It’s time to review your sexual harassment policy
Along with the movie industry, the restaurant industry has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in recent weeks. Food & Wine reports that Louisiana restaurateur and television personality John Besh stepped down from all operations at his restaurant group in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against him and other managers from 25 current and former employees. In Chicago, Eater reported that Publican chef Cosmo Goss and Publican Anker general manager Antonio Molina were fired for not taking disciplinary action after an “inappropriate” photo of a female employee was circulated among staff without the woman’s consent. In an industry where human resources departments are rare, it can be easy for restaurants to neglect to establish and enforce policies that provide a safe work environment for employees. Take the time now to review your policies for potential weaknesses and risks (alcohol is just one example – if you don’t clearly restrict employees from consuming it on the premises during shifts or, more broadly, on days they are working, it’s one policy to consider.) Make additions and adjustments to ensure you have clearly defined what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and reiterate your policies with employees regularly so they become part of your restaurant’s culture. Your employees should also understand how and where to report an incident if it occurs, and how the information they share will be handled.
Digital strategy 101
If you want to refine your restaurant's digital strategy, take note of some established quick-service brands that have come out on top of the 2017 L2 Digital IQ Index. The index is a review of 126 restaurant brands in the United States based on 12 criteria pertaining to each brand's effectiveness on mobile, social media, desktop and digital marketing, Skift reports. The restaurants earn a rating, which is weakened by a digital strategy that isn't well-rounded and enhanced by best practices like mobile coupons, rewards programs and digital payment options. The index’s top brands, which earned the "Genius" rating, were Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Panera and Domino's. Even if your operation is less established than those brands, you can still apply some of the strategies that have helped them reap benefits. Starbucks, for example, has seen the potential of Instagram: The brand currently possesses 60 percent of all restaurant market share on the platform. Business Insider reports that Pizza Hut has looked to Uber for its tech inspiration by launching "visible promise time," which allows customers to see what time their pizzas will be prepared, ready and delivered before they even place their order. Panera is on track to surpass $1 billion in sales made through kiosks, mobile and web this year thanks to its digital strategy (and its management thereof, which helped the brand avoid the hiccups Starbucks experienced when rolling out its own digital strategy). Domino's won raves for its pizza tracker, which has been around for years but still has few rivals, as well as its wedding registry, which has gotten more Google searches than more traditional registries at Amazon or Macy's.
Cater to food safety at offsite holiday events
As the holidays approach, it’s high time for catering special events – and managing the food safety risks that can accompany those events when you’re operating in unfamiliar environments. If you hire additional employees to help you staff catered events, take care to provide comprehensive training, especially to part-time employees, non-managers and new employees. That’s according to research entitled “Food safety in the US catering industry” published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality. Researchers collected feedback from more than 500 respondents representing 40 chapters of the National Association of Catering Executives. They studied food handling, equipment and personal hygiene and what differences exist depending on gender, training, management status and employment status when it comes to food safety knowledge and practices.
Lessons from the food safety trenches
Want to protect yourself from the biggest food safety risks? Learn from one who is climbing back after a crisis. Jim Marsden, director of food safety at Chipotle, addressed some of the nation's leaders in restaurant food safety at a conference in Washington recently. He shared steps the brand is taking to recover from the food safety challenges it experienced in recent years. According to the National Restaurant Association, Marsden said Chipotle employees must complete the association's ServSafe training courses, and the company strictly enforces HAACP rules and handwashing practices. As part of its current food safety protocol, Chipotle now blanches all produce, with the exception of lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro, which must be inspected at the supplier level.
Minimize turnover costs through engagement
Employee turnover in the restaurant industry, which reached 72 percent in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is among the highest of any industry. The Center for Hospitality Research found that turnover can cost $5,000 per employee, so it pays to keep employees engaged. But how? Upserve suggests you provide data-driven feedback on a regular basis – daily or weekly – so employees have a good ongoing understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Your POS may provide data that illustrates a server's sales, tips and turnover rates, for example, which can help you set performance goals. You can also secure buy-in from employees by showing them how they contribute to the restaurant's finances. It will help them see how their day-to-day contributions impact the business and it will support their development in case they wish to pursue greater responsibility in the business.
The payoffs of pay-at-the-table
Increased table turnover rates, better tipping, enhanced security for operator and customer alike. These are just a few plusses about tableside payment, according to POS Advice for Restaurants. If your restaurant has busy periods when customers must wait (93 percent do, according to a study from Long Range Systems, LLC), offering payment at the table allows them to pay their bill as soon as they are ready, freeing servers to tend to other customers. That ensures your servers have quality face time with customers and can otherwise enhance their experience (so when those customers are ready to pay and the tablet suggests a tip amount, they are more apt to be generous). Finally, tableside payment offers instant EMV compliance, so your customers can better protect their data and you can shift chargeback liability from your business to the bank. Hospitality Tech suggests your tableside payment device accommodates split checks, makes tip calculations easy, and provides a warranty of at least three years.
Ready for a food fest?
Food festivals aren’t always an easy sell for restaurant operators. They may stretch staff too thin during busy times at your restaurant, you risk blending into the crowd at large festivals, and it can be difficult to manage your food supply and safety. If you’re among those wary of food fests, consider the potential benefits: According to an Upserve report, after trying food from a new restaurant or brewery at a food festival, 79 percent of festival attendees say they will visit the brick-and-mortar location. There are positives beyond that too. Kate Levenstien, CEO of the food festival company Cannonball Productions, says her company's food fests in more than a dozen U.S. cities provide hour-long breaks between sessions where restaurant operators can network with each other and share best practices. Restaurateur Frank Ottomanelli, who takes part in 10 to 15 festivals annually, says the events are great opportunities to interact with people face-to-face, test new products and collect immediate feedback. What's more, he says, festivals can help you show your support for your community and the causes you value.
What price loyalty?
Loyalty pays. Consider Domino’s, whose CEO recently said the restaurant’s loyalty program has helped propel the company through 26 quarters of same-store sales growth. Upserve found that loyal customers spend more than 67 percent more at restaurants than new guests do. It costs seven times more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. Still, only 30 percent of restaurants offer a loyalty program, so there is ample opportunity to stand out with consumers by offering a strong one. Upserve says the best loyalty programs have several characteristics in common: They help you build a database that includes customers’ email addresses and preferences. They help you make a positive impression that improves your connection to your guests -- by remembering their birthday, sending a reminder for an upcoming anniversary or connecting with them about another important event in their lives. The best loyalty programs offer more than just discounts and rewards: Beyond the punch cards of the past, they also provide experiences and opportunities, from access to reservations before the general public or exclusive invitations to special events. They encourage your loyal guests to refer others. Finally, the best programs find new ways to make dining convenient. (For a large portion of the public, convenience means using an app to manage your program – 56 percent of Millennials and 50 percent of Gen Xers support that, according to Oracle Hospitality.) But you can also achieve convenience by speeding up the process of making a reservation, making it easier for guests to communicate with you, or by streamlining online orders, pick-ups and delivery.
