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
Sanitize it right
When you use hot water to sanitize surfaces, take precautions with temperature to protect food safety. Water used as a sanitizer in mechanical washing machines should be cooler than 194˚F, with a final sanitizing rinse of at least 180˚F. Water in a stationary-rack, single-temperature machine should be at least 165˚F. Water used in the third compartment of a three-compartment sink should be at least 171˚F. Food safety research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that cleaned items be exposed to these temperatures for at least 30 seconds to ensure they are properly sanitized.
Ready for guests, no matter the weather
Does a rainy day spell slow sales for your restaurant? For many operators located in regions with widely fluctuating weather, the forecast can have a big impact on business. Denver restaurant Mad Greens found a way to keep its ordering in lock step with what’s happening outside. The restaurant connected its ordering system to a weather forecasting service that can help it prepare more accurately for the size of its crowds by adjusting order sizes. The technology has helped the restaurant reduce food waste by 30 percent.
Go local to manage rising shipping costs
Offering local ingredients on your menu is not only on trend; it’s also becoming a necessity amid the ongoing truck driver shortage that’s expected in the coming years – and the escalating ingredient costs that will result from it. Freight Transportation Research Associates reports that shipping rates in the U.S. shot up 14 percent in the year ending June 30. To manage price hikes, do you have a local strategy for everything on your menu – not just the seasonal specialties? Now is the time to anticipate menu changes you can make to better adapt to what’s available in your region throughout each season – and to identify a list of back-up suppliers who may not have as far to go to deliver product. You can even make it competitive, like Bounce in Milwaukee, which lists beer selections in order of the restaurant’s proximity to each brewery, Restaurant Business reports.
Be customer-service savvy on social media
Social media channels provide inexpensive, visible stages for you to promote your restaurant, extend your brand and deliver customer service. Just remember the right and wrong ways to use it when serving consumers. Social Media Week recommends you use it to listen to what people are saying about you (before you use it to talk about what you want them to know about you). That means that when a customer complains about you on social media, engage with that person one-on-one to show you care about making the situation better. The customer may not always be right but if you respond defensively, it will always make him or her look like a victim – and encourage others to avoid you. In an age when transparency is prized, resist the urge to edit consumers’ responses or delete them – Smuckers, for example, disabled customers’ ability to comment altogether and it can make a brand look worse, according to Customer Experience Insight. In the case of a customer’s negative comment or one in which you’re not sure of the best approach, it’s always best to share your response with team members before posting. While customers expect a fast response (an Edison Research study found that 40 percent of customers expect a response to a social media post within an hour), a short delay can mean your post has a more constructive, positive tone. That said, don’t ignore the forum you have. It can be viewed by millions of people, so make sure you post fresh content frequently.
Tap the millennial talent pool
Chances are you’re not only trying to market to millennials but also trying to engage them as members of your team. Making a connection with them as employees can help you enhance your workplace culture and reach those potential guests you’d like to attract and turn into loyal customers. Millennial Marketing suggests you try to build a collaborative work environment before a competitive one – 88 percent of millennials prefer that in a workplace. Take an interest in their personal lives and demonstrate that you know the work they do with you is just one part of who they are. At work, provide detailed and frequent feedback, describe specific actions they can take (while leaving room for them to leave their own stamp on their work) and provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions and share opinions. A survey by the HR services provider TriNet found that 85 percent of millennials felt more confident in their roles when they have frequent conversations with their managers. Those conversations can be digital or face-to-face – they have grown up using digital media to communicate, after all – but don’t discount how much they value face-to-face interaction with you. In fact, the talent development consulting firm Wild Blue Yonder says millennials would prefer an in-person interaction over an email if given the option. Anytime you need to share serious feedback or discuss setting goals, go with a face-to-face meeting.
