Minimum wage on the rise? Get creative.
Rising labor costs in many U.S. cities have forced operators to rethink their service models – and how they pay the people serving and preparing food for their guests. Eater reports that Oakland, Calif. seafood restaurant AlaMar, which once prided itself on its attentive, full-service model, recently had to switch to a counter-service model in order to accommodate minimum-wage hikes in the region (wages increased by 37 cents to $13.23 per hour beginning in January). The owner slashed the majority of menu prices by 30 to 50 percent by cutting some staff who were no longer needed. The result has been a happy surprise for the owner, who has seen restaurant sales increase by 17 percent since the transition, with a higher volume of customers. At other restaurants, cooks are helping to serve food and are therefore sharing the gratuities. Technology improvements are helping too, by helping operators automate functions that once required more workers in the kitchen and more time from servers at the front of the house. QSR reports that more operators are using value-added products that can simplify food prep and eliminate the need to have a maximum of staff on hand. But cutting staff hours isn’t always a feasible option for restaurants. For that reason, Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen has eliminated tipping altogether in favor of a 20 percent service charge. Servers earn a commission based on sales and performance, which accounts for 14 percent of the service charge. New servers earn a starting commission between 10 and 12 percent of the service charge. Managers rate servers based on factors such as knowledge of the menu and communication. The remainder of the revenue earned from the service charge goes to support staff, and back-of-house staff are paid out of the restaurant’s operating budget.
Mine the data behind your menu
Is there a data-driven purpose behind every item on your menu? If there is, you could drive profits higher by double-digit margins with each menu redesign. The data analytics firm Unlock Insights says menu engineering – the use of data analytics to assess the popularity and profitability of dishes and determine their ideal placement on your menu – is a critical way to drive profits at restaurants. Using certain adjectives, fonts and colors can pull guests’ attention to items on the menu. A broad menu without helpful visual cues can slow service and turnover. While drastically winnowing down your menu may not be necessary, you should know your most popular, profitable and fastest-moving menu items from your laggards in order to assess your inventory effectively, avoid over-ordering and minimize the waste you generate. Your data should also help you connect specific dishes to your guests so you can contact them when they’re away from your restaurant with offers that appeal to their tastes. Menu Cover Depot suggests you conduct a four-step assessment to improve your menu: First, break down every menu item into its individual ingredients and determine how much you spend to prepare each dish. Second, divide your menu into broad categories (appetizers, entrées, desserts, etc.) and then subcategories (vegetarian entrées, seafood entrées, etc.). Then rate each menu item as a star (high profitability and high popularity), plowhorse (low profitability and high popularity), puzzle (high profitability and low popularity) or dog (low profitability and low popularity). The ratings will help you determine which items must stay, go, be reinvented or repriced. Third, design your menu using visual cues to draw the eye to the items you most want to sell. Keep lists within each menu category short, with your most important items toward the top. Avoid listing prices down the side of a page, which can influence people to select the least expensive items. Finally, test your menu regularly to find new ways to improve it.
Tune in to turnover
Finding and keeping good employees is an ongoing challenge across the restaurant industry – but you may have more power to keep your most valuable people than you think. Upserve's recently released State of the Restaurant Industry report found that according to data pulled between July and September 2017, an employee’s position in the restaurant was a stronger indicator of likely turnover than region of the country or even base pay. Holding on to a quality employee seems to be more about offering new responsibility than pay raises. The highest turnover was seen in roles including counter service/cashiers, support staff like bussers, dishwashers and runners, and among staff like sommeliers and caterers. Bar staff and managers had the lowest turnover, which was consistently the case across regions.
Local and sustainable reach a new level
In the National Restaurant Association’s most recent annual survey of 700 chefs, participants identified the top predicted concept trend of 2018 as “hyper local” food. As Skift Table reports, this trend is about restaurants making their sustainability more visible. Restaurants are making their waste management efforts more apparent to guests, as well as taking away the middleman by growing, picking and processing their own food onsite in a way that guests can experience it. Operators are doing such things as returning used oyster shells to the waters where they were fished in an effort to minimize waste, and operating indoor hydroponic farms that guests can pay to visit while they’re having a meal that features the items being grown. Complementary businesses are capitalizing on the potential opportunity too: Take Smallhold, a company that runs a distributed farming network of mushroom mini-farms. Mission Chinese in New York had one of the company’s mini farms installed prominently above their bar and the owners take pride in being able to offer fresh-picked mushrooms in the dishes they prepare.
Do your boards make the cut?
Your cutting boards could be ground zero for foodborne illnesses if you neglect to maintain and replace them regularly. The foodservice consultancy Letter Grade Consulting recommends that when you choose cutting boards, you opt for those with rounded corners that don’t break or chip. They should be made of nonporous surfaces hard enough that knives don’t leave nicks and gashes, which can harbour bacteria. Color-code boards for different purposes (e.g. those for cutting meat and others for cutting items like vegetables and bread that won’t be cooked before serving). After use, clean each board, sanitize it with a tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, let it stand for five to 10 minutes, rinse it with fresh water, and let it dry completely before storing. To extend the life of your cutting boards, use bleach and fine sand paper. Discard any boards that are permanently discolored, feel rough to the touch, or snag the fibers of a damp cotton ball rubbed on the surface.
