At a time when restaurant businesses are feeling pressure to identify new revenue streams, the CIO of Mattson, a food and beverage innovation firm based in Silicon Valley, says many operators are missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity: meal kits. Barb Stuckey of Mattson told Restaurant Dive that she has long been urging operators to take a look at offering the kits to at least determine if they make sense financially or operationally, but few are following through, save for perhaps Chick fil-A. The brand tested meal kits to positive results last year, according to Forbes, though they haven’t announced future plans for them. Stuckey likes the kits because she thinks they can help operators attack some of the quality-control issues they may experience with delivery. For instance, kits may be worth a shot if you have menu items that could do well off-premise but may not travel as well when they are fully cooked (like fries and sandwiches). Or, if you have brisk lunchtime traffic, promoting the kits during lunch may help you sell to guests who want to sort out their dinner plan in advance. At least, the category could help restaurants tap into a less saturated segment that is ripe for reinvention. According to Packaged Facts said, meal kit market expansion in the future is likely to rely more on alternative purchasing venues than on the traditional subscription model, which can clash with the on-demand mentality of off-premise customers. Restaurants can provide that on-demand experience.
A study by IHL Services, Inc. found that 96 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 39 like to use kiosks for ordering food. Restaurant operators who consider kiosks to be the domain of large chains might keep an eye on Tapit, an emerging player that offers a customizable kiosk platform called SELFIT that is aimed at individual restaurants on up to small- to medium-size chains. The platform, which was on display at the recent National Restaurant Association Show, aims to help restaurants customize menus and integrate promotions, lifting check totals in the process. The company’s technology is currently used in the Israeli sandwich chain New Deli, where the head of operations credited the kiosks for boosting individual sales by 30 percent and branch sales by 13 percent. National Restaurant News reports that Tapit’s kiosk platform will have its first U.S. rollout at Duchess Restaurants in Connecticut.
Rising labor costs are forcing all restaurant operators to make tough decisions about how to manage staff and how to prepare the food they serve. But what happens when the decisions you have to make are central to the brand identity your guests associate with you? Case in point: Chop’t. The fast-casual chain is known for chopping salad in front of the customer, a practice that provides some visual intrigue while sending the message to guests that their food is freshly prepared according to their tastes. But the company announced recently that it would be making the switch to pre-chopped ingredients. (Guests can still have their salad chopped but have to request the service.) Darren Tristano of FoodserviceResults predicts that regular guests could be turned off by these changes — in the short term — but will probably forgive the changes and return to old habits eventually. Just the same, if you’re experiencing a similar need to cut back on services that are central to your brand and important to your best guests, what can you do? A well-executed loyalty program may help you bridge the gap. Chipotle, for example, recently unveiled a new digital loyalty program designed to both give guests what they want and continue to collect customer data that will help the brand feed future decisions that will keep guests engaged. Skift Table reports that the new loyalty program, which was market tested for months, awards guests with free chips and guacamole after one purchase. Each $10 purchase earns guests one point and after $125 spent, guests earn a free entrée. These enticements are encouraging more visitors to sign up for the loyalty program — and share their data in the process. From there, Chipotle can study what factors bring those guests back and make them spend more money, whether it’s discounts on certain items or special promotions. What can you do to keep your guests coming back?
A growing number of fast-casual restaurants are becoming less about having guests stay and eat and more about letting them pick up food to go or have it delivered. Eatsa, the fast casual bowl concept that pioneered the idea of automating food to go, is now focusing on helping many of these fast casuals launch virtual restaurants, which can help brands test potential concepts or service models with minimal investment. The Spoon reports that Eatsa’s new tech offering, dubbed Omnichannel Intelligent Queue Software, can calculate the exact status of an order, send customers a down-to-the-minute update, and alert delivery drivers about the exact time to pick up an order so it doesn’t wait for long. When a driver arrives, a branded pickup station directs the person to the specific order that needs to go. (Deliveroo is the first customer to put the new Eatsa tech into practice at its 10-kitchen food hall in Singapore.)
Americans currently eat half of their weekly meals on the go, according to Statista research. If you haven’t yet taken steps to accommodate the convenience-driven consumer looking to satisfy a craving, you stand to lose market share to not only restaurant competitors but also to grocery and convenience stores offering prepared food. A QSR Magazine report suggests operators looking for a greater share of grab-and-go business ensure their menu effectively promotes the brand. While grab-and-go food is becoming ubiquitous, it can fall short when it’s too generic, with the expected mix of yogurt parfaits, fruit cups and pre-packaged sandwiches. If you have a dish or even a condiment that is a signature item, find a way to translate it to your grab-and-go menu. The report also advises operators tap into the millennial mindset when selecting and packaging grab-and go menu items. Think locally sourced, plant-based foods and “ugly” produce, along with environmentally friendly packaging that demonstrates your commitment to cutting back on waste. Consider using packaging that not only showcases your food effectively but can be returned and reused (in exchange for a discount on a future order, perhaps). Layered salads or smoothies served up in glass mason jars are just two examples. Finally, don’t forget to weave in on-trend flavors. A report from The Caterer suggests Japanese-inspired dishes like gyoza dumplings or yakisoba noodles can add interest and health to a grab-and-go menu, along with fruit-and-herb infused beverages.
While third-party delivery gets a lot of press lately, 78 percent of all delivery orders are currently placed directly from restaurants — not from third-party delivery providers, according to the 2018 Takeout & Off-Premise Consumer Trend Report. That could continue as savvy consumers lean toward ordering direct in order to check on potential deals and avoid excessive delivery fees. Cake advises operators to make that process as streamlined as possible by placing an “order now” button and phone number in plain view on their websites. These web visitors are also prime candidates for your loyalty program, so make sