Are you among the many operators trying to figure out how to make delivery profitable? At a time when off-premise sales account for 38 percent of restaurant sales, according to Technomic, delivery has become a must for restaurants, even when the margins aren’t necessarily making the service profitable for those brands. Fortunately, new models are beginning to make the numbers work out. Recent Technomic forecasts have predicted that “subscription models that eliminate per-delivery fees in favor of a flat-rate subscription will emerge to present a clearer value proposition to customers.” The Spoon reports that a number of third-party delivery providers have come up with palatable offers for restaurants and consumers alike: DoorDash’s DashPass offers a monthly subscription of $9.99 for delivery of orders priced $15 or higher from a selection of restaurants, and Postmates has a similar offer. In the UK, Deliveroo is offering a £7.99 per month subscription for orders of any amount, and Uber Eats is reported to be testing a loyalty program that could eliminate delivery fees — if the experiment works there, it is likely to make its way across the pond eventually. Even operators who aren’t opting for subscription models are finding ways to make delivery profitable. In fact, delivery may be helping Chipotle make a comeback. Skift Table reports that delivery sales climbed 13 times in the fourth quarter of 2018 as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Chipotle’s CFO credits a couple of factors for the success: the creation of a separate, digital food assembly line for off-premise orders, which enables the restaurant to process a greater number of orders, as well as a delivery-friendly menu (burritos and taco bowls are good travelers).
At a time when many operators are looking to scale down their restaurant footprints to accommodate service model changes and stay profitable, every square inch of food preparation space counts. At the recent NAFEM, the show hosted by the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers of Chicago, the theme was about helping operators do more with less, using tools ranging from multifunctional prep stations on wheels to compact, high-efficiency ovens to electric bakers with interchangeable molds for accommodating a wide range of snack foods. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a highlight of the show was a collaboration between the equipment company Vulcan and the quick-service seafood restaurant Captain D’s. The restaurant had challenged Vulcan to devise a more efficient fryer, and the result was a smaller fryer that can be mounted on a freezer base and allows a worker to complete a task while standing in place. In stores currently using the fryers, fry times decreased 30 percent and the stores saved $10,000 annually. Where is there an opportunity to increase the efficiency of your kitchen?
Could your Instagram presence carry more weight than your Yelp reviews? Instagram influencers are surpassing Yelp Elite — the review site’s subgroup of users that Yelp has recognized for their quality recommendations and reviews, among other qualities — according to a recent Eater report. Considering a Fundera poll that found that 69 percent of millennial diners photograph their food before eating it, Instagram’s power makes sense. It is an ideal platform for you to benefit from user-generated content if you create the right conditions for it. To help boost your Instagram presence, Next Restaurants suggests you add some eye candy — have one distinctive visual element in your restaurant that belongs in photos. That could be accomplished with eye-catching flowers or plants, unusual art or wallpaper that serves as a memorable backdrop, seasonal décor, or unique signage. Add photo-friendly lighting, attractive plates and food presentations, and you have the components you need for compelling photos. Then entice guests with a freebie or discount in exchange for posting a photo with your hashtag and geotag, along with tagging your account. When you have a special event or a new menu to promote, up the ante by running a contest that awards a gift certificate as a prize for the best post. When your guests post content, be sure to do your part and like, comment and share their posts (with credit) to build on your connection. If you know of some Instagram influencers who resonate with your target market, it may be worth your while to invite them in for a free dinner when you want to make a big splash for a grand opening or a rebrand.
Restaurant operators have reams of data at their fingertips to help make business decisions — but quickly distilling all of that data into actionable steps is another story. That’s where artificial intelligence is starting to make a difference, according to Rajat Suri, founder of the tech company Presto. In a recent Restaurant Dive report, he predicted that tabletop technology, connected with wearable technology for restaurant staff and a restaurant’s POS, will increasingly improve service efficiency and — perhaps more importantly — be able to translate data into staff alerts that anticipate guest needs. Presto technology can currently inform staff via wearable technology that there is a line at the door and they need to speed up service, for example. It can also analyze tabletop tablets and change up the menu items they promote in an effort to increase revenue at different parts of the day. Watch for AI to continue to ease the burden of decision making in the years ahead.
