Be allergy aware when labeling
To embrace consumers’ interest in dining whenever and wherever they wish, you may package certain menu items for sale to customers looking for convenient take-away foods. Just make sure that your labels use clear language, bold lettering or even stickers that stand out on the packaging to identify major allergens. Use the common name of the allergen on any packaging to avoid miscommunication. As research from the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program notes, be aware that certain spices, flavors and colors might not have a purpose in the prepared food item (and could inadvertently be omitted on a label) but could still cause reactions in consumers with pronounced food sensitivities.
Tech for better bookings
Technology that enables restaurants to take bookings — and encourages guests to show up for them — is taking off across the industry. If you struggle with no-show guests but think taking credit card information from them would discourage bookings, vendors are offering other options. The blog Big Hospitality reports that the reservations platform Quandoo uses pre-validation technology that asks for a credit card from a consumer making a reservation, but it encourages its restaurant partners to use a carrot vs. stick approach: For example, guests who pre-book a table with a credit card can pre-order their favorite drinks at a reduced rate and have them presented when they arrive at their table. The method increases check sizes, while decreasing the likelihood of no shows.
Make your menu work
New year, new restaurant?
Though last year may have been tough for restaurants, Zagat reports many hotly anticipated openings this year. If you’re planning one, RestaurantOwner.com’s poll of 700 owners may help put costs in perspective. The survey found that on average, owners spend $500,000 in start-up costs when not purchasing land, about $4,200 per seat without a land purchase, and overspend from initial estimates by about 33 percent. To curtail spending, Toast recommends you seek out second-hand equipment, comparison shop and forgo items not absolutely needed at first. Be realistic about staffing costs for recruiting, training, wages, meal comps and time off. You’ll also need to spend on marketing, which may include advertising online or via other media, offering promotional discounts, buying a domain name and hiring a pro to optimize the site or launch an app. What about technology? While tech investments may seem excessive early on, they may also help you manage finances, inventory and guest relations better from the start.
Build business in 2017
Restaurant traffic is expected to be stagnant this year but there’s still plenty you can do to draw a bigger share of those dining out. NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs recommends you boost innovation with a menu and overall experience that feels relevant to guests. Play to consumers’ desire for restaurant food whenever and wherever they like it by offering delivery via whatever means you can make it effective and affordable (just keep consumer costs to $5 or less, Riggs says). Taking that a step further, find ways to allow guests to customize their choices – digital menus and touchscreens, as well as mobile ordering, can help with that. Finally, attract less-frequent guests with the opportunity for rewards – expanding your loyalty program to entice all kinds of users can increase traffic.
It’s time to clean up. For many operators, eliminating chemicals has become more important than counting calories, Food & the Menu reports. That means having an ingredient list that looks like what you’d have in your home kitchen pantry and includes items produced sustainably and without antibiotics – think transparent and authentic. Last year, Panera became the first national restaurant company to assemble a “No No List” of ingredients it was removing from its menu, including artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. It undertook an effort to review 450 ingredients and several levels of its supply chain to identify additives, reformulate 122 ingredients and partner with more than 300 food vendors to replace ingredients and recast recipes. This month, the chain announced its menu was now “100 percent clean.”
Plenty of fish in the sea
According to last week’s Global Seafood Market Conference in San Francisco, there are lots of opportunities in seafood right now. Seafood Source reports that overall, industry analysts at the event said foodservice operators have a great opportunity to entice Millennials with fish, since they value seafood’s health benefits, notice its sourcing and acknowledge that it’s something they may not like to (or know how to) prepare at home. Specific to fish varieties themselves, salmon is expected to continue its rise this year, with a rebound in farmed supply stabilizing or even lowering prices later in the year. Barramundi is also looking good – consider adding it to your menu as a premium option. It happens to be Oprah Winfrey’s favorite, but that’s not all – one chef said it’s a great-tasting fish that freezes well and, because it is a saltwater-raised farmed fish, it often tastes better.
