Mind your budget busters
How well do you adhere to your restaurant budget? Restaurantowner.com says the vast majority of restaurant failures are, at least in part, the result of a budget that is not at the foundation of key business decisions and lacks accountability. Setting — and sticking to — your operation’s budget will help you identify where you need to save and where you can afford to invest. Upserve recently shared several factors that can negatively impact your numbers. For one, poor management of your inventory can lead to between 4 and 10 percent of your inventory being wasted, so move away from paper-and-pencil inventory management and toward technology that allows you to take a holistic view of your business and spot problems before they become costly. Without such a system, it’s easy for you to lose control of portion sizes and present an inconsistent experience to guests, or to miss signs of employee theft —problems that can also hurt your budget. (Remember to update your software regularly to stay in step with changes to your system.) Next, understand how to retain your best people, since the average cost of replacing a front-line employee is nearly $6,000, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. It can help to reward your top performers and engage employees so they feel invested in the business, as can interviewing employees who are leaving.
For some restaurants looking to minimize food waste by using the entire fruit or vegetable, the compost bin is sparking innovation — and chefs are making no attempt to hide it. Restaurant Business reports that Spice Kitchen & Bar in Cleveland offers “compesto,” a changing concoction of carrot tops, parsley stems and other vegetable trimmings that would have landed in the compost bin, and blends it with couscous as the base for a halibut dish. At Graffiti Earth in New York, a soup was promoted online with the hashtag #eatmycompost.
Protect against pests this summer
As the weather warms, pests will be all the more tempted to frequent your restaurant, potentially spreading bacteria and damaging your property. (JP Pest Services says rodents harbor and spread more than 2000 human pathogens and termites cause $5 billion in property damage each year.) You can help deter unwelcome guests by taking action inside and outside of your facility. Chris Del Rossi, founder of Food and Drug and the Bug integrated pest management company, spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Quality Assurance Executive Study Group meeting and recommended operators focus on sanitation, structure and storage to prevent pest infestations. Any cracks or crevices between equipment can house pests, so use equipment with lockable wheels and flexible gas and electric lines to help ensure you can clean hard-to-reach places. When storing food, avoid placing anything on the floor or against walls. Installing wire shelves that keep food off of the floor and inches from walls can help you avoid an infestation. Dispose of food waste in trash bags and take it to a dumpster promptly. Make sure your dumpster isn’t dirty, has a lid and isn’t within easy access of your doors or windows. Consider pests when landscaping as well: Ensure plants around your premises don’t touch the ground or the walls of your property and surround your foundation with a strip of gravel, which can deter pests far better than bark mulch. Check the exterior of your property to make sure your pipes, roof, walls and tiles are crack-free and well-sealed.
Ease your restaurant's labor pains
Labor challenges are enough to keep any restaurant operator awake at night, from the rising minimum wage to the struggle for talent in a high-turnover industry. In a recent Toast survey, 46 percent of restaurant operators said their top challenge was hiring, training and retaining staff. So how do you cope? Restaurant Hospitality suggests you consider a range of actions. To help address the pay disparity between front- and back-of-house workers, you could charge administrative fees (say 2-3 percent of the final bill) or raise menu prices to fund a pay increase for those not included in tip pools. That can help ensure that on a busy night, everyone reaps the benefits; just be transparent with guests about what you're trying to achieve with new charges. Consider opening your books to your team -- training everyone from your dishwashers to your cooks about the financials of your business -- and sharing in the profits to encourage everyone to think and behave like an owner of the business. That can also help you identify and limit practices that waste money and time, from unprofitable menu items to an excess in staff. Some operators continue to experiment with service charges or sales commissions, adding a 20 percent surcharge to checks and not expecting tips (though still accepting them) on top of it, or just eliminating tipping altogether by including a hospitality fee if you feel your clientele will pay the increased menu prices to support it.
Who's in charge of social media?
Social media marketing represents a growing percentage of most restaurants' promotional campaigns. But is your social media best kept in the hands of a tech-savvy team member or is it time to hire a firm to manage it for you? Social Media Restaurant says for the majority of operators out there, the answer to that question should be "both." Consider hiring a consultant with industry expertise who can develop a campaign for you that includes the vehicles that make sense based on your brand, goals and clientele. (If you're part of a restaurant group, your consultant can help you ensure you use a consistent voice across locations as well.) Once you have a creative strategy in
place with clear objectives and tasks built into it, someone in-house who knows your customers well should spend some time each day making updates and accomplishing set tasks.
