As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
In 2019, one of the top trends Technomic forecasts for the restaurant industry is a deeper consumer demand for transparency — and not just about the food you serve. There is a growing expectation from consumers that you will be up front about your packaging, health and safety, corporate social responsibility, corporate performance and other aspects of business that demonstrate your values. Perfection isn’t critical: 85 percent of participants in a Cone Communications/Echo study said they are satisfied if a company is transparent about their practices even if those practices need improvement. The benefits of transparency can range from improved health and safety reports to simpler menus to improved connections with employees and the public. To enhance the transparency of your business in 2019, look at your shortcomings and find ways to be more open and clear about how you’re trying to solve each problem. For example, Mike Husman, a coach with the executive consulting firm The Entrepreneur’s Source, said a quick-service client who struggled with long wait times (and customer complaints about them) placed a timer in the restaurant to show its average serve times, which then decreased substantially. If you struggle with a foodborne illness outbreak, get approval from your lawyer to inform people about the problem and announce the steps you’re taking to fix it. When you share financial information, help people connect the dots: How do your employees’ actions translate to more sales and visits? How does your business spend the money it earns and where are your biggest expenses and investments? Even if your employees don’t have an actual stake in your business, approach them like they do by finding ways to gather and implement their input and show how they impact the organization.
Play the Instagram game
Everyone loves a game — and concocting some simple ones can help you drive traffic and interest in your restaurant. Have a new menu for 2019? Next Restaurants suggests creating Instagram polls, quizzes, word plays or crosswords to encourage people to guess what new items you’ll be adding. Offer points or discounts to the first x number of people who guess correctly. If you need some contest ideas to incentivize people to engage, challenge people to suggest a new appetizer or creative burger topping, put it to a vote on Instagram and feature it for a limited time on your menu. Or, offer an experience that would make for a fun night out with a group: A cooking class with your chef, a food photography workshop with a professional, or an evening of food/wine tastings with a sommelier.
Fish fraud continues to ramp up, and regulations for the industry still lag behind other industries — Oceana reports that more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported but less than 1 percent is inspected by the government specifically for fraud. In the meantime, researchers are identifying ways to ensure that a fish represented as wild-caught actually is, and that its species and source are presented accurately too. Marine ecologist John Bruno told QSR that red snapper and shrimp are among the biggest offenders when it comes to fraud (Oceana research found that red snapper is far and away the most commonly mislabeled fish) and generic white fish is also ripe for fraud because it can often pass without raising suspicions. Bruno teaches a course about seafood forensics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and leads a team that works with restaurant operators to extract DNA from fish tissue, sequence it and compare it to a database to determine if the vendor is trustworthy. The QSR report said operators who aren’t ready to fund such testing (Bruno’s team charges $20 to $30 per sample) can do well by asking suppliers for as much information about the fish’s origins as possible — suppliers of fraudulent fish often fall short in this area — and opting for suppliers that package and label their products thoroughly. Prioritizing strong relationships with local vendors helps too.
In an ideal world, your technology isn’t removing the human element from your restaurant but improving it. Consider your business at its busiest hour. Amid the rush, will your cashier remember to ask your guest if he wants to add avocado to his burger or a dessert to his order? Maybe or maybe not. Your digital ordering technology, however, won’t ever miss making that offer. As a result, you will be armed with data you can pour into your marketing strategy. Have several add-ons that are popular with guests ordering sandwiches? Your tech can tell you how profitable each item is so you know which one to promote first. The restaurant technology company Tillster says you can consider the data you collect from your online, mobile and kiosk ordering as a real-time guest survey, empowering you to make quick decisions about how to accommodate guest preferences profitably.
Could 2019 be the year of automation? If John Miller, the CEO of CaliGroup has anything to say about it, it could be. As he told attendees at the recent National Restaurant Association Innovation Summit, “I think that in the next six months, we will deploy robots to customers in ways that will shock people.” CaliGroup may be ahead of the curve (its CaliBurger restaurant launched the burger-making robot Flippy last year) but the technology it has in the works is worth bearing in mind, since it is likely going to have impacts on guest experience, food safety and employees’ perception of restaurant work. For instance, the restaurant is piloting a facial recognition payment system in partnership with NEC Corp. (facial recognition is already in use in the restaurant’s loyalty program). Its kiosks are also being enhanced to provide a one-on-one experience with the customer. While robots are replacing the jobs at hot grills and fryers, Miller said other kitchen jobs are being rebranded — instead of a “grill cook,” kitchen workers are called “chef techs”. He said the change to a tech focus is providing workers with gateways to higher-level jobs. At the same time, it is helping his restaurant manage kitchens more efficiently and protect the safety of food on the production line. The change could, helpfully, shift the more mundane or less safe jobs to technology. But the challenge for restaurants adapting to these changes, according to Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Future of Work,” will be to determine how to retrain employees for more sophisticated jobs in the industry.
