Are you built for speed?
For many restaurants, speed has long equalled sales. Consider a study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which found that every seven seconds a restaurant decreases drive-thru wait time generates a 1 percent increase in sales. In a similar vein, the restaurant chain Veggie Grill recently introduced predictive ordering technology that makes it possible for line cooks to start preparing an order as the guest is ordering it — not after the guest has paid — and has shaved valuable seconds off of wait times as a result. This need for speed will only increase as restaurants cater to millennials, a generation that eats out more often and spends more money doing it than any other generation. FSR magazine reports that faster service could be one of the most important factors driving millennials, who have grown up with the expectation of speed and efficiency when it comes to the products they buy. When you look at your operation’s pain points, where is business slowing down? Do you have slow lines of guests waiting for tables or waiting to pick up orders? Do guests have to wait longer than desired to have their meal served or to pay their check? Start at those points and determine how you might speed up your processes while maintaining the human interactions that help people connect with your brand.
Services emerge to fill last-minute staffing needs
Labor shortages and last-minute staff cancellations got you down? Increasingly, companies are popping up to fill restaurants’ needs. Joining companies like Jobletics in Boston, Jitjatjo in New York and Wonolo in San Francisco is Snag Work, a Richmond, Va.-based company that recently expanded to Washington, DC and claims to resemble an Uber for restaurant operators, allowing them to fill shifts at the last minute. Similar to how Uber users pay a higher fee during peak times, Snag Work users might pay a higher rate on a Saturday night or if they need a stand-in with more skills, such as a mixologist. While these last-minute hires tend to be more expensive, Washingtonian reports that the extra expense has been worth it to a good number of operators. Some restaurants that use the service have been selecting specific fill-ins repeatedly — and at times finding new hires.
Is 2017 your time for tech?
Even if you’re hesitant to adopt new technology, it affects you, whether through online reviews or the new delivery apps luring your customers to the restaurant down the street. Even if you don’t plan to invest in technology right away, Toast suggests you note where your pain points are. For example, do you have three servers lined up at your point-of-sale system? If so, is that because it’s malfunctioning or unnecessarily complicated to work with? What do your online reviews say about you? Have you responded constructively to negative ones? Are your phone lines busy on Saturday nights, when potential guests might be calling to snag a last-minute reservation? Is your employee scheduling system too time-consuming? Review the parts of your routine that make you procrastinate or struggle. From there, research which solutions are making the biggest impact on the industry and which provider is the best fit for you. If you don’t know what’s available and at what cost, you won’t be able to catch deals that could make the investment worth your while.
Turn the tables
Empty seats at slow times? You can take some steps to fill them. FSR recommends you connect with local businesses – message HR leaders on LinkedIn and develop VIP experiences you can pitch to business leaders looking to make a positive impression on clients. Connect with local Meetup groups who might be able to use your restaurant for their next quiz night or wine-tasting event. Consider joining the gig economy and charging remote workers a monthly fee in exchange for wifi, free coffee and a quiet table to work – you can often find them by contacting your local business registrar and asking for a list of newly launched small companies, or by joining co-working apps like Spacious or TwoSpace.
No farm nearby? No problem
The demand for farm-to-table food has encouraged many foodservice operations to bring the farm to the city. Restaurant Hospitality reports that technology is continuing to fundamentally change how and from where restaurants source their produce, enabling urban farms and traditional ones to work together to meet year-round demand. Hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic technology is making it possible for companies to grow food in small shipping containers, on rooftops, in converted steel mills and other locations – and without pesticides, weather concerns or, for some, even soil. The technology is helping producers create the ideal conditions for the growing season and then repeat it at faster intervals so a new harvest is available many times throughout the year. While price is still a barrier for many foodservice operators, a drop is likely as more urban farms enter the market and investments continue from the likes of Costco, Whole Foods and Safeway.
