Does your restaurant have creative ways of sharing what you do best — whether it be inventing new dishes or surprising guests with unexpected pairings or presentations? For years, operators have used Restaurant Week offers to bring guests in during slow periods, attract people who wouldn’t normally visit and test new menu ideas — but the event needs some reinvention. While it can be profitable for operators, many say that Restaurant Week turns off regular clientele, can be costly to manage and has grown to include so many restaurants that it is difficult to stand out in the crowd. In place of Restaurant Week, operators are coming up with more experimental concepts. Upserve reports that “Off Menu Week,” a joint effort between Resy and Capital One, is taking off in six food-focused cities ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. Participating restaurants will serve dishes that may appear on a future restaurant menu, off-menu items, or one-hit wonders that didn’t make it to the menu. Bloomberg reports that participating restaurants could offer such experiences as having guests try a dish with a selection of wines designed to draw out different flavors, or demonstrating different approaches to making sushi. The goal isn’t about showcasing signature dishes or trying to attract guests looking for a good deal — it’s about providing a behind-the-scenes experience visitors will remember.
Operators typically consider restaurant technology options with an eye toward improving the guest experience or boosting the efficiency of front- and back-of house teams. But it just might help you attract and retain employees too. A recent Deloitte study found that 74 percent of millennials indicated they want technology to be part of their workplace. It doesn’t have to cost operators a lot either. The Rail reports that even free tools like What’s App and Google Groups can help, as can more-targeted paid apps like HotSchedules and RedEApp. Streamlining communication, assigning tasks, shift scheduling and switching, and managing employee payment via tech are all important, though even the quality of your wifi can make a difference to employees looking to log on during breaks. Before a new employee even joins you, tech can help you manage the talent pool more effectively. Tools like RoboRecruiter, for one, which has a multilingual platform, use an online chatbox to automate messaging and help you sort and engage your candidate pool.
How much of a challenge is it for you to retain employees? Restaurant Insider reports that 42 percent of front-of-house employees leave within the first three months of employment and 43 percent of managers leave within the first year. While you can pour money into educational opportunities designed to retain your hires, don’t overlook some less-expensive strategies that can help you in the coming months. First, Employee Benefit News advises operators to pay attention to onboarding: Research from the Brandon Hall Group found that a well-thought-out onboarding process can boost retention by 82 percent and productivity by more than 70 percent. (Need help making that transition as smooth as possible? Consider tapping a firm like Talent Reef for assistance.) Another helpful step operators can take is to crowdsource scheduling. Workjam research found that 60 percent of hourly workers said the most difficult aspect of their job hunt was finding a position that matched their availability. It can help to allow employees to use your technology platform to swap shifts with each other (without your involvement) so they can more easily balance work with other priorities. Next, infuse some meaning into their work and show that you care about your team: Volunteer as a group to support an important cause, or engage them in efforts to improve anything from your customer service to your recycling program. Finally, Employee Benefit News advises operators to modernize their payroll. Research from the Centre for Generational Kinetics found that the majority of millennial and Gen Z workers would prefer to be paid daily or weekly, so if you’re still using a two-week cycle, making a change could increase your appeal as an employer.
Vintage tech reinvented for restaurants
Front-of-house technology isn’t limited to ordering, payment and feedback anymore. Big Hospitality reports that old-school devices like pagers are getting a modern makeover designed to enhance restaurant service. CST’s EasyCall system, for example, allows restaurants to secure micro call buttons to restaurant walls or tables. When paired with wireless pagers carried by servers, guests can summon those servers anywhere in a restaurant. There is also a back-of-house version that alerts servers when an order is ready. If three pages go unanswered, a manager receives an automatic alert to keep food moving
Second only to the retail industry, the restaurant industry is a top employer of Generation Z, the demographic defined as those aged 21 and younger. In 2018, 19 percent of Gen Z worked in restaurants, up from 15 percent in 2017, according to data shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in Orlando. If you are looking to hire a lot of staff in this demographic, are you doing what it takes to attract and retain them? First, just like your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices, your job postings should be too. Gen Z scours job boards, restaurant websites and social media for job leads, and most of that searching is done on their phones. They prefer to be able to apply for jobs that way too, so don’t insist on a written application. Once hired, your Gen Z staff are more likely to stay if you offer them opportunities for training, development and mentorship. According to the research, 60 percent of Gen Z say that the coaching and education they received on the job made them want to stay on and pursue longer-term opportunities there. When it comes to receiving workplace training, Gen Z has clear preferences too: The vast majority (88 percent) like one-on-one and on-the-job training, with online or mobile training modules or videos not far behind. When it doubt, swap out classroom-based or paper-based learning with highly visual platforms that deliver quick, easily digestible lessons.
