Sidestep a slowdown
Life slows down in the summer – and sometimes the restaurant business does too. Rod Brant, the president of the restaurant marketing firm Marketing for Independents, suggests that during your slow months, whether they happen in the summer or in the middle of winter, it’s important to focus on existing customers as opposed to trying to attract new ones. Consider contests that will bring people back during your slower periods. One restaurant beat an August slowdown by handing out sealed, dark-colored envelopes with every receipt in July. Each envelope listed a range of potential prizes on the outside and guests were instructed to not open the envelope but bring it back in August, when it would be opened to reveal a prize – and every one was a winner. The prizes promoted on the envelopes included $2 credits for a soft drink, a free appetizer, free entrée, iPad and expensive gift card for the restaurant. For every 1,000 envelopes, the restaurant printed out zero coupons for the lowest-tier prizes (since everyone expects to win this prize, they like discovering they’ve won something better), 798 coupons for appetizers, 200 coupons for entrées, one coupon for an iPad and one for a high-end gift card. More than 38 percent of guests returned with their envelopes – and sales from those guests topped $78,000. Scratch cards work just as well and can build buzz among your guests and employees. Just remember to ensure the promotions reflect your brand.
Choosing tech to enhance the customer experience
Restaurants need to embrace technology – a recent National Restaurant Association survey found that four in five operators agree that technology helps increase sales, makes their restaurant more productive and provides a competitive advantage. But how do you know you’re investing in the right tech? A recent report in Skift features technology recommendations from Ben Leventhal of Resy, the restaurant tech leader that has helped the likes of Union Square Café successfully use technology to improve guest experiences. He suggests providing technology that runs quietly and enhances the human touch instead of preventing it. Of course, technology is not one-size-fits-all. Leventhal predicts we’ll see more screens in fast-casual restaurants and fewer in fine dining establishments in the future. If you’re looking to invest, before asking about what features can help boost business, make sure you have the basics right first. You’ll need strong core technology to build upon later and to ensure all of the siloed technology you use can talk to each other. The National Restaurant Association survey found that most operators looking into the future of restaurant technology believe that the key areas of focus in the next five years will be customer ordering, loyalty programs and payment options. Of course, you’re liable to reap far greater benefits from your investment if you’re part of a network of restaurants that can share customer profiles to build loyalty.
Redirect your food waste
According to a study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, more than 84 percent of unused food in American restaurants is thrown away, just over 14 percent is recycled and 1.4 percent is donated. But Toast reports that an increasing number of companies are trying to change those statistics for the better. If you’re looking to reduce your waste (and the expense required to remove it), consider getting in touch with one of these seven companies: 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh, Penn., Mintscraps in Oakland, Calif., MOGO in Berkeley, Calif., Re-Nuble in Brooklyn, N.Y., Spoiler Alert in Boston, WISErg in Redmond, Wash., and Zero Percent in Chicago. Some of these companies focus on redirecting food to the hungry, some have developed technology that helps operators sell waste food at a discount and others help operators turn food scraps into fertilizers to help protect future harvests.
Kitchen design for food safety
The way your kitchen is designed can help or hinder your food safety efforts. Even if you’re not in a position to redesign your kitchen, there are actions you can take (or file away until repairs are needed) to improve food safety. Francine Shaw of Food Safety Training Solutions recommends you consider the flow of your prep area to maximize efficiency. Sinks shouldn’t be in areas where contaminated water might splash on food or clean dishes. You might need to install a barrier between your sink and prep area if space is tight. Ensure your hot water tank holds a sufficient amount of water to get you through your busiest periods of sanitizing dishes – or get a larger tank or booster. Any areas you cannot reach for regular cleaning should be sealed tightly so they don’t become havens for rodents and insects. Think about even the smallest details: Tile grout, for example, should be minimal to avoid chipping, as well as non-porous, so bacteria cannot grow there.
Food truck food safety precautions
Summer time is prime time for food trucks. Unfortunately, their small spaces and variable conditions can make them food safety hazards – and consumers are becoming more aware of them. If you have a food truck, the non-profit STOP Foodborne Illness recommends you have your vendor license at the ready to show you have met basic food safety training requirements. Make sure workers’ hands are clean and covered – and that they can easily access the sink for washing up. Ensure none of your food is lukewarm. Create enough space for preparing meat, poultry and produce so you avoid cross-contamination. Finally, a dirty truck is always a bad sign that other problems are lurking, so keep it clean.
