Foods such as cereals, rice, pasta and spices may seem benign when it comes to foodborne illness, but if these foods are cooled slowly without refrigeration, they can become prime targets for Bacillus cereus, a pathogen that forms heat-resistant spores and can lead to diarrhea or vomiting. The bacteria are found in soil and in foods that grow close to the ground. As the Food Safety Information Council reports, starchy vegetables, meat products, grain-based foods, sauces, puddings and spices are all culprits. While the spores Bacillus cereus produces are dormant, they can multiply when exposed to warmth and moisture. Cooking or reheating the food will not destroy the toxin, so to help prevent it, store cooked foods in shallow containers and refrigerate them promptly, don’t let frozen foods thaw at room temperature, and make sure any precooked foods are stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of two or three days.
When washing dishes or foodservice equipment, cleaning and sanitizing need to happen together – each on its own isn’t enough to protect your guests from pathogens. But even when sanitizer is used after cleaning, Statefoodsafety.com says it can fail to do its job or even spread germs if not used at the proper temperature and concentration for the appropriate amount of time. Chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium compound sanitizing solution all have different temperature requirements. If a sanitizer is mixed with water that’s not the right temperature, it may be less effective. Use test strips to check you are using the appropriate concentration of each sanitizer as it might be dangerous at the wrong proportions. Finally, let each sanitizer work for the required amount of time to make sure it’s effective.
If you offer delivery, take note of what Postmates is doing to improve the benefits package of gig workers. The company recently announced that it will now be offering such benefits as occupational accident insurance, health care, and free access to online college courses and professional certifications. At a time when employee development has become critical to minimizing the high turnover across the industry, these new benefits are something that may be worth considering if you’re considering a third-party delivery company or, particularly, if you manage your own in-house delivery team.
Talk to any restaurant operator and it’s likely to be the top challenge at work: labor and the difficulty of delivering great service in an environment of near-constant turnover. Joni Thomas Doolin, founder and chair of restaurant consultancy TDn2K, thinks a lot about this. Her firm publishes a quarterly workforce index, the latest of which indicated that at fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, vacancies at the back of house were near 80 percent. In that scenario, it’s difficult for a restaurant to do anything beyond keeping the doors open. So how can restaurants operate to change that? Thomas Doolin shared several strategies on a recent Restaurant Business podcast with Jonathan Maze. First, she advised, focus on creating an environment in which you can engage, retain and offer stability to your general managers. She said that across the industry, many brands have focused resources at the employee level while general-manager-level compensation and benefits have remained flat or even declined in the past decade. She cited research that found that in the restaurant industry in the U.S., 35 percent of general managers were engaged in their work, as compared to 61 percent of general managers across industries. Keep them interested by offering development – not training – that will help them handle more complex tasks and manage employees from multiple generations. You can also offer some flexibility – and that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours but it might mean allowing a person a couple of hours to catch his child’s baseball games each week. Brands are succeeding with other retention strategies too: Chick-fil-a employee retention remains high due, in part, to its policy that keeps stores closed on Sundays, giving employees a built-in day off. Others have shown they’re invested in the community. MOD Pizza, for example, has a history of hiring people with backgrounds of incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and mental disability, then paying a higher wage and offering benefits such as a 401(k) – a stance that has kept employees engaged and turnover low while appealing to guests too.
Self-service kiosks remain an important vehicle for reaching and understanding consumers. Research from Tillster found that more than 65 percent of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if it used self-service kiosks and 30 percent said they prefer to order via a kiosk instead of a cashier if the lines were of equal length. While kiosks have helped restaurant operators save on labor costs, watch for much more to come from them. As the CEO of the kiosk company TRAY told AgFunder, the value of kiosks in the years ahead will be more about taking customer personalization (and therefore service) to the next level. With a swipe of a credit card, a consumer will be able to pull up a personalized menu based on what is popular at the restaurant and what meals he has ordered at other restaurants.
Across the restaurant industry right now, profits range from 0 to 15 percent, according to Toast, and profits between 3 and 5 percent are most common. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for making errors or adapting to industry changes such as the rising demand for off-premise dining. Operators have to be continuously creative when it comes to finding and mining sources of revenue, whether from new products, services or partnerships. (Note the current fervor around restaurant brands partnering with Beyond Meat, with Subway and Hardee’s being just two of the latest companies to tap into the meat substitute’s popularity.) Restaurant Nuts suggests operators consider options such as joint ventures – for example, partnerships with grocery stores to sell your products can help you promote a special offering while lowering your sales and marketing expenses. Or, as All Food Business suggests, you can partner with a corporation to offer expense accounts, business dinners, client programs or events that can generate income. You can align with a business or charity whose mission complements yours if it helps you to expand your audience, offer a special event you wouldn’t be able to offer on your own, or tap into resources (such as technology or delivery capabilities) that benefit both parties. Within your business, building out a catering menu can help you make the most of your food costs (and minimize waste) while serving lucrative off-premise and corporate customers. Depending on your business, there may also be opportunity to offer retail products like clothing or take-home versions of signature sauces that your restaurant is known for.
