Gratuity grief: Tips versus service charges
Wage challenges in recent months have spurred restaurant operators to take a range of actions, from adding service charges to guest bills, to eliminating gratuities. The changes have affected how restaurants report income, and according to Modern Restaurant Management, making mistakes in characterizing these payments can lead to penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). As you wrap up the fiscal year, note the differences between the two forms of payment, according to the IRS: For a gratuity to be a tip, the payment must be given at the discretion of the customer, who has the right to determine its amount and who receives it. Tips can be given as cash or as goods like tickets or passes, all of which must be reported to the IRS for tax purposes. Employees need to report only cash tips to their employer, who must use that information to populate tip reports needed to withhold income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes on reported tips. The FLSA lets operators take a tip credit of up to $5.12 toward their minimum wage obligation (or the difference between the federal minimum wage, $7.25, and the required cash wage, $2.13). The IRS says automatic gratuities, such as any gratuity added to a customer’s bill, is not a tip. Employers may keep these charges or distribute them to employees, but in the latter case, the charges should be treated like regular wages for tax purposes. For further information, check out IRS Fact Sheet FS-2017-08 and FLSA Fact Sheet 15.
Deconstruct your data
Restaurant industry experts are predicting that 2018 will be the year of data. But with so much potential data and so many methods to collect it, restaurant data has become a vague term. So how should you focus? FSR suggests you zero in on five main categories: individual customer data, kitchen data, guest management, financial and inventory data and social media data. Individual data can include a name with contact information, food allergies and preferences, and birth date – and offering an incentive usually helps you collect it. In the kitchen, collect data specific to inventory and food preparation, focusing on different food stations and using an automated display system that can track how long every process takes. When it comes to guests, your data should tell you average wait times, turnaround times, party size, guest numbers and how efficiently you’re seating guests at any time. Automated systems can help here, too. Your financial data will help you understand how much revenue you’re generating, how much you’re spending and how effectively you’re using your inventory so you can identify and eliminate areas of waste. Focus on your expenses for utilities and payroll, items that have sold, how much you’re spending on the items you buy, sales of each menu item, total food cost, total menu sales and total profit. Finally, collect social media data – Facebook is a good place to start because it is so widespread and encompasses diverse demographics. Facebook, as well as Twitter and Instagram, will provide you with a weekly count of the followers you’ve gained or lost, as well as how engaged they are with the content you’ve been sharing.
Accommodating allergies – to the extreme
As restaurants go to greater lengths to cater to guests with food allergies – from using technology in the kitchen that monitors for allergens, to creating systems and procedures for sequestering the food of allergic guests from other food served at the table – many have begun designing full menus and restaurant concepts specifically for these guests. As an article in the Washington Post stated recently, “The afflictions of the minority are starting to determine the options for the majority.” The report says a number of college campuses have established dining halls that are allergy-free or limit allergens to specific serving areas. Restaurants are joining the effort – at Chipotle, for one, five of the top eight food allergens are not offered on the menu. While some wonder if limiting allergens will generate more allergy-sensitive people in the future, or will make it harder for those without allergies to find their favorite dishes, the prevailing belief is that this emerging model will spark more innovation on the menu – and across the industry.
Cleaning and disinfecting for an airtight sanitation plan
Does your team recognize the difference between cleaning and disinfecting – and why both are critical to ensuring the health and safety of employees and guests? Food Quality & Safety recommends you first work with a cleaning supplier to conduct a sanitation audit, identify contamination risks within your facility, and create a master cleaning plan that spells out what must be cleaned and how, as well as who should do the cleaning and when. Train employees to understand that sanitation involves both removing the residue from a surface and killing any microorganisms that can cause disease, odor and spoilage. Look for multipurpose products that can both clean and disinfect (many will do just one or the other) so you can reduce your inventory investment, minimize work and simplify training.
Why have reservations?
If you’re not yet accepting reservations via a guest management system, doing so could help you harness valuable data in several ways. Offering online reservations lets you track the origins of your bookings. Are people finding you through a Google search? Facebook? TripAdvisor ratings? Word of mouth? Knowing your best sources of new guests will help you know where to focus your marketing efforts and dollars.
UberEats delivery gets personal
UberEats is taking a comfortable lead in the restaurant delivery market – and its personalization strategy is a big part of it. SkiftTable reports that UberEats recently launched three customer-facing features to help it stand out: in-app ratings, favorites and personalized menu options. Customers using the app get lists, collections of restaurants and search elements – all personalized according to their preferences. Once a customer selects a restaurant, for example, UberEats can now recommend dishes that the customer is likely to enjoy based on his or her taste profile. It can winnow an overwhelming menu of 100 items down to a desirable list of five, streamlining the ordering process while providing data that are helpful to restaurants. These changes will likely spur competitors to enhance their features as UberEats rapidly expands its market share: Since April, the company’s reach has nearly doubled, with 80,000 restaurant partners in 200 cities.
The POS: Your tableside marketing consultant
A tableside POS can help your servers make best use of their time and help you turn tables more quickly. But there are more benefits: QSR recommends you harness your POS to strengthen your marketing, so you can build a strong mailing list of guests who enjoy your restaurant and collect their feedback immediately after a meal, when it’s fresh in their minds. When the guest pays the bill, the tablet payment screen can ask for their email address and offer the option to receive coupons good for a future visit. Once a month, you can send a promotion or other incentive for them to return – it could tip the balance when they are deciding which restaurant to choose among a list of possibilities. When your guest taps the screen to make payment, you have a captive audience – and a chance to collect insights about the menu, specials, service, décor or any other part of your restaurant you want to analyze. Ask a few multiple-choice survey questions (and provide a place for sharing open-ended feedback if desired) that will help you determine what needs tweaking.
Ready yourself for review time
How do you evaluate your employees? Having a set process can help you keep communication lines open, show you’re interested in developing your team and make your operation run more efficiently. Upserve suggests you conduct your reviews on a set schedule – perhaps on the one-year anniversary of each person’s hire – and focus the conversation on performance. (Save all discussions about compensation for one time during the year in accordance with your fiscal year so you can budget accordingly.) To structure your reviews, work from a template to keep the conversations on track. Upserve recommends you create three categories for feedback: qualities, goals and comments. Your discussion of qualities should focus on the nuts and bolts of the person’s day-to-day performance, e.g. punctuality, attendance, communication skills, honesty, customer service and attention to detail. As for goals, discuss whether the person achieved set goals during the year, and, if not, what resources or training could help change that. If the person achieved set goals, ask for input about how he or she might like to develop, e.g. learning a new skill or technique, or taking on additional responsibility. Finally, turn the tables and ask for feedback about your performance as well. It will help your employees feel heard and their feedback could help you understand whether your restaurant is a good place to work. If it’s not, you can engage your team’s help in making it better.
When to lease your POS
Your POS system can help you make the most of profit points within your restaurant, cut back on waste, and provide you with information that can help you turn occasional customers into your most loyal ones. But the costs of systems may hold some operators back – POS hardware can cost between $500 and $3000 per pay station, according to data from Capterra, and lower-priced options don’t necessarily offer a better value. Web-based solutions promise a high return on investment – but what if you have shaky connectivity, want customized options or need access to specialized support not often included with web-based POS services? If you’re among the one-third of restaurant businesses who are planning to upgrade POS technology in the next year, according to Toast, you may have a case for leasing your equipment. Business.com suggests that leasing could be for you if you are new to the business, want to avoid the up-front payments required for POS hardware, like having the option to upgrade regularly to a system with more bells and whistles or simply need some time to figure out your restaurant’s longer-term technology strategy. Look for complete packages that include all equipment, service and repairs for the lease term. The business technology firm Lightspeed also suggests you study the interest rates from the leasing companies you’re considering, since they can vary widely, as well as what happens if you need to change your contract terms early.
