How will the trucking industry’s challenges affect you?
How well are your suppliers managing the growing shortage of truck drivers around the country? Your knowledge of their strategy could determine how much of a pinch you feel from pricing spikes in the months ahead. Forbes reports that after 2017 saw the greatest shortfall of truck drivers on record, the American Trucking Associations estimate that there could be 174,000 unfilled driver positions by 2026. A poll of shippers, carriers and brokers by Morgan Stanley found that trucking costs are likely to increase 6.4 percent on average this year. The strength of the economy is only making the problem worse by increasing consumer demand. As a result of the constraints facing the industry, restaurants are likely to experience delays in food deliveries, inconsistencies in service in general and pricing increases. To help, industry operators have proposed relaxing the driving age to 18, offering higher wages, loosening regulations on electronic hour logging, recruiting more women and eventually adding driverless trucks to fleets, according to the Forbes report. You can put your restaurant in a better position to weather the challenges in the meantime by maintaining open communication with suppliers so you can anticipate when and how the effects of the driver shortage will trickle down to your business.
Ready, set, crisis
In the restaurant industry, preparing for expected challenges – ingredient pricing fluctuations, guest complaints, staff turnover – is difficult enough. But you also need an airtight plan to manage the unexpected, particularly as extremes in weather become more common. According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, only 40 percent of businesses that experience a disaster resume operations afterward, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that almost 75 percent of small businesses do not have a disaster plan. Upserve advises restaurant operators to have a crisis management plan that achieves these criteria: It reduces or eliminates negative impacts on your business, including your sales, traffic, earnings, etc.; it protects or improves your image with guests, key stakeholders, employees and the public; it helps you resume operations as quickly as possible; and it limits your competition’s ability to capitalize on the event. To prepare, review your insurance plan with your broker and consider different scenarios to understand the limits of your coverage. Make sure you have an up-to-date inventory of your food, supplies, equipment and technology. Create a crisis management team comprising your most trusted staff, marketing, public relations and human resources personnel, and perhaps your attorney. Have the group draft a risk assessment plan, along with a communications plan that helps you steer through a crisis step by step and outlines roles and responsibilities. Conduct a mock exercise each year to test your plan and make sure you have assessed your risks thoroughly.
Improve allergy awareness
When allergic guests visit your restaurant, your waitstaff (and perhaps the electronic allergen detection device they carry) form a critical line of defense between them and a potentially life-threatening allergy. But as the blog Allergy Amulet notes, “many waiters don’t know that pesto usually contains pine nuts, that marzipan is almond paste, or that peanuts and nutmeg are not tree nuts.” Further, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control found that restaurants were responsible for nearly half of all food allergy fatalities during a 13-year period and that fewer than half of all restaurant managers, and only one-third of servers, receive formal training on food allergies. While six states and two cities have passed laws to improve food allergy safety and awareness in restaurants, there is ample room to improve. What steps have you taken on your menu and through staff training efforts to improve communication about allergies?
Do your boards make the cut?
Your cutting board matters when it comes to food safety. Prevailing food safety research has found that plastic cutting boards are easier to sanitize but that cuts to their surface can result in grooves that trap bacteria. While wood is more difficult to sanitize, it’s usually tougher, so scratches aren’t as likely to penetrate the surface. Ben Chapman, a food safety research at North Carolina State University, suggests using plastic cutting boards for meat because those boards can be washed and sanitized at high temperatures in a dishwasher, and using wood for produce and other ready-to-eat foods. When purchasing wood cutting boards, Chapman suggests looking for hardwoods with a fine grain, like maple. They pull down fluid and trap the bacteria, which is then killed as the board dries after cleaning. Softer woods, like cypress, won’t dull the edge of your knife, but cuts to their surface are more likely to create grooves where bacteria can grow.
Pizza sales in the United States contribute $38 billion in revenue to the food industry each year, according to the small business consultant Brandon Gaille. You can expand your slice of that pie by making some on-trend tweaks to your pizza selection as the weather cools and guests look for heartier fare. Are you located in an area with appealing specialties? Try incorporating local meats, cheeses and produce onto a limited-time pizza entrée or appetizer. Sustainable seafood can take your pizza upscale, or experiment with plant-based ingredients for a vegan-friendly pie – like the vegan sausage, cashew ricotta, jackfruit meatballs and vegan cheese offered up at Brooklyn-based Paulie Gee’s.
Update your site the right way
Is your website giving your guests the information they need, when they need it? Since most consumers research their dining options online before committing to a restaurant, it’s crucial to keep your site updated, especially in some key areas. A report from Skift Table and Bentobox suggests you start with your site analytics, whether from the backend of your site or Google Analytics, to understand how guests are finding your site and what they’re searching for so you can adjust your updates and campaigns to mesh with their searches. Basic information like your location, menu, online ordering and reservations comprise 60 percent of restaurant website traffic, and since most of those items don’t change, you can prioritize updates to your menu. When you have special events or weekly specials planned, schedule a social media blast – and do it early in the week, say Monday at noon, since posting on a Friday night will make it a challenge to get attention.
Build your brand on Instagram
If you’re looking to commit to one social media network to build your brand, Instagram is the place to target. Social Media Week reports that the site, above others, is successfully remaking the social media profile of many brands. That’s especially important to note if you’ve been favoring Facebook for your social media campaigns, since the changes Facebook made to its algorithm this year limit the spread of publisher content on news feeds to give preference to posts from friends and family. A report from NetBase found that Instagram beat out Youtube and Facebook in its research of the most-loved global brands. And while social media brands and digital companies topped the list, some others made major strides in generating engagement. Nikon jumped the farthest: 46 spots to No. 16, and Chevrolet, Canon and Burger King also made major gains on the platform. In Nikon’s case, the brand has successfully communicated the lifestyle of Nikon users, offering up travel and food-related content, how-to videos and monthly challenges. They’ve also developed an influencer base called Nike Ambassadors, who build the brand’s base by sharing their own stories.
Is your ordering up to par?
