Deconstruct down time
How does your team use slow periods at your restaurant? Striking the right balance between productivity and sanity is important to making the most of the labor you have (while keeping your team engaged and satisfied). A recent Restaurant Insider report asked chefs around the country to share their ideas. Kate Edwards of the Institute of Culinary Education said it’s important for every staff member to understand what the business needs at various parts of the day. She said there should be clear expectations for managing down times and she advised operators to divide slower periods into tasks related to organization and others related to education. Organizational tasks might involve having several staffers help with a tedious task that would take one person several hours, or providing servers with background information to read about new menu offerings so they are well-versed about the items when interacting with guests. Perhaps you have longer-term projects your team can help you with. Maybe they can help you come up with ideas for a new social media promotion. You can also stagger the beginning and ending times of shifts across a team to ensure everyone present has plenty to do. On the flip side, you can use down times to treat team members who have been going above and beyond expectations. In an industry where long hours and hard work are the norm, letting someone leave an hour or two early on a rotating basis can help balance the busy times when you ask a lot from your team.
Time to hire? Ask the right questions
How can you spot a first-rate server? It isn’t always easy when you interview candidates out of the context of a busy day in your dining room. Cake shared some favorite interview questions that can help operators identify candidates who can respond well to the challenges the role may throw at them. First, ask candidates how they handled a situation when a customer got upset (or present it as a role-play scenario). This happens to the best of servers and their responses can help you see how likely they are to listen calmly and de-escalate problems. Ask about their interests outside of work, which can give you hints as to how likely they are to mesh with your restaurant culture and connect with guests – it also shows you’re invested in your team beyond their work at the restaurant. Have candidates share an example of when they received superior service at a restaurant, which can help you predict the level of service they are likely to deliver. Have they ever dined at your restaurant? If so, what was that experience like and how could it have been better? Hearing an outside perspective may help you identify issues to address. Finally, ask candidates how they prioritize tasks when waiting tables. Are they likely to get ruffled when managing multiple requests? Do they make the most of each trip to the kitchen? Their answers can help you predict the kind of experience guests will have with them during busy periods.
Perfect your plant-based fare
When McDonald’s tests a meat-free burger (the brand is currently offering its McVegan burger in Finland and Sweden), it’s clear that plant-based meat alternatives, and vegetarian and vegan foods in general, have hit the mainstream. Indeed, Technomic research found that 34 percent of consumers around the world say they buy vegetarian foods in restaurants, while 28 percent report looking for vegan foods. A larger group of consumers consider themselves to be flexitarians. Restaurants in even the strongest meat-eating cultures are responding. Technomic reports that some of the most inventive meat-free recipes are coming from countries like Brazil and Australia.
Training new team members about food safety
If you’re among the operators preparing to hire new staff to accommodate the summer season, take care to apprise this group of your most pressing food safety concerns. Food Quality & Safety suggests you focus on refrigeration temperatures, pathogenic and cold-loving bacteria, food storage and power failures. Refrigerated products must be kept at 41˚F or colder, while frozen foods at 0˚ or colder. Ensure new staff follow procedures for leaving food out to cool – and make sure they know
that food can still look, smell and taste fine and be in the danger zone for growing bacteria. Allow food to thaw in the refrigerator, or, if it must be left out, monitor the food’s temperature as it cools. When ready-to-eat foods are delivered, ensure they are wrapped and refrigerated/frozen appropriately to avoid contamination. In the case of a power failure, leave frozen food in the freezer or transfer it to an alternative freezer. Allow food in the process of defrosting to continue thawing, then cook it as soon as possible. Immediately cook any fully defrosted food – such as meat, fish or poultry – before refreezing, and discard any food that is thawed and can’t be cooked immediately.
Don’t contaminate clean dishes
In a hurry to dry dishes and cutlery? If your dishwasher doesn’t sufficiently dry the items you clean, resist the urge to towel-dry them. Towels, especially those being used for long periods, can be breeding grounds for pathogens. StateFoodSafety.com advises you let dishes and utensils air-dry in order to avoid contaminating these items.
Follow a social media checklist
Is social media an afterthought in the midst of the myriad responsibilities you’re juggling day to day? If you handle social media in-house, following a checklist helps to keep your social media consistent regardless of what’s happening in your restaurant. Buffer Social suggests that on a daily basis, you reply to posts, check your mentions on various networks, monitor social media for key words, prepare your content for the following day, follow back people who follow you, and connect with one new person. Each week, check your social media stats, engage with your partners and influencers, check your progress toward goals, and update your social media ads. Every month, take a step back and conduct an audit of your social media to see what’s working well and what needs adjustment. It’s also a good time to set new goals, brainstorm new campaign ideas and plan for the month ahead.
Chip technology phases out credit card signatures
As EMV technology has taken hold in U.S. restaurants, card providers including Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express are no longer requiring restaurants to have their guests sign credit card slips following a meal. The card companies, Eater reports, say chip technology has minimized fraudulent card use. The change in payment procedure will likely speed up the turning of tables, though it remains to be seen whether U.S. restaurants will evolve toward the payment model common in Europe, where chip technology has long been the norm and it’s customary for guests to ask a server to add a tip to their credit card before their payment is processed in front of them.
Three data streams to manage the crowd
Today's consumers are looking for meals whenever and wherever they want them. That requires restaurants to support delivery and dining away from the restaurant. To do that well, Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to harness and bring together data from their front of house, back of house and operations. For instance, your front-of-house technology should store data on your number of guests served, average wait times and table turn times. Analyzing this data will help you understand how efficiently you're managing your seating and waitlist. If you integrate that system with your back-of-house data, you'll help your kitchen staff see what's happening in your dining room. Having a Kitchen Display System (KDS) can be even more helpful in bringing together data from your point-of-sale system about your various streams of traffic, then expanding or contracting waiting times based on your in-house traffic and the bandwidth of your kitchen. When you know precisely how long an order will take to prepare, you can set accurate pick-up and delivery times for guests (and even keep guests in the loop on the progress of a dish as it's being prepared). In your back of house, your KDS reports can help you track the speed of your kitchen, from food-prep time to the number of minutes the food sits in the delivery window, and help you benchmark performance and set staff goals for improvement. By marrying all of this data with your operations data, you can assess the resources you have to support your delivery and off-site dining strategy. It can tell you whether you need to adjust staffing levels at certain times, for example, or if you should outsource delivery.
What is your labor cost?