A cheat sheet to social media success
If you’re not relying on an outside shop to manage your social media presence, chances are you have someone on your team handling it in the midst of a dozen other responsibilities. If you need a quick reference to make the most of your time, OnBlastBlog posted a handy 2017 social media cheat sheet that covers Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn. You’ll find image sizing suggestions for each site, keyboard shortcuts, information on the best days to post on each site to maximize views, social media tools to use daily, tips to generate more shares and comments, and recommendations on how to write the kinds of headlines that succeed on each site.
Picture building your business
What do the pictures you post online say about your restaurant? Enhance the power of what you post by remembering a few rules. Social Media Week suggests you always tie your images back to a gallery or page on your main site – it will make the images less fleeting and increase your odds of bringing guests through the door. Use the rule of thirds to position your subject effectively and make sure that your subject is clear, not easily confused with other items in the shot. Ensure your images have a consistent style and tone but include something that makes them uniquely yours – not something to be confused with a stock image they’d see elsewhere. Finally, remember your demographic. If your brand is edgy and modern, your photos should be too.
Be customer-service savvy on social media
Social media channels provide inexpensive, visible stages for you to promote your restaurant, extend your brand and deliver customer service. Just remember the right and wrong ways to use it when serving consumers. Social Media Week recommends you use it to listen to what people are saying about you (before you use it to talk about what you want them to know about you). That means that when a customer complains about you on social media, engage with that person one-on-one to show you care about making the situation better. The customer may not always be right but if you respond defensively, it will always make him or her look like a victim – and encourage others to avoid you. In an age when transparency is prized, resist the urge to edit consumers’ responses or delete them – Smuckers, for example, disabled customers’ ability to comment altogether and it can make a brand look worse, according to Customer Experience Insight. In the case of a customer’s negative comment or one in which you’re not sure of the best approach, it’s always best to share your response with team members before posting. While customers expect a fast response (an Edison Research study found that 40 percent of customers expect a response to a social media post within an hour), a short delay can mean your post has a more constructive, positive tone. That said, don’t ignore the forum you have. It can be viewed by millions of people, so make sure you post fresh content frequently.
Tap the millennial talent pool
Chances are you’re not only trying to market to millennials but also trying to engage them as members of your team. Making a connection with them as employees can help you enhance your workplace culture and reach those potential guests you’d like to attract and turn into loyal customers. Millennial Marketing suggests you try to build a collaborative work environment before a competitive one – 88 percent of millennials prefer that in a workplace. Take an interest in their personal lives and demonstrate that you know the work they do with you is just one part of who they are. At work, provide detailed and frequent feedback, describe specific actions they can take (while leaving room for them to leave their own stamp on their work) and provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions and share opinions. A survey by the HR services provider TriNet found that 85 percent of millennials felt more confident in their roles when they have frequent conversations with their managers. Those conversations can be digital or face-to-face – they have grown up using digital media to communicate, after all – but don’t discount how much they value face-to-face interaction with you. In fact, the talent development consulting firm Wild Blue Yonder says millennials would prefer an in-person interaction over an email if given the option. Anytime you need to share serious feedback or discuss setting goals, go with a face-to-face meeting.
The rise of social video
Is the content you post online mostly text, photos or video? In an earnings call last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 10 years ago, most of the content shared online was text, it was now photos, and soon it will be video. To research the rise of video on social media, Animoto conducted a survey of 1,000 consumers and 500 marketers to get a sense of how businesses are using video to market to their customers. It found that 64 percent of consumers say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a buying decision they have made in the past month and 81 percent of marketers are optimizing their videos for mobile viewing. Facebook, Instagram Stories and Snapchat are the top three channels where consumers are viewing videos from business brands. When posting video, remember that visual appeal is all-important – according to Digiday, 85 percent of posted on Facebook is watched with the sound off.
Don’t fear the delivery app
Do you think that offering delivery could hamper your in-restaurant traffic? Those concerns could be unfounded, according to the data insights firm Sense360. Street Fight reports that the firm tracked 21 million anonymous full-service and quick-service restaurant visits before and after guests had downloaded third-party restaurant delivery apps. The research found that the downloading of these apps does not result in any significant drop in restaurant visits – in fact, consumers tend to use the app alongside restaurant visits. Consumers who download these apps tend to have higher incomes and visit fine dining restaurants 2.5 times more often, according to the study. Therefore, instead of looking at apps as competition for in-restaurant sales, it may make more sense to see them as competitors of grocery stores and grocery delivery services.
