How mobile wallets could open the door to more sales
Every year, it seems there is a new way for consumers to pay -- and restaurants and other businesses must scramble to keep up. But among those newcomers, mobile wallets could have some staying power, as they open the door to additional functionality beyond payment. FSR Magazine says mobile wallets offer credit card security in case of a data breach, device validation in the form of a PIN or fingerprint, easy access to loyalty cards and gift cards, and streamlined in-app purchases. Over time, expect there to be new ways that mobile wallets help restaurants engage with guests and make payment easier. Right now, the key players include Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal and ChasePay.
Prevent spices from causing foodborne illness
Spices, critical to adding global influence to your menu and boosting flavor without salt and sugar, have been subject to increasing recalls for food pathogens, Food Safety Magazine reports. An FDA study found that spices like oregano, basil, coriander, sesame seeds, curry powder, cumin and black pepper were contaminated at varying levels with salmonella. Spices produced in third world countries in unsanitary conditions and the movement of product across countries can make it easy for the origins of spices to get lost. Are your spice suppliers taking steps to address the problem? Food Safety Magazine says international spice trade organizations should be involved with efforts to track shipments and develop appropriate supplier controls, such as adherence to Good Agricultural Practices and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Could you find your next star on Snapchat?
McDonald's thinks so. In Australia, the chain is inviting prospective employees to send a 10-second video interview to them via Snapchat, according to Fortune. These "Snapplications" are only preliminary (McDonald's directs applicants to the company's formal application afterwards) but the tool could generate some buzz -- it allows applicants to place virtual McDonald's hats and nametags on themselves so they can see how they would look behind the counter.
Grocery stores poised to compete with pizza restaurants
Pizza restaurants, with a product that's typically a good value, is easily customizable and designed for delivery, have been somewhat impervious to the strains hitting other parts of the restaurant industry. But that could change soon, according to a recent report from Food Dive. It says according to research from Progressive Grocer, the prepared foods departments of grocery stores could clinch some of the pizza market as they can offer fresher ingredients, competitive prices and potentially more interesting combinations. Datassential suggests pizza restaurants compete by offering more on-trend ingredients like Sriracha and roasted vegetables, then let guests customize their pie -- something nearly half of guests desire (but only 23 percent of grocery stores accommodate).
Coffee has its perks
Coffee is continuing its meteoric rise. The National Coffee Association reports that between 2008 to 2016, gourmet coffee beverage consumption rose from 13 percent to 36 percent among 12- to 24-year-olds, and from 19 percent to 41 percent for people between 25 and 39. Want to grab your share of that market? Toast recommends you test out these trends: Try cold brewing for a less acidic, smoother cup at a higher price point -- or even add pressurized nitrogen to that cold brew and serve it from a tap for a naturally sweet "nitro brew." Finally, some coffee companies are experimenting with cascara, the fruit that coats the coffee bean. It can be brewed or add a sweet, maple-like flavor to a latte. Even better, it helps reduce waste by helping roasters use the whole bean in their coffee.
Let your guests make your signature dish at home
Have you ever considered offering a meal kit service at your restaurant? According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. would buy meal kits from their favorite restaurant if they were offered. In a Restaurant Hospitality report about the concept, operators who have tried it say offering kits isn't for every restaurant -- they take a lot of testing to get right. But it can help if you have a signature item you know guests will like, whether it be your steak, burgers or guacamole, and focus on helping guests make experiences around that item.
A new twist on an American favorite
The diner is an American icon -- but a new trend? A new report in Eater says 2017 could be the year of the luncheonette, as new diners pop up across the country. But these restaurants are not purely about nostalgia. In fact, the ones that have taken off have reinvented the concept. Take Dove's Luncheonette (a Mexican diner in Chicago) by James Beard Award winner Paul Kahan. Or Maurice, a Portland, Ore. pastry luncheonette. Others that have thrived include New York's Nickel & Diner, which doesn't serve typical diner food but looks like a futuristic diner, Philadelphia's Rooster Soup Co., which donates all proceeds to charity, and Dad's Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay, Calif., which has a relaxed, community feeling but is located in a renovated train caboose and features a small, locally sourced menu of just seven items.