What data do you consult when setting your labor budget? Many operators consider indicators like the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Industry Operations Report, which says the median ratio of labor cost versus sales across restaurant categories is about 33 percent. While that figure may be useful when looking at the overall industry landscape, RestaurantOwner.com cautions against putting too much stock in this data when setting a restaurant budget that leads to profit. Your best tools are your own historical records of guest counts and sales, which can help you build a schedule that flexes day to day and week to week based on fluctuations in your traffic and sales. The RestaurantOwner.com report advises operators to use a weekly scheduling form that makes it easy to see each employee's pay rate and hours. From there, you can quickly subtotal employee hours and expense by job category and day. Having this information at your fingertips and comparing it to your sales on a particular day will help you spot inefficiencies in your staffing and business overall. Your weekly schedule should become your labor budget -- and it should be flexible enough that you can adjust it based on current and predicted guest traffic on a particular day, or other factors affecting sales volume, such as upcoming holidays or inclement weather.
Clean that screen!
Throughout your restaurant, you could see dozens of touch screens operating at once, from tabletop ordering screens to server tablets to the touch screens used during inspections. This doesn't even account for cell phones of employees on break or those belonging to guests. These screens are ideal places for thousands of germs to change hands. According to research referenced in Food Safety News, the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat and major pathogens like Streptococcus, E. Coli and MRSA have been routinely found on these screens. To prevent the spread of harmful germs, follow a strict cleaning protocol: Food Safety News suggests wearing and changing single-use gloves regularly, washing hands often, cleaning screens with digital-friendly sanitizing wipes (Windex Electronic Wipes are one option) or a soft cloth dipped in a solution of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol, and sticking to a cleaning schedule. If employees use their phones during breaks, ensure they wash their hands (and, ideally, disinfect their personal electronics) before returning to work.
Cool it now
To limit the growth of dangerous bacteria when cooling food, the FDA advises food be cooled from 135°F to 41°F in six hours or less. But the FDA Food Code has an additional rule that food must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F in two hours or less. It's important for food to pass through this range quickly because bacteria at this temperature can double in as little as 20 minutes. To help train your staff to cool foods quickly, StateFoodSafety.com suggests kitchen workers separate food into smaller portions that are four inches deep or less. Cover food loosely as it cools (or keep it uncovered if you can ensure it won't be contaminated). Stir loose foods to help heat escape. Place containers of food in an ice bath, ideally one where the water level is higher than the level of the food. You can also use a blast chiller or tumbler for quick cooling.
What is your pest-reporting protocol?
Your employees are your first line of defense when it comes to preventing pests from spreading dangerous pathogens around your facility. Establishing clear protocols for monitoring and reporting the presence of pests can keep them at bay. Food Safety Tech suggests employees follow these steps after spotting pests: If possible, capture the pest or take pictures of it to help a pest management professional advise you on treatment. Next, fill out a pest-sighting log to track when and where pests were seen and how many were observed. Season to season and year to year, your records will help you anticipate problems, notice which pests thrive in different conditions and hopefully give you time to prepare your facility to prevent pests from entering.
Legislation could ease FDA Menu Labeling Rule requirements
A House bill that could ease certain requirements of the FDA's Menu Labeling Rule, which is set to go live in early May, is currently stalled in the Senate. The rule in its current form requires chain restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering generally the same menu items to list calorie counts of those items and provide other nutritional data upon request. Food Quality & Safety reports that the new legislation, dubbed the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would ease certain requirements pertaining to listing calorie information for variable menu items and combination meals. At take-out restaurants where customers frequently order online or by phone, posting calorie counts online (not in the shop itself) would suffice. Operations covered by the rule would also have a 90-day grace period to address violations without penalty.
Fine-tune your brand
If you asked 10 guests to describe your brand using a few adjectives, would they use similar words? If not, your brand may need strengthening. The Collaborative Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in companies looking to do good and turn a profit, advises operators to be consistent -- with everything from mission statements to logos to websites to packaging -- to build a brand and reputation with staying power. To ensure your brand is not only strong but also appealing, it should have a mission at its foundation that permeates all aspects of the business. And since your visual identity communicates your brand's values before guests even walk through the door, someone (whether from your operation or hired outside) must always be paying attention to presenting it in its best form and in the context of industry trends. Next, be known for doing difficult things well, whether that means limiting your menu to what's available locally or seeking out suppliers with environmentally friendly practices. Finally, the Collective Fund stresses the importance of community to a strong brand. You can start building yours by committing to providing strong customer service online and in-store, launching a referral program and hosting events.
A service model that answers labor challenges
Struggling with labor costs or shortages? Some restaurants are trying out a service model that's less common in America, though it's a familiar one if you've spent any time in an English pub. Restaurant Insider reports that in the Charleston, S.C. area, where nearly 90 restaurants opened last year, restaurant operators have had to get creative in order to address already-high labor concerns and preserve sales volume amid increased competition. They're implementing a counter-service/front-of-house hybrid model whereby guests order their food and beverage at the counter, then, once they've sat down with their meal, a server visits the table to provide follow-up service. Operators are finding that this model allows them to have fewer staff on the floor but still provide face-to-face service that goes a step beyond what one might find in a quick-service establishment. Guests open a tab at the counter, much like they would when ordering drinks at a bar, and they can add to their tab over the course of meal. Each server does a bit of everything, from running food, to closing tabs, to resetting tables. While the model may not be for everyone, operators have found that in addition to addressing labor shortages, it also speeds up table turnaround times.
The all-powerful iPad
As technology expands its presence in restaurants, the most hard-working piece of equipment may be the iPad. Running Restaurants reports that the tablet has played a powerful role in helping restaurants personalize service and save time and money. They're especially useful in three areas, according to the report: First, they bring efficiency to wait list management that a paper or pager system can't provide. At busy times, hosts can use one interface for reservations and wait list, get automatic tables status updates and provide accurate information to waiting guests. Second, the iPad can streamline your service, allowing servers to send orders to the kitchen immediately, process more types of payment easily and without delay, and provide increased security with that payment. Finally, tablets can serve as an extension of your point-of-sale system, allowing operators to add extra point-of-sale units that are easy to update and replace. They give servers immediate access to guest food preferences, allergy information and other details that can help them enhance the experience they offer everyone who dines with you.
All hail the mocktail
The mocktail is having a moment. Creative operators are concocting sophisticated combinations that appeal to the tippler, to the health conscious, and to the youngest restaurant guests alike. What's more, these drinks can add a 30 percent increase to the tab of a table for two. Restaurant Insider reports that at Sofitel New York, a drink that combines housemade cucumber and apple shrub, fresh lime juice and Perrier is a hit with children. At the Katharine, a French brasserie in North Carolina, guests love the lemon lavender sparkling mocktail. At Cindy's in Chicago, mocktails are designed to tell a story, and to complement the food menu and the flavors of the season. One of the restaurant's popular non-alcoholic drinks, the Reanimator, combines blueberry, ginger, demerara, lime and activated charcoal, which gives the drink an inky color and is known for its detoxifying benefits.
