Your food inspector isn’t the only person scrutinizing your safety practices. Your guests evaluate you too — and there are a number of areas in your restaurant that, if mishandled, can alert people to the possibility of more serious problems. The Food Network talked to dieticians for tips on what to watch out for. In addition to the more obvious signs of a problem — dirty bathrooms, tables and menus, for example — be extra vigilant if you have a salad bar or buffet where foods are sitting out at room temperature. Any hot foods should be served hot. Finally, your staff can send the wrong message if they don’t take allergies or food sensitivities seriously, or if they are careless about handling money and food.
E. coli and leafy greens can be a common pair. Outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce contamination made headlines throughout the past year, and according to the FDA, similar outbreaks were linked to leafy greens an average of three times a year between 2009 and 2017. Foodservice operators can help limit the risk of contamination during preparation by taking several precautions. Statefoodsafety.com advises food handlers wash leafy greens thoroughly, serve only pasteurized dairy products and juices, and avoid cross-contamination via hands or preparations areas. That means cleaning and sanitizing work surfaces, particularly after working with raw animal proteins, and if you wear gloves, wash hands and put on a new pair of gloves when preparing a different food.
Finally, be mindful of the temperature of meat you prepare. Ground beef should maintain a temperature of 155°F for 15 seconds before serving.
June is National Iced Tea Month – and a prime time to make the most of a beverage in the midst of a renaissance. While tea has traditionally been considered a comforting beverage, modern drinkers like its wellness benefits, as well as the many dozens of tastes it can add to a menu. Ice it and serve blended or garnished with summer fruit, combine it with almond or oat milk in a cool matcha latte, or experiment with health-focused ingredients like ginger, turmeric and ginseng. The plant-forward trend has come to the tea category too: Mintel reports that some tea companies are more prominently promoting produce in their infusions. Ingredients ranging from basil to onion to tomato are appearing in teas.
As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
Take care with chemicals
When using and storing chemicals for sanitizing and cleaning at your restaurant, make sure you take steps to minimize the chance for spills and contamination. Any chemicals you use should be in clearly labeled containers that are stored on low shelves away from food. Make sure your employees know when to avoid combining certain chemicals — chlorine and ammonia, for example, generate toxic fumes when mixed. Better yet, consider using automated dispensers for the chemicals you use. They can help ensure you’re using the appropriate amounts in the recommended concentrations and can also minimize your cleanup.
Let tech boost your charitable giving
Your restaurant’s values play an increasingly important role in engaging guests these days, and as the holidays approach, your charitable giving efforts can help you demonstrate your values to consumers. Fortunately, technology can make the process seamless for you. Consider using a platform like GroupRaise, which allows local non-profit organizations to request fundraising events online, which you can then respond to. During a given time frame, you can donate a portion of each check’s proceeds to a charity your guests value. It can help you bring in business on a slow day and also show that you’re a business the community should support.
New year, new restaurant?
Though last year may have been tough for restaurants, Zagat reports many hotly anticipated openings this year. If you’re planning one, RestaurantOwner.com’s poll of 700 owners may help put costs in perspective. The survey found that on average, owners spend $500,000 in start-up costs when not purchasing land, about $4,200 per seat without a land purchase, and overspend from initial estimates by about 33 percent. To curtail spending, Toast recommends you seek out second-hand equipment, comparison shop and forgo items not absolutely needed at first. Be realistic about staffing costs for recruiting, training, wages, meal comps and time off. You’ll also need to spend on marketing, which may include advertising online or via other media, offering promotional discounts, buying a domain name and hiring a pro to optimize the site or launch an app. What about technology? While tech investments may seem excessive early on, they may also help you manage finances, inventory and guest relations better from the start.
Build business in 2017
Restaurant traffic is expected to be stagnant this year but there’s still plenty you can do to draw a bigger share of those dining out. NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs recommends you boost innovation with a menu and overall experience that feels relevant to guests. Play to consumers’ desire for restaurant food whenever and wherever they like it by offering delivery via whatever means you can make it effective and affordable (just keep consumer costs to $5 or less, Riggs says). Taking that a step further, find ways to allow guests to customize their choices – digital menus and touchscreens, as well as mobile ordering, can help with that. Finally, attract less-frequent guests with the opportunity for rewards – expanding your loyalty program to entice all kinds of users can increase traffic.
It’s time to clean up. For many operators, eliminating chemicals has become more important than counting calories, Food & the Menu reports. That means having an ingredient list that looks like what you’d have in your home kitchen pantry and includes items produced sustainably and without antibiotics – think transparent and authentic. Last year, Panera became the first national restaurant company to assemble a “No No List” of ingredients it was removing from its menu, including artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. It undertook an effort to review 450 ingredients and several levels of its supply chain to identify additives, reformulate 122 ingredients and partner with more than 300 food vendors to replace ingredients and recast recipes. This month, the chain announced its menu was now “100 percent clean.”
