The search is on
What good is a dazzling website if no one can get to it? Search engines are still the most common way for potential guests to find your site, according to Restaurant Engine, and most users don’t look beyond the first five listings. Search engine optimization (SEO) can improve your search page rankings and drive traffic to your site. To help, make your site mobile-friendly and user-friendly overall – have someone unfamiliar with your page try to navigate it to ensure the content is clear. Ensure your site loads quickly. Create simply labeled pages for contact us, about us, reservations, menu, etc. Use an SEO plug-in and fill out the key word, title and description information for each page. Use key words on your pages – but don’t overdo them – and give your photos an alt and title description. Finally, add videos and other fresh content regularly.
The pluses of pickling
If your kitchen doesn’t have a pickling program, consider the benefits of starting one: It allows you to extend vegetables beyond their growing season or shelf life, boost the flavor of an ingredient that might otherwise seem ordinary, and make your kitchen more efficient, Foodable says. Your program can start small with leftover vegetables that, when brined, could make for an appealing side for a burger or a garnish for a cocktail. Cucumbers are just the beginning, with more chefs pickling cauliflower and root vegetables to add zest to the menu right now. If you decide to can and preserve vegetables, you’ll need to partner with your health department to ensure you’re following food safety guidelines – that shouldn’t be a challenge if you have solid training and HACCP plans in place.
The next superfoods on the menu
If you like to stay on the cutting edge of food trends, the Wall Street Journal identified several healthy foods and concepts that could soon play a key role in restaurants. Moringa is a super green that could unseat kale – it’s packed with vitamins and minerals and is equally nutritious when prepared fresh, cooked or dried. Jackfruit could be a tastier meat substitute than tofu because of its meaty texture and ability to absorb other flavors. Biotech companies are also minimizing added sugar and sodium by plugging in natural substitutes – mushrooms to mask the bitterness of low-sugar chocolate, for example, and soy protein to reduce sodium. Finally, as soda sales continue to drop, plant-based waters like cactus and maple water are gaining momentum and could provide lower-sugar alternatives to coconut water.
FSMA regulations could cause recalls to spike in 2017
Last month marked the first major compliance deadline for the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, requiring all but small food businesses to comply with current good manufacturing practice, hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls for human food regulations. Inspections are likely to follow soon – are food companies ready? Food Processing data indicates that 58 percent are extremely ready and 30 percent are somewhat ready, with the remaining 12 percent having some catching up to do. Restaurant operators should prepare for a temporary spike in food recalls in 2017 – Food Dive says that while the increase may not indicate the food supply is any less safe than it was before, the threat to companies’ reputations could be enough to urge remaining manufacturers to comply.
Want to put a new spin on classic desserts? Experiment with non-traditional, savory flavors in place of sweet, fruity ones. In the past four years, olive oil has surged 154 percent on dessert menus, along with bacon (up 137 percent), pretzels (up 110 percent), herbs (up 49 percent), bourbon (up 46 percent) and hot spices (up 38 percent), according to Datassential. Other operators in all categories are developing hybrids of nostalgic, classic desserts in an effort to create new ideas – consider the S’Mores Baked Alaska at Atwood in Chicago or the Oreo Red Velvet Milkshake at Steak ‘n’ Shake.
Want to boost sales? Show your independent streak
These aren’t easy times for the restaurant business, with sales and traffic slowing in recent months. But according to Restaurant Business, a number of independent operators are boosting sales by focusing on these areas: developing social media campaigns and increasing outreach, promoting special menu items, using a loyalty program to increase the success of dayparts, creating community partnerships and conducting outreach efforts to build relationships with local businesses, and hosting special events and theme nights to generate interest in the restaurant or menu.
Sweeten your red wine pairing
If you want to sell more dessert, start with your wine list. That’s according to an Upserve study, which found that more than 75 percent of restaurant checks including dessert also had alcohol on them. That was especially true of wine – a guest who ordered bottles of wine had a 15 percent greater chance of ordering dessert than another guest – and red wine in particular. Upserve’s data showed that 42 percent of checks including red wine also included dessert, with red wine drinkers showing a 6 percent greater likelihood of ordering dessert than those who drank white wine.
Drive-thrus shift to a new gear
Drive-thrus could be making a comeback – with some healthier options. While they have taken a hit in recent months (NPD Group says volumes dropped by 128 million visits between May 2014 and May 2016), the decrease may just indicate an evolving model. Historically, health-conscious fast-casual businesses popular with consumers have omitted drive-thrus. But QSR magazine reports a number of quick-service operators are finding ways to bring nutrition to the drive-thru. Growing drive-thru outlets like Bryn + Dane’s, Start: Real Food Fast, and Amy’s Drive-Thru focus on quality ingredients served with wait times of just a few minutes. Operators say preparing ingredients in advance has been key to minimizing wait times – and that the growing popularity of pre-ordering via app is making it easier to accommodate drive-thru guests.
Nanosensors deliver a faster method to detect E. coli
It may soon become easier and faster for food producers and foodservice operators to detect the presence of E. coli and other pathogens. Food Safety News reports that researchers in Kansas have developed a nanosensor, which can detect varying concentrations of E.coli in less than an hour and also be customized to detect other pathogens. Commonly used methods for testing the presence of pathogens can take up to 24 hours to get results, which is often not soon enough to prevent tainted food from reaching the consumer.
Meal kit businesses show technology’s limits
Have meal-kit businesses like Blue Apron already reached their potential? Many restaurant operators may hope so – and now a Bloomberg report considers the possibility. Blue Apron currently has 4,000 employees distributing 8 million meals each month, according to BuzzFeed. But its growth is challenged because it is a hybrid of three businesses rife with challenges – restaurants (climbing labor costs), grocery stores (low profit margins and valuations) and logistics (large, established, well-capitalized competitors). Are that many more Americans willing to spend$10 per meal and 30-to-60 minutes of preparation time for a meal kit when they could buy a prepared meal for the same cost at a restaurant? Time will tell.
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