Tech innovators to track
A whopping 95 percent of restaurant operators agree that technology improves their business efficiency, while 73 percent of guests agree that tech enhances their experience at a restaurant, according to research from Toast. If you’re looking to advance your technology game, look to three brands that Restaurant Business is recognizing with Tech Accelerator Awards for their leadership in advancing back-of-house operations, data science, consumer-facing tools, automation and other technology to enhance business. The first is Domino’s, which reports taking nearly two-thirds of its orders through digital channels. The brand is innovating delivery by launching its Hotspots delivery service to parks and other locations that don’t have an address, as well as testing self-driven cars in certain markets. TGI Friday’s has shown itself to be an innovator with AI and consumer data, focusing on its in-restaurant and online sales to capture guest information from their POS, social media posts, credit card transactions, mobile devices and bots to deliver more personalized experiences and messaging. Beyond that, the brand is exploring new ways for consumers to place orders, such as via Facebook, Amazon’s Alexa and OnStar devices offered through GM. Finally, the emerging brand Zume Pizza is being recognized for its robot-centric premise: Pizzas are made with the help of robots, cooked in mobile kitchens that are centrally located based on predictive demand, then delivered by car or scooter. (If you aspire to such a model, note that Zume is planning to license the technology at the base of its business.)
Delivery’s next development?
As consumers are demanding their favorite foods whenever and wherever they want them, delivery companies are following suit. Popular overseas delivery operator Deliveroo just launched a new feature, Food Market, which could be a sign of where delivery is headed in the U.S. (particularly in light of reports that Uber is in talks to buy Deliveroo). Food Market enables consumers to select dishes from different restaurants when placing a delivery order via Deliveroo, so they can order their favorite salad from one restaurant and their favorite burger from another — or more easily satisfy the tastes of several people when ordering for a group.
Remind employees to lather up
As the season of colds and flu approaches, remind your staff of the importance of washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds at regular intervals. It’s the best way to remove the kinds of pathogens foodservice workers carry on their hands. Make it regular soap, since antibacterial soap needs additional scrub time to kill bacteria and doesn’t affect viruses and other pathogens, according to Statefoodsafety.com. Antibacterial hand sanitizers are helpful once employees have washed their hands with soap and water, but they are less effective when they come into contact with water, proteins, feces and blood and they will not kill norovirus, which is the top cause of foodborne illness outbreaks.
Shift to a four-week accounting cycle
How often do you conduct accounting reviews of your business? If you work on a monthly basis, you may want to reconsider: Orderly suggests accounting reviews on a four-week cycle, giving you 13 four-week periods to review over the course of a year. Since each cycle is exactly 28 days, you will be able to make more accurate comparisons to other periods in order to calculate your profits and losses.
Get to know Alexa
Could voice-activated ordering have a place in your business? The technology is poised to change the mobile ordering landscape in the near future. The consulting firm Capgemini expects consumers to use voice technology for 18 percent of their total spending within three years — up from 3 percent now. Forbes reports that Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Denny’s, Wingstop and Fazoli’s are among the brands that now offer voice ordering, with many using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, a chatbot or some combination to allow customers to place an order. The tech startup Orderscape, which currently works with brands including Fazoli’s, reports being in discussions with more than 20 other brands looking to build business via voice search. Orderscape’s CEO predicts the technology will soon evolve into a more interactive, frictionless conversation in which the customer can order the full menu — not simply place a reorder or choose from a slimmed-down variety of options.
Growth without delivery
As the demand for off-premise dining grows and restaurants scramble to make third-party delivery work for them logistically and financially, it can be easy to forget something: Third-party delivery may not be the right fit for your restaurant and you can find a formula for growth without it. Consider Darden, one large player in the industry that has held off on it. FSR Magazine reports that Darden CEO Gene Lee is taking a wait-and-see approach to third-party delivery, particularly for its Olive Garden brand, for a few reasons: He’s not sure it will be executed well. He is skeptical about its potential for creating growth at scale. The financials of third-party delivery aren’t appealing. It would mean losing control of valuable consumer data. And it could threaten the profitability of Olive Garden’s growing off-premise business. Factors like this have not prevented other restaurants from jumping into the third-party delivery space. But Olive Garden, for one, is proof that big growth is possible without third-party delivery. The brand reported a 5.3 percent surge in same-store sales in the first quarter, along with double-digit increases in its off-premise business (it currently delivers $100 catering orders placed 24 hours in advance but not individual entrees). It is instead focusing on replicating and improving upon its popular promotions and high-value menu items like “create your own lasagne” and “buy one, get one” deals on entrees — as well as staying true to their core customer and improving engagement with that person. They’re proof that taking the contrarian view can work.
The flavor of meat, minus the beef
Plant-based foods are having a big moment right now — and even lab-grown alternatives are generating some buzz as potential options on future quick-service menus. Still, many consumers are seeking the positive aspects of eating meat, such as the flavor, aroma, heat and heartiness, while minimizing the negative ones. Research from Mintel suggests operators can achieve this by applying cooking methods used with meat — such as curing, grilling and smoking — to fish, vegetables or
plant-based options like Ahimi. Using pastrami spices or other seasonings normally reserved for burgers can help to provide an experience that will ensure guests don’t miss the meat. One Green Planet also suggests creating a spice rub of chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, mustard powder, brown sugar, salt and pepper for a steak-like taste.
