Restaurant owners are stepping up to the challenge of minimizing their food waste. That was one conclusion of Toast’s recently released Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report, which surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators and staff, along with a similar number of restaurant guests, about the experience of operating and dining at restaurants. Toast asked restaurant professionals to share how they’re reducing food waste in 2019. The responses included such actions as using leftover ingredients from one recipe in another (38 percent), offering multiple portion choices for guests (26 percent) and composting (25 percent). Others said they limit the number of items they prepare for service, offer an a la carte menu and cross-utilize ingredients in an effort to reduce food waste. Still, there is room for improvement as a considerable portion of those surveyed (26 percent) do nothing at all to reduce food waste at their business. The consequences aren’t just environmental but also financial: A reFED study found that the approximately 11 million tons of food waste generated by restaurants annually costs businesses about $25 billion per year – and that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can save restaurants $8. The industry report emphasized that while you can’t control what someone eats or leaves behind, you can control your inventory. Your first course of action in managing waste is to keep close tabs on your shelves to reduce spoilage and avoid a tendency to over-order items – your inventory management system can help you take the best action.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of ordering French fries or a salad for delivery only to receive them in limp, soggy form once they’ve been packaged and transported to you, Bill Birgen feels your pain. A popular speaker at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and winner of the SKS Startup Showcase, Birgin has developed technology designed to manage the condensation that can collect in delivery packaging and make certain foods unpalatable as a result. The goal of the packaging, dubbed the SAVR-pak, is to both improve food quality and reduce food waste. While it’s still early, the Spoon reports that the SAVR-pak has gotten the attention of Deliveroo, who has placed a purchase order, as well as a number of resorts.
At a time when restaurant finances are getting squeezed from many directions, do you know which budgetary battles are most important to fight? In other words, when you’re managing such expenses as labor, ingredients, rent and third-party delivery, does your balance sheet give you clear answers about how much each of those expenses is impacting your bottom line? It needs to, since your gut instinct may not be correct. Case in point: The results of a recent study by New School Center for New York City Affairs and the National Employment Law Project found that restaurants in New York City were more negatively impacted by rising occupancy costs and the fees charged by third-party delivery services than they were adversely affected by the near-doubling of the minimum wage paid to hourly employees in the past five years, Restaurant Business Online reports. The Fight for $15 wage battles of recent years had many operators concerned they would need to boost menu prices beyond what guests were willing to pay – and minimum wage escalation isn’t an insignificant expense for operators to be sure. But while New York isn’t like every market, the rising minimum wage in the city has had a smaller-than-expected impact in a diversity of regions, whether in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. As the minimum wage has been ascending in geographical regions across the country for years, you may be able to protect your bottom line by focusing on negotiating more favorable terms with a third-party delivery company, adjusting your business model so you can occupy a smaller or different footprint, or getting a stronger handle on hidden back-of-house costs.
You’re likely using your restaurant’s internet connection to process orders, access customer data, monitor the functioning or your kitchen appliances, and communicate with employees, vendors and guests, among many other functions. If your connection suddenly fails, would you be able to operate your business? Using failover technology as a backup connection can help ensure your Internet connection is never interrupted. RocketBroadband is one company that works with restaurants to prevent internet blips. It also offers a mobile connectivity option that may suit restaurants running food trucks or stalls at offsite events where it’s necessary to process payments apart from the restaurant’s usual internet connection.
Across the restaurant industry right now, profits range from 0 to 15 percent, according to Toast, and profits between 3 and 5 percent are most common. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for making errors or adapting to industry changes such as the rising demand for off-premise dining. Operators have to be continuously creative when it comes to finding and mining sources of revenue, whether from new products, services or partnerships. (Note the current fervor around restaurant brands partnering with Beyond Meat, with Subway and Hardee’s being just two of the latest companies to tap into the meat substitute’s popularity.) Restaurant Nuts suggests operators consider options such as joint ventures – for example, partnerships with grocery stores to sell your products can help you promote a special offering while lowering your sales and marketing expenses. Or, as All Food Business suggests, you can partner with a corporation to offer expense accounts, business dinners, client programs or events that can generate income. You can align with a business or charity whose mission complements yours if it helps you to expand your audience, offer a special event you wouldn’t be able to offer on your own, or tap into resources (such as technology or delivery capabilities) that benefit both parties. Within your business, building out a catering menu can help you make the most of your food costs (and minimize waste) while serving lucrative off-premise and corporate customers. Depending on your business, there may also be opportunity to offer retail products like clothing or take-home versions of signature sauces that your restaurant is known for.
