Prepare a safety net for slower months
Winter is coming, and for many restaurants, a post-holiday slowdown in business. Uncorkd recommends you reach out to your neighborhood – produce cards good for a free drink (if your state allows) and offer them to nearby businesses. Create a loyalty program for people living or working in your zip code. Invite local businesses to plan company events at your restaurant and host networking sessions, happy hours and creative off-season pop-ups to draw traffic. Lastly, consider trimming fat by reducing staff (keeping your most committed employees), negotiating year-end deals with your liquor distributor, reengineering your menu to eliminate low-performing items and creating a separate budget for slow months.
Lift up your lunch hour
Lunch business is down at many restaurants, with home offices, budget constraints and internet shopping taking a bite out of sales, according to Restaurant Hospitality. To change that, they suggest you try bundling entrées with drinks and/or sides and desserts to simplify ordering and convey value – you could drop the cost of the bundle at off times to keep seats filled. Cater to a business crowd by providing a quiet, quick meal with uncomplicated menu offerings – a limited menu can streamline prep – or inviting lunchtime speakers that appeal to businesspeople. Be able to adjust your service to accommodate both a fast power lunch or a longer business meeting. Finally, boost convenience by offering easy access to parking (or delivery for those looking to stay in for lunch).
Serving the single guest
Are you marketing your restaurant to single-person households? The U.S. Census says Americans 18 and older in that group represent 45 percent of the adult population in the country. Nation’s Restaurant News says these guests can be an important demographic to target because they are likely not eating alone when they dine out and their discretionary spending is focused less on additional members of their family. Restaurants can appeal to this group, the report says, by offering shareable servings and snacks that go well with socializing. NPD Group says single adults dined out more than 12 billion times during the year that ended in July – they represent about a quarter of all consumers.
Turning around the taboo of wines on tap
The Texas restaurant Sixty Vines designed itself around the traditionally dismissed concept of wines on tap, and what was initially conceived as a model to appeal to millennials is now drawing a much broader crowd, FSR Magazine reports. The restaurant offers 60 wines on tap from around the world. Selections rotate like a typical restaurant’s beer program. Since the restaurant offers 2.5 oz. pours, guests try different varieties, colors and regions throughout the course of a meal instead of committing to one glass consumed with an entrée. The quality of the selections is changing guest attitudes about tap wines, the restaurant says. What’s more, their model helps the environment: a spokesman says Sixty Vines has saved nearly 8,000 bottles from landfills due to their tap system.
Awaiting the return of the avocado
If your restaurant features guacamole or other avocado-centric items, you have likely been eagerly awaiting the end of the avocado shortage, which was spurred by weather challenges and labor problems. Reports are mixed about whether the avocado shortage and sky-high prices are behind us or will persist in the coming months. While we wait to see what happens, QSRweb says restaurants are getting creative with substitutes like jackfruit and broccoli (used in a “brocomole,” apparently), as well as edamame and sweet potatoes.
Seafood as a snack
No longer simply an entrée, seafood has been popping up with greater frequency on the bar and small-plates menus in recent months as chefs test out bold, new options. Flavor & the Menu reports that seafood is adapting well to edgier seasonings and presentations – like a scoopable cod brandade paired with olives and grilled bread, Ahi tuna tacos with Asian slaw and wasabi-lime avocado sauce, or even the sea scallop sliders with chipotle aioli, tomatoes and basil, a dish created by Tommy Bahama’s culinary director. What’s more, these smaller seafood dishes can still support a premium price point.
Restaurants get childish
Does your restaurant welcome children or is it a kid-free zone? Restaurants that have taken a stand one way or another have attracted some vocal responses on both sides of the issue in recent months. Some who cater to a high-end clientele and have banned children have seen a rise in business. Eater reports that a select few have found a way to walk the line between restricting children and maintaining etiquette. Cuchara in Houston issues a simple card to families – it says children at the restaurant don’t run or wander, stay seated at the table and are respectful. La Fisheria, also in Houston, welcomes children up until 7p.m., when they allow only adults in order to improve their late-night atmosphere and make best use of their space.
Prevent workplace injuries
Workplace injuries topped three million in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 75 percent of them occurred in services industries. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips to minimize workplace risks: When employees must handle hazardous materials like degreasers, oven cleaners and ammonia, ensure they wear face masks and protective gloves. Clean spills immediately and place antiskid mats by your kitchen’s sink, dishwasher, cooler and entrance to avoid slips, trips and falls. Ensure employees know how to handle and clean slicing equipment, and keep a first-aid kit handy. Finally, make sure employees wear gloves, aprons and hats around hot equipment and tools. In case of a burn, rinse the area in cool water, bandage it loosely and seek medical attention – your worker’s compensation carrier may also offer a hotline to provide medical guidance.
