Labor pain relief?
Finding qualified kitchen staff at an affordable cost continues to be a top concern for restaurant operators and executive chefs across the country. Restaurants – even big-name, high-end brands – are struggling to find skilled labor to carry out kitchen tasks. It doesn’t help that the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that there are more than 620,000 eating and drinking establishments in the U.S., and the number of restaurants is growing at twice the rate of the population. As the nation becomes “over-restauranted,” as one CEO said recently, just as more states and municipalities raise the minimum wage, restaurants must glean the most benefit from the hires they are able to make. In the meantime, operators and chefs are finding work-arounds to manage the challenge. Some are developing streamlined menus that can be prepared more quickly and with less complicated techniques. Managers are scrutinizing inventory to get the best use out of a smaller range of ingredients in order to minimize waste and save money. The New York Times reports that other chefs are doing such things as preparing large quantities of a dish that line cooks can then simply heat up and serve, deliberately overhiring cooks and then weeding out the ones who don’t pass muster, and replacing servers with cooks and sommeliers who work in the dining room.
VIP experiences through tech integration
A recent survey by a Gartner-owned company found that 55 percent of restaurant owners were not using any kind of POS system or restaurant management software. Others may have a range of technologies – including a POS system, guest management platform, online ordering system and waiting list system – that operate separately from each other. Having one system that integrates a range of functions can generate a range of benefits when it comes to building business and enhancing customer experiences. As a report in Modern Restaurant Management shared recently, integration can ensure that when new guests visit your restaurant, your host can quote an accurate wait time based on real-time table statuses instead of guesses. Integrating a tablet POS with existing hardware can also allow staff to take orders, transmit them to the kitchen and eventually collect payment tableside, reducing errors and speeding up communications between guest and server, as well as server and kitchen staff. Integration can help you enhance the experience of your most loyal guests too. What if your best patron walked in the door and your host could greet him by name, call up his previous visits and recommend his favorite menu items? Connecting data from various points of your operation and making it easy and quick to access it can help you make your best guests feel like VIPs as soon as they walk in the door.
Turn your food waste innovation into funding
Have you found an innovative way to reduce your restaurant’s food waste? In New York, for one, your ideas could help you earn grant money. Fast Company reports that the city’s sanitation department is offering microgrants of $2,000 for individual small business applicants and $5,000 for neighborhoods that apply with a collective solution to minimizing the city’s food waste (food comprises 20 percent of the city’s daily waste). The Los Angeles Sanitation Bureau is reported to be starting a similar effort. Beyond those cities, other organizations are currently connecting government programs, businesses, nonprofits and investors. Tune in to your own city’s sanitation department, as well as the Food Waste Alliance, a collection of foundations and other entities that have partnered to start a movement around innovation in food waste management.
Weakness abounds in FDA inspections program, report finds
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has highlighted the importance of transparency in the food supply chain. The deputy regional inspector general of the department told NPR that the FDA’s inspections program has a number of weaknesses when it comes to protecting the nation’s food supply. The FDA relies on facilities to voluntarily correct violations, for example, and that does not necessarily happen. The report cited the 2013 case of a facility in Kansas where FDA inspectors found rainwater leaking onto food preparation areas and also detected listeria throughout the facility. The problems went uncorrected for the next two years, according to the report. Overall, the report found that the FDA failed to conduct timely follow-up inspections to ensure facilities corrected significant violations. In 17 percent of cases, the FDA conducted no follow-up inspection at all.
Food suppliers team with IBM to try Blockchain
The vulnerability of the food industry to foodborne illness outbreaks and security breaches has motivated many industry leaders to find solutions. Blockchain technology has delivered some promising early results. The technology, which is a public database of continuously updated, verifiable and secure information for all points of the food supply chain, allows food companies to track information on everything from food temperature to the safety certifications of the facilities processing a product. The Food Institute reports that a number of food companies, including Walmart, Unilever, Nestlé, Dole, Kroger, McCormick and Co., Tyson Foods, and others are now partnering with IBM to apply blockchain technology to their supply chains, and Walmart has already run successful tests on Chinese pork and Mexican mangoes. In the wake of Walmart’s positive results, look for other food suppliers to take part in such trials in the months ahead.
