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.
Protect against pests this summer
As the weather warms, pests will be all the more tempted to frequent your restaurant, potentially spreading bacteria and damaging your property. (JP Pest Services says rodents harbor and spread more than 2000 human pathogens and termites cause $5 billion in property damage each year.) You can help deter unwelcome guests by taking action inside and outside of your facility. Chris Del Rossi, founder of Food and Drug and the Bug integrated pest management company, spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Quality Assurance Executive Study Group meeting and recommended operators focus on sanitation, structure and storage to prevent pest infestations. Any cracks or crevices between equipment can house pests, so use equipment with lockable wheels and flexible gas and electric lines to help ensure you can clean hard-to-reach places. When storing food, avoid placing anything on the floor or against walls. Installing wire shelves that keep food off of the floor and inches from walls can help you avoid an infestation. Dispose of food waste in trash bags and take it to a dumpster promptly. Make sure your dumpster isn’t dirty, has a lid and isn’t within easy access of your doors or windows. Consider pests when landscaping as well: Ensure plants around your premises don’t touch the ground or the walls of your property and surround your foundation with a strip of gravel, which can deter pests far better than bark mulch. Check the exterior of your property to make sure your pipes, roof, walls and tiles are crack-free and well-sealed.
Ease your restaurant's labor pains
Labor challenges are enough to keep any restaurant operator awake at night, from the rising minimum wage to the struggle for talent in a high-turnover industry. In a recent Toast survey, 46 percent of restaurant operators said their top challenge was hiring, training and retaining staff. So how do you cope? Restaurant Hospitality suggests you consider a range of actions. To help address the pay disparity between front- and back-of-house workers, you could charge administrative fees (say 2-3 percent of the final bill) or raise menu prices to fund a pay increase for those not included in tip pools. That can help ensure that on a busy night, everyone reaps the benefits; just be transparent with guests about what you're trying to achieve with new charges. Consider opening your books to your team -- training everyone from your dishwashers to your cooks about the financials of your business -- and sharing in the profits to encourage everyone to think and behave like an owner of the business. That can also help you identify and limit practices that waste money and time, from unprofitable menu items to an excess in staff. Some operators continue to experiment with service charges or sales commissions, adding a 20 percent surcharge to checks and not expecting tips (though still accepting them) on top of it, or just eliminating tipping altogether by including a hospitality fee if you feel your clientele will pay the increased menu prices to support it.
Who's in charge of social media?
Social media marketing represents a growing percentage of most restaurants' promotional campaigns. But is your social media best kept in the hands of a tech-savvy team member or is it time to hire a firm to manage it for you? Social Media Restaurant says for the majority of operators out there, the answer to that question should be "both." Consider hiring a consultant with industry expertise who can develop a campaign for you that includes the vehicles that make sense based on your brand, goals and clientele. (If you're part of a restaurant group, your consultant can help you ensure you use a consistent voice across locations as well.) Once you have a creative strategy in
place with clear objectives and tasks built into it, someone in-house who knows your customers well should spend some time each day making updates and accomplishing set tasks.
Prevent summertime Salmonella
The warmer months are prime time for the spread of Salmonella, which causes about 1 million foodborne illnesses each year in the United States. It's often found in foods including chicken, vegetables, eggs, fruit, sprouts, beef and pork. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends you remember four key actions to prevent Salmonella. Remember to properly Clean (wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces, though not the poultry, meat and eggs themselves), Separate (set the meat, poultry and seafood apart in the refrigerator and use different cutting boards for those items), Cook (ensure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature and stay at 145 degrees or above after cooking) and Chill (store foods at 40 degrees or colder in general, and refrigerate or freeze perishables and prepared foods within two hours, or within one hour if the room/outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher).
Don't let it go to waste
After labor costs, food costs are the top expenditure for restaurant operators, according to POS Sector. Those costs should range from 28 percent of sales (typical of casual restaurants) to 33 percent at fine-dining restaurants, according to the Wall Street Journal. If they're not, review your menu to ensure your top-selling items are also the most profitable. Chef Klime Kovaceski, who opened the Miami restaurant Crust in 2015 and posted sales of more than $1 million and a pre-tax profit of more than $200,000 for 2016, keeps a close eye on food waste. He recommends using minimal ingredients to keep costs down and reduce the incidence of spoilage -- risotto is a common item on his menu, for example, but herbs and spices lend wide variety to it. He also insists employees show him spoilage before throwing away food so they can determine what went wrong, and enforcing strict standards with suppliers to ensure he always receives fresh product.
Marketing with meaning
Investment in social media marketing is projected to increase by 90 percent in the next five years, according to Salesforce.com. Regardless of your budget size, you’re wise to allocate some resources to it. But how? The CMO Survey, which collects and distributes the opinions of top marketers, suggests that your marketing budget should comprise 5-15 percent of your revenue. Of that, 10-50 percent should be used for digital marketing, to include SEO, pay-per-click, social media and content marketing. The types of social media that marketers use vary widely but the most popular outlets right now are social networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, blogging (or microblogging on Twitter), and sharing video and pictures on sites like YouTube or Instagram. Video, according to the marketers surveyed, is the medium ripe for expansion in the months ahead.
