Running events at your restaurant can help you generate a reliable stream of income, especially if a shift to more off-premise sales has taken a bite out of your in-house dining sales. But according to the latest Meeting Room of the Future Report from the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), facilities that host corporate events are lagging when it comes to reducing food waste and being mindful of the environment — and there is a significant opportunity for those who have a thoughtful strategy. First off, the times of a buffet line overflowing with food have passed: In the report, which polled 250 meeting planners around the world, 60 percent of respondents said they consider how well a venue manages food waste before they book an event with that venue. Further, 44 percent of respondents said that in the next five years, ethical operations and sustainable practices will be more important when booking a venue — the only factor ranked more highly was access to interactive technology. To put your best foot forward when working with people who are booking corporate events, take steps now to integrate more in-season foods on your events menu and to buy them in bulk, research and partner with producers who follow sustainable practices, ask about nearby services available to compost/recycle both food and packaging (if you don’t ask, you won’t necessarily hear about them), train your staff to speak knowledgeably about your efforts so your values come through to meeting planners and potential guests, and weave your sustainable practices into your marketing materials. They’re as much of a selling point as your menu.
A robot that can flip burgers behind the scenes is one thing. But somehow, a robot that can take on a wide range of front-of-house roles normally held by humans still feels a little space-age. However, a voice-activated, cloud-enabled service robot called the Sanbot Elf Robot seems to be making that possible. Canada-based Autonetics Universe recently acquired the rights to distribute the robot, which Nation’s Restaurant News reports can be programmed to take on such roles as greeting guests, taking orders, and sharing promotions, as well as serving as food runner, cashier and even security guard. The service robot is already used widely in Canada and Japan — the company says there are currently 100,000 in use — and it’s not difficult to see how such technology may appeal to U.S. operators struggling to manage labor costs. (Well, aside from the $13,000 price tag.) McDonald’s is currently testing robotic technology used for frying, taking drive-thru orders and cooking chicken and fish, so front-of-house applications may not be far behind for major brands.
Restaurant operators know it’s important to offer off-premise dining. But what isn’t always clear is how to get your restaurant to the front of the pack. At the recent National Restaurant Association Marketing Executive Group’s annual conference, representatives from such brands as Kitchen United, Technomic, Le Pain Quotidien and Dunkin’ gathered to share their insights about how operators can stand out among the competition in the delivery space. First, put yourself in your delivery drivers’ shoes — or better yet, drive around with them for a shift to observe their experience with other restaurants. Note which brands make it easiest (or even most pleasant) for drivers to collect orders, whether that be via providing separate parking spaces, pick-up windows or shelves, or offering reliably friendly treatment from your staff or a free soda to go. Then note what sort of service those best-performing restaurants get in return (e.g. having their orders picked up fastest or delivered first). That said, make sure you label orders with a stamp detailing the time the order was complete and ready to go — if food arrives late, it can help you and the customer understand who is responsible. Next, offer ordering incentives that will help lift check totals without too much effort on the customer’s part. Offer a free appetizer for a customer ordering food for $25 or more, for example. Finally, pay attention to the factors that boost your delivery numbers. Is there rain in the forecast? At Dunkin’, that means sending out a marketing offer to local customers or posting a promotion on Facebook to help bolster delivery orders.
If your restaurant shows games or other live events on television, you are likely aware of Tunity, a company that makes it possible for people in fitness centers, sports bars, hotels and other venues to use their smartphone to listen to audio from muted televisions showing live events. The company was onsite at the National Restaurant Association Show to promote its testing of a new feature that may help restaurants target guests with special offers based on their viewing preferences. So, as Nation’s Restaurant News reports, if one of your guests is an L.A. Lakers fan, Tunity’s app can help you send a push notification to entice the person to watch the Lakers’ next game with you — and get a free beer or other offer in exchange.