When you replenish your supply of key ingredients, do you order against par levels? If not, Orderly says you could be wasting supplies and money by over-ordering, under-ordering, or spending too much on inventory. Say you're in the midst of a dinner rush and you run out of an ingredient customers will miss -- bacon or tortilla chips or avocado, for example -- and you have to dash to the store to pick it up. Not a problem if it happens now and then, but if you're doing this every week, the waste adds up. You can avoid this scenario by having an inventory par level set -- or the normal amount of an ingredient you want to have on hand at any time -- then paying attention to your par levels and reordering based on that level when you see your supply slip. Orderly gives the example of a restaurant known for its chicken tacos that uses 20 bags of tortillas in a typical week. If you order once a week, you might set your par at 25 to ensure you don't run out midweek, then reorder based on that par level. If you have a busy week, you have some extra on hand. If business is slow, you're not ordering 20 bags of tortillas when you already have 15 in stock. This system can also help you avoid getting overstocked on items that are no longer as popular due to a change of season. Finally, when you pay attention to your par levels and adjust your orders each time based on those levels, you send the message to suppliers that you are vigilant about your inventory. You're more likely to notice pricing spikes on your invoices -- and to have a discussion with suppliers when that happens.
Law and labor
When you write a job description or interview a candidate, do you know how to avoid discriminatory language that may lead to a lawsuit? In a recent interview with Foodable, employment attorney Lexington Wolff addressed how restaurant operators can protect themselves by anticipating potential allegations of discrimination. She said that innocently misused language could discriminate against certain races, handicaps, or age groups -- for example, does your job posting for a hostess say the person must "walk" guests to a table as opposed to a more inclusive term like "lead"? If you tend to hire a lot of students, do you mention your "energetic, young" workforce in job ads? This kind of language may weed certain people out of your candidate pool and open you up for charges of discrimination. Wolff said there are many areas that can trip-up restaurant operators, from social media background checks to questions about drug use that might violate HIPAA laws. As you review your process for posting jobs and interviewing and screening applicants, Wolff recommends operators ask themselves how a judge might see their actions if a discrimination claim was made. When creating job descriptions, stick to listing job requirements and not preferences -- for example, while a candidate with a college degree might be your preference, it may not be a necessity. Other tips: Don't attempt to learn online what you could not learn in a job interview. Get written consent for contacting references, and finally, consider having a third-party company screen candidates and funnel only the required information to you as a safeguard.
Boost your breakfast business
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a person -- and that may hold true for restaurants. Technomic's Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, which included responses from more than 1500 consumers, found that consumers are hungry for breakfast well beyond the morning hours, and operators have an opportunity to make standard breakfast fare more interesting. The report indicated that 39 percent of consumers want all-day breakfast from restaurants, 30 percent buy breakfast outside of morning hours and 35 percent would visit a restaurant they wouldn't necessarily visit if it offered breakfast items beyond the morning. To build your breakfast business, try adding Latin, Indian or Asian spices to traditional breakfast foods, experimenting with dinner foods that could be reinvented for breakfast, or offering breakfast items that can be ordered as convenience foods -- the report said that consumers are even embracing breakfast bowls to go.
Fine-tune your restaurant tech
DoorDash recently added free in-store pickup to its app. Skift Table reports that Chipotle tested a system (Panera currently offers it too) whereby completed digital orders were placed on shelves in a quiet part of the restaurant, awaiting for customers to walk in, grab their prepaid food from the shelf and go. The merits of some of these changes may be questionable: Why is there a need to use an app to place a pick-up order instead of the website? How can a restaurant ensure an order gets to the right person -- and isn't just taken off the shelf by a passerby looking for a free meal? Still, it's worth revisiting your delivery system and technology to ensure you're addressing potential pain points for customers. How can you tweak your system to minimize wait times or congestion at your pick-up counter and improve staff efficiency? If you have an app, how can you fine-tune it so you make the process of accepting orders, collecting pre-payment and getting food to customers as seamless as possible?
Starbucks could help bring Bitcoin payments to mainstream
If you're taking stock of innovations in customer payment technology, take note of what Starbucks has planned: Tech Crunch reports that the coffee retailer is one of the major companies supporting the launch of Bakkt, a new company that will help trade and convert Bitcoin into government-backed legal tender. Starbucks has already done much to expand the popularity of mobile payments, and its involvement with Bakkt is a sign that it may be positioning itself to accept Bitcoin converted through the Bakkt system -- and help lend legitimacy to Bitcoin as a means of payment for mainstream consumers.
More kiosks, more staff?
While Shake Shack and many other restaurant brands may be introducing more kiosks in an effort to manage rising labor costs, McDonald's seems to be taking a different approach. Bloomberg reports that at the brand's newly redesigned flagship location in Chicago, customers will find self-order kiosks, mobile orders and payments, and delivery -- all without cutting down on entry-level jobs. In fact, the company claims it is employing more people with the introduction of kiosks. While industry analysts are skeptical, McDonald's says it is simply repurposing their staff in an effort to improve convenience as they serve more customers. Do you use kiosks? Have they helped you reduce labor costs or improve guest experience?
Food safety in a few steps
From managing norovirus outbreaks to insect infestations to the safety standards of suppliers, navigating food safety is a daily challenge for restaurant operators. CoInspect, a software company that supports food safety, quality assurance and standards management for restaurants and food manufacturers, shared some tips to stay on top of it: First, vary the work so employees aren't completing the same tedious checklists each day, and create digital checklists that rotate among staff and are quick to complete. Have your team use photos and video during routine inspections -- recording inspections with a pencil makes it to easy to cut corners. Next, in between official third-party inspections, have an outside expert conduct a food safety inspection to make sure you stay on track. Use tech tools to manage proper food storage, equipment operation and temperature maintenance. Finally, commit to food safety protocols and follow them from the top down so employees get the message that you practice what you preach.
Ready for seasonal pricing shifts?