Give tours of your restaurant (before guests even walk through the door)
Posting your menu online is customary. Posting a Google 360-degree virtual tour of your restaurant is less common – but it’s a great way to bring guests to you. Before consumers read your reviews on Yelp on TripAdvisor, they’re searching for you on Google. When you post a virtual tour, you get the chance to impact consumers’ first impressions of you. Social Media Restaurant says the tours appear in Google searches and on Google maps and you can also include them in your digital marketing. (Facebook just introduced a feature that allows you to post a panoramic shot of your restaurant on your business page, for example.) During a recent Restaurant Week in New York City, 55 percent of participating restaurants offered a “Business View” virtual tour – and consistently, diners booked tables at those restaurants more frequently.
Know the right tools to manage food fraud
About 10 percent of the food supply is impacted by food fraud, Food Safety Tech reports. Chances are, many of the foods you serve and use in recipes every day, including coffee, olive oil, orange juice and fish, are among the most vulnerable in the food supply, notes Shield Safety Group. But many food companies aren’t prepared to manage the problem. In a recent Food Safety Tech report, the senior manager of food safety & defense, QRC at the Hershey Company and the manager of food safety & quality assurance at GMA discussed the best tools available to monitor food fraud – consider them when talking with your suppliers about how they are managing and mitigating risks. The USP Food Fraud Database 2.0, for one, contains thousands of fraud records, can be searched by ingredient and offers some automated analytics tools. EMAlert is a predictive model that analyses the vulnerability of ingredients based on weight, which makes it a good platform for sourcing commodities. SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment provides a strong starting point for companies looking to assess their risk by ingredient, product, brand, facility, country or company, and it can be used across the supply chain. The World Factbook of Food contains more than 130 foods and 75 country profiles, which draw from a range of sources to help assess risk. Finally, the Food Adulteration Incidents Registry contains more than 550 incidents of food fraud, providing access to open data records that can support food risk assessments.
Bad reviews? Take the reins
What restaurant operator doesn’t love a great review? A Harvard University study found that an extra star in your online reviews can generate 5 to 9 percent more sales. But in a Foodable report, restaurant coach Donald Burns recommends you consider some facts to keep things in perspective. First off, a whopping 20 percent of reviews are fake, added by unethical businesses that want to improve their ratings, albeit falsely, and take the competition down a peg. (Take heart that sites like Review Skeptic are helping to uncover the fakes, so false reviews may be a declining problem.) Before you take a negative (or even a positive) review to heart, consider whether it’s accurate. If a negative one holds true, use it to improve. Make sure you have established clear standards and core values that your team lives and breathes, and that you’re taking steps every day to train and develop them. Are there trouble spots on your menu? Does your customer service need polish? Remember that your response to a negative review can build or bust your credibility with readers. If a review is negative, apologize without making excuses and, within 24 hours, ask for a chance to win them back. Before posting a response, compose a draft in a different application and ask a trusted person to read it to ensure it comes off professionally. If it doesn’t, you’ll have a bigger problem on your hands when your words are shared around the Internet within minutes of your response.
Protect against poultry risk
If you host young children in your restaurant, pay special attention to food safety: Kids under age four are five times more likely than adults to contract bacterial infections from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control. FightBAC.org recommends you pay close attention to chicken, often a go-to option for children’s menus, though a risky one: A recent report from the CDC linked chicken to 23 foodborne illness outbreaks and said it was the food category responsible for the second-largest number of foodborne illnesses. A single drop of raw poultry juice can contain enough Campylobacter to cause illness. Remember to emphasize proper food handling in your kitchen – handwashing before and after handling poultry, storing it on a low shelf to prevent cross-contamination, thawing it at or below 40˚F instead of washing it (that can spread bacteria around the kitchen), and cooking it to 165˚F to kill harmful bacteria.
Experience the halo effect
You don’t have to have a fat marketing budget to make a big splash on social media. Look at Halo Top ice cream, a small business that now competes with giants in the category, thanks in part to its online marketing strategy. Food Dive reports that the company claims it has never paid for a social media post and only recently began paying for any brand advertising at all. However, the company’s success in producing packaging, photos and other highly shareable content has resulted in the hashtag #HaloTop being used 100,000 times and the company’s account attracting about 400,000 followers. The company sold nearly 17 million pints of its high-protein, low-calorie ice cream last year, boosting sales by 2,500 percent.
More tech, higher sales
Technology is making it increasingly easier for restaurants to upsell consumers. An Associated Press report that assessed the business results of a number of national restaurant brands confirmed that people tend to order more when they order digitally, whether online, on a tablet or via a mobile app. Certainly, a consumer who can readily spend with a credit card instead of cash (which comes with the territory when tech is used for ordering) will spend more anyway – 12 to 18 percent more, according to a Dun & Bradstreet study. However, it also helps that a computer will allow a consumer to browse for a longer amount of time and, while a human taking an order might neglect to promote extra items, a computer will automatically ask a consumer if he wants to add toppings or extras. Ziosk, which makes devices used at Chili’s and Olive Garden, among other brands, says restaurants see more appetizer and dessert orders when using their devices – and there’s usually more coffee tacked on to those orders.
