Your restaurant’s online presence can have just as much power as its in-person presence — particularly if guests check out your restaurant via your website, social media or online reviews before their first meal with you. To ensure you’re managing your online presence effectively, Restaurant Insider recommends you monitor and measure it like you would any advertising initiative. For example, by controlling your Google listing (companies like Menufy can help you make certain links more prominent), you can steer people in search of takeout food toward the provider that serves you best instead of spreading business across several of them. Second, use your reviews to build business. While a good review is always welcome, your professional and calm response to a bad review can send a positive message about the service you deliver and your dedication to improving upon the experience you provide. Finally, your most loyal patrons (not so much the ones finding fault with a meal) should take priority when it comes to being offered free drinks or other special deals on menu items. Use your online loyalty program to take care of the people who already support you and are much more likely to continue to give you their business. While sometimes it’s necessary to offer a freebie to a guest who has had a bad experience with you, it’s just as important to make sure the person feels you have heard their feedback and are committed to making their next experience with you more positive.
The practice of standing in line or waiting at a table to pay a bill is gradually becoming a relic of the past. As operators and tech companies have observed the valuable time often wasted at these common pressure points for restaurants, new solutions are popping up to hasten table turnaround times and minimize guests’ anxiety in their time spent at a restaurant — and they won’t necessarily require the guest to download an app to do it. Take Qikserve. Skift Table reports that the company is rolling out technology throughout this year to restaurants in California and Pennsylvania — including 3,500 partner brands — that will allow guests to make a mobile payment and eventually order at the table by either using the brand’s app or by visiting a web page loaded by scanning a QR code at the table. It’s aiming to make life easier for the occasional restaurant visitor not interested in downloading another app. (It also has the potential to turn that occasional visitor into a loyal regular.)
If your guests are game to load funds onto a digital wallet or prepaid gift card in exchange for a special offer, you can help cut back on the fees you have to pay to support credit card transactions. While retailers are charged a fee by credit card companies each time a customer pays with a credit card, Skift Table reports that many of those retailers are bypassing the fees by joining the lower-cost Automated Clearing House network, which was set up decades ago by U.S. banks to facilitate the exchange of money between banks. Other companies, like Starbucks, are encouraging customers to load funds onto a prepaid gift card — a setup that means Starbucks only pays a swipe fee when a customer loads funds onto the cards, not each time she buys a latte. Still others are joining networks (LevelUp is one) that help businesses band together and use their combined scale to negotiate more
How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
Launching a loyalty app? Walk your talk.
Having a loyalty app is a great way to build a strong following — if you don’t look at it as a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of tool. As Cake suggests, having a loyalty app can go far in helping you connect with your audience — especially Millennials and Gen Z, who are apt to spread the word about you on social media. But on the flip side, those guests also have high expectations of your transparency. If you’re targeting this population with your app, be willing to share details about how your food is made, where it comes from and how you manage your business (or at least be ready for questions about it). Having an app is a strong upselling tool, helping you to build check totals by suggesting menu items that may not have been front-of-mind for customers. Just be sure to focus on your guests’ preferences and frequency of visits, as visibly focusing on check tallies (and tying rewards to dollars spent) can be a turnoff. Finally, having a loyalty app can be a data goldmine — but you need to have the foundational technology in place to funnel that data into insights that feed your broader marketing strategy.
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.
Second only to the retail industry, the restaurant industry is a top employer of Generation Z, the demographic defined as those aged 21 and younger. In 2018, 19 percent of Gen Z worked in restaurants, up from 15 percent in 2017, according to data shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in Orlando. If you are looking to hire a lot of staff in this demographic, are you doing what it takes to attract and retain them? First, just like your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices, your job postings should be too. Gen Z scours job boards, restaurant websites and social media for job leads, and most of that searching is done on their phones. They prefer to be able to apply for jobs that way too, so don’t insist on a written application. Once hired, your Gen Z staff are more likely to stay if you offer them opportunities for training, development and mentorship. According to the research, 60 percent of Gen Z say that the coaching and education they received on the job made them want to stay on and pursue longer-term opportunities there. When it comes to receiving workplace training, Gen Z has clear preferences too: The vast majority (88 percent) like one-on-one and on-the-job training, with online or mobile training modules or videos not far behind. When it doubt, swap out classroom-based or paper-based learning with highly visual platforms that deliver quick, easily digestible lessons.