Broaden your reach through live video
The importance of online video continues to grow. According to an Animoto survey, more than 76 percent of marketers and small business owners who have used video marketing say it had a direct impact on their business. Cisco projects that by 2019, online traffic from videos will comprise 80 percent of all online traffic. If you implement live video, via Facebook Live or Twitch, for example, you can offer compelling visual content and connect with your audience more directly online. NextRestaurants suggests you invite your audience behind the scenes to see your chef cooking up your latest specials or seasonal menu – and invite a local celebrity to taste it, talk about it and live stream it on their social media to broaden your audience. To connect with your community and be a more visible presence within it, live stream your participation in an event. If you’re sponsoring a youth sports team, for example, live stream part of a game and interview players like a professional sportscaster. Your video should be as much about your community as it is about you.
Make it a charitable 2017
More than 90 percent of restaurants in the U.S. make some kind of charitable contribution each year, according to the National Restaurant Association, and with the start of the new year in sight, there is still time to find a charitable cause that meshes with your brand. Foodable suggests you consider your environmental footprint and donate used equipment to nonprofits if it’s time to upgrade. Contribute a portion of your proceeds to a local benefit event or organization that aligns with your brand or demonstrates your support of local military or first responders, for example. Engage your team and your guests in fighting poverty in your area by donating items you can present to a local food bank. If you have already made it part of your mission to give back to your community, elicit feedback from your team about the causes they care about as well – that can help feed your social responsibility strategy in the year ahead.
It’s time to review your sexual harassment policy
Along with the movie industry, the restaurant industry has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in recent weeks. Food & Wine reports that Louisiana restaurateur and television personality John Besh stepped down from all operations at his restaurant group in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against him and other managers from 25 current and former employees. In Chicago, Eater reported that Publican chef Cosmo Goss and Publican Anker general manager Antonio Molina were fired for not taking disciplinary action after an “inappropriate” photo of a female employee was circulated among staff without the woman’s consent. In an industry where human resources departments are rare, it can be easy for restaurants to neglect to establish and enforce policies that provide a safe work environment for employees. Take the time now to review your policies for potential weaknesses and risks (alcohol is just one example – if you don’t clearly restrict employees from consuming it on the premises during shifts or, more broadly, on days they are working, it’s one policy to consider.) Make additions and adjustments to ensure you have clearly defined what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and reiterate your policies with employees regularly so they become part of your restaurant’s culture. Your employees should also understand how and where to report an incident if it occurs, and how the information they share will be handled.
Digital strategy 101
If you want to refine your restaurant's digital strategy, take note of some established quick-service brands that have come out on top of the 2017 L2 Digital IQ Index. The index is a review of 126 restaurant brands in the United States based on 12 criteria pertaining to each brand's effectiveness on mobile, social media, desktop and digital marketing, Skift reports. The restaurants earn a rating, which is weakened by a digital strategy that isn't well-rounded and enhanced by best practices like mobile coupons, rewards programs and digital payment options. The index’s top brands, which earned the "Genius" rating, were Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Panera and Domino's. Even if your operation is less established than those brands, you can still apply some of the strategies that have helped them reap benefits. Starbucks, for example, has seen the potential of Instagram: The brand currently possesses 60 percent of all restaurant market share on the platform. Business Insider reports that Pizza Hut has looked to Uber for its tech inspiration by launching "visible promise time," which allows customers to see what time their pizzas will be prepared, ready and delivered before they even place their order. Panera is on track to surpass $1 billion in sales made through kiosks, mobile and web this year thanks to its digital strategy (and its management thereof, which helped the brand avoid the hiccups Starbucks experienced when rolling out its own digital strategy). Domino's won raves for its pizza tracker, which has been around for years but still has few rivals, as well as its wedding registry, which has gotten more Google searches than more traditional registries at Amazon or Macy's.
