Customized, not creepy: Using guest information wisely
Social media has chipped away at the anonymity of consumers – and restaurant guests are no exception. A recent article in Vogue titled “What Restaurants Know About You Before You Walk In,” points to the many ways operators can research guests and share that information with staff in an effort to provide a customized experience. Keeping guest notes that outline a person’s preferences, habits and budget can help your staff steer guests toward menu options they prefer. Using tools like Venga to aggregate feedback across a variety of platforms and review sites, or studying comments on OpenTable and Resy, can help operators collect information about guests that helps deliver a customized experience. To ably walk the line between accommodating and invasive when it comes to using customer information, Restaurant Business has some suggestions. Managers should use the information they find to provide extra hospitality – mentioning that the last time the guests dined with you was on their wedding anniversary, for example. If on scanning the guest’s Instagram account, you find a guest has posted photos from a recent trip to Spain, you could suggest a wine from that region to help spark some conversation that enhances the experience. That said, you naturally don’t want to mention you’ve been looking through their vacation photos, so use staff training sessions to emphasize the importance of guest privacy – and run through scenarios that can help servers test out tactics for providing an experience that feels tailored to a loyal guest without getting too personal.
You have a schedule for posting social media content, quality photos of your newest menu items and plenty of ideas about what to promote. Just don’t forget about analytics so you can ensure the time you’re putting into your social media strategy is paying off. Top Rank Marketing suggests you use Google Analytics (or another analytics tool of your choice) to discover how much referral traffic you’re getting to your website, what your most-visited pages are, how much time people spend on each page and how many pages they visit, as well as conversions – how many of the clicks to your reservations page are resulting in actual bookings, for example. How many of your website visitors are new as opposed to returning? Are they searching for you through social media, via another referral source or directly? Are people visiting a page without making a single click? What page on your website is usually the last one people visit before they leave your site? Answering these questions can help you tweak pages, tune in to helpful referral sources and offer incentives to keep visitors coming back. The social data consulting firm Crimson Hexagon calls social media the perfect test kitchen for restaurants. Operators can monitor it to identify what kinds of food and beverage people are craving, monitor the social response to a new item overall and by restaurant location (you should know if a recipe isn’t being made consistently) and tune in to social media conversations to iterate existing menu items based on what guests are saying about them.
How clean is clean?
In recent years, your foodservice operation has likely tried to swap in organic whole foods in place of more processed foods containing pesticides, antibiotics or artificial additives. Now some restaurants are digging even deeper in the quest to go clean. Food Navigator reports that Panera has been examining components within the so-called “natural” ingredients it uses to ensure those items meet the brand’s standards. Their research found the balsamic vinaigrette they once used needed adjustments. While on the surface, the dressing’s ingredients – natural flavors, rosemary extract and
balsamic vinegar – looked satisfactory, a deeper dive found that the ingredients included a balsamic flavor that was highly processed, a rosemary extract that included an undesired emulsifier and balsamic vinegar made with a grape must that included caramel color. Panera since worked with suppliers to revamp the recipe with whole, unprocessed ingredients. Would your menu items pass a similar test?
Wearing gloves to prevent (not spread) contamination
Using single-use gloves in a foodservice operation can help prevent contamination – or in some cases, provide a false sense of security about preventing it. If you use single-use gloves in your kitchen, remember to have employees change them whenever the gloves get soiled or torn, before they begin a new task, at least every four hours during continuous use, after handling raw meat, seafood or poultry and before handling ready-to-eat food. Statefoodsafety.com advises that anyone with an infected sore on their hands or wrists should cover it with a bandage, then wear a single-use glove to create a double barrier between the sore and the food being prepared. Those who wear nail polish or false fingernails should also wear single-use gloves, as those employees pose a risk for contaminating food with paint chips or bacteria that hides beneath the nail.
Kelp is on the way
Is there room for kelp on your menu? A company in Maine called Ocean’s Balance hopes so. Civil Eats reports an expanding U.S. market for kelp, whose production requires no land, fresh water, fertilizer or pesticides and produces no methane emissions or nitrogen runoff – and at a time when Millennial consumers are seeking out nutrient-dense foods with minimal impact on the environment. Seaweed farms have sprung up in Mexico, California, Alaska, Connecticut and Maine, and they have the backing of the World Bank, which has touted seaweed farming as one of the best solutions for feeding the world without contributing to its deterioration. Chefs around the country who are looking to bring more vegetables onto their menus are getting creative with the product, which has an umami flavor, and have worked it into dishes in both expected ways (as an ingredient in soup broth, for example) and not (like kelp sloppy joes and even kelp berry crumbles).
Take the paper and people out of temperature testing
Food safety logs and paper checklists have long been a necessary annoyance for many a restaurant. But Bluetooth temperature sensors are helping to make them unnecessary – all while helping to protect customer safety and prevent restaurant product loss. For that, Bluetooth temperature sensors made Fast Casual’s recent list of the top seven technologies transforming the restaurant industry. The sensors allow restaurants to manually or automatically test the temperature of food or equipment in just a few seconds. Managers can receive alerts when temperatures fall outside of a set window and even have the sensors record temperature readings in an HACCP log, eliminating human error or oversight altogether.
Say yes to SMS
If you’re still using clunky pagers to alert waiting guests that their table is ready, take note: Modern Restaurant Management found that 75 percent of customers want to receive alerts via text. In addition to freeing up your hosts and eliminating expensive equipment maintenance, using an SMS system to send messages has additional advantages when it comes to guest engagement. By having an SMS system, you’re automatically collecting guest information that will help feed your database. From the first time a guest joins you, you can send special offers, rewards and other benefits, all of which can help turn each guest on your waiting list into a loyal one over time.
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