Consumers, increasingly, want to know the truth behind the food they eat. It isn’t always a pretty story: A new study published in The BMJ traced the longterm effects of fried foods and, while it’s no shock to hear that these foods aren’t healthy, the study found some alarming connections between fried foods and mortality. Upon studying 20 years’ worth of data about U.S. women aged 50 to 79, the study’s authors found that people who reported eating at least one serving of fried food daily had an 8 percent chance of dying early and an 8 percent higher chance of dying from cardiovascular disease specifically. So what is a foodservice operation to do? Taco Bell’s first-ever in-house dietician, Missy Schaaphok, has some ideas — and is proof that quick-service brands can continue to serve their core customers while improving their efforts to tell a healthier story. A Skift Table report indicates Schaaphok has been working to transform the brand’s image from a place where people cave to indulgences in fried food to one where vegetarians, flexitarians, or people looking for lower-fat, lower-calorie or other healthier options can find something they like. Her focus is in making “stealth health” upgrades — evaluating the nutritional content of menu items, improving on what exists and introducing new menu items. She has already eliminated artificial colors and flavors from the menu, as well as high-fructose corn syrup — and is working to reduce sodium content too. She is now working on the brand’s first dedicated vegetarian menu, which is set to launch later this year.
If you offer your guests free wifi, you could be collecting valuable data as a result. Are you? As NextRestaurants reports, your wifi marketing can take off if you ask guests connecting to your wifi to log in using their email address or social media account information as opposed to a universal password. While it may feel Big Brotherish to some, this system can help you forge stronger connections with visitors who log in. (Upon signing on, visitors are taken to a landing page where you can offer them a discount on food or drink, or introduce them to your loyalty program.) This system can give you a much deeper understanding of who your guests are, how often they come and how long they stay, and what your most popular days and times are — particularly if you are able to integrate this data with your POS and build targeted marketing campaigns from it. (Need a wifi solution? Team Four can help with that, contact us anytime).
Having an up-to-date food safety plan has benefits beyond preventing foodborne illness and cross-contamination. It’s also an important factor in saving money and demonstrating your accountability. As the food safety software firm Focus Works points out, having a food safety plan can ensure you’re storing and processing foods in ways that lead to less waste, so you won’t have to discard contaminated food that isn’t safe to serve. Further, if and when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs and your operation is named as a potential source, your staff training logs and other records can help back you up in court, demonstrating your commitment to running a safe operation.
Is oat milk on your menu? It is fast becoming the dairy alternative of the year, with PepsiCo launching an oat beverage under it Quaker brand and many restaurants embracing it as a creamier, high-fiber alternative to regular milk — and the consensus is that its taste far surpasses other nondairy options available. While the trend has hit coffee shops already, oat milk is not just for the coffee menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that it is appearing in meal-replacement beverages like the Big Date (a blend of dates, cocoa nibs, banana, vanilla whey protein and oat milk at Chicago’s Protein Bar). It can also boost the flavor and nutrient profile of pancakes, pudding and ice cream.
Consumers tend to focus on negative reviews. As the New York Times article “You Can’t Really Trust Negative Reviews” points out, such reviews may help us better “understand risk and reduce our losses.” But on the flip side, such reviews may include inaccurate or vague recollections, represent a small cross section of guests, or be downright fraudulent. They also make it more difficult for restaurant operators to make amends. Hospitality Tech advises operators to use their own technology to quiet the noise of large online review sites. Prompt guests for feedback immediately after the meal, then share that feedback immediately with the pertinent people involved. Soon you’ll have hundreds of reviews at your fingertips (not just a handful of extreme reviews on Yelp). Connect those reviews with a server, product, and time of day and you will quickly be able to see patterns — and get a more accurate idea of what needs attention. You’ll be able to update menu items more confidently, adjust staff training, better reward great service and potentially resolve guest complaints before a guest even leaves your restaurant, salvaging your relationship with that person.
