Most U.S. consumers rate their interactions with brands as simply “okay,” according to a Tempkin Experience Ratings report, which asked 10,000 consumers to rate 318 companies across 20 industries in the areas of success, effort and emotion. Not great (though to be fair, there were some food brands that consumers rated highly, including Wegman’s and Subway). On the positive side, though, that result leaves plenty of room for brands to deliver an experience that impresses guests and brings them back. CBInsights, which builds software that predicts technology trends, identified three components that generate positive emotional reactions and enhance the customer experience, turning “okay” experiences into “wow” experiences: sensory marketing, quality time and human connections. Restaurants have an automatic advantage on the first point. CBInsights points out that scents, for example, can trigger memories and emotions – and that consumers spend an average of 15 more minutes in places that have pleasant smells. So the aroma of the apple pie on your menu may have the power to trigger someone’s happy childhood memory (and connect it to your brand). On the second point, quality time, brands are creating immersive experiences that extend far beyond an initial transaction – Taco Bell’s recent launch of a pop-up hotel (featuring not-yet-launched menu items and other promotions tied to the brand) is one extreme example of how this can be done. Finally, brands are using human connections to bond with consumers. As companies delegate more tasks to technology, they are freeing up staff to engage in more face-to-face interactions with customers in order to help them and gather insights from them. How can your brand combine sensory marketing, quality time and human connections to provide memorable experiences for guests?
Looking for a new location for your brick-and-mortar restaurant or ghost kitchen? There was a time when operators would select real estate based on who lived in the area and what their spending habits were, but technology is changing the game. Clay Dover, the CEO of Velvet Taco, a 12-unit brand with restaurants in five U.S. cities, told attendees at the recent New York Restaurant Technology Summit that his company is using smartphone technology to pinpoint where consumers are spending their time during the day and late in the evening. That may well not be where they live.
Across the restaurant industry right now, profits range from 0 to 15 percent, according to Toast, and profits between 3 and 5 percent are most common. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for making errors or adapting to industry changes such as the rising demand for off-premise dining. Operators have to be continuously creative when it comes to finding and mining sources of revenue, whether from new products, services or partnerships. (Note the current fervor around restaurant brands partnering with Beyond Meat, with Subway and Hardee’s being just two of the latest companies to tap into the meat substitute’s popularity.) Restaurant Nuts suggests operators consider options such as joint ventures – for example, partnerships with grocery stores to sell your products can help you promote a special offering while lowering your sales and marketing expenses. Or, as All Food Business suggests, you can partner with a corporation to offer expense accounts, business dinners, client programs or events that can generate income. You can align with a business or charity whose mission complements yours if it helps you to expand your audience, offer a special event you wouldn’t be able to offer on your own, or tap into resources (such as technology or delivery capabilities) that benefit both parties. Within your business, building out a catering menu can help you make the most of your food costs (and minimize waste) while serving lucrative off-premise and corporate customers. Depending on your business, there may also be opportunity to offer retail products like clothing or take-home versions of signature sauces that your restaurant is known for.
Want to win over customers? It’s not about having mouth-watering new specials or transforming your marketing strategy. It’s all about your operations. (At least that seems to be the trend based on recent performance results of a number of major brands.) As reported in Restaurant Business, brands including Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s have prioritized operational changes over menu innovation in recent months. Wendy’s has focused on eliminating tasks and training employees to improve speed of service. McDonald’s continues to experiment with automation and has held competitions to find ways to serve guests faster. Dunkin’ has streamlined its menu and changed the layout of stores to improve flow of operations. As for Starbucks, third-quarter same-store sales increased 7 percent and store traffic increased 3 percent, due to what the company says is its focus on simplification – reducing the tasks that need to be completed in-house and shifting employees’ focus to guests. How can you simplify your operation – both with and without technology – to deliver better service?
Running events at your restaurant can help you generate a reliable stream of income, especially if a shift to more off-premise sales has taken a bite out of your in-house dining sales. But according to the latest Meeting Room of the Future Report from the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), facilities that host corporate events are lagging when it comes to reducing food waste and being mindful of the environment — and there is a significant opportunity for those who have a thoughtful strategy. First off, the times of a buffet line overflowing with food have passed: In the report, which polled 250 meeting planners around the world, 60 percent of respondents said they consider how well a venue manages food waste before they book an event with that venue. Further, 44 percent of respondents said that in the next five years, ethical operations and sustainable practices will be more important when booking a venue — the only factor ranked more highly was access to interactive technology. To put your best foot forward when working with people who are booking corporate events, take steps now to integrate more in-season foods on your events menu and to buy them in bulk, research and partner with producers who follow sustainable practices, ask about nearby services available to compost/recycle both food and packaging (if you don’t ask, you won’t necessarily hear about them), train your staff to speak knowledgeably about your efforts so your values come through to meeting planners and potential guests, and weave your sustainable practices into your marketing materials. They’re as much of a selling point as your menu.
