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.
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.
Prevent cross-contamination from allergens
Even food establishments who respond carefully when guests alert them to allergies can face trouble when trace amounts of allergens find their way into foods. Allergens are a key focus for the Food Safety and Modernization Act and are the leading cause of food recalls, according to a report in Food Safety magazine. The report notes that between 2005 and 2014, 12 million lbs. of food product was recalled due to undeclared allergens, many of which were present because of cross-contact.
Manufacturers and suppliers are in the hot seat when it comes to protecting consumers from allergens, but everyone in the supply chain needs to have controls in place. To protect your facility, Food Safety magazine recommends isolating tools used with allergens or color-coding them, which can help in case of language barriers on your kitchen team and can also make it readily evident when an item is misplaced. Designate specific cleaning equipment, tools and rags for use only on certain equipment or at certain times. Understand the proper protocols for ensuring that the residue of common allergens is thoroughly cleaned from hands and equipment. (For example, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a study found that running water and soap or commercial wipes can clean peanuts from a person’s hands but antibacterial gels alone will not work. Further, common household spray cleaners and sanitizing wipes could clean peanut residue from surfaces but dishwashing liquid alone could not do it.)
Finally, store allergens in clean, airtight containers away from other foods. If you don’t have sufficient room in your facility for segregated storage, ensure that any foods containing allergens are not stored above non-allergens. Use internationally recognized allergen stickers or color-coding to set these containers apart.
Improving food safety through the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things – the evolving ability of everyday objects to connect to the Internet and communicate with each other – is rapidly showing new applications in the food industry when it comes to ensuring food quality and safety, Hospitality Technology reports. Kitchen equipment fitted with sensors already helps operators ensure food is stored and cooked at the proper temperature. From there, the Internet of Things can help operators make greater use of sensor data by showing them how to optimize their energy use and reduce unplanned downtime in the kitchen.
The benefits are even greater when it comes to the broader supply chain. Hospitality Technology reports that an RFID tag on a case of food could connect to temperature sensors on a truck to ensure the package has been kept at the appropriate temperature throughout its journey, for example. A restaurant could tie its inventory back to records from the distributor to get a complete picture of a product’s life cycle. Further, when recalls interrupt day-to-day operations, operators can receive USDA alerts and advisories so they can quickly identify the origins of contamination and pull products from shelves without delay.
Within foodservice establishments, the Internet of Things can help ensure kitchen staff follow proper protocols for cooking, food storage and handwashing. Via a digital dashboard, operators can see where training is needed or where procedures are falling short. Most operators have not yet taken advantage of these benefits, but as the supply chain grows in complexity, look for the Internet of Things to help you manage food safety from both a prevention and traceability standpoint.
Big-time tech for small restaurants
If you’re a small operation, bringing the latest technology into your restaurant may seem out of reach. But now the company behind Subway’s mobile ordering platform is making that functionality possible for smaller restaurants, Fast Company reports. Avanti Commerce is now able to have a restaurant of any size use its platform, along with the majority of enterprise features and functions it offers, for $125 a month. The restaurant can be in any location and have any amount of traffic. The one caveat is that it must have five locations or more. Assuming the launch with small restaurants goes well, Avanti’s CEO hopes to expand the platform to food trucks as well.
Fresh seafood, from ship to shore
Is your seafood really fresh? A new handheld screening and data collection device developed by Seafood Analytics can say for sure. Food Safety Tech reports that the device uses electrical currents to determine the quality of seafood products at the cellular level. It can measure how much the cells of a fish change between catch and freezing or catch and consumption, for example. Having that information can help everyone along the supply chain better manage factors including inventory, inbound supplier selection and price. The report says Seafood Analytics is currently developing a Certified Quality Seafood Certification that would serve as a seal of approval for suppliers to use (and end users to seek out) to separate the fresh seafood from the not-so-fresh.
