Does your restaurant have a favorite charitable cause? The National Restaurant Association suggests you find a meaningful charity by talking to your employees and guests. There are a number of ways to support hunger-related causes, for example: Donate excess food to a food bank, donate a portion of sales to hunger-relief efforts, offer to provide food to emergency workers responding to a crisis in your area, or host an event to benefit people in need. Look to your community for existing events you can support as a participant or sponsor.
Manage your holiday ingredient costs
The holidays can send your ingredient cost on a wild ride, with limited-time offers changing your menu and seasonal surges and dips affecting your traffic. In a recent FSR magazine report, Tim Campbell, a supply chain specialist with Consolidated Concepts, offered tips to help you plan. He recommended operators make their limited-time offerings simple – they shouldn’t add extra pressure to prep staff and their ingredients should have multiple uses on the menu to limit languishing stock. Don’t be a slave to trendy ingredients – understand your brand and what your guests expect from you. Research and forecast sales before you commit to ingredients and find ways to use excess in other dishes. Finally, order in advance to reserve items available for just a short time, and once the holidays pass, phase out or change your offer. Your guests will be looking for something new.
Monday slump? Go meatless
For many restaurants, Mondays mean light traffic. To change that for the better, Toast recommends you try offering a “meatless Monday” option to guests. While meatless Mondays have become a celebrity gimmick, there are good reasons to try them. First, you don’t have to eliminate meat from your menu – just make a point of celebrating other things: Bring more veggies onto the menu, replace meat and chicken with tofu or other protein, or offer double loyalty points for guests who order a meatless meal. Meatless Monday can also help you boost your social media presence – with photos of meat-free photos on Instagram, for example – and build a narrative around how taking a day off from meat has helped your restaurant become more conscious of the environment and public health.
Maintain safety standards on an ever-changing team
When you can’t find and keep good employees, your food safety can slip. Say, for example, an employee is late and another steps in to help with food preparation but hasn’t been trained in the role. Food Safety magazine recommends you remember these tips when managing a staff with high turnover: Train all of your employees on the appropriate temperatures for cooking, cooling, storing and reheating products. Provide single-use gloves and tell employees where and when to use them. Post signs by hand-washing sinks and remind employees when they must wash hands. Provide clean aprons and towels for all employees and designate a disposal area for them. Lastly, do not allow anyone to work while ill. These items should populate an overarching sanitation plan you share with employees verbally and visually on a regular basis – encourage their collaboration and ownership.
Chains that buck the casual-dining slump
Casual chain restaurants have had a challenging year. FSR magazine reports that the sector has experienced eight consecutive months of declining sales—only February had positive sales growth—and traffic growth has declined since the beginning of 2015, according to industry tracker TDn2K. Chains including Ruby Tuesday, Applebee’s and Chili’s have taken a hit. Some chains have managed to hold on to growth – FSR magazine says Olive Garden’s same-restaurant sales grew 3.1 percent through 2016 and Cheesecake Factory has experienced 27 consecutive quarters of sales growth. TDn2K’s executive director of insights says that’s because of how they deliver the experience to guests – service and value are the key areas that set the top brands apart. He says the most financially successful brands have adopted technology that promotes guest convenience and have adjusted to accommodate more to-go sales.
Expect another tough year for citrus – but this time it won’t last
It’s been a rocky decade for Florida citrus farmers, largely due to a bacterial disease called citrus greening, which ruins fruit and kills trees. Florida now has less than one-third of the citrus crop it had 20 years ago. This year stands to be the lowest in more than 50 years for citrus farmers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but a recent NPR report says the years ahead actually look promising for the industry. That’s due to research and the development of new varieties that resist citrus greening. These new varieties, as well as screening techniques to shield other varieties from the psyllid insect that causes greening, present a viable short-term solution for growers while scientists research longer-term answers.
Menu-labeling compliance deadline moved to May
The FDA announced that the compliance deadline for new menu-labeling regulations was not Dec. 1 as it had announced previously, but will now be May 5, 2017. This will align the enforcement and compliance deadlines, which will both now go into effect on that date. The National Restaurant Association applauded the change.
