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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