Free tech to track the freshness of food
If you’d like some help in monitoring the freshness of the food products you store, a new app promises to assist. Restaurant Hospitality reports that the free app, dubbed EatBy, automatically suggests how long produce and frozen items will stay fresh and then reminds the user before that time limit is reached. EatBy’s developers say the app learns the storage habits of its users and while it is designed for use in homes, it can serve as an additional safeguard for restaurants.
Out with the app, in with the shared platform
Consumers are choosy about the amount of real estate they will devote to smartphone apps. That’s why many restaurants are forgoing a restaurant-specific app in favor of shared platforms like waitlist management systems that work for multiple restaurants, according to Restaurant Business. Chipotle is among the latest players to update its digital ordering process, which allows mobile ordering and payment – all via a new website as opposed to an app. They can be an appealing option for both your loyal customers and those who only dine with you on occasion.
The holidays are here…Are you ready?
Kiplinger’s latest forecast on retail sales and consumer spending predicts that this year’s holiday sales will top last year’s. There’s still a little time to fine-tune your plan to profit. First, ensure you have trained all staff and they’re motivated to provide great customer service. Modern Restaurant Management also recommends that if you’re planning holiday promotions and special events, check that you have ample inventory on hand to support them – as well as a back-up plan in case you need to make last-minute changes. Be ready to attract attention right after Thanksgiving with festive décor and a marketing campaign that coordinates your email communications, social media outreach, in-store promotional materials and website (use Google Trends to help you identify key words to better connect with your audience).
Prevent produce and fish from going to waste
Approximately 40 percent of food is discarded in the United States, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Toast reports that 26 percent of produce is wasted before it reaches grocery stores. It adds to the exorbitant amount of food overall that is sent to landfills (97 percent), where it breaks down and releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Foodservice operations can help cut down on two categories of commonly wasted food: produce and trash fish inadvertently caught by fishermen bringing in other varieties of fish. Consider buying “ugly” produce, featuring trash fish on your menu (they’re sustainable and often new to guests), and using the entire fruit, vegetable or fish on your menu – then composting leftovers.
Manage and protect your reputation
Your reputation is your greatest asset – and there are a growing number of threats to it, including food safety problems, concern over your ingredients’ origins, and supply chain security. One slip-up and a valued brand can generate harmful headlines in the news and on social media. A Food Safety Magazine report recommends you establish a team to identify potential issues (to help avoid being blindsided by unknown unknowns), then evaluate and monitor them. It needs to be well integrated into business operations, with involvement from people with decision-making authority at the top of the company. It should be able to identify problems early, connect them with business strategy, and then develop strategies to prevent them from happening or to change business practices to stop problems in their tracks.
Thanksgiving-week restaurant business is on the move
Thanksgiving day, arguably the pinnacle of American food appreciation each year, is upon us. This year, one in 10 Americans will plan to have their Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant and one in 20 will order an entire take-out meal from a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association. Those numbers could climb for restaurants in the future – the association says millennials are more likely than Gen Xers or baby boomers to dine out on Thanksgiving. Even if you’re not open on Thanksgiving, brace yourself for a busy day on Friday – two-thirds of shoppers say they will stop for a bite out in the midst of Black Friday shopping.
Food safety commandments
You get it, food safety is important. But the fast pace of a kitchen can mean it can be easy to miss problems or focus on the wrong things. Foodable recently boiled food safety down into these commandments: Skip deep cleans but clean as you go to avoid mishandling ingredients and cross-contamination. Know your vendors and don’t fall for a deal if you question the quality you’re getting. Use chemicals only when needed – too many of them in the food prep area can lead to contamination, and there are ample eco-conscious alternatives. Finally, establish a clear food safety policy, lead by example and set firm boundaries that staff cannot cross.
Point-of-sale systems step away from the countertop
McDonald’s recently said it was addressing a problem that exists for many brands in the quick-service and fast-casual categories: a slowdown in the speed of food delivery to customers due to factors like long lines and larger menus. The New York Times reports that McDonald’s plans to expand digital self-serve ordering stations to all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants, where guests can order from a touchscreen, then get a digital location device, sit down and wait for a server to deliver their food. Toast reports that other brands are taking similar steps, like having cashiers use mobile tablets to walk up and down a line of guests to take orders. It is helping guests get their food more quickly and restaurants serve more people each day.