New York's small (but strong) food safety team
Stopping foodborne illness before it reaches you can feel like an impossible task. But a team of just 43 microbiologists, chemists and support staff at the New York State Food Laboratory gave a substantial boost to the state's record of food safety testing in 2016. They increased testing of food and beverage samples by 10 percent this past year, which led to more than 300 recalls of contaminated items, according to a Food Safety News report of findings from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. This included more testing for health hazards, purity and accuracy of labeling using new more accurate techniques. For the first time, the lab used a DNA-based method to test fish for speciation -- an important step in identifying food allergies and food fraud. They also increased testing of imported items like cheese and spices by 28 percent over 2015.
Before adding an ingredient, check the data
Do you ever wonder exactly how guests will respond to an ingredient you'd like to add to a new dish? Datassential has developed a new tool called Flavor, which helps you track specific foods, beverages, spices and other ingredients across a range of metrics and demographic segments. You can determine the awareness of an ingredient among people in a specific region, for example, and even identify if those people have children. The tool includes millions of consumer recommendations about thousands of products, from acai to za'atar.
Know your Instagrammability
Is Instagram in your restaurant's business plan? For a growing number of restaurants, it is -- credit the social network's more then 500 million active monthly users. The Financial Times reports that the social network has been transforming the restaurant scene in the U.K. and according to Skift, chefs in the U.S. are also creating dishes with an eye toward how they will look in a square photo on Instagram -- menu items have a unique appearance, plates are whiter and some have design or branding elements that people associate with the restaurant when people find them online.
Strategies to thrive in 2017
It looks like 2017 will be a low-growth year for the restaurant industry. To stay the course, Foodable recommends you raise your operation’s game in these areas: Embrace social media marketing and use it less for selling and more for engaging with your guests – consider Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram Live and Facebook to bring video to your guests. Ensure you have a top-tier team, which means releasing bad hires, training well and always looking out for new talent. Make your menu a profit machine by costing out your food, analyzing your product mix report from your point-of-sale system and updating your menu pricing at regular intervals. Finally, be careful about entering the discount game – choose your offers carefully. Foodable suggests value-driven appetizers or a three-course prix-fixe menu on slow days, for example.
Produce is the new protein
If you’re looking to build a better sandwich (or provide non-salad options for health-conscious guests), many chefs are demonstrating that vegetables can be a key attraction in sandwiches – either alongside meat, fish or poultry or in place of it. Flavor & the Menu reports that at Oak + Char in Chicago, one of the most popular sandwiches is filled with stacked smoked eggplant, pepper jam, curried chickpea mash, smoked cilantro yogurt and Upland cress. Other chefs are stacking plantains and testing combinations like roasted cauliflower and peppers with Vidalia onions and shallots. At Plenty Café in Philadelphia, a housemade tasso ham baguette with spicy aioli was transformed into a mega-hit when the chef added sliced tart apples, fig jam and melted Gruyère. Experiment with produce to add crunch, meaty texture or unexpected spice to a dish.
New superfoods on the horizon
Consumers are showing signs they want nutritious foods that make them feel good about what they consume all year long. Datassential, which tracks “functional” foods that promise a healthy heart, along with boosts in energy and brainpower, has predicted three categories of superfoods we’ll see more of in 2017. Look for the next kale in algaes like spirulina and chlorella, which often appear in detox drinks (or even with alcohol for a saintly spin on cocktails). Aquafaba, the thick chickpea-soaking water, is a close substitute for egg whites and is adding frothiness to cocktails and condiments. Sprouted grains are being touted as an easier-to-digest, high-protein alternative to whole grains in pasta, bread, pizza crust, cereal and more.