Robots changing the face of restaurant labor
Food industry leaders recently flocked to SXSW for a look at trends on the horizon. One big one, of course, is continued development in automation. According to a Restaurant Business report about SXSW, this included everything from software used to connect restaurants with a pool of qualified workers to fill shifts, to robots that can automate repetitive tasks like dishwashing and burger flipping. The industry also looks to be testing how much human interaction consumers desire. At the event, a robot mounted with a tablet demonstrated the ability to assume the role of server. It allows guests to ask questions and order, delivers meals and accepts payment. While far from being a mainstream addition to restaurants in the short term, these robots (along with a wide range of software applications) are likely to change the management of restaurant tasks in the years ahead as developers find ways to make them affordable.
Get the most from your host
If your restaurant is known for its human touch, have you unleashed the full power of your host? The first person your guests meet at your restaurant can help you set the tone for your brand, promote specials and recruit new members to your loyalty program, Foodable reports. (Perhaps that’s one reason why even low-touch restaurants like Eatsa have a host at the door.) Looking to entice guests with your seafood special? If your host can enthusiastically talk about his experience tasting your food, he can plant a seed of interest that can steer a guest’s attention toward specific items when he opens the menu. A host can also help ensure each guest walking in is a happy guest. Extra long wait? Consider having the host offer those guests a complimentary drink. Having your host check in on tables can help boost your loyalty program too. If he asks how a table is doing and everyone loves their meal, he can ask them to sign up for your loyalty program and perhaps sweeten the deal with a free dessert or other promotion.
Prevent cross-contamination from allergens
Even food establishments who respond carefully when guests alert them to allergies can face trouble when trace amounts of allergens find their way into foods. Allergens are a key focus for the Food Safety and Modernization Act and are the leading cause of food recalls, according to a report in Food Safety magazine. The report notes that between 2005 and 2014, 12 million lbs. of food product was recalled due to undeclared allergens, many of which were present because of cross-contact.
Manufacturers and suppliers are in the hot seat when it comes to protecting consumers from allergens, but everyone in the supply chain needs to have controls in place. To protect your facility, Food Safety magazine recommends isolating tools used with allergens or color-coding them, which can help in case of language barriers on your kitchen team and can also make it readily evident when an item is misplaced. Designate specific cleaning equipment, tools and rags for use only on certain equipment or at certain times. Understand the proper protocols for ensuring that the residue of common allergens is thoroughly cleaned from hands and equipment. (For example, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a study found that running water and soap or commercial wipes can clean peanuts from a person’s hands but antibacterial gels alone will not work. Further, common household spray cleaners and sanitizing wipes could clean peanut residue from surfaces but dishwashing liquid alone could not do it.)
Finally, store allergens in clean, airtight containers away from other foods. If you don’t have sufficient room in your facility for segregated storage, ensure that any foods containing allergens are not stored above non-allergens. Use internationally recognized allergen stickers or color-coding to set these containers apart.
Improving food safety through the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things – the evolving ability of everyday objects to connect to the Internet and communicate with each other – is rapidly showing new applications in the food industry when it comes to ensuring food quality and safety, Hospitality Technology reports. Kitchen equipment fitted with sensors already helps operators ensure food is stored and cooked at the proper temperature. From there, the Internet of Things can help operators make greater use of sensor data by showing them how to optimize their energy use and reduce unplanned downtime in the kitchen.
The benefits are even greater when it comes to the broader supply chain. Hospitality Technology reports that an RFID tag on a case of food could connect to temperature sensors on a truck to ensure the package has been kept at the appropriate temperature throughout its journey, for example. A restaurant could tie its inventory back to records from the distributor to get a complete picture of a product’s life cycle. Further, when recalls interrupt day-to-day operations, operators can receive USDA alerts and advisories so they can quickly identify the origins of contamination and pull products from shelves without delay.
Within foodservice establishments, the Internet of Things can help ensure kitchen staff follow proper protocols for cooking, food storage and handwashing. Via a digital dashboard, operators can see where training is needed or where procedures are falling short. Most operators have not yet taken advantage of these benefits, but as the supply chain grows in complexity, look for the Internet of Things to help you manage food safety from both a prevention and traceability standpoint.
Big-time tech for small restaurants
If you’re a small operation, bringing the latest technology into your restaurant may seem out of reach. But now the company behind Subway’s mobile ordering platform is making that functionality possible for smaller restaurants, Fast Company reports. Avanti Commerce is now able to have a restaurant of any size use its platform, along with the majority of enterprise features and functions it offers, for $125 a month. The restaurant can be in any location and have any amount of traffic. The one caveat is that it must have five locations or more. Assuming the launch with small restaurants goes well, Avanti’s CEO hopes to expand the platform to food trucks as well.
Fresh seafood, from ship to shore
Is your seafood really fresh? A new handheld screening and data collection device developed by Seafood Analytics can say for sure. Food Safety Tech reports that the device uses electrical currents to determine the quality of seafood products at the cellular level. It can measure how much the cells of a fish change between catch and freezing or catch and consumption, for example. Having that information can help everyone along the supply chain better manage factors including inventory, inbound supplier selection and price. The report says Seafood Analytics is currently developing a Certified Quality Seafood Certification that would serve as a seal of approval for suppliers to use (and end users to seek out) to separate the fresh seafood from the not-so-fresh.
