Zero in on guest categories
After the Christmas and New Year’s rush, the weather and holiday overspending conspire to keep many restaurant guests at home. If you’re one of the many operators to experience a lull in your business after the New Year, take note of the types of guests that do give you business – and take care to keep them coming back. Upserve identifies several types of guests your restaurant is likely to have: the online orderer who wants food delivered without any (or with just a little) human interaction, the call-in diner who picks up food while scoping you out for a possible sit-down meal in the future, the person who walks in and waits for his take-out order to be prepared, the guest who has read a positive review and wants to give you a try, and the regular who treats your restaurant as a satellite kitchen or freelance office. Making your restaurant a good option for all of these guests requires strength in several areas: For one, you need a strong mobile presence – WebstaurantStore says it’s important to optimize your website for phones and tablets, and to streamline the ordering process (offering an online form instead of requiring guests to make a phone call, for example). Take advantage of foot traffic at odd hours by offering quick-service meals that don’t require a long wait. When serving regular guests (or potential ones) who seek you out for meal, use your loyalty program to entice them to come back. Learn the names of these guests, their likes and dislikes, and help them earn points toward offers good for discounted items when they return for a sit-down meal.
The gift card that keeps on giving
Every year, 34 percent of gift cards sold are for dining experiences, making restaurant gift cards the most popular kind of gift card sold each year. According to CAKE, gift card recipients spend more than 38 percent more on their check than the value of their card. Since many of these cards are given over the holidays, operators have an opportunity to bring gift card recipients in the door during slower periods, win some new guests who might not have visited otherwise, and to collect valuable marketing data in the process. To make the most of the cards you issue, work with complementary businesses to provide bundled offers, like a discounted appetizer when a guest shows you a receipt from the local movie theater, for example. For customers who buy gift cards for others, sweeten the deal by throwing in a gift certificate for them when they purchase a card at a certain price threshold. Or, offer a gift card in exchange for customer information. According to Money magazine, restaurants like Black-Eyed Pea and Benihana have offered customers gift cards when they sign up for their email newsletter or loyalty program and provide information about their favorite dishes.
In a rapid-turnover industry, food safety training that sticks
Turnover is a fact of life in the restaurant industry, which relies on a young and highly mobile pool of workers. While the short-term nature of restaurant employment can discourage operators from providing comprehensive food safety training, there are ways to speed up the knowledge transfer and protect your business no matter how long an employee stays. In a recent episode of the podcast Food Safety Matters, Hal King, a public health professional and the founder of Public Health Innovations, said an employee who takes a training module on proper handwashing and is then assigned to teach and assess that skill in others will retain that information better. An employee who administers a rapid cleaning test and discovers that an area that looks clean may not actually be clean will sooner understand the need for cleaning and sanitizing a surface than the employee who watches a video about it. While this train-to-teach model may not eliminate turnover, King says, you’ll likely expedite the training and knowledge acquisition employees need to carry out a task safely.
In an age of instantaneous food poisoning reports, know the facts
As social media makes it increasingly easy to spread information, both good and bad, comments about the health of the food you serve can spread quickly. Consider the crowdsourcing site iwaspoisoned.com, where people can report food poisoning cases, public health officials can receive instant local alerts and foodservice operators can learn about outbreaks in the early stages, according to NPR. If and when a guest suggests your operation has caused an outbreak, it’s important to know the facts about foodborne illness so you can work with guests and health officials to trace the problem: Illinois health inspector Dave Banasynski said while most people with foodborne illness trace it to the last place they ate, it may have been caused by something days before. Listeria can take nine hours to cause symptoms, for example, while E.coli can take up to nine days.
Reduce your electrical risks this winter
Businesses in the restaurant industry are among the biggest consumers of electrical equipment and appliances – and in the rush to get food prepared and served quickly, it’s easy to overstress electrical appliances and lose sight of the risks they pose. The drain on this equipment often escalates during the winter. In a report for Total Food Service, United Energy Consultants suggests tips for minimizing hazards: Ensure all electrical equipment is inspected and maintained regularly. Don’t handle electrical equipment with wet hands or keep it in a location where water is liable to seep in. Watch out for frayed cords, exposed wires or smoke coming from equipment and do not use such appliances until they have been inspected and repaired. Don’t overload your power points and avoid using extension cords as a permanent solution. Install safety switches to reduce the risk of shock and ensure to train your team in how to use electrical equipment safely.
Streamlined sourcing and inventory management through tech
In restaurants, one of the first places technology made its mark was in sourcing and inventory tracking – and those functions have only been enhanced as technology has advanced. In a QSR report, restaurant consulting and technology firms including the New England Consulting Group, Results Thru Strategy, MarketMan and HelloWorld weighed in on the technology that is bringing these functions into the future, including software like Plate IQ, which takes a picture of each vendor invoice, uploads it to an app and scans it for relevant information and, in the process, saves about 60 percent of the labor required to process an invoice. Programs now not only help reduce waste and spoilage; they also help operators manage food waste that does happen by syncing with inventory systems to track unsold items, donate or sell surplus food at a discount, and even access relevant tax benefits when making food donations. Spending too much time managing inventory or trying to eliminate weaknesses in your process? Operators can use technology to better track, replenish and manage their inventory, as well as ensure its safety and quality.
Get beyond the buzzer
If you’re ready to graduate from the buzzer system for seating guests, consider the new front-of house technology from Waitbusters. Dubbed Digital Diner, the technology lets guests get in line or (for a fee) even skip the line remotely, and communicate personally with the restaurant before, during and after the meal. It also allows operators to view the location of a guest or party in line, among other features designed to streamline guest management and service, according to FSR magazine. All of this can be controlled via a widget on your website or social media page. There are some back-office benefits too: The technology lets you pull analytics to see how many guests you seated, how long they had to wait on average, how many no-shows you had and how many people made reservations, so you can make adjustments to your labor and inventory.
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