Strategies to thrive in 2017
It looks like 2017 will be a low-growth year for the restaurant industry. To stay the course, Foodable recommends you raise your operation’s game in these areas: Embrace social media marketing and use it less for selling and more for engaging with your guests – consider Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram Live and Facebook to bring video to your guests. Ensure you have a top-tier team, which means releasing bad hires, training well and always looking out for new talent. Make your menu a profit machine by costing out your food, analyzing your product mix report from your point-of-sale system and updating your menu pricing at regular intervals. Finally, be careful about entering the discount game – choose your offers carefully. Foodable suggests value-driven appetizers or a three-course prix-fixe menu on slow days, for example.
Produce is the new protein
If you’re looking to build a better sandwich (or provide non-salad options for health-conscious guests), many chefs are demonstrating that vegetables can be a key attraction in sandwiches – either alongside meat, fish or poultry or in place of it. Flavor & the Menu reports that at Oak + Char in Chicago, one of the most popular sandwiches is filled with stacked smoked eggplant, pepper jam, curried chickpea mash, smoked cilantro yogurt and Upland cress. Other chefs are stacking plantains and testing combinations like roasted cauliflower and peppers with Vidalia onions and shallots. At Plenty Café in Philadelphia, a housemade tasso ham baguette with spicy aioli was transformed into a mega-hit when the chef added sliced tart apples, fig jam and melted Gruyère. Experiment with produce to add crunch, meaty texture or unexpected spice to a dish.
New superfoods on the horizon
Consumers are showing signs they want nutritious foods that make them feel good about what they consume all year long. Datassential, which tracks “functional” foods that promise a healthy heart, along with boosts in energy and brainpower, has predicted three categories of superfoods we’ll see more of in 2017. Look for the next kale in algaes like spirulina and chlorella, which often appear in detox drinks (or even with alcohol for a saintly spin on cocktails). Aquafaba, the thick chickpea-soaking water, is a close substitute for egg whites and is adding frothiness to cocktails and condiments. Sprouted grains are being touted as an easier-to-digest, high-protein alternative to whole grains in pasta, bread, pizza crust, cereal and more.
Spices and stealth food risk
Spices from around the world can give your menu the authenticity and flavor guests crave – but food safety risks are bringing the industry under increased surveillance by the FDA and CDC, Food Safety magazine reports. There are approximately one million Salmonella infections per year, which is a high estimate compared to the relatively low discovery of outbreaks, the report says. That has led experts to believe that many of the illnesses are coming from “stealth” foods used at low levels in a variety of applications, such as spices in condiments and garnishes. It’s a good time to ensure your suppliers have sufficient sanitation practices and training programs in place, as well as hygienic equipment design and repair practices.
Weigh in on healthy food labels
The FDA just extended its deadline for accepting public comments regarding the use of the term “healthy” on food labels. Food Safety News reports that the FDA wants the new definition of the term to be specific due to push back from the food industry on existing law concerning use of the term. Currently, for example, eggs cannot be labeled “healthy” because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content, even though they are recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can submit a comment at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/30/2016-31734/use-of-the-term-healthy-in-the-labeling-of-human-food-products-request-for-information-and-comments#open-comment until April 26.
Protect yourself against wage and hour violations
In the past 30 years, the Department of Labor has prosecuted more than 23,000 foodservice operations for wage and hour violations, resulting in the industry having to pay $247 million in back wages and civil money penalties, Toast reports. Many affected establishments simply failed to follow complex rules. With minimum wages in flux, it’s critical to know where related violations can crop up, such as in tracking employee time over multiple restaurant locations, irregular employee scheduling, poor record keeping and violating the minimum wage. To protect yourself in a dispute, Toast recommends you move quickly and cooperate, with the goal of resolving problems without litigation (or starting litigation without delay). If you have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act knowingly or not, you will likely owe money in damages, so know your value and what you can afford. Finally, take corrective action right away with systems to prevent ongoing problems.
