At Winsight’s September FSTEC conference, where restaurant operators gathered to hear about up-and-coming developments in technology, voice recognition showed special potential as a tech tool to watch – particularly for its back-of-house functions. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with voice recognition as an everyday convenience – emarketer predicts that more than one-third of the U.S. population will use a voice assistant monthly this year, up 9.5 percent from 2018. That has paved the way for voice recognition becoming more common as a means of enabling consumers to place orders more efficiently from home and on the road (note McDonald’s new purchase of Apprente, a startup building technology to automate voice ordering in multiple languages, which McDonald’s could implement in its drive thru, mobile and kiosk ordering). Voice recognition’s applications beyond ordering have been slower to develop, but that is now changing, according to Restaurant Business. Presenters at FSTEC identified such uses of voice recognition technology as providing food preparation instructions for kitchen staff who aren’t able to leave their stations to look at a recipe or search for directions on a computer screen. Chowly CEO Sterling Douglass said while there is still a long way for restaurants to go when using voice recognition at the back of the house for this purpose, those that are using it with human backup are already seeing 50 percent reductions in cost. For operators looking for additional ways to operate with smaller teams or otherwise cut labor costs, voice recognition could be an additional tool in their toolbox.
The ownership of consumer data has long been a stumbling block for operators considering the hiring of third-party delivery providers, but increasingly, competition in the industry is making it possible for restaurant brands to cherry-pick the options they want from providers. There are several recent cases in point: GrubHub won Shake Shack’s business nationwide by offering to share customer data. Panera has made it possible for customers to place orders via Uber Eats, DoorDash or GrubHub and then have food delivered by its in-house team. Most recently, Chowly did just the opposite. The company said its system now allows restaurant operators to accept orders through its website or app, then farm them out for delivery via DoorDash. It’s an additional sign that for brands eager to make food delivery work, there may be wiggle room when negotiating contracts with vendors.
Late this summer, the Mediterranean fast-casual brand Cava opened its first innovation kitchen, a technology-driven effort designed to collect and analyze consumer tastes and trends in real time – without the time-consuming hassle of organizing focus groups or experimenting with new menu items in test locations. Cava isn’t the first brand to launch such an effort and it’s further evidence of the increased pressure restaurant operators face to innovate their menus and to get them right each time. Even if you don’t have state-of-the-art technology to help you fine-tune your menu, you can still innovate your menu well if you start with the problem you’re looking to solve. Are you looking to improve the quality of your off-premise options? Increase your dine-in traffic? Then let that question drive your decisions. Chefify advises operators to keep several factors in mind when making menu changes. First, be able to back up your prices with market research and an understanding of what your guests will enjoy and are willing to spend for a particular product. Next, make sure your new menu items are extensions of what you already do well – not overeager attempts to follow the latest trends. Third, be clear about your ingredients and list them so guests (particularly those with food allergies) can make the best choice for themselves. Fourth, make sure that if you need to cut food costs, focus on your less-essential ingredients so you’re not sacrificing the quality of the core ingredients that make your restaurant appeal to guests. Finally, opt for a minimal, easily understood menu that allows guests to make decisions quickly when they’re hungry and allows you to both minimize your food waste and improve your order accuracy.
Hummus is a menu workhorse. It can help you deliver on-trend spices, serve as both a condiment and a main attraction, and add interest to a broad range of different dishes. Flavor & the Menu suggests it as a base with such ingredients as eggs, onions, pickles and harissa oil. Its versatility also helps it add depth when added to sandwiches, as a base for grain-and-vegetable bowls or meat skewers, and even as a salad dressing.
Restaurant owners are stepping up to the challenge of minimizing their food waste. That was one conclusion of Toast’s recently released Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report, which surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators and staff, along with a similar number of restaurant guests, about the experience of operating and dining at restaurants. Toast asked restaurant professionals to share how they’re reducing food waste in 2019. The responses included such actions as using leftover ingredients from one recipe in another (38 percent), offering multiple portion choices for guests (26 percent) and composting (25 percent). Others said they limit the number of items they prepare for service, offer an a la carte menu and cross-utilize ingredients in an effort to reduce food waste. Still, there is room for improvement as a considerable portion of those surveyed (26 percent) do nothing at all to reduce food waste at their business. The consequences aren’t just environmental but also financial: A reFED study found that the approximately 11 million tons of food waste generated by restaurants annually costs businesses about $25 billion per year – and that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can save restaurants $8. The industry report emphasized that while you can’t control what someone eats or leaves behind, you can control your inventory. Your first course of action in managing waste is to keep close tabs on your shelves to reduce spoilage and avoid a tendency to over-order items – your inventory management system can help you take the best action.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of ordering French fries or a salad for delivery only to receive them in limp, soggy form once they’ve been packaged and transported to you, Bill Birgen feels your pain. A popular speaker at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and winner of the SKS Startup Showcase, Birgin has developed technology designed to manage the condensation that can collect in delivery packaging and make certain foods unpalatable as a result. The goal of the packaging, dubbed the SAVR-pak, is to both improve food quality and reduce food waste. While it’s still early, the Spoon reports that the SAVR-pak has gotten the attention of Deliveroo, who has placed a purchase order, as well as a number of resorts.