Cater to food safety at offsite holiday events
As the holidays approach, it’s high time for catering special events – and managing the food safety risks that can accompany those events when you’re operating in unfamiliar environments. If you hire additional employees to help you staff catered events, take care to provide comprehensive training, especially to part-time employees, non-managers and new employees. That’s according to research entitled “Food safety in the US catering industry” published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality. Researchers collected feedback from more than 500 respondents representing 40 chapters of the National Association of Catering Executives. They studied food handling, equipment and personal hygiene and what differences exist depending on gender, training, management status and employment status when it comes to food safety knowledge and practices.
Lessons from the food safety trenches
Want to protect yourself from the biggest food safety risks? Learn from one who is climbing back after a crisis. Jim Marsden, director of food safety at Chipotle, addressed some of the nation's leaders in restaurant food safety at a conference in Washington recently. He shared steps the brand is taking to recover from the food safety challenges it experienced in recent years. According to the National Restaurant Association, Marsden said Chipotle employees must complete the association's ServSafe training courses, and the company strictly enforces HAACP rules and handwashing practices. As part of its current food safety protocol, Chipotle now blanches all produce, with the exception of lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro, which must be inspected at the supplier level.
Minimize turnover costs through engagement
Employee turnover in the restaurant industry, which reached 72 percent in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is among the highest of any industry. The Center for Hospitality Research found that turnover can cost $5,000 per employee, so it pays to keep employees engaged. But how? Upserve suggests you provide data-driven feedback on a regular basis – daily or weekly – so employees have a good ongoing understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Your POS may provide data that illustrates a server's sales, tips and turnover rates, for example, which can help you set performance goals. You can also secure buy-in from employees by showing them how they contribute to the restaurant's finances. It will help them see how their day-to-day contributions impact the business and it will support their development in case they wish to pursue greater responsibility in the business.
The payoffs of pay-at-the-table
Increased table turnover rates, better tipping, enhanced security for operator and customer alike. These are just a few plusses about tableside payment, according to POS Advice for Restaurants. If your restaurant has busy periods when customers must wait (93 percent do, according to a study from Long Range Systems, LLC), offering payment at the table allows them to pay their bill as soon as they are ready, freeing servers to tend to other customers. That ensures your servers have quality face time with customers and can otherwise enhance their experience (so when those customers are ready to pay and the tablet suggests a tip amount, they are more apt to be generous). Finally, tableside payment offers instant EMV compliance, so your customers can better protect their data and you can shift chargeback liability from your business to the bank. Hospitality Tech suggests your tableside payment device accommodates split checks, makes tip calculations easy, and provides a warranty of at least three years.
Ready for a food fest?
Food festivals aren’t always an easy sell for restaurant operators. They may stretch staff too thin during busy times at your restaurant, you risk blending into the crowd at large festivals, and it can be difficult to manage your food supply and safety. If you’re among those wary of food fests, consider the potential benefits: According to an Upserve report, after trying food from a new restaurant or brewery at a food festival, 79 percent of festival attendees say they will visit the brick-and-mortar location. There are positives beyond that too. Kate Levenstien, CEO of the food festival company Cannonball Productions, says her company's food fests in more than a dozen U.S. cities provide hour-long breaks between sessions where restaurant operators can network with each other and share best practices. Restaurateur Frank Ottomanelli, who takes part in 10 to 15 festivals annually, says the events are great opportunities to interact with people face-to-face, test new products and collect immediate feedback. What's more, he says, festivals can help you show your support for your community and the causes you value.
What price loyalty?