A number of food industry analysts are looking at 2019 as a turning point for plant-based meats. One in three American consumers is a flexitarian, according to a recent study from OnePoll, and while the Big Mac is hardly going away, plant-based (and even patty-free) options are appearing on menus with greater frequency as more consumers adopt vegetarian or flexitarian diets. A confluence of factors are driving the trend, from an increased consumer focus on eating more organic or natural foods, to greater interest in the treatment of animals, to health concerns. There are a number of ways you can make your menu more pleasing to flexitarians without disappointing the carnivores in your midst. First, make your meat count. If a flexitarian is eating meat just once or twice a week, it’s got to be a special: a petit filet mignon, premium-quality bacon, house-ground brisket. Second, break beyond the usual suspects. There are some tired plant-based menu items out there. Pasta primavera is but one — and it’s not likely you’ll lure flexitarians or vegetarians unless you have more creative tricks up your sleeve. Add some options or make your existing options stand out from those of competitors. Finally, while there is a place for a meatless burger made from plants in disguise, simple vegetables (done well) can stand their ground at the center of the plate. As Hamilton Beach Commerical points out, the vegan, raw, six-course tasting menu at Washington, D.C.’s Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is one example. A recent menu included pink banana squash soup with sage crème fraîche, curry spaghetti squash and turmeric ginger foam; and cauliflower panna cotta with seaweed caviar, parsnip celeriac crème, black garlic chips and shaved persimmon. Not a Portobello burger in sight.
Partner with your POS
What does your POS data tell you about the flow of guests visiting you each day? Do you have a large lunch crowd on Fridays? A reliable happy hour business on Thursdays? A steady stream of snackers all day? Use this data to empower your team. Cake suggests scheduling shift changes so they don’t overlap with your busiest times (e.g. if 12-3pm is busy, schedule a shift that runs from 1-4). If you have regulars on these days, learn their names and (with help from your POS) food preferences quickly. Using your data can ensure you’re less harried when guests arrive, can help you personalize the experience for them and reveal what foods might be most enticing for them to add to an order if you make a suggestion.
The beginning of the year is a good time to fortify your business for busier times of year and clear the clutter that doesn’t work. If you have old equipment that is difficult to clean, it may be time for a replacement — or at least a careful cleaning, which can help extend its use. For any appliances that are cleaned in place, Statefoodsafety.com advises you to remind your team to turn off and unplug the item prior to cleaning, and wash and rinse the outside and then underneath it to prevent contamination. Any removable parts should be cleaned and sanitized, either by soaking them in a solution or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Air dry all parts, since wiping with a cloth can spread bacteria, and then put the item back together, wiping and resanitizing any surfaces that may have gotten contaminated during the assembly.
The state of your glassware can tell a story about your restaurant, sending a (usually not-so-good) message to your guests about your attention to detail. Glassware with a gray film or limescale deposits can indicate that your water hasn’t been properly treated. If your glassware has an odd odor, it’s a sign that you may need to store it in a different place or rinse it before use. Your washing methods are important too. Hospitality and Catering News suggests you use a short, gentle, not-too-hot cycle to minimize cloudy buildup on glasses, and ensure your washer can hold glasses in place and at an angle so they can drain properly and won’t come into contact with other glasses or dishes during the wash.
As delivery continues its rise (Statista forecasts an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent for the U.S. market) it’s becoming increasingly important for restaurants to be able to manage order streams from both inside and outside the operation. Your kitchen management system can help future-proof your business by displaying multiple streams of traffic, using touchscreen technology to help you communicate between the front and back of house, and quoting accurate waiting times for customers based on the bandwidth of your kitchen. If you’re in the market for a tech upgrade, you can find systems to accommodate your desire for customization: There are systems that can be adapted to the pacing of your operation (TouchBistro is a top-rated one), whether you have a flurry of small plates coming from your kitchen throughout the evening or entrées for a group of 20.
Should you hear from guests worried about the safety of their food now or in the future, would you know how to respond? Wendy’s, for one, made a statement that it had safety protocols in place that exceeded FDA standards anyway, implying that the risk to their food supply was minimal. Could you make a similar statement about your operation? If not, it’s an ideal time to take steps to bolster your food safety program. Can you incorporate more technology in place of pencil-and-paper processes? Digital processes can bring efficiencies to your inventory management, auditing and training practices, and better manage the potential for human error, which can all impact your food safety. Can you eliminate hard-copy records from your operation in favor of electronic records that are easy to access and analyze? Can you enhance your kitchen’s connectivity with sensors that can alert you remotely when appliances aren’t keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures? While you’re likely not waiting for inspections to force changes to your food safety protocols, the key lesson for restaurant operators may be that it really is up to them — not outside authorities — to fortify food safety controls that protect guests.