Restaurant concepts in play for 2017
As 2016 winds down, industry trend watchers are looking ahead. Technomic’s Darren Tristano predicts we’ll see more of these restaurant concepts in the next year: Custom-built fast casual pizza, craft burgers that emphasize local, high-quality ingredients, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods that expand beyond Greek – particularly vegetarian and other health-conscious options, and an expansion of poke in the fast-casual segment. Poke, he said, is helping to open people’s minds to raw fish, particularly in lunch dayparts where it’s appearing more frequently in items like sushi burritos. Finally, as more restaurants expand breakfast and offer it all day, Tristano predicts we’ll see more upscale, high-quality breakfast concepts break out in 2017.
Out-recruit competitors for holiday staff
If you’re looking to hire extra staff this holiday season, you can stay ahead of the competition by streamlining the process. To help, Entrepreneur recommends you take some or all of these steps: Invest in mobile optimization efforts that eliminate the need for excessive scrolling, zooming and jumping to different menus (while 90 percent of workers look for jobs on mobile devices, only 54 percent of job applications work on them, according to Modern Restaurant Management); slim down your list of questions to focus only on what you need at the first stage of the recruitment process (i.e. are a cover letter and résumé sufficient?); and offer résumé upload options that candidates can use to link to their LinkedIn profile, Google drive or other file hosting service.
Spurlock launches quick-service restaurant
A new quick-service chain is poised to launch, courtesy of Morgan Spurlock, who sought to bring transparency to the quick-service restaurant industry in his 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me.” Spurlock will unveil a test of his new quick-service restaurant, Holy Chicken!, in Columbus, Ohio in January. His goal is to provide a transparent restaurant – first in Ohio and later in multiple cities around the country. Nation’s Restaurant News says quick-service industry professionals are advising
the restaurant, which will offer chicken from a farm Spurlock’s family owns in Alabama. The chicken will be free-range, cage-free and without added hormones and antibiotics. While fries will not be on the menu, the restaurant will offer coleslaw, greens and corn syrup-free sodas from a beverage company in Cleveland.
Restaurants that play games – either by offering their own or being a hub for other companies’ games – can build strong emotional connections with their guests while they collect valuable data on their preferences, according to a report from FSR magazine. If games are a natural extension of your brand, try creating one yourself to build guest relationships. But you don’t have to be a game developer to get in on the opportunity. Consider restaurants that simply piggyback on the popularity of established games – like a restaurant that participates in Pokémon Go and pings offers to people who stop in while playing, or another that assembles game kits, coupons and prizes for fantasy football-playing guests who join them to watch football games. The audience is already established – you just need to find a way to be a part of it.
The search is on
What good is a dazzling website if no one can get to it? Search engines are still the most common way for potential guests to find your site, according to Restaurant Engine, and most users don’t look beyond the first five listings. Search engine optimization (SEO) can improve your search page rankings and drive traffic to your site. To help, make your site mobile-friendly and user-friendly overall – have someone unfamiliar with your page try to navigate it to ensure the content is clear. Ensure your site loads quickly. Create simply labeled pages for contact us, about us, reservations, menu, etc. Use an SEO plug-in and fill out the key word, title and description information for each page. Use key words on your pages – but don’t overdo them – and give your photos an alt and title description. Finally, add videos and other fresh content regularly.
The pluses of pickling
If your kitchen doesn’t have a pickling program, consider the benefits of starting one: It allows you to extend vegetables beyond their growing season or shelf life, boost the flavor of an ingredient that might otherwise seem ordinary, and make your kitchen more efficient, Foodable says. Your program can start small with leftover vegetables that, when brined, could make for an appealing side for a burger or a garnish for a cocktail. Cucumbers are just the beginning, with more chefs pickling cauliflower and root vegetables to add zest to the menu right now. If you decide to can and preserve vegetables, you’ll need to partner with your health department to ensure you’re following food safety guidelines – that shouldn’t be a challenge if you have solid training and HACCP plans in place.
