Be smart about suppliers
When the air conditioning breaks down or a server fails to arrive for a shift, it’s easy to focus more attention on fixing these urgent, day-to-day problems than on the expenses creeping up in your inventory orders. But by building in some controls to manage your supplies, you can avoid costly surprises. To keep tabs on supply costs, Orderly suggests some tips: First, your supply needs vary from week to week, so your order should, too – if you purchase the same quantities each week, you’re likely generating a surplus or a deficit, which adds up to lost money in either scenario. Second, know what you pay week to week. This ensures you spot areas where you are paying too much and can take action promptly. Having technology to monitor your supply helps you stay on track, as does keeping a detailed weekly budget that you order against. If profits are declining, you will be able to better see how much you can trim an order to help save on your fluctuating expenses each month. Finally, having regular supplier reviews will help ensure you’re getting the best deal from your suppliers—you may find that a different supplier would be a better value. It also sends the message that you care about modest price escalations and are prepared to find new suppliers when they occur. (Coming soon: Watch for a new Team Four product called Alignment4, which is designed to help operators monitor and manage their supply costs.)
The minimal service model catches on
From the escalating minimum wage and cost of living to the ongoing debate about tipping, managing the rising costs of labor and real estate has been a perennial challenge for operators looking to hire talent. But instead of bemoaning the current landscape, Charles Bililies, owner of the Greek counter-service restaurant Souvla in San Francisco, says: “We can sit around here, and we can complain and whine and moan. We can be very negative about this. Or we can sort of turn this on its head and see an opportunity.” In a recent article in the New York Times, Bililies and others are finding ways to offer the benefits of fine dining—such as healthy, fresh ingredients, appealing décor, ceramic plates and a well curated wine list—but without the table service that has traditionally come with it. Like many other cities around the country, San Francisco has a minimum wage has been on the rise in recent years, climbing from $10.74 in 2014 to $15 as of July 1. Operators are identifying the cost of servers as a fluctuating expense guests are willing to sacrifice in the name of quality food, even if it means bussing their own tables and filling their own water glasses. At the original location of Souvla, a brand that has become a model for this type of service, guests order at a counter right inside the door, so the line spills outside and doesn’t take up valuable real estate inside. The restaurant has 40 seats for those wanting to dine in, but thanks to a model that accommodates takeout business as well, churns out more than 900 meals a day.
New changes to FDA Food Code
The FDA has revised its Food Code, which is designed to protect the public health and ensure the safety of food served in retail and foodservice operations. So what will the latest changes mean? Vito Palazzolo, the National Restaurant Association’s food safety expert, identified the biggest three: First, the Person-In-Charge will need to be a designated person in the business, a certified manager, and available during all times the business is operating. Second, the required time for cooking through the center of ground meats has changed from 17 seconds to 15 seconds at 155˚F. Finally, anyone with cuts on fingers and hands must cover them with a finger cot or impermeable bandage, then single-use gloves over the covering. While local, state and federal jurisdictions typically adopt the code, that doesn’t always happen as soon as the code’s updates are introduced, so be aware of the challenges those gaps can pose to your compliance.
Fresh ingredients generate unique food safety costs
At a time when consumers demand fresh, quality ingredients, produce-heavy restaurants can attract a loyal following. But the price for that, according to a report in QSR magazine, is the steep price of food safety controls that operators who use a large amount of frozen or processed foods may avoid. “There’s a balancing act to be had between labor and operational costs for a plant-based food operation and food safety,” says Chris Boyles, vice president for the Steritech Institute at Steritech, which conducts food safety assessments. To find that balance, operators stress the need to have controls in place to monitor the supply chain closely (albeit remotely) or to rely on small, regional suppliers they can visit regularly—both of which generate higher operational costs. Some operators are relying on a mix of small, carefully vetted local farms and large, established companies that closely monitor the supply chain to manage food safety threats. Others are employing a “Whole Foods” approach, whereby they divide the country into regions and seek out farms in each region that they vet as potential suppliers.
First straws, now utensils
Now that restaurants across the country are doing away with plastic straws, plastic utensils are next on the list of items to eliminate. In Seattle, for example, a rule that recently went into effect requires foodservice businesses to discontinue use of plastic straws and utensils in favor of the compostable variety. Those who don’t comply face a fine of $250. While Seattle is believed to be the first city to ban plastic utensils along with straws, expect others to follow suit — and if you don’t currently provide compostable straws and utensils, start shopping around for suppliers.
Lessons from a grocery app
If you have a restaurant app, how do you see it evolving? There may be an opportunity to use it to build loyalty in new ways. Consider what the midwestern grocery chain Woodman’s is testing across its 16-store enterprise: an app developed by myUpside that can help customers find healthier brand options and earn rewards in the process. According to Progressive Grocer, customers can earn cash and other benefits —as opposed to coupons or temporary prices reductions — via purchases and social engagement with the app, all while learning about better-for-you brands. If you have an app that aims to encourage guests to post on social media or provide a review, consider how effectively the incentives you provide are delivering the outcome you want—and if there is an opportunity to educate as a means of building engagement.
In the race for data, look for trouble spots
While tablets promise efficiency when it comes to turning tables, a recent Grub Street article finds a number of restaurants struggling with the effects the technology may have on servers. Specifically, servers are reporting issues of harassment and unfair use of customer feedback. Since customer feedback is no longer attached to a name and a face, the report says, the survey respondent could be a five-year-old or an unfiltered adult irked by something unrelated to the quality of service received. (For example, if a guest’s experience at the restaurant was poor because of the ambiance of the restaurant and not because of the server’s performance, negative survey feedback could still be tied to the server’s record.) Servers say the accumulation of negative feedback leads to the reassignment of shifts to less-desirable slots.
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