Don’t be blinded with science
Four out of five restaurant operators agree that technology helps increase sales and productivity, all while providing a competitive advantage, according to the National Restaurant Association. The Toast Restaurant Technology Industry Survey found that 73 percent of restaurants are looking to improve their existing technology. Yet many operators resist it – the options are seemingly endless and no operator wants to invest in a product or system only to see it become obsolete sooner than expected. FSR recommends you consider five questions to help you separate the most helpful technology from the least. First, is it easy to use? Specifically, your new technology should not require new hardware and your staff should not need to spend more than 30 minutes being trained to use it. Second, does it improve personal customer service? Make sure whatever technology you introduce spares your guests from inconvenience (think mobile payments), improves guest engagement (think loyalty programs) and frees up your staff to spend more time on the kinds of personal interactions your guests value. Third, will your technology help your revenue grow? You should see a clear path: A 2017 study by Hospitality Technology found that determining return on investment is restaurant operators’ top concern when it comes to adopting new technology. Fourth, does the technology enhance your security and protection? Compatibility with smart-chip cards is one benefit to look for, along with encrypted data transmission and secured data via tokenization. Finally, can you afford it? Across the industry, most operators (65 percent) invest between 1 and 3 percent of their revenues in technology improvements, 18 percent invest 4 to 6 percent and 17 percent invest less than 1 percent.
Are you predictable?
Several cities, including New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle, recently passed laws requiring employers to provide hourly employees with predictable schedules. Bills are pending in other regions. FSR reports that these laws require employers to provide hourly employees with 14 days' notice of their schedule (or risk a penalty), among other stipulations. New laws -- or the positive impact of dependable schedules on employees -- may call for restaurants to provide greater predictability. (A Homebase survey found that 46 percent of hourly employees and job seekers prefer having a predictable schedule to earning 10 percent more in wages.) To provide that dependability, FSR recommends using web-based scheduling tools that allow employees to trade shifts with each other without taking the manager's time. These tools should let you forecast labor as a percent of sales on a daily basis, so you can better predict your staffing needs. At the very least, determine your core hourly workers required to operate the business each day so that even if you must add staff hours later, your core team has benefited from having dependable schedules.
Step towards sustainability
Is sustainability important to you and your guests? Upserve reports that the owner of Kellari Taverna in New York has achieved 100 percent sustainability by approaching his menu like his wine list, providing the back story of each item. That meant removing some popular items, like Chilean sea bass, from the menu, and learning about true sustainability -- since "wild" doesn't necessarily mean sustainable. To become more sustainable, Star Chefs suggests you consider one sustainable initiative each week. Just a few ideas they suggest: Look to resources like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program for guidance on seafood. Consider in-house filtration systems that can help you offer fresh still and sparkling water without generating bottle waste. When buying supplies like floor mats for the kitchen and bar, look to eco-friendly companies that offer items made from recycled materials. Cut energy waste by checking seals on walk-in coolers and consider green energy sources including wind and solar. Contact a biofuel company about recycling your fryer oil. Join or form a co-op for purchasing green items.
Trust through transparency
Despite your best efforts, you don't know when a food safety crisis may hit -- and the effects on a restaurant can be severe. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to establish trust with your guests, investors and greater community so people know you as ethical and reputable. Research from the Center for Food Integrity suggests it's critical to take steps to prove your transparency in advance. Show your food practices and values openly and talk about them -- in blogs, videos, demonstrations, advertising and other public-facing materials -- and use suppliers who do the same. Communicating shared values is three to five times more effective in earning trust than just sharing facts or expertise. Engage with the public and answer their questions in easy-to-understand language. Lastly, partner with credible, objective third parties who can verify and certify your ethical practices.
Help consumers connect food information to nutrition
Despite the abundance of food information available now, Americans' nutritional literacy is lacking -- and affecting the population's health. That's according to new research from the International Food Information Council Foundation's annual Food and Health Survey of more than 1,000 Americans aged 18 to 80. This year's findings showed that people are making bad decisions with the information they're hearing. For example, while 96 percent of those surveyed seek health benefits from the foods they consume, only 45 percent of people could identify a single food or nutrient that could lead to those benefits. (Only 12 percent could say that foods containing omega-3 fatty acids could improve heart health, for example.) There is an opportunity here for restaurants that clearly state the nutritional benefits of foods on the menu. Nearly six in 10 survey respondents said they use nutrition information to decide what to eat when they're away from home.
Look for links
At the recent TechTable Summit in New York, business leaders and tech creatives came together to talk about the future of restaurant technology. One key theme of the discussion, according to Skift Table, was the influence of data and integration on the future of restaurant service. Brands that are smart about hospitality, panelists said, will link systems to enhance the customer experience. That could mean linking complementary systems like online reservations and car services, or removing the middleman so a guest could simply use a smartphone to connect with his bank to pay his dinner bill instead of paying via a POS. It could mean using technology to link your kitchen and servers to ensure you take special precautions with a guest with food allergies. Can you predict (and provide) the links that streamline the process of dining out?
Do you have a first-rate response team?
From weather to crime to pathogens, there is no shortage of challenges you might face as a restaurant operator. How would your team function in case of a crisis? Do you have a plan for if there were a robbery, a flood, a choking customer, or a shooting on your premises, for example? Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions recommends you form a crisis management team and document roles and responsibilities. Your team should include an attorney, business leaders, food safety team, crisis management consultant and others. Get to know your local health department and understand how it operates. Are you among the 20 states with FDA-funded emergency response teams? Your plan should account for that. Train your staff on food safety and other safety protocols and take their feedback into account to ensure you’re not missing important steps. During and after a crisis, create honest, transparent, apologetic messaging that includes a clear description of the problem and your plan to address it. Stick to professional, positive messages when communicating about the crisis and thanking first responders via traditional media or social media – and monitor social media networks for negative or erroneous feedback so you’re aware of how your message is being received. Soon after you resolve any crisis, review it with your crisis management team and others involved to ensure you identify where things went wrong – whether it be with vendors, your food safety plan, communication, evacuation or other aspects of the timeline – and retrain your team on any changes needed.
Has your restaurant struggled with EMV compliance standards in recent years? If so, you’re not alone. Upserve says 66 percent of businesses have found it challenging to become EMV compliant, and that misinformation about EMV, along with concerns about abandoning traditional payment methods, have made some operators hesitate to make the leap (even though the technology isn’t going away anytime soon). For those operators, Hospitality Tech recently addressed three common concerns about EMV. First, switching to EMV chip card technology does not mean you can no longer accept traditional cards. The card-reading terminals will just default to reading the chip if the card has it. Second, there are liability risks to not becoming EMV compliant. Before EMV, credit card issuers were liable for fraudulent chargebacks from customers. Now, if a card with an EMV chip is swiped and a fraudulent chargeback is claimed, the restaurant is liable for chargebacks exceeding $25 (unless you have an EMV reader). EMV could therefore be a cost-effective solution for you if your average check size exceeds $25 and you’d like to avoid the hassle of having to manage chargebacks and liability. Third, the transition to EMV includes costs for hardware, software and payment processing, but those costs will vary widely depending on whether you have an in-house or cloud-based POS. Many operators have shifted to a cloud-based POS as part of the EMV transition because their virtual POS likely includes embedded EMV at a lower cost, requires no support fees and downloads software updates automatically.