Soup’s on – make sure it’s hot
A hot bowl of soup can be a perfect complement to a cold winter day. Just be cautious about food safety when preparing it. StateFoodSafety.com suggests you stir your pot of soup thoroughly before taking its temperature. This will help ensure you disperse the heat evenly, eliminating the cooler spots in thicker soups that can take longer to warm up.
Getting meat down to a science
Technology is changing what’s on the menu. One trend taking root this year is science-based foods, which aim to provide consumers with a cleaner, environmental-friendly way to enjoy the taste of meat. Food Dive reports that the products in development range from cell-cultured meat, fish and poultry to plant-based meat and sausage that mimic the experience of eating the real thing. Plant-based burgers that bleed like a conventional burger are already gaining a following in stores and restaurants (the Next Level Burger meatless burger restaurant has two outlets in Whole Foods stores). The Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute report that sales of plant-based food increased more than 8 percent last year, while Nielsen estimated that plant-based meats generated more than 2 percent of refrigerated and frozen meat product sales.
Customized, not creepy: Using guest information wisely
Social media has chipped away at the anonymity of consumers – and restaurant guests are no exception. A recent article in Vogue titled “What Restaurants Know About You Before You Walk In,” points to the many ways operators can research guests and share that information with staff in an effort to provide a customized experience. Keeping guest notes that outline a person’s preferences, habits and budget can help your staff steer guests toward menu options they prefer. Using tools like Venga to aggregate feedback across a variety of platforms and review sites, or studying comments on OpenTable and Resy, can help operators collect information about guests that helps deliver a customized experience. To ably walk the line between accommodating and invasive when it comes to using customer information, Restaurant Business has some suggestions. Managers should use the information they find to provide extra hospitality – mentioning that the last time the guests dined with you was on their wedding anniversary, for example. If on scanning the guest’s Instagram account, you find a guest has posted photos from a recent trip to Spain, you could suggest a wine from that region to help spark some conversation that enhances the experience. That said, you naturally don’t want to mention you’ve been looking through their vacation photos, so use staff training sessions to emphasize the importance of guest privacy – and run through scenarios that can help servers test out tactics for providing an experience that feels tailored to a loyal guest without getting too personal.
You have a schedule for posting social media content, quality photos of your newest menu items and plenty of ideas about what to promote. Just don’t forget about analytics so you can ensure the time you’re putting into your social media strategy is paying off. Top Rank Marketing suggests you use Google Analytics (or another analytics tool of your choice) to discover how much referral traffic you’re getting to your website, what your most-visited pages are, how much time people spend on each page and how many pages they visit, as well as conversions – how many of the clicks to your reservations page are resulting in actual bookings, for example. How many of your website visitors are new as opposed to returning? Are they searching for you through social media, via another referral source or directly? Are people visiting a page without making a single click? What page on your website is usually the last one people visit before they leave your site? Answering these questions can help you tweak pages, tune in to helpful referral sources and offer incentives to keep visitors coming back. The social data consulting firm Crimson Hexagon calls social media the perfect test kitchen for restaurants. Operators can monitor it to identify what kinds of food and beverage people are craving, monitor the social response to a new item overall and by restaurant location (you should know if a recipe isn’t being made consistently) and tune in to social media conversations to iterate existing menu items based on what guests are saying about them.
How clean is clean?
In recent years, your foodservice operation has likely tried to swap in organic whole foods in place of more processed foods containing pesticides, antibiotics or artificial additives. Now some restaurants are digging even deeper in the quest to go clean. Food Navigator reports that Panera has been examining components within the so-called “natural” ingredients it uses to ensure those items meet the brand’s standards. Their research found the balsamic vinaigrette they once used needed adjustments. While on the surface, the dressing’s ingredients – natural flavors, rosemary extract and
balsamic vinegar – looked satisfactory, a deeper dive found that the ingredients included a balsamic flavor that was highly processed, a rosemary extract that included an undesired emulsifier and balsamic vinegar made with a grape must that included caramel color. Panera since worked with suppliers to revamp the recipe with whole, unprocessed ingredients. Would your menu items pass a similar test?
Wearing gloves to prevent (not spread) contamination
Using single-use gloves in a foodservice operation can help prevent contamination – or in some cases, provide a false sense of security about preventing it. If you use single-use gloves in your kitchen, remember to have employees change them whenever the gloves get soiled or torn, before they begin a new task, at least every four hours during continuous use, after handling raw meat, seafood or poultry and before handling ready-to-eat food. Statefoodsafety.com advises that anyone with an infected sore on their hands or wrists should cover it with a bandage, then wear a single-use glove to create a double barrier between the sore and the food being prepared. Those who wear nail polish or false fingernails should also wear single-use gloves, as those employees pose a risk for contaminating food with paint chips or bacteria that hides beneath the nail.
