If your restaurant does not have a blog — or could stand to improve its existing one — now is a good time to work on it. A solid blog presence will make your website more of a destination for consumers at a time when they are eager to interact with restaurants online. (A Technomic survey found that 42 percent of consumers said they would choose one restaurant over another if it offered the ability to order online.) A strong blog can be a hub for your other content, referencing your social media accounts and featuring the kinds of images and personality that infuse your website with your restaurant’s atmosphere. To build engagement via your blog, Next Restaurants suggests you first set it within the right URL structure — i.e. host it on your website via a subdomain or subdirectory. Next, think about the kinds of terms people would use when searching for your restaurant online so that your blog content meshes with what terms people are using to search for restaurants like yours. A search term such as “restaurants with creative cocktails” might spark an idea for a blog about how you weave local, seasonal ingredients into your beverage menu — or a recipe for how guests might make their own version at home. There are some blog post-building tools available online if you need more help in triggering ideas. Finally, don’t be a stranger. While you don’t have to post content daily, you should post at least once a week. Each year or each season, you can take a look at what’s happening on your menu or with events you have planned and then write (or outsource the writing of) a large chunk of related blog content at once. When business is busy and you don’t have time for pulling together a post, you will have a ready supply of content to choose from throughout the year.
What does loyalty mean to you?
Any restaurant consultant will tell you to have a strong loyalty program. But within those programs, there is plenty of opportunity to differentiate your particular restaurant. Take McNellie’s Restaurants, an Oklahoma chain that is using different methods for generating traffic and valuable feedback via their loyalty program. For one, members of the program are invited to come to the restaurant on specific days and get 50 percent off their bill if they ask to meet with one of the restaurant’s managers and have a conversation about their experience. Another offer encourages members to bring a friend (and get a discount if that friend signs up for the loyalty program). The brand also has different levels of loyalty and associated benefits that members need to work to retain. For example, the restaurant gets a 90 percent conversion rate when they send an email to guests telling them they need to come to the restaurant at least once that month to retain their VIP status.
When your food supplies arrive, do you have time to inspect each delivery? If not, you could be allowing food into your operation that you would otherwise reject, increasing your chances of spreading harmful pathogens. To ensure you’re allowing only thoroughly inspected shipments into your facility, Statefoodsafety.com suggests scheduling shipments to arrive at different times and not at peak hours when you may feel pressed to rush through an inspection.
Expecting a sales slowdown in the first weeks of the New Year? Use it as a time to set yourself up for success later in the year and to test out some new ideas. To bring in traffic despite the cold temperatures, OpenTable offers some suggestions: If you’re looking to launch or revamp your email newsletter or website, now is a good time to get the word out about special promotions, events and specials — and make sure all of the basic information on your website and other public-facing materials is up to date. You could also do something a little different with your menu: add some hot beverages to your offering, or if you have outdoor space, fully embrace the cold by turning your patio into a winter wonderland with string lights, make-your-own s’mores and warm blankets. If your city holds a Restaurant Week, join in to help attract dining-room traffic, but also focus on building your delivery business for customers less eager to brave the elements.
Customers who engage with businesses on social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money on those businesses than on others, according to research from Bain & Company. In your efforts to reel in those customers, remember to focus on the relationship instead of the sale. To avoid turning followers off by being too promotional, focus on making 80 percent of your content about topics that will spark conversation and just 20 percent on promoting new offers (though keep your content focused on topics related to your business). It helps if your brand has a distinct voice so that anyone on your team can post content and come across consistently. While it can be tempting to automate responses or use a selection of canned responses, use this approach sparingly — it can backfire if followers see through it.
Don’t be a welcoming shelter for pests
As the weather cools and pests seek shelter indoors, take steps now to make sure you aren’t an appealing target. The FSMA’s new regulations make it critical to be proactive about preventing contamination from pests as opposed to simply reacting to it after it occurs. Food Safety Tech advises you inspect all incoming shipments for insects, droppings or damaged packaging that could indicate a pest issue. If you spot a pest, remove the contaminated item or isolate it in a contained area to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination. Maintain a log to track pest sightings and make it everyone’s responsibility to report pest activity if they see it. Finally, try to detect pests when you’re not around by placing insect light traps, pheromone monitors and glue boards in areas where you are receiving shipments.
Symptom-free is no guarantee
No symptoms of illness? You could still be carrying pathogens in your body even if you feel perfectly well, Statefoodsafety.com advises. As flu season approaches, remind your team to wash their hands thoroughly and often. To prevent cross-contamination, your handwashing sinks should be clean, easily accessible to your food workers and not used for other kitchen tasks, such as washing dishes or food items
Your guests may already be showcasing your creatively plated entrees on Instagram, but are you using Instagram Stories to your full advantage yet? They can help you tell a broader story about your business and your team. Via video, take guests behind the scenes in the kitchen, on a trip to a supplier or a farm, or show them how you prepare a healthy dish they can make at home. Modern Restaurant Management suggests operators use the forum as a test or experiment to see what engages your guests and drives awareness of your brand. And since posts drop off after 24 hours, it’s not a major problem if one of them flops.
Be customer-service savvy on social media
Social media channels provide inexpensive, visible stages for you to promote your restaurant, extend your brand and deliver customer service. Just remember the right and wrong ways to use it when serving consumers. Social Media Week recommends you use it to listen to what people are saying about you (before you use it to talk about what you want them to know about you). That means that when a customer complains about you on social media, engage with that person one-on-one to show you care about making the situation better. The customer may not always be right but if you respond defensively, it will always make him or her look like a victim – and encourage others to avoid you. In an age when transparency is prized, resist the urge to edit consumers’ responses or delete them – Smuckers, for example, disabled customers’ ability to comment altogether and it can make a brand look worse, according to Customer Experience Insight. In the case of a customer’s negative comment or one in which you’re not sure of the best approach, it’s always best to share your response with team members before posting. While customers expect a fast response (an Edison Research study found that 40 percent of customers expect a response to a social media post within an hour), a short delay can mean your post has a more constructive, positive tone. That said, don’t ignore the forum you have. It can be viewed by millions of people, so make sure you post fresh content frequently.