Want to win over customers? It’s not about having mouth-watering new specials or transforming your marketing strategy. It’s all about your operations. (At least that seems to be the trend based on recent performance results of a number of major brands.) As reported in Restaurant Business, brands including Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s have prioritized operational changes over menu innovation in recent months. Wendy’s has focused on eliminating tasks and training employees to improve speed of service. McDonald’s continues to experiment with automation and has held competitions to find ways to serve guests faster. Dunkin’ has streamlined its menu and changed the layout of stores to improve flow of operations. As for Starbucks, third-quarter same-store sales increased 7 percent and store traffic increased 3 percent, due to what the company says is its focus on simplification – reducing the tasks that need to be completed in-house and shifting employees’ focus to guests. How can you simplify your operation – both with and without technology – to deliver better service?
Any chef can confirm it: Running a restaurant well can require the skills of a lawyer, doctor, designer, HR manager, mechanic, janitor, and the list goes on. And that’s on top of having to offer an appealing, in-season menu that can be readily adapted to different nutritional needs. While that ever-changing environment can bring interest and variety to each day, chances are you were drawn to the restaurant industry more because of the food than for your ability to negotiate a beneficial contract or identify the best cleaning supplies. Further, the multitasking often required in a restaurant setting can kill productivity: A University of Michigan study found that when a person attempts to accomplish more than one task at a time, productivity drops by 40 percent. Team Four’s Palette program can serve as an extra pair of hands, taking on some of the responsibilities on your plate so you can multitask less and focus more on parts of the business that suit you best. For example, Palette can help you fine-tune your brand, including redesigning your menu or updating your graphic identity on your website, signage and marketing materials. You can also access restaurant equipment, linens, office and cleaning supplies, along with services for managing waste collection and pest control. And in case your menu or inventory needs attention too, we can help you develop new recipes, identify cost-effective menu substitutions, improve your food safety record and offer negotiated contract pricing to help ensure you’re getting the products you need at the best value. You can access the full list of services included in Team Four’s Palette program at www.palettefoodservice.com.
Now that Uber Eats is testing a “Dine-In” feature on its app, expect other third-party delivery providers to follow suit. The feature allows a person to order food at a restaurant, track the process of its preparation so she can arrive at the restaurant in time to eat it, and also leave a tip. The benefits to restaurants could include having to pay a smaller fee to the delivery provider than would be required for third-party delivery, faster table turnover, and the opportunity to offer deals that could attract dine-in guests during slow periods. It remains to be seen how accurate the app’s food preparation tracker will be at peak periods, but if you’re struggling to fill seats, it might offer an opportunity to entice guests to come in and sit down.
Between rising labor costs and falling traffic, there is no shortage of factors squeezing restaurant profits right now. Raising prices to meet margins is one option, but how much are your guests willing to pay before they take their business elsewhere? And what if sales shortfalls are simply due to shifting trends — or your competitor across the street offering a similar product for less? If you use data analytics to manage your food costs, you can uncover helpful information about your inventory. Since your inventory likely eats up 25 to 35 percent of your operating budget, it’s a good place to find lurking costs that can be minimized so you can better manage your spending. To identify opportunities, look at your supply chain and product mix. Do you know how many times your product changes hands and how prices shift with each transition? If you’re looking for help with this and much more, ask about Team Four’s Palette program. We can assess your supply chain, purchases and product mix and then recommend action steps that will help you lower food costs without sacrificing your quality standards. That might involve substituting quality products that still reduce food costs, or identifying trend changes, purchases that aren’t in line with your product specifications, or pricing that doesn’t reflect current trends. Learn more at www.palettefoodservice.com
At a time when even recyclable plastic often ends up in landfills or oceans, the presence of single-use plastic is still widespread in restaurants, most noticeably in the delivery space. The parent of Zume Pizza, the automated pizza delivery company that won accolades for developing a compostable, biodegradable, molded fiber “pizza pod” for shepherding pies to customers, is now helping other companies develop non-plastic packaging alternatives. According to a Forbes report, the company recently launched a new venture to develop plant-based packaging that is designed to have the performance qualities of plastic (and is priced to compete with plastic when used at scale). The packaging, a compostable blend of sugarcane fiber, bamboo, wood pulp and wheat straw, is classified as Type 4 Molded Fiber, the highest grade of molded fiber packaging.
