Reinvent your menu
You can’t be everything to everyone – it’s why Chili’s just announced it is shrinking its menu by 40 percent after trying unsuccessfully to follow food trends and serve too broad a range of customer, resulting in a “fuzzy food reputation.” When is the last time you fine-tuned your menu? The restaurant coach Donald Burns says there are a few important reasons why you should always be updating your offerings. For one, your guests’ tastes are changing, so you should be aware of what’s on trend and in demand. (With that in mind, of course, you should incorporate trends in a way that extends your brand in a positive way and doesn’t dilute it.) Second, food prices are always in flux. While avocados from Mexico have skyrocketed in price recently, eggs have fallen in value. When you are paying a premium for an item – and when you’re getting a good deal on another – reflect those prices on your menu. Customers will notice your transparency. Finally, staffing is a big challenge for restaurants – it’s the biggest challenge of the year according to Toast’s 2017 Restaurant Success Report. If you evaluate your menu, you will be able to make improvements to your staffing plan. You may discover there are stations in your kitchen that are overstretched and could be giving you food quality issues. Or perhaps you could be cross-utilizing ingredients in a number of dishes (and requiring fewer staff to prepare them). Maybe you need fewer, more highly skilled cooks, or perhaps your current team simply needs some better tools. Taking a fresh look at your menu can have a positive ripple effect across your operation.
Turn allergy sufferers into loyal guests
Allergies and food sensitivities are more the norm than the exception these days – and that is expected to become even more pronounced in the future. The gluten-free market, for example, is expected to grow to $7.59 billion by 2020, up from $3.81 billion in 2013, according to Statista. If you can accommodate a range of dietary requirements in the years ahead, you’re sure to build loyalty (and more business, since people with food intolerances typically have the most say in where their group dines). In an interview with Eater, the Boston restaurateur Ming Tsai said, “You will never get a more loyal client than someone that has a food allergy, comes to your establishment and feels welcome.” To serve this market well, the foodservice technology company Nextep Systems recommends you re-engineer your menu so it doesn’t feel restrictive to those with food intolerances. Having a series of menus – whether in paper or kiosk form – that cater to certain requirements will ensure your guests can scan your menu and see options instead of limitations. Transparency about nutrition and ingredients is important too. Make sure you can provide dietary information about your menu – and the shorter and more pronounceable you make your list of ingredients, the better. Finally, approach food sensitivities in a positive way. If your staff welcomes (and can readily answer) questions about how you cook your food and what ingredients you use, you can connect with your guests, build trust and keep them coming back.
Repurposing food? Be mindful of food safety.
Repurposing food waste can be good for business on several levels – so good that some operators are starting to open restaurant concepts around food that has been discarded by farms and wholesalers. If you repurpose food, make sure you take extra precautions with handling and sourcing, in particular. Restaurant Business suggests that to avoid a food safety problem, focus on using wholesome food that has cosmetic damage (versus food that is past its prime). Make sure the food was handled properly before you received it – i.e. it came from a farm, wholesaler or other approved vendor and was not handled by consumers. Use strict food safety practices when receiving and storing the food, in particular, as items coming in as surplus may need to be used right away. Finally, check with your attorney and health department to ensure you’re protecting your customers and your business.
Step up your curbside pick-up
For many restaurants, offering curbside pick-up is a win-win: Operators gain sales without having to add seating, while customers can pick up their food without leaving their car. If you’re considering offering curbside pick-up, the National Restaurant Association suggests you fine-tune your service plan. For one, ensure your curbside pick-up customers have designated parking near your entrance (or in a location where your staff can observe their arrival). Plan staffing carefully so neither your in-house guests nor your curbside customers are left waiting for service. Those handling curbside service should know the make and model of the car arriving for the order and have correct change or a wireless credit card terminal/mobile payment app when they deliver it. Finally, use packaging that will advertise your restaurant and keep foods at the right temperature until they reach the customer’s destination.
Be social media savvy in 2018
Now is a perfect time to develop a strong social media strategy for 2018 – and it’s an ideal way to capture guests’ interest: a MarketingSherpa report found that 95 percent of online adults aged 18 to 34 (and the vast majority of people in older demographics) are likely to follow a brand on social media. Inc. just announced a number of emerging trends to keep in mind if you want to use social media to your best advantage in the New Year. Strong social analytics are making it possible to deliver personalized content. Harness your data to ensure that what you post is relevant to your audience. Many platforms are offering similar features – Snapchat and Instagram both offer timed video, for example, so assess site analytics and reporting features to ensure you’re investing in the platforms appropriate for you. To help you track your performance, note what kind of content your competitors are developing and sharing, as well as what people are saying about it. Mobile optimization is a must. Finally, consider using a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to interact with your audience quickly in a way that feels personal to them.
New products target restaurant hygiene problem spots
What are your top hygiene concerns at your restaurant? If you’re in the market for a few products that can help you eliminate them, Restaurant Hospitality recently pointed out several new ones on the market that might help: If you’re battling flies in your kitchen or elsewhere, the Stealth LED Fly Light from Ecolab uses an LED light to trap flies and can be used in both front- and back-of-house locations. It eliminates the need for fluorescent bulbs and reduces energy consumption too. If sanitized, spotless glassware is your concern, Meiko’s M-iClean with GiO Module does the job in a compact, energy-efficient washer that fits under a counter. Finally, ice machines can pose a range of food safety challenges for restaurants but BioZone’s IceZone santitation system promises to eliminate mold, yeast and bacteria, as well as reduce cleaning time and extend the life of your ice machine.
Make way for pumpkin’s rival
The cooler temperatures of the season mean that everyone has pumpkin fever. But there’s another, less ubiquitous flavor that is vying for the top spot this season. According to Technomic, sales of maple-flavored products have increased 86 percent in non-alcoholic beverages and 14.6 percent in alcoholic beverages this year. Beyond coffee and cocktails, maple is at home on your food menu too.
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