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.
Recreate your restaurant’s experience offsite
Restaurants need to find a way to get into consumers’ homes. That was a key message restaurant operators heard at the IFMA Presidents Conference in Arizona this month, Restaurant Business reports. NPD Group’s David Portalatin said the number of meals per capita that are eaten onsite at a restaurant have reached an all-time low for the fourth consecutive year – and that restaurant meals are eaten at home 40 percent of the time. Accenture’s Chris Roark says that since growth is slowest for the top 25 restaurant chains, it’s the small innovators who are likely help the industry grow – those who can offer a unique experience to consumers looking for a meal and to help them enjoy it wherever they like.
Create new twists on ethnic foods (without turning them upside down)
As the traditional foods and spices of foreign countries gain a growing following in the U.S., a number of chefs are taking heat for taking too many liberties with classic foods from cultures different from their own. In one recent example, NPR reported that Bon Appetit’s “ode” to Halo-Halo, the Filipino specialty that combines shaved ice and tropical fruit, set off a furor in the Filipino community with its concoction of blueberries, blackberries, lime juice, coconut milk, gummy bears and popcorn. Evolution and creativity are important in the kitchen but consider how the tools and ingredients you use can impact flavor, texture, health and overall authenticity of the dish – and when in doubt, ask people in the community to weigh in.
Go with the grain
Quinoa’s time has passed, according to Datassential, and now the food world is looking for the next healthy grain to capture consumers’ interest. Progressive Grocer reports that puffed and popped versions of quinoa are adding new crunch and texture to everything from salads to granola to soup, and different-colored grains like black and brown rice, red wheat and purple wheat and corn are on the rise too. If you’re looking to add some relative newcomers to your menu, consider options like nutrient-dense millet and sorghum, as well as triticale, spelt and amaranth.
Other fish in the sea
Americans’ fish consumption has shot up in the past year. NPR reports that Americans are eating an average of 15.5 pounds per person per year, a rise of nearly one pound from the previous year and the largest increase in 20 years. However, there is much room for increased variety in the fish Americans consume. The National Fisheries Institute says shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be the most-consumed fish and have been on top for the past decade. If you’d like to expand your restaurant’s fish offering, consider incorporating trash fish/bycatch onto your menu. These wild fish, which fishermen inadvertently catch along with the salmon or tuna or other fish they bring in, are healthier and more sustainable than their farmed counterparts, Toast says, and can lend versatile flavor to your menu.
New concepts coming to the U.S.
Three restaurants that have flourished internationally are set for launch in America. Restaurant Business reports that the casual, family-friendly Yellow Chilli, which has thrived in India, the U.A.E. and Oman under a celebrity chef who developed the brand, promises a “gastronomic tour of India” offering classic Indian comfort foods and modern dishes. Its first U.S. outlet will open in Santa Clara, Calif. Brownieria, a brownie-centric dessert café concept successful in Brazil, will launch in the Orlando, Fla. area. It offers gourmet desserts and pastries using premium ingredients. Finally, Fox & Fiddle, a British-style pub from Canada, is set to launch in California and then develop up to 75 units in the state. It markets itself as a neighborhood gathering place offering premium casual dining that mixes English, Canadian and American influences.
A glimpse at 2017 trends
As 2016 winds down, food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman shared some predictions for 2017 with Nation’s Restaurant News. They predict chefs to continue to feature vegetables in the center of the plate, use the whole vegetable to minimize waste (think carrot tops and beet greens) and concoct new plant-based burgers and other vegetable proteins. Carnivores can look forward to fresh, high-quality beef offered in an increasing number of restaurants with butcher shops attached – customers can select meat to take home or have the restaurant grill it and deliver it to their table. Finally, spice is on the rise, with cayenne pepper consumption rising 47 percent last year. Baum + Whiteman predicts an increase in spices used in Indian and Southeast Asian curries.
Avoid a contamination crisis
Your restaurant’s good name can take years to build but minutes to slip away – especially if you experience a food contamination crisis that hits social media. Food Safety Magazine recommends you take these steps for (relative) peace of mind: First, acknowledge your risks – one claim of food adulteration or contamination is reported to the FDA daily. Second, establish a team that includes top company leaders who can make immediate decisions, legal counsel with expertise in food risks, food experts who understand your production process, a regulatory expert and a PR manager. Third, draft a plan that considers a food product’s risk for contamination at each step of the production chain, how to communicate with employees and outside parties, and what procedures you can begin using now to prepare for a potential crisis. Finally, test your plan – ideally, each quarter.