Technology raises the bar
The bar is the latest place to make the most of technology in an effort to accommodate rising labor costs and evolving consumer preferences. Pour-your-own facilities are making it possible for consumers to try a taste of a beer, wine, cocktail, Kombucha or cold-brewed coffee that they might not commit to if they had to purchase it in larger quantities. (For example, Restaurant Business reports that Tapster in Chicago offers a tap card, which is linked to the guest’s credit card and charges them by the ounce for beverages at any of 62 different taps on offer.) Other facilities are using actual robots in place of bartenders to measure shots. But as tech takes the place of humans in some areas, it makes them more important in other areas, such as bussing glasses, helping guests use equipment, or even offering classes to teach guests more about the making of beverages currently on trend.
Avocado breeding helps ensure year-round access from within U.S.
Take one look at social media and you’ll see avocados everywhere – the recently opened Avocaderia in Brooklyn, N.Y. has even gambled that consumers will support a restaurant concept centered around the versatile green fruit. NPR reports that Americans consumed two billion lbs. of avocados last year, two-thirds of which were imported, mostly from Mexico. But the uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement has made the future of avocados in the U.S. uncertain too. Fortunately, researchers in California may have found a solution just in time, with three new varieties that make a great guacamole, are easy to peel and can withstand the winter frost and summer heat of California’s central valley. (Existing varieties require milder growing conditions.) Further developing these varieties – dubbed GEM, which is already available, Lunchbox, and a third yet-to-be-named variety – could ensure that Americans have year-round access to avocados.
An innovator trusts (too much?) the power of Instagram
Taco Bell is a brand standout for its innovation capabilities – and Instagram is a major inspiration. Business Insider reports that the brand, which is constantly aiming to develop concepts that will generate buzz online, monitors the most-Instagrammed menu items in an effort to create tasty foods that are as photogenic as possible. But success is not all about looks, as it turns out. When Taco Bell launched its new Naked Chicken Chalupa earlier this year, the brand eschewed traditional media advertising and instead relied on pop-up launch parties around the country, where they provided lights and other visual props to encourage consumers to take social media-worthy photos of their Chalupa, then share them (on Instagram, of course). Consumers and media responded passionately, though not altogether positively – and Taco Bell pulled the item from its menu soon after.
How mobile wallets could open the door to more sales
Every year, it seems there is a new way for consumers to pay -- and restaurants and other businesses must scramble to keep up. But among those newcomers, mobile wallets could have some staying power, as they open the door to additional functionality beyond payment. FSR Magazine says mobile wallets offer credit card security in case of a data breach, device validation in the form of a PIN or fingerprint, easy access to loyalty cards and gift cards, and streamlined in-app purchases. Over time, expect there to be new ways that mobile wallets help restaurants engage with guests and make payment easier. Right now, the key players include Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal and ChasePay.
Prevent spices from causing foodborne illness
Spices, critical to adding global influence to your menu and boosting flavor without salt and sugar, have been subject to increasing recalls for food pathogens, Food Safety Magazine reports. An FDA study found that spices like oregano, basil, coriander, sesame seeds, curry powder, cumin and black pepper were contaminated at varying levels with salmonella. Spices produced in third world countries in unsanitary conditions and the movement of product across countries can make it easy for the origins of spices to get lost. Are your spice suppliers taking steps to address the problem? Food Safety Magazine says international spice trade organizations should be involved with efforts to track shipments and develop appropriate supplier controls, such as adherence to Good Agricultural Practices and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Could you find your next star on Snapchat?
McDonald's thinks so. In Australia, the chain is inviting prospective employees to send a 10-second video interview to them via Snapchat, according to Fortune. These "Snapplications" are only preliminary (McDonald's directs applicants to the company's formal application afterwards) but the tool could generate some buzz -- it allows applicants to place virtual McDonald's hats and nametags on themselves so they can see how they would look behind the counter.
Grocery stores poised to compete with pizza restaurants
Pizza restaurants, with a product that's typically a good value, is easily customizable and designed for delivery, have been somewhat impervious to the strains hitting other parts of the restaurant industry. But that could change soon, according to a recent report from Food Dive. It says according to research from Progressive Grocer, the prepared foods departments of grocery stores could clinch some of the pizza market as they can offer fresher ingredients, competitive prices and potentially more interesting combinations. Datassential suggests pizza restaurants compete by offering more on-trend ingredients like Sriracha and roasted vegetables, then let guests customize their pie -- something nearly half of guests desire (but only 23 percent of grocery stores accommodate).
Coffee has its perks
Coffee is continuing its meteoric rise. The National Coffee Association reports that between 2008 to 2016, gourmet coffee beverage consumption rose from 13 percent to 36 percent among 12- to 24-year-olds, and from 19 percent to 41 percent for people between 25 and 39. Want to grab your share of that market? Toast recommends you test out these trends: Try cold brewing for a less acidic, smoother cup at a higher price point -- or even add pressurized nitrogen to that cold brew and serve it from a tap for a naturally sweet "nitro brew." Finally, some coffee companies are experimenting with cascara, the fruit that coats the coffee bean. It can be brewed or add a sweet, maple-like flavor to a latte. Even better, it helps reduce waste by helping roasters use the whole bean in their coffee.
Let your guests make your signature dish at home
Have you ever considered offering a meal kit service at your restaurant? According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. would buy meal kits from their favorite restaurant if they were offered. In a Restaurant Hospitality report about the concept, operators who have tried it say offering kits isn't for every restaurant -- they take a lot of testing to get right. But it can help if you have a signature item you know guests will like, whether it be your steak, burgers or guacamole, and focus on helping guests make experiences around that item.
