Bring out their best behavior
As the holidays approach and you prepare to hire additional staff, it’s a good time to refine your onboarding processes to ensure you and your new employees have a clear shared understanding of how you operate and what behaviors are important to you. The Rail suggests having a behavior contract in place to help you clarify your expectations with your team. (Though avoid one Florida operator’s punitive approach, which included a contract listing monetary penalties for such employee infractions as having a cell phone out during work hours.) Instead, consider having your team sign a document in which they agree to give their best effort regarding certain behaviors central to your brand and financial stability, such as greeting guests when they enter or depart, leaving their phone in the car during work hours, or committing to being thoughtful about the amount of napkins, straws or other operating supplies offered. Having clear expectations at the outset provides a foundation upon which to have coaching conversations about performance areas that need to be corrected later. When you need to have those conversations, follow through by documenting the problem, explaining what needs to be corrected, and providing clear consequences that are in line with the magnitude of the problem. Miracle Restaurant Group has a guide to progressive discipline that includes such steps as an oral warning, written warning, suspension and separation, as well as a matrix listing a range of behaviors that can result in various consequences. It advises that operators choose the level of discipline with care so it is appropriate to the situation and is consistent with their actions in similar situations with other team members.
Tech to attract hungry guests in your neighborhood
Technology is increasingly making it possible for restaurant brands to successfully play matchmaker with guests looking for a place to eat. Geofencing is allowing a number of brands to identify when their loyal guests are in the vicinity — then making it worth their while to visit. Tavern in the Square uses its geofencing feature to identify loyalty program members within a set radius of the restaurant, then send limited-time discounts. One recent buy-one-get-one-half-price offer boosted sales by 50 percent in one day. OpenTable is now making a play to help a lot more restaurants accomplish this sort of feat. Skift Table reports that the online reservations company found that 25 percent of its bookings were happening within 90 minutes of their seating time. Their goal is to become more of a recommendation engine, so a sushi lover who uses the site is more apt to get Japanese restaurants and offers on his list of top recommendations.
Don’t be a welcoming shelter for pests
As the weather cools and pests seek shelter indoors, take steps now to make sure you aren’t an appealing target. The FSMA’s new regulations make it critical to be proactive about preventing contamination from pests as opposed to simply reacting to it after it occurs. Food Safety Tech advises you inspect all incoming shipments for insects, droppings or damaged packaging that could indicate a pest issue. If you spot a pest, remove the contaminated item or isolate it in a contained area to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination. Maintain a log to track pest sightings and make it everyone’s responsibility to report pest activity if they see it. Finally, try to detect pests when you’re not around by placing insect light traps, pheromone monitors and glue boards in areas where you are receiving shipments.
Symptom-free is no guarantee
No symptoms of illness? You could still be carrying pathogens in your body even if you feel perfectly well, Statefoodsafety.com advises. As flu season approaches, remind your team to wash their hands thoroughly and often. To prevent cross-contamination, your handwashing sinks should be clean, easily accessible to your food workers and not used for other kitchen tasks, such as washing dishes or food items
Your guests may already be showcasing your creatively plated entrees on Instagram, but are you using Instagram Stories to your full advantage yet? They can help you tell a broader story about your business and your team. Via video, take guests behind the scenes in the kitchen, on a trip to a supplier or a farm, or show them how you prepare a healthy dish they can make at home. Modern Restaurant Management suggests operators use the forum as a test or experiment to see what engages your guests and drives awareness of your brand. And since posts drop off after 24 hours, it’s not a major problem if one of them flops.
Build a loyal following
Are you putting your loyalty program to work? Research from Accenture found that 66 percent of consumers in the United States spend more money on brands to which they are loyal. Offering the right mix of benefits can generate a significant boost to sales — one extreme example is Starbucks, which has 11 million members and, as of early 2016, $1.2 billion in customer funds loaded onto its plastic and mobile Starbucks cards, Upserve reports. The brands reaping the biggest benefits from their loyalty programs are using a combination of discounts, targeted marketing and experiential rewards to motivate their guests. Upserve recently assessed some of the most forward-thinking brands in this area. The Palm’s rewards program, for example, carries a $25 fee but that is returned to guests in the form of a $25 gift card after sign-up. Members get changing rewards each month, including exclusive wines and cocktails, as well as substantial discounts on wine. Panera, a longtime innovator in this space, is another to watch, with 28 million members who can easily reorder favorite purchases via the program, receive personalized offers based on those orders, and get recipes and cooking suggestions from the brand. Panera also makes the experience of collecting food more convenient for its members — they can order online, then visit a store and pick up their food from a designated Rapid Pick-Up shelf in the store, avoiding a long wait in line. To maximize your program’s power, Accenture advises you regularly identify and eliminate aspects of it that aren’t working, encourage your members to be your advocates and try to attract new customers through existing ones. Also note that millennials can be tough to attract to these programs — mine your data to understand what range of offerings brings them back.
