Guests make inferences about the cleanliness of your kitchen based on the condition of your restroom. And if your staff share restroom facilities with guests, those inferences tend to be correct. A Modern Restaurant Management report said that in addition to putting a business at risk of negative word of mouth, a dirty restroom can result in a lower food hygiene rating during
inspections. Make sure you have waste bins large enough to avoid overflow, that you have staff monitor the cleanliness of your restrooms at regular intervals, and that you keep the restrooms well stocked with toilet paper, towels and soap. If guests have to chase your staff down for toilet paper in the middle of the dinner rush, they may get the message that you’re overlooking other details of the guest experience in your restaurant.
If your restaurant prides itself on its ability to cater to guests with food allergies or other special dietary needs, new opportunities are becoming available to help you connect with those consumers quickly. For example, Fast Casual reports that the food sensor company Nima has developed an online tool that displays gluten-free and peanut-free items available at chain restaurants. Consumers simply visit the site, register their location and the site shows a map of nearby restaurants with allergy-free items. There are now 250,000 restaurant locations contained in the site’s database. At a time when consumers can indulge their cravings with just a couple of clicks, the ability to quickly direct people with allergies to their best options could become a key differentiator for restaurants.
Wage dispute claims are rampant in the foodservice industry. In 2017 alone, the Department of Labor heard more than 7,000 wage and hour claims and recovered more than $483 million in back wages for employees — nine times more than any other industry. The threshold is low for workers looking to file suit. A QSR Magazine report says foodservice operations are vulnerable if they don’t have clear policies around such topics as compensation for time needed to change into uniform, rounding employee hours, calculating overtime, or taking additional breaks. To help, the report advises you have detailed written information describing your wage and hour-related policies, as well as about meals and break periods — and that you review timecards carefully to ensure staff take their breaks. Consult an employment attorney to make sure your policies are clear and then reinforce them with staff.
Food safety transparency is here — whether foodservice operators want to be open about their hygiene records or not. HDScores, the tech firm behind Yelp’s restaurant hygiene data, is now offering an app that allows consumers to look up extensive health information for restaurants and coffee shops in many parts of the U.S. Skift Table reports that the app (which costs $1.99 per month) allows consumers to access a restaurant’s local health department score, a historical record of past scores and violations, and a health code score determined by HDScores. While not everyone would be willing to pay for quick access to this information, those with severe food allergies or who have contracted foodborne illness in the past very well might.
The time to be nimble and adaptable with your food safety program is now: This year, Millennials are expected to account for the largest segment of the population, according to Pew research. As a result, their preferences — for convenience, technology, local foods and global flavors — are forcing the restaurant industry to evolve rapidly. Such rapid change could test your food safety program, which needs to be able to accommodate a steady stream of new ingredients and preparation methods (along with the tech tools that can help you monitor them). A Food Safety Magazine report about these challenges highlights such millennial-friendly trends as growing produce, raising animals for food, brewing beer, or offering fermented or cold-pressed beverages — all of which can test a food safety program. Has your program adapted to these sorts of menu trends?
Delivery has long been more about convenience than taste — it’s hard to make a delivered meal tastier than one served right out of the kitchen, right? Well, that may be changing as operators think more scientifically about food preparation and delivery. The Spoon reports that the fast-casual brand Dig Inn just piloted a delivery-only virtual kitchen called Room Service that rethinks food preparation for delivered foods. In a restaurant, for example, Dig Inn cooks salmon to medium-rare at 115˚F and then serves it immediately. Salmon ordered for delivery via Room Service, however, is plated rare at 105˚F, then paired with a hot potato puree that travels well. Along the route, the puree warms the salmon so the transit time improves the quality of the item when served. It’s food for thought for restaurant operators offering delivery. As ghost kitchens become more prevalent and improve upon the methods long used for delivery, how well do your food preparation plan and food safety program adapt?
Any food safety training course provides information about the temperatures needed to help prevent the growth of bacteria in food. But following those rules won’t necessarily prevent problems in your kitchen. A Statefoodsafety.com report dispelled some common myths. One common one: Meat can be thawed any way you like as long as you cook it to the proper temperature. (Bacteria can actually begin growing on the outside of meat as it thaws — even if the inside is still frozen — and some bacteria produce toxins that cooking does not destroy.) A myth about cooling also persists: As
long as food was cooked to the proper temperature, it can be cooled most any way. This, of course, is also incorrect. It’s critical to minimize the amount of time a food stays in the temperature danger zone (41˚F-135˚F) while cooling. The best approach can vary depending on the dish: For example, refrigerating a large pan of hot food (before placing it in smaller, shallow containers) can inadvertently accelerate bacteria growth instead of slowing it down.
