When you log on to Facebook, it typically takes just a moment to see advertisements for items you are likely to buy. These ads aren’t merely tailored to people in your demographic or posted based on the weather or what other consumers happen to be buying that day. They are tailored to you, specifically. Yet somehow, in the current era of personalization, restaurant menus are lagging. At a time when an estimated 32 million American consumers have a food allergy, and many others have a food intolerance or follow some specific eating regimen, be it paleo or plant-based or Whole 30 diets, even the most forward-thinking of restaurants don’t yet provide menus that are designed for an individual consumer. Expect that to change, particularly in light of McDonald’s recent purchase of the menu personalization startup Dynamic Yield. At the moment, restaurant menu personalization is more about adjusting menus based upon broader environmental conditions as opposed to individual consumer tastes. And as The Spoon reports, a number of barriers still remain when it comes to gaining consumers’ trust with personal data. But it’s not difficult to see a time when a person with a nut allergy might be able to log in at a restaurant and bring up a variety of nut-free food choices based on items he or she has ordered at that restaurant and elsewhere, or reviewed on Yelp, posted on Instagram, or even “liked” on Facebook. How do you accommodate personalization at your restaurant? Does your tech currently help you in this effort?
Restaurant take-out supplies comprise a large percentage of the waste that ends up in oceans and landfills. Beyond limiting your single-use plastic, particularly the black plastic that research has confirmed is hazardous not just to the environment but also to human health, there are steps you can take to scale back your waste and to send the message to guests that you care about the environment. Start by conducting a waste audit so you have a clear picture of which menu items, packaging and office supplies generate the most waste, then adjust portion sizes and purchase orders accordingly. Buy non-perishable items in bulk if possible and use suppliers who can provide recyclable products and use less packaging on the items you purchase. Make extra napkins, straws, lids and other paper goods available upon request only. Finally, minimize the paper you generate by asking guests if you can email or text their receipt instead of printing it.
If you operate a restaurant in or near a college town, you’re in a sweet spot: You have access to a large concentration of food-savvy consumers who are looking for their next meal or snack (and are likely not preparing it themselves). If you deliver food, you’re also more likely to be able to maximize your profits by delivering multiple orders in a single trip. But becoming a campus favorite takes some strategy, particularly if you offer higher-end dishes or are otherwise not an ideal match for a student on a budget. To appeal to the convenience- and cost-driven college consumer, Running Restaurants suggests partnering with the college or university on any programs they offer that allow students to use some of their on-campus dining credits at your restaurant. Encourage word about your restaurant to spread on campus by offering promotions in the campus newspaper, taking part in pop-up food events, and hosting happy hours or other social events. Your online presence is important with this demographic, so make sure you offer online ordering and encourage engagement via social media (your social media handle should be visible on all of your marketing materials). Finally, values and transparency count with this community, so if you have a good story to tell about the local produce you offer, or charities you support, or eco-friendly business practices you have long used, talk it up.
If you have ever visited a bakery at the end of the day and scored some steeply discounted bread, you might appreciate an app like Feedback, which helps restaurants with extra meals on hand at the end of the day connect with hungry consumers. Pymts.com reports that the app uses a dynamic pricing model, so a restaurant might charge $10 for a salad at the start of the day but then adjust the discount based on demand throughout the afternoon. While the app is based in Canada and hasn’t yet made it to the U.S., it offers a more universal lesson on how harnessing data about what you’re selling each day can give you tools to help you run business more efficiently, limit waste, and even attract some new customers. The developer behind the app was inspired to pursue the idea when he was presented with the opportunity to buy discounted pizzas at the end of a restaurant shift. How can you use your tech to connect your extra food supply with guests?
