Zero in on guest categories
After the Christmas and New Year’s rush, the weather and holiday overspending conspire to keep many restaurant guests at home. If you’re one of the many operators to experience a lull in your business after the New Year, take note of the types of guests that do give you business – and take care to keep them coming back. Upserve identifies several types of guests your restaurant is likely to have: the online orderer who wants food delivered without any (or with just a little) human interaction, the call-in diner who picks up food while scoping you out for a possible sit-down meal in the future, the person who walks in and waits for his take-out order to be prepared, the guest who has read a positive review and wants to give you a try, and the regular who treats your restaurant as a satellite kitchen or freelance office. Making your restaurant a good option for all of these guests requires strength in several areas: For one, you need a strong mobile presence – WebstaurantStore says it’s important to optimize your website for phones and tablets, and to streamline the ordering process (offering an online form instead of requiring guests to make a phone call, for example). Take advantage of foot traffic at odd hours by offering quick-service meals that don’t require a long wait. When serving regular guests (or potential ones) who seek you out for meal, use your loyalty program to entice them to come back. Learn the names of these guests, their likes and dislikes, and help them earn points toward offers good for discounted items when they return for a sit-down meal.
The gift card that keeps on giving
Every year, 34 percent of gift cards sold are for dining experiences, making restaurant gift cards the most popular kind of gift card sold each year. According to CAKE, gift card recipients spend more than 38 percent more on their check than the value of their card. Since many of these cards are given over the holidays, operators have an opportunity to bring gift card recipients in the door during slower periods, win some new guests who might not have visited otherwise, and to collect valuable marketing data in the process. To make the most of the cards you issue, work with complementary businesses to provide bundled offers, like a discounted appetizer when a guest shows you a receipt from the local movie theater, for example. For customers who buy gift cards for others, sweeten the deal by throwing in a gift certificate for them when they purchase a card at a certain price threshold. Or, offer a gift card in exchange for customer information. According to Money magazine, restaurants like Black-Eyed Pea and Benihana have offered customers gift cards when they sign up for their email newsletter or loyalty program and provide information about their favorite dishes.
In a rapid-turnover industry, food safety training that sticks
Turnover is a fact of life in the restaurant industry, which relies on a young and highly mobile pool of workers. While the short-term nature of restaurant employment can discourage operators from providing comprehensive food safety training, there are ways to speed up the knowledge transfer and protect your business no matter how long an employee stays. In a recent episode of the podcast Food Safety Matters, Hal King, a public health professional and the founder of Public Health Innovations, said an employee who takes a training module on proper handwashing and is then assigned to teach and assess that skill in others will retain that information better. An employee who administers a rapid cleaning test and discovers that an area that looks clean may not actually be clean will sooner understand the need for cleaning and sanitizing a surface than the employee who watches a video about it. While this train-to-teach model may not eliminate turnover, King says, you’ll likely expedite the training and knowledge acquisition employees need to carry out a task safely.
In an age of instantaneous food poisoning reports, know the facts
As social media makes it increasingly easy to spread information, both good and bad, comments about the health of the food you serve can spread quickly. Consider the crowdsourcing site iwaspoisoned.com, where people can report food poisoning cases, public health officials can receive instant local alerts and foodservice operators can learn about outbreaks in the early stages, according to NPR. If and when a guest suggests your operation has caused an outbreak, it’s important to know the facts about foodborne illness so you can work with guests and health officials to trace the problem: Illinois health inspector Dave Banasynski said while most people with foodborne illness trace it to the last place they ate, it may have been caused by something days before. Listeria can take nine hours to cause symptoms, for example, while E.coli can take up to nine days.
Reduce your electrical risks this winter
Businesses in the restaurant industry are among the biggest consumers of electrical equipment and appliances – and in the rush to get food prepared and served quickly, it’s easy to overstress electrical appliances and lose sight of the risks they pose. The drain on this equipment often escalates during the winter. In a report for Total Food Service, United Energy Consultants suggests tips for minimizing hazards: Ensure all electrical equipment is inspected and maintained regularly. Don’t handle electrical equipment with wet hands or keep it in a location where water is liable to seep in. Watch out for frayed cords, exposed wires or smoke coming from equipment and do not use such appliances until they have been inspected and repaired. Don’t overload your power points and avoid using extension cords as a permanent solution. Install safety switches to reduce the risk of shock and ensure to train your team in how to use electrical equipment safely.