As soon as the summer weather starts cooling off, your guests' tastes will rapidly shift from light, cool dishes to healthier ones. (Hence the pumpkin spice mania that seems to erupt every September.) Ingredient pricing trends will also change, creating a window where you can take advantage of deals -- or possibly be taken advantage of by a supplier who hopes you're not paying attention. Will you be ready? Using software or other tools that can help you study pricing trends will give you a head start. As a report in Orderly says, if you're blindly ordering new ingredients without considering the bigger picture, your profits could suffer. It's important to understand how the prices you are paying compare to local and national rates, as well as pricing trends over time, so you can be informed when negotiating with your suppliers. By doing so, you can catch price spikes and make sure you're not paying top dollar for an item that has dropped in price. Or, you can know when you're getting a better deal than other operators in the region or the country and respond accordingly, whether that means incorporating more of an item on the menu or trying to lock in a price with a supplier. If you're right in the middle, you can have some assurance that you're managing price fluctuations well.
Tech is enhancing restaurant performance, guest satisfaction
Investments in technology and enhancing the overall guest experience are paying off for American restaurants in the form of increased sales. That's according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Restaurant Report 2018, which reported a 2 percent increase for the restaurant industry as compared with last year. NBC reports that the improved scores at both full-service and quick-service restaurants are the result of higher scores for the courtesy of waitstaff, food and beverage quality and variety, and the speed with which an order was taken. Technology is playing a role in many of those improvements by enabling restaurants to update their food offering more regularly, monitor the quality of their food more closely, and to get food to guests more quickly and efficiently via mobile ordering and automated kiosks. As for the final point, online ordering, kiosks and mobile engagement seem to be gaining ground for consumers of all ages, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2017 State of the Industry Report. Of the consumers surveyed, one in three said they are using more restaurant technologies now as compared to two years ago. Other research from Cornell University has found that the technology is also providing the double benefit of reducing dining time and increasing check sizes.
Many ordering channels, one point of contact
As off-premise dining options are gaining momentum, many operators are setting themselves up to receive orders via multiple channels -- from takeout to delivery to catering -- and from mobile, call-in or in-person sources. While orders coming from a number of directions can be a boon to business, they can also create chaos if not managed effectively. In a recent Foodable interview, Richard Hodges, vice-president of operations services at La Madeleine, said his restaurant uses technology that funnels orders from multiple channels into a single bucket. An order from the restaurant's call center will come up in the kitchen in the same way an order placed via a Yelp review does. Hodges says their system has minimized the number of people involved in preparing an order -- there aren't two, three, four people touching an order -- and their accuracy has improved significantly as a result.
Get into a pickle
If you've got excess vegetables on hand and want to minimize waste in a way that maximizes your opportunities on the menu, consider adding some pickled vegetables to your lineup. As Food & Wine reports, pickled carrots can be a great complement to cocktails, and there is a wide range of produce (and accompanying spices) to try: Garlic, onion, beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, jicama, cauliflower and celery are all good options, and your additions to those items can lend broad variety. Try experimenting with yellow and brown mustard seed, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley or tarragon.
Take the right temperature
Keeping food at a certain temperature -- and ensuring it doesn't spend too much time in the temperature danger zone -- is critical to preserving food safety. But your temperature measurements are only as good as your thermometer. Statefoodsafety.com advises that your thermometer should be accurate within ±2°F. If it falls out of that range, calibrate it.
A foodborne illness's most likely source
A new analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 10,000 people were sickened by foodborne illness outbreaks between 2009 and 2015. A major culprit was chicken, which the research found was behind 12 percent of illnesses. Pork and seeded vegetables weren't far behind 10 percent each. While fish and dairy caused more individual outbreaks than other foods, those outbreaks sickened smaller numbers of people. To help prevent foodborne illness, cook proteins thoroughly -- poultry to 145 degrees and meat to 160 degrees -- use a food thermometer and refrigerate any leftovers promptly.
Guests may be ordering fewer calories -- but only on certain dishes
If your restaurant lists calorie counts for menu items, you might see guests skimping on appetizers or entrees -- but not on dessert or drinks. That's according to a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which was based on detailed restaurant data about everything from individual food orders to whether guests shared a plate. Bloomberg reports that the research found that printed calorie information reduced the calories guests ordered by 3 percent -- but only from the appetizer and entree categories. While it did not account for any decreased consumption of drinks or desserts once they arrived at the table, calorie counts did not stop guests from ordering those items.
Boost your online influence
If you haven't yet tapped into the micro-influencer market, these social media users can help you make genuine connections with potential guests on a large scale. Social Media Week defines a micro-influencer as any social media user with between 10,000 and 80,000 Instagram followers who commands a niche audience in a specific market. Being in that zone allows followers to use Instagram tools such as Instagram Stories, while also taking advantage of the engagement levels of this group. (The Social Media Week report says influencers in this group generate 50 percent more engagement than influencers with more than one million followers, and they have more than 22 times more conversions than the average Instagram user, making them more powerful than celebrities when it comes to motivating consumers to take action.) When identifying potential micro-influencers for your brand, make sure the influencer's followers match your own audience, that their posts are reaching a lot of people who demonstrate a high level of engagement with the influencer's posts, and that the influencer's content style matches your own. Connect your Google Analytics and Instagram Insights to monitor an influencer’s actual reach, follower demographics, impressions, and engagement.
Do you ever offer free samples? Views are mixed when it comes to giving away anything in an industry where profit margins are slim but a recent report in Upserve indicated that providing free samples -- or tastings, in the case of beverages -- can indeed help elevate check sizes. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” as Dan Ariely, behavioral economist at Duke University, told The Atlantic. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.” Further, you feel you owe the person who gave you the sample. “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct, Ariely said. "If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them." The snack manufacturer Snack Factory has found that more than one-quarter of those who have sampled their products have been converted into customers. If you're looking for ways to entice new guests and turn them into brand ambassadors, samples can boost your business: Upserve suggests they can help you introduce your product to new audiences unfamiliar with your business, build relationships and loyalty with existing customers, expand guests' awareness of the products you offer, encourage repeat customers and more sales of new menu items, and earn attention for your brand leading up to an event. Grand openings, special events or the launch of a new menu are ideal occasions for making some samples available. As a study conducted by Cornell University's Miguel Gomez found, tastings can turn a “satisfied customer” into a “highly satisfied customer.”
