Off-premise dining poised for further growth
What’s your formula for off-premise success? Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group, said 63 percent of all restaurant traffic is off-premise and he sees the off-premise market becoming even more important in the coming decade, with takeout, delivery and food trucks driving growth. A number of speakers at the recent National Restaurant Association Show said the same thing: Consumers are craving chef-prepared meals but don’t necessarily want to sit down at a restaurant to eat them. Modern Restaurant Management suggests several areas where operators can improve their chances of building their off-premise business. First focus your menu on items that are easy and quick to prepare and will maintain their quality if not eaten immediately after purchase. Fine-tune your packaging so it insulates foods that need to be kept hot or cold. Then you need technology that can manage different streams of guest traffic, taking into account orders from different channels and providing reliable quote times to guests — you may be able to upgrade your current platform to better support off-premise business streams. Study your sales of menu items across the ordering platforms you use to understand which items are popular and which need to be removed. Having this information can also help you test different price points for a popular item. Are guests clicking on the link to your website, or to special discounts and promotions? Measure which items are generating the best response so you can adjust your formula accordingly.
No space for a garden? No problem
Fresh, local produce has become an expectation of consumers dining out. To create space to grow that produce within the footprint of a restaurant, some operators have to get creative. As a result, they are finding ways to produce on rooftops, in cool climates, in cities, small spaces and other spots where bountiful gardens are a surprising find. Plate reports that at Coltivare in Houston, chef/owner Ryan Pera maximizes space in his restaurant’s patio garden by finding plants that are good partners and can be planted in the same bed. Long beans and peppers grow in one bed, basil and tomatoes in another. Operators just starting to grow their own produce can plant herbs and salad greens in boxes staggered along a patio wall. Pera also suggests planting smaller vegetables, such as quick-ripening small tomatoes instead of larger tomatoes that can collect water and rot. To protect what he grows, Pera makes an effort to prune frequently and manage water runoff after heavy rain to maintain the soil’s nutrients. Or you can avoid soil completely: Hydroponics are taking root in cities, allowing operators (and, on a larger scale, entrepreneurs) to raise greens in basements with the help of LED cultivation lamps. Finally, consider seeking an outdoor gardening space (and sharing an indoor growing space) with other nearby restaurant operators who have an interest in offering their own produce on the menu.
Manage rising recalls
In the past five years, the U.S. food and beverage industry has seen the biggest increase in product recalls of any industry. According to the Stericycle Recall Index, which tracks product recalls in the U.S., food recalls by the F.D.A. jumped nearly 93 percent between 2012 and 2017, while recalls managed by the U.S.D.A., which largely oversees meat production, climbed 83 percent during the same period. Bacterial contamination from such pathogens as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria was the most common cause. When recalls occur, do you have a reliable system for sequestering potentially contaminated items? StateFoodSafety.com advises that when a recall is announced, check to see if
you have the item in question. If so, remove it and store it away from other food and equipment that may otherwise come into contact with the item.
The struggle for sustainable seafood
In an industry where seafood fraud is widespread, the US distributor Sea to Table had become a favorite in the sustainable seafood movement for its purported mission to sell local, sustainably caught seafood — guaranteeing that its products were wild and could be traced to a U.S. dock or even a specific boat. But an AP investigation found that the business is linked to some of the practices it claimed to fight. It reports that DNA tests performed on Sea to Table’s yellowfin tuna indicated the fish originated from the other side of the world. AP research also found that Sea to Table was offering seafood varieties in different parts of the US that were illegal to catch, farmed and out of season. Further, when reporters traced the company’s supply chain, they found foreign fisherman who described labor abuses and poaching. For background about how you can make sustainable seafood choices, visit www.fishwatch.gov.
Keep your ice bin contaminant-free
Hot weather calls for icy beverages, so ensure your ice bin is ready for action. Dust, dirt, algae, bacteria from ice scoops stored unsafely, incoming water — all create conditions for unsanitary ice. The industrial ice machine provider EasyIce suggests a rough schedule for maintaining the cleanliness of your ice machine. First, conduct regular cleanings: Turn off your machine and soak a sponge in a solution of 1 oz. chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water. Wipe all surfaces of the bin that people handle — the lid, interior of the bin near the lid, and the plastic baffle inside that directs falling ice toward the back of the machine. Don’t rinse. Let the bin air dry. If scale is present, de-scale and rinse with water before bleaching as the products don’t mix well. Twice annually, do a deep cleaning. First, use a spray bottle to disperse de-liming and de-scaling products and scrub the bin’s interior with a brush or cloth. Rinse with water, then clean the bin interior with the bleach solution and air dry.
Be safe with shellfish
Nothing says summer like a lobster or clam bake. Food Safety News says that since the warm-water habitat of many shellfish is in areas of high water pollution from nearby cities, it’s important to cook this seafood well — to 145˚F, never consume it raw — to kill any lurking pathogens. Further, it advises that you do not cook or eat shellfish with open shells, which indicate the shellfish are dead and inedible. When storing shellfish, put it on ice or refrigerate or freeze it immediately after purchasing it. Take care to wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling shellfish, and to clean with hot, soapy water all utensils and surfaces that come into contact with the shellfish. Avoid cross-contamination during storage or prep by ensuring no juices from the shellfish touch other ready-to-eat foods.
Want loyalty? There’s an app for that
When you introduce user-friendly tech at your restaurant, consumers take notice and may become loyal customers. According to a recent survey of 1,000 diners by the hospitality integration platform Flyt, 58 percent of respondents said their perception of a restaurant improves — and makes them interested in visiting more frequently — if the restaurant uses technology effectively. In many cases (42 percent), that meant having an app that offers users the option of making voucher redemptions, ordering food delivery, making bookings and collecting loyalty points. Respondents said that for an app to be worth using again, it had to be easy to use (64 percent), provide key information (52 percent) and able to be used quickly (42 percent).
