Growth without delivery
As the demand for off-premise dining grows and restaurants scramble to make third-party delivery work for them logistically and financially, it can be easy to forget something: Third-party delivery may not be the right fit for your restaurant and you can find a formula for growth without it. Consider Darden, one large player in the industry that has held off on it. FSR Magazine reports that Darden CEO Gene Lee is taking a wait-and-see approach to third-party delivery, particularly for its Olive Garden brand, for a few reasons: He’s not sure it will be executed well. He is skeptical about its potential for creating growth at scale. The financials of third-party delivery aren’t appealing. It would mean losing control of valuable consumer data. And it could threaten the profitability of Olive Garden’s growing off-premise business. Factors like this have not prevented other restaurants from jumping into the third-party delivery space. But Olive Garden, for one, is proof that big growth is possible without third-party delivery. The brand reported a 5.3 percent surge in same-store sales in the first quarter, along with double-digit increases in its off-premise business (it currently delivers $100 catering orders placed 24 hours in advance but not individual entrees). It is instead focusing on replicating and improving upon its popular promotions and high-value menu items like “create your own lasagne” and “buy one, get one” deals on entrees — as well as staying true to their core customer and improving engagement with that person. They’re proof that taking the contrarian view can work.
The flavor of meat, minus the beef
Plant-based foods are having a big moment right now — and even lab-grown alternatives are generating some buzz as potential options on future quick-service menus. Still, many consumers are seeking the positive aspects of eating meat, such as the flavor, aroma, heat and heartiness, while minimizing the negative ones. Research from Mintel suggests operators can achieve this by applying cooking methods used with meat — such as curing, grilling and smoking — to fish, vegetables or
plant-based options like Ahimi. Using pastrami spices or other seasonings normally reserved for burgers can help to provide an experience that will ensure guests don’t miss the meat. One Green Planet also suggests creating a spice rub of chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, mustard powder, brown sugar, salt and pepper for a steak-like taste.
Find the perfect package
As off-premise dining has become increasingly common, food packaging has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Take IHOP’s new multi-tiered take-away packaging, designed to keep combo menu items hot, with minimal moisture, in a compact carrying case. Whether you choose glass, metal, plastics, paper, cardboard, environmentally sustainable materials now in production or some combination of the above, Food Safety Tech advises operators to keep some parameters in mind. Above all, the packaging you select for your takeout menu should help you preserve food and provide a barrier to deterioration due to bacteria, contamination by insects or other pests, and physical jolts during transport. Balance the packaging’s impact on the environment with any benefits it provides in minimizing food waste. After all, inadequate storage, preservation and transport of food are key causes of food waste, so consider how your packaging might help minimize it. Is it durable enough to be reused? Can it be recycled or composted? Next, consider what marketing images and information can be added to your packaging. This, along with the indirect message you send through your choice of packaging materials, can help the consumer connect with your brand and values. Finally, in an environment where new players are entering the delivery market, consider adding an element of traceability to your packaging.
Know thy supplier
Amid extreme weather and other changing market conditions, it can be tempting to favor suppliers that offer ingredients for low prices. But hiring a cheap, potentially unregulated supplier can result in a foodborne illness outbreak due to food that hasn’t been properly harvested, processed, stored and delivered. When vetting potential suppliers, Statefoodsafety.com advises asking for records of regulatory permits, licenses and inspection reports, as well as HACCP or HARPC certifications. Conduct an in-person audit of the supplier to understand its manufacturing practices and ask questions. Finally, consider the promises you make to guests about the food you serve: Do you say you offer sustainably sourced seafood, for example? Make sure that you’re aware of any legal requirements tied to food you serve, and that the supplier meets those requirements.
Be allergy aware when labeling
To embrace consumers’ interest in dining whenever and wherever they wish, you may package certain menu items for sale to customers looking for convenient take-away foods. Just make sure that your labels use clear language, bold lettering or even stickers that stand out on the packaging to identify major allergens. Use the common name of the allergen on any packaging to avoid miscommunication. As research from the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program notes, be aware that certain spices, flavors and colors might not have a purpose in the prepared food item (and could inadvertently be omitted on a label) but could still cause reactions in consumers with pronounced food sensitivities.