Loyalty pays. Consider Domino’s, whose CEO recently said the restaurant’s loyalty program has helped propel the company through 26 quarters of same-store sales growth. Upserve found that loyal customers spend more than 67 percent more at restaurants than new guests do. It costs seven times more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. Still, only 30 percent of restaurants offer a loyalty program, so there is ample opportunity to stand out with consumers by offering a strong one. Upserve says the best loyalty programs have several characteristics in common: They help you build a database that includes customers’ email addresses and preferences. They help you make a positive impression that improves your connection to your guests -- by remembering their birthday, sending a reminder for an upcoming anniversary or connecting with them about another important event in their lives. The best loyalty programs offer more than just discounts and rewards: Beyond the punch cards of the past, they also provide experiences and opportunities, from access to reservations before the general public or exclusive invitations to special events. They encourage your loyal guests to refer others. Finally, the best programs find new ways to make dining convenient. (For a large portion of the public, convenience means using an app to manage your program – 56 percent of Millennials and 50 percent of Gen Xers support that, according to Oracle Hospitality.) But you can also achieve convenience by speeding up the process of making a reservation, making it easier for guests to communicate with you, or by streamlining online orders, pick-ups and delivery.
Don’t be blinded with science
Four out of five restaurant operators agree that technology helps increase sales and productivity, all while providing a competitive advantage, according to the National Restaurant Association. The Toast Restaurant Technology Industry Survey found that 73 percent of restaurants are looking to improve their existing technology. Yet many operators resist it – the options are seemingly endless and no operator wants to invest in a product or system only to see it become obsolete sooner than expected. FSR recommends you consider five questions to help you separate the most helpful technology from the least. First, is it easy to use? Specifically, your new technology should not require new hardware and your staff should not need to spend more than 30 minutes being trained to use it. Second, does it improve personal customer service? Make sure whatever technology you introduce spares your guests from inconvenience (think mobile payments), improves guest engagement (think loyalty programs) and frees up your staff to spend more time on the kinds of personal interactions your guests value. Third, will your technology help your revenue grow? You should see a clear path: A 2017 study by Hospitality Technology found that determining return on investment is restaurant operators’ top concern when it comes to adopting new technology. Fourth, does the technology enhance your security and protection? Compatibility with smart-chip cards is one benefit to look for, along with encrypted data transmission and secured data via tokenization. Finally, can you afford it? Across the industry, most operators (65 percent) invest between 1 and 3 percent of their revenues in technology improvements, 18 percent invest 4 to 6 percent and 17 percent invest less than 1 percent.
Are you predictable?
Several cities, including New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle, recently passed laws requiring employers to provide hourly employees with predictable schedules. Bills are pending in other regions. FSR reports that these laws require employers to provide hourly employees with 14 days' notice of their schedule (or risk a penalty), among other stipulations. New laws -- or the positive impact of dependable schedules on employees -- may call for restaurants to provide greater predictability. (A Homebase survey found that 46 percent of hourly employees and job seekers prefer having a predictable schedule to earning 10 percent more in wages.) To provide that dependability, FSR recommends using web-based scheduling tools that allow employees to trade shifts with each other without taking the manager's time. These tools should let you forecast labor as a percent of sales on a daily basis, so you can better predict your staffing needs. At the very least, determine your core hourly workers required to operate the business each day so that even if you must add staff hours later, your core team has benefited from having dependable schedules.
Step towards sustainability
Is sustainability important to you and your guests? Upserve reports that the owner of Kellari Taverna in New York has achieved 100 percent sustainability by approaching his menu like his wine list, providing the back story of each item. That meant removing some popular items, like Chilean sea bass, from the menu, and learning about true sustainability -- since "wild" doesn't necessarily mean sustainable. To become more sustainable, Star Chefs suggests you consider one sustainable initiative each week. Just a few ideas they suggest: Look to resources like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program for guidance on seafood. Consider in-house filtration systems that can help you offer fresh still and sparkling water without generating bottle waste. When buying supplies like floor mats for the kitchen and bar, look to eco-friendly companies that offer items made from recycled materials. Cut energy waste by checking seals on walk-in coolers and consider green energy sources including wind and solar. Contact a biofuel company about recycling your fryer oil. Join or form a co-op for purchasing green items.
