Cold winter weather means pests are looking for shelter in warm places that offer food — like your kitchen. Even if you’re careful to clean appliances, counters and other food preparation surfaces, it can be easy to neglect the crevices underneath tabletop equipment like mixers or griddles. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to either seal those items to the table or raise them four inches to allow for easy cleaning — and make them less appealing to pests looking for cover.
Restaurants, an employer of choice for many teenagers, can also be risky for these workers. That’s according to the latest annual report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health about teen worker safety. It reported that almost half of teen workers in Massachusetts who were injured on the job between 2011 and 2015 said they did not receive health and safety training from their employers. What’s more, the accommodation and foodservice industries were the top industries for work-related injuries. Restaurants, specifically, were the most common workplaces (at 22 percent) where these workers experienced concussions. What does your operation do to help ensure the health and safety of its workers?
There is actually a tech trend poised for more substantial growth in the restaurant industry than the powerful mobile app. Gartner forecasts that more than 50 percent of businesses will spend more money on bots and chatbot creation in the next two years. Big Hospitality predicts that this efficiency-boosting technology will soon be an expectation for tech-savvy restaurant guests. Automated kitchen display systems that integrate with a restaurant’s electronic point-of-sale system, one application of the technology, can streamline kitchen processes, reduce waste, and help operators spot business trends more quickly. To consumers, that integration translates to a better experience. When investing in tech this year, avoid one-trick ponies and opt for tech tools that seamlessly connect different parts of your operation.
If your foodservice operation is like most others, it has its fast-paced, all-hands-on-deck days and its slower-traffic days. Your busiest times are an opportunity for you to make up for (and more easily weather) the shortfall that can happen on the slow days. But that’s only if you forecast your sales and staff efficiently. To make sure you’re on track to maximize the opportunity of your high-traffic days, restaurant consultant David Scott Peters advises you to rank your days from busiest to slowest. Analyze your sales history for each of those days and then make staffing and ordering decisions for the following week based on those numbers. Going with your gut — say, assuming Friday and Saturday are your busiest nights when you actually bring in more sales during the Thursday happy hour — can result in under-ordering ingredients, increasing ticket times and delivering poorer service (whether you’re a full-service or quick-service operation) because you have miscalculated your inventory and staffing needs. During your busiest days, your operation should be at peak efficiency, with lower labor costs and well-managed food costs that your sales figures can best help you predict. Is that true for your business? Operating at peak efficiency on those days has the added benefit of giving you some freedom to experiment on other days — with new menu items, promotions or events that can help your business grow.
Technology is making it increasingly possible for consumers to personalize their nutrition and gain insight into how their bodies process foods so they can design their meals accordingly. In the coming months and years, restaurants will be pushed to understand and be transparent about the dishes they’re serving because consumers will have the power to dissect them ingredient by ingredient. Tech Republic reports that a number of universities and tech firms are developing digital tools that help consumers study the quality and nutrition of what they ingest. These tools include swallowable sensors that monitor gut health and nutrients, tooth sensors that monitor glucose and alcohol levels, and eating utensils with the built-in capability of assessing the freshness of the oil used to cook a food as well as a food’s nutrient content.
It’s pretty difficult to eliminate plastic from a restaurant, but you can go further than ridding your business of plastic straws — and it will say a lot to your guests about your values. If you’re looking for a place to start, QSR Magazine suggests you first conduct an audit of your waste. Assess which items are piling up over a period of time — e.g. packaging from suppliers, disposable coffee cup lids, plastic utensils, single-use bottles. Then engage your team in brainstorming ways you can reduce, reuse or recycle your biggest waste generators. Can you eliminate your single-use plastic? How can you swap out disposable containers for ones that are either made from more eco-friendly materials or can be cleaned and used repeatedly? If you discard many types of plastic, is your team aware of how to separate those items to avoid contaminating them during recycling? The Plastic Pollution Coalition can provide tips and guidance to help your restaurant improve its practices. If you need an example to inspire you to take the next step, The Coup in Calgary, Canada is one model. Green Matters reports that the environmentally conscious efforts of its co-owners are woven through the entire operation: They replant trees through Tree Canada to offset their paper waste, recycle and compost everything possible, use BPA- and phenol-free-vitamin-C transfer paper for receipts, use metal and compostable straws, purchase with minimal packaging, and even decorate with repurposed or refinished furniture, countertops and decking.
