As menus and food preparation methods evolve, food safety standards may slip. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Douglas Davis, senior director of global food safety for Marriott International, told attendees at the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium that his team places requests for new foods or techniques into one of three buckets. The first is for risky practices with third-party vendors, the second is for vendors and foods they have worked with before or which have a known risk exposure, and the third is for foods and techniques they haven’t encountered
before. Items in the first bucket go through a business case analysis with the company’s risk management partners. They gather information from Marriott’s hotels about each step of their preparation process to determine if any part of it needs to change. Items in the second bucket are addressed using the company’s existing safety standards, while the methods in the third bucket are assessed by a consultant or microbiologist to ensure safety.
If your restaurant considers how allergic guests avoid exposure to allergens, you may be able to better protect their safety. According to a recent study that surveyed people with allergies who successfully dine out without experiencing reactions, respondents use an average of 15 different strategies to avoid triggering an allergy in restaurants. The study, reported at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s annual conference in November, found that the top five strategies used are speaking to a server upon arrival, ordering food with simple ingredients, double-checking food before eating it, avoiding restaurants with a higher likelihood of cross-contamination and checking meal ingredients on the restaurant’s website. Make sure your team and your website are up to the task.
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are starting to look a lot different. As downloads of food delivery apps have skyrocketed (they’re up 380 percent from just three years ago, according to the data firm App Annie), restaurants are scaling back on their physical footprint. Skift Table reports that Dan Orkin, head of the U.S. restaurant division of CBRE, said many operators are adjusting to having fewer visitors and more delivery business by renegotiating leases and renovations. Many brands are looking to create separate entrances for delivery workers and pick-ups, scaling down their dining areas, or eliminating tables and chairs altogether for a kitchen-only space.
Take care with allergens
If you offer food for take-out and delivery, or as convenience items purchased from a kiosk, make sure you are as clear about your ingredients as you would be if you were listing them on the menu in your dining room. Pret A Manger has just begun labeling its foods with allergen information following the 2016 death of a 15-year-old customer with a sesame seed allergy. The customer saw no allergen information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, or on the display where the sandwich was sold, and she consumed the sandwich without realizing it contained sesame seeds. Researchers from Food Allergy Research & Education estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one of every 13 children under the age of 18.
America’s most food-focused holiday is coming up. Are you ready? On Thanksgiving weekend, your restaurant has an opportunity to give consumers a break from cooking, shopping or both. Upserve suggests creating a Thanksgiving-day menu for eat-in or take-away. Have an Instagram contest that challenges guests to share what they are thankful for. Poll your most loyal customers on social media about their favorite charities and donate to the winning cause. And since Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, make sure you’re ready with gift cards for guests looking for ideas, as well as a selection of meal or snack specials that can entice consumers looking for a break from the crowds. Make sure your inventory and staffing plan are ready to handle extra foot traffic too.
Harness your POS system’s power of customization
Consumers prefer customization, and your POS system can help you deliver it. For example, does your system make it easy for you to add and subtract extra items like avocado or shrimp on a salad or bacon or extra cheese on a burger? Cake suggests that clearly listing such potential upgrades on your menu — upgrades that some consumers may not have even realized they wanted — are an easy way to help you give your checks a boost.
Be allergy aware when labeling
To embrace consumers’ interest in dining whenever and wherever they wish, you may package certain menu items for sale to customers looking for convenient take-away foods. Just make sure that your labels use clear language, bold lettering or even stickers that stand out on the packaging to identify major allergens. Use the common name of the allergen on any packaging to avoid miscommunication. As research from the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program notes, be aware that certain spices, flavors and colors might not have a purpose in the prepared food item (and could inadvertently be omitted on a label) but could still cause reactions in consumers with pronounced food sensitivities.
Tech for better bookings
Technology that enables restaurants to take bookings — and encourages guests to show up for them — is taking off across the industry. If you struggle with no-show guests but think taking credit card information from them would discourage bookings, vendors are offering other options. The blog Big Hospitality reports that the reservations platform Quandoo uses pre-validation technology that asks for a credit card from a consumer making a reservation, but it encourages its restaurant partners to use a carrot vs. stick approach: For example, guests who pre-book a table with a credit card can pre-order their favorite drinks at a reduced rate and have them presented when they arrive at their table. The method increases check sizes, while decreasing the likelihood of no shows.