The rise of social video
Is the content you post online mostly text, photos or video? In an earnings call last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 10 years ago, most of the content shared online was text, it was now photos, and soon it will be video. To research the rise of video on social media, Animoto conducted a survey of 1,000 consumers and 500 marketers to get a sense of how businesses are using video to market to their customers. It found that 64 percent of consumers say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a buying decision they have made in the past month and 81 percent of marketers are optimizing their videos for mobile viewing. Facebook, Instagram Stories and Snapchat are the top three channels where consumers are viewing videos from business brands. When posting video, remember that visual appeal is all-important – according to Digiday, 85 percent of posted on Facebook is watched with the sound off.
Don’t fear the delivery app
Do you think that offering delivery could hamper your in-restaurant traffic? Those concerns could be unfounded, according to the data insights firm Sense360. Street Fight reports that the firm tracked 21 million anonymous full-service and quick-service restaurant visits before and after guests had downloaded third-party restaurant delivery apps. The research found that the downloading of these apps does not result in any significant drop in restaurant visits – in fact, consumers tend to use the app alongside restaurant visits. Consumers who download these apps tend to have higher incomes and visit fine dining restaurants 2.5 times more often, according to the study. Therefore, instead of looking at apps as competition for in-restaurant sales, it may make more sense to see them as competitors of grocery stores and grocery delivery services.
Tell your story on Instagram
Instagram Stories is growing fast – it now has 250 million users, according to Recode – and it’s an ideal platform for restaurants. Food lovers can post photos and video, along with drawings, text and stickers. Skift says the platform suits restaurants so well because while Instagram gives operators a place to post well-curated images of the menu, Instagram Stories can help build engagement because it allows for a more casual, behind-the-scenes look at your kitchen, staff or ingredients. You can introduce followers to new ingredients you’re weaving into your summer menu – and everything disappears in 24 hours, so your tone can be more low-key. Instagram is backed by Facebook and has highly engaged viewers: A new report from TrackMaven says Instagram is the stand-out leader in social media engagement, with 96 average interactions per post per 1,000 followers. Even so, there’s still room for growth.
Simple steps to pest prevention
Preventing contamination in your kitchen this summer can be as easy as cleaning up at regular intervals, enlisting employees’ help and changing your lighting. In a recent report in Food Safety Tech, the entomologist Tim Husen recommends asking employees to watch for signs of pest activity. Alert them of areas where pests are likely to breed, as well as what signs of pest activity look like. He suggests setting a zero-tolerance policy for spills, debris and waste, as well as daily, weekly and monthly sanitation routines on top of an annual deep cleaning. Remember to clean beneath the surface – of equipment where bacteria may grow, and around boxes and inside gutters where pests hide. Directing lighting toward your facility (not mounting it on your building) and using sodium-vapor lighting or LEDs instead of mercury-vapor lighting can ensure you’re not attracting pests too.
Help your kitchen handle summer heat
Summer is sizzling, and the change in temperature can pose additional challenges to restaurants. Food safety advisor Lisa Ackerley suggests operators take extra precautions in the kitchen. Sweltering days can make it difficult for refrigerators to hold their temperature for food storage, for example. Keep refrigerator doors closed and avoid storing warm food inside, as it is difficult for refrigerators to cool warm food to the proper temperature quickly enough. Help food reach room temperature more quickly by reducing the size of stored portions to dissipate heat or cooling it in an ice bath first. Make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated but resist the urge to open windows and doors, which can invite pests inside. If you’re preparing or serving food outside, ensure you keep it out of the 41 to 145˚ zone, where pathogens can multiply rapidly. That goes for food deliveries you receive as well – ensure you can promptly store perishables as they arrive.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
Be a smooth operator
It’s a new year – take a fresh look at your restaurant’s efficiency. FSR recommends you consider these ideas: What steps does your team have to take from creating the menu to delivering service? If you analyze each step, you’ll uncover processes that are slow, messy or inefficient. Where is technology needed – or not? Too little capacity can stall your growth during peak periods and too much adds unnecessary expense, so ensure you have the right support to ease your biggest pain points. Is your restaurant’s layout as efficient as possible? More space means greater costs so make it count by considering how employees and guests move throughout the restaurant. Are your menu items and promotions easily prepared during peak periods? If not, simplify. Do you have the right staff in place at the right time to increase sales? Remove bottlenecks and roadblocks so the smallest number of people can capably provide the best hospitality.