On the heels of the much-loved avocado, beets are becoming another “it” vegetable, inspiring dishes across menu categories and even serving as the foundation of emerging restaurant concepts. The nutrient-dense beet has appeared on a number of trend lists this year and has been noted for not just its eye-catching color but also for its ability to work in both savory and sweet dishes: The red or gold varieties combine well with lentils in a Buddha bowl or with quinoa in a vegetable-based burger, while they can also lend rich color to smoothies or even chocolate cake.
For the all-powerful millennial and Gen Z guest, it’s no longer enough for restaurants to offer a healthy menu and run an employee-friendly operation. These consumers also think about their impact on the environment and look to support businesses that try to minimize their carbon footprint. There is increasing power in using local, seasonal ingredients — as well as suppliers who share those values — and then promoting that to your guests. This goes not just for produce but for pantry staples as well, since the carbon footprint of these ingredients can be surprisingly significant. For a sense of how your menu ingredients stack up, check out the tool listed in this report from the BBC. It can help you analyze ingredients from apples to wine for their impact on the environment. For a deeper dive and a better sense of the normal environmental impact of other businesses in your industry, look to Blue Star Integrative Studio, a green business and building evaluation firm that Fast Company reports has developed its own method of tracking restaurant and supply chain emissions — then comparing the result to typical competitors in the industry. The Carbon Disclosure Project, which launched an initiative that Darden Restaurants joined, and the Climate Change Registry may offer you some helpful guidance too.
Interested in enhancing your menu with vegetables that have a long growing season, are sustainably raised without fertilizers or herbicides, offer appealing flavor and nutritional benefits, and are also on trend? Sea vegetables are rapidly rising in popularity. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the consumption of seaweed is growing 7 percent each year in the U.S., according to James Griffin of Johnson & Wales University. Some of the world’s top restaurants have incorporated the sea vegetable, in both fresh and dried forms, into their menus in surprising ways: Consider the sea lettuce cookie amuse bouche at Chicago’s Smyth.
You know the importance of handwashing. But as restaurants become increasingly reliant on tablets and other mobile devices to manage everything from inventory to delivery orders, an employee’s hands are only as clean as the device he is using. If your team uses technology (and related mobile devices and touch screens) to process orders and payments and manage other day-to-day operations, it’s critical to have a clear protocol for cleaning and handling those items. They’re not
designed to be cleaned easily and they’re prime carriers of bacteria that could spread contamination.
The temperature of your ice machine is well within the safety zone but it’s still a source of contamination when not cleaned and managed carefully. In addition to the machine and the ice itself, pay attention to the area surrounding your machine to minimize risks. Food Safety Magazine advises operators to keep the doors to your ice storage machine closed except when they are in use. Remove any equipment or other items from the exterior of the machine. If you’re able to limit access to the machine, that can help too. Keep ice scoops in an uncovered stainless steel, plastic or fiberglass tray when not in use, and ensure they don’t come into contact with surfaces like door handles, service carts and non-food contact surfaces.
As consumers look to eat healthier meals, snacks and appetizers in the New Year, many operators are accommodating those preferences in desserts as well. Is there room on your dessert menu to weave in more superfoods, gluten- and dairy-free options and other diet-conscious ingredients? Nation’s Restaurant News reports that New York City’s Hu Kitchen, for one, offers a Mashbar where guests can create their own healthier concoctions or order ones such as the Taro Trouble No-Yo, which includes grain-free granola, taro pudding, organic seasonal berries, mango and organic puffed quinoa. Alternatively, if you have a signature entrée or appetizer, try to reinvent it for your dessert menu and give it a healthier spin.
If your guests are game to load funds onto a digital wallet or prepaid gift card in exchange for a special offer, you can help cut back on the fees you have to pay to support credit card transactions. While retailers are charged a fee by credit card companies each time a customer pays with a credit card, Skift Table reports that many of those retailers are bypassing the fees by joining the lower-cost Automated Clearing House network, which was set up decades ago by U.S. banks to facilitate the exchange of money between banks. Other companies, like Starbucks, are encouraging customers to load funds onto a prepaid gift card — a setup that means Starbucks only pays a swipe fee when a customer loads funds onto the cards, not each time she buys a latte. Still others are joining networks (LevelUp is one) that help businesses band together and use their combined scale to negotiate more
How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
Launching a loyalty app? Walk your talk.