Food safety beyond the certificate
Many companies choose to obtain a food safety certification because their customers demand it and not because they are intrinsically motivated to improve their hygiene and food safety -- which puts them at greater risk for having a food safety issue. That's according to research from Ghent University, which found that individual behaviors tend to play the most important role in an organization's food safety efforts, with the attitudes of a company's leaders having influence on to what degree those individuals value food safety protocols. Elien De Boeck, a researcher involved in the study, said foodservice operations need to decide whether to prioritise safe food or more production. "If you give employees sufficient time to do their job well, they will get the signal that quality and food safety are more important than quantity," she said. "Furthermore, stress and burn-out are clearly linked to a weak food safety culture."
Your employees drive guests' food safety perceptions
Do your guests perceive your restaurant as a clean, safe place to eat? Their answer may have as much to do with their perception of your employees' cleanliness as it does with the condition of your restrooms or how thoroughly you have washed your salad greens. That's according to new research from the University of Missouri, which found that restaurants are underperforming significantly in this area. Researchers surveyed 300 adults who dined at a casual restaurant at least once a month and asked them to rank various food safety factors based on their restaurant experience. They said three factors were highly important -- that employees keep fingernails clean, wear clean uniforms and wear gloves when handling food. But they gave the restaurant low ratings, indicating that they may be harming consumer perceptions of their brand by not following through in these areas.
Plant-based protein is for carnivores too
Have you jumped on the plant-based trend yet? Plant-based food sales increased 20 percent in the past year to more than $3.3 billion, according to data from Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association, and veggie burgers are only a portion of it. These food products include non-dairy milk, plant-based creamers, cheese, yogurts and meats. Bloomberg reports that it's not just the vegans or vegetarians who are demanding these products, but people who are leaning towards eating less red meat, as well as reducing cholesterol and saturated fat.
Protect against a cyber attack
In recent months, cyber attacks ranging from viruses to malware to data breaches have impacted major restaurant brands including Tim Hortons, Applebee's and Domino's. Are you doing everything you can to prevent cyber crime at your restaurant and protect the customer data you manage? QSR Magazine suggests some tips. First, vet your vendors carefully so you're aware of not only their customer service practices but their security protections as well. Then ensure your computer system has anti-virus protection with the latest updates and patches, as well as web filters and firewalls to control what content is accessible. Next, monitor your WiFi -- make sure you're selective about who can access it and keep one portal for your employees and customers, and another for your POS system. Finally, block off areas of your network to make it more difficult for malware to spread. Segmenting your network can help you keep business information off-limits to third parties.
Monetize your website
Is your website working for you as well as it could? Skift Table suggests you harness it to generate the kinds of big-ticket purchases that can improve margins -- and to enable guests to complete as many stages of a transaction as possible, from the scheduling of an event to the issuing of a deposit payment. For example, your site should offer gift cards for purchase, process catering orders and event requests from the contract through to deposit, sell tickets and conduct other e-commerce. Posting an online form to enable guests to make inquiries can also help increase the traffic that can generate sales.
Set the stage for productive staff reviews
As summer winds down and some of your more-temporary staff transitions out, it’s a good time to review your employee evaluation standards so you can set objectives and clarify expectations with your team. Upserve suggests several steps to keep in mind. At the outset, define your expectations and make sure all employees, new and existing, have the tools and training they need to do their jobs well. Follow up regularly to provide positive reinforcement or to help correct mistakes before they become larger issues. Let your team know they will have a review meeting and provide at least two weeks’ notice beforehand to avoid surprising them. In the weeks and months before that meeting, take notes on what is going well and what needs improvement, and also gather any data from your POS that can help complete the picture when you’re evaluating an employee’s performance. Next, ask for feedback from the employee. If there are tools or training that would help your team do their jobs better, they need to feel free to mention that to you. Finally, hold any discussion of money for a different meeting — perhaps timed in accordance with the employee’s work anniversary — so the focus of your evaluation meeting can stay on building trust and fostering communication.
Avoid social media pitfalls
A strong social media presence can help drive your brand — but if not handled well, your posts can also do damage. Social Media Week suggests some tips to remember in order to avoid inadvertently harming your brand on the networks where you post content: First, don’t overshare. Avoid posting about politics or making sarcastic remarks about goings on in the community. Before posting anything, ask yourself if it will help or hurt your restaurant’s brand. (If you have something personal you feel the need to say, you can restrict it to your personal accounts, though since it’s easy for consumers to connect your business and personal profiles on social media, do keep your brand in mind when posting content and comments there too.) Second, remember that anything you post is connected to your brand for the long haul — which may cause you to rethink posting something that might come back to haunt you in the future. Third, don’t attack competitors — or anyone else, for that matter. It will make you look unprofessional if you feel the need to get into petty arguments online. Finally, pace yourself when it comes to promoting your business. You need to do that, of course, but just mix up your posts with different kinds of content and conversations so people will stay interested in what you’re putting out there.
Hygiene scores become more visible online
Your restaurant’s health inspection report may soon get a lot more powerful. Yelp recently announced that it will be displaying hygiene scores for restaurants in New York, California, Texas, Illinois and Washington, D.C., with more metro areas to be added in the coming months. As CNN reports, though restaurant health inspection reports aren’t kept secret, it can take some digging to find them on government websites and consumers aren’t apt to search for them. But the scores are likely to carry a lot more weight when they appear in plain sight on a restaurant listing. Yelp augments its data with help from HDScores, a company that collects and processes restaurant inspection data from public and private sources.
Protect yourself after a recall
A product recall can have both health-related and financial impacts on your business. To avoid negative consequences, Restaurant News Resource suggests some steps you can take to protect yourself. First, confirm the product’s brand and code date, lot number and manufacturing facility. Then remove the recalled items from your inventory, label them clearly as recalled, and secure them away from any food, utensils, equipment, linens or single-use items you plan to use. Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces and utensils used to prepare, serve and store any potentially contaminated products and wash your hands with soap and hot water afterwards. Review the vendor’s notification notice of the recall and take any actions required by the vendor to claim reimbursement. Finally, prepare a communications plan with suggested talking points to guide staff who are likely to have to answer guest questions about the recall.