Tap the millennial talent pool
Chances are you’re not only trying to market to millennials but also trying to engage them as members of your team. Making a connection with them as employees can help you enhance your workplace culture and reach those potential guests you’d like to attract and turn into loyal customers. Millennial Marketing suggests you try to build a collaborative work environment before a competitive one – 88 percent of millennials prefer that in a workplace. Take an interest in their personal lives and demonstrate that you know the work they do with you is just one part of who they are. At work, provide detailed and frequent feedback, describe specific actions they can take (while leaving room for them to leave their own stamp on their work) and provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions and share opinions. A survey by the HR services provider TriNet found that 85 percent of millennials felt more confident in their roles when they have frequent conversations with their managers. Those conversations can be digital or face-to-face – they have grown up using digital media to communicate, after all – but don’t discount how much they value face-to-face interaction with you. In fact, the talent development consulting firm Wild Blue Yonder says millennials would prefer an in-person interaction over an email if given the option. Anytime you need to share serious feedback or discuss setting goals, go with a face-to-face meeting.
The rise of social video
Is the content you post online mostly text, photos or video? In an earnings call last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 10 years ago, most of the content shared online was text, it was now photos, and soon it will be video. To research the rise of video on social media, Animoto conducted a survey of 1,000 consumers and 500 marketers to get a sense of how businesses are using video to market to their customers. It found that 64 percent of consumers say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a buying decision they have made in the past month and 81 percent of marketers are optimizing their videos for mobile viewing. Facebook, Instagram Stories and Snapchat are the top three channels where consumers are viewing videos from business brands. When posting video, remember that visual appeal is all-important – according to Digiday, 85 percent of posted on Facebook is watched with the sound off.
Don’t fear the delivery app
Do you think that offering delivery could hamper your in-restaurant traffic? Those concerns could be unfounded, according to the data insights firm Sense360. Street Fight reports that the firm tracked 21 million anonymous full-service and quick-service restaurant visits before and after guests had downloaded third-party restaurant delivery apps. The research found that the downloading of these apps does not result in any significant drop in restaurant visits – in fact, consumers tend to use the app alongside restaurant visits. Consumers who download these apps tend to have higher incomes and visit fine dining restaurants 2.5 times more often, according to the study. Therefore, instead of looking at apps as competition for in-restaurant sales, it may make more sense to see them as competitors of grocery stores and grocery delivery services.
Tell your story on Instagram
Instagram Stories is growing fast – it now has 250 million users, according to Recode – and it’s an ideal platform for restaurants. Food lovers can post photos and video, along with drawings, text and stickers. Skift says the platform suits restaurants so well because while Instagram gives operators a place to post well-curated images of the menu, Instagram Stories can help build engagement because it allows for a more casual, behind-the-scenes look at your kitchen, staff or ingredients. You can introduce followers to new ingredients you’re weaving into your summer menu – and everything disappears in 24 hours, so your tone can be more low-key. Instagram is backed by Facebook and has highly engaged viewers: A new report from TrackMaven says Instagram is the stand-out leader in social media engagement, with 96 average interactions per post per 1,000 followers. Even so, there’s still room for growth.
Simple steps to pest prevention
Preventing contamination in your kitchen this summer can be as easy as cleaning up at regular intervals, enlisting employees’ help and changing your lighting. In a recent report in Food Safety Tech, the entomologist Tim Husen recommends asking employees to watch for signs of pest activity. Alert them of areas where pests are likely to breed, as well as what signs of pest activity look like. He suggests setting a zero-tolerance policy for spills, debris and waste, as well as daily, weekly and monthly sanitation routines on top of an annual deep cleaning. Remember to clean beneath the surface – of equipment where bacteria may grow, and around boxes and inside gutters where pests hide. Directing lighting toward your facility (not mounting it on your building) and using sodium-vapor lighting or LEDs instead of mercury-vapor lighting can ensure you’re not attracting pests too.
Help your kitchen handle summer heat
Summer is sizzling, and the change in temperature can pose additional challenges to restaurants. Food safety advisor Lisa Ackerley suggests operators take extra precautions in the kitchen. Sweltering days can make it difficult for refrigerators to hold their temperature for food storage, for example. Keep refrigerator doors closed and avoid storing warm food inside, as it is difficult for refrigerators to cool warm food to the proper temperature quickly enough. Help food reach room temperature more quickly by reducing the size of stored portions to dissipate heat or cooling it in an ice bath first. Make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated but resist the urge to open windows and doors, which can invite pests inside. If you’re preparing or serving food outside, ensure you keep it out of the 41 to 145˚ zone, where pathogens can multiply rapidly. That goes for food deliveries you receive as well – ensure you can promptly store perishables as they arrive.
Build a culture of positive customer experiences
Do you have a culture of customer service? It’s not something you can achieve in a one-day training seminar. Justin McGurgin, who has spent 30 years in hospitality and currently runs Zealifi, a company that coaches operators about how to build a culture that provides positive, memorable experiences for guests, spends most of his time working with leaders, not staff. In a podcast on Profitable Hospitality, he said staff are simply a reflection of the leadership they’re getting (or not getting). One-off training seminars are little more than a band-aid fix, motivating your team only as long as your trainer is in the building. So what does McGurgin suggest instead? In year-long training modules he conducts with operators, McGurgin typically spends the full 12 months with the organization’s leaders – junior team members join in for just five months across that time frame. When working with leaders, he focuses on engagement and empowerment. Do you build connections with your team by saying hello when they walk in the door? Scheduling one-on-one meetings with them in addition to group meetings? Acknowledging their accomplishments with a personal note and in group meetings, emails or texts? When something goes wrong, have you empowered staff to handle it, instead of having them come to you for guidance when a customer complains? When you can answer “yes” to those questions, you have the makings of a strong culture. That has important benefits: You’ll be able to attract more stars to your team (and have a better chance of enticing them to stay), you’ll have a team that won’t tolerate weak links (so you won’t be the only one managing quality control) and you’ll have more time to focus on firing up the creativity at the top of your organization, so you can ensure you continue to bring customers through the door.
