Elevate your wine list
Warmer weather makes the idea of alfresco dining over a glass (or three) of wine all the more appealing. Does your wine list bring out the best in your food, as well as boost your bottom line? To get your wine list right, Foodable recommends you consider several factors: Create the perfect marriage between food and drink by having your chef and wine director partner to identify the best tastes to bring out the flavors in your menu, with the understanding that the public may need your guidance in selecting the best pairings. Make your list easily understood – group by color, grape variety, country/region and style, for example, while providing extra notations to identify any special attributes of the wine. Next, consider your brand and make sure your wine list conveys the same message and offers a selection in line with what your clientele expect (a farm-to-table establishment would likely focus less on international selections than on wines produced in the region). Your by-the-glass wines should be exclusive to you and not the same ones offered by your neighbourhood competition. When pricing your list, make your prices fair and customer-friendly but not necessarily even across the board: for example, while a markup of between 200 and 300 percent is fairly standard, consider marking up more expensive wines at a lower margin while increasing the margins on your bottles priced between $10 and $20 and your selections offered by the glass. These rules even hold true if you’re a fast-casual establishment. In those cases, choose a handful of options with enough variety to complement your menu and consider offering them on tap so you can deliver a carafe or glass in short order.
What’s your pre-fall awareness?
Slips, trips and falls are the most common injury to foodservice workers – and they can result in substantial financial losses and labor challenges. To minimize these accidents, review your cleaning procedures, equipment maintenance protocol, employee training and footwear to anticipate hazards. In a recent report in EHS Today, Jeff Nelken, a food safety expert and trainer, said he works with clients to create “pre-fall awareness.” You can do the same by asking yourself what accidents or near-accidents you have experienced this year. What led to them? Spilled food or water, condensation, grease, fast-moving workers, improperly maintained floor mats, hot plates and appliances can all play a role in causing accidents if you don’t take precautions. Keep floors clean and dry. Mop up spills right after they occur. Look for cleaning agents with ingredients that both clean the floor and give it traction – Trader Joe’s uses one such cleaning agent in stores. Much like other fields requiring specialized footwear, hospitality work requires footwear that is slip-resistant and offers protection in case of contact with hot liquids or kitchen tools. When helping clients identify potential hazards, Nelken focuses on 10 areas: the surface composition of floors and how they respond when wet, dry or soiled; foreign substances on floors and the best methods for removing them without making the problem worse; surface conditions of floors, including raised edges or loose carpeting; surface changes, such as a floor that changes from carpet to tile; level changes; obstructions including cords or signs; visibility challenges due to lighting or color contrasts; human factors such as physical abilities; stairs; and unusual features that could distract a walker, including loud noises or flashing lights.
Snap up new followers
Snapchat hits a sweet spot for many restaurants: 71 percent of its users are younger than 34 years old and 30 percent of Millennials in the U.S. are regular users, according to the digital marketing agency Omnicore. If you’re trying to market to those demographics, Social Media Week suggests you try Snapchat to generate buzz around a special event or promotion. Plan a flash sale and send a snap to My Story to alert followers. Promote events using an on-demand geofilter, which allows you pay for an announcement according to a geographic coverage area and time span. Snapchat is a good platform for posting casual videos that connect with your community – try posting a video pop quiz, a behind-the-scenes look at your chef making today’s special, or an answer to a question you regularly hear from guests. If you and a neighboring business would like to reach a similar audience, joining forces on Snapchat can help you gain new followers.
Cooler water may do the job
Hot water and soap are best for washing hands, right? New research from Rutgers University that was published in the Journal of Food Protection calls that belief into question. Medical News Today says the study, which examined the effects of hot- and cold-water handwashing, along with factors like soap volume, lather time and handwashing efficacy, found that water temperature did not have a significant impact on reducing bacteria. Whether the person washing hands did so with water at 38˚C or 16˚C did not matter, as long as the person was comfortable with the temperature. The findings, if they lead to a policy change, could result in an energy savings for restaurants since cold water requires less energy than warm or hot water.