Use data to expand your “share of stomach”
“When we talk about share of stomach, we’re not just talking about supermarkets, but we are talking about restaurants, and all places that customers go to for their meal needs.” That’s what a spokesman for the food retailer Kroger said to the Cincinnati Business Courier recently. At a time when supermarkets and even convenience stores are steadily improving the ready-to-eat meals they have on offer and Amazon is in prime position to transform consumers’ ability to access quality foods quickly, how is your restaurant setting itself apart? Restaurant operators currently have a leg up on retailers when it comes to identifying their best guests via customer segmentation — they just need to use their data to generate the kind of call to action that results in increased guest visits and improved loyalty. For instance, Bloom Intelligence suggests restaurant operators identify a customer segment that dines with them once every week. Offer those guests a coupon or promotion when they refer a friend or write a Yelp review. Tap into a customer’s buying history to know who might enjoy the new appetizer on your menu. Your high-frequency, low expenditure guests aren’t likely to visit you more often, so focus on helping them attract new guests and on enticing them with offers that might encourage them to add an appetizer or dessert to their usual order. Are there any big spenders in your guest database? Offer them promotions that could encourage more frequent visits.
Don’t call these plants vegetarian
More than half of consumers are boosting their fruit and vegetable intake as compared to last year, citing taste and health as motivating factors. That’s according to Datassential’s SNAP! Keynote Report: Plant-Based Eating. Plant-based foods had a major presence at the recent National Restaurant Association Show — and while plant-based proteins are on the rise and becoming more creative (KFC recently announced plans to test a vegetarian chicken recipe with consumers this fall), you don’t necessarily need to imitate meat to offer a filling meal. Datassential’s report indicates that 85 percent of consumers believe plant-based foods can be just as satisfying as animal proteins. Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole and ancient grains can add heft to a plant-focused dish. Datassential found that more than half of consumers surveyed eat legumes once a week and one-third of consumers surveyed eat seeds at least once a week, often as part of a snack. The company advises that on the menu, operators avoid terms like “vegan” or “vegetarian,” which can make a dish sound less hearty or filling than it is. Instead, consider adding global seasonings to local, in-season produce to easily justify the presence of fruits and vegetables in the center of the plate. Promote the specific health benefits of the ingredients you offer, such as a smoothie with cleansing or energizing components.
Make a tough call on bacteria
Our phones have become extensions of us — and unfortunately, they carry with them bacteria that far outnumber what we typically encounter in a bathroom or other area where we are more likely to think of washing hands. According to research from Mashable, phones carry 25,107 bacteria per square inch, compared to 1,201 bacteria on a toilet seat, 1,736 bacteria on a kitchen counter, 4,500 bacteria on a checkout screen, and 8,643 bacteria on a doorknob. Do you have a firm policy about the use of phones by staff in your restaurant? In addition to encouraging the washing of hands, have guidelines about the use and cleaning of phones. A soft towel dipped in a mix of 60 percent water and 40 percent isopropyl alcohol works, or even a UV light that kills surface bacteria.
Food producers face new risk
Much like the threat of bacteria in food that resist treatment by antibiotics, there is now an increase in food crops’ resistance to antifungal treatments. That’s according to new research published in the journal Science. The study’s authors say the overuse of antifungal chemicals is making crops and livestock more resistant to treatments, which could lead to an increase in the loss of crops and livestock to fungal pathogens, as well as an increase in human fungal diseases. Fungal pathogens could include blights that impact food crops, as well as yeast and mold-related infections in both livestock and humans. The study calls for more selective use of existing antifungal treatments, which are currently limited in number, and also the development of new drugs and treatments.
The menu of the future is here
Ever been to a restaurant and ordered a dish you noticed someone enjoying at the next table? Augmented reality (AR) technology is tapping into our need to visualize the food we order. Upserve reports that the burger chain Bareburger has partnered with the AR food menu app Kabaq to make their meatless burgers appear on guests’ plates in 3D via Snapchat. The technology is designed to encourage guests to “eat with their eyes first,” Upserve reports — and, perhaps, order a little extra. According to a study Kabaq conducted, guests viewing virtual dessert options on a tablet on the table boosted dessert sales by 25 percent. Kabaq currently has more than 150 restaurants on board.
The best of both worlds in food delivery?
Delivery is here to stay — but the debate about how restaurants can make it profitable continues. Fortunately, in addition to handling delivery in-house and farming it out to third-party vendors, there is an emerging third category of delivery management that enables operators to manage delivery growth and retain the data they would otherwise be losing to third parties. In its 2018 Restaurant Tech EcoSystem report, Forbes mentions the emergence of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, essentially B2B software, which helps restaurants expand and serve their customer base and manage volume at the same time. Check out ordering platforms like Olo and logistics platforms like Bringg.
When you’re talking about restaurant technology, how is the conversation different if you’re operating a 1-to-5-unit business versus a restaurant that’s part of a 500-to-1000-unit ecosystem? It’s more similar than you might think. On a recent episode of Foodable’s Takeout, Delivery and Catering Show, Mo Asgari, president of MonkeyMedia Software, discussed technology deployments across the restaurant industry and said tech providers are all moving quickly to develop offerings that can serve the full spectrum of customers. For small operations, it’s critical to have a tech provider that can provide a scaleable product that flexes as your business does. Before you invest in technology, make sure you understand any challenges your business faces that may not be tech-related (and will need attention before you invest). Where to begin? Take stock of your operating model – MonkeyMedia’s “5 Pillars of Successful Restaurant Takeout, Delivery and Catering” can help.
How the Internet of Things can help your restaurant leap forward
Restaurant technology that makes an operation run more efficiently brings together pieces of information from multiple sources at the front and back of house to help improve the way we work. That’s where the Internet of Things (IoT), the range of interconnected devices that share information, stands to help operators manage through change and rely on data instead of guesswork to make decisions. The benefits can help restaurants take a major step forward now (though eventually, the information IoT technology provides may be required by health departments). According to Upserve, a connected restaurant can help operators remotely manage all equipment, troubleshoot problems and potentially avoid equipment failure. That means it can uphold your food safety standards by monitoring refrigeration (even shelf-by-shelf) round-the-clock and alerting you when a process or piece of equipment is out of compliance or when pathogens may be present. It can improve communication between your front- and back-of-house staff, manage orders more efficiently and make informed decisions about what dishes are and are not working on your menu. A smart oven with IoT technology can allow you to use one oven for different types of cooking and to monitor its operation remotely. Of course, not every operation is ready to make the best use of this kind of connectivity – Upserve suggests you ask yourself if you will act on the data provided, if you have the space for new kitchen equipment as needed, and if you understand the ways in which IoT can help increase your revenue. That said, you don’t need to make a substantial investment to take steps toward better connectivity – even a smartphone app that connects to sensors in an operation (Swift Sensors is one option) can help your restaurant save money, manage inventory better, minimize waste, monitor and improve energy usage and serve a consistent menu.