The app is changing the game
Restaurant visits paid via mobile app increased 50 percent over the previous year, according to The NPD Group. Offering convenience, the group says, often through technology like mobile ordering, delivery apps and ordering kiosks, is helping to set quick-service restaurants apart at a time when foodservice traffic has been relatively flat over several years. Their research found that consumers especially like the time-saving features mobile apps can provide, such as allowing for ordering and paying in advance of a visit, then having food ready upon arrival. They also appreciate the engagement and special offers apps offer through loyalty programs. The NPD Group did note that not all consumers like a tech-heavy service model, with some still preferring to pay in cash or to get human interaction when they order. Just try to build convenience and time savings into these low-tech transactions.
Apprenticeship program could ease food distribution challenges
In an effort to offset labor challenges, many restaurants have turned to apprenticeship programs, like those offered by the National Restaurant Association. Now that model could be applied to food distribution as a means of controlling food costs. Legislation know as the DRIVE-Safe Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in March, would pave the way for more young adults to become truck drivers for food distributors and suppliers. The apprenticeship program would help address the current shortage of truckers, which is likely to impact costs and delivery schedules across the food supply chain.
Prevent a pesty season
As the weather warms, insects and other pests come out to play. To proactively prevent an infestation, Food Quality & Safety recommends operators keep an up-to-date master sanitation schedule -- and follow it. If you have broken equipment, remove it from the premises (or at least get it up off the floor) before it becomes a haven for pests. Monitor your waste management in and around your facility so you minimize waste residue or leakage. Watch and clear any areas around your facility where water collects and stands. Now is also a good time to check through your facility to seal cracks in flooring, fix doors that leave gaps or don't close, and clear away any vegetation growing close to walls and doors.
Updates to Food Code
The FDA recently released an updated version of the federal Food Code and it includes several significant changes, such as a section on the use of bandages among foodservice workers and revised recommendations about cooking temperatures, according to Food Safety News. The Food Code provides guidance for restaurants, retail food stores, vending operations and food service operations including those in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and child care centers. The major changes include a revised requirement for the person in charge to be a certified food protection manager; a new section that covers the use of bandages, finger cots or finger stalls; harmonized cooking times and temperatures for meat and poultry for consistency with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service; and updated procedures for retail food establishments to continue operations in an extended water or electrical outage. Find the Food Code in full at http://www.fda.gov/FoodCode.
Testing delivery? Remember your leverage
Offering food delivery has become a must, thanks to rising consumer demand and a growing number of third-party companies offering restaurants a variety of delivery options. While the industry experiences growing pains as it adapts to these changes (a recent New Yorker article detailed how many operators that offer delivery claim they are seeing shrinking profit margins as a result of the shift), there is also ample room for restaurants to shop around for a model that helps them build business. For instance, Skift Table reports that the restaurant El Pollo Loco recently expanded its partnership with DoorDash, with one caveat: While it uses DoorDash to provide its delivery service, El Pollo Loco still receives and processes all customer orders through its own website and app, which allows it to retain customer relationship data instead of relinquishing that information to DoorDash. Other companies are trying test runs with a number of partners to find the best options. Remember that as more restaurants sign on with third-party delivery partners, those companies will benefit from economies of scale. While fees from delivery services can amount to 20 to 40 percent of a sale, there is more room for restaurants to negotiate those fees downward as other restaurants sign on. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney told the Wall Street Journal recently that “scale drives efficiency.” As third-party delivery companies grow, they will have greater flexibility to minimize their restaurant partners’ costs.
Smart, simple social media
If social media hasn’t become central to your marketing strategy yet, it will soon need to be. About 90 percent of consumers aged 18 to 29 use social media and one-third of them say it is among their preferred channels for communicating with businesses, according to research from Business 2 Community. To strengthen your social media strategy, Social Media Today suggests you create an audience persona. Think of your ideal guest: Is the person male or female? How old is he? What kind of work does he do? How much education does he have? What are his hobbies and interests? Where is he most active on social media? Develop content that speaks to this person and post it where he is likely to be looking for it. Second, specify your top goals. For many, those goals are to build brand awareness, increase website traffic and generate new leads. Align each of those goals with specific metrics that can help you track progress. Finally, if you need help simplifying social media campaign development, consider using blog aggregator tools (Feedly, for one, can aggregate all of your blog feeds in one place and let you select content to share with your followers), automation tools like Hootsuite or Buffer, which can schedule your posts to go out at specific times and then analyze your results, and social following tools like ManageFlitter or FollowerWonk, which can help you identify and follow the consumers in your target audience.
Do you have an Open Kitchen?
If your guests value transparency when it comes to the food you prepare, they likely value it when it comes to your business environment as well. If your restaurant is among the 45,000 that use OpenTable to manage reservations, consider becoming an “Open Kitchen.” The Washington Post reports that OpenTable launched its Open Kitchen campaign to help restaurants demonstrate to the public that they are safe, equitable places for women, LGBTQ and minorities to work. Restaurants that sign a pledge committing to these values can display a sign from OpenTable that advertises their support of the principles. While signing up is voluntary and the restaurants who do so must police themselves, this may be the first step of more to come from OpenTable. In an industry that often lacks human resources personnel at the restaurant level, OpenTable is stepping out as a potentially unifying force to help develop standards and offer training to operators across the industry. (On April 11, they offered a webinar led by human resources professionals about how to prevent sexual harassment.)
Put it on (clean) ice
As the weather warms up and guests are looking for more options for alfresco dining, take precautions with any food and drink you’re trying to keep chilled outdoors. StateFoodSafety.com advises that when you’re making ice for keeping items cold, make sure you’re using drinking water — and, of course, discard any ice and melted water afterwards.
Make a clean break
Chances are, many of your guests have tried some kind of a cleanse to motivate themselves to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A new report in QSR says a number of restaurants are trying to ride the detox wave by offering items that claim to provide cleansing benefits. Take Brodo Broth Company in New York, which offers broths made from organic vegetables and the bones of grass-fed animals. While the company has not yet exclusively pushed its broths for their detoxifying potential, their customers have identified those benefits themselves. Other operators that offer a juice menu have created special cold-pressed options that are sold as packages to support cleanses for single or multiple days. Does your grab-and-go food and beverage menu have cleansing potential?
A tool to test food transparency
As consumers demand transparency from the restaurants they frequent, a new system on the horizon is aiming to help food purveyors confirm the origins and quality of the food they provide. The Food Marketing Institute and the Center for Food Integrity recently released a white paper entitled “Transparency Roadmap for Food Retailers: Strategies to Build Consumer Trust,” which offers food retailers and suppliers guidance to provide clear background information about the products they offer. The two groups are now working on a transparency index that gives food distributors a tool to help assess and improve their levels of transparency. It covers such areas as the impact of food on health and the environment, food safety, labor and human rights, the treatment of animals raised for food, and business ethics in food production.