Seven steps to minimize food risks
To prepare and store food safely, even small foodservice operations need procedures based on HACCP – hazard analysis and critical control point principles – to identify and control food safety hazards including microbiological, chemical and physical risks. The Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends you remember these principles when setting your strategy: Conduct a hazard analysis to uncover risks. At every step along the way to the occurrence of a hazard, identify critical control points. Set the critical limits that you must meet to make food safe – from cooking temperature to cooling guidelines and storage temperature. Determine monitoring procedures to ensure you keep food safe at each step. If and when you deviate from the critical limits you have set, determine your corrective actions required to prevent a health hazard. Set procedures to ensure your corrective actions are working as intended and document your actions so you have evidence to present to hygiene inspectors that proves you have taken necessary precautions.
Be equipment wise
When it comes to your kitchen equipment, do you have the right tools of the trade? Before you make a purchase, Foodable recommends you consider these areas: First, review your budget and menu to identify the most critical pieces of equipment you need to deliver a quality menu. That will help you decide if you need a premium piece of equipment or can get by with a refurbished item. Next, are these items as green as they could be? As your utility costs will likely rise, investing in equipment whose energy output can be readily controlled will minimize your future costs. Your supplier should offer a range of items within the same category so you can easily identify the pros and cons. If not, shop around. Finally, consider the future growth of your menu before you make a purchase to ensure the items you buy can accommodate changes in scale. If you use a lot of fresh ingredients, ensure your equipment meets your needs for storage and refrigeration.
Create a collaborative community
Building your business is all about creating community, online and offline. And like the famous movie line states, “If you build it, they will come.” (Assuming you deliver quality food and service once they arrive, of course.) To develop a supportive community, Social Media Week recommends you produce personalized content of high quality – engage your community by starting a conversation, entertaining them or sharing a piece of information. Post consistently so your followers know you haven’t disappeared and follow through on what you say you will do. Prove your authenticity and show you care by responding to comments, both positive and negative. When things go wrong, politely show you’re trying to make them right. If someone shares your content, give them a mention. Above all, listen more than you speak – you’ll make a bigger impact on your clientele if you show you are absorbing what they tell you.
Build a culture of positive customer experiences
Do you have a culture of customer service? It’s not something you can achieve in a one-day training seminar. Justin McGurgin, who has spent 30 years in hospitality and currently runs Zealifi, a company that coaches operators about how to build a culture that provides positive, memorable experiences for guests, spends most of his time working with leaders, not staff. In a podcast on Profitable Hospitality, he said staff are simply a reflection of the leadership they’re getting (or not getting). One-off training seminars are little more than a band-aid fix, motivating your team only as long as your trainer is in the building. So what does McGurgin suggest instead? In year-long training modules he conducts with operators, McGurgin typically spends the full 12 months with the organization’s leaders – junior team members join in for just five months across that time frame. When working with leaders, he focuses on engagement and empowerment. Do you build connections with your team by saying hello when they walk in the door? Scheduling one-on-one meetings with them in addition to group meetings? Acknowledging their accomplishments with a personal note and in group meetings, emails or texts? When something goes wrong, have you empowered staff to handle it, instead of having them come to you for guidance when a customer complains? When you can answer “yes” to those questions, you have the makings of a strong culture. That has important benefits: You’ll be able to attract more stars to your team (and have a better chance of enticing them to stay), you’ll have a team that won’t tolerate weak links (so you won’t be the only one managing quality control) and you’ll have more time to focus on firing up the creativity at the top of your organization, so you can ensure you continue to bring customers through the door.
Where to innovate first? Try your back office.