Protect your proteins from pathogens
When you refrigerate, freeze and prepare foods, you likely already separate the produce from the protein. Be sure to separate each type of protein from the others as well. From poultry to pork to beef, the risk for pathogens differs. While E. coli is a main concern for beef, it’s Salmonella in poultry. If possible, use vacuum-sealed packaging for each category of protein when storing it, as well as separate (or newly cleaned and sanitized) cutting boards and utensils when preparing it for cooking.
Thawing in microwave? Cook immediately
If you’re using a microwave to thaw frozen foods, take care to transition the food to the cooking stage immediately. As StateFoodSafety.com reports, allowing the food to sit out after thawing in the microwave will increase its time in the temperature danger zone (between 40˚F and 140˚F) when pathogens can grow to harmful levels.
Put your restaurant’s real estate to work
In an industry of slim margins, restaurant operators in recent years have begun to open during off-hours for freelancers and others in the gig economy who are willing to pay for a workspace (along with wifi and a cup of coffee) for the day. Now, more operators are finding additional ways to earn money — even when they’re not selling food and drink. Foodable reports that consumers are using mobile phone apps to rent out not only restaurant dining rooms but coat checks and bathrooms. For a fee ranging from 99 cents to $5, Luluapp will help people desperate to find the nearest available restroom, paying willing restaurants 65 percent of the fee for offering up their restroom. A restaurant in New York City’s Penn Station earns about $2,000 each month by storing travelers’ bags for a few hours each day as they roam the city. About 25 percent of people who store their bags end up picking up a drink or a meal at the restaurant. Could your space be earning you any extra business?
Combine forces with your tech
As restaurant technology helps manage a range of food safety concerns in foodservice businesses, complementary technologies can meet a broader assortment of needs than many operators realize. That’s according to a report in Food Safety Tech, which found that even tech-savvy operators weren’t using technology to their fullest advantage. For example, many operators have automated the HACCP food safety reporting process or are considering it. They are starting to replace time-consuming, error-prone manual data collection with mobile apps that digitize those tasks and make data easy to find when needed during review by management or inspectors. Fixed temperature sensors, wireless or wired, are also catching on as a means to accurately monitor refrigerators and food-warming appliances. The frequent monitoring that these sensors offer, along with alerts when a temperature slips beyond a prescribed range, can help operators minimize the time required for HACCP monitoring. Yet according to the Food Safety Tech report, the vast majority of restaurant brands they surveyed that have automated food safety reporting or are looking to do so have implemented one or the other but not both of these approaches. Taken individually, automated temperature monitoring systems don’t address all aspects of the food safety process and mobile technology can’t provide real-time alerts about food safety problems — and they require staff time. Try testing out both on a trial basis. One restaurant operation studied in the report used fixed temperature sensors in refrigeration and other equipment, but still collected data manually. After testing a mobile digital task list app in a group of its restaurants it winnowed its HACCP data collection process from 17 minutes to two minutes and saved a significant amount of time for staff.
Can a consultant help?
According to research about the reasons for restaurant failure by Professor Dr. HG Parsa of the University of Denver’s college of business, 59 percent of hospitality facilities fail in the first three years. During that period, the first year is the most critical, with 26 percent of businesses failing. Do you know when to ask for outside help and prevent a closure? Perhaps it makes the most sense before the business opens, or when sales decline, or after the buzz begins to wear off after a strong launch. Even when you have positive reviews, steady traffic and a strong professional background, something about your restaurant can still feel not quite right. That’s what happened for chef Ari Kolender and his Los Angeles restaurant, Hayden. Skift Table reports that though the restaurant had a positive debut in July 2017 and Kolender had a devoted following (he had previously worked at respected Los Angeles restaurants like Red Medicine and Providence, and was pegged for a James Beard Rising Star Award while at Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop in Charleston, S.C.), the restaurant wasn’t performing as well as could be expected. Instead of experimenting or letting the challenges run their course, Kolender and his partners called in a consultant right away. They hoped that conducting a forensic analysis of a restaurant —from financials to menu to décor, and with help from someone who could bring objectivity to the assessment — would help the restaurant meet its potential. Holly Fox, whose firm Last Word Hospitality advised Kolender and his partners, said the restaurant had all the right pieces but not in the right order. In the end, they changed from a counter-service model to a full-service model (without adding staff) to help justify larger ticket prices, added a host stand to direct traffic in the restaurant’s large space, changed the lighting, added artwork, high-top tables and counter seating, and installed a new wall that accommodates a new banquette. They also now serve one menu throughout the day instead of two — and feel like business is back on track.
Keep large batches of food out of danger zone
Bacteria grow especially well in the temperature range between 135˚F and 41˚F. It’s important for the food you cool to pass through this zone quickly to prevent safety hazards. Large batches of food, in which the cooling temperature is inconsistent throughout, require special attention. In addition to stirring these foods to even out the internal temperature, consider separating it into smaller containers. StateFoodSafety.com says it’s especially important to cool rice in this way, as its ability to retain heat well makes it pose more of a risk.
Global innovation without the commitment
Want to add more global flavor to your menu, or test out emerging trends — all while using ingredients you already have in the pantry? Try infusing your condiments with international flavor. As Flavor & the Menu reports, condiments explain why concepts like burgers and tacos are such ideal platforms for innovation: “Their formats are safety nets, ready to support all sorts of daring menu moves.” Consider the gochujang-spiked mayonnaise-dijon mixture on Ando’s pork and pickle sandwich, or the five-spice mayo in the fried-chicken banh mi at Starbird Chicken. Rob Corliss of All Things Epicurean suggests ketchup as a good foundation for heat in a dish. He created a ketchup with togarashi and fresh lime that he adds to Korean cole slaw on a hot dog, along with caramelized kimchi and nori.
Unimpressive web traffic? Check your speed.