Prevent summertime Salmonella
The warmer months are prime time for the spread of Salmonella, which causes about 1 million foodborne illnesses each year in the United States. It's often found in foods including chicken, vegetables, eggs, fruit, sprouts, beef and pork. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends you remember four key actions to prevent Salmonella. Remember to properly Clean (wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces, though not the poultry, meat and eggs themselves), Separate (set the meat, poultry and seafood apart in the refrigerator and use different cutting boards for those items), Cook (ensure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature and stay at 145 degrees or above after cooking) and Chill (store foods at 40 degrees or colder in general, and refrigerate or freeze perishables and prepared foods within two hours, or within one hour if the room/outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher).
Don't let it go to waste
After labor costs, food costs are the top expenditure for restaurant operators, according to POS Sector. Those costs should range from 28 percent of sales (typical of casual restaurants) to 33 percent at fine-dining restaurants, according to the Wall Street Journal. If they're not, review your menu to ensure your top-selling items are also the most profitable. Chef Klime Kovaceski, who opened the Miami restaurant Crust in 2015 and posted sales of more than $1 million and a pre-tax profit of more than $200,000 for 2016, keeps a close eye on food waste. He recommends using minimal ingredients to keep costs down and reduce the incidence of spoilage -- risotto is a common item on his menu, for example, but herbs and spices lend wide variety to it. He also insists employees show him spoilage before throwing away food so they can determine what went wrong, and enforcing strict standards with suppliers to ensure he always receives fresh product.
Marketing with meaning
Investment in social media marketing is projected to increase by 90 percent in the next five years, according to Salesforce.com. Regardless of your budget size, you’re wise to allocate some resources to it. But how? The CMO Survey, which collects and distributes the opinions of top marketers, suggests that your marketing budget should comprise 5-15 percent of your revenue. Of that, 10-50 percent should be used for digital marketing, to include SEO, pay-per-click, social media and content marketing. The types of social media that marketers use vary widely but the most popular outlets right now are social networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, blogging (or microblogging on Twitter), and sharing video and pictures on sites like YouTube or Instagram. Video, according to the marketers surveyed, is the medium ripe for expansion in the months ahead.
Give tours of your restaurant (before guests even walk through the door)
Posting your menu online is customary. Posting a Google 360-degree virtual tour of your restaurant is less common – but it’s a great way to bring guests to you. Before consumers read your reviews on Yelp on TripAdvisor, they’re searching for you on Google. When you post a virtual tour, you get the chance to impact consumers’ first impressions of you. Social Media Restaurant says the tours appear in Google searches and on Google maps and you can also include them in your digital marketing. (Facebook just introduced a feature that allows you to post a panoramic shot of your restaurant on your business page, for example.) During a recent Restaurant Week in New York City, 55 percent of participating restaurants offered a “Business View” virtual tour – and consistently, diners booked tables at those restaurants more frequently.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
Make the holidays happy for your team
You won’t be able to make your guests happy with employees who are down and dragging. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips for making spirits bright: Create schedules so employees are able to spend some time with family and friends. This could mean bulking up on staff so fewer people are working double shifts, shifting any retail business you conduct to the web, or adjusting arrival and departure times to create more of a buffer between shifts. Set a fun work goal to motivate employees to earn prizes – whether for successfully selling menu items or participating in a community charity event. Reward them for their hard work with holiday gifts and a holiday event is possible. Finally, consider closing for a day or two – it may even earn you points with guests when they see you’re taking care of your team.
Asian flavors to boost non-traditional dishes
Most Americans’ familiarity with Japanese cuisine doesn’t go far beyond sushi, but two flavors, furikake and togarashi, have the potential to change that on menus right now, Flavor & the Menu reports. Furikake has a base of dried fish that can be combined with sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, powdered miso and dried vegetables, among other things. While it’s traditionally used to season rice, fish and vegetables, there’s room for it to boost the savory profile of pasta, eggs, pizza, popcorn and other snacks. Togarashi is a spice blend including two types of peppers, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and seaweed. While traditionally used in tempura, noodles or yakitori, togarashi lends spicy heat to everything from hot dogs to cheesecake to ice cream.