Kelp is on the way
Is there room for kelp on your menu? A company in Maine called Ocean’s Balance hopes so. Civil Eats reports an expanding U.S. market for kelp, whose production requires no land, fresh water, fertilizer or pesticides and produces no methane emissions or nitrogen runoff – and at a time when Millennial consumers are seeking out nutrient-dense foods with minimal impact on the environment. Seaweed farms have sprung up in Mexico, California, Alaska, Connecticut and Maine, and they have the backing of the World Bank, which has touted seaweed farming as one of the best solutions for feeding the world without contributing to its deterioration. Chefs around the country who are looking to bring more vegetables onto their menus are getting creative with the product, which has an umami flavor, and have worked it into dishes in both expected ways (as an ingredient in soup broth, for example) and not (like kelp sloppy joes and even kelp berry crumbles).
Take the paper and people out of temperature testing
Food safety logs and paper checklists have long been a necessary annoyance for many a restaurant. But Bluetooth temperature sensors are helping to make them unnecessary – all while helping to protect customer safety and prevent restaurant product loss. For that, Bluetooth temperature sensors made Fast Casual’s recent list of the top seven technologies transforming the restaurant industry. The sensors allow restaurants to manually or automatically test the temperature of food or equipment in just a few seconds. Managers can receive alerts when temperatures fall outside of a set window and even have the sensors record temperature readings in an HACCP log, eliminating human error or oversight altogether.
Say yes to SMS
If you’re still using clunky pagers to alert waiting guests that their table is ready, take note: Modern Restaurant Management found that 75 percent of customers want to receive alerts via text. In addition to freeing up your hosts and eliminating expensive equipment maintenance, using an SMS system to send messages has additional advantages when it comes to guest engagement. By having an SMS system, you’re automatically collecting guest information that will help feed your database. From the first time a guest joins you, you can send special offers, rewards and other benefits, all of which can help turn each guest on your waiting list into a loyal one over time.
Zero in on the data you need
“Data” has become a buzz word for any restaurant operator looking to grow market share. But in an age when the amount of data available can be overwhelming, how can you decide what you really need to know about your guests? Modern Restaurant Management asked this question recently and provided some guidance from Bloom Intelligence, a data analytics and marketing firm that works with restaurants and retailers, to help operators make data management more manageable. First, take a look at the community surrounding your restaurant and have a clear grasp of its demographics so you can price your menu appropriately and meet the cultural expectations of the people who live around you. Then collect information on an individual basis: What is the demographic profile of your customers? What food and beverages do they prefer? Use this information to deliver content that engages those guests. When do they visit your restaurant and how long do they stay? Your answer will help you determine when to market to them. Do they order online or in your restaurant? What brings them back? If you can use technology to tap into guest preferences when they are onsite, you can immediately send automated offers and suggestions that can influence their purchasing decisions – and market to them once more as soon as they leave so they have an incentive to return.
Virtual and augmented reality poised to transform restaurant training
For years, restaurant operators providing employee training have had to choose between low-touch, high efficiency models (such as large group sessions with little opportunity for individualized or location-specific learning) or high-touch, high-cost models (such as smaller, more customized sessions delivered onsite). But now, augmented and virtual reality technology are beginning to change the game for the food industry by offering new training options, TechCrunch reports. Virtual reality can provide a digital means for employees to interact with their work surroundings while mentally and physically learning how to accomplish set tasks. For example, they can participate in virtual reality lessons on how to manage crowds at peak times or how to cook a new menu item. While virtual reality recreates a real-life situation digitally, augmented reality applies virtual elements on top of those real-life situations. A study from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that augmented reality can help people visually estimate serving sizes, for instance. Fast Company reports that the Microsoft Hololens augmented reality headset is allowing technicians to visually disassemble and reassemble products in need of maintenance and repair without actually being onsite. When they are in the field, their headsets allow them to overlay schematics and tutorials and even contact specialists via Skype, all while they are looking at a product requiring maintenance or repair. As prices for virtual reality and augmented reality headsets decrease and give you greater access to information you need to manage your business, look for opportunities to make training materials more adaptable to a variety of learning styles and business needs.
Research confirms link between sick leave policies and foodborne illness
Is your restaurant plagued by foodborne illness outbreaks? More than 50 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks stem from foodservice operations, according to public health officials. Now, Food Safety News reports that a recently published study entitled “Association of Paid Sick Leave Laws with Foodborne Illness Rates” found that foodborne illness rates decreased by 22 percent after paid sick leave laws were implemented in jurisdictions that have laws supporting employee sick leave. The study also found that 46 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks implicate an infected foodservice worker, and outbreaks in food and beverage operations infect a median of twice as many people as other outbreaks.
Plate or plank?
To add interest to a meal’s presentation, a growing number of operators have been serving (and sometimes cooking) food on wooden planks in recent years. But unfortunately, these vessels have been linked to food poisoning. If the planks aren’t properly sanitized – which is difficult to accomplish when they are scratched or nicked – they can harbor harmful bacteria. According to Eater, health inspectors fined a steakhouse in Birmingham, England the equivalent of nearly $70,000 for repeatedly serving food on wooden planks that hadn’t been adequately sanitized. This occurred even after 14 people complained about contracting food poisoning from the restaurant.