A new twist on an American favorite
The diner is an American icon -- but a new trend? A new report in Eater says 2017 could be the year of the luncheonette, as new diners pop up across the country. But these restaurants are not purely about nostalgia. In fact, the ones that have taken off have reinvented the concept. Take Dove's Luncheonette (a Mexican diner in Chicago) by James Beard Award winner Paul Kahan. Or Maurice, a Portland, Ore. pastry luncheonette. Others that have thrived include New York's Nickel & Diner, which doesn't serve typical diner food but looks like a futuristic diner, Philadelphia's Rooster Soup Co., which donates all proceeds to charity, and Dad's Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay, Calif., which has a relaxed, community feeling but is located in a renovated train caboose and features a small, locally sourced menu of just seven items.
New York's small (but strong) food safety team
Stopping foodborne illness before it reaches you can feel like an impossible task. But a team of just 43 microbiologists, chemists and support staff at the New York State Food Laboratory gave a substantial boost to the state's record of food safety testing in 2016. They increased testing of food and beverage samples by 10 percent this past year, which led to more than 300 recalls of contaminated items, according to a Food Safety News report of findings from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. This included more testing for health hazards, purity and accuracy of labeling using new more accurate techniques. For the first time, the lab used a DNA-based method to test fish for speciation -- an important step in identifying food allergies and food fraud. They also increased testing of imported items like cheese and spices by 28 percent over 2015.
Before adding an ingredient, check the data
Do you ever wonder exactly how guests will respond to an ingredient you'd like to add to a new dish? Datassential has developed a new tool called Flavor, which helps you track specific foods, beverages, spices and other ingredients across a range of metrics and demographic segments. You can determine the awareness of an ingredient among people in a specific region, for example, and even identify if those people have children. The tool includes millions of consumer recommendations about thousands of products, from acai to za'atar.
Know your Instagrammability
Is Instagram in your restaurant's business plan? For a growing number of restaurants, it is -- credit the social network's more then 500 million active monthly users. The Financial Times reports that the social network has been transforming the restaurant scene in the U.K. and according to Skift, chefs in the U.S. are also creating dishes with an eye toward how they will look in a square photo on Instagram -- menu items have a unique appearance, plates are whiter and some have design or branding elements that people associate with the restaurant when people find them online.
Could technology help you make front-of-house improvements?
Where are your front-of-house pain points? Chances are, technology can help. Long wait times? FSR magazine suggests CAKE’s guest management and point-of-sale platforms, which allow a restaurant to issue guests a wait time and call them on their cell when their table is ready, freeing guests to wander before their meal. (Having that cell number also helps the restaurant build loyalty by recognizing guests and their commonly ordered items.) Inconsistent performance across locations? Mirus Restaurant Solutions can help measure guest feedback and a wide array of data to create a report card for servers, managers, operators or the company overall. For example, servers’ tips on charged transactions can be tracked and ranked so you can see where more training may be needed.
Choose the right full-service payment technology
Payment technology is changing too quickly for many restaurants to keep up. There are many routes to take – and a number of problems with them, according to FSR magazine. For example, you could tweak your existing payment technology with add-on functionality, but saving short-term costs could lead you to a large, expensive overhaul later. You could develop a smartphone app, but many guests still resist paying this way due to the appearance of security risks. You could attach devices to your tabletops, but many guests miss the human interaction and want their meals to be tech-free. You may get the most advantages with mobile devices that servers can bring to guests’ tables, FSR magazine says. Your guests get human interaction, plus the security of having a mini point-of-sale system delivered to their table when it’s time to pay.
Crowdsource your restaurant launch
Opening a restaurant can be a recipe for racking up debt, but the operators who launched Prequel in Washington, D.C. avoided taking out high-interest loans and instead relied on crowdfunding to bankroll their enterprise in its early stages. Civil Eats reports that the operators raised $350,000 in cash by selling gift cards to future customers before the restaurant even opened. Now they have launched a company, InKind, to help other restaurants benefit from their crowdfunding model. Restaurants that meet InKind’s criteria for community support (e.g. more than 1,000 likes on Facebook and a 500-person email list) can apply for funding and receive money quickly, then pay InKind back with high-amount gift cards for future guests.
A restaurant goes viral – by design
Laureen Moyal of Paperwhite Studio has helped New York restaurants increase their online followers exponentially – and all through branding tweaks that have made them Instagram hits. Grub Street reports that Moyal designed sugar packets with sayings like “Love you a latte” for the restaurant Jack’s Wife Freda, for example, as well as paper menus that serve as placemats (and are a natural backdrop for the photos guests take of their food and then post to Instagram). Jack’s Wife Freda now has 120,000 followers on the site – far beyond those of popular restaurants nearby – and its digital success has landed the restaurant a cookbook deal. (That’s getting some play on Instagram too.)
Restaurant-style innovation at the grocery store
Looking to keep tabs on the competition? In addition to knowing what your neighborhood restaurants offer, check out businesses like Whole Foods, which continues to evolve. A new Whole Foods opened last month in Chicago and according to Restaurant Business, the business is hardly just a grocery store, with bars (visitors can sit down or bring their drinks with them while they shop), a coffee roastery, seating for more than 200, a fresh pasta stand, a build-your-own concept, food and drink from upscale brands and a dizzying array of prepared foods that include everything from gelato to mochi to buffalo wings.