Salads are here to stay
Green salad consumption is growing – as appetizers and entrées, at home and away from home. That’s according to Datassential’s new MenuTrends Keynote Report. That has helped salad-centric concepts grow and premium salad offerings at other restaurants to get attention. What’s helping is the broadening array of ingredients on offer. Far from just greens and raw vegetables, salads are including items like roasted Brussels sprouts and curried cauliflower with increased frequency. Smartbrief reports that Chicago’s Roots Pizza, for example, says its salads “ain’t rabbit food.” Indeed, with 50 ingredients including grilled gyro sausage and pickled fennel, there’s a lot the chain is doing to make salads exciting.
Want to embrace global flavors on your menu? Take a look at the street food scene in your city. Datassential’s Creative Concepts report says street food is finally getting street cred: It found that of the 500 consumers asked about street food, 36 percent love the idea and have visited, and 63 percent would visit if given the opportunity. Make it accessible to your guests by including descriptive language on your menu to encourage guests to try unique items. Make those items (as well as your marketing, signage and décor) as authentic as possible so the experience transports guests to a different place. Offer samples of drinks or dishes that might be a tougher sell, and consider combining two kinds of complementary street food to help you create your own new twist.
Stop a food contamination crisis short
Having a food contamination crisis plan can take some stress out of your business, particularly if you produce food yourself or work closely with local suppliers – a common occurrence in today’s farm-to-table food culture. Food Safety magazine suggests you consider taking these steps to protect yourself: First, acknowledge the risks – one food contamination or adulteration claim is made to the FDA daily and the Food Safety Modernization Act will likely increase that number. Establish a team who can respond quickly and thoughtfully in a food contamination crisis. They should develop a written plan ahead of any crisis that outlines how to handle various scenarios if they occur, such as how and what to communicate in a worst-case scenario, and what procedures can be implemented immediately to prepare for that outcome. Finally, test your plan once a year at a minimum and consider hypothetical scenarios and potential responses.
Where germs lurk in your restaurant
You’re trying to crack down on contamination in your restaurant. Where should you focus your energy first? In Restaurant News, the University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba pointed out the places in a restaurant that harbour the most germs: First, clean that table – he says the sponges or cloths restaurants use typically aren’t soaked long enough in disinfectant to be effective, allowing germs to move from table to table. Silverware is a likely target too, since it picks up bacteria when placed on dirty tables – it’s always best to provide a fresh set when guests arrive and place it on a napkin. Plastic menus and child seats should be wiped down with disinfectant but often aren’t. Lastly, the rind of a lemon is often contaminated, so be aware of how lemons are cleaned and stored for use in drinks and other items.
Tech investment is big in 2017
Last year wasn’t a stellar one for restaurant sales, so what are operators doing to change that? Jonathan Maze of Nation’s Restaurant News says many are making substantial investments in technology. He says at the recent ICR Conference in Orlando, executives spoke about investing in online and mobile ordering and using technology to connect with consumers overall. But by far the biggest technology dollars seem to be going into delivery. Executives from a number of quick-service, fast-casual and polished-casual chains discussed plans to test delivery this year, some through third parties and others by running delivery themselves.
Are you PCI compliant?
If you accept credit cards at your restaurant, you must be PCI compliant – Toast reports that as of January 31, Visa is requiring all businesses (regardless of size) to validate their compliance unless they qualify for an exemption. These are the six categories of PCI compliance: maintaining a secure network, protecting cardholder data, protecting systems against malware, establishing strong access control measures, monitoring and testing your networks, and creating an information security policy. To achieve compliance and maintain it, it’s important that you know the policies and train your employees in order to protect your business and guests from data breaches.