Restaurant outlook for 2017 favors quick-service
If you’re a quick-service restaurant, you’re among the lucky ones: NPD Group predicts the sector will experience 1 percent growth this year, full-service restaurants will see a 2 percent decline and the industry overall could see little to no traffic growth. To buck that trend, Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, suggests operators stay relevant in consumers’ minds, focus on innovative products and promotions, provide a good value and demonstrate the benefits of the experience of eating a restaurant as opposed to staying home. CNBC suggests watching these brands, which have fared better in recent months: Domino’s (revenues were up nearly 17 percent in the third quarter over the previous year), as well as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s.
The power of your public
You know it’s important to have a compelling story behind your food and to promote it well to the public. But chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson recently learned exactly how critical that can be when New York Times food critic Pete Wells awarded zero stars to the chefs’ Oakland, Calif. Restaurant LocoL, the quick-service restaurant that aims to bring wholesome, fresh, affordable foods to underserved neighborhoods. Eater reports that while Wells had earned popular support after withdrawing two stars from Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se restaurant last year, he generated serious social media backlash with his treatment of LocoL. One reader said his review was akin to booing at an elementary school musical, while others suggested he “take on soup kitchens next.”
Voice-ordered food to your door in less than an hour
Amazon continues to push the limits of food technology. The company just announced that its Prime customers can now order food via voice command from Amazon Restaurants on Alexa-enabled devices and have any meal they’ve ordered previously delivered for free in less than an hour. A customer can say, “Alexa, order sushi from Amazon Restaurants,” and the service pulls that customer’s order history from a specific restaurant or cuisine type and lists meal options available for reorder. The selected meal is then sent for delivery to the customer’s default address. The new option allows customers to reorder food from any restaurant available on the service in more than 20 cities.
Investing in tech-assisted food ordering
Among 18-to-34-year-olds, 77 percent want or expect mobile ordering at quick-service restaurants and 83 percent feel the same about fast-casual outlets. In the Middle East and Asia, a majority of consumers report being able to do just that – but the percentage falls to just 32 percent in North America. That’s according to Technomic’s 2016 Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Consumer Trend Report. The U.S. lags behind Asian and Middle Eastern countries when it comes to tech-assisted ordering programs due to the expense of investing in technology in a low-margin business. But the risk may pay off: According to the data, U.S. consumers choose delivery or takeout for 51 percent of all foodservice needs – that is a bit more than in Asia and only slightly less than in the Middle East.
Prepare a safety net for slower months
Winter is coming, and for many restaurants, a post-holiday slowdown in business. Uncorkd recommends you reach out to your neighborhood – produce cards good for a free drink (if your state allows) and offer them to nearby businesses. Create a loyalty program for people living or working in your zip code. Invite local businesses to plan company events at your restaurant and host networking sessions, happy hours and creative off-season pop-ups to draw traffic. Lastly, consider trimming fat by reducing staff (keeping your most committed employees), negotiating year-end deals with your liquor distributor, reengineering your menu to eliminate low-performing items and creating a separate budget for slow months.
Lift up your lunch hour
Lunch business is down at many restaurants, with home offices, budget constraints and internet shopping taking a bite out of sales, according to Restaurant Hospitality. To change that, they suggest you try bundling entrées with drinks and/or sides and desserts to simplify ordering and convey value – you could drop the cost of the bundle at off times to keep seats filled. Cater to a business crowd by providing a quiet, quick meal with uncomplicated menu offerings – a limited menu can streamline prep – or inviting lunchtime speakers that appeal to businesspeople. Be able to adjust your service to accommodate both a fast power lunch or a longer business meeting. Finally, boost convenience by offering easy access to parking (or delivery for those looking to stay in for lunch).
Serving the single guest
Are you marketing your restaurant to single-person households? The U.S. Census says Americans 18 and older in that group represent 45 percent of the adult population in the country. Nation’s Restaurant News says these guests can be an important demographic to target because they are likely not eating alone when they dine out and their discretionary spending is focused less on additional members of their family. Restaurants can appeal to this group, the report says, by offering shareable servings and snacks that go well with socializing. NPD Group says single adults dined out more than 12 billion times during the year that ended in July – they represent about a quarter of all consumers.