Moneyball for restaurants
Can you quickly answer questions such as “Who are my best- and worst-performing servers?” or “Why are my ingredient costs rising?” Your competition may be able to. Consider tuning in to software companies like Damian Mogavero’s firm, Avero, which advises 10,000 restaurants in 70 countries about how to use data to maximize performance – much like how statistics were applied to make a winning baseball team in the film Moneyball, Skift reports. The company scrutinizes data that can get lost in a spreadsheet. It consults about such topics as how to identify and stop theft in a restaurant as technology evolves, or for seasonal operators, how weather patterns affect business and how to make the most of the weather they get. Mogavero details the power of analytics in his new book, The Underground Culinary Tour.
How a food trend is born
Do you know how avocado toast, broccoli rabe and kale became hot menu items? The Wall Street Journal and food and beverage consulting firm PadillaCRT analyzed trendy foods’ paths to stardom and found they have qualities in common: It must be approachable and easily understood by a mass audience – something a person could assemble without tracking down special ingredients. It must be seeded with the right group – PadillaCRT’s Jason Stemm said avocado toast took off after it was served to clean-living aficionados at the Wanderlust “Yoga in the City” event in New York in 2012. Finally, the trend must have a means to expand, whether that’s adoption by celebrities, an Instagram-worthy appearance, or a mention on a popular food blog. For the record, Stemm predicts kale sprouts could soon have their moment in the spotlight.
Starbucks commits to hiring refugees, providing healthcare
As the restaurant industry adapts to a new administration, Starbucks has stepped out with an announcement that may make waves: CEO Howard Schultz announced recently that Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 refugees over five years and will continue to offer health insurance to employees, whether or not the Affordable Care Act is repealed. QSR magazine reports that Schultz said the company will focus first on hiring those refugees who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support staff in countries where the U.S. has needed support. He promised that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, employees will be able to reclaim their insurance coverage within 30 days of losing it, rather than wait for open enrollment.
Food delivery industry’s bumpy ride
Industry analysts point to food delivery as the big space for growth in 2017. But there’s much to learn from the industry’s growing pains: Take Munchery, the San Francisco startup that cooks and delivers meals to hundreds of thousands of customers in several cities. Bloomberg reports that according to current and former employees, Munchery has had to cut back on premium ingredients like organic chicken and wild salmon to keep budgets in check, and that from September 2014 through July 2016, Munchery’s San Francisco kitchen made more than 653,000 meals that were never sold. While a company spokesperson said overproduction was a given in the food industry, the startup’s challenges reveal difficulty in striking the balance between profits and losses in food delivery.
Tap into the wedding market
Domino’s has found an innovative way to appeal the Millennial consumer base and capitalize on guest loyalty: Pizza lovers who are engaged to be married can now create a wedding registry on the site. Registrants who prefer receiving gifts of pizza instead of the traditional wedding china can register for pizza to be served at wedding festivities like bachelorette parties or offered as a take-away to guests as they depart the wedding reception. Couples can also register for gift cards good for a low-key date night or night off of cooking sometime after their wedding. Registrants can share their wish list with guests on social media, of course.
Walmart finds an organic restaurant partner
In a new sign showing the mainstream appeal of organic food, a Walmart Supercenter near Orlando, Fla. is opening an organic quick-service restaurant, according to Restaurant Hospitality. The restaurant, Grown, is the first quick-service restaurant on the east coast to be certified organic by the U.S.D.A. The restaurant, which was founded last year by the former professional basketball player Ray Allen and his wife, Shannon, serves breakfast, soup, salad, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies and cold-pressed juices. Walmart pursued Grown as a partner to help promote foods local to Florida and connect guests to fresh foods sold in other parts of the store.