At a time when restaurant finances are getting squeezed from many directions, do you know which budgetary battles are most important to fight? In other words, when you’re managing such expenses as labor, ingredients, rent and third-party delivery, does your balance sheet give you clear answers about how much each of those expenses is impacting your bottom line? It needs to, since your gut instinct may not be correct. Case in point: The results of a recent study by New School Center for New York City Affairs and the National Employment Law Project found that restaurants in New York City were more negatively impacted by rising occupancy costs and the fees charged by third-party delivery services than they were adversely affected by the near-doubling of the minimum wage paid to hourly employees in the past five years, Restaurant Business Online reports. The Fight for $15 wage battles of recent years had many operators concerned they would need to boost menu prices beyond what guests were willing to pay – and minimum wage escalation isn’t an insignificant expense for operators to be sure. But while New York isn’t like every market, the rising minimum wage in the city has had a smaller-than-expected impact in a diversity of regions, whether in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. As the minimum wage has been ascending in geographical regions across the country for years, you may be able to protect your bottom line by focusing on negotiating more favorable terms with a third-party delivery company, adjusting your business model so you can occupy a smaller or different footprint, or getting a stronger handle on hidden back-of-house costs.
You’re likely using your restaurant’s internet connection to process orders, access customer data, monitor the functioning or your kitchen appliances, and communicate with employees, vendors and guests, among many other functions. If your connection suddenly fails, would you be able to operate your business? Using failover technology as a backup connection can help ensure your Internet connection is never interrupted. RocketBroadband is one company that works with restaurants to prevent internet blips. It also offers a mobile connectivity option that may suit restaurants running food trucks or stalls at offsite events where it’s necessary to process payments apart from the restaurant’s usual internet connection.
Last year, there were 14 severe weather and climate events that the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information says cost $1 billion or more. There have been six such events already this year. Since restaurants can be impacted by severe weather events both directly and indirectly, it pays to make sure you have sufficient insurance protection in place as part of your disaster preparedness plan — not to mention your day-to-day operating plan. Your insurance cover needs to consider your business type, geographic region and the outcome of the risk assessment you conduct to identify your restaurant’s greatest vulnerabilities. Your commercial property insurance policy, for example, likely will not cover any vehicles your restaurant operates or protect against flood damage your business sustains during a hurricane. And even if your property or vehicles make it through a severe weather event unscathed, toppled trees or flooding on your street could make it impossible for you to get food to customers. Make sure you review your insurance policies for commercial property, flood protection and business interruption to make sure you’re not leaving your business exposed. Purchasing insurance cover from companies that specialize in the restaurant industry can help. Just make sure you read the fine print carefully — especially on bundled packages that offer broader cover for a lower total price but may exclude specific risks you need to protect against.
How much science is behind your menu? In other words, to what extent do you review your restaurant’s sales, inventory, scheduling, loyalty program and other areas of your operation where you collect data to better understand how these predictive analytics work together? Doing so can help you predict what will sell, so you have sufficient inventory on hand and won’t lose sales opportunities. It will also help you put your ordering on autopilot by considering both the historical and day-to-day sales of your business when you order supplies. By having a better handle on what you will need, you can plan your food preparation tasks accordingly so you minimize your waste. Best of all, being able to predict the cravings of your guests goes far in bringing them back.