The next superfoods on the menu
If you like to stay on the cutting edge of food trends, the Wall Street Journal identified several healthy foods and concepts that could soon play a key role in restaurants. Moringa is a super green that could unseat kale – it’s packed with vitamins and minerals and is equally nutritious when prepared fresh, cooked or dried. Jackfruit could be a tastier meat substitute than tofu because of its meaty texture and ability to absorb other flavors. Biotech companies are also minimizing added sugar and sodium by plugging in natural substitutes – mushrooms to mask the bitterness of low-sugar chocolate, for example, and soy protein to reduce sodium. Finally, as soda sales continue to drop, plant-based waters like cactus and maple water are gaining momentum and could provide lower-sugar alternatives to coconut water.
FSMA regulations could cause recalls to spike in 2017
Last month marked the first major compliance deadline for the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, requiring all but small food businesses to comply with current good manufacturing practice, hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls for human food regulations. Inspections are likely to follow soon – are food companies ready? Food Processing data indicates that 58 percent are extremely ready and 30 percent are somewhat ready, with the remaining 12 percent having some catching up to do. Restaurant operators should prepare for a temporary spike in food recalls in 2017 – Food Dive says that while the increase may not indicate the food supply is any less safe than it was before, the threat to companies’ reputations could be enough to urge remaining manufacturers to comply.
Want to put a new spin on classic desserts? Experiment with non-traditional, savory flavors in place of sweet, fruity ones. In the past four years, olive oil has surged 154 percent on dessert menus, along with bacon (up 137 percent), pretzels (up 110 percent), herbs (up 49 percent), bourbon (up 46 percent) and hot spices (up 38 percent), according to Datassential. Other operators in all categories are developing hybrids of nostalgic, classic desserts in an effort to create new ideas – consider the S’Mores Baked Alaska at Atwood in Chicago or the Oreo Red Velvet Milkshake at Steak ‘n’ Shake.
Want to boost sales? Show your independent streak
These aren’t easy times for the restaurant business, with sales and traffic slowing in recent months. But according to Restaurant Business, a number of independent operators are boosting sales by focusing on these areas: developing social media campaigns and increasing outreach, promoting special menu items, using a loyalty program to increase the success of dayparts, creating community partnerships and conducting outreach efforts to build relationships with local businesses, and hosting special events and theme nights to generate interest in the restaurant or menu.
Sweeten your red wine pairing
If you want to sell more dessert, start with your wine list. That’s according to an Upserve study, which found that more than 75 percent of restaurant checks including dessert also had alcohol on them. That was especially true of wine – a guest who ordered bottles of wine had a 15 percent greater chance of ordering dessert than another guest – and red wine in particular. Upserve’s data showed that 42 percent of checks including red wine also included dessert, with red wine drinkers showing a 6 percent greater likelihood of ordering dessert than those who drank white wine.
Drive-thrus shift to a new gear
Drive-thrus could be making a comeback – with some healthier options. While they have taken a hit in recent months (NPD Group says volumes dropped by 128 million visits between May 2014 and May 2016), the decrease may just indicate an evolving model. Historically, health-conscious fast-casual businesses popular with consumers have omitted drive-thrus. But QSR magazine reports a number of quick-service operators are finding ways to bring nutrition to the drive-thru. Growing drive-thru outlets like Bryn + Dane’s, Start: Real Food Fast, and Amy’s Drive-Thru focus on quality ingredients served with wait times of just a few minutes. Operators say preparing ingredients in advance has been key to minimizing wait times – and that the growing popularity of pre-ordering via app is making it easier to accommodate drive-thru guests.
Nanosensors deliver a faster method to detect E. coli
It may soon become easier and faster for food producers and foodservice operators to detect the presence of E. coli and other pathogens. Food Safety News reports that researchers in Kansas have developed a nanosensor, which can detect varying concentrations of E.coli in less than an hour and also be customized to detect other pathogens. Commonly used methods for testing the presence of pathogens can take up to 24 hours to get results, which is often not soon enough to prevent tainted food from reaching the consumer.
Meal kit businesses show technology’s limits
Have meal-kit businesses like Blue Apron already reached their potential? Many restaurant operators may hope so – and now a Bloomberg report considers the possibility. Blue Apron currently has 4,000 employees distributing 8 million meals each month, according to BuzzFeed. But its growth is challenged because it is a hybrid of three businesses rife with challenges – restaurants (climbing labor costs), grocery stores (low profit margins and valuations) and logistics (large, established, well-capitalized competitors). Are that many more Americans willing to spend$10 per meal and 30-to-60 minutes of preparation time for a meal kit when they could buy a prepared meal for the same cost at a restaurant? Time will tell.
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