Chefs are challenging the definition of the word “burger” right now – and the results appeal to the junk-food junkie and health-conscious foodie alike. Restaurant Hospitality reports that chefs are incorporating different beef and pork products to change the flavor profile of burgers. Take the breakfast burger at Staks Pancake Kitchen in Memphis, Tenn., which combines beef and breakfast sausage, then tops it with bacon, hash browns, a fried egg and Sriracha mayonnaise. Slater’s 50/50 in southern California makes its burgers with half beef and half bacon, while others are experimenting with andouille sausage, pork belly and corned beef. On the healthier side, chefs are tweaking the nutritional profile of burgers and making environmentally conscious choices. The Los Angeles chain LocoL combines ground beef with tofu, barley, quinoa and seaweed for a nutritionally balanced patty, then tops it with Monterey Jack cheese, lime and burnt scallion relish, and a tomato gochujang sauce. Finally, mushrooms are popular additions to patties, helping a burger retain its moisture and texture without using as much beef, so the result is cost-effective and better for the environment too.
Snapchat’s new feature links restaurants and guests
Snapchat just launched a feature called Context Cards that could help restaurants turn snaps into reservations. FSR reports that when people post about a restaurant, their Snapchat friends and followers can now simply swipe to read Tripadvisor reviews of that restaurant, make a reservation via OpenTable and even request an Uber or Lyft to bring them to the location. Of course, because Context Cards are bringing restaurants’ online profiles to the fore, it’s all the more important for those restaurants to monitor their reviews, enable online reservations and provide other functionality that will present a polished image to the public.
Social media’s multiplier effect
If social media is a key party of your marketing plan, you know it can help you build your brand, connect with customers and share content – all for a low cost. But have you tapped into social media’s “multiplier effect”? According to research from the CMO Survey in a Marketing News report, more than 25 percent of business marketers are making social media investments in areas traditionally reserved for the human resources department, like employee engagement and talent acquisition. Tapping into those areas on social media can help you build a culture that retains talent, enhances productivity and attracts business. Take Best Buy, which aggregates tweets, feeds, and blogs from across the company’s digital communities and posts them in a centralized location where employees can learn from each another to solve customer problems. A campaign by Reebok encourages employees to post on social media about how they live the company’s brand in their work and play. L’Oreal launched #LorealCommunity to give employees a forum to share their successes with one another (both inside and outside of work) via Instagram. The positive impact spills over the organization to everyone’s benefit.
Take charge of food temperature
Two of the top five risk factors for foodborne illness relate to temperature control, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Monitoring temperature closely is one sure-fire way to minimize your risk of spreading foodborne illness. A report by the American Culinary Foundation says when foods need to be refrigerated in order to be kept safe, hold them at a temperature of 41˚F or below – and ensure that happens even during busy periods when the cooler door is opened frequently. When these foods must be hot to be safe, they have to be held at a temperature of 135˚F or above. Limit the time food spends in the “danger zone” (between 41˚F and 135˚F). A cooling food’s temperature must be reduced from 135˚F to 70˚F within two hours, then from 70˚F to 41˚F within four additional hours. Reheated food must be reheated quickly – to 165˚F within two hours – before being placed in a hot holding unit.
Multi-point restaurant feedback
So what is it really like to eat at your restaurant? Online reviews provide one set of opinions but monitoring your operation from other perspectives can help you accurately read what’s going well and what needs improvement. In a report for Restaurant Hospitality, Justin Cohen of Riot Hospitality recommends you dine in your own restaurant. Seeing your operation from a guest’s perspective can help you better observe everything from wobbly tables to servers’ menu knowledge. Along the same lines, hiring secret shoppers can help you see how your operation functions when you are not around. Perhaps one employee is lax about food safety – or another goes out of her way to make sure your restrooms are clean. Finally, talk to your servers, bartenders and guests. Your servers and bartenders hear what guests really think about your restaurant and see which items guests regularly send back to the kitchen. Your guests can tell you how to fix problems or simply how to make a good experience a great one.
Is your head in the cloud?
At the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in California, Union Square Hospitality Group exec Maureen Cushing said in the not-so-distant future, the traditional POS would be obsolete, with personal devices replacing the legacy systems. If you’re committed to your desktop system, it’s understandable, considering the size of your initial investment and the time you have spent adapting your system to your restaurant’s needs. However, it’s important to understand its true costs: In the coming years, you will likely be paying more for less sophisticated technology. Restaurant Insider says costs for hardware, maintenance and tech support – along with the time required to create and manipulate reports – can quickly demonstrate that your legacy system is not giving you an adequate return on your investment. In fact, a study from Nucleus Research found that cloud-based systems can deliver 2.1 times the return on investment of desktop systems. If you’re considering making the switch to a cloud-based system, Restaurant Insider suggests you consider these benefits: Your up-front costs are kept to a minimum because there is no physical server hardware on your premises. Your monthly subscription fees will likely be lower, as they are spread across other subscribers. The systems are easily scalable as your business changes, and you can upgrade your plan quickly, without down time or additional tech support charges. Many systems can help you maintain your existing rewards program and promotions. Encrypted online storage will also provide added security and you won’t have to worry about hardware or software failure – or that your system will lose your data or fail to back it up. In a time when data breaches are reported in the news every week, some added security could give your guests some peace of mind too.
New research clarifies millennials’ food and beverage preferences
Millennials are a business marketer’s dream, and for good reason: They comprise one-quarter of the population, represent $10 trillion in lifetime buying power and freely share their views and buying habits on social media, so businesses can readily collect data on them and adapt easily, according to new data from CBD Marketing. A substantial new study from the firm researched more than 12.5 million social media posts from millennials. In the process, it solidified some important insights about the demographic. While the media often presents millennials as always on the go, these consumers don’t take shortcuts with food and beverage: They want fresh, healthy options that are not branded “diet” or “fat-free. When they cook, they use fresh ingredients from local sources. (While they appreciate convenience, they achieve it by purchasing food via delivery or other user-friendly distribution methods – not by cutting corners with ingredients.) Restaurants can support these guests by offering more sparkling water, kombucha, plant-based milks and other natural options on the beverage menu, and by making it easy for them to access healthy, fresh food that’s either pre-packaged for pick-up or available by delivery. Millennials’ appreciation for keeping things natural extends to your packaging too – ensure you use materials that are recyclable or use renewable resources, and spell that out on any to-go containers that leave your business.
OpenTable helps restaurants open up about allergies
Restaurants are gaining allies in their efforts to accommodate guests with food allergies. OpenTable recently launched a “Guest Share” feature that allows for the sharing of guest preferences – including food intolerances and sensitivities – across restaurant groups with multiple locations, Food & Wine reports. OpenTable had previously offered a similar feature for individual restaurants only. Sharing information across locations could help restaurant groups avoid the liability and bad publicity that may result from a guest’s allergic reaction. What’s more, restaurants are also using the data they collect to enhance their loyalty programs.
Show your celiac awareness
Celiac Disease affects approximately 3 million Americans, or 1 percent of the population, and many more Americans are eating gluten-free foods despite not having celiac disease. (Forbes reports that the number of Americans eating a gluten-free diet has tripled since 2009.) If you’d like to ensure your kitchen is safe for celiacs, the Gluten Intolerance Group and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness are two organizations that offer certification programs that can help you build trust with your gluten-sensitive guests. Once you know how to keep these guests safe, you have more freedom to get creative about accommodating their tastes. The executive chef of Posana Café, a Gluten Intolerance Group-certified farm-to-table restaurant in Asheville, N.C. that offers a 100 percent gluten-free menu, has said that his restaurant has is practically “a fantastyland for people with celiac disease” as a result of the accreditation process.
Preparing for a robotic future?