Where to innovate first? Try your back office.
“Today’s delights are tomorrow’s expectations,” according to the Culinary Institute of America’s Tim Ryan, who spoke at the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference. It’s true of your food, service and technology. If you’re unsure of where to innovate across your operation, automating your back office is a good place to begin, according to Alister & Paine, a magazine for company executives. As the nucleus of your operation, running it smoothly can help you manage your scale and achieve goals with less effort. If you’re comfortably paying vendors by check, for example, the number of checks you need to write each month can escalate quickly (and become a chore) when you invest in marketing, increase your customer volume or hire additional employees. Electronic payments can help you accomplish more tasks more quickly and with less effort. Vendors are increasingly expecting shorter payment terms, so providing payment with the click of a mouse can help you keep valued suppliers and stay a step ahead of competitors. And if your competitors are automating their back office, it will quickly become compulsory – not just nice to have. That said, what works for your competition won’t necessarily work for you. FSR Magazine recommends you audit your operation to identify process improvements you can make to enhance any automation you introduce. That could mean synching different processes or software programs, identifying ways to ensure all invoices are processed correctly, or using a special barcode on invoices if it helps you save money on each invoice. Consider outsourcing your accounts payable if you find your back-office work is taking attention away from providing great food and service. When outsourcing gives you access to a dedicated customer management team that handles your invoices and vendor requests, for example, it can help you gain some visibility and control over your finances while freeing up time for focusing on other parts of your operation.
What’s the next kale?
What is it about kale that made it skyrocket in popularity and become consumers’ favorite superfood? According to Nielsen data, frozen breakfast entrees featuring kale experienced a whopping 391 percent growth in sales between 2016 and 2017. David Sax, who wrote The Tastemakers, said it comes down to three traits: versatility, availability and cultural significance. As Food Dive reports, kale can be eaten raw or cooked, has a long growing season in a range of climates and has become a symbol of health, which in combination made it a must-have on menus and consumers’ dinner tables. The ubiquity of food images and experiences on social media can help foodservice operators predict the next foods and beverages poised for a big break. Food industry analysts say drinking vinegars could be the next big thing to go mainstream. While they’re appearing on menus as kombucha or alcoholic mixers, there’s plenty of room for them to grow.
It is really organic? Buyer beware.
Food labels can mean the difference between winning new customers and losing the ones you have. A recent Washington Post report detailed the story of a 36 million-pound shipment of soybeans that originated in the Ukraine, passed through Turkey, was fumigated with pesticide like regular soybeans, priced like regular soybeans, then labeled “USDA organic” and increased significantly in price upon arrival in the U.S. That shipment, along with two other grain shipments that passed through Turkey and subsequently sparked questions about organic labeling, demonstrate weakness in current U.S. standards determining what commodities are organic. (Approximately half of organic commodities, including corn, soybeans and coffee, come from outside the U.S.) The Post report says although organic food imports from Turkey, China and other countries have invited increased scrutiny, gauging the level of fraud in imported organics is difficult because organic companies have little incentive to announce their suspicions about suppliers.
Swap out the sugar
The message is finally taking hold around the globe: Cut the sugar. Food Quality & Safety reports that sugar sales may grow at their slowest pace this year and next as consumption drops in developed countries. Many such countries have proposed or implemented taxes on sweetened beverages, have banned vending machines in schools and introduced warning labels on high-sugar foods, among other measures. The analyst group Platts Kingsman forecasts sugar consumption to increase just 1 percent, half of the annual growth it has experienced in the past decade. While some countries are accommodating consumers’ cravings for sweet foods by using sugar stand-ins like high-fructose corn syrup, many foodservice operations are reformulating products to decrease the amount of sweeteners overall. Now is the time to consider creative ways to bring sweetness (but not added sugar) to your menu.
Facebook brings (some) restaurants one step closer to customers
Soon, it may not be sufficient to simply have a restaurant page on Facebook – your neighborhood restaurants might be accessible directly from Facebook users’ homepages. Facebook recently made it possible to order food directly from its app menu on the main login page. It allows users to find a restaurant list, review the menu, include a tip and pay for the meal without having to navigate away from their Facebook page. The Next Web reports that on the app menu on the left-hand side of the Facebook home page, a new hamburger icon links to local restaurants that deliver (it currently includes just restaurants using Delivery.com or Slice). While the functionality isn’t universally available yet, look for it to expand and give some restaurants first dibs on hungry customers.
What makes for a professional-looking post? Here’s a cheat sheet.
Social media is a must for any foodservice operation – unfortunately, having a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram or other networks requires you to meet different standards for the photos and logos you post. To help, Louise Myers Visual Social Media, which advises companies about using graphics, photos and other images effectively on social media, provided a cheat sheet to help you navigate the requirements of various sites and the recent updates that could alter what you can post. Visit http://louisem.com/2852/social-media-cheat-sheet-sizes for a handy chart you can reference when posting images to a variety of networks.