Make your menu work
Try an expanded color-coding system
You may already use color-coded utensils and equipment when managing the specific food sensitivities of guests. A report in Food Safety Tech also recommends color coding as a strategy to protect the overall food safety of an operation. The chef who authored the report said he uses a system that uses seven colors to identify various preparation tools and food storage containers throughout his kitchen. He suggests removing ingredients from their original boxes and storing them in their assigned color-coded, airtight containers to help avoid cross-contamination — and ensuring there are ample pieces of each color in order to avoid having to swap colors for different uses. His verdict: the system is simple for staff to use and saves time, making it easier for his operation to comply with food safety standards
Are you allergy ready?
When a guest with an allergy dines with you, how well does your team — from your waitstaff to your line cooks — know how to respond? If your cooks aren’t fully up-to-date on what items on your menu contain traces of gluten, for example, your waitstaff can’t adequately protect a guest with celiac disease from an allergic reaction. Statefoodsafety.com suggests developing a separate menu to offer guests with sensitivities so they don’t have to scan the regular menu and weed out all of the items they can’t have. Also make sure you have a reliable system in place for waitstaff and cooks to communicate about allergies — using codes that refer to different sensitivities can help make sure important messages aren’t lost in translation.
Preserve your reputation on online review sites
Gone are the days when a guest’s harrowing experience at a restaurant — or even a mildly disappointing one — stayed within the establishment. As online reviews have made it easy for guests to share every detail of their meal, negative (and highly public) feedback has become one more thing for restaurant operators to manage. Upserve suggests you bear some tips in mind when responding to guest reviews online: Apologize and offer a solution if one is needed, and if possible, clarify policies you have in place without getting defensive. Provide your phone number or email address and encourage the guest to contact you to resolve the problem to her satisfaction, whether with a discount, reimbursement or other offer — it may even result in the guest adjusting her review. In your quest for glowing feedback, however, don’t pay for an online reputation management service to scrub your negative reviews. A restaurant with a sea of five-star reviews comes across as less credible than one that has mostly great reviews, with a handful of mediocre ones in the mix.
Prevent cross-contamination from allergens
Even food establishments who respond carefully when guests alert them to allergies can face trouble when trace amounts of allergens find their way into foods. Allergens are a key focus for the Food Safety and Modernization Act and are the leading cause of food recalls, according to a report in Food Safety magazine. The report notes that between 2005 and 2014, 12 million lbs. of food product was recalled due to undeclared allergens, many of which were present because of cross-contact.
Manufacturers and suppliers are in the hot seat when it comes to protecting consumers from allergens, but everyone in the supply chain needs to have controls in place. To protect your facility, Food Safety magazine recommends isolating tools used with allergens or color-coding them, which can help in case of language barriers on your kitchen team and can also make it readily evident when an item is misplaced. Designate specific cleaning equipment, tools and rags for use only on certain equipment or at certain times. Understand the proper protocols for ensuring that the residue of common allergens is thoroughly cleaned from hands and equipment. (For example, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a study found that running water and soap or commercial wipes can clean peanuts from a person’s hands but antibacterial gels alone will not work. Further, common household spray cleaners and sanitizing wipes could clean peanut residue from surfaces but dishwashing liquid alone could not do it.)
Finally, store allergens in clean, airtight containers away from other foods. If you don’t have sufficient room in your facility for segregated storage, ensure that any foods containing allergens are not stored above non-allergens. Use internationally recognized allergen stickers or color-coding to set these containers apart.
Improving food safety through the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things – the evolving ability of everyday objects to connect to the Internet and communicate with each other – is rapidly showing new applications in the food industry when it comes to ensuring food quality and safety, Hospitality Technology reports. Kitchen equipment fitted with sensors already helps operators ensure food is stored and cooked at the proper temperature. From there, the Internet of Things can help operators make greater use of sensor data by showing them how to optimize their energy use and reduce unplanned downtime in the kitchen.
The benefits are even greater when it comes to the broader supply chain. Hospitality Technology reports that an RFID tag on a case of food could connect to temperature sensors on a truck to ensure the package has been kept at the appropriate temperature throughout its journey, for example. A restaurant could tie its inventory back to records from the distributor to get a complete picture of a product’s life cycle. Further, when recalls interrupt day-to-day operations, operators can receive USDA alerts and advisories so they can quickly identify the origins of contamination and pull products from shelves without delay.
Within foodservice establishments, the Internet of Things can help ensure kitchen staff follow proper protocols for cooking, food storage and handwashing. Via a digital dashboard, operators can see where training is needed or where procedures are falling short. Most operators have not yet taken advantage of these benefits, but as the supply chain grows in complexity, look for the Internet of Things to help you manage food safety from both a prevention and traceability standpoint.