Guests make inferences about the cleanliness of your kitchen based on the condition of your restroom. And if your staff share restroom facilities with guests, those inferences tend to be correct. A Modern Restaurant Management report said that in addition to putting a business at risk of negative word of mouth, a dirty restroom can result in a lower food hygiene rating during
inspections. Make sure you have waste bins large enough to avoid overflow, that you have staff monitor the cleanliness of your restrooms at regular intervals, and that you keep the restrooms well stocked with toilet paper, towels and soap. If guests have to chase your staff down for toilet paper in the middle of the dinner rush, they may get the message that you’re overlooking other details of the guest experience in your restaurant.
If your restaurant prides itself on its ability to cater to guests with food allergies or other special dietary needs, new opportunities are becoming available to help you connect with those consumers quickly. For example, Fast Casual reports that the food sensor company Nima has developed an online tool that displays gluten-free and peanut-free items available at chain restaurants. Consumers simply visit the site, register their location and the site shows a map of nearby restaurants with allergy-free items. There are now 250,000 restaurant locations contained in the site’s database. At a time when consumers can indulge their cravings with just a couple of clicks, the ability to quickly direct people with allergies to their best options could become a key differentiator for restaurants.
Wage dispute claims are rampant in the foodservice industry. In 2017 alone, the Department of Labor heard more than 7,000 wage and hour claims and recovered more than $483 million in back wages for employees — nine times more than any other industry. The threshold is low for workers looking to file suit. A QSR Magazine report says foodservice operations are vulnerable if they don’t have clear policies around such topics as compensation for time needed to change into uniform, rounding employee hours, calculating overtime, or taking additional breaks. To help, the report advises you have detailed written information describing your wage and hour-related policies, as well as about meals and break periods — and that you review timecards carefully to ensure staff take their breaks. Consult an employment attorney to make sure your policies are clear and then reinforce them with staff.
Do you have an eye on trying a new concept, expanding locations or adjusting your service model this year? While there is no shortage of challenges to launching a new foodservice business, one area where operators have a lot of support for tapping into new opportunities is in shared kitchens. These kitchens are becoming increasingly common in the industry, and because they minimize the overhead expenses of launching a business or making significant changes to an existing one, they are making it easier to test new ideas. A Medium report indicates that these shared kitchens, typically offered via a membership fee or charged by the hour, are taking a variety of forms. Delivery-only or ghost kitchens (Kitchen United is one example) can provide not only food preparation space but also business intelligence that operators can use to build a delivery program. Culinary flex spaces might better serve operators looking to test new food concepts or launch a new idea with help from the latest tools and equipment. Incubator kitchens (Kitchentown in San Mateo, Calif. is one example) are another form of shared kitchen space giving foodservice entrepreneurs a boost right now. They’re good places for entrepreneurs to build community and find resources to fuel the expansion of an idea: It’s possible to connect with food industry consultants, access technology and manufacturing space, and potentially tap sources of growth capital. At another incubator, the Hatchery in Chicago, entrepreneurs can access a talent pipeline and find new employees to help launch an idea. Finally, food truck commissaries (Kansas City’s Food Truck Central is one) are helping operators test out food truck concepts by providing power and water, along with waste disposal services.
How well does your restaurant accommodate delivery? Amid the rise in demand for delivered food, many operators are rethinking their restaurant layouts and footprints — but what if such major changes aren’t an option? As Panera, Chipotle and others are discovering, shelving is one small move that is making a big difference in delivery efficiency, enabling drivers to quickly grab prepared orders and go. Fast Company reports that Eatsa is taking this concept a step further with its Spotlight Pickup System. It’s a small, modular, digital shelf that can connect with third-party delivery providers like Uber Eats. When an order is complete, the shelf lights up with a customer’s name and can sense when food has been placed on it or removed. It will even alert a manager if food sits on the shelf for too long. The shelves could be ideal for small spaces, since each shelf is self-contained and can be assembled in different numbers and configurations.
