There’s a lot of room for cost savings in your inventory. Are you making the most of it? RestaurantOwner.com has some tips (and Team Four can help you incorporate systems to manage them if you need assistance). First off, make sure you have detailed specifications on every product you buy. They can be useful when comparing bids from suppliers and gaining a better understanding of where you might be able to get a less expensive product to deliver results similar to a more expensive one. Next, lower your inventory levels. If you’re like most operators, you have more food on your shelves than you actually need. It pays to assess your inventory by product, then reorder based on how much of that product you are likely to use, plus a bit added just in case. By cutting back on your excess inventory, you demonstrate to your team that portion control and precision are important. As a result, waste and spoilage should become less of a problem. Finally, list the 10 to 15 items that comprise the majority of your food cost and take a daily inventory of those items. At the start of each day, tally the opening quantity you have on hand for every product. Add any purchases you make that day, then at closing, count your ending inventory. Add your starting amount and purchases, then subtract your ending amount to get the amount of product that was used that day. Compare that figure with your POS product usage report. If your actual usage exceeds the usage tracked on your POS, you could have a problem with theft, over-portioning or another issue that needs adjustment right away.
Mining your data will take you far in predicting your sales and labor needs, but it may not cover all your bases. Factors that are a little less predictable — like a Nor’easter, for example — can catch you unprepared. In addition to monitoring the weather, Upserve advises you to keep tabs on a number of other factors that can send your business on a wild ride if you don’t prepare. At a time when delivery is on the rise, watch for promotions from third-party providers and prepare for a potential spike in delivery business when they offer discounts. Also keep an eye on local events that might bump up your foot traffic and bring in guests from out of town who wouldn’t normally be filling your dining area. Economic factors like fuel prices can have an impact, too, perhaps causing a dip in your dining room business if not business overall.
At a time when just about any activity in your kitchen can be monitored remotely with the help of sensors, the same is true of pest control. Systems currently on the market have their advantages and disadvantages. They provide the opportunity for round-the-clock monitoring of pest activity when people aren’t around and rodents are more likely to emerge, as well as continuous tracking out-of-the-way places like false ceilings, rooflines or areas of your operation that are secured for safety reasons. There’s also opportunity to collect longterm data about your pest activity and determine what behaviors might be leading to it. On the minus side, false positives can happen with these systems, so they may be best suited for low-traffic areas of your facility.
The powerful Gen Y and Z consumer loves to eat restaurant food but is less enthusiastic when it comes to alcohol. (Case in point: The “juice crawl” is becoming a popular alternative to the bar crawl in major cities.) This is actually a big opportunity for your beverage menu to profit with lower-overhead options that incorporate on-trend flavors and health-conscious ingredients. Cake suggests using floral and spicy flavors like lavender and ginger to bring creative twists to traditional drinks. A survey of 16-24 year olds conducted by the thinktank Demos found that health was the most common reason why young people drinking less, so take that into account. In addition to using more fresh produce in your drinks, accommodate dietary restrictions by limiting sugar — for sweet alternatives, try stevia, agave or honey — and offering a variety of nondairy options for those looking to limit lactose and excess fat.
Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword in the industry for some time now, but some restaurant analysts see 2019 as a turning point for the technology — not just in terms of how operators staff and manage their businesses but in how they monitor their food supply. As ITProPortal reports, Spyce, an automated restaurant run by MIT students, is one example of a fully automated restaurant, with everything from ordering to cleaning to cooking done by machines. But even if you’re running a much lower-tech operation, AI can have applications. Aaron Cohen, co-founder and vice president of business development for CoInspect, told FastCasual that predictive AI will have increasing influence in the supply chain, helping food companies anticipate and identify problems, from product irregularities to security breaches, before they cause harm.
Having systems to collect and assess data are critical for large businesses — but the payoff is significant for small operations too. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know, for example, the exact price point that maximizes guest demand and profit for a popular product you sell? Or which promotions generate the most interest? In fact, a BARC research report found that businesses that harness data effectively saw their profits increase 8 percent and costs decline 10 percent. The systems can be just as helpful in predicting what’s ahead as assessing what you have already done — predicting that your past guests want to order burritos for takeout on Friday night and might be tempted to tack on some caramel flan if you suggest it. Or predicting where you should place a promotion on your website, based on how visitors navigate through your pages. Finally, in an age when information breaches no longer make front-page news and businesses are blamed less for experiencing a breach and more for how they manage the aftermath of one, having systems in place can help you pinpoint where and when problems happen in different areas of your business so you can respond and address red flags more promptly. If your data management practices need a boost, take stock of your needs. An Entrepreneur report advises you determine which five or six pieces of information are most critical to the success of your business. Choose technology that addresses those critical needs and determine whether the cost can save time and money, in addition to generating more revenue.
