If you have new or temporary staff on your team, it’s a good time to give a refresher course on avoiding the spread of colds and flu, as well as other germs that can cause foodborne illness. The National Restaurant Association advises operators to provide a handwashing demo to staff, focus on the nail beds and under the fingernails where bacteria is easily trapped, and mention the need for scrubbing, rinsing and complete drying of hands to avoid cross-contamination. Hand sanitizer is a good final step after handwashing but does not replace it. Make sure your food handlers know when and how to report their symptoms of illness — and ensure your managers keep staff informed of the reporting requirements of foodborne illness symptoms, with emphasis on the need to report vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, sore throat with fever, or infected cuts or burns with pus on hands or wrists. Finally, build a culture in which your team feels comfortable reporting their illness symptoms. You can foster this environment by having regular conversations about how to report symptoms and what follow-up actions to take to prevent the spread of foodborne illness, as well as by placing posters around your facility to remind employees of their responsibility to be forthcoming about symptoms they or other staff experience.
Once holiday feasting is over, New Year’s health resolutions kick in. Do you know how to deliver the kinds of options your guests are looking for? The tactics that work for your restaurant may differ from those that succeed at the restaurant down the street. When you contemplate menu changes, focus less on fad diets than on accommodating lifestyle changes like gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb or organic diets. Then, consider how your target market thinks. Next Restaurants reports that according to a Numerator survey, the average person who follows Weight Watchers is 65 or older, so building menu options around that plan may make sense if you serve that demographic. Forging partnerships with social media influencers and organizations committed to healthy lifestyles can help too. At a minimum, consider offering nutrition information to show you’re committed to helping guests make their own healthy decisions.
It’s easy to look at your restaurant’s social media account as a conduit for connecting with your guests and your community, but if you’re not applying a marketing approach to it, you could be missing opportunities to turn online traffic into sales. To ensure your social media strategy is designed to bring in business, Upserve suggests you first calculate your customer acquisition cost. Divide the money you spend on social media by the number of new customers you acquire during the period in which the money was spent. It will tell you how you have benefited from the marketing dollars you have invested — and if you need to tweak your campaigns. Next, understand who (or what) is behind the “likes” you receive. You might pay a social media marketer to promote your post, resulting in hundreds of new likes and followers, but if those followers are bots, other social media managers, or people thousands of miles away from your restaurant, their support won’t translate into sales. Finally, get support from the right person but know enough about social media and what you want it to help you achieve. Hiring a social media manager can help you set a strategy to promote your restaurant but for the sake of building and sustaining a genuine connection with your community, you don’t want to outsource it all. You might use a social media manager for larger projects — videos, advertisements and games, for example, or for help in identifying local social media influencers who can boost your brand in the community — but handle all customer inquiries and reviews yourself.
It’s a model that has long worked for the hotel and transportation industries: Charge a higher rate at times when there is high demand and offer a discount during slower periods. When a high-end London restaurant launched a dynamic pricing framework in early 2018 (regular prices at peak times, 25 percent off the bill at off-peak times and 15 percent off at mid-peak), it faced ample criticism for what the public interpreted as “surge pricing.” But now a lot of other operators are following suit. Alinea cofounder Nick Kokonas praised dynamic pricing at a recent Bloomberg conference and other panelists deemed it among the trends likely to transform dining out in 2019.
As menus and food preparation methods evolve, food safety standards may slip. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Douglas Davis, senior director of global food safety for Marriott International, told attendees at the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium that his team places requests for new foods or techniques into one of three buckets. The first is for risky practices with third-party vendors, the second is for vendors and foods they have worked with before or which have a known risk exposure, and the third is for foods and techniques they haven’t encountered
before. Items in the first bucket go through a business case analysis with the company’s risk management partners. They gather information from Marriott’s hotels about each step of their preparation process to determine if any part of it needs to change. Items in the second bucket are addressed using the company’s existing safety standards, while the methods in the third bucket are assessed by a consultant or microbiologist to ensure safety.
