Take your checklists digital
When it comes to boosting your food safety record, technology might be your restaurant’s greatest ally. Consider the checklists you need to monitor and update, whether for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points compliance to employee training. As Food Safety Magazine reports, having the right digital platform to manage all of your restaurant’s checklists has wide-ranging benefits, allowing you to access multiple sources of information from one location, improving your efficiency and managerial control, and reducing fraud and waste. Of course, there are many options to choose from, but the best ones will let you log time and temperature data, maintain warming and cooling logs, integrate operational checklists on a single interface, conduct an audit, monitor your cleaning compliance, identify potential fraud, and enable you to use checklists as training tools. Make sure the app is easy to navigate and that it has features to help you detect and resolve problems, such as a dish lingering in the temperature danger zone for too long (a problem that brought Chipotle back into the news in recent weeks) or a checklist being completed in a questionable way (a digital checklist can hold employees accountable in ways a paper checklist cannot). It should also allow you to access data and reports remotely and notify you with a real-time alert if and when something goes wrong.
Sweet on sugar?
If your menu includes a lot of added sugar, take note: New research from KerryDigest found that consumers are worried about the levels of sugar, above other ingredients, in food and drinks. One-third of Americans connect sugar with weight gain, 71 percent scan ingredient labels for added sugar and 46 percent want to cut back on their consumption of sugar. Reducing the added sugar in your dishes – and promoting your efforts to guests – can go a long way in showing you’re conscious about health. If you need some sweetness but want to avoid adding artificial sweeteners or sugar per se, the research found that consumers responded best to natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, monk fruit and maple syrup.
Sanitize it right
When you use hot water to sanitize surfaces, take precautions with temperature to protect food safety. Water used as a sanitizer in mechanical washing machines should be cooler than 194˚F, with a final sanitizing rinse of at least 180˚F. Water in a stationary-rack, single-temperature machine should be at least 165˚F. Water used in the third compartment of a three-compartment sink should be at least 171˚F. Food safety research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that cleaned items be exposed to these temperatures for at least 30 seconds to ensure they are properly sanitized.
Ready for guests, no matter the weather
Does a rainy day spell slow sales for your restaurant? For many operators located in regions with widely fluctuating weather, the forecast can have a big impact on business. Denver restaurant Mad Greens found a way to keep its ordering in lock step with what’s happening outside. The restaurant connected its ordering system to a weather forecasting service that can help it prepare more accurately for the size of its crowds by adjusting order sizes. The technology has helped the restaurant reduce food waste by 30 percent.
Go local to manage rising shipping costs
Offering local ingredients on your menu is not only on trend; it’s also becoming a necessity amid the ongoing truck driver shortage that’s expected in the coming years – and the escalating ingredient costs that will result from it. Freight Transportation Research Associates reports that shipping rates in the U.S. shot up 14 percent in the year ending June 30. To manage price hikes, do you have a local strategy for everything on your menu – not just the seasonal specialties? Now is the time to anticipate menu changes you can make to better adapt to what’s available in your region throughout each season – and to identify a list of back-up suppliers who may not have as far to go to deliver product. You can even make it competitive, like Bounce in Milwaukee, which lists beer selections in order of the restaurant’s proximity to each brewery, Restaurant Business reports.
Tech with a human touch
Your guests expect the convenience and personalization that technology provides, but they likely still want it delivered with human interaction. Helping restaurant operators strike that balance is a key topic in “Diners of the Future,” a new report from SevenRooms. As your guests’ needs evolve, you might be considering incorporating technology ranging from AI-powered chatbots to automated assistants who can field inquiries to your restaurant. Ask yourself how these tools can improve the guest experience while helping your guest-facing employees do their jobs even better. Can it enable your guests to request a favorite server? Can it help a server greet all returning guests by name (not just your longtime servers and most loyal guests), guide them to their preferred table or remember their favorite appetizers? Could your restaurant create a personalized menu for a guest based on their food preferences you have stored in your database? This kind of specialization continues to be a priority for restaurant guests in the U.S., with at least 20 percent selecting restaurants that can provide individualized experiences, according to the report. While the generation coming of age is comfortable with technology, which will make it increasingly common in restaurants, the current challenge, SevenRooms says, is to nimbly offer the technology-enabled conveniences that those guests expect – while also ensuring that your existing guests experience the human touch without noticing the technology running behind the scenes that helps to make it all possible.
