A new computer model stands to make the identification of foodborne illness sources more accurate than traditional methods and significantly faster too — in fact, close to real time. That’s according to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, which co-led research with Google on a computer model that uses machine learning and aggregated search and location data from logged-in Google users. The model classifies Google searches indicating foodborne illness (e.g. “stomach cramps”), then connects those searches with de-identified and aggregated location history data from users who have saved it. That helps the model identify restaurants that people who searched for the terms have visited recently. A test of the model found that the rate of unsafe restaurants it detected was 52.1 percent, compared to 39.4 percent for inspections initiated by a complaint-based system.
Do you know how to determine your inventory’s magic number? If you can find your optimal inventory level it will help you set your ideal food cost percentage, all while helping you minimize waste and decrease the frequency of selling out of your most profitable menu items. Upserve suggests operators use this formula to determine how much they should be spending on inventory each day: Average monthly food sales x food cost percentage / days in the month.
Delivery isn’t just for Friday-night dinner anymore. As restaurants accommodate consumer demand for off-premise dining options, they are experimenting with non-traditional day parts and occasions to boost the benefits of delivery to their bottom line. Three cases in point: Panera, Cinnabon and Applebee’s. Restaurant Business reports that Panera, one of the rare large brands that uses its own employees to deliver meals to customers, is expanding its small-delivery service to include breakfast (allowing it to better compete with McDonald’s and Starbucks, which offer delivery via third parties). Cinnabon and Applebee’s are venturing into occasion-based delivery, with Cinnabon adding gift boxes containing different-sized orders of its signature cinnamon rolls. Applebee’s, on the heels of Taco Bell offering delivery of its 12-taco party packs for the holiday party season, is offering delivery of catering packages and “Monday Night Football” food packages designed for groups. If single-meal delivery during your Friday dinner rush doesn’t make financial sense for you, what other delivery options might?
Data can unlock valuable information about your guests, of course. Now Uber Eats is demonstrating that data can also reveal demand for restaurants that don’t yet exist (but could, with a little help). Uber Eats is currently the fastest-growing food delivery app, serving 70 percent of the U.S. Much of that growth is due to the development of virtual restaurants — brick-and-mortar restaurants operating one or more restaurants that deliver food via Uber Eats and exist only on that platform. For example, Eater reports that the Dallas sushi chain SushiYaa, which operates five brick-and-mortar locations, houses about two dozen other virtual restaurants — all with their own separate menus that consumers can access on the Uber Eats platform. Uber Eats actually approached SushiYaa about the opportunity more than a year ago and suggested they start a virtual restaurant to meet rising consumer demand for poke. Uber Eats data indicated demand for the food was increasing and SushiYaa had the necessary ingredients for it already on hand. All that was required of the restaurant was a business name, menu and logo. Uber Eats then provided the tablet used for processing orders and sent a photographer to take photos of menu items. The process took less than two weeks to take fruition and has been a win for the restaurant, which can now use its existing space and labor force to serve a much larger volume of business.
Know the signs of an unsafe journey
Is meat, fish or poultry on your menu? Those items have likely taken a multi-step journey to get there. While you have to rely on others in your supply chain to uphold food safety practices along the route, you can find clues about it when inspecting shipments. Restaurant Owner & Manager suggests these red flags that a shipment should be rejected: cartons that aren’t intact, dirty wrappers, colored spots on the item (purple, white, brown or green), strange odors (including an ammonia smell to fish), flesh with a soft appearance or that leaves a finger imprint when you press on it, fish eyes with a sunken-in appearance, and open shells on fresh shellfish.
When your food supplies arrive, do you have time to inspect each delivery? If not, you could be allowing food into your operation that you would otherwise reject, increasing your chances of spreading harmful pathogens. To ensure you’re allowing only thoroughly inspected shipments into your facility, Statefoodsafety.com suggests scheduling shipments to arrive at different times and not at peak hours when you may feel pressed to rush through an inspection.
Expecting a sales slowdown in the first weeks of the New Year? Use it as a time to set yourself up for success later in the year and to test out some new ideas. To bring in traffic despite the cold temperatures, OpenTable offers some suggestions: If you’re looking to launch or revamp your email newsletter or website, now is a good time to get the word out about special promotions, events and specials — and make sure all of the basic information on your website and other public-facing materials is up to date. You could also do something a little different with your menu: add some hot beverages to your offering, or if you have outdoor space, fully embrace the cold by turning your patio into a winter wonderland with string lights, make-your-own s’mores and warm blankets. If your city holds a Restaurant Week, join in to help attract dining-room traffic, but also focus on building your delivery business for customers less eager to brave the elements.