If your restaurant considers how allergic guests avoid exposure to allergens, you may be able to better protect their safety. According to a recent study that surveyed people with allergies who successfully dine out without experiencing reactions, respondents use an average of 15 different strategies to avoid triggering an allergy in restaurants. The study, reported at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s annual conference in November, found that the top five strategies used are speaking to a server upon arrival, ordering food with simple ingredients, double-checking food before eating it, avoiding restaurants with a higher likelihood of cross-contamination and checking meal ingredients on the restaurant’s website. Make sure your team and your website are up to the task.
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are starting to look a lot different. As downloads of food delivery apps have skyrocketed (they’re up 380 percent from just three years ago, according to the data firm App Annie), restaurants are scaling back on their physical footprint. Skift Table reports that Dan Orkin, head of the U.S. restaurant division of CBRE, said many operators are adjusting to having fewer visitors and more delivery business by renegotiating leases and renovations. Many brands are looking to create separate entrances for delivery workers and pick-ups, scaling down their dining areas, or eliminating tables and chairs altogether for a kitchen-only space.
For a typical restaurant, 80 percent of food sales are generated by just 16 percent of menu items, according to Upserve. That leaves a lot of room for improvement. How does your restaurant measure up? If your menu needs a remodel, the sometimes-slow month of January could be prime time to refresh your offering and give guests a new reason to visit. First, identify the right mix of dishes. The Balance suggests you offer an assortment that includes the classic dishes that people look for when dining with you, along with some dishes that incorporate food trends. Next evaluate the food cost of those items so you’re in position to improve sales — now is the perfect time to tweak a dish that is popular but not profitable. Once you have your menu set, draft brief descriptions that clearly describe key ingredients and incorporate prices (as opposed to listing them in a column at the right). Your menu design should reflect the atmosphere and values of your restaurant, as well as steer guests to the items you’d most like to sell. Highlighting profitable items in boxes or placing them in among higher-priced items can help. If you are designing your menu yourself and need help, there are a number of templates (some free) that can assist. Upserve likes Canva’s library of stock images and layouts, Adobe Spark’s professional-looking results, and 99designs’ speed and ease of use — and also offers a free menu design builder that incorporates menu design psychology.
Restaurants that serve meat currently face a range of ethical questions: How was the animal fed and raised? How local is the farm? Was the farm impacted by foodborne illness outbreaks? How does the farm administer antibiotics in livestock production? Now lab-grown meat, which is made from stem cells extracted from poultry and livestock and eliminates many of the concerns surrounding conventional meat, is a step closer to becoming a mealtime staple for consumers. Representatives from the USDA and FDA, which recently announced they would oversee production of lab-grown meat, say they would have the authority to regulate it. This would eliminate the need for additional legislation, Newsweek reports. That could mean big changes for how restaurants source the protein on their menus — and how quickly that can happen.
Could 2019 be the year of automation? If John Miller, the CEO of CaliGroup has anything to say about it, it could be. As he told attendees at the recent National Restaurant Association Innovation Summit, “I think that in the next six months, we will deploy robots to customers in ways that will shock people.” CaliGroup may be ahead of the curve (its CaliBurger restaurant launched the burger-making robot Flippy last year) but the technology it has in the works is worth bearing in mind, since it is likely going to have impacts on guest experience, food safety and employees’ perception of restaurant work. For instance, the restaurant is piloting a facial recognition payment system in partnership with NEC Corp. (facial recognition is already in use in the restaurant’s loyalty program). Its kiosks are also being enhanced to provide a one-on-one experience with the customer. While robots are replacing the jobs at hot grills and fryers, Miller said other kitchen jobs are being rebranded — instead of a “grill cook,” kitchen workers are called “chef techs”. He said the change to a tech focus is providing workers with gateways to higher-level jobs. At the same time, it is helping his restaurant manage kitchens more efficiently and protect the safety of food on the production line. The change could, helpfully, shift the more mundane or less safe jobs to technology. But the challenge for restaurants adapting to these changes, according to Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Future of Work,” will be to determine how to retrain employees for more sophisticated jobs in the industry.
Be more businesslike on Instagram
Does your restaurant have a business profile account on Instagram or a personal one? If it’s still a personal account, consider making a switch. You’ll be able to collect better data on how your followers are interacting with your content. A business profile account allows you to track the number of impressions, likes, comments and saves your content gets, as well as monitor the number of different accounts that see and interact with what you post. While some features carry a fee, they are likely to pay off as they make it easier for you to run ad campaigns and for followers to get in touch with you via a “contact” button (instead of having to scan your page for your web address).