Want to win over customers? It’s not about having mouth-watering new specials or transforming your marketing strategy. It’s all about your operations. (At least that seems to be the trend based on recent performance results of a number of major brands.) As reported in Restaurant Business, brands including Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s have prioritized operational changes over menu innovation in recent months. Wendy’s has focused on eliminating tasks and training employees to improve speed of service. McDonald’s continues to experiment with automation and has held competitions to find ways to serve guests faster. Dunkin’ has streamlined its menu and changed the layout of stores to improve flow of operations. As for Starbucks, third-quarter same-store sales increased 7 percent and store traffic increased 3 percent, due to what the company says is its focus on simplification – reducing the tasks that need to be completed in-house and shifting employees’ focus to guests. How can you simplify your operation – both with and without technology – to deliver better service?
Having a sustainable seafood strategy is becoming even more important: Mercury levels are increasing in some of the most popular fish in the American diet, according to a new study out of Harvard and published in the journal Nature. The research found that from the 1970s through the 2000s, methylmercury levels in Atlantic cod climbed 23 percent as a result of overfishing. The model used in the research also predicted mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna would increase 56 percent between 1969 and the present as a result of higher seawater temperatures. Because overfishing and changing seawater temperatures are causing fish to alter their diets – often to include fish that are higher or lower in mercury content -- people who distribute and serve fish need to understand how environmental factors are impacting the food chain. (E.g. As Healthline notes, Atlantic cod had high levels of mercury until their main food source, herring, were overfished. Then as herring returned, mercury levels in cod increased again.) If you or your guests feel strongly about having tuna and cod on the menu, use suppliers that lobby for tighter regulations on fishing and make efforts to stop climate change and reduce pollution.
Your point-of-sale system is the nerve center of your business – and now, depending on which system you use, it might help you aggregate third-party delivery orders with other restaurants. The restaurant tech company Ordermark, which offers a hardware and software package that funnels third-party delivery orders onto one dashboard, recently announced a partnership with Omnivore, which integrates POS systems. As a result, a restaurant using a POS system such as Oracle Micros, POSitouch, Brink, Dinerware, among others, can now aggregate orders with third-party delivery companies. The companies say the move will “address more than 85 percent of venues in North America to bring every delivery service to restaurants in any zip code, to cost-effectively add revenue and marketing reach to their online presence.”
If you feel like the rising costs of ingredients, labor and transport give you no choice but to raise prices at your restaurant, you might take comfort in knowing that across the country, brands are following through and raising prices -- and customers (so far) aren’t blinking. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, Chipotle, which raised prices last year, experienced a 10 percent rise in sales largely as a result of bigger orders. Mondelez and McDonald’s have been experiencing similar results after boosting prices. While talk of a recession looms, U.S. consumer confidence is still at near-record highs since the recession, according to the Conference Board. If you need to raise prices in the coming months, find ways to make consumers feel it’s worth their while to pay you a visit. Link your price increases to discounts and other promotions, particularly for your most loyal guests. As Psychology Today reports, those deals tend lead to greater overall spending – an item regularly sold at a stable, discounted price will seem more valuable and worthwhile when the price is raised and a generous coupon is offered to offset it. Be strategic about the promotions you offer. As Toast advises, for a promotion to be most successful for your business, you should take time to understand your target customers and tailor promotions to what motivates them; address the business operational challenges you face (and which your point-of-sale system – not your gut -- will best help you identify); tap into local media, which can broaden awareness and interest well beyond the time frame of your promotion; and know your margins so you can bundle items that will lead guests to try higher-margin items on your menu (i.e. offering free fries with every milkshake purchase is better than simply giving away fries).