Your website has key information about your restaurant, along with professional photos and an updated menu. So why is your SEO not where it should be? Check your page load time. Surveys by Akamai and Gomez.com found that nearly half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less —and are likely to abandon a page that does not load within three seconds. A report in Social Media Week suggests several areas that might impact your website load time: lack of browser cache and Gzip compression, slow hosting, the use of many fonts and scripts, and images that haven’t been optimized for your site.
Accounting for delivery
As operators consider how to accommodate food delivery via third parties and whether it makes financial sense, they also need to consider the accounting behind the contract — it may not be as straightforward as it seems, according to the accounting and business advisory firm BDO. Operators need to clarify who is responsible for food and pricing, and who is the real consumer of the delivery so they can present their revenue at gross or net under the FASB’s accounting rule Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606). In other words, if the food arrives and isn’t the proper temperature or the pizza was delivered vertically instead of horizontally, whose responsibility is it? If you control the food prior to it being received by the customer, you are deemed the principal in the arrangement and record revenue at a gross amount. If not, the delivery entity is deemed the principal, and you record revenue net of the delivery costs. Ensure you read and analyze contracts with third-party delivery services so you’re clear about where your control ends and theirs begins in the arrangement.
Ready for takeout
Nearly one-quarter of consumers in Gen Z order food for takeout three of four times each week — more than any other generation. That’s according to a study by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and the Center for Generational Kinetics. In the study, millennials followed suit (21 percent) followed by Gen Xers (17 percent) and Baby Boomers (6 percent) in their rate of ordering takeout. Be prepared to wow those consumers online. Recent data from the National Restaurant Association found that 74 percent of millennials in the U.S. report that being able to view a restaurant menu online makes them more likely to choose one website over another.
Verify and prepare
The foodservice industry has long relied on immigrants—both documented and not—to build its labor force. In fact, second only to the construction industry, the restaurant industry is the largest employer of undocumented workers — there are an estimated 1.1 million people illegally employed in the industry, according to a Foodable report. Restaurant operators may have reason for concern in light of recent comments from the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who said his organization is looking to crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. These businesses could face fines of up to $10,000 per illegal employee. Foodable suggests restaurants take several steps to protect themselves: Operators cannot knowingly hire an employee who isn’t authorized to work in the United States and so they must complete an Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 and maintain it for at least three years after hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later. The I-9 mentions a list of documents operators can use to verify eligibility. While you don’t need to be an expert when it comes to verifying the authenticity of the documents presented, you cannot accept documents that are obviously not authentic either. To prepare for a possible inspection, keep your I-9 forms in separate personnel files that are easy to access, and provide your management team with guidance about who to call, what to do, and what to say or not say when an inspector visits. It can also be helpful to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law and can advise you on the best ways to protect your business. The National Restaurant Association has been advocating for immigration reform that includes a reliable federal employment verification system and a new program to legally match willing workers with willing employers, among other principles.
The power of daily prep
How accurate is your daily ingredient preparation? Are you preparing too much—and therefore wasting food or facing quality-control problems? Or are you preparing too little and having to waste precious minutes in the kitchen, or worse, deny guests a preferred dish? To help ensure accuracy when preparing ingredients before the start of a shift, RestaurantOwner.com suggests operators use this kind of daily plan for ingredient prep. Your POS may offer you a similar mechanism to help you stay on track. It can ensure staff time is used efficiently, that ingredients are prepared in order of priority, and that you can track ingredient usage and monitor quality more accurately. Buzztime Business advises having cooks check off items on the prep list, which you can review regularly to identify where the cook may be slowing down or where he or she is able to handle more than one station. Make sure your prep list is a living document—your “par” numbers can and should fluctuate based on the day of the week, season or other factors. Consider adding additional categories, such as how any excess ingredients must be stored after use. Using and regularly updating your prep list can help you identify bottlenecks and waste, make it easier for substitute workers to step in when needed, and in the process, help you save thousands of dollars each year in food and labor costs.
Bowls are still big. Not only are they appealing to consumers looking for colourful, healthy, conveniently eaten combinations, but they are also a perfect platform for chef innovation, the incorporation of global flavors and the application of plant-based ingredient trends. Further, operators are finding that bowls can help them minimize waste by repackaging menu items from other day parts. As Philip Smith, director of culinary and product development for D’Angelo Grilled
Sandwiches told Flavor & the Menu, “Bowls, more than sandwiches, lend themselves to the idea of a plated entrée—repositioning bowls might be a means to extend our appeal into the evening daypart.”
Everyone knows the importance of handwashing but not enough people actually do it, and the effects can be dramatic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that in cases where food was contaminated by food workers, 89 percent of the outbreaks spread from the hands. In addition to washing hands with soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds, consider addressing sources of recontamination too—bathroom faucets and door handles can recontaminate the hands of someone who has just washed them. Have paper towels within reach of these places so they can be used to turn off faucets and open doors, and make sure these surfaces are cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Act fast following an outbreak
Acting quickly in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak can not only contain the spread of it but limit the potential damage to your business. StateFoodSafety.com suggests taking these steps—and training your staff to take them as well—in case of a suspected outbreak: First, close for business so you can determine which food(s) caused the problem. Don’t discard any food, since a review of your ingredients, equipment and other parts of your establishment will be needed to determine the source of the problem. Alert the local regulatory authority and explain the situation honestly and clearly. Comply with the investigator to help ensure you can resume operations as safely and quickly as possible. Employ any new safety practices recommended in the investigation and train your team to follow them—and to honestly and reassuringly respond to any customer inquiries that follow the event.
Understand the restaurant tech ecosystem
There is a dizzying assortment of technology offerings designed to improve the efficiency of restaurants’ front- and back-of-house operations. To help operators make sense of it all, The Mixing Bowl and TechTable developed this map of the restaurant tech ecosystem. While not exhaustive, it lists many of the major players in various functions, from reservations and waitlist technology to purchasing and inventory applications. It’s a handy reference if you’re in search of new tech providers or simply want to take stock of the range of tech companies aiming to help operators manage various aspects of business.
