As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
You know the importance of cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces — especially when preparing different raw meats. But if you’re also aware of the cooking temperatures of various proteins, you can save some time on cooking and sanitizing by preparing items in an order that doesn’t require extra precaution. For example, as StateFoodSafety.com reports, it’s not required to
clean and sanitize if you are switching to a food that has a higher cooking temperature — such as starting with ground beef, pork, veal or lamb (which is ready at 160˚F) and then moving on to turkey or chicken (which is done at 165˚F).
There is a new reason to source your protein from farmers that don’t feed their animals routine antibiotics. The bank HSBC recently issued a report predicting that the use of antibiotics in meat production could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, making antibiotic resistance a more common cause of death than cancer. The report indicated that more than half of the world’s antibiotics are currently used in agriculture, with the U.S. using antibiotics in 70 percent of its agricultural products and China using them in 60 percent of its agricultural products.
A new study published in the journal Public Health reports that a restaurant’s costs resulting from a foodborne illness outbreak can range from $4,000 (for a single outbreak in which five people get sick) to nearly $2 million (for a single outbreak in which 250 people get sick and there are lawsuits, legal fees and fines). The best preparation, according to the research? Two actions have the biggest potential payoff: Invest in infection prevention and control measures, like the National Restaurant Association’s training program ($15 per employee for the online course), which focuses on food safety, cross-contamination, time and temperature, and cleaning and sanitation. Also, allow enough time for an employee to recover from an illness before returning to work — the cost of a week off of work, which the study indicates can range from $78 to $3,451 depending on the person’s wages and length of illness, are still small when compared to the potential cost of a foodborne illness outbreak.
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?
If you have new or temporary staff on your team, it’s a good time to give a refresher course on avoiding the spread of colds and flu, as well as other germs that can cause foodborne illness. The National Restaurant Association advises operators to provide a handwashing demo to staff, focus on the nail beds and under the fingernails where bacteria is easily trapped, and mention the need for scrubbing, rinsing and complete drying of hands to avoid cross-contamination. Hand sanitizer is a good final step after handwashing but does not replace it. Make sure your food handlers know when and how to report their symptoms of illness — and ensure your managers keep staff informed of the reporting requirements of foodborne illness symptoms, with emphasis on the need to report vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, sore throat with fever, or infected cuts or burns with pus on hands or wrists. Finally, build a culture in which your team feels comfortable reporting their illness symptoms. You can foster this environment by having regular conversations about how to report symptoms and what follow-up actions to take to prevent the spread of foodborne illness, as well as by placing posters around your facility to remind employees of their responsibility to be forthcoming about symptoms they or other staff experience.
Once holiday feasting is over, New Year’s health resolutions kick in. Do you know how to deliver the kinds of options your guests are looking for? The tactics that work for your restaurant may differ from those that succeed at the restaurant down the street. When you contemplate menu changes, focus less on fad diets than on accommodating lifestyle changes like gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb or organic diets. Then, consider how your target market thinks. Next Restaurants reports that according to a Numerator survey, the average person who follows Weight Watchers is 65 or older, so building menu options around that plan may make sense if you serve that demographic. Forging partnerships with social media influencers and organizations committed to healthy lifestyles can help too. At a minimum, consider offering nutrition information to show you’re committed to helping guests make their own healthy decisions.
As menus and food preparation methods evolve, food safety standards may slip. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Douglas Davis, senior director of global food safety for Marriott International, told attendees at the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium that his team places requests for new foods or techniques into one of three buckets. The first is for risky practices with third-party vendors, the second is for vendors and foods they have worked with before or which have a known risk exposure, and the third is for foods and techniques they haven’t encountered
before. Items in the first bucket go through a business case analysis with the company’s risk management partners. They gather information from Marriott’s hotels about each step of their preparation process to determine if any part of it needs to change. Items in the second bucket are addressed using the company’s existing safety standards, while the methods in the third bucket are assessed by a consultant or microbiologist to ensure safety.
If your restaurant considers how allergic guests avoid exposure to allergens, you may be able to better protect their safety. According to a recent study that surveyed people with allergies who successfully dine out without experiencing reactions, respondents use an average of 15 different strategies to avoid triggering an allergy in restaurants. The study, reported at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s annual conference in November, found that the top five strategies used are speaking to a server upon arrival, ordering food with simple ingredients, double-checking food before eating it, avoiding restaurants with a higher likelihood of cross-contamination and checking meal ingredients on the restaurant’s website. Make sure your team and your website are up to the task.