Boosting employee engagement through sustainability (but that’s not all)
It's no secret that consumers are demanding greater transparency and quality when it comes to the food they eat, its impact on their health and the environment, and the conditions in which it was produced. But a focus on sustainability could also make your restaurant a more appealing place to work at a time when staff retention is a significant challenge for many operators. That's according to the National Restaurant Association Sustainability Executive Study Group, which held its second annual meeting recently. At the session, business leaders focusing on sustainability efforts at Chick-fil-A, Darden Restaurants and other businesses made the connection between sustainability programs at work and employee engagement. A panel during the session reported that at companies with sustainability programs, 76 percent of employees agreed that their company was making a positive impact on the world (compared to 62 percent of employees at companies without sustainability programs). Further, 86 percent of employees from companies with sustainability programs said they are somewhat or very excited about their work, compared to 79 percent of employees at companies that don't take part in sustainability programs. (Of course, these operators aren’t only building sustainable operations to break the cycle of short-term employment in the restaurant industry – they are approaching employee engagement from different angles. Chick-fil-A, for one, has made headlines recently for its decision to give its hourly employees a $5 wage increase to between $17 and $18 an hour, as well as paid sick leave for all employees and paid time off for supervisors.)
Build a better beverage business
There are big profits in beverages right now -- from exotic new takes on coffee and tea to alcoholic drinks -- but do you give your beverage menu the same treatment you give your food menu? Typsy offered some suggestions to boost sales and customer engagement. For one, simplify your selection to avoid overwhelming guests (aim to limit your menu to 12 options per category) and use brief descriptive words, like "tangy" or "smooth," to paint a picture of each option and give each drink a creative title. Harness your POS data to determine your best-selling and most profitable drinks. In the category of beverages where you generate the most profits, increase your premium ingredients to help expand your margins. Finally, don't forget price psychology: place drink prices next to item descriptions (not off on their own) and price drinks so they end in $.95 or $.97 -- consumers perceive them as better deals than those priced on the dollar.
Safe summertime cookouts
The season for barbecues is upon us. If you’re cooking and serving outdoors, Foodsafety.gov advises you take extra precautions when it comes to preventing the spread of pathogens. For one, use your food thermometer to determine when meats are fully cooked. Beef, pork, lamb and veal must reach an internal temperature of 145˚F with a three-minute rest time. Ground meats need to reach 160˚F and poultry must reach 165˚F. Hot dogs are cooked when steaming hot. While food can be left out at room temperature for two hours, food sitting out in the sun should not be left for more than an hour.
Fashioned for food safety
Are your standards for staff dress threatening food safety at your restaurant? Insisting on having servers and kitchen staff keep uniforms clean, eliminating elements like neckties or vests that can accidentally brush up against food and cross-contaminate ingredients, having your staff wear shoes with a tread that prevent slips, trips and falls, and keeping their hair tied up and away from food can all help prevent food safety problems.
Instagram update brings guests a step closer to the dishes they view
Instagram has become the go-to social media platform for restaurants looking to showcase their latest dishes, offer promotions and build their audience. Now, the platform is making it easier for consumers to make plans to consume the mouth-watering dishes they see on the platform. Instagram, through its partnerships with OpenTable, GrubHub and Resy, is letting consumers order food for delivery or make reservations directly from the platform – they no longer have to call the restaurant or toggle over to its site to order delivery or book a table.
It’s the new drive-thru
Could this be the reinvention of the drive-thru? Chipotle has begun adding drive-thru lanes to some of its new locations – but guests can’t use them to place food orders. (Dunkin’ Donuts did the same at one of its locations this year.) CNBC reports that at Chipotle, the lanes are to serve guests who have placed orders via the chain’s mobile app and want the option of staying in their car when picking up their food. Those who place an order via mobile app can do so hours in advance and choose the time they’d like to pick up their order. Guests will receive a text when their order is ready and can park in dedicated spots outside if they arrive prior to that time. The challenge will be to monitor data to be able to anticipate when ordering rushes occur – and to schedule staff accordingly.
Turn around your turnover rate
The cost of employee turnover is about $5,800 per person for the average front-line employee, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. That turnover is especially damaging if you lose a strong general manager, who is “the one person you have to hold accountable for everything about the brand standard,” according to Roz Mallet, CEO of PhaseNext Hospitality who spoke in a session at the recent National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. But you can limit the damage. A report in Foodservice Director recommends some strategies in use at various foodservice operations around the country. Towson University’s foodservice operation, for example, uses an online application designed to help match applicants with job openings and also identify candidates who may already be planning their exit from the job. Hiring managers there must connect with at least two references before making a hire, and new hires must take part in safety and company policy training and orientation before their first day on the job. The goal is to provide a transparent process and avoid surprises later—so Foodservice Director suggests operators not hold back about the challenges of a position (and about how the candidate’s skills and talents are needed). Also, make an effort to consider new demographics. For example, a school district in Lee’s Summit, Mo. makes a special effort to promote job openings to retirees and caregivers who are less likely to jump from job to job than younger workers may be. They advertise job openings during school events that are likely to draw people committed to the community. Finally, go fishing. TJ Schier of SMART Restaurant Group said he passes out business cards to any people he meets who give him top-notch customer service and invites them to apply for a job at his restaurants.
