How mobile wallets could open the door to more sales
Every year, it seems there is a new way for consumers to pay -- and restaurants and other businesses must scramble to keep up. But among those newcomers, mobile wallets could have some staying power, as they open the door to additional functionality beyond payment. FSR Magazine says mobile wallets offer credit card security in case of a data breach, device validation in the form of a PIN or fingerprint, easy access to loyalty cards and gift cards, and streamlined in-app purchases. Over time, expect there to be new ways that mobile wallets help restaurants engage with guests and make payment easier. Right now, the key players include Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal and ChasePay.
Prevent spices from causing foodborne illness
Spices, critical to adding global influence to your menu and boosting flavor without salt and sugar, have been subject to increasing recalls for food pathogens, Food Safety Magazine reports. An FDA study found that spices like oregano, basil, coriander, sesame seeds, curry powder, cumin and black pepper were contaminated at varying levels with salmonella. Spices produced in third world countries in unsanitary conditions and the movement of product across countries can make it easy for the origins of spices to get lost. Are your spice suppliers taking steps to address the problem? Food Safety Magazine says international spice trade organizations should be involved with efforts to track shipments and develop appropriate supplier controls, such as adherence to Good Agricultural Practices and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Could you find your next star on Snapchat?
McDonald's thinks so. In Australia, the chain is inviting prospective employees to send a 10-second video interview to them via Snapchat, according to Fortune. These "Snapplications" are only preliminary (McDonald's directs applicants to the company's formal application afterwards) but the tool could generate some buzz -- it allows applicants to place virtual McDonald's hats and nametags on themselves so they can see how they would look behind the counter.
Grocery stores poised to compete with pizza restaurants
Pizza restaurants, with a product that's typically a good value, is easily customizable and designed for delivery, have been somewhat impervious to the strains hitting other parts of the restaurant industry. But that could change soon, according to a recent report from Food Dive. It says according to research from Progressive Grocer, the prepared foods departments of grocery stores could clinch some of the pizza market as they can offer fresher ingredients, competitive prices and potentially more interesting combinations. Datassential suggests pizza restaurants compete by offering more on-trend ingredients like Sriracha and roasted vegetables, then let guests customize their pie -- something nearly half of guests desire (but only 23 percent of grocery stores accommodate).
Coffee has its perks
Coffee is continuing its meteoric rise. The National Coffee Association reports that between 2008 to 2016, gourmet coffee beverage consumption rose from 13 percent to 36 percent among 12- to 24-year-olds, and from 19 percent to 41 percent for people between 25 and 39. Want to grab your share of that market? Toast recommends you test out these trends: Try cold brewing for a less acidic, smoother cup at a higher price point -- or even add pressurized nitrogen to that cold brew and serve it from a tap for a naturally sweet "nitro brew." Finally, some coffee companies are experimenting with cascara, the fruit that coats the coffee bean. It can be brewed or add a sweet, maple-like flavor to a latte. Even better, it helps reduce waste by helping roasters use the whole bean in their coffee.
Let your guests make your signature dish at home
Have you ever considered offering a meal kit service at your restaurant? According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. would buy meal kits from their favorite restaurant if they were offered. In a Restaurant Hospitality report about the concept, operators who have tried it say offering kits isn't for every restaurant -- they take a lot of testing to get right. But it can help if you have a signature item you know guests will like, whether it be your steak, burgers or guacamole, and focus on helping guests make experiences around that item.
A new twist on an American favorite
The diner is an American icon -- but a new trend? A new report in Eater says 2017 could be the year of the luncheonette, as new diners pop up across the country. But these restaurants are not purely about nostalgia. In fact, the ones that have taken off have reinvented the concept. Take Dove's Luncheonette (a Mexican diner in Chicago) by James Beard Award winner Paul Kahan. Or Maurice, a Portland, Ore. pastry luncheonette. Others that have thrived include New York's Nickel & Diner, which doesn't serve typical diner food but looks like a futuristic diner, Philadelphia's Rooster Soup Co., which donates all proceeds to charity, and Dad's Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay, Calif., which has a relaxed, community feeling but is located in a renovated train caboose and features a small, locally sourced menu of just seven items.