Spices and stealth food risk
Spices from around the world can give your menu the authenticity and flavor guests crave – but food safety risks are bringing the industry under increased surveillance by the FDA and CDC, Food Safety magazine reports. There are approximately one million Salmonella infections per year, which is a high estimate compared to the relatively low discovery of outbreaks, the report says. That has led experts to believe that many of the illnesses are coming from “stealth” foods used at low levels in a variety of applications, such as spices in condiments and garnishes. It’s a good time to ensure your suppliers have sufficient sanitation practices and training programs in place, as well as hygienic equipment design and repair practices.
Weigh in on healthy food labels
The FDA just extended its deadline for accepting public comments regarding the use of the term “healthy” on food labels. Food Safety News reports that the FDA wants the new definition of the term to be specific due to push back from the food industry on existing law concerning use of the term. Currently, for example, eggs cannot be labeled “healthy” because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content, even though they are recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can submit a comment at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/30/2016-31734/use-of-the-term-healthy-in-the-labeling-of-human-food-products-request-for-information-and-comments#open-comment until April 26.
Protect yourself against wage and hour violations
In the past 30 years, the Department of Labor has prosecuted more than 23,000 foodservice operations for wage and hour violations, resulting in the industry having to pay $247 million in back wages and civil money penalties, Toast reports. Many affected establishments simply failed to follow complex rules. With minimum wages in flux, it’s critical to know where related violations can crop up, such as in tracking employee time over multiple restaurant locations, irregular employee scheduling, poor record keeping and violating the minimum wage. To protect yourself in a dispute, Toast recommends you move quickly and cooperate, with the goal of resolving problems without litigation (or starting litigation without delay). If you have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act knowingly or not, you will likely owe money in damages, so know your value and what you can afford. Finally, take corrective action right away with systems to prevent ongoing problems.
Restaurant outlook for 2017 favors quick-service
If you’re a quick-service restaurant, you’re among the lucky ones: NPD Group predicts the sector will experience 1 percent growth this year, full-service restaurants will see a 2 percent decline and the industry overall could see little to no traffic growth. To buck that trend, Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, suggests operators stay relevant in consumers’ minds, focus on innovative products and promotions, provide a good value and demonstrate the benefits of the experience of eating a restaurant as opposed to staying home. CNBC suggests watching these brands, which have fared better in recent months: Domino’s (revenues were up nearly 17 percent in the third quarter over the previous year), as well as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s.
The power of your public
You know it’s important to have a compelling story behind your food and to promote it well to the public. But chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson recently learned exactly how critical that can be when New York Times food critic Pete Wells awarded zero stars to the chefs’ Oakland, Calif. Restaurant LocoL, the quick-service restaurant that aims to bring wholesome, fresh, affordable foods to underserved neighborhoods. Eater reports that while Wells had earned popular support after withdrawing two stars from Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se restaurant last year, he generated serious social media backlash with his treatment of LocoL. One reader said his review was akin to booing at an elementary school musical, while others suggested he “take on soup kitchens next.”
Voice-ordered food to your door in less than an hour
Amazon continues to push the limits of food technology. The company just announced that its Prime customers can now order food via voice command from Amazon Restaurants on Alexa-enabled devices and have any meal they’ve ordered previously delivered for free in less than an hour. A customer can say, “Alexa, order sushi from Amazon Restaurants,” and the service pulls that customer’s order history from a specific restaurant or cuisine type and lists meal options available for reorder. The selected meal is then sent for delivery to the customer’s default address. The new option allows customers to reorder food from any restaurant available on the service in more than 20 cities.
Investing in tech-assisted food ordering
Among 18-to-34-year-olds, 77 percent want or expect mobile ordering at quick-service restaurants and 83 percent feel the same about fast-casual outlets. In the Middle East and Asia, a majority of consumers report being able to do just that – but the percentage falls to just 32 percent in North America. That’s according to Technomic’s 2016 Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Consumer Trend Report. The U.S. lags behind Asian and Middle Eastern countries when it comes to tech-assisted ordering programs due to the expense of investing in technology in a low-margin business. But the risk may pay off: According to the data, U.S. consumers choose delivery or takeout for 51 percent of all foodservice needs – that is a bit more than in Asia and only slightly less than in the Middle East.
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