Months after chefs and food industry analysts alike identified cannabidiol (CBD) products as top food and beverage trends of 2019, the CBD industry continues to, shall we say, fly high. In a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by a market research firm focused on the cannabis market, 1,500 respondents said they had used CBD products in the previous three months. The survey also found that 40 percent of consumers aged 21 and older would try CBD products. Consumer interest in the products has driven restaurant operators to provide them – but considering CBD has still not been approved by the FDA and is readily associated with marijuana (despite lacking its psychoactive effects), it has put operators in a tough position. Local health departments in New York, California and other states have begun cracking down on restaurants serving CBD foods and beverages – this despite the passage of the farm bill in December making most applications of CBD legal at the federal level. While many restaurant operators offering CBD products have taken the “ask for forgiveness later” approach with health regulators, the risks may outweigh the benefits. A New York Post report said that restaurants violating the CBD ban could be fined up to $650. In Los Angeles, the Atlantic reports, the county health department said it would start docking points on restaurant inspections this past July. If you’re thinking of including CBD products on your menu, make sure you understand the implications. In the meantime, it may make sense to keep the CBD recipes in mind (but perhaps off the menu) and keep close tabs on regulations as they evolve.
This fall, a sweeping bill is likely going to be introduced in Congress that will ban many single-use plastics, set recycling targets and require deposits for beverage containers, the National Restaurant Association reports. In response to the legislation, the association’s food and sustainability director has emphasized the lack of existing national infrastructure to support such a ban – and the stress that could cause businesses forced to comply. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, the global climate activism on display in recent weeks is a sign that the issue of how restaurants manage their packaging waste (and the need for restaurants to understand new packaging technologies) isn’t going away. If you’re looking for ways to improve your practices, the Food Packaging Institute is working with its members, foodservice operators and other entities to share packaging options and has also developed a strategic sourcing guide to help restaurants identify new suppliers.
At Winsight’s September FSTEC conference, where restaurant operators gathered to hear about up-and-coming developments in technology, voice recognition showed special potential as a tech tool to watch – particularly for its back-of-house functions. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with voice recognition as an everyday convenience – emarketer predicts that more than one-third of the U.S. population will use a voice assistant monthly this year, up 9.5 percent from 2018. That has paved the way for voice recognition becoming more common as a means of enabling consumers to place orders more efficiently from home and on the road (note McDonald’s new purchase of Apprente, a startup building technology to automate voice ordering in multiple languages, which McDonald’s could implement in its drive thru, mobile and kiosk ordering). Voice recognition’s applications beyond ordering have been slower to develop, but that is now changing, according to Restaurant Business. Presenters at FSTEC identified such uses of voice recognition technology as providing food preparation instructions for kitchen staff who aren’t able to leave their stations to look at a recipe or search for directions on a computer screen. Chowly CEO Sterling Douglass said while there is still a long way for restaurants to go when using voice recognition at the back of the house for this purpose, those that are using it with human backup are already seeing 50 percent reductions in cost. For operators looking for additional ways to operate with smaller teams or otherwise cut labor costs, voice recognition could be an additional tool in their toolbox.
The ownership of consumer data has long been a stumbling block for operators considering the hiring of third-party delivery providers, but increasingly, competition in the industry is making it possible for restaurant brands to cherry-pick the options they want from providers. There are several recent cases in point: GrubHub won Shake Shack’s business nationwide by offering to share customer data. Panera has made it possible for customers to place orders via Uber Eats, DoorDash or GrubHub and then have food delivered by its in-house team. Most recently, Chowly did just the opposite. The company said its system now allows restaurant operators to accept orders through its website or app, then farm them out for delivery via DoorDash. It’s an additional sign that for brands eager to make food delivery work, there may be wiggle room when negotiating contracts with vendors.
While eggs, meat, seafood, fermented foods and unpasteurized milk and cheese all carry a high risk of causing food poisoning if not stored and prepared appropriately, nearly half of all cases of food poisoning come from infected produce, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Leafy greens, sprouts and fruit are common carriers of Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens, Medical News Today reports. Help ensure the produce you serve is safe for guests by washing all fruits and vegetables, and refrigerating any chopped or peeled produce within two hours – or within one hour if the temperature of the environment is 90°F or higher. Finally, separate all produce from other raw foods – meats, in particular.
