Stay nimble amid fluctuating commodity prices
How resilient is your menu when it comes to the up and downs of commodity prices? The U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that this year, retail food prices will increase by a stable 1 to 2 percent. While fats, oils and processed produce prices could decline, prices for meat, eggs, dairy and wheat are likely to rise. Of course, unexpected weather – which is more the rule than the exception in recent years – could throw off those predictions. For ingredients that are non-negotiable for your customers – like guacamole in a Mexican eatery or bacon in a burger restaurant – determine if, how and when your menu prices will fluctuate in the case of commodity price increases. When higher-priced ingredients are merely garnishes or supporting players on your menu, look for lower-priced alternatives that can step in temporarily. FSR reports that at Del Sur Restaurant Group, the culinary director stays in close contact with suppliers and monitors weather and border disputes to help foresee changes in commodity prices, then aims to lock in prices with suppliers as early as possible. In the past, he has swapped out frozen lime juice for fresh limes and Roma tomatoes for beefsteak tomatoes when prices for those items have skyrocketed, which has helped him make it possible to buy high-quality, more expensive avocados consistently for his restaurants’ prized guacamole. By printing restaurant menus in-house, the business can make last-minute adjustments to prices as commodity prices demand them.
Make Restaurant Week pay off
An increasing number of cities (and restaurant operators within those cities) are participating in Restaurant Weeks nowadays. These events are commonly planned around this time of year when business can be slow, and participation can generate buzz around a new business, build a sense of community and help get guests out to restaurants during the winter months. Of course, serving up a multi-course, fixed-price meal at a discount may not make the best business sense for everyone. To make Restaurant Week worth your while, Restaurant Insider suggests you ensure your menu represents your business well, makes a strong first impression and shows off the abilities of your chef. While using less-expensive or lower-quality ingredients can be tempting in an effort to come through the week in the black, you don’t want to discourage first-time guests from returning. Track the guests who come in using your reservation system so you know if they are local or out-of-towners, then respond accordingly to keep in touch. Some operators offer Restaurant Week guests a promotion at the end of the meal, such as a $20 coupon that expires the following month, to encourage their prompt return. Even if you opt out of Restaurant Week, consider promoting your specials or offering multi-course deals that present you as a strong alternative to the other fixed-priced options getting attention during the week.
Limit the spread of germs during flu season
Winter is high time for the flu and other illnesses to spread – and it’s critical for your servers to take extra precautions when it comes to food safety. Frequent hand washing is a given. You should also have a protocol for when employees get sick so they’re not infecting your guests or fellow employees – and you’re not so short-staffed that you risk having an ill employee come to work. StateFoodSafety.com, a food safety training firm, advises restaurant employees report to their manager if they experience vomiting, infected sores, yellowing of eyes, sore throat or fever. To control the spread of germs when servers carry food to a table, the firm recommends they hold each plate in the palm of their hand – not grip the top edge of the dish, where food could easily come into contact with fingers.
A new entrant in the mobile food business
The food truck industry has skyrocketed in the past decade, with more than 4,000 food trucks now in operation across the country, according to the market research firm IBISWorld. Now, a new up-and-coming model could provide more options to food industry operators and help preserve food safety at the same time. The New York Times reports that the Cubert is a portable, collapsible food preparation stall that is delivered to a site, then cleaned and picked up for storage at the end of the day. Cubert’s Cold Prep model provides operators with what they need to store, prepare and serve food – a step up from what a business operating at a farmer’s market would have on hand. Cubert’s likely market includes businesses that need the food preparation options and location flexibility of food trucks but may not want to take on the maintenance of them. Cubert will launch in the Bay Area of California in March for a rental fee of $500 (they’re for sale too, with a base price of $65,000 for three Cold Prep units that can be deployed in different areas). Vendors beyond the Bay Area will only be able to buy the units until the company opens additional transportation hubs around the country.
Refresh your social media
For your social media outreach to succeed, your restaurant needs to have a consistent presence. If you’re looking to freshen up your content in 2018, consider involving your team – Upserve suggests you share a picture of your chef with his favorite dish, celebrate the personal achievements of your restaurant’s waitstaff, or talk about a staff tradition. You can even turn the reins of your social media account over to a star employee or loyal customer for a week to offer a new perspective (just set some boundaries in advance). To generate buzz and help you collect guest feedback, share your top menu ideas. When you have new items on the menu, take some photos that do them justice and showcase the images online. Finally, cross-promote your social media channels – particularly if you have a lot of followers on one network and want to build your numbers on another.
How powerful is your online presence?
Managing your online presence is, of course, a key part of your marketing strategy. The Condiment Marketing Co. recently shared how critical the web can be in driving consumers’ buying decisions. First, consumers are using social media like they use Google – according to a study by eMarketer, 37 percent of social media users polled use it to research brands, products or services before making a purchase. Facebook is especially powerful: Empathica reports that 72 percent of consumers have used Facebook to make decisions about restaurants or retail based on their comments and shares. Twitter is a powerful player too, with food and drink brands representing 32 percent of all tweets – the most of any topic, according to Brandwatch. Finally, tune in to Yelp, where a half-star jump in a restaurant’s score can increase business by 27 percent, according to Foodbeast.
Make the most of your POS partner
Is your POS ready to boost your efforts to connect with guests this year? Harnessing your system can help you bring guests back and build loyalty. QSR suggests you take advantage of your captive audience at the moment the guest taps your payment screen. Ask for a rating, a testimonial or other feedback about their experience with you. When those guests agree to provide their email address, offer them instant coupons good for future visits. This will help you to quickly grow your database of people who have visited and enjoyed their meals. After that, send an email once a month that includes another incentive to return, whether it be a discount, a short-term promotion or loyalty points.
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