Guest education with flair
You want to stay on trend – but do some of your guests need help in following your lead when it comes to stepping out of their comfort zone? When you introduce global dishes and flavors, consider how to weave guest education into the experience in a lighthearted way. Sushi-San, a sushi concept in Chicago, made Restaurant Business’s “50 Great Ideas” list for its tool to teach guests how to order sushi: The restaurant has a pulled-apart stuffed tuna behind the counter, and chefs and servers can point to different parts of the fish when explaining the parts that go into its sushi and sashimi dishes.
How will the trucking industry’s challenges affect you?
How well are your suppliers managing the growing shortage of truck drivers around the country? Your knowledge of their strategy could determine how much of a pinch you feel from pricing spikes in the months ahead. Forbes reports that after 2017 saw the greatest shortfall of truck drivers on record, the American Trucking Associations estimate that there could be 174,000 unfilled driver positions by 2026. A poll of shippers, carriers and brokers by Morgan Stanley found that trucking costs are likely to increase 6.4 percent on average this year. The strength of the economy is only making the problem worse by increasing consumer demand. As a result of the constraints facing the industry, restaurants are likely to experience delays in food deliveries, inconsistencies in service in general and pricing increases. To help, industry operators have proposed relaxing the driving age to 18, offering higher wages, loosening regulations on electronic hour logging, recruiting more women and eventually adding driverless trucks to fleets, according to the Forbes report. You can put your restaurant in a better position to weather the challenges in the meantime by maintaining open communication with suppliers so you can anticipate when and how the effects of the driver shortage will trickle down to your business.
Ready, set, crisis
In the restaurant industry, preparing for expected challenges – ingredient pricing fluctuations, guest complaints, staff turnover – is difficult enough. But you also need an airtight plan to manage the unexpected, particularly as extremes in weather become more common. According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, only 40 percent of businesses that experience a disaster resume operations afterward, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that almost 75 percent of small businesses do not have a disaster plan. Upserve advises restaurant operators to have a crisis management plan that achieves these criteria: It reduces or eliminates negative impacts on your business, including your sales, traffic, earnings, etc.; it protects or improves your image with guests, key stakeholders, employees and the public; it helps you resume operations as quickly as possible; and it limits your competition’s ability to capitalize on the event. To prepare, review your insurance plan with your broker and consider different scenarios to understand the limits of your coverage. Make sure you have an up-to-date inventory of your food, supplies, equipment and technology. Create a crisis management team comprising your most trusted staff, marketing, public relations and human resources personnel, and perhaps your attorney. Have the group draft a risk assessment plan, along with a communications plan that helps you steer through a crisis step by step and outlines roles and responsibilities. Conduct a mock exercise each year to test your plan and make sure you have assessed your risks thoroughly.
Improve allergy awareness
When allergic guests visit your restaurant, your waitstaff (and perhaps the electronic allergen detection device they carry) form a critical line of defense between them and a potentially life-threatening allergy. But as the blog Allergy Amulet notes, “many waiters don’t know that pesto usually contains pine nuts, that marzipan is almond paste, or that peanuts and nutmeg are not tree nuts.” Further, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control found that restaurants were responsible for nearly half of all food allergy fatalities during a 13-year period and that fewer than half of all restaurant managers, and only one-third of servers, receive formal training on food allergies. While six states and two cities have passed laws to improve food allergy safety and awareness in restaurants, there is ample room to improve. What steps have you taken on your menu and through staff training efforts to improve communication about allergies?
Do your boards make the cut?
Your cutting board matters when it comes to food safety. Prevailing food safety research has found that plastic cutting boards are easier to sanitize but that cuts to their surface can result in grooves that trap bacteria. While wood is more difficult to sanitize, it’s usually tougher, so scratches aren’t as likely to penetrate the surface. Ben Chapman, a food safety research at North Carolina State University, suggests using plastic cutting boards for meat because those boards can be washed and sanitized at high temperatures in a dishwasher, and using wood for produce and other ready-to-eat foods. When purchasing wood cutting boards, Chapman suggests looking for hardwoods with a fine grain, like maple. They pull down fluid and trap the bacteria, which is then killed as the board dries after cleaning. Softer woods, like cypress, won’t dull the edge of your knife, but cuts to their surface are more likely to create grooves where bacteria can grow.