Safeguard your mobile strategy
Your mobile presence has power: Mobile search behavior by people who search for food using their phones or tablets has a nearly 90 percent conversion rate, according to the study “Mobile Path-to-Purchase” by xAd and Telmetrics. You may be pouring a large portion of your ad spending on mobile as a result, but proceed with caution. Research from the online advertising firm WordStream found that unless a business has a thoughtful mobile strategy, it’s too easy to miss out on business opportunities. Since so many businesses want a piece of the mobile market, the mobile click-through rate decreases 45 percent faster in lower search positions than it does on desktop or tablet computers. The share of impressions on mobile is low as well, with mobile ads less likely to be shown (even in top positions) than they are on desktops. Search costs per click for mobile have also been increasing dramatically in the past year.
Protect your water supply
As another powerful hurricane season passes by, the dangers to your business don’t necessarily go away once the storms pass. In the wake of a natural disaster, remember to protect the safety of your water supply. A severe disaster can cause toxins, chemicals and other debris to contaminate the public water system, especially if a tidal surge or flood accompanies the storm. Until your area health department confirms that tap water can be used for drinking, use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. In the absence of bottled water, boiling your tap water will kill most disease-causing organisms that might be present. (Once the water has boiled, let it cool and store it in clean, covered containers.) If you have a well that has been flooded during a storm, the FDA advises you disinfect and test it once the flood water has receded. In the case you suspect your well may be contaminated, contact your state or local health department for specific guidance -- and in the meantime, do not use your tap water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food or to make ice. Finally, while it’s important to get your water tested following a major storm to help make sure you are using water that is safe for drinking, cooking and washing dishes, a test conducted today does not determine the safety of your water tomorrow. A point-of-entry water purification system can provide even greater assurance — immediately before you use your water supply each time — that the water you are using is safe.
The power of the freebie
If you operate a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant and are eager to see a quick boost in downloads of your restaurant app, take note: A number of large brands have seen their downloads skyrocket in recent months by offering a small free item. QSR Magazine reports that when McDonald’s offered free medium fries in exchange for a download of their app plus a $1 purchase, it jumped 56 places to become the No. 2 app on the U.S. App Store within a week — and Dairy Queen, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A experienced similar jumps in engagement. While it remains to be seen how successful these brands will be at retaining the consumers they have enticed, it shows how much mileage a simple free item can get you when you’re looking to build (and better understand) your consumer base.
Find the positive in a split shift
Scheduling employees to work long, continuous shifts may not make financial sense when you have a long lull in traffic between your lunch and dinner rush. Toast suggests you consider the split shift – dividing the work day into separate parts, say 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Depending on your state’s regulations of split shifts, it may make good financial sense to do it. Of course, there are negatives for many employees – but for others, there could be important positives too. Toast says if your staff includes people who care for family, they may welcome having a full-time job that includes a break in the day, allowing them to pick up children from school or check on a parent. Split shifts can also allow you to offer employees more work hours without decreasing the hours of other staff.
Big Mac ATM launches a tweet storm
McDonald’s hasn’t led the pack with its technology offerings but a recent event they staged helped give them some marketing buzz as a fun, progressive company. On January 31 at their Kenmore Square location in Boston, McDonald’s activated their “customized digital Big Mac ATM.” Pymnts.com said between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day, the ATM dispensed two new Big Mac sizes – the Mac Jr. and the Grand Mac – for free. In exchange, guests (who lined up down the block for a free sandwich) supplied their Twitter handle. The ATM then generated a tweet on the user’s account.
Making a go of pay-what-you-can
In an industry of rising labor costs and low profit margins, how are pay-what-you-can restaurants faring? The Washington Post estimates there about 50 such operations in the nation that are trying to transform the way the public views food assistance and charity by bringing together people who can afford to pay for nutritious food and those who can’t. Some locations rely on volunteer workers and ask that if guests cannot pay, they do something to help. It’s obviously no easy task to run a sustainable operation. Still, some have managed to make it work: Denise Cerreta’s One World Café in Salt Lake City eked out a profit for a few years. Though Cerreta has since closed the café, she now focuses on her One World Everybody Eats foundation, which offers business plans and mentoring to community restaurant owners.
Add some surprise to your fries
French fries: They’re the ultimate comfort food. Lucky Peach mentions some international twists that could make your fries menu centerpieces. Take Kapsalon, fries topped with döner meat, Gouda cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and/or onions, topped with creamy garlic sauce and sambal. Or Kenyan Masala fries with spicy tomato sauce, coriander and lemon. In Bulgaria, fries are covered in a white, brined, lemony cheese called sirene. Chaat masala fries are coated with a spice mix common in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan that includes a sweet and sour green-mango powder, black salt, asafetida, cumin, coriander, dried ginger, red chili, salt, and pepper. To balance savory with sweet, Food & the Menu suggests Japan-inspired Daigaku Imo fries coated with soy sauce, sugar, honey, sesame seeds and salt.
