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.
When monitoring the temperature of food, the only gauge to trust is a food thermometer inserted into the food in question. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, you can get an inaccurate measure if you rely on the temperature reading of the equipment used to heat or cool the food, or the thermometer reading of the water that may surround the food in its serving container. Make sure any hot-held food reaches at least 135˚F and cold food stays 41˚F or cooler.
If you’re operating a food truck or a food festival stall this summer, your food safety practices will be front and center for consumers. Make sure your preparation area is tidy and that you have your foodservice license or inspection certificate displayed. If you don’t have immediate access to a sink for handwashing, have a clear protocol for handling money and serving food separately, including the use of gloves and tongs. Be mindful of exposure to heat and make sure to monitor the temperature of any ingredients that need to stay at the proper temperature — particularly TCS foods like meat, dairy, sliced fruit and cooked vegetables — since foods can easily slip into the danger zone on warm days.
Even as plant-based meat companies continue to improve upon their offering and make it easy to be a vegetarian or flexitarian these days, are the committed carnivores in your midst likely to order an Impossible Burger? Or a plant-based steak or stack of bacon? Perhaps not. Cell-based meat may have some promise here. Despite its current high cost, and questions about how it will be regulated and about whether it is actually better for the environment than conventional meat, the deciding
factor may be taste. As reported in The Spoon, food tech companies are still in the midst of taste testing products ranging from cell-based sausages to shrimp, and the first public sale of cell-based meat is likely to happen late this year. Look for more companies to emerge (and for prices to start to fall) next year.
Could technology help you make front-of-house improvements?
Where are your front-of-house pain points? Chances are, technology can help. Long wait times? FSR magazine suggests CAKE’s guest management and point-of-sale platforms, which allow a restaurant to issue guests a wait time and call them on their cell when their table is ready, freeing guests to wander before their meal. (Having that cell number also helps the restaurant build loyalty by recognizing guests and their commonly ordered items.) Inconsistent performance across locations? Mirus Restaurant Solutions can help measure guest feedback and a wide array of data to create a report card for servers, managers, operators or the company overall. For example, servers’ tips on charged transactions can be tracked and ranked so you can see where more training may be needed.
Choose the right full-service payment technology
Payment technology is changing too quickly for many restaurants to keep up. There are many routes to take – and a number of problems with them, according to FSR magazine. For example, you could tweak your existing payment technology with add-on functionality, but saving short-term costs could lead you to a large, expensive overhaul later. You could develop a smartphone app, but many guests still resist paying this way due to the appearance of security risks. You could attach devices to your tabletops, but many guests miss the human interaction and want their meals to be tech-free. You may get the most advantages with mobile devices that servers can bring to guests’ tables, FSR magazine says. Your guests get human interaction, plus the security of having a mini point-of-sale system delivered to their table when it’s time to pay.
Crowdsource your restaurant launch
Opening a restaurant can be a recipe for racking up debt, but the operators who launched Prequel in Washington, D.C. avoided taking out high-interest loans and instead relied on crowdfunding to bankroll their enterprise in its early stages. Civil Eats reports that the operators raised $350,000 in cash by selling gift cards to future customers before the restaurant even opened. Now they have launched a company, InKind, to help other restaurants benefit from their crowdfunding model. Restaurants that meet InKind’s criteria for community support (e.g. more than 1,000 likes on Facebook and a 500-person email list) can apply for funding and receive money quickly, then pay InKind back with high-amount gift cards for future guests.
A restaurant goes viral – by design
Laureen Moyal of Paperwhite Studio has helped New York restaurants increase their online followers exponentially – and all through branding tweaks that have made them Instagram hits. Grub Street reports that Moyal designed sugar packets with sayings like “Love you a latte” for the restaurant Jack’s Wife Freda, for example, as well as paper menus that serve as placemats (and are a natural backdrop for the photos guests take of their food and then post to Instagram). Jack’s Wife Freda now has 120,000 followers on the site – far beyond those of popular restaurants nearby – and its digital success has landed the restaurant a cookbook deal. (That’s getting some play on Instagram too.)
Restaurant-style innovation at the grocery store
Looking to keep tabs on the competition? In addition to knowing what your neighborhood restaurants offer, check out businesses like Whole Foods, which continues to evolve. A new Whole Foods opened last month in Chicago and according to Restaurant Business, the business is hardly just a grocery store, with bars (visitors can sit down or bring their drinks with them while they shop), a coffee roastery, seating for more than 200, a fresh pasta stand, a build-your-own concept, food and drink from upscale brands and a dizzying array of prepared foods that include everything from gelato to mochi to buffalo wings.
Why hasn’t fast-casual pasta taken off?
For many foods, the transition from casual dining to fast-casual is smooth – burgers, pizza, no problem. But Eater reports that pasta has struggled to break into the national consciousness as a fast-casual concept. That’s due to a number of factors, including the emotions associated with pasta – warmth, family and togetherness – which can get lost when you’re trying to serve pasta at lightning speed. What’s more, pasta is ill-equipped to be prepared in advance, suffering in texture and taste if left out too long before serving. And while pasta itself is inexpensive, the parmesan, tomatoes, pork and other items that accompany it can lift the price of a dish out of fast-casual territory. But Technomic’s Darren Tristano thinks there could still be potential for operators to succeed with it – especially if they focus on accompaniments like adult beverages and desserts.
Be street smart
Street food is in a sweet spot. It’s inspiring a lot of operators to develop street food-inspired menu additions. Datassential reports that the word “street” has increased 40 percent on menus in the past four years and “street tacos” has skyrocketed 200 percent in the same period. Street food also provides an opening for you to add global tastes to your menu. If you’re looking for some options ripe for expansion in the U.S., Datassential suggests street food favorites like yakitori, the Japanese meat skewers grilled over a charcoal flame, Singapore curry puffs with potatoes, herbs, spices, chicken and egg, or Hungarian kolbice, a bread cone stuffed with sausage, cheese and roasted onions.
Nuts and seeds are already a go-to snack for the health-conscious, supplying protein along with an energy boost. Mintel predicts that those benefits are now helping nuts and seeds move more deeply into snack foods and across day parts as well, popping up in breakfast foods and salads more frequently. Food producers are expanding their use of nuts and seeds as protein-rich ingredients in crackers, vegan cheese, yogurt and oatmeal.
Ag leaders ask Congress to boost funding for food safety
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is imploring Congress to increase funding to make it possible for states to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Dive reports. The agency says state governments need an additional $100 million annually, including $40 million to protect produce safety, $20 million for preventive controls for animal food and $40 million for preventive controls for human food.
Food truck food safety has financial benefits too
Food Safety Magazine says as the number of people eating at food trucks continues to climb, food truck drivers are traveling longer distances, expanding hours of operation and working at a variety of events – all potential food safety challenges. To manage food safety, many drivers are using commissaries as their base of operation – that could include a commercial kitchen, restaurant, shared-use kitchen or other foodservice operation licensed and inspected by the local health department or a state agency like the department of health or agriculture. Commissaries provide a range of benefits, including storage space for items purchased in bulk, a central reporting location for employees to share information, restrooms and handwashing facilities, a temperature-controlled environment to reduce food spoilage, and conveniently scheduled food delivery.
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