Look to the future with practical, on-brand technology
What does the restaurant of the future look like? While kitchen robots, autonomous delivery vehicles and facial recognition software are certainly on the rise, operators considering new technology don’t need the latest bells and whistles to benefit from technology. Industry experts weighed in on the topic at the National Restaurant Association Show—and their comments served as a reminder to put new technology in perspective. When considering whether to implement new technology, Restaurant Business reports that Sarah Lockyer of Winsight suggested operators ask whether or not their guests are demanding that technology and if it meshes with their restaurant’s brand. While voice recognition may be a helpful addition for some restaurant kitchens, for example, there are other technology applications that may be more practical across the board. Restaurant payments, Lockyer said, are in this category. Do you know to what extent technology can help streamline your guest payments? Do you offer mobile payments? Does your restaurant have a clientele that would accept a cashless payment option? Lockyer also sees opportunity for restaurants to use dynamic pricing to their benefit. For instance, during a slow day part, a stormy weekend, or a day when your supply of a popular menu item is running low, your spur-of-the-moment pricing adjustments can help increase traffic and boost sales of certain items. Dynamic pricing can also help you make special offers to your most loyal guests.
Take back your bookings
At a time when data is king, think twice before surrendering your customer information to third parties. For example, while using a third-party service to manage your bookings can be a helpful part of your marketing strategy, it shouldn’t be your only strategy. You’re likely losing not just money but also weakening your connection to your guests because their data is going to the third-party provider instead of you—and if you have no tables available at a requested time, you’re also losing out on an opportunity to suggest a table at another restaurant in your portfolio. Modern Restaurant Management suggests offering benefits to guests to incentivize them to book directly from you: Create memorable experiences by offering kitchen tours, special classes or preferred seating times and locations. Consider offering rewards such as custom wine pairings or a complimentary appetizer. Finally, make the third-party sites worth your while by having them enforce cancellation fees and a require credit card to hold a reservation.
Plant-based foods take off
If the National Restaurant Association Show is any indication, plant-based foods aren’t just for vegans and vegetarians anymore—and they’re becoming much more than burger replacements. Restaurant Business reports that attendees of the recent event crowded the show floor for a taste of products such as “bleeding” meatless burgers, dairy-free cheese, soy-based gyros, plant-based scrambled egg replacements, and burgers and sausages made from pea protein. How innovative is your kitchen when it comes to creating plant-based menu options? More guests may be clamoring for them in the coming months.
Check cleanliness of non-food-contact surfaces
When cleaning your kitchen, don’t forget easily overlooked places like refrigerator, microwave and oven handles, beverage dispenser heads, overhead lighting and vents, and walls adjacent to your food preparation areas that are likely to get splashed during cooking. StateFoodSafety.com advises keeping these non-food-contact surfaces clean to ensure food debris can’t contaminate menu items you’re preparing.
Fine-tune your back-of-house setup
Even with a well-thought-out training program in place and front-of-house staff committed to delivering quality service, the experience you provide your guests won’t be the best it can be if your back-of-house setup isn’t working. Assess your back-of-house procedures to identify bottlenecks. Are inadequate tools compromising food or employee safety or consuming too much time? Fast Casual suggests you consider using equipment such as high-efficiency dishwashers, disposals, automated oil management systems and trash compactors, which can help streamline complicated or unsafe tasks — and make your team’s work a bit easier. Also, as open kitchens continue to appeal to guests, keeping that part of your operation in order and ready for display is just as important as the presentation of the dish you serve a guest.
Virtual and augmented reality raise the game for restaurants
Looking to improve your guest and employee experience? For some operators, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are boosting engagement. A report in QSR magazine said the founder of the fast-casual chain Honeygrow has implemented a VR orientation and training tool whereby employees wear a pair of VR glasses and walk through a five-part training session that covers everything from protecting food safety to providing good customer service. There is even a gaming component where employees must place vegetables and raw meat on the proper refrigerator shelves. Other brands are using similar technology to create digital apps that allow guests to scan against features at the restaurant, prompting information, animations and games to pop up on their phone screen to educate and engage them in the brand. Starbucks has introduced such an AR concept in its new Shanghai Reserve Roastery.
Navigate food delivery – and come out ahead
Offering food delivery is becoming more of a need-to-have option than a nice-to-have option, as restaurants struggle to bring in new customers and find ways to manage decreased foot traffic. In fact, NPD Group found that food delivery sales have climbed 20 percent in the past five years. If GrubHub, Uber Eats or other large food delivery operators have started up in your vicinity, don’t forget about the smaller, independent operators who might give your restaurant a boost. A recent report in Skift Table says business for these operators has been strong overall, despite some early concerns that the larger operators could eat up their market share. The report found that in some cases, the larger operators were slow to make requested menu updates and that a restaurant might not appear as an available option during periods when the updates need to be made. While a smaller operator may not have the advantage of scale, it may be able to provide personalized service to its restaurant partners and their customers. If your take-away menu includes items that require special care or if your delivery business has a loyal customer following, using a smaller player might help you customize your service to that base. They may also be more willing to negotiate with you to earn your business — an important benefit at a time when delivery slims down profit margins for many restaurants.
E. coli inspires technology that prevents it
The E.coli outbreak at Chipotle a few years ago inspired two engineers to start working on a device that would help prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Now, Business Insider reports that they have developed a product called PathSpot that uses light to determine whether or not there is bacteria present on a person’s hands (which, when not properly washed, can cause 89 percent of foodborne illnesses). PathSpot is a small black box attached to an iPad with a connected sensor. When the iPad scans the light reflected by a person’s hand, it runs an algorithm to show how it fluoresces — wavelengths of light fluoresce differently in contaminated versus clean hands. PathSpot will flash red if it detects bacteria on a person’s hands and blue if the person’s hands are clean. It also maintains extensive employee records and can alert a manager if an employee doesn’t rescan within a few minutes of getting a red light, or if an employee is skipping scans altogether. The technology is in the early stages of a rollout — it is already being used in 20 farms, packaging facilities and restaurants in the U.S. The engineers behind the technology have their sights set on making PathSpot the go-to device for sanitation regulation in restaurants, hospitals, schools and airports — and to eventually make PathSpot a portable device that could attach to a smartphone and be used by individuals.