Fast facts about handwashing
Boosting your operation’s cleanliness can be as simple as promoting better hand washing. David Walpuck, a food trainer from The National Environmental Health Association, shared these facts with Food Safety Magazine: 80 percent of communicable diseases are transferred by touch. Just 20 percent of people wash their hands before preparing food. Fewer than 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men wash their hands after using the bathroom. Every time a toilet is flushed with the lid up, a fine mist containing bacteria such as E.coli and Staphylococcus is spread over an area of six square meters. In public restrooms, the area around sinks is 90 percent covered in these bacteria. For every 15 seconds spent washing hands, 10 times more bacteria is removed. Most bacteria on hands are on the fingertips and under the nails, although most people wash the palms of their hands and nothing else. The bacteria count is highest on the dominant hand, but right-handed people wash their left hand more thoroughly than their right hand, and vice versa. Only 20 percent of people dry their hands after washing. Disposable paper towels are the most sanitary means of drying hands (reusable cloth towels harbor millions of bacteria).
Boost your restaurant’s social responsibility
Improving your restaurant’s social responsibility program isn’t just good for your community; it can help you generate buzz in traditional and online media outlets, gain new business and build a positive perception of your brand. In fact, Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report found that 66 percent of consumers are willing to spend more money on a product from a sustainable brand. To increase your social impact, Foodable suggests you make it your mission to improve your community, then support that mission with goals, set aside time and resources to accomplish them, and hold people accountable. Your plan could include donating a percentage of revenues to a local cause, looking internally to decrease your restaurant’s energy use and identify products you can purchase from sustainable sources, or donating food or organizing food drives to benefit people living in poverty or recovering from a natural disaster. Make sure your social responsibility program is visible within your establishment, as well as on your website and social media networks.
How tech gives restaurants an edge over grocerants
Grocery stores have become go-to businesses for the convenience minded, offering a growing assortment of prepared foods (and becoming restaurant hybrids in the process). But technology can help restaurants reclaim lost ground. Modern Restaurant Management suggests that tech can deliver convenience, personalization and engagement more effectively than grocery stores. Why try to find an appealing meal at the grocery store on the way home from work if you can use mobile order to have your favorite pizza ready for pick up – or have it delivered to your home just as you arrive? What if you want extra pepperoni on that pizza – or on just half of it? Again, tech provides the customization and personalization that grocery stores don’t – and it lets a customer recall their preferences in a couple of clicks. Grocery stores have long used data to send customized promotions, but again here, restaurants can do this with greater precision. If you mine your technology, you can recall that a customer often orders take-out on Thursday evenings at 6pm and sometimes gets dessert. Armed with that information, you can entice that customer more effectively than any grocery store.
Tech to try next?
How will you improve your restaurant’s technology in the coming year? From providing online reservations to mobile ordering to tableside payment, there are any number of directions you could take. Toast’s recent technology survey of more than 900 restaurateurs and 1,200 restaurant guests may help you decide where to focus. While operators and guests agreed on many benefits of tech, they differed in these three areas: Among restaurant guests, 58 percent will use a restaurant’s app or mobile pay when available (far fewer operators offer these options), 49 percent of guests think kiosk ordering improves their experience (only 39 percent of operators think kiosks help efficiency), and when guests ranked their top tech preferences in restaurants, they listed online reservations, guest wifi and online ordering (loyalty programs didn’t make the cut). If you’re still struggling to decide where to offer tech, take heart: Software that accomplishes multiple objectives simultaneously is within reach. As David Scott Peters, founded of the TheRestaurantExpert.com, said recently, “As technology gets less expensive and more systems talk with each other, software will get smarter and not only provide analytics, it will automatically tell the restaurant owner where the problems are and what they need to fix.”
2018 predicted to be the year of data
Technomic and Restaurant Business have just released the Winsight 2018 Restaurant Trends Forecast and one message comes through clearly: Data is expected to have ever-increasing power at restaurants in both public-facing and business-facing ways in 2018. Kelly Killian, director of the foodservice content group for Winsight, predicts that data will impact every area of operations, from marketing messages personalized based on behavioral analytics, to highly customized menu suggestions based on past purchases, to sensors that track staff productivity. Data’s impact will also extend to the kitchen, where smarter equipment will gather data to make for more efficient purchasing and production, among other processes.
Labor pain relief?
Finding qualified kitchen staff at an affordable cost continues to be a top concern for restaurant operators and executive chefs across the country. Restaurants – even big-name, high-end brands – are struggling to find skilled labor to carry out kitchen tasks. It doesn’t help that the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that there are more than 620,000 eating and drinking establishments in the U.S., and the number of restaurants is growing at twice the rate of the population. As the nation becomes “over-restauranted,” as one CEO said recently, just as more states and municipalities raise the minimum wage, restaurants must glean the most benefit from the hires they are able to make. In the meantime, operators and chefs are finding work-arounds to manage the challenge. Some are developing streamlined menus that can be prepared more quickly and with less complicated techniques. Managers are scrutinizing inventory to get the best use out of a smaller range of ingredients in order to minimize waste and save money. The New York Times reports that other chefs are doing such things as preparing large quantities of a dish that line cooks can then simply heat up and serve, deliberately overhiring cooks and then weeding out the ones who don’t pass muster, and replacing servers with cooks and sommeliers who work in the dining room.
VIP experiences through tech integration
A recent survey by a Gartner-owned company found that 55 percent of restaurant owners were not using any kind of POS system or restaurant management software. Others may have a range of technologies – including a POS system, guest management platform, online ordering system and waiting list system – that operate separately from each other. Having one system that integrates a range of functions can generate a range of benefits when it comes to building business and enhancing customer experiences. As a report in Modern Restaurant Management shared recently, integration can ensure that when new guests visit your restaurant, your host can quote an accurate wait time based on real-time table statuses instead of guesses. Integrating a tablet POS with existing hardware can also allow staff to take orders, transmit them to the kitchen and eventually collect payment tableside, reducing errors and speeding up communications between guest and server, as well as server and kitchen staff. Integration can help you enhance the experience of your most loyal guests too. What if your best patron walked in the door and your host could greet him by name, call up his previous visits and recommend his favorite menu items? Connecting data from various points of your operation and making it easy and quick to access it can help you make your best guests feel like VIPs as soon as they walk in the door.
Turn your food waste innovation into funding
Have you found an innovative way to reduce your restaurant’s food waste? In New York, for one, your ideas could help you earn grant money. Fast Company reports that the city’s sanitation department is offering microgrants of $2,000 for individual small business applicants and $5,000 for neighborhoods that apply with a collective solution to minimizing the city’s food waste (food comprises 20 percent of the city’s daily waste). The Los Angeles Sanitation Bureau is reported to be starting a similar effort. Beyond those cities, other organizations are currently connecting government programs, businesses, nonprofits and investors. Tune in to your own city’s sanitation department, as well as the Food Waste Alliance, a collection of foundations and other entities that have partnered to start a movement around innovation in food waste management.