Luxurious touches that justify higher menu prices
From rising labor expenses to the cost of investing in technology, restaurant operators are facing pressure from multiple sources to increase the prices of menu items. But as Skift Table reports, a number of operators are incorporating touches of elite ingredients into their menus and, in the process, are making those items into reasonable splurges for guests. Operators are using ingredients ranging from specialty vinegars and olive oils used for marinades to flavored butters that are rarely found in U.S. restaurants. While these ingredients certainly add to a restaurant’s expenses, they’re also not used in vast quantities —and they lend subtle luxury to foods that can make a restaurant special and memorable for guests
Three changes, big results
Even if you have a finely tuned menu selection and friendly staff, a number of factors beyond your food and service are responsible for bringing your guests back—and whether or not they spread the word about you. Upserve recently shared some tips that can help you boost business. For one, design your menu with the knowledge that your guests will spend just 109 seconds or less reading it. In that time frame, you must connect your guests with your brand and ensure you have steered them to the menu items you most want to sell. Pay attention to sweet spots including the upper-right-hand corner of your menu, as well as the first and last items you list, which tend to get the most attention. Using (but not overusing) shaded boxes, pull quotes and photos can help too—for instance, photographing one item on each menu page can help drive sales of those items by 30 percent, according to menu engineer Gregg Rapp. Second, mining your sales analytics to create menus that mesh with customer preferences can help you ensure you’re pricing your menu according to what the market will bear. If you’re going to put your technology dollars in one place, consider investing in software that will help you pull data from your business and adjust your menu accordingly. Finally, choose your décor colors carefully. While red is a color known for making people hungry, it can overpower (or come across as too obvious) if used as the predominant color in your restaurant. Mary Lakzy, a London-based creative director who advises foodservice clients about décor, suggests light, cool colors to make a room feel larger and more airy; dark, warm colors to give a space an intimate feel; and bold, primary colors to help encourage a faster turnover.
Where’s the tipping point?
Tipping in restaurants—and whether or not to discontinue to practice—has been in the news for months as restaurant operators struggle to find ways to level the playing field between front- and back-of-house staff. A new report from Eater introduces an additional perspective: Data about tipping clearly shows that the practice encourages racism and exploitation, both from guests and servers. For example, Eater analyzed date from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that from 2010 to 2016, the median estimated hourly tip for white servers and bartenders was $7.06; for black servers it was $5.58 and for Asians it was $4.47. The practice of tipping draws out the biases of servers as well. Zachary Brewster, a sociology professor at Wayne State University and the author of several studies about racial profiling in restaurants, said his research has found that it is more common for servers to provide slower service to black guests or to try to avoid serving them altogether because of preconceived notions about how much those tables are likely to tip. A survey of restaurant employees that Brewster conducted in 2012 found that respondents admitted to providing different levels of service based on race, or witnessing other servers do so. Of course, these stereotypes can also set in motion a self-fulfilling cycle that affects the service restaurant workers provide and, as a result, the tips they receive.
When visitors bring unwelcome germs
What visitors are passing through your kitchen? Inspectors, electricians, children, sales representatives, delivery personnel—all of them can introduce bacteria to your food and work surfaces. Make sure you take the necessary precautions before and after visitors come through to protect any food you have out and to clean and sanitize surfaces before any food preparation resumes after a visitor has left.
Ethics should extend to grab-and-go foods
A new report from Culinary Vision Panel’s Mindful Dining Initiative found a clear opportunity for restaurant operators to showcase their ethics in the snacks and grab-and-go foods they offer, according to a Nation’s Restaurant News report. The study, Ethics on the Go, which surveyed 1,500 consumers in the U.S., found that 82 percent of respondents wish operators would use more environmentally friendly business practices. The trend was especially pronounced among consumers aged 18 to 34, who value ethical eating choices more than any other demographic. These respondents reported in the survey that they see a lack of ethical grab-and-go eating options in the market—and that they’re willing to pay more for these items when they find them. Plant-based foods are a priority for these consumers, so keep them in mind when planning your grab-and-go menu options.
Retaining employees during the transition to new tech
Kiosks, mobile apps, table-top ordering via tablet…The desire to provide technology that improves the customer experience has unleashed rapid-fire rollouts at many restaurants, particularly quick-service establishments. In the process, the employee experience may be suffering. That’s what’s been happening at McDonald’s, according to a recent report in Skift Table. The brand has been revamping its technology as part of its “Experience of the Future” campaign, which has included new technology, delivery, curb-side pickup and a revamped menu. The complications have made it an easier choice for low-wage workers to leave for other jobs than to learn new systems. Indeed, turnover at quick-service restaurants in the U.S. is currently 150 percent, the highest it has been since People Tracker began measuring the results in 1995. As you plan technology rollouts, ensure you have training initiatives in place to help keep employees on board.
Order aggregator can streamline ordering tech
If you have embraced the consumer demand for online ordering, you may be facing a related problem: having to juggle a tablet for every partner platform you have. As mobile platforms multiply—there are now more than 100—operators increasingly have to monitor an unmanageable number of devices. Pymnts.com reports that Ordermark is one company that can help streamline the process by aggregating orders from all of the mobile platforms. Ordermark is able to send orders directly to your kitchen in one format, eliminating the restaurant’s need to translate orders from different platforms. The setup requires just a tablet and an Epson printer designed for cranking out orders.
What’s on your music menu?
Do you get positive comments about your music selection? Your guests could be coming in for more than your menu—and that could be something to weave into your marketing plan. Consider Darden Restaurants’ new burger concept, Capital Burger, which is being promoted not just for its food and beverage but for the ambient sound that will be playing at the restaurant (Darden calls it “an innovative soundscape for the musically curious”). Restaurant Business reports that the brand has created a Spotify channel called Capital Burger Beginnings to help promote the sound and, ideally, bring people in for a burger.
Evolve your allergy awareness
Allergens were a key topic of discussion at the National Restaurant Association’s recent Nutrition Executive Study Group in Seattle. One roundtable session touched on how to communicate about the presence of allergens in menu items that had not contained the allergen before, so allergy training in foodservice is an evolving activity. As consumer allergies are continuing to change and become more complex, are your servers and kitchen crew ready to respond? Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions shared some tips to help restaurant teams stay nimble and avoid triggering a dangerous reaction when preparing foods for people with allergies. First, train your servers to ask guests about allergies and to communicate that information clearly to the manager and head chef. Any questions from guests should go directly to the manager or head chef so there is a main point of contact managing any concerns. When they are cooking and plating items, your kitchen staff should be in constant communication to prevent cross-contamination with foods that contain allergens. Of course, it helps if you can sequester common food allergens in a separate part of the kitchen, use color-coded cooking tools and separate fryers when preparing those items, and even serve those items on plates that are a different color or shape than other foods served to the table. Create different modifications for dishes with special sides or sauces so you can still provide a tasty dish when accommodating an allergy. As you purchase new ingredients, study the lingo: Your staff should know that casein and whey are dairy products and semolina contains gluten, for example. Finally, be aware of multiple or complex allergies—something operators see with increasing frequently—and have a plan that can flex to accommodate them. It’s one thing to prepare a meal that’s free from the “big eight” allergens and another to be able to prepare one that avoids less common (but equally severe) triggers.
