Do you have a thorough crisis management plan? How much confidence do you have in it? At a time when a single bad experience at a restaurant can spread online overnight, having a step-by-step guide in place can help you respond better in the moment, keep the issue out of the public eye and get back on track more quickly whether you face a severe crisis like a hurricane causing flood damage or a small one like a scathing review on TripAdvisor. To help, first gather input from your team at all levels so you have a handle on the range of scenarios you might face, what actions would be required to resolve them and which stakeholders are likely to be impacted. Draft some simple, clear talking points that can be adapted to each scenario and present you as both in control of the situation and interested in doing all you can to improve it and keep stakeholders informed. Develop a communication grid that includes those key points, the person responsible for delivering the message, and the ideal communication channel for the message. For larger crises that are likely going to end up gathering momentum online, consider proactively reaching out to someone you trust in the media and providing an interview. After the fact, assess what went well with your crisis management effort and what could have been improved so you can update your plan with new risks, stakeholders or talking points to keep in mind. View some additional crisis management plan guidelines and find sample templates here.
Looking to evolve your methods of collecting guest feedback? Artificial intelligence has been creeping into this space and helping restaurant operators and other businesses assemble reliable data from guests. Chatter is one company to watch. As the Financial Post reports, Chatter has created a tool that uses machine learning to create natural-sounding text messages from the brand. A guest who opts in receives an automated text message with some open-ended questions about the experience they just had. As Chatter puts it, it’s like having a constantly running focus group that depends on conversation instead of a numbered ratings system. Chatter says its platform collects feedback across 850 different categories – more than the 50 to 60 that traditional AI platforms offer – and then assembles completed results into data that can be viewed on a dashboard that helps operators see what is and isn’t working. Chatter won accolades from the Information Technology Association of Canada last year and its AI chatbot is already in use by the likes of McDonald’s and a number of retail brands.
Restaurant operators often have a love-hate relationship with delivery: They want to accommodate customers’ need for it but often see it as a minefield of challenges. A newly released RestaurantOwner.com survey of 1,000 operators confirms these mixed feelings. More than half of the operators surveyed (56 percent) offer some form of delivery at their restaurant, yet 47 percent of those operators plan to make some changes to their delivery offering. Delivery is worthwhile on the whole -- 67 percent of operators surveyed who use third-party delivery said they were satisfied with the service -- but those who were dissatisfied had feedback that fit three key themes explaining why: the high fees charged by third-party providers, poor service delivered by drivers at those companies, and a lack of control over food quality and presentation. If you’re in the latter category, understanding the overall landscape may help you adjust your delivery strategy. In terms of costs, there was a wide range of fees charged by third-party providers – enough variation to indicate that operators may have some wiggle room when landing on their ideal revenue model: Most operators surveyed are being charged between 21 and 30 percent of the sale but 11 percent being charged less than 6 percent and 3 percent aren’t being charged at all (the delivery service places the order and charges the fee to the customer). To gain more control over the service and overall experience provided, operators who are making changes are taking such steps as adjusting the packaging they use for delivering food (perhaps to both keep food at the proper temperature and to prevent driver tampering), integrating their POS with delivery, limiting delivery to weekdays when the restaurant is in greater need of business, and even – much like large brands like Panera and Domino’s who are showing how it can be profitable and protect the customer experience -- taking on the management of a delivery fleet themselves.
Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable with (and even reliant on) digital assistants. For proof, just ask Alexa: Earlier this year, Amazon announced it had sold more than 100 million Alexa devices to date. For their part, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri have hundreds of millions of users apiece. Foodservice brands are finding new ways to tap into consumers’ growing ease with such tech tools. Take Aramark, which has partnered with the tech company Mashgin to expand its use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the baseball parks where it operates. Mashgin offers express self-checkout kiosks that are capable of scanning multiple items at once without barcodes, Verdict Foodservice reports. The result is a faster payment and a shorter time waiting in line for consumers, a valuable service when you’re dashing to pick up food and merchandise between innings. Every transaction then feeds data back to Aramark about consumer preferences.
