As the weather warms up and guests are looking to cool down with chilled food and beverages, remember to treat your ice like food — or risk spreading harmful bacteria. Train employees to wash hands before handling ice and to not touch ice with their bare hands but use clean, sanitized scoops.
Statefoodsafety.com also advises that any ice used to chill food or beverages be made from drinking water to prevent contamination.
Chicken causes more foodborne illness than any other food, according to new data from the CDC. While this may be an indicator that new systems in place to identify threats are working — not that our food is less safe — it’s still important to respect chicken’s risks. Salmonella and campylobacter remain the most common causes of foodborne illness outbreaks and these bacteria are often found in chicken products. To protect your guests, avoid cross-contamination as a result of chicken coming into contact with hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and other foods. Thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold water but covered (washing it can spread bacteria), or in the microwave. When cooking chicken, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees measured at the thickest part of the thigh.
As vegetarian and vegan food continue to rise on lunch and dinner menus, it makes sense that breakfast would follow. (And operators would be wise to tap the breakfast segment if they haven’t already: Data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that breakfast accounts for 21 percent of all restaurant traffic — and guests are welcoming breakfast foods throughout the day.) So how can operators compete on breakfast? Skift Table reports that Just, a vegan food company that makes an egg protein substitute called Just Egg, is positioning itself as the leader in the category and has new partnerships with casual dining brands that will soon be offering the product on menus. Aside from eggs, breakfast bowls and protein bars — packed with almond or oat milk, chia seeds, quinoa and nut butters —provide a lot of opportunity for building creative, protein-rich combinations too.
A study by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service that observed participants cooking in a test kitchen found that 97 percent of attempts to wash hands failed. That resulted in 48 percent of participants cross-contaminating spice jars by transferring harmless microorganisms that act much like human pathogens. (The USDA reports that Campylobacter and Salmonella, bacteria found in poultry, may survive on food contact surfaces for up to four and 32 hours, respectively.) Another 5 percent of participants in the study transferred bacteria to salads they prepared. It’s worth a reminder: To adequately wash hands, wet them with warm or cool running water, apply soap and for 20 seconds rub hands together vigorously, washing both sides of each hand, between fingers and over fingertips and wrists. Rinse and then dry hands and wrists with a towel, which you should then use to turn off the faucet.
Conventional wisdom says to toss out any dented can to prevent the risk of botulism. The truth is more nuanced, however, and the risk depends on the size and location of the dent. A new report in The Takeout provides some guidelines. Of course, in the event of major dents or leaks, discard the can (the USDA defines a major dent as one in which you can “lay your finger into”). The same goes
for cans with dents along any seams of the can. However, a minor dent on the side of a can with no large edges or creases, or on the bottom of a can without a bottom seam is likely safe. If you aren’t sure about the risk of a can with a minor dent, Joe Schwarcz of the McGill University Office for Science and Society advises boiling the contents of the can to kill any microbes or toxins that may be present.
The lines between dayparts are getting fuzzy. As breakfast has grown in popularity as a meal to be eaten at any time of day, ingredients that have long been expected in later dayparts are now drifting onto menus earlier in the day. Mike Kostyo of Datassential told Supermarket Perimeter that ingredients or dishes like chicken or cocktails are now showing up on breakfast menus, while chefs are adding an egg to a wide variety of dishes and calling it breakfast. However, he said, guests still tend to look for higher-energy foods in the morning that can satisfy them until lunch and dishes that can help them relax and wind down later in the day, so bear those rules in mind if and when you reinvent menu items for different parts of the day.
Hire and keep a tip-top team
If you’re looking to attract new talent, create detailed job descriptions and set clear expectations to avoid surprises – then be prepared to compensate the person accordingly. Once you have top performers on your team, Modern Restaurant Management recommends you check in regularly to ensure things are going as well as you think they are. Engage them by soliciting their feedback in response to challenges you’re facing or by encouraging them to lead others. Find out what they need from you and provide opportunities to help them get it, whether it’s technical expertise or professional training. Talk strategically about where they hope to rise within your organization and help them map out next steps to get there.
Help your reservations take off
Looking to boost your online reservations? Hospitality Technology recommends you have a prominent, clear reservation link on your Facebook page and on your website (ensure your site is mobile-friendly and responsive while you’re at it). If you have multiple locations, have a separate webpage for each, with content targeted to each audience. Consider using general booking services like OpenTable and last-minute booking services to increase your exposure to guests who might not find you otherwise. In your email communications with guests and in print ads, provide a link or details on how to book online. Finally, information about reservations should be in text (not image) format so search engines can find it.
Raise your bar
A well-run bar should have an alcohol cost between 18 and 20 percent of sales, according to Uncorkd. Does yours? Uncorkd shared some tips to decrease costs. First, try standardizing your pours and liquor volume for cocktails by using jiggers, pre-batching house cocktails and recipe cards – this will help your bar’s consistency too. Take inventory of your alcohol weekly – promote the brands that aren’t selling and then stop carrying them once they sell so you can focus on your high-volume brands. You can then negotiate deals with your distributor on items you can buy in bulk. And since wine has such high profit margins, don’t give it away with half-price offers – better to create wine pairings or flights with languishing stock, or design a contest to reward the staff member who sells the most of it.