Stay on top of food recalls
Last year, the USDA issued 626 recalls affecting meat, eggs, produce, prepared foods and more, Foodable reports. A communication lapse could mean your restaurant serves tainted foods without knowing there could be a problem. Foodable recommends you sign up for real-time email alerts through Foodsafety.gov, which provides the latest information on recalls in the U.S. Next, communicate immediately with all staff – look to ServSafe for step-by-step guidance. Finally, communicate with customers – prepare employees with talking points about how you’re managing a recalled product and contact vendors to adjust your inventory levels and reduce waste. Have a first-rate back-up menu in place in case of emergency to help you protect yourself and show customers you want to protect them too.
Siri, how can I improve my SEO?
If you’ve ever asked Siri to help you solve a problem, you won’t be surprised to know that mobile voice searches are changing how businesses use SEO to market themselves online. According to ComScore, at least half of all searches will be made by voice query by 2020. Restaurant Hospitality says that while there aren’t many tools available to see what people are searching for via voice, paid search lets you use a “broad match modifier” in which an ad is only triggered when a certain set of words (defined by who creates the ad) appear in a search. By analyzing your paid search metrics and filtering your mobile results, you can study the phrasing of the queries to identify the voice queries. This will help you develop a list of phrases customers use to find you – phrases you can then use to build a more targeted SEO strategy.
Rethink social media
If you’re managing your social media correctly, you’re in the minority – Foodable reports that according to Shama Hyder, CEO and founder of The Marketing Zen Group, only 20 percent of companies and their leaders are handling social media well. If you’re in the 80 percent, Hyder recommends you develop a consistent strategy and to not expect instant results. The strategy should be agile enough to enable you to take advantage of opportunities to showcase your leadership and test different approaches to see what works. Partner with brands that can help you reach target audiences. Finally, reframe your mindset about social media and consider not the tools but the universe itself – all media is now social in some way, so it’s not about using Facebook or Instagram but embracing a new way of communicating about your brand.
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.
The holidays are here…Are you ready?
Kiplinger’s latest forecast on retail sales and consumer spending predicts that this year’s holiday sales will top last year’s. There’s still a little time to fine-tune your plan to profit. First, ensure you have trained all staff and they’re motivated to provide great customer service. Modern Restaurant Management also recommends that if you’re planning holiday promotions and special events, check that you have ample inventory on hand to support them – as well as a back-up plan in case you need to make last-minute changes. Be ready to attract attention right after Thanksgiving with festive décor and a marketing campaign that coordinates your email communications, social media outreach, in-store promotional materials and website (use Google Trends to help you identify key words to better connect with your audience).
Prevent produce and fish from going to waste
Approximately 40 percent of food is discarded in the United States, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Toast reports that 26 percent of produce is wasted before it reaches grocery stores. It adds to the exorbitant amount of food overall that is sent to landfills (97 percent), where it breaks down and releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Foodservice operations can help cut down on two categories of commonly wasted food: produce and trash fish inadvertently caught by fishermen bringing in other varieties of fish. Consider buying “ugly” produce, featuring trash fish on your menu (they’re sustainable and often new to guests), and using the entire fruit, vegetable or fish on your menu – then composting leftovers.
Manage and protect your reputation
Your reputation is your greatest asset – and there are a growing number of threats to it, including food safety problems, concern over your ingredients’ origins, and supply chain security. One slip-up and a valued brand can generate harmful headlines in the news and on social media. A Food Safety Magazine report recommends you establish a team to identify potential issues (to help avoid being blindsided by unknown unknowns), then evaluate and monitor them. It needs to be well integrated into business operations, with involvement from people with decision-making authority at the top of the company. It should be able to identify problems early, connect them with business strategy, and then develop strategies to prevent them from happening or to change business practices to stop problems in their tracks.