See the future of your food supply with one scan
Wouldn’t it be nice if when you accepted a shipment of produce from a supplier, you would know if it was about to go bad? Or, in the wake of a foodborne illness outbreak, you could be certain your newly arrived produce wasn’t contaminated? That capability is becoming routine for some food companies and has the potential to give foodservice operations greater confidence in their food supply and a better handle on their food waste. Venture Beat reports that ImpactVision, a firm backed by logistics companies including Maersk, is currently using machine learning and hyperspectral imaging to assess the quality of food in factories and elsewhere. The company’s cameras and software can determine the freshness of a food and its expected shelf life, as well as detect any contamination — all without damaging the food in the process.
You know the importance of handwashing. But as restaurants become increasingly reliant on tablets and other mobile devices to manage everything from inventory to delivery orders, an employee’s hands are only as clean as the device he is using. If your team uses technology (and related mobile devices and touch screens) to process orders and payments and manage other day-to-day operations, it’s critical to have a clear protocol for cleaning and handling those items. They’re not
designed to be cleaned easily and they’re prime carriers of bacteria that could spread contamination.
The temperature of your ice machine is well within the safety zone but it’s still a source of contamination when not cleaned and managed carefully. In addition to the machine and the ice itself, pay attention to the area surrounding your machine to minimize risks. Food Safety Magazine advises operators to keep the doors to your ice storage machine closed except when they are in use. Remove any equipment or other items from the exterior of the machine. If you’re able to limit access to the machine, that can help too. Keep ice scoops in an uncovered stainless steel, plastic or fiberglass tray when not in use, and ensure they don’t come into contact with surfaces like door handles, service carts and non-food contact surfaces.
As consumers look to eat healthier meals, snacks and appetizers in the New Year, many operators are accommodating those preferences in desserts as well. Is there room on your dessert menu to weave in more superfoods, gluten- and dairy-free options and other diet-conscious ingredients? Nation’s Restaurant News reports that New York City’s Hu Kitchen, for one, offers a Mashbar where guests can create their own healthier concoctions or order ones such as the Taro Trouble No-Yo, which includes grain-free granola, taro pudding, organic seasonal berries, mango and organic puffed quinoa. Alternatively, if you have a signature entrée or appetizer, try to reinvent it for your dessert menu and give it a healthier spin.
How much of a challenge is it for you to retain employees? Restaurant Insider reports that 42 percent of front-of-house employees leave within the first three months of employment and 43 percent of managers leave within the first year. While you can pour money into educational opportunities designed to retain your hires, don’t overlook some less-expensive strategies that can help you in the coming months. First, Employee Benefit News advises operators to pay attention to onboarding: Research from the Brandon Hall Group found that a well-thought-out onboarding process can boost retention by 82 percent and productivity by more than 70 percent. (Need help making that transition as smooth as possible? Consider tapping a firm like Talent Reef for assistance.) Another helpful step operators can take is to crowdsource scheduling. Workjam research found that 60 percent of hourly workers said the most difficult aspect of their job hunt was finding a position that matched their availability. It can help to allow employees to use your technology platform to swap shifts with each other (without your involvement) so they can more easily balance work with other priorities. Next, infuse some meaning into their work and show that you care about your team: Volunteer as a group to support an important cause, or engage them in efforts to improve anything from your customer service to your recycling program. Finally, Employee Benefit News advises operators to modernize their payroll. Research from the Centre for Generational Kinetics found that the majority of millennial and Gen Z workers would prefer to be paid daily or weekly, so if you’re still using a two-week cycle, making a change could increase your appeal as an employer.