How a Trump administration could affect restaurants
Donald Trump isn’t known for predictability, but restaurant industry analysts expect his administration could spur changes in five areas, according to Restaurant Hospitality: The battle over the minimum wage will likely be left to state and local legislatures. The Trump administration could roll back overtime rules in order to benefit business – or support the extension of overtime as it would benefit many of his core voters. There are two immediate vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans are likely to fill, shifting majority control of the agency as it considers issues like joint-employer liability. There could also be changes coming with regard to mandatory arbitration – and the possibility that class actions replace individual employee arbitrations. Finally, Trump is likely to oppose the Department of Labor’s rule barring restaurants from requiring their waitstaff to share tips with back-of-house employees.
New overtime rules delayed
A federal court has delayed the introduction of new overtime rules until it can consider an action brought by representatives from the restaurant business and other industries to eliminate the rules altogether, Restaurant Business reports. The new rules had been set to take effect Dec. 1. The changes laid out by the Department of Labor double the income threshold (from $23,660 to $47,476) at which salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay. The National Restaurant Association praised the ruling but cautioned restaurants to continue to prepare plans for managing the new requirements if and when they pass.
Breakfast breaks out
It seems breakfast is finally getting its due. In a survey of 300 restaurant operators for SmartBrief’s 2016 Breakfast Keynote Report, 93 percent said their breakfast sales had either increased or stayed level in the past year. Chefs are tapping into creative solutions to innovate the daypart. Datassential reports that new flavors are appearing on the breakfast menu, like spicy, savory kimchi, which has increased 435 percent on menus in the past four years. Next year could see an expansion of breakfast bowls – 57 percent of consumers are interested in them but only 27 percent of operators offer them, according to the report. We’re likely to see more trendy flavors and dinner dishes popping up at breakfast too – think breakfast burgers or barbecue pulled pork omelettes.
Convenience stores are an up-and-coming lunchtime option
Convenience stores are giving restaurants some competition at lunchtime. Restaurant Business reports that the convenience store market is moving upscale. They’re also taking pointers from the restaurant business and cross-utilizing ingredients, incorporating new ingredients that demonstrate flavor innovation, and taking care to show the quality of the food preparation. Consider these examples from convenience stores around the country, which are a big step away from the c-store options of just a few years ago: Wawa’s Thanksgiving-themed sub, 7-Eleven’s cilantro-lime flatbread, or Casey’s General Stores’ spinach artichoke chicken pizza.
Clean high-touch items to prevent spread of illness
Your team likely knows how to prevent the spread of illness around the food preparation areas – but don’t forget about other high-touch items in your restaurant where germs are lurking during this cold and flu season. The National Restaurant Association recommends you clean these items each day: laminated or reusable menus, condiment bottles, salt and pepper shakers, tablecloths, high chairs and booster seats, chairs, booths and stools, check holders, candy dishes at the hostess stand and door handles. Train your team on how to sanitize various materials and include these items in a master cleaning schedule the team follows each day.
Use photos to show your true colors
Well-presented photos of your business can help your restaurant appeal to guests before you even take their drink order. Profitable Hospitality recommends you identify your best shots, print them in large format and frame them in your restaurant – close-ups of specialty dishes, guests enjoying themselves at your restaurant, or your chef at work. Include the rest of your staff, too, in friendly but uncrowded groupings of two or three, to show guests the community you have built within the restaurant. Of course, online photos are equally important. Use a photo editing application to crop your best photos and adjust the lighting and other effects to add ambience. Post your best shots on social media and update images on your website and marketing materials regularly to keep your content fresh.
Stand out in the social media crowd
Your restaurant is one of 25 million businesses on Facebook. How best to stand out in that crowd? Restaurant Engine recommends you make a list of all of your social media platforms and do a Google search if you aren’t sure of all of them. Assess your results: Is this platform useful to your business (or could it be if you were a more active user)? Do you have many followers? Are they liking, responding to or sharing your posts? Once you decide which platforms are best for you, communicate your brand across them, with a consistent logo, imagery, voice, description and a website link on each. Finally, check your content: 70 percent of it should add some value to your followers, 20 percent of it should be about sharing other people’s posts and 10 percent should be promoting your restaurant.
Make the holidays happy for your team
You won’t be able to make your guests happy with employees who are down and dragging. Restaurant Hospitality shared these tips for making spirits bright: Create schedules so employees are able to spend some time with family and friends. This could mean bulking up on staff so fewer people are working double shifts, shifting any retail business you conduct to the web, or adjusting arrival and departure times to create more of a buffer between shifts. Set a fun work goal to motivate employees to earn prizes – whether for successfully selling menu items or participating in a community charity event. Reward them for their hard work with holiday gifts and a holiday event is possible. Finally, consider closing for a day or two – it may even earn you points with guests when they see you’re taking care of your team.