Turning around the taboo of wines on tap
The Texas restaurant Sixty Vines designed itself around the traditionally dismissed concept of wines on tap, and what was initially conceived as a model to appeal to millennials is now drawing a much broader crowd, FSR Magazine reports. The restaurant offers 60 wines on tap from around the world. Selections rotate like a typical restaurant’s beer program. Since the restaurant offers 2.5 oz. pours, guests try different varieties, colors and regions throughout the course of a meal instead of committing to one glass consumed with an entrée. The quality of the selections is changing guest attitudes about tap wines, the restaurant says. What’s more, their model helps the environment: a spokesman says Sixty Vines has saved nearly 8,000 bottles from landfills due to their tap system.
Awaiting the return of the avocado
If your restaurant features guacamole or other avocado-centric items, you have likely been eagerly awaiting the end of the avocado shortage, which was spurred by weather challenges and labor problems. Reports are mixed about whether the avocado shortage and sky-high prices are behind us or will persist in the coming months. While we wait to see what happens, QSRweb says restaurants are getting creative with substitutes like jackfruit and broccoli (used in a “brocomole,” apparently), as well as edamame and sweet potatoes.
Seafood as a snack
No longer simply an entrée, seafood has been popping up with greater frequency on the bar and small-plates menus in recent months as chefs test out bold, new options. Flavor & the Menu reports that seafood is adapting well to edgier seasonings and presentations – like a scoopable cod brandade paired with olives and grilled bread, Ahi tuna tacos with Asian slaw and wasabi-lime avocado sauce, or even the sea scallop sliders with chipotle aioli, tomatoes and basil, a dish created by Tommy Bahama’s culinary director. What’s more, these smaller seafood dishes can still support a premium price point.
Restaurants get childish
Does your restaurant welcome children or is it a kid-free zone? Restaurants that have taken a stand one way or another have attracted some vocal responses on both sides of the issue in recent months. Some who cater to a high-end clientele and have banned children have seen a rise in business. Eater reports that a select few have found a way to walk the line between restricting children and maintaining etiquette. Cuchara in Houston issues a simple card to families – it says children at the restaurant don’t run or wander, stay seated at the table and are respectful. La Fisheria, also in Houston, welcomes children up until 7p.m., when they allow only adults in order to improve their late-night atmosphere and make best use of their space.
Prevent workplace injuries
Workplace injuries topped three million in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 75 percent of them occurred in services industries. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips to minimize workplace risks: When employees must handle hazardous materials like degreasers, oven cleaners and ammonia, ensure they wear face masks and protective gloves. Clean spills immediately and place antiskid mats by your kitchen’s sink, dishwasher, cooler and entrance to avoid slips, trips and falls. Ensure employees know how to handle and clean slicing equipment, and keep a first-aid kit handy. Finally, make sure employees wear gloves, aprons and hats around hot equipment and tools. In case of a burn, rinse the area in cool water, bandage it loosely and seek medical attention – your worker’s compensation carrier may also offer a hotline to provide medical guidance.
Free tech to track the freshness of food
If you’d like some help in monitoring the freshness of the food products you store, a new app promises to assist. Restaurant Hospitality reports that the free app, dubbed EatBy, automatically suggests how long produce and frozen items will stay fresh and then reminds the user before that time limit is reached. EatBy’s developers say the app learns the storage habits of its users and while it is designed for use in homes, it can serve as an additional safeguard for restaurants.
Out with the app, in with the shared platform
Consumers are choosy about the amount of real estate they will devote to smartphone apps. That’s why many restaurants are forgoing a restaurant-specific app in favor of shared platforms like waitlist management systems that work for multiple restaurants, according to Restaurant Business. Chipotle is among the latest players to update its digital ordering process, which allows mobile ordering and payment – all via a new website as opposed to an app. They can be an appealing option for both your loyal customers and those who only dine with you on occasion.
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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