Tell your story on Instagram
Instagram Stories is growing fast – it now has 250 million users, according to Recode – and it’s an ideal platform for restaurants. Food lovers can post photos and video, along with drawings, text and stickers. Skift says the platform suits restaurants so well because while Instagram gives operators a place to post well-curated images of the menu, Instagram Stories can help build engagement because it allows for a more casual, behind-the-scenes look at your kitchen, staff or ingredients. You can introduce followers to new ingredients you’re weaving into your summer menu – and everything disappears in 24 hours, so your tone can be more low-key. Instagram is backed by Facebook and has highly engaged viewers: A new report from TrackMaven says Instagram is the stand-out leader in social media engagement, with 96 average interactions per post per 1,000 followers. Even so, there’s still room for growth.
Simple steps to pest prevention
Preventing contamination in your kitchen this summer can be as easy as cleaning up at regular intervals, enlisting employees’ help and changing your lighting. In a recent report in Food Safety Tech, the entomologist Tim Husen recommends asking employees to watch for signs of pest activity. Alert them of areas where pests are likely to breed, as well as what signs of pest activity look like. He suggests setting a zero-tolerance policy for spills, debris and waste, as well as daily, weekly and monthly sanitation routines on top of an annual deep cleaning. Remember to clean beneath the surface – of equipment where bacteria may grow, and around boxes and inside gutters where pests hide. Directing lighting toward your facility (not mounting it on your building) and using sodium-vapor lighting or LEDs instead of mercury-vapor lighting can ensure you’re not attracting pests too.
Help your kitchen handle summer heat
Summer is sizzling, and the change in temperature can pose additional challenges to restaurants. Food safety advisor Lisa Ackerley suggests operators take extra precautions in the kitchen. Sweltering days can make it difficult for refrigerators to hold their temperature for food storage, for example. Keep refrigerator doors closed and avoid storing warm food inside, as it is difficult for refrigerators to cool warm food to the proper temperature quickly enough. Help food reach room temperature more quickly by reducing the size of stored portions to dissipate heat or cooling it in an ice bath first. Make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated but resist the urge to open windows and doors, which can invite pests inside. If you’re preparing or serving food outside, ensure you keep it out of the 41 to 145˚ zone, where pathogens can multiply rapidly. That goes for food deliveries you receive as well – ensure you can promptly store perishables as they arrive.
Be an ongoing recruiter
Do you have high turnover at your restaurant? The turnover rate in the hospitality industry topped 70 percent for the second consecutive year last year, according to the National Restaurant Association. The nature of hourly work and the fluctuations in employee availability throughout the year contribute to the turnover common in the industry – but you can limit it and make it more manageable. In a recent report in Foodable, restaurant coach Donald Burns says many operators can’t get ahead because they recruit only when there is urgency to fill a position, then make a less-than-ideal hire that may not work out and requires you to devote still more time, energy and money to hiring someone new. You can stop that cycle. First, make sure your operation has the kind of culture that attracts top talent and provides opportunities for people to grow. Then dedicate a few hours each week to finding people with the qualities you desire. When you bring candidates in for an interview, your interactions should be less of an interrogation and more of a conversation that taps into the person’s values and soft skills. If they are not a match for your brand, move on to new prospects. Then train everyone on an ongoing basis to develop their skills. If your existing employees see that you want to bring in quality people and develop them, the strong ones are more likely to stick around (and the weak ones won’t want to).
Harness social media to build your customer base
According to Sprout Social, 74 percent of consumers make buying decisions based on social media. That adds up to a lot of buying power for businesses. Social Media Week shared some guidelines for business operators looking to tap into it: Look to attract social influencers, people who have a large social media following, and ask them to try your restaurant and share their experience on social media. While they are likely being targeted by other businesses too, their reviews have a great impact on others’ buying behavior and could be worth your investment of time if they seem like a match for your brand. Do the same for your current guests and encourage them to post content their friends and family can see – 81 percent of consumers are likely to make a purchase based on this kind of recommendation, according to a study conducted by Market Force. Try creating a contest (promote it on your homepage, blog or other promotional materials too) and then track your results. When you post other content, ask a question or insert another impetus to generate a comment in order to make your post a “trending” one. Be a consistent, engaging presence on social media so your followers know what you want them to do. Develop social media advertising campaigns that take consumers through the stages to making a purchase. Because you want to catch any potential guest who searches for what you offer, ensure your posts use plenty of keywords in their headlines, photo captions and comments.