Pizza sales in the United States contribute $38 billion in revenue to the food industry each year, according to the small business consultant Brandon Gaille. You can expand your slice of that pie by making some on-trend tweaks to your pizza selection as the weather cools and guests look for heartier fare. Are you located in an area with appealing specialties? Try incorporating local meats, cheeses and produce onto a limited-time pizza entrée or appetizer. Sustainable seafood can take your pizza upscale, or experiment with plant-based ingredients for a vegan-friendly pie – like the vegan sausage, cashew ricotta, jackfruit meatballs and vegan cheese offered up at Brooklyn-based Paulie Gee’s.
Update your site the right way
Is your website giving your guests the information they need, when they need it? Since most consumers research their dining options online before committing to a restaurant, it’s crucial to keep your site updated, especially in some key areas. A report from Skift Table and Bentobox suggests you start with your site analytics, whether from the backend of your site or Google Analytics, to understand how guests are finding your site and what they’re searching for so you can adjust your updates and campaigns to mesh with their searches. Basic information like your location, menu, online ordering and reservations comprise 60 percent of restaurant website traffic, and since most of those items don’t change, you can prioritize updates to your menu. When you have special events or weekly specials planned, schedule a social media blast – and do it early in the week, say Monday at noon, since posting on a Friday night will make it a challenge to get attention.
Build your brand on Instagram
If you’re looking to commit to one social media network to build your brand, Instagram is the place to target. Social Media Week reports that the site, above others, is successfully remaking the social media profile of many brands. That’s especially important to note if you’ve been favoring Facebook for your social media campaigns, since the changes Facebook made to its algorithm this year limit the spread of publisher content on news feeds to give preference to posts from friends and family. A report from NetBase found that Instagram beat out Youtube and Facebook in its research of the most-loved global brands. And while social media brands and digital companies topped the list, some others made major strides in generating engagement. Nikon jumped the farthest: 46 spots to No. 16, and Chevrolet, Canon and Burger King also made major gains on the platform. In Nikon’s case, the brand has successfully communicated the lifestyle of Nikon users, offering up travel and food-related content, how-to videos and monthly challenges. They’ve also developed an influencer base called Nike Ambassadors, who build the brand’s base by sharing their own stories.
Is your ordering up to par?
When you replenish your supply of key ingredients, do you order against par levels? If not, Orderly says you could be wasting supplies and money by over-ordering, under-ordering, or spending too much on inventory. Say you're in the midst of a dinner rush and you run out of an ingredient customers will miss -- bacon or tortilla chips or avocado, for example -- and you have to dash to the store to pick it up. Not a problem if it happens now and then, but if you're doing this every week, the waste adds up. You can avoid this scenario by having an inventory par level set -- or the normal amount of an ingredient you want to have on hand at any time -- then paying attention to your par levels and reordering based on that level when you see your supply slip. Orderly gives the example of a restaurant known for its chicken tacos that uses 20 bags of tortillas in a typical week. If you order once a week, you might set your par at 25 to ensure you don't run out midweek, then reorder based on that par level. If you have a busy week, you have some extra on hand. If business is slow, you're not ordering 20 bags of tortillas when you already have 15 in stock. This system can also help you avoid getting overstocked on items that are no longer as popular due to a change of season. Finally, when you pay attention to your par levels and adjust your orders each time based on those levels, you send the message to suppliers that you are vigilant about your inventory. You're more likely to notice pricing spikes on your invoices -- and to have a discussion with suppliers when that happens.
Law and labor
When you write a job description or interview a candidate, do you know how to avoid discriminatory language that may lead to a lawsuit? In a recent interview with Foodable, employment attorney Lexington Wolff addressed how restaurant operators can protect themselves by anticipating potential allegations of discrimination. She said that innocently misused language could discriminate against certain races, handicaps, or age groups -- for example, does your job posting for a hostess say the person must "walk" guests to a table as opposed to a more inclusive term like "lead"? If you tend to hire a lot of students, do you mention your "energetic, young" workforce in job ads? This kind of language may weed certain people out of your candidate pool and open you up for charges of discrimination. Wolff said there are many areas that can trip-up restaurant operators, from social media background checks to questions about drug use that might violate HIPAA laws. As you review your process for posting jobs and interviewing and screening applicants, Wolff recommends operators ask themselves how a judge might see their actions if a discrimination claim was made. When creating job descriptions, stick to listing job requirements and not preferences -- for example, while a candidate with a college degree might be your preference, it may not be a necessity. Other tips: Don't attempt to learn online what you could not learn in a job interview. Get written consent for contacting references, and finally, consider having a third-party company screen candidates and funnel only the required information to you as a safeguard.
