Take care with allergens
If you offer food for take-out and delivery, or as convenience items purchased from a kiosk, make sure you are as clear about your ingredients as you would be if you were listing them on the menu in your dining room. Pret A Manger has just begun labeling its foods with allergen information following the 2016 death of a 15-year-old customer with a sesame seed allergy. The customer saw no allergen information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, or on the display where the sandwich was sold, and she consumed the sandwich without realizing it contained sesame seeds. Researchers from Food Allergy Research & Education estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one of every 13 children under the age of 18.
America’s most food-focused holiday is coming up. Are you ready? On Thanksgiving weekend, your restaurant has an opportunity to give consumers a break from cooking, shopping or both. Upserve suggests creating a Thanksgiving-day menu for eat-in or take-away. Have an Instagram contest that challenges guests to share what they are thankful for. Poll your most loyal customers on social media about their favorite charities and donate to the winning cause. And since Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, make sure you’re ready with gift cards for guests looking for ideas, as well as a selection of meal or snack specials that can entice consumers looking for a break from the crowds. Make sure your inventory and staffing plan are ready to handle extra foot traffic too.
Harness your POS system’s power of customization
Consumers prefer customization, and your POS system can help you deliver it. For example, does your system make it easy for you to add and subtract extra items like avocado or shrimp on a salad or bacon or extra cheese on a burger? Cake suggests that clearly listing such potential upgrades on your menu — upgrades that some consumers may not have even realized they wanted — are an easy way to help you give your checks a boost.
Flu-proof your business this winter
Want to protect the safety of your food (and employees) this flu season? Consider sponsoring flu vaccination for your employees. While some operators question the investment, research indicates that it pays off in the long run, costing relatively little per employee as compared to the potential costs of staffing shortages and business interruption in the wake of an outbreak. According to 2010 research published by the National Institutes of Health, “Employers who subsidize workplace vaccination programs stand to see significant a significant return on their investment, particularly during a severe influenza season or pandemic when employee productivity may be interrupted by influenza-related absenteeism.”
Don’t forget the drying
When it comes to preventing bacteria growth in your kitchen, make sure your team understands that drying your dishes is as important as cleaning them. Drying with a towel can spread bacteria, and nesting dishes, bowls, pans or other items together while they are still damp can be a recipe for bacteria growth too, even when the dishes have been washed at high temperatures. Your best defense is having a dish rack that allows for proper airflow between dishes and allowing dishes to dry completely before storing them.
Are monitoring food costs a significant challenge to your business? If so, you’re hardly alone: 60 percent of restaurant operators struggle to manage food costs, according to Upserve. It can be especially challenging if you have a long list of suppliers, as many operators do. When food costs comprise 28 to 35 percent of an average restaurant’s gross sales, taking control of your inventory can generate substantial savings. If you’re still using an Excel spreadsheet — and hours of your time — to keep tabs on your food costs, it’s time to integrate your inventory management and POS so you have real-time information at your fingertips when you are negotiating with suppliers and placing orders. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more information about a new program from Team Four that can help you manage food costs more efficiently and retain your competitive advantage.
Use your POS to appeal to existing guests
Are you making the mistake of focusing more on attracting new customers than on retaining the ones you already have? Research from Performark found that the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is about 60 to 70 percent — far higher than the likelihood of selling to a new one (5 to 20 percent). The good news is that engaging your existing customers is also easier, particularly if you harness the power of your POS. Your system can help you in several key ways, according to Upserve: First, it can tap into the preferences of your guests and help you identify offers that are likely to entice them. If your barbecue wings appetizer is a best seller, your POS can tell you — and you can use it as part of a promotion to bring guests in the door during slow periods. Second, you can offer an automated rewards program that requires almost none of your staff’s time. Your guest can sign up via smartphone and their credit card becomes their loyalty card, automatically collecting rewards (and providing you with more data to improve and personalize that person’s experience) each time it is used. Third, it speeds up the overall experience. When you have a system that gets orders to the kitchen faster, helps your staff avoid standing in line when cashing out a check, and allows guests to pay and leave as soon as they are ready, the result is a faster, smoother flow of a business and a more satisfied guest. Finally, when your POS can seamlessly integrate and track your in-house and delivery orders, you can appeal to guests who already know what to expect from you and want to enjoy your food from home, as well as attract new customers looking to try a new option.
Is HPP part of your food supply chain?
As you look for ways to protect your food supply before it reaches you and while it’s sitting on your shelf, talk to your suppliers about high-pressure processing (HPP). The method uses cold water and extreme pressure to disable foodborne pathogens and microorganisms that spoil food. HPP is on the rise around the world as a means of protecting food safety, extending shelf life, ensuring clean labels and reducing waste, Food Safety Tech reports. It also protects the flavor and nutrient content of foods. It is used most often to preserve proteins, as well as juices, dips, coffee, tea and broth. The market for HPP is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years in response to growing consumer and foodservice industry demand.
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
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.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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