About 40 percent of people discover food and restaurants through websites, blogs or social media, according to research from Valpak. Tapping into social media influencers can help you get some business from local consumers — but how can you get the right kind of attention from those gatekeepers? An Entrepreneur report suggests avoiding the big fish in favor of smaller, more local influencers who have enough followers to deliver an impact but not so many that they won’t notice you. Take a look at their engagement rates and make sure each one of their posts garners sufficient engagement (e.g. Valpak advises that if only 2 percent of their 100,000 followers comment on or like a post, it may not be worth your while to connect with them). Make an effort to do some background research on the person’s values and overall brand to make sure your business aligns accordingly, and take note of what the person likes and dislikes so you’ll have a sense of who they are before you ask for any favors. On that note, always give before taking. That could mean doing something as simple as sharing the person’s post, or making pertinent comments on their blog posts that help further the conversation in a productive way. If you make a request, respect their time and if you don’t get the kind of response you’d like, be patient and move on until you find the right match.
Imagine being able to cater to your guests’ food preferences and sensitivities — all without having to train employees. AI is making that a reality for restaurants. One example is THE.FIT, which can help restaurants personalize menus and even show a person what he can or can’t eat due to allergies or other dietary restrictions. The idea is to make guests’ experiences so customized that it’s just as easy for them to eat out — and order more of their favorite foods — as it would be to prepare their ideal dish at home. The Spoon reports that to use the technology, customers simply scan a QR code on a restaurant menu via smartphone, select their dietary requirements and then the technology will generate a new menu based on the person’s preferences. The tool already knows the ingredients on a restaurant’s menu and what someone following a specific diet (e.g. keto) can and cannot eat, then saves those preferences for the next time the person dines with the restaurant.
It’s easy for cross-contamination to happen at the grill, particularly when you have produce, proteins and different marinades in close proximity and vying for a limited amount of cooking space. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cooks start with a grill that is clean and free from any charred bits of food that may spread bacteria. Make sure you have separate plates, trays, tongs, basting brushes and other cooking utensils for cooked and uncooked foods, and wash them with hot, soapy water between uses. When using marinades, keep a separate container of marinade for use on cooked items and discard any marinade covering raw proteins. Finally, use paper towels or wipes — not dishtowels — to clean up any spills.
If your food safety values aren’t second nature to your team, there are steps you can take to improve your culture. A Fast Casual report by the president of Steritech advises operators first explain the why behind each food safety practice they preach — i.e. hearing that bacteria can spread more easily and cross-contaminate food when chicken is stored on the wrong refrigerator shelf is more compelling than hearing that chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf. Next, celebrate wins. Five Guys, which has conducted research into communication practices that engage employees, offers monetary rewards and other incentives to stores that score highly on safety
assessments. Chicken Salad Chick celebrates top performers at an annual banquet and funds parties for top-performing stores. Along those lines, focus significantly more on positive feedback than on negative. Harvard Business Review research found that reinforcing six things someone does well for every individual item that needs improvement leads to better overall performance.
Identifying and halting foodborne illness quickly takes a 360-degree approach, with restaurants looking both internally and externally for signs of trouble. Chick-fil-A recently unveiled a system that uses social media and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify such threats. Venture Beat reports that the brand is using algorithms to scan social media sites for potential food safety problems at its 2,400 restaurants across 47 states. Every 10 minutes, the AI framework reviews data from 10 social media platforms, then scans it for 500 different terms, ranging from “food poisoning” to “nausea”, that can provide clues to a food safety issue at a restaurant. The terms are also reviewed by AWS Comprehend, Amazon’s natural language processing service, for sentiment and legitimacy. Managers are alerted to problems via push notifications and can contact customers directly via social media to investigate the issues. To date, the brand reports a 78 percent accuracy rate for the system.
Last year, more than 52 percent of all web traffic around the world came from mobile devices, according to Statista. Do your website’s visuals and text come across well regardless of whether a person is visiting your site on a phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer? As Next Restaurants reports, if you have a traditional fixed website as opposed to a responsive one, your site’s images may be distorted or other content may get cut off altogether when people visit your site on a mobile device. What’s more, Google gives priority to responsive sites. You need one to ensure you’re appearing near the top of web searches. Once you convert your existing site to a responsive one or build a new one, ask an objective source to scroll through your site to ensure your graphics or other visuals don’t make navigation more difficult. Next Restaurants advises you give any important call-to-action items prime position on your homepage — email or loyalty program sign-ups, events or other key promotions should be easily viewable on a mobile device. While you’re at it, make sure your site is optimized for key words and SEO. Thanks to Google, consumers can make very specific searches on the Internet and get accurate results (research from the Hubspot indicates that 50 percent of web searches are four words in length or longer). That means your keywords should reflect that specificity. Instead of keywords as simple as “Italian food,” think “best Italian food in West Village.” For help, The Rail suggests using Google’s AdWords’ Keyword Planner to find popular search terms and to identify words and phrases that your competitors are using.