Restaurants test travel-industry pricing models
Overcrowded on Friday evenings but empty on Tuesdays at lunch? Some restaurants are experimenting with congestion pricing to incentivize off-peak dining. Bloomberg reports that a pricing model used widely in the travel industry is beginning to take root in the restaurant industry, giving restaurant operators more freedom to decrease prices for meals during slower periods that would be charged at full price at peak times. London’s Bob Bob Ricard, for example, offers the same menu all week but prices are 25 percent lower during Monday lunch and other slower periods, 10 percent lower for mid-peak periods, such as dinners on Tuesday and Sunday, and full price on Saturday night.
How the smartest businesses use Instagram
Instagram has 800 million monthly active users, which has helped make it a must-use platform for restaurant operators. But how do you stand out in that large of a crowd? In a recent report in Inc., Instagram’s small-business community lead shared some of the smartest things small businesses are doing to shine. For one, they’re aligning with brand ambassadors, people who like and promote their brand and are willing to share images of it on Instagram. Having a strong set of values to promote or a charity partner can help you find such ambassadors. Second, they include video content that can stand on its own visually (without requiring sound, which isn’t always convenient for mobile viewers to use). Third, they study their followers to gain insights into how to reach them. For instance, are most of your followers women? How old are they? Where are they located geographically? Use the answers to provide content that speaks to that audience. Finally, tell a personal story but keep it consistent. For example, think about three to five qualities that are most important about your business, then weave one of them into each Instagram post you create.
What can your food delivery partner do for you?
To gain an edge in the increasingly competitive food delivery market, companies are offering new incentives – and it’s a restaurant operator’s market. Consider Deliveroo, a business that partners with restaurants to deliver food to customers in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia. Foodable reports that Deliveroo has begun to provide free “dark kitchens,” or additional commercial kitchen space, to restaurants that sign on to use the service. These kitchens, which are made out of shipping containers, are offered to top restaurants that want to expand their reach through the delivery company. At a time when UberEATS and other companies are vying for market share, Deliveroo is positioning itself to help restaurants looking to broaden their geographical reach and customer base. If several delivery companies are competing in your community, find out how they can make it worth your while to partner with them.
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.
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.
Make the most of that email
Having a social media presence is important, of course, but do you know what’s even more critical? According to The Rail, email addresses are twice as valuable as Facebook or Twitter followers because they represent direct, unfiltered lines of communication between you and your guests. Of course, you need to make your messages count. It helps to assume your guests will be reading your message on a mobile device (55 percent of email is opened on such a device, according to Litmus). Also, since they are likely multitasking when they open your message, ensure you’re able to capture your guest’s attention in just three seconds, the span of time that passes before they decide whether to read on or move on. Next Restaurants suggests you consider five steps for a strong mobile-based email strategy: When encouraging people to sign up, make it easy, with mobile-optimized landing pages and QR codes, and provide an immediate incentive that would make it worthwhile for a guest to hand over an email address. Second, follow up promptly with a welcome email message and an accompanying offer that solidifies the relationship. Third, format your message and images for a mobile device, limit your subject line to four to six words, and ensure you get your main point across in three seconds or less. Fourth, provide just one call to action in any message you send and include an incentive for guests to follow through. Finally, set metrics so you know what you want to get out of your contact list, then study your analytics to assess what’s going well and how you can improve.
Score your tech options
If you’re thinking of investing in technology improvements in 2018, some new data from Starfleet Research may give you some food for thought. According to the company’s third-quarter 2017 survey of close to 200 operators with first-hand experience in restaurant management and POS systems, 78 percent of full-service restaurants and 62 percent of quick-service and fast-casual operators achieved “significant” or dramatic” improvements in operations and revenue performance after launching a next-generation system. What features fueled these improvements? Advance ordering, payment processing, inventory control, labor management, sales and marketing, guest relationship management and loyalty management tools all helped elevate restaurants to the next level. Of course, it helps to know how to extract the data you need from these features. If you’re assessing different options, find out how well they can answer questions about your operation. For example, what will your revenue forecast look like and how you can improve upon it? How are customers finding you? How do they make reservations with you? How well can you manage labor and inventory costs? Can you create customized trigger notifications to alert you when some function falls short? How well does the technology integrate with third-party CRM, marketing and guest-management technology? Don’t assume the systems will offer what you need. To evaluate your options, Starfleet suggests you create a scoring sheet that lists all of your buying considerations (e.g. ordering capabilities, payment and security functionality, performance reporting and analytics, type of hosting offered, etc.). Assign a weight to each one to calculate a final score and an option that meets your greatest needs.
Where is that tip going?