Technology raises the bar
The bar is the latest place to make the most of technology in an effort to accommodate rising labor costs and evolving consumer preferences. Pour-your-own facilities are making it possible for consumers to try a taste of a beer, wine, cocktail, Kombucha or cold-brewed coffee that they might not commit to if they had to purchase it in larger quantities. (For example, Restaurant Business reports that Tapster in Chicago offers a tap card, which is linked to the guest’s credit card and charges them by the ounce for beverages at any of 62 different taps on offer.) Other facilities are using actual robots in place of bartenders to measure shots. But as tech takes the place of humans in some areas, it makes them more important in other areas, such as bussing glasses, helping guests use equipment, or even offering classes to teach guests more about the making of beverages currently on trend.
Avocado breeding helps ensure year-round access from within U.S.
Take one look at social media and you’ll see avocados everywhere – the recently opened Avocaderia in Brooklyn, N.Y. has even gambled that consumers will support a restaurant concept centered around the versatile green fruit. NPR reports that Americans consumed two billion lbs. of avocados last year, two-thirds of which were imported, mostly from Mexico. But the uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement has made the future of avocados in the U.S. uncertain too. Fortunately, researchers in California may have found a solution just in time, with three new varieties that make a great guacamole, are easy to peel and can withstand the winter frost and summer heat of California’s central valley. (Existing varieties require milder growing conditions.) Further developing these varieties – dubbed GEM, which is already available, Lunchbox, and a third yet-to-be-named variety – could ensure that Americans have year-round access to avocados.
An innovator trusts (too much?) the power of Instagram
Taco Bell is a brand standout for its innovation capabilities – and Instagram is a major inspiration. Business Insider reports that the brand, which is constantly aiming to develop concepts that will generate buzz online, monitors the most-Instagrammed menu items in an effort to create tasty foods that are as photogenic as possible. But success is not all about looks, as it turns out. When Taco Bell launched its new Naked Chicken Chalupa earlier this year, the brand eschewed traditional media advertising and instead relied on pop-up launch parties around the country, where they provided lights and other visual props to encourage consumers to take social media-worthy photos of their Chalupa, then share them (on Instagram, of course). Consumers and media responded passionately, though not altogether positively – and Taco Bell pulled the item from its menu soon after.
Could technology help you make front-of-house improvements?
Where are your front-of-house pain points? Chances are, technology can help. Long wait times? FSR magazine suggests CAKE’s guest management and point-of-sale platforms, which allow a restaurant to issue guests a wait time and call them on their cell when their table is ready, freeing guests to wander before their meal. (Having that cell number also helps the restaurant build loyalty by recognizing guests and their commonly ordered items.) Inconsistent performance across locations? Mirus Restaurant Solutions can help measure guest feedback and a wide array of data to create a report card for servers, managers, operators or the company overall. For example, servers’ tips on charged transactions can be tracked and ranked so you can see where more training may be needed.
Choose the right full-service payment technology
Payment technology is changing too quickly for many restaurants to keep up. There are many routes to take – and a number of problems with them, according to FSR magazine. For example, you could tweak your existing payment technology with add-on functionality, but saving short-term costs could lead you to a large, expensive overhaul later. You could develop a smartphone app, but many guests still resist paying this way due to the appearance of security risks. You could attach devices to your tabletops, but many guests miss the human interaction and want their meals to be tech-free. You may get the most advantages with mobile devices that servers can bring to guests’ tables, FSR magazine says. Your guests get human interaction, plus the security of having a mini point-of-sale system delivered to their table when it’s time to pay.
Crowdsource your restaurant launch
Opening a restaurant can be a recipe for racking up debt, but the operators who launched Prequel in Washington, D.C. avoided taking out high-interest loans and instead relied on crowdfunding to bankroll their enterprise in its early stages. Civil Eats reports that the operators raised $350,000 in cash by selling gift cards to future customers before the restaurant even opened. Now they have launched a company, InKind, to help other restaurants benefit from their crowdfunding model. Restaurants that meet InKind’s criteria for community support (e.g. more than 1,000 likes on Facebook and a 500-person email list) can apply for funding and receive money quickly, then pay InKind back with high-amount gift cards for future guests.
