If you offer grab-and-go foods, adhering to food safety procedures can be especially difficult. The food auditor Steritech found a number of common food safety issues in 3,000 recent reviews of fresh and prepared foods at grocery stores. Their lessons can also apply to restaurants offering prepared foods to go. Of the problems Steritech discovered, several stood out: One major issue across the board was unclean food contact surfaces, particularly when businesses offer a wide range of prepared foods that require the use of more utensils, equipment and prep areas. Further, contamination via chemical, physical and/or biological hazards was among the top food safety
challenges in all departments except produce. Specifically, allergen contamination was a pressing concern for bakery items (demonstrating the need for clear labeling) and improper storage and placement of raw items was an issue in meat, seafood and deli products. Finally, cold holding was among the top problems for produce, seafood, deli and general grocery items – with the principal issue being the temperature of display cases for pre-cut and prepared foods. Make sure these foods are kept at a temperature of 41 degrees or below to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
As cold and flu season threatens to impact your staff, make sure you’re minimizing the spread of germs after handwashing. Statefoodsafety.com advises that after washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, it’s best to turn off the faucet with a paper towel and then dry hands with either a paper towel or hand dryer. Avoid using a cloth towel, which can contaminate your hands and spread germs.
As your kitchen becomes increasingly connected to the Internet, it becomes a bigger target for cybercrime. At The Spoon’s recent Smart Kitchen Summit, panelists who participated in a segment called Hacking the Oven: Cybersecurity and the Connected Kitchen identified three key takeaways to consider as your business adopts new devices to increase efficiency. First, cybersecurity can’t be something you bolt on to your business; rather, it’s important to make it flow through your operation from the start and to have a culture that values it. Second, both manufacturers and end users play a role in securing devices: manufacturers need to build secure devices with easy-to-install updates, and users need to do their part to protect devices with secure passwords. Finally, security is an ongoing process that requires manufacturers (and users) to have a plan to address vulnerabilities as they arise. Panelists expect to see cybersecurity certification labels on appliances in the near future – much like Energy Star rating stickers – to help end users better identify companies with strong cybersecurity records.
As the holidays approach, you and many other restaurant operators are likely holding your collective breath and hoping to avoid staff turnover. After all, if you have stretched your operation to accommodate a higher-than-normal rate of holiday traffic, catering orders and events, having your best staff on hand is all the more critical to delivering great service to your guests. But historically, annual employee turnover rates in the hospitality industry have far outpaced those of the private sector, with turnover in the restaurants and accommodations sector surpassing 66 percent compared to 44 percent in the private sector, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If your efforts to retain staff could use some fine tuning, consider recent research from Upserve. The company studied server performance across 3000 restaurants in the U.S. and suggests several tips for retaining staff based on that research. First, measure the average tenure of each position on your staff and design your milestones for incentives around that timeframe and beyond. When staff quit, conduct an exit interview to determine why they are leaving in case it provides insight about how you can keep the employees who remain. On that note, also conduct “stay” interviews with your long-time staff to determine why they stay and how you can keep them. At regular intervals, check in with your staff as a whole to get a realistic sense of the stressors or pain points that make their jobs more difficult and how you can help. Finally, encourage open communication with your staff so they feel comfortable sharing their input about schedules, training and development opportunities.
The applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in restaurants still have many directions to go. As Restaurant Dive reports, while AI is already helping Chick-fil-A identify food safety problems, McDonald’s and Sonic fine-tune their drive-thrus and Chipotle take phone orders, Outback has identified yet another application of the technology. In an effort to improve its guest experience, Outback is testing an AI system that uses lobby cameras to record interactions between employees and guests, track wait times and identify when people leave without being greeted or seated. While the initial program focuses on employee-guest interactions in the lobby, it may expand to include the kitchen, curbside pickup and dining room. Data from the AI system is sent to managers in real time so they have an opportunity to resolve problems before a guest has an opportunity to leave a negative review.
Word-of-mouth marketing is any restaurant operator’s goal: According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of marketing. If you can create the conditions at your restaurant that inspire user-generated social media content, you’re a big step closer to getting that user’s friends and family in the door too. NextRestaurants offers some tactics to help. First, boost your visual appeal. Fresh flowers, unusual interior/exterior design, stand-out artwork, special holiday décor and artful plating of menu items can all inspire the taking (and posting) of photos. You can also try the carrot approach: Offer a free coffee to anyone who posts a photo with your hashtag and geotag. Or, create a contest that challenges guests to submit photos and anecdotes of experiences with your brand, select your favorite entry and reward the winner with a gift certificate. Make it easy for guests to post content. Your brand name, logo and hashtag should be visible on such places as your menu, dishware, tables, decorations and the mirrors in your restroom (a favorite place for selfies, believe it or not). Once guests post content, mention and tag them when you repost it – not only does it help you avoid copyright infringement, but it will also help you forge a stronger connection with your guest.