The plot thickens regarding the tipping debate, in the wake of the Department of Labor’s recent proposal to allow employers to pool tips and use them as they see fit, under the condition that their employees are all paid at or above the minimum wage. The New York Times reports that Labor
Department officials say this will help restaurants direct more funds toward back-of-house workers who likely receive less pay due to a lack of tips. However, operators would be under no obligation to do so and could apply the funds to other areas of the business. If the proposal passes, it’s possible that restaurant guests who don’t know where their tip is going could either slip cash to their server or decline to leave a tip at all. In an age when consumers demand transparency, be prepared to provide it when it comes to your tip allocation policy.
Time for a temperature check
The New Year is a good time to start fresh and make sure your equipment is in proper condition to carry you through the months ahead. Since temperature control is central to your food safety efforts, take the time to make sure your thermometers are in good order. Use thermometers you can calibrate onsite so that you can run a test for boiling point (212˚F, depending on elevation) and freezing point (32˚F), which you can test in a slurry of ice. The National Restaurant Association recommends you calibrate your thermometers any time they have been bumped or dropped, after they have been exposed to extreme changes in temperature, before deliveries arrive and before every shift.
A better food safety partnership
Health inspections are based on a snapshot of what the inspector sees during the time he or she visits a restaurant—they’re an important part of the overall picture of food safety, but only part of the picture, according to a recent Food Safety Magazine podcast with Hal King, a public health professional who has investigated foodborne and other disease outbreaks for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A better model, King says, is surveillance by both restaurant employees and public health officials, with shared responsibility for spotting trends. He suggests checking out Annex Four in the FDA’s food code for a section about how managers can perform tasks on a daily basis to keep tabs on potential problems. This way, when inspectors call, they are not merely scoring a problem; rather, they are collaborating with the operator to brainstorm steps to fix problems already on the operator’s radar.
To be found online, think local
Can people find you in online searches and maps? To be certain, Restaurant Insider suggests you think of several non-branded key words to describe who you are and what you offer—for example, people are more apt to search for “Italian food” or “happy hour specials” than your business name if they haven’t visited before. If you have multiple locations, you will need a landing page (including a desktop and mobile-optimized page, as well as a distinct social media presence) for each location in order to ensure you appear in local searches. Finally, tune in to local, ongoing events that are likely to draw crowds and offer incentives to bring those people in the door when they’re in the neighborhood.
Burgers as you like them
Burgers are big —and even though they have saturated the restaurant market, chefs are still finding new ways to innovate with them. From patty to bun, almost anything goes. For example, Flavor & the Menu reports that the ingredients at the foundation of burger patties now range from lamb to short ribs to fire-roasted beets, and naan bread is sometimes standing in for more traditional rolls. Datassential reports that the penetration of lamb burgers on menus has increased 120 percent in the past four years due to the popularity of Mediterranean, Indian and Middle Eastern foods, quinoa burgers have spiked 260 percent and black bean burgers have increased 49 percent.
Transform your team into an army of marketers
That time of the year has arrived —the holidays are over and the winter weather means it requires a bit more motivation for people to get out of the house and dine with you. So it’s more important than ever that your team sell your menu effectively. If you’re hiring, the Rail suggests you ask behavioral questions — have candidates tell you a joke or try and sell you something to demonstrate how well they handle the task. Even if they struggle, it’s a chance to see how professionally they respond and to discern where they might fit best, in case you have positions available that require less sales skill. When you train your team, teach methods for approaching sales in order to help them improve and also demonstrate that sales ability is something you value. Have your best servers take part in role-play activities during staff meetings so you can reinforce sales approaches with your larger team. Then, incorporate some friendly competition. Your POS may allow you to set up a system (Springzy is one example) that tracks performance and then updates your team via email so servers have regular feedback about where they stand against the rest of the team, as well as motivation to improve. Create incentive programs during set periods throughout the year to help identify the best performers and also allow the full team to see their progression over time. It can help them appreciate how their check sizes (and gratuities) have increased because of their sales efforts. Finally, look outside your restaurant and consider aligning with social media influencers: Asking some well-known people in your local food scene to come in, try your specials, and then post about the experience on social media can help you boost the numbers of people walking through the door.
Restaurants’ billion-dollar meal-kit opportunity
Meal kit companies like Blue Apron and Plated represent a $5 billion industry. While it’s natural for restaurant operators to view these businesses as competitors, they may actually represent more of an opportunity to operators who learn from their example. According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 percent of restaurant customers say they would buy a meal kit from their favorite restaurant if it were offered. There’s also ample room for growth, with just under 4 percent of households having tried a meal kit, according to the consulting firm Pentallect. How can restaurants seize market share? They have the advantage of greater flexibility to offer either subscription-based or one-off sales, for one. They also have freedom to determine what the kits look like: In a report in Nation’s Restaurant News, Matt Drewes of the intelligence platform Cardlytics said restaurants are still defining what a meal kit is, whether it’s a meal that has been prepared and needs only a finishing touch or two at home (a more common occurrence now), or if it’s a collection of scratch ingredients that the customer brings home to prepare (a less common situation). Regardless, presentation of the dish or ingredients sold is critical to attracting customers, according to Steven Johnson, the industry expert and self-styled Grocerant Guru. Preparing food to be served immediately is a restaurant’s strength — preparing food to be consumed later may require more creativity.