Tech for better bookings
Technology that enables restaurants to take bookings — and encourages guests to show up for them — is taking off across the industry. If you struggle with no-show guests but think taking credit card information from them would discourage bookings, vendors are offering other options. The blog Big Hospitality reports that the reservations platform Quandoo uses pre-validation technology that asks for a credit card from a consumer making a reservation, but it encourages its restaurant partners to use a carrot vs. stick approach: For example, guests who pre-book a table with a credit card can pre-order their favorite drinks at a reduced rate and have them presented when they arrive at their table. The method increases check sizes, while decreasing the likelihood of no shows.
Make your menu work
Mind your budget busters
How well do you adhere to your restaurant budget? Restaurantowner.com says the vast majority of restaurant failures are, at least in part, the result of a budget that is not at the foundation of key business decisions and lacks accountability. Setting — and sticking to — your operation’s budget will help you identify where you need to save and where you can afford to invest. Upserve recently shared several factors that can negatively impact your numbers. For one, poor management of your inventory can lead to between 4 and 10 percent of your inventory being wasted, so move away from paper-and-pencil inventory management and toward technology that allows you to take a holistic view of your business and spot problems before they become costly. Without such a system, it’s easy for you to lose control of portion sizes and present an inconsistent experience to guests, or to miss signs of employee theft —problems that can also hurt your budget. (Remember to update your software regularly to stay in step with changes to your system.) Next, understand how to retain your best people, since the average cost of replacing a front-line employee is nearly $6,000, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. It can help to reward your top performers and engage employees so they feel invested in the business, as can interviewing employees who are leaving.
For some restaurants looking to minimize food waste by using the entire fruit or vegetable, the compost bin is sparking innovation — and chefs are making no attempt to hide it. Restaurant Business reports that Spice Kitchen & Bar in Cleveland offers “compesto,” a changing concoction of carrot tops, parsley stems and other vegetable trimmings that would have landed in the compost bin, and blends it with couscous as the base for a halibut dish. At Graffiti Earth in New York, a soup was promoted online with the hashtag #eatmycompost.
The benefits of full service without the costs
As the minimum wage continues its ascent in many cities around the country and the cost of living makes it difficult for operators to find and retain quality staff, many restaurants are experimenting with new service structures — such as transitioning from a full-service model to a pub-style, ordering-at-the-counter model, for example. But now that these restaurants lack full-service waitstaff who can promote specials to guests or make menu suggestions that can lead to larger checks, some of them are getting creative about helping guests add to their orders. For instance, Restaurant Business reports that at Xoco, Rick Bayless’s counter-service restaurant in Chicago, guests often overlook dessert when ordering their meal — and if they crave an after-dinner dessert or drink, they may not feel it’s worthwhile to get up and stand in line at the counter again to order it. To make sure people aren’t missing the opportunity to add to their order, bussers at Xoco wear t-shirts that say “I can get you dessert.” Guests can simply flag down anyone wearing one of these shirts and streamline the process of ordering extra food and drink — and Xoco still reaps the benefit of selling these larger-margin, post-meal items to guests.
Finding a symbiotic delivery relationship
There has been a lot of press about how restaurants are losing profits and guest data as they partner with third-party delivery companies. But since off-premise dining seems to be here to stay, restaurants and delivery companies are trying to generate some mutual benefits when it comes to delivering food to consumers. A recent Bloomberg report indicated that since McDonald’s launched its partnership with Uber Eats, delivery orders have been larger than average in-house orders and have helped the brand build late-night business. Further, Uber Eats has been mining its data to help local restaurants transform their delivery menus. When the company found that its Chicago-based users were searching its app for Hawaiian poke delivery, it approached sushi restaurants in the
Try an expanded color-coding system
You may already use color-coded utensils and equipment when managing the specific food sensitivities of guests. A report in Food Safety Tech also recommends color coding as a strategy to protect the overall food safety of an operation. The chef who authored the report said he uses a system that uses seven colors to identify various preparation tools and food storage containers throughout his kitchen. He suggests removing ingredients from their original boxes and storing them in their assigned color-coded, airtight containers to help avoid cross-contamination — and ensuring there are ample pieces of each color in order to avoid having to swap colors for different uses. His verdict: the system is simple for staff to use and saves time, making it easier for his operation to comply with food safety standards
Are you allergy ready?