Customers who engage with businesses on social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money on those businesses than on others, according to research from Bain & Company. In your efforts to reel in those customers, remember to focus on the relationship instead of the sale. To avoid turning followers off by being too promotional, focus on making 80 percent of your content about topics that will spark conversation and just 20 percent on promoting new offers (though keep your content focused on topics related to your business). It helps if your brand has a distinct voice so that anyone on your team can post content and come across consistently. While it can be tempting to automate responses or use a selection of canned responses, use this approach sparingly — it can backfire if followers see through it.
Seize your digital domain
What’s your digital game plan? Your digital strategy can help you elevate your brand far beyond the walls of your restaurant by enhancing your connections with existing guests and helping you attract new ones. What’s more, the restaurant brands that develop a digital strategy and support it with the infrastructure it needs are likely to open up a wide lead over competitors in the months ahead — while those that don’t are likely to see their guest engagement suffer. (For example, two brands with robust digital strategies, Domino’s and Panera, currently receive a large portion of their orders via digital — 60 percent and 25 percent, respectively.) That’s according to research shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference Trade Show in Orlando. To put the industry in perspective when it comes to digital, restaurants leading the pack in this area are spending 30 to 50 percent (and sometimes much more) of their marketing budgets on it. Of the digital tools restaurants are using to engage customers and generate data, the most important ones to focus on are the mobile app, loyalty program, online ordering capability and delivery strategy. It pays to play offense with digital as well, with restaurants actively using digital seeing 5 percent annual growth over the previous five-year period as opposed to 2 percent annual growth for brands using digital more defensively. That is making it important for restaurants to invest in technology platforms, hardware and software to support their digital strategy, though the proliferation of cloud-based services is helping to bring the overall costs of investment down. Just make sure your strategy considers the needs of your front-of-house and back-of-house operations, all while helping you keep your guests engaged.
Stay tuned for food delivery safety standards
At a time when third-party delivery is evolving in futuristic ways — like delivery by robot, or, if Uber’s three-year plans play out, by drone — it can be easy to neglect the most important elements of a delivered meal: food that tastes good and is safe to eat following its journey. The National Restaurant Association is taking steps to change that. It is assembling a group of food delivery services and restaurants to develop a code of best practices for keeping food safe during its delivery to the customer. Watch this space for more information when the practices are released.
Is your off-premise strategy on the mark?
Off-premise dining is on the rise — 86 percent of consumers are using off-premise services at least monthly, while one-third of consumers are using them more frequently than they did a year ago, according to Technomic. As the demand for off-premise dining climbs, it will have impacts across your business well beyond your choice of a delivery provider. For example, it is likely to affect the mix of items you offer on your menu, the customers you target, how you design your restaurant, how you package your food and how you develop your loyalty program. Restaurant Business suggests offering meal bundles with entrees, sides and desserts for busy families looking for easy and affordable options — create some pre-set or customizeable options so the customer can avoid ordering items a la carte. Since younger consumers are big supporters of off-premise dining (Technomic’s Takeout & Off-Premise report found that nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds are ordering food to go more often than they did three years ago), consider offering some lighter, nutritious, unprocessed options that appeal to health-conscious people on the go. Your restaurant design should streamline the process of picking up food for customers and delivery drivers, and evolve with the idea that an increasing share of your business will be from off-premise sales. Choose packaging that ensures each item gets to the consumer in good condition — fries, for example, should not be in packaging that traps steam. Offer discounts or free items when customers bring in friends, visit on their birthday, or spend a certain amount of money with you. This is all to say that while your off-premise strategy impacts more than just these areas, it’s important to trace it through each step of your business. You may understand what your customers like, but your front of house and back of house (and the technology supporting them) need to be ready to deliver it.
Beef up your burger menu
Who doesn’t love a burger? There are appealing options for carnivores and vegetarians alike, and while you can’t go wrong with a classic version on your menu, there is ample room for innovation too. If you want to bring some creativity to your burger selection, try some on-trend tweaks. Restaurant Business suggests swapping out the traditional cheddar for options like Gruyere, mozzarella, Muenster or goat cheese, which have all risen in popularity on menus according to Technomic. Liven up your condiments with ethnic sauces like Sriracha, sweet chili or poblano (and take it further by creating burgers themed to a particular global cuisine). Finally, substitute a premium roll like a pretzel bun or brioche for the standard roll — it will help your burger stand out on the menu and also justify a higher price point.