Weakness abounds in FDA inspections program, report finds
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has highlighted the importance of transparency in the food supply chain. The deputy regional inspector general of the department told NPR that the FDA’s inspections program has a number of weaknesses when it comes to protecting the nation’s food supply. The FDA relies on facilities to voluntarily correct violations, for example, and that does not necessarily happen. The report cited the 2013 case of a facility in Kansas where FDA inspectors found rainwater leaking onto food preparation areas and also detected listeria throughout the facility. The problems went uncorrected for the next two years, according to the report. Overall, the report found that the FDA failed to conduct timely follow-up inspections to ensure facilities corrected significant violations. In 17 percent of cases, the FDA conducted no follow-up inspection at all.
Food suppliers team with IBM to try Blockchain
The vulnerability of the food industry to foodborne illness outbreaks and security breaches has motivated many industry leaders to find solutions. Blockchain technology has delivered some promising early results. The technology, which is a public database of continuously updated, verifiable and secure information for all points of the food supply chain, allows food companies to track information on everything from food temperature to the safety certifications of the facilities processing a product. The Food Institute reports that a number of food companies, including Walmart, Unilever, Nestlé, Dole, Kroger, McCormick and Co., Tyson Foods, and others are now partnering with IBM to apply blockchain technology to their supply chains, and Walmart has already run successful tests on Chinese pork and Mexican mangoes. In the wake of Walmart’s positive results, look for other food suppliers to take part in such trials in the months ahead.
Broaden your reach through live video
The importance of online video continues to grow. According to an Animoto survey, more than 76 percent of marketers and small business owners who have used video marketing say it had a direct impact on their business. Cisco projects that by 2019, online traffic from videos will comprise 80 percent of all online traffic. If you implement live video, via Facebook Live or Twitch, for example, you can offer compelling visual content and connect with your audience more directly online. NextRestaurants suggests you invite your audience behind the scenes to see your chef cooking up your latest specials or seasonal menu – and invite a local celebrity to taste it, talk about it and live stream it on their social media to broaden your audience. To connect with your community and be a more visible presence within it, live stream your participation in an event. If you’re sponsoring a youth sports team, for example, live stream part of a game and interview players like a professional sportscaster. Your video should be as much about your community as it is about you.
Make it a charitable 2017
More than 90 percent of restaurants in the U.S. make some kind of charitable contribution each year, according to the National Restaurant Association, and with the start of the new year in sight, there is still time to find a charitable cause that meshes with your brand. Foodable suggests you consider your environmental footprint and donate used equipment to nonprofits if it’s time to upgrade. Contribute a portion of your proceeds to a local benefit event or organization that aligns with your brand or demonstrates your support of local military or first responders, for example. Engage your team and your guests in fighting poverty in your area by donating items you can present to a local food bank. If you have already made it part of your mission to give back to your community, elicit feedback from your team about the causes they care about as well – that can help feed your social responsibility strategy in the year ahead.
It’s time to review your sexual harassment policy
Along with the movie industry, the restaurant industry has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in recent weeks. Food & Wine reports that Louisiana restaurateur and television personality John Besh stepped down from all operations at his restaurant group in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against him and other managers from 25 current and former employees. In Chicago, Eater reported that Publican chef Cosmo Goss and Publican Anker general manager Antonio Molina were fired for not taking disciplinary action after an “inappropriate” photo of a female employee was circulated among staff without the woman’s consent. In an industry where human resources departments are rare, it can be easy for restaurants to neglect to establish and enforce policies that provide a safe work environment for employees. Take the time now to review your policies for potential weaknesses and risks (alcohol is just one example – if you don’t clearly restrict employees from consuming it on the premises during shifts or, more broadly, on days they are working, it’s one policy to consider.) Make additions and adjustments to ensure you have clearly defined what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and reiterate your policies with employees regularly so they become part of your restaurant’s culture. Your employees should also understand how and where to report an incident if it occurs, and how the information they share will be handled.
Digital strategy 101
If you want to refine your restaurant's digital strategy, take note of some established quick-service brands that have come out on top of the 2017 L2 Digital IQ Index. The index is a review of 126 restaurant brands in the United States based on 12 criteria pertaining to each brand's effectiveness on mobile, social media, desktop and digital marketing, Skift reports. The restaurants earn a rating, which is weakened by a digital strategy that isn't well-rounded and enhanced by best practices like mobile coupons, rewards programs and digital payment options. The index’s top brands, which earned the "Genius" rating, were Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Panera and Domino's. Even if your operation is less established than those brands, you can still apply some of the strategies that have helped them reap benefits. Starbucks, for example, has seen the potential of Instagram: The brand currently possesses 60 percent of all restaurant market share on the platform. Business Insider reports that Pizza Hut has looked to Uber for its tech inspiration by launching "visible promise time," which allows customers to see what time their pizzas will be prepared, ready and delivered before they even place their order. Panera is on track to surpass $1 billion in sales made through kiosks, mobile and web this year thanks to its digital strategy (and its management thereof, which helped the brand avoid the hiccups Starbucks experienced when rolling out its own digital strategy). Domino's won raves for its pizza tracker, which has been around for years but still has few rivals, as well as its wedding registry, which has gotten more Google searches than more traditional registries at Amazon or Macy's.
Cater to food safety at offsite holiday events
As the holidays approach, it’s high time for catering special events – and managing the food safety risks that can accompany those events when you’re operating in unfamiliar environments. If you hire additional employees to help you staff catered events, take care to provide comprehensive training, especially to part-time employees, non-managers and new employees. That’s according to research entitled “Food safety in the US catering industry” published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality. Researchers collected feedback from more than 500 respondents representing 40 chapters of the National Association of Catering Executives. They studied food handling, equipment and personal hygiene and what differences exist depending on gender, training, management status and employment status when it comes to food safety knowledge and practices.
Lessons from the food safety trenches
Want to protect yourself from the biggest food safety risks? Learn from one who is climbing back after a crisis. Jim Marsden, director of food safety at Chipotle, addressed some of the nation's leaders in restaurant food safety at a conference in Washington recently. He shared steps the brand is taking to recover from the food safety challenges it experienced in recent years. According to the National Restaurant Association, Marsden said Chipotle employees must complete the association's ServSafe training courses, and the company strictly enforces HAACP rules and handwashing practices. As part of its current food safety protocol, Chipotle now blanches all produce, with the exception of lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro, which must be inspected at the supplier level.
Minimize turnover costs through engagement
Employee turnover in the restaurant industry, which reached 72 percent in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is among the highest of any industry. The Center for Hospitality Research found that turnover can cost $5,000 per employee, so it pays to keep employees engaged. But how? Upserve suggests you provide data-driven feedback on a regular basis – daily or weekly – so employees have a good ongoing understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Your POS may provide data that illustrates a server's sales, tips and turnover rates, for example, which can help you set performance goals. You can also secure buy-in from employees by showing them how they contribute to the restaurant's finances. It will help them see how their day-to-day contributions impact the business and it will support their development in case they wish to pursue greater responsibility in the business.
The payoffs of pay-at-the-table
Increased table turnover rates, better tipping, enhanced security for operator and customer alike. These are just a few plusses about tableside payment, according to POS Advice for Restaurants. If your restaurant has busy periods when customers must wait (93 percent do, according to a study from Long Range Systems, LLC), offering payment at the table allows them to pay their bill as soon as they are ready, freeing servers to tend to other customers. That ensures your servers have quality face time with customers and can otherwise enhance their experience (so when those customers are ready to pay and the tablet suggests a tip amount, they are more apt to be generous). Finally, tableside payment offers instant EMV compliance, so your customers can better protect their data and you can shift chargeback liability from your business to the bank. Hospitality Tech suggests your tableside payment device accommodates split checks, makes tip calculations easy, and provides a warranty of at least three years.