“Today’s delights are tomorrow’s expectations,” according to the Culinary Institute of America’s Tim Ryan, who spoke at the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference. It’s true of your food, service and technology. If you’re unsure of where to innovate across your operation, automating your back office is a good place to begin, according to Alister & Paine, a magazine for company executives. As the nucleus of your operation, running it smoothly can help you manage your scale and achieve goals with less effort. If you’re comfortably paying vendors by check, for example, the number of checks you need to write each month can escalate quickly (and become a chore) when you invest in marketing, increase your customer volume or hire additional employees. Electronic payments can help you accomplish more tasks more quickly and with less effort. Vendors are increasingly expecting shorter payment terms, so providing payment with the click of a mouse can help you keep valued suppliers and stay a step ahead of competitors. And if your competitors are automating their back office, it will quickly become compulsory – not just nice to have. That said, what works for your competition won’t necessarily work for you. FSR Magazine recommends you audit your operation to identify process improvements you can make to enhance any automation you introduce. That could mean synching different processes or software programs, identifying ways to ensure all invoices are processed correctly, or using a special barcode on invoices if it helps you save money on each invoice. Consider outsourcing your accounts payable if you find your back-office work is taking attention away from providing great food and service. When outsourcing gives you access to a dedicated customer management team that handles your invoices and vendor requests, for example, it can help you gain some visibility and control over your finances while freeing up time for focusing on other parts of your operation.
What’s the next kale?
What is it about kale that made it skyrocket in popularity and become consumers’ favorite superfood? According to Nielsen data, frozen breakfast entrees featuring kale experienced a whopping 391 percent growth in sales between 2016 and 2017. David Sax, who wrote The Tastemakers, said it comes down to three traits: versatility, availability and cultural significance. As Food Dive reports, kale can be eaten raw or cooked, has a long growing season in a range of climates and has become a symbol of health, which in combination made it a must-have on menus and consumers’ dinner tables. The ubiquity of food images and experiences on social media can help foodservice operators predict the next foods and beverages poised for a big break. Food industry analysts say drinking vinegars could be the next big thing to go mainstream. While they’re appearing on menus as kombucha or alcoholic mixers, there’s plenty of room for them to grow.
It is really organic? Buyer beware.
Food labels can mean the difference between winning new customers and losing the ones you have. A recent Washington Post report detailed the story of a 36 million-pound shipment of soybeans that originated in the Ukraine, passed through Turkey, was fumigated with pesticide like regular soybeans, priced like regular soybeans, then labeled “USDA organic” and increased significantly in price upon arrival in the U.S. That shipment, along with two other grain shipments that passed through Turkey and subsequently sparked questions about organic labeling, demonstrate weakness in current U.S. standards determining what commodities are organic. (Approximately half of organic commodities, including corn, soybeans and coffee, come from outside the U.S.) The Post report says although organic food imports from Turkey, China and other countries have invited increased scrutiny, gauging the level of fraud in imported organics is difficult because organic companies have little incentive to announce their suspicions about suppliers.
Swap out the sugar
The message is finally taking hold around the globe: Cut the sugar. Food Quality & Safety reports that sugar sales may grow at their slowest pace this year and next as consumption drops in developed countries. Many such countries have proposed or implemented taxes on sweetened beverages, have banned vending machines in schools and introduced warning labels on high-sugar foods, among other measures. The analyst group Platts Kingsman forecasts sugar consumption to increase just 1 percent, half of the annual growth it has experienced in the past decade. While some countries are accommodating consumers’ cravings for sweet foods by using sugar stand-ins like high-fructose corn syrup, many foodservice operations are reformulating products to decrease the amount of sweeteners overall. Now is the time to consider creative ways to bring sweetness (but not added sugar) to your menu.
Facebook brings (some) restaurants one step closer to customers
Soon, it may not be sufficient to simply have a restaurant page on Facebook – your neighborhood restaurants might be accessible directly from Facebook users’ homepages. Facebook recently made it possible to order food directly from its app menu on the main login page. It allows users to find a restaurant list, review the menu, include a tip and pay for the meal without having to navigate away from their Facebook page. The Next Web reports that on the app menu on the left-hand side of the Facebook home page, a new hamburger icon links to local restaurants that deliver (it currently includes just restaurants using Delivery.com or Slice). While the functionality isn’t universally available yet, look for it to expand and give some restaurants first dibs on hungry customers.
What makes for a professional-looking post? Here’s a cheat sheet.