Don’t set them and forget them. Regulator Robert Powitz told Food Safety Magazine he has seven rules for hygienic and effective storage of dry ingredients. First, date all foods and containers and rotate them regularly so the first one in is the first out. Keep the temperature of the storage area cool, between 50 and 70˚F (and note that every 18-degree increase in temperature cuts shelf life in half). Keep humidity to 15 percent or less and store foods in packaging that seals out moisture. Don’t store the foods in direct sunlight. Keep foods 18 inches away from walls and at least six inches off the floor to minimize contact with condensation and pests. Speaking of vermin, keep doors closed when possible, seal cracks in walls and floors, and monitor bait boxes regularly so you can clean up damaged ones promptly. Finally, your storage area should consider your volume per meal and number of meals between deliveries, along with the height and fraction of usable floor area you have available. The FDA and the Conference for Food Protection’s Food Establishment Plan Review Guide can help you calculate the amount of space that’s ideal for your operation.
The FDA’s position on antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been making news lately, especially in light of reports of a patient’s death in June that resulted from a fecal transplant containing drug-resistant bacteria. The Pew Charitable Trusts has called on the FDA to continue to strengthen its reporting of sales data regarding the volume of antibiotics sold for livestock feed and production, according to Feednavigator.com. The goal is to urge more controlled use of the antibiotics.
What will your menu look like in 20 years? If new research from the global consulting firm AT Kearney is on target, there will be significantly less meat on it. The study predicts that by 2040, 60 percent of meat will not come from slaughtered animals but will instead be grown in labs or derived from plant-based products that look and taste like meat. We’re already well on our way. On the Spoon’s recent list of the 25 companies creating the future of food, six of the companies represented are involved in developing some kind of alternative to conventional meat. The companies run the gamut, ranging from startup companies making cultured protein (like Shiok Meats – watch for it to crack open the cell-based protein market in Asia) to more traditional protein brands like Tyson. Even though Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S., the Spoon reports, it has invested in cell-based protein companies and Bloomberg reports that it will soon be launching a beef-and-plant hybrid burger consisting of half pea protein and half angus beef.
You should be — even though it can feel like a big responsibility to never take a break from recruiting. As Allfoodbusiness.com reports, always being ready to hire a strong candidate who walks through the door can inject your team with new enthusiasm, help sharpen their skills and generate a healthy sense of competition. After all, if you have a capable new person on board who is eager to learn and do well, it’s easier to let a mediocre performer go. Not having the right opportunity available for a strong candidate should not stand in the way of hiring that person. If you don’t have anyone that needs to be removed from your team at the time, you can work the new person in for a few hours a week at first, make small decreases in the hours of several employees to make up for the extra labor, adjust responsibilities across the team, use the extra labor to address pain points you haven’t had the capacity to tackle before, or even just accept that you will overspend on labor for a pay period or two (because that can change at any time). Even if you feel you have sufficient staff to carry you right now, anticipate turnover. It’s better to be in a position of having an additional capable team member on hand than of being short-staffed and unable to serve guests well.
The age-old nuisance of technology is that as soon as one gadget or tool comes out to address a business challenge, there’s a new one ready to do the same job faster, better and cheaper. A new example of this is Dash Now, one company (among a number of them) that says mobile phones serve as more convenient payment vehicles than tableside tablets in restaurants. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the company, which plans a July launch, will let guests use their phones to pay a check by scanning a QR code listed on their receipt. During the payment process, the guest is asked to provide feedback about their experience — much like the prompt you receive on your mobile phone at the end of an Uber ride.
Restaurants and movie theaters, sports bars and memorabilia shops, cafés and bookstores…Restaurants can seem like natural partners for a wide range of businesses. The promotions you offer through these sorts of partnerships help you attract new customers and streams of revenue. Or do they? It depends on how well the partners suit each other and how well they develop their strategy. A recent Fast Company report advises business owners use several criteria to determine whether another business passes the partnership litmus test. First, focus on your core challenge or goal. Your best partnerships will help you address it, whether it’s tapping into a new market or gaining insights from a tech-savvy business. Then consider how your restaurant’s values mesh with those of the other business —having a shared vision with help you avoid problems down the line. When you map out your strategy for the partnership, make sure both parties understand the other’s goals and try to anticipate potential pitfalls such as increased costs or slower decision making (and how you’ll manage them). If you’re new to this, begin by looking for partners within your own industry who offer products that complement yours — you’re likely to gain the most from these partnerships, whether in insights or other potential partnership opportunities. Finally, consider partnering on a smaller event together before diving into a larger promotion. It will help you understand the other business’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication and working styles before you have made a more significant commitment to working together.