Don’t let business slip behind a cloud
Making the transition to cloud-based platforms to manage point-of-sale logistics makes sense for many operators—but if your Internet were to go down or you experienced other technology challenges, would your business come to a crashing halt? Even a temporary interruption could throw off a day of sales, but Modern Restaurant Management suggests some tips to ensure you have a back-up plan when things go wrong. Identify key staff who can become familiar with your Internet wiring, access points and routers, along with other important network connections. Train staff to use your system in offline mode and have a documented procedure in place (and practice it periodically) so you can operate through disruptions. If you’re fortunate enough to have time to develop a plan before a problem occurs, it may be time to find vendors who can promise the best service through events that would interrupt business. Consider purchasing a commercial internet connection plan, which may provide a stronger, more powerful connection that helps you avoid problems down the line. Determine what sort of service your vendors provide through internet disruptions. Can they ensure that you will, at minimum, be able to accept credit cards, split checks and create kitchen tickets during outages? Do they have a good history of providing software updates that offer stability and security? Make sure you know what support you will (or won’t) get when you need it most.
A recycling tool that pays dividends
How do you manage recyclable waste at your restaurant? If you have a bulky recycling bin taking up valuable real estate in your facility, Upserve suggests an appliance that can allow you to save space, recycle more efficiently, earn green credentials, and reduce costs: a waste compactor. Having one enables a restaurant to remove recycling bins from the premises and generate recycled waste in bale form. The bales must be collected but typically for just a small fee—and some recycling companies will even pay a rebate depending on the size and quality of bales received. The compactors can handle large pieces of plastic and boxes, which are time-consuming to break down and can often make a bin overflow, increasing the odds that they will end up in a waste bin heading to a landfill.
The best way to halt norovirus
It only takes one particle of norovirus to infect a human, compared to 100 particles of flu virus, NPR reports. That’s why norovirus can spread like wildfire in crowded places like schools, hospitals and restaurants. A new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that while wiping down surfaces with chlorine bleach could reduce a norovirus outbreak by 10 percent, handwashing was far more powerful: If 80 percent of those who didn’t wash their hands changed their habits, the effect could halt an outbreak. It’s important to first wet hands, then apply soap and work it into a lather, which helps break down the norovirus proteins. Experts recommend spending 20 seconds on the task.
What germs lurk in restaurant linens?
Many foodservice operators are replacing disposable linens with cloth varieties in order to present a more environmentally friendly image to guests. Just take precautions to make sure your linens don’t harbor bacteria that could cause illness. Within your restaurant, StateFoodSafety.com recommends you replace any linens used in foodservice, such as the napkins lining a bread basket, for every new guest. When choosing a linen cleaning vendor, look for one that provides a Hygienically Clean Food Safety Certification, which, according to Joseph Ricci, head of TRSA.org, an international organization representing companies that supply laundered garments, uniforms, linens and other items to businesses, is important to demonstrating a commitment to providing hygienically clean linens that have been verified by a third-party inspection and ongoing microbial testing.
Reach the final straw
Do you have an eco-conscious clientele? Create a campaign to ditch your plastic straws — and talk it up to your customers. Many media outlets have reported that 500 million plastic straws are used in the U.S. each day. Restaurant industry expert David Henkes claims the number is closer to 175 million, but any way you look at it, straws generate a lot of (largely unnecessary) plastic. While there are worse pollutants, plastic straws are small and lightweight enough that they escape recycling efforts and are usually discarded as waste. That waste eventually ends up polluting oceans, where fish and other marine life regularly get entangled in them or consume them.
A digital menu experiment
Digital menus can offer operators flexibility on food selection, pricing and promotion—all at the touch of a button. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of investing in one, watch how the experiment works at Starbucks. Skift Table reports that because the brand’s growth has been stagnating in the U.S. in recent months, it is testing digital menu boards in several locations and airport stores in order to boost sales, particularly during slower afternoon periods. One location, according to the report, has a large, six-panel digital menu that changes throughout the day and highlights the Starbucks food line, which the brand is trying to promote to help consumers see their stores as places to come for a meal, not just a cup of coffee.
Clean and sanitize it right
In any foodservice operation, it’s important to use cleaning and sanitizing agents in ways that help prevent the transfer of microorganisms and residues that could be unsafe when left on food preparation surfaces. Are your procedures for cleaning and sanitizing being followed? According to a report by Dr. Angela Fraser, associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, cleaning agents comprise four categories: detergents, like those used for washing dishes, surfaces and equipment; solvents that help remove grease; acid cleaners that are used periodically on mineral deposits that detergents can’t remove; and abrasive cleaners used to clean (and sometimes disinfect) areas with heavy soil. It’s important to know which cleaners can be used on specific surfaces (glass and metal cleaners, for example, as well as some bathroom cleaners, are not safe to use on food preparation surfaces) and to clean items thoroughly before attempting to sanitize them (that goes for hands too!). When you use chemicals to sanitize, make sure you use approved ones including chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium — and be aware of their properties, since each one has benefits and disadvantages that may be applicable to your restaurant. For example, chlorine deteriorates during storage, iodine should not be used in water hotter than 120˚F and quaternary ammonium is incompatible with some detergents and hard water. While restaurants commonly use heat to sanitize, it’s important to ensure specific temperatures are reached when doing so. Hot water used in the third compartment of a sink must reach 171˚F, the final rinse of a machine used to sanitize clean dishes must reach 180˚F, and stationary-rack, single-temperature machines must reach 165˚F, with the dishes exposed to those temperatures for 30 seconds in each of the scenarios.
Turn around your turnover
When employee turnover rates are as high as they are in the restaurant industry, some operators may not make it a priority to build an employee-friendly culture. But the payoff is still worthwhile: A new study from the University of Warwick in England found that taking steps to make employees happy led to a 12 percent increase in productivity, whereas unhappy workers proved to be 10 percent less productive. What’s more, according to reports from the Sasha Corporation, which reviewed 15 studies about workplace turnover, the average cost to replace one employee earning $8 and hour is more than $9,000. Upserve says if your employees are doing just the minimum amount required—not going above and beyond what is expected in any way—consider offering some acknowledgement, appreciation or incentives to boost their level of motivation. Create a culture where friendships are formed so your employees have a reason to stay, even if restaurant work isn’t part of their long-term plan. Creating a relaxed atmosphere can help, as well as issuing periodic surveys, challenging employees to games and competitions, and scheduling team-building outings and other social activities. Ask for their feedback and ideas, and provide some opportunities for growth and recognition, which can help make them feel more responsible for and invested in the success of the business.