Use FSMA requirements to hold suppliers to high standards
Your food safety program is only as strong as the weakest link in your distribution chain, but how can you adequately monitor the practices of other companies? Hal King of the consultancy Public Health Innovations suggests operators lean on the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act to make their food safer. King’s book, “Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) — Improving Food Safety in Human Food Manufacturing for Food Businesses,” suggests operators look beyond the audits of facilities and safety programs when assessing suppliers. He suggests operators evaluate manufacturers’ food safety plans with an eye toward ingredients, facilities and processes for every product they buy from that manufacturer. As a customer, you have power to require suppliers to provide plant-inspection reports and other government data that can help you thoroughly assess each product you purchase.
Know where to look for fraud
The economically motivated adulteration of food, otherwise known as food fraud, costs the industry between $30 and $40 billion each year, according to Food Dive. Food fraud was among the main challenges discussed at Nation’s Restaurant News’ Food Safety Symposium this fall —particularly because fraud is growing and isn’t limited to product substitutions. For instance, in addition to trying to make lesser products pass for higher-quality ones through intentional mislabeling, fraud also comprises food additives that add weight to meat, false ingredients or nutritional information on labels, and items that were handled in an unsafe manner in the chain of distribution. John Ryan, president of the Ryan Systems Inc. consultancy and author of “Food Fraud,” said at the event that operators must be on high alert any time they extend the supply chain. Everything from the growth of imports to the expansion of restaurant delivery is creating opportunities for abuse.
Amazon technology poised to change restaurant guest experience
Restaurant brands are taking a step closer to offering touch-free reservations, ordering and payment as Amazon makes inroads into the restaurant industry. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that at Amazon’s recent re: Invent 2017 conference, the company announced it would bring Alexa voice ordering, along with Amazon Pay, to TGI Friday’s. Once the technology is phased in throughout the course of 2018, Amazon Prime members or any customer with an Amazon account will be able to talk to Alexa to make orders and reservations, and use their Amazon account to pay without handling a credit card.
Look for tech that builds bridges
If you’re looking to make technology upgrades in 2018, you should have plenty of leverage with suppliers as technology companies vie for business from restaurants. If your technology operates like less of an ecosystem than a collection of disparate parts, there are ample tech tools that can help you connect a multitude of functions. Start by taking a look at the worst pain points of your guest experience. Modern Restaurant Management suggests tools like Guest Center, for one, to help your front- and back-of-house business activities adapt to the patterns of your restaurant so you can run shifts more efficiently, make the best use of your inventory and reach guests more effectively.
The early bird gets the customer
Want to attract a base of loyal customers? Offer breakfast —or enhance your existing breakfast menu. QSR reports that according to analysis of five million restaurant visits from Sense360, those who eat out at breakfast are the most loyal restaurant customers. This was especially evident at coffee shops but also held true across all quick-service restaurants studied. Breakfast is a hit across categories, too. Nasdaq reports that breakfast is driving traffic at most U.S. restaurants and that is expected to continue: NPD Group projects the consumption of breakfast and morning snacks to grow 5 percent through 2019.
Save some green in 2018
Looking to reduce waste in the New Year? From your menu to your suppliers to your energy use, there are many ways to cut back. Toast shared a few hacks that can help you save money. When you adjust menu prices, use a random pricing strategy that raises the price of a few items by a nickel or dime each month, instead of conspicuously increasing prices across the board at one time. What menu items are making you the least money? Even if the items are favored by some guests or you already have the ingredients on hand, eliminate the items that aren’t making money. If you scan prices every week and buy from the cheapest vendor, avoid price manipulation by approaching your favorite supplier and offering to give them a large percentage of your business in exchange for a purchase agreement with better pricing. Consider joining a group purchasing organization, like Team Four/Value 4, to pool your buying power with others to get better pricing. Are you using out-of-season produce for menu items or garnishes? Review your options with your produce supplier every month to find alternatives and avoid anticipated price surges. Apply a similar strategy with your meat purveyor —ask for left-over or alternative cuts of meat that are high in quality but might not otherwise be used. To conserve energy, install cooler, energy-efficient LED light bulbs, limit trips in and out of the refrigerator, and run the dishwasher only when it’s full (installing low-flow toilets can conserve water, too —about four gallons per use).
When delivery eats into your catering business
As corporate luncheons and entertaining have become more casual, many companies are bypassing formal catering services in favor of foods available via delivery (which have become increasingly plentiful as restaurants have tapped into third-party services who offer it). But some operators have found that the plethora of restaurant delivery options is putting a dent in their catering business — while potentially sacrificing quality. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that in the greater Chicago area, foodservice businesses that cater have begun promoting to customers the differences between hiring a caterer or relying on a delivery service to provide food. For example, catering staff will have been trained in food safety issues and will have the equipment needed to ensure food is transported and served at a safe temperature. It is unlikely there will be any such guarantees with a delivery service. If you’re a caterer who offers drop-off meals, be sure to promote any benefits you provide over a delivery service, such as menu planning, delivery, setup, and order accuracy. At the same time, it’s important to make ordering a catering spread as user-friendly as it is to order food via a delivery service: Your technology should allow customers to order food quickly and easily, and your menu should offer the variety and customization that customers expect from their favorite restaurant.