Play some pricing tricks
Between rising labor costs and declining restaurant visits, you may feel pressure to raise prices. Profitable Hospitality suggests these strategies to boost sales: Decoy pricing, or selling one item at a high price, can increase the perceived value of other items. Prestige pricing, inflating prices to indicate higher quality, can work if you also boost the quality of the presentation or packaging. Nine and zero pricing sends a message about value and quality – price an entrée at $15.99 to highlight a bargain or a steak at $30 to demonstrate quality. Middle pricing – providing small, medium and large sizes/prices – can help you steer guests toward the middle price point because it’s not too cheap and not too expensive. Bundle pricing can also work with groups – tempt them with a wine and dessert package or a birthday party package and ensure the items you bundle also appear individually on the menu so guests notice the cost savings.
Boost your online reputation
If a restaurant earns a half-star improvement in an online review, it is 30 to 49 percent more likely to sell out its evening seats, according to economic research cited in FSR magazine. Manage your online reputation by taking these steps recommended in the report: Polish your online image with attractive photos and detailed menus, and maintain your listings on websites like Yelp, Google, OpenTable, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Zomato. Encourage happy customers to post reviews online, which boosts your restaurant in web search results. When guests do leave reviews (positive or negative), respond to them all – whether personally, via a marketing firm or through an automated platform. Your responses are opportunities to focus readers on the positive, subtly market your restaurant’s menu and promotions, and increase your chances of having guests return. Of course, reinforce your online presence by providing a solid in-person customer experience. Ensure you have some mechanism for collecting feedback – once hundreds of customers weigh in, you have actionable insight to help you improve.
What’s all the noise about?
If your restaurant creates a little too much buzz, literally, try making some adjustments. Research conducted by an Oxford University experimental psychology professor found that loud noise can impact people’s ability to taste food, USA Today reports. Loud volume can diminish sweet and salty flavors, while intensifying extra-savory flavors like those of bacon or mushrooms, for example. Beverages are affected too – the research found that loud noise makes it harder for guests to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail and therefore how they think it tastes. If you need to turn the volume down, consider installing noise-absorbing ceiling panels, investing in a quality sound system that makes it easier to improve your atmosphere without adding noise, and conducting hourly noise checks to ensure your guests aren’t having to yell at each other across the table in order to be heard.
The chefs have spoken – top food trends for 2017
The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation to get their take on 2017’s hottest food trends. They just released the top-10 results, which include new cuts of meat, street-food-inspired dishes, healthy kids’ meals, house-made charcuterie as a cured-meat version of the cheese plate, sustainable seafood, ethnic-inspired breakfast items, house-made condiments, authentic ethnic cuisine, heirloom produce, and
African flavors and ingredients. How many of these items are appearing on your menu in the New Year?
Coffee and cocktails…why not?
It seems coffee cocktails are popping up more frequently on menus lately as both a winter warmer and as vehicle for a showy tableside presentations. Consider Chicago-area Carlucci’s Restaurant and Bar, which offers a tableside service where they light Grand Marnier on fire, sprinkle it with cinnamon to create sparks, then combine it with coffee and Bailey’s in a mug rimmed with crystallized cinnamon and sugar. Expect more alcoholic coffee concoctions to go mainstream in the coming months, considering Starbucks announced at its recent investor day that it would feature a mixology section in its large new location in New York City.
New national seafood program holds imports to higher standard
Stricter safeguards now protect the seafood you import. President Obama just announced the launch of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which will require “at-risk” seafood imported into the United States to be tracked to its source and labeled properly, according to Seafood Source. Past studies have concluded that about one-third of market and restaurant seafood products were mislabeled and up to one-third of the wild-caught seafood imported to the U.S. is acquired through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While environmental groups say the protections must expand to include the full supply chain, the program promises to at least hold imported seafood to the same standard as domestically caught seafood, helping American fishermen and reducing consumer risk.
If you can’t beat meal kits…
Some restaurant brands are joining the trend to avoid having the services eat into their profits, Restaurant Business reports. Cracker Barrel offered heat-and-serve meals as a takeout option over Thanksgiving, and the hot dog chain Portillo’s has launched a subscription meal service. For $365 a year, their customers receive a partially cooked meal mailed to their home every other month. Their meal for January is an Italian Beef Sandwich Deluxe Package includes two pans of beef, two containers of gravy and eight rolls, for example.