Robots are taking on a growing number of food preparation tasks, including preparing pizzas, flipping burgers, assembling salads and dispensing cappuccinos, according to recent reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and Silicon Valley is buzzing with investment and talk of potential effects to the labor force. Zume Pizza, Miso Robotics and Chowbotics are just three startups trying to transform how restaurants prepare food. In the process, they are taking aim at challenges that can drag restaurants down, like foodborne illness and inconsistencies in food preparation. Costs are currently keeping robots at bay in the kitchen – and it will likely take years for restaurants to adapt. Still, automation of kitchen tasks is becoming more prevalent. Execs in two restaurant technology companies suggest restaurants create programs that will retrain workers on new tasks, give them exposure to areas requiring a human touch (like customer service or delivery logistics) or create other safety nets as the nature of kitchen work begins to shift.
Tune up your business knowhow with Twitter chats
Looking to build your online community and gain some business insights in the process? Consider joining – or starting – some Twitter chats. They’re like a roundtable discussion or networking event, but conducted completely online. They’re helpful forums for people to share articles or tools of use to others in your business. Since the chats are public, they can help you get increased visibility for your brand and pick up some new followers too. Once you have a strong following, you can also start your own chats and use them to engage with your customers, answer questions or enhance your customer service.
Pre-ordering goes upscale
The convenience of pre-ordering technology and other restaurant tech is most often associated with quick-service or fast-casual brands. Upscale restaurants have been slower to adopt the change, but they may be missing an opportunity to connect with guests – and even those that don’t offer delivery can benefit. Modern Restaurant Management suggests upscale restaurants use order-ahead technology to create a stress-free customer experience that also builds excitement. For customers with pre-booked tables, an upscale restaurant can send a link to a secret website with a special menu available on that date, along with background about the food and those preparing it. They can use that initial contact to collect food preferences from guests, or even favorite food memories that can help them enhance the experiences they provide onsite. Finally, providing the option of pre-payment days in advance of the meal can help your guests focus on the food and ambience – not the bill that arrived at the end of the night.
The best point-of-sale system for you is 26 questions away
There’s always going to be a new tech device that promises to make your business hum. But those devices are only as good as the control center operating them. Think of your restaurant’s point-of-sale system as your restaurant’s brain: As Upserve notes in a recent report, your POS routes your orders, helps you transition a guest from your bar to your dining room, secures their payment and provides you with operational data that can help you understand your customers and your business. So if your POS is not serving you well, any bells and whistles you add to it will naturally run into snags. Upserve’s Restaurant Insider blog recently featured a questionnaire to help you ensure you know how the POS options available on the market can help you meet your current and future needs. It asks questions about the size and scope of your restaurant, how important order accuracy is to your operation, whether you need to access your settings and data remotely, how interested you are in providing flexible payment options to your guests, how familiar your team is with consumer electronics that have applications in restaurants, and how you currently communicate with your team. If you are in the market for a new system or want to make sure your current one delivers for you, answer the 26 questions and you’ll get a personalized recommendation delivered to your email box.
Ready to grow?
Are you looking to grow this year, whether that means increasing your sales or expanding your number of locations? Before you think about tactics, take a step back. Richard Kleiner, the CEO of the accounting firm Gerald Edelman and an adviser to many clients in the restaurant industry, suggests a four-step structure based on the Ansoff matrix for thinking about growth. One, sell more of the same product to the same people. Two, sell new products or services to your existing customers. Three, take your current products and services into new markets. Four, create new products and services for new markets. Jumping to step three or four before mastering step one will generate more risk as you grow. So what steps can you take to help you progress through each stage? In a recent Fast Casual report, restaurant veteran Bobby Shaw shared some smart-growth ideas that can apply to restaurants across categories. He suggests you get back to basics and don’t try to be everything to everyone. Optimizing your menu will help you serve what actually sells, make the best use of your inventory, minimize waste and save money. Consider how you can use technology to improve the experience of your guests. Would your loyal customers order more often – or could you attract new ones – if you offered mobile ordering? Or kiosks or tabletop tablets in your dining room? Can your point-of-sale system accommodate those advances? Finding ways to integrate technology to streamline both guest-facing and behind-the-scenes processes can help you increase sales without opening additional locations. Finally, develop a high-performance environment where you only hire and retain your best performers – and then empower them to improve and expand your operation. Offer growth opportunities for the people on your team and those people will develop the next generation of leaders.
The gloves are off
Even pros need a reminder sometimes: Gloves aren’t designed to help you take shortcuts when it comes to food safety. Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, says over the years, she has observed many professionally trained kitchen staff wear multiple pairs of single-use gloves instead of taking the time to wash their hands. In a report for the American Culinary Foundation, Shaw said these gloves are only effective when used one pair at a time and with proper handwashing when they’re changed. She said she has seen restaurant employees wear and not change their single-use gloves when opening cooler doors, checking cellphones, touching their hair or face, handling money or touching menus, doorknobs or even garbage bags, creating a plethora of opportunities for cross-contamination. Every year, 19 million people contract food poisoning because of improper hand washing. Your policies for single-use gloves and handwashing can help you build a culture that limits the spread of illness.
Build a food safety program that survives turnover
In an industry with turnover that has topped 70 percent for the second consecutive year, restaurants need policies to maintain culture regardless of who is on the payroll. A busy shift with new employees can make it tempting to take shortcuts with food safety. A recent report on the blog We are Chefs suggests your food safety program educates employees about not only what to do but why various practices are important. For instance, when training your team to store raw protein on the lower shelves of your cooler, explain what can happen if they don’t follow that procedure. When you develop your food safety program, assess the effectiveness of your current program. How will your safety education be delivered to various levels of your operation so you boost institutional memory? What certification makes the most sense for your business and who should be certified? Who would be most effective at delivering your training? How will you ensure your team is trained on a regular, ongoing basis? As new employees come on board, they should observe that food safety is critical to your business – and that they’re responsible for upholding it.
Bringing restaurants back to the center of food culture
A recent article in The Atlantic pointed out that while food culture seems to be at the height of popularity, restaurants are hardly flying high (NPD Group predicts flat growth of 2 percent this year). People are spending more on food but the multitude of food choice makes the landscape more competitive for restaurants. Where consumers once looked to restaurants for prepared meals, they are frequenting grocery and convenience stores that offer a growing variety of ready-to-eat foods. Food Republic says the restaurants that are succeeding are adapting to this new kind of consumer. For some operators, that means making takeout easy or offering premium delivery items or all-day breakfast. For others, it means building a strong social media following. Your data can help you uncover your best path. Dining industry consultant Damian Mogavero has made a career out of studying restaurant analytics – check out his book, The Underground Culinary Tour, to understand how you can get the most from the data you collect.
Make more room for organics on the menu
A new Nielsen study found that 88 percent of U.S. households purchased organic food and beverages last year, with grocery stores, mass merchandisers and discount grocers accounting for a combined 25 percent of organic sales, Food Dive reports. Overall, organic product sales increased by 9.8 percent and volume grew by 11.4 percent. Those numbers – along with consumer demand – are likely only going up. A recent survey from the Organic Trade Association found that millennials are already significant buyers of organic products and will be more likely to purchase organic foods when they become parents. While price has long been a deterrent to buying organic, private-label brands are changing that, bringing prices down by 18 percent. As organics become increasingly accessible, look for consumers to demand them on restaurant menus as well.