A food safety program from one who knows
When your company owns and operates more than 200 sushi outlets in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, the survival of your business depends on food safety. Josh Onishi, CEO and president of Peace Dining Corporation, talked to Food Safety Magazine recently about how he approaches it. For one, he said, operators must value food safety from the top down and manage to it. That means empowering employees to take action when something does not look right and tying rewards, bonuses and promotions to maintaining safety standards. Communicate about food safety internally and externally, and at every opportunity, whether in orientations, team meetings or advertisements. Select vendors based on their food safety standards and rate them on such factors as their quality, process, handling, storage and shipping. On top of using technology that traces your supply from harvesting to storage to shipping, aim to have real people you trust on hand at each link in the distribution chain.
Storage that promotes food safety
How you store food in your restaurant can either help you avoid a food safety incident —or set you up for one. R Magazine shared some tips to help you stay on track. First, do you follow the first-in, first-out rule? As soon as food is delivered, ensure every item carries a “use-by” label and then store your newest items behind older ones to make sure you’re making best use of your inventory. Use airtight containers for all types of food to extend shelf life and minimize the chance of cross-contamination. Meat should be stored below other items and away from produce. To ensure food maintains the proper temperature when refrigerated, don’t overload your cold storage areas. Clean equipment, shelves and storage units daily to avoid bacteria build-up, and store food items between six and 12 inches off of the floor in order to reduce contamination from water, dust and dirt.
Food delivery, with in-house quality standards intact
To preserve market share in a competitive industry, many restaurants are turning to delivery to “save the day,” according to Doug Sutton of the restaurant consultancy Steritech. Whether you’re looking to save your business or simply improve it through delivery, Sutton advises you incorporate your brick-and-mortar quality-control systems and processes into your delivery strategy. Make sure you communicate a clear pick-up process to your delivery drivers (and the company managing them) to expedite the receipt of an order. Review your packaging to ensure it preserves the appearance and temperature of your food, as well as prevents tampering. Develop standards for maintaining the temperature of hot and cold foods, then work with delivery partners to ensure they have the systems and tools in place to maintain your standards. Have a system to monitor the quality and safety of your food upon delivery and work with your delivery partner to determine steps to take if and when service falls short.
Amazon-style tech for the restaurant industry
As data gains power in the restaurant industry, a number of restaurant technology companies are looking to take their clients from a place of simply understanding customer behavior and buying patterns to a place where they can predict who their customers are online and how to reach them. In other words, they want to bring Amazon-style insight and revenue growth to the restaurant business. When leaders of restaurant technology companies shared their predictions for 2018 with Modern Restaurant Management recently, they said the next year will bring advances in how restaurants will reach customers. Not only will operators be able to identify their customers and preferences but they will be able to connect to them with customized incentives, offering them what they want before they know they want it.
More consumers go out of their way for global flavors
Want to spice up your menu this year? Look beyond our borders and try offering an unexpected ethnic food. A recent Datassential survey of more than 1,000 consumers found that people of all generations are willing to step outside of their comfort zones and sample global flavors. That includes 68 percent of Millennials and Generation Z, 50 percent of Generation X and 44 percent of Baby Boomers. Among the most recent global meals these consumers ate, Asian foods dominated, with the Americas and Europe following, then Africa and the Middle East. More than half of the survey respondents said they would make an effort to try a global food after hearing about it.
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.
A formula for a more profitable menu
Does your menu drive sales as well as it could? Chances are you need to slim it down to focus on your best sellers. Upserve research found that 80 percent of a restaurant’s food sales come from 16 percent of menu items, so any extra options can make it more frustrating for your guests to find their favorites. What’s more, ingredients comprise such a large portion of a restaurant’s costs – 36 percent, according to the merger advisory firm Mazonne and Associates – that condensing them will help you focus on buying the best items you can. Upserve applied this rationale to its new “Smart Menu” builder template, a free tool that draws on menu research from across the U.S., as well as research about human behavior. The template helps users determine the exact number of items that should be on your menu (the fewer, the better), which ones to list first, the best ratio of food to drink items, how to create a visually compelling menu layout, and how a longer menu item description and a photo next to an item can each help you sell 30 percent more food. The menu research behind the template helped Upserve identify a Golden Menu Ratio for improving margins: Entrees account for nearly half of sales, so they should be your highest-margin items. Then, you gain some freedom to take smaller losses on popular but lower-margin appetizers and desserts, which drive 31 percent and 19 percent of sales, respectively.
What’s your cyber security strategy?