The popular guidance on offering restaurant delivery can sound a bit counterintuitive: Find a way to make delivery work, despite the economic challenges it can create, or lose relevance with consumers. A new report in the Washington Post emphasized that point, indicating that the most recent industry earnings calls demonstrated the dramatic impact (positive and negative) of digital ordering and delivery on restaurants. Domino’s, for one, indicated that despite strong sales growth, it felt pressured by the “aggressive marketing of third-party aggregators.” Delivery is also having a big effect on Chipotle, which saw digital sales skyrocket more than 100 percent from the same period last year following a delivery promotion. The demand for digital ordering and delivery is clear. But as third-party delivery companies vie for business with enticing offers, how can you make delivery work for you financially? Consider raising your prices. If recent operator experiences are any indication, the extra cost won’t deter customers who value convenience. A report in Restaurant Business said when Habit Burger launched delivery last year, it increased the cost of delivery orders by 25 percent. Initially, third-party delivery companies were against this move, fearing pushback from consumers. But that has not occurred and delivery companies have softened to the idea. As you flex your business to accommodate more delivery orders, you may be surprised at consumer flexibility on price.
If you’re currently adjusting your approach to managing labor challenges, repetitive kitchen tasks or the overall experience you provide guests, a number of tech companies are working on solutions to help. At the recent food robotics summit ArticulATE, leaders of these companies sounded off on what’s in the pipeline, and as SmartBrief reports, a key theme of discussion was finding ways for technology to blend seamlessly with human employees and guests, while freeing up employees for more creative tasks. The formula isn’t the same for every restaurant. While there is technology available that can automate burger flipping and fryer operation (Miso Robotics), baking bread (Wilkinson Baking Company, among others), serving guests (Bear Robotics) and delivering food, finding the right kind of automation for your business is about understanding what is best for developing your employees and serving guests. As the CEO of Creator, the restaurant in San Francisco that uses robots to make the perfect burger but has not automated the taking of orders, said: “Our goal is not to be the world’s most automated restaurant, our goal is not to have as few people as possible -- the goal is to have the best experience possible.”
Not every restaurant wants to be family-friendly. But if families are in your target demographic, there are steps you can take to serve them well as summer approaches and they spend more time eating out. First, offer some healthy (or at least real) options: think chicken nuggets that are breaded and baked instead of deep-fried, fresh fruit and vegetables, and desserts that aren’t packed with sugar and artificial ingredients. Scale down portion sizes and be flexible with sauces, sides and substitutions to accommodate allergies and fickle appetites. Package or present kids’ options as meal deals with creative, kid-friendly themes — and weave in your branding to get a social media boost. Adjust the rhythm of the meal so you serve adult drinks and kids’ appetizers first, follow with adult appetizers and kids’ meals, and then serve adult entrées and kids’ desserts. Offer crayons and create an activity placemat or cover tables in butcher paper so parents don’t have to struggle to keep kids entertained while they wait. And speaking of making things easier for parents, try offering a kids-eat-free deal on days when you’re also promoting parent-friendly specials. If you have the space available, seat families at booths or larger tables that can accommodate extra gear and give children space to spread out. Having changing stations (or at least a flat space that can be used as one) in all restrooms can help make your restaurant an easier choice for families too.
The purpose of restaurant apps is evolving. According to research from App Annie, Gen Z, as compared with other generations, is 30 percent more engaged in apps that aren’t about gaming and other forms of entertainment. Instead, they value apps that are key to the mobile checkout process and help to keep them loyal to and engaged in a brand. Last year, Americans overall spent 140 percent more time in food and drink apps than they did during the two years prior to that. While there are certainly more apps joining the market that help account for that growth, operators are also becoming more savvy about guest engagement. Connecting with consumers and elevating their level of engagement is less about having an app that entertains and more about providing a simple, relevant, customizable experience whether the person is accessing the restaurant online or in person.