Small fluctuations in temperature can mean the difference between a dish that is safe to eat and one that harbors harmful bacteria. Your food thermometers are among your most useful tools to protect against foodborne illness, so make sure they are up to the task. Statefoodsafety.com advises that restaurants calibrate bimetallic food thermometers before every shift or any time they are bumped or dropped.
There is always a new food trend or cooking technique your restaurant may want to try. But whether you’re incorporating sous-vide cooking techniques or simply adding seasonal produce to drinks, you want to ensure your food safety standards keep up with your menu developments. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, microbiologist Brian Nummer reminded the audience of the acronym FAT TOM, which lists the top factors that contribute to bacteria growth: food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture. He said when restaurants incorporate new trends into their cooking, it can be easy to neglect safety. But that is less likely to happen if chefs are trained in the science of cooking as well as the art. When that happens, Nummer said, chefs more naturally tweak dishes to ensure safety (say, adding extra lemon to a dish so it reaches a pH 4, which kills bacteria).
Nowadays, maintaining your restaurant’s online presence is as important as your in-person presence. The new Google My Business app (available for Android and iOS) is a useful tool to help you manage your business profile. Using the app, you can communicate with guests, respond to reviews, edit your business profile and monitor how guests interact with it, post photos and event updates, and manage these items across multiple locations.
Data can unlock valuable information about your guests, of course. Now Uber Eats is demonstrating that data can also reveal demand for restaurants that don’t yet exist (but could, with a little help). Uber Eats is currently the fastest-growing food delivery app, serving 70 percent of the U.S. Much of that growth is due to the development of virtual restaurants — brick-and-mortar restaurants operating one or more restaurants that deliver food via Uber Eats and exist only on that platform. For example, Eater reports that the Dallas sushi chain SushiYaa, which operates five brick-and-mortar locations, houses about two dozen other virtual restaurants — all with their own separate menus that consumers can access on the Uber Eats platform. Uber Eats actually approached SushiYaa about the opportunity more than a year ago and suggested they start a virtual restaurant to meet rising consumer demand for poke. Uber Eats data indicated demand for the food was increasing and SushiYaa had the necessary ingredients for it already on hand. All that was required of the restaurant was a business name, menu and logo. Uber Eats then provided the tablet used for processing orders and sent a photographer to take photos of menu items. The process took less than two weeks to take fruition and has been a win for the restaurant, which can now use its existing space and labor force to serve a much larger volume of business.
Know the signs of an unsafe journey
Is meat, fish or poultry on your menu? Those items have likely taken a multi-step journey to get there. While you have to rely on others in your supply chain to uphold food safety practices along the route, you can find clues about it when inspecting shipments. Restaurant Owner & Manager suggests these red flags that a shipment should be rejected: cartons that aren’t intact, dirty wrappers, colored spots on the item (purple, white, brown or green), strange odors (including an ammonia smell to fish), flesh with a soft appearance or that leaves a finger imprint when you press on it, fish eyes with a sunken-in appearance, and open shells on fresh shellfish.
If your restaurant does not have a blog — or could stand to improve its existing one — now is a good time to work on it. A solid blog presence will make your website more of a destination for consumers at a time when they are eager to interact with restaurants online. (A Technomic survey found that 42 percent of consumers said they would choose one restaurant over another if it offered the ability to order online.) A strong blog can be a hub for your other content, referencing your social media accounts and featuring the kinds of images and personality that infuse your website with your restaurant’s atmosphere. To build engagement via your blog, Next Restaurants suggests you first set it within the right URL structure — i.e. host it on your website via a subdomain or subdirectory. Next, think about the kinds of terms people would use when searching for your restaurant online so that your blog content meshes with what terms people are using to search for restaurants like yours. A search term such as “restaurants with creative cocktails” might spark an idea for a blog about how you weave local, seasonal ingredients into your beverage menu — or a recipe for how guests might make their own version at home. There are some blog post-building tools available online if you need more help in triggering ideas. Finally, don’t be a stranger. While you don’t have to post content daily, you should post at least once a week. Each year or each season, you can take a look at what’s happening on your menu or with events you have planned and then write (or outsource the writing of) a large chunk of related blog content at once. When business is busy and you don’t have time for pulling together a post, you will have a ready supply of content to choose from throughout the year.
