Is your off-premise strategy on the mark?
Off-premise dining is on the rise — 86 percent of consumers are using off-premise services at least monthly, while one-third of consumers are using them more frequently than they did a year ago, according to Technomic. As the demand for off-premise dining climbs, it will have impacts across your business well beyond your choice of a delivery provider. For example, it is likely to affect the mix of items you offer on your menu, the customers you target, how you design your restaurant, how you package your food and how you develop your loyalty program. Restaurant Business suggests offering meal bundles with entrees, sides and desserts for busy families looking for easy and affordable options — create some pre-set or customizeable options so the customer can avoid ordering items a la carte. Since younger consumers are big supporters of off-premise dining (Technomic’s Takeout & Off-Premise report found that nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds are ordering food to go more often than they did three years ago), consider offering some lighter, nutritious, unprocessed options that appeal to health-conscious people on the go. Your restaurant design should streamline the process of picking up food for customers and delivery drivers, and evolve with the idea that an increasing share of your business will be from off-premise sales. Choose packaging that ensures each item gets to the consumer in good condition — fries, for example, should not be in packaging that traps steam. Offer discounts or free items when customers bring in friends, visit on their birthday, or spend a certain amount of money with you. This is all to say that while your off-premise strategy impacts more than just these areas, it’s important to trace it through each step of your business. You may understand what your customers like, but your front of house and back of house (and the technology supporting them) need to be ready to deliver it.
Beef up your burger menu
Who doesn’t love a burger? There are appealing options for carnivores and vegetarians alike, and while you can’t go wrong with a classic version on your menu, there is ample room for innovation too. If you want to bring some creativity to your burger selection, try some on-trend tweaks. Restaurant Business suggests swapping out the traditional cheddar for options like Gruyere, mozzarella, Muenster or goat cheese, which have all risen in popularity on menus according to Technomic. Liven up your condiments with ethnic sauces like Sriracha, sweet chili or poblano (and take it further by creating burgers themed to a particular global cuisine). Finally, substitute a premium roll like a pretzel bun or brioche for the standard roll — it will help your burger stand out on the menu and also justify a higher price point.
Are you in food safety denial?
In the U.S. alone, foodborne illness causes 76,000 illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths every year — and they’re all preventable. So why do they occur? According to food safety expert Francine Shaw, much of the problem comes down to denial. Some operators and employees deny there is a problem with the industry or that an operation’s safety protocols play a significant role in preventing it. Others can’t see beyond the up-front costs of technology and how it could offset the debilitating expense of a food safety crisis down the line. In her years in the industry, Shaw reports having seen widespread disregard for basic food safety protocols in restaurants, a desire by company leaders to have employees get just enough training to pass a test (without deeper thought about what it might mean to the consumer or the business), and an aversion to third-party inspections that could help a business commit to and sustain the kinds of practices that could prevent a foodborne illness outbreak. If any of this sounds familiar, Shaw says it’s important to revamp your corporate food safety culture, update your food safety plans and implement technology and other protective measures in your business. Technology can help simplify many processes, allowing you to deliver training, create a long-term record to back up your safety practices, and eliminate paper-and-pencil tracking systems that are easy to abuse and lose. There are now about twice as many food recalls as there were 10 years ago, and while many cite technology as the reason these problems can be identified quickly after the fact, technology could be used more readily to prevent them. But first, you need the food safety culture in place to reinforce your commitment to these changes.
How much is data worth to you?
Businesses of all sizes crave customer data, and restaurants are no exception. Eater reports that a new coffee shop in Providence, R.I. started an experiment whereby patrons (many of them college students) are given a free cup of coffee in exchange for providing details such as their name, birthday, phone number, email address, major and professional interests. While such data collection could be a dystopian sign of things to come, restaurant operators have an advantage in that a consumer sharing information is readily doing so in order to access promotions (unlike a person searching online for a clothing item and subsequently getting barraged with banner ads featuring that item). But as consumers guard their data more closely, make sure you are careful about how you and your vendors are using it — i.e. don’t surrender it to third-party delivery partners who might sell it to competitors — and make sure you have a technology crisis management plan in place so that if and when a breach occurs, you can demonstrate you have taken steps to protect your guests’ information.