Food inspection schedules impact likelihood of foodborne illness
The time of day when a food safety inspection takes place can have a big impact on foodborne illness rates. That’s according to a new Harvard Business School study, which found that 19 million foodborne illnesses, 51,000 hospitalizations and billions of dollars in medical costs could be avoided every year if food safety inspections are scheduled at the beginning of the day instead of at the end. Food Safety Magazine reports that according to the research, inspectors cited fewer violations at each establishment inspected throughout the course of a day. This is likely due to workday fatigue and an eagerness to complete work toward the end of a day — and it likely provides some operations with better scores than they deserve.
Technology to help you manage labor challenges
Managing swings in the labor market, as well as the costs, are top challenges for restaurant operators. At the recent National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, many technology companies were on hand with offerings designed to help operators manage those challenges. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a number of companies, including HotSchedules, Harri and Snag, are looking to help operators with labor forecasting to help them avoid the high costs of turnover. Consider them if you’re looking to monitor shifting consumer demands, adapt to the rise of off-premise business, fill staff vacancies quickly and manage other factors that can help you navigate the labor landscape.
Restaurant technology: Experts weigh in
How is your restaurant preparing for technology? If you struggle to use technology effectively, several technology executives from Papa John’s, KFC and Long John Silver’s made recommendations at the recent Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville, Ky. The primary takeaways: When you’re considering new technology, approach it from a holistic perspective. Your app or digital signage won’t be as effective if you’re not coordinating it with changes to your full operation — and ensuring the technology you have works as an ensemble. They also addressed a popular myth: that embracing digital ordering will help operators reduce labor costs. In reality, they said, your head count may increase because as you become more efficient at accepting orders more quickly, you’ll need people helping to prepare them. Finally, as you incorporate technology to improve customer experience, remember your employees’ experience by providing digital training tools and other resources that can improve their work, such as online shift-trading tools.
Fine-tune your online marketing
There is so much information available about restaurants online that most of your guests have likely researched you on Yelp, Google Business, TripAdvisor or all three before stepping through your door. To reap the most benefit from your online marketing budget, Cake recommends you optimize your listings with specific, relevant service categories and keywords. Ensure you have a brief write-up that uses these keywords to describe your restaurant and menu. Use professional photos and ensure your restaurant’s menu and contact information is updated across platforms. Put your menu online and link it to your listings on review sites. Update your website so it’s optimized for mobile, can accept reservations online and incorporates local SEO to improve your online rankings. Have a complete social media profile and allow guests to book a table through your page. Any email you send should be personalized with names, locations or other information — and easily read on a mobile device.
A tabletop tablet for independent restaurants
Did you think tabletop tablets were out of reach for independent restaurants or small chains? Ziosk, a top player that has in recent years focused on the larger chains, including Chili’s, Red Robin and about two dozen others, is now looking to expand its tablet technology into small chains and some independent restaurants. Skift Table reports that in addition to payments, the Ziosk tablets offer games and also prompt guests with post-meal surveys that can only be taken immediately after making payment (helping operators avoid having servers take surveys and inflate their ratings artificially). Pricing for Ziosk’s offering for independent restaurant starts at $260 per month for 24 devices.
Get ahead with Facebook’s new algorithm
In the wake of Facebook’s recent algorithm change, which prioritizes newsfeed content from a user’s family, friends and social groups over content from brands, restaurant operators with a large following on Facebook have been concerned that their content will now be more difficult for followers to see on the platform. That said, brands that are developing original, creative content shouldn’t have much reason to worry. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said pages that people comment on, or which “prompt conversations between friends,” will be less impacted than those that rely on content that does not generate discussion or engagement in the form of shares with friends. According to Hootsuite, your post will get a boost in the Facebook newsfeed if it generates replies to comments, a “love” instead of a “like,” or if a user shares your link via Facebook Messenger with one or more friends. Hootsuite suggests that to maximize your Facebook performance, create content that sparks some discussion among your followers. Focus on live videos – like a chef demo, for example – that will generate a response from your guests. Try to focus on local events and community building instead of broad messages that could come from a restaurant across the country. Invest in Facebook ads to ensure you’re targeting the right potential customers. Finally, connect with influencers who have a built-in following and are willing to promote your message on your behalf – just make sure it’s something that will generate discussion.
Work effectively with influencers
Your ability to attract new guests by personal referral is a strong testament to your business. Since many personal recommendations happen via social media, social media influencers have gained power through their ability to help brands get the word out. Influencers have built large followings – typically of around 10,000 people – by posting content that their followers trust and find engaging. To help incorporate the right influencers in your marketing strategy, the business consultancy Deputy suggests you improve your social media presence by having a complete online profile and by posting content that’s more engaging than promotional. When considering different influencers who might help you build business, check out their followers’ level of engagement to make sure they are responding well to it. Align with influencers who are passionate about food and restaurants. Opt for influencers who have a strong, local presence on a single platform versus those with a diluted, broad-based presence on many platforms. Start a relationship by responding to their content. Once you have established a rapport, you can contact them directly to propose they come to your restaurant for a free meal. Deputy says influencers may expect compensation beyond a free meal and in that case may mention the conditions of a business relationship at the outset. Make sure those conditions work for your business, or contact an agency that works with influencers and can recommend guidelines to follow, as well as other influencers who could be potential partners. Once your relationship is established, you can take care of it by offering discounts to the influencer’s followers, involving the influencer in events and branding decisions, or making them an ambassador by offering a monthly fee or free meals in exchange for promotional content.
Be aware of Gluten sensitivity
Approximately three million people in the United States have celiac disease and just five percent are aware of it, according to the National Restaurant Association. To accommodate those guests, as well as many others with gluten sensitivity, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) reminds operators to ensure you communicate about guest allergies across the entire team. Your wait staff should be able to discuss ingredients and cooking techniques with a gluten-intolerant guest if needed. Check the cleanliness of tables and chairs, where cross-contamination can happen, as well as the placement of tongs, ladles and other implements that might be used with the wrong foods inadvertently. Finally, having your manager or chef deliver the plate to the guest with a gluten allergy ensures the plate won’t be contaminated with items from other plates and also sends the message that you care about guest safety.
