Minimum wage on the rise? Get creative.
Rising labor costs in many U.S. cities have forced operators to rethink their service models – and how they pay the people serving and preparing food for their guests. Eater reports that Oakland, Calif. seafood restaurant AlaMar, which once prided itself on its attentive, full-service model, recently had to switch to a counter-service model in order to accommodate minimum-wage hikes in the region (wages increased by 37 cents to $13.23 per hour beginning in January). The owner slashed the majority of menu prices by 30 to 50 percent by cutting some staff who were no longer needed. The result has been a happy surprise for the owner, who has seen restaurant sales increase by 17 percent since the transition, with a higher volume of customers. At other restaurants, cooks are helping to serve food and are therefore sharing the gratuities. Technology improvements are helping too, by helping operators automate functions that once required more workers in the kitchen and more time from servers at the front of the house. QSR reports that more operators are using value-added products that can simplify food prep and eliminate the need to have a maximum of staff on hand. But cutting staff hours isn’t always a feasible option for restaurants. For that reason, Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen has eliminated tipping altogether in favor of a 20 percent service charge. Servers earn a commission based on sales and performance, which accounts for 14 percent of the service charge. New servers earn a starting commission between 10 and 12 percent of the service charge. Managers rate servers based on factors such as knowledge of the menu and communication. The remainder of the revenue earned from the service charge goes to support staff, and back-of-house staff are paid out of the restaurant’s operating budget.
Mine the data behind your menu
Is there a data-driven purpose behind every item on your menu? If there is, you could drive profits higher by double-digit margins with each menu redesign. The data analytics firm Unlock Insights says menu engineering – the use of data analytics to assess the popularity and profitability of dishes and determine their ideal placement on your menu – is a critical way to drive profits at restaurants. Using certain adjectives, fonts and colors can pull guests’ attention to items on the menu. A broad menu without helpful visual cues can slow service and turnover. While drastically winnowing down your menu may not be necessary, you should know your most popular, profitable and fastest-moving menu items from your laggards in order to assess your inventory effectively, avoid over-ordering and minimize the waste you generate. Your data should also help you connect specific dishes to your guests so you can contact them when they’re away from your restaurant with offers that appeal to their tastes. Menu Cover Depot suggests you conduct a four-step assessment to improve your menu: First, break down every menu item into its individual ingredients and determine how much you spend to prepare each dish. Second, divide your menu into broad categories (appetizers, entrées, desserts, etc.) and then subcategories (vegetarian entrées, seafood entrées, etc.). Then rate each menu item as a star (high profitability and high popularity), plowhorse (low profitability and high popularity), puzzle (high profitability and low popularity) or dog (low profitability and low popularity). The ratings will help you determine which items must stay, go, be reinvented or repriced. Third, design your menu using visual cues to draw the eye to the items you most want to sell. Keep lists within each menu category short, with your most important items toward the top. Avoid listing prices down the side of a page, which can influence people to select the least expensive items. Finally, test your menu regularly to find new ways to improve it.
Tune in to turnover
Finding and keeping good employees is an ongoing challenge across the restaurant industry – but you may have more power to keep your most valuable people than you think. Upserve's recently released State of the Restaurant Industry report found that according to data pulled between July and September 2017, an employee’s position in the restaurant was a stronger indicator of likely turnover than region of the country or even base pay. Holding on to a quality employee seems to be more about offering new responsibility than pay raises. The highest turnover was seen in roles including counter service/cashiers, support staff like bussers, dishwashers and runners, and among staff like sommeliers and caterers. Bar staff and managers had the lowest turnover, which was consistently the case across regions.
Local and sustainable reach a new level
In the National Restaurant Association’s most recent annual survey of 700 chefs, participants identified the top predicted concept trend of 2018 as “hyper local” food. As Skift Table reports, this trend is about restaurants making their sustainability more visible. Restaurants are making their waste management efforts more apparent to guests, as well as taking away the middleman by growing, picking and processing their own food onsite in a way that guests can experience it. Operators are doing such things as returning used oyster shells to the waters where they were fished in an effort to minimize waste, and operating indoor hydroponic farms that guests can pay to visit while they’re having a meal that features the items being grown. Complementary businesses are capitalizing on the potential opportunity too: Take Smallhold, a company that runs a distributed farming network of mushroom mini-farms. Mission Chinese in New York had one of the company’s mini farms installed prominently above their bar and the owners take pride in being able to offer fresh-picked mushrooms in the dishes they prepare.
Do your boards make the cut?
Your cutting boards could be ground zero for foodborne illnesses if you neglect to maintain and replace them regularly. The foodservice consultancy Letter Grade Consulting recommends that when you choose cutting boards, you opt for those with rounded corners that don’t break or chip. They should be made of nonporous surfaces hard enough that knives don’t leave nicks and gashes, which can harbour bacteria. Color-code boards for different purposes (e.g. those for cutting meat and others for cutting items like vegetables and bread that won’t be cooked before serving). After use, clean each board, sanitize it with a tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, let it stand for five to 10 minutes, rinse it with fresh water, and let it dry completely before storing. To extend the life of your cutting boards, use bleach and fine sand paper. Discard any boards that are permanently discolored, feel rough to the touch, or snag the fibers of a damp cotton ball rubbed on the surface.
Soup’s on – make sure it’s hot
A hot bowl of soup can be a perfect complement to a cold winter day. Just be cautious about food safety when preparing it. StateFoodSafety.com suggests you stir your pot of soup thoroughly before taking its temperature. This will help ensure you disperse the heat evenly, eliminating the cooler spots in thicker soups that can take longer to warm up.
Getting meat down to a science
Technology is changing what’s on the menu. One trend taking root this year is science-based foods, which aim to provide consumers with a cleaner, environmental-friendly way to enjoy the taste of meat. Food Dive reports that the products in development range from cell-cultured meat, fish and poultry to plant-based meat and sausage that mimic the experience of eating the real thing. Plant-based burgers that bleed like a conventional burger are already gaining a following in stores and restaurants (the Next Level Burger meatless burger restaurant has two outlets in Whole Foods stores). The Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute report that sales of plant-based food increased more than 8 percent last year, while Nielsen estimated that plant-based meats generated more than 2 percent of refrigerated and frozen meat product sales.
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