At a time when sugar continues to be in the crosshairs when it comes to the American diet, sugary drinks are becoming not only more plentiful at large restaurant chains but also sweeter. That’s according to new research from Harvard that was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The research, based on the analysis of beverage offerings available at 63 quick-service, fast-casual and full-service brands between 2012 and 2017, found that the number of sugary drinks climbed by 82 percent. Further, the sweetness of drinks increased too: Among newly introduced sugary beverages including sodas, fruit drinks and sports drinks, the number of calories per drink increased by 50 and the average amount of sugar reached 63 grams, approximately double the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sugar threshold. Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and warnings from medical associations are creating downward pressure on sugar levels in the beverage industry, but in the meantime, restaurants have an important role to fill in providing flavorful drinks that don’t pile on the extra sugar. Think craft seltzers, fruit-infused waters, herbal teas and kombuchas as stand-alone options or extra ingredients that can add interest (but not all of the sugar) to your beverage lineup.
The restaurant kitchen continues to evolve -- and Zume seems to have created a new category that blends a restaurant kitchen, food truck and virtual kitchen. The company recently announced that
the brand &Pizza will use Zume’s mobile kitchen technology to expand their brand in new markets and test new menu items. But as The Spoon reports, Zume’s strength in predictive data analytics may be what helps it transform the pizza brand’s possibilities. Its technology currently considers data points such as days of the week and school calendars to predict what kinds of pizza will be ordered and from what locations. So ostensibly, &Pizza will be able to prepare pizzas at a central facility, store them in their mobile kitchen (which can position itself where orders are likely to be placed), then bake and deliver the pizzas once orders start to come in. Delivery drivers will have shorter distances to drive and can therefore make more drop-offs and keep food fresher because it hasn’t had far to travel. Zume opened up its data platform to additional cuisine types last year, so other restaurant concepts can adopt its model and customize their own mobile kitchens accordingly.
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.
As the bounty of local summer produce begins to wane in many areas, your cooler can help you store favorite items and draw out the season. Make sure you’re storing ingredients in a way that maximizes your available space and keeps the contents fresher for longer. FreshPoint suggests that you make the most of the cooler space you have by storing items not in the cardboard boxes they arrived in but smallers containers that fit more snugly in your cooler. Order splits instead of full cases, particularly if you have a smaller cooler. Remove items that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as onions and root vegetables. Finally, the cold air in your cooler flows from the back to the front, making certain areas of your cooler colder than others, so make sure you store items where they are happiest – berries and carrots at the back, cucumbers in the middle and apples and melons at the front.
As delivery ramps up, are drive thrus on the way out? Minneapolis may have set a precedent recently by banning the construction of new drive thrus in the name of health and safety: The city wants to cut back on vehicle noise, idling and traffic and make sidewalks safer for pedestrians. Existing drive thrus in the city will remain intact, however.
From the clattering of dishes to the blaring of music to the loud conversations of guests trying to hear themselves over the din, restaurants can be noisy places. It can be enough of a turn-off that guests will avoid your business. (Case in point: There is an app called Soundprint that dubs itself the “Yelp for noise” and allows users to search for restaurants quiet enough to allow for conversation.) If the sound levels in your restaurant bother guests and employees, take some cost-effective steps to lower the volume. Toast suggests minimizing the scraping of chairs on the floors by using felt pads on chair legs. Keep music at a level where people can have a conversation without shouting. Use textiles to absorb noise – curtains, tablecloths, area rugs, and soundproof panels on walls and ceilings can all help. Finally, keep noisy food preparation equipment in the kitchen, or if you have an open-concept space, consider installing a transparent barrier between guests and food prep areas.
If you serve avocado on your menu, you’re well aware of the rollercoaster ride it has been taking lately with regard to supply and demand. According to a USA Today report, the price of avocados in early July had skyrocketed 129 percent since the same period during the previous year. While restaurants are making adjustments such as diversifying suppliers, raising prices and finding substitutes for the beloved avocado where possible, these are steps that should be taken not just when one key ingredient is in short supply but across the spectrum of a restaurant’s inventory year round. When you monitor your inventory more closely – even in times of plenty – you can more easily ride out times of scarcity. MarketMan suggests you take such steps as tracking food costs throughout the year so you’re more able to spot seasonal fluctuations in price, as well as what you have paid historically. (Team Four can help you with this.) Where possible, fill your menu with seasonal produce to minimize costs – it will also encourage guests to visit you while a favorite item is still available or when a new one is about to be featured on the menu. Partner with your chef to make sure he or she is able to use what’s in season and can minimize costly extras. When it comes to suppliers, try to lock in prices for the long term and don’t hesitate to shop around for better deals when it’s time to renew your contracts. Look around for deals online, particularly for non-perishable items that can be purchased in bulk. Monitor your spending regularly using software with purchasing and ordering management features that can help you stay on top of price fluctuations.