Avoid foodborne pathogens in produce
The E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce has become more extensive than the deadly spinach outbreak of 2006, according to Food Safety News. As of May 9, it had impacted 149 victims across 29 states and caused one death. While foodborne illness outbreaks are on the rise due in part to improved surveillance measures, as well as increased year-round consumption of produce grown worldwide, it’s still critical to manage your risk. To help, the public and environmental health consultancy EHA Group suggests operators purchase unbruised/undamaged produce, chill any processed produce that has been cut, peeled, or needs to be transported, avoid cross-contamination with poultry, seafood or meat, and take care to wash hands before handling produce, wash fresh fruits with warm water, and wash and sanitize all surfaces that your produce touches.
Manage the talent challenge
If you’re like most operators around the country, your biggest business struggle relates to finding and keeping strong talent. National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney, who recently attended the National ProStart Invitational, the country’s premier secondary school competition focusing on restaurant management and culinary arts, said the event gave her reason for optimism. In a recent op-ed piece, she said nearly 400 students competed for more than $200,000 in scholarships from culinary and restaurant management programs. The ProStart program encourages experiential learning and career exploration to help develop new talent in the foodservice industry. Participants earn credit in the association’s restaurant manager apprenticeship program. Sweeney said the National Restaurant Association, along with its educational foundation and state partners, are working to expand the number of students who take part in these programs. For more information about the association’s efforts to build industry talent, visit ChooseRestaurants.org.
The positive side to menu labeling?
After many delays, federal menu labeling requirements are now a reality for grocers and restaurants with 20 or more locations. While many businesses have fought the change, there may be a bright side to it. Food Dive reports that Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said these requirements would give not only consumers a new tool to help them manage what they consume, which has been more of a challenge when eating at restaurants, but a new tool for operators as well: The labels should allow for much stronger data collection. This would enable operators and the foodservice industry overall to monitor to what extent people respond to food labels and calorie counts, giving those businesses ongoing insights into the combinations consumers prefer.
The robot is waiting to speak to you
If your restaurant takes reservations, you may soon be fielding more inquiries from a new kind of caller. Google just unveiled a new AI feature that can phone a restaurant and speak in a lifelike voice to a human reservationist. Eater reports that the feature can make an alarmingly convincing phone call. Expect Google to use the technology for other purposes too – such as updating information for its Google Maps service. And who knows? Perhaps restaurants will soon be able to use this technology themselves to field the AI calls they are receiving.
Waste not, want not
An increasing number of restaurant operators nowadays are looking to cut back on their food waste, whether for the health of the bottom line, the good of the planet, or both. But some operators are taking the trend to new levels. Take Copenhagen chef Matt Orlando of the restaurant Amass, which has adopted a zero-waste policy. According to Skift Table, Amass incorporates food from the restaurant’s organic garden, uses only a limited amount of refrigerator space, and keeps stems, skins, seeds and other often-discarded items to use as seasonings, misos and crisps. The restaurant uses dehydrators to ensure food byproducts are dried and incorporated into recipes instead of taking up space. While the restaurant offers many high-end items on its 10-course, $163-per-person prix-fixe menu, it spends only 18 percent of its budget on food by finding uses for everything. One case in point: The restaurant has a nightly bonfire where guests eat s’mores browned with recycled coffee vinegar. At the end of the evening, the bonfire ash is used to make lye that is then used to soak vegetables for extra texture. At Washington, D.C.’s Kyirisan, chef Tim Ma looks at food waste as a challenge to his creativity, in addition to a means of saving money. NPR reports that at the restaurant, carrot tops are blended into a creamy pesto and carrot peels are fried and used as a crunchy garnish. Sea bass bones are used to make stock and their heads could be deep-fried and served as an off-menu item. Ma told NPR, “At the end of the day, it's a business decision. You do this as a function of saving every penny that you can, because the restaurant margins are so slim right now."
Blockchain fact and fiction
The market for blockchain is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, according to Statista, and a number of companies in the food industry, from Tyson to Starbucks, are launching pilot programs to explore the technology further. That said, it’s important for restaurant operators to appreciate what blockchain is and is not before they entrust it to solve the next contamination crisis. Food Safety Tech shared some tips to help separate blockchain fact from fiction. First, blockchain has the potential to do for the supply chain what email has done for communication, but it may take a while – perhaps 10 years – for the technology to become ubiquitous enough to be that powerful. Second, you need much more than blockchain software to create a traceability program. Blockchain is about speeding up the existing traceability processes in place, expediting the flow of data between partners in the supply chain. The foundation needs to be strong in order for the overlying technology to deliver. Third, blockchain does have the power to reduce the time needed to issue food recalls from weeks down to minutes, but that’s only true when there is a food traceability program already in place. A traceability program that protects food safety is achievable without blockchain; the technology merely accelerates the communication between partners in an already-established system. The potential for blockchain is enormous and, when developed further, should give restaurant operators significant predictive powers when making decisions about everything from inventory to energy costs. In the meantime, shore up the foundation supporting you and your partners in the supply chain.
Be a treat for tourists
Summer holidays are on the horizon. Is your restaurant a destination for tourists – or would you like it to be? For many people, eating meals at restaurants is a big part of the appeal of travel: the U.S. Travel Association reports that tourists spend $209 billion on eating out each year. To claim your piece of that pie, Ctuit suggests you form partnerships with your local travel bureau and nearby hotels and inns, offering discounts (to both the concierge who tries your restaurant, as well as their future guests) so you’re front-of-mind when tourists ask for suggestions. Play up your local appeal by using and promoting regional products on your menu – and give visitors an authentic feel for the region where you’re located. Finally, make sure you have a presence on travel sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, then commit to tracking and responding to comments so you can build up the ratings that will bring travelers through the door.
Wash twice to prevent contamination
Do you enforce double hand washing at your restaurant? Ensuring your employees understand the need to wash hands in the restroom and once again before resuming work can help to not only reduce the risk of contamination but also send the message to your guests that you prioritize food safety. StateFoodSafety.com advises you not only enforce this practice but ensure your team appreciates the reasons behind it. Since it’s likely that not everyone using your restroom follows proper hygiene, one person who doesn’t wash hands in the restroom can spread pathogens to restroom door handles and other areas. When food handlers on your team wash their hands in the restroom and then wash once again in your handwashing sink prior to returning to work, they (and your guests) get extra assurance that they won’t be spreading germs inadvertently.