Asian flavors to boost non-traditional dishes
Most Americans’ familiarity with Japanese cuisine doesn’t go far beyond sushi, but two flavors, furikake and togarashi, have the potential to change that on menus right now, Flavor & the Menu reports. Furikake has a base of dried fish that can be combined with sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, powdered miso and dried vegetables, among other things. While it’s traditionally used to season rice, fish and vegetables, there’s room for it to boost the savory profile of pasta, eggs, pizza, popcorn and other snacks. Togarashi is a spice blend including two types of peppers, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and seaweed. While traditionally used in tempura, noodles or yakitori, togarashi lends spicy heat to everything from hot dogs to cheesecake to ice cream.
Breakfast by the bowl
The bowl trend has made it to the breakfast menu. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that an increasing number of chain restaurants and college foodservice operations are offering bowls as a vehicle for healthy, customizable breakfast foods. The options are seemingly endless, from the sweet (including items like açaí, tropical fruit, yogurt and granola) to the savory (including quinoa, kale, eggs and sausage). Datassential reports that the presence of breakfast bowls on menus has increased 66 percent in the last four years, bringing it to just 7 percent overall. So there’s room to grow.
Coffee comes back strong
Sure, there may be a Starbucks on every corner, but analysts are saying we’re in the midst of a coffee renaissance. The Wall Street Journal predicts U.S. demand for coffee to lead the world in the coming years, growing at 2 percent per year until 2020. Beverage Industry says the increase is due to innovation from brewers, as well as Millennial consumers’ interest in the drink. Technomic’s Volumix Coffee Report found that pour-over coffee and cold-brewed coffee are attracting consumers, as well as flavors including vanilla, mocha and chocolate. The report said single-cup sales increased 62 percent last year.
A workflow to promote cleanliness
Is handwashing something you have built into your operation – or something you fit into it? A forensic sanitarian who weighed in on the question in Food Safety Magazine says restaurants that integrate the handwashing sink into the work flow of the kitchen ensure frequent handwashing happens – and stand a better chance of limiting the spread of foodborne illness. While the placement of sinks may be hard to control, try to design a traffic pattern that makes handwashing second nature. For example, consider having employees clock in next to the sink, or cluster handwashing and food preparation equipment together just like you’d store kitchen equipment that is used together.
Boost your team’s food allergy IQ
About 15 million people have food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education group, and your restaurant is responsible for ensuring you avoid triggering them. Food Safety Magazine recommends you keep these steps in mind when working with your team: Use proper sanitary receiving guidelines from www.servsafe.com and establish a personal hygiene program that prevents cross-contamination. Use reputable suppliers and check their permits and licenses. Store prepared food away from contaminants and clean and store products away from them as well. Wash and sanitize all equipment. Implement required training programs for all employees. Finally, partner with your guests by informing them of ingredients that may trigger allergies – by telling them about possible allergens in a dish and posting a disclaimer on the menu.
Reject and refuse to reduce waste
If you have a robust recycling program but are still generating too much waste at your restaurant, you’re not alone: The National Restaurant Association says although 65 percent of restaurants have recycling programs, the average restaurant in the U.S. still produces 25,000 pounds of food waste every year. Restaurant Hospitality recommends that in addition to the three R’s of food waste reduction that you’re likely familiar with (reduce, reuse, recycle), consider another two: reject and refuse. Reject means speaking up when you have inadequate support for reducing waste, like inadequate food storage space or transportation for donated items. You can also help change the landscape by refusing single-use plastics from suppliers and insisting on reusable crates and containers.
Start your restaurant’s online conversation
It’s likely that a high percentage of people who dine with you have done so because of a Facebook post or Instagram photo. You can help set the stage so it’s easy for your guests to promote you positively online. The National Restaurant Association recommends you encourage guests to take photos of food while they’re dining (assuming it fits with the atmosphere of your restaurant) – and make your social media handles visible on menus and indoor signage so they know where to post. Brand a special hashtag for your restaurant and post some photos or other content to your social media pages with this hashtag to inspire others to do the same. Encourage guests to post their best photos of meals with you – and reward your favorite photographer with a gift card or meal discount.
Mobile transactions on the rise
Mobile payments currently account for $50 billion in sales and are expected to nearly triple by 2019, Toast reports. If you have concerns about jumping on board, consider these assurances from Toast: Mobile payments are secure – the National Restaurant Association has said many mobile payment apps encrypt or scramble credit card information before it reaches a restaurant’s payment terminal, making it less vulnerable to hackers. The transactions are also 53 percent faster than credit card sales and even faster than that for cash sales, according to American Express. Finally, these transactions generate loyal repeat customers and give you access to purchasing trends and other data that can help you appeal to those guests.
Don’t leave a post unanswered
You wouldn’t ignore a guest standing at your front desk, so why do it on social media? Like it or not, your approach to customer service is more visible to guests and potential visitors on social media platforms than it is within your restaurant. However, the tourism website Sheila’s Guide says it’s still common for hotels and restaurants to leave guest comments, photos and other feedback unanswered on social media platforms. Be sure to use these posts as opportunities to thank guests for their business, show concern for addressing any problems they experience, and ensure they come back. The quality of your public response could help bring new guests in the door too.
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