A restaurant goes viral – by design
Laureen Moyal of Paperwhite Studio has helped New York restaurants increase their online followers exponentially – and all through branding tweaks that have made them Instagram hits. Grub Street reports that Moyal designed sugar packets with sayings like “Love you a latte” for the restaurant Jack’s Wife Freda, for example, as well as paper menus that serve as placemats (and are a natural backdrop for the photos guests take of their food and then post to Instagram). Jack’s Wife Freda now has 120,000 followers on the site – far beyond those of popular restaurants nearby – and its digital success has landed the restaurant a cookbook deal. (That’s getting some play on Instagram too.)
Restaurant-style innovation at the grocery store
Looking to keep tabs on the competition? In addition to knowing what your neighborhood restaurants offer, check out businesses like Whole Foods, which continues to evolve. A new Whole Foods opened last month in Chicago and according to Restaurant Business, the business is hardly just a grocery store, with bars (visitors can sit down or bring their drinks with them while they shop), a coffee roastery, seating for more than 200, a fresh pasta stand, a build-your-own concept, food and drink from upscale brands and a dizzying array of prepared foods that include everything from gelato to mochi to buffalo wings.
Why hasn’t fast-casual pasta taken off?
For many foods, the transition from casual dining to fast-casual is smooth – burgers, pizza, no problem. But Eater reports that pasta has struggled to break into the national consciousness as a fast-casual concept. That’s due to a number of factors, including the emotions associated with pasta – warmth, family and togetherness – which can get lost when you’re trying to serve pasta at lightning speed. What’s more, pasta is ill-equipped to be prepared in advance, suffering in texture and taste if left out too long before serving. And while pasta itself is inexpensive, the parmesan, tomatoes, pork and other items that accompany it can lift the price of a dish out of fast-casual territory. But Technomic’s Darren Tristano thinks there could still be potential for operators to succeed with it – especially if they focus on accompaniments like adult beverages and desserts.
Be street smart
Street food is in a sweet spot. It’s inspiring a lot of operators to develop street food-inspired menu additions. Datassential reports that the word “street” has increased 40 percent on menus in the past four years and “street tacos” has skyrocketed 200 percent in the same period. Street food also provides an opening for you to add global tastes to your menu. If you’re looking for some options ripe for expansion in the U.S., Datassential suggests street food favorites like yakitori, the Japanese meat skewers grilled over a charcoal flame, Singapore curry puffs with potatoes, herbs, spices, chicken and egg, or Hungarian kolbice, a bread cone stuffed with sausage, cheese and roasted onions.
Nuts and seeds are already a go-to snack for the health-conscious, supplying protein along with an energy boost. Mintel predicts that those benefits are now helping nuts and seeds move more deeply into snack foods and across day parts as well, popping up in breakfast foods and salads more frequently. Food producers are expanding their use of nuts and seeds as protein-rich ingredients in crackers, vegan cheese, yogurt and oatmeal.
Ag leaders ask Congress to boost funding for food safety
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is imploring Congress to increase funding to make it possible for states to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Dive reports. The agency says state governments need an additional $100 million annually, including $40 million to protect produce safety, $20 million for preventive controls for animal food and $40 million for preventive controls for human food.
Food truck food safety has financial benefits too
Food Safety Magazine says as the number of people eating at food trucks continues to climb, food truck drivers are traveling longer distances, expanding hours of operation and working at a variety of events – all potential food safety challenges. To manage food safety, many drivers are using commissaries as their base of operation – that could include a commercial kitchen, restaurant, shared-use kitchen or other foodservice operation licensed and inspected by the local health department or a state agency like the department of health or agriculture. Commissaries provide a range of benefits, including storage space for items purchased in bulk, a central reporting location for employees to share information, restrooms and handwashing facilities, a temperature-controlled environment to reduce food spoilage, and conveniently scheduled food delivery.
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.