Drive-thru pizza is here
Pie Five Pizza Co. is evidence of the innovation happening in the crowded fast-casual segment. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the 97-unit division of Rave Restaurant Group is opening drive-thrus in some locations in an effort to bring convenience and speed to fast-casual pizza. Rave’s CEO said the chain is capable of drive-thru service in five minutes – slightly longer than a typical quick-service wait at the drive thru but still reasonable, he believes. Pie Five has locations in 23 states and the District of Columbia and Rave operates other pizza-based concepts as well, so if the drive-thru experiment works for Pie Five, it could spread far.
Get the best return on your technology investment
Mobile payments, digital ordering kiosks, tabletop devices…there’s no end to the technology your restaurant can adopt. If you’re struggling to determine where your technology dollars are best spent, consider where you already spend the most money. For example, Restaurant Hospitality reports that new research from Applied Predictive Technologies says 30 percent of restaurants identified labor costs as a threat to business. If that’s the case for you, consider how technology can help you minimize labor costs – with training programs and digital ordering. Other options can help you boost profits by enhancing the guest experience. Take software like Tipping Point, which can help servers be more knowledgeable about your menu by uploading videos that describe menu items with ingredients, suggest pairings, and provide talking points to use with guests.
Cover your cyber risks
The restaurant industry is a popular target for cyber attacks. Are you covered? Many insurance companies are now offering cyber security coverage as a specialty policy and not bundled with more traditional insurance, Restaurant Hospitality reports, so carefully review your existing coverage. Additional insurance may cover computer data restoration, securing your network, theft and fraud, business interruption, forensic investigations, crisis and public relations management, and extortion. Restaurant Hospitality recommends you negotiate for a retroactive date of at least one year and understand that data coverage is broader than just “cyber” and needs to cover use of the cloud.
Hire and keep a tip-top team
If you’re looking to attract new talent, create detailed job descriptions and set clear expectations to avoid surprises – then be prepared to compensate the person accordingly. Once you have top performers on your team, Modern Restaurant Management recommends you check in regularly to ensure things are going as well as you think they are. Engage them by soliciting their feedback in response to challenges you’re facing or by encouraging them to lead others. Find out what they need from you and provide opportunities to help them get it, whether it’s technical expertise or professional training. Talk strategically about where they hope to rise within your organization and help them map out next steps to get there.
Help your reservations take off
Looking to boost your online reservations? Hospitality Technology recommends you have a prominent, clear reservation link on your Facebook page and on your website (ensure your site is mobile-friendly and responsive while you’re at it). If you have multiple locations, have a separate webpage for each, with content targeted to each audience. Consider using general booking services like OpenTable and last-minute booking services to increase your exposure to guests who might not find you otherwise. In your email communications with guests and in print ads, provide a link or details on how to book online. Finally, information about reservations should be in text (not image) format so search engines can find it.
Raise your bar
A well-run bar should have an alcohol cost between 18 and 20 percent of sales, according to Uncorkd. Does yours? Uncorkd shared some tips to decrease costs. First, try standardizing your pours and liquor volume for cocktails by using jiggers, pre-batching house cocktails and recipe cards – this will help your bar’s consistency too. Take inventory of your alcohol weekly – promote the brands that aren’t selling and then stop carrying them once they sell so you can focus on your high-volume brands. You can then negotiate deals with your distributor on items you can buy in bulk. And since wine has such high profit margins, don’t give it away with half-price offers – better to create wine pairings or flights with languishing stock, or design a contest to reward the staff member who sells the most of it.
How a Trump administration could affect restaurants
Donald Trump isn’t known for predictability, but restaurant industry analysts expect his administration could spur changes in five areas, according to Restaurant Hospitality: The battle over the minimum wage will likely be left to state and local legislatures. The Trump administration could roll back overtime rules in order to benefit business – or support the extension of overtime as it would benefit many of his core voters. There are two immediate vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans are likely to fill, shifting majority control of the agency as it considers issues like joint-employer liability. There could also be changes coming with regard to mandatory arbitration – and the possibility that class actions replace individual employee arbitrations. Finally, Trump is likely to oppose the Department of Labor’s rule barring restaurants from requiring their waitstaff to share tips with back-of-house employees.