New York's small (but strong) food safety team
Stopping foodborne illness before it reaches you can feel like an impossible task. But a team of just 43 microbiologists, chemists and support staff at the New York State Food Laboratory gave a substantial boost to the state's record of food safety testing in 2016. They increased testing of food and beverage samples by 10 percent this past year, which led to more than 300 recalls of contaminated items, according to a Food Safety News report of findings from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. This included more testing for health hazards, purity and accuracy of labeling using new more accurate techniques. For the first time, the lab used a DNA-based method to test fish for speciation -- an important step in identifying food allergies and food fraud. They also increased testing of imported items like cheese and spices by 28 percent over 2015.
Before adding an ingredient, check the data
Do you ever wonder exactly how guests will respond to an ingredient you'd like to add to a new dish? Datassential has developed a new tool called Flavor, which helps you track specific foods, beverages, spices and other ingredients across a range of metrics and demographic segments. You can determine the awareness of an ingredient among people in a specific region, for example, and even identify if those people have children. The tool includes millions of consumer recommendations about thousands of products, from acai to za'atar.
Know your Instagrammability
Is Instagram in your restaurant's business plan? For a growing number of restaurants, it is -- credit the social network's more then 500 million active monthly users. The Financial Times reports that the social network has been transforming the restaurant scene in the U.K. and according to Skift, chefs in the U.S. are also creating dishes with an eye toward how they will look in a square photo on Instagram -- menu items have a unique appearance, plates are whiter and some have design or branding elements that people associate with the restaurant when people find them online.
Play some pricing tricks
Between rising labor costs and declining restaurant visits, you may feel pressure to raise prices. Profitable Hospitality suggests these strategies to boost sales: Decoy pricing, or selling one item at a high price, can increase the perceived value of other items. Prestige pricing, inflating prices to indicate higher quality, can work if you also boost the quality of the presentation or packaging. Nine and zero pricing sends a message about value and quality – price an entrée at $15.99 to highlight a bargain or a steak at $30 to demonstrate quality. Middle pricing – providing small, medium and large sizes/prices – can help you steer guests toward the middle price point because it’s not too cheap and not too expensive. Bundle pricing can also work with groups – tempt them with a wine and dessert package or a birthday party package and ensure the items you bundle also appear individually on the menu so guests notice the cost savings.
Boost your online reputation
If a restaurant earns a half-star improvement in an online review, it is 30 to 49 percent more likely to sell out its evening seats, according to economic research cited in FSR magazine. Manage your online reputation by taking these steps recommended in the report: Polish your online image with attractive photos and detailed menus, and maintain your listings on websites like Yelp, Google, OpenTable, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Zomato. Encourage happy customers to post reviews online, which boosts your restaurant in web search results. When guests do leave reviews (positive or negative), respond to them all – whether personally, via a marketing firm or through an automated platform. Your responses are opportunities to focus readers on the positive, subtly market your restaurant’s menu and promotions, and increase your chances of having guests return. Of course, reinforce your online presence by providing a solid in-person customer experience. Ensure you have some mechanism for collecting feedback – once hundreds of customers weigh in, you have actionable insight to help you improve.
What’s all the noise about?
If your restaurant creates a little too much buzz, literally, try making some adjustments. Research conducted by an Oxford University experimental psychology professor found that loud noise can impact people’s ability to taste food, USA Today reports. Loud volume can diminish sweet and salty flavors, while intensifying extra-savory flavors like those of bacon or mushrooms, for example. Beverages are affected too – the research found that loud noise makes it harder for guests to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail and therefore how they think it tastes. If you need to turn the volume down, consider installing noise-absorbing ceiling panels, investing in a quality sound system that makes it easier to improve your atmosphere without adding noise, and conducting hourly noise checks to ensure your guests aren’t having to yell at each other across the table in order to be heard.