Bring your costs and the market into “Alignment”
Before any product arrives at your door and on the plate of your guest, it passes through many hands and layers of pricing and profit formulas. The system is complicated — and ripe for pricing errors due largely to the manual processes still used to conduct business. One weak link in the supply chain can result in billing errors between manufacturers, distributors and you. Team Four launched a new program — Alignment4 — to help you identify those errors and correct them quickly so you can proactively manage your food costs. The program starts by analyzing receipts from your distributors, then examining product-level detail by invoice for a set amount of time. We can then plug in items that have been specially priced and compare them to what you were actually charged. The program can not only determine if a billing mistake was made, but it can also help you identify purchasing trends so you have a better sense of market values. If you are having a food-cost problem, Alignment4 can analyze your data and determine (soon at a daily speed) if a pricing mistake was made, if there was a temporary change in the market following a hurricane, or if a simple shift in your product mix might solve the problem. It converts data into actionable steps to lower food costs while helping you maintain standards for food quality and guest satisfaction. Gaining this insight into your data (all while keeping it anonymous) through Alignment4 provides other benefits too: You will get a customized inflation and market report that considers your past purchases and product mix, providing you with meaningful information to help you set menu selections, prices and portion sizes. Team Four can also approach suppliers on your behalf and solicit opportunities for you to consolidate purchases with other operators, whether you have 1000 locations or just one. For more information about how Alignment4 can help your restaurant, contact us at email@example.com.
Restaurant investment designed to maximize shared resources
As investors look to bring the next foodservice concepts to fruition, a new trend is becoming clear: Much like the transportation, retail, media and logistics industries before it, foodservice businesses are now attracting technology investment designed to streamline and bring efficiencies to multiple operations at once. For example, Tech Crunch reports that millions of dollars are now flowing into networks of shared kitchens, storage facilities and pickup counters that are likely to become the next big restaurant brands. These networks can help cut back on overhead and make operators more nimble when it comes to hiring labor and conceiving of new menu concepts. The trend is something existing operators can put into practice too: How might you and your neighboring businesses collaborate or share resources to become more efficient and flexible?
An emerging model for restaurant investment?
Restaurants can be a tough investment — and when operators are beholden to investors looking for swift profits and some say in financial and operational matters, the challenges can multiply. But a handful of new investment groups, with restaurant industry veterans at the helm, are coming onto the scene and could be changing the model for restaurant investment. Ron Shaich, founder of Panera, along with his partner and fellow Panera veteran Keith Pacal, just announced a $300 million investment fund for restaurants. Skift Table reports that the fund gives “evergreen” capital and industry expertise to operators in an effort to give them additional time to build a business that has staying power. (This is opposed to traditional venture capitalists or private equity firms that invest in companies with the intention of building business quickly and selling at a profit after three to five years.) While profits matter to the fund, there is less of a rush about them — perhaps because of the industry insiders running the operation. Shaich’s goal for the fund, he says, is to give operators an alternative to having to fundraise, negotiate board disagreements or navigate Wall Street culture when they are trying to run a restaurant — all challenges for him when he ran Panera. The fund comes on the heels of Danny Meyer’s similar private investment firm, as well as the Kitchen Fund, which Eater reports has invested in such industry successes as Sweetgreen. These funds could represent an emerging new model for operators looking for financial tools and operational support with fewer strings attached.
Turn your customers into subscribers
As Amazon has disrupted consumer perceptions about the accessibility of food and other products, some food delivery companies are taking cues from its playbook by offering Amazon Prime-style subscription services. DoorDash, for one, recently unveiled a program in which subscribers pay $10 per month in exchange for free delivery from participating restaurants. Subscriptions could be a winner for restaurants and delivery companies alike, according to Skift senior research analyst Seth Borko, who said such services tend to encourage higher consumer spending and utilization. The challenge, he says, is making sure consumers feel they are getting their money’s worth.
Tech innovators to track
A whopping 95 percent of restaurant operators agree that technology improves their business efficiency, while 73 percent of guests agree that tech enhances their experience at a restaurant, according to research from Toast. If you’re looking to advance your technology game, look to three brands that Restaurant Business is recognizing with Tech Accelerator Awards for their leadership in advancing back-of-house operations, data science, consumer-facing tools, automation and other technology to enhance business. The first is Domino’s, which reports taking nearly two-thirds of its orders through digital channels. The brand is innovating delivery by launching its Hotspots delivery service to parks and other locations that don’t have an address, as well as testing self-driven cars in certain markets. TGI Friday’s has shown itself to be an innovator with AI and consumer data, focusing on its in-restaurant and online sales to capture guest information from their POS, social media posts, credit card transactions, mobile devices and bots to deliver more personalized experiences and messaging. Beyond that, the brand is exploring new ways for consumers to place orders, such as via Facebook, Amazon’s Alexa and OnStar devices offered through GM. Finally, the emerging brand Zume Pizza is being recognized for its robot-centric premise: Pizzas are made with the help of robots, cooked in mobile kitchens that are centrally located based on predictive demand, then delivered by car or scooter. (If you aspire to such a model, note that Zume is planning to license the technology at the base of its business.)
