After the holidays, many restaurants see a dip in business. Motivating your best guests to come back will be especially important to keeping business on track. But when you think of your best guests, does a specific person come to mind — or just a list of traits? Creating a set of guest personas can help you understand who you’re trying to attract and fine-tune your marketing so you encourage them to return. According to The Rail, it’s important to combine both qualitative and quantitative data in your research. Studying your Google analytics data may tell you the age and sex of your average website visitor, for example, but may be less specific about their food preferences. For qualitative information, interview and survey your guests — canvass your mailing list and offering a discount or other promotion for their participation — and ask what they care about. Try to elicit quotes from them to understand what influences them. Your final guest personas — and you can have several categories of them depending on the diversity of guests you serve — can be given a name, vocation and other personal information but shouldn’t necessarily be specific individuals you know in real life. Instead, they should be composites of people who encompass the range of qualities you see in your guest community.
Get fired up
‘Tis the season for a fire in the fireplace. While preparing foods over a roaring fire is hardly new, the practice is on trend at the moment for the way it brings together basic cooking methods, local ingredients and memorable dining experiences. It can also help you infuse your menu with unexpected flavors. As the owner of the London Log Company told the Telegraph, salmon smoked over firewood has a different flavor depending on the color of the wood. It also allows a chef to constantly monitor a food as it cooks — all while putting on a show for guests. (Use dry woods for a more even burn.) Even if you don’t have the facility for cooking over fire, you can adapt a barbecue by soaking wood chips in water and then sprinkling them over charcoal for similar effect.
Chemicals abound in and around your kitchen. Just don’t let them create a food safety problem. To avoid cross-contamination, Statefoodsafety.com advises you store chemicals away from food storage and contact areas, label all chemicals clearly and wash hands after handling them. In case of spillage, discard the excess chemical — don’t put it back into its original container. Be aware of any pesticides used on produce you buy and wash those ingredients or use other approved methods for removing pesticide residues. Also note that chemicals that may be in your cooking equipment and utensils: Avoid using copper, lead and pewter cookware and utensils, which can leach harmful chemicals into foods.
Participating in a farmer’s market can help you connect with your community year round, promote your support of local ingredients and help you test out potential menu items. It’s easy to fall short on food safety in casual market environments, though, so take care to protect your customers and your business from claims of foodborne illness. Ensure that those serving food have clean hands and fingernails, that they use gloves or tongs when handling food, and that they aren’t handling money and food at once. Take care to avoid cross-contaminating any utensils used to serve samples and food orders. The state of your booth is a reflection of your restaurant, so keep food preparation surfaces clean and dispose of used toothpicks or other utensils left behind. Finally, mind the temperature danger zone so you keep hot foods at 140˚F or hotter, cold foods at 40˚F or colder and frozen foods at 32˚F or colder.
Consumers have come to expect free wifi when they visit a restaurant — and chances are good that you offer it. But are you making the most of this valuable connection to your guests? For example, how can you collect useful insights (and make offers to help turn visitors into loyal guests) whenever someone logs in? How long do these guests stay and how can you make the most of the lulls that happen during the day? GoZone Wifi is one supplier that offers businesses marketing tools, guest analytics and the opportunity to earn income through targeted ads shown on their wifi network. If you’re currently offering wifi without collecting insights that could benefit your business, consider the potential benefits you could be generating when you make decisions about your internet service.
Does this sound familiar? Third-party delivery services can be like a drug that addicts restaurant owners: You sign up at a significant expense to get quick hits in the form of incremental sales, then pay even more to sustain business as more companies join the platform. That’s the view of Noah Glass, the CEO and founder of Olo, a mobile and online ordering platform. Glass advises restaurant operators to control their own online ordering site and he built his company to help them do that. While it can be more work to get customers to visit your site or download your app, he says, you will reap the benefit of more money earned on each sale. Others agree. Keeping your ordering in-house could increase your profitability by 35 percent, according to Software Advice, which advises operators to use a simple equation to determine how much they could be spending on third-party platforms. (Take the value of your monthly revenue and multiply that by 25 percent, which is the average percentage of commission fees charged by the platforms, and your answer will be the amount of money you will lose each month.) Instead, you could keep your ordering in-house for a lower monthly fee and supplement your system with Google’s My Business to benefit from the marketing exposure in your area. Then, when you capture the contact information and order history of customers, you can send targeted push promotions to them to entice them to return. Finally, keeping your ordering platform in-house keeps you in the driver’s seat when making menu changes or updates, or when managing issues with orders. Even if your third-party vendor seeks to provide a good customer experience, the may not be able to update your information as quickly as you would and they don’t necessarily value your business over the growing numbers of other restaurants on their platform.
