to consumers' kitchen pantries. Instead of constantly playing catch-up to deliver on-trend ingredients, Flavor & the Menu suggests that when temptation arises, take a step back, look at the larger trend surrounding an ingredient and embrace that instead. So in other words, a consumer fascination with Sriracha may not be about the Sriracha itself but about the desire for added heat. Guests who order kale don't necessarily love kale -- more likely, they love the idea of a healthy lifestyle. If you deliver on the wider trend while staying in line with your brand, you're less apt to jump from one passing fad to another.
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