Prevent cross-contamination from allergens
Even food establishments who respond carefully when guests alert them to allergies can face trouble when trace amounts of allergens find their way into foods. Allergens are a key focus for the Food Safety and Modernization Act and are the leading cause of food recalls, according to a report in Food Safety magazine. The report notes that between 2005 and 2014, 12 million lbs. of food product was recalled due to undeclared allergens, many of which were present because of cross-contact.
Manufacturers and suppliers are in the hot seat when it comes to protecting consumers from allergens, but everyone in the supply chain needs to have controls in place. To protect your facility, Food Safety magazine recommends isolating tools used with allergens or color-coding them, which can help in case of language barriers on your kitchen team and can also make it readily evident when an item is misplaced. Designate specific cleaning equipment, tools and rags for use only on certain equipment or at certain times. Understand the proper protocols for ensuring that the residue of common allergens is thoroughly cleaned from hands and equipment. (For example, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a study found that running water and soap or commercial wipes can clean peanuts from a person’s hands but antibacterial gels alone will not work. Further, common household spray cleaners and sanitizing wipes could clean peanut residue from surfaces but dishwashing liquid alone could not do it.)
Finally, store allergens in clean, airtight containers away from other foods. If you don’t have sufficient room in your facility for segregated storage, ensure that any foods containing allergens are not stored above non-allergens. Use internationally recognized allergen stickers or color-coding to set these containers apart.
Improving food safety through the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things – the evolving ability of everyday objects to connect to the Internet and communicate with each other – is rapidly showing new applications in the food industry when it comes to ensuring food quality and safety, Hospitality Technology reports. Kitchen equipment fitted with sensors already helps operators ensure food is stored and cooked at the proper temperature. From there, the Internet of Things can help operators make greater use of sensor data by showing them how to optimize their energy use and reduce unplanned downtime in the kitchen.
The benefits are even greater when it comes to the broader supply chain. Hospitality Technology reports that an RFID tag on a case of food could connect to temperature sensors on a truck to ensure the package has been kept at the appropriate temperature throughout its journey, for example. A restaurant could tie its inventory back to records from the distributor to get a complete picture of a product’s life cycle. Further, when recalls interrupt day-to-day operations, operators can receive USDA alerts and advisories so they can quickly identify the origins of contamination and pull products from shelves without delay.
Within foodservice establishments, the Internet of Things can help ensure kitchen staff follow proper protocols for cooking, food storage and handwashing. Via a digital dashboard, operators can see where training is needed or where procedures are falling short. Most operators have not yet taken advantage of these benefits, but as the supply chain grows in complexity, look for the Internet of Things to help you manage food safety from both a prevention and traceability standpoint.
Big-time tech for small restaurants
If you’re a small operation, bringing the latest technology into your restaurant may seem out of reach. But now the company behind Subway’s mobile ordering platform is making that functionality possible for smaller restaurants, Fast Company reports. Avanti Commerce is now able to have a restaurant of any size use its platform, along with the majority of enterprise features and functions it offers, for $125 a month. The restaurant can be in any location and have any amount of traffic. The one caveat is that it must have five locations or more. Assuming the launch with small restaurants goes well, Avanti’s CEO hopes to expand the platform to food trucks as well.
Fresh seafood, from ship to shore
Is your seafood really fresh? A new handheld screening and data collection device developed by Seafood Analytics can say for sure. Food Safety Tech reports that the device uses electrical currents to determine the quality of seafood products at the cellular level. It can measure how much the cells of a fish change between catch and freezing or catch and consumption, for example. Having that information can help everyone along the supply chain better manage factors including inventory, inbound supplier selection and price. The report says Seafood Analytics is currently developing a Certified Quality Seafood Certification that would serve as a seal of approval for suppliers to use (and end users to seek out) to separate the fresh seafood from the not-so-fresh.
Technology raises the bar
The bar is the latest place to make the most of technology in an effort to accommodate rising labor costs and evolving consumer preferences. Pour-your-own facilities are making it possible for consumers to try a taste of a beer, wine, cocktail, Kombucha or cold-brewed coffee that they might not commit to if they had to purchase it in larger quantities. (For example, Restaurant Business reports that Tapster in Chicago offers a tap card, which is linked to the guest’s credit card and charges them by the ounce for beverages at any of 62 different taps on offer.) Other facilities are using actual robots in place of bartenders to measure shots. But as tech takes the place of humans in some areas, it makes them more important in other areas, such as bussing glasses, helping guests use equipment, or even offering classes to teach guests more about the making of beverages currently on trend.