Botanical ingredients pack a flavorful, nutrient-dense punch
If your customers are looking for ways to integrate more plants with healing properties into their diets (and they likely are, if the trend forecasters are on target), it’s become increasingly easy for chefs to pack some nutritional power into their menus. Ingredients like ginger, matcha, cardamom, turmeric and lavender are gaining a growing following, according to Thomas Griffiths, vice president of Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute. He also touted the natural, global, clean-label and chef-friendly benefits of these items. It helps restaurants that major manufacturers are getting on board: Food Dive reports that the packaged herb company McCormick & Co.’s purchase of the Botanical Food Company of Australia in 2016 will make herbs with health benefits even more accessible to chefs and consumers alike.
Avoid pathogens when pickling produce
House-made pickles made the National Restaurant Association’s most-recent “What’s Hot” culinary survey. During the months when fresh produce isn’t as readily accessible from local producers, you may well use pickled vegetables in salads and as garnishes—and of course, pickles themselves are expected on burgers regardless of the season. If you aspire to offer more house-made pickled items on your menu, pay attention to your preparation methods to ensure you don’t introduce foodborne pathogens — and obtain the proper reviews from health safety officials. The National Restaurant Association says if you want to set up a canning operation for dry storage, you need FDA review as well as a third-party lab that can conduct a shelf-life test (make sure any supplier abides by these criteria too). If you would like to refrigerate pickled items for quality, you need a variance, a HACCP plan and approval from your local health department. The items should be refrigerated at 41˚F or below to maintain food quality. Finally, if you simply want to give foods a more acidic flavor, you can immerse them in a vinegar-water solution, refrigerate them at 41˚F and treat them as TCS foods.
Walmart’s spoilage prediction technology generates savings
Walmart has developed a technology called Eden that can inspect produce for defects and accurately predict the exact date when an item will spoil, Food Dive reports. The company expects to save $2 billion in avoided food waste over the next five years as a result. Since Walmart deployed the technology to 43 distribution centers in January of last year, Eden has saved Walmart $86 million. Eden taps into the kinds of data that restaurant operators are also looking to collect via blockchain: It tracks storage area temperatures, temperature control devices on trucks, and, in the future, will use data from drones that can fly over farms and monitor temperatures.
New payment app eliminates waiting for the bill
If your table turn time is being held back by delays in processing customer checks, take note of an up-and-coming payment app that is allowing customers to dine, pay their bill and dash — all without a word to their server. Skift Table reports that Barclaycard, the payment services arm of the U.K. bank Barclay’s, is testing out a system that allows users to download a mobile app, enter their bank details, then touch their smartphones to a device on the table when they sit down at a restaurant. The system then takes payment at the end of the meal and the table-top device changes color to let the server know when the payment has gone through. Diners can apply discounts and split a bill via their smartphone, then receive a digital bill. The payment system rolled out in March at a London branch of the Italian restaurant chain Prezzo, according to the report.
Instagram is among the top-five most popular social media apps in the United States, with 800 million active users. More than other platforms, it has become the place to go for consumers looking for their next crave-worthy meal. New research from Upserve helps restaurant operators fine-tune their approach to Instagram. First, make sure your account bio fits your restaurant brand, states what your restaurant wants to achieve and lists your location. It should also link to your website, Facebook page and online menu. When you take photos, frame the shot from above to make the plate stand out and ensure the food you’re picturing takes up one-third of the frame. Use the color blue to appeal to your followers: It gets 24 percent more likes than other colors, according to research from Salesforce.com. Finally, determine which hashtags appeal most to your audience — sites like Hashtagify, Display Purpose and Dehaze can help you find out which hashtags are trending as they relate to restaurants.
Do’s and don’ts following a harassment claim
Renowned chefs and restaurants have made headlines in recent months for allegations of sexual harassment. Even if you have a clear policy in place for managing workplace conduct, it’s important to know how to respond in the immediate aftermath if and when an employee comes to you with a complaint. Juliette Gust, who created Ethics Suite, a platform for the hospitality industry to report workplace misconduct, theft and fraud, has some recommendations for operators. First, it’s important to investigate the allegation promptly, giving both the accuser and accused ample opportunity to provide their perspective, and document each step you take. Use an objective, methodical, confidential and consistent approach to help you prevent a complaint from ballooning into news headlines. After the complaint is made, thank the accuser for bringing it to your attention and ask that they make themselves available for follow-up questions as needed. Don’t make assumptions about the accuser or the accused, or confront the accused without a plan in place for how best to research the matter (and who should conduct the investigation). Before putting the accused on notice, make sure you (or a separate investigator) have had time to collect any key evidence that could be destroyed or manipulated during the course of an investigation. Then take decisive disciplinary action and follow up at regular intervals to ensure the steps you have taken can help prevent future incidents.
Digital seating for better guest management
If you’d like to incorporate on-demand technology but don’t know where to start, consider investing in a digital table and reservation manager as a first step. The software, named one of Fast Casual’s seven technologies transforming the restaurant industry, can help address long wait times by notifying guests via text when their table is ready and also allowing them to inform you of their approximate time of arrival. It can also ensure you’re scheduling staff efficiently and making best use of the tables you have available by suggesting ideal seating arrangements based on a party’s size and arrival time. Seating maps and specific server sections give hosts visual cues to help manage guest flow. As with any technology that improves the customer experience, a digital table and reservation manager can help you offer more personalized guest treatment. The system can provide servers with guest food preferences and important dates, as well as allow them to update customers about the status of their food at any point in the cooking process. The added efficiency can help speed up your turnaround times too. Nowait, one popular digital table management platform, reports that using a seating management app can help reduce table sit time by 50 percent. What’s more, by being efficient with your staff and table management, you can master the Two Minute Drill—what restaurant consultant Joel Cohen considers the optimal amount of time you should use to recognize a guest’s desire to leave and process their payment. Allowing a guest to leave soon after they show signs of wanting to depart can both enhance their experience and help you get new guests seated without delay.