Streamlined sourcing and inventory management through tech
In restaurants, one of the first places technology made its mark was in sourcing and inventory tracking – and those functions have only been enhanced as technology has advanced. In a QSR report, restaurant consulting and technology firms including the New England Consulting Group, Results Thru Strategy, MarketMan and HelloWorld weighed in on the technology that is bringing these functions into the future, including software like Plate IQ, which takes a picture of each vendor invoice, uploads it to an app and scans it for relevant information and, in the process, saves about 60 percent of the labor required to process an invoice. Programs now not only help reduce waste and spoilage; they also help operators manage food waste that does happen by syncing with inventory systems to track unsold items, donate or sell surplus food at a discount, and even access relevant tax benefits when making food donations. Spending too much time managing inventory or trying to eliminate weaknesses in your process? Operators can use technology to better track, replenish and manage their inventory, as well as ensure its safety and quality.
Get beyond the buzzer
If you’re ready to graduate from the buzzer system for seating guests, consider the new front-of house technology from Waitbusters. Dubbed Digital Diner, the technology lets guests get in line or (for a fee) even skip the line remotely, and communicate personally with the restaurant before, during and after the meal. It also allows operators to view the location of a guest or party in line, among other features designed to streamline guest management and service, according to FSR magazine. All of this can be controlled via a widget on your website or social media page. There are some back-office benefits too: The technology lets you pull analytics to see how many guests you seated, how long they had to wait on average, how many no-shows you had and how many people made reservations, so you can make adjustments to your labor and inventory.
A formula for a more profitable menu
Does your menu drive sales as well as it could? Chances are you need to slim it down to focus on your best sellers. Upserve research found that 80 percent of a restaurant’s food sales come from 16 percent of menu items, so any extra options can make it more frustrating for your guests to find their favorites. What’s more, ingredients comprise such a large portion of a restaurant’s costs – 36 percent, according to the merger advisory firm Mazonne and Associates – that condensing them will help you focus on buying the best items you can. Upserve applied this rationale to its new “Smart Menu” builder template, a free tool that draws on menu research from across the U.S., as well as research about human behavior. The template helps users determine the exact number of items that should be on your menu (the fewer, the better), which ones to list first, the best ratio of food to drink items, how to create a visually compelling menu layout, and how a longer menu item description and a photo next to an item can each help you sell 30 percent more food. The menu research behind the template helped Upserve identify a Golden Menu Ratio for improving margins: Entrees account for nearly half of sales, so they should be your highest-margin items. Then, you gain some freedom to take smaller losses on popular but lower-margin appetizers and desserts, which drive 31 percent and 19 percent of sales, respectively.
What’s your cyber security strategy?
To compete, restaurant operators must adopt new technologies designed to improve sales, enhance the customer experience and make business run more efficiently. But these changes can create gaps that criminals target with cyber attacks, according to James Cascone, an advisory partner and global restaurant leader with Deloitte & Touche LLP. Cyber attacks can cause serious damage to a business: Toast reports that 68 percent of funds lost in these attacks are unrecoverable and 99 percent of computers are vulnerable to them. Often times, operators will not know about an attack until more than five months after it has occurred. To help, Toast’s PLATE Framework for Restaurant CyberSecurity suggests several tips. First, make sure your technology is secure – particularly your POS and credit card reader – and that your software is up to date. Second, comply with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards, which require restaurants accept, process, store and transmit data in a secure environment. Using PCI-compliant technology also sends a signal to your guests that you care about protecting their personal information. Finally, you need a game plan to follow in case your systems are attacked by a cyber threat so you can minimize damage. To help, Toast created its PLATE Framework, which was formed around the NIST CyberSecurity Framework from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The system was designed to help you perceive threats to your systems, limit the risk of a cyber attack, attribute the root of the problem accurately, take action quickly if and when an attack occurs, and evolve after the incident so you have security protections in place to prevent future breaches. Regardless of what security framework you use, you’ll want to have a similar strategy in place to keep your data safe.