Protect against pests this summer
As the weather warms, pests will be all the more tempted to frequent your restaurant, potentially spreading bacteria and damaging your property. (JP Pest Services says rodents harbor and spread more than 2000 human pathogens and termites cause $5 billion in property damage each year.) You can help deter unwelcome guests by taking action inside and outside of your facility. Chris Del Rossi, founder of Food and Drug and the Bug integrated pest management company, spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Quality Assurance Executive Study Group meeting and recommended operators focus on sanitation, structure and storage to prevent pest infestations. Any cracks or crevices between equipment can house pests, so use equipment with lockable wheels and flexible gas and electric lines to help ensure you can clean hard-to-reach places. When storing food, avoid placing anything on the floor or against walls. Installing wire shelves that keep food off of the floor and inches from walls can help you avoid an infestation. Dispose of food waste in trash bags and take it to a dumpster promptly. Make sure your dumpster isn’t dirty, has a lid and isn’t within easy access of your doors or windows. Consider pests when landscaping as well: Ensure plants around your premises don’t touch the ground or the walls of your property and surround your foundation with a strip of gravel, which can deter pests far better than bark mulch. Check the exterior of your property to make sure your pipes, roof, walls and tiles are crack-free and well-sealed.
Ease your restaurant's labor pains
Labor challenges are enough to keep any restaurant operator awake at night, from the rising minimum wage to the struggle for talent in a high-turnover industry. In a recent Toast survey, 46 percent of restaurant operators said their top challenge was hiring, training and retaining staff. So how do you cope? Restaurant Hospitality suggests you consider a range of actions. To help address the pay disparity between front- and back-of-house workers, you could charge administrative fees (say 2-3 percent of the final bill) or raise menu prices to fund a pay increase for those not included in tip pools. That can help ensure that on a busy night, everyone reaps the benefits; just be transparent with guests about what you're trying to achieve with new charges. Consider opening your books to your team -- training everyone from your dishwashers to your cooks about the financials of your business -- and sharing in the profits to encourage everyone to think and behave like an owner of the business. That can also help you identify and limit practices that waste money and time, from unprofitable menu items to an excess in staff. Some operators continue to experiment with service charges or sales commissions, adding a 20 percent surcharge to checks and not expecting tips (though still accepting them) on top of it, or just eliminating tipping altogether by including a hospitality fee if you feel your clientele will pay the increased menu prices to support it.
Who's in charge of social media?
Social media marketing represents a growing percentage of most restaurants' promotional campaigns. But is your social media best kept in the hands of a tech-savvy team member or is it time to hire a firm to manage it for you? Social Media Restaurant says for the majority of operators out there, the answer to that question should be "both." Consider hiring a consultant with industry expertise who can develop a campaign for you that includes the vehicles that make sense based on your brand, goals and clientele. (If you're part of a restaurant group, your consultant can help you ensure you use a consistent voice across locations as well.) Once you have a creative strategy in
place with clear objectives and tasks built into it, someone in-house who knows your customers well should spend some time each day making updates and accomplishing set tasks.
Prevent summertime Salmonella
The warmer months are prime time for the spread of Salmonella, which causes about 1 million foodborne illnesses each year in the United States. It's often found in foods including chicken, vegetables, eggs, fruit, sprouts, beef and pork. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends you remember four key actions to prevent Salmonella. Remember to properly Clean (wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces, though not the poultry, meat and eggs themselves), Separate (set the meat, poultry and seafood apart in the refrigerator and use different cutting boards for those items), Cook (ensure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature and stay at 145 degrees or above after cooking) and Chill (store foods at 40 degrees or colder in general, and refrigerate or freeze perishables and prepared foods within two hours, or within one hour if the room/outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher).
Don't let it go to waste
After labor costs, food costs are the top expenditure for restaurant operators, according to POS Sector. Those costs should range from 28 percent of sales (typical of casual restaurants) to 33 percent at fine-dining restaurants, according to the Wall Street Journal. If they're not, review your menu to ensure your top-selling items are also the most profitable. Chef Klime Kovaceski, who opened the Miami restaurant Crust in 2015 and posted sales of more than $1 million and a pre-tax profit of more than $200,000 for 2016, keeps a close eye on food waste. He recommends using minimal ingredients to keep costs down and reduce the incidence of spoilage -- risotto is a common item on his menu, for example, but herbs and spices lend wide variety to it. He also insists employees show him spoilage before throwing away food so they can determine what went wrong, and enforcing strict standards with suppliers to ensure he always receives fresh product.
Marketing with meaning
Investment in social media marketing is projected to increase by 90 percent in the next five years, according to Salesforce.com. Regardless of your budget size, you’re wise to allocate some resources to it. But how? The CMO Survey, which collects and distributes the opinions of top marketers, suggests that your marketing budget should comprise 5-15 percent of your revenue. Of that, 10-50 percent should be used for digital marketing, to include SEO, pay-per-click, social media and content marketing. The types of social media that marketers use vary widely but the most popular outlets right now are social networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, blogging (or microblogging on Twitter), and sharing video and pictures on sites like YouTube or Instagram. Video, according to the marketers surveyed, is the medium ripe for expansion in the months ahead.
Give tours of your restaurant (before guests even walk through the door)
Posting your menu online is customary. Posting a Google 360-degree virtual tour of your restaurant is less common – but it’s a great way to bring guests to you. Before consumers read your reviews on Yelp on TripAdvisor, they’re searching for you on Google. When you post a virtual tour, you get the chance to impact consumers’ first impressions of you. Social Media Restaurant says the tours appear in Google searches and on Google maps and you can also include them in your digital marketing. (Facebook just introduced a feature that allows you to post a panoramic shot of your restaurant on your business page, for example.) During a recent Restaurant Week in New York City, 55 percent of participating restaurants offered a “Business View” virtual tour – and consistently, diners booked tables at those restaurants more frequently.