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) could have nationwide implications for how restaurants manage their data, protect consumer privacy and market their business. The National Restaurant Association hosted a webinar recently with Helen Goff Foster, a partner in the Technology + Privacy & Security for Davis Wright Tremaine, who reviewed the implications of the law, which is set to go into effect next year and could likely set similar legislation in motion in other states. The act will impact how businesses manage the consumer data they collect and the loyalty programs they operate. Unlike GDPR, which is about having consumers opt in to providing personal information, CCPA is about allowing them to opt out. In broad terms, for a wide swath of businesses, the law requires businesses to let consumers access the personal information you track, and gives them the right to delete information, and to opt out of the sale of that information. It also requires you to give consumers two methods of contacting you about it (including an 800 number). Businesses must therefore be able to retrieve consumer information across its affiliates, business units, product lines, etc. The law is intended to prevent businesses from providing discounted service or price to certain customers but not others (which clearly creates some hazy territory for businesses operating loyalty programs). There are fines in the thousands of dollars for violating the law and businesses could also be exposed to a private right of legal action by consumers against the business and its affiliates. Franchises could be especially vulnerable because they could bear legal risk but aren’t able to dictate privacy policies of their parent company. Foster advised that the best thing businesses can do now is identify where their consumer information is and how to access it. You’ll need to determine how to provide opt-outs for most of your consumer data and assess the ability of your vendors to do so as well, so update (or establish) your information security program. For more information about the law’s potential effects on restaurants, access Foster’s webinar and Q&A here.
The real power may lie not with restaurants but with the delivery apps and food delivery companies that help them get their food to consumers. That’s the implication of two recent reports in the Wall Street Journal, which indicate that these companies are poised to move away from traditional introductory offers and toward subscription-model services designed to entice consumers into becoming habitual “superusers.” At a time when millennial consumers are believed to lack loyalty, delivery providers have noticed that offering a one-time discount won’t translate to follow-up business. How does your delivery provider entice customers to return regularly? DoorDash, one provider offering a subscription program, says it has more than 30,000 users signing up each week for their service. It now leads the online food delivery market in total consumer spending.
Your restaurant’s online presence can have just as much power as its in-person presence — particularly if guests check out your restaurant via your website, social media or online reviews before their first meal with you. To ensure you’re managing your online presence effectively, Restaurant Insider recommends you monitor and measure it like you would any advertising initiative. For example, by controlling your Google listing (companies like Menufy can help you make certain links more prominent), you can steer people in search of takeout food toward the provider that serves you best instead of spreading business across several of them. Second, use your reviews to build business. While a good review is always welcome, your professional and calm response to a bad review can send a positive message about the service you deliver and your dedication to improving upon the experience you provide. Finally, your most loyal patrons (not so much the ones finding fault with a meal) should take priority when it comes to being offered free drinks or other special deals on menu items. Use your online loyalty program to take care of the people who already support you and are much more likely to continue to give you their business. While sometimes it’s necessary to offer a freebie to a guest who has had a bad experience with you, it’s just as important to make sure the person feels you have heard their feedback and are committed to making their next experience with you more positive.
The practice of standing in line or waiting at a table to pay a bill is gradually becoming a relic of the past. As operators and tech companies have observed the valuable time often wasted at these common pressure points for restaurants, new solutions are popping up to hasten table turnaround times and minimize guests’ anxiety in their time spent at a restaurant — and they won’t necessarily require the guest to download an app to do it. Take Qikserve. Skift Table reports that the company is rolling out technology throughout this year to restaurants in California and Pennsylvania — including 3,500 partner brands — that will allow guests to make a mobile payment and eventually order at the table by either using the brand’s app or by visiting a web page loaded by scanning a QR code at the table. It’s aiming to make life easier for the occasional restaurant visitor not interested in downloading another app. (It also has the potential to turn that occasional visitor into a loyal regular.)
If your guests are game to load funds onto a digital wallet or prepaid gift card in exchange for a special offer, you can help cut back on the fees you have to pay to support credit card transactions. While retailers are charged a fee by credit card companies each time a customer pays with a credit card, Skift Table reports that many of those retailers are bypassing the fees by joining the lower-cost Automated Clearing House network, which was set up decades ago by U.S. banks to facilitate the exchange of money between banks. Other companies, like Starbucks, are encouraging customers to load funds onto a prepaid gift card — a setup that means Starbucks only pays a swipe fee when a customer loads funds onto the cards, not each time she buys a latte. Still others are joining networks (LevelUp is one) that help businesses band together and use their combined scale to negotiate more
How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
Launching a loyalty app? Walk your talk.