Consumer demand for transparency extends from the origins of the food you serve to the environmental friendliness of your packaging. To address the latter, many operators have embraced recycled packaging, but according to a Food Safety Magazine report, that isn’t without its own risks. The report indicated that recycled fiber may carry lacquers, printing ink and adhesives that may be harmful to humans if used in food packaging. While the FDA makes recommendations to manufacturers regarding the chemical contaminants found in recycled items used for food packaging, these guidelines aren’t legally enforced. While policy catches up, foodservice operators can simply be aware of the potential for contamination. If you use recycled packaging or are considering it, talk to your suppliers about how they manage these concerns.
As technology infuses so many parts of the restaurant industry — and as restaurant brands expand to additional locations — operators may wonder if the connection to consumers suffers in the process, or if the brand could become watered down when consistency-driven processes take over. Sweetgreen is one example of a brand that has kept its guest connections strong through its adoption of technology and physical expansion. Nathaniel Ru, the brand’s cofounder and chief brand officer, calls it delivering “intimacy at scale.” It’s about delivering healthy, real food at scale without losing a local, personal touch. For Ru, that has meant thinking creatively about the supply chain at times. As First Round Review reports, when a winter storm wiped out the peach crop in New England a few years ago, Sweetgreen (in the midst of summer menu planning at the time) had to adjust. Its popular goat-cheese-and-peach bowl was no longer a viable option, so the dish was reinvented in a way that both accounted for supply chain challenges and bonded with consumers. Sweetgreen substituted locally grown strawberries and blueberries for the peaches, changed the name of the dish to the Patriot Bowl and sold it in the northeast, where it quickly became a guest favorite. Ru advises other operators looking to deliver intimacy at scale to keep things simple, from limiting the number of core values to numbers of locations. When you’re ready to expand to a new location, don’t use the same playbook — study the demographics, buying patterns, traffic patterns and basic vibe of each community first. Next, be modular — expect change and build any new locations to account for future adjustments to menus, décor, ambiance and other factors. Finally, collaborate with people and companies that feel like a natural fit — from chefs to musicians to farms — and can help you retain and reinforce the character of a store.
Tap your financial data
Prepare to be shocked: The restaurant industry is known for its unusually thin profit margins (Toast suggests they range from 0 to 15 percent, with most restaurants falling between 3 and 5 percent). Okay, that probably sounds pretty familiar, but as with most other areas of your operation, your data can help you uncover surprising areas of waste and make best use of the profits you do have by tracking your profit and loss, as well as your projected and actual cash flow and cost. FSR Magazine advises collecting information on such costs as your rent and utilities, wages, revenues within a set time period, cost of raw materials, number of items sold and the average cost per item, total food cost, cash flow projections and profit. Reports from your POS can provide the most detailed information here, but also look to your credit card processor to identify trends, as well as records from third-party delivery providers.
Having an up-to-date food safety plan has benefits beyond preventing foodborne illness and cross-contamination. It’s also an important factor in saving money and demonstrating your accountability. As the food safety software firm Focus Works points out, having a food safety plan can ensure you’re storing and processing foods in ways that lead to less waste, so you won’t have to discard contaminated food that isn’t safe to serve. Further, if and when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs and your operation is named as a potential source, your staff training logs and other records can help back you up in court, demonstrating your commitment to running a safe operation.
Is oat milk on your menu? It is fast becoming the dairy alternative of the year, with PepsiCo launching an oat beverage under it Quaker brand and many restaurants embracing it as a creamier, high-fiber alternative to regular milk — and the consensus is that its taste far surpasses other nondairy options available. While the trend has hit coffee shops already, oat milk is not just for the coffee menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that it is appearing in meal-replacement beverages like the Big Date (a blend of dates, cocoa nibs, banana, vanilla whey protein and oat milk at Chicago’s Protein Bar). It can also boost the flavor and nutrient profile of pancakes, pudding and ice cream.