Signs of a vendor that protects food safety
Considering a new food vendor? Or trying to decide whether to split from another? Food Safety magazine suggests you analyze a number of factors, such as to what degree they’re innovating. For example, do they have continuous temperature monitoring so that if there’s a problem with your order, they can demonstrate the temperature of the stock at all stages of the journey? Do they anticipate your needs, stay in touch and add unexpected value? Such companies often show their leadership by serving on councils that make it a public service to share their expertise. Your vendors, whether it’s your pest control expert or the account manager of your seafood supply, should make an effort to be on a first-name basis with you and expend extra effort to ensure your needs are met.
The biggest food recalls of 2016
Food recalls surged 22 percent last year as compared to 2015 and two of the main sources were Listeria contamination and undeclared allergens. Major culprits included milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat and a smaller, but still significant, number of recalls were issued for soy and tree nuts. That's according to Food Safety magazine, which tracked food product recalls issued in the U.S. and Canada based on announcements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The recalls stemmed from a variety of causes, including insufficient food production and monitoring processes, failure to maintain facilities and equipment, failure to comply with federal food safety regulations and inability to track ingredients through the supply chain.
Mobile technology driving future of the drive-thru
Technology changes so quickly that it can be hard to know where to invest – but mobile technology seems to be at the foundation of much of it. Take the touchscreens appearing at many drive-thrus nationwide. Restaurant Business reports that in five years, those screens will be passé. It’s more likely that the drive-thrus of the future will be pick-up windows for food that guests order in a variety of ways, according to Rob Grimes of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association, such as via voice-recognition software on site, the restaurant’s website, mobile apps or their car’s GPS system. Some operators are already using mobile apps that connect to their restaurant’s point-of-sale system to order food and set a pick-up time, at which point restaurant staff bring the meal to the person’s car.
Find the positive in a split shift
Scheduling employees to work long, continuous shifts may not make financial sense when you have a long lull in traffic between your lunch and dinner rush. Toast suggests you consider the split shift – dividing the work day into separate parts, say 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Depending on your state’s regulations of split shifts, it may make good financial sense to do it. Of course, there are negatives for many employees – but for others, there could be important positives too. Toast says if your staff includes people who care for family, they may welcome having a full-time job that includes a break in the day, allowing them to pick up children from school or check on a parent. Split shifts can also allow you to offer employees more work hours without decreasing the hours of other staff.
Big Mac ATM launches a tweet storm
McDonald’s hasn’t led the pack with its technology offerings but a recent event they staged helped give them some marketing buzz as a fun, progressive company. On January 31 at their Kenmore Square location in Boston, McDonald’s activated their “customized digital Big Mac ATM.” Pymnts.com said between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day, the ATM dispensed two new Big Mac sizes – the Mac Jr. and the Grand Mac – for free. In exchange, guests (who lined up down the block for a free sandwich) supplied their Twitter handle. The ATM then generated a tweet on the user’s account.
Making a go of pay-what-you-can
In an industry of rising labor costs and low profit margins, how are pay-what-you-can restaurants faring? The Washington Post estimates there about 50 such operations in the nation that are trying to transform the way the public views food assistance and charity by bringing together people who can afford to pay for nutritious food and those who can’t. Some locations rely on volunteer workers and ask that if guests cannot pay, they do something to help. It’s obviously no easy task to run a sustainable operation. Still, some have managed to make it work: Denise Cerreta’s One World Café in Salt Lake City eked out a profit for a few years. Though Cerreta has since closed the café, she now focuses on her One World Everybody Eats foundation, which offers business plans and mentoring to community restaurant owners.