To compete, restaurant operators must adopt new technologies designed to improve sales, enhance the customer experience and make business run more efficiently. But these changes can create gaps that criminals target with cyber attacks, according to James Cascone, an advisory partner and global restaurant leader with Deloitte & Touche LLP. Cyber attacks can cause serious damage to a business: Toast reports that 68 percent of funds lost in these attacks are unrecoverable and 99 percent of computers are vulnerable to them. Often times, operators will not know about an attack until more than five months after it has occurred. To help, Toast’s PLATE Framework for Restaurant CyberSecurity suggests several tips. First, make sure your technology is secure – particularly your POS and credit card reader – and that your software is up to date. Second, comply with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards, which require restaurants accept, process, store and transmit data in a secure environment. Using PCI-compliant technology also sends a signal to your guests that you care about protecting their personal information. Finally, you need a game plan to follow in case your systems are attacked by a cyber threat so you can minimize damage. To help, Toast created its PLATE Framework, which was formed around the NIST CyberSecurity Framework from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The system was designed to help you perceive threats to your systems, limit the risk of a cyber attack, attribute the root of the problem accurately, take action quickly if and when an attack occurs, and evolve after the incident so you have security protections in place to prevent future breaches. Regardless of what security framework you use, you’ll want to have a similar strategy in place to keep your data safe.
Take care with cold grains
Cold rice, pasta, oats and other grains can be healthy staples in grab-and-go salads and breakfast items, but if you have them on your menu, take extra precautions with food safety. It’s easy to overlook contamination in these grains because they keep so well when dry. But once moistened and cooked, they become havens for bacteria. In a Huffington Post report, a representative from the Food Safety Information Council advised cooks keep these items out of the danger zone for bacteria growth, which is generally between 40˚F and 167˚F. Right after cooking these grains, put these items into shallow, well vented storage containers to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the steam has disappeared, secure the container lids and refrigerate the items immediately. Make sure that when you eventually mix in other ingredients with these grains, they’ve been cooled sufficiently to avoid the danger zone too.
Do you feel free to freeze?
Local, seasonal produce is a chef’s first choice, but is there a place for fruit and vegetables in the freezer? Your answer likely depends on your brand and the values you promote, but there are benefits to consider. The blog Chef’s Closet says at a time when skilled labor is hard to find, frozen produce can be faster to prepare and easier on a restaurant’s budget. And as we head into the winter months when fresh, local produce becomes scarce, cooking with fruit and vegetables that have been frozen at their peak helps you provide a wider assortment of nutrient-dense options on the menu. Just be sure to use fruits and vegetables that have been frozen in their most natural state and don’t contain added sweeteners or preservatives. Also note that frozen vegetables carry a higher risk of contamination by Listeria, according to the public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness. Listeria thrives in cold temperatures and is killed through cooking and pasteurization, so make sure to thoroughly cook any produce you freeze.
Images that boost business
Quality imagery on your menu, website and social media platforms will attract more sales. In fact, in many retail surveys, consumers say they are more influenced by images (and image quality) than other factors like ratings and reviews, product information and detailed descriptions, according to the personal finance site The Balance. SkillsLab, the sales and marketing hub, recently suggested some top tools to help you take your images up several notches. For creative social graphics and animated videos, try Adobe Spark. Videorama lets you create and edit quality videos with sound effects, text, filters and other options (also check out Typorama, a related site for images). Hyperlapse can help you create time-lapse videos – you can give viewers a condensed look at your kitchen during the Saturday night rush. If you want to add some artistic flair to your images, try using Touch Color to create eye-popping black-and-white pictures with bursts of color. Or maybe you’d like some help combining photos and video into one memorable package – for that, try PicPlayPost, which lets you combine photos, videos, GIFs and music.
The money is on mobile
A recent survey from Hospitality Technology found that 52 percent of restaurant operators say the integration of mobile features will influence their next POS upgrade, NextRestaurants reports. There’s good reason for that: While 39 percent of customers would rather pay with their mobile device than use a credit card or cash, mobile is proving to be more than just a conduit for payment. It can help guests skip lines, make reservations and otherwise have a better experience with you (and in the meantime, become more loyal to your business). NextRestaurants suggests you use in-app games to give customers opportunities to earn points toward discounts and other promotions. Domino’s Pizza, for one, has created an in-app game that allows customers to build virtual pizzas and even order pizzas they make up. You can create similar games that can help customers win rewards for time spent playing or for reaching different levels. Research has also found that mobile ordering has altered consumer behavior. When customers can skip the line and place an order as soon as they have a craving, it turns out, they are 20 percent more likely to place a larger order – and to order with greater frequency.
Restaurants serving more holiday meals
If you aren’t open for Christmas or New Year’s Day this year, you may want to plan differently for next year: Eater reports that independent restaurants that were open for business on Christmas and New Year’s Day in 2015 increased profits by 40 to 50 percent compared to their average business days, according to data from CAKE. The Financial Times reports that the online reservations site Bookatable saw Christmas Day reservations climb 32 percent from 2015 to 2016, while OpenTable reservations climbed 43 percent during the same period. Millennials appear to be driving this trend, according to data from Bank of America, as more of them are eating their Thanksgiving meal at home but are looking to dine – and spend – outside of the house on Christmas and New Year’s.
Food For Thought And Profit brings you the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are part of an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.