Consumers tend to focus on negative reviews. As the New York Times article “You Can’t Really Trust Negative Reviews” points out, such reviews may help us better “understand risk and reduce our losses.” But on the flip side, such reviews may include inaccurate or vague recollections, represent a small cross section of guests, or be downright fraudulent. They also make it more difficult for restaurant operators to make amends. Hospitality Tech advises operators to use their own technology to quiet the noise of large online review sites. Prompt guests for feedback immediately after the meal, then share that feedback immediately with the pertinent people involved. Soon you’ll have hundreds of reviews at your fingertips (not just a handful of extreme reviews on Yelp). Connect those reviews with a server, product, and time of day and you will quickly be able to see patterns — and get a more accurate idea of what needs attention. You’ll be able to update menu items more confidently, adjust staff training, better reward great service and potentially resolve guest complaints before a guest even leaves your restaurant, salvaging your relationship with that person.
A number of food industry analysts are looking at 2019 as a turning point for plant-based meats. One in three American consumers is a flexitarian, according to a recent study from OnePoll, and while the Big Mac is hardly going away, plant-based (and even patty-free) options are appearing on menus with greater frequency as more consumers adopt vegetarian or flexitarian diets. A confluence of factors are driving the trend, from an increased consumer focus on eating more organic or natural foods, to greater interest in the treatment of animals, to health concerns. There are a number of ways you can make your menu more pleasing to flexitarians without disappointing the carnivores in your midst. First, make your meat count. If a flexitarian is eating meat just once or twice a week, it’s got to be a special: a petit filet mignon, premium-quality bacon, house-ground brisket. Second, break beyond the usual suspects. There are some tired plant-based menu items out there. Pasta primavera is but one — and it’s not likely you’ll lure flexitarians or vegetarians unless you have more creative tricks up your sleeve. Add some options or make your existing options stand out from those of competitors. Finally, while there is a place for a meatless burger made from plants in disguise, simple vegetables (done well) can stand their ground at the center of the plate. As Hamilton Beach Commerical points out, the vegan, raw, six-course tasting menu at Washington, D.C.’s Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is one example. A recent menu included pink banana squash soup with sage crème fraîche, curry spaghetti squash and turmeric ginger foam; and cauliflower panna cotta with seaweed caviar, parsnip celeriac crème, black garlic chips and shaved persimmon. Not a Portobello burger in sight.
Partner with your POS
What does your POS data tell you about the flow of guests visiting you each day? Do you have a large lunch crowd on Fridays? A reliable happy hour business on Thursdays? A steady stream of snackers all day? Use this data to empower your team. Cake suggests scheduling shift changes so they don’t overlap with your busiest times (e.g. if 12-3pm is busy, schedule a shift that runs from 1-4). If you have regulars on these days, learn their names and (with help from your POS) food preferences quickly. Using your data can ensure you’re less harried when guests arrive, can help you personalize the experience for them and reveal what foods might be most enticing for them to add to an order if you make a suggestion.
Your restaurant’s online presence can have just as much power as its in-person presence — particularly if guests check out your restaurant via your website, social media or online reviews before their first meal with you. To ensure you’re managing your online presence effectively, Restaurant Insider recommends you monitor and measure it like you would any advertising initiative. For example, by controlling your Google listing (companies like Menufy can help you make certain links more prominent), you can steer people in search of takeout food toward the provider that serves you best instead of spreading business across several of them. Second, use your reviews to build business. While a good review is always welcome, your professional and calm response to a bad review can send a positive message about the service you deliver and your dedication to improving upon the experience you provide. Finally, your most loyal patrons (not so much the ones finding fault with a meal) should take priority when it comes to being offered free drinks or other special deals on menu items. Use your online loyalty program to take care of the people who already support you and are much more likely to continue to give you their business. While sometimes it’s necessary to offer a freebie to a guest who has had a bad experience with you, it’s just as important to make sure the person feels you have heard their feedback and are committed to making their next experience with you more positive.
The practice of standing in line or waiting at a table to pay a bill is gradually becoming a relic of the past. As operators and tech companies have observed the valuable time often wasted at these common pressure points for restaurants, new solutions are popping up to hasten table turnaround times and minimize guests’ anxiety in their time spent at a restaurant — and they won’t necessarily require the guest to download an app to do it. Take Qikserve. Skift Table reports that the company is rolling out technology throughout this year to restaurants in California and Pennsylvania — including 3,500 partner brands — that will allow guests to make a mobile payment and eventually order at the table by either using the brand’s app or by visiting a web page loaded by scanning a QR code at the table. It’s aiming to make life easier for the occasional restaurant visitor not interested in downloading another app. (It also has the potential to turn that occasional visitor into a loyal regular.)