The latest news that the U.S. is backing off on tariffs on goods from Mexico came as a welcome, if perhaps momentary, relief to restaurant operators — especially considering the billions of dollars in food imported to the U.S. from Mexico each year and the speed with which importing restrictions would hit consumers and foodservice operations. Last year, the U.S. imported $12 billion in just vegetables, fruit and nuts from Mexico, according to a CBS report — that comprises about half of all of the vegetables the U.S. imports each year and 40 percent of the fruit. But considering how quickly decisions can be reversed in the current administration and the volatile environment at the U.S.-Mexico border at the moment, the potential for tariffs in the future should motivate restaurant operators to better understand the flexibility of their supply chain and menu. Do you rely on a product whose source could dry up in a matter of weeks? (If you serve avocados, you do: The president of Mission Produce, the largest grower and distributor of avocados worldwide, told Reuters that if imports from Mexico were halted, the U.S. would run out of avocados in just three weeks.) Right now, though, there’s a window of opportunity for restaurant operators to partner with their suppliers and look for alternative ingredients. What menu items can remain on your menu with easily substituted ingredients? Where will you likely need to swap out one item for a replacement? Having backup recipes waiting in the wings can help you prevent any hiccups in the global supply chain from interrupting your sales momentum.
Some food scientists are calling it the sixth taste after sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Kokumi, Japanese for “rich taste” or “delicious” is more about the texture and general impression a flavor leaves in your mouth — fermented and protein-rich foods tend to create it naturally — and it’s enriching the tastes of foods as diverse as meat, cheese, beer, salad dressing and chocolate mousse. While still on the fringes of food development, Mintel included it in their U.S. Flavor Trends study last year and said it’s well positioned to help food companies develop healthy dishes that offer the same satisfaction as sweeter, higher-fat versions. Keep it in mind as you consider up-and-coming flavors to enhance your menu items.
Between rising labor costs and falling traffic, there is no shortage of factors squeezing restaurant profits right now. Raising prices to meet margins is one option, but how much are your guests willing to pay before they take their business elsewhere? And what if sales shortfalls are simply due to shifting trends — or your competitor across the street offering a similar product for less? If you use data analytics to manage your food costs, you can uncover helpful information about your inventory. Since your inventory likely eats up 25 to 35 percent of your operating budget, it’s a good place to find lurking costs that can be minimized so you can better manage your spending. To identify opportunities, look at your supply chain and product mix. Do you know how many times your product changes hands and how prices shift with each transition? If you’re looking for help with this and much more, ask about Team Four’s Palette program. We can assess your supply chain, purchases and product mix and then recommend action steps that will help you lower food costs without sacrificing your quality standards. That might involve substituting quality products that still reduce food costs, or identifying trend changes, purchases that aren’t in line with your product specifications, or pricing that doesn’t reflect current trends. Learn more at www.palettefoodservice.com
At a time when even recyclable plastic often ends up in landfills or oceans, the presence of single-use plastic is still widespread in restaurants, most noticeably in the delivery space. The parent of Zume Pizza, the automated pizza delivery company that won accolades for developing a compostable, biodegradable, molded fiber “pizza pod” for shepherding pies to customers, is now helping other companies develop non-plastic packaging alternatives. According to a Forbes report, the company recently launched a new venture to develop plant-based packaging that is designed to have the performance qualities of plastic (and is priced to compete with plastic when used at scale). The packaging, a compostable blend of sugarcane fiber, bamboo, wood pulp and wheat straw, is classified as Type 4 Molded Fiber, the highest grade of molded fiber packaging.
Even small commodity fluctuations can have a substantial impact on restaurants. Take Chipotle, one among thousands of restaurant brands where guests expect to find avocados. Aaron Allen & Associates reported that in 2017, surging demand for avocados, paired with smaller crops in Mexico and California, had analysts predicting that every 10-percentage-point increase in avocado prices would lower Chipotle’s earnings-per-share by 30 cents on an annual basis. And that was for just one ingredient. Developing a plan to track global shortages and surpluses can help you avoid similar scenarios. Restaurant Nuts recommends several strategies: When you plan promotions to bring people in, make sure the items you promote are those whose ingredients are more widely available and profitable. During periods when producer costs are stable, anticipate times when they may fluctuate and build in incremental price increases early so you can maximize your profitability and avoid shocking guests with price surges. Cost out your menu. Add items that don’t use volatile commodities, and for popular but less profitable items, identify areas where you can easily make substitutions. Mine your data so you understand your most popular menu items and pairings, then design your menu and promotions so you direct guests to those items. Securing long-term contracts with suppliers can help you weather potential market fluctuations. Where this isn’t possible, you can always tell your guests about the challenge (without overusing this tactic). If a major hurricane wipes out a crop of an important ingredient you feature on your menu, for instance, guests are likely to understand if you’re transparent about why that ingredient is temporarily unavailable — and what appealing item you’re offering in its place.