Banning plastic straws is so last month. Around the country and the world, hospitality brands are taking stock of all single-use plastic in their operations, along with other materials that burden the environment, and searching for technology that offers suitable replacements. If you’re looking for models showing how it can be done, examples abound. Take Live Nation, which hosts more than 35,000 events worldwide annually and recently pledged to eliminate single-use plastics at all of its festivals and venues by 2021. The Spoon reports that in addition to eliminating plastic straws, Live Nation will remove plastic food trays, beer cups, water bottles and toiletry bottles, and plans to test plant-based alternatives where possible. This is part of a larger initiative Live Nation has planned to eliminate its landfill waste by 2030.
Digital ordering and delivery have grown 300 percent faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, according to Upserve. Thinking of isolating production lines in your restaurant to better accommodate off-premise traffic? Chili’s is seeing the value of it. The brand changed its kitchen structure to allow for better production-line preparation of menu items, and pared down its menu to include more profitable items. It has generated consecutive quarters of double-digit off-premise sales increases as a result. As restaurant operators contemplate how to adjust their business model to accommodate off-premise sales, companies continue to spring up to offer solutions. While ghost kitchens and cloud kitchens have made headlines, alternatives to those alternative spaces are becoming available. One example is KitchenPodular, a new company that develops modular, portable kitchen kits that contain electrical and plumbing, sinks, a walk-in cooler, and a ventilation hood and offer the option of a drive-through or walk-up window — operators supply their own oven and stove. The kit (each costs an average of $150,000 and ranges from 206 to 430 square feet in size) can be set up in a restaurant’s existing parking lot, on the outskirts of a city as part of a hub-and-spoke structure, or placed in another preferred location. KitchenPodular CEO Mike Manion, who was featured on a recent episode of The Takeout, Delivery and Catering Show, said these kits can provide restaurant with a turnkey solution for isolating production lines and churning out food to different customer bases more effectively. While they may not be for everyone — as The Spoon points out, they’re still facilities that need to be managed and staffed, and they don’t offer any shared labor for cleaning and dishwashing that one might find in a cloud kitchen — it’s another option to consider if you’re looking for a way to adapt on an ongoing basis to new streams of traffic.
It may still sound futuristic, but as artificial intelligence (AI) applications appear in the restaurant industry, you will want to ensure your technology can adapt to enable them. As DineEngine reports, there are a number of AI-enabled enhancements making it possible for operators to improve sales and customer relations. Are there hiccups in your ordering process? A chatbot or virtual assistant can lead someone through placing an order, suggest food based on the person’s preferences and never forget to upsell profitable additions. They can also handle customer inquiries and orders at any time of day or night, so instead of a staff member taking time to discuss a catering order during your dinner rush, your chatbot can iron out the details overnight.
When monitoring the temperature of food, the only gauge to trust is a food thermometer inserted into the food in question. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, you can get an inaccurate measure if you rely on the temperature reading of the equipment used to heat or cool the food, or the thermometer reading of the water that may surround the food in its serving container. Make sure any hot-held food reaches at least 135˚F and cold food stays 41˚F or cooler.
If you’re operating a food truck or a food festival stall this summer, your food safety practices will be front and center for consumers. Make sure your preparation area is tidy and that you have your foodservice license or inspection certificate displayed. If you don’t have immediate access to a sink for handwashing, have a clear protocol for handling money and serving food separately, including the use of gloves and tongs. Be mindful of exposure to heat and make sure to monitor the temperature of any ingredients that need to stay at the proper temperature — particularly TCS foods like meat, dairy, sliced fruit and cooked vegetables — since foods can easily slip into the danger zone on warm days.
Even as plant-based meat companies continue to improve upon their offering and make it easy to be a vegetarian or flexitarian these days, are the committed carnivores in your midst likely to order an Impossible Burger? Or a plant-based steak or stack of bacon? Perhaps not. Cell-based meat may have some promise here. Despite its current high cost, and questions about how it will be regulated and about whether it is actually better for the environment than conventional meat, the deciding
factor may be taste. As reported in The Spoon, food tech companies are still in the midst of taste testing products ranging from cell-based sausages to shrimp, and the first public sale of cell-based meat is likely to happen late this year. Look for more companies to emerge (and for prices to start to fall) next year.