Know the right tools to manage food fraud
About 10 percent of the food supply is impacted by food fraud, Food Safety Tech reports. Chances are, many of the foods you serve and use in recipes every day, including coffee, olive oil, orange juice and fish, are among the most vulnerable in the food supply, notes Shield Safety Group. But many food companies aren’t prepared to manage the problem. In a recent Food Safety Tech report, the senior manager of food safety & defense, QRC at the Hershey Company and the manager of food safety & quality assurance at GMA discussed the best tools available to monitor food fraud – consider them when talking with your suppliers about how they are managing and mitigating risks. The USP Food Fraud Database 2.0, for one, contains thousands of fraud records, can be searched by ingredient and offers some automated analytics tools. EMAlert is a predictive model that analyses the vulnerability of ingredients based on weight, which makes it a good platform for sourcing commodities. SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment provides a strong starting point for companies looking to assess their risk by ingredient, product, brand, facility, country or company, and it can be used across the supply chain. The World Factbook of Food contains more than 130 foods and 75 country profiles, which draw from a range of sources to help assess risk. Finally, the Food Adulteration Incidents Registry contains more than 550 incidents of food fraud, providing access to open data records that can support food risk assessments.
Bad reviews? Take the reins
What restaurant operator doesn’t love a great review? A Harvard University study found that an extra star in your online reviews can generate 5 to 9 percent more sales. But in a Foodable report, restaurant coach Donald Burns recommends you consider some facts to keep things in perspective. First off, a whopping 20 percent of reviews are fake, added by unethical businesses that want to improve their ratings, albeit falsely, and take the competition down a peg. (Take heart that sites like Review Skeptic are helping to uncover the fakes, so false reviews may be a declining problem.) Before you take a negative (or even a positive) review to heart, consider whether it’s accurate. If a negative one holds true, use it to improve. Make sure you have established clear standards and core values that your team lives and breathes, and that you’re taking steps every day to train and develop them. Are there trouble spots on your menu? Does your customer service need polish? Remember that your response to a negative review can build or bust your credibility with readers. If a review is negative, apologize without making excuses and, within 24 hours, ask for a chance to win them back. Before posting a response, compose a draft in a different application and ask a trusted person to read it to ensure it comes off professionally. If it doesn’t, you’ll have a bigger problem on your hands when your words are shared around the Internet within minutes of your response.
Protect against poultry risk
If you host young children in your restaurant, pay special attention to food safety: Kids under age four are five times more likely than adults to contract bacterial infections from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control. FightBAC.org recommends you pay close attention to chicken, often a go-to option for children’s menus, though a risky one: A recent report from the CDC linked chicken to 23 foodborne illness outbreaks and said it was the food category responsible for the second-largest number of foodborne illnesses. A single drop of raw poultry juice can contain enough Campylobacter to cause illness. Remember to emphasize proper food handling in your kitchen – handwashing before and after handling poultry, storing it on a low shelf to prevent cross-contamination, thawing it at or below 40˚F instead of washing it (that can spread bacteria around the kitchen), and cooking it to 165˚F to kill harmful bacteria.
Experience the halo effect
You don’t have to have a fat marketing budget to make a big splash on social media. Look at Halo Top ice cream, a small business that now competes with giants in the category, thanks in part to its online marketing strategy. Food Dive reports that the company claims it has never paid for a social media post and only recently began paying for any brand advertising at all. However, the company’s success in producing packaging, photos and other highly shareable content has resulted in the hashtag #HaloTop being used 100,000 times and the company’s account attracting about 400,000 followers. The company sold nearly 17 million pints of its high-protein, low-calorie ice cream last year, boosting sales by 2,500 percent.
More tech, higher sales
Technology is making it increasingly easier for restaurants to upsell consumers. An Associated Press report that assessed the business results of a number of national restaurant brands confirmed that people tend to order more when they order digitally, whether online, on a tablet or via a mobile app. Certainly, a consumer who can readily spend with a credit card instead of cash (which comes with the territory when tech is used for ordering) will spend more anyway – 12 to 18 percent more, according to a Dun & Bradstreet study. However, it also helps that a computer will allow a consumer to browse for a longer amount of time and, while a human taking an order might neglect to promote extra items, a computer will automatically ask a consumer if he wants to add toppings or extras. Ziosk, which makes devices used at Chili’s and Olive Garden, among other brands, says restaurants see more appetizer and dessert orders when using their devices – and there’s usually more coffee tacked on to those orders.
Robots changing the face of restaurant labor
Food industry leaders recently flocked to SXSW for a look at trends on the horizon. One big one, of course, is continued development in automation. According to a Restaurant Business report about SXSW, this included everything from software used to connect restaurants with a pool of qualified workers to fill shifts, to robots that can automate repetitive tasks like dishwashing and burger flipping. The industry also looks to be testing how much human interaction consumers desire. At the event, a robot mounted with a tablet demonstrated the ability to assume the role of server. It allows guests to ask questions and order, delivers meals and accepts payment. While far from being a mainstream addition to restaurants in the short term, these robots (along with a wide range of software applications) are likely to change the management of restaurant tasks in the years ahead as developers find ways to make them affordable.
Get the most from your host
If your restaurant is known for its human touch, have you unleashed the full power of your host? The first person your guests meet at your restaurant can help you set the tone for your brand, promote specials and recruit new members to your loyalty program, Foodable reports. (Perhaps that’s one reason why even low-touch restaurants like Eatsa have a host at the door.) Looking to entice guests with your seafood special? If your host can enthusiastically talk about his experience tasting your food, he can plant a seed of interest that can steer a guest’s attention toward specific items when he opens the menu. A host can also help ensure each guest walking in is a happy guest. Extra long wait? Consider having the host offer those guests a complimentary drink. Having your host check in on tables can help boost your loyalty program too. If he asks how a table is doing and everyone loves their meal, he can ask them to sign up for your loyalty program and perhaps sweeten the deal with a free dessert or other promotion.
Take the right steps after an accident
Accidents happen – even if you have an airtight safety program. Does your team know what to do? An FSR report recommends you quickly asses the need for medical attention – if calling 911 isn’t required, call your insurer’s injured employee hotline (if applicable) or transport the employee to a medical facility. Secure the area with barriers so you can adequately investigate the area and prevent secondary injuries. Collect information for an incident report – not to assign fault but to identify root causes. Maintain a record of the incident using OSHA form 300 and consult your insurance carrier for additional help. Institute a return-to-work program for the employee and ensure it’s flexible and won’t aggravate the injury – less-physical clerical work may be appropriate for a person who injured his back while moving inventory, for example. Finally, reinforce and revise (if needed) your safety program with your team to help prevent future problems.
