Labor pain relief?
Finding qualified kitchen staff at an affordable cost continues to be a top concern for restaurant operators and executive chefs across the country. Restaurants – even big-name, high-end brands – are struggling to find skilled labor to carry out kitchen tasks. It doesn’t help that the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that there are more than 620,000 eating and drinking establishments in the U.S., and the number of restaurants is growing at twice the rate of the population. As the nation becomes “over-restauranted,” as one CEO said recently, just as more states and municipalities raise the minimum wage, restaurants must glean the most benefit from the hires they are able to make. In the meantime, operators and chefs are finding work-arounds to manage the challenge. Some are developing streamlined menus that can be prepared more quickly and with less complicated techniques. Managers are scrutinizing inventory to get the best use out of a smaller range of ingredients in order to minimize waste and save money. The New York Times reports that other chefs are doing such things as preparing large quantities of a dish that line cooks can then simply heat up and serve, deliberately overhiring cooks and then weeding out the ones who don’t pass muster, and replacing servers with cooks and sommeliers who work in the dining room.
VIP experiences through tech integration
A recent survey by a Gartner-owned company found that 55 percent of restaurant owners were not using any kind of POS system or restaurant management software. Others may have a range of technologies – including a POS system, guest management platform, online ordering system and waiting list system – that operate separately from each other. Having one system that integrates a range of functions can generate a range of benefits when it comes to building business and enhancing customer experiences. As a report in Modern Restaurant Management shared recently, integration can ensure that when new guests visit your restaurant, your host can quote an accurate wait time based on real-time table statuses instead of guesses. Integrating a tablet POS with existing hardware can also allow staff to take orders, transmit them to the kitchen and eventually collect payment tableside, reducing errors and speeding up communications between guest and server, as well as server and kitchen staff. Integration can help you enhance the experience of your most loyal guests too. What if your best patron walked in the door and your host could greet him by name, call up his previous visits and recommend his favorite menu items? Connecting data from various points of your operation and making it easy and quick to access it can help you make your best guests feel like VIPs as soon as they walk in the door.
Turn your food waste innovation into funding
Have you found an innovative way to reduce your restaurant’s food waste? In New York, for one, your ideas could help you earn grant money. Fast Company reports that the city’s sanitation department is offering microgrants of $2,000 for individual small business applicants and $5,000 for neighborhoods that apply with a collective solution to minimizing the city’s food waste (food comprises 20 percent of the city’s daily waste). The Los Angeles Sanitation Bureau is reported to be starting a similar effort. Beyond those cities, other organizations are currently connecting government programs, businesses, nonprofits and investors. Tune in to your own city’s sanitation department, as well as the Food Waste Alliance, a collection of foundations and other entities that have partnered to start a movement around innovation in food waste management.
Weakness abounds in FDA inspections program, report finds
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has highlighted the importance of transparency in the food supply chain. The deputy regional inspector general of the department told NPR that the FDA’s inspections program has a number of weaknesses when it comes to protecting the nation’s food supply. The FDA relies on facilities to voluntarily correct violations, for example, and that does not necessarily happen. The report cited the 2013 case of a facility in Kansas where FDA inspectors found rainwater leaking onto food preparation areas and also detected listeria throughout the facility. The problems went uncorrected for the next two years, according to the report. Overall, the report found that the FDA failed to conduct timely follow-up inspections to ensure facilities corrected significant violations. In 17 percent of cases, the FDA conducted no follow-up inspection at all.
Food suppliers team with IBM to try Blockchain
The vulnerability of the food industry to foodborne illness outbreaks and security breaches has motivated many industry leaders to find solutions. Blockchain technology has delivered some promising early results. The technology, which is a public database of continuously updated, verifiable and secure information for all points of the food supply chain, allows food companies to track information on everything from food temperature to the safety certifications of the facilities processing a product. The Food Institute reports that a number of food companies, including Walmart, Unilever, Nestlé, Dole, Kroger, McCormick and Co., Tyson Foods, and others are now partnering with IBM to apply blockchain technology to their supply chains, and Walmart has already run successful tests on Chinese pork and Mexican mangoes. In the wake of Walmart’s positive results, look for other food suppliers to take part in such trials in the months ahead.
Broaden your reach through live video
The importance of online video continues to grow. According to an Animoto survey, more than 76 percent of marketers and small business owners who have used video marketing say it had a direct impact on their business. Cisco projects that by 2019, online traffic from videos will comprise 80 percent of all online traffic. If you implement live video, via Facebook Live or Twitch, for example, you can offer compelling visual content and connect with your audience more directly online. NextRestaurants suggests you invite your audience behind the scenes to see your chef cooking up your latest specials or seasonal menu – and invite a local celebrity to taste it, talk about it and live stream it on their social media to broaden your audience. To connect with your community and be a more visible presence within it, live stream your participation in an event. If you’re sponsoring a youth sports team, for example, live stream part of a game and interview players like a professional sportscaster. Your video should be as much about your community as it is about you.
Make it a charitable 2017
More than 90 percent of restaurants in the U.S. make some kind of charitable contribution each year, according to the National Restaurant Association, and with the start of the new year in sight, there is still time to find a charitable cause that meshes with your brand. Foodable suggests you consider your environmental footprint and donate used equipment to nonprofits if it’s time to upgrade. Contribute a portion of your proceeds to a local benefit event or organization that aligns with your brand or demonstrates your support of local military or first responders, for example. Engage your team and your guests in fighting poverty in your area by donating items you can present to a local food bank. If you have already made it part of your mission to give back to your community, elicit feedback from your team about the causes they care about as well – that can help feed your social responsibility strategy in the year ahead.
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