If the restaurant tech landscape doesn’t quite working for your business yet, just wait five minutes and you’re likely to find technology that does. One possible example is the recent partnership of Waitbusters and Postmates. Waitbusters started out as a tech company aiming at eliminating wait times at restaurants but it is now evolving in an effort to work with restaurants that don’t want to hire delivery drivers and also don’t want to pay the high fees charged by many third-party delivery providers. It has integrated its Digital Diner software platform with Postmates and allows operators to turn on the Postmates delivery function when they need it and turn it off when they don’t. This helps eliminate the costs of using an entire third-party delivery platform while giving operators access to off-premise options they may need.
Consumers demand fresh food — but that can lead to food safety challenges, especially when fresh produce is a key feature of your menu. But there are steps you can take to protect the safety of your food supply and enhance safety protocol within your restaurant. As Restaurant Dive reports, a string of romaine lettuce contamination incidents led Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol, to attack food safety from several angles. First, the brand developed a field leadership team of food safety managers. They oversee five to 10 restaurants and train managers how to run a restaurant with an emphasis on food safety. The company also revamped its supply chain team, introduced quarterly food safety training, developed a “focus prep” team to limit the number of people preparing food, and transitioned more cooking tasks to a central kitchen where food safety could be more closely monitored. Finally, they focused on retaining employees so that food safety knowledge had a better chance of accumulating on staff. The efforts appear to be turning results around for the brand, which generated revenue gains of nearly 9 percent last year, according to earnings data.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.
Looking for alternatives to plastic for off-premise food packaging? Increasingly, it’s coming from plants. Corn is currently being used for plastic alternatives ranging from straws to containers, but according to a report in Scientific American, the disposal of the material poses challenges, along with leaving an environmental footprint. It is compostable and not recyclable, so if not sent to an industrial facility where it can biodegrade, the process can take between 100 and 1000 years (versus just a few months). Still, other promising and more easily biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed from materials ranging from cactus to algae. Some are even designed to eliminate waste altogether. The Spoon reports that the startup Decomer is developing a plant-based capsule containing honey. It can dissolve in coffee, tea, or other liquids at a wide range of temperatures.
The bulky equipment in your kitchen may not be the most convenient to clean, but it’s important your kitchen team does it properly to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. For items that can’t be cleaned automatically, Statefoodsafety.com advises you first turn off and unplug the electrical equipment you plan to clean, then wash and rinse the outside of the equipment, followed by the area underneath and around it. Clean and sanitize any removable parts by soaking them or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Anything that cannot be removed and cleaned must be washed and rinsed in place. Finish by wiping everything down with sanitizing solution. To avoid contamination, air dry all equipment instead of using a cloth, and resanitize any surfaces that may have gotten recontaminated when you put the equipment back together following cleaning. Clean ovens weekly, refrigerators and freezers monthly, and sinks regularly between uses — especially if they are used frequently throughout the day.
When a London restaurant was informed in advance about a guest with a severe nut allergy coming to dine recently, the restaurant said the guest could either bring his own food and have the restaurant heat it (at a cost of $22), or eat food from the kitchen and sign a waiver acknowledging risk of cross-contamination. While this was a public relations mistake for sure, it demonstrates the pressure restaurants feel to lower the risk of preparing food for guests with allergies. How do your risk management practices measure up? Public health consultants EHA Group advise foodservice operators to assess a food’s path from warehouse to plate, which requires careful communication with your suppliers, distributors and staff. Use a production matrix that labels, tracks and dictates how to handle allergens so you can feel confident about managing them. Isolate allergens in storage and preparation areas, cook allergen-free foods first, change utensils after each item, wash hands thoroughly after handling allergens, change aprons or uniforms when there is a contamination risk, and clean preparation areas and equipment well after handling allergens.