About 40 percent of people discover food and restaurants through websites, blogs or social media, according to research from Valpak. Tapping into social media influencers can help you get some business from local consumers — but how can you get the right kind of attention from those gatekeepers? An Entrepreneur report suggests avoiding the big fish in favor of smaller, more local influencers who have enough followers to deliver an impact but not so many that they won’t notice you. Take a look at their engagement rates and make sure each one of their posts garners sufficient engagement (e.g. Valpak advises that if only 2 percent of their 100,000 followers comment on or like a post, it may not be worth your while to connect with them). Make an effort to do some background research on the person’s values and overall brand to make sure your business aligns accordingly, and take note of what the person likes and dislikes so you’ll have a sense of who they are before you ask for any favors. On that note, always give before taking. That could mean doing something as simple as sharing the person’s post, or making pertinent comments on their blog posts that help further the conversation in a productive way. If you make a request, respect their time and if you don’t get the kind of response you’d like, be patient and move on until you find the right match.
Imagine being able to cater to your guests’ food preferences and sensitivities — all without having to train employees. AI is making that a reality for restaurants. One example is THE.FIT, which can help restaurants personalize menus and even show a person what he can or can’t eat due to allergies or other dietary restrictions. The idea is to make guests’ experiences so customized that it’s just as easy for them to eat out — and order more of their favorite foods — as it would be to prepare their ideal dish at home. The Spoon reports that to use the technology, customers simply scan a QR code on a restaurant menu via smartphone, select their dietary requirements and then the technology will generate a new menu based on the person’s preferences. The tool already knows the ingredients on a restaurant’s menu and what someone following a specific diet (e.g. keto) can and cannot eat, then saves those preferences for the next time the person dines with the restaurant.
It’s easy for cross-contamination to happen at the grill, particularly when you have produce, proteins and different marinades in close proximity and vying for a limited amount of cooking space. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cooks start with a grill that is clean and free from any charred bits of food that may spread bacteria. Make sure you have separate plates, trays, tongs, basting brushes and other cooking utensils for cooked and uncooked foods, and wash them with hot, soapy water between uses. When using marinades, keep a separate container of marinade for use on cooked items and discard any marinade covering raw proteins. Finally, use paper towels or wipes — not dishtowels — to clean up any spills.
If your food safety values aren’t second nature to your team, there are steps you can take to improve your culture. A Fast Casual report by the president of Steritech advises operators first explain the why behind each food safety practice they preach — i.e. hearing that bacteria can spread more easily and cross-contaminate food when chicken is stored on the wrong refrigerator shelf is more compelling than hearing that chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf. Next, celebrate wins. Five Guys, which has conducted research into communication practices that engage employees, offers monetary rewards and other incentives to stores that score highly on safety
assessments. Chicken Salad Chick celebrates top performers at an annual banquet and funds parties for top-performing stores. Along those lines, focus significantly more on positive feedback than on negative. Harvard Business Review research found that reinforcing six things someone does well for every individual item that needs improvement leads to better overall performance.
Identifying and halting foodborne illness quickly takes a 360-degree approach, with restaurants looking both internally and externally for signs of trouble. Chick-fil-A recently unveiled a system that uses social media and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify such threats. Venture Beat reports that the brand is using algorithms to scan social media sites for potential food safety problems at its 2,400 restaurants across 47 states. Every 10 minutes, the AI framework reviews data from 10 social media platforms, then scans it for 500 different terms, ranging from “food poisoning” to “nausea”, that can provide clues to a food safety issue at a restaurant. The terms are also reviewed by AWS Comprehend, Amazon’s natural language processing service, for sentiment and legitimacy. Managers are alerted to problems via push notifications and can contact customers directly via social media to investigate the issues. To date, the brand reports a 78 percent accuracy rate for the system.