Prepare for the packaging revolution
The year 1894 brought the “paper pail” now ubiquitous in Chinese food takeout. The early 1960s brought us the cardboard pizza box. Now, in the face of consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging and growing demand for off-premise dining in general, we could be on the cusp of another big change in takeout food packaging. Technomic reports that in 2016, 60 percent of consumers said they would pay more for takeout meals if they were packaged in an environmentally friendly way. That number decreased to 52 percent in 2017, not because the demand for such packaging had fallen but because consumers now expect restaurants to offer it. If you currently provide single-use plastic for your takeout business, it’s time to offer alternatives and work with partners who support them — some third-party delivery partners now notify customers that they will not receive non-recyclable items like straws or packets of ketchup unless they request them. Shake Shack, for one, is now looking to bypass materials that are simply recyclable in favor of options that are biodegradable on their own.
Tech innovators to track
A whopping 95 percent of restaurant operators agree that technology improves their business efficiency, while 73 percent of guests agree that tech enhances their experience at a restaurant, according to research from Toast. If you’re looking to advance your technology game, look to three brands that Restaurant Business is recognizing with Tech Accelerator Awards for their leadership in advancing back-of-house operations, data science, consumer-facing tools, automation and other technology to enhance business. The first is Domino’s, which reports taking nearly two-thirds of its orders through digital channels. The brand is innovating delivery by launching its Hotspots delivery service to parks and other locations that don’t have an address, as well as testing self-driven cars in certain markets. TGI Friday’s has shown itself to be an innovator with AI and consumer data, focusing on its in-restaurant and online sales to capture guest information from their POS, social media posts, credit card transactions, mobile devices and bots to deliver more personalized experiences and messaging. Beyond that, the brand is exploring new ways for consumers to place orders, such as via Facebook, Amazon’s Alexa and OnStar devices offered through GM. Finally, the emerging brand Zume Pizza is being recognized for its robot-centric premise: Pizzas are made with the help of robots, cooked in mobile kitchens that are centrally located based on predictive demand, then delivered by car or scooter. (If you aspire to such a model, note that Zume is planning to license the technology at the base of its business.)
Delivery’s next development?
As consumers are demanding their favorite foods whenever and wherever they want them, delivery companies are following suit. Popular overseas delivery operator Deliveroo just launched a new feature, Food Market, which could be a sign of where delivery is headed in the U.S. (particularly in light of reports that Uber is in talks to buy Deliveroo). Food Market enables consumers to select dishes from different restaurants when placing a delivery order via Deliveroo, so they can order their favorite salad from one restaurant and their favorite burger from another — or more easily satisfy the tastes of several people when ordering for a group.
Remind employees to lather up
As the season of colds and flu approaches, remind your staff of the importance of washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds at regular intervals. It’s the best way to remove the kinds of pathogens foodservice workers carry on their hands. Make it regular soap, since antibacterial soap needs additional scrub time to kill bacteria and doesn’t affect viruses and other pathogens, according to Statefoodsafety.com. Antibacterial hand sanitizers are helpful once employees have washed their hands with soap and water, but they are less effective when they come into contact with water, proteins, feces and blood and they will not kill norovirus, which is the top cause of foodborne illness outbreaks.
Shift to a four-week accounting cycle
How often do you conduct accounting reviews of your business? If you work on a monthly basis, you may want to reconsider: Orderly suggests accounting reviews on a four-week cycle, giving you 13 four-week periods to review over the course of a year. Since each cycle is exactly 28 days, you will be able to make more accurate comparisons to other periods in order to calculate your profits and losses.