Take care with cold grains
Cold rice, pasta, oats and other grains can be healthy staples in grab-and-go salads and breakfast items, but if you have them on your menu, take extra precautions with food safety. It’s easy to overlook contamination in these grains because they keep so well when dry. But once moistened and cooked, they become havens for bacteria. In a Huffington Post report, a representative from the Food Safety Information Council advised cooks keep these items out of the danger zone for bacteria growth, which is generally between 40˚F and 167˚F. Right after cooking these grains, put these items into shallow, well vented storage containers to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the steam has disappeared, secure the container lids and refrigerate the items immediately. Make sure that when you eventually mix in other ingredients with these grains, they’ve been cooled sufficiently to avoid the danger zone too.
Do you feel free to freeze?
Local, seasonal produce is a chef’s first choice, but is there a place for fruit and vegetables in the freezer? Your answer likely depends on your brand and the values you promote, but there are benefits to consider. The blog Chef’s Closet says at a time when skilled labor is hard to find, frozen produce can be faster to prepare and easier on a restaurant’s budget. And as we head into the winter months when fresh, local produce becomes scarce, cooking with fruit and vegetables that have been frozen at their peak helps you provide a wider assortment of nutrient-dense options on the menu. Just be sure to use fruits and vegetables that have been frozen in their most natural state and don’t contain added sweeteners or preservatives. Also note that frozen vegetables carry a higher risk of contamination by Listeria, according to the public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness. Listeria thrives in cold temperatures and is killed through cooking and pasteurization, so make sure to thoroughly cook any produce you freeze.
Images that boost business
Quality imagery on your menu, website and social media platforms will attract more sales. In fact, in many retail surveys, consumers say they are more influenced by images (and image quality) than other factors like ratings and reviews, product information and detailed descriptions, according to the personal finance site The Balance. SkillsLab, the sales and marketing hub, recently suggested some top tools to help you take your images up several notches. For creative social graphics and animated videos, try Adobe Spark. Videorama lets you create and edit quality videos with sound effects, text, filters and other options (also check out Typorama, a related site for images). Hyperlapse can help you create time-lapse videos – you can give viewers a condensed look at your kitchen during the Saturday night rush. If you want to add some artistic flair to your images, try using Touch Color to create eye-popping black-and-white pictures with bursts of color. Or maybe you’d like some help combining photos and video into one memorable package – for that, try PicPlayPost, which lets you combine photos, videos, GIFs and music.
The money is on mobile
A recent survey from Hospitality Technology found that 52 percent of restaurant operators say the integration of mobile features will influence their next POS upgrade, NextRestaurants reports. There’s good reason for that: While 39 percent of customers would rather pay with their mobile device than use a credit card or cash, mobile is proving to be more than just a conduit for payment. It can help guests skip lines, make reservations and otherwise have a better experience with you (and in the meantime, become more loyal to your business). NextRestaurants suggests you use in-app games to give customers opportunities to earn points toward discounts and other promotions. Domino’s Pizza, for one, has created an in-app game that allows customers to build virtual pizzas and even order pizzas they make up. You can create similar games that can help customers win rewards for time spent playing or for reaching different levels. Research has also found that mobile ordering has altered consumer behavior. When customers can skip the line and place an order as soon as they have a craving, it turns out, they are 20 percent more likely to place a larger order – and to order with greater frequency.
Restaurants serving more holiday meals
If you aren’t open for Christmas or New Year’s Day this year, you may want to plan differently for next year: Eater reports that independent restaurants that were open for business on Christmas and New Year’s Day in 2015 increased profits by 40 to 50 percent compared to their average business days, according to data from CAKE. The Financial Times reports that the online reservations site Bookatable saw Christmas Day reservations climb 32 percent from 2015 to 2016, while OpenTable reservations climbed 43 percent during the same period. Millennials appear to be driving this trend, according to data from Bank of America, as more of them are eating their Thanksgiving meal at home but are looking to dine – and spend – outside of the house on Christmas and New Year’s.
