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.
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