USDA study finds low pesticide levels in U.S. foods
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced that its Pesticide Data Program, which collects data each year on pesticide residues in food, determined that 99 percent of produce samples it studied across the U.S. have low pesticide levels. The Pesticide Date Program, which has been in operation for 25 years, collected samples from 10 states across the country in 2015 to determine pesticide levels in a wide variety of foods including apples, cucumbers, spinach and peanut butter, to name a few. The pesticide levels are based on limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which Food Safety News reports are the strictest in the world. Residues exceeding the EPA’s levels were found in 54 samples, or less than 1 percent of the samples tested.
Make hay with your hashtags
Just about every day, there’s an occasion people recognize on social media with a hashtag, whether to build awareness of an important cause or to simply have fun. You can use these hashtag holidays to build your brand. Sprout Social recommends you first determine how relevant the hashtag holiday is to your brand – it should build rapport with your audience and not annoy them. Is the correct hashtag being used? If you have a list of hashtag holidays you’d like to promote, try plugging them into Sprout’s Twitter Listening Report to see which occasions generated the most volume and shares and to make sure you’re using the most widely used version of a hashtag. Finally, does the hashtag holiday overlap with other major holidays or events that are central to your brand? Check your calendar and prioritize before you post.
Amazon tests tech-enabled grab-and-go concept
Chef-prepared breakfasts, lunches and dinners with no cashiers or check-out lines. This is Amazon’s new grab-and-go food concept – a hybrid of a grocery store, meal kit service and quick-service restaurant. Customers use a smartphone app to gain entry to an 1,800-square-foot facility called Amazon Go that lets them collect the groceries and ready-to-eat foods they want, then leave, reports Restaurant Business. All costs are calculated and charged through the app. Ready-made foods include salads, sandwiches and baked goods prepared onsite and displayed in cases much like those in Pret A Manger, the report says. Amazon meal kits will also be available for purchase. This concept is currently in a test phase – Amazon says it intends to build 20 supermarket-style facilities.
Make the holidays happy for your team
You won’t be able to make your guests happy with employees who are down and dragging. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips for making spirits bright: Create schedules so employees are able to spend some time with family and friends. This could mean bulking up on staff so fewer people are working double shifts, shifting any retail business you conduct to the web, or adjusting arrival and departure times to create more of a buffer between shifts. Set a fun work goal to motivate employees to earn prizes – whether for successfully selling menu items or participating in a community charity event. Reward them for their hard work with holiday gifts and a holiday event is possible. Finally, consider closing for a day or two – it may even earn you points with guests when they see you’re taking care of your team.
Asian flavors to boost non-traditional dishes
Most Americans’ familiarity with Japanese cuisine doesn’t go far beyond sushi, but two flavors, furikake and togarashi, have the potential to change that on menus right now, Flavor & the Menu reports. Furikake has a base of dried fish that can be combined with sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, powdered miso and dried vegetables, among other things. While it’s traditionally used to season rice, fish and vegetables, there’s room for it to boost the savory profile of pasta, eggs, pizza, popcorn and other snacks. Togarashi is a spice blend including two types of peppers, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and seaweed. While traditionally used in tempura, noodles or yakitori, togarashi lends spicy heat to everything from hot dogs to cheesecake to ice cream.
Breakfast by the bowl
The bowl trend has made it to the breakfast menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that an increasing number of chain restaurants and college foodservice operations are offering bowls as a vehicle for healthy, customizable breakfast foods. The options are seemingly endless, from the sweet (including items like açaí, tropical fruit, yogurt and granola) to the savory (including quinoa, kale, eggs and sausage). Datassential reports that the presence of breakfast bowls on menus has increased 66 percent in the last four years, bringing it to just 7 percent overall. So there’s room to grow.