Add some surprise to your fries
French fries: They’re the ultimate comfort food. Lucky Peach mentions some international twists that could make your fries menu centerpieces. Take Kapsalon, fries topped with döner meat, Gouda cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and/or onions, topped with creamy garlic sauce and sambal. Or Kenyan Masala fries with spicy tomato sauce, coriander and lemon. In Bulgaria, fries are covered in a white, brined, lemony cheese called sirene. Chaat masala fries are coated with a spice mix common in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan that includes a sweet and sour green-mango powder, black salt, asafetida, cumin, coriander, dried ginger, red chili, salt, and pepper. To balance savory with sweet, Food & the Menu suggests Japan-inspired Daigaku Imo fries coated with soy sauce, sugar, honey, sesame seeds and salt.
Delivery-only for the masses
Could delivery-only restaurants make dine-in restaurants obsolete? A new Technomic study says take-out meals are now taking sales from grocery and dining-in restaurants – and some big-name restaurateurs are tapping into the delivery-only niche. The New York Times reports that David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group took in a $7 million first round of venture capital financing for Ando, its delivery-only restaurant. The investment is likely intended to make delivery-only a mass-market concept. Considering Chang’s portfolio includes more than a dozen restaurants in three countries, nine dessert bars, two cocktail lounges, a prepared foods business and more, he may be the person to take delivery-only global.
NASDA announces 2018 Farm Bill priorities
This month, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) announced its priorities for the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to provide consumers with access to the “safest, highest quality and most affordable” food supply. Its priorities include planning loans for farmers and ranchers who need to update infrastructure to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Market Access Program and invasive species programs, additional funding for animal disease coordination, and investment in voluntary conservation programs.
USDA paves the way for increased organic food production
If you’d like to increase the volume of organic food you serve, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken steps to make more of it available. Reuters reports that to increase the production of organic foods (sales continue to hit new highs and production hasn’t kept pace with demand), the department has launched a program to certify farmland that growers are in the process of switching to organic. By obtaining certification, farmers will be able to sell products raised in accordance with organic guidelines for higher prices than conventionally grown foods, which should help growers cover the costs of transitioning to organic farming, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Apps to take the pain out of staffing
Working in a restaurant can be a tough sell for a talented employee who wants to be valued and well compensated. So how do you find the best people out there? Technology can help. Chefs + Tech recommended a few apps that show promise, including Culinary Agents, Poached Jobs, Industry (which is planning a nationwide launch) and New York City-specific Jitjatjo, which Food & Wine referred to as the “Uber of finding restaurant staff.” Some focus on networking to find good hires and others are more focused on filling kitchen shifts – if you’re looking, give them a try.
Stay relevant through social media
Even if your restaurant doesn’t have flashy, up-to-the-minute kiosks, you can show you’re modern and relevant just by getting social media right. OpenTable recommends you try to inspire people and gain visibility by sharing what excites you – be it new menus, dining room changes, specials, or a new chef. Instagram Stories and Snapchat are good for sharing casual stories, images or video. OpenTable also recommends you live-stream content to attract viewers – using Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope to show an ingredient-buying trip or a fun exchange between staff members, for example.
Lessons learned from tech stumbles
Technology rollouts aren’t often smooth – even for Starbucks during its mobile ordering launch. The company recently said it had experienced a 20 percent increase in mobile pay and ordering during peak hours, which caused crowding that resulted in guests leaving without making purchases. In a CNBC report, restaurant analysts shared their take-aways, which might help you see what investments you may need to make ahead of adopting the technology. Specifically, they said it’s important to hire and train staff to work differently during peak times so you can avoid having to add staff. Review your traffic pattern to avoid bottlenecks and reconfigure your store if needed. Anticipate the need to accept many orders simultaneously – much like an e-commerce company has to – and use alerts and other technology to avoid overcrowding your location and overwhelming staff.