Digital ordering and delivery have grown 300 percent faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, according to Upserve. Thinking of isolating production lines in your restaurant to better accommodate off-premise traffic? Chili’s is seeing the value of it. The brand changed its kitchen structure to allow for better production-line preparation of menu items, and pared down its menu to include more profitable items. It has generated consecutive quarters of double-digit off-premise sales increases as a result. As restaurant operators contemplate how to adjust their business model to accommodate off-premise sales, companies continue to spring up to offer solutions. While ghost kitchens and cloud kitchens have made headlines, alternatives to those alternative spaces are becoming available. One example is KitchenPodular, a new company that develops modular, portable kitchen kits that contain electrical and plumbing, sinks, a walk-in cooler, and a ventilation hood and offer the option of a drive-through or walk-up window — operators supply their own oven and stove. The kit (each costs an average of $150,000 and ranges from 206 to 430 square feet in size) can be set up in a restaurant’s existing parking lot, on the outskirts of a city as part of a hub-and-spoke structure, or placed in another preferred location. KitchenPodular CEO Mike Manion, who was featured on a recent episode of The Takeout, Delivery and Catering Show, said these kits can provide restaurant with a turnkey solution for isolating production lines and churning out food to different customer bases more effectively. While they may not be for everyone — as The Spoon points out, they’re still facilities that need to be managed and staffed, and they don’t offer any shared labor for cleaning and dishwashing that one might find in a cloud kitchen — it’s another option to consider if you’re looking for a way to adapt on an ongoing basis to new streams of traffic.
It may still sound futuristic, but as artificial intelligence (AI) applications appear in the restaurant industry, you will want to ensure your technology can adapt to enable them. As DineEngine reports, there are a number of AI-enabled enhancements making it possible for operators to improve sales and customer relations. Are there hiccups in your ordering process? A chatbot or virtual assistant can lead someone through placing an order, suggest food based on the person’s preferences and never forget to upsell profitable additions. They can also handle customer inquiries and orders at any time of day or night, so instead of a staff member taking time to discuss a catering order during your dinner rush, your chatbot can iron out the details overnight.
Artificial intelligence (AI) might still sound a little futuristic — or like technology that mainly large national brands can harness at this stage. But the next decade should be eye-opening: By 2030, almost 70 percent of businesses will use some form of AI in their operation, according to McKinsey research. Restaurants that readily understand how to adopt it and where it can provide the greatest value should be able to gain a competitive advantage. Restaurant Nuts suggests two areas that are ripe for AI adoption in restaurants of any size: improving sourcing and translating reams of data into sales. For example, when you consider your inventory, how accurate are you able to be about the items you will need? Do you rely on last year’s data mixed with some guesswork? AI can use predictive analytics that incorporate historical data from a range of relevant periods, along with weather, holidays and other factors that can impact demand, to help eliminate the trial and error that can waste money. Further, even if you have a POS system that gathers thousands of data points about your guests, that data is only useful to you if you’re able to analyze it quickly and apply it to strategies that will keep guests happy and returning. AI can help operators by collecting a wide range of data about everything from sales to purchasing, then assessing it against current consumer trends. As a result, you’ll be able to make decisions in real time, not weeks or months behind schedule. Forbes reports that the hospitality technology company Fourth, which supports such brands as TGI Friday’s, Eataly, Bar Louie and Dairy Queen, among others, is one that has expanded into AI recently. Other reports indicate that McDonald’s uses AI to find diverse employee candidates. Look for more restaurant technology systems to start to integrate AI functionality into their software.
Blockchain technology has been slow to take off in the restaurant industry. But the launch of a new credit card currently accepted by Palo Alto, Calif. merchants and restaurants could help restaurants see the tangible benefits. Restaurant Dive reports that Yosemite X, a technology company that developed a public blockchain platform, has just launched Yosemite Card, a 0 percent transaction fee credit card that is expected to save businesses 2-3 percent on transaction costs annually. It generates a random PIN every 30 seconds, which could provide protection against data breaches, and it can also integrate with a restaurant’s existing systems to offer a rewards program. The technology could still be a ways off from being widespread in the industry, but applications like this could well provide telling data points about how blockchain can help restaurants improve margins, as well as manage and protect their data.
Looking for a loyal guest who will drive miles out of his way to eat at your restaurant? Boost your operation’s allergy awareness and communication. People with food allergies are a vocal and close-knit group, notes Francine Shaw of Savvy Food Safety, and they won’t hesitate to share their
experiences in restaurants with others. Shaw told Modern Restaurant Management that communication is paramount: Your staff should ask each party if there are allergies in the group, and if so, there should be constant communication between the manager, chef and server throughout the preparation, plating and serving of the meal. When guests have questions, direct them to the chef, who should have up-to-date information on allergens and allergen aliases. All employees need to be part of the effort, so have regular training sessions and refreshers on how to manage allergies in various scenarios.