Long a trend setter in the delivery space, Domino’s is now going national with its use of e-bikes to boost delivery efficiency, according to a QSR Magazine report. The brand, which announced a partnership with e-bike company Rad Power Bikes recently, had been testing electric bikes in markets including Miami, New York and Houston and saw improvements in delivery and service as a result. As third-party aggregators vie for restaurant delivery customers, Domino’s has sustained its use of an in-house delivery team. While that can be a financially beneficial move for a large brand, the introduction of delivery via the Rad Power e-bikes, which have integrated motors that assist with pedaling up to speeds of 20 miles per hour, may enhance that efficiency further. Domino’s reports that there have been labor benefits from being able to hire candidates who don’t have a driver’s license but can use a bike, as well as team satisfaction benefits from workers who had been delivering via bike and can now get an extra boost when pedaling up hills with the help of a motor.
Did you know that one of the most common reasons restaurant employees leave a position is lack of training? According to research from Cake, for 62 percent of restaurant workers, not getting proper on-the-job guidance can influence their decision to move on. A recent survey of 2,000 restaurant employees by the scheduling software program 7shifts also found that 50 percent of respondents rated training as a 4 out of 5 on the scale of how impactful the factor was for restaurant employees on the job. Even if your staff does not feel that they need training, your training program is a sure-fire way to build their engagement and investment in your business. As Toast suggests, the first day of a new worker’s job is prime time to impart your restaurant’s values and demonstrate you care about the person’s role in the business, which helps build a person’s pride in (and dedication to) their work. If you devote 30 minutes at the start of the person’s shift to conduct training, you’ll set yourself apart from most restaurants. As you train the person in various responsibilities of the job, first explain why a task should be done in a certain way, explain how to complete the task, demonstrate the task, do the task together, and finally have the person complete the task alone to demonstrate his understanding of it. Provide a handbook of items that can be referenced later, like manager contact information and locations of cleaning supplies. Finally, appoint a mentor or point person who can answer questions that arise in the new employee’s first days and weeks on the job. It will build engagement for both employees and prevent the new person from making assumptions that could negatively impact your service to guests.
If you can raise your restaurant’s Yelp score by one star, it can lead to a revenue boost between 5 and 9 percent, according to a Harvard Business School study. At a time when reviews have that kind of power, it’s critical to stay on top if them. But when reviews can appear anywhere from Yelp to Google to Facebook to TripAdvisor and beyond, tracking and responding to all of your reviews can become a full-time job. Review management software platforms such as Yext can help operators centralize reviews from multiple platforms. As AdAge reported recently, operators using such systems can quickly identify (and fix) problems at a location and also respond quickly to reviews, which can influence how consumers feel about your brand.
Does your kitchen team use gloves when preparing and serving food? They can give people a false sense of security when it comes to cleanliness, so make sure your employees follow the proper steps when wearing them. As Statefoodsafety.com says, gloves are not magic – they can become contaminated just like hands can – and they are never a substitute for hand washing. Change gloves every four hours (at least), after returning from a break and when moving to a new task. Wash hands before donning a new pair.
Consumers with food allergies are a loyal group. If you strive to improve your restaurant’s allergy awareness, you might take note of some of the restaurant brands around the country that consumers have recognized for their allergy safety practices. AllergyEats, which bills itself as a destination where people who have food allergies or intolerances can find restaurants to accommodate them, recently compiled a list of the top-10 allergy-friendly restaurant chains based on consumer rankings. The list included such large chains as Maggiano’s, Chipotle, Longhorn Steakhouse, In-N-Out Burger and Bertucci’s, as well as smaller chains including Burtons Grill, Flatbread Company, Clyde’s Restaurant Group, 110 Grill and Weber Grill.
Does your breakfast menu need a new creative twist? Try to boost your breakfast options with on-trend savory flavors. Restaurant Business reports that combinations such as bean-topped grain bowls are on the rise this year, along with such global dishes as shakshuka and chilaquiles. On the side, consider offering new varieties of sausage with seasonings ranging from Cajun to jalapeño.
As consumers have demanded packaging that’s friendlier to the environment, operators have quickly replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and plastic containers with packaging containing natural materials. But as an investigation by the New Food Economy found recently, the fiber bowls that are widely used in place of plastic contain chemicals known as PFAS that don’t biodegrade and aren’t really compostable, despite being labeled as such. On the contrary, they may actually be making compost more toxic. San Francisco is the first city to ban the bowls, effective in January, and to date, there are no known commercially viable alternatives according to the report. In the meantime, Eater reports that after McDonald’s in the U.K. and Ireland phased out plastic straws in favor of recyclable paper ones that generated customer complaints, the brand introduced a thicker paper straw to replace the first solution. But new reports indicate it is non-recyclable. So what is a restaurant brand to do to become more eco-friendly? Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to first understand the terminology. The term “biodegradable,” for example, sounds eco-friendly but is only indicative of a product that will decompose – and that could take several hundred years. Working with organizations that research and certify environmentally friendly options can help too. Modern Restaurant Management suggests Green Seal, an environmental standard development organization that tests and certifies products, services and venues like restaurants and hotels, then awards certification based on performance, health and sustainability criteria.