Having a loyalty app is a great way to build a strong following — if you don’t look at it as a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of tool. As Cake suggests, having a loyalty app can go far in helping you connect with your audience — especially Millennials and Gen Z, who are apt to spread the word about you on social media. But on the flip side, those guests also have high expectations of your transparency. If you’re targeting this population with your app, be willing to share details about how your food is made, where it comes from and how you manage your business (or at least be ready for questions about it). Having an app is a strong upselling tool, helping you to build check totals by suggesting menu items that may not have been front-of-mind for customers. Just be sure to focus on your guests’ preferences and frequency of visits, as visibly focusing on check tallies (and tying rewards to dollars spent) can be a turnoff. Finally, having a loyalty app can be a data goldmine — but you need to have the foundational technology in place to funnel that data into insights that feed your broader marketing strategy.
As menus and food preparation methods evolve, food safety standards may slip. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Douglas Davis, senior director of global food safety for Marriott International, told attendees at the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium that his team places requests for new foods or techniques into one of three buckets. The first is for risky practices with third-party vendors, the second is for vendors and foods they have worked with before or which have a known risk exposure, and the third is for foods and techniques they haven’t encountered
before. Items in the first bucket go through a business case analysis with the company’s risk management partners. They gather information from Marriott’s hotels about each step of their preparation process to determine if any part of it needs to change. Items in the second bucket are addressed using the company’s existing safety standards, while the methods in the third bucket are assessed by a consultant or microbiologist to ensure safety.
If your restaurant considers how allergic guests avoid exposure to allergens, you may be able to better protect their safety. According to a recent study that surveyed people with allergies who successfully dine out without experiencing reactions, respondents use an average of 15 different strategies to avoid triggering an allergy in restaurants. The study, reported at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s annual conference in November, found that the top five strategies used are speaking to a server upon arrival, ordering food with simple ingredients, double-checking food before eating it, avoiding restaurants with a higher likelihood of cross-contamination and checking meal ingredients on the restaurant’s website. Make sure your team and your website are up to the task.
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are starting to look a lot different. As downloads of food delivery apps have skyrocketed (they’re up 380 percent from just three years ago, according to the data firm App Annie), restaurants are scaling back on their physical footprint. Skift Table reports that Dan Orkin, head of the U.S. restaurant division of CBRE, said many operators are adjusting to having fewer visitors and more delivery business by renegotiating leases and renovations. Many brands are looking to create separate entrances for delivery workers and pick-ups, scaling down their dining areas, or eliminating tables and chairs altogether for a kitchen-only space.
Second only to the retail industry, the restaurant industry is a top employer of Generation Z, the demographic defined as those aged 21 and younger. In 2018, 19 percent of Gen Z worked in restaurants, up from 15 percent in 2017, according to data shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in Orlando. If you are looking to hire a lot of staff in this demographic, are you doing what it takes to attract and retain them? First, just like your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices, your job postings should be too. Gen Z scours job boards, restaurant websites and social media for job leads, and most of that searching is done on their phones. They prefer to be able to apply for jobs that way too, so don’t insist on a written application. Once hired, your Gen Z staff are more likely to stay if you offer them opportunities for training, development and mentorship. According to the research, 60 percent of Gen Z say that the coaching and education they received on the job made them want to stay on and pursue longer-term opportunities there. When it comes to receiving workplace training, Gen Z has clear preferences too: The vast majority (88 percent) like one-on-one and on-the-job training, with online or mobile training modules or videos not far behind. When it doubt, swap out classroom-based or paper-based learning with highly visual platforms that deliver quick, easily digestible lessons.
Safeguard your mobile strategy
Your mobile presence has power: Mobile search behavior by people who search for food using their phones or tablets has a nearly 90 percent conversion rate, according to the study “Mobile Path-to-Purchase” by xAd and Telmetrics. You may be pouring a large portion of your ad spending on mobile as a result, but proceed with caution. Research from the online advertising firm WordStream found that unless a business has a thoughtful mobile strategy, it’s too easy to miss out on business opportunities. Since so many businesses want a piece of the mobile market, the mobile click-through rate decreases 45 percent faster in lower search positions than it does on desktop or tablet computers. The share of impressions on mobile is low as well, with mobile ads less likely to be shown (even in top positions) than they are on desktops. Search costs per click for mobile have also been increasing dramatically in the past year.
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.
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