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?
The holidays are here…Are you ready?
Kiplinger’s latest forecast on retail sales and consumer spending predicts that this year’s holiday sales will top last year’s. There’s still a little time to fine-tune your plan to profit. First, ensure you have trained all staff and they’re motivated to provide great customer service. Modern Restaurant Management also recommends that if you’re planning holiday promotions and special events, check that you have ample inventory on hand to support them – as well as a back-up plan in case you need to make last-minute changes. Be ready to attract attention right after Thanksgiving with festive décor and a marketing campaign that coordinates your email communications, social media outreach, in-store promotional materials and website (use Google Trends to help you identify key words to better connect with your audience).
Prevent produce and fish from going to waste
Approximately 40 percent of food is discarded in the United States, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Toast reports that 26 percent of produce is wasted before it reaches grocery stores. It adds to the exorbitant amount of food overall that is sent to landfills (97 percent), where it breaks down and releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Foodservice operations can help cut down on two categories of commonly wasted food: produce and trash fish inadvertently caught by fishermen bringing in other varieties of fish. Consider buying “ugly” produce, featuring trash fish on your menu (they’re sustainable and often new to guests), and using the entire fruit, vegetable or fish on your menu – then composting leftovers.
Manage and protect your reputation
Your reputation is your greatest asset – and there are a growing number of threats to it, including food safety problems, concern over your ingredients’ origins, and supply chain security. One slip-up and a valued brand can generate harmful headlines in the news and on social media. A Food Safety Magazine report recommends you establish a team to identify potential issues (to help avoid being blindsided by unknown unknowns), then evaluate and monitor them. It needs to be well integrated into business operations, with involvement from people with decision-making authority at the top of the company. It should be able to identify problems early, connect them with business strategy, and then develop strategies to prevent them from happening or to change business practices to stop problems in their tracks.
Thanksgiving-week restaurant business is on the move
Thanksgiving day, arguably the pinnacle of American food appreciation each year, is upon us. This year, one in 10 Americans will plan to have their Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant and one in 20 will order an entire take-out meal from a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association. Those numbers could climb for restaurants in the future – the association says millennials are more likely than Gen Xers or baby boomers to dine out on Thanksgiving. Even if you’re not open on Thanksgiving, brace yourself for a busy day on Friday – two-thirds of shoppers say they will stop for a bite out in the midst of Black Friday shopping.
Food safety commandments
You get it, food safety is important. But the fast pace of a kitchen can mean it can be easy to miss problems or focus on the wrong things. Foodable recently boiled food safety down into these commandments: Skip deep cleans but clean as you go to avoid mishandling ingredients and cross-contamination. Know your vendors and don’t fall for a deal if you question the quality you’re getting. Use chemicals only when needed – too many of them in the food prep area can lead to contamination, and there are ample eco-conscious alternatives. Finally, establish a clear food safety policy, lead by example and set firm boundaries that staff cannot cross.
Point-of-sale systems step away from the countertop
McDonald’s recently said it was addressing a problem that exists for many brands in the quick-service and fast-casual categories: a slowdown in the speed of food delivery to customers due to factors like long lines and larger menus. The New York Times reports that McDonald’s plans to expand digital self-serve ordering stations to all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants, where guests can order from a touchscreen, then get a digital location device, sit down and wait for a server to deliver their food. Toast reports that other brands are taking similar steps, like having cashiers use mobile tablets to walk up and down a line of guests to take orders. It is helping guests get their food more quickly and restaurants serve more people each day.
Restaurant concepts in play for 2017
As 2016 winds down, industry trend watchers are looking ahead. Technomic’s Darren Tristano predicts we’ll see more of these restaurant concepts in the next year: Custom-built fast casual pizza, craft burgers that emphasize local, high-quality ingredients, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods that expand beyond Greek – particularly vegetarian and other health-conscious options, and an expansion of poke in the fast-casual segment. Poke, he said, is helping to open people’s minds to raw fish, particularly in lunch dayparts where it’s appearing more frequently in items like sushi burritos. Finally, as more restaurants expand breakfast and offer it all day, Tristano predicts we’ll see more upscale, high-quality breakfast concepts break out in 2017.
Out-recruit competitors for holiday staff
If you’re looking to hire extra staff this holiday season, you can stay ahead of the competition by streamlining the process. To help, Entrepreneur recommends you take some or all of these steps: Invest in mobile optimization efforts that eliminate the need for excessive scrolling, zooming and jumping to different menus (while 90 percent of workers look for jobs on mobile devices, only 54 percent of job applications work on them, according to Modern Restaurant Management); slim down your list of questions to focus only on what you need at the first stage of the recruitment process (i.e. are a cover letter and résumé sufficient?); and offer résumé upload options that candidates can use to link to their LinkedIn profile, Google drive or other file hosting service.
Spurlock launches quick-service restaurant
A new quick-service chain is poised to launch, courtesy of Morgan Spurlock, who sought to bring transparency to the quick-service restaurant industry in his 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me.” Spurlock will unveil a test of his new quick-service restaurant, Holy Chicken!, in Columbus, Ohio in January. His goal is to provide a transparent restaurant – first in Ohio and later in multiple cities around the country. Nation’s Restaurant News says quick-service industry professionals are advising
the restaurant, which will offer chicken from a farm Spurlock’s family owns in Alabama. The chicken will be free-range, cage-free and without added hormones and antibiotics. While fries will not be on the menu, the restaurant will offer coleslaw, greens and corn syrup-free sodas from a beverage company in Cleveland.
Restaurants that play games – either by offering their own or being a hub for other companies’ games – can build strong emotional connections with their guests while they collect valuable data on their preferences, according to a report from FSR magazine. If games are a natural extension of your brand, try creating one yourself to build guest relationships. But you don’t have to be a game developer to get in on the opportunity. Consider restaurants that simply piggyback on the popularity of established games – like a restaurant that participates in Pokémon Go and pings offers to people who stop in while playing, or another that assembles game kits, coupons and prizes for fantasy football-playing guests who join them to watch football games. The audience is already established – you just need to find a way to be a part of it.
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