Gratuity grief: Tips versus service charges
Wage challenges in recent months have spurred restaurant operators to take a range of actions, from adding service charges to guest bills, to eliminating gratuities. The changes have affected how restaurants report income, and according to Modern Restaurant Management, making mistakes in characterizing these payments can lead to penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). As you wrap up the fiscal year, note the differences between the two forms of payment, according to the IRS: For a gratuity to be a tip, the payment must be given at the discretion of the customer, who has the right to determine its amount and who receives it. Tips can be given as cash or as goods like tickets or passes, all of which must be reported to the IRS for tax purposes. Employees need to report only cash tips to their employer, who must use that information to populate tip reports needed to withhold income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes on reported tips. The FLSA lets operators take a tip credit of up to $5.12 toward their minimum wage obligation (or the difference between the federal minimum wage, $7.25, and the required cash wage, $2.13). The IRS says automatic gratuities, such as any gratuity added to a customer’s bill, is not a tip. Employers may keep these charges or distribute them to employees, but in the latter case, the charges should be treated like regular wages for tax purposes. For further information, check out IRS Fact Sheet FS-2017-08 and FLSA Fact Sheet 15.
Deconstruct your data
Restaurant industry experts are predicting that 2018 will be the year of data. But with so much potential data and so many methods to collect it, restaurant data has become a vague term. So how should you focus? FSR suggests you zero in on five main categories: individual customer data, kitchen data, guest management, financial and inventory data and social media data. Individual data can include a name with contact information, food allergies and preferences, and birth date – and offering an incentive usually helps you collect it. In the kitchen, collect data specific to inventory and food preparation, focusing on different food stations and using an automated display system that can track how long every process takes. When it comes to guests, your data should tell you average wait times, turnaround times, party size, guest numbers and how efficiently you’re seating guests at any time. Automated systems can help here, too. Your financial data will help you understand how much revenue you’re generating, how much you’re spending and how effectively you’re using your inventory so you can identify and eliminate areas of waste. Focus on your expenses for utilities and payroll, items that have sold, how much you’re spending on the items you buy, sales of each menu item, total food cost, total menu sales and total profit. Finally, collect social media data – Facebook is a good place to start because it is so widespread and encompasses diverse demographics. Facebook, as well as Twitter and Instagram, will provide you with a weekly count of the followers you’ve gained or lost, as well as how engaged they are with the content you’ve been sharing.
Accommodating allergies – to the extreme
As restaurants go to greater lengths to cater to guests with food allergies – from using technology in the kitchen that monitors for allergens, to creating systems and procedures for sequestering the food of allergic guests from other food served at the table – many have begun designing full menus and restaurant concepts specifically for these guests. As an article in the Washington Post stated recently, “The afflictions of the minority are starting to determine the options for the majority.” The report says a number of college campuses have established dining halls that are allergy-free or limit allergens to specific serving areas. Restaurants are joining the effort – at Chipotle, for one, five of the top eight food allergens are not offered on the menu. While some wonder if limiting allergens will generate more allergy-sensitive people in the future, or will make it harder for those without allergies to find their favorite dishes, the prevailing belief is that this emerging model will spark more innovation on the menu – and across the industry.
Cleaning and disinfecting for an airtight sanitation plan
Does your team recognize the difference between cleaning and disinfecting – and why both are critical to ensuring the health and safety of employees and guests? Food Quality & Safety recommends you first work with a cleaning supplier to conduct a sanitation audit, identify contamination risks within your facility, and create a master cleaning plan that spells out what must be cleaned and how, as well as who should do the cleaning and when. Train employees to understand that sanitation involves both removing the residue from a surface and killing any microorganisms that can cause disease, odor and spoilage. Look for multipurpose products that can both clean and disinfect (many will do just one or the other) so you can reduce your inventory investment, minimize work and simplify training.
Why have reservations?
If you’re not yet accepting reservations via a guest management system, doing so could help you harness valuable data in several ways. Offering online reservations lets you track the origins of your bookings. Are people finding you through a Google search? Facebook? TripAdvisor ratings? Word of mouth? Knowing your best sources of new guests will help you know where to focus your marketing efforts and dollars.