Receive a shipment of fruit and the clock starts: You have a small window of time to either use the fresh fruit or freeze it, right? But an emerging company called StixFresh has developed technology that they say can extend the shelf life of a fruit by up to two weeks, helping people minimize food waste and save money at the same time. (The company says up to 52 percent of fruit goes to waste each year in the U.S.) StixFresh developed stickers made from an all-natural material that can slow the ripening process when stuck to fruit. The stickers work best on apples, avocados, dragon fruits, kiwis, oranges and pears and can also be used on such fruit as apricots, lemons and pomegranates. The StixFresh stickers will be available this summer.
A single foodborne illness outbreak could cause a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant approximately $2 million in financial damage, according to a 2018 study from Johns Hopkins University. Your restaurant’s ability to deliver safety training and respond to threats quickly in an environment of escalating costs and shrinking training budgets can make a huge difference. Modern Restaurant Management suggests digitizing and automating your food safety audits to drive food safety consistency and quality, in addition to making reporting and compliance a less time-consuming process. For example, instead of having to remember to manage certain tasks during a busy shift, you can schedule alerts, surveys and checklists to go out at specific times of day to team members via a mobile app. Instead of recording results with paper and pen or on a spreadsheet, you can report them on a dashboard-based system that can automate food safety standards and reinforce them across multiple restaurant locations.
Improper cleaning and storage of your knives can cause these tools to become blunt and worn prematurely or cause injury. Chefify advises operators to wash, dry and store knives immediately after each use. Soaking them with other tools may result in damage if the knives knock against those items, prolonged soaking can corrode the blade’s chromium coating, and the heat of a dishwasher may wear out knife handles. When storing knives, avoid placing them in a drawer with other utensils where they may become blunt or cause injury. Use plastic blade guards if you store knives in drawers or, better yet, store them on a magnetic strip or in a wooden block (blade side facing down).
Could your restaurant go cafeteria-style? According to new research from Datassential, cafeteria-style setups may be a modern reinvention of the buffet. In a recent survey of 1,500 consumers, 55 percent of respondents said they like or love cafeteria-style dining. These arrangements are especially popular with consumers who have young children and want a range of choices to suit the whole family. There could be other benefits to these arrangements too: Having a server dish out
prepared food in a cafeteria line could provide the labor-side benefits of a buffet and also help protect food safety, since guests aren’t serving themselves.
Are you among the many operators trying to figure out how to make delivery profitable? At a time when off-premise sales account for 38 percent of restaurant sales, according to Technomic, delivery has become a must for restaurants, even when the margins aren’t necessarily making the service profitable for those brands. Fortunately, new models are beginning to make the numbers work out. Recent Technomic forecasts have predicted that “subscription models that eliminate per-delivery fees in favor of a flat-rate subscription will emerge to present a clearer value proposition to customers.” The Spoon reports that a number of third-party delivery providers have come up with palatable offers for restaurants and consumers alike: DoorDash’s DashPass offers a monthly subscription of $9.99 for delivery of orders priced $15 or higher from a selection of restaurants, and Postmates has a similar offer. In the UK, Deliveroo is offering a £7.99 per month subscription for orders of any amount, and Uber Eats is reported to be testing a loyalty program that could eliminate delivery fees — if the experiment works there, it is likely to make its way across the pond eventually. Even operators who aren’t opting for subscription models are finding ways to make delivery profitable. In fact, delivery may be helping Chipotle make a comeback. Skift Table reports that delivery sales climbed 13 times in the fourth quarter of 2018 as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Chipotle’s CFO credits a couple of factors for the success: the creation of a separate, digital food assembly line for off-premise orders, which enables the restaurant to process a greater number of orders, as well as a delivery-friendly menu (burritos and taco bowls are good travelers).
At a time when many operators are looking to scale down their restaurant footprints to accommodate service model changes and stay profitable, every square inch of food preparation space counts. At the recent NAFEM, the show hosted by the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers of Chicago, the theme was about helping operators do more with less, using tools ranging from multifunctional prep stations on wheels to compact, high-efficiency ovens to electric bakers with interchangeable molds for accommodating a wide range of snack foods. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a highlight of the show was a collaboration between the equipment company Vulcan and the quick-service seafood restaurant Captain D’s. The restaurant had challenged Vulcan to devise a more efficient fryer, and the result was a smaller fryer that can be mounted on a freezer base and allows a worker to complete a task while standing in place. In stores currently using the fryers, fry times decreased 30 percent and the stores saved $10,000 annually. Where is there an opportunity to increase the efficiency of your kitchen?
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