When a guest with an allergy dines with you, how well does your team — from your waitstaff to your line cooks — know how to respond? If your cooks aren’t fully up-to-date on what items on your menu contain traces of gluten, for example, your waitstaff can’t adequately protect a guest with celiac disease from an allergic reaction. Statefoodsafety.com suggests developing a separate menu to offer guests with sensitivities so they don’t have to scan the regular menu and weed out all of the items they can’t have. Also make sure you have a reliable system in place for waitstaff and cooks to communicate about allergies — using codes that refer to different sensitivities can help make sure important messages aren’t lost in translation.
Preserve your reputation on online review sites
Gone are the days when a guest’s harrowing experience at a restaurant — or even a mildly disappointing one — stayed within the establishment. As online reviews have made it easy for guests to share every detail of their meal, negative (and highly public) feedback has become one more thing for restaurant operators to manage. Upserve suggests you bear some tips in mind when responding to guest reviews online: Apologize and offer a solution if one is needed, and if possible, clarify policies you have in place without getting defensive. Provide your phone number or email address and encourage the guest to contact you to resolve the problem to her satisfaction, whether with a discount, reimbursement or other offer — it may even result in the guest adjusting her review. In your quest for glowing feedback, however, don’t pay for an online reputation management service to scrub your negative reviews. A restaurant with a sea of five-star reviews comes across as less credible than one that has mostly great reviews, with a handful of mediocre ones in the mix.
Are you built for speed?
For many restaurants, speed has long equalled sales. Consider a study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which found that every seven seconds a restaurant decreases drive-thru wait time generates a 1 percent increase in sales. In a similar vein, the restaurant chain Veggie Grill recently introduced predictive ordering technology that makes it possible for line cooks to start preparing an order as the guest is ordering it — not after the guest has paid — and has shaved valuable seconds off of wait times as a result. This need for speed will only increase as restaurants cater to millennials, a generation that eats out more often and spends more money doing it than any other generation. FSR magazine reports that faster service could be one of the most important factors driving millennials, who have grown up with the expectation of speed and efficiency when it comes to the products they buy. When you look at your operation’s pain points, where is business slowing down? Do you have slow lines of guests waiting for tables or waiting to pick up orders? Do guests have to wait longer than desired to have their meal served or to pay their check? Start at those points and determine how you might speed up your processes while maintaining the human interactions that help people connect with your brand.
Services emerge to fill last-minute staffing needs
Labor shortages and last-minute staff cancellations got you down? Increasingly, companies are popping up to fill restaurants’ needs. Joining companies like Jobletics in Boston, Jitjatjo in New York and Wonolo in San Francisco is Snag Work, a Richmond, Va.-based company that recently expanded to Washington, DC and claims to resemble an Uber for restaurant operators, allowing them to fill shifts at the last minute. Similar to how Uber users pay a higher fee during peak times, Snag Work users might pay a higher rate on a Saturday night or if they need a stand-in with more skills, such as a mixologist. While these last-minute hires tend to be more expensive, Washingtonian reports that the extra expense has been worth it to a good number of operators. Some restaurants that use the service have been selecting specific fill-ins repeatedly — and at times finding new hires.
Take your checklists digital
When it comes to boosting your food safety record, technology might be your restaurant’s greatest ally. Consider the checklists you need to monitor and update, whether for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points compliance to employee training. As Food Safety Magazine reports, having the right digital platform to manage all of your restaurant’s checklists has wide-ranging benefits, allowing you to access multiple sources of information from one location, improving your efficiency and managerial control, and reducing fraud and waste. Of course, there are many options to choose from, but the best ones will let you log time and temperature data, maintain warming and cooling logs, integrate operational checklists on a single interface, conduct an audit, monitor your cleaning compliance, identify potential fraud, and enable you to use checklists as training tools. Make sure the app is easy to navigate and that it has features to help you detect and resolve problems, such as a dish lingering in the temperature danger zone for too long (a problem that brought Chipotle back into the news in recent weeks) or a checklist being completed in a questionable way (a digital checklist can hold employees accountable in ways a paper checklist cannot). It should also allow you to access data and reports remotely and notify you with a real-time alert if and when something goes wrong.