Why hasn’t fast-casual pasta taken off?
For many foods, the transition from casual dining to fast-casual is smooth – burgers, pizza, no problem. But Eater reports that pasta has struggled to break into the national consciousness as a fast-casual concept. That’s due to a number of factors, including the emotions associated with pasta – warmth, family and togetherness – which can get lost when you’re trying to serve pasta at lightning speed. What’s more, pasta is ill-equipped to be prepared in advance, suffering in texture and taste if left out too long before serving. And while pasta itself is inexpensive, the parmesan, tomatoes, pork and other items that accompany it can lift the price of a dish out of fast-casual territory. But Technomic’s Darren Tristano thinks there could still be potential for operators to succeed with it – especially if they focus on accompaniments like adult beverages and desserts.
Be street smart
Street food is in a sweet spot. It’s inspiring a lot of operators to develop street food-inspired menu additions. Datassential reports that the word “street” has increased 40 percent on menus in the past four years and “street tacos” has skyrocketed 200 percent in the same period. Street food also provides an opening for you to add global tastes to your menu. If you’re looking for some options ripe for expansion in the U.S., Datassential suggests street food favorites like yakitori, the Japanese meat skewers grilled over a charcoal flame, Singapore curry puffs with potatoes, herbs, spices, chicken and egg, or Hungarian kolbice, a bread cone stuffed with sausage, cheese and roasted onions.
Nuts and seeds are already a go-to snack for the health-conscious, supplying protein along with an energy boost. Mintel predicts that those benefits are now helping nuts and seeds move more deeply into snack foods and across day parts as well, popping up in breakfast foods and salads more frequently. Food producers are expanding their use of nuts and seeds as protein-rich ingredients in crackers, vegan cheese, yogurt and oatmeal.
Ag leaders ask Congress to boost funding for food safety
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is imploring Congress to increase funding to make it possible for states to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Dive reports. The agency says state governments need an additional $100 million annually, including $40 million to protect produce safety, $20 million for preventive controls for animal food and $40 million for preventive controls for human food.
Food truck food safety has financial benefits too
Food Safety Magazine says as the number of people eating at food trucks continues to climb, food truck drivers are traveling longer distances, expanding hours of operation and working at a variety of events – all potential food safety challenges. To manage food safety, many drivers are using commissaries as their base of operation – that could include a commercial kitchen, restaurant, shared-use kitchen or other foodservice operation licensed and inspected by the local health department or a state agency like the department of health or agriculture. Commissaries provide a range of benefits, including storage space for items purchased in bulk, a central reporting location for employees to share information, restrooms and handwashing facilities, a temperature-controlled environment to reduce food spoilage, and conveniently scheduled food delivery.
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.
Take the right steps after an accident
Accidents happen – even if you have an airtight safety program. Does your team know what to do? An FSR report recommends you quickly asses the need for medical attention – if calling 911 isn’t required, call your insurer’s injured employee hotline (if applicable) or transport the employee to a medical facility. Secure the area with barriers so you can adequately investigate the area and prevent secondary injuries. Collect information for an incident report – not to assign fault but to identify root causes. Maintain a record of the incident using OSHA form 300 and consult your insurance carrier for additional help. Institute a return-to-work program for the employee and ensure it’s flexible and won’t aggravate the injury – less-physical clerical work may be appropriate for a person who injured his back while moving inventory, for example. Finally, reinforce and revise (if needed) your safety program with your team to help prevent future problems.
Build an authentic emotional brand
Even if you weren’t a fan of the hit show “The Golden Girls,” you have likely heard about the recent opening of the New York City restaurant it inspired. As Inc. reports, the restaurant represents “emotional branding at its best,” right down to the color scheme and cheesecake selection. Does your brand hit the right notes? Far more than your logo and look, your brand is about what others are saying about you and the emotions your business evokes in guests. Foodable recommends you start by ensuring your customers know what you do best. Is there a special ingredient or process that makes you different? Your guests should know that and trust they’re seeing the real you when they visit your restaurant and interact with anyone from your team.
A new badge of trust for food transparency
Consumers demand food transparency – and food industry buzz words like “organic” and “sustainable” can make restaurant guests feel good about what they order – but how do consumers know who backs up these claims? Eater Denver reports that a new program, Good Food 100 Restaurants, provides a “badge of trust” that helps educate consumers and recognize chefs and restaurants that are transparent with their purchasing and sustainable business practices.” It’s a rating system designed to demonstrate how restaurant chefs are developing a better food system and supporting good food economies at state, regional and national levels. The effort started in Colorado but is gaining a national following and includes chefs from organizations including Union Square Hospitality Group, Frontera and Bateau.
Nachos get a makeover
Nachos are a food for the times: shareable, customizeable, interactive, comforting, and an appealing foundation for any number of proteins, toppings and spices. What’s more, the dish is evolving on menus well past the salty-chips-and-processed-cheese variety that have long been a staple at arena events. Flavor & the Menu reports that chefs are reinventing nachos in a number of new ways, like the tuna poke nachos at Next Door in Dallas, which include cucumber, pine nuts, wasabi crema and wonton crisps. In Los Angeles, Petty Cash Taqueria’s roasted cauliflower nachos include crema poblano, Jack cheese, rainbow cauliflower, kale and pickled Fresno chiles. Nachos are becoming a platform to show off both regional flavors (think barbecue or grilled shrimp) and global tastes (from Bolognese to béarnaise).