Ready for a food fest?
Food festivals aren’t always an easy sell for restaurant operators. They may stretch staff too thin during busy times at your restaurant, you risk blending into the crowd at large festivals, and it can be difficult to manage your food supply and safety. If you’re among those wary of food fests, consider the potential benefits: According to an Upserve report, after trying food from a new restaurant or brewery at a food festival, 79 percent of festival attendees say they will visit the brick-and-mortar location. There are positives beyond that too. Kate Levenstien, CEO of the food festival company Cannonball Productions, says her company's food fests in more than a dozen U.S. cities provide hour-long breaks between sessions where restaurant operators can network with each other and share best practices. Restaurateur Frank Ottomanelli, who takes part in 10 to 15 festivals annually, says the events are great opportunities to interact with people face-to-face, test new products and collect immediate feedback. What's more, he says, festivals can help you show your support for your community and the causes you value.
What price loyalty?
Loyalty pays. Consider Domino’s, whose CEO recently said the restaurant’s loyalty program has helped propel the company through 26 quarters of same-store sales growth. Upserve found that loyal customers spend more than 67 percent more at restaurants than new guests do. It costs seven times more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. Still, only 30 percent of restaurants offer a loyalty program, so there is ample opportunity to stand out with consumers by offering a strong one. Upserve says the best loyalty programs have several characteristics in common: They help you build a database that includes customers’ email addresses and preferences. They help you make a positive impression that improves your connection to your guests -- by remembering their birthday, sending a reminder for an upcoming anniversary or connecting with them about another important event in their lives. The best loyalty programs offer more than just discounts and rewards: Beyond the punch cards of the past, they also provide experiences and opportunities, from access to reservations before the general public or exclusive invitations to special events. They encourage your loyal guests to refer others. Finally, the best programs find new ways to make dining convenient. (For a large portion of the public, convenience means using an app to manage your program – 56 percent of Millennials and 50 percent of Gen Xers support that, according to Oracle Hospitality.) But you can also achieve convenience by speeding up the process of making a reservation, making it easier for guests to communicate with you, or by streamlining online orders, pick-ups and delivery.
Don’t be blinded with science
Four out of five restaurant operators agree that technology helps increase sales and productivity, all while providing a competitive advantage, according to the National Restaurant Association. The Toast Restaurant Technology Industry Survey found that 73 percent of restaurants are looking to improve their existing technology. Yet many operators resist it – the options are seemingly endless and no operator wants to invest in a product or system only to see it become obsolete sooner than expected. FSR recommends you consider five questions to help you separate the most helpful technology from the least. First, is it easy to use? Specifically, your new technology should not require new hardware and your staff should not need to spend more than 30 minutes being trained to use it. Second, does it improve personal customer service? Make sure whatever technology you introduce spares your guests from inconvenience (think mobile payments), improves guest engagement (think loyalty programs) and frees up your staff to spend more time on the kinds of personal interactions your guests value. Third, will your technology help your revenue grow? You should see a clear path: A 2017 study by Hospitality Technology found that determining return on investment is restaurant operators’ top concern when it comes to adopting new technology. Fourth, does the technology enhance your security and protection? Compatibility with smart-chip cards is one benefit to look for, along with encrypted data transmission and secured data via tokenization. Finally, can you afford it? Across the industry, most operators (65 percent) invest between 1 and 3 percent of their revenues in technology improvements, 18 percent invest 4 to 6 percent and 17 percent invest less than 1 percent.
Are you predictable?
Several cities, including New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle, recently passed laws requiring employers to provide hourly employees with predictable schedules. Bills are pending in other regions. FSR reports that these laws require employers to provide hourly employees with 14 days' notice of their schedule (or risk a penalty), among other stipulations. New laws -- or the positive impact of dependable schedules on employees -- may call for restaurants to provide greater predictability. (A Homebase survey found that 46 percent of hourly employees and job seekers prefer having a predictable schedule to earning 10 percent more in wages.) To provide that dependability, FSR recommends using web-based scheduling tools that allow employees to trade shifts with each other without taking the manager's time. These tools should let you forecast labor as a percent of sales on a daily basis, so you can better predict your staffing needs. At the very least, determine your core hourly workers required to operate the business each day so that even if you must add staff hours later, your core team has benefited from having dependable schedules.
Step towards sustainability
Is sustainability important to you and your guests? Upserve reports that the owner of Kellari Taverna in New York has achieved 100 percent sustainability by approaching his menu like his wine list, providing the back story of each item. That meant removing some popular items, like Chilean sea bass, from the menu, and learning about true sustainability -- since "wild" doesn't necessarily mean sustainable. To become more sustainable, Star Chefs suggests you consider one sustainable initiative each week. Just a few ideas they suggest: Look to resources like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program for guidance on seafood. Consider in-house filtration systems that can help you offer fresh still and sparkling water without generating bottle waste. When buying supplies like floor mats for the kitchen and bar, look to eco-friendly companies that offer items made from recycled materials. Cut energy waste by checking seals on walk-in coolers and consider green energy sources including wind and solar. Contact a biofuel company about recycling your fryer oil. Join or form a co-op for purchasing green items.
Trust through transparency
Despite your best efforts, you don't know when a food safety crisis may hit -- and the effects on a restaurant can be severe. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to establish trust with your guests, investors and greater community so people know you as ethical and reputable. Research from the Center for Food Integrity suggests it's critical to take steps to prove your transparency in advance. Show your food practices and values openly and talk about them -- in blogs, videos, demonstrations, advertising and other public-facing materials -- and use suppliers who do the same. Communicating shared values is three to five times more effective in earning trust than just sharing facts or expertise. Engage with the public and answer their questions in easy-to-understand language. Lastly, partner with credible, objective third parties who can verify and certify your ethical practices.
Help consumers connect food information to nutrition
Despite the abundance of food information available now, Americans' nutritional literacy is lacking -- and affecting the population's health. That's according to new research from the International Food Information Council Foundation's annual Food and Health Survey of more than 1,000 Americans aged 18 to 80. This year's findings showed that people are making bad decisions with the information they're hearing. For example, while 96 percent of those surveyed seek health benefits from the foods they consume, only 45 percent of people could identify a single food or nutrient that could lead to those benefits. (Only 12 percent could say that foods containing omega-3 fatty acids could improve heart health, for example.) There is an opportunity here for restaurants that clearly state the nutritional benefits of foods on the menu. Nearly six in 10 survey respondents said they use nutrition information to decide what to eat when they're away from home.
Look for links
At the recent TechTable Summit in New York, business leaders and tech creatives came together to talk about the future of restaurant technology. One key theme of the discussion, according to Skift Table, was the influence of data and integration on the future of restaurant service. Brands that are smart about hospitality, panelists said, will link systems to enhance the customer experience. That could mean linking complementary systems like online reservations and car services, or removing the middleman so a guest could simply use a smartphone to connect with his bank to pay his dinner bill instead of paying via a POS. It could mean using technology to link your kitchen and servers to ensure you take special precautions with a guest with food allergies. Can you predict (and provide) the links that streamline the process of dining out?
Do you have a first-rate response team?