UberEats delivery gets personal
UberEats is taking a comfortable lead in the restaurant delivery market – and its personalization strategy is a big part of it. SkiftTable reports that UberEats recently launched three customer-facing features to help it stand out: in-app ratings, favorites and personalized menu options. Customers using the app get lists, collections of restaurants and search elements – all personalized according to their preferences. Once a customer selects a restaurant, for example, UberEats can now recommend dishes that the customer is likely to enjoy based on his or her taste profile. It can winnow an overwhelming menu of 100 items down to a desirable list of five, streamlining the ordering process while providing data that are helpful to restaurants. These changes will likely spur competitors to enhance their features as UberEats rapidly expands its market share: Since April, the company’s reach has nearly doubled, with 80,000 restaurant partners in 200 cities.
The POS: Your tableside marketing consultant
A tableside POS can help your servers make best use of their time and help you turn tables more quickly. But there are more benefits: QSR recommends you harness your POS to strengthen your marketing, so you can build a strong mailing list of guests who enjoy your restaurant and collect their feedback immediately after a meal, when it’s fresh in their minds. When the guest pays the bill, the tablet payment screen can ask for their email address and offer the option to receive coupons good for a future visit. Once a month, you can send a promotion or other incentive for them to return – it could tip the balance when they are deciding which restaurant to choose among a list of possibilities. When your guest taps the screen to make payment, you have a captive audience – and a chance to collect insights about the menu, specials, service, décor or any other part of your restaurant you want to analyze. Ask a few multiple-choice survey questions (and provide a place for sharing open-ended feedback if desired) that will help you determine what needs tweaking.
Ready yourself for review time
How do you evaluate your employees? Having a set process can help you keep communication lines open, show you’re interested in developing your team and make your operation run more efficiently. Upserve suggests you conduct your reviews on a set schedule – perhaps on the one-year anniversary of each person’s hire – and focus the conversation on performance. (Save all discussions about compensation for one time during the year in accordance with your fiscal year so you can budget accordingly.) To structure your reviews, work from a template to keep the conversations on track. Upserve recommends you create three categories for feedback: qualities, goals and comments. Your discussion of qualities should focus on the nuts and bolts of the person’s day-to-day performance, e.g. punctuality, attendance, communication skills, honesty, customer service and attention to detail. As for goals, discuss whether the person achieved set goals during the year, and, if not, what resources or training could help change that. If the person achieved set goals, ask for input about how he or she might like to develop, e.g. learning a new skill or technique, or taking on additional responsibility. Finally, turn the tables and ask for feedback about your performance as well. It will help your employees feel heard and their feedback could help you understand whether your restaurant is a good place to work. If it’s not, you can engage your team’s help in making it better.
When to lease your POS
Your POS system can help you make the most of profit points within your restaurant, cut back on waste, and provide you with information that can help you turn occasional customers into your most loyal ones. But the costs of systems may hold some operators back – POS hardware can cost between $500 and $3000 per pay station, according to data from Capterra, and lower-priced options don’t necessarily offer a better value. Web-based solutions promise a high return on investment – but what if you have shaky connectivity, want customized options or need access to specialized support not often included with web-based POS services? If you’re among the one-third of restaurant businesses who are planning to upgrade POS technology in the next year, according to Toast, you may have a case for leasing your equipment. Business.com suggests that leasing could be for you if you are new to the business, want to avoid the up-front payments required for POS hardware, like having the option to upgrade regularly to a system with more bells and whistles or simply need some time to figure out your restaurant’s longer-term technology strategy. Look for complete packages that include all equipment, service and repairs for the lease term. The business technology firm Lightspeed also suggests you study the interest rates from the leasing companies you’re considering, since they can vary widely, as well as what happens if you need to change your contract terms early.