A robot that can flip burgers behind the scenes is one thing. But somehow, a robot that can take on a wide range of front-of-house roles normally held by humans still feels a little space-age. However, a voice-activated, cloud-enabled service robot called the Sanbot Elf Robot seems to be making that possible. Canada-based Autonetics Universe recently acquired the rights to distribute the robot, which Nation’s Restaurant News reports can be programmed to take on such roles as greeting guests, taking orders, and sharing promotions, as well as serving as food runner, cashier and even security guard. The service robot is already used widely in Canada and Japan — the company says there are currently 100,000 in use — and it’s not difficult to see how such technology may appeal to U.S. operators struggling to manage labor costs. (Well, aside from the $13,000 price tag.) McDonald’s is currently testing robotic technology used for frying, taking drive-thru orders and cooking chicken and fish, so front-of-house applications may not be far behind for major brands.
Restaurants and movie theaters, sports bars and memorabilia shops, cafés and bookstores…Restaurants can seem like natural partners for a wide range of businesses. The promotions you offer through these sorts of partnerships help you attract new customers and streams of revenue. Or do they? It depends on how well the partners suit each other and how well they develop their strategy. A recent Fast Company report advises business owners use several criteria to determine whether another business passes the partnership litmus test. First, focus on your core challenge or goal. Your best partnerships will help you address it, whether it’s tapping into a new market or gaining insights from a tech-savvy business. Then consider how your restaurant’s values mesh with those of the other business —having a shared vision with help you avoid problems down the line. When you map out your strategy for the partnership, make sure both parties understand the other’s goals and try to anticipate potential pitfalls such as increased costs or slower decision making (and how you’ll manage them). If you’re new to this, begin by looking for partners within your own industry who offer products that complement yours — you’re likely to gain the most from these partnerships, whether in insights or other potential partnership opportunities. Finally, consider partnering on a smaller event together before diving into a larger promotion. It will help you understand the other business’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication and working styles before you have made a more significant commitment to working together.
Need another reason to fine-tune your restaurant’s presence on Google? Google Maps has now made it possible for consumers looking for their next meal to pull up photos of a restaurant’s most popular dishes. (And in the meantime, other companies are angling to help restaurants make the most of that exposure). When Google Maps users post reviews and photos of their restaurant meals, machine learning will be able to identify and promote the most popular dishes at that business so they are front and center when consumers search for information about that restaurant. The feature is available on Android now, with iOS devices to follow. This news comes on the heels of Google’s announcement that users of Google Maps, Search and Assistant can now order food delivery directly from those apps. Locl is one player looking to disrupt this space: It partners with restaurants to jazz up their listing on Google (and in the process, might end up making restaurant websites obsolete).
Last year, restaurant catering grew 50 percent faster than the industry as a whole, according to research from Technomic and ezCater. At a time when restaurants are scrambling to meet consumer demand for off-premise dining despite the challenge of making delivery profitable, focusing on catering can be a wise business move for foodservice operations. (If you need a rule of thumb for catering profitability, Sandy Korem of The Festive Kitchen in Dallas aims for 67 percent profit from catering and prices food at three times its cost and beverages for twice their cost.) As grocery stores and other businesses eat into the off-premise dining market for individual meals, catering can help you set your business apart. If you haven’t given significant thought or investment to your catering business, you’re not alone: The research cited above found that even though 90 percent of restaurant operators believe catering is somewhat or very important to business, only 28 percent have made a strategic investment in it. Restaurant Nuts offered some tips from operators who have made catering pay off. First, develop a catering-friendly menu that comprises your greatest hits (not new recipes) that travel well or can be started at the restaurant, then easily completed onsite. Make pricing easy for customers by creating sample menus of entrées and appetizers at different price points, and when discussing options with a customer, have an idea of what different prices per head will provide. Make sure you have temperature-stable containers, along with other equipment that holds your food at the proper temperature while in transit. Start with small, manageably spaced events and then expand from there so you can build a reputation for reliability and quality — low prices tend to be less of a priority for catering customers. Finally, make sure you offer a catering-specific loyalty program to entice people to invite you back.
As you contemplate ways to boost your restaurant’s bottom line, don’t forget about small changes you can make to your equipment that can generate significant savings in the long term. For example, is there room to reduce your restaurant’s water and power consumption? As QSR Magazine reports, the U.S. Energy Star program can help you identify energy-efficient equipment ranging from small ice machines and coffee markers to large commercial ovens. Or start with even smaller changes. Swap out incandescent light bulbs for LED or CFL bulbs, or update pre-rinse spray valves or use low-pressure sinks and dishwashers to reduce the wastewater your facility generates.
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