Shift seamlessly into a higher minimum wage
The start of 2017 meant an increase in the minimum wage in 19 states and a number of municipalities, with more increases expected in the next couple of years. How does a restaurant operator cope? Restaurant Hospitality recommends you take these steps: Cross-train your team, especially back-of-house employees. You will then have fewer people doing more (but higher-value) work. Then train those employees and encourage their input so they feel valued and stay. You can also adjust schedules and pay periods – try a two-week schedule instead of a one-week schedule to minimize shift switching and overtime, and shift pay periods to start midweek so instead of breaking overtime during busy weekend periods, you’re doing it when it’s easier to cut back.
What’s your overhead?
It’s hard to know how profitable you are if you’re not calculating your overhead accurately. Toast recommends you calculate it by collecting your indirect costs for a specific time period (e.g. rent, wages, utilities, advertising) and divide it by an allocation measure for the same time period (e.g. the total number of scheduled labor hours for the month). Then, reduce your overhead by cutting back on labor costs during slow periods where possible, swapping out legacy technology for newer technology that will be less expensive in the long run, reducing waste with a smart inventory system, subleasing space and asking staff where they see opportunities to improve practices.
Supermarkets step up their prepared meal game
As supermarkets become centers for fresh prepared food for people on the go, they’re proving to be worthy competition for restaurants. Now the Wegman’s supermarket chain is launching prepared Power Meals, nutritious combinations of main dishes and sides that might inspire (or compete with) restaurant operators. Each of the eight meals in Wegman’s Power Meals line has a maximum of 600 calories, 25 grams or more of protein, at least 5 grams of fiber, fewer than 1,000 mg of sodium, fewer than 10 grams of added sugar and at least one cup of vegetables, Food Dive reports. Priced between $8 and $15, the meals include entrée selections like kung pao chicken, king salmon tataki and tuna poke.
Technology can boost your wine sales
Looking to kick your wine list up a notch? Technology can help. Datassential says that even if you don’t have your food menu on a tablet, you can put your wine list on one, which makes it possible to update your inventory in real time – and avoid having to reprint your list throughout the week. A wine list app can suggest wines based on preferred flavors, prices and styles or even suggest a good pairing based on the dishes your table orders. These apps may help you tell the wine’s story by providing background videos about its makers, for example, or the origin of its grapes.
There’s no doubt restaurant delivery is taking off – and this year, much of that growth is coming from restaurants lacking a storefront. These restaurants are popping up across the country, according to a new report in Fast Company, and because they don’t need as many staff or as much square footage to operate, they’re cutting back on the costs that traditional restaurants must manage and benefiting from economies of scale. Delivery-only operators are seeing additional benefits too, notably the ability to quickly switch out a menu that isn’t working and offer a wider variety of food. For example, the foodservice company Green Summit operates a number of delivery-only brands. Peter Schatzberg, Green Summit’s cofounder, said when poke became popular, they could quickly jump on the trend because most ingredients were already available in-house for the company’s existing sushi concept.
Vegetables can be comforting!
Vegetarian comfort food is on the rise – and no, that’s not an oxymoron. As vegetables continue to appear in the center of the dinner plate, chefs are finding creative ways to disguise veggies as their guests’ favorite comfort foods. In an interview with Forbes about the top food trends of the year, Michael Whiteman, food consultant and president of Baum + Whiteman restaurant and hotel consultancy, said operators can expect more guests to order mashed cauliflower in place of rice or pasta, for example, or even vegetable-based crust on a pizza.
The return of a flavorful tomato?
Modern tomatoes have lost their flavor as growers have bred them to a size and strength ideal for shipping. But one professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, Harry J. Klee, thinks he has found a way to bring the taste back to tomatoes while retaining the traits that make them ship well, the New York Times reports. According to the journal Science, Dr. Klee and his colleagues have identified flavor chemicals deficient in modern tomatoes, along with heirloom and wild varieties of tomatoes that produce better versions of these genes. The research is ongoing but Klee thinks he can produce tastier tomatoes for more widespread consumption in two years’ time.