Shift seamlessly into a higher minimum wage
The start of 2017 meant an increase in the minimum wage in 19 states and a number of municipalities, with more increases expected in the next couple of years. How does a restaurant operator cope? Restaurant Hospitality recommends you take these steps: Cross-train your team, especially back-of-house employees. You will then have fewer people doing more (but higher-value) work. Then train those employees and encourage their input so they feel valued and stay. You can also adjust schedules and pay periods – try a two-week schedule instead of a one-week schedule to minimize shift switching and overtime, and shift pay periods to start midweek so instead of breaking overtime during busy weekend periods, you’re doing it when it’s easier to cut back.
What’s your overhead?
It’s hard to know how profitable you are if you’re not calculating your overhead accurately. Toast recommends you calculate it by collecting your indirect costs for a specific time period (e.g. rent, wages, utilities, advertising) and divide it by an allocation measure for the same time period (e.g. the total number of scheduled labor hours for the month). Then, reduce your overhead by cutting back on labor costs during slow periods where possible, swapping out legacy technology for newer technology that will be less expensive in the long run, reducing waste with a smart inventory system, subleasing space and asking staff where they see opportunities to improve practices.
Supermarkets step up their prepared meal game
As supermarkets become centers for fresh prepared food for people on the go, they’re proving to be worthy competition for restaurants. Now the Wegman’s supermarket chain is launching prepared Power Meals, nutritious combinations of main dishes and sides that might inspire (or compete with) restaurant operators. Each of the eight meals in Wegman’s Power Meals line has a maximum of 600 calories, 25 grams or more of protein, at least 5 grams of fiber, fewer than 1,000 mg of sodium, fewer than 10 grams of added sugar and at least one cup of vegetables, Food Dive reports. Priced between $8 and $15, the meals include entrée selections like kung pao chicken, king salmon tataki and tuna poke.
Technology can boost your wine sales
Looking to kick your wine list up a notch? Technology can help. Datassential says that even if you don’t have your food menu on a tablet, you can put your wine list on one, which makes it possible to update your inventory in real time – and avoid having to reprint your list throughout the week. A wine list app can suggest wines based on preferred flavors, prices and styles or even suggest a good pairing based on the dishes your table orders. These apps may help you tell the wine’s story by providing background videos about its makers, for example, or the origin of its grapes.
There’s no doubt restaurant delivery is taking off – and this year, much of that growth is coming from restaurants lacking a storefront. These restaurants are popping up across the country, according to a new report in Fast Company, and because they don’t need as many staff or as much square footage to operate, they’re cutting back on the costs that traditional restaurants must manage and benefiting from economies of scale. Delivery-only operators are seeing additional benefits too, notably the ability to quickly switch out a menu that isn’t working and offer a wider variety of food. For example, the foodservice company Green Summit operates a number of delivery-only brands. Peter Schatzberg, Green Summit’s cofounder, said when poke became popular, they could quickly jump on the trend because most ingredients were already available in-house for the company’s existing sushi concept.
Vegetables can be comforting!
Vegetarian comfort food is on the rise – and no, that’s not an oxymoron. As vegetables continue to appear in the center of the dinner plate, chefs are finding creative ways to disguise veggies as their guests’ favorite comfort foods. In an interview with Forbes about the top food trends of the year, Michael Whiteman, food consultant and president of Baum + Whiteman restaurant and hotel consultancy, said operators can expect more guests to order mashed cauliflower in place of rice or pasta, for example, or even vegetable-based crust on a pizza.
The return of a flavorful tomato?
Modern tomatoes have lost their flavor as growers have bred them to a size and strength ideal for shipping. But one professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, Harry J. Klee, thinks he has found a way to bring the taste back to tomatoes while retaining the traits that make them ship well, the New York Times reports. According to the journal Science, Dr. Klee and his colleagues have identified flavor chemicals deficient in modern tomatoes, along with heirloom and wild varieties of tomatoes that produce better versions of these genes. The research is ongoing but Klee thinks he can produce tastier tomatoes for more widespread consumption in two years’ time.