Boost your breakfast business
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a person -- and that may hold true for restaurants. Technomic's Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, which included responses from more than 1500 consumers, found that consumers are hungry for breakfast well beyond the morning hours, and operators have an opportunity to make standard breakfast fare more interesting. The report indicated that 39 percent of consumers want all-day breakfast from restaurants, 30 percent buy breakfast outside of morning hours and 35 percent would visit a restaurant they wouldn't necessarily visit if it offered breakfast items beyond the morning. To build your breakfast business, try adding Latin, Indian or Asian spices to traditional breakfast foods, experimenting with dinner foods that could be reinvented for breakfast, or offering breakfast items that can be ordered as convenience foods -- the report said that consumers are even embracing breakfast bowls to go.
Fine-tune your restaurant tech
DoorDash recently added free in-store pickup to its app. Skift Table reports that Chipotle tested a system (Panera currently offers it too) whereby completed digital orders were placed on shelves in a quiet part of the restaurant, awaiting for customers to walk in, grab their prepaid food from the shelf and go. The merits of some of these changes may be questionable: Why is there a need to use an app to place a pick-up order instead of the website? How can a restaurant ensure an order gets to the right person -- and isn't just taken off the shelf by a passerby looking for a free meal? Still, it's worth revisiting your delivery system and technology to ensure you're addressing potential pain points for customers. How can you tweak your system to minimize wait times or congestion at your pick-up counter and improve staff efficiency? If you have an app, how can you fine-tune it so you make the process of accepting orders, collecting pre-payment and getting food to customers as seamless as possible?
Starbucks could help bring Bitcoin payments to mainstream
If you're taking stock of innovations in customer payment technology, take note of what Starbucks has planned: Tech Crunch reports that the coffee retailer is one of the major companies supporting the launch of Bakkt, a new company that will help trade and convert Bitcoin into government-backed legal tender. Starbucks has already done much to expand the popularity of mobile payments, and its involvement with Bakkt is a sign that it may be positioning itself to accept Bitcoin converted through the Bakkt system -- and help lend legitimacy to Bitcoin as a means of payment for mainstream consumers.
More kiosks, more staff?
While Shake Shack and many other restaurant brands may be introducing more kiosks in an effort to manage rising labor costs, McDonald's seems to be taking a different approach. Bloomberg reports that at the brand's newly redesigned flagship location in Chicago, customers will find self-order kiosks, mobile orders and payments, and delivery -- all without cutting down on entry-level jobs. In fact, the company claims it is employing more people with the introduction of kiosks. While industry analysts are skeptical, McDonald's says it is simply repurposing their staff in an effort to improve convenience as they serve more customers. Do you use kiosks? Have they helped you reduce labor costs or improve guest experience?
Food safety in a few steps
From managing norovirus outbreaks to insect infestations to the safety standards of suppliers, navigating food safety is a daily challenge for restaurant operators. CoInspect, a software company that supports food safety, quality assurance and standards management for restaurants and food manufacturers, shared some tips to stay on top of it: First, vary the work so employees aren't completing the same tedious checklists each day, and create digital checklists that rotate among staff and are quick to complete. Have your team use photos and video during routine inspections -- recording inspections with a pencil makes it to easy to cut corners. Next, in between official third-party inspections, have an outside expert conduct a food safety inspection to make sure you stay on track. Use tech tools to manage proper food storage, equipment operation and temperature maintenance. Finally, commit to food safety protocols and follow them from the top down so employees get the message that you practice what you preach.
Ready for seasonal pricing shifts?