From weather to crime to pathogens, there is no shortage of challenges you might face as a restaurant operator. How would your team function in case of a crisis? Do you have a plan for if there were a robbery, a flood, a choking customer, or a shooting on your premises, for example? Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions recommends you form a crisis management team and document roles and responsibilities. Your team should include an attorney, business leaders, food safety team, crisis management consultant and others. Get to know your local health department and understand how it operates. Are you among the 20 states with FDA-funded emergency response teams? Your plan should account for that. Train your staff on food safety and other safety protocols and take their feedback into account to ensure you’re not missing important steps. During and after a crisis, create honest, transparent, apologetic messaging that includes a clear description of the problem and your plan to address it. Stick to professional, positive messages when communicating about the crisis and thanking first responders via traditional media or social media – and monitor social media networks for negative or erroneous feedback so you’re aware of how your message is being received. Soon after you resolve any crisis, review it with your crisis management team and others involved to ensure you identify where things went wrong – whether it be with vendors, your food safety plan, communication, evacuation or other aspects of the timeline – and retrain your team on any changes needed.
Has your restaurant struggled with EMV compliance standards in recent years? If so, you’re not alone. Upserve says 66 percent of businesses have found it challenging to become EMV compliant, and that misinformation about EMV, along with concerns about abandoning traditional payment methods, have made some operators hesitate to make the leap (even though the technology isn’t going away anytime soon). For those operators, Hospitality Tech recently addressed three common concerns about EMV. First, switching to EMV chip card technology does not mean you can no longer accept traditional cards. The card-reading terminals will just default to reading the chip if the card has it. Second, there are liability risks to not becoming EMV compliant. Before EMV, credit card issuers were liable for fraudulent chargebacks from customers. Now, if a card with an EMV chip is swiped and a fraudulent chargeback is claimed, the restaurant is liable for chargebacks exceeding $25 (unless you have an EMV reader). EMV could therefore be a cost-effective solution for you if your average check size exceeds $25 and you’d like to avoid the hassle of having to manage chargebacks and liability. Third, the transition to EMV includes costs for hardware, software and payment processing, but those costs will vary widely depending on whether you have an in-house or cloud-based POS. Many operators have shifted to a cloud-based POS as part of the EMV transition because their virtual POS likely includes embedded EMV at a lower cost, requires no support fees and downloads software updates automatically.
Chefs are challenging the definition of the word “burger” right now – and the results appeal to the junk-food junkie and health-conscious foodie alike. Restaurant Hospitality reports that chefs are incorporating different beef and pork products to change the flavor profile of burgers. Take the breakfast burger at Staks Pancake Kitchen in Memphis, Tenn., which combines beef and breakfast sausage, then tops it with bacon, hash browns, a fried egg and Sriracha mayonnaise. Slater’s 50/50 in southern California makes its burgers with half beef and half bacon, while others are experimenting with andouille sausage, pork belly and corned beef. On the healthier side, chefs are tweaking the nutritional profile of burgers and making environmentally conscious choices. The Los Angeles chain LocoL combines ground beef with tofu, barley, quinoa and seaweed for a nutritionally balanced patty, then tops it with Monterey Jack cheese, lime and burnt scallion relish, and a tomato gochujang sauce. Finally, mushrooms are popular additions to patties, helping a burger retain its moisture and texture without using as much beef, so the result is cost-effective and better for the environment too.
Snapchat’s new feature links restaurants and guests
Snapchat just launched a feature called Context Cards that could help restaurants turn snaps into reservations. FSR reports that when people post about a restaurant, their Snapchat friends and followers can now simply swipe to read Tripadvisor reviews of that restaurant, make a reservation via OpenTable and even request an Uber or Lyft to bring them to the location. Of course, because Context Cards are bringing restaurants’ online profiles to the fore, it’s all the more important for those restaurants to monitor their reviews, enable online reservations and provide other functionality that will present a polished image to the public.
Social media’s multiplier effect
If social media is a key party of your marketing plan, you know it can help you build your brand, connect with customers and share content – all for a low cost. But have you tapped into social media’s “multiplier effect”? According to research from the CMO Survey in a Marketing News report, more than 25 percent of business marketers are making social media investments in areas traditionally reserved for the human resources department, like employee engagement and talent acquisition. Tapping into those areas on social media can help you build a culture that retains talent, enhances productivity and attracts business. Take Best Buy, which aggregates tweets, feeds, and blogs from across the company’s digital communities and posts them in a centralized location where employees can learn from each another to solve customer problems. A campaign by Reebok encourages employees to post on social media about how they live the company’s brand in their work and play. L’Oreal launched #LorealCommunity to give employees a forum to share their successes with one another (both inside and outside of work) via Instagram. The positive impact spills over the organization to everyone’s benefit.
Take charge of food temperature
Two of the top five risk factors for foodborne illness relate to temperature control, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Monitoring temperature closely is one sure-fire way to minimize your risk of spreading foodborne illness. A report by the American Culinary Foundation says when foods need to be refrigerated in order to be kept safe, hold them at a temperature of 41˚F or below – and ensure that happens even during busy periods when the cooler door is opened frequently. When these foods must be hot to be safe, they have to be held at a temperature of 135˚F or above. Limit the time food spends in the “danger zone” (between 41˚F and 135˚F). A cooling food’s temperature must be reduced from 135˚F to 70˚F within two hours, then from 70˚F to 41˚F within four additional hours. Reheated food must be reheated quickly – to 165˚F within two hours – before being placed in a hot holding unit.
Multi-point restaurant feedback
So what is it really like to eat at your restaurant? Online reviews provide one set of opinions but monitoring your operation from other perspectives can help you accurately read what’s going well and what needs improvement. In a report for Restaurant Hospitality, Justin Cohen of Riot Hospitality recommends you dine in your own restaurant. Seeing your operation from a guest’s perspective can help you better observe everything from wobbly tables to servers’ menu knowledge. Along the same lines, hiring secret shoppers can help you see how your operation functions when you are not around. Perhaps one employee is lax about food safety – or another goes out of her way to make sure your restrooms are clean. Finally, talk to your servers, bartenders and guests. Your servers and bartenders hear what guests really think about your restaurant and see which items guests regularly send back to the kitchen. Your guests can tell you how to fix problems or simply how to make a good experience a great one.
Is your head in the cloud?
At the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in California, Union Square Hospitality Group exec Maureen Cushing said in the not-so-distant future, the traditional POS would be obsolete, with personal devices replacing the legacy systems. If you’re committed to your desktop system, it’s understandable, considering the size of your initial investment and the time you have spent adapting your system to your restaurant’s needs. However, it’s important to understand its true costs: In the coming years, you will likely be paying more for less sophisticated technology. Restaurant Insider says costs for hardware, maintenance and tech support – along with the time required to create and manipulate reports – can quickly demonstrate that your legacy system is not giving you an adequate return on your investment. In fact, a study from Nucleus Research found that cloud-based systems can deliver 2.1 times the return on investment of desktop systems. If you’re considering making the switch to a cloud-based system, Restaurant Insider suggests you consider these benefits: Your up-front costs are kept to a minimum because there is no physical server hardware on your premises. Your monthly subscription fees will likely be lower, as they are spread across other subscribers. The systems are easily scalable as your business changes, and you can upgrade your plan quickly, without down time or additional tech support charges. Many systems can help you maintain your existing rewards program and promotions. Encrypted online storage will also provide added security and you won’t have to worry about hardware or software failure – or that your system will lose your data or fail to back it up. In a time when data breaches are reported in the news every week, some added security could give your guests some peace of mind too.