As labor costs rise, your ability to monitor and manage your team’s schedule has the power to protect your restaurant’s bottom line. A Restaurantowner.com report advises operators to start by auditing the first last 15 to 30 minutes of a shift. A leisurely pace of work during those times could indicate that you need to make staffing adjustments. Then look to your anticipated sales and guest counts and build your schedule around that instead of leaning on a repetitive schedule that doesn’t flex when business speeds up and slows down. Cost out each schedule by multiplying each person’s hourly rate by hours worked and compare that figure to your sales each day to understand where you can be more efficient with staffing. If you find you have lulls but still need staff on hand in case a large group comes in, plan to have prep work available throughout the day (versus at the start of a shift) to make best use of the people you have on hand during the day. If your shift manager carries a shift card listing employees and hours, it will be easier to see who can be assigned some prep work or cleanup, or who can be sent home. Finally, find the right balance of part-and full-time employees. Restaurantowner.com advises operators maintain one-third to one-half of staff as part-timers. It can help you avoid paying excessive overtime costs and keep staffing affordable.
At the pace restaurant technology is evolving, it can feel like restaurant manager candidates should be just as capable of navigating IT challenges as they are of handling guest complaints. But according to The Spoon, one nascent tech tool — voice-enabled ordering via Google Assistant or Alexa — could soon be an easy, plug-and-play solution for operators, with some help from a firm called Orderscape. The company makes a voice-ordering software layer that works with browsers, mobile phones and watches, and Alexa speakers, and partners with restaurant platforms like Olo, Onosys and Monkey Media. Orderscape can then tell users where a desired food item is available in their area. If someone asks Alexa where to find a bacon cheeseburger nearby and you serve a popular one, your restaurant would be suggested among other options in the area. Marrying a menu with voice-enabled tech isn’t normally a seamless process for restaurants but Orderscape is looking to make the process possible with no installation or training on the restaurant’s part, and no downtime.
Food safety transparency is here — whether foodservice operators want to be open about their hygiene records or not. HDScores, the tech firm behind Yelp’s restaurant hygiene data, is now offering an app that allows consumers to look up extensive health information for restaurants and coffee shops in many parts of the U.S. Skift Table reports that the app (which costs $1.99 per month) allows consumers to access a restaurant’s local health department score, a historical record of past scores and violations, and a health code score determined by HDScores. While not everyone would be willing to pay for quick access to this information, those with severe food allergies or who have contracted foodborne illness in the past very well might.
The time to be nimble and adaptable with your food safety program is now: This year, Millennials are expected to account for the largest segment of the population, according to Pew research. As a result, their preferences — for convenience, technology, local foods and global flavors — are forcing the restaurant industry to evolve rapidly. Such rapid change could test your food safety program, which needs to be able to accommodate a steady stream of new ingredients and preparation methods (along with the tech tools that can help you monitor them). A Food Safety Magazine report about these challenges highlights such millennial-friendly trends as growing produce, raising animals for food, brewing beer, or offering fermented or cold-pressed beverages — all of which can test a food safety program. Has your program adapted to these sorts of menu trends?
Delivery has long been more about convenience than taste — it’s hard to make a delivered meal tastier than one served right out of the kitchen, right? Well, that may be changing as operators think more scientifically about food preparation and delivery. The Spoon reports that the fast-casual brand Dig Inn just piloted a delivery-only virtual kitchen called Room Service that rethinks food preparation for delivered foods. In a restaurant, for example, Dig Inn cooks salmon to medium-rare at 115˚F and then serves it immediately. Salmon ordered for delivery via Room Service, however, is plated rare at 105˚F, then paired with a hot potato puree that travels well. Along the route, the puree warms the salmon so the transit time improves the quality of the item when served. It’s food for thought for restaurant operators offering delivery. As ghost kitchens become more prevalent and improve upon the methods long used for delivery, how well do your food preparation plan and food safety program adapt?