Economic survivors: steak and seafood restaurants
Looking for a restaurant business that can weather the economic conditions that challenge most operators? Consider steakhouses – or upscale restaurants that combine steak and seafood. Technomic’s Darren Tristano says these operations succeed because they draw affluent guests who are in search of a premium meal and are willing to add alcohol to their tabs. And because the economy is currently in good shape, these restaurants will draw business groups as well as guests celebrating a special occasion. It’s important for these operators to focus on quality beef and sustainable seafood, and in the case of seafood, to offer it at a range of price points to make it more approachable to guests.
Prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen sink
Your restaurant’s kitchen sink can be a source for cross-contamination of food. The U.S. Deapartment of Health and Human Services recommends you take steps to prevent it. Namely, be sure to wash your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds. Wash fruits and vegetables before you peel them and do not wash meat, poultry or eggs.
Plan ahead for a smooth tech rollout
Are you rolling out new technology in 2017? In an FSR report, Lee Leet, founder of restaurant technology firm QSR Automations, recommends operators take steps to ensure a smooth transition: First, ask yourself if the technology addresses your biggest pain points – and how you’ll quantify its success, whether in increased table turns or other objectives. The provider should have a thorough implementation plan, access to training, references and experience. Identify key stakeholders, from employees to executives to your bank, and communicate with them clearly about the rollout. As you develop an implementation timeline, consider the big days ahead for your business and time required for testing. When you communicate about the rollout, clarify what tools will change, what processes will be updated, how the change will help employees perform better, and what the expected timeline is. Once you have implemented the change and trained people, analyze the results and adjust accordingly.
Strategies to thrive in 2017
It looks like 2017 will be a low-growth year for the restaurant industry. To stay the course, Foodable recommends you raise your operation’s game in these areas: Embrace social media marketing and use it less for selling and more for engaging with your guests – consider Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram Live and Facebook to bring video to your guests. Ensure you have a top-tier team, which means releasing bad hires, training well and always looking out for new talent. Make your menu a profit machine by costing out your food, analyzing your product mix report from your point-of-sale system and updating your menu pricing at regular intervals. Finally, be careful about entering the discount game – choose your offers carefully. Foodable suggests value-driven appetizers or a three-course prix-fixe menu on slow days, for example.
Produce is the new protein
If you’re looking to build a better sandwich (or provide non-salad options for health-conscious guests), many chefs are demonstrating that vegetables can be a key attraction in sandwiches – either alongside meat, fish or poultry or in place of it. Flavor & the Menu reports that at Oak + Char in Chicago, one of the most popular sandwiches is filled with stacked smoked eggplant, pepper jam, curried chickpea mash, smoked cilantro yogurt and Upland cress. Other chefs are stacking plantains and testing combinations like roasted cauliflower and peppers with Vidalia onions and shallots. At Plenty Café in Philadelphia, a housemade tasso ham baguette with spicy aioli was transformed into a mega-hit when the chef added sliced tart apples, fig jam and melted Gruyère. Experiment with produce to add crunch, meaty texture or unexpected spice to a dish.
New superfoods on the horizon
Consumers are showing signs they want nutritious foods that make them feel good about what they consume all year long. Datassential, which tracks “functional” foods that promise a healthy heart, along with boosts in energy and brainpower, has predicted three categories of superfoods we’ll see more of in 2017. Look for the next kale in algaes like spirulina and chlorella, which often appear in detox drinks (or even with alcohol for a saintly spin on cocktails). Aquafaba, the thick chickpea-soaking water, is a close substitute for egg whites and is adding frothiness to cocktails and condiments. Sprouted grains are being touted as an easier-to-digest, high-protein alternative to whole grains in pasta, bread, pizza crust, cereal and more.
Spices and stealth food risk
Spices from around the world can give your menu the authenticity and flavor guests crave – but food safety risks are bringing the industry under increased surveillance by the FDA and CDC, Food Safety magazine reports. There are approximately one million Salmonella infections per year, which is a high estimate compared to the relatively low discovery of outbreaks, the report says. That has led experts to believe that many of the illnesses are coming from “stealth” foods used at low levels in a variety of applications, such as spices in condiments and garnishes. It’s a good time to ensure your suppliers have sufficient sanitation practices and training programs in place, as well as hygienic equipment design and repair practices.