Delivery-only for the masses
Could delivery-only restaurants make dine-in restaurants obsolete? A new Technomic study says take-out meals are now taking sales from grocery and dining-in restaurants – and some big-name restaurateurs are tapping into the delivery-only niche. The New York Times reports that David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group took in a $7 million first round of venture capital financing for Ando, its delivery-only restaurant. The investment is likely intended to make delivery-only a mass-market concept. Considering Chang’s portfolio includes more than a dozen restaurants in three countries, nine dessert bars, two cocktail lounges, a prepared foods business and more, he may be the person to take delivery-only global.
NASDA announces 2018 Farm Bill priorities
This month, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) announced its priorities for the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to provide consumers with access to the “safest, highest quality and most affordable” food supply. Its priorities include planning loans for farmers and ranchers who need to update infrastructure to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Market Access Program and invasive species programs, additional funding for animal disease coordination, and investment in voluntary conservation programs.
USDA paves the way for increased organic food production
If you’d like to increase the volume of organic food you serve, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken steps to make more of it available. Reuters reports that to increase the production of organic foods (sales continue to hit new highs and production hasn’t kept pace with demand), the department has launched a program to certify farmland that growers are in the process of switching to organic. By obtaining certification, farmers will be able to sell products raised in accordance with organic guidelines for higher prices than conventionally grown foods, which should help growers cover the costs of transitioning to organic farming, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Apps to take the pain out of staffing
Working in a restaurant can be a tough sell for a talented employee who wants to be valued and well compensated. So how do you find the best people out there? Technology can help. Chefs + Tech recommended a few apps that show promise, including Culinary Agents, Poached Jobs, Industry (which is planning a nationwide launch) and New York City-specific Jitjatjo, which Food & Wine referred to as the “Uber of finding restaurant staff.” Some focus on networking to find good hires and others are more focused on filling kitchen shifts – if you’re looking, give them a try.
Stay relevant through social media
Even if your restaurant doesn’t have flashy, up-to-the-minute kiosks, you can show you’re modern and relevant just by getting social media right. OpenTable recommends you try to inspire people and gain visibility by sharing what excites you – be it new menus, dining room changes, specials, or a new chef. Instagram Stories and Snapchat are good for sharing casual stories, images or video. OpenTable also recommends you live-stream content to attract viewers – using Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope to show an ingredient-buying trip or a fun exchange between staff members, for example.
Lessons learned from tech stumbles
Technology rollouts aren’t often smooth – even for Starbucks during its mobile ordering launch. The company recently said it had experienced a 20 percent increase in mobile pay and ordering during peak hours, which caused crowding that resulted in guests leaving without making purchases. In a CNBC report, restaurant analysts shared their take-aways, which might help you see what investments you may need to make ahead of adopting the technology. Specifically, they said it’s important to hire and train staff to work differently during peak times so you can avoid having to add staff. Review your traffic pattern to avoid bottlenecks and reconfigure your store if needed. Anticipate the need to accept many orders simultaneously – much like an e-commerce company has to – and use alerts and other technology to avoid overcrowding your location and overwhelming staff.
Prepare a safety net for slower months
Winter is coming, and for many restaurants, a post-holiday slowdown in business. Uncorkd recommends you reach out to your neighborhood – produce cards good for a free drink (if your state allows) and offer them to nearby businesses. Create a loyalty program for people living or working in your zip code. Invite local businesses to plan company events at your restaurant and host networking sessions, happy hours and creative off-season pop-ups to draw traffic. Lastly, consider trimming fat by reducing staff (keeping your most committed employees), negotiating year-end deals with your liquor distributor, reengineering your menu to eliminate low-performing items and creating a separate budget for slow months.
Lift up your lunch hour
Lunch business is down at many restaurants, with home offices, budget constraints and internet shopping taking a bite out of sales, according to Restaurant Hospitality. To change that, they suggest you try bundling entrées with drinks and/or sides and desserts to simplify ordering and convey value – you could drop the cost of the bundle at off times to keep seats filled. Cater to a business crowd by providing a quiet, quick meal with uncomplicated menu offerings – a limited menu can streamline prep – or inviting lunchtime speakers that appeal to businesspeople. Be able to adjust your service to accommodate both a fast power lunch or a longer business meeting. Finally, boost convenience by offering easy access to parking (or delivery for those looking to stay in for lunch).