Thanksgiving-week restaurant business is on the move
Thanksgiving day, arguably the pinnacle of American food appreciation each year, is upon us. This year, one in 10 Americans will plan to have their Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant and one in 20 will order an entire take-out meal from a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association. Those numbers could climb for restaurants in the future – the association says millennials are more likely than Gen Xers or baby boomers to dine out on Thanksgiving. Even if you’re not open on Thanksgiving, brace yourself for a busy day on Friday – two-thirds of shoppers say they will stop for a bite out in the midst of Black Friday shopping.
Food safety commandments
You get it, food safety is important. But the fast pace of a kitchen can mean it can be easy to miss problems or focus on the wrong things. Foodable recently boiled food safety down into these commandments: Skip deep cleans but clean as you go to avoid mishandling ingredients and cross-contamination. Know your vendors and don’t fall for a deal if you question the quality you’re getting. Use chemicals only when needed – too many of them in the food prep area can lead to contamination, and there are ample eco-conscious alternatives. Finally, establish a clear food safety policy, lead by example and set firm boundaries that staff cannot cross.
Point-of-sale systems step away from the countertop
McDonald’s recently said it was addressing a problem that exists for many brands in the quick-service and fast-casual categories: a slowdown in the speed of food delivery to customers due to factors like long lines and larger menus. The New York Times reports that McDonald’s plans to expand digital self-serve ordering stations to all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants, where guests can order from a touchscreen, then get a digital location device, sit down and wait for a server to deliver their food. Toast reports that other brands are taking similar steps, like having cashiers use mobile tablets to walk up and down a line of guests to take orders. It is helping guests get their food more quickly and restaurants serve more people each day.
Restaurant concepts in play for 2017
As 2016 winds down, industry trend watchers are looking ahead. Technomic’s Darren Tristano predicts we’ll see more of these restaurant concepts in the next year: Custom-built fast casual pizza, craft burgers that emphasize local, high-quality ingredients, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods that expand beyond Greek – particularly vegetarian and other health-conscious options, and an expansion of poke in the fast-casual segment. Poke, he said, is helping to open people’s minds to raw fish, particularly in lunch dayparts where it’s appearing more frequently in items like sushi burritos. Finally, as more restaurants expand breakfast and offer it all day, Tristano predicts we’ll see more upscale, high-quality breakfast concepts break out in 2017.
Out-recruit competitors for holiday staff
If you’re looking to hire extra staff this holiday season, you can stay ahead of the competition by streamlining the process. To help, Entrepreneur recommends you take some or all of these steps: Invest in mobile optimization efforts that eliminate the need for excessive scrolling, zooming and jumping to different menus (while 90 percent of workers look for jobs on mobile devices, only 54 percent of job applications work on them, according to Modern Restaurant Management); slim down your list of questions to focus only on what you need at the first stage of the recruitment process (i.e. are a cover letter and résumé sufficient?); and offer résumé upload options that candidates can use to link to their LinkedIn profile, Google drive or other file hosting service.
Spurlock launches quick-service restaurant
A new quick-service chain is poised to launch, courtesy of Morgan Spurlock, who sought to bring transparency to the quick-service restaurant industry in his 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me.” Spurlock will unveil a test of his new quick-service restaurant, Holy Chicken!, in Columbus, Ohio in January. His goal is to provide a transparent restaurant – first in Ohio and later in multiple cities around the country. Nation’s Restaurant News says quick-service industry professionals are advising
the restaurant, which will offer chicken from a farm Spurlock’s family owns in Alabama. The chicken will be free-range, cage-free and without added hormones and antibiotics. While fries will not be on the menu, the restaurant will offer coleslaw, greens and corn syrup-free sodas from a beverage company in Cleveland.
Restaurants that play games – either by offering their own or being a hub for other companies’ games – can build strong emotional connections with their guests while they collect valuable data on their preferences, according to a report from FSR magazine. If games are a natural extension of your brand, try creating one yourself to build guest relationships. But you don’t have to be a game developer to get in on the opportunity. Consider restaurants that simply piggyback on the popularity of established games – like a restaurant that participates in Pokémon Go and pings offers to people who stop in while playing, or another that assembles game kits, coupons and prizes for fantasy football-playing guests who join them to watch football games. The audience is already established – you just need to find a way to be a part of it.
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