New research clarifies millennials’ food and beverage preferences
Millennials are a business marketer’s dream, and for good reason: They comprise one-quarter of the population, represent $10 trillion in lifetime buying power and freely share their views and buying habits on social media, so businesses can readily collect data on them and adapt easily, according to new data from CBD Marketing. A substantial new study from the firm researched more than 12.5 million social media posts from millennials. In the process, it solidified some important insights about the demographic. While the media often presents millennials as always on the go, these consumers don’t take shortcuts with food and beverage: They want fresh, healthy options that are not branded “diet” or “fat-free. When they cook, they use fresh ingredients from local sources. (While they appreciate convenience, they achieve it by purchasing food via delivery or other user-friendly distribution methods – not by cutting corners with ingredients.) Restaurants can support these guests by offering more sparkling water, kombucha, plant-based milks and other natural options on the beverage menu, and by making it easy for them to access healthy, fresh food that’s either pre-packaged for pick-up or available by delivery. Millennials’ appreciation for keeping things natural extends to your packaging too – ensure you use materials that are recyclable or use renewable resources, and spell that out on any to-go containers that leave your business.
OpenTable helps restaurants open up about allergies
Restaurants are gaining allies in their efforts to accommodate guests with food allergies. OpenTable recently launched a “Guest Share” feature that allows for the sharing of guest preferences – including food intolerances and sensitivities – across restaurant groups with multiple locations, Food & Wine reports. OpenTable had previously offered a similar feature for individual restaurants only. Sharing information across locations could help restaurant groups avoid the liability and bad publicity that may result from a guest’s allergic reaction. What’s more, restaurants are also using the data they collect to enhance their loyalty programs.
Show your celiac awareness
Celiac Disease affects approximately 3 million Americans, or 1 percent of the population, and many more Americans are eating gluten-free foods despite not having celiac disease. (Forbes reports that the number of Americans eating a gluten-free diet has tripled since 2009.) If you’d like to ensure your kitchen is safe for celiacs, the Gluten Intolerance Group and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness are two organizations that offer certification programs that can help you build trust with your gluten-sensitive guests. Once you know how to keep these guests safe, you have more freedom to get creative about accommodating their tastes. The executive chef of Posana Café, a Gluten Intolerance Group-certified farm-to-table restaurant in Asheville, N.C. that offers a 100 percent gluten-free menu, has said that his restaurant has is practically “a fantastyland for people with celiac disease” as a result of the accreditation process.
Preparing for a robotic future?
Robots are taking on a growing number of food preparation tasks, including preparing pizzas, flipping burgers, assembling salads and dispensing cappuccinos, according to recent reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and Silicon Valley is buzzing with investment and talk of potential effects to the labor force. Zume Pizza, Miso Robotics and Chowbotics are just three startups trying to transform how restaurants prepare food. In the process, they are taking aim at challenges that can drag restaurants down, like foodborne illness and inconsistencies in food preparation. Costs are currently keeping robots at bay in the kitchen – and it will likely take years for restaurants to adapt. Still, automation of kitchen tasks is becoming more prevalent. Execs in two restaurant technology companies suggest restaurants create programs that will retrain workers on new tasks, give them exposure to areas requiring a human touch (like customer service or delivery logistics) or create other safety nets as the nature of kitchen work begins to shift.
Tune up your business knowhow with Twitter chats
Looking to build your online community and gain some business insights in the process? Consider joining – or starting – some Twitter chats. They’re like a roundtable discussion or networking event, but conducted completely online. They’re helpful forums for people to share articles or tools of use to others in your business. Since the chats are public, they can help you get increased visibility for your brand and pick up some new followers too. Once you have a strong following, you can also start your own chats and use them to engage with your customers, answer questions or enhance your customer service.
Pre-ordering goes upscale
The convenience of pre-ordering technology and other restaurant tech is most often associated with quick-service or fast-casual brands. Upscale restaurants have been slower to adopt the change, but they may be missing an opportunity to connect with guests – and even those that don’t offer delivery can benefit. Modern Restaurant Management suggests upscale restaurants use order-ahead technology to create a stress-free customer experience that also builds excitement. For customers with pre-booked tables, an upscale restaurant can send a link to a secret website with a special menu available on that date, along with background about the food and those preparing it. They can use that initial contact to collect food preferences from guests, or even favorite food memories that can help them enhance the experiences they provide onsite. Finally, providing the option of pre-payment days in advance of the meal can help your guests focus on the food and ambience – not the bill that arrived at the end of the night.
The best point-of-sale system for you is 26 questions away
There’s always going to be a new tech device that promises to make your business hum. But those devices are only as good as the control center operating them. Think of your restaurant’s point-of-sale system as your restaurant’s brain: As Upserve notes in a recent report, your POS routes your orders, helps you transition a guest from your bar to your dining room, secures their payment and provides you with operational data that can help you understand your customers and your business. So if your POS is not serving you well, any bells and whistles you add to it will naturally run into snags. Upserve’s Restaurant Insider blog recently featured a questionnaire to help you ensure you know how the POS options available on the market can help you meet your current and future needs. It asks questions about the size and scope of your restaurant, how important order accuracy is to your operation, whether you need to access your settings and data remotely, how interested you are in providing flexible payment options to your guests, how familiar your team is with consumer electronics that have applications in restaurants, and how you currently communicate with your team. If you are in the market for a new system or want to make sure your current one delivers for you, answer the 26 questions and you’ll get a personalized recommendation delivered to your email box.
Ready to grow?
Are you looking to grow this year, whether that means increasing your sales or expanding your number of locations? Before you think about tactics, take a step back. Richard Kleiner, the CEO of the accounting firm Gerald Edelman and an adviser to many clients in the restaurant industry, suggests a four-step structure based on the Ansoff matrix for thinking about growth. One, sell more of the same product to the same people. Two, sell new products or services to your existing customers. Three, take your current products and services into new markets. Four, create new products and services for new markets. Jumping to step three or four before mastering step one will generate more risk as you grow. So what steps can you take to help you progress through each stage? In a recent Fast Casual report, restaurant veteran Bobby Shaw shared some smart-growth ideas that can apply to restaurants across categories. He suggests you get back to basics and don’t try to be everything to everyone. Optimizing your menu will help you serve what actually sells, make the best use of your inventory, minimize waste and save money. Consider how you can use technology to improve the experience of your guests. Would your loyal customers order more often – or could you attract new ones – if you offered mobile ordering? Or kiosks or tabletop tablets in your dining room? Can your point-of-sale system accommodate those advances? Finding ways to integrate technology to streamline both guest-facing and behind-the-scenes processes can help you increase sales without opening additional locations. Finally, develop a high-performance environment where you only hire and retain your best performers – and then empower them to improve and expand your operation. Offer growth opportunities for the people on your team and those people will develop the next generation of leaders.
The gloves are off
Even pros need a reminder sometimes: Gloves aren’t designed to help you take shortcuts when it comes to food safety. Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, says over the years, she has observed many professionally trained kitchen staff wear multiple pairs of single-use gloves instead of taking the time to wash their hands. In a report for the American Culinary Foundation, Shaw said these gloves are only effective when used one pair at a time and with proper handwashing when they’re changed. She said she has seen restaurant employees wear and not change their single-use gloves when opening cooler doors, checking cellphones, touching their hair or face, handling money or touching menus, doorknobs or even garbage bags, creating a plethora of opportunities for cross-contamination. Every year, 19 million people contract food poisoning because of improper hand washing. Your policies for single-use gloves and handwashing can help you build a culture that limits the spread of illness.