Speak your guests’ language
Do you have an item on your menu that should be popular with guests but somehow doesn’t get many takers? Before you exchange it for something new, consider adjusting how you describe it on your menu. Even if you use colorful language to paint a mental picture of a dish, it may not strike an emotional chord with a guest. Cake suggests guiding guests to make a decision using nostalgic language rather than logic. It worked well for Dolester Miles, who earlier this year was named the best pastry chef in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. The Washington Post reports that she created a layer cake containing zabaglione — a foamy custard sauce flavored with marsala wine — but no one ordered it when the menu description mentioned the ingredient. When she changed the name of the dessert to Frank’s Favorite Cake, however, “it started flying off the shelf.”
Seize your digital domain
What’s your digital game plan? Your digital strategy can help you elevate your brand far beyond the walls of your restaurant by enhancing your connections with existing guests and helping you attract new ones. What’s more, the restaurant brands that develop a digital strategy and support it with the infrastructure it needs are likely to open up a wide lead over competitors in the months ahead — while those that don’t are likely to see their guest engagement suffer. (For example, two brands with robust digital strategies, Domino’s and Panera, currently receive a large portion of their orders via digital — 60 percent and 25 percent, respectively.) That’s according to research shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference Trade Show in Orlando. To put the industry in perspective when it comes to digital, restaurants leading the pack in this area are spending 30 to 50 percent (and sometimes much more) of their marketing budgets on it. Of the digital tools restaurants are using to engage customers and generate data, the most important ones to focus on are the mobile app, loyalty program, online ordering capability and delivery strategy. It pays to play offense with digital as well, with restaurants actively using digital seeing 5 percent annual growth over the previous five-year period as opposed to 2 percent annual growth for brands using digital more defensively. That is making it important for restaurants to invest in technology platforms, hardware and software to support their digital strategy, though the proliferation of cloud-based services is helping to bring the overall costs of investment down. Just make sure your strategy considers the needs of your front-of-house and back-of-house operations, all while helping you keep your guests engaged.
Stay tuned for food delivery safety standards
At a time when third-party delivery is evolving in futuristic ways — like delivery by robot, or, if Uber’s three-year plans play out, by drone — it can be easy to neglect the most important elements of a delivered meal: food that tastes good and is safe to eat following its journey. The National Restaurant Association is taking steps to change that. It is assembling a group of food delivery services and restaurants to develop a code of best practices for keeping food safe during its delivery to the customer. Watch this space for more information when the practices are released.
Don’t be a rodent shelter this winter
As the weather cools and people are spending more time indoors to escape the cold, rodents want to do the same. Now is a good time to make sure your restaurant isn’t a haven for them all season. Total Food Service suggests you conduct routine inspections to identify holes, cracks or gaps around the exterior of your facility. Seal any cracks with weather-resistant sealant, plug holes with steel wool, and use weather stripping on doors and windows to prevent warm air from leaking out and attracting pests from outside. Finally, if you have plants and shrubs surrounding your facility, make sure there is space between them and your building — having a two-foot strip of gravel between your building and your outdoor plants can make it less convenient for rodents to access your facility. (Contact Team Four to learn more about services to help you save on pest control costs.)
Higher standards for high chairs
As Millennial customers become parents, you will likely be serving more babies in your restaurant. If you’re in need of new high chairs, note some pending federal standards designed to improve the safety of high chairs made and/or sold in the United States. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) approved the standards, which are intended to enhance chair stability, provide warning labels and improve restraint systems. (Between 2011 and 2016, there were an estimated 18,500 high-chair-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in the U.S., according to the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Of that number, an estimated 1,600 resulted from incidents that occurred in restaurants.) While the new standards, which go into effect in mid-June, don’t require restaurants to use high chairs that meet the new standards, keep them in mind when replacing old chairs — and be able to answer questions guests may ask about them.
Alexa, remind me to bring dessert menus to table 9
The hospitality technology company SevenRooms is looking to bring the voice-enabled power of Amazon’s Alexa to restaurants. Skift reports that the company, which just invested in an Amazon fund earmarked for the development of Alexa in restaurants, is partnering with Amazon to develop technology that will allow operators to use voice commands during service, access guest profiles and preferences, and streamline table service with reminders. The company hopes to offer the service to its restaurant customers in 2019.
Is your off-premise strategy on the mark?