Build an authentic emotional brand
Even if you weren’t a fan of the hit show “The Golden Girls,” you have likely heard about the recent opening of the New York City restaurant it inspired. As Inc. reports, the restaurant represents “emotional branding at its best,” right down to the color scheme and cheesecake selection. Does your brand hit the right notes? Far more than your logo and look, your brand is about what others are saying about you and the emotions your business evokes in guests. Foodable recommends you start by ensuring your customers know what you do best. Is there a special ingredient or process that makes you different? Your guests should know that and trust they’re seeing the real you when they visit your restaurant and interact with anyone from your team.
A new badge of trust for food transparency
Consumers demand food transparency – and food industry buzz words like “organic” and “sustainable” can make restaurant guests feel good about what they order – but how do consumers know who backs up these claims? Eater Denver reports that a new program, Good Food 100 Restaurants, provides a “badge of trust” that helps educate consumers and recognize chefs and restaurants that are transparent with their purchasing and sustainable business practices.” It’s a rating system designed to demonstrate how restaurant chefs are developing a better food system and supporting good food economies at state, regional and national levels. The effort started in Colorado but is gaining a national following and includes chefs from organizations including Union Square Hospitality Group, Frontera and Bateau.
Nachos get a makeover
Nachos are a food for the times: shareable, customizeable, interactive, comforting, and an appealing foundation for any number of proteins, toppings and spices. What’s more, the dish is evolving on menus well past the salty-chips-and-processed-cheese variety that have long been a staple at arena events. Flavor & the Menu reports that chefs are reinventing nachos in a number of new ways, like the tuna poke nachos at Next Door in Dallas, which include cucumber, pine nuts, wasabi crema and wonton crisps. In Los Angeles, Petty Cash Taqueria’s roasted cauliflower nachos include crema poblano, Jack cheese, rainbow cauliflower, kale and pickled Fresno chiles. Nachos are becoming a platform to show off both regional flavors (think barbecue or grilled shrimp) and global tastes (from Bolognese to béarnaise).
Handheld foods reign
Sandwiches, burgers and other foods consumers can hold in their hands accounted for about one out of every four dollars spent in the foodservice channel in 2016 – that’s $205 billion in sales according to Technomic’s new “Foodservice Prepared Sandwich Category” study. Burgers led with 44 percent of total handheld food sales in the U.S., deli and submarine sandwiches accounted for 13 and 11 percent, respectively, and other favorites included tacos, burritos, breakfast sandwiches and wraps. While 53 percent of handheld sales occurred during lunch, those sales have begun to spread into other dayparts too. In the study, respondents noted that while handheld foods are a natural fit for take-out, the packaging and delivery of these foods need improvement to become greener, more cost effective and capable of maintaining food temperature.
Lights, camera, foodborne illness!
The next time you watch a cooking show, note whether the featured chef follows food safety protocol. As Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, noted in Restaurant News recently, on-air personalities often skip handwashing, have hair or clothing dangling down near the food they’re preparing, fail to use meat thermometers and often use the same cutting board for vegetables and raw meat. Lax food safety protocol sets a bad example for home cooks and those in the restaurant business who prepare food before an audience (whether on television, via a live demo or simply on a video that goes on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page). Shaw urges chefs to remember safety whenever they’re preparing food – wash hands, avoid cross-contaminating foods, cook food to the appropriate temperature (and keep hot and cold foods at their required temperatures), clean and sanitize all equipment and prioritize safety over fashion.
Utensil design for joyful, mindful eating
New research has found the design of eating utensils impacts consumers’ perceptions of food quality and taste. The men behind it are Andreas Fabian, a PhD, and Charles Michel, chef-in-residence at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. They collaborated on a teardrop-shaped glass wand used to eat creamy foods like peanut butter, yogurt or hummus, Fast Company reports. Their goal was to recreate what a person does when eating something so mouth-watering he forgets manners – like licking a finger while cooking or a plate after eating. The utensil Fabian and Michel created, dubbed a Goûte, is actually shaped like a finger. Their research showed that when taste testers ate yogurt with it, they perceived it as being better and creamier. Fabian and Michel started a design studio and are conducting further grant-funded studies to develop new utensil designs aimed at making people more mindful about eating so they choose healthier diets.
Creating an Instagram hit
Searching for a food destined to become an Instagram sensation? Try a kitschy or familiar twist on an unrelated food, give it some interesting color and texture and voila! Note the success of the sushi donut, which vegan cookbook author Sam Murphy claims she invented while playing around with a donut mold last summer, according to the Washington Post. (She presses sushi rice into a mold greased with coconut oil, lets it set, then pops it out and decorates it with salmon, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger and a range of other ingredients.) The ring-shaped sushi concoctions have recently gone viral on Instagram and a number of restaurants are testing versions to add to their menus.
Better communication via kiosk
Kiosks are getting a lot of play lately as vehicles to help restaurants cut labor costs and speed up service. But Hospitality Technology recently identified some additional benefits for restaurant operators, particularly those that serve diverse populations. The kiosks, supported by customizeable technology, can help restaurant overcome a range of communication challenges they experience with guests. They can offer foreign language and sign language translations, for example, or an easier means for those with physical and mental disabilities to place an order. They can also help you avoid triggering a guest’s allergic reaction by allowing the guest to specify their sensitivities.
Out with the buzzer, in with the phone alert
Disappearing are the days of the black buzzers used to signal to restaurant guests that they have moved up the waiting list and their table is ready. In their place is technology like that of Nowait, a waitlist company that alerts guests on their phones. Skift reports that Yelp Reservations just acquired Nowait in a move to compete with other booking services aiming to help restaurant operators manage their tables. The Nowait app, available on Apple and Android platforms, lets guests browse a list of participating restaurants to check the wait times at each one and add their names, reports SFGate. As they move up the list en route to the restaurant, they receive a notification by text.