Breakfast by the bowl
The bowl trend has made it to the breakfast menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that an increasing number of chain restaurants and college foodservice operations are offering bowls as a vehicle for healthy, customizable breakfast foods. The options are seemingly endless, from the sweet (including items like açaí, tropical fruit, yogurt and granola) to the savory (including quinoa, kale, eggs and sausage). Datassential reports that the presence of breakfast bowls on menus has increased 66 percent in the last four years, bringing it to just 7 percent overall. So there’s room to grow.
Coffee comes back strong
Sure, there may be a Starbucks on every corner, but analysts are saying we’re in the midst of a coffee renaissance. The Wall Street Journal predicts U.S. demand for coffee to lead the world in the coming years, growing at 2 percent per year until 2020. Beverage Industry says the increase is due to innovation from brewers, as well as Millennial consumers’ interest in the drink. Technomic’s Volumix Coffee Report found that pour-over coffee and cold-brewed coffee are attracting consumers, as well as flavors including vanilla, mocha and chocolate. The report said single-cup sales increased 62 percent last year.
A workflow to promote cleanliness
Is handwashing something you have built into your operation – or something you fit into it? A forensic sanitarian who weighed in on the question in Food Safety Magazine says restaurants that integrate the handwashing sink into the work flow of the kitchen ensure frequent handwashing happens – and stand a better chance of limiting the spread of foodborne illness. While the placement of sinks may be hard to control, try to design a traffic pattern that makes handwashing second nature. For example, consider having employees clock in next to the sink, or cluster handwashing and food preparation equipment together just like you’d store kitchen equipment that is used together.
Boost your team’s food allergy IQ
About 15 million people have food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education group, and your restaurant is responsible for ensuring you avoid triggering them. Food Safety Magazine recommends you keep these steps in mind when working with your team: Use proper sanitary receiving guidelines from www.servsafe.com and establish a personal hygiene program that prevents cross-contamination. Use reputable suppliers and check their permits and licenses. Store prepared food away from contaminants and clean and store products away from them as well. Wash and sanitize all equipment. Implement required training programs for all employees. Finally, partner with your guests by informing them of ingredients that may trigger allergies – by telling them about possible allergens in a dish and posting a disclaimer on the menu.
Reject and refuse to reduce waste
If you have a robust recycling program but are still generating too much waste at your restaurant, you’re not alone: The National Restaurant Association says although 65 percent of restaurants have recycling programs, the average restaurant in the U.S. still produces 25,000 pounds of food waste every year. Restaurant Hospitality recommends that in addition to the three R’s of food waste reduction that you’re likely familiar with (reduce, reuse, recycle), consider another two: reject and refuse. Reject means speaking up when you have inadequate support for reducing waste, like inadequate food storage space or transportation for donated items. You can also help change the landscape by refusing single-use plastics from suppliers and insisting on reusable crates and containers.
Start your restaurant’s online conversation
It’s likely that a high percentage of people who dine with you have done so because of a Facebook post or Instagram photo. You can help set the stage so it’s easy for your guests to promote you positively online. The National Restaurant Association recommends you encourage guests to take photos of food while they’re dining (assuming it fits with the atmosphere of your restaurant) – and make your social media handles visible on menus and indoor signage so they know where to post. Brand a special hashtag for your restaurant and post some photos or other content to your social media pages with this hashtag to inspire others to do the same. Encourage guests to post their best photos of meals with you – and reward your favorite photographer with a gift card or meal discount.
Mobile transactions on the rise
Mobile payments currently account for $50 billion in sales and are expected to nearly triple by 2019, Toast reports. If you have concerns about jumping on board, consider these assurances from Toast: Mobile payments are secure – the National Restaurant Association has said many mobile payment apps encrypt or scramble credit card information before it reaches a restaurant’s payment terminal, making it less vulnerable to hackers. The transactions are also 53 percent faster than credit card sales and even faster than that for cash sales, according to American Express. Finally, these transactions generate loyal repeat customers and give you access to purchasing trends and other data that can help you appeal to those guests.
Don’t leave a post unanswered
You wouldn’t ignore a guest standing at your front desk, so why do it on social media? Like it or not, your approach to customer service is more visible to guests and potential visitors on social media platforms than it is within your restaurant. However, the tourism website Sheila’s Guide says it’s still common for hotels and restaurants to leave guest comments, photos and other feedback unanswered on social media platforms. Be sure to use these posts as opportunities to thank guests for their business, show concern for addressing any problems they experience, and ensure they come back. The quality of your public response could help bring new guests in the door too.
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