Social media is a must for any foodservice operation – unfortunately, having a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram or other networks requires you to meet different standards for the photos and logos you post. To help, Louise Myers Visual Social Media, which advises companies about using graphics, photos and other images effectively on social media, provided a cheat sheet to help you navigate the requirements of various sites and the recent updates that could alter what you can post. Visit http://louisem.com/2852/social-media-cheat-sheet-sizes for a handy chart you can reference when posting images to a variety of networks.
Protect against pests this summer
As the weather warms, pests will be all the more tempted to frequent your restaurant, potentially spreading bacteria and damaging your property. (JP Pest Services says rodents harbor and spread more than 2000 human pathogens and termites cause $5 billion in property damage each year.) You can help deter unwelcome guests by taking action inside and outside of your facility. Chris Del Rossi, founder of Food and Drug and the Bug integrated pest management company, spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Quality Assurance Executive Study Group meeting and recommended operators focus on sanitation, structure and storage to prevent pest infestations. Any cracks or crevices between equipment can house pests, so use equipment with lockable wheels and flexible gas and electric lines to help ensure you can clean hard-to-reach places. When storing food, avoid placing anything on the floor or against walls. Installing wire shelves that keep food off of the floor and inches from walls can help you avoid an infestation. Dispose of food waste in trash bags and take it to a dumpster promptly. Make sure your dumpster isn’t dirty, has a lid and isn’t within easy access of your doors or windows. Consider pests when landscaping as well: Ensure plants around your premises don’t touch the ground or the walls of your property and surround your foundation with a strip of gravel, which can deter pests far better than bark mulch. Check the exterior of your property to make sure your pipes, roof, walls and tiles are crack-free and well-sealed.
Ease your restaurant's labor pains
Labor challenges are enough to keep any restaurant operator awake at night, from the rising minimum wage to the struggle for talent in a high-turnover industry. In a recent Toast survey, 46 percent of restaurant operators said their top challenge was hiring, training and retaining staff. So how do you cope? Restaurant Hospitality suggests you consider a range of actions. To help address the pay disparity between front- and back-of-house workers, you could charge administrative fees (say 2-3 percent of the final bill) or raise menu prices to fund a pay increase for those not included in tip pools. That can help ensure that on a busy night, everyone reaps the benefits; just be transparent with guests about what you're trying to achieve with new charges. Consider opening your books to your team -- training everyone from your dishwashers to your cooks about the financials of your business -- and sharing in the profits to encourage everyone to think and behave like an owner of the business. That can also help you identify and limit practices that waste money and time, from unprofitable menu items to an excess in staff. Some operators continue to experiment with service charges or sales commissions, adding a 20 percent surcharge to checks and not expecting tips (though still accepting them) on top of it, or just eliminating tipping altogether by including a hospitality fee if you feel your clientele will pay the increased menu prices to support it.
Who's in charge of social media?
Social media marketing represents a growing percentage of most restaurants' promotional campaigns. But is your social media best kept in the hands of a tech-savvy team member or is it time to hire a firm to manage it for you? Social Media Restaurant says for the majority of operators out there, the answer to that question should be "both." Consider hiring a consultant with industry expertise who can develop a campaign for you that includes the vehicles that make sense based on your brand, goals and clientele. (If you're part of a restaurant group, your consultant can help you ensure you use a consistent voice across locations as well.) Once you have a creative strategy in
place with clear objectives and tasks built into it, someone in-house who knows your customers well should spend some time each day making updates and accomplishing set tasks.
Prevent summertime Salmonella
The warmer months are prime time for the spread of Salmonella, which causes about 1 million foodborne illnesses each year in the United States. It's often found in foods including chicken, vegetables, eggs, fruit, sprouts, beef and pork. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends you remember four key actions to prevent Salmonella. Remember to properly Clean (wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces, though not the poultry, meat and eggs themselves), Separate (set the meat, poultry and seafood apart in the refrigerator and use different cutting boards for those items), Cook (ensure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature and stay at 145 degrees or above after cooking) and Chill (store foods at 40 degrees or colder in general, and refrigerate or freeze perishables and prepared foods within two hours, or within one hour if the room/outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher).