Be more businesslike on Instagram
Does your restaurant have a business profile account on Instagram or a personal one? If it’s still a personal account, consider making a switch. You’ll be able to collect better data on how your followers are interacting with your content. A business profile account allows you to track the number of impressions, likes, comments and saves your content gets, as well as monitor the number of different accounts that see and interact with what you post. While some features carry a fee, they are likely to pay off as they make it easier for you to run ad campaigns and for followers to get in touch with you via a “contact” button (instead of having to scan your page for your web address).
Chemicals abound in and around your kitchen. Just don’t let them create a food safety problem. To avoid cross-contamination, Statefoodsafety.com advises you store chemicals away from food storage and contact areas, label all chemicals clearly and wash hands after handling them. In case of spillage, discard the excess chemical — don’t put it back into its original container. Be aware of any pesticides used on produce you buy and wash those ingredients or use other approved methods for removing pesticide residues. Also note that chemicals that may be in your cooking equipment and utensils: Avoid using copper, lead and pewter cookware and utensils, which can leach harmful chemicals into foods.
Participating in a farmer’s market can help you connect with your community year round, promote your support of local ingredients and help you test out potential menu items. It’s easy to fall short on food safety in casual market environments, though, so take care to protect your customers and your business from claims of foodborne illness. Ensure that those serving food have clean hands and fingernails, that they use gloves or tongs when handling food, and that they aren’t handling money and food at once. Take care to avoid cross-contaminating any utensils used to serve samples and food orders. The state of your booth is a reflection of your restaurant, so keep food preparation surfaces clean and dispose of used toothpicks or other utensils left behind. Finally, mind the temperature danger zone so you keep hot foods at 140˚F or hotter, cold foods at 40˚F or colder and frozen foods at 32˚F or colder.
Consumers have come to expect free wifi when they visit a restaurant — and chances are good that you offer it. But are you making the most of this valuable connection to your guests? For example, how can you collect useful insights (and make offers to help turn visitors into loyal guests) whenever someone logs in? How long do these guests stay and how can you make the most of the lulls that happen during the day? GoZone Wifi is one supplier that offers businesses marketing tools, guest analytics and the opportunity to earn income through targeted ads shown on their wifi network. If you’re currently offering wifi without collecting insights that could benefit your business, consider the potential benefits you could be generating when you make decisions about your internet service.
Seize your digital domain
What’s your digital game plan? Your digital strategy can help you elevate your brand far beyond the walls of your restaurant by enhancing your connections with existing guests and helping you attract new ones. What’s more, the restaurant brands that develop a digital strategy and support it with the infrastructure it needs are likely to open up a wide lead over competitors in the months ahead — while those that don’t are likely to see their guest engagement suffer. (For example, two brands with robust digital strategies, Domino’s and Panera, currently receive a large portion of their orders via digital — 60 percent and 25 percent, respectively.) That’s according to research shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference Trade Show in Orlando. To put the industry in perspective when it comes to digital, restaurants leading the pack in this area are spending 30 to 50 percent (and sometimes much more) of their marketing budgets on it. Of the digital tools restaurants are using to engage customers and generate data, the most important ones to focus on are the mobile app, loyalty program, online ordering capability and delivery strategy. It pays to play offense with digital as well, with restaurants actively using digital seeing 5 percent annual growth over the previous five-year period as opposed to 2 percent annual growth for brands using digital more defensively. That is making it important for restaurants to invest in technology platforms, hardware and software to support their digital strategy, though the proliferation of cloud-based services is helping to bring the overall costs of investment down. Just make sure your strategy considers the needs of your front-of-house and back-of-house operations, all while helping you keep your guests engaged.
Stay tuned for food delivery safety standards
At a time when third-party delivery is evolving in futuristic ways — like delivery by robot, or, if Uber’s three-year plans play out, by drone — it can be easy to neglect the most important elements of a delivered meal: food that tastes good and is safe to eat following its journey. The National Restaurant Association is taking steps to change that. It is assembling a group of food delivery services and restaurants to develop a code of best practices for keeping food safe during its delivery to the customer. Watch this space for more information when the practices are released.
Don’t be a rodent shelter this winter
As the weather cools and people are spending more time indoors to escape the cold, rodents want to do the same. Now is a good time to make sure your restaurant isn’t a haven for them all season. Total Food Service suggests you conduct routine inspections to identify holes, cracks or gaps around the exterior of your facility. Seal any cracks with weather-resistant sealant, plug holes with steel wool, and use weather stripping on doors and windows to prevent warm air from leaking out and attracting pests from outside. Finally, if you have plants and shrubs surrounding your facility, make sure there is space between them and your building — having a two-foot strip of gravel between your building and your outdoor plants can make it less convenient for rodents to access your facility. (Contact Team Four to learn more about services to help you save on pest control costs.)