The New Year is a good time to get your restaurant’s financial affairs in order. As you look to gain greater control over your food costs, the formula you use needs to flex to suit your restaurant category and priorities. Does yours? You could start by calculating the cost of every dish on your menu, but you’ll likely get a more accurate cost of a dish against the overall cost of running your business if you use a target based on your cost of goods sold (COGS). Depending on the type of restaurant you run, that COGS will vary. While food costs tend to fall between 28 and 30 percent of total food sales, they skew higher for full-service restaurants, which sell higher-margin alcohol and include a premium for table service, according to the accountancy and business advisory network Baker Tilly. Orderly suggests several ideal COGS targets based on different restaurant profiles. Full-service restaurants should aim for a COGS in the low-to-mid 30s and may find room to trim costs if they manage their bar costs closely and also monitor market prices of fresh, local produce. Bakeries, on the other end of the spectrum, should have a COGS in the low 20s or below — the same goes for pizza restaurants. The challenge in these restaurants is managing food waste and playing close attention to inventory so you’re not over-ordering or buying ingredients at premium prices. Pizza restaurants have the added challenge of watching market prices of fresh ingredients but can manage that with lower labor costs and the addition of higher-margin items to the menu. Ethnic restaurants should target a COGS in the high 20s. While they benefit from less-expensive ingredients like noodles, pasta and rice, they may need to rely on more specialized suppliers of sauces and spices — that’s where they’re more likely to see costs spike. In general, the more specialty offerings you have, such as premium cuts of meat or hard-to-find toppings or other ingredients, the higher your COGS will rise. That’s okay — it’s just important to look for ways to balance those costs with careful inventory and supplier management, menu innovation (especially at the bar) and labor cost management. (Need help? Team Four can advise you in these areas.)
Go with your gut
As medical research continues to point to digestive health as the foundation for a person’s overall health, both nutrition consultancies and food distributors have identified “gut-healthy foods” as a top food trend for 2019. Food Business News reports that probiotics are finding their way into products such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters and soups. The good news is that it’s easy for restaurants to accommodate the trend. To give your menu a probiotic boost, incorporate cultured or fermented foods like buttermilk, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and yogurt. For prebiotic fiber, try bananas as well as asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions.
Bring your costs and the market into “Alignment”
Before any product arrives at your door and on the plate of your guest, it passes through many hands and layers of pricing and profit formulas. The system is complicated — and ripe for pricing errors due largely to the manual processes still used to conduct business. One weak link in the supply chain can result in billing errors between manufacturers, distributors and you. Team Four launched a new program — Alignment4 — to help you identify those errors and correct them quickly so you can proactively manage your food costs. The program starts by analyzing receipts from your distributors, then examining product-level detail by invoice for a set amount of time. We can then plug in items that have been specially priced and compare them to what you were actually charged. The program can not only determine if a billing mistake was made, but it can also help you identify purchasing trends so you have a better sense of market values. If you are having a food-cost problem, Alignment4 can analyze your data and determine (soon at a daily speed) if a pricing mistake was made, if there was a temporary change in the market following a hurricane, or if a simple shift in your product mix might solve the problem. It converts data into actionable steps to lower food costs while helping you maintain standards for food quality and guest satisfaction. Gaining this insight into your data (all while keeping it anonymous) through Alignment4 provides other benefits too: You will get a customized inflation and market report that considers your past purchases and product mix, providing you with meaningful information to help you set menu selections, prices and portion sizes. Team Four can also approach suppliers on your behalf and solicit opportunities for you to consolidate purchases with other operators, whether you have 1000 locations or just one. For more information about how Alignment4 can help your restaurant, contact us at email@example.com.