Even small commodity fluctuations can have a substantial impact on restaurants. Take Chipotle, one among thousands of restaurant brands where guests expect to find avocados. Aaron Allen & Associates reported that in 2017, surging demand for avocados, paired with smaller crops in Mexico and California, had analysts predicting that every 10-percentage-point increase in avocado prices would lower Chipotle’s earnings-per-share by 30 cents on an annual basis. And that was for just one ingredient. Developing a plan to track global shortages and surpluses can help you avoid similar scenarios. Restaurant Nuts recommends several strategies: When you plan promotions to bring people in, make sure the items you promote are those whose ingredients are more widely available and profitable. During periods when producer costs are stable, anticipate times when they may fluctuate and build in incremental price increases early so you can maximize your profitability and avoid shocking guests with price surges. Cost out your menu. Add items that don’t use volatile commodities, and for popular but less profitable items, identify areas where you can easily make substitutions. Mine your data so you understand your most popular menu items and pairings, then design your menu and promotions so you direct guests to those items. Securing long-term contracts with suppliers can help you weather potential market fluctuations. Where this isn’t possible, you can always tell your guests about the challenge (without overusing this tactic). If a major hurricane wipes out a crop of an important ingredient you feature on your menu, for instance, guests are likely to understand if you’re transparent about why that ingredient is temporarily unavailable — and what appealing item you’re offering in its place.
In the first quarter of this year, 46 percent of consumers who ordered Uber Eats in the U.S. also ordered from one of its competitors, according to the data research firm Second Measure. That’s despite these companies offering incentives to keep customers coming back. As a result, Vox reports, third-party delivery companies are currently engaged in a price race to the bottom. But before long, these companies won’t be able to continue their streak of losses and will need to charge higher prices. Their relationships with partner restaurants and customers will be all the more critical. As vendors risk getting weeded out, restaurants may wield some leverage.
Consumers like a limited-time offer: Whether it has to do with short attention spans or a desire for something new and different, there has been a 64 percent spike in LTOs in the past five years, according to Technomic. Their research also found that a majority of female consumers and millennials are drawn to innovative dishes, new flavors and menu launches when they choose a restaurant, and 30 percent of quick-service customers would visit a restaurant they wouldn’t normally visit if it meant taking advantage of a unique LTO. Restaurant Business advises operators to consider several factors when developing an LTO to attract guests. First, set a goal you’re hoping to achieve and design your LTO around it. (An LTO that will bring in guests for several weeks or months will need to have broader, more mainstream appeal than an LTO designed to generate a lot of buzz for a short time.) Second, consider your demographics and let your data guide your decisions. Preferences will vary across generations and genders, so consider everything from your LTO’s ingredients to its portability when anticipating how guests are likely to perceive your offer. Finally, use language that describes the sensory experience of eating what you’re selling (e.g. think “crunchy” vs. “breaded”) and promote the health-conscious aspects of your LTO. Words like “fresh,” “local” and “made from scratch” tend to score especially well with consumers.
Facial recognition technology has become a trend to watch in restaurants this year. While it may sound Orwellian, its potential for streamlining the payment process and loyalty programs is difficult for restaurants to ignore. A number of quick-service restaurants around the country have begun using biometric facial recognition to profile each customer’s order history, demographics and loyalty points. The technology appears to be best suited for the quick-service space at the moment but as rollouts occur across categories, note the effects (positive and negative) it has on customer experience.
Your food inspector isn’t the only person scrutinizing your safety practices. Your guests evaluate you too — and there are a number of areas in your restaurant that, if mishandled, can alert people to the possibility of more serious problems. The Food Network talked to dieticians for tips on what to watch out for. In addition to the more obvious signs of a problem — dirty bathrooms, tables and menus, for example — be extra vigilant if you have a salad bar or buffet where foods are sitting out at room temperature. Any hot foods should be served hot. Finally, your staff can send the wrong message if they don’t take allergies or food sensitivities seriously, or if they are careless about handling money and food.
E. coli and leafy greens can be a common pair. Outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce contamination made headlines throughout the past year, and according to the FDA, similar outbreaks were linked to leafy greens an average of three times a year between 2009 and 2017. Foodservice operators can help limit the risk of contamination during preparation by taking several precautions. Statefoodsafety.com advises food handlers wash leafy greens thoroughly, serve only pasteurized dairy products and juices, and avoid cross-contamination via hands or preparations areas. That means cleaning and sanitizing work surfaces, particularly after working with raw animal proteins, and if you wear gloves, wash hands and put on a new pair of gloves when preparing a different food.
