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.
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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