Off-premise dining is on the rise — 86 percent of consumers are using off-premise services at least monthly, while one-third of consumers are using them more frequently than they did a year ago, according to Technomic. As the demand for off-premise dining climbs, it will have impacts across your business well beyond your choice of a delivery provider. For example, it is likely to affect the mix of items you offer on your menu, the customers you target, how you design your restaurant, how you package your food and how you develop your loyalty program. Restaurant Business suggests offering meal bundles with entrees, sides and desserts for busy families looking for easy and affordable options — create some pre-set or customizeable options so the customer can avoid ordering items a la carte. Since younger consumers are big supporters of off-premise dining (Technomic’s Takeout & Off-Premise report found that nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds are ordering food to go more often than they did three years ago), consider offering some lighter, nutritious, unprocessed options that appeal to health-conscious people on the go. Your restaurant design should streamline the process of picking up food for customers and delivery drivers, and evolve with the idea that an increasing share of your business will be from off-premise sales. Choose packaging that ensures each item gets to the consumer in good condition — fries, for example, should not be in packaging that traps steam. Offer discounts or free items when customers bring in friends, visit on their birthday, or spend a certain amount of money with you. This is all to say that while your off-premise strategy impacts more than just these areas, it’s important to trace it through each step of your business. You may understand what your customers like, but your front of house and back of house (and the technology supporting them) need to be ready to deliver it.
Beef up your burger menu
Who doesn’t love a burger? There are appealing options for carnivores and vegetarians alike, and while you can’t go wrong with a classic version on your menu, there is ample room for innovation too. If you want to bring some creativity to your burger selection, try some on-trend tweaks. Restaurant Business suggests swapping out the traditional cheddar for options like Gruyere, mozzarella, Muenster or goat cheese, which have all risen in popularity on menus according to Technomic. Liven up your condiments with ethnic sauces like Sriracha, sweet chili or poblano (and take it further by creating burgers themed to a particular global cuisine). Finally, substitute a premium roll like a pretzel bun or brioche for the standard roll — it will help your burger stand out on the menu and also justify a higher price point.
Are you in food safety denial?
In the U.S. alone, foodborne illness causes 76,000 illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths every year — and they’re all preventable. So why do they occur? According to food safety expert Francine Shaw, much of the problem comes down to denial. Some operators and employees deny there is a problem with the industry or that an operation’s safety protocols play a significant role in preventing it. Others can’t see beyond the up-front costs of technology and how it could offset the debilitating expense of a food safety crisis down the line. In her years in the industry, Shaw reports having seen widespread disregard for basic food safety protocols in restaurants, a desire by company leaders to have employees get just enough training to pass a test (without deeper thought about what it might mean to the consumer or the business), and an aversion to third-party inspections that could help a business commit to and sustain the kinds of practices that could prevent a foodborne illness outbreak. If any of this sounds familiar, Shaw says it’s important to revamp your corporate food safety culture, update your food safety plans and implement technology and other protective measures in your business. Technology can help simplify many processes, allowing you to deliver training, create a long-term record to back up your safety practices, and eliminate paper-and-pencil tracking systems that are easy to abuse and lose. There are now about twice as many food recalls as there were 10 years ago, and while many cite technology as the reason these problems can be identified quickly after the fact, technology could be used more readily to prevent them. But first, you need the food safety culture in place to reinforce your commitment to these changes.
How much is data worth to you?
Businesses of all sizes crave customer data, and restaurants are no exception. Eater reports that a new coffee shop in Providence, R.I. started an experiment whereby patrons (many of them college students) are given a free cup of coffee in exchange for providing details such as their name, birthday, phone number, email address, major and professional interests. While such data collection could be a dystopian sign of things to come, restaurant operators have an advantage in that a consumer sharing information is readily doing so in order to access promotions (unlike a person searching online for a clothing item and subsequently getting barraged with banner ads featuring that item). But as consumers guard their data more closely, make sure you are careful about how you and your vendors are using it — i.e. don’t surrender it to third-party delivery partners who might sell it to competitors — and make sure you have a technology crisis management plan in place so that if and when a breach occurs, you can demonstrate you have taken steps to protect your guests’ information.
Take care with allergens
If you offer food for take-out and delivery, or as convenience items purchased from a kiosk, make sure you are as clear about your ingredients as you would be if you were listing them on the menu in your dining room. Pret A Manger has just begun labeling its foods with allergen information following the 2016 death of a 15-year-old customer with a sesame seed allergy. The customer saw no allergen information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, or on the display where the sandwich was sold, and she consumed the sandwich without realizing it contained sesame seeds. Researchers from Food Allergy Research & Education estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one of every 13 children under the age of 18.