As you fine-tune your menu based on seasonal changes, trending ingredients or problems with current suppliers, you are likely speaking with potential suppliers on a regular basis. At the 2018 Food Safety Consortium, Doug Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins, recommended some key questions companies should ask when sourcing ingredients and building a strong supply chain verification program. For one, ask the supplier if they have a food safety plan and if you can review it. Second, ask if they have been part of a Global Food Safety Initiative-based audit and if they can share the results of their last audit with you. Finally, ask if the supplier has ever been part of a recall or outbreak. If so, you can research the event and find out how the company resolved it. It may not disqualify them — particularly if the event occurred just once and ushered in a retooling of safety practices that have protected the company since.
How efficient is your kitchen? Even if you’ve got a full dining room, your kitchen staff is busy and guests aren’t complaining, there could be room for improvement. The data you collect can give you the clearest idea of where those opportunities are. While you can manually collect information, your automated kitchen display system is your most valuable tool here. FSR Magazine suggests you collect such data points as estimated time needed for a menu item to get from order to completion, the difference in cooking time for two items on the same order so that both dishes are fresh and at the proper temperature when served, and the amount of time it takes for a prepared dish to leave the kitchen and reach a guest’s table. If you have data like this at your fingertips, it can have a beneficial ripple effect across your business, helping you minimize waste, manage your inventory better, expedite service and keep track of orders more efficiently.
At a time when just about any activity in your kitchen can be monitored remotely with the help of sensors, the same is true of pest control. Systems currently on the market have their advantages and disadvantages. They provide the opportunity for round-the-clock monitoring of pest activity when people aren’t around and rodents are more likely to emerge, as well as continuous tracking out-of-the-way places like false ceilings, rooflines or areas of your operation that are secured for safety reasons. There’s also opportunity to collect longterm data about your pest activity and determine what behaviors might be leading to it. On the minus side, false positives can happen with these systems, so they may be best suited for low-traffic areas of your facility.
The powerful Gen Y and Z consumer loves to eat restaurant food but is less enthusiastic when it comes to alcohol. (Case in point: The “juice crawl” is becoming a popular alternative to the bar crawl in major cities.) This is actually a big opportunity for your beverage menu to profit with lower-overhead options that incorporate on-trend flavors and health-conscious ingredients. Cake suggests using floral and spicy flavors like lavender and ginger to bring creative twists to traditional drinks. A survey of 16-24 year olds conducted by the thinktank Demos found that health was the most common reason why young people drinking less, so take that into account. In addition to using more fresh produce in your drinks, accommodate dietary restrictions by limiting sugar — for sweet alternatives, try stevia, agave or honey — and offering a variety of nondairy options for those looking to limit lactose and excess fat.
Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword in the industry for some time now, but some restaurant analysts see 2019 as a turning point for the technology — not just in terms of how operators staff and manage their businesses but in how they monitor their food supply. As ITProPortal reports, Spyce, an automated restaurant run by MIT students, is one example of a fully automated restaurant, with everything from ordering to cleaning to cooking done by machines. But even if you’re running a much lower-tech operation, AI can have applications. Aaron Cohen, co-founder and vice president of business development for CoInspect, told FastCasual that predictive AI will have increasing influence in the supply chain, helping food companies anticipate and identify problems, from product irregularities to security breaches, before they cause harm.
Having an up-to-date food safety plan has benefits beyond preventing foodborne illness and cross-contamination. It’s also an important factor in saving money and demonstrating your accountability. As the food safety software firm Focus Works points out, having a food safety plan can ensure you’re storing and processing foods in ways that lead to less waste, so you won’t have to discard contaminated food that isn’t safe to serve. Further, if and when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs and your operation is named as a potential source, your staff training logs and other records can help back you up in court, demonstrating your commitment to running a safe operation.
Is oat milk on your menu? It is fast becoming the dairy alternative of the year, with PepsiCo launching an oat beverage under it Quaker brand and many restaurants embracing it as a creamier, high-fiber alternative to regular milk — and the consensus is that its taste far surpasses other nondairy options available. While the trend has hit coffee shops already, oat milk is not just for the coffee menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that it is appearing in meal-replacement beverages like the Big Date (a blend of dates, cocoa nibs, banana, vanilla whey protein and oat milk at Chicago’s Protein Bar). It can also boost the flavor and nutrient profile of pancakes, pudding and ice cream.