New overtime rules delayed
A federal court has delayed the introduction of new overtime rules until it can consider an action brought by representatives from the restaurant business and other industries to eliminate the rules altogether, Restaurant Business reports. The new rules had been set to take effect Dec. 1. The changes laid out by the Department of Labor double the income threshold (from $23,660 to $47,476) at which salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay. The National Restaurant Association praised the ruling but cautioned restaurants to continue to prepare plans for managing the new requirements if and when they pass.
Breakfast breaks out
It seems breakfast is finally getting its due. In a survey of 300 restaurant operators for SmartBrief’s 2016 Breakfast Keynote Report, 93 percent said their breakfast sales had either increased or stayed level in the past year. Chefs are tapping into creative solutions to innovate the daypart. Datassential reports that new flavors are appearing on the breakfast menu, like spicy, savory kimchi, which has increased 435 percent on menus in the past four years. Next year could see an expansion of breakfast bowls – 57 percent of consumers are interested in them but only 27 percent of operators offer them, according to the report. We’re likely to see more trendy flavors and dinner dishes popping up at breakfast too – think breakfast burgers or barbecue pulled pork omelettes.
Convenience stores are an up-and-coming lunchtime option
Convenience stores are giving restaurants some competition at lunchtime. Restaurant Business reports that the convenience store market is moving upscale. They’re also taking pointers from the restaurant business and cross-utilizing ingredients, incorporating new ingredients that demonstrate flavor innovation, and taking care to show the quality of the food preparation. Consider these examples from convenience stores around the country, which are a big step away from the c-store options of just a few years ago: Wawa’s Thanksgiving-themed sub, 7-Eleven’s cilantro-lime flatbread, or Casey’s General Stores’ spinach artichoke chicken pizza.
Clean high-touch items to prevent spread of illness
Your team likely knows how to prevent the spread of illness around the food preparation areas – but don’t forget about other high-touch items in your restaurant where germs are lurking during this cold and flu season. The National Restaurant Association recommends you clean these items each day: laminated or reusable menus, condiment bottles, salt and pepper shakers, tablecloths, high chairs and booster seats, chairs, booths and stools, check holders, candy dishes at the hostess stand and door handles. Train your team on how to sanitize various materials and include these items in a master cleaning schedule the team follows each day.
Use photos to show your true colors
Well-presented photos of your business can help your restaurant appeal to guests before you even take their drink order. Profitable Hospitality recommends you identify your best shots, print them in large format and frame them in your restaurant – close-ups of specialty dishes, guests enjoying themselves at your restaurant, or your chef at work. Include the rest of your staff, too, in friendly but uncrowded groupings of two or three, to show guests the community you have built within the restaurant. Of course, online photos are equally important. Use a photo editing application to crop your best photos and adjust the lighting and other effects to add ambience. Post your best shots on social media and update images on your website and marketing materials regularly to keep your content fresh.
Stand out in the social media crowd
Your restaurant is one of 25 million businesses on Facebook. How best to stand out in that crowd? Restaurant Engine recommends you make a list of all of your social media platforms and do a Google search if you aren’t sure of all of them. Assess your results: Is this platform useful to your business (or could it be if you were a more active user)? Do you have many followers? Are they liking, responding to or sharing your posts? Once you decide which platforms are best for you, communicate your brand across them, with a consistent logo, imagery, voice, description and a website link on each. Finally, check your content: 70 percent of it should add some value to your followers, 20 percent of it should be about sharing other people’s posts and 10 percent should be promoting your restaurant.