Big-time tech for small restaurants
If you’re a small operation, bringing the latest technology into your restaurant may seem out of reach. But now the company behind Subway’s mobile ordering platform is making that functionality possible for smaller restaurants, Fast Company reports. Avanti Commerce is now able to have a restaurant of any size use its platform, along with the majority of enterprise features and functions it offers, for $125 a month. The restaurant can be in any location and have any amount of traffic. The one caveat is that it must have five locations or more. Assuming the launch with small restaurants goes well, Avanti’s CEO hopes to expand the platform to food trucks as well.
Fresh seafood, from ship to shore
Is your seafood really fresh? A new handheld screening and data collection device developed by Seafood Analytics can say for sure. Food Safety Tech reports that the device uses electrical currents to determine the quality of seafood products at the cellular level. It can measure how much the cells of a fish change between catch and freezing or catch and consumption, for example. Having that information can help everyone along the supply chain better manage factors including inventory, inbound supplier selection and price. The report says Seafood Analytics is currently developing a Certified Quality Seafood Certification that would serve as a seal of approval for suppliers to use (and end users to seek out) to separate the fresh seafood from the not-so-fresh.
Technology raises the bar
The bar is the latest place to make the most of technology in an effort to accommodate rising labor costs and evolving consumer preferences. Pour-your-own facilities are making it possible for consumers to try a taste of a beer, wine, cocktail, Kombucha or cold-brewed coffee that they might not commit to if they had to purchase it in larger quantities. (For example, Restaurant Business reports that Tapster in Chicago offers a tap card, which is linked to the guest’s credit card and charges them by the ounce for beverages at any of 62 different taps on offer.) Other facilities are using actual robots in place of bartenders to measure shots. But as tech takes the place of humans in some areas, it makes them more important in other areas, such as bussing glasses, helping guests use equipment, or even offering classes to teach guests more about the making of beverages currently on trend.
Avocado breeding helps ensure year-round access from within U.S.
Take one look at social media and you’ll see avocados everywhere – the recently opened Avocaderia in Brooklyn, N.Y. has even gambled that consumers will support a restaurant concept centered around the versatile green fruit. NPR reports that Americans consumed two billion lbs. of avocados last year, two-thirds of which were imported, mostly from Mexico. But the uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement has made the future of avocados in the U.S. uncertain too. Fortunately, researchers in California may have found a solution just in time, with three new varieties that make a great guacamole, are easy to peel and can withstand the winter frost and summer heat of California’s central valley. (Existing varieties require milder growing conditions.) Further developing these varieties – dubbed GEM, which is already available, Lunchbox, and a third yet-to-be-named variety – could ensure that Americans have year-round access to avocados.
An innovator trusts (too much?) the power of Instagram
Taco Bell is a brand standout for its innovation capabilities – and Instagram is a major inspiration. Business Insider reports that the brand, which is constantly aiming to develop concepts that will generate buzz online, monitors the most-Instagrammed menu items in an effort to create tasty foods that are as photogenic as possible. But success is not all about looks, as it turns out. When Taco Bell launched its new Naked Chicken Chalupa earlier this year, the brand eschewed traditional media advertising and instead relied on pop-up launch parties around the country, where they provided lights and other visual props to encourage consumers to take social media-worthy photos of their Chalupa, then share them (on Instagram, of course). Consumers and media responded passionately, though not altogether positively – and Taco Bell pulled the item from its menu soon after.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
Make the holidays happy for your team
You won’t be able to make your guests happy with employees who are down and dragging. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips for making spirits bright: Create schedules so employees are able to spend some time with family and friends. This could mean bulking up on staff so fewer people are working double shifts, shifting any retail business you conduct to the web, or adjusting arrival and departure times to create more of a buffer between shifts. Set a fun work goal to motivate employees to earn prizes – whether for successfully selling menu items or participating in a community charity event. Reward them for their hard work with holiday gifts and a holiday event is possible. Finally, consider closing for a day or two – it may even earn you points with guests when they see you’re taking care of your team.
Asian flavors to boost non-traditional dishes
Most Americans’ familiarity with Japanese cuisine doesn’t go far beyond sushi, but two flavors, furikake and togarashi, have the potential to change that on menus right now, Flavor & the Menu reports. Furikake has a base of dried fish that can be combined with sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, powdered miso and dried vegetables, among other things. While it’s traditionally used to season rice, fish and vegetables, there’s room for it to boost the savory profile of pasta, eggs, pizza, popcorn and other snacks. Togarashi is a spice blend including two types of peppers, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and seaweed. While traditionally used in tempura, noodles or yakitori, togarashi lends spicy heat to everything from hot dogs to cheesecake to ice cream.