The chefs have spoken – top food trends for 2017
The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation to get their take on 2017’s hottest food trends. They just released the top-10 results, which include new cuts of meat, street-food-inspired dishes, healthy kids’ meals, house-made charcuterie as a cured-meat version of the cheese plate, sustainable seafood, ethnic-inspired breakfast items, house-made condiments, authentic ethnic cuisine, heirloom produce, and
African flavors and ingredients. How many of these items are appearing on your menu in the New Year?
Coffee and cocktails…why not?
It seems coffee cocktails are popping up more frequently on menus lately as both a winter warmer and as vehicle for a showy tableside presentations. Consider Chicago-area Carlucci’s Restaurant and Bar, which offers a tableside service where they light Grand Marnier on fire, sprinkle it with cinnamon to create sparks, then combine it with coffee and Bailey’s in a mug rimmed with crystallized cinnamon and sugar. Expect more alcoholic coffee concoctions to go mainstream in the coming months, considering Starbucks announced at its recent investor day that it would feature a mixology section in its large new location in New York City.
New national seafood program holds imports to higher standard
Stricter safeguards now protect the seafood you import. President Obama just announced the launch of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which will require “at-risk” seafood imported into the United States to be tracked to its source and labeled properly, according to Seafood Source. Past studies have concluded that about one-third of market and restaurant seafood products were mislabeled and up to one-third of the wild-caught seafood imported to the U.S. is acquired through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While environmental groups say the protections must expand to include the full supply chain, the program promises to at least hold imported seafood to the same standard as domestically caught seafood, helping American fishermen and reducing consumer risk.
If you can’t beat meal kits…
Some restaurant brands are joining the trend to avoid having the services eat into their profits, Restaurant Business reports. Cracker Barrel offered heat-and-serve meals as a takeout option over Thanksgiving, and the hot dog chain Portillo’s has launched a subscription meal service. For $365 a year, their customers receive a partially cooked meal mailed to their home every other month. Their meal for January is an Italian Beef Sandwich Deluxe Package includes two pans of beef, two containers of gravy and eight rolls, for example.
USDA study finds low pesticide levels in U.S. foods
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced that its Pesticide Data Program, which collects data each year on pesticide residues in food, determined that 99 percent of produce samples it studied across the U.S. have low pesticide levels. The Pesticide Date Program, which has been in operation for 25 years, collected samples from 10 states across the country in 2015 to determine pesticide levels in a wide variety of foods including apples, cucumbers, spinach and peanut butter, to name a few. The pesticide levels are based on limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which Food Safety News reports are the strictest in the world. Residues exceeding the EPA’s levels were found in 54 samples, or less than 1 percent of the samples tested.
Make hay with your hashtags
Just about every day, there’s an occasion people recognize on social media with a hashtag, whether to build awareness of an important cause or to simply have fun. You can use these hashtag holidays to build your brand. Sprout Social recommends you first determine how relevant the hashtag holiday is to your brand – it should build rapport with your audience and not annoy them. Is the correct hashtag being used? If you have a list of hashtag holidays you’d like to promote, try plugging them into Sprout’s Twitter Listening Report to see which occasions generated the most volume and shares and to make sure you’re using the most widely used version of a hashtag. Finally, does the hashtag holiday overlap with other major holidays or events that are central to your brand? Check your calendar and prioritize before you post.
Amazon tests tech-enabled grab-and-go concept
Chef-prepared breakfasts, lunches and dinners with no cashiers or check-out lines. This is Amazon’s new grab-and-go food concept – a hybrid of a grocery store, meal kit service and quick-service restaurant. Customers use a smartphone app to gain entry to an 1,800-square-foot facility called Amazon Go that lets them collect the groceries and ready-to-eat foods they want, then leave, reports Restaurant Business. All costs are calculated and charged through the app. Ready-made foods include salads, sandwiches and baked goods prepared onsite and displayed in cases much like those in Pret A Manger, the report says. Amazon meal kits will also be available for purchase. This concept is currently in a test phase – Amazon says it intends to build 20 supermarket-style facilities.
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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