Trust through transparency
Despite your best efforts, you don't know when a food safety crisis may hit -- and the effects on a restaurant can be severe. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to establish trust with your guests, investors and greater community so people know you as ethical and reputable. Research from the Center for Food Integrity suggests it's critical to take steps to prove your transparency in advance. Show your food practices and values openly and talk about them -- in blogs, videos, demonstrations, advertising and other public-facing materials -- and use suppliers who do the same. Communicating shared values is three to five times more effective in earning trust than just sharing facts or expertise. Engage with the public and answer their questions in easy-to-understand language. Lastly, partner with credible, objective third parties who can verify and certify your ethical practices.
Help consumers connect food information to nutrition
Despite the abundance of food information available now, Americans' nutritional literacy is lacking -- and affecting the population's health. That's according to new research from the International Food Information Council Foundation's annual Food and Health Survey of more than 1,000 Americans aged 18 to 80. This year's findings showed that people are making bad decisions with the information they're hearing. For example, while 96 percent of those surveyed seek health benefits from the foods they consume, only 45 percent of people could identify a single food or nutrient that could lead to those benefits. (Only 12 percent could say that foods containing omega-3 fatty acids could improve heart health, for example.) There is an opportunity here for restaurants that clearly state the nutritional benefits of foods on the menu. Nearly six in 10 survey respondents said they use nutrition information to decide what to eat when they're away from home.
Look for links
At the recent TechTable Summit in New York, business leaders and tech creatives came together to talk about the future of restaurant technology. One key theme of the discussion, according to Skift Table, was the influence of data and integration on the future of restaurant service. Brands that are smart about hospitality, panelists said, will link systems to enhance the customer experience. That could mean linking complementary systems like online reservations and car services, or removing the middleman so a guest could simply use a smartphone to connect with his bank to pay his dinner bill instead of paying via a POS. It could mean using technology to link your kitchen and servers to ensure you take special precautions with a guest with food allergies. Can you predict (and provide) the links that streamline the process of dining out?
Do you have a first-rate response team?
From weather to crime to pathogens, there is no shortage of challenges you might face as a restaurant operator. How would your team function in case of a crisis? Do you have a plan for if there were a robbery, a flood, a choking customer, or a shooting on your premises, for example? Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions recommends you form a crisis management team and document roles and responsibilities. Your team should include an attorney, business leaders, food safety team, crisis management consultant and others. Get to know your local health department and understand how it operates. Are you among the 20 states with FDA-funded emergency response teams? Your plan should account for that. Train your staff on food safety and other safety protocols and take their feedback into account to ensure you’re not missing important steps. During and after a crisis, create honest, transparent, apologetic messaging that includes a clear description of the problem and your plan to address it. Stick to professional, positive messages when communicating about the crisis and thanking first responders via traditional media or social media – and monitor social media networks for negative or erroneous feedback so you’re aware of how your message is being received. Soon after you resolve any crisis, review it with your crisis management team and others involved to ensure you identify where things went wrong – whether it be with vendors, your food safety plan, communication, evacuation or other aspects of the timeline – and retrain your team on any changes needed.
Has your restaurant struggled with EMV compliance standards in recent years? If so, you’re not alone. Upserve says 66 percent of businesses have found it challenging to become EMV compliant, and that misinformation about EMV, along with concerns about abandoning traditional payment methods, have made some operators hesitate to make the leap (even though the technology isn’t going away anytime soon). For those operators, Hospitality Tech recently addressed three common concerns about EMV. First, switching to EMV chip card technology does not mean you can no longer accept traditional cards. The card-reading terminals will just default to reading the chip if the card has it. Second, there are liability risks to not becoming EMV compliant. Before EMV, credit card issuers were liable for fraudulent chargebacks from customers. Now, if a card with an EMV chip is swiped and a fraudulent chargeback is claimed, the restaurant is liable for chargebacks exceeding $25 (unless you have an EMV reader). EMV could therefore be a cost-effective solution for you if your average check size exceeds $25 and you’d like to avoid the hassle of having to manage chargebacks and liability. Third, the transition to EMV includes costs for hardware, software and payment processing, but those costs will vary widely depending on whether you have an in-house or cloud-based POS. Many operators have shifted to a cloud-based POS as part of the EMV transition because their virtual POS likely includes embedded EMV at a lower cost, requires no support fees and downloads software updates automatically.