The number of internet-enabled devices is expected to reach 75 billion by 2025, or more than triple the number of such devices in use by the end of 2018, according to the technology firm ITProPortal. A technology-driven restaurant owner can adopt internet-enabled devices to monitor and manage everything from the operation’s food waste to its energy use. While these devices promise significant cost savings and efficiencies, their access to your data creates new points of vulnerability. It is increasingly difficult to prevent security breaches as threats become more sophisticated and employees who aren’t adequately trained leave a business exposed to threats. To help manage such threats, the tech security firm ControlScan advises operators to use next-generation firewalls to limit entry points for malware, and to use a managed security service provider that can identify vulnerabilities in a network, investigate and report security breaches, and troubleshoot other network security problems. Whether you outsource your network security or not, being able to keep tabs on your network in those ways is becoming increasingly important as businesses across sectors find that it’s not a question of if a security event will occur, but when.
Staying on top of the maintenance of your facility and equipment can help you avoid accidents and costly repairs or replacements. But where should you focus your energy? In a recent NextRestaurants report, Warren Wu of UpKeep, a software firm that helps businesses manage their maintenance needs, identified four top priorities for preventive maintenance in restaurants: First, clean and sanitize your refrigerators each week. Wu advises that during those sessions, staff should check areas that are prone to failure such as door hinges and gaskets. Second, clean burners, grates and flattops daily to minimize grease buildup, which can cause fires and attract pests. Third, on a weekly or monthly basis, scan your facility for a pest problem or conditions that might cause one – like spills that aren’t promptly cleaned or food being stored improperly. Finally, if you serve beer, clean your keg lines no less frequently than every six weeks to prevent mold, bacteria and other residue from building up.
As winter approaches, your restaurant becomes an even more appealing haven for pests. If pests are a recurring or ongoing problem in your facility, there is (of course) technology that can help. Internet of Things devices and cloud computing have extended to the pest management business, and for operations that need it, the technology (Rentokill offers an option) can provide 24-hour-a-day monitoring. A restaurant can use sensors within its facility to identify current and emerging risks, collect data that can help minimize the risk of infestations, manage service records across multiple operations and automate reporting required for compliance purposes.
Plant-based proteins, to this point, have largely been branded as a nice-to-have option for flexitarians. But a looming pork shortage (or what some may consider a bacon emergency) could make plant-based proteins a more urgent need. An NPR report estimates that by the end of this year, China’s pig population could be cut in half, which will result in high pork prices in the U.S. The Spoon predicts that the conditions will be good news for the growing number of producers of plant-
based pork products – and bacon, in particular. Restaurant operators should also have sufficient bacon alternatives to offer on their menus.
Most U.S. consumers rate their interactions with brands as simply “okay,” according to a Tempkin Experience Ratings report, which asked 10,000 consumers to rate 318 companies across 20 industries in the areas of success, effort and emotion. Not great (though to be fair, there were some food brands that consumers rated highly, including Wegman’s and Subway). On the positive side, though, that result leaves plenty of room for brands to deliver an experience that impresses guests and brings them back. CBInsights, which builds software that predicts technology trends, identified three components that generate positive emotional reactions and enhance the customer experience, turning “okay” experiences into “wow” experiences: sensory marketing, quality time and human connections. Restaurants have an automatic advantage on the first point. CBInsights points out that scents, for example, can trigger memories and emotions – and that consumers spend an average of 15 more minutes in places that have pleasant smells. So the aroma of the apple pie on your menu may have the power to trigger someone’s happy childhood memory (and connect it to your brand). On the second point, quality time, brands are creating immersive experiences that extend far beyond an initial transaction – Taco Bell’s recent launch of a pop-up hotel (featuring not-yet-launched menu items and other promotions tied to the brand) is one extreme example of how this can be done. Finally, brands are using human connections to bond with consumers. As companies delegate more tasks to technology, they are freeing up staff to engage in more face-to-face interactions with customers in order to help them and gather insights from them. How can your brand combine sensory marketing, quality time and human connections to provide memorable experiences for guests?
Looking for a new location for your brick-and-mortar restaurant or ghost kitchen? There was a time when operators would select real estate based on who lived in the area and what their spending habits were, but technology is changing the game. Clay Dover, the CEO of Velvet Taco, a 12-unit brand with restaurants in five U.S. cities, told attendees at the recent New York Restaurant Technology Summit that his company is using smartphone technology to pinpoint where consumers are spending their time during the day and late in the evening. That may well not be where they live.