Breakfast by the bowl
The bowl trend has made it to the breakfast menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that an increasing number of chain restaurants and college foodservice operations are offering bowls as a vehicle for healthy, customizable breakfast foods. The options are seemingly endless, from the sweet (including items like açaí, tropical fruit, yogurt and granola) to the savory (including quinoa, kale, eggs and sausage). Datassential reports that the presence of breakfast bowls on menus has increased 66 percent in the last four years, bringing it to just 7 percent overall. So there’s room to grow.
Coffee comes back strong
Sure, there may be a Starbucks on every corner, but analysts are saying we’re in the midst of a coffee renaissance. The Wall Street Journal predicts U.S. demand for coffee to lead the world in the coming years, growing at 2 percent per year until 2020. Beverage Industry says the increase is due to innovation from brewers, as well as Millennial consumers’ interest in the drink. Technomic’s Volumix Coffee Report found that pour-over coffee and cold-brewed coffee are attracting consumers, as well as flavors including vanilla, mocha and chocolate. The report said single-cup sales increased 62 percent last year.
A workflow to promote cleanliness
Is handwashing something you have built into your operation – or something you fit into it? A forensic sanitarian who weighed in on the question in Food Safety Magazine says restaurants that integrate the handwashing sink into the work flow of the kitchen ensure frequent handwashing happens – and stand a better chance of limiting the spread of foodborne illness. While the placement of sinks may be hard to control, try to design a traffic pattern that makes handwashing second nature. For example, consider having employees clock in next to the sink, or cluster handwashing and food preparation equipment together just like you’d store kitchen equipment that is used together.
Boost your team’s food allergy IQ
About 15 million people have food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education group, and your restaurant is responsible for ensuring you avoid triggering them. Food Safety Magazine recommends you keep these steps in mind when working with your team: Use proper sanitary receiving guidelines from www.servsafe.com and establish a personal hygiene program that prevents cross-contamination. Use reputable suppliers and check their permits and licenses. Store prepared food away from contaminants and clean and store products away from them as well. Wash and sanitize all equipment. Implement required training programs for all employees. Finally, partner with your guests by informing them of ingredients that may trigger allergies – by telling them about possible allergens in a dish and posting a disclaimer on the menu.
Reject and refuse to reduce waste
If you have a robust recycling program but are still generating too much waste at your restaurant, you’re not alone: The National Restaurant Association says although 65 percent of restaurants have recycling programs, the average restaurant in the U.S. still produces 25,000 pounds of food waste every year. Restaurant Hospitality recommends that in addition to the three R’s of food waste reduction that you’re likely familiar with (reduce, reuse, recycle), consider another two: reject and refuse. Reject means speaking up when you have inadequate support for reducing waste, like inadequate food storage space or transportation for donated items. You can also help change the landscape by refusing single-use plastics from suppliers and insisting on reusable crates and containers.
Start your restaurant’s online conversation
It’s likely that a high percentage of people who dine with you have done so because of a Facebook post or Instagram photo. You can help set the stage so it’s easy for your guests to promote you positively online. The National Restaurant Association recommends you encourage guests to take photos of food while they’re dining (assuming it fits with the atmosphere of your restaurant) – and make your social media handles visible on menus and indoor signage so they know where to post. Brand a special hashtag for your restaurant and post some photos or other content to your social media pages with this hashtag to inspire others to do the same. Encourage guests to post their best photos of meals with you – and reward your favorite photographer with a gift card or meal discount.
Mobile transactions on the rise
Mobile payments currently account for $50 billion in sales and are expected to nearly triple by 2019, Toast reports. If you have concerns about jumping on board, consider these assurances from Toast: Mobile payments are secure – the National Restaurant Association has said many mobile payment apps encrypt or scramble credit card information before it reaches a restaurant’s payment terminal, making it less vulnerable to hackers. The transactions are also 53 percent faster than credit card sales and even faster than that for cash sales, according to American Express. Finally, these transactions generate loyal repeat customers and give you access to purchasing trends and other data that can help you appeal to those guests.
Don’t leave a post unanswered
You wouldn’t ignore a guest standing at your front desk, so why do it on social media? Like it or not, your approach to customer service is more visible to guests and potential visitors on social media platforms than it is within your restaurant. However, the tourism website Sheila’s Guide says it’s still common for hotels and restaurants to leave guest comments, photos and other feedback unanswered on social media platforms. Be sure to use these posts as opportunities to thank guests for their business, show concern for addressing any problems they experience, and ensure they come back. The quality of your public response could help bring new guests in the door too.
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