Serving the single guest
Are you marketing your restaurant to single-person households? The U.S. Census says Americans 18 and older in that group represent 45 percent of the adult population in the country. Nation’s Restaurant News says these guests can be an important demographic to target because they are likely not eating alone when they dine out and their discretionary spending is focused less on additional members of their family. Restaurants can appeal to this group, the report says, by offering shareable servings and snacks that go well with socializing. NPD Group says single adults dined out more than 12 billion times during the year that ended in July – they represent about a quarter of all consumers.
Turning around the taboo of wines on tap
The Texas restaurant Sixty Vines designed itself around the traditionally dismissed concept of wines on tap, and what was initially conceived as a model to appeal to millennials is now drawing a much broader crowd, FSR Magazine reports. The restaurant offers 60 wines on tap from around the world. Selections rotate like a typical restaurant’s beer program. Since the restaurant offers 2.5 oz. pours, guests try different varieties, colors and regions throughout the course of a meal instead of committing to one glass consumed with an entrée. The quality of the selections is changing guest attitudes about tap wines, the restaurant says. What’s more, their model helps the environment: a spokesman says Sixty Vines has saved nearly 8,000 bottles from landfills due to their tap system.
Awaiting the return of the avocado
If your restaurant features guacamole or other avocado-centric items, you have likely been eagerly awaiting the end of the avocado shortage, which was spurred by weather challenges and labor problems. Reports are mixed about whether the avocado shortage and sky-high prices are behind us or will persist in the coming months. While we wait to see what happens, QSRweb says restaurants are getting creative with substitutes like jackfruit and broccoli (used in a “brocomole,” apparently), as well as edamame and sweet potatoes.
Seafood as a snack
No longer simply an entrée, seafood has been popping up with greater frequency on the bar and small-plates menus in recent months as chefs test out bold, new options. Flavor & the Menu reports that seafood is adapting well to edgier seasonings and presentations – like a scoopable cod brandade paired with olives and grilled bread, Ahi tuna tacos with Asian slaw and wasabi-lime avocado sauce, or even the sea scallop sliders with chipotle aioli, tomatoes and basil, a dish created by Tommy Bahama’s culinary director. What’s more, these smaller seafood dishes can still support a premium price point.
Restaurants get childish
Does your restaurant welcome children or is it a kid-free zone? Restaurants that have taken a stand one way or another have attracted some vocal responses on both sides of the issue in recent months. Some who cater to a high-end clientele and have banned children have seen a rise in business. Eater reports that a select few have found a way to walk the line between restricting children and maintaining etiquette. Cuchara in Houston issues a simple card to families – it says children at the restaurant don’t run or wander, stay seated at the table and are respectful. La Fisheria, also in Houston, welcomes children up until 7p.m., when they allow only adults in order to improve their late-night atmosphere and make best use of their space.
Prevent workplace injuries
Workplace injuries topped three million in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 75 percent of them occurred in services industries. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips to minimize workplace risks: When employees must handle hazardous materials like degreasers, oven cleaners and ammonia, ensure they wear face masks and protective gloves. Clean spills immediately and place antiskid mats by your kitchen’s sink, dishwasher, cooler and entrance to avoid slips, trips and falls. Ensure employees know how to handle and clean slicing equipment, and keep a first-aid kit handy. Finally, make sure employees wear gloves, aprons and hats around hot equipment and tools. In case of a burn, rinse the area in cool water, bandage it loosely and seek medical attention – your worker’s compensation carrier may also offer a hotline to provide medical guidance.
Free tech to track the freshness of food
If you’d like some help in monitoring the freshness of the food products you store, a new app promises to assist. Restaurant Hospitality reports that the free app, dubbed EatBy, automatically suggests how long produce and frozen items will stay fresh and then reminds the user before that time limit is reached. EatBy’s developers say the app learns the storage habits of its users and while it is designed for use in homes, it can serve as an additional safeguard for restaurants.
Out with the app, in with the shared platform
Consumers are choosy about the amount of real estate they will devote to smartphone apps. That’s why many restaurants are forgoing a restaurant-specific app in favor of shared platforms like waitlist management systems that work for multiple restaurants, according to Restaurant Business. Chipotle is among the latest players to update its digital ordering process, which allows mobile ordering and payment – all via a new website as opposed to an app. They can be an appealing option for both your loyal customers and those who only dine with you on occasion.
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