Find the perfect package
As off-premise dining has become increasingly common, food packaging has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Take IHOP’s new multi-tiered take-away packaging, designed to keep combo menu items hot, with minimal moisture, in a compact carrying case. Whether you choose glass, metal, plastics, paper, cardboard, environmentally sustainable materials now in production or some combination of the above, Food Safety Tech advises operators to keep some parameters in mind. Above all, the packaging you select for your takeout menu should help you preserve food and provide a barrier to deterioration due to bacteria, contamination by insects or other pests, and physical jolts during transport. Balance the packaging’s impact on the environment with any benefits it provides in minimizing food waste. After all, inadequate storage, preservation and transport of food are key causes of food waste, so consider how your packaging might help minimize it. Is it durable enough to be reused? Can it be recycled or composted? Next, consider what marketing images and information can be added to your packaging. This, along with the indirect message you send through your choice of packaging materials, can help the consumer connect with your brand and values. Finally, in an environment where new players are entering the delivery market, consider adding an element of traceability to your packaging.
Know thy supplier
Amid extreme weather and other changing market conditions, it can be tempting to favor suppliers that offer ingredients for low prices. But hiring a cheap, potentially unregulated supplier can result in a foodborne illness outbreak due to food that hasn’t been properly harvested, processed, stored and delivered. When vetting potential suppliers, Statefoodsafety.com advises asking for records of regulatory permits, licenses and inspection reports, as well as HACCP or HARPC certifications. Conduct an in-person audit of the supplier to understand its manufacturing practices and ask questions. Finally, consider the promises you make to guests about the food you serve: Do you say you offer sustainably sourced seafood, for example? Make sure that you’re aware of any legal requirements tied to food you serve, and that the supplier meets those requirements.
Be allergy aware when labeling
To embrace consumers’ interest in dining whenever and wherever they wish, you may package certain menu items for sale to customers looking for convenient take-away foods. Just make sure that your labels use clear language, bold lettering or even stickers that stand out on the packaging to identify major allergens. Use the common name of the allergen on any packaging to avoid miscommunication. As research from the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program notes, be aware that certain spices, flavors and colors might not have a purpose in the prepared food item (and could inadvertently be omitted on a label) but could still cause reactions in consumers with pronounced food sensitivities.
Tech for better bookings
Technology that enables restaurants to take bookings — and encourages guests to show up for them — is taking off across the industry. If you struggle with no-show guests but think taking credit card information from them would discourage bookings, vendors are offering other options. The blog Big Hospitality reports that the reservations platform Quandoo uses pre-validation technology that asks for a credit card from a consumer making a reservation, but it encourages its restaurant partners to use a carrot vs. stick approach: For example, guests who pre-book a table with a credit card can pre-order their favorite drinks at a reduced rate and have them presented when they arrive at their table. The method increases check sizes, while decreasing the likelihood of no shows.
Make your menu work
Mind your budget busters
How well do you adhere to your restaurant budget? Restaurantowner.com says the vast majority of restaurant failures are, at least in part, the result of a budget that is not at the foundation of key business decisions and lacks accountability. Setting — and sticking to — your operation’s budget will help you identify where you need to save and where you can afford to invest. Upserve recently shared several factors that can negatively impact your numbers. For one, poor management of your inventory can lead to between 4 and 10 percent of your inventory being wasted, so move away from paper-and-pencil inventory management and toward technology that allows you to take a holistic view of your business and spot problems before they become costly. Without such a system, it’s easy for you to lose control of portion sizes and present an inconsistent experience to guests, or to miss signs of employee theft —problems that can also hurt your budget. (Remember to update your software regularly to stay in step with changes to your system.) Next, understand how to retain your best people, since the average cost of replacing a front-line employee is nearly $6,000, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. It can help to reward your top performers and engage employees so they feel invested in the business, as can interviewing employees who are leaving.
For some restaurants looking to minimize food waste by using the entire fruit or vegetable, the compost bin is sparking innovation — and chefs are making no attempt to hide it. Restaurant Business reports that Spice Kitchen & Bar in Cleveland offers “compesto,” a changing concoction of carrot tops, parsley stems and other vegetable trimmings that would have landed in the compost bin, and blends it with couscous as the base for a halibut dish. At Graffiti Earth in New York, a soup was promoted online with the hashtag #eatmycompost.