Avocado breeding helps ensure year-round access from within U.S.
Take one look at social media and you’ll see avocados everywhere – the recently opened Avocaderia in Brooklyn, N.Y. has even gambled that consumers will support a restaurant concept centered around the versatile green fruit. NPR reports that Americans consumed two billion lbs. of avocados last year, two-thirds of which were imported, mostly from Mexico. But the uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement has made the future of avocados in the U.S. uncertain too. Fortunately, researchers in California may have found a solution just in time, with three new varieties that make a great guacamole, are easy to peel and can withstand the winter frost and summer heat of California’s central valley. (Existing varieties require milder growing conditions.) Further developing these varieties – dubbed GEM, which is already available, Lunchbox, and a third yet-to-be-named variety – could ensure that Americans have year-round access to avocados.
An innovator trusts (too much?) the power of Instagram
Taco Bell is a brand standout for its innovation capabilities – and Instagram is a major inspiration. Business Insider reports that the brand, which is constantly aiming to develop concepts that will generate buzz online, monitors the most-Instagrammed menu items in an effort to create tasty foods that are as photogenic as possible. But success is not all about looks, as it turns out. When Taco Bell launched its new Naked Chicken Chalupa earlier this year, the brand eschewed traditional media advertising and instead relied on pop-up launch parties around the country, where they provided lights and other visual props to encourage consumers to take social media-worthy photos of their Chalupa, then share them (on Instagram, of course). Consumers and media responded passionately, though not altogether positively – and Taco Bell pulled the item from its menu soon after.
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.
Recreate your restaurant’s experience offsite
Restaurants need to find a way to get into consumers’ homes. That was a key message restaurant operators heard at the IFMA Presidents Conference in Arizona this month, Restaurant Business reports. NPD Group’s David Portalatin said the number of meals per capita that are eaten onsite at a restaurant have reached an all-time low for the fourth consecutive year – and that restaurant meals are eaten at home 40 percent of the time. Accenture’s Chris Roark says that since growth is slowest for the top 25 restaurant chains, it’s the small innovators who are likely help the industry grow – those who can offer a unique experience to consumers looking for a meal and to help them enjoy it wherever they like.
Create new twists on ethnic foods (without turning them upside down)
As the traditional foods and spices of foreign countries gain a growing following in the U.S., a number of chefs are taking heat for taking too many liberties with classic foods from cultures different from their own. In one recent example, NPR reported that Bon Appetit’s “ode” to Halo-Halo, the Filipino specialty that combines shaved ice and tropical fruit, set off a furor in the Filipino community with its concoction of blueberries, blackberries, lime juice, coconut milk, gummy bears and popcorn. Evolution and creativity are important in the kitchen but consider how the tools and ingredients you use can impact flavor, texture, health and overall authenticity of the dish – and when in doubt, ask people in the community to weigh in.
Go with the grain
Quinoa’s time has passed, according to Datassential, and now the food world is looking for the next healthy grain to capture consumers’ interest. Progressive Grocer reports that puffed and popped versions of quinoa are adding new crunch and texture to everything from salads to granola to soup, and different-colored grains like black and brown rice, red wheat and purple wheat and corn are on the rise too. If you’re looking to add some relative newcomers to your menu, consider options like nutrient-dense millet and sorghum, as well as triticale, spelt and amaranth.
Other fish in the sea
Americans’ fish consumption has shot up in the past year. NPR reports that Americans are eating an average of 15.5 pounds per person per year, a rise of nearly one pound from the previous year and the largest increase in 20 years. However, there is much room for increased variety in the fish Americans consume. The National Fisheries Institute says shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be the most-consumed fish and have been on top for the past decade. If you’d like to expand your restaurant’s fish offering, consider incorporating trash fish/bycatch onto your menu. These wild fish, which fishermen inadvertently catch along with the salmon or tuna or other fish they bring in, are healthier and more sustainable than their farmed counterparts, Toast says, and can lend versatile flavor to your menu.