If you serve food from warming trays or chafing dishes either within your restaurant or off-premises while catering, make sure your kitchen team replaces the trays and doesn’t simply pile new food onto the old, which can be a contamination risk, advises Statefoodsafety.com. Further, the FDA notes that some warmers only keep food between 100 and 120°F, but hot foods should be kept at an internal temperature of 140°F. Use a food thermometer to ensure you keep foods out of the danger zone.
If you’re cooking with apples this season, handling them appropriately will help you minimize food waste. The produce distributor Freshpoint advises that to maximize the shelf life of apples you buy, be careful when moving crates of them to prevent bruising, and avoid washing them until just before they will be eaten. Store them away from strongly scented produce like onions, since apples can
absorb their flavor, and ethylene, which can shorten an apple’s shelf life and make it mealy. Finally, store apples toward the front of your cooler – the warmest part – as apples are susceptible to chill damage that impacts their flavor.
Late this summer, the Mediterranean fast-casual brand Cava opened its first innovation kitchen, a technology-driven effort designed to collect and analyze consumer tastes and trends in real time – without the time-consuming hassle of organizing focus groups or experimenting with new menu items in test locations. Cava isn’t the first brand to launch such an effort and it’s further evidence of the increased pressure restaurant operators face to innovate their menus and to get them right each time. Even if you don’t have state-of-the-art technology to help you fine-tune your menu, you can still innovate your menu well if you start with the problem you’re looking to solve. Are you looking to improve the quality of your off-premise options? Increase your dine-in traffic? Then let that question drive your decisions. Chefify advises operators to keep several factors in mind when making menu changes. First, be able to back up your prices with market research and an understanding of what your guests will enjoy and are willing to spend for a particular product. Next, make sure your new menu items are extensions of what you already do well – not overeager attempts to follow the latest trends. Third, be clear about your ingredients and list them so guests (particularly those with food allergies) can make the best choice for themselves. Fourth, make sure that if you need to cut food costs, focus on your less-essential ingredients so you’re not sacrificing the quality of the core ingredients that make your restaurant appeal to guests. Finally, opt for a minimal, easily understood menu that allows guests to make decisions quickly when they’re hungry and allows you to both minimize your food waste and improve your order accuracy.
Hummus is a menu workhorse. It can help you deliver on-trend spices, serve as both a condiment and a main attraction, and add interest to a broad range of different dishes. Flavor & the Menu suggests it as a base with such ingredients as eggs, onions, pickles and harissa oil. Its versatility also helps it add depth when added to sandwiches, as a base for grain-and-vegetable bowls or meat skewers, and even as a salad dressing.
Restaurant owners are stepping up to the challenge of minimizing their food waste. That was one conclusion of Toast’s recently released Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report, which surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators and staff, along with a similar number of restaurant guests, about the experience of operating and dining at restaurants. Toast asked restaurant professionals to share how they’re reducing food waste in 2019. The responses included such actions as using leftover ingredients from one recipe in another (38 percent), offering multiple portion choices for guests (26 percent) and composting (25 percent). Others said they limit the number of items they prepare for service, offer an a la carte menu and cross-utilize ingredients in an effort to reduce food waste. Still, there is room for improvement as a considerable portion of those surveyed (26 percent) do nothing at all to reduce food waste at their business. The consequences aren’t just environmental but also financial: A reFED study found that the approximately 11 million tons of food waste generated by restaurants annually costs businesses about $25 billion per year – and that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can save restaurants $8. The industry report emphasized that while you can’t control what someone eats or leaves behind, you can control your inventory. Your first course of action in managing waste is to keep close tabs on your shelves to reduce spoilage and avoid a tendency to over-order items – your inventory management system can help you take the best action.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of ordering French fries or a salad for delivery only to receive them in limp, soggy form once they’ve been packaged and transported to you, Bill Birgen feels your pain. A popular speaker at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and winner of the SKS Startup Showcase, Birgin has developed technology designed to manage the condensation that can collect in delivery packaging and make certain foods unpalatable as a result. The goal of the packaging, dubbed the SAVR-pak, is to both improve food quality and reduce food waste. While it’s still early, the Spoon reports that the SAVR-pak has gotten the attention of Deliveroo, who has placed a purchase order, as well as a number of resorts.
As hurricanes become more frequent and powerful, know the do’s and don’ts about managing food and other items in your business that may have come into contact with flood water during a severe storm. In addition to discarding more obvious items like food and grains that were contaminated, Steritech also advises you dispose of single-service items, spices and seasonings, foils and plastic wrap, wooden cutting boards and jars or bottles that have screw or caps, or flip or snap tops. The same goes for fabric, carpets and any kitchen equipment that can’t be disinfected.