If you’re already posting mouth-watering images of your menu items on Instagram, you’re likely using hashtags to boost engagement. But do you know which ones resonate best with your audience? Social Media Examiner recommends you try these tools: Command, which is an iOS app only, can show you which hashtags give you the most engagement, as well as the average number of likes and comments you get from different hashtags. Sprout Social offers thorough reports on how hashtags are working for you – you can track whether new hashtags are connecting with people or not. Simply Measured helps you generate detailed data on your campaign hashtags. You can run a single report on many hashtags or study them individually to monitor engagement. Iconosquare allows you to schedule posts, generate comprehensive analytics, track and respond to comments, and study the growth of branded or campaign hashtags.
Extended-stay hotels and Airbnbs consider meal kits for health, convenience
If your restaurant is looking to attract tourists or extended stay business travelers, take note: Skift reports that a growing number of hotels are experimenting with meal-kit and grocery delivery services. The move is an effort to cater to customer convenience and wellness, since it can be difficult to eat a healthy diet on the road. Hilton’s Homewood Suites ran a pilot program in Atlanta and Dallas to test the concept and Airbnb’s CEO is also reported to be considering on-demand grocery delivery as an added service for guests.
Get your piece of the pie
Everyone wants a slice of the pizza business. Pizza restaurants that produce assembly-line, custom-built pizza have been a breakout hit in the fast casual space in recent years, according to Technomic’s Darren Tristano. If you’re looking to break in, there are a number of ways to set yourself apart. Upserve reports there is a ravenous appetite for a range of pizza add-ons, including premium and artisan ingredients, healthy options and organic and locally sourced options. If you’re looking to focus in one area to start, Upserve recommends offering some premium toppings (think eggplant, artichokes, or sundried tomatoes, for example) and some artisan pizzas to help your brand stand out.
New website gives restaurants a food safety grade
Consumers have a new tool at their disposal to build their awareness of foodborne illness at restaurants they visit. At the recent National Restaurant Show in Chicago, Dr. Harlan Stueven, an emergency room physician, announced the launch of a website he created to share information about restaurants’ sanitation standards. The public health organization Stop Foodborne Illness reports that the website, dubbed Dining Grades, provides free access to records of restaurants’ public health inspections, which are the foundation for the grade given to restaurants in 11 states. The site says it currently contains records for more than three million restaurants nationwide. Restaurant guests can post comments anonymously, rate restaurants’ food safety efforts and report food poisoning suspected to be caused by the restaurant. Restaurants who become members can get customized reports and marketing tools to help their food safety efforts.
Pest-proof your restaurant
Summer is prime time for pests. Elevated temperatures and moisture, abundant vegetation and additional daylight hours for feeding mean that pests abound, along with the contamination they spread, according to Orkin. In hospitality operations, cockroaches, rodents, fleas and stored product insects like moths, mites, beetles and weevils are especially common, according to Food Quality and Safety. Keep them at bay by finding and regularly cleaning areas where they are likely to hide (or arranging for a sanitation inspection to identify and sanitize problem areas). Storage areas or cluttered spaces can attract roaches, ants and rodents. Check areas where heat and humidity are common – appliances, drain pipes, floor mats and sinks are often breeding ground for pests – as well as in, under and around garbage bins. Seal any cracks or gaps in tile, walls or entryways that could make it easy for pests to enter.
Take the pain out of pay
Amid the rising minimum wage, conflicts over how to fairly compensate front- and back-of-house employees, and the number of available workers per position at a 15-year low, many operators are left wondering how much they should pay their team – and the talent they want to attract. Toast tackled this question recently. For hourly workers, it reported that at large chains including Sonic and McDonald’s, raising the minimum wage by $1 has resulted in lower turnover. (Turnover, by the way, can cost an employer 16 percent of the employee’s first-year compensation.) McDonald’s has also seen improved customer-service ratings following its wage increase, which has been the case at customer-favorite In-N-Out Burger as well – and it is consistently rated a great place to work. A recent Harvard Business School study actually found that raising the minimum wage weeded out weaker performers. Determining pay rates for employees making a salary is a bit more subjective. Executive and entrepreneur coach Stever Robbins suggests you first determine the highest and lowest amounts you’re willing to pay the person in this role. Will the person help drive growth? Will he or she create efficiencies in your operation? How valuable are those responsibilities in the big scheme of your business? Consult resources like Payscale to find the market rate for roles across the industry and Glassdoor.com and Salary.com for location-specific information. If you are part of a local or regional business networking group or are friendly with neighboring restaurant operators, you might be able to gain some insight there too.
Allergy aware? These advocates can help.
