As the holidays approach, you and many other restaurant operators are likely holding your collective breath and hoping to avoid staff turnover. After all, if you have stretched your operation to accommodate a higher-than-normal rate of holiday traffic, catering orders and events, having your best staff on hand is all the more critical to delivering great service to your guests. But historically, annual employee turnover rates in the hospitality industry have far outpaced those of the private sector, with turnover in the restaurants and accommodations sector surpassing 66 percent compared to 44 percent in the private sector, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If your efforts to retain staff could use some fine tuning, consider recent research from Upserve. The company studied server performance across 3000 restaurants in the U.S. and suggests several tips for retaining staff based on that research. First, measure the average tenure of each position on your staff and design your milestones for incentives around that timeframe and beyond. When staff quit, conduct an exit interview to determine why they are leaving in case it provides insight about how you can keep the employees who remain. On that note, also conduct “stay” interviews with your long-time staff to determine why they stay and how you can keep them. At regular intervals, check in with your staff as a whole to get a realistic sense of the stressors or pain points that make their jobs more difficult and how you can help. Finally, encourage open communication with your staff so they feel comfortable sharing their input about schedules, training and development opportunities.
The applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in restaurants still have many directions to go. As Restaurant Dive reports, while AI is already helping Chick-fil-A identify food safety problems, McDonald’s and Sonic fine-tune their drive-thrus and Chipotle take phone orders, Outback has identified yet another application of the technology. In an effort to improve its guest experience, Outback is testing an AI system that uses lobby cameras to record interactions between employees and guests, track wait times and identify when people leave without being greeted or seated. While the initial program focuses on employee-guest interactions in the lobby, it may expand to include the kitchen, curbside pickup and dining room. Data from the AI system is sent to managers in real time so they have an opportunity to resolve problems before a guest has an opportunity to leave a negative review.
Do you use video to connect with customers and even staff? If not, doing so could pay off. Recent research from Brightcove found that 85 percent of consumers aged 18-34 say they have bought a product or service after watching a video about it. Further, consumers surveyed in the study said they find video to be the most memorable form of content ― they ranked it above display ads, email marketing, case studies, text ads, and other forms of promotion. Videos can help potential guests connect with your brand and share it with their friends, which in turn can boost your search engine optimization. Cake suggests using videos on your website and social media to share a seasonal recipe tutorial, showcase your restaurant’s interior or some interesting aspect of its history, introduce staff members or guests, or promote new food and drink menus. Since video can help people connect with your brand and present you as authentic and trustworthy, it can benefit your staff recruitment efforts too. Showcase your employees ― both in the front and back of house ― going about their daily work and talking about what they like about their jobs, which can help give potential employees a better sense of your restaurant’s work environment than any job description could. Toast suggests you use a gimbal or tripod to ensure your video isn’t wobbly, lighting (inexpensive lighting kits can help), and a microphone or voice-over recording. You can use free software to edit the video you produce and Shutterstock can help you licence royalty-free music for your video if needed. Once you upload your video to YouTube, share its link on your website job page, job applications and your social media platforms.
A restaurant server taking an order could have ample reason to avoid upselling a guest: Perhaps the guest or the server is in a hurry, for example, or the guest seems decisive about what he wants (or doesn’t want) to order. Valyant AI is trying to help operators avoid those scenarios. At the recent Restaurant Technology Summit in New York, artificial intelligence (AI) was used to show how restaurants can provide the human touch without missing out on opportunities to upsell. Restaurant Business reports that Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, and the burger chain Good Times are testing an AI system from Valyant AI that converses with guests placing an order and never misses an opportunity to upsell. Valyant’s CEO said the system once successfully upsold 23 percent of the orders it took in a day.
Across industries in the U.S., labor productivity has effectively doubled over the past 30 years, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the foodservice industry has been among the slowest to grow, at about 80 percent below the national average and ranking just below the post office and just above the mining industry in productivity. The food and beverage strategy firm Aaron Allen & Associates points to one culprit holding the industry’s productivity back: restaurants’ slow adoption of new technologies. The company says the next five years will be more disruptive to foodservice operators than the past 50 years have been, and slow adopters of technology are likely to be left behind. Specifically, technology is making the restaurant experience more and more frictionless for customers and operators alike: Once a consumer gets used to ordering his favorite take-away meal with merely a couple of taps on his phone, then automatically earning loyalty points redeemable for this item at the times of the week when he craves it most, he won’t want to give up that experience. Similarly, once an operator is using tech to monitor everything from the most popular menu items to the functionality of appliances, she has time to focus on providing better customer service, connecting with staff or even scaling up the business. While these updates can be difficult to transition to for an older operation used to managing business more conventionally, restaurant startups are launching with this technology already embedded into their business models ― and it’s giving them a clear advantage when competing with more established brands.
Food packaging technology is evolving so fast that it’s making plastic cutlery seem almost quaint. A startup called Planeteer LLC, for example, has taken on the challenge of packaging waste and developed a variety of cutlery that isn’t merely compostable but also edible. The company has created a spoon that it promises will hold its shape for 25 minutes in hot soup and 50 minutes in a cold dessert, The Spoon reports. Planeteer cofounder Dinesh Tadepalli said it is vegan, all-natural, rich in protein and composts in days if not consumed. The company will be presenting its product at the Smart Kitchen Summit’s Future Food Competition in October.
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.
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