America’s most food-focused holiday is coming up. Are you ready? On Thanksgiving weekend, your restaurant has an opportunity to give consumers a break from cooking, shopping or both. Upserve suggests creating a Thanksgiving-day menu for eat-in or take-away. Have an Instagram contest that challenges guests to share what they are thankful for. Poll your most loyal customers on social media about their favorite charities and donate to the winning cause. And since Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, make sure you’re ready with gift cards for guests looking for ideas, as well as a selection of meal or snack specials that can entice consumers looking for a break from the crowds. Make sure your inventory and staffing plan are ready to handle extra foot traffic too.
Harness your POS system’s power of customization
Consumers prefer customization, and your POS system can help you deliver it. For example, does your system make it easy for you to add and subtract extra items like avocado or shrimp on a salad or bacon or extra cheese on a burger? Cake suggests that clearly listing such potential upgrades on your menu — upgrades that some consumers may not have even realized they wanted — are an easy way to help you give your checks a boost.
The multiple benefits of grab and go
Consumers want their grab-and-go foods — 80 percent of consumers say they snack at least once a day, according to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking report, up from 76 percent in 2014. What’s more, consumers continue to crave not just sweet or salty snacks but high-quality options that are healthy and fresh. This trend is on display everywhere from hotel lobbies — many of which have been transformed in recent years into mini convenience stores — to hospitals to restaurants. (In fact, in 2016 Team Four launched a program called Charging Station to provide grab-and-go concepts for college athletic programs looking to provide an expanded variety of nutritious meal and snack options to athletes. Soon after, hotels and military organizations got involved too.) The good news for restaurant operators is that the grab-and-go trend is not only good for the all-powerful millennial consumer, but it is also beneficial to the operator trying to carve out a budget for labor at a time when certain states have mandated a $15 hourly wage. Restaurants that provide quality grab-and-go options can often cut back on labor expenditures, particularly on the front end. But even on the back end, grab-and-go options can help operators make use of ingredients that are pre-sliced and pre-cubed, which can shorten preparation processes and don’t require as much highly skilled labor to prepare. If you offer grab-and-go items, offer quality ingredients such as nuts, seeds, produce and lean meats, and make sure these items are packaged well, labeled clearly and require little preparation and cleanup. And just as you would do with your restaurant menu, consider incorporating local items and ethnic ingredients. For more information about how Team Four can help you develop a grab-and-go concept, contact us at email@example.com.
Make it a safe Thanksgiving
If you’re serving up turkey dinners this Thanksgiving (or preparing them for take-out), remember some safety tips to prevent food handling problems or inadequate cooking, which often lead to poultry-related foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that you thaw your turkey in a refrigerator, in a sink of cold water changed every half hour, or in the microwave — and don’t leave it out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you stuff your turkey, add the stuffing just prior to cooking and make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165˚F. Your turkey must also reach an internal temperature of 165˚F, so insert a food thermometer into the thickest parts of the breast, thigh and wing to make sure they have reached that threshold.
Protect your water supply
As another powerful hurricane season passes by, the dangers to your business don’t necessarily go away once the storms pass. In the wake of a natural disaster, remember to protect the safety of your water supply. A severe disaster can cause toxins, chemicals and other debris to contaminate the public water system, especially if a tidal surge or flood accompanies the storm. Until your area health department confirms that tap water can be used for drinking, use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. In the absence of bottled water, boiling your tap water will kill most disease-causing organisms that might be present. (Once the water has boiled, let it cool and store it in clean, covered containers.) If you have a well that has been flooded during a storm, the FDA advises you disinfect and test it once the flood water has receded. In the case you suspect your well may be contaminated, contact your state or local health department for specific guidance -- and in the meantime, do not use your tap water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food or to make ice. Finally, while it’s important to get your water tested following a major storm to help make sure you are using water that is safe for drinking, cooking and washing dishes, a test conducted today does not determine the safety of your water tomorrow. A point-of-entry water purification system can provide even greater assurance — immediately before you use your water supply each time — that the water you are using is safe.
The power of the freebie
If you operate a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant and are eager to see a quick boost in downloads of your restaurant app, take note: A number of large brands have seen their downloads skyrocket in recent months by offering a small free item. QSR Magazine reports that when McDonald’s offered free medium fries in exchange for a download of their app plus a $1 purchase, it jumped 56 places to become the No. 2 app on the U.S. App Store within a week — and Dairy Queen, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A experienced similar jumps in engagement. While it remains to be seen how successful these brands will be at retaining the consumers they have enticed, it shows how much mileage a simple free item can get you when you’re looking to build (and better understand) your consumer base.
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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