Tune in to your team
In an age when restaurant operators scour Yelp and TripAdvisor for clues about what guests think, it’s important to give another group just as much attention: your team. As the Rail reports, not all feedback about your restaurant ends up online. Your employees can be your eyes and ears each day, collecting feedback directly from the source about everything from your music, to your specials menu, to your décor. Talk to (and perhaps survey) your back-of-house team, too. While they may have less to say about the customer experience, hearing out your full staff lets you know how engaged they are, motivates them to do their jobs well and could well encourage them to stick around (and businesses that collect employee feedback regularly have 15 percent lower turnover, a problem that costs restaurants $146,000 every year). Hearing from staff about how they are doing can give you insight into your training processes and make adjustments as needed. Beyond that, having regular discussions will help you build trust with your team. That way, when there is a problem, you can work together creatively to solve it and avoid a situation where someone feels blamed. Or when things are going well, your team feels open about making suggestions that could enhance the areas where you already perform effectively.
Market yourself for the future
Is your restaurant's marketing strategy positioned to help you thrive in the digital economy? The potential rewards of a forward-thinking marketing plan are clear, with online ordering increasing the average order size by 26 percent over walk-in or call-in orders, according to Deloitte. To compete, AdAge suggests restaurant marketers take these five steps: First, align your franchisees and general managers around a new goal that's consistent across the brand -- demonstrate the value of the goal to customers, franchisees and the brand itself. Second, master your technology -- consider the elements of your system as an ecosystem that works together to meet your objectives. Third, marry your front-end experiences with your back-end functions. Specifically, integrate your website and marketing content with your store operations and supply chain. Fourth, reassess your lineup of marketing support. While in the past, operators have tended to consult traditional creative agencies and technology vendors, partnering with experts who can advise you about the intersection of those elements are the ones who can help you innovate. Finally, you must shift your culture. If you operate a system of restaurants, technology will expose how those locations vary -- and will make it necessary to operate in a more coordinated way. When franchisees and general managers see the benefits -- namely bigger check sizes, as well as increases in frequency, retention and new customer acquisition -- the culture shift will prove it's worthwhile.
Give your beverages an herbal boost
Who says winter isn’t the time to enjoy the fruits of the garden? Winter herbs can elevate your beverage menu, bringing a diversity of flavors and aromas to it, not to mention health benefits. Restaurant Insider reports that restaurants are creating herbal infusions with rosemary, which can be used in a syrup that lends woody hints to cranberry- or lime-flavored cocktails. Other herbs like thyme, lovage, tarragon and sage are appearing on the menu too — consider the Sage the Day cocktail at Harvest on Hudson, which includes sage, gin, ginger liqueur, sparkling wine, syrup and dehydrated sage mixed with sugar on the rim of the cocktail glass.
Beware of plastic cutting surfaces
If you use cutting boards or blocks with scratches from repeated use, you could well be introducing pathogens into your restaurant's food supply. Scratches make these surfaces difficult to clean and sanitize, making them the most overlooked source of contamination in the food chain, according to Food Safety Magazine. Plastic surfaces, in particular, cause a range of problems. Plastic scores easily with sharp knives, creating tiny grooves where microorganisms can grow -- and where sanitizer can't reach. What's more, cutting on a plastic surface causes plastic to slough off and go missing, often in the food you're preparing. Even the best commercially available, food-grade plastic has flaws, according to the report. Make sure any surface used for cutting is smooth, which the Food Code defines as having a surface free of pits and inclusions, and with a cleanability equal to or exceeding that of (100 grit) number three stainless steel.
Train your team to spot and report pests
Year round, restaurants provide pests with the food, water and shelter they need. While pest management programs help, your employees can spot a potential problem at its source and help stop it before it worsens. A report from Food Quality & Safety recommends you make sanitation key to staff training and assign employees to check areas they see regularly—cooks can monitor kitchen drains, for example. Have a process to document the type and quantity of pests they see and where they spot them. The report suggests employees watch for (and report) signs like these: cracked or bubbling paint, mud tubes on exterior walls or discarded wings are signs of termites; dark rub marks around baseboards or tiny pellets indicate a rodent problem; coffee-ground-size droppings and unpleasant odors, especially around kitchen equipment, are evidence of cockroaches; and maggots, especially around drains and garbage bins, can result in a rapidly escalating problem with flies.
Upcycle food — and charge a premium
If your business is making an effort to minimize food waste by using vegetable peelings, rinds or other items normally discarded, take heart in a new study indicating consumers are interested in so-called “upcycled” foods. Food Dive reports that the Drexel University study, entitled “From food waste to value-added surplus products (VASP): Consumer acceptance of a novel food product category” found that consumers who participated in the study believed these products were more helpful to the environment than conventional foods. In fact, they associate these foods more closely to organic foods. As such, the report said, these foods may be able to fetch premium prices. The study found that consumers responded best to the label “upcycled” for these foods.
Seven steps to going viral
Eager to create a dish worthy of going viral? You could, like some operators, hire consultants who specialize in it. But if you'd rather spend your money elsewhere, Eater interviewed some experts who can help crack the formula. In collecting feedback from chefs, social media experts and influencers, Eater identified seven qualities for foods that have the best chance of making a viral splash: They're colorful (there's a reason those rainbow-colored bagels from Bagel Store in Brooklyn were all over Instagram last year), have an element of surprise, appeal to people's emotions, have a cool factor, are sweet or gluttonous, play well to the camera and are relatable to people.
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