The benefits of full service without the costs
As the minimum wage continues its ascent in many cities around the country and the cost of living makes it difficult for operators to find and retain quality staff, many restaurants are experimenting with new service structures — such as transitioning from a full-service model to a pub-style, ordering-at-the-counter model, for example. But now that these restaurants lack full-service waitstaff who can promote specials to guests or make menu suggestions that can lead to larger checks, some of them are getting creative about helping guests add to their orders. For instance, Restaurant Business reports that at Xoco, Rick Bayless’s counter-service restaurant in Chicago, guests often overlook dessert when ordering their meal — and if they crave an after-dinner dessert or drink, they may not feel it’s worthwhile to get up and stand in line at the counter again to order it. To make sure people aren’t missing the opportunity to add to their order, bussers at Xoco wear t-shirts that say “I can get you dessert.” Guests can simply flag down anyone wearing one of these shirts and streamline the process of ordering extra food and drink — and Xoco still reaps the benefit of selling these larger-margin, post-meal items to guests.
Finding a symbiotic delivery relationship
There has been a lot of press about how restaurants are losing profits and guest data as they partner with third-party delivery companies. But since off-premise dining seems to be here to stay, restaurants and delivery companies are trying to generate some mutual benefits when it comes to delivering food to consumers. A recent Bloomberg report indicated that since McDonald’s launched its partnership with Uber Eats, delivery orders have been larger than average in-house orders and have helped the brand build late-night business. Further, Uber Eats has been mining its data to help local restaurants transform their delivery menus. When the company found that its Chicago-based users were searching its app for Hawaiian poke delivery, it approached sushi restaurants in the
Try an expanded color-coding system
You may already use color-coded utensils and equipment when managing the specific food sensitivities of guests. A report in Food Safety Tech also recommends color coding as a strategy to protect the overall food safety of an operation. The chef who authored the report said he uses a system that uses seven colors to identify various preparation tools and food storage containers throughout his kitchen. He suggests removing ingredients from their original boxes and storing them in their assigned color-coded, airtight containers to help avoid cross-contamination — and ensuring there are ample pieces of each color in order to avoid having to swap colors for different uses. His verdict: the system is simple for staff to use and saves time, making it easier for his operation to comply with food safety standards
Are you allergy ready?
When a guest with an allergy dines with you, how well does your team — from your waitstaff to your line cooks — know how to respond? If your cooks aren’t fully up-to-date on what items on your menu contain traces of gluten, for example, your waitstaff can’t adequately protect a guest with celiac disease from an allergic reaction. Statefoodsafety.com suggests developing a separate menu to offer guests with sensitivities so they don’t have to scan the regular menu and weed out all of the items they can’t have. Also make sure you have a reliable system in place for waitstaff and cooks to communicate about allergies — using codes that refer to different sensitivities can help make sure important messages aren’t lost in translation.
Preserve your reputation on online review sites
Gone are the days when a guest’s harrowing experience at a restaurant — or even a mildly disappointing one — stayed within the establishment. As online reviews have made it easy for guests to share every detail of their meal, negative (and highly public) feedback has become one more thing for restaurant operators to manage. Upserve suggests you bear some tips in mind when responding to guest reviews online: Apologize and offer a solution if one is needed, and if possible, clarify policies you have in place without getting defensive. Provide your phone number or email address and encourage the guest to contact you to resolve the problem to her satisfaction, whether with a discount, reimbursement or other offer — it may even result in the guest adjusting her review. In your quest for glowing feedback, however, don’t pay for an online reputation management service to scrub your negative reviews. A restaurant with a sea of five-star reviews comes across as less credible than one that has mostly great reviews, with a handful of mediocre ones in the mix.
Are you built for speed?
For many restaurants, speed has long equalled sales. Consider a study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which found that every seven seconds a restaurant decreases drive-thru wait time generates a 1 percent increase in sales. In a similar vein, the restaurant chain Veggie Grill recently introduced predictive ordering technology that makes it possible for line cooks to start preparing an order as the guest is ordering it — not after the guest has paid — and has shaved valuable seconds off of wait times as a result. This need for speed will only increase as restaurants cater to millennials, a generation that eats out more often and spends more money doing it than any other generation. FSR magazine reports that faster service could be one of the most important factors driving millennials, who have grown up with the expectation of speed and efficiency when it comes to the products they buy. When you look at your operation’s pain points, where is business slowing down? Do you have slow lines of guests waiting for tables or waiting to pick up orders? Do guests have to wait longer than desired to have their meal served or to pay their check? Start at those points and determine how you might speed up your processes while maintaining the human interactions that help people connect with your brand.
Services emerge to fill last-minute staffing needs
Labor shortages and last-minute staff cancellations got you down? Increasingly, companies are popping up to fill restaurants’ needs. Joining companies like Jobletics in Boston, Jitjatjo in New York and Wonolo in San Francisco is Snag Work, a Richmond, Va.-based company that recently expanded to Washington, DC and claims to resemble an Uber for restaurant operators, allowing them to fill shifts at the last minute. Similar to how Uber users pay a higher fee during peak times, Snag Work users might pay a higher rate on a Saturday night or if they need a stand-in with more skills, such as a mixologist. While these last-minute hires tend to be more expensive, Washingtonian reports that the extra expense has been worth it to a good number of operators. Some restaurants that use the service have been selecting specific fill-ins repeatedly — and at times finding new hires.
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