Americans currently eat half of their weekly meals on the go, according to Statista research. If you haven’t yet taken steps to accommodate the convenience-driven consumer looking to satisfy a craving, you stand to lose market share to not only restaurant competitors but also to grocery and convenience stores offering prepared food. A QSR Magazine report suggests operators looking for a greater share of grab-and-go business ensure their menu effectively promotes the brand. While grab-and-go food is becoming ubiquitous, it can fall short when it’s too generic, with the expected mix of yogurt parfaits, fruit cups and pre-packaged sandwiches. If you have a dish or even a condiment that is a signature item, find a way to translate it to your grab-and-go menu. The report also advises operators tap into the millennial mindset when selecting and packaging grab-and go menu items. Think locally sourced, plant-based foods and “ugly” produce, along with environmentally friendly packaging that demonstrates your commitment to cutting back on waste. Consider using packaging that not only showcases your food effectively but can be returned and reused (in exchange for a discount on a future order, perhaps). Layered salads or smoothies served up in glass mason jars are just two examples. Finally, don’t forget to weave in on-trend flavors. A report from The Caterer suggests Japanese-inspired dishes like gyoza dumplings or yakisoba noodles can add interest and health to a grab-and-go menu, along with fruit-and-herb infused beverages.
While third-party delivery gets a lot of press lately, 78 percent of all delivery orders are currently placed directly from restaurants — not from third-party delivery providers, according to the 2018 Takeout & Off-Premise Consumer Trend Report. That could continue as savvy consumers lean toward ordering direct in order to check on potential deals and avoid excessive delivery fees. Cake advises operators to make that process as streamlined as possible by placing an “order now” button and phone number in plain view on their websites. These web visitors are also prime candidates for your loyalty program, so make sure your invitation to join appears front and center on your site.
Something is lurking in your trash. If you’re lucky, it’s money: Many foodservice operators who have changed their approach to trash disposal have minimized waste when it comes to both food and finances. (There’s a lot of waste to reduce: According to a 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, more than 84 percent of unused food in American restaurants is thrown away — and while those figures have likely improved in the past few years, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.) Restaurantowner.com suggests several tips to help operators take charge of their trash. First, remove trash bins from the kitchen — even as a temporary experiment — and give each employee a clear, labeled bin to be filled with food scraps or trimmings they want to discard during food prep. Following the shift, have a manager inspect the contents of each box for usable product. If any is found, the manager can provide on-the-spot training to that employee to make sure usable product isn’t wasted in the future. Inspecting bins in the dish room can be helpful too: Make sure china, silverware and other expensive tableware aren’t getting damaged or accidentally tossed out. Finally, monitor your dumpster, which can provide easy cover for a dishonest employee. It’s a common practice in the industry for someone looking to steal a case of wine to hide it in the dumpster only to retrieve it later. Having a manager approve who takes out the trash and when, or even monitor the dumpster via video, can help protect your business from those losses. (Want to talk trash? Contact Team Four about how your operation can save on trash disposal.)
The images of menu items you share online need to sing — or at least motivate people to pay you a visit. While it can help to have a professional photographer do it, a couple of pros recently shared some food styling tips with Edible Manhattan that are easy for amateur photographers to implement. When setting up a shoot, try having an ice bath on hand to keep vegetables and herb stems looking fresh. A brush of olive oil can help food glisten. Use natural light when available and, to minimize shadows, a piece of white cardboard, or even a white cutting board or plate can serve as a makeshift reflector. While the colors in your dish are a focal point, you can accent them with table linens or glassware in similar (or complementary) colors. If there is a memorable spice or other seasoning used in the dish, accentuate it by adding seeds, sprigs or other natural elements to your photo setup.