Safeguard your mobile strategy
Your mobile presence has power: Mobile search behavior by people who search for food using their phones or tablets has a nearly 90 percent conversion rate, according to the study “Mobile Path-to-Purchase” by xAd and Telmetrics. You may be pouring a large portion of your ad spending on mobile as a result, but proceed with caution. Research from the online advertising firm WordStream found that unless a business has a thoughtful mobile strategy, it’s too easy to miss out on business opportunities. Since so many businesses want a piece of the mobile market, the mobile click-through rate decreases 45 percent faster in lower search positions than it does on desktop or tablet computers. The share of impressions on mobile is low as well, with mobile ads less likely to be shown (even in top positions) than they are on desktops. Search costs per click for mobile have also been increasing dramatically in the past year.
Are you built for speed?
For many restaurants, speed has long equalled sales. Consider a study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which found that every seven seconds a restaurant decreases drive-thru wait time generates a 1 percent increase in sales. In a similar vein, the restaurant chain Veggie Grill recently introduced predictive ordering technology that makes it possible for line cooks to start preparing an order as the guest is ordering it — not after the guest has paid — and has shaved valuable seconds off of wait times as a result. This need for speed will only increase as restaurants cater to millennials, a generation that eats out more often and spends more money doing it than any other generation. FSR magazine reports that faster service could be one of the most important factors driving millennials, who have grown up with the expectation of speed and efficiency when it comes to the products they buy. When you look at your operation’s pain points, where is business slowing down? Do you have slow lines of guests waiting for tables or waiting to pick up orders? Do guests have to wait longer than desired to have their meal served or to pay their check? Start at those points and determine how you might speed up your processes while maintaining the human interactions that help people connect with your brand.
Services emerge to fill last-minute staffing needs
Labor shortages and last-minute staff cancellations got you down? Increasingly, companies are popping up to fill restaurants’ needs. Joining companies like Jobletics in Boston, Jitjatjo in New York and Wonolo in San Francisco is Snag Work, a Richmond, Va.-based company that recently expanded to Washington, DC and claims to resemble an Uber for restaurant operators, allowing them to fill shifts at the last minute. Similar to how Uber users pay a higher fee during peak times, Snag Work users might pay a higher rate on a Saturday night or if they need a stand-in with more skills, such as a mixologist. While these last-minute hires tend to be more expensive, Washingtonian reports that the extra expense has been worth it to a good number of operators. Some restaurants that use the service have been selecting specific fill-ins repeatedly — and at times finding new hires.
Be a smooth operator
It’s a new year – take a fresh look at your restaurant’s efficiency. FSR recommends you consider these ideas: What steps does your team have to take from creating the menu to delivering service? If you analyze each step, you’ll uncover processes that are slow, messy or inefficient. Where is technology needed – or not? Too little capacity can stall your growth during peak periods and too much adds unnecessary expense, so ensure you have the right support to ease your biggest pain points. Is your restaurant’s layout as efficient as possible? More space means greater costs so make it count by considering how employees and guests move throughout the restaurant. Are your menu items and promotions easily prepared during peak periods? If not, simplify. Do you have the right staff in place at the right time to increase sales? Remove bottlenecks and roadblocks so the smallest number of people can capably provide the best hospitality.
Moneyball for restaurants
Can you quickly answer questions such as “Who are my best- and worst-performing servers?” or “Why are my ingredient costs rising?” Your competition may be able to. Consider tuning in to software companies like Damian Mogavero’s firm, Avero, which advises 10,000 restaurants in 70 countries about how to use data to maximize performance – much like how statistics were applied to make a winning baseball team in the film Moneyball, Skift reports. The company scrutinizes data that can get lost in a spreadsheet. It consults about such topics as how to identify and stop theft in a restaurant as technology evolves, or for seasonal operators, how weather patterns affect business and how to make the most of the weather they get. Mogavero details the power of analytics in his new book, The Underground Culinary Tour.