Plenty of fish in the sea
According to last week’s Global Seafood Market Conference in San Francisco, there are lots of opportunities in seafood right now. Seafood Source reports that overall, industry analysts at the event said foodservice operators have a great opportunity to entice Millennials with fish, since they value seafood’s health benefits, notice its sourcing and acknowledge that it’s something they may not like to (or know how to) prepare at home. Specific to fish varieties themselves, salmon is expected to continue its rise this year, with a rebound in farmed supply stabilizing or even lowering prices later in the year. Barramundi is also looking good – consider adding it to your menu as a premium option. It happens to be Oprah Winfrey’s favorite, but that’s not all – one chef said it’s a great-tasting fish that freezes well and, because it is a saltwater-raised farmed fish, it often tastes better.
Salads are here to stay
Green salad consumption is growing – as appetizers and entrées, at home and away from home. That’s according to Datassential’s new MenuTrends Keynote Report. That has helped salad-centric concepts grow and premium salad offerings at other restaurants to get attention. What’s helping is the broadening array of ingredients on offer. Far from just greens and raw vegetables, salads are including items like roasted Brussels sprouts and curried cauliflower with increased frequency. Smartbrief reports that Chicago’s Roots Pizza, for example, says its salads “ain’t rabbit food.” Indeed, with 50 ingredients including grilled gyro sausage and pickled fennel, there’s a lot the chain is doing to make salads exciting.
Want to embrace global flavors on your menu? Take a look at the street food scene in your city. Datassential’s Creative Concepts report says street food is finally getting street cred: It found that of the 500 consumers asked about street food, 36 percent love the idea and have visited, and 63 percent would visit if given the opportunity. Make it accessible to your guests by including descriptive language on your menu to encourage guests to try unique items. Make those items (as well as your marketing, signage and décor) as authentic as possible so the experience transports guests to a different place. Offer samples of drinks or dishes that might be a tougher sell, and consider combining two kinds of complementary street food to help you create your own new twist.
Stop a food contamination crisis short
Having a food contamination crisis plan can take some stress out of your business, particularly if you produce food yourself or work closely with local suppliers – a common occurrence in today’s farm-to-table food culture. Food Safety magazine suggests you consider taking these steps to protect yourself: First, acknowledge the risks – one food contamination or adulteration claim is made to the FDA daily and the Food Safety Modernization Act will likely increase that number. Establish a team who can respond quickly and thoughtfully in a food contamination crisis. They should develop a written plan ahead of any crisis that outlines how to handle various scenarios if they occur, such as how and what to communicate in a worst-case scenario, and what procedures can be implemented immediately to prepare for that outcome. Finally, test your plan once a year at a minimum and consider hypothetical scenarios and potential responses.
Where germs lurk in your restaurant
You’re trying to crack down on contamination in your restaurant. Where should you focus your energy first? In Restaurant News, the University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba pointed out the places in a restaurant that harbour the most germs: First, clean that table – he says the sponges or cloths restaurants use typically aren’t soaked long enough in disinfectant to be effective, allowing germs to move from table to table. Silverware is a likely target too, since it picks up bacteria when placed on dirty tables – it’s always best to provide a fresh set when guests arrive and place it on a napkin. Plastic menus and child seats should be wiped down with disinfectant but often aren’t. Lastly, the rind of a lemon is often contaminated, so be aware of how lemons are cleaned and stored for use in drinks and other items.
Tech investment is big in 2017
Last year wasn’t a stellar one for restaurant sales, so what are operators doing to change that? Jonathan Maze of Nation’s Restaurant News says many are making substantial investments in technology. He says at the recent ICR Conference in Orlando, executives spoke about investing in online and mobile ordering and using technology to connect with consumers overall. But by far the biggest technology dollars seem to be going into delivery. Executives from a number of quick-service, fast-casual and polished-casual chains discussed plans to test delivery this year, some through third parties and others by running delivery themselves.
Are you PCI compliant?
If you accept credit cards at your restaurant, you must be PCI compliant – Toast reports that as of January 31, Visa is requiring all businesses (regardless of size) to validate their compliance unless they qualify for an exemption. These are the six categories of PCI compliance: maintaining a secure network, protecting cardholder data, protecting systems against malware, establishing strong access control measures, monitoring and testing your networks, and creating an information security policy. To achieve compliance and maintain it, it’s important that you know the policies and train your employees in order to protect your business and guests from data breaches.
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