Restaurant investment designed to maximize shared resources
As investors look to bring the next foodservice concepts to fruition, a new trend is becoming clear: Much like the transportation, retail, media and logistics industries before it, foodservice businesses are now attracting technology investment designed to streamline and bring efficiencies to multiple operations at once. For example, Tech Crunch reports that millions of dollars are now flowing into networks of shared kitchens, storage facilities and pickup counters that are likely to become the next big restaurant brands. These networks can help cut back on overhead and make operators more nimble when it comes to hiring labor and conceiving of new menu concepts. The trend is something existing operators can put into practice too: How might you and your neighboring businesses collaborate or share resources to become more efficient and flexible?
Remind employees to lather up
As the season of colds and flu approaches, remind your staff of the importance of washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds at regular intervals. It’s the best way to remove the kinds of pathogens foodservice workers carry on their hands. Make it regular soap, since antibacterial soap needs additional scrub time to kill bacteria and doesn’t affect viruses and other pathogens, according to Statefoodsafety.com. Antibacterial hand sanitizers are helpful once employees have washed their hands with soap and water, but they are less effective when they come into contact with water, proteins, feces and blood and they will not kill norovirus, which is the top cause of foodborne illness outbreaks.
Shift to a four-week accounting cycle
How often do you conduct accounting reviews of your business? If you work on a monthly basis, you may want to reconsider: Orderly suggests accounting reviews on a four-week cycle, giving you 13 four-week periods to review over the course of a year. Since each cycle is exactly 28 days, you will be able to make more accurate comparisons to other periods in order to calculate your profits and losses.
Get to know Alexa
Could voice-activated ordering have a place in your business? The technology is poised to change the mobile ordering landscape in the near future. The consulting firm Capgemini expects consumers to use voice technology for 18 percent of their total spending within three years — up from 3 percent now. Forbes reports that Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Denny’s, Wingstop and Fazoli’s are among the brands that now offer voice ordering, with many using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, a chatbot or some combination to allow customers to place an order. The tech startup Orderscape, which currently works with brands including Fazoli’s, reports being in discussions with more than 20 other brands looking to build business via voice search. Orderscape’s CEO predicts the technology will soon evolve into a more interactive, frictionless conversation in which the customer can order the full menu — not simply place a reorder or choose from a slimmed-down variety of options.
Mind your budget busters
How well do you adhere to your restaurant budget? Restaurantowner.com says the vast majority of restaurant failures are, at least in part, the result of a budget that is not at the foundation of key business decisions and lacks accountability. Setting — and sticking to — your operation’s budget will help you identify where you need to save and where you can afford to invest. Upserve recently shared several factors that can negatively impact your numbers. For one, poor management of your inventory can lead to between 4 and 10 percent of your inventory being wasted, so move away from paper-and-pencil inventory management and toward technology that allows you to take a holistic view of your business and spot problems before they become costly. Without such a system, it’s easy for you to lose control of portion sizes and present an inconsistent experience to guests, or to miss signs of employee theft —problems that can also hurt your budget. (Remember to update your software regularly to stay in step with changes to your system.) Next, understand how to retain your best people, since the average cost of replacing a front-line employee is nearly $6,000, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. It can help to reward your top performers and engage employees so they feel invested in the business, as can interviewing employees who are leaving.
For some restaurants looking to minimize food waste by using the entire fruit or vegetable, the compost bin is sparking innovation — and chefs are making no attempt to hide it. Restaurant Business reports that Spice Kitchen & Bar in Cleveland offers “compesto,” a changing concoction of carrot tops, parsley stems and other vegetable trimmings that would have landed in the compost bin, and blends it with couscous as the base for a halibut dish. At Graffiti Earth in New York, a soup was promoted online with the hashtag #eatmycompost.
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.
About Food For Thought and Profit
Food For Thought And Profit is brought to you by Team Four Foodservice/Value 4. We offer the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.