Faster, better, cheaper produce through technology
Could your freshest, best-tasting, least expensive produce soon come from the likes of Wal-Mart or Amazon? Those behind an agriculture tech startup called Plenty think the company could change the face of farm-to-table food. Bloomberg reports that the company is building massive indoor farms on the outskirts of 500 cities worldwide, which could make it possible to get foods from farm to table in hours instead of days or weeks. While indoor farms have been hyped for some time, some deep-pocketed experts are betting big on Plenty: SoftBank invested $200 million in the venture, the largest agriculture technology investment in history, and Bezos Expeditions, the venture fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is another investor. Anthony Secviar, a former sous-chef at French Laundry, liked the company’s produce so much that he joined its culinary council and is basing his next restaurant’s menu on Plenty’s heirloom vegetables.
Three steps to transparency
The costs of a foodborne illness outbreak are steep. The National Restaurant Association says an affected operation may have to manage declining sales and staff morale, negative media exposure, lawsuits and legal fees, climbing insurance premiums, more frequent staff absences and increased spending on retraining. If you build trust with consumers long before you face a foodborne illness outbreak or other crisis, you’re much more likely to overcome those challenges and rebuild. According to Food Safety News, recent research from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that the way to earn trust is through transparency – and there are three ways to do it. First, open the doors to your safety practices: Use video, blogs, advertising and promotion to demonstrate how your food is produced, where it comes from and how it impacts their health. Second, ensure your guests feel they can engage with you about your food. Do you provide clear answers to their questions and respond to other feedback promptly? CFI’s research found that 40 percent of the consumers surveyed agree they have access to all of the information they want about the source, production and safety of the food they consume. That’s up from 28 percent in 2007, when the last such surveyed was conducted, so consumers are feeling increasingly empowered to demand transparency from the foodservice businesses they support. Finally, if applicable to your operation, show third-party certification or audit results as a seal of approval demonstrating your credibility and integrity.
The complications of third-party delivery
Do you offer third-party delivery? The demand for it – and operators’ rush to accommodate it – has resulted in some growing pains, according to a report from The Kitchen. Operators working with multiple third-party delivery services can quickly start to resemble command centers where restaurant staff must monitor multiple tablets to manage orders. (Even large brands can struggle to keep up: At a recent franchisee convention of a brand with more than 500 locations, the COO suggested operators dedicate an employee to simply “watch the tablets” and manually key orders into the point-of-sale system.) There is also plenty of room for error when restaurants update menus and those changes aren’t reflected on the websites of the delivery services. It wasn’t long ago that delivery was tech-free, so when you’re making the transition to tech-driven delivery, make sure your in-house technology is sophisticated enough to accommodate multiple new streams of orders from these services. If they require additional labor and manual order handling, the added costs (and potential for errors) can add up quickly. And the end consumer is more likely to hold you accountable for problems than the person who delivers their meal: A Technomic study found that 76 percent of customers hold the restaurant partially responsible for errors, even if restaurants have formal agreements with third-party delivery companies, and even though the consumer never communicates directly with the restaurant itself during their transaction.
Kitchen tech for improved food safety
How connected is your kitchen? Food Safety Magazine says technology has made it possible for foodservice professionals to improve safety processes in three critical ways. See how your operation stacks up: Do you have technology that monitors your systems around the clock? Employees can be around to monitor equipment for only so many hours in a day, but technology that monitors your refrigerator, for example, can send an alert if the system malfunctions in the middle of the night and threatens the safety of the food inside. Are you using technology to gain insight into your processes and data? If your data indicates there are temperature fluctuations in your walk-in cooler occurring at a certain time each day, for example, you might discover that the cooler is left open during food deliveries and could be causing a food safety risk. Finally, technology can automate manual, tactical tasks such as recording over temperatures at set points throughout a shift, so you’re free to think more strategically about your food safety plan.
Help your team talk about food safety risk
The disclaimer is nearly ubiquitous on restaurant menus: Consuming undercooked meats may increase risk of foodborne illness. But does your team follow through with that message when interacting with guests? Many front-line employees don’t, according to Ben Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University and co-author of a recent study about food safety. The study sent trained “secret shoppers” to 265 full-service restaurants around the U.S., where they ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. They then noted how well, if at all, the employees communicated about the risk of eating the medium-rare hamburger. The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t serve the medium-rare burger but among those that did, 77 percent of servers provided unreliable food safety information, such as noting the color of the burger instead of its cooking time and final temperature.
New preparation methods require enhanced safety practices
Consumers are demanding foods, flavors and dining experiences from around the globe. When experimenting with foods and preparation methods that may be outside of your kitchen’s comfort zone, take extra precautions with food safety. Sous vide preparations, for one, can result in food that remains raw or undercooked. Food Quality News also reported recently that a salmonella outbreak in Canada suggested the cooking method for chicken shawarma may cause food safety risks. When the marinated meat is roasted on the spit in front of the grill, raw portions of the meat may come into contact with cooked portions. Particularly if the restaurant is busy, the food may be partially undercooked.
Airbnb lets consumers reserve restaurant tables
If your restaurant operates in an area popular with tourists or prides itself on providing guests with a chance to experience your region through food, you may now be able to tap into Airbnb to boost your business. Airbnb, which invested in the restaurant software company Resy, is now enabling consumers to book restaurant tables on the company’s mobile app and website, according to Skift. Initially, the reservations will encompass 650 restaurants in 16 U.S. markets, or about 65 percent of the restaurants currently using Resy. According to a recent Nielsen consumer survey of 2,083 U.S. adults on behalf of Airbnb, 66 percent of travelers make restaurant reservations when they’re away from home, and 39 percent would prefer to make those reservations online when they travel.
Cashless and carrying on
It’s been nearly two years since the salad-focused Sweetgreen restaurants began experimenting with cashless payments – and it doesn’t sound like that’s changing anytime soon. The brand went cashless in an effort to improve employee safety, reduce line length and eliminate the health concerns involved in handling cash – all while driving consumers (and their data) onto Sweetgreen’s mobile payment app, according to Recode. Cash-carrying customers are left out. The brand’s co-CEO Jonathan Neman took to the stage at Code Commerce recently and said Sweetgreen is looking for ways to help customers turn cash into digital payments, since not everyone is able to pay with a credit card or smartphone. But he didn’t announce any solution to it. That may imply the cashless experiment is working -- at least in the restaurant’s 75 locations in California and the Northeast – and other operators might give it a shot.
Reinvent your menu
You can’t be everything to everyone – it’s why Chili’s just announced it is shrinking its menu by 40 percent after trying unsuccessfully to follow food trends and serve too broad a range of customer, resulting in a “fuzzy food reputation.” When is the last time you fine-tuned your menu? The restaurant coach Donald Burns says there are a few important reasons why you should always be updating your offerings. For one, your guests’ tastes are changing, so you should be aware of what’s on trend and in demand. (With that in mind, of course, you should incorporate trends in a way that extends your brand in a positive way and doesn’t dilute it.) Second, food prices are always in flux. While avocados from Mexico have skyrocketed in price recently, eggs have fallen in value. When you are paying a premium for an item – and when you’re getting a good deal on another – reflect those prices on your menu. Customers will notice your transparency. Finally, staffing is a big challenge for restaurants – it’s the biggest challenge of the year according to Toast’s 2017 Restaurant Success Report. If you evaluate your menu, you will be able to make improvements to your staffing plan. You may discover there are stations in your kitchen that are overstretched and could be giving you food quality issues. Or perhaps you could be cross-utilizing ingredients in a number of dishes (and requiring fewer staff to prepare them). Maybe you need fewer, more highly skilled cooks, or perhaps your current team simply needs some better tools. Taking a fresh look at your menu can have a positive ripple effect across your operation.