Don't let it go to waste
After labor costs, food costs are the top expenditure for restaurant operators, according to POS Sector. Those costs should range from 28 percent of sales (typical of casual restaurants) to 33 percent at fine-dining restaurants, according to the Wall Street Journal. If they're not, review your menu to ensure your top-selling items are also the most profitable. Chef Klime Kovaceski, who opened the Miami restaurant Crust in 2015 and posted sales of more than $1 million and a pre-tax profit of more than $200,000 for 2016, keeps a close eye on food waste. He recommends using minimal ingredients to keep costs down and reduce the incidence of spoilage -- risotto is a common item on his menu, for example, but herbs and spices lend wide variety to it. He also insists employees show him spoilage before throwing away food so they can determine what went wrong, and enforcing strict standards with suppliers to ensure he always receives fresh product.
Marketing with meaning
Investment in social media marketing is projected to increase by 90 percent in the next five years, according to Salesforce.com. Regardless of your budget size, you’re wise to allocate some resources to it. But how? The CMO Survey, which collects and distributes the opinions of top marketers, suggests that your marketing budget should comprise 5-15 percent of your revenue. Of that, 10-50 percent should be used for digital marketing, to include SEO, pay-per-click, social media and content marketing. The types of social media that marketers use vary widely but the most popular outlets right now are social networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, blogging (or microblogging on Twitter), and sharing video and pictures on sites like YouTube or Instagram. Video, according to the marketers surveyed, is the medium ripe for expansion in the months ahead.
Give tours of your restaurant (before guests even walk through the door)
Posting your menu online is customary. Posting a Google 360-degree virtual tour of your restaurant is less common – but it’s a great way to bring guests to you. Before consumers read your reviews on Yelp on TripAdvisor, they’re searching for you on Google. When you post a virtual tour, you get the chance to impact consumers’ first impressions of you. Social Media Restaurant says the tours appear in Google searches and on Google maps and you can also include them in your digital marketing. (Facebook just introduced a feature that allows you to post a panoramic shot of your restaurant on your business page, for example.) During a recent Restaurant Week in New York City, 55 percent of participating restaurants offered a “Business View” virtual tour – and consistently, diners booked tables at those restaurants more frequently.
Know the right tools to manage food fraud
About 10 percent of the food supply is impacted by food fraud, Food Safety Tech reports. Chances are, many of the foods you serve and use in recipes every day, including coffee, olive oil, orange juice and fish, are among the most vulnerable in the food supply, notes Shield Safety Group. But many food companies aren’t prepared to manage the problem. In a recent Food Safety Tech report, the senior manager of food safety & defense, QRC at the Hershey Company and the manager of food safety & quality assurance at GMA discussed the best tools available to monitor food fraud – consider them when talking with your suppliers about how they are managing and mitigating risks. The USP Food Fraud Database 2.0, for one, contains thousands of fraud records, can be searched by ingredient and offers some automated analytics tools. EMAlert is a predictive model that analyses the vulnerability of ingredients based on weight, which makes it a good platform for sourcing commodities. SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment provides a strong starting point for companies looking to assess their risk by ingredient, product, brand, facility, country or company, and it can be used across the supply chain. The World Factbook of Food contains more than 130 foods and 75 country profiles, which draw from a range of sources to help assess risk. Finally, the Food Adulteration Incidents Registry contains more than 550 incidents of food fraud, providing access to open data records that can support food risk assessments.
Bad reviews? Take the reins
What restaurant operator doesn’t love a great review? A Harvard University study found that an extra star in your online reviews can generate 5 to 9 percent more sales. But in a Foodable report, restaurant coach Donald Burns recommends you consider some facts to keep things in perspective. First off, a whopping 20 percent of reviews are fake, added by unethical businesses that want to improve their ratings, albeit falsely, and take the competition down a peg. (Take heart that sites like Review Skeptic are helping to uncover the fakes, so false reviews may be a declining problem.) Before you take a negative (or even a positive) review to heart, consider whether it’s accurate. If a negative one holds true, use it to improve. Make sure you have established clear standards and core values that your team lives and breathes, and that you’re taking steps every day to train and develop them. Are there trouble spots on your menu? Does your customer service need polish? Remember that your response to a negative review can build or bust your credibility with readers. If a review is negative, apologize without making excuses and, within 24 hours, ask for a chance to win them back. Before posting a response, compose a draft in a different application and ask a trusted person to read it to ensure it comes off professionally. If it doesn’t, you’ll have a bigger problem on your hands when your words are shared around the Internet within minutes of your response.