Any food safety training course provides information about the temperatures needed to help prevent the growth of bacteria in food. But following those rules won’t necessarily prevent problems in your kitchen. A Statefoodsafety.com report dispelled some common myths. One common one: Meat can be thawed any way you like as long as you cook it to the proper temperature. (Bacteria can actually begin growing on the outside of meat as it thaws — even if the inside is still frozen — and some bacteria produce toxins that cooking does not destroy.) A myth about cooling also persists: As
long as food was cooked to the proper temperature, it can be cooled most any way. This, of course, is also incorrect. It’s critical to minimize the amount of time a food stays in the temperature danger zone (41˚F-135˚F) while cooling. The best approach can vary depending on the dish: For example, refrigerating a large pan of hot food (before placing it in smaller, shallow containers) can inadvertently accelerate bacteria growth instead of slowing it down.
As you fine-tune your menu based on seasonal changes, trending ingredients or problems with current suppliers, you are likely speaking with potential suppliers on a regular basis. At the 2018 Food Safety Consortium, Doug Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins, recommended some key questions companies should ask when sourcing ingredients and building a strong supply chain verification program. For one, ask the supplier if they have a food safety plan and if you can review it. Second, ask if they have been part of a Global Food Safety Initiative-based audit and if they can share the results of their last audit with you. Finally, ask if the supplier has ever been part of a recall or outbreak. If so, you can research the event and find out how the company resolved it. It may not disqualify them — particularly if the event occurred just once and ushered in a retooling of safety practices that have protected the company since.
How efficient is your kitchen? Even if you’ve got a full dining room, your kitchen staff is busy and guests aren’t complaining, there could be room for improvement. The data you collect can give you the clearest idea of where those opportunities are. While you can manually collect information, your automated kitchen display system is your most valuable tool here. FSR Magazine suggests you collect such data points as estimated time needed for a menu item to get from order to completion, the difference in cooking time for two items on the same order so that both dishes are fresh and at the proper temperature when served, and the amount of time it takes for a prepared dish to leave the kitchen and reach a guest’s table. If you have data like this at your fingertips, it can have a beneficial ripple effect across your business, helping you minimize waste, manage your inventory better, expedite service and keep track of orders more efficiently.
Consumers, increasingly, want to know the truth behind the food they eat. It isn’t always a pretty story: A new study published in The BMJ traced the longterm effects of fried foods and, while it’s no shock to hear that these foods aren’t healthy, the study found some alarming connections between fried foods and mortality. Upon studying 20 years’ worth of data about U.S. women aged 50 to 79, the study’s authors found that people who reported eating at least one serving of fried food daily had an 8 percent chance of dying early and an 8 percent higher chance of dying from cardiovascular disease specifically. So what is a foodservice operation to do? Taco Bell’s first-ever in-house dietician, Missy Schaaphok, has some ideas — and is proof that quick-service brands can continue to serve their core customers while improving their efforts to tell a healthier story. A Skift Table report indicates Schaaphok has been working to transform the brand’s image from a place where people cave to indulgences in fried food to one where vegetarians, flexitarians, or people looking for lower-fat, lower-calorie or other healthier options can find something they like. Her focus is in making “stealth health” upgrades — evaluating the nutritional content of menu items, improving on what exists and introducing new menu items. She has already eliminated artificial colors and flavors from the menu, as well as high-fructose corn syrup — and is working to reduce sodium content too. She is now working on the brand’s first dedicated vegetarian menu, which is set to launch later this year.
If you offer your guests free wifi, you could be collecting valuable data as a result. Are you? As NextRestaurants reports, your wifi marketing can take off if you ask guests connecting to your wifi to log in using their email address or social media account information as opposed to a universal password. While it may feel Big Brotherish to some, this system can help you forge stronger connections with visitors who log in. (Upon signing on, visitors are taken to a landing page where you can offer them a discount on food or drink, or introduce them to your loyalty program.) This system can give you a much deeper understanding of who your guests are, how often they come and how long they stay, and what your most popular days and times are — particularly if you are able to integrate this data with your POS and build targeted marketing campaigns from it. (Need a wifi solution? Team Four can help with that, contact us anytime).
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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