Vintage tech reinvented for restaurants
Front-of-house technology isn’t limited to ordering, payment and feedback anymore. Big Hospitality reports that old-school devices like pagers are getting a modern makeover designed to enhance restaurant service. CST’s EasyCall system, for example, allows restaurants to secure micro call buttons to restaurant walls or tables. When paired with wireless pagers carried by servers, guests can summon those servers anywhere in a restaurant. There is also a back-of-house version that alerts servers when an order is ready. If three pages go unanswered, a manager receives an automatic alert to keep food moving
As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
If your guests are game to load funds onto a digital wallet or prepaid gift card in exchange for a special offer, you can help cut back on the fees you have to pay to support credit card transactions. While retailers are charged a fee by credit card companies each time a customer pays with a credit card, Skift Table reports that many of those retailers are bypassing the fees by joining the lower-cost Automated Clearing House network, which was set up decades ago by U.S. banks to facilitate the exchange of money between banks. Other companies, like Starbucks, are encouraging customers to load funds onto a prepaid gift card — a setup that means Starbucks only pays a swipe fee when a customer loads funds onto the cards, not each time she buys a latte. Still others are joining networks (LevelUp is one) that help businesses band together and use their combined scale to negotiate more
How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
Launching a loyalty app? Walk your talk.
Having a loyalty app is a great way to build a strong following — if you don’t look at it as a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of tool. As Cake suggests, having a loyalty app can go far in helping you connect with your audience — especially Millennials and Gen Z, who are apt to spread the word about you on social media. But on the flip side, those guests also have high expectations of your transparency. If you’re targeting this population with your app, be willing to share details about how your food is made, where it comes from and how you manage your business (or at least be ready for questions about it). Having an app is a strong upselling tool, helping you to build check totals by suggesting menu items that may not have been front-of-mind for customers. Just be sure to focus on your guests’ preferences and frequency of visits, as visibly focusing on check tallies (and tying rewards to dollars spent) can be a turnoff. Finally, having a loyalty app can be a data goldmine — but you need to have the foundational technology in place to funnel that data into insights that feed your broader marketing strategy.
The New Year is a good time to get your restaurant’s financial affairs in order. As you look to gain greater control over your food costs, the formula you use needs to flex to suit your restaurant category and priorities. Does yours? You could start by calculating the cost of every dish on your menu, but you’ll likely get a more accurate cost of a dish against the overall cost of running your business if you use a target based on your cost of goods sold (COGS). Depending on the type of restaurant you run, that COGS will vary. While food costs tend to fall between 28 and 30 percent of total food sales, they skew higher for full-service restaurants, which sell higher-margin alcohol and include a premium for table service, according to the accountancy and business advisory network Baker Tilly. Orderly suggests several ideal COGS targets based on different restaurant profiles. Full-service restaurants should aim for a COGS in the low-to-mid 30s and may find room to trim costs if they manage their bar costs closely and also monitor market prices of fresh, local produce. Bakeries, on the other end of the spectrum, should have a COGS in the low 20s or below — the same goes for pizza restaurants. The challenge in these restaurants is managing food waste and playing close attention to inventory so you’re not over-ordering or buying ingredients at premium prices. Pizza restaurants have the added challenge of watching market prices of fresh ingredients but can manage that with lower labor costs and the addition of higher-margin items to the menu. Ethnic restaurants should target a COGS in the high 20s. While they benefit from less-expensive ingredients like noodles, pasta and rice, they may need to rely on more specialized suppliers of sauces and spices — that’s where they’re more likely to see costs spike. In general, the more specialty offerings you have, such as premium cuts of meat or hard-to-find toppings or other ingredients, the higher your COGS will rise. That’s okay — it’s just important to look for ways to balance those costs with careful inventory and supplier management, menu innovation (especially at the bar) and labor cost management. (Need help? Team Four can advise you in these areas.)
