How will the trucking industry’s challenges affect you?
How well are your suppliers managing the growing shortage of truck drivers around the country? Your knowledge of their strategy could determine how much of a pinch you feel from pricing spikes in the months ahead. Forbes reports that after 2017 saw the greatest shortfall of truck drivers on record, the American Trucking Associations estimate that there could be 174,000 unfilled driver positions by 2026. A poll of shippers, carriers and brokers by Morgan Stanley found that trucking costs are likely to increase 6.4 percent on average this year. The strength of the economy is only making the problem worse by increasing consumer demand. As a result of the constraints facing the industry, restaurants are likely to experience delays in food deliveries, inconsistencies in service in general and pricing increases. To help, industry operators have proposed relaxing the driving age to 18, offering higher wages, loosening regulations on electronic hour logging, recruiting more women and eventually adding driverless trucks to fleets, according to the Forbes report. You can put your restaurant in a better position to weather the challenges in the meantime by maintaining open communication with suppliers so you can anticipate when and how the effects of the driver shortage will trickle down to your business.
Ready, set, crisis
In the restaurant industry, preparing for expected challenges – ingredient pricing fluctuations, guest complaints, staff turnover – is difficult enough. But you also need an airtight plan to manage the unexpected, particularly as extremes in weather become more common. According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, only 40 percent of businesses that experience a disaster resume operations afterward, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that almost 75 percent of small businesses do not have a disaster plan. Upserve advises restaurant operators to have a crisis management plan that achieves these criteria: It reduces or eliminates negative impacts on your business, including your sales, traffic, earnings, etc.; it protects or improves your image with guests, key stakeholders, employees and the public; it helps you resume operations as quickly as possible; and it limits your competition’s ability to capitalize on the event. To prepare, review your insurance plan with your broker and consider different scenarios to understand the limits of your coverage. Make sure you have an up-to-date inventory of your food, supplies, equipment and technology. Create a crisis management team comprising your most trusted staff, marketing, public relations and human resources personnel, and perhaps your attorney. Have the group draft a risk assessment plan, along with a communications plan that helps you steer through a crisis step by step and outlines roles and responsibilities. Conduct a mock exercise each year to test your plan and make sure you have assessed your risks thoroughly.
Improve allergy awareness
When allergic guests visit your restaurant, your waitstaff (and perhaps the electronic allergen detection device they carry) form a critical line of defense between them and a potentially life-threatening allergy. But as the blog Allergy Amulet notes, “many waiters don’t know that pesto usually contains pine nuts, that marzipan is almond paste, or that peanuts and nutmeg are not tree nuts.” Further, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control found that restaurants were responsible for nearly half of all food allergy fatalities during a 13-year period and that fewer than half of all restaurant managers, and only one-third of servers, receive formal training on food allergies. While six states and two cities have passed laws to improve food allergy safety and awareness in restaurants, there is ample room to improve. What steps have you taken on your menu and through staff training efforts to improve communication about allergies?
Do your boards make the cut?
Your cutting board matters when it comes to food safety. Prevailing food safety research has found that plastic cutting boards are easier to sanitize but that cuts to their surface can result in grooves that trap bacteria. While wood is more difficult to sanitize, it’s usually tougher, so scratches aren’t as likely to penetrate the surface. Ben Chapman, a food safety research at North Carolina State University, suggests using plastic cutting boards for meat because those boards can be washed and sanitized at high temperatures in a dishwasher, and using wood for produce and other ready-to-eat foods. When purchasing wood cutting boards, Chapman suggests looking for hardwoods with a fine grain, like maple. They pull down fluid and trap the bacteria, which is then killed as the board dries after cleaning. Softer woods, like cypress, won’t dull the edge of your knife, but cuts to their surface are more likely to create grooves where bacteria can grow.
Pizza sales in the United States contribute $38 billion in revenue to the food industry each year, according to the small business consultant Brandon Gaille. You can expand your slice of that pie by making some on-trend tweaks to your pizza selection as the weather cools and guests look for heartier fare. Are you located in an area with appealing specialties? Try incorporating local meats, cheeses and produce onto a limited-time pizza entrée or appetizer. Sustainable seafood can take your pizza upscale, or experiment with plant-based ingredients for a vegan-friendly pie – like the vegan sausage, cashew ricotta, jackfruit meatballs and vegan cheese offered up at Brooklyn-based Paulie Gee’s.
Update your site the right way
Is your website giving your guests the information they need, when they need it? Since most consumers research their dining options online before committing to a restaurant, it’s crucial to keep your site updated, especially in some key areas. A report from Skift Table and Bentobox suggests you start with your site analytics, whether from the backend of your site or Google Analytics, to understand how guests are finding your site and what they’re searching for so you can adjust your updates and campaigns to mesh with their searches. Basic information like your location, menu, online ordering and reservations comprise 60 percent of restaurant website traffic, and since most of those items don’t change, you can prioritize updates to your menu. When you have special events or weekly specials planned, schedule a social media blast – and do it early in the week, say Monday at noon, since posting on a Friday night will make it a challenge to get attention.
Build your brand on Instagram
If you’re looking to commit to one social media network to build your brand, Instagram is the place to target. Social Media Week reports that the site, above others, is successfully remaking the social media profile of many brands. That’s especially important to note if you’ve been favoring Facebook for your social media campaigns, since the changes Facebook made to its algorithm this year limit the spread of publisher content on news feeds to give preference to posts from friends and family. A report from NetBase found that Instagram beat out Youtube and Facebook in its research of the most-loved global brands. And while social media brands and digital companies topped the list, some others made major strides in generating engagement. Nikon jumped the farthest: 46 spots to No. 16, and Chevrolet, Canon and Burger King also made major gains on the platform. In Nikon’s case, the brand has successfully communicated the lifestyle of Nikon users, offering up travel and food-related content, how-to videos and monthly challenges. They’ve also developed an influencer base called Nike Ambassadors, who build the brand’s base by sharing their own stories.
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