Take care with allergens
If you offer food for take-out and delivery, or as convenience items purchased from a kiosk, make sure you are as clear about your ingredients as you would be if you were listing them on the menu in your dining room. Pret A Manger has just begun labeling its foods with allergen information following the 2016 death of a 15-year-old customer with a sesame seed allergy. The customer saw no allergen information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, or on the display where the sandwich was sold, and she consumed the sandwich without realizing it contained sesame seeds. Researchers from Food Allergy Research & Education estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one of every 13 children under the age of 18.
America’s most food-focused holiday is coming up. Are you ready? On Thanksgiving weekend, your restaurant has an opportunity to give consumers a break from cooking, shopping or both. Upserve suggests creating a Thanksgiving-day menu for eat-in or take-away. Have an Instagram contest that challenges guests to share what they are thankful for. Poll your most loyal customers on social media about their favorite charities and donate to the winning cause. And since Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, make sure you’re ready with gift cards for guests looking for ideas, as well as a selection of meal or snack specials that can entice consumers looking for a break from the crowds. Make sure your inventory and staffing plan are ready to handle extra foot traffic too.
Harness your POS system’s power of customization
Consumers prefer customization, and your POS system can help you deliver it. For example, does your system make it easy for you to add and subtract extra items like avocado or shrimp on a salad or bacon or extra cheese on a burger? Cake suggests that clearly listing such potential upgrades on your menu — upgrades that some consumers may not have even realized they wanted — are an easy way to help you give your checks a boost.
The multiple benefits of grab and go
Consumers want their grab-and-go foods — 80 percent of consumers say they snack at least once a day, according to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking report, up from 76 percent in 2014. What’s more, consumers continue to crave not just sweet or salty snacks but high-quality options that are healthy and fresh. This trend is on display everywhere from hotel lobbies — many of which have been transformed in recent years into mini convenience stores — to hospitals to restaurants. (In fact, in 2016 Team Four launched a program called Charging Station to provide grab-and-go concepts for college athletic programs looking to provide an expanded variety of nutritious meal and snack options to athletes. Soon after, hotels and military organizations got involved too.) The good news for restaurant operators is that the grab-and-go trend is not only good for the all-powerful millennial consumer, but it is also beneficial to the operator trying to carve out a budget for labor at a time when certain states have mandated a $15 hourly wage. Restaurants that provide quality grab-and-go options can often cut back on labor expenditures, particularly on the front end. But even on the back end, grab-and-go options can help operators make use of ingredients that are pre-sliced and pre-cubed, which can shorten preparation processes and don’t require as much highly skilled labor to prepare. If you offer grab-and-go items, offer quality ingredients such as nuts, seeds, produce and lean meats, and make sure these items are packaged well, labeled clearly and require little preparation and cleanup. And just as you would do with your restaurant menu, consider incorporating local items and ethnic ingredients. For more information about how Team Four can help you develop a grab-and-go concept, contact us at email@example.com.
Make it a safe Thanksgiving
If you’re serving up turkey dinners this Thanksgiving (or preparing them for take-out), remember some safety tips to prevent food handling problems or inadequate cooking, which often lead to poultry-related foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that you thaw your turkey in a refrigerator, in a sink of cold water changed every half hour, or in the microwave — and don’t leave it out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you stuff your turkey, add the stuffing just prior to cooking and make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165˚F. Your turkey must also reach an internal temperature of 165˚F, so insert a food thermometer into the thickest parts of the breast, thigh and wing to make sure they have reached that threshold.
Protect your water supply
As another powerful hurricane season passes by, the dangers to your business don’t necessarily go away once the storms pass. In the wake of a natural disaster, remember to protect the safety of your water supply. A severe disaster can cause toxins, chemicals and other debris to contaminate the public water system, especially if a tidal surge or flood accompanies the storm. Until your area health department confirms that tap water can be used for drinking, use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. In the absence of bottled water, boiling your tap water will kill most disease-causing organisms that might be present. (Once the water has boiled, let it cool and store it in clean, covered containers.) If you have a well that has been flooded during a storm, the FDA advises you disinfect and test it once the flood water has receded. In the case you suspect your well may be contaminated, contact your state or local health department for specific guidance -- and in the meantime, do not use your tap water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food or to make ice. Finally, while it’s important to get your water tested following a major storm to help make sure you are using water that is safe for drinking, cooking and washing dishes, a test conducted today does not determine the safety of your water tomorrow. A point-of-entry water purification system can provide even greater assurance — immediately before you use your water supply each time — that the water you are using is safe.