Consumer taste trends change fast — often faster than operators are able to forecast themselves. Now, AI is helping food companies stay a step ahead of consumer demand. Food Dive reports that the tech startup Tastewise surveys billions of food and beverage data points including one billion food photos shared monthly, 153,000 U.S. restaurant menus and more than one million recipes. It then synthesizes that information to pinpoint up-and-coming, on-trend ingredients and other market opportunities to meet consumer demand. The insights are both local and national so they may help operators identify micro trends as well as more widespread consumer preferences.
Could your Instagram presence carry more weight than your Yelp reviews? Instagram influencers are surpassing Yelp Elite — the review site’s subgroup of users that Yelp has recognized for their quality recommendations and reviews, among other qualities — according to a recent Eater report. Considering a Fundera poll that found that 69 percent of millennial diners photograph their food before eating it, Instagram’s power makes sense. It is an ideal platform for you to benefit from user-generated content if you create the right conditions for it. To help boost your Instagram presence, Next Restaurants suggests you add some eye candy — have one distinctive visual element in your restaurant that belongs in photos. That could be accomplished with eye-catching flowers or plants, unusual art or wallpaper that serves as a memorable backdrop, seasonal décor, or unique signage. Add photo-friendly lighting, attractive plates and food presentations, and you have the components you need for compelling photos. Then entice guests with a freebie or discount in exchange for posting a photo with your hashtag and geotag, along with tagging your account. When you have a special event or a new menu to promote, up the ante by running a contest that awards a gift certificate as a prize for the best post. When your guests post content, be sure to do your part and like, comment and share their posts (with credit) to build on your connection. If you know of some Instagram influencers who resonate with your target market, it may be worth your while to invite them in for a free dinner when you want to make a big splash for a grand opening or a rebrand.
Restaurant operators have reams of data at their fingertips to help make business decisions — but quickly distilling all of that data into actionable steps is another story. That’s where artificial intelligence is starting to make a difference, according to Rajat Suri, founder of the tech company Presto. In a recent Restaurant Dive report, he predicted that tabletop technology, connected with wearable technology for restaurant staff and a restaurant’s POS, will increasingly improve service efficiency and — perhaps more importantly — be able to translate data into staff alerts that anticipate guest needs. Presto technology can currently inform staff via wearable technology that there is a line at the door and they need to speed up service, for example. It can also analyze tabletop tablets and change up the menu items they promote in an effort to increase revenue at different parts of the day. Watch for AI to continue to ease the burden of decision making in the years ahead.
At a time when just about any activity in your kitchen can be monitored remotely with the help of sensors, the same is true of pest control. Systems currently on the market have their advantages and disadvantages. They provide the opportunity for round-the-clock monitoring of pest activity when people aren’t around and rodents are more likely to emerge, as well as continuous tracking out-of-the-way places like false ceilings, rooflines or areas of your operation that are secured for safety reasons. There’s also opportunity to collect longterm data about your pest activity and determine what behaviors might be leading to it. On the minus side, false positives can happen with these systems, so they may be best suited for low-traffic areas of your facility.
The powerful Gen Y and Z consumer loves to eat restaurant food but is less enthusiastic when it comes to alcohol. (Case in point: The “juice crawl” is becoming a popular alternative to the bar crawl in major cities.) This is actually a big opportunity for your beverage menu to profit with lower-overhead options that incorporate on-trend flavors and health-conscious ingredients. Cake suggests using floral and spicy flavors like lavender and ginger to bring creative twists to traditional drinks. A survey of 16-24 year olds conducted by the thinktank Demos found that health was the most common reason why young people drinking less, so take that into account. In addition to using more fresh produce in your drinks, accommodate dietary restrictions by limiting sugar — for sweet alternatives, try stevia, agave or honey — and offering a variety of nondairy options for those looking to limit lactose and excess fat.
Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword in the industry for some time now, but some restaurant analysts see 2019 as a turning point for the technology — not just in terms of how operators staff and manage their businesses but in how they monitor their food supply. As ITProPortal reports, Spyce, an automated restaurant run by MIT students, is one example of a fully automated restaurant, with everything from ordering to cleaning to cooking done by machines. But even if you’re running a much lower-tech operation, AI can have applications. Aaron Cohen, co-founder and vice president of business development for CoInspect, told FastCasual that predictive AI will have increasing influence in the supply chain, helping food companies anticipate and identify problems, from product irregularities to security breaches, before they cause harm.
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