Coffee comes back strong
Sure, there may be a Starbucks on every corner, but analysts are saying we’re in the midst of a coffee renaissance. The Wall Street Journal predicts U.S. demand for coffee to lead the world in the coming years, growing at 2 percent per year until 2020. Beverage Industry says the increase is due to innovation from brewers, as well as Millennial consumers’ interest in the drink. Technomic’s Volumix Coffee Report found that pour-over coffee and cold-brewed coffee are attracting consumers, as well as flavors including vanilla, mocha and chocolate. The report said single-cup sales increased 62 percent last year.
A workflow to promote cleanliness
Is handwashing something you have built into your operation – or something you fit into it? A forensic sanitarian who weighed in on the question in Food Safety Magazine says restaurants that integrate the handwashing sink into the work flow of the kitchen ensure frequent handwashing happens – and stand a better chance of limiting the spread of foodborne illness. While the placement of sinks may be hard to control, try to design a traffic pattern that makes handwashing second nature. For example, consider having employees clock in next to the sink, or cluster handwashing and food preparation equipment together just like you’d store kitchen equipment that is used together.
Boost your team’s food allergy IQ
About 15 million people have food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education group, and your restaurant is responsible for ensuring you avoid triggering them. Food Safety Magazine recommends you keep these steps in mind when working with your team: Use proper sanitary receiving guidelines from www.servsafe.com and establish a personal hygiene program that prevents cross-contamination. Use reputable suppliers and check their permits and licenses. Store prepared food away from contaminants and clean and store products away from them as well. Wash and sanitize all equipment. Implement required training programs for all employees. Finally, partner with your guests by informing them of ingredients that may trigger allergies – by telling them about possible allergens in a dish and posting a disclaimer on the menu.
Reject and refuse to reduce waste
If you have a robust recycling program but are still generating too much waste at your restaurant, you’re not alone: The National Restaurant Association says although 65 percent of restaurants have recycling programs, the average restaurant in the U.S. still produces 25,000 pounds of food waste every year. Restaurant Hospitality recommends that in addition to the three R’s of food waste reduction that you’re likely familiar with (reduce, reuse, recycle), consider another two: reject and refuse. Reject means speaking up when you have inadequate support for reducing waste, like inadequate food storage space or transportation for donated items. You can also help change the landscape by refusing single-use plastics from suppliers and insisting on reusable crates and containers.
Start your restaurant’s online conversation
It’s likely that a high percentage of people who dine with you have done so because of a Facebook post or Instagram photo. You can help set the stage so it’s easy for your guests to promote you positively online. The National Restaurant Association recommends you encourage guests to take photos of food while they’re dining (assuming it fits with the atmosphere of your restaurant) – and make your social media handles visible on menus and indoor signage so they know where to post. Brand a special hashtag for your restaurant and post some photos or other content to your social media pages with this hashtag to inspire others to do the same. Encourage guests to post their best photos of meals with you – and reward your favorite photographer with a gift card or meal discount.
Mobile transactions on the rise
Mobile payments currently account for $50 billion in sales and are expected to nearly triple by 2019, Toast reports. If you have concerns about jumping on board, consider these assurances from Toast: Mobile payments are secure – the National Restaurant Association has said many mobile payment apps encrypt or scramble credit card information before it reaches a restaurant’s payment terminal, making it less vulnerable to hackers. The transactions are also 53 percent faster than credit card sales and even faster than that for cash sales, according to American Express. Finally, these transactions generate loyal repeat customers and give you access to purchasing trends and other data that can help you appeal to those guests.
Don’t leave a post unanswered
You wouldn’t ignore a guest standing at your front desk, so why do it on social media? Like it or not, your approach to customer service is more visible to guests and potential visitors on social media platforms than it is within your restaurant. However, the tourism website Sheila’s Guide says it’s still common for hotels and restaurants to leave guest comments, photos and other feedback unanswered on social media platforms. Be sure to use these posts as opportunities to thank guests for their business, show concern for addressing any problems they experience, and ensure they come back. The quality of your public response could help bring new guests in the door too.
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