The power of the freebie
If you operate a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant and are eager to see a quick boost in downloads of your restaurant app, take note: A number of large brands have seen their downloads skyrocket in recent months by offering a small free item. QSR Magazine reports that when McDonald’s offered free medium fries in exchange for a download of their app plus a $1 purchase, it jumped 56 places to become the No. 2 app on the U.S. App Store within a week — and Dairy Queen, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A experienced similar jumps in engagement. While it remains to be seen how successful these brands will be at retaining the consumers they have enticed, it shows how much mileage a simple free item can get you when you’re looking to build (and better understand) your consumer base.
Take care with chemicals
When using and storing chemicals for sanitizing and cleaning at your restaurant, make sure you take steps to minimize the chance for spills and contamination. Any chemicals you use should be in clearly labeled containers that are stored on low shelves away from food. Make sure your employees know when to avoid combining certain chemicals — chlorine and ammonia, for example, generate toxic fumes when mixed. Better yet, consider using automated dispensers for the chemicals you use. They can help ensure you’re using the appropriate amounts in the recommended concentrations and can also minimize your cleanup.
Let tech boost your charitable giving
Your restaurant’s values play an increasingly important role in engaging guests these days, and as the holidays approach, your charitable giving efforts can help you demonstrate your values to consumers. Fortunately, technology can make the process seamless for you. Consider using a platform like GroupRaise, which allows local non-profit organizations to request fundraising events online, which you can then respond to. During a given time frame, you can donate a portion of each check’s proceeds to a charity your guests value. It can help you bring in business on a slow day and also show that you’re a business the community should support.
Bring your costs and the market into “Alignment”
Before any product arrives at your door and on the plate of your guest, it passes through many hands and layers of pricing and profit formulas. The system is complicated — and ripe for pricing errors due largely to the manual processes still used to conduct business. One weak link in the supply chain can result in billing errors between manufacturers, distributors and you. Team Four launched a new program — Alignment4 — to help you identify those errors and correct them quickly so you can proactively manage your food costs. The program starts by analyzing receipts from your distributors, then examining product-level detail by invoice for a set amount of time. We can then plug in items that have been specially priced and compare them to what you were actually charged. The program can not only determine if a billing mistake was made, but it can also help you identify purchasing trends so you have a better sense of market values. If you are having a food-cost problem, Alignment4 can analyze your data and determine (soon at a daily speed) if a pricing mistake was made, if there was a temporary change in the market following a hurricane, or if a simple shift in your product mix might solve the problem. It converts data into actionable steps to lower food costs while helping you maintain standards for food quality and guest satisfaction. Gaining this insight into your data (all while keeping it anonymous) through Alignment4 provides other benefits too: You will get a customized inflation and market report that considers your past purchases and product mix, providing you with meaningful information to help you set menu selections, prices and portion sizes. Team Four can also approach suppliers on your behalf and solicit opportunities for you to consolidate purchases with other operators, whether you have 1000 locations or just one. For more information about how Alignment4 can help your restaurant, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restaurant investment designed to maximize shared resources
As investors look to bring the next foodservice concepts to fruition, a new trend is becoming clear: Much like the transportation, retail, media and logistics industries before it, foodservice businesses are now attracting technology investment designed to streamline and bring efficiencies to multiple operations at once. For example, Tech Crunch reports that millions of dollars are now flowing into networks of shared kitchens, storage facilities and pickup counters that are likely to become the next big restaurant brands. These networks can help cut back on overhead and make operators more nimble when it comes to hiring labor and conceiving of new menu concepts. The trend is something existing operators can put into practice too: How might you and your neighboring businesses collaborate or share resources to become more efficient and flexible?
An emerging model for restaurant investment?
Restaurants can be a tough investment — and when operators are beholden to investors looking for swift profits and some say in financial and operational matters, the challenges can multiply. But a handful of new investment groups, with restaurant industry veterans at the helm, are coming onto the scene and could be changing the model for restaurant investment. Ron Shaich, founder of Panera, along with his partner and fellow Panera veteran Keith Pacal, just announced a $300 million investment fund for restaurants. Skift Table reports that the fund gives “evergreen” capital and industry expertise to operators in an effort to give them additional time to build a business that has staying power. (This is opposed to traditional venture capitalists or private equity firms that invest in companies with the intention of building business quickly and selling at a profit after three to five years.) While profits matter to the fund, there is less of a rush about them — perhaps because of the industry insiders running the operation. Shaich’s goal for the fund, he says, is to give operators an alternative to having to fundraise, negotiate board disagreements or navigate Wall Street culture when they are trying to run a restaurant — all challenges for him when he ran Panera. The fund comes on the heels of Danny Meyer’s similar private investment firm, as well as the Kitchen Fund, which Eater reports has invested in such industry successes as Sweetgreen. These funds could represent an emerging new model for operators looking for financial tools and operational support with fewer strings attached.