Dubai’s model of food delivery regulation
In the race to provide delivery to hungry consumers, the growth of food delivery companies has happened faster than the development of guidelines to ensure their safety. According to McKinsey & Company, the home food delivery market comprises about 1 percent of global food business and the number of food deliveries by UberEats, the leader in food delivery, grew 24 times in one year. Global Food Safety Resource says that in most countries seeing a boom in food delivery, to include the U.S., there are no regulations in place to ensure food stays out of the temperature “danger zone,” that the driver does not contaminate the food and that the food doesn’t come into contact with areas of the delivery vehicle that could pose a safety threat, for example. Dubai, on the other hand, is an example of a country with a regulated food delivery industry. Global Food Safety Resource says food delivery drivers there must be registered, operators must follow strict guidelines pertaining to food temperature, delivery drivers cannot deliver food using general-purpose vehicles, and food can be traced door to door. As food delivery comprises a growing part of many restaurant businesses, Dubai’s example is worth considering.
Automation changes restaurants and retail
Costco is considered the fourteenth largest pizza chain in the U.S. due to the retailer’s store count – and automation is allowing the company to leverage that scale to make sure it churns out consistent pizzas quickly. Business Insider reports that Costco’s special mechanical saucing process ensures tomato sauce is spread on each pizza evenly and to the edge of the crust. As this kind of automation continues in restaurants as well as in retail establishments that sell food, expect significant changes to the labor force. A 2017 report from the investment advisory firm Cornerstone Capital Group said between 6 million and 7.5 million retail jobs could become automated in the years ahead – currently 16 million people are employed in the retail industry, compared to nearly 15 million in the restaurant industry. How do you see your kitchen and your team adjusting?
More restaurants see efficiencies in going cash-free
The march toward cash-free restaurants continues to build momentum. According to a Federal Reserve study in 2016, non-cash payments, including payments made with credit and debit cards, grew more than 5 percent annually between 2012 and 2015. Those figures are likely to continue to rise as more merchants accept Apple Pay and other contactless payment systems – and as more consumers start to trust those payment systems more readily. USA Today reports that despite millennials’ preference for paying in cash, restaurant operators are likely to see greater benefits in going cashless, from cutting seconds off of each transaction to seeing greater tips for staff.
Improving the evolving app
Now that so many restaurants have apps to help them handle everything from managing orders to enhancing loyalty, where do apps go from here? A number of brands are now bringing additional value-added services to their apps to make them stand out from the crowd. As Restaurant Business reports, Dunkin’ Donuts has formed partnerships with companies such as the navigation app Waze, which now allows Dunkin’ Donuts customers to place orders from its app. Those who own new GM cars can also now place orders at Dunkin’ Donuts via their car’s dashboard. But naturally, not all brands can pull off changes of this scale – and the changes you make don’t have to be big to be effective. Simply updating your app to continue to improve the customer experience can be sufficient. Ensure the extra items that customers order in-house – like condiments, sweeteners and other items – are also readily available via app. Also monitor the functionality of your app so it’s delivering the results you seek. Are people navigating it as you envisioned? Are there processes the app is not handling well that are then coming to you and requiring your time? Are you getting guests to use the app to provide reviews? Collecting metrics from your app and then making regular changes to enhance it can help you ensure you are bringing in new guests, offering special deals and services to reward those who return, offering convenience and gaining insights that will help you improve the experience you offer.
Seize the seafood season
Your seafood menu is a promising place to innovate right now, with more consumers willing to experiment. According to new research from Datassential, that means bringing seafood onto the breakfast menu in dishes like frittatas or eggs benedict, and incorporating seafood varieties beyond the ever-popular shrimp, salmon and tuna. Kyle Anderson, general manager of the Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Charleston, S.C. told Toast that he recommends experimenting with options like tilefish, triggerfish and black sea bass, among other varieties. Just as consumers are willing to branch out and try new seafood varieties, they are also showing an interest in the different ways seafood can be prepared. From smoking to brining to seasoning seafood with unexpected spices, seafood can provide a solid base for experimentation. One area where the seafood industry is lagging behind other industries – for now – is in sustainability and transparency, despite the efforts of organizations to hold suppliers accountable for reliably tracing the origins of their catch. It’s expected that as millennials’ purchasing power increases in the coming years, there will be growing consumer interest in transparency and sustainability when it comes to seafood that will require operators (and, of course, suppliers) to be held responsible for the products they provide.
Clean ice is nice
As warmer weather brings people out for cooling beverages, take extra precautions with your ice. As Foodable points out, the FDA lists ice as a food. So serving guests ice from a machine that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks is like serving them drinks in dirty glassware. Bacteria, biofilm, fungi, mildew, mold, scale and slime can all grow in an ice machine that hasn’t been properly cleaned and maintained. While many machines have sensors that can tell you when it’s time to clean your machine or change its filter, Foodable suggests you also simply monitor the quality of your ice. Cubes that are smaller, softer or cloudier than they should be – or which have a funny taste – indicate it’s time for a cleaning using the materials recommended by the manufacturer.
Make sure frozen food shipments arrive frozen
As the warm weather arrives, so does the need for extra vigilance when it comes to keeping foods at the proper temperature. StateFoodSafety.com suggests that when you receive a new shipment of frozen food, it’s important to check for signs of temperature inconsistencies or other problems. Reject any food that is fully or partially thawed, or which has ice crystals in the packaging.
Tech to remove table wobbles
What’s more annoying than sitting down at a restaurant and finding your table is wobbly? If you spend too much time leveling unsteady tables in your dining room, there’s some technology that can help you solve that problem. The company FLAT Tech has developed a stabilization system using hydraulics. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the company offers table bases that use a system that distributes fluid through the bottom of the base to the feet, which expand and compress to account for any unevenness. Operators not wanting to invest in new tables can try the FLAT Equalizers, which can replace the screw-in feet on your existing tables. When you press on an uneven table, the hydraulic feet shift fluid inside them and then lock to stabilize the table.
What does your packaging say about your brand?