One in 25 Americans has a food allergy or some kind. That number increases in children younger than three, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If allergy management has become too large of a challenge for your foodservice operation, Food Safety Magazine recommends a number of consultants and organizations ready to assist. Several of these resources are parents of allergic children and have launched companies that work with foodservice businesses to build allergy awareness. Check out SnackSafely.com, a trusted source of information about manufacturer partnerships and snack lists, and Jenny Sprague, founder of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference and Multiple Food Allergy Help. For science-based information on nutrition, health and food safety, look to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, as well as the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (F.A.A.C.T.), an allergy advocacy group that works with companies to transform their food safety protocols. Finally, at a time when consumers are more passionate than ever about food transparency, Robyn O’Brien is a consultant who helps companies understand where our food comes from and how it is produced, then advises on ideal ingredient choices. Of course, your guests are potential educational resources as well, since people with allergies (or their parents) must advocate for themselves and tend to collect important information about allergy protection that could be of use to you when serving guests.
Scrutinize your insurance
Are you spending money in the best places when it comes to insurance? The BDO accounting firm, which has a dedicated restaurant practice, shared some tips from Dan Fugazzi of Hylant Insurance about how restaurant operators can manage and mitigate their risks, identify inefficiencies and gaps, and ensure the coverage they purchase provides strong value. He suggested operators determine whether their business income insurance includes payroll expenses in the loss determination (you’ll likely want to exclude these expenses from your coverage because you will get substantially less in your claim recovery). If your business has a protective safeguards endorsement requiring you to have a sprinkler system, grill hood fire suppression system or security system maintained to receive full coverage, consider eliminating these safeguards from your coverage. Assess your coverage limits for debris removal – if you have a claim for a total loss and rebuild, the cost to remove debris may be far beyond what your insurer will pay. Finally, check the business entity names on your coverage to avoid frustrating delays or uncertainties when you’re trying to manage a claim.
Cut the salt
Chances are many of your guests are looking to cut their salt intake. The FDA called for the reduction of sodium in packaged and processed foods and the new Dietary Guidelines recommend that people over 14 limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day, according to Food Insight. Many consumers assume the food they order in restaurants is high in salt but you can change that assumption by reaching for a host of other ingredients to add interest (but not so much sodium) to food. Instead of salt, consider roasted garlic, peppercorns, low-sodium salsa, lemon juice, bay leaves, dill, cumin, balsamic vinegar and cayenne pepper – and make your guests aware that you’re providing a low-sodium alternative.
Perhaps you have a dazzling new dish that is priced for profit and has potential to generate buzz. Or maybe you need a means to catch a person’s eye when you post content on Facebook or Twitter. Either way, the food photos you post online can set you up for success if you remember a few rules. Social Media Restaurant suggests you contrast your food against a background of a different color. Adjust the white balance so food looks appetizing (meat, for example, should be photographed in warm tones). If shooting in natural light isn’t possible, use a flash diffuser or indirect light. Include quality cutlery, plates, bowls and other props in the shot, but not so many items that they upstage the dish. Take a range of shots from various angles, including close-ups that show textures and details and others that show the inside of the food when it’s cut.
Boost your Instagram results
Instagram has become the place for restaurants to be when it comes to social media, especially if they want to attract the Millennial set. To get the most out of your Instagram posts, Social Media Week suggests you keep some tools at the ready. Canva is a widely used tool that provides templates allowing you to add and edit images, shapes and text. Buffer will help you keep tabs on your account and post your content at times when your audience is most likely to be on Instagram. Crowdfire helps you manage your followers on Instagram by helping you see who has recently followed and unfollowed your account, and you can use the non-followers feature to unfollow those who are inactive or haven’t followed you back. VSCO filters and editing tools will help you create eye-catching, stand-out images. If you’re eager to post video, VidLab lets you add a number of additional tracks, from music to voice recordings, to your content. Try the premium version to remove watermarks from your videos and to access extra features.
Contamination-proof your premises
Are there any areas of your premises that might provide fertile ground for the spread of bacteria and other contaminants? Rentokil, a pest management firm that advises clients in the foodservice industry about food safety, recommends you safeguard these food preparation areas: Floors should be made of a material that is safe to walk on and easy to clean. Walls and doors should be made of impervious materials that are nontoxic, durable and easy to clean and maintain. Ceilings, along with overhead pipes, cables and lighting should be designed to prevent the collection of condensation, mold and dirt. Windows should prevent dirt accumulation and have screens to prevent the intrusion of insects. Finally, all food preparation surfaces should be smooth, washable, nontoxic, corrosion-resistant and well maintained.
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