Consumers tend to focus on negative reviews. As the New York Times article “You Can’t Really Trust Negative Reviews” points out, such reviews may help us better “understand risk and reduce our losses.” But on the flip side, such reviews may include inaccurate or vague recollections, represent a small cross section of guests, or be downright fraudulent. They also make it more difficult for restaurant operators to make amends. Hospitality Tech advises operators to use their own technology to quiet the noise of large online review sites. Prompt guests for feedback immediately after the meal, then share that feedback immediately with the pertinent people involved. Soon you’ll have hundreds of reviews at your fingertips (not just a handful of extreme reviews on Yelp). Connect those reviews with a server, product, and time of day and you will quickly be able to see patterns — and get a more accurate idea of what needs attention. You’ll be able to update menu items more confidently, adjust staff training, better reward great service and potentially resolve guest complaints before a guest even leaves your restaurant, salvaging your relationship with that person.
The beginning of the year is a good time to fortify your business for busier times of year and clear the clutter that doesn’t work. If you have old equipment that is difficult to clean, it may be time for a replacement — or at least a careful cleaning, which can help extend its use. For any appliances that are cleaned in place, Statefoodsafety.com advises you to remind your team to turn off and unplug the item prior to cleaning, and wash and rinse the outside and then underneath it to prevent contamination. Any removable parts should be cleaned and sanitized, either by soaking them in a solution or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Air dry all parts, since wiping with a cloth can spread bacteria, and then put the item back together, wiping and resanitizing any surfaces that may have gotten contaminated during the assembly.
The state of your glassware can tell a story about your restaurant, sending a (usually not-so-good) message to your guests about your attention to detail. Glassware with a gray film or limescale deposits can indicate that your water hasn’t been properly treated. If your glassware has an odd odor, it’s a sign that you may need to store it in a different place or rinse it before use. Your washing methods are important too. Hospitality and Catering News suggests you use a short, gentle, not-too-hot cycle to minimize cloudy buildup on glasses, and ensure your washer can hold glasses in place and at an angle so they can drain properly and won’t come into contact with other glasses or dishes during the wash.
As delivery continues its rise (Statista forecasts an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent for the U.S. market) it’s becoming increasingly important for restaurants to be able to manage order streams from both inside and outside the operation. Your kitchen management system can help future-proof your business by displaying multiple streams of traffic, using touchscreen technology to help you communicate between the front and back of house, and quoting accurate waiting times for customers based on the bandwidth of your kitchen. If you’re in the market for a tech upgrade, you can find systems to accommodate your desire for customization: There are systems that can be adapted to the pacing of your operation (TouchBistro is a top-rated one), whether you have a flurry of small plates coming from your kitchen throughout the evening or entrées for a group of 20.
Should you hear from guests worried about the safety of their food now or in the future, would you know how to respond? Wendy’s, for one, made a statement that it had safety protocols in place that exceeded FDA standards anyway, implying that the risk to their food supply was minimal. Could you make a similar statement about your operation? If not, it’s an ideal time to take steps to bolster your food safety program. Can you incorporate more technology in place of pencil-and-paper processes? Digital processes can bring efficiencies to your inventory management, auditing and training practices, and better manage the potential for human error, which can all impact your food safety. Can you eliminate hard-copy records from your operation in favor of electronic records that are easy to access and analyze? Can you enhance your kitchen’s connectivity with sensors that can alert you remotely when appliances aren’t keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures? While you’re likely not waiting for inspections to force changes to your food safety protocols, the key lesson for restaurant operators may be that it really is up to them — not outside authorities — to fortify food safety controls that protect guests.
On the heels of the much-loved avocado, beets are becoming another “it” vegetable, inspiring dishes across menu categories and even serving as the foundation of emerging restaurant concepts. The nutrient-dense beet has appeared on a number of trend lists this year and has been noted for not just its eye-catching color but also for its ability to work in both savory and sweet dishes: The red or gold varieties combine well with lentils in a Buddha bowl or with quinoa in a vegetable-based burger, while they can also lend rich color to smoothies or even chocolate cake.
Cold winter weather means pests are looking for shelter in warm places that offer food — like your kitchen. Even if you’re careful to clean appliances, counters and other food preparation surfaces, it can be easy to neglect the crevices underneath tabletop equipment like mixers or griddles. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to either seal those items to the table or raise them four inches to allow for easy cleaning — and make them less appealing to pests looking for cover.