Make the holidays happy for your team
You won’t be able to make your guests happy with employees who are down and dragging. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips for making spirits bright: Create schedules so employees are able to spend some time with family and friends. This could mean bulking up on staff so fewer people are working double shifts, shifting any retail business you conduct to the web, or adjusting arrival and departure times to create more of a buffer between shifts. Set a fun work goal to motivate employees to earn prizes – whether for successfully selling menu items or participating in a community charity event. Reward them for their hard work with holiday gifts and a holiday event is possible. Finally, consider closing for a day or two – it may even earn you points with guests when they see you’re taking care of your team.
Asian flavors to boost non-traditional dishes
Most Americans’ familiarity with Japanese cuisine doesn’t go far beyond sushi, but two flavors, furikake and togarashi, have the potential to change that on menus right now, Flavor & the Menu reports. Furikake has a base of dried fish that can be combined with sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, powdered miso and dried vegetables, among other things. While it’s traditionally used to season rice, fish and vegetables, there’s room for it to boost the savory profile of pasta, eggs, pizza, popcorn and other snacks. Togarashi is a spice blend including two types of peppers, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and seaweed. While traditionally used in tempura, noodles or yakitori, togarashi lends spicy heat to everything from hot dogs to cheesecake to ice cream.
Breakfast by the bowl
The bowl trend has made it to the breakfast menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that an increasing number of chain restaurants and college foodservice operations are offering bowls as a vehicle for healthy, customizable breakfast foods. The options are seemingly endless, from the sweet (including items like açaí, tropical fruit, yogurt and granola) to the savory (including quinoa, kale, eggs and sausage). Datassential reports that the presence of breakfast bowls on menus has increased 66 percent in the last four years, bringing it to just 7 percent overall. So there’s room to grow.
Coffee comes back strong
Sure, there may be a Starbucks on every corner, but analysts are saying we’re in the midst of a coffee renaissance. The Wall Street Journal predicts U.S. demand for coffee to lead the world in the coming years, growing at 2 percent per year until 2020. Beverage Industry says the increase is due to innovation from brewers, as well as Millennial consumers’ interest in the drink. Technomic’s Volumix Coffee Report found that pour-over coffee and cold-brewed coffee are attracting consumers, as well as flavors including vanilla, mocha and chocolate. The report said single-cup sales increased 62 percent last year.
A workflow to promote cleanliness
Is handwashing something you have built into your operation – or something you fit into it? A forensic sanitarian who weighed in on the question in Food Safety Magazine says restaurants that integrate the handwashing sink into the work flow of the kitchen ensure frequent handwashing happens – and stand a better chance of limiting the spread of foodborne illness. While the placement of sinks may be hard to control, try to design a traffic pattern that makes handwashing second nature. For example, consider having employees clock in next to the sink, or cluster handwashing and food preparation equipment together just like you’d store kitchen equipment that is used together.
Boost your team’s food allergy IQ
About 15 million people have food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education group, and your restaurant is responsible for ensuring you avoid triggering them. Food Safety Magazine recommends you keep these steps in mind when working with your team: Use proper sanitary receiving guidelines from www.servsafe.com and establish a personal hygiene program that prevents cross-contamination. Use reputable suppliers and check their permits and licenses. Store prepared food away from contaminants and clean and store products away from them as well. Wash and sanitize all equipment. Implement required training programs for all employees. Finally, partner with your guests by informing them of ingredients that may trigger allergies – by telling them about possible allergens in a dish and posting a disclaimer on the menu.
Reject and refuse to reduce waste
If you have a robust recycling program but are still generating too much waste at your restaurant, you’re not alone: The National Restaurant Association says although 65 percent of restaurants have recycling programs, the average restaurant in the U.S. still produces 25,000 pounds of food waste every year. Restaurant Hospitality recommends that in addition to the three R’s of food waste reduction that you’re likely familiar with (reduce, reuse, recycle), consider another two: reject and refuse. Reject means speaking up when you have inadequate support for reducing waste, like inadequate food storage space or transportation for donated items. You can also help change the landscape by refusing single-use plastics from suppliers and insisting on reusable crates and containers.