As soon as the summer weather starts cooling off, your guests' tastes will rapidly shift from light, cool dishes to healthier ones. (Hence the pumpkin spice mania that seems to erupt every September.) Ingredient pricing trends will also change, creating a window where you can take advantage of deals -- or possibly be taken advantage of by a supplier who hopes you're not paying attention. Will you be ready? Using software or other tools that can help you study pricing trends will give you a head start. As a report in Orderly says, if you're blindly ordering new ingredients without considering the bigger picture, your profits could suffer. It's important to understand how the prices you are paying compare to local and national rates, as well as pricing trends over time, so you can be informed when negotiating with your suppliers. By doing so, you can catch price spikes and make sure you're not paying top dollar for an item that has dropped in price. Or, you can know when you're getting a better deal than other operators in the region or the country and respond accordingly, whether that means incorporating more of an item on the menu or trying to lock in a price with a supplier. If you're right in the middle, you can have some assurance that you're managing price fluctuations well.
Tech is enhancing restaurant performance, guest satisfaction
Investments in technology and enhancing the overall guest experience are paying off for American restaurants in the form of increased sales. That's according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Restaurant Report 2018, which reported a 2 percent increase for the restaurant industry as compared with last year. NBC reports that the improved scores at both full-service and quick-service restaurants are the result of higher scores for the courtesy of waitstaff, food and beverage quality and variety, and the speed with which an order was taken. Technology is playing a role in many of those improvements by enabling restaurants to update their food offering more regularly, monitor the quality of their food more closely, and to get food to guests more quickly and efficiently via mobile ordering and automated kiosks. As for the final point, online ordering, kiosks and mobile engagement seem to be gaining ground for consumers of all ages, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2017 State of the Industry Report. Of the consumers surveyed, one in three said they are using more restaurant technologies now as compared to two years ago. Other research from Cornell University has found that the technology is also providing the double benefit of reducing dining time and increasing check sizes.
Many ordering channels, one point of contact
As off-premise dining options are gaining momentum, many operators are setting themselves up to receive orders via multiple channels -- from takeout to delivery to catering -- and from mobile, call-in or in-person sources. While orders coming from a number of directions can be a boon to business, they can also create chaos if not managed effectively. In a recent Foodable interview, Richard Hodges, vice-president of operations services at La Madeleine, said his restaurant uses technology that funnels orders from multiple channels into a single bucket. An order from the restaurant's call center will come up in the kitchen in the same way an order placed via a Yelp review does. Hodges says their system has minimized the number of people involved in preparing an order -- there aren't two, three, four people touching an order -- and their accuracy has improved significantly as a result.
Get into a pickle
If you've got excess vegetables on hand and want to minimize waste in a way that maximizes your opportunities on the menu, consider adding some pickled vegetables to your lineup. As Food & Wine reports, pickled carrots can be a great complement to cocktails, and there is a wide range of produce (and accompanying spices) to try: Garlic, onion, beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, jicama, cauliflower and celery are all good options, and your additions to those items can lend broad variety. Try experimenting with yellow and brown mustard seed, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley or tarragon.
Take the right temperature
Keeping food at a certain temperature -- and ensuring it doesn't spend too much time in the temperature danger zone -- is critical to preserving food safety. But your temperature measurements are only as good as your thermometer. Statefoodsafety.com advises that your thermometer should be accurate within ±2°F. If it falls out of that range, calibrate it.
A foodborne illness's most likely source
A new analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 10,000 people were sickened by foodborne illness outbreaks between 2009 and 2015. A major culprit was chicken, which the research found was behind 12 percent of illnesses. Pork and seeded vegetables weren't far behind 10 percent each. While fish and dairy caused more individual outbreaks than other foods, those outbreaks sickened smaller numbers of people. To help prevent foodborne illness, cook proteins thoroughly -- poultry to 145 degrees and meat to 160 degrees -- use a food thermometer and refrigerate any leftovers promptly.
Guests may be ordering fewer calories -- but only on certain dishes
If your restaurant lists calorie counts for menu items, you might see guests skimping on appetizers or entrees -- but not on dessert or drinks. That's according to a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which was based on detailed restaurant data about everything from individual food orders to whether guests shared a plate. Bloomberg reports that the research found that printed calorie information reduced the calories guests ordered by 3 percent -- but only from the appetizer and entree categories. While it did not account for any decreased consumption of drinks or desserts once they arrived at the table, calorie counts did not stop guests from ordering those items.
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