Turn allergy sufferers into loyal guests
Allergies and food sensitivities are more the norm than the exception these days – and that is expected to become even more pronounced in the future. The gluten-free market, for example, is expected to grow to $7.59 billion by 2020, up from $3.81 billion in 2013, according to Statista. If you can accommodate a range of dietary requirements in the years ahead, you’re sure to build loyalty (and more business, since people with food intolerances typically have the most say in where their group dines). In an interview with Eater, the Boston restaurateur Ming Tsai said, “You will never get a more loyal client than someone that has a food allergy, comes to your establishment and feels welcome.” To serve this market well, the foodservice technology company Nextep Systems recommends you re-engineer your menu so it doesn’t feel restrictive to those with food intolerances. Having a series of menus – whether in paper or kiosk form – that cater to certain requirements will ensure your guests can scan your menu and see options instead of limitations. Transparency about nutrition and ingredients is important too. Make sure you can provide dietary information about your menu – and the shorter and more pronounceable you make your list of ingredients, the better. Finally, approach food sensitivities in a positive way. If your staff welcomes (and can readily answer) questions about how you cook your food and what ingredients you use, you can connect with your guests, build trust and keep them coming back.
Repurposing food? Be mindful of food safety.
Repurposing food waste can be good for business on several levels – so good that some operators are starting to open restaurant concepts around food that has been discarded by farms and wholesalers. If you repurpose food, make sure you take extra precautions with handling and sourcing, in particular. Restaurant Business suggests that to avoid a food safety problem, focus on using wholesome food that has cosmetic damage (versus food that is past its prime). Make sure the food was handled properly before you received it – i.e. it came from a farm, wholesaler or other approved vendor and was not handled by consumers. Use strict food safety practices when receiving and storing the food, in particular, as items coming in as surplus may need to be used right away. Finally, check with your attorney and health department to ensure you’re protecting your customers and your business.
Step up your curbside pick-up
For many restaurants, offering curbside pick-up is a win-win: Operators gain sales without having to add seating, while customers can pick up their food without leaving their car. If you’re considering offering curbside pick-up, the National Restaurant Association suggests you fine-tune your service plan. For one, ensure your curbside pick-up customers have designated parking near your entrance (or in a location where your staff can observe their arrival). Plan staffing carefully so neither your in-house guests nor your curbside customers are left waiting for service. Those handling curbside service should know the make and model of the car arriving for the order and have correct change or a wireless credit card terminal/mobile payment app when they deliver it. Finally, use packaging that will advertise your restaurant and keep foods at the right temperature until they reach the customer’s destination.
Be social media savvy in 2018
Now is a perfect time to develop a strong social media strategy for 2018 – and it’s an ideal way to capture guests’ interest: a MarketingSherpa report found that 95 percent of online adults aged 18 to 34 (and the vast majority of people in older demographics) are likely to follow a brand on social media. Inc. just announced a number of emerging trends to keep in mind if you want to use social media to your best advantage in the New Year. Strong social analytics are making it possible to deliver personalized content. Harness your data to ensure that what you post is relevant to your audience. Many platforms are offering similar features – Snapchat and Instagram both offer timed video, for example, so assess site analytics and reporting features to ensure you’re investing in the platforms appropriate for you. To help you track your performance, note what kind of content your competitors are developing and sharing, as well as what people are saying about it. Mobile optimization is a must. Finally, consider using a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to interact with your audience quickly in a way that feels personal to them.
New products target restaurant hygiene problem spots
What are your top hygiene concerns at your restaurant? If you’re in the market for a few products that can help you eliminate them, Restaurant Hospitality recently pointed out several new ones on the market that might help: If you’re battling flies in your kitchen or elsewhere, the Stealth LED Fly Light from Ecolab uses an LED light to trap flies and can be used in both front- and back-of-house locations. It eliminates the need for fluorescent bulbs and reduces energy consumption too. If sanitized, spotless glassware is your concern, Meiko’s M-iClean with GiO Module does the job in a compact, energy-efficient washer that fits under a counter. Finally, ice machines can pose a range of food safety challenges for restaurants but BioZone’s IceZone santitation system promises to eliminate mold, yeast and bacteria, as well as reduce cleaning time and extend the life of your ice machine.
Make way for pumpkin’s rival
The cooler temperatures of the season mean that everyone has pumpkin fever. But there’s another, less ubiquitous flavor that is vying for the top spot this season. According to Technomic, sales of maple-flavored products have increased 86 percent in non-alcoholic beverages and 14.6 percent in alcoholic beverages this year. Beyond coffee and cocktails, maple is at home on your food menu too.
Snap to it
While it’s possible to overdose on Facebook and select other social media – everyone seems to need a break from it now and then – a new study says the communication experience on Snapchat is more positive and rewarding than it is on other platforms. Social Media Week said the University of Michigan study measured how college students responded to a variety of social media. It found that Snapchat, above other platforms, is being used to communicate spontaneously with friends in an enjoyable way. The study’s participants paid more attention to their Snapchat messages compared to other platforms – which may make it a good place for businesses to focus their marketing dollars. So how do you make the most of the platform? Snapchat posts expire in 24 hours, so instead of using it for rehearsed content, use it to test out new material and show creativity. Toast suggests you release special deals on Snapchat that expire in 24 hours (e.g. offering a free appetizer to the first 15 people to arrive at the restaurant and show you a particular video), to create special geofilters for your restaurant that customers can add to their photos and videos, or to give people a sneak peek at your restaurant behind the scenes. Restaurant Den recommends you offer a small discount to your customers to snap their food at your restaurant, or use it to show off your community and local attractions that happen to be near you. Of course, Snapchat works best when combined with other media. Place your Snapchat code on your website, menus, flyers, table-top ads, and use it as your Facebook cover photo or Instagram profile image.
Lessen your back-of-house stress
Is your kitchen feeling frenzied? Try to streamline and simplify your back-of-house operations. The National Restaurant Association suggests you first review the complexity of your menu. Can any of your recipes be simplified so fewer ingredients are needed? If you have signature dishes, make sure you walk through each step of the recipe with new employees to ensure consistency, and consider stocking batches of sauce or key ingredients so they’re ready to go during busy periods. Next, harness your data so you know exactly how much of each dish you’re selling and how much you should prepare in advance. If you typically sell 70 vegetable and hummus appetizers, your team can cut up sufficient produce in advance and assemble any custom condiments so they’re ready to grab and serve when your kitchen is busy. This will also help you identify your most popular (and least popular) items so you can adjust your menu accordingly, avoid ordering too many or too few products, and cut back on wasted food. Finally, take a look at your pantry. Make sure you’re using your space as efficiently as possible. Can people access the ingredients they need when they need them? Are items that are frequently used together stored near each other? Are they stored in containers that are the ideal size? Make sure the items you need are easy to open and can be quickly returned for storage afterwards.
Six steps to restaurant cleanliness
Better hygiene means better business. Need help before your next inspection, or do you just want to avoid any possibility of a foodborne illness outbreak? Your daily, weekly and monthly cleaning routines will get you there. The HACCP app recommends a list of six categories your cleaning schedule should include: List all areas and pieces of equipment inside and outside of your premises that must be cleaned. Next to each item that needs cleaning, list the exact cleaning product(s) to be used. Describe how the product is used (e.g. diluted, wiped with a cloth, sprayed, scrubbed). Mention how often (or after what activity) that cleaning must take place. List the person responsible for carrying out the task. Make sure the designated person signs off and lists when he or she completes the task.