An opportunity for bedtime beverages
If you’re looking to build out your beverage menu, there’s a window of opportunity with drinks designed to help consumers wind down at the end of the day. Mintel reports that while sales of fruit juice are falling due to concerns over sugar, the drinks that are performing better are intended to suit a specific purpose, such as kombucha as an aid to healthy digestion, for example. Very few brands market themselves for evening consumption, however. Mintel research indicates that 31percent of consumers are interested in juice with added probiotics. Consider offering less sweet juices with ingredients like ginger, probiotics and fennel to appeal to consumers who want a non-alcoholic drink to relax after dinner.
Step up the range and quality of gluten-free offerings
Chances are, you offer some breads and other bakery items that can accommodate the dietary needs of celiac sufferers. But new research from DuPont Nutrition & Health found that even among those who don’t have celiac disease, there is clear demand for gluten-free bakery products containing high-quality ingredients designed to support a healthy lifestyle. This includes foods high in fiber that contain no preservatives and are low in saturated fat, carbohydrates and calories. Research from The Hartman Group found that 35 percent of consumers in the U.S. who consume gluten-free products have no specific reason for doing so. Sales of gluten-free products in the U.S. were approximately $973 million in 2014 and are projected to exceed $2 billion by 2019, according to Packaged Facts.
Reduce your seafood risk
If you’re serving seafood to a clientele increasingly concerned about transparency—or simply want to avoid making the wrong kind of headlines when it comes to your food safety practices—take note of a new tool that helps ensure you’re providing a humanely harvested product. NPR reports that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which developed a red, yellow and green sustainable seafood-rating system, recently launched the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool. It’s a database intended to help seafood buyers determine the risk of forced labor, human trafficking and hazardous child labor in the seafood they purchase. Designed in partnership with Liberty Asia and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the tool assigns critical, high, moderate, or low-risk ratings for fisheries based on a set of criteria. It can help you pinpoint which fisheries (and fish) around the world present the highest and lowest risks.
Don’t let turnover impact food safety
High turnover is a fact of life in the restaurant industry, but the food safety vulnerability that often results doesn’t have to be that way. Food Safety Magazine reports that leaders across the food supply chain say they suffer from poor food safety performance or inconsistency after employees leave for new roles. To help, they suggest people across the food supply chain make an effort to simplify their food safety procedures, make sure food safety is built into every role in your organization and confirm that your team knows the tasks for which they are responsible (top-down and bottom-up training helps reinforce those lessons). Try demonstrating your expectations for a food safety task in three seconds or less, or in a video no longer than 30 seconds. Quick snippets of content are easier to remember and share—and they can help you onboard new people more easily.
Protect the safety of your kitchen
Where does your team take breaks between shifts? Your kitchen should not be an employee break room. Having clear guidelines about what is (and is not) allowed in the kitchen can help keep that space free from contamination. StateFoodSafety.com recommends you designate a separate break area and set guidelines designed to confine to that area any food and drink consumption by employees. When employees are ready to return to work, make sure that after they wash their hands, they dry them using a jet dryer or paper towels—not their clothes or a kitchen towel.
That's an order
Enabling new tech-based options for ordering food – and making them a profitable part of business – has become a must for restaurant operations looking to grow. Note some new research from Tillster's Online and Mobile Ordering index: The firm partnered with the research group SSI to survey 2,000 restaurant customers across the U.S. about how online and mobile ordering impacts guest behavior, Modern Restaurant Management reports. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of fast-casual customers expect to order online in the next year and more than 65 percent would order more often if a restaurant offered online ordering. While individuals will order online just as often as they'll order in-store, families and groups are more likely to order online, which typically leads to larger checks. More than 73 percent of those surveyed said they would visit a restaurant more often if it offered pre-ordering via mobile app for pick up or dining in. What's more, this trend isn't only about catering to Millennials. The survey found that customers in older generations appreciated having tech-based ordering options, too, and they are using them more often. Study what combinations of options would be most welcomed by your customers – communicating about them could require a range of approaches.
Take charge of gratuities
At a time when labor costs are rising and restaurants are struggling to balance wages between front- and back-of-house staff, operators have had to get creative with the fees structures they use. As a result, restaurant guests are starting to scrutinize their tabs for charges they deem to be unfair or unscrupulous, such as being charged an automatic gratuity without being informed it was included. The automatic gratuity sometimes leads to guests paying a double tip – one they knowingly pay and another they overlook – and many operators don’t have policies in place to prevent servers from collecting twice when that occurs. If you use automatic service charges, The Rail recommends several ways you can preserve transparency at your restaurant and ensure guests know what they’re paying. For one, inform large parties at the time of their reservation that you have an automatic service charge for large groups. You can also post the policy on your menu so that if a guest questions it when the bill arrives, you can point to the menu as evidence you made an effort to clarify guest charges. You can always take the direct approach of highlighting the automatic charge on the bill and informing the guest about it when the bill is presented. Finally, you can mark each credit card slip with a “service included” notation – or even require manager approval if a customer wants to add a tip on top of your included service charge. It may sound like overkill but it will send the message to guests that you are their advocate.
Master your menu
Winter isn’t the easiest time to get guests in the door. To entice people to visit during slow times – and to make things more manageable for your kitchen staff to prepare large numbers of dishes – consider promoting different prix-fixe menus throughout the season. They need not be just for fine-dining establishments. The Balance suggests you consider a special two-for-one menu, a prix-fixe lunch menu or a wine-and-cheese tasting menu to bring people in – or try offering fixed-price menus as an alternative to a buffet for smaller catered events. Slower times may also be good times to debut (and fine-tune) a new menu. Make sure all menu items are easy to prepare either in advance or on the spot, that they include some popular dishes as well as some that are unique to you, and that any pricier ingredients you use are doing double duty (or more) in other dishes across the menu so you avoid waste.
Light the way to food safety
Hands are washed. Food preparation surfaces are freshly cleaned. But don't forget to look above when monitoring your food safety practices. Lighting fixtures can not only harbor dust and other particles that could drop onto food preparation surfaces, but they can also pose risks if a fixture is broken. StateFoodSafety.com recommends that all lighting in your food preparation areas is either shielded or made from shatter-proof material to prevent glass shards from falling onto preparation surfaces.
Prevent this top kitchen safety risk
Lacerations and punctures are among the most common restaurant kitchen injuries. Taking some precautions with knives and cutting surfaces can help prevent them. Balance Point, the human capital management firm, suggests you take an inventory of your knives, replacing those with dull blades and tightening or repairing handles if needed. Don’t leave knives on the counter: Make sure they are stored in a rack or block in a designated place. To reduce the risk of accidental slips and cuts during food preparation, use non-slip pads or damp cloths under cutting boards and consider using cut-resistant gloves. Everyone cutting food should receive training on how to properly use knives, safely exchange cooking tools with other food preparers and maintain their condition.