Turn your customers into subscribers
As Amazon has disrupted consumer perceptions about the accessibility of food and other products, some food delivery companies are taking cues from its playbook by offering Amazon Prime-style subscription services. DoorDash, for one, recently unveiled a program in which subscribers pay $10 per month in exchange for free delivery from participating restaurants. Subscriptions could be a winner for restaurants and delivery companies alike, according to Skift senior research analyst Seth Borko, who said such services tend to encourage higher consumer spending and utilization. The challenge, he says, is making sure consumers feel they are getting their money’s worth.
Flu-proof your business this winter
Want to protect the safety of your food (and employees) this flu season? Consider sponsoring flu vaccination for your employees. While some operators question the investment, research indicates that it pays off in the long run, costing relatively little per employee as compared to the potential costs of staffing shortages and business interruption in the wake of an outbreak. According to 2010 research published by the National Institutes of Health, “Employers who subsidize workplace vaccination programs stand to see significant a significant return on their investment, particularly during a severe influenza season or pandemic when employee productivity may be interrupted by influenza-related absenteeism.”
Don’t forget the drying
When it comes to preventing bacteria growth in your kitchen, make sure your team understands that drying your dishes is as important as cleaning them. Drying with a towel can spread bacteria, and nesting dishes, bowls, pans or other items together while they are still damp can be a recipe for bacteria growth too, even when the dishes have been washed at high temperatures. Your best defense is having a dish rack that allows for proper airflow between dishes and allowing dishes to dry completely before storing them.
Are monitoring food costs a significant challenge to your business? If so, you’re hardly alone: 60 percent of restaurant operators struggle to manage food costs, according to Upserve. It can be especially challenging if you have a long list of suppliers, as many operators do. When food costs comprise 28 to 35 percent of an average restaurant’s gross sales, taking control of your inventory can generate substantial savings. If you’re still using an Excel spreadsheet — and hours of your time — to keep tabs on your food costs, it’s time to integrate your inventory management and POS so you have real-time information at your fingertips when you are negotiating with suppliers and placing orders. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more information about a new program from Team Four that can help you manage food costs more efficiently and retain your competitive advantage.
Use your POS to appeal to existing guests
Are you making the mistake of focusing more on attracting new customers than on retaining the ones you already have? Research from Performark found that the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is about 60 to 70 percent — far higher than the likelihood of selling to a new one (5 to 20 percent). The good news is that engaging your existing customers is also easier, particularly if you harness the power of your POS. Your system can help you in several key ways, according to Upserve: First, it can tap into the preferences of your guests and help you identify offers that are likely to entice them. If your barbecue wings appetizer is a best seller, your POS can tell you — and you can use it as part of a promotion to bring guests in the door during slow periods. Second, you can offer an automated rewards program that requires almost none of your staff’s time. Your guest can sign up via smartphone and their credit card becomes their loyalty card, automatically collecting rewards (and providing you with more data to improve and personalize that person’s experience) each time it is used. Third, it speeds up the overall experience. When you have a system that gets orders to the kitchen faster, helps your staff avoid standing in line when cashing out a check, and allows guests to pay and leave as soon as they are ready, the result is a faster, smoother flow of a business and a more satisfied guest. Finally, when your POS can seamlessly integrate and track your in-house and delivery orders, you can appeal to guests who already know what to expect from you and want to enjoy your food from home, as well as attract new customers looking to try a new option.
Is HPP part of your food supply chain?
As you look for ways to protect your food supply before it reaches you and while it’s sitting on your shelf, talk to your suppliers about high-pressure processing (HPP). The method uses cold water and extreme pressure to disable foodborne pathogens and microorganisms that spoil food. HPP is on the rise around the world as a means of protecting food safety, extending shelf life, ensuring clean labels and reducing waste, Food Safety Tech reports. It also protects the flavor and nutrient content of foods. It is used most often to preserve proteins, as well as juices, dips, coffee, tea and broth. The market for HPP is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years in response to growing consumer and foodservice industry demand.
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 email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
About Food For Thought and Profit
Food For Thought And Profit is brought to you by Team Four Foodservice/Value 4. We offer the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.