Restaurants give back
Disaster brought out the best in a group in restaurant operators in Houston recently – and created a model for others going through similar events. In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, a group of operators and others connected to the industry came together to form the Midtown Kitchen Collective, which coordinated an effort to get more than 200,000 meals to people in need during the five-day period after the hurricane, when food was scarce for many and the safety of food was at risk. The group’s action plan included pre-, during- and post-disaster strategies; recommended people and organizations including nonprofits, secure kitchens, city officials, purveyors of ingredients and other resources needed to store, transport and coordinate the distribution of food; provided a list of helpful supplies and ingredients; and suggested communication strategies and tools. Access the collective’s plan here.
Hop on the fun train
Does your team groan when they hear the word “training”? Two training firms, Convergence Training and Service that Sells, suggest some tips to make it a fun, engaging experience that encourages participants to talk instead of listen for long periods. Adopt the format of a pub quiz or a well-known game like Jeopardy and apply it to food safety, challenging players to choose easier and difficult clues for a chance to win prizes. Use humorous photos or videos of the wrong way to complete a task. Of course, food makes anything more fun. Try incorporating food tastings into break periods or preparing and serving a family-style meal with front- and back-of-house swapping roles to help demonstrate (and then address) the challenges each side faces.
Domino’s dips a toe into driverless delivery
Driverless delivery isn’t far away – if one restaurant tech pioneer has anything to say about it. Domino’s Pizza and Ford Motor Co. are teaming up to test out robotic pizza delivery. Specifically, Skift reports that the companies are testing out how customers respond to a driverless Ford Fusion delivering their pizza. Instead of opening the door to a delivery person, the customer must approach the car and collect the pizza from a locked warming compartment. In all fairness, the cars used in the tests will have drivers because the companies want to monitor how people respond to “the last 50 feet” of their experience – having to walk out of their homes to collect their pizza. The drivers will collect that feedback. Customers who take part in the testing, which is happening only in Ann Arbor, Mich. for now, will also be able to track their pizza via app as it rolls along the road toward their house.
Harness the power of texting
If you’ve yet to become a social media maven when it comes to promoting your restaurant, how about using basic texts to build business? While your guests may be segmented when it comes to social media, smartphones and texting are likely ubiquitous among your target demographics. Next Restaurants suggests four ways you can connect with guests through texting: When business is slow, try offering a time-sensitive deal to fill empty seats or increase take-out orders. Allow guests to order via text. Are you located in a shopping area or near scenery where guests are likely to stroll before their meal? Untether them from the dreaded buzzer by texting them when their table is ready. After their meal, send a survey via text and pay attention to the data you collect. When those guests become loyal ones, text them a coupon every once in a while to thank them for coming back.
Are profits in the cards for your restaurant?
Believe it or not, it will be soon be gift card buying season. Data from past National Retail Federation Holiday Consumer Spending Surveys found that 40 percent of holiday shoppers begin their shopping before Halloween. What’s more, restaurants edged out department stores as the most popular category for gift card purchases. So are you ready? According to Restaurant Business, many operators make marketing mistakes when promoting gift cards. To avoid them, remember these recommendations: Expand your sales channels beyond your restaurant. A study by American Express and Technomic found that 27 percent of the study’s participants buy restaurant gift cards in grocery stores and 20 percent from mass merchandisers. Avoid accounting headaches by using a gift card software provider that allows for automated tracking of gift card costs and discounts. The gift card program should be integrated into your point-of-sale system and work seamlessly with any franchisors you have too. Make it easy for guests to acquire gift cards and redeem their value in your restaurant and online (one study found that 65 percent of gift card holders spend an extra 38 percent beyond the value of the card). Finally, consider using gift cards to make things right with guests when they have experienced problems. Comp cards can be set for the exact amount of a meal and can have an expiration date so the guest has motivation to return in the near future.
Check the health of your sickness policy
How do you respond when your team members get sick? Your restaurant’s food safety record may hinge on your answer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 48 million people are infected with a foodborne illness in the U.S. each year and half of those cases can be linked to eating in restaurants or delis. The blog Unsafe Foods reports that one CDC study, which tapped data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, found that among 457 foodborne disease outbreaks tracked, 300 were restaurant-related. Of those, the most common contributing factor resulting in 137 outbreaks was “handling by an infected person or carrier of pathogens.” Another CDC study, which polled food workers, found that 60 percent of those surveyed had worked while sick. Many of those people took steps to avoid passing on their illness while at work, such as not handling food and washing hands more frequently. But according to the study, nearly all of the workers who had reported to work while sick said it was their own decision to come to work and not their manager’s, and four in 10 said their manager did not know what their symptoms were. Respondents said they had decided to work while sick for a range of reasons: the restaurant’s lack of paid sick leave or any sick leave policy, the restaurant being shorthanded and needing coverage for the shift, and doubt that they would actually pass their illness on to others. When asked to name factors that affected their decision to work while sick, seven in 10 workers cited the severity of their symptoms and the likelihood of making others sick, six in 10 mentioned their dedication to their jobs and not wanting to leave others shorthanded, half considered not getting paid and one in four said their fear of losing their job was a factor in their decision to work while sick.
New Facebook metrics to help you drive engagement
If you buy advertising on Facebook or plan to, the company recently announced some new analytics that could help you understand and engage with your audience better. Social Media Week sees these potential benefits in Facebook’s new reporting metrics: A landing-page-views metric will help you understand how people are finding you on the web after clicking on an ad – and how optimizing your mobile web experience could boost traffic. A second metric will help you see how much of your traffic is from new visitors as opposed to previous ones. Finally, if you are a page owner, there will be several new metrics available, including information about the demographics of your followers, how your followers have grown or declined over time, how many people saw your page in a hover state without clicking through, and how often your page has been referenced in a recommendation.
Curry favor with spice
Spice is on the rise. As fall arrives, curry flavors can tick a lot of boxes on your menu – and in items beyond traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Turmeric, for example, has become a superfood for delivering a high dose of antioxidants, and it can bring warmth, earthy flavor and bold color to your menu. Foodable suggests gin- or rum-based cocktails infused or shaken with peeled, fresh turmeric root for best effect. Or try mixing turmeric into smoothies, antioxidant-dense frittatas, sauces for roasted vegetables, or mixed into hearty seasonal soups, like carrot-ginger.
Scan away your allergy woes?
If your restaurant is serving a greater number of allergy sufferers these days, take heart in some developing technology that could help them (and, in turn, you) in the not-so-distant future. Food & Wine reports that at IFA, Berlin’s consumer electronics and home appliance trade show, Bosch’s new X-Spect food scanner was attracting a lot of buzz for claims that it can tell you the nutritional content and presence of allergens in a dish. The report says at the moment, the technology works best on homogeneous foods like fruit or chicken; getting an accurate reading from a sandwich requires scanning each individual ingredient, then rebuilding it.