How easy is it for your employees to check their email via the POS device they use at your restaurant? This happens to be among the most common ways that malware can infiltrate a restaurant’s systems, according to Restaurant Nuts. As cybercrime grows in sophistication, attacks will become more difficult to prevent, but you can take some steps to protect your systems. First, make your expectations clear with employees regarding how they should be using your systems (including what, if any, personal use is allowed) and how to avoid accidental malware downloads. Assign each server a different login code so if a breach occurs, you can track transaction data and more easily identify if problems have occurred during a particular employee’s shift. Beyond your employees, use password managers and two-factor authentication where possible to protect online accounts, as well as firewalls that separate different functions of your business so if a breach occurs, you might be able to limit the damage it can do.
The assault on sugar continues. Food + Tech Connect’s latest U.S. Food and Beverage Startup Investment Report was released recently and reports on the continued decline of sweeteners in the American diet. It said that according to the USDA, per capita sugar consumption has declined for four straight years and is now at a 30-year low. What’s more, alternative sweeteners like stevia and monkfruit have not won over American taste buds. The trend is sparking startup activity as companies develop food and drink designed to replace sugary or artificially sweet items. It’s a trend to bear in mind as you develop dessert offerings and describe menu items. Ingredients that offer inherent sweetness – without any help from sugar, artificial sweeteners or even natural, low-calorie sweeteners – are more apt to win with consumers.
Yale University’s produce purchases have increased by more than 68,000 lbs. since last year, according to a recent report in Produce Business. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of 10 elephants. Like many foodservice operators around the country, Yale Hospitality, which the report says serves more than three million meals annually, has been experiencing a surge in demand for plant-based foods well beyond the salad bar. The demand has heightened the importance of having produce suppliers you can trust, since an operation’s food safety is only as good as the food safety practices of suppliers. The produce distributor FreshPoint advises operators to check for verification audits confirming the supplier has passed safety inspections (GAP) and sells food that is protected against accidental contaminants on the part of the vendor (GMP). Beyond that, look for a food defense program that protects against intentional contamination of the food supply, as well as Global Food Safety Initiative certification to demonstrate it is subject to third-party audits. To make sure food is handled safely before it reaches you and stored at the proper temperature before and during delivery, check for an ongoing food safety program for employees and up-to-date refrigerated warehouses and delivery vehicles. Finally, if a recall occurs, what process do they have in place to trace the problem and report it to you? You need to feel confident that if a food safety incident occurs, you will know about it immediately.
Much like how once-ubiquitous plastic grocery bags are now becoming obsolete, could food delivery packaging be following suit? There are signs pointing in that direction. The global food delivery company Deliveroo is partnering with the environmental group RETURNR to enable its customers in Australia to order their delivered food in reusable containers, according to a report in The Food People. For a $6 fee, customers can receive their food in a reusable stainless-steel container that can be returned to participating locations for a refund.
“I’d have a tough time sleeping at night if I was handing our food to an untrained, random third-party driver to then carry that over to our customer, because what happens when you have a service failure or you have a product quality problem in that situation?” That’s what Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison said during an April 2019 earnings call. Of course, Domino’s has the scale to be able to manage delivery orders in-house (and also a vested interest in making consumers doubt the reliability of third-party delivery providers). But if you’re using third-party providers, it’s worthwhile to note – and attempt to manage – their shortcomings, since consumers are more likely to blame the restaurant for service failures than the delivery provider. A recent nationwide survey of 1,000 consumers by Steritech asked questions about the pluses and minuses of delivery and offered suggestions on how to address challenges. When the surveyed consumers have had problems with delivery, they included such challenges as the food taking too long to arrive, the packaging not keeping the food at the proper temperature/containing spills/preventing tampering, and order inaccuracy. Steritech advises taking a range of actions to help: To better resolve service issues, consider printing phone numbers for problem resolution on receipts, packaging or seals – or create an online portal for resolving disputes. Minimize phone orders in favor of online orders for better accuracy. Prioritize order accuracy and quality checks before food leaves your restaurant. Provide real-time delivery tracking or time estimates and send text alerts when food is en route. Offer online tipping options. Communicate your fee breakdown clearly so consumers understand where their money is going. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some brands are trying to provide the best of both worlds: Panera, for one, is offering a hybrid system whereby it relies on third-party providers to take orders but then uses its own fleet for delivery to better manage quality control.