Weigh in on healthy food labels
The FDA just extended its deadline for accepting public comments regarding the use of the term “healthy” on food labels. Food Safety News reports that the FDA wants the new definition of the term to be specific due to push back from the food industry on existing law concerning use of the term. Currently, for example, eggs cannot be labeled “healthy” because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content, even though they are recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can submit a comment at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/30/2016-31734/use-of-the-term-healthy-in-the-labeling-of-human-food-products-request-for-information-and-comments#open-comment until April 26.
Protect yourself against wage and hour violations
In the past 30 years, the Department of Labor has prosecuted more than 23,000 foodservice operations for wage and hour violations, resulting in the industry having to pay $247 million in back wages and civil money penalties, Toast reports. Many affected establishments simply failed to follow complex rules. With minimum wages in flux, it’s critical to know where related violations can crop up, such as in tracking employee time over multiple restaurant locations, irregular employee scheduling, poor record keeping and violating the minimum wage. To protect yourself in a dispute, Toast recommends you move quickly and cooperate, with the goal of resolving problems without litigation (or starting litigation without delay). If you have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act knowingly or not, you will likely owe money in damages, so know your value and what you can afford. Finally, take corrective action right away with systems to prevent ongoing problems.
Restaurant outlook for 2017 favors quick-service
If you’re a quick-service restaurant, you’re among the lucky ones: NPD Group predicts the sector will experience 1 percent growth this year, full-service restaurants will see a 2 percent decline and the industry overall could see little to no traffic growth. To buck that trend, Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, suggests operators stay relevant in consumers’ minds, focus on innovative products and promotions, provide a good value and demonstrate the benefits of the experience of eating a restaurant as opposed to staying home. CNBC suggests watching these brands, which have fared better in recent months: Domino’s (revenues were up nearly 17 percent in the third quarter over the previous year), as well as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s.
The power of your public
You know it’s important to have a compelling story behind your food and to promote it well to the public. But chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson recently learned exactly how critical that can be when New York Times food critic Pete Wells awarded zero stars to the chefs’ Oakland, Calif. Restaurant LocoL, the quick-service restaurant that aims to bring wholesome, fresh, affordable foods to underserved neighborhoods. Eater reports that while Wells had earned popular support after withdrawing two stars from Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se restaurant last year, he generated serious social media backlash with his treatment of LocoL. One reader said his review was akin to booing at an elementary school musical, while others suggested he “take on soup kitchens next.”
Voice-ordered food to your door in less than an hour
Amazon continues to push the limits of food technology. The company just announced that its Prime customers can now order food via voice command from Amazon Restaurants on Alexa-enabled devices and have any meal they’ve ordered previously delivered for free in less than an hour. A customer can say, “Alexa, order sushi from Amazon Restaurants,” and the service pulls that customer’s order history from a specific restaurant or cuisine type and lists meal options available for reorder. The selected meal is then sent for delivery to the customer’s default address. The new option allows customers to reorder food from any restaurant available on the service in more than 20 cities.
Investing in tech-assisted food ordering
Among 18-to-34-year-olds, 77 percent want or expect mobile ordering at quick-service restaurants and 83 percent feel the same about fast-casual outlets. In the Middle East and Asia, a majority of consumers report being able to do just that – but the percentage falls to just 32 percent in North America. That’s according to Technomic’s 2016 Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Consumer Trend Report. The U.S. lags behind Asian and Middle Eastern countries when it comes to tech-assisted ordering programs due to the expense of investing in technology in a low-margin business. But the risk may pay off: According to the data, U.S. consumers choose delivery or takeout for 51 percent of all foodservice needs – that is a bit more than in Asia and only slightly less than in the Middle East.
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