Start your restaurant’s online conversation
It’s likely that a high percentage of people who dine with you have done so because of a Facebook post or Instagram photo. You can help set the stage so it’s easy for your guests to promote you positively online. The National Restaurant Association recommends you encourage guests to take photos of food while they’re dining (assuming it fits with the atmosphere of your restaurant) – and make your social media handles visible on menus and indoor signage so they know where to post. Brand a special hashtag for your restaurant and post some photos or other content to your social media pages with this hashtag to inspire others to do the same. Encourage guests to post their best photos of meals with you – and reward your favorite photographer with a gift card or meal discount.
Mobile transactions on the rise
Mobile payments currently account for $50 billion in sales and are expected to nearly triple by 2019, Toast reports. If you have concerns about jumping on board, consider these assurances from Toast: Mobile payments are secure – the National Restaurant Association has said many mobile payment apps encrypt or scramble credit card information before it reaches a restaurant’s payment terminal, making it less vulnerable to hackers. The transactions are also 53 percent faster than credit card sales and even faster than that for cash sales, according to American Express. Finally, these transactions generate loyal repeat customers and give you access to purchasing trends and other data that can help you appeal to those guests.
Don’t leave a post unanswered
You wouldn’t ignore a guest standing at your front desk, so why do it on social media? Like it or not, your approach to customer service is more visible to guests and potential visitors on social media platforms than it is within your restaurant. However, the tourism website Sheila’s Guide says it’s still common for hotels and restaurants to leave guest comments, photos and other feedback unanswered on social media platforms. Be sure to use these posts as opportunities to thank guests for their business, show concern for addressing any problems they experience, and ensure they come back. The quality of your public response could help bring new guests in the door too.
Recreate your restaurant’s experience offsite
Restaurants need to find a way to get into consumers’ homes. That was a key message restaurant operators heard at the IFMA Presidents Conference in Arizona this month, Restaurant Business reports. NPD Group’s David Portalatin said the number of meals per capita that are eaten onsite at a restaurant have reached an all-time low for the fourth consecutive year – and that restaurant meals are eaten at home 40 percent of the time. Accenture’s Chris Roark says that since growth is slowest for the top 25 restaurant chains, it’s the small innovators who are likely help the industry grow – those who can offer a unique experience to consumers looking for a meal and to help them enjoy it wherever they like.
Create new twists on ethnic foods (without turning them upside down)
As the traditional foods and spices of foreign countries gain a growing following in the U.S., a number of chefs are taking heat for taking too many liberties with classic foods from cultures different from their own. In one recent example, NPR reported that Bon Appetit’s “ode” to Halo-Halo, the Filipino specialty that combines shaved ice and tropical fruit, set off a furor in the Filipino community with its concoction of blueberries, blackberries, lime juice, coconut milk, gummy bears and popcorn. Evolution and creativity are important in the kitchen but consider how the tools and ingredients you use can impact flavor, texture, health and overall authenticity of the dish – and when in doubt, ask people in the community to weigh in.
Go with the grain
Quinoa’s time has passed, according to Datassential, and now the food world is looking for the next healthy grain to capture consumers’ interest. Progressive Grocer reports that puffed and popped versions of quinoa are adding new crunch and texture to everything from salads to granola to soup, and different-colored grains like black and brown rice, red wheat and purple wheat and corn are on the rise too. If you’re looking to add some relative newcomers to your menu, consider options like nutrient-dense millet and sorghum, as well as triticale, spelt and amaranth.
Other fish in the sea
Americans’ fish consumption has shot up in the past year. NPR reports that Americans are eating an average of 15.5 pounds per person per year, a rise of nearly one pound from the previous year and the largest increase in 20 years. However, there is much room for increased variety in the fish Americans consume. The National Fisheries Institute says shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be the most-consumed fish and have been on top for the past decade. If you’d like to expand your restaurant’s fish offering, consider incorporating trash fish/bycatch onto your menu. These wild fish, which fishermen inadvertently catch along with the salmon or tuna or other fish they bring in, are healthier and more sustainable than their farmed counterparts, Toast says, and can lend versatile flavor to your menu.
New concepts coming to the U.S.