Economic survivors: steak and seafood restaurants
Looking for a restaurant business that can weather the economic conditions that challenge most operators? Consider steakhouses – or upscale restaurants that combine steak and seafood. Technomic’s Darren Tristano says these operations succeed because they draw affluent guests who are in search of a premium meal and are willing to add alcohol to their tabs. And because the economy is currently in good shape, these restaurants will draw business groups as well as guests celebrating a special occasion. It’s important for these operators to focus on quality beef and sustainable seafood, and in the case of seafood, to offer it at a range of price points to make it more approachable to guests.
Prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen sink
Your restaurant’s kitchen sink can be a source for cross-contamination of food. The U.S. Deapartment of Health and Human Services recommends you take steps to prevent it. Namely, be sure to wash your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds. Wash fruits and vegetables before you peel them and do not wash meat, poultry or eggs.
Plan ahead for a smooth tech rollout
Are you rolling out new technology in 2017? In an FSR report, Lee Leet, founder of restaurant technology firm QSR Automations, recommends operators take steps to ensure a smooth transition: First, ask yourself if the technology addresses your biggest pain points – and how you’ll quantify its success, whether in increased table turns or other objectives. The provider should have a thorough implementation plan, access to training, references and experience. Identify key stakeholders, from employees to executives to your bank, and communicate with them clearly about the rollout. As you develop an implementation timeline, consider the big days ahead for your business and time required for testing. When you communicate about the rollout, clarify what tools will change, what processes will be updated, how the change will help employees perform better, and what the expected timeline is. Once you have implemented the change and trained people, analyze the results and adjust accordingly.
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.
Play some pricing tricks
Between rising labor costs and declining restaurant visits, you may feel pressure to raise prices. Profitable Hospitality suggests these strategies to boost sales: Decoy pricing, or selling one item at a high price, can increase the perceived value of other items. Prestige pricing, inflating prices to indicate higher quality, can work if you also boost the quality of the presentation or packaging. Nine and zero pricing sends a message about value and quality – price an entrée at $15.99 to highlight a bargain or a steak at $30 to demonstrate quality. Middle pricing – providing small, medium and large sizes/prices – can help you steer guests toward the middle price point because it’s not too cheap and not too expensive. Bundle pricing can also work with groups – tempt them with a wine and dessert package or a birthday party package and ensure the items you bundle also appear individually on the menu so guests notice the cost savings.
Boost your online reputation
If a restaurant earns a half-star improvement in an online review, it is 30 to 49 percent more likely to sell out its evening seats, according to economic research cited in FSR magazine. Manage your online reputation by taking these steps recommended in the report: Polish your online image with attractive photos and detailed menus, and maintain your listings on websites like Yelp, Google, OpenTable, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Zomato. Encourage happy customers to post reviews online, which boosts your restaurant in web search results. When guests do leave reviews (positive or negative), respond to them all – whether personally, via a marketing firm or through an automated platform. Your responses are opportunities to focus readers on the positive, subtly market your restaurant’s menu and promotions, and increase your chances of having guests return. Of course, reinforce your online presence by providing a solid in-person customer experience. Ensure you have some mechanism for collecting feedback – once hundreds of customers weigh in, you have actionable insight to help you improve.
What’s all the noise about?
If your restaurant creates a little too much buzz, literally, try making some adjustments. Research conducted by an Oxford University experimental psychology professor found that loud noise can impact people’s ability to taste food, USA Today reports. Loud volume can diminish sweet and salty flavors, while intensifying extra-savory flavors like those of bacon or mushrooms, for example. Beverages are affected too – the research found that loud noise makes it harder for guests to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail and therefore how they think it tastes. If you need to turn the volume down, consider installing noise-absorbing ceiling panels, investing in a quality sound system that makes it easier to improve your atmosphere without adding noise, and conducting hourly noise checks to ensure your guests aren’t having to yell at each other across the table in order to be heard.