The beginning of the year is a good time to fortify your business for busier times of year and clear the clutter that doesn’t work. If you have old equipment that is difficult to clean, it may be time for a replacement — or at least a careful cleaning, which can help extend its use. For any appliances that are cleaned in place, Statefoodsafety.com advises you to remind your team to turn off and unplug the item prior to cleaning, and wash and rinse the outside and then underneath it to prevent contamination. Any removable parts should be cleaned and sanitized, either by soaking them in a solution or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Air dry all parts, since wiping with a cloth can spread bacteria, and then put the item back together, wiping and resanitizing any surfaces that may have gotten contaminated during the assembly.
The state of your glassware can tell a story about your restaurant, sending a (usually not-so-good) message to your guests about your attention to detail. Glassware with a gray film or limescale deposits can indicate that your water hasn’t been properly treated. If your glassware has an odd odor, it’s a sign that you may need to store it in a different place or rinse it before use. Your washing methods are important too. Hospitality and Catering News suggests you use a short, gentle, not-too-hot cycle to minimize cloudy buildup on glasses, and ensure your washer can hold glasses in place and at an angle so they can drain properly and won’t come into contact with other glasses or dishes during the wash.
As delivery continues its rise (Statista forecasts an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent for the U.S. market) it’s becoming increasingly important for restaurants to be able to manage order streams from both inside and outside the operation. Your kitchen management system can help future-proof your business by displaying multiple streams of traffic, using touchscreen technology to help you communicate between the front and back of house, and quoting accurate waiting times for customers based on the bandwidth of your kitchen. If you’re in the market for a tech upgrade, you can find systems to accommodate your desire for customization: There are systems that can be adapted to the pacing of your operation (TouchBistro is a top-rated one), whether you have a flurry of small plates coming from your kitchen throughout the evening or entrées for a group of 20.
Should you hear from guests worried about the safety of their food now or in the future, would you know how to respond? Wendy’s, for one, made a statement that it had safety protocols in place that exceeded FDA standards anyway, implying that the risk to their food supply was minimal. Could you make a similar statement about your operation? If not, it’s an ideal time to take steps to bolster your food safety program. Can you incorporate more technology in place of pencil-and-paper processes? Digital processes can bring efficiencies to your inventory management, auditing and training practices, and better manage the potential for human error, which can all impact your food safety. Can you eliminate hard-copy records from your operation in favor of electronic records that are easy to access and analyze? Can you enhance your kitchen’s connectivity with sensors that can alert you remotely when appliances aren’t keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures? While you’re likely not waiting for inspections to force changes to your food safety protocols, the key lesson for restaurant operators may be that it really is up to them — not outside authorities — to fortify food safety controls that protect guests.
On the heels of the much-loved avocado, beets are becoming another “it” vegetable, inspiring dishes across menu categories and even serving as the foundation of emerging restaurant concepts. The nutrient-dense beet has appeared on a number of trend lists this year and has been noted for not just its eye-catching color but also for its ability to work in both savory and sweet dishes: The red or gold varieties combine well with lentils in a Buddha bowl or with quinoa in a vegetable-based burger, while they can also lend rich color to smoothies or even chocolate cake.
For the all-powerful millennial and Gen Z guest, it’s no longer enough for restaurants to offer a healthy menu and run an employee-friendly operation. These consumers also think about their impact on the environment and look to support businesses that try to minimize their carbon footprint. There is increasing power in using local, seasonal ingredients — as well as suppliers who share those values — and then promoting that to your guests. This goes not just for produce but for pantry staples as well, since the carbon footprint of these ingredients can be surprisingly significant. For a sense of how your menu ingredients stack up, check out the tool listed in this report from the BBC. It can help you analyze ingredients from apples to wine for their impact on the environment. For a deeper dive and a better sense of the normal environmental impact of other businesses in your industry, look to Blue Star Integrative Studio, a green business and building evaluation firm that Fast Company reports has developed its own method of tracking restaurant and supply chain emissions — then comparing the result to typical competitors in the industry. The Carbon Disclosure Project, which launched an initiative that Darden Restaurants joined, and the Climate Change Registry may offer you some helpful guidance too.
Interested in enhancing your menu with vegetables that have a long growing season, are sustainably raised without fertilizers or herbicides, offer appealing flavor and nutritional benefits, and are also on trend? Sea vegetables are rapidly rising in popularity. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the consumption of seaweed is growing 7 percent each year in the U.S., according to James Griffin of Johnson & Wales University. Some of the world’s top restaurants have incorporated the sea vegetable, in both fresh and dried forms, into their menus in surprising ways: Consider the sea lettuce cookie amuse bouche at Chicago’s Smyth.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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