Get to know Alexa
Could voice-activated ordering have a place in your business? The technology is poised to change the mobile ordering landscape in the near future. The consulting firm Capgemini expects consumers to use voice technology for 18 percent of their total spending within three years — up from 3 percent now. Forbes reports that Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Denny’s, Wingstop and Fazoli’s are among the brands that now offer voice ordering, with many using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, a chatbot or some combination to allow customers to place an order. The tech startup Orderscape, which currently works with brands including Fazoli’s, reports being in discussions with more than 20 other brands looking to build business via voice search. Orderscape’s CEO predicts the technology will soon evolve into a more interactive, frictionless conversation in which the customer can order the full menu — not simply place a reorder or choose from a slimmed-down variety of options.
Growth without delivery
As the demand for off-premise dining grows and restaurants scramble to make third-party delivery work for them logistically and financially, it can be easy to forget something: Third-party delivery may not be the right fit for your restaurant and you can find a formula for growth without it. Consider Darden, one large player in the industry that has held off on it. FSR Magazine reports that Darden CEO Gene Lee is taking a wait-and-see approach to third-party delivery, particularly for its Olive Garden brand, for a few reasons: He’s not sure it will be executed well. He is skeptical about its potential for creating growth at scale. The financials of third-party delivery aren’t appealing. It would mean losing control of valuable consumer data. And it could threaten the profitability of Olive Garden’s growing off-premise business. Factors like this have not prevented other restaurants from jumping into the third-party delivery space. But Olive Garden, for one, is proof that big growth is possible without third-party delivery. The brand reported a 5.3 percent surge in same-store sales in the first quarter, along with double-digit increases in its off-premise business (it currently delivers $100 catering orders placed 24 hours in advance but not individual entrees). It is instead focusing on replicating and improving upon its popular promotions and high-value menu items like “create your own lasagne” and “buy one, get one” deals on entrees — as well as staying true to their core customer and improving engagement with that person. They’re proof that taking the contrarian view can work.
The flavor of meat, minus the beef
Plant-based foods are having a big moment right now — and even lab-grown alternatives are generating some buzz as potential options on future quick-service menus. Still, many consumers are seeking the positive aspects of eating meat, such as the flavor, aroma, heat and heartiness, while minimizing the negative ones. Research from Mintel suggests operators can achieve this by applying cooking methods used with meat — such as curing, grilling and smoking — to fish, vegetables or
plant-based options like Ahimi. Using pastrami spices or other seasonings normally reserved for burgers can help to provide an experience that will ensure guests don’t miss the meat. One Green Planet also suggests creating a spice rub of chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, mustard powder, brown sugar, salt and pepper for a steak-like taste.
Find the perfect package
As off-premise dining has become increasingly common, food packaging has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Take IHOP’s new multi-tiered take-away packaging, designed to keep combo menu items hot, with minimal moisture, in a compact carrying case. Whether you choose glass, metal, plastics, paper, cardboard, environmentally sustainable materials now in production or some combination of the above, Food Safety Tech advises operators to keep some parameters in mind. Above all, the packaging you select for your takeout menu should help you preserve food and provide a barrier to deterioration due to bacteria, contamination by insects or other pests, and physical jolts during transport. Balance the packaging’s impact on the environment with any benefits it provides in minimizing food waste. After all, inadequate storage, preservation and transport of food are key causes of food waste, so consider how your packaging might help minimize it. Is it durable enough to be reused? Can it be recycled or composted? Next, consider what marketing images and information can be added to your packaging. This, along with the indirect message you send through your choice of packaging materials, can help the consumer connect with your brand and values. Finally, in an environment where new players are entering the delivery market, consider adding an element of traceability to your packaging.
Know thy supplier
Amid extreme weather and other changing market conditions, it can be tempting to favor suppliers that offer ingredients for low prices. But hiring a cheap, potentially unregulated supplier can result in a foodborne illness outbreak due to food that hasn’t been properly harvested, processed, stored and delivered. When vetting potential suppliers, Statefoodsafety.com advises asking for records of regulatory permits, licenses and inspection reports, as well as HACCP or HARPC certifications. Conduct an in-person audit of the supplier to understand its manufacturing practices and ask questions. Finally, consider the promises you make to guests about the food you serve: Do you say you offer sustainably sourced seafood, for example? Make sure that you’re aware of any legal requirements tied to food you serve, and that the supplier meets those requirements.