Go with your gut
As medical research continues to point to digestive health as the foundation for a person’s overall health, both nutrition consultancies and food distributors have identified “gut-healthy foods” as a top food trend for 2019. Food Business News reports that probiotics are finding their way into products such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters and soups. The good news is that it’s easy for restaurants to accommodate the trend. To give your menu a probiotic boost, incorporate cultured or fermented foods like buttermilk, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and yogurt. For prebiotic fiber, try bananas as well as asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions.
Employee morale need a boost? The New Year is a good time to retool your management approach and set a motivating tone for the months ahead. The one-on-one meeting is an ideal place to have a back-and-forth about challenges, opportunities for the employee and the learning behind the feedback they’ve (hopefully) been receiving. Feedback about behavior that needs to be changed is better delivered on the spot, soon after it happens, while status updates are best shared in daily team huddles and scorecards posted in the restaurant. The restaurant consultant Mike Ganino shared this 25-minute framework with QSR for more effective one-on-ones: First, review action items from the previous week and catch up on personal life (7 minutes), then have employee set the agenda and share items to review and problem-solve together (15 minutes). Next, recognize good work/share important company news (3 minutes), and wrap up by reviewing commitments (yours and theirs), accountabilities and action items (5 minutes). You or the employee should post notes on those items in your digital meeting invitation or in another shared document you both use to track progress. If you find that the content of your meeting could have been delivered via email, it’s likely that your one-on-one needs some adjustment. Amid busy schedules, these meetings can be easy to overlook but, done well, they go far in helping you impart values, identify what drives an employee, and build engagement and trust.
Is your POS up to the challenge?
If you’re fine-tuning your technology in 2019, your point-of-sale-system — the nerve center of your business — is a natural place to start. Here are five areas you want to make sure it can manage, according to The Restaurant Technology Guys: It needs a customer relationship management and loyalty program so you can manage email campaigns, personalize offers and promotions, (which all have the potential to increase customer spending by up to 41 percent). Next, it needs to help you manage your staff rotations so you can track attendance and productivity, as well as keep staff informed. Third, your system should help you manage your inventory so you are alerted when you need to reorder an item. Finally, you need a system with reporting options that allow for customization and file exporting so you can monitor trends in relation to your goals — having the option for remote access can help you make business decisions more quickly too.
You know the importance of cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces — especially when preparing different raw meats. But if you’re also aware of the cooking temperatures of various proteins, you can save some time on cooking and sanitizing by preparing items in an order that doesn’t require extra precaution. For example, as StateFoodSafety.com reports, it’s not required to
clean and sanitize if you are switching to a food that has a higher cooking temperature — such as starting with ground beef, pork, veal or lamb (which is ready at 160˚F) and then moving on to turkey or chicken (which is done at 165˚F).
There is a new reason to source your protein from farmers that don’t feed their animals routine antibiotics. The bank HSBC recently issued a report predicting that the use of antibiotics in meat production could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, making antibiotic resistance a more common cause of death than cancer. The report indicated that more than half of the world’s antibiotics are currently used in agriculture, with the U.S. using antibiotics in 70 percent of its agricultural products and China using them in 60 percent of its agricultural products.
A new study published in the journal Public Health reports that a restaurant’s costs resulting from a foodborne illness outbreak can range from $4,000 (for a single outbreak in which five people get sick) to nearly $2 million (for a single outbreak in which 250 people get sick and there are lawsuits, legal fees and fines). The best preparation, according to the research? Two actions have the biggest potential payoff: Invest in infection prevention and control measures, like the National Restaurant Association’s training program ($15 per employee for the online course), which focuses on food safety, cross-contamination, time and temperature, and cleaning and sanitation. Also, allow enough time for an employee to recover from an illness before returning to work — the cost of a week off of work, which the study indicates can range from $78 to $3,451 depending on the person’s wages and length of illness, are still small when compared to the potential cost of a foodborne illness outbreak.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
About Food For Thought and Profit
Food For Thought And Profit is brought to you by Team Four Foodservice/Value 4. We offer the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.