When you need to revamp your strategy
Any restaurant can experience peaks and valleys in sales – so how do you know when you need to rethink your restaurant’s strategy? In a recent Toast blog, restaurant coach Donald Burns identified a couple of key areas to consider: First, does your restaurant plan need adjustment? Consider how your guests see your brand, how that compares with how you see your brand, and how you might need to reposition your brand in your market. Also ask yourself if your product mix is right – review your sales reports to determine what is selling (not what you want to be selling). Second, do you need to replace staff? Perhaps you have a culture that doesn’t attract top talent, or you made bad hires and kept them. Address snags in these areas – and in any other areas that keep you awake at night – to set your business on a positive course.
Gift card give and take
Last year, 90 percent of consumers either purchased or received gift cards, First Data Corp. reports. To stand out from the crowd of retailers offering them, it’s important to get creative. Restaurant Hospitality recommends you offer foods rewards instead of monetary ones – or let the person buying the card get a piece of the reward too. Saladworks in Conshohocken, Penn., for example, offers a free salad with a gift card purchase instead of a cash reward. Other brands offer menu items or cash bonuses that correspond with different gift card price thresholds. Try to use your restaurant’s personality to help make the sale, like Chicago-based Portillo’s, where employees in the drive-through are known to dangle gift cards from their hats – the tactic helps the brand sell more than half of its gift cards for the year.
Growing pains for operators who don’t accept tips
For restaurant operators that have gone the no-tipping route, running a business has become like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – or, says one director of operations, like opening a new restaurant. In a New York Times report about restaurants that have made the switch, the businesses have tried different strategies to adjust to the tip-free model: adding bulk to a plate to better justify a higher charge, adding a smaller cut of meat to the menu to balance a larger and more expensive one, limiting some organic produce, working with a smaller kitchen crew, and buying ingredients in bulk and in partnership with other restaurants to save on expenses. Expect more adjustments to come as operators test their pain points – and those of their guests – when it comes to adjusting menu items, prices and staff.
Back to basics for Chipotle
While Chipotle would surely like to say good bye to 2016, the brand’s challenges this year provide a valuable list of lessons for the rest of the industry. The Chicago Tribune reports that its efforts to win guests back following its brief wave of contamination incidents have fallen flat, with sales down 22 percent in the most recent quarter. While Chipotle has tried overhauling food safety measures, adding chorizo to the menu, launching a summer rewards program and offering free kids’ meals, it now seems to be running into trouble on such customer service no-nos as long lines, messy dining rooms and drink stations, and missing ingredients. Now it sounds like the brand is refocusing on the basics that made it a darling of the industry in the hopes that guests will return.
Automation spreads from coast to coast
Eatsa, the eatery that offers quinoa bowls from a high-tech dispensary with minimal human involvement, now has a New York restaurant to match its west-coast outlet. Guests order food from tablets in the restaurant or via smartphone app and pick up their food from electronic cubbies. While humans do work at Eatsa, they’re limited in number, working behind the scenes making food and standing out front to answer guest questions. Eater reports the model helps the brand cut costs and customize orders too – Eatsa owner Scott Drummond hopes to bring the cost of a quinoa bowl from $7 down to $5 and further develop its technology to offer custom bowls to guests based on their past orders.
The bar menu gets reinvented
Seventy percent of people between the ages of 21 and 34 purchase alcoholic beverages away from home at least once a week, reports Technomic and Beverage Marketing Corp.’s new On-Premise Intelligence report. That’s compared to just 48 percent for everyone older than those in that bracket. To capitalize on younger consumers, the report predicts we’ll see more alcohol popping up on menus at limited-service restaurants – Taco Bell and Starbucks are already cashing in on this idea. These consumers like to branch out and try new flavors, so bars targeting the demographic will offer a broader variety of alcohol categories, brands and styles, limited-time drink specials that rotate through the menu, and craft beer made on site.