Restaurants, an employer of choice for many teenagers, can also be risky for these workers. That’s according to the latest annual report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health about teen worker safety. It reported that almost half of teen workers in Massachusetts who were injured on the job between 2011 and 2015 said they did not receive health and safety training from their employers. What’s more, the accommodation and foodservice industries were the top industries for work-related injuries. Restaurants, specifically, were the most common workplaces (at 22 percent) where these workers experienced concussions. What does your operation do to help ensure the health and safety of its workers?
There is actually a tech trend poised for more substantial growth in the restaurant industry than the powerful mobile app. Gartner forecasts that more than 50 percent of businesses will spend more money on bots and chatbot creation in the next two years. Big Hospitality predicts that this efficiency-boosting technology will soon be an expectation for tech-savvy restaurant guests. Automated kitchen display systems that integrate with a restaurant’s electronic point-of-sale system, one application of the technology, can streamline kitchen processes, reduce waste, and help operators spot business trends more quickly. To consumers, that integration translates to a better experience. When investing in tech this year, avoid one-trick ponies and opt for tech tools that seamlessly connect different parts of your operation.
It’s pretty difficult to eliminate plastic from a restaurant, but you can go further than ridding your business of plastic straws — and it will say a lot to your guests about your values. If you’re looking for a place to start, QSR Magazine suggests you first conduct an audit of your waste. Assess which items are piling up over a period of time — e.g. packaging from suppliers, disposable coffee cup lids, plastic utensils, single-use bottles. Then engage your team in brainstorming ways you can reduce, reuse or recycle your biggest waste generators. Can you eliminate your single-use plastic? How can you swap out disposable containers for ones that are either made from more eco-friendly materials or can be cleaned and used repeatedly? If you discard many types of plastic, is your team aware of how to separate those items to avoid contaminating them during recycling? The Plastic Pollution Coalition can provide tips and guidance to help your restaurant improve its practices. If you need an example to inspire you to take the next step, The Coup in Calgary, Canada is one model. Green Matters reports that the environmentally conscious efforts of its co-owners are woven through the entire operation: They replant trees through Tree Canada to offset their paper waste, recycle and compost everything possible, use BPA- and phenol-free-vitamin-C transfer paper for receipts, use metal and compostable straws, purchase with minimal packaging, and even decorate with repurposed or refinished furniture, countertops and decking.
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Wouldn’t it be nice if when you accepted a shipment of produce from a supplier, you would know if it was about to go bad? Or, in the wake of a foodborne illness outbreak, you could be certain your newly arrived produce wasn’t contaminated? That capability is becoming routine for some food companies and has the potential to give foodservice operations greater confidence in their food supply and a better handle on their food waste. Venture Beat reports that ImpactVision, a firm backed by logistics companies including Maersk, is currently using machine learning and hyperspectral imaging to assess the quality of food in factories and elsewhere. The company’s cameras and software can determine the freshness of a food and its expected shelf life, as well as detect any contamination — all without damaging the food in the process.
You know the importance of handwashing. But as restaurants become increasingly reliant on tablets and other mobile devices to manage everything from inventory to delivery orders, an employee’s hands are only as clean as the device he is using. If your team uses technology (and related mobile devices and touch screens) to process orders and payments and manage other day-to-day operations, it’s critical to have a clear protocol for cleaning and handling those items. They’re not
designed to be cleaned easily and they’re prime carriers of bacteria that could spread contamination.
The temperature of your ice machine is well within the safety zone but it’s still a source of contamination when not cleaned and managed carefully. In addition to the machine and the ice itself, pay attention to the area surrounding your machine to minimize risks. Food Safety Magazine advises operators to keep the doors to your ice storage machine closed except when they are in use. Remove any equipment or other items from the exterior of the machine. If you’re able to limit access to the machine, that can help too. Keep ice scoops in an uncovered stainless steel, plastic or fiberglass tray when not in use, and ensure they don’t come into contact with surfaces like door handles, service carts and non-food contact surfaces.
As consumers look to eat healthier meals, snacks and appetizers in the New Year, many operators are accommodating those preferences in desserts as well. Is there room on your dessert menu to weave in more superfoods, gluten- and dairy-free options and other diet-conscious ingredients? Nation’s Restaurant News reports that New York City’s Hu Kitchen, for one, offers a Mashbar where guests can create their own healthier concoctions or order ones such as the Taro Trouble No-Yo, which includes grain-free granola, taro pudding, organic seasonal berries, mango and organic puffed quinoa. Alternatively, if you have a signature entrée or appetizer, try to reinvent it for your dessert menu and give it a healthier spin.
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.
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