Put your POS in charge
Delivery and off-premise dining occupy a growing segment of restaurant sales, making it critical for restaurant technology to handle orders accurately and preserve the guest’s positive impression of your restaurant. A report in QSR Magazine says online ordering and takeout can present special challenges when it comes to managing orders and pricing items accurately. It suggests several tips for using your point-of-sale system to manage sales: First, by having orders go directly to your POS, you can improve order accuracy and also free up your staff for other tasks. Second, it can be updated with information on daily specials, promote items that can be cross-sold, and also pull up a customer’s order history and suggest an item that can boost average checks. Your system should be flexible enough to manage orders from callers, walk-in traffic and online traffic. To add an extra layer of service, your system may offer delivery tracking and dispatching, along with support for choosing the best routes to a waiting customer.
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.
The foodservice and accommodation industry is the fourth-most-automatable sector in the United States. That’s according to an article in The Atlantic that cites research by Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. Chui’s research found that 54 percent of the tasks that workers perform in American restaurants and hotels could be automated using currently available technologies. Automating restaurant tasks or using robots to assemble the ingredients in a dish can save on labor costs and potentially save money, but many in the industry remain skeptical about the potential for restaurants to lose the human touch with increased automation. Not so, according to Michael Farid, cofounder and CEO of Spyce, a new restaurant in Boston with a robotic kitchen. In an interview with Toast, Farid dispelled some beliefs about robots in restaurants: For one, he said, they will not replace human employees in restaurants but will change (and likely improve) the kinds of roles they have. In fact, Farid believes robots can help enhance hospitality in a restaurant — and even help a restaurant’s turnover rate—because they allow employees to focus more on serving guests and less on mundane kitchen tasks. Second, robots can minimize a restaurant’s costs because they don’t waste food, and they assemble orders correctly and consistently. Finally, Farid says though the robots in Spyce’s kitchen are an interesting novelty for guests at the outset, they don’t dominate the experience. In the end, it’s about the food—and the robots are simply there behind the scenes to ensure the operation churning out the food is running as smoothly as it can.
The price is right
Menu items are moving targets. Especially now that point-of-sale systems can track the appeal and profitability of menu items, there is always a need and an opportunity to tweak or replace the choices in your lineup. So when you debut a new dish, how do you ensure you’re pricing it correctly from the start? According to an article in RunningRestaurants.com by restaurant veteran Warner Siebert, operators should first list every ingredient that goes into a new item and the amount of each ingredient. Next, price each ingredient starting with the bulk price of each item and calculate the fraction of the bulk item that was used in the dish. Then consider the overhead costs required to prepare and serve the item, from the cost of the wrap needed to cover it in the refrigerator to the amount of labor hours needed to prepare it. Your total food cost + your total equipment cost + your total labor cost = your total cost. From there, your total cost + your profit margin = the price you charge guests. Siebert suggests choosing a low, but reliable, profit margin so that every sale helps your bottom line. Finding the price that feels fair is an ever-changing process due to ingredient price fluctuations and other factors, of course, so leave room for adjustments that still keep you in the black. According to Toast, restaurant profit margins can vary widely, from 0 to 15 percent, with most falling within the 3 to 5 percent margin.
Trust through transparency
Amid the FDA’s rollout of menu labeling requirements for larger restaurants, it’s easy to think this enforced transparency could scare off customers. Reframe it as an opportunity. While Americans may understand that making healthier choices is easier when cooking at home, convenience still often wins out: The average American eats out four times every week and a Millennial is apt to eat out even more frequently, according to a 2016 survey by Zagat. At the same time, Statista reports that more than half of Americans are buying organic produce, and the health and wellness market continues to climb. Even if your restaurants is not among that that must post calorie information, Toast suggests giving your staff talking points about modifications and substitutions they can make that would improve the health of a dish, or calling out menu items that allow guests to adhere to trending diets like the Whole30 and Keto, so eating out doesn’t force guests to derail health-conscious habits.
Be an 80/20 operator
Do you apply the Pareto principle to your restaurant? The concept, named for the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, says that for many situations, about 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Restaurant coach Donald Burns sees several applications to the restaurant industry: Identify the 20 percent of customers who are helping your restaurant make money and the 20 percent who are giving you headaches—focus the bulk of your time on the former group and try to minimize the latter group. The same goes for employees who drag down the team, menu items that cost you more time and energy than they should, or time-consuming tasks that could be delegated to others. In sum, spend 80 percent of your energy on what you do well and 20 percent on everything else.
Go with your gut
Gut-friendly menu items are emerging as a top trend of 2018. Recent research has linked the bacteria in a person’s gut to immune system regulation and the control of challenges ranging from depression to obesity. To expand the digestion-friendly items on your menu, the BBC suggests adding fermented items like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kefir to the menu, as well as foods high in inulin—leeks, onion, chicory and asparagus are all good sources that add beneficial bacteria to the gut.
Stand firm and deliver
The demand for food delivery continues to climb and operators are embracing the need for it—though not so much the pricing of third-party services or the relinquishing of customer data that can go along with hiring a delivery provider. As a result, new delivery models are emerging all the time, giving restaurants power to find an ideal arrangement. Restaurant Hospitality reports that several businesses in certain markets are changing the game for delivery and have the potential to challenge the larger third-party players. For example, ShiftPixy, which helps restaurants find shift workers on demand, is testing a potential network of on-demand delivery drivers. Another player, EpiFruit, allows restaurants to request and set a price for deliveries, and couriers then bid on the ones they want to accept. EpiFruit then takes part of its commission from the restaurant’s delivery fee and part from the courier’s accepted fee. A third player, Jolt, lets operators choose between paying a flat delivery fee or a 10 percent commission for the delivery, plus a delivery charge.