Three restaurants that have flourished internationally are set for launch in America. Restaurant Business reports that the casual, family-friendly Yellow Chilli, which has thrived in India, the U.A.E. and Oman under a celebrity chef who developed the brand, promises a “gastronomic tour of India” offering classic Indian comfort foods and modern dishes. Its first U.S. outlet will open in Santa Clara, Calif. Brownieria, a brownie-centric dessert café concept successful in Brazil, will launch in the Orlando, Fla. area. It offers gourmet desserts and pastries using premium ingredients. Finally, Fox & Fiddle, a British-style pub from Canada, is set to launch in California and then develop up to 75 units in the state. It markets itself as a neighborhood gathering place offering premium casual dining that mixes English, Canadian and American influences.
A glimpse at 2017 trends
As 2016 winds down, food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman shared some predictions for 2017 with Nation’s Restaurant News. They predict chefs to continue to feature vegetables in the center of the plate, use the whole vegetable to minimize waste (think carrot tops and beet greens) and concoct new plant-based burgers and other vegetable proteins. Carnivores can look forward to fresh, high-quality beef offered in an increasing number of restaurants with butcher shops attached – customers can select meat to take home or have the restaurant grill it and deliver it to their table. Finally, spice is on the rise, with cayenne pepper consumption rising 47 percent last year. Baum + Whiteman predicts an increase in spices used in Indian and Southeast Asian curries.
Avoid a contamination crisis
Your restaurant’s good name can take years to build but minutes to slip away – especially if you experience a food contamination crisis that hits social media. Food Safety Magazine recommends you take these steps for (relative) peace of mind: First, acknowledge your risks – one claim of food adulteration or contamination is reported to the FDA daily. Second, establish a team that includes top company leaders who can make immediate decisions, legal counsel with expertise in food risks, food experts who understand your production process, a regulatory expert and a PR manager. Third, draft a plan that considers a food product’s risk for contamination at each step of the production chain, how to communicate with employees and outside parties, and what procedures you can begin using now to prepare for a potential crisis. Finally, test your plan – ideally, each quarter.
Stay on top of food recalls
Last year, the USDA issued 626 recalls affecting meat, eggs, produce, prepared foods and more, Foodable reports. A communication lapse could mean your restaurant serves tainted foods without knowing there could be a problem. Foodable recommends you sign up for real-time email alerts through Foodsafety.gov, which provides the latest information on recalls in the U.S. Next, communicate immediately with all staff – look to ServSafe for step-by-step guidance. Finally, communicate with customers – prepare employees with talking points about how you’re managing a recalled product and contact vendors to adjust your inventory levels and reduce waste. Have a first-rate back-up menu in place in case of emergency to help you protect yourself and show customers you want to protect them too.
Siri, how can I improve my SEO?
If you’ve ever asked Siri to help you solve a problem, you won’t be surprised to know that mobile voice searches are changing how businesses use SEO to market themselves online. According to ComScore, at least half of all searches will be made by voice query by 2020. Restaurant Hospitality says that while there aren’t many tools available to see what people are searching for via voice, paid search lets you use a “broad match modifier” in which an ad is only triggered when a certain set of words (defined by who creates the ad) appear in a search. By analyzing your paid search metrics and filtering your mobile results, you can study the phrasing of the queries to identify the voice queries. This will help you develop a list of phrases customers use to find you – phrases you can then use to build a more targeted SEO strategy.
Rethink social media
If you’re managing your social media correctly, you’re in the minority – Foodable reports that according to Shama Hyder, CEO and founder of The Marketing Zen Group, only 20 percent of companies and their leaders are handling social media well. If you’re in the 80 percent, Hyder recommends you develop a consistent strategy and to not expect instant results. The strategy should be agile enough to enable you to take advantage of opportunities to showcase your leadership and test different approaches to see what works. Partner with brands that can help you reach target audiences. Finally, reframe your mindset about social media and consider not the tools but the universe itself – all media is now social in some way, so it’s not about using Facebook or Instagram but embracing a new way of communicating about your brand.
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