Chances are your waste management practices have evolved in recent years, whether you are finding new uses for vegetable stems and roots, donating unused ingredients or integrating other practices altogether. As Shannon Bergstrom, a sustainability operations manager at the tech-driven waste and recycling company RTS, told the Rail, new methods for reducing and rerouting food waste are appearing all the time. Coffee grounds are being used to create such items as ceramics as well as logs that can be used as fire wood. Spent grains left over from beer production are being remolded into all-natural dog treats. Even if you can’t go to those lengths to find uses for your food waste, you likely can make better use of technology to improve your practices. RTS, for one, helps foodservice operators use technology to access on-demand collection services that can help businesses connect to a wide range of vendors looking for anything from raw ingredients to cooked meals. It may help you find uses for leftover ingredients that you’re not even aware of.
As the bounty of local summer produce begins to wane in many areas, your cooler can help you store favorite items and draw out the season. Make sure you’re storing ingredients in a way that maximizes your available space and keeps the contents fresher for longer. FreshPoint suggests that you make the most of the cooler space you have by storing items not in the cardboard boxes they arrived in but smallers containers that fit more snugly in your cooler. Order splits instead of full cases, particularly if you have a smaller cooler. Remove items that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as onions and root vegetables. Finally, the cold air in your cooler flows from the back to the front, making certain areas of your cooler colder than others, so make sure you store items where they are happiest – berries and carrots at the back, cucumbers in the middle and apples and melons at the front.
As delivery ramps up, are drive thrus on the way out? Minneapolis may have set a precedent recently by banning the construction of new drive thrus in the name of health and safety: The city wants to cut back on vehicle noise, idling and traffic and make sidewalks safer for pedestrians. Existing drive thrus in the city will remain intact, however.
From the clattering of dishes to the blaring of music to the loud conversations of guests trying to hear themselves over the din, restaurants can be noisy places. It can be enough of a turn-off that guests will avoid your business. (Case in point: There is an app called Soundprint that dubs itself the “Yelp for noise” and allows users to search for restaurants quiet enough to allow for conversation.) If the sound levels in your restaurant bother guests and employees, take some cost-effective steps to lower the volume. Toast suggests minimizing the scraping of chairs on the floors by using felt pads on chair legs. Keep music at a level where people can have a conversation without shouting. Use textiles to absorb noise – curtains, tablecloths, area rugs, and soundproof panels on walls and ceilings can all help. Finally, keep noisy food preparation equipment in the kitchen, or if you have an open-concept space, consider installing a transparent barrier between guests and food prep areas.
If you serve avocado on your menu, you’re well aware of the rollercoaster ride it has been taking lately with regard to supply and demand. According to a USA Today report, the price of avocados in early July had skyrocketed 129 percent since the same period during the previous year. While restaurants are making adjustments such as diversifying suppliers, raising prices and finding substitutes for the beloved avocado where possible, these are steps that should be taken not just when one key ingredient is in short supply but across the spectrum of a restaurant’s inventory year round. When you monitor your inventory more closely – even in times of plenty – you can more easily ride out times of scarcity. MarketMan suggests you take such steps as tracking food costs throughout the year so you’re more able to spot seasonal fluctuations in price, as well as what you have paid historically. (Team Four can help you with this.) Where possible, fill your menu with seasonal produce to minimize costs – it will also encourage guests to visit you while a favorite item is still available or when a new one is about to be featured on the menu. Partner with your chef to make sure he or she is able to use what’s in season and can minimize costly extras. When it comes to suppliers, try to lock in prices for the long term and don’t hesitate to shop around for better deals when it’s time to renew your contracts. Look around for deals online, particularly for non-perishable items that can be purchased in bulk. Monitor your spending regularly using software with purchasing and ordering management features that can help you stay on top of price fluctuations.
If the restaurant tech landscape doesn’t quite working for your business yet, just wait five minutes and you’re likely to find technology that does. One possible example is the recent partnership of Waitbusters and Postmates. Waitbusters started out as a tech company aiming at eliminating wait times at restaurants but it is now evolving in an effort to work with restaurants that don’t want to hire delivery drivers and also don’t want to pay the high fees charged by many third-party delivery providers. It has integrated its Digital Diner software platform with Postmates and allows operators to turn on the Postmates delivery function when they need it and turn it off when they don’t. This helps eliminate the costs of using an entire third-party delivery platform while giving operators access to off-premise options they may need.
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