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.
Any chef can confirm it: Running a restaurant well can require the skills of a lawyer, doctor, designer, HR manager, mechanic, janitor, and the list goes on. And that’s on top of having to offer an appealing, in-season menu that can be readily adapted to different nutritional needs. While that ever-changing environment can bring interest and variety to each day, chances are you were drawn to the restaurant industry more because of the food than for your ability to negotiate a beneficial contract or identify the best cleaning supplies. Further, the multitasking often required in a restaurant setting can kill productivity: A University of Michigan study found that when a person attempts to accomplish more than one task at a time, productivity drops by 40 percent. Team Four’s Palette program can serve as an extra pair of hands, taking on some of the responsibilities on your plate so you can multitask less and focus more on parts of the business that suit you best. For example, Palette can help you fine-tune your brand, including redesigning your menu or updating your graphic identity on your website, signage and marketing materials. You can also access restaurant equipment, linens, office and cleaning supplies, along with services for managing waste collection and pest control. And in case your menu or inventory needs attention too, we can help you develop new recipes, identify cost-effective menu substitutions, improve your food safety record and offer negotiated contract pricing to help ensure you’re getting the products you need at the best value. You can access the full list of services included in Team Four’s Palette program at www.palettefoodservice.com.
Now that Uber Eats is testing a “Dine-In” feature on its app, expect other third-party delivery providers to follow suit. The feature allows a person to order food at a restaurant, track the process of its preparation so she can arrive at the restaurant in time to eat it, and also leave a tip. The benefits to restaurants could include having to pay a smaller fee to the delivery provider than would be required for third-party delivery, faster table turnover, and the opportunity to offer deals that could attract dine-in guests during slow periods. It remains to be seen how accurate the app’s food preparation tracker will be at peak periods, but if you’re struggling to fill seats, it might offer an opportunity to entice guests to come in and sit down.
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.
Consumers like a limited-time offer: Whether it has to do with short attention spans or a desire for something new and different, there has been a 64 percent spike in LTOs in the past five years, according to Technomic. Their research also found that a majority of female consumers and millennials are drawn to innovative dishes, new flavors and menu launches when they choose a restaurant, and 30 percent of quick-service customers would visit a restaurant they wouldn’t normally visit if it meant taking advantage of a unique LTO. Restaurant Business advises operators to consider several factors when developing an LTO to attract guests. First, set a goal you’re hoping to achieve and design your LTO around it. (An LTO that will bring in guests for several weeks or months will need to have broader, more mainstream appeal than an LTO designed to generate a lot of buzz for a short time.) Second, consider your demographics and let your data guide your decisions. Preferences will vary across generations and genders, so consider everything from your LTO’s ingredients to its portability when anticipating how guests are likely to perceive your offer. Finally, use language that describes the sensory experience of eating what you’re selling (e.g. think “crunchy” vs. “breaded”) and promote the health-conscious aspects of your LTO. Words like “fresh,” “local” and “made from scratch” tend to score especially well with consumers.
Facial recognition technology has become a trend to watch in restaurants this year. While it may sound Orwellian, its potential for streamlining the payment process and loyalty programs is difficult for restaurants to ignore. A number of quick-service restaurants around the country have begun using biometric facial recognition to profile each customer’s order history, demographics and loyalty points. The technology appears to be best suited for the quick-service space at the moment but as rollouts occur across categories, note the effects (positive and negative) it has on customer experience.
What’s next in data and delivery? As usual, Domino’s is trying some ideas that could spark some new approaches for other brands looking to build business. Its latest promotion, Points for Pies, urges consumers to upload photos of pizzas of all kinds (not just from Domino’s) to the Domino’s app — that could include a competitor’s pizza, a homemade pizza or even a dog’s chew toy in the shape of a pizza. The brand then uses AI technology to identify those pizzas and award points to each person who posts an image. A person can win up to 10 points by posting one pizza each week and 60 points earns them a free medium-size, two-topping pizza from Domino’s. By making this game about the consumer and not directly about Domino’s — and showing a clear, achieveable path toward redeeming those points — the brand has made it more appealing for consumers to share data. Eater reports that this latest move is a creative plan to help Domino’s gather and dissect consumer data, then enhance their menu and service accordingly. The photos and data from Points for Pies will give Domino’s information about how often consumers think about, buy, make and eat pizza, what ingredients and combinations they crave, as well as what pizzas competitors are making. The results could impact how Domino’s makes pizzas or adjusts it menu, and how it manages its staff, store expansions and delivery strategy.
Need another reason to invest in technology? The fast-casual segment is poised for a tech-powered boom in the next five years. A Wired report says that in the wake of the rise of such tech-friendly, fast-casual industry darlings as Sweetgreen, venture capitalists have been pouring hundreds of millions of investment dollars into what they call “early-stage scalable restaurant concepts.” Technology is the common foundation of these concepts, with AI and data-mining apps making it possible for them to tweak menu offerings quickly based on customer diets and preferences, or even minimize waste by using machine learning to study historical purchases, weather, local events and even growing conditions on farms.