What does loyalty mean to you?
Any restaurant consultant will tell you to have a strong loyalty program. But within those programs, there is plenty of opportunity to differentiate your particular restaurant. Take McNellie’s Restaurants, an Oklahoma chain that is using different methods for generating traffic and valuable feedback via their loyalty program. For one, members of the program are invited to come to the restaurant on specific days and get 50 percent off their bill if they ask to meet with one of the restaurant’s managers and have a conversation about their experience. Another offer encourages members to bring a friend (and get a discount if that friend signs up for the loyalty program). The brand also has different levels of loyalty and associated benefits that members need to work to retain. For example, the restaurant gets a 90 percent conversion rate when they send an email to guests telling them they need to come to the restaurant at least once that month to retain their VIP status.
Being able to do so may help you avoid a foodborne illness outbreak at a time when the supply chain is becoming increasingly complex. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, Ecolab’s vice president of food safety offered operators a couple of tips to find the most reliable growers. She said the larger ones, those with $5 million in sales and more, tend to have strong food safety practices and testing already in place. Further, she advised operators to identify growers who
use third-party facility audits. Those growers, she said, spent two to 10 times more on food safety than those who didn’t.
‘Tis the season for holiday feasting — and leftovers. Just make sure you have plenty of space in your refrigerator and freezer to accommodate them. Overloading shelves or placing food too close to the refrigerator’s circulatory fan could impede the smooth circulation of air. This could lead to a food safety issue or potentially affect the lifespan of the refrigerator. Make sure to clear some space in the midst of the holiday rush.
New research from Fogelson & Co. about the Food Connected Consumer — a group of food-focused consumers representing 62 percent of Americans (and $835 billion in food spending) across demographics and locations — found that Millennials and Generation Z are the most food-connected of the bunch. They are eager to try and share new foods (think global flavors), are mindful of their food’s origins, and are twice as likely to plan their travel around food and restaurants. They follow food trends via social media and technology and they are more likely to post about food on social media, follow food bloggers and rate their food experiences online. These consumers are loyal to the brands that speak to them and tell stories that relate to them. Can your restaurant provide the kind of experience that brings them back?
McDonald’s and Panera had an unfortunate trait in common in recent months: Both brands served salads that were linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. But they’re hardly alone. Healthline reports that between 1973 and 2012, 85 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. that were caused by leafy greens were traced back to a restaurant or caterer. As restaurants accommodate consumer demand for these fresh ingredients, operators need to be extra aware of the food safety vulnerability that comes along with that shift. While produce and other raw, fresh foods may be healthier to eat than processed foods, they also carry an increased risk of spreading illness. Modern Restaurant Management reports that a number of factors exacerbate the problem, ranging from operators’ reliance on pencil-and-paper processes that are easy to skip and don’t hold staff accountable, to a lack of awareness of the supply chain. The report advised that as menus offer fresh ingredients, operators must step up their focus on food safety and ensure they prevent cross-contamination of ingredients, cook food to the proper temperature and sanitize equipment. But beyond that, they must also have a good understanding of the origins of their produce and how it has been stored along its route. Without that, even a restaurant with a spotless kitchen and vigilant staff can serve produce that sickens a guest.
A new grab-and-go option takes on groceries
As grocery stores raise the bar on prepared foods, some restaurants are fighting back with meal kits or other grab-and-go options. QSR Magazine reports that one brand, Newk’s Eatery, which has 120 locations in 15 states, has launched a related concept that allows people to prepare restaurant-quality food at home and provide the kind of meal customization consumers seek from restaurants. Its program, Express Market, involves having an open-air refrigerator at each location with different protein entrees (choices include flash-seared ahi, broiled shrimp, char-grilled salmon and sliced chicken), as well as pastas, sandwiches, salads, rotating soups and sides, and dressings and cakes. The idea is that consumers can build their own dinners from these building blocks — not necessarily follow a set recipe.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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