Up your website’s wow factor
Your online presence is what will bring new guests through the door. But did you know it takes just 1.7 seconds for a visitor to your site to decide whether to read on or move on? The National Restaurant Association says offering compelling video on your site is a key way to keep visitors there – and bring in new traffic. In fact, offering video will make it 53 times more likely that your website will appear on the first page of a Google search, according to the web design firm Mopro. To make your video connect with people, think about your ideal customers. What interests them? How old are they? How do they spend their time? Then create a video that appeals to that demographic and shows off your restaurant’s authentic self. What are you most proud of? What are the key aspects of your business that set it apart? Humor helps (and so does brevity – remember that 1.7 second rule).
Ensure your order-ahead tech gets you ahead
Order-ahead technology can help you serve more guests more efficiently – but even with systems designed to streamline business, there can be kinks. If you have already embraced order-ahead technology – or you’re thinking about it – the National Restaurant Association recommends some tips from the mobile technology development firm LevelUp: Walk through the process of ordering as if you were a customer. Is the process simple, seamless and intuitive? Store your guests’ favorite orders so it takes minimal clicks (ideally just one) to place an order again. Provide accurate wait times so customers aren’t waiting around or having to eat cold food – and make sure those orders are accurate too. Dedicate prep and pick-up areas for order-ahead meals. Make it easy for customers picking up orders to know where to go – clarify the process with simple directions on your website and clear signage at your restaurant.
There’s a crisis. What’s your food safety plan?
While natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t common, we’re living in an era when sudden weather events are taking a major toll on people’s lives, not to mention their food supply. Even storms on a smaller scale could cause contamination from flood water, pests, insufficiently cleaned equipment and compromised food sources. Do you have a plan for if and when the safety of your operation is at risk? The FDA recommends a number of guidelines when you’re managing such an event. First, ensure all rodents and other pests have been cleared from the facility, seal any cracks that could provide entry for them and discard spoiled food that could attract them. Discard and properly dispose of any food that has been submerged in flood waters – the only exception is food in undamaged, hermetically sealed cans that have had labels removed and have been washed and sanitized. If your facility has been in contact with flood waters, confirm that your well has not been flooded, wash all facility surfaces in a hot detergent solution followed by a sanitizing solution, recondition or replace surfaces with mold growth, and clean your exhaust system and hood and have it inspected. Examine your equipment, utensils, display cases, filters and other equipment and thoroughly clean and sanitize them. Some equipment, such as dishwashers and ice machines, should run through three cycles following cleaning to ensure they’re free of contaminants. Make sure all equipment can cool or heat to the required temperatures for maintaining food safety. All food supplies should be provided by a licensed, approved food source and received by a person who is responsible for ensuring the food containers are undamaged and that food requiring cold storage arrives either frozen or at temperatures below 41˚F. You may need to serve a limited menu until your operation has its usual inventory and roster of employees on hand.
Don’t make your neighbors hunt for you online
How do locals find you? The National Restaurant Association says 83 percent of adults consult their smartphones or tablets to find restaurant locations, directions, and hours of operation, and 55 percent of adults read restaurant reviews. Further, Google says searches with the words “near me,” “closest” and “nearby” have doubled since last year. To best capture your local online audience, Modern Restaurant Management suggests you have a clear local marketing strategy, along with a thorough, mobile-friendly website that includes the essential information customers need, shareable content and a connection to online reviews. First off, make sure people can find you when they’re looking for nearby restaurants. Check your listings on review sites like Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and Google My Business to ensure they’re updated with your location, contact information and latest menu. Enhance your SEO with keywords and links that will elevate your standing in online searches. Next, find out where your best guests spend time on social media and focus your efforts on those sites (and with the content that does best on those platforms). If you know your target demographic well, consider Facebook advertising to help you deliver content to people based on factors like gender, age, interests and location. Finally, monitor your online presence and be ready to act when you get reviews – provide a constructive, professional response when a negative one comes through and share any positive feedback on your website and social media channels to get the most mileage from your happy guests.
A restaurant more like a memorable dinner party
Some millennial chefs around the country are testing out new alternative restaurants – pop-up dinner parties that feel more like social gatherings with friends than dining establishments – and they’re generating a lot of buzz. Food & Wine reports that these chefs are cultivating a special social environment – it could be a homey space filled with couches, chairs, friends’ artwork and musical entertainment – and then hand-picking attendees who gather for a flat price to enjoy the company along with a selection of food (though not necessarily anything from a menu). Consider hosting occasions like these for your most loyal guests, or if you’re looking to test new menu ideas or concepts on a willing audience.
We all wish we could be more efficient. Mobile technology can help and the U.S. wants it -- Pew research indicates 77 percent of Americans now own smartphones. Modern Restaurant Management says there are three key ways having a robust mobile strategy streamlines your day-to-day operations. For one, mobile ordering opens you up to a larger customer base that will likely place larger orders because they don’t have to wait for them. Automating the ordering and reservation-making process will free up your staff’s time too. Even an app just for your staff can make ordering, payment, scheduling and bookkeeping more efficient. Next, allowing people to order ahead minimizes errors and therefore, waste. You’ll quickly see what your most popular items are, which will help you know how to tweak your menu. Finally, having a mobile strategy helps you build a better loyalty program. No more punch cards to lose. Your customers will receive points automatically with each purchase, and you will be able to see patterns in how they redeem their rewards (so you can offer more of what they like and bring them back in the door more frequently).
Panera steps up beverage transparency
Panera is making a new push to be transparent with its guests – even if its beverage sales suffer in the short term. Business Insider reports that Panera’s strategy to promote its new low-sugar craft beverage line, which includes options like blood orange lemonade and passion papaya green tea, will include serving drinks in cups labeled with the calories and grams of sugar that its broader line of beverages contains. This will likely steer customers away from high-profit-margin soft drinks (which pack a whopping 17.25 added teaspoons of sugar) and toward Panera’s new craft beverages, which are more expensive to produce but include far less sugar. The chain’s CEO hopes the effort will build loyalty. Panera commissioned a survey that found that 99 percent of Americans were unaware of the sugar their beverages contain. It wants to help educate its guests – and along the way, demonstrate that it’s a reliable place to go for a healthy meal.
Food traceability gets a boost
Food traceability is becoming increasingly important as our supply chain gets more complex. Food Safety magazine reports that a new guideline was published recently by a special traceability workgroup of suppliers, distributors and foodservice operators who wanted to enhance traceability practices in the wake of foodborne illness outbreaks. The guideline suggests case-level traceability processes that use GS1-128 barcodes to track cases of product across the foodservice supply chain. As consumers continue to demand food transparency, locally grown products and sound animal welfare practices, traceability efforts such as these could be critical to business. (A recent study from the Center for Food Integrity found that consumers want transparency around a company’s business practices just as much as they want food product labels.)
Redesign your way to a new vibe
The right restaurant design can take a business from good to great (assuming your food is just as good as its surroundings). In a Bloomberg interview, the design guru David Rockwell shared some design tweaks that can help transform a space. Some of the details he pays attention to? First, the entrance should have a sense of theater – it’s where guests make snap decisions about how welcoming the place is, what kinds of people eat there and how good the food is likely to be. Second, notice the noise – and make it appropriate for the space. In pockets of the restaurant where you want less of a din, ceiling perforations or fabric can absorb sound. Next, adjust your flow. A room with more than four tables across can feel like a cafeteria, so interspersing long and short tables and different levels can provide contrast. Just don’t create seating areas where people don’t want to go – use banquettes in corners or install displays that transform potentially unwanted areas into focal points. Use lighting as a way to vary the ambience between lunch and dinner and to bring a warmer or cooler vibe.
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