Sweet on sugar?
If your menu includes a lot of added sugar, take note: New research from KerryDigest found that consumers are worried about the levels of sugar, above other ingredients, in food and drinks. One-third of Americans connect sugar with weight gain, 71 percent scan ingredient labels for added sugar and 46 percent want to cut back on their consumption of sugar. Reducing the added sugar in your dishes – and promoting your efforts to guests – can go a long way in showing you’re conscious about health. If you need some sweetness but want to avoid adding artificial sweeteners or sugar per se, the research found that consumers responded best to natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, monk fruit and maple syrup.
Sanitize it right
When you use hot water to sanitize surfaces, take precautions with temperature to protect food safety. Water used as a sanitizer in mechanical washing machines should be cooler than 194˚F, with a final sanitizing rinse of at least 180˚F. Water in a stationary-rack, single-temperature machine should be at least 165˚F. Water used in the third compartment of a three-compartment sink should be at least 171˚F. Food safety research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that cleaned items be exposed to these temperatures for at least 30 seconds to ensure they are properly sanitized.
Ready for guests, no matter the weather
Does a rainy day spell slow sales for your restaurant? For many operators located in regions with widely fluctuating weather, the forecast can have a big impact on business. Denver restaurant Mad Greens found a way to keep its ordering in lock step with what’s happening outside. The restaurant connected its ordering system to a weather forecasting service that can help it prepare more accurately for the size of its crowds by adjusting order sizes. The technology has helped the restaurant reduce food waste by 30 percent.
Go local to manage rising shipping costs
Offering local ingredients on your menu is not only on trend; it’s also becoming a necessity amid the ongoing truck driver shortage that’s expected in the coming years – and the escalating ingredient costs that will result from it. Freight Transportation Research Associates reports that shipping rates in the U.S. shot up 14 percent in the year ending June 30. To manage price hikes, do you have a local strategy for everything on your menu – not just the seasonal specialties? Now is the time to anticipate menu changes you can make to better adapt to what’s available in your region throughout each season – and to identify a list of back-up suppliers who may not have as far to go to deliver product. You can even make it competitive, like Bounce in Milwaukee, which lists beer selections in order of the restaurant’s proximity to each brewery, Restaurant Business reports.
Tech with a human touch
Your guests expect the convenience and personalization that technology provides, but they likely still want it delivered with human interaction. Helping restaurant operators strike that balance is a key topic in “Diners of the Future,” a new report from SevenRooms. As your guests’ needs evolve, you might be considering incorporating technology ranging from AI-powered chatbots to automated assistants who can field inquiries to your restaurant. Ask yourself how these tools can improve the guest experience while helping your guest-facing employees do their jobs even better. Can it enable your guests to request a favorite server? Can it help a server greet all returning guests by name (not just your longtime servers and most loyal guests), guide them to their preferred table or remember their favorite appetizers? Could your restaurant create a personalized menu for a guest based on their food preferences you have stored in your database? This kind of specialization continues to be a priority for restaurant guests in the U.S., with at least 20 percent selecting restaurants that can provide individualized experiences, according to the report. While the generation coming of age is comfortable with technology, which will make it increasingly common in restaurants, the current challenge, SevenRooms says, is to nimbly offer the technology-enabled conveniences that those guests expect – while also ensuring that your existing guests experience the human touch without noticing the technology running behind the scenes that helps to make it all possible.
Guest education with flair
You want to stay on trend – but do some of your guests need help in following your lead when it comes to stepping out of their comfort zone? When you introduce global dishes and flavors, consider how to weave guest education into the experience in a lighthearted way. Sushi-San, a sushi concept in Chicago, made Restaurant Business’s “50 Great Ideas” list for its tool to teach guests how to order sushi: The restaurant has a pulled-apart stuffed tuna behind the counter, and chefs and servers can point to different parts of the fish when explaining the parts that go into its sushi and sashimi dishes.
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