New hospitality apprenticeship program grooms management-level talent
A new hospitality industry apprenticeship program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor is now underway in restaurants and hotels. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the program was designed to groom more than 400 people for management careers in the industry this year. Last month, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Association signed a $1.8 million contract with the Labor Department for the program, which places workers in paid, management-level positions. So far, the restaurant and hotel partners in the program include Firehouse Subs, Golden Corral, TGI Friday’s, White Castle, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton and Waldorf Astoria.
Favorite flavors ripe for experimentation
Foodservice operators like to be on trend – but it can be too easy to become a slave to those trends. Instead, consider adding creative, on-trend touches to ubiquitous favorites. In a report in Flavor & the Menu, culinary development experts say it’s about studying what makes a dish a consumer favorite, then adding depth and dimension to make it your own without straying too far from what people love about it. The report proposes some new spins on four flavors ripe for expansion – Alfredo, Buffalo, ranch and teriyaki. For example, reinvent Alfredo sauce in a rich, creamy dip or a drizzle over tacos. Make a Buffalo rub or vinaigrette for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or seitan. Use teriyaki to add flavor to bowls, burgers or burritos. Create a Japanese-style ranch with wasabi, pickled ginger and avocado.
What does “healthy” mean to you?
About 64 percent of consumers say “healthfulness” is a driver in making food and beverage choices, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey 2016. If you don’t have a clear story to tell about the health of your menu, your guests will make it up – and you may not like the one they write. Edward Hoffman of the Food and Beverage practice at PadillaCRT suggests you define “health” and what it means for you and your guests before you develop any new, healthy menu line. Does it mean organic? Locally and sustainably sourced? Hormone free? Low in sugar? Smaller portions? Make sure any changes you make dovetail with the most beloved parts of your brand, like your signature burger or loaded nachos. Don’t alienate or confuse guests by scattering a selection of “healthy” options through the menu and hope they’ll get it. Do have a clear story to tell from that and tell it confidently so you’ll be prepared when guests ask about it.
Don’t fear the fat
Sure, imitation fats have been on the way out for some time. But now food preferences are turning in the opposite direction and the whole milk, lard and other fats that were staples in your grandmother’s kitchen are having a renaissance – even getting some press as a perfectly acceptable part of a healthy diet. Datassential reports a rise in fat-infused cocktails, with drinks including duck fat, brown butter and pork fat appearing across the country. These fats are getting more play on the dinner menu as well: The bread course at Cleveland’s Trentina features a wild fermented pane pita served with…wait for it…an edible beef suet candle.
Food safety research likely to face large budget cuts
Food safety experts believe substantial proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture could make food safety a low priority for the organization, Food Safety Magazine reports. In the 2018 federal budget, potential cuts of $4.7 billion to the U.S.D.A. would drop the agency’s budget to $17.9 billion. Budget items for food safety and international food aid were categorized as discretionary spending. The U.S.D.A. controls the vast majority of food inspections nationwide. While the draft budget does not appear to cut the U.S.D.A.’s Food and Safety Inspection Service, which oversees the safety of meat, chicken and eggs produced in and imported to the United States, funding of agriculture and food safety research has been cut in the draft budget.
Drive-thru business drops off
For many consumers, the convenience of a drive-thru simply isn’t convenient enough. A Mintel analyst says because convenience now means technology, mobile apps and delivery, drive-thrus are taking a hit. While there has recently been a 2 percent uptick in snacking purchases from drive-thrus between 2 and 4 p.m., NPD Group reports, that increase hasn’t been enough to offset the drop-off in drive-thru business at lunch. The gig economy is playing a role as well – people who work from home can eat at home more cheaply, or, if they crave restaurant food, can usually summon it with a few taps to their Smartphone.
UberEats launches analytics to improve restaurant delivery
Uber Eats is releasing an analytics platform to restaurants participating in its food delivery service, TechCrunch reports. Skift says just as restaurants analyze their online reviews and point-of-sale data to improve their performance, they could use this new platform and apply similar metrics to improving delivery service. UberEats has expanded quickly in cities throughout the world to capitalize on its name recognition in an increasingly crowded market. Skift predicts the new analytics should help restaurant partners but also help UberEats assess how its service has been impacting customers to date.
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.
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