If you’re on the fence about offering tabletop technology at your restaurant, consider this: tabletop tech can improve sales by 1 percent per check and reduce meal duration by 10 percent, increasing sales per minute by 11 percent. That’s according to soon-to-be-published research from the business schools at Southern Methodist University and the University of Pennsylvania that studied 2.6 million transactions at a U.S. restaurant chain with 66 locations. The lead researchers of the study said the technology can help operators compensate for shortfalls in their ability to offer excellent table service, as well as give operators a financial leg up on competition.
Do you have a thorough crisis management plan? How much confidence do you have in it? At a time when a single bad experience at a restaurant can spread online overnight, having a step-by-step guide in place can help you respond better in the moment, keep the issue out of the public eye and get back on track more quickly whether you face a severe crisis like a hurricane causing flood damage or a small one like a scathing review on TripAdvisor. To help, first gather input from your team at all levels so you have a handle on the range of scenarios you might face, what actions would be required to resolve them and which stakeholders are likely to be impacted. Draft some simple, clear talking points that can be adapted to each scenario and present you as both in control of the situation and interested in doing all you can to improve it and keep stakeholders informed. Develop a communication grid that includes those key points, the person responsible for delivering the message, and the ideal communication channel for the message. For larger crises that are likely going to end up gathering momentum online, consider proactively reaching out to someone you trust in the media and providing an interview. After the fact, assess what went well with your crisis management effort and what could have been improved so you can update your plan with new risks, stakeholders or talking points to keep in mind. View some additional crisis management plan guidelines and find sample templates here.
Looking to evolve your methods of collecting guest feedback? Artificial intelligence has been creeping into this space and helping restaurant operators and other businesses assemble reliable data from guests. Chatter is one company to watch. As the Financial Post reports, Chatter has created a tool that uses machine learning to create natural-sounding text messages from the brand. A guest who opts in receives an automated text message with some open-ended questions about the experience they just had. As Chatter puts it, it’s like having a constantly running focus group that depends on conversation instead of a numbered ratings system. Chatter says its platform collects feedback across 850 different categories – more than the 50 to 60 that traditional AI platforms offer – and then assembles completed results into data that can be viewed on a dashboard that helps operators see what is and isn’t working. Chatter won accolades from the Information Technology Association of Canada last year and its AI chatbot is already in use by the likes of McDonald’s and a number of retail brands.
Hepatitis A has reached outbreak status across the U.S., with new cases ranging from Florida to Washington state, Food Safety News reports. The Centers for Disease Control say the liver disease can spread most easily through the ingestion of food that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person, as well as through uncooked (or not thoroughly cooked) food that has been contaminated. Many of the restaurants where the disease has been present have closed temporarily for employee vaccination clinics, but the best way to prevent the spread of the disease from the start is through – surprise – thorough and frequent handwashing, as well as by ensuring employees don’t work when they are ill. Be aware of such symptoms as jaundice, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, low appetite and fever.
When a food delivery order leaves your restaurant, how confident are you about being able to keep that food safe en route to your customers? A new survey found that nearly 30 percent of food delivery app workers sample food they are delivering – and even more than that are tempted to try. To alert customers that someone has tampered with their food, operators are increasingly using tamper-evident labels. A QSR Magazine report advises using ones that will adhere to the full range of your packaging materials and also have security slits that tear if someone tampers with the label. These labels are a good place to market your food safety values, so they’re also a good place to feature your company logo, website or other identifying information.
The complimentary bread-and-butter basket has become a relic from the past at many restaurants around the country, but according to recent menu trends research in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by Flavor & the Menu, that’s just leaving space for bread to occupy a more important place on the menu. The report says some restaurants are elevating bread by focusing on creating small-batch varieties of butter – with such flavors as olive and lemon, bacon fat and malt to make the bread more special – while others are raising their bread game with homemade biscuits, cornbread and grilled focaccia. The showstopper in the trends research was a bread sharing platter at Chicago’s Tied House, where a bread course including locally made breads and a range of housemade spreads such as miso butter, crème fraiche with honeycomb, green tomato marmalade and chicken liver mousse sells for a cool $32.
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