Protect against poultry risk
If you host young children in your restaurant, pay special attention to food safety: Kids under age four are five times more likely than adults to contract bacterial infections from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control. FightBAC.org recommends you pay close attention to chicken, often a go-to option for children’s menus, though a risky one: A recent report from the CDC linked chicken to 23 foodborne illness outbreaks and said it was the food category responsible for the second-largest number of foodborne illnesses. A single drop of raw poultry juice can contain enough Campylobacter to cause illness. Remember to emphasize proper food handling in your kitchen – handwashing before and after handling poultry, storing it on a low shelf to prevent cross-contamination, thawing it at or below 40˚F instead of washing it (that can spread bacteria around the kitchen), and cooking it to 165˚F to kill harmful bacteria.
Experience the halo effect
You don’t have to have a fat marketing budget to make a big splash on social media. Look at Halo Top ice cream, a small business that now competes with giants in the category, thanks in part to its online marketing strategy. Food Dive reports that the company claims it has never paid for a social media post and only recently began paying for any brand advertising at all. However, the company’s success in producing packaging, photos and other highly shareable content has resulted in the hashtag #HaloTop being used 100,000 times and the company’s account attracting about 400,000 followers. The company sold nearly 17 million pints of its high-protein, low-calorie ice cream last year, boosting sales by 2,500 percent.
More tech, higher sales
Technology is making it increasingly easier for restaurants to upsell consumers. An Associated Press report that assessed the business results of a number of national restaurant brands confirmed that people tend to order more when they order digitally, whether online, on a tablet or via a mobile app. Certainly, a consumer who can readily spend with a credit card instead of cash (which comes with the territory when tech is used for ordering) will spend more anyway – 12 to 18 percent more, according to a Dun & Bradstreet study. However, it also helps that a computer will allow a consumer to browse for a longer amount of time and, while a human taking an order might neglect to promote extra items, a computer will automatically ask a consumer if he wants to add toppings or extras. Ziosk, which makes devices used at Chili’s and Olive Garden, among other brands, says restaurants see more appetizer and dessert orders when using their devices – and there’s usually more coffee tacked on to those orders.
Robots changing the face of restaurant labor
Food industry leaders recently flocked to SXSW for a look at trends on the horizon. One big one, of course, is continued development in automation. According to a Restaurant Business report about SXSW, this included everything from software used to connect restaurants with a pool of qualified workers to fill shifts, to robots that can automate repetitive tasks like dishwashing and burger flipping. The industry also looks to be testing how much human interaction consumers desire. At the event, a robot mounted with a tablet demonstrated the ability to assume the role of server. It allows guests to ask questions and order, delivers meals and accepts payment. While far from being a mainstream addition to restaurants in the short term, these robots (along with a wide range of software applications) are likely to change the management of restaurant tasks in the years ahead as developers find ways to make them affordable.
Get the most from your host
If your restaurant is known for its human touch, have you unleashed the full power of your host? The first person your guests meet at your restaurant can help you set the tone for your brand, promote specials and recruit new members to your loyalty program, Foodable reports. (Perhaps that’s one reason why even low-touch restaurants like Eatsa have a host at the door.) Looking to entice guests with your seafood special? If your host can enthusiastically talk about his experience tasting your food, he can plant a seed of interest that can steer a guest’s attention toward specific items when he opens the menu. A host can also help ensure each guest walking in is a happy guest. Extra long wait? Consider having the host offer those guests a complimentary drink. Having your host check in on tables can help boost your loyalty program too. If he asks how a table is doing and everyone loves their meal, he can ask them to sign up for your loyalty program and perhaps sweeten the deal with a free dessert or other promotion.
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