Chefs are challenging the definition of the word “burger” right now – and the results appeal to the junk-food junkie and health-conscious foodie alike. Restaurant Hospitality reports that chefs are incorporating different beef and pork products to change the flavor profile of burgers. Take the breakfast burger at Staks Pancake Kitchen in Memphis, Tenn., which combines beef and breakfast sausage, then tops it with bacon, hash browns, a fried egg and Sriracha mayonnaise. Slater’s 50/50 in southern California makes its burgers with half beef and half bacon, while others are experimenting with andouille sausage, pork belly and corned beef. On the healthier side, chefs are tweaking the nutritional profile of burgers and making environmentally conscious choices. The Los Angeles chain LocoL combines ground beef with tofu, barley, quinoa and seaweed for a nutritionally balanced patty, then tops it with Monterey Jack cheese, lime and burnt scallion relish, and a tomato gochujang sauce. Finally, mushrooms are popular additions to patties, helping a burger retain its moisture and texture without using as much beef, so the result is cost-effective and better for the environment too.
Snapchat’s new feature links restaurants and guests
Snapchat just launched a feature called Context Cards that could help restaurants turn snaps into reservations. FSR reports that when people post about a restaurant, their Snapchat friends and followers can now simply swipe to read Tripadvisor reviews of that restaurant, make a reservation via OpenTable and even request an Uber or Lyft to bring them to the location. Of course, because Context Cards are bringing restaurants’ online profiles to the fore, it’s all the more important for those restaurants to monitor their reviews, enable online reservations and provide other functionality that will present a polished image to the public.
Social media’s multiplier effect
If social media is a key party of your marketing plan, you know it can help you build your brand, connect with customers and share content – all for a low cost. But have you tapped into social media’s “multiplier effect”? According to research from the CMO Survey in a Marketing News report, more than 25 percent of business marketers are making social media investments in areas traditionally reserved for the human resources department, like employee engagement and talent acquisition. Tapping into those areas on social media can help you build a culture that retains talent, enhances productivity and attracts business. Take Best Buy, which aggregates tweets, feeds, and blogs from across the company’s digital communities and posts them in a centralized location where employees can learn from each another to solve customer problems. A campaign by Reebok encourages employees to post on social media about how they live the company’s brand in their work and play. L’Oreal launched #LorealCommunity to give employees a forum to share their successes with one another (both inside and outside of work) via Instagram. The positive impact spills over the organization to everyone’s benefit.
Take charge of food temperature
Two of the top five risk factors for foodborne illness relate to temperature control, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Monitoring temperature closely is one sure-fire way to minimize your risk of spreading foodborne illness. A report by the American Culinary Foundation says when foods need to be refrigerated in order to be kept safe, hold them at a temperature of 41˚F or below – and ensure that happens even during busy periods when the cooler door is opened frequently. When these foods must be hot to be safe, they have to be held at a temperature of 135˚F or above. Limit the time food spends in the “danger zone” (between 41˚F and 135˚F). A cooling food’s temperature must be reduced from 135˚F to 70˚F within two hours, then from 70˚F to 41˚F within four additional hours. Reheated food must be reheated quickly – to 165˚F within two hours – before being placed in a hot holding unit.
Multi-point restaurant feedback
So what is it really like to eat at your restaurant? Online reviews provide one set of opinions but monitoring your operation from other perspectives can help you accurately read what’s going well and what needs improvement. In a report for Restaurant Hospitality, Justin Cohen of Riot Hospitality recommends you dine in your own restaurant. Seeing your operation from a guest’s perspective can help you better observe everything from wobbly tables to servers’ menu knowledge. Along the same lines, hiring secret shoppers can help you see how your operation functions when you are not around. Perhaps one employee is lax about food safety – or another goes out of her way to make sure your restrooms are clean. Finally, talk to your servers, bartenders and guests. Your servers and bartenders hear what guests really think about your restaurant and see which items guests regularly send back to the kitchen. Your guests can tell you how to fix problems or simply how to make a good experience a great one.
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