Find the positive in a split shift
Scheduling employees to work long, continuous shifts may not make financial sense when you have a long lull in traffic between your lunch and dinner rush. Toast suggests you consider the split shift – dividing the work day into separate parts, say 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Depending on your state’s regulations of split shifts, it may make good financial sense to do it. Of course, there are negatives for many employees – but for others, there could be important positives too. Toast says if your staff includes people who care for family, they may welcome having a full-time job that includes a break in the day, allowing them to pick up children from school or check on a parent. Split shifts can also allow you to offer employees more work hours without decreasing the hours of other staff.
Big Mac ATM launches a tweet storm
McDonald’s hasn’t led the pack with its technology offerings but a recent event they staged helped give them some marketing buzz as a fun, progressive company. On January 31 at their Kenmore Square location in Boston, McDonald’s activated their “customized digital Big Mac ATM.” Pymnts.com said between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day, the ATM dispensed two new Big Mac sizes – the Mac Jr. and the Grand Mac – for free. In exchange, guests (who lined up down the block for a free sandwich) supplied their Twitter handle. The ATM then generated a tweet on the user’s account.
Making a go of pay-what-you-can
In an industry of rising labor costs and low profit margins, how are pay-what-you-can restaurants faring? The Washington Post estimates there about 50 such operations in the nation that are trying to transform the way the public views food assistance and charity by bringing together people who can afford to pay for nutritious food and those who can’t. Some locations rely on volunteer workers and ask that if guests cannot pay, they do something to help. It’s obviously no easy task to run a sustainable operation. Still, some have managed to make it work: Denise Cerreta’s One World Café in Salt Lake City eked out a profit for a few years. Though Cerreta has since closed the café, she now focuses on her One World Everybody Eats foundation, which offers business plans and mentoring to community restaurant owners.
Add some surprise to your fries
French fries: They’re the ultimate comfort food. Lucky Peach mentions some international twists that could make your fries menu centerpieces. Take Kapsalon, fries topped with döner meat, Gouda cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and/or onions, topped with creamy garlic sauce and sambal. Or Kenyan Masala fries with spicy tomato sauce, coriander and lemon. In Bulgaria, fries are covered in a white, brined, lemony cheese called sirene. Chaat masala fries are coated with a spice mix common in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan that includes a sweet and sour green-mango powder, black salt, asafetida, cumin, coriander, dried ginger, red chili, salt, and pepper. To balance savory with sweet, Food & the Menu suggests Japan-inspired Daigaku Imo fries coated with soy sauce, sugar, honey, sesame seeds and salt.
Delivery-only for the masses
Could delivery-only restaurants make dine-in restaurants obsolete? A new Technomic study says take-out meals are now taking sales from grocery and dining-in restaurants – and some big-name restaurateurs are tapping into the delivery-only niche. The New York Times reports that David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group took in a $7 million first round of venture capital financing for Ando, its delivery-only restaurant. The investment is likely intended to make delivery-only a mass-market concept. Considering Chang’s portfolio includes more than a dozen restaurants in three countries, nine dessert bars, two cocktail lounges, a prepared foods business and more, he may be the person to take delivery-only global.
NASDA announces 2018 Farm Bill priorities
This month, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) announced its priorities for the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to provide consumers with access to the “safest, highest quality and most affordable” food supply. Its priorities include planning loans for farmers and ranchers who need to update infrastructure to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Market Access Program and invasive species programs, additional funding for animal disease coordination, and investment in voluntary conservation programs.
USDA paves the way for increased organic food production
If you’d like to increase the volume of organic food you serve, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken steps to make more of it available. Reuters reports that to increase the production of organic foods (sales continue to hit new highs and production hasn’t kept pace with demand), the department has launched a program to certify farmland that growers are in the process of switching to organic. By obtaining certification, farmers will be able to sell products raised in accordance with organic guidelines for higher prices than conventionally grown foods, which should help growers cover the costs of transitioning to organic farming, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Apps to take the pain out of staffing
Working in a restaurant can be a tough sell for a talented employee who wants to be valued and well compensated. So how do you find the best people out there? Technology can help. Chefs + Tech recommended a few apps that show promise, including Culinary Agents, Poached Jobs, Industry (which is planning a nationwide launch) and New York City-specific Jitjatjo, which Food & Wine referred to as the “Uber of finding restaurant staff.” Some focus on networking to find good hires and others are more focused on filling kitchen shifts – if you’re looking, give them a try.
Stay relevant through social media
Even if your restaurant doesn’t have flashy, up-to-the-minute kiosks, you can show you’re modern and relevant just by getting social media right. OpenTable recommends you try to inspire people and gain visibility by sharing what excites you – be it new menus, dining room changes, specials, or a new chef. Instagram Stories and Snapchat are good for sharing casual stories, images or video. OpenTable also recommends you live-stream content to attract viewers – using Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope to show an ingredient-buying trip or a fun exchange between staff members, for example.
Lessons learned from tech stumbles
Technology rollouts aren’t often smooth – even for Starbucks during its mobile ordering launch. The company recently said it had experienced a 20 percent increase in mobile pay and ordering during peak hours, which caused crowding that resulted in guests leaving without making purchases. In a CNBC report, restaurant analysts shared their take-aways, which might help you see what investments you may need to make ahead of adopting the technology. Specifically, they said it’s important to hire and train staff to work differently during peak times so you can avoid having to add staff. Review your traffic pattern to avoid bottlenecks and reconfigure your store if needed. Anticipate the need to accept many orders simultaneously – much like an e-commerce company has to – and use alerts and other technology to avoid overcrowding your location and overwhelming staff.