There’s a lot of room for cost savings in your inventory. Are you making the most of it? RestaurantOwner.com has some tips (and Team Four can help you incorporate systems to manage them if you need assistance). First off, make sure you have detailed specifications on every product you buy. They can be useful when comparing bids from suppliers and gaining a better understanding of where you might be able to get a less expensive product to deliver results similar to a more expensive one. Next, lower your inventory levels. If you’re like most operators, you have more food on your shelves than you actually need. It pays to assess your inventory by product, then reorder based on how much of that product you are likely to use, plus a bit added just in case. By cutting back on your excess inventory, you demonstrate to your team that portion control and precision are important. As a result, waste and spoilage should become less of a problem. Finally, list the 10 to 15 items that comprise the majority of your food cost and take a daily inventory of those items. At the start of each day, tally the opening quantity you have on hand for every product. Add any purchases you make that day, then at closing, count your ending inventory. Add your starting amount and purchases, then subtract your ending amount to get the amount of product that was used that day. Compare that figure with your POS product usage report. If your actual usage exceeds the usage tracked on your POS, you could have a problem with theft, over-portioning or another issue that needs adjustment right away.
Mining your data will take you far in predicting your sales and labor needs, but it may not cover all your bases. Factors that are a little less predictable — like a Nor’easter, for example — can catch you unprepared. In addition to monitoring the weather, Upserve advises you to keep tabs on a number of other factors that can send your business on a wild ride if you don’t prepare. At a time when delivery is on the rise, watch for promotions from third-party providers and prepare for a potential spike in delivery business when they offer discounts. Also keep an eye on local events that might bump up your foot traffic and bring in guests from out of town who wouldn’t normally be filling your dining area. Economic factors like fuel prices can have an impact, too, perhaps causing a dip in your dining room business if not business overall.
Having systems to collect and assess data are critical for large businesses — but the payoff is significant for small operations too. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know, for example, the exact price point that maximizes guest demand and profit for a popular product you sell? Or which promotions generate the most interest? In fact, a BARC research report found that businesses that harness data effectively saw their profits increase 8 percent and costs decline 10 percent. The systems can be just as helpful in predicting what’s ahead as assessing what you have already done — predicting that your past guests want to order burritos for takeout on Friday night and might be tempted to tack on some caramel flan if you suggest it. Or predicting where you should place a promotion on your website, based on how visitors navigate through your pages. Finally, in an age when information breaches no longer make front-page news and businesses are blamed less for experiencing a breach and more for how they manage the aftermath of one, having systems in place can help you pinpoint where and when problems happen in different areas of your business so you can respond and address red flags more promptly. If your data management practices need a boost, take stock of your needs. An Entrepreneur report advises you determine which five or six pieces of information are most critical to the success of your business. Choose technology that addresses those critical needs and determine whether the cost can save time and money, in addition to generating more revenue.
Consumer demand for transparency extends from the origins of the food you serve to the environmental friendliness of your packaging. To address the latter, many operators have embraced recycled packaging, but according to a Food Safety Magazine report, that isn’t without its own risks. The report indicated that recycled fiber may carry lacquers, printing ink and adhesives that may be harmful to humans if used in food packaging. While the FDA makes recommendations to manufacturers regarding the chemical contaminants found in recycled items used for food packaging, these guidelines aren’t legally enforced. While policy catches up, foodservice operators can simply be aware of the potential for contamination. If you use recycled packaging or are considering it, talk to your suppliers about how they manage these concerns.
As technology infuses so many parts of the restaurant industry — and as restaurant brands expand to additional locations — operators may wonder if the connection to consumers suffers in the process, or if the brand could become watered down when consistency-driven processes take over. Sweetgreen is one example of a brand that has kept its guest connections strong through its adoption of technology and physical expansion. Nathaniel Ru, the brand’s cofounder and chief brand officer, calls it delivering “intimacy at scale.” It’s about delivering healthy, real food at scale without losing a local, personal touch. For Ru, that has meant thinking creatively about the supply chain at times. As First Round Review reports, when a winter storm wiped out the peach crop in New England a few years ago, Sweetgreen (in the midst of summer menu planning at the time) had to adjust. Its popular goat-cheese-and-peach bowl was no longer a viable option, so the dish was reinvented in a way that both accounted for supply chain challenges and bonded with consumers. Sweetgreen substituted locally grown strawberries and blueberries for the peaches, changed the name of the dish to the Patriot Bowl and sold it in the northeast, where it quickly became a guest favorite. Ru advises other operators looking to deliver intimacy at scale to keep things simple, from limiting the number of core values to numbers of locations. When you’re ready to expand to a new location, don’t use the same playbook — study the demographics, buying patterns, traffic patterns and basic vibe of each community first. Next, be modular — expect change and build any new locations to account for future adjustments to menus, décor, ambiance and other factors. Finally, collaborate with people and companies that feel like a natural fit — from chefs to musicians to farms — and can help you retain and reinforce the character of a store.
Tap your financial data
Prepare to be shocked: The restaurant industry is known for its unusually thin profit margins (Toast suggests they range from 0 to 15 percent, with most restaurants falling between 3 and 5 percent). Okay, that probably sounds pretty familiar, but as with most other areas of your operation, your data can help you uncover surprising areas of waste and make best use of the profits you do have by tracking your profit and loss, as well as your projected and actual cash flow and cost. FSR Magazine advises collecting information on such costs as your rent and utilities, wages, revenues within a set time period, cost of raw materials, number of items sold and the average cost per item, total food cost, cash flow projections and profit. Reports from your POS can provide the most detailed information here, but also look to your credit card processor to identify trends, as well as records from third-party delivery providers.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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