How a food trend is born
Do you know how avocado toast, broccoli rabe and kale became hot menu items? The Wall Street Journal and food and beverage consulting firm PadillaCRT analyzed trendy foods’ paths to stardom and found they have qualities in common: It must be approachable and easily understood by a mass audience – something a person could assemble without tracking down special ingredients. It must be seeded with the right group – PadillaCRT’s Jason Stemm said avocado toast took off after it was served to clean-living aficionados at the Wanderlust “Yoga in the City” event in New York in 2012. Finally, the trend must have a means to expand, whether that’s adoption by celebrities, an Instagram-worthy appearance, or a mention on a popular food blog. For the record, Stemm predicts kale sprouts could soon have their moment in the spotlight.
Starbucks commits to hiring refugees, providing healthcare
As the restaurant industry adapts to a new administration, Starbucks has stepped out with an announcement that may make waves: CEO Howard Schultz announced recently that Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 refugees over five years and will continue to offer health insurance to employees, whether or not the Affordable Care Act is repealed. QSR magazine reports that Schultz said the company will focus first on hiring those refugees who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support staff in countries where the U.S. has needed support. He promised that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, employees will be able to reclaim their insurance coverage within 30 days of losing it, rather than wait for open enrollment.
Food delivery industry’s bumpy ride
Industry analysts point to food delivery as the big space for growth in 2017. But there’s much to learn from the industry’s growing pains: Take Munchery, the San Francisco startup that cooks and delivers meals to hundreds of thousands of customers in several cities. Bloomberg reports that according to current and former employees, Munchery has had to cut back on premium ingredients like organic chicken and wild salmon to keep budgets in check, and that from September 2014 through July 2016, Munchery’s San Francisco kitchen made more than 653,000 meals that were never sold. While a company spokesperson said overproduction was a given in the food industry, the startup’s challenges reveal difficulty in striking the balance between profits and losses in food delivery.
Tap into the wedding market
Domino’s has found an innovative way to appeal the Millennial consumer base and capitalize on guest loyalty: Pizza lovers who are engaged to be married can now create a wedding registry on the site. Registrants who prefer receiving gifts of pizza instead of the traditional wedding china can register for pizza to be served at wedding festivities like bachelorette parties or offered as a take-away to guests as they depart the wedding reception. Couples can also register for gift cards good for a low-key date night or night off of cooking sometime after their wedding. Registrants can share their wish list with guests on social media, of course.
Walmart finds an organic restaurant partner
In a new sign showing the mainstream appeal of organic food, a Walmart Supercenter near Orlando, Fla. is opening an organic quick-service restaurant, according to Restaurant Hospitality. The restaurant, Grown, is the first quick-service restaurant on the east coast to be certified organic by the U.S.D.A. The restaurant, which was founded last year by the former professional basketball player Ray Allen and his wife, Shannon, serves breakfast, soup, salad, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies and cold-pressed juices. Walmart pursued Grown as a partner to help promote foods local to Florida and connect guests to fresh foods sold in other parts of the store.
Signs of a vendor that protects food safety
Considering a new food vendor? Or trying to decide whether to split from another? Food Safety magazine suggests you analyze a number of factors, such as to what degree they’re innovating. For example, do they have continuous temperature monitoring so that if there’s a problem with your order, they can demonstrate the temperature of the stock at all stages of the journey? Do they anticipate your needs, stay in touch and add unexpected value? Such companies often show their leadership by serving on councils that make it a public service to share their expertise. Your vendors, whether it’s your pest control expert or the account manager of your seafood supply, should make an effort to be on a first-name basis with you and expend extra effort to ensure your needs are met.
The biggest food recalls of 2016
Food recalls surged 22 percent last year as compared to 2015 and two of the main sources were Listeria contamination and undeclared allergens. Major culprits included milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat and a smaller, but still significant, number of recalls were issued for soy and tree nuts. That's according to Food Safety magazine, which tracked food product recalls issued in the U.S. and Canada based on announcements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The recalls stemmed from a variety of causes, including insufficient food production and monitoring processes, failure to maintain facilities and equipment, failure to comply with federal food safety regulations and inability to track ingredients through the supply chain.
Mobile technology driving future of the drive-thru
Technology changes so quickly that it can be hard to know where to invest – but mobile technology seems to be at the foundation of much of it. Take the touchscreens appearing at many drive-thrus nationwide. Restaurant Business reports that in five years, those screens will be passé. It’s more likely that the drive-thrus of the future will be pick-up windows for food that guests order in a variety of ways, according to Rob Grimes of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association, such as via voice-recognition software on site, the restaurant’s website, mobile apps or their car’s GPS system. Some operators are already using mobile apps that connect to their restaurant’s point-of-sale system to order food and set a pick-up time, at which point restaurant staff bring the meal to the person’s car.
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