Automate that purchase
Does your inventory management need a little boost? Among the top technologies transforming the food industry this year, according to Fast Casual, are automated purchasing tools. The technology links directly to your inventory system, alerts you to low product levels and can initiate an automatic order once a product in your inventory is reduced to a certain threshold. It can also make purchasing recommendations based on vendor product lead times and forecasted sales. A mobile app helps you manage the full process, from vendor bid review to order approval.
When tech gets personal
When can technology make the restaurant experience feel more customized and personal for your guests? It tells you when to expect their arrival, allows you to anticipate their order and helps you serve them promptly. Those were three takeaways from Deloitte’s latest analysis of what the restaurant of the future will look like – particularly quick-service and fast-casual operations with multiple locations – and how restaurants can capitalize on trends in order to improve sales and meet consumer demand. It suggested a few ideas likely to become far more prevalent in the years ahead: Use location-awareness technology to sense the arrival of a regular customer. Be able to ask “Would you like your usual order?” instead of “What would you like?” regardless of which restaurant location your guest visits. When you have more than six cars in your drive-through, send servers outside with tablets to take orders, and use a similar approach to line management inside to keep customers moving.
Ace your inventory
Is your restaurant among the 60 percent of restaurants that don’t take a careful inventory each month? If so, you’re leaving money on the table. According to the Restaurant Resource Group, taking a regular inventory increases profits by 24 percent annually. The restaurant technology provider Orderly says setting yourself up to take accurate inventories involves five steps: First, organize your items so you store everything by category in the proper place, move older items to the front so they are used first, and combine contents of open containers where possible. Doing this prior to the arrival of weekly deliveries makes it easier to store new items. Second, customize your count sheet so it looks just like how you have stored your ingredients on the shelves, then count each item by the pack size number (e.g. pounds of chicken or cases of barbecue sauce). Use the same staff for inventory each time to avoid having to train someone new— and consider incentivizing with preferred hours or comped meals for accurate inventories. Third, review your invoices for the most recent price you paid for every item you just counted and plug those prices into your spreadsheet. Have an organized system (ideally, an online reference) for managing invoices from the moment you receive one until it’s processed. Fourth, calculate your cost of goods sold (beginning inventory costs + purchases - ending inventory costs) and your prime cost (cost of goods sold + labor costs) / total sales). These figures will help you monitor your restaurant’s financial health. For example, aim for your inventory to be no more than 1.5x your cost of goods sold and for your prime cost to be 60 percent or less of your total food and beverage revenue. Finally, communicate to your staff that you are using this system to monitor waste and theft and to ensure you order only what you need.
Protect your intellectual property
In an age when ideas spread around the world in seconds and restaurants are eager to win new social media followers, protecting restaurants’ intellectual property is becoming increasingly important. Modern Restaurant Management relates how in 2013, New York pastry chef Dominique Ansell created the Cronut, which started a sensation after a food blogger wrote about the cream-filled, donut-croissant hybrid. People from around the world visited Ansell’s bakery to claim one of the several hundred Cronuts he made daily, and Ansell registered for a federal trademark to prevent other bakeries from selling the popular pastry under the same name. His success with the Cronut helped him launch new bakeries in New York, London and Japan, as well as a full-service restaurant that opened in Los Angeles this year. Even if you aren’t sitting on a creation as lucrative as the Cronut, you likely still want to prevent employees from taking signature recipes or food preparation techniques with them to the restaurant across the street. Modern Restaurant Management recommends you understand the four ways your intellectual property is protected: through trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents. A trademark can protect your restaurant’s name, logo, menu-item names and, in certain cases, food designs. Copyright law protects your website, menu designs and marketing materials. Trade secrets can comprise your recipes, customer and vendor lists, and special food preparation techniques that give you an advantage over operators who don’t have the information. Finally, patents can protect (for a limited time) machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes and chemical compositions, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To decide what you want to protect, take stock of what is most valuable to your restaurant and makes it unique. Also consider your relationships with partners and employees – if you were to part ways, how would your intellectual property be treated?
How much are delivery apps costing you?
Offering delivery has become compulsory for many restaurants. But as restaurant delivery orders climb, often replacing (and not augmenting) sales from customers who visit the restaurant in person, they are taking a bite out of profits, according to a New Yorker report. One operator, who has three fine-casual restaurant outlets in New York City, finds that for every delivery order she sends out, 20 to 40 percent of revenue goes to third-party operators and couriers like GrubHub and UberEATS. While she once managed delivery in-house, she could not keep up with the demand. Now she estimates she is losing money or, at best, breaking even, on her delivery orders. What’s more, delivery orders across the industry are on the rise: While deliveries comprised 7 percent of total U.S. restaurant sales in 2016, Morgan Stanley predicts that number could eventually represent 40 percent of all restaurant sales – even higher in urban settings and in casual restaurants.
Keep sinks separate
Your food preparation sink be just that—not used for any other purpose. If your employees wash their hands in a food preparation sink, they can easily leave behind pathogens that could contaminate food prepared in the sink, Statefoodsafety.com reports. Have a strict policy about which sinks onsite should be used for handwashing and keep an ample supply of soap (and perhaps sanitizer to use after washing) in the dispensers at those sinks.
Show your falafel flair
Is falafel on your menu? It’s one of those rare items that appeals to carnivores and vegetarians alike, thrives in a range of applications and is an on-trend global flavor ripe for the mainstream. Flavor & the Menu says falafel “sets itself up nicely for signaturization and customization,” which can help you make the most of your inventory. In addition to serving falafel in a traditional style inside a pita with hummus, tahini and vegetables, consider adding it to your burger menu with a layer of avocado, creating a Mediterranean-style taco with falafel and pickled vegetables, or offering it as an added protein on salads.
Delegate scheduling to an app
Restaurants that use scheduling software can cut labor costs by up to 2 percent, according to Fast Casual. App-based scheduling stands to save you a lot of time as well. If you haven’t transitioned from manual scheduling yet, consider some potential benefits of a digital system: It can help you set shift times and positions according to historical staffing patterns. It can anticipate sales, which can help you prevent scheduling too many – or too few – staffers during a shift, and avoid paying unnecessary overtime charges. Finally, scheduling software can help you oversee and manage employee availability, shift swapping and time-off requests – all via an app.
Free app tracks ingredient pricing trends
Ingredient prices are moving targets. In a study of more than 410,000 purchases from more than 4,000 food distributors recently, Orderly found great inconsistencies in the prices offered to different clients. The company reports that 92 percent of restaurants are overpaying their suppliers, with mark-ups on certain items hitting 201 percent. Tracking your prices against your historical charges and the overall market will boost your negotiating power. Orderly offers a free app that can give you a sense of national and local pricing trends for more than 100 of the most popular ingredients restaurants are buying. Make sure you scrutinize costs for your most popular items and meet with suppliers regularly to discuss pricing and service.
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