Be allergy aware when labeling
To embrace consumers’ interest in dining whenever and wherever they wish, you may package certain menu items for sale to customers looking for convenient take-away foods. Just make sure that your labels use clear language, bold lettering or even stickers that stand out on the packaging to identify major allergens. Use the common name of the allergen on any packaging to avoid miscommunication. As research from the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program notes, be aware that certain spices, flavors and colors might not have a purpose in the prepared food item (and could inadvertently be omitted on a label) but could still cause reactions in consumers with pronounced food sensitivities.
Tech for better bookings
Technology that enables restaurants to take bookings — and encourages guests to show up for them — is taking off across the industry. If you struggle with no-show guests but think taking credit card information from them would discourage bookings, vendors are offering other options. The blog Big Hospitality reports that the reservations platform Quandoo uses pre-validation technology that asks for a credit card from a consumer making a reservation, but it encourages its restaurant partners to use a carrot vs. stick approach: For example, guests who pre-book a table with a credit card can pre-order their favorite drinks at a reduced rate and have them presented when they arrive at their table. The method increases check sizes, while decreasing the likelihood of no shows.
Make your menu work
Mind your budget busters
How well do you adhere to your restaurant budget? Restaurantowner.com says the vast majority of restaurant failures are, at least in part, the result of a budget that is not at the foundation of key business decisions and lacks accountability. Setting — and sticking to — your operation’s budget will help you identify where you need to save and where you can afford to invest. Upserve recently shared several factors that can negatively impact your numbers. For one, poor management of your inventory can lead to between 4 and 10 percent of your inventory being wasted, so move away from paper-and-pencil inventory management and toward technology that allows you to take a holistic view of your business and spot problems before they become costly. Without such a system, it’s easy for you to lose control of portion sizes and present an inconsistent experience to guests, or to miss signs of employee theft —problems that can also hurt your budget. (Remember to update your software regularly to stay in step with changes to your system.) Next, understand how to retain your best people, since the average cost of replacing a front-line employee is nearly $6,000, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. It can help to reward your top performers and engage employees so they feel invested in the business, as can interviewing employees who are leaving.
For some restaurants looking to minimize food waste by using the entire fruit or vegetable, the compost bin is sparking innovation — and chefs are making no attempt to hide it. Restaurant Business reports that Spice Kitchen & Bar in Cleveland offers “compesto,” a changing concoction of carrot tops, parsley stems and other vegetable trimmings that would have landed in the compost bin, and blends it with couscous as the base for a halibut dish. At Graffiti Earth in New York, a soup was promoted online with the hashtag #eatmycompost.
The benefits of full service without the costs
As the minimum wage continues its ascent in many cities around the country and the cost of living makes it difficult for operators to find and retain quality staff, many restaurants are experimenting with new service structures — such as transitioning from a full-service model to a pub-style, ordering-at-the-counter model, for example. But now that these restaurants lack full-service waitstaff who can promote specials to guests or make menu suggestions that can lead to larger checks, some of them are getting creative about helping guests add to their orders. For instance, Restaurant Business reports that at Xoco, Rick Bayless’s counter-service restaurant in Chicago, guests often overlook dessert when ordering their meal — and if they crave an after-dinner dessert or drink, they may not feel it’s worthwhile to get up and stand in line at the counter again to order it. To make sure people aren’t missing the opportunity to add to their order, bussers at Xoco wear t-shirts that say “I can get you dessert.” Guests can simply flag down anyone wearing one of these shirts and streamline the process of ordering extra food and drink — and Xoco still reaps the benefit of selling these larger-margin, post-meal items to guests.
Finding a symbiotic delivery relationship
There has been a lot of press about how restaurants are losing profits and guest data as they partner with third-party delivery companies. But since off-premise dining seems to be here to stay, restaurants and delivery companies are trying to generate some mutual benefits when it comes to delivering food to consumers. A recent Bloomberg report indicated that since McDonald’s launched its partnership with Uber Eats, delivery orders have been larger than average in-house orders and have helped the brand build late-night business. Further, Uber Eats has been mining its data to help local restaurants transform their delivery menus. When the company found that its Chicago-based users were searching its app for Hawaiian poke delivery, it approached sushi restaurants in the
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