Delivery’s next development?
As consumers are demanding their favorite foods whenever and wherever they want them, delivery companies are following suit. Popular overseas delivery operator Deliveroo just launched a new feature, Food Market, which could be a sign of where delivery is headed in the U.S. (particularly in light of reports that Uber is in talks to buy Deliveroo). Food Market enables consumers to select dishes from different restaurants when placing a delivery order via Deliveroo, so they can order their favorite salad from one restaurant and their favorite burger from another — or more easily satisfy the tastes of several people when ordering for a group.
Find the perfect package
As off-premise dining has become increasingly common, food packaging has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Take IHOP’s new multi-tiered take-away packaging, designed to keep combo menu items hot, with minimal moisture, in a compact carrying case. Whether you choose glass, metal, plastics, paper, cardboard, environmentally sustainable materials now in production or some combination of the above, Food Safety Tech advises operators to keep some parameters in mind. Above all, the packaging you select for your takeout menu should help you preserve food and provide a barrier to deterioration due to bacteria, contamination by insects or other pests, and physical jolts during transport. Balance the packaging’s impact on the environment with any benefits it provides in minimizing food waste. After all, inadequate storage, preservation and transport of food are key causes of food waste, so consider how your packaging might help minimize it. Is it durable enough to be reused? Can it be recycled or composted? Next, consider what marketing images and information can be added to your packaging. This, along with the indirect message you send through your choice of packaging materials, can help the consumer connect with your brand and values. Finally, in an environment where new players are entering the delivery market, consider adding an element of traceability to your packaging.
Know thy supplier
Amid extreme weather and other changing market conditions, it can be tempting to favor suppliers that offer ingredients for low prices. But hiring a cheap, potentially unregulated supplier can result in a foodborne illness outbreak due to food that hasn’t been properly harvested, processed, stored and delivered. When vetting potential suppliers, Statefoodsafety.com advises asking for records of regulatory permits, licenses and inspection reports, as well as HACCP or HARPC certifications. Conduct an in-person audit of the supplier to understand its manufacturing practices and ask questions. Finally, consider the promises you make to guests about the food you serve: Do you say you offer sustainably sourced seafood, for example? Make sure that you’re aware of any legal requirements tied to food you serve, and that the supplier meets those requirements.
The benefits of full service without the costs
As the minimum wage continues its ascent in many cities around the country and the cost of living makes it difficult for operators to find and retain quality staff, many restaurants are experimenting with new service structures — such as transitioning from a full-service model to a pub-style, ordering-at-the-counter model, for example. But now that these restaurants lack full-service waitstaff who can promote specials to guests or make menu suggestions that can lead to larger checks, some of them are getting creative about helping guests add to their orders. For instance, Restaurant Business reports that at Xoco, Rick Bayless’s counter-service restaurant in Chicago, guests often overlook dessert when ordering their meal — and if they crave an after-dinner dessert or drink, they may not feel it’s worthwhile to get up and stand in line at the counter again to order it. To make sure people aren’t missing the opportunity to add to their order, bussers at Xoco wear t-shirts that say “I can get you dessert.” Guests can simply flag down anyone wearing one of these shirts and streamline the process of ordering extra food and drink — and Xoco still reaps the benefit of selling these larger-margin, post-meal items to guests.
Finding a symbiotic delivery relationship
There has been a lot of press about how restaurants are losing profits and guest data as they partner with third-party delivery companies. But since off-premise dining seems to be here to stay, restaurants and delivery companies are trying to generate some mutual benefits when it comes to delivering food to consumers. A recent Bloomberg report indicated that since McDonald’s launched its partnership with Uber Eats, delivery orders have been larger than average in-house orders and have helped the brand build late-night business. Further, Uber Eats has been mining its data to help local restaurants transform their delivery menus. When the company found that its Chicago-based users were searching its app for Hawaiian poke delivery, it approached sushi restaurants in the
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Food For Thought And Profit is brought to you by Team Four Foodservice/Value 4. We offer the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.