Finally, be mindful of the temperature of meat you prepare. Ground beef should maintain a temperature of 155°F for 15 seconds before serving.
June is National Iced Tea Month – and a prime time to make the most of a beverage in the midst of a renaissance. While tea has traditionally been considered a comforting beverage, modern drinkers like its wellness benefits, as well as the many dozens of tastes it can add to a menu. Ice it and serve blended or garnished with summer fruit, combine it with almond or oat milk in a cool matcha latte, or experiment with health-focused ingredients like ginger, turmeric and ginseng. The plant-forward trend has come to the tea category too: Mintel reports that some tea companies are more prominently promoting produce in their infusions. Ingredients ranging from basil to onion to tomato are appearing in teas.
New research from the National Restaurant Association found that delivery, drive-thru and takeout food are on track to comprise 63 percent of restaurant sales this year – and many industry insiders see off-premise sales as the industry’s key growth engine. Recent consumer data demonstrates the potential. For example, Foodable reports that more than 80 percent of consumers younger than 35 are using on-demand food ordering apps about twice a week, and Food On Demand reports that delivery sales are 75 percent higher than in-store sales. At the same time, a declining percentage of consumers want to talk to others when visiting a restaurant, according to a recent study from Harvard Business Review. Clearly consumers still crave a restaurant experience but the best way to engage those people may no longer be via an in-person conversation. Harnessing technology to drive off-premise sales is key to tapping into the off-premise opportunity. Do you have a technology blueprint for driving off-premises sales? As of this writing, we were a few weeks away from the 5th annual Takeout, Delivery & Catering Symposium, which will gather industry leaders to forecast what’s ahead for off-premise sales, as well as how operators can use customer analytics to drive sales and engagement, and how technology can make a restaurant operation more efficient. Stay tuned for details from the event in the coming weeks.
As Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger compete for market share and fast-casual and quick-service brands scramble to bring meat substitutes to their menus, don’t forget some other plant-based meat alternatives that may suit your menu well. In a recent Upserve survey of 9,000 restaurant operators, jackfruit had climbed 52 percent on menus in the past year. Unripe jackfruit has a taste and texture that mimic meat and can work well as a pork or chicken substitute. It is also nutrient-rich, containing calcium, iron and potassium, and because it is a natural plant-based protein, it may appeal to guests looking to consume more whole foods.
The popular guidance on offering restaurant delivery can sound a bit counterintuitive: Find a way to make delivery work, despite the economic challenges it can create, or lose relevance with consumers. A new report in the Washington Post emphasized that point, indicating that the most recent industry earnings calls demonstrated the dramatic impact (positive and negative) of digital ordering and delivery on restaurants. Domino’s, for one, indicated that despite strong sales growth, it felt pressured by the “aggressive marketing of third-party aggregators.” Delivery is also having a big effect on Chipotle, which saw digital sales skyrocket more than 100 percent from the same period last year following a delivery promotion. The demand for digital ordering and delivery is clear. But as third-party delivery companies vie for business with enticing offers, how can you make delivery work for you financially? Consider raising your prices. If recent operator experiences are any indication, the extra cost won’t deter customers who value convenience. A report in Restaurant Business said when Habit Burger launched delivery last year, it increased the cost of delivery orders by 25 percent. Initially, third-party delivery companies were against this move, fearing pushback from consumers. But that has not occurred and delivery companies have softened to the idea. As you flex your business to accommodate more delivery orders, you may be surprised at consumer flexibility on price.
If you’re currently adjusting your approach to managing labor challenges, repetitive kitchen tasks or the overall experience you provide guests, a number of tech companies are working on solutions to help. At the recent food robotics summit ArticulATE, leaders of these companies sounded off on what’s in the pipeline, and as SmartBrief reports, a key theme of discussion was finding ways for technology to blend seamlessly with human employees and guests, while freeing up employees for more creative tasks. The formula isn’t the same for every restaurant. While there is technology available that can automate burger flipping and fryer operation (Miso Robotics), baking bread (Wilkinson Baking Company, among others), serving guests (Bear Robotics) and delivering food, finding the right kind of automation for your business is about understanding what is best for developing your employees and serving guests. As the CEO of Creator, the restaurant in San Francisco that uses robots to make the perfect burger but has not automated the taking of orders, said: “Our goal is not to be the world’s most automated restaurant, our goal is not to have as few people as possible -- the goal is to have the best experience possible.”
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