“When you look where 5G will end up taking us, it’s a whole other world for the retail and restaurant space.” That’s what Aaron Allen, founder and chief strategist at the global restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates, told Forbes recently. 5G, the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, promises such benefits of data upload and download speeds that are 10 to 20 times faster – speeds that could transform the technology capabilities of restaurants. AT&T sees the greatest potential for 5G in restaurants in three areas: It can significantly reduce latency (or, in other words, the time delay between when you take an action when using technology and when you receive a response), provide a boost to computing power across applications, and deliver sharp increases in speed (think of a file that currently take seven minutes to download taking just eight seconds). In practice, consider being able to use Internet of Things sensors to more efficiently track food waste in your kitchen, or to be alerted exactly when the local high school’s football game ends and you’re likely to get a post-game rush. 5G may help streamline how your POS system communicates with your third-party delivery vendors, or bring a higher level of content personalization to your menu boards, customer text messages or loyalty program promotions. These capabilities certainly exist today, but they work only as well as the network delivering them. The major internet service providers have been launching 5G in major cities throughout this year and will continue to spread the service – check with your provider for the launch timelines for your area.
If your guests enjoy Mediterranean flavors and diets, consider adding up-and-coming condiments like ajvar to your menu. Ajvar (pronounced eye-var) is a red-pepper and oil-based condiment from the Balkans that is just beginning to appear beyond Balkan restaurants, Flavor & the Menu reports. It works well as a marinade for skewers or as a dip option when paired with bread in a shareable appetizer platter, and its color and aroma can help to bring appealing and accessible global flavor to a menu.
Inadequate cleaning of food-contact surfaces remains the top food safety problem at restaurants. That’s according to a recent review of 250,000 food safety inspection assessments from the past year by the Steritech Institute, which administers food safety training certification. Chris Boyles, vice president of the Steritech Institute, told Fast Casual that the most problematic areas of restaurants tend to be the inside of ice machines, as well as soda fountain nozzles and cutting boards. To prevent the growth of bacteria on these surfaces, have clear training and monitoring procedures for cleaning and sanitizing. For example, any equipment that must be disassembled to be cleaned and sanitized each day should be left to air dry and then checked by the opening and closing managers to verify that the item has gone through the proper procedures.
A food thermometer is the only trustworthy way to determine whether or not food is cooked to a safe temperature. Just make sure to take precautions to prevent cross-contamination when using them. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses, which can be especially easy to neglect when you are using one thermometer to monitor the temperatures of different foods in quick succession.
Chicken causes more foodborne illness than any other food, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To safeguard your operation, make sure your kitchen team washes their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (and then dries them with a clean towel) before handling chicken – and repeats this as soon as possible after handling raw proteins thereafter. Prepare other raw foods first and remove them from the prep area to avoid cross-contamination. Never wash the chicken as doing so can transfer dangerous bacteria onto your sink and around your kitchen. Cutting boards and utensils used for chicken should be kept apart from those used for other foods. Cook poultry to 165 degrees and use a food thermometer to make sure it has reached the right temperature.
Many restaurant brands tend to look to millennials for hints of where foodservice trends may be heading, particularly when it comes to off-premise sales. But some recent research completed on behalf of the National Restaurant Association demonstrates that baby boomers are showing traits that operators would be wise to watch when it comes to offering food for take-out and delivery. Research conducted for the association found that 51 percent of boomers, which it defined as consumers between the ages of 55 and 73, say they aren’t ordering takeout and delivery as often as they would like. In comparison, 43 percent of millennials, consumers aged 21 to 38, shared that feeling. The data found that millennials are just about as eager to eat at a restaurant as they are to eat restaurant meals off-premise, while baby boomers are less likely to want to eat at restaurants more often – only 38 percent expressed that preference. If you’d like to fine-tune your efforts to market to boomers, consider several tactics: Provide a fair price and promote the value of your menu, since a majority of boomers will choose a restaurant based on its perceived value. Expand your breakfast menu options. Offer healthy menu choices with quality ingredients and make healthier items readily identifiable on your menu. Create new twists on classic dishes. Experiment with ethnic spices and dishes with bold flavors. Finally, when it comes to technology, offer tech-driven, mobile-friendly ordering functionality and loyalty programs that make it easy to not only place off-premise orders but also to reap rewards for continuing to order with you.