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are starting to look a lot different. As downloads of food delivery apps have skyrocketed (they’re up 380 percent from just three years ago, according to the data firm App Annie), restaurants are scaling back on their physical footprint. Skift Table reports that Dan Orkin, head of the U.S. restaurant division of CBRE, said many operators are adjusting to having fewer visitors and more delivery business by renegotiating leases and renovations. Many brands are looking to create separate entrances for delivery workers and pick-ups, scaling down their dining areas, or eliminating tables and chairs altogether for a kitchen-only space.
Small fluctuations in temperature can mean the difference between a dish that is safe to eat and one that harbors harmful bacteria. Your food thermometers are among your most useful tools to protect against foodborne illness, so make sure they are up to the task. Statefoodsafety.com advises that restaurants calibrate bimetallic food thermometers before every shift or any time they are bumped or dropped.
There is always a new food trend or cooking technique your restaurant may want to try. But whether you’re incorporating sous-vide cooking techniques or simply adding seasonal produce to drinks, you want to ensure your food safety standards keep up with your menu developments. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, microbiologist Brian Nummer reminded the audience of the acronym FAT TOM, which lists the top factors that contribute to bacteria growth: food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture. He said when restaurants incorporate new trends into their cooking, it can be easy to neglect safety. But that is less likely to happen if chefs are trained in the science of cooking as well as the art. When that happens, Nummer said, chefs more naturally tweak dishes to ensure safety (say, adding extra lemon to a dish so it reaches a pH 4, which kills bacteria).
Nowadays, maintaining your restaurant’s online presence is as important as your in-person presence. The new Google My Business app (available for Android and iOS) is a useful tool to help you manage your business profile. Using the app, you can communicate with guests, respond to reviews, edit your business profile and monitor how guests interact with it, post photos and event updates, and manage these items across multiple locations.
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.
Being able to do so may help you avoid a foodborne illness outbreak at a time when the supply chain is becoming increasingly complex. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, Ecolab’s vice president of food safety offered operators a couple of tips to find the most reliable growers. She said the larger ones, those with $5 million in sales and more, tend to have strong food safety practices and testing already in place. Further, she advised operators to identify growers who
use third-party facility audits. Those growers, she said, spent two to 10 times more on food safety than those who didn’t.
‘Tis the season for holiday feasting — and leftovers. Just make sure you have plenty of space in your refrigerator and freezer to accommodate them. Overloading shelves or placing food too close to the refrigerator’s circulatory fan could impede the smooth circulation of air. This could lead to a food safety issue or potentially affect the lifespan of the refrigerator. Make sure to clear some space in the midst of the holiday rush.
New research from Fogelson & Co. about the Food Connected Consumer — a group of food-focused consumers representing 62 percent of Americans (and $835 billion in food spending) across demographics and locations — found that Millennials and Generation Z are the most food-connected of the bunch. They are eager to try and share new foods (think global flavors), are mindful of their food’s origins, and are twice as likely to plan their travel around food and restaurants. They follow food trends via social media and technology and they are more likely to post about food on social media, follow food bloggers and rate their food experiences online. These consumers are loyal to the brands that speak to them and tell stories that relate to them. Can your restaurant provide the kind of experience that brings them back?
McDonald’s and Panera had an unfortunate trait in common in recent months: Both brands served salads that were linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. But they’re hardly alone. Healthline reports that between 1973 and 2012, 85 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. that were caused by leafy greens were traced back to a restaurant or caterer. As restaurants accommodate consumer demand for these fresh ingredients, operators need to be extra aware of the food safety vulnerability that comes along with that shift. While produce and other raw, fresh foods may be healthier to eat than processed foods, they also carry an increased risk of spreading illness. Modern Restaurant Management reports that a number of factors exacerbate the problem, ranging from operators’ reliance on pencil-and-paper processes that are easy to skip and don’t hold staff accountable, to a lack of awareness of the supply chain. The report advised that as menus offer fresh ingredients, operators must step up their focus on food safety and ensure they prevent cross-contamination of ingredients, cook food to the proper temperature and sanitize equipment. But beyond that, they must also have a good understanding of the origins of their produce and how it has been stored along its route. Without that, even a restaurant with a spotless kitchen and vigilant staff can serve produce that sickens a guest.
A new grab-and-go option takes on groceries
As grocery stores raise the bar on prepared foods, some restaurants are fighting back with meal kits or other grab-and-go options. QSR Magazine reports that one brand, Newk’s Eatery, which has 120 locations in 15 states, has launched a related concept that allows people to prepare restaurant-quality food at home and provide the kind of meal customization consumers seek from restaurants. Its program, Express Market, involves having an open-air refrigerator at each location with different protein entrees (choices include flash-seared ahi, broiled shrimp, char-grilled salmon and sliced chicken), as well as pastas, sandwiches, salads, rotating soups and sides, and dressings and cakes. The idea is that consumers can build their own dinners from these building blocks — not necessarily follow a set recipe.
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.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
About Food For Thought and Profit
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.