In the first quarter of this year, 46 percent of consumers who ordered Uber Eats in the U.S. also ordered from one of its competitors, according to the data research firm Second Measure. That’s despite these companies offering incentives to keep customers coming back. As a result, Vox reports, third-party delivery companies are currently engaged in a price race to the bottom. But before long, these companies won’t be able to continue their streak of losses and will need to charge higher prices. Their relationships with partner restaurants and customers will be all the more critical. As vendors risk getting weeded out, restaurants may wield some leverage.
As labor costs rise, your ability to monitor and manage your team’s schedule has the power to protect your restaurant’s bottom line. A Restaurantowner.com report advises operators to start by auditing the first last 15 to 30 minutes of a shift. A leisurely pace of work during those times could indicate that you need to make staffing adjustments. Then look to your anticipated sales and guest counts and build your schedule around that instead of leaning on a repetitive schedule that doesn’t flex when business speeds up and slows down. Cost out each schedule by multiplying each person’s hourly rate by hours worked and compare that figure to your sales each day to understand where you can be more efficient with staffing. If you find you have lulls but still need staff on hand in case a large group comes in, plan to have prep work available throughout the day (versus at the start of a shift) to make best use of the people you have on hand during the day. If your shift manager carries a shift card listing employees and hours, it will be easier to see who can be assigned some prep work or cleanup, or who can be sent home. Finally, find the right balance of part-and full-time employees. Restaurantowner.com advises operators maintain one-third to one-half of staff as part-timers. It can help you avoid paying excessive overtime costs and keep staffing affordable.
At the pace restaurant technology is evolving, it can feel like restaurant manager candidates should be just as capable of navigating IT challenges as they are of handling guest complaints. But according to The Spoon, one nascent tech tool — voice-enabled ordering via Google Assistant or Alexa — could soon be an easy, plug-and-play solution for operators, with some help from a firm called Orderscape. The company makes a voice-ordering software layer that works with browsers, mobile phones and watches, and Alexa speakers, and partners with restaurant platforms like Olo, Onosys and Monkey Media. Orderscape can then tell users where a desired food item is available in their area. If someone asks Alexa where to find a bacon cheeseburger nearby and you serve a popular one, your restaurant would be suggested among other options in the area. Marrying a menu with voice-enabled tech isn’t normally a seamless process for restaurants but Orderscape is looking to make the process possible with no installation or training on the restaurant’s part, and no downtime.
Something is lurking in your trash. If you’re lucky, it’s money: Many foodservice operators who have changed their approach to trash disposal have minimized waste when it comes to both food and finances. (There’s a lot of waste to reduce: According to a 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, more than 84 percent of unused food in American restaurants is thrown away — and while those figures have likely improved in the past few years, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.) Restaurantowner.com suggests several tips to help operators take charge of their trash. First, remove trash bins from the kitchen — even as a temporary experiment — and give each employee a clear, labeled bin to be filled with food scraps or trimmings they want to discard during food prep. Following the shift, have a manager inspect the contents of each box for usable product. If any is found, the manager can provide on-the-spot training to that employee to make sure usable product isn’t wasted in the future. Inspecting bins in the dish room can be helpful too: Make sure china, silverware and other expensive tableware aren’t getting damaged or accidentally tossed out. Finally, monitor your dumpster, which can provide easy cover for a dishonest employee. It’s a common practice in the industry for someone looking to steal a case of wine to hide it in the dumpster only to retrieve it later. Having a manager approve who takes out the trash and when, or even monitor the dumpster via video, can help protect your business from those losses. (Want to talk trash? Contact Team Four about how your operation can save on trash disposal.)
The images of menu items you share online need to sing — or at least motivate people to pay you a visit. While it can help to have a professional photographer do it, a couple of pros recently shared some food styling tips with Edible Manhattan that are easy for amateur photographers to implement. When setting up a shoot, try having an ice bath on hand to keep vegetables and herb stems looking fresh. A brush of olive oil can help food glisten. Use natural light when available and, to minimize shadows, a piece of white cardboard, or even a white cutting board or plate can serve as a makeshift reflector. While the colors in your dish are a focal point, you can accent them with table linens or glassware in similar (or complementary) colors. If there is a memorable spice or other seasoning used in the dish, accentuate it by adding seeds, sprigs or other natural elements to your photo setup.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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