Need another reason to fine-tune your restaurant’s presence on Google? Google Maps has now made it possible for consumers looking for their next meal to pull up photos of a restaurant’s most popular dishes. (And in the meantime, other companies are angling to help restaurants make the most of that exposure). When Google Maps users post reviews and photos of their restaurant meals, machine learning will be able to identify and promote the most popular dishes at that business so they are front and center when consumers search for information about that restaurant. The feature is available on Android now, with iOS devices to follow. This news comes on the heels of Google’s announcement that users of Google Maps, Search and Assistant can now order food delivery directly from those apps. Locl is one player looking to disrupt this space: It partners with restaurants to jazz up their listing on Google (and in the process, might end up making restaurant websites obsolete).
When large portions of food are cooling down, they can be havens for bacteria. Cool these foods in smaller containers so they aren’t in the temperature danger zone for too long. That goes for large
cuts of meat too. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, leftover meat needs to be cut up into smaller portions so that it can cool down quickly. Otherwise, it’s too easy for bacteria to thrive and make the food unsafe for consumption.
Hopefully, your employees know to wash their hands after using a restroom. But bacteria lurk in places all over a restaurant: Door handles, money, tablet and smartphone touchscreens, salt shakers and other tableware, computer keyboards, menus, and kitchen equipment and other items such as cutting boards and towels are key culprits. Outside of the restroom, make sure your team has a culture of regular handwashing with soap and water, then alcohol-based sanitizer (as a bonus, not a substitute for the first step). Then reinforce it regularly. It’s easy for even a careful employee to overlook handwashing during busy periods.
As new food trends are identified each year, it seems there is always room for restaurants to use spices to innovate and bring global flavors to a menu. One company to watch is McCormick & Co. Its long history and traditional profile masks a tech-savvy strategy. The Spoon, which included McCormick on its Food Tech 25 list of companies making the greatest impact on food this year, reports that the spice brand’s new partnership with IBM Research AI will help it predict new flavor combinations and enhance old ones. The results may help you enhance your own menu offerings in a cost-effective way.
Last year, restaurant catering grew 50 percent faster than the industry as a whole, according to research from Technomic and ezCater. At a time when restaurants are scrambling to meet consumer demand for off-premise dining despite the challenge of making delivery profitable, focusing on catering can be a wise business move for foodservice operations. (If you need a rule of thumb for catering profitability, Sandy Korem of The Festive Kitchen in Dallas aims for 67 percent profit from catering and prices food at three times its cost and beverages for twice their cost.) As grocery stores and other businesses eat into the off-premise dining market for individual meals, catering can help you set your business apart. If you haven’t given significant thought or investment to your catering business, you’re not alone: The research cited above found that even though 90 percent of restaurant operators believe catering is somewhat or very important to business, only 28 percent have made a strategic investment in it. Restaurant Nuts offered some tips from operators who have made catering pay off. First, develop a catering-friendly menu that comprises your greatest hits (not new recipes) that travel well or can be started at the restaurant, then easily completed onsite. Make pricing easy for customers by creating sample menus of entrées and appetizers at different price points, and when discussing options with a customer, have an idea of what different prices per head will provide. Make sure you have temperature-stable containers, along with other equipment that holds your food at the proper temperature while in transit. Start with small, manageably spaced events and then expand from there so you can build a reputation for reliability and quality — low prices tend to be less of a priority for catering customers. Finally, make sure you offer a catering-specific loyalty program to entice people to invite you back.
As you contemplate ways to boost your restaurant’s bottom line, don’t forget about small changes you can make to your equipment that can generate significant savings in the long term. For example, is there room to reduce your restaurant’s water and power consumption? As QSR Magazine reports, the U.S. Energy Star program can help you identify energy-efficient equipment ranging from small ice machines and coffee markers to large commercial ovens. Or start with even smaller changes. Swap out incandescent light bulbs for LED or CFL bulbs, or update pre-rinse spray valves or use low-pressure sinks and dishwashers to reduce the wastewater your facility generates.
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.
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