The chefs have spoken – top food trends for 2017
The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation to get their take on 2017’s hottest food trends. They just released the top-10 results, which include new cuts of meat, street-food-inspired dishes, healthy kids’ meals, house-made charcuterie as a cured-meat version of the cheese plate, sustainable seafood, ethnic-inspired breakfast items, house-made condiments, authentic ethnic cuisine, heirloom produce, and
African flavors and ingredients. How many of these items are appearing on your menu in the New Year?
Coffee and cocktails…why not?
It seems coffee cocktails are popping up more frequently on menus lately as both a winter warmer and as vehicle for a showy tableside presentations. Consider Chicago-area Carlucci’s Restaurant and Bar, which offers a tableside service where they light Grand Marnier on fire, sprinkle it with cinnamon to create sparks, then combine it with coffee and Bailey’s in a mug rimmed with crystallized cinnamon and sugar. Expect more alcoholic coffee concoctions to go mainstream in the coming months, considering Starbucks announced at its recent investor day that it would feature a mixology section in its large new location in New York City.
New national seafood program holds imports to higher standard
Stricter safeguards now protect the seafood you import. President Obama just announced the launch of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which will require “at-risk” seafood imported into the United States to be tracked to its source and labeled properly, according to Seafood Source. Past studies have concluded that about one-third of market and restaurant seafood products were mislabeled and up to one-third of the wild-caught seafood imported to the U.S. is acquired through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While environmental groups say the protections must expand to include the full supply chain, the program promises to at least hold imported seafood to the same standard as domestically caught seafood, helping American fishermen and reducing consumer risk.
If you can’t beat meal kits…
Some restaurant brands are joining the trend to avoid having the services eat into their profits, Restaurant Business reports. Cracker Barrel offered heat-and-serve meals as a takeout option over Thanksgiving, and the hot dog chain Portillo’s has launched a subscription meal service. For $365 a year, their customers receive a partially cooked meal mailed to their home every other month. Their meal for January is an Italian Beef Sandwich Deluxe Package includes two pans of beef, two containers of gravy and eight rolls, for example.
USDA study finds low pesticide levels in U.S. foods
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced that its Pesticide Data Program, which collects data each year on pesticide residues in food, determined that 99 percent of produce samples it studied across the U.S. have low pesticide levels. The Pesticide Date Program, which has been in operation for 25 years, collected samples from 10 states across the country in 2015 to determine pesticide levels in a wide variety of foods including apples, cucumbers, spinach and peanut butter, to name a few. The pesticide levels are based on limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which Food Safety News reports are the strictest in the world. Residues exceeding the EPA’s levels were found in 54 samples, or less than 1 percent of the samples tested.
Make hay with your hashtags
Just about every day, there’s an occasion people recognize on social media with a hashtag, whether to build awareness of an important cause or to simply have fun. You can use these hashtag holidays to build your brand. Sprout Social recommends you first determine how relevant the hashtag holiday is to your brand – it should build rapport with your audience and not annoy them. Is the correct hashtag being used? If you have a list of hashtag holidays you’d like to promote, try plugging them into Sprout’s Twitter Listening Report to see which occasions generated the most volume and shares and to make sure you’re using the most widely used version of a hashtag. Finally, does the hashtag holiday overlap with other major holidays or events that are central to your brand? Check your calendar and prioritize before you post.
Amazon tests tech-enabled grab-and-go concept
Chef-prepared breakfasts, lunches and dinners with no cashiers or check-out lines. This is Amazon’s new grab-and-go food concept – a hybrid of a grocery store, meal kit service and quick-service restaurant. Customers use a smartphone app to gain entry to an 1,800-square-foot facility called Amazon Go that lets them collect the groceries and ready-to-eat foods they want, then leave, reports Restaurant Business. All costs are calculated and charged through the app. Ready-made foods include salads, sandwiches and baked goods prepared onsite and displayed in cases much like those in Pret A Manger, the report says. Amazon meal kits will also be available for purchase. This concept is currently in a test phase – Amazon says it intends to build 20 supermarket-style facilities.
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