New concepts coming to the U.S.
Three restaurants that have flourished internationally are set for launch in America. Restaurant Business reports that the casual, family-friendly Yellow Chilli, which has thrived in India, the U.A.E. and Oman under a celebrity chef who developed the brand, promises a “gastronomic tour of India” offering classic Indian comfort foods and modern dishes. Its first U.S. outlet will open in Santa Clara, Calif. Brownieria, a brownie-centric dessert café concept successful in Brazil, will launch in the Orlando, Fla. area. It offers gourmet desserts and pastries using premium ingredients. Finally, Fox & Fiddle, a British-style pub from Canada, is set to launch in California and then develop up to 75 units in the state. It markets itself as a neighborhood gathering place offering premium casual dining that mixes English, Canadian and American influences.
A glimpse at 2017 trends
As 2016 winds down, food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman shared some predictions for 2017 with Nation’s Restaurant News. They predict chefs to continue to feature vegetables in the center of the plate, use the whole vegetable to minimize waste (think carrot tops and beet greens) and concoct new plant-based burgers and other vegetable proteins. Carnivores can look forward to fresh, high-quality beef offered in an increasing number of restaurants with butcher shops attached – customers can select meat to take home or have the restaurant grill it and deliver it to their table. Finally, spice is on the rise, with cayenne pepper consumption rising 47 percent last year. Baum + Whiteman predicts an increase in spices used in Indian and Southeast Asian curries.
Avoid a contamination crisis
Your restaurant’s good name can take years to build but minutes to slip away – especially if you experience a food contamination crisis that hits social media. Food Safety Magazine recommends you take these steps for (relative) peace of mind: First, acknowledge your risks – one claim of food adulteration or contamination is reported to the FDA daily. Second, establish a team that includes top company leaders who can make immediate decisions, legal counsel with expertise in food risks, food experts who understand your production process, a regulatory expert and a PR manager. Third, draft a plan that considers a food product’s risk for contamination at each step of the production chain, how to communicate with employees and outside parties, and what procedures you can begin using now to prepare for a potential crisis. Finally, test your plan – ideally, each quarter.
Stay on top of food recalls
Last year, the USDA issued 626 recalls affecting meat, eggs, produce, prepared foods and more, Foodable reports. A communication lapse could mean your restaurant serves tainted foods without knowing there could be a problem. Foodable recommends you sign up for real-time email alerts through Foodsafety.gov, which provides the latest information on recalls in the U.S. Next, communicate immediately with all staff – look to ServSafe for step-by-step guidance. Finally, communicate with customers – prepare employees with talking points about how you’re managing a recalled product and contact vendors to adjust your inventory levels and reduce waste. Have a first-rate back-up menu in place in case of emergency to help you protect yourself and show customers you want to protect them too.
Siri, how can I improve my SEO?
If you’ve ever asked Siri to help you solve a problem, you won’t be surprised to know that mobile voice searches are changing how businesses use SEO to market themselves online. According to ComScore, at least half of all searches will be made by voice query by 2020. Restaurant Hospitality says that while there aren’t many tools available to see what people are searching for via voice, paid search lets you use a “broad match modifier” in which an ad is only triggered when a certain set of words (defined by who creates the ad) appear in a search. By analyzing your paid search metrics and filtering your mobile results, you can study the phrasing of the queries to identify the voice queries. This will help you develop a list of phrases customers use to find you – phrases you can then use to build a more targeted SEO strategy.
Rethink social media
If you’re managing your social media correctly, you’re in the minority – Foodable reports that according to Shama Hyder, CEO and founder of The Marketing Zen Group, only 20 percent of companies and their leaders are handling social media well. If you’re in the 80 percent, Hyder recommends you develop a consistent strategy and to not expect instant results. The strategy should be agile enough to enable you to take advantage of opportunities to showcase your leadership and test different approaches to see what works. Partner with brands that can help you reach target audiences. Finally, reframe your mindset about social media and consider not the tools but the universe itself – all media is now social in some way, so it’s not about using Facebook or Instagram but embracing a new way of communicating about your brand.
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.
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