Build a food safety program that survives turnover
In an industry with turnover that has topped 70 percent for the second consecutive year, restaurants need policies to maintain culture regardless of who is on the payroll. A busy shift with new employees can make it tempting to take shortcuts with food safety. A recent report on the blog We are Chefs suggests your food safety program educates employees about not only what to do but why various practices are important. For instance, when training your team to store raw protein on the lower shelves of your cooler, explain what can happen if they don’t follow that procedure. When you develop your food safety program, assess the effectiveness of your current program. How will your safety education be delivered to various levels of your operation so you boost institutional memory? What certification makes the most sense for your business and who should be certified? Who would be most effective at delivering your training? How will you ensure your team is trained on a regular, ongoing basis? As new employees come on board, they should observe that food safety is critical to your business – and that they’re responsible for upholding it.
Bringing restaurants back to the center of food culture
A recent article in The Atlantic pointed out that while food culture seems to be at the height of popularity, restaurants are hardly flying high (NPD Group predicts flat growth of 2 percent this year). People are spending more on food but the multitude of food choice makes the landscape more competitive for restaurants. Where consumers once looked to restaurants for prepared meals, they are frequenting grocery and convenience stores that offer a growing variety of ready-to-eat foods. Food Republic says the restaurants that are succeeding are adapting to this new kind of consumer. For some operators, that means making takeout easy or offering premium delivery items or all-day breakfast. For others, it means building a strong social media following. Your data can help you uncover your best path. Dining industry consultant Damian Mogavero has made a career out of studying restaurant analytics – check out his book, The Underground Culinary Tour, to understand how you can get the most from the data you collect.
Make more room for organics on the menu
A new Nielsen study found that 88 percent of U.S. households purchased organic food and beverages last year, with grocery stores, mass merchandisers and discount grocers accounting for a combined 25 percent of organic sales, Food Dive reports. Overall, organic product sales increased by 9.8 percent and volume grew by 11.4 percent. Those numbers – along with consumer demand – are likely only going up. A recent survey from the Organic Trade Association found that millennials are already significant buyers of organic products and will be more likely to purchase organic foods when they become parents. While price has long been a deterrent to buying organic, private-label brands are changing that, bringing prices down by 18 percent. As organics become increasingly accessible, look for consumers to demand them on restaurant menus as well.
Faster, better, cheaper produce through technology
Could your freshest, best-tasting, least expensive produce soon come from the likes of Wal-Mart or Amazon? Those behind an agriculture tech startup called Plenty think the company could change the face of farm-to-table food. Bloomberg reports that the company is building massive indoor farms on the outskirts of 500 cities worldwide, which could make it possible to get foods from farm to table in hours instead of days or weeks. While indoor farms have been hyped for some time, some deep-pocketed experts are betting big on Plenty: SoftBank invested $200 million in the venture, the largest agriculture technology investment in history, and Bezos Expeditions, the venture fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is another investor. Anthony Secviar, a former sous-chef at French Laundry, liked the company’s produce so much that he joined its culinary council and is basing his next restaurant’s menu on Plenty’s heirloom vegetables.
Three steps to transparency
The costs of a foodborne illness outbreak are steep. The National Restaurant Association says an affected operation may have to manage declining sales and staff morale, negative media exposure, lawsuits and legal fees, climbing insurance premiums, more frequent staff absences and increased spending on retraining. If you build trust with consumers long before you face a foodborne illness outbreak or other crisis, you’re much more likely to overcome those challenges and rebuild. According to Food Safety News, recent research from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that the way to earn trust is through transparency – and there are three ways to do it. First, open the doors to your safety practices: Use video, blogs, advertising and promotion to demonstrate how your food is produced, where it comes from and how it impacts their health. Second, ensure your guests feel they can engage with you about your food. Do you provide clear answers to their questions and respond to other feedback promptly? CFI’s research found that 40 percent of the consumers surveyed agree they have access to all of the information they want about the source, production and safety of the food they consume. That’s up from 28 percent in 2007, when the last such surveyed was conducted, so consumers are feeling increasingly empowered to demand transparency from the foodservice businesses they support. Finally, if applicable to your operation, show third-party certification or audit results as a seal of approval demonstrating your credibility and integrity.
The complications of third-party delivery
Do you offer third-party delivery? The demand for it – and operators’ rush to accommodate it – has resulted in some growing pains, according to a report from The Kitchen. Operators working with multiple third-party delivery services can quickly start to resemble command centers where restaurant staff must monitor multiple tablets to manage orders. (Even large brands can struggle to keep up: At a recent franchisee convention of a brand with more than 500 locations, the COO suggested operators dedicate an employee to simply “watch the tablets” and manually key orders into the point-of-sale system.) There is also plenty of room for error when restaurants update menus and those changes aren’t reflected on the websites of the delivery services. It wasn’t long ago that delivery was tech-free, so when you’re making the transition to tech-driven delivery, make sure your in-house technology is sophisticated enough to accommodate multiple new streams of orders from these services. If they require additional labor and manual order handling, the added costs (and potential for errors) can add up quickly. And the end consumer is more likely to hold you accountable for problems than the person who delivers their meal: A Technomic study found that 76 percent of customers hold the restaurant partially responsible for errors, even if restaurants have formal agreements with third-party delivery companies, and even though the consumer never communicates directly with the restaurant itself during their transaction.
Kitchen tech for improved food safety
How connected is your kitchen? Food Safety Magazine says technology has made it possible for foodservice professionals to improve safety processes in three critical ways. See how your operation stacks up: Do you have technology that monitors your systems around the clock? Employees can be around to monitor equipment for only so many hours in a day, but technology that monitors your refrigerator, for example, can send an alert if the system malfunctions in the middle of the night and threatens the safety of the food inside. Are you using technology to gain insight into your processes and data? If your data indicates there are temperature fluctuations in your walk-in cooler occurring at a certain time each day, for example, you might discover that the cooler is left open during food deliveries and could be causing a food safety risk. Finally, technology can automate manual, tactical tasks such as recording over temperatures at set points throughout a shift, so you’re free to think more strategically about your food safety plan.
Help your team talk about food safety risk
The disclaimer is nearly ubiquitous on restaurant menus: Consuming undercooked meats may increase risk of foodborne illness. But does your team follow through with that message when interacting with guests? Many front-line employees don’t, according to Ben Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University and co-author of a recent study about food safety. The study sent trained “secret shoppers” to 265 full-service restaurants around the U.S., where they ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. They then noted how well, if at all, the employees communicated about the risk of eating the medium-rare hamburger. The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t serve the medium-rare burger but among those that did, 77 percent of servers provided unreliable food safety information, such as noting the color of the burger instead of its cooking time and final temperature.
New preparation methods require enhanced safety practices
Consumers are demanding foods, flavors and dining experiences from around the globe. When experimenting with foods and preparation methods that may be outside of your kitchen’s comfort zone, take extra precautions with food safety. Sous vide preparations, for one, can result in food that remains raw or undercooked. Food Quality News also reported recently that a salmonella outbreak in Canada suggested the cooking method for chicken shawarma may cause food safety risks. When the marinated meat is roasted on the spit in front of the grill, raw portions of the meat may come into contact with cooked portions. Particularly if the restaurant is busy, the food may be partially undercooked.