Handheld foods reign
Sandwiches, burgers and other foods consumers can hold in their hands accounted for about one out of every four dollars spent in the foodservice channel in 2016 – that’s $205 billion in sales according to Technomic’s new “Foodservice Prepared Sandwich Category” study. Burgers led with 44 percent of total handheld food sales in the U.S., deli and submarine sandwiches accounted for 13 and 11 percent, respectively, and other favorites included tacos, burritos, breakfast sandwiches and wraps. While 53 percent of handheld sales occurred during lunch, those sales have begun to spread into other dayparts too. In the study, respondents noted that while handheld foods are a natural fit for take-out, the packaging and delivery of these foods need improvement to become greener, more cost effective and capable of maintaining food temperature.
Lights, camera, foodborne illness!
The next time you watch a cooking show, note whether the featured chef follows food safety protocol. As Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, noted in Restaurant News recently, on-air personalities often skip handwashing, have hair or clothing dangling down near the food they’re preparing, fail to use meat thermometers and often use the same cutting board for vegetables and raw meat. Lax food safety protocol sets a bad example for home cooks and those in the restaurant business who prepare food before an audience (whether on television, via a live demo or simply on a video that goes on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page). Shaw urges chefs to remember safety whenever they’re preparing food – wash hands, avoid cross-contaminating foods, cook food to the appropriate temperature (and keep hot and cold foods at their required temperatures), clean and sanitize all equipment and prioritize safety over fashion.
Utensil design for joyful, mindful eating
New research has found the design of eating utensils impacts consumers’ perceptions of food quality and taste. The men behind it are Andreas Fabian, a PhD, and Charles Michel, chef-in-residence at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. They collaborated on a teardrop-shaped glass wand used to eat creamy foods like peanut butter, yogurt or hummus, Fast Company reports. Their goal was to recreate what a person does when eating something so mouth-watering he forgets manners – like licking a finger while cooking or a plate after eating. The utensil Fabian and Michel created, dubbed a Goûte, is actually shaped like a finger. Their research showed that when taste testers ate yogurt with it, they perceived it as being better and creamier. Fabian and Michel started a design studio and are conducting further grant-funded studies to develop new utensil designs aimed at making people more mindful about eating so they choose healthier diets.
Creating an Instagram hit
Searching for a food destined to become an Instagram sensation? Try a kitschy or familiar twist on an unrelated food, give it some interesting color and texture and voila! Note the success of the sushi donut, which vegan cookbook author Sam Murphy claims she invented while playing around with a donut mold last summer, according to the Washington Post. (She presses sushi rice into a mold greased with coconut oil, lets it set, then pops it out and decorates it with salmon, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger and a range of other ingredients.) The ring-shaped sushi concoctions have recently gone viral on Instagram and a number of restaurants are testing versions to add to their menus.
Better communication via kiosk
Kiosks are getting a lot of play lately as vehicles to help restaurants cut labor costs and speed up service. But Hospitality Technology recently identified some additional benefits for restaurant operators, particularly those that serve diverse populations. The kiosks, supported by customizeable technology, can help restaurant overcome a range of communication challenges they experience with guests. They can offer foreign language and sign language translations, for example, or an easier means for those with physical and mental disabilities to place an order. They can also help you avoid triggering a guest’s allergic reaction by allowing the guest to specify their sensitivities.
Out with the buzzer, in with the phone alert
Disappearing are the days of the black buzzers used to signal to restaurant guests that they have moved up the waiting list and their table is ready. In their place is technology like that of Nowait, a waitlist company that alerts guests on their phones. Skift reports that Yelp Reservations just acquired Nowait in a move to compete with other booking services aiming to help restaurant operators manage their tables. The Nowait app, available on Apple and Android platforms, lets guests browse a list of participating restaurants to check the wait times at each one and add their names, reports SFGate. As they move up the list en route to the restaurant, they receive a notification by text.
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.
When you need to revamp your strategy
Any restaurant can experience peaks and valleys in sales – so how do you know when you need to rethink your restaurant’s strategy? In a recent Toast blog, restaurant coach Donald Burns identified a couple of key areas to consider: First, does your restaurant plan need adjustment? Consider how your guests see your brand, how that compares with how you see your brand, and how you might need to reposition your brand in your market. Also ask yourself if your product mix is right – review your sales reports to determine what is selling (not what you want to be selling). Second, do you need to replace staff? Perhaps you have a culture that doesn’t attract top talent, or you made bad hires and kept them. Address snags in these areas – and in any other areas that keep you awake at night – to set your business on a positive course.
Gift card give and take
Last year, 90 percent of consumers either purchased or received gift cards, First Data Corp. reports. To stand out from the crowd of retailers offering them, it’s important to get creative. Restaurant Hospitality recommends you offer foods rewards instead of monetary ones – or let the person buying the card get a piece of the reward too. Saladworks in Conshohocken, Penn., for example, offers a free salad with a gift card purchase instead of a cash reward. Other brands offer menu items or cash bonuses that correspond with different gift card price thresholds. Try to use your restaurant’s personality to help make the sale, like Chicago-based Portillo’s, where employees in the drive-through are known to dangle gift cards from their hats – the tactic helps the brand sell more than half of its gift cards for the year.