Hire and keep a tip-top team
If you’re looking to attract new talent, create detailed job descriptions and set clear expectations to avoid surprises – then be prepared to compensate the person accordingly. Once you have top performers on your team, Modern Restaurant Management recommends you check in regularly to ensure things are going as well as you think they are. Engage them by soliciting their feedback in response to challenges you’re facing or by encouraging them to lead others. Find out what they need from you and provide opportunities to help them get it, whether it’s technical expertise or professional training. Talk strategically about where they hope to rise within your organization and help them map out next steps to get there.
Help your reservations take off
Looking to boost your online reservations? Hospitality Technology recommends you have a prominent, clear reservation link on your Facebook page and on your website (ensure your site is mobile-friendly and responsive while you’re at it). If you have multiple locations, have a separate webpage for each, with content targeted to each audience. Consider using general booking services like OpenTable and last-minute booking services to increase your exposure to guests who might not find you otherwise. In your email communications with guests and in print ads, provide a link or details on how to book online. Finally, information about reservations should be in text (not image) format so search engines can find it.
Raise your bar
A well-run bar should have an alcohol cost between 18 and 20 percent of sales, according to Uncorkd. Does yours? Uncorkd shared some tips to decrease costs. First, try standardizing your pours and liquor volume for cocktails by using jiggers, pre-batching house cocktails and recipe cards – this will help your bar’s consistency too. Take inventory of your alcohol weekly – promote the brands that aren’t selling and then stop carrying them once they sell so you can focus on your high-volume brands. You can then negotiate deals with your distributor on items you can buy in bulk. And since wine has such high profit margins, don’t give it away with half-price offers – better to create wine pairings or flights with languishing stock, or design a contest to reward the staff member who sells the most of it.
How a Trump administration could affect restaurants
Donald Trump isn’t known for predictability, but restaurant industry analysts expect his administration could spur changes in five areas, according to Restaurant Hospitality: The battle over the minimum wage will likely be left to state and local legislatures. The Trump administration could roll back overtime rules in order to benefit business – or support the extension of overtime as it would benefit many of his core voters. There are two immediate vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans are likely to fill, shifting majority control of the agency as it considers issues like joint-employer liability. There could also be changes coming with regard to mandatory arbitration – and the possibility that class actions replace individual employee arbitrations. Finally, Trump is likely to oppose the Department of Labor’s rule barring restaurants from requiring their waitstaff to share tips with back-of-house employees.
New overtime rules delayed
A federal court has delayed the introduction of new overtime rules until it can consider an action brought by representatives from the restaurant business and other industries to eliminate the rules altogether, Restaurant Business reports. The new rules had been set to take effect Dec. 1. The changes laid out by the Department of Labor double the income threshold (from $23,660 to $47,476) at which salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay. The National Restaurant Association praised the ruling but cautioned restaurants to continue to prepare plans for managing the new requirements if and when they pass.
Breakfast breaks out
It seems breakfast is finally getting its due. In a survey of 300 restaurant operators for SmartBrief’s 2016 Breakfast Keynote Report, 93 percent said their breakfast sales had either increased or stayed level in the past year. Chefs are tapping into creative solutions to innovate the daypart. Datassential reports that new flavors are appearing on the breakfast menu, like spicy, savory kimchi, which has increased 435 percent on menus in the past four years. Next year could see an expansion of breakfast bowls – 57 percent of consumers are interested in them but only 27 percent of operators offer them, according to the report. We’re likely to see more trendy flavors and dinner dishes popping up at breakfast too – think breakfast burgers or barbecue pulled pork omelettes.
Convenience stores are an up-and-coming lunchtime option
Convenience stores are giving restaurants some competition at lunchtime. Restaurant Business reports that the convenience store market is moving upscale. They’re also taking pointers from the restaurant business and cross-utilizing ingredients, incorporating new ingredients that demonstrate flavor innovation, and taking care to show the quality of the food preparation. Consider these examples from convenience stores around the country, which are a big step away from the c-store options of just a few years ago: Wawa’s Thanksgiving-themed sub, 7-Eleven’s cilantro-lime flatbread, or Casey’s General Stores’ spinach artichoke chicken pizza.
Clean high-touch items to prevent spread of illness
Your team likely knows how to prevent the spread of illness around the food preparation areas – but don’t forget about other high-touch items in your restaurant where germs are lurking during this cold and flu season. The National Restaurant Association recommends you clean these items each day: laminated or reusable menus, condiment bottles, salt and pepper shakers, tablecloths, high chairs and booster seats, chairs, booths and stools, check holders, candy dishes at the hostess stand and door handles. Train your team on how to sanitize various materials and include these items in a master cleaning schedule the team follows each day.
Use photos to show your true colors
Well-presented photos of your business can help your restaurant appeal to guests before you even take their drink order. Profitable Hospitality recommends you identify your best shots, print them in large format and frame them in your restaurant – close-ups of specialty dishes, guests enjoying themselves at your restaurant, or your chef at work. Include the rest of your staff, too, in friendly but uncrowded groupings of two or three, to show guests the community you have built within the restaurant. Of course, online photos are equally important. Use a photo editing application to crop your best photos and adjust the lighting and other effects to add ambience. Post your best shots on social media and update images on your website and marketing materials regularly to keep your content fresh.
Stand out in the social media crowd
Your restaurant is one of 25 million businesses on Facebook. How best to stand out in that crowd? Restaurant Engine recommends you make a list of all of your social media platforms and do a Google search if you aren’t sure of all of them. Assess your results: Is this platform useful to your business (or could it be if you were a more active user)? Do you have many followers? Are they liking, responding to or sharing your posts? Once you decide which platforms are best for you, communicate your brand across them, with a consistent logo, imagery, voice, description and a website link on each. Finally, check your content: 70 percent of it should add some value to your followers, 20 percent of it should be about sharing other people’s posts and 10 percent should be promoting your restaurant.
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