If you’re trying to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, your packaging is a strong place to start: A recent QSR report referenced consumer research showing that millennials consider the use of environmentally friendly packaging the most important step a brand can take to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability. (Packaging ranks higher than the use of renewable energy to produce and transport products, the report says.) As consumers boost demand for foods that can be eaten off-premise, your restaurant could be relying on packaging more and more to represent your brand values. Brands like McDonald’s are already taking action with plans to generate all of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.
Plant-based foods go prime time
People are hungry for “plant-based” menu options these days (and consumers prefer that term to “vegan,” perceiving those foods as healthier and more flexible, according to a survey by the food consultant Mattson). Many restaurant brands experimenting with different variations of plant-based foods are using traditionally meat-based dishes as inspiration – after all, Technomic found that almost 30 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 say they’re likely to try plant-based burgers designed to taste like beef. The bleeding “Impossible Burger” is selling well in restaurants, for example, and operators are getting inventive in replacing other meats too: At Fare Well in Washington, D.C., they serve up southern fried seitan, and the San Francisco startup Terramino Foods has created a faux salmon burger made from fungi and algae that looks, tastes and smells like the real thing, Food Dive reports.
Study projects financial consequences of foodborne illness outbreaks
New research suggests a single foodborne illness outbreak could cost a restaurant millions of dollars in lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, insurance premium increases, inspection costs and staff retraining. Science Daily reports that the study, published in Public Health Reports by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is based on the results of a computational simulation model designed to demonstrate the effect of a single outbreak of a particular pathogen at a restaurant. It then assessed results for fast food, fast casual, casual and fine dining restaurants. The model also ran different scenarios to determine the impact level of smaller outbreaks that might incur fewer costs and larger outbreaks that incur substantial costs. The researchers found that a single listeria outbreak in fast food and fast casual restaurants could cost $2.5 million or higher in lost meals, lawsuits, legal costs, fines and insurance premiums for a 250-person outbreak. Projected costs were slightly higher for fine-dining restaurants. The costs of these outbreaks can have long-term and even lasting consequences on the business. In light of the findings, the study suggested restaurants invest in specific training that minimizes the risk of outbreaks, as well as consider policies for employee time off to recover from illness.
What’s your food delivery plan?
Food delivery is poised for continued innovation—and restaurants are wise to find a way to make offsite dining work financially. Food delivery sales have increased 20 percent in the past five years, while restaurant traffic has remained relatively flat, according to a new study from NPD Group. There is room for food delivery sales to climb even higher: Technomic forecasts predict food delivery to grow 12 percent annually over the next several years. One factor helping to drive that growth, Technomic found, is the growing demand for off-premise dining by millennials. To compete, operators are finding ways to accommodate consumer demand for their favorite food whenever and wherever they want it. Skift Table reports that delivery innovator Domino’s is launching a program that will let customers receive their food delivery at a “hotspot” location that lacks an address (e.g., a park, beach or destination where people are apt to gather for pizza). CBC Radio Canada reports that to adapt to the competitive delivery market, restaurants in many Canadian cities are trying an online-only model whereby they have no in-house or walk-up traffic, but instead offer delivery exclusively via app-based ordering systems. Operators are finding that if they must decide between offering food in-house or via delivery, off-premise options are winning out.
Manage your fruit and vegetable waste
American consumers throw out about a pound of food each day, with those eating the healthiest diets generating the most waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This could make it more urgent for everyone -- foodservice operators included -- to manage their fruit and vegetable waste effectively. In a recent Upserve report, chefs around the country shared their waste-reduction tips. The owner of Crêpe Bar in Tempe, Ariz. sources his produce locally and asks farmers to send it with tops intact so he can use the entire item in his recipes. The bartender at Boleo Restaurant & Bar in Chicago takes produce that would otherwise go to waste and created special cocktails featuring the ingredients —a portion of the cocktails’ proceeds benefits Zero Waste Chicago.
Prevent the spread of Hepatitis A
Foodservice workers have been linked to a recent multi-state outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus that infected 1,200 people and killed 40 people, Food Safety News reports. While the most recent cases occurred in Arkansas and Indiana, food safety officials around the country are working to contain the outbreak and inform the public about it. The virus can cause serious liver problems and sometimes death in those it infects. Food and beverages can become contaminated with Hepatitis A when an infected person transfers microscopic traces of feces from their hands to the items being consumed. Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus, which can survive on surfaces and when frozen.
Avoid contamination when chilling foods
When it comes to food safety in your restaurant kitchen, the shelves of your refrigerator can speak volumes. To prevent contamination of the items being chilled, StateFoodSafety.com advises that in the refrigerator, ready-to-eat foods are stored on the top shelves, followed by raw whole meats and seafood below them, then ground meats and seafood, then raw poultry products at the very bottom.
Touchscreens aren’t all alike
Touchscreens have become ubiquitous at restaurants — at point-of-sale terminals, on tables and in the hands of servers. But as Modern Restaurant Management reports, there are pros and cons to the types of touchscreen technology that dominate the industry right now. The report advises that before deciding which type of touchscreen is best for business, operators should ask themselves how their customers will interact with the technology, whether the screen will need to resist grease, water or other spills, if employees will be wearing gloves or using a stylus to operate the touchscreen, and if users will need a zoom feature. For instance, projected capacitive touchscreen technology, common in smart phones, can be more expensive and may be difficult to use with gloves. But its touch accuracy tends to be higher, it has a more modern appearance and it allows for zooming and other image adjustments. Conversely, wire resistive touchscreens are less expensive and tend to resist the grease and spills that can be problematic in restaurants, but the screens aren’t as sensitive and may be more vulnerable to dings and scratches.
AI helps craft the perfect cocktail
As casual restaurants work to improve sales, they are eagerly incorporating technology to draw in millennial and Gen Z consumers. TGI Friday’s, for one, is using artificial intelligence in a way that could appeal to a wide range of restaurant guests. Adweek reports that in a pilot program at its Texas restaurants, the chain is having guests answer a series of questions on an iPad about their mood, likes and dislikes, which a virtual bartender then uses to create a personalized cocktail recipe that the real-life bartender mixes up. There may be room to bring this technology into restaurant kitchens as well.
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.
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