Growing pains for operators who don’t accept tips
For restaurant operators that have gone the no-tipping route, running a business has become like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – or, says one director of operations, like opening a new restaurant. In a New York Times report about restaurants that have made the switch, the businesses have tried different strategies to adjust to the tip-free model: adding bulk to a plate to better justify a higher charge, adding a smaller cut of meat to the menu to balance a larger and more expensive one, limiting some organic produce, working with a smaller kitchen crew, and buying ingredients in bulk and in partnership with other restaurants to save on expenses. Expect more adjustments to come as operators test their pain points – and those of their guests – when it comes to adjusting menu items, prices and staff.
Back to basics for Chipotle
While Chipotle would surely like to say good bye to 2016, the brand’s challenges this year provide a valuable list of lessons for the rest of the industry. The Chicago Tribune reports that its efforts to win guests back following its brief wave of contamination incidents have fallen flat, with sales down 22 percent in the most recent quarter. While Chipotle has tried overhauling food safety measures, adding chorizo to the menu, launching a summer rewards program and offering free kids’ meals, it now seems to be running into trouble on such customer service no-nos as long lines, messy dining rooms and drink stations, and missing ingredients. Now it sounds like the brand is refocusing on the basics that made it a darling of the industry in the hopes that guests will return.
Automation spreads from coast to coast
Eatsa, the eatery that offers quinoa bowls from a high-tech dispensary with minimal human involvement, now has a New York restaurant to match its west-coast outlet. Guests order food from tablets in the restaurant or via smartphone app and pick up their food from electronic cubbies. While humans do work at Eatsa, they’re limited in number, working behind the scenes making food and standing out front to answer guest questions. Eater reports the model helps the brand cut costs and customize orders too – Eatsa owner Scott Drummond hopes to bring the cost of a quinoa bowl from $7 down to $5 and further develop its technology to offer custom bowls to guests based on their past orders.
The bar menu gets reinvented
Seventy percent of people between the ages of 21 and 34 purchase alcoholic beverages away from home at least once a week, reports Technomic and Beverage Marketing Corp.’s new On-Premise Intelligence report. That’s compared to just 48 percent for everyone older than those in that bracket. To capitalize on younger consumers, the report predicts we’ll see more alcohol popping up on menus at limited-service restaurants – Taco Bell and Starbucks are already cashing in on this idea. These consumers like to branch out and try new flavors, so bars targeting the demographic will offer a broader variety of alcohol categories, brands and styles, limited-time drink specials that rotate through the menu, and craft beer made on site.
Restaurant industry flexes to accommodate the independent worker
More cafes and restaurants are finding ways to embrace the 35 percent of the workforce who work independently. Eater recently reported on some newer approaches for appealing to these guests, such as cafes charging guests a $6 flat fee for their first hour spent onsite, then five cents each hour thereafter, which grants each person a workspace and unlimited coffee, tea and snacks. Others offer hybrid hospitality/workspace for monthly fees ranging from $95 to $220. In cities with bustling happy hour and evening business but non-existent lunch business, restaurants are offering space to independent workers during the day when they purchase either a monthly or day pass.
Protect your dry goods storage
Start your new year with a food supply that meets safety standards. Food Safety magazine shared some simple rules for making sure your dry goods are stored safely: Rotate your food – the first item in should be the first out. Keep your storerooms dry, well ventilated and cool (between 50 and 70˚F), with humidity of 15 percent or less. Avoid storing food in direct sunlight. Store food at least six inches from the floor and at least 18 inches from walls to minimize the development of condensation and ease cleaning and vermin control. Keep doors and windows sealed and shut whenever possible to prevent the entry of rodents, insects or birds. Finally, have adequate space to accommodate what you store. Use this equation to help determine if you have sufficient space: Required storage area (sq. ft.)= (Volume per meal x number of meals between deliveries)/(Average height x fraction of usable storeroom floor area).
A purple blow torch promises safer food
A major food safety innovation on the horizon could help restaurants prevent norovirus. Food Safety News reports that cold plasma treatment, also known as a purple blow torch, kills 99.9 percent of norovirus on blueberries without harming the fruit. The researchers report that the method has the potential to extend shelf life by slowing spoilage rates. While they say there is further research needed before the cold plasma method is available commercially, they expect the technology to be accessible and affordable for the food industry to use. Food Dive reports that when that occurs, it could revolutionize the industry, benefiting the security of meats, poultry and produce.
Do you have the right point-of-sale system for you?
Are you using a retail point-of-sale system at your restaurant? Toast outlined why even if it offers you the basics, it’s likely holding you back. A system designed for restaurants will offer you table management, online ordering (without having to pay a third-party ordering site), and analytics that will help you see what sold best that day, how you can create sales forecasts and which server generates the best tips. It will help you develop a reliable customer database that tracks who your most loyal guests are, what they love about you, and what they order -- information you can use to deliver communications and promotions that resonate with them. Finally, it offers efficiency by helping you integrate your inventory, sales, employee scheduling, loyalty program and customer database. Does your current system offer these tools?
Food For Thought And Profit brings you the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are part of 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.