Airbnb lets consumers reserve restaurant tables
If your restaurant operates in an area popular with tourists or prides itself on providing guests with a chance to experience your region through food, you may now be able to tap into Airbnb to boost your business. Airbnb, which invested in the restaurant software company Resy, is now enabling consumers to book restaurant tables on the company’s mobile app and website, according to Skift. Initially, the reservations will encompass 650 restaurants in 16 U.S. markets, or about 65 percent of the restaurants currently using Resy. According to a recent Nielsen consumer survey of 2,083 U.S. adults on behalf of Airbnb, 66 percent of travelers make restaurant reservations when they’re away from home, and 39 percent would prefer to make those reservations online when they travel.
Cashless and carrying on
It’s been nearly two years since the salad-focused Sweetgreen restaurants began experimenting with cashless payments – and it doesn’t sound like that’s changing anytime soon. The brand went cashless in an effort to improve employee safety, reduce line length and eliminate the health concerns involved in handling cash – all while driving consumers (and their data) onto Sweetgreen’s mobile payment app, according to Recode. Cash-carrying customers are left out. The brand’s co-CEO Jonathan Neman took to the stage at Code Commerce recently and said Sweetgreen is looking for ways to help customers turn cash into digital payments, since not everyone is able to pay with a credit card or smartphone. But he didn’t announce any solution to it. That may imply the cashless experiment is working -- at least in the restaurant’s 75 locations in California and the Northeast – and other operators might give it a shot.
Reinvent your menu
You can’t be everything to everyone – it’s why Chili’s just announced it is shrinking its menu by 40 percent after trying unsuccessfully to follow food trends and serve too broad a range of customer, resulting in a “fuzzy food reputation.” When is the last time you fine-tuned your menu? The restaurant coach Donald Burns says there are a few important reasons why you should always be updating your offerings. For one, your guests’ tastes are changing, so you should be aware of what’s on trend and in demand. (With that in mind, of course, you should incorporate trends in a way that extends your brand in a positive way and doesn’t dilute it.) Second, food prices are always in flux. While avocados from Mexico have skyrocketed in price recently, eggs have fallen in value. When you are paying a premium for an item – and when you’re getting a good deal on another – reflect those prices on your menu. Customers will notice your transparency. Finally, staffing is a big challenge for restaurants – it’s the biggest challenge of the year according to Toast’s 2017 Restaurant Success Report. If you evaluate your menu, you will be able to make improvements to your staffing plan. You may discover there are stations in your kitchen that are overstretched and could be giving you food quality issues. Or perhaps you could be cross-utilizing ingredients in a number of dishes (and requiring fewer staff to prepare them). Maybe you need fewer, more highly skilled cooks, or perhaps your current team simply needs some better tools. Taking a fresh look at your menu can have a positive ripple effect across your operation.
Turn allergy sufferers into loyal guests
Allergies and food sensitivities are more the norm than the exception these days – and that is expected to become even more pronounced in the future. The gluten-free market, for example, is expected to grow to $7.59 billion by 2020, up from $3.81 billion in 2013, according to Statista. If you can accommodate a range of dietary requirements in the years ahead, you’re sure to build loyalty (and more business, since people with food intolerances typically have the most say in where their group dines). In an interview with Eater, the Boston restaurateur Ming Tsai said, “You will never get a more loyal client than someone that has a food allergy, comes to your establishment and feels welcome.” To serve this market well, the foodservice technology company Nextep Systems recommends you re-engineer your menu so it doesn’t feel restrictive to those with food intolerances. Having a series of menus – whether in paper or kiosk form – that cater to certain requirements will ensure your guests can scan your menu and see options instead of limitations. Transparency about nutrition and ingredients is important too. Make sure you can provide dietary information about your menu – and the shorter and more pronounceable you make your list of ingredients, the better. Finally, approach food sensitivities in a positive way. If your staff welcomes (and can readily answer) questions about how you cook your food and what ingredients you use, you can connect with your guests, build trust and keep them coming back.
Repurposing food? Be mindful of food safety.
Repurposing food waste can be good for business on several levels – so good that some operators are starting to open restaurant concepts around food that has been discarded by farms and wholesalers. If you repurpose food, make sure you take extra precautions with handling and sourcing, in particular. Restaurant Business suggests that to avoid a food safety problem, focus on using wholesome food that has cosmetic damage (versus food that is past its prime). Make sure the food was handled properly before you received it – i.e. it came from a farm, wholesaler or other approved vendor and was not handled by consumers. Use strict food safety practices when receiving and storing the food, in particular, as items coming in as surplus may need to be used right away. Finally, check with your attorney and health department to ensure you’re protecting your customers and your business.
Step up your curbside pick-up
For many restaurants, offering curbside pick-up is a win-win: Operators gain sales without having to add seating, while customers can pick up their food without leaving their car. If you’re considering offering curbside pick-up, the National Restaurant Association suggests you fine-tune your service plan. For one, ensure your curbside pick-up customers have designated parking near your entrance (or in a location where your staff can observe their arrival). Plan staffing carefully so neither your in-house guests nor your curbside customers are left waiting for service. Those handling curbside service should know the make and model of the car arriving for the order and have correct change or a wireless credit card terminal/mobile payment app when they deliver it. Finally, use packaging that will advertise your restaurant and keep foods at the right temperature until they reach the customer’s destination.
Be social media savvy in 2018
Now is a perfect time to develop a strong social media strategy for 2018 – and it’s an ideal way to capture guests’ interest: a MarketingSherpa report found that 95 percent of online adults aged 18 to 34 (and the vast majority of people in older demographics) are likely to follow a brand on social media. Inc. just announced a number of emerging trends to keep in mind if you want to use social media to your best advantage in the New Year. Strong social analytics are making it possible to deliver personalized content. Harness your data to ensure that what you post is relevant to your audience. Many platforms are offering similar features – Snapchat and Instagram both offer timed video, for example, so assess site analytics and reporting features to ensure you’re investing in the platforms appropriate for you. To help you track your performance, note what kind of content your competitors are developing and sharing, as well as what people are saying about it. Mobile optimization is a must. Finally, consider using a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to interact with your audience quickly in a way that feels personal to them.
New products target restaurant hygiene problem spots
What are your top hygiene concerns at your restaurant? If you’re in the market for a few products that can help you eliminate them, Restaurant Hospitality recently pointed out several new ones on the market that might help: If you’re battling flies in your kitchen or elsewhere, the Stealth LED Fly Light from Ecolab uses an LED light to trap flies and can be used in both front- and back-of-house locations. It eliminates the need for fluorescent bulbs and reduces energy consumption too. If sanitized, spotless glassware is your concern, Meiko’s M-iClean with GiO Module does the job in a compact, energy-efficient washer that fits under a counter. Finally, ice machines can pose a range of food safety challenges for restaurants but BioZone’s IceZone santitation system promises to eliminate mold, yeast and bacteria, as well as reduce cleaning time and extend the life of your ice machine.
Make way for pumpkin’s rival
The cooler temperatures of the season mean that everyone has pumpkin fever. But there’s another, less ubiquitous flavor that is vying for the top spot this season. According to Technomic, sales of maple-flavored products have increased 86 percent in non-alcoholic beverages and 14.6 percent in alcoholic beverages this year. Beyond coffee and cocktails, maple is at home on your food menu too.
Food For Thought And Profit brings you the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are part of 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.