Three data streams to manage the crowd
Today's consumers are looking for meals whenever and wherever they want them. That requires restaurants to support delivery and dining away from the restaurant. To do that well, Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to harness and bring together data from their front of house, back of house and operations. For instance, your front-of-house technology should store data on your number of guests served, average wait times and table turn times. Analyzing this data will help you understand how efficiently you're managing your seating and waitlist. If you integrate that system with your back-of-house data, you'll help your kitchen staff see what's happening in your dining room. Having a Kitchen Display System (KDS) can be even more helpful in bringing together data from your point-of-sale system about your various streams of traffic, then expanding or contracting waiting times based on your in-house traffic and the bandwidth of your kitchen. When you know precisely how long an order will take to prepare, you can set accurate pick-up and delivery times for guests (and even keep guests in the loop on the progress of a dish as it's being prepared). In your back of house, your KDS reports can help you track the speed of your kitchen, from food-prep time to the number of minutes the food sits in the delivery window, and help you benchmark performance and set staff goals for improvement. By marrying all of this data with your operations data, you can assess the resources you have to support your delivery and off-site dining strategy. It can tell you whether you need to adjust staffing levels at certain times, for example, or if you should outsource delivery.
What is your labor cost?
What data do you consult when setting your labor budget? Many operators consider indicators like the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Industry Operations Report, which says the median ratio of labor cost versus sales across restaurant categories is about 33 percent. While that figure may be useful when looking at the overall industry landscape, RestaurantOwner.com cautions against putting too much stock in this data when setting a restaurant budget that leads to profit. Your best tools are your own historical records of guest counts and sales, which can help you build a schedule that flexes day to day and week to week based on fluctuations in your traffic and sales. The RestaurantOwner.com report advises operators to use a weekly scheduling form that makes it easy to see each employee's pay rate and hours. From there, you can quickly subtotal employee hours and expense by job category and day. Having this information at your fingertips and comparing it to your sales on a particular day will help you spot inefficiencies in your staffing and business overall. Your weekly schedule should become your labor budget -- and it should be flexible enough that you can adjust it based on current and predicted guest traffic on a particular day, or other factors affecting sales volume, such as upcoming holidays or inclement weather.
Clean that screen!
Throughout your restaurant, you could see dozens of touch screens operating at once, from tabletop ordering screens to server tablets to the touch screens used during inspections. This doesn't even account for cell phones of employees on break or those belonging to guests. These screens are ideal places for thousands of germs to change hands. According to research referenced in Food Safety News, the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat and major pathogens like Streptococcus, E. Coli and MRSA have been routinely found on these screens. To prevent the spread of harmful germs, follow a strict cleaning protocol: Food Safety News suggests wearing and changing single-use gloves regularly, washing hands often, cleaning screens with digital-friendly sanitizing wipes (Windex Electronic Wipes are one option) or a soft cloth dipped in a solution of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol, and sticking to a cleaning schedule. If employees use their phones during breaks, ensure they wash their hands (and, ideally, disinfect their personal electronics) before returning to work.
Cool it now
To limit the growth of dangerous bacteria when cooling food, the FDA advises food be cooled from 135°F to 41°F in six hours or less. But the FDA Food Code has an additional rule that food must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F in two hours or less. It's important for food to pass through this range quickly because bacteria at this temperature can double in as little as 20 minutes. To help train your staff to cool foods quickly, StateFoodSafety.com suggests kitchen workers separate food into smaller portions that are four inches deep or less. Cover food loosely as it cools (or keep it uncovered if you can ensure it won't be contaminated). Stir loose foods to help heat escape. Place containers of food in an ice bath, ideally one where the water level is higher than the level of the food. You can also use a blast chiller or tumbler for quick cooling.
What is your pest-reporting protocol?
Your employees are your first line of defense when it comes to preventing pests from spreading dangerous pathogens around your facility. Establishing clear protocols for monitoring and reporting the presence of pests can keep them at bay. Food Safety Tech suggests employees follow these steps after spotting pests: If possible, capture the pest or take pictures of it to help a pest management professional advise you on treatment. Next, fill out a pest-sighting log to track when and where pests were seen and how many were observed. Season to season and year to year, your records will help you anticipate problems, notice which pests thrive in different conditions and hopefully give you time to prepare your facility to prevent pests from entering.
Legislation could ease FDA Menu Labeling Rule requirements
A House bill that could ease certain requirements of the FDA's Menu Labeling Rule, which is set to go live in early May, is currently stalled in the Senate. The rule in its current form requires chain restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering generally the same menu items to list calorie counts of those items and provide other nutritional data upon request. Food Quality & Safety reports that the new legislation, dubbed the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would ease certain requirements pertaining to listing calorie information for variable menu items and combination meals. At take-out restaurants where customers frequently order online or by phone, posting calorie counts online (not in the shop itself) would suffice. Operations covered by the rule would also have a 90-day grace period to address violations without penalty.
Fine-tune your brand
If you asked 10 guests to describe your brand using a few adjectives, would they use similar words? If not, your brand may need strengthening. The Collaborative Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in companies looking to do good and turn a profit, advises operators to be consistent -- with everything from mission statements to logos to websites to packaging -- to build a brand and reputation with staying power. To ensure your brand is not only strong but also appealing, it should have a mission at its foundation that permeates all aspects of the business. And since your visual identity communicates your brand's values before guests even walk through the door, someone (whether from your operation or hired outside) must always be paying attention to presenting it in its best form and in the context of industry trends. Next, be known for doing difficult things well, whether that means limiting your menu to what's available locally or seeking out suppliers with environmentally friendly practices. Finally, the Collective Fund stresses the importance of community to a strong brand. You can start building yours by committing to providing strong customer service online and in-store, launching a referral program and hosting events.
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