Having a loyalty app is a great way to build a strong following — if you don’t look at it as a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of tool. As Cake suggests, having a loyalty app can go far in helping you connect with your audience — especially Millennials and Gen Z, who are apt to spread the word about you on social media. But on the flip side, those guests also have high expectations of your transparency. If you’re targeting this population with your app, be willing to share details about how your food is made, where it comes from and how you manage your business (or at least be ready for questions about it). Having an app is a strong upselling tool, helping you to build check totals by suggesting menu items that may not have been front-of-mind for customers. Just be sure to focus on your guests’ preferences and frequency of visits, as visibly focusing on check tallies (and tying rewards to dollars spent) can be a turnoff. Finally, having a loyalty app can be a data goldmine — but you need to have the foundational technology in place to funnel that data into insights that feed your broader marketing strategy.
The New Year is a good time to get your restaurant’s financial affairs in order. As you look to gain greater control over your food costs, the formula you use needs to flex to suit your restaurant category and priorities. Does yours? You could start by calculating the cost of every dish on your menu, but you’ll likely get a more accurate cost of a dish against the overall cost of running your business if you use a target based on your cost of goods sold (COGS). Depending on the type of restaurant you run, that COGS will vary. While food costs tend to fall between 28 and 30 percent of total food sales, they skew higher for full-service restaurants, which sell higher-margin alcohol and include a premium for table service, according to the accountancy and business advisory network Baker Tilly. Orderly suggests several ideal COGS targets based on different restaurant profiles. Full-service restaurants should aim for a COGS in the low-to-mid 30s and may find room to trim costs if they manage their bar costs closely and also monitor market prices of fresh, local produce. Bakeries, on the other end of the spectrum, should have a COGS in the low 20s or below — the same goes for pizza restaurants. The challenge in these restaurants is managing food waste and playing close attention to inventory so you’re not over-ordering or buying ingredients at premium prices. Pizza restaurants have the added challenge of watching market prices of fresh ingredients but can manage that with lower labor costs and the addition of higher-margin items to the menu. Ethnic restaurants should target a COGS in the high 20s. While they benefit from less-expensive ingredients like noodles, pasta and rice, they may need to rely on more specialized suppliers of sauces and spices — that’s where they’re more likely to see costs spike. In general, the more specialty offerings you have, such as premium cuts of meat or hard-to-find toppings or other ingredients, the higher your COGS will rise. That’s okay — it’s just important to look for ways to balance those costs with careful inventory and supplier management, menu innovation (especially at the bar) and labor cost management. (Need help? Team Four can advise you in these areas.)
Go with your gut
As medical research continues to point to digestive health as the foundation for a person’s overall health, both nutrition consultancies and food distributors have identified “gut-healthy foods” as a top food trend for 2019. Food Business News reports that probiotics are finding their way into products such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters and soups. The good news is that it’s easy for restaurants to accommodate the trend. To give your menu a probiotic boost, incorporate cultured or fermented foods like buttermilk, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and yogurt. For prebiotic fiber, try bananas as well as asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions.
It’s easy to look at your restaurant’s social media account as a conduit for connecting with your guests and your community, but if you’re not applying a marketing approach to it, you could be missing opportunities to turn online traffic into sales. To ensure your social media strategy is designed to bring in business, Upserve suggests you first calculate your customer acquisition cost. Divide the money you spend on social media by the number of new customers you acquire during the period in which the money was spent. It will tell you how you have benefited from the marketing dollars you have invested — and if you need to tweak your campaigns. Next, understand who (or what) is behind the “likes” you receive. You might pay a social media marketer to promote your post, resulting in hundreds of new likes and followers, but if those followers are bots, other social media managers, or people thousands of miles away from your restaurant, their support won’t translate into sales. Finally, get support from the right person but know enough about social media and what you want it to help you achieve. Hiring a social media manager can help you set a strategy to promote your restaurant but for the sake of building and sustaining a genuine connection with your community, you don’t want to outsource it all. You might use a social media manager for larger projects — videos, advertisements and games, for example, or for help in identifying local social media influencers who can boost your brand in the community — but handle all customer inquiries and reviews yourself.
It’s a model that has long worked for the hotel and transportation industries: Charge a higher rate at times when there is high demand and offer a discount during slower periods. When a high-end London restaurant launched a dynamic pricing framework in early 2018 (regular prices at peak times, 25 percent off the bill at off-peak times and 15 percent off at mid-peak), it faced ample criticism for what the public interpreted as “surge pricing.” But now a lot of other operators are following suit. Alinea cofounder Nick Kokonas praised dynamic pricing at a recent Bloomberg conference and other panelists deemed it among the trends likely to transform dining out in 2019.
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 email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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