Restaurant industry flexes to accommodate the independent worker
More cafes and restaurants are finding ways to embrace the 35 percent of the workforce who work independently. Eater recently reported on some newer approaches for appealing to these guests, such as cafes charging guests a $6 flat fee for their first hour spent onsite, then five cents each hour thereafter, which grants each person a workspace and unlimited coffee, tea and snacks. Others offer hybrid hospitality/workspace for monthly fees ranging from $95 to $220. In cities with bustling happy hour and evening business but non-existent lunch business, restaurants are offering space to independent workers during the day when they purchase either a monthly or day pass.
Protect your dry goods storage
Start your new year with a food supply that meets safety standards. Food Safety magazine shared some simple rules for making sure your dry goods are stored safely: Rotate your food – the first item in should be the first out. Keep your storerooms dry, well ventilated and cool (between 50 and 70˚F), with humidity of 15 percent or less. Avoid storing food in direct sunlight. Store food at least six inches from the floor and at least 18 inches from walls to minimize the development of condensation and ease cleaning and vermin control. Keep doors and windows sealed and shut whenever possible to prevent the entry of rodents, insects or birds. Finally, have adequate space to accommodate what you store. Use this equation to help determine if you have sufficient space: Required storage area (sq. ft.)= (Volume per meal x number of meals between deliveries)/(Average height x fraction of usable storeroom floor area).
A purple blow torch promises safer food
A major food safety innovation on the horizon could help restaurants prevent norovirus. Food Safety News reports that cold plasma treatment, also known as a purple blow torch, kills 99.9 percent of norovirus on blueberries without harming the fruit. The researchers report that the method has the potential to extend shelf life by slowing spoilage rates. While they say there is further research needed before the cold plasma method is available commercially, they expect the technology to be accessible and affordable for the food industry to use. Food Dive reports that when that occurs, it could revolutionize the industry, benefiting the security of meats, poultry and produce.
Do you have the right point-of-sale system for you?
Are you using a retail point-of-sale system at your restaurant? Toast outlined why even if it offers you the basics, it’s likely holding you back. A system designed for restaurants will offer you table management, online ordering (without having to pay a third-party ordering site), and analytics that will help you see what sold best that day, how you can create sales forecasts and which server generates the best tips. It will help you develop a reliable customer database that tracks who your most loyal guests are, what they love about you, and what they order -- information you can use to deliver communications and promotions that resonate with them. Finally, it offers efficiency by helping you integrate your inventory, sales, employee scheduling, loyalty program and customer database. Does your current system offer these tools?
Hire and keep a tip-top team
If you’re looking to attract new talent, create detailed job descriptions and set clear expectations to avoid surprises – then be prepared to compensate the person accordingly. Once you have top performers on your team, Modern Restaurant Management recommends you check in regularly to ensure things are going as well as you think they are. Engage them by soliciting their feedback in response to challenges you’re facing or by encouraging them to lead others. Find out what they need from you and provide opportunities to help them get it, whether it’s technical expertise or professional training. Talk strategically about where they hope to rise within your organization and help them map out next steps to get there.
Help your reservations take off
Looking to boost your online reservations? Hospitality Technology recommends you have a prominent, clear reservation link on your Facebook page and on your website (ensure your site is mobile-friendly and responsive while you’re at it). If you have multiple locations, have a separate webpage for each, with content targeted to each audience. Consider using general booking services like OpenTable and last-minute booking services to increase your exposure to guests who might not find you otherwise. In your email communications with guests and in print ads, provide a link or details on how to book online. Finally, information about reservations should be in text (not image) format so search engines can find it.
Raise your bar
A well-run bar should have an alcohol cost between 18 and 20 percent of sales, according to Uncorkd. Does yours? Uncorkd shared some tips to decrease costs. First, try standardizing your pours and liquor volume for cocktails by using jiggers, pre-batching house cocktails and recipe cards – this will help your bar’s consistency too. Take inventory of your alcohol weekly – promote the brands that aren’t selling and then stop carrying them once they sell so you can focus on your high-volume brands. You can then negotiate deals with your distributor on items you can buy in bulk. And since wine has such high profit margins, don’t give it away with half-price offers – better to create wine pairings or flights with languishing stock, or design a contest to reward the staff member who sells the most of it.