Higher standards for high chairs
As Millennial customers become parents, you will likely be serving more babies in your restaurant. If you’re in need of new high chairs, note some pending federal standards designed to improve the safety of high chairs made and/or sold in the United States. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) approved the standards, which are intended to enhance chair stability, provide warning labels and improve restraint systems. (Between 2011 and 2016, there were an estimated 18,500 high-chair-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in the U.S., according to the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Of that number, an estimated 1,600 resulted from incidents that occurred in restaurants.) While the new standards, which go into effect in mid-June, don’t require restaurants to use high chairs that meet the new standards, keep them in mind when replacing old chairs — and be able to answer questions guests may ask about them.
Alexa, remind me to bring dessert menus to table 9
The hospitality technology company SevenRooms is looking to bring the voice-enabled power of Amazon’s Alexa to restaurants. Skift reports that the company, which just invested in an Amazon fund earmarked for the development of Alexa in restaurants, is partnering with Amazon to develop technology that will allow operators to use voice commands during service, access guest profiles and preferences, and streamline table service with reminders. The company hopes to offer the service to its restaurant customers in 2019.
Protect your water supply
As another powerful hurricane season passes by, the dangers to your business don’t necessarily go away once the storms pass. In the wake of a natural disaster, remember to protect the safety of your water supply. A severe disaster can cause toxins, chemicals and other debris to contaminate the public water system, especially if a tidal surge or flood accompanies the storm. Until your area health department confirms that tap water can be used for drinking, use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. In the absence of bottled water, boiling your tap water will kill most disease-causing organisms that might be present. (Once the water has boiled, let it cool and store it in clean, covered containers.) If you have a well that has been flooded during a storm, the FDA advises you disinfect and test it once the flood water has receded. In the case you suspect your well may be contaminated, contact your state or local health department for specific guidance -- and in the meantime, do not use your tap water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food or to make ice. Finally, while it’s important to get your water tested following a major storm to help make sure you are using water that is safe for drinking, cooking and washing dishes, a test conducted today does not determine the safety of your water tomorrow. A point-of-entry water purification system can provide even greater assurance — immediately before you use your water supply each time — that the water you are using is safe.
The power of the freebie
If you operate a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant and are eager to see a quick boost in downloads of your restaurant app, take note: A number of large brands have seen their downloads skyrocket in recent months by offering a small free item. QSR Magazine reports that when McDonald’s offered free medium fries in exchange for a download of their app plus a $1 purchase, it jumped 56 places to become the No. 2 app on the U.S. App Store within a week — and Dairy Queen, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A experienced similar jumps in engagement. While it remains to be seen how successful these brands will be at retaining the consumers they have enticed, it shows how much mileage a simple free item can get you when you’re looking to build (and better understand) your consumer base.
Bring out their best behavior
As the holidays approach and you prepare to hire additional staff, it’s a good time to refine your onboarding processes to ensure you and your new employees have a clear shared understanding of how you operate and what behaviors are important to you. The Rail suggests having a behavior contract in place to help you clarify your expectations with your team. (Though avoid one Florida operator’s punitive approach, which included a contract listing monetary penalties for such employee infractions as having a cell phone out during work hours.) Instead, consider having your team sign a document in which they agree to give their best effort regarding certain behaviors central to your brand and financial stability, such as greeting guests when they enter or depart, leaving their phone in the car during work hours, or committing to being thoughtful about the amount of napkins, straws or other operating supplies offered. Having clear expectations at the outset provides a foundation upon which to have coaching conversations about performance areas that need to be corrected later. When you need to have those conversations, follow through by documenting the problem, explaining what needs to be corrected, and providing clear consequences that are in line with the magnitude of the problem. Miracle Restaurant Group has a guide to progressive discipline that includes such steps as an oral warning, written warning, suspension and separation, as well as a matrix listing a range of behaviors that can result in various consequences. It advises that operators choose the level of discipline with care so it is appropriate to the situation and is consistent with their actions in similar situations with other team members.
Tech to attract hungry guests in your neighborhood
Technology is increasingly making it possible for restaurant brands to successfully play matchmaker with guests looking for a place to eat. Geofencing is allowing a number of brands to identify when their loyal guests are in the vicinity — then making it worth their while to visit. Tavern in the Square uses its geofencing feature to identify loyalty program members within a set radius of the restaurant, then send limited-time discounts. One recent buy-one-get-one-half-price offer boosted sales by 50 percent in one day. OpenTable is now making a play to help a lot more restaurants accomplish this sort of feat. Skift Table reports that the online reservations company found that 25 percent of its bookings were happening within 90 minutes of their seating time. Their goal is to become more of a recommendation engine, so a sushi lover who uses the site is more apt to get Japanese restaurants and offers on his list of top recommendations.
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.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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