Fast facts about handwashing
Boosting your operation’s cleanliness can be as simple as promoting better hand washing. David Walpuck, a food trainer from The National Environmental Health Association, shared these facts with Food Safety Magazine: 80 percent of communicable diseases are transferred by touch. Just 20 percent of people wash their hands before preparing food. Fewer than 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men wash their hands after using the bathroom. Every time a toilet is flushed with the lid up, a fine mist containing bacteria such as E.coli and Staphylococcus is spread over an area of six square meters. In public restrooms, the area around sinks is 90 percent covered in these bacteria. For every 15 seconds spent washing hands, 10 times more bacteria is removed. Most bacteria on hands are on the fingertips and under the nails, although most people wash the palms of their hands and nothing else. The bacteria count is highest on the dominant hand, but right-handed people wash their left hand more thoroughly than their right hand, and vice versa. Only 20 percent of people dry their hands after washing. Disposable paper towels are the most sanitary means of drying hands (reusable cloth towels harbor millions of bacteria).
Boost your restaurant’s social responsibility
Improving your restaurant’s social responsibility program isn’t just good for your community; it can help you generate buzz in traditional and online media outlets, gain new business and build a positive perception of your brand. In fact, Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report found that 66 percent of consumers are willing to spend more money on a product from a sustainable brand. To increase your social impact, Foodable suggests you make it your mission to improve your community, then support that mission with goals, set aside time and resources to accomplish them, and hold people accountable. Your plan could include donating a percentage of revenues to a local cause, looking internally to decrease your restaurant’s energy use and identify products you can purchase from sustainable sources, or donating food or organizing food drives to benefit people living in poverty or recovering from a natural disaster. Make sure your social responsibility program is visible within your establishment, as well as on your website and social media networks.
How tech gives restaurants an edge over grocerants
Grocery stores have become go-to businesses for the convenience minded, offering a growing assortment of prepared foods (and becoming restaurant hybrids in the process). But technology can help restaurants reclaim lost ground. Modern Restaurant Management suggests that tech can deliver convenience, personalization and engagement more effectively than grocery stores. Why try to find an appealing meal at the grocery store on the way home from work if you can use mobile order to have your favorite pizza ready for pick up – or have it delivered to your home just as you arrive? What if you want extra pepperoni on that pizza – or on just half of it? Again, tech provides the customization and personalization that grocery stores don’t – and it lets a customer recall their preferences in a couple of clicks. Grocery stores have long used data to send customized promotions, but again here, restaurants can do this with greater precision. If you mine your technology, you can recall that a customer often orders take-out on Thursday evenings at 6pm and sometimes gets dessert. Armed with that information, you can entice that customer more effectively than any grocery store.
Tech to try next?
How will you improve your restaurant’s technology in the coming year? From providing online reservations to mobile ordering to tableside payment, there are any number of directions you could take. Toast’s recent technology survey of more than 900 restaurateurs and 1,200 restaurant guests may help you decide where to focus. While operators and guests agreed on many benefits of tech, they differed in these three areas: Among restaurant guests, 58 percent will use a restaurant’s app or mobile pay when available (far fewer operators offer these options), 49 percent of guests think kiosk ordering improves their experience (only 39 percent of operators think kiosks help efficiency), and when guests ranked their top tech preferences in restaurants, they listed online reservations, guest wifi and online ordering (loyalty programs didn’t make the cut). If you’re still struggling to decide where to offer tech, take heart: Software that accomplishes multiple objectives simultaneously is within reach. As David Scott Peters, founded of the TheRestaurantExpert.com, said recently, “As technology gets less expensive and more systems talk with each other, software will get smarter and not only provide analytics, it will automatically tell the restaurant owner where the problems are and what they need to fix.”
2018 predicted to be the year of data
Technomic and Restaurant Business have just released the Winsight 2018 Restaurant Trends Forecast and one message comes through clearly: Data is expected to have ever-increasing power at restaurants in both public-facing and business-facing ways in 2018. Kelly Killian, director of the foodservice content group for Winsight, predicts that data will impact every area of operations, from marketing messages personalized based on behavioral analytics, to highly customized menu suggestions based on past purchases, to sensors that track staff productivity. Data’s impact will also extend to the kitchen, where smarter equipment will gather data to make for more efficient purchasing and production, among other processes.
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