How a Trump administration could affect restaurants
Donald Trump isn’t known for predictability, but restaurant industry analysts expect his administration could spur changes in five areas, according to Restaurant Hospitality: The battle over the minimum wage will likely be left to state and local legislatures. The Trump administration could roll back overtime rules in order to benefit business – or support the extension of overtime as it would benefit many of his core voters. There are two immediate vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans are likely to fill, shifting majority control of the agency as it considers issues like joint-employer liability. There could also be changes coming with regard to mandatory arbitration – and the possibility that class actions replace individual employee arbitrations. Finally, Trump is likely to oppose the Department of Labor’s rule barring restaurants from requiring their waitstaff to share tips with back-of-house employees.
New overtime rules delayed
A federal court has delayed the introduction of new overtime rules until it can consider an action brought by representatives from the restaurant business and other industries to eliminate the rules altogether, Restaurant Business reports. The new rules had been set to take effect Dec. 1. The changes laid out by the Department of Labor double the income threshold (from $23,660 to $47,476) at which salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay. The National Restaurant Association praised the ruling but cautioned restaurants to continue to prepare plans for managing the new requirements if and when they pass.
Breakfast breaks out
It seems breakfast is finally getting its due. In a survey of 300 restaurant operators for SmartBrief’s 2016 Breakfast Keynote Report, 93 percent said their breakfast sales had either increased or stayed level in the past year. Chefs are tapping into creative solutions to innovate the daypart. Datassential reports that new flavors are appearing on the breakfast menu, like spicy, savory kimchi, which has increased 435 percent on menus in the past four years. Next year could see an expansion of breakfast bowls – 57 percent of consumers are interested in them but only 27 percent of operators offer them, according to the report. We’re likely to see more trendy flavors and dinner dishes popping up at breakfast too – think breakfast burgers or barbecue pulled pork omelettes.
Convenience stores are an up-and-coming lunchtime option
Convenience stores are giving restaurants some competition at lunchtime. Restaurant Business reports that the convenience store market is moving upscale. They’re also taking pointers from the restaurant business and cross-utilizing ingredients, incorporating new ingredients that demonstrate flavor innovation, and taking care to show the quality of the food preparation. Consider these examples from convenience stores around the country, which are a big step away from the c-store options of just a few years ago: Wawa’s Thanksgiving-themed sub, 7-Eleven’s cilantro-lime flatbread, or Casey’s General Stores’ spinach artichoke chicken pizza.
Clean high-touch items to prevent spread of illness
Your team likely knows how to prevent the spread of illness around the food preparation areas – but don’t forget about other high-touch items in your restaurant where germs are lurking during this cold and flu season. The National Restaurant Association recommends you clean these items each day: laminated or reusable menus, condiment bottles, salt and pepper shakers, tablecloths, high chairs and booster seats, chairs, booths and stools, check holders, candy dishes at the hostess stand and door handles. Train your team on how to sanitize various materials and include these items in a master cleaning schedule the team follows each day.
Use photos to show your true colors
Well-presented photos of your business can help your restaurant appeal to guests before you even take their drink order. Profitable Hospitality recommends you identify your best shots, print them in large format and frame them in your restaurant – close-ups of specialty dishes, guests enjoying themselves at your restaurant, or your chef at work. Include the rest of your staff, too, in friendly but uncrowded groupings of two or three, to show guests the community you have built within the restaurant. Of course, online photos are equally important. Use a photo editing application to crop your best photos and adjust the lighting and other effects to add ambience. Post your best shots on social media and update images on your website and marketing materials regularly to keep your content fresh.
Stand out in the social media crowd
Your restaurant is one of 25 million businesses on Facebook. How best to stand out in that crowd? Restaurant Engine recommends you make a list of all of your social media platforms and do a Google search if you aren’t sure of all of them. Assess your results: Is this platform useful to your business (or could it be if you were a more active user)? Do you have many followers? Are they liking, responding to or sharing your posts? Once you decide which platforms are best for you, communicate your brand across them, with a consistent logo, imagery, voice, description and a website link on each. Finally, check your content: 70 percent of it should add some value to your followers, 20 percent of it should be about sharing other people’s posts and 10 percent should be promoting your restaurant.
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