Your guests may well want you to compost your food waste – but what if you don’t have the local infrastructure in place to support it? Snooze, a regional breakfast, brunch and lunch brand, has made it a priority to use technology to make composting possible regardless of where its restaurants are located. Where composting isn’t available, Snooze equips its restaurants with biodigestors – mechanical stomachs that use bacteria to decompose food waste into water that can be washed down the drain, along with a small amount of material that can be used as an organic fertilizer, Restaurant Business reports. At the recent New York City Restaurant Technology Summit, Snooze CFO Bill Long spoke about the brand’s efforts, which also include identifying “green captains,” who are employees paid to spend between three and 10 hours each week educating coworkers about sustainability and how to promote it.
What kind of return on investment do you get from your restaurant’s social media marketing? If it’s low, you’re not alone. In a recent release of the CMO Survey, a biannual marketing survey of marketers at for-profit brands that is sponsored by the American Marketing Association, Deloitte and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, there was a clear disconnect between social media investment and performance. According to Christine Moorman, director of the survey, people who have responded to the survey since 2016 have rated social media marketing between 3.1-3.3 on a scale between 1 (not at all contributing to performance) and 7 (very highly contributing to performance.) Nonetheless, spending on social media marketing persists – and many brands are doubling down on it. Why? In a Forbes report, Moorman points to several primary reasons why marketers should keep the faith: First, it is a tool companies can control and operate at a low cost. This is opposed to digital marketing, which is costly and not always effective at grabbing a person’s attention and maintaining engagement. Social media is also made for mobile, with its visual content and brief updates, which consumers can digest in bits and pieces whenever they pick up their phone (which may be dozens of times per day). Next, social media can be a valuable tool to tell brands what to change and when: It can measure a consumer’s online behavior and engagement with your brand, help you connect with employees and improve their performance on the job, and enable you to move forward with product or service enhancements. Yes, there is still a challenge in connecting likes and engagement with sales, but if you’re struggling to make the connection at your restaurant, it can help to use a social media marketing strategy that seeks to analyse customer behavior across their entire experience with you – not just at the beginning and end. Further, all of the data you collect automatically, whether via social media or other channels, needs to be integrated so you can see the full picture of how your customers are engaging with and supporting your brand.
You may well be using technology that makes it easier for guests to order, or for you to monitor your appliances or inventory. But how about using it to get a reality check from your team? As restaurateur Danny Meyer told attendees of the recent New York City Restaurant Technology Summit, he uses technology to support what he dubs a “trust index,” which checks the morale of staff across his restaurant group. It periodically asks the team a series of questions that help Meyer get an accurate read on whether or not they are happy to come to work. The results offer real-time feedback that Meyer can then use to quickly get to the bottom of problems that may be hurting employee morale.
Flu season is upon us. Make sure your team takes extra precautions to disinfect their own mobile phones regularly ― and to clean surfaces where guests’ phones have made contact. Even people who regularly wash their hands may neglect the regular cleaning of their phones, which scientists from the University of Arizona found carry 10 times more bacteria than toilet seats. Further, a recent study for the technology insurer Asurion by Qualtrics found that nearly 45 percent of Americans have talked, texted or checked their phones in a public restroom, and nearly 60 percent of adults admit to taking out their phones at the table while out eating or drinking with others. To help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses, Asurion advises people to wipe down their phone daily with a microfiber cloth. Once a week, use a solution of equal parts distilled water and 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, spray it onto a microfiber cloth, and wipe down the phone. Clean the case separately with soap and water.
New proposed legislation at both the federal and local levels that is aimed at restricting the use of plastics is also posing some unintended challenges to operators. For one, it’s raising questions about how operators can reliably protect food safety when they must wash and sanitize straws, for example, that they once discarded. Steelys Straws, which manufactures reusable straws, advises restaurants to take these steps when cleaning its stainless steel straws: Designate a small soaking tub with hot, soapy water to clean the straws, as well as a second tub with sanitizing solution. After a straw is used by a guest, place it in the soapy water to soak, and then, if it had been used to drink a beverage with pulp or other ingredients that could collect on the straw, scrub it with a thin cleaner brush. Rinse the soapy straws in clean, hot water and place them in a bulk utensil rack in the dishwasher. Finally, soak the straws for at least one minute in the sanitizing solution to ensure you’ve killed all germs.
The plant-based protein trend appears to be one with staying power ― sales of plant-based meat grew 37 percent between 2017 and 2019, according to the Good Food Institute, and demand seems set to increase further. Still, differences are beginning to emerge from operators weighing the pros of adapting their menus to the trend vs. the cons of integrating a processed product into the menu. The Spoon reports that Chipotle, for one, unlike many of its competitors, has decided against offering plant-based meat because it is processed (and therefore conflicts with the brand’s interest in knowing/sharing where its food comes from). Does your brand pride itself on offering fresh food and being transparent about its origins and ingredients? If so, how are you accommodating consumer demand for plant-based protein?
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