Harness technology to manage inventory pricing
Can your back-of-house technology tell you what you should be paying for supplies? To ensure you’re paying the right price for the items you receive, the restaurant technology company Orderly advises operators to look out for consistent price rises over time, unexplained price spikes and drops, prices charged in relation to those paid at average restaurants, and the efficiency of pack sizes. Schedule a quarterly business review with each supplier and before each meeting, tally your total spend with them since your last meeting and what percentage of your total food spend they represent. Focus on your top-20 items according to spend and compare that expense to the previous quarter. Then identify your top-10 items by price increase and your top-10 most-purchased items, and find out what other suppliers are charging for those items. Of course, consider the less tangible positives and negatives about the relationship too—but having the statistics at your fingertips will give you power to ask a supplier for price relief, particularly on frequently purchased items that had the highest percentage of increase during the quarter.
Save your energy
Restaurants in the United States are among the most intense energy consumers when compared to other commercial spaces, using an average of 38 kilowatt hours of electricity and 111 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot each year, according to Business Energy Advisor. Which appliances and devices throughout your restaurant consume the most energy? Business Energy Advisor says in a typical restaurant, refrigeration and cooking are the two main uses of electricity. Cooking represents roughly two-thirds of natural gas usage and the remaining third is split fairly evenly between water heating and space heating. If you don’t know for sure where your biggest energy drains are, conduct an energy audit. Not only can an audit help you save money, but it can also help you understand where your biggest energy challenges actually are — so you can focus less on the things that are not generating significant expense. For example, you may already have smart devices in your restaurant that monitor the freshness of different foods you’re storing. It might then make good sense to invest in a smart thermostat that reduces your energy consumption when you’re not there. But what if your biggest energy drain is actually one of your ovens? Or what if a dirty HVAC filter is making your system work much harder than it should to cool down your restaurant? Month to month, monitor how much energy you’re using throughout your restaurant so you can more easily spot spikes and then take steps to decrease energy consumption in those areas. To eliminate the guesswork, Modern Restaurant Management suggests working with a restaurant energy consultant. It can help you home in on the top priorities at your business when it comes to conserving energy and then take action steps to rein in your biggest expenses.
How is your marketing mojo?
At a time when the majority of consumers have used Facebook to decide where to eat—75 percent of them, according to a study by Social Media Monthly—the game is clearly changing for restaurant marketers. Social media, the drive for customized service and advertising, competition from outside of the restaurant market, and the need to capably navigate a through a dizzying supply of data are making the marketing role evolve. And as Restaurant Business reports, when a restaurant business has a tough period, marketers are easy to scapegoat—in recent weeks, there have been a number of comings and goings of chief marketing officers at such brands as Papa John’s, Jimmy John’s and Chipotle. If you need to fine-tune your marketing efforts or are looking to hire new talent for the role, note the most critical skills marketers need right now, according to Restaurant Business: First, they need to know how to build effective digital campaigns. Then, just as importantly, they must know how to collect the data those campaigns generate and translate that data into action steps that will drive traffic and increase sales. Now, more than ever, marketers must learn in real-time how to select and use the tech tools available that can build business—so flexibility is important, along with an ability to identify which platforms are best suited to the business. They must understand how to respond to customer feedback provided in a variety of forms, ranging from Yelp reviews to post-meal surveys conducted at the table. Finally, when conceiving of campaigns, marketers need to know when they need the resources of an outside firm and when they can handle an effort in-house.
Avocados—and perhaps other produce—get a new lease on life
If you serve a lot of avocados and struggle to keep them fresh, take heart in the rollout of a new technology that promises to more than double the shelf-life of the popular fruit. Food Dive reports that Apeel Sciences has developed a powder, made from leftover plant skins and stems, which can be sprayed onto produce close to harvest. The coating forms an extra layer that slows the process of oxidation and loss of water, which cause produce to decay. Apeel Sciences says the technology could help reduce the $2.6 trillion in annual food waste. So far, the technology is being used at Costco stores nationwide and at Harps Food Stores in the midwest.
As a growing list of restaurants bans the use of plastic straws, some groups advocating for the disabled have said eliminating straws completely could be harmful to people with disabilities. Looking for a happy medium? Mic suggests a few alternatives to plastic straws that can accommodate consumers while providing an environmentally conscious option: Try paper straws (the brand Aardvark, though costlier than others, came out on top in a test performed by a bar in the Union Square Hospitality Group, according to Bloomberg). Bamboo straws, while more expensive, can be washed with soap and warm water, then reused. There is a wide variety of other materials used to make straws as well, ranging from stainless steel to even pasta. (Some restaurants are offering drinks with a long tube of bucatini standing in for a straw—for guests without a gluten allergy, of course.)
Summer is prime time for Salmonella
Salmonella, which causes one million foodborne illnesses annually in the United States, is more common during the summer months. The combination of warm weather and unrefrigerated foods create ideal conditions for the growth of Salmonella. To prevent it, the Centers for Disease Control advise taking care to refrigerate or freeze perishable foods, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours. If the air temperature is 90˚F or warmer, chill foods even more promptly—within one hour is best.
The gloves are off
If your kitchen staff wears gloves during food preparation, do they follow set guidelines for when those gloves must be changed? While gloves can help prevent foodborne illnesses, using them inappropriately can encourage bacteria to spread. To prevent problems, StateFoodSafety.com advises that before slipping on a pair of gloves, you should wash hands thoroughly to get rid of potential contaminants. Always change gloves when switching tasks, such as taking out the garbage or returning from a break, when gloves become torn or dirty, or when you have touched your hair or face. Even if gloves stay clean, the FDA advises a handwashing and change of gloves after four continuous hours of use.
Technology lets consumers design their own burger
Burger-flipping robots have been in the news for a while now, but in June, the first robots that make burgers from scratch hit the restaurant market in San Francisco. Bloomberg reports that Creator, a culinary robotics company that brings together engineers from top Silicon Valley companies and alumni from elite restaurants, has developed a machine that grinds meat to order, seasons the patties, adds toppings to order and slices and toasts the buns—all in just five minutes (and for $6). Such technology has the potential to change the model for restaurants: Creator has higher food costs than other burger restaurants but far lower labor costs, and the small footprint needed for the actual burger preparation allows for more seating space. In September, Creator plans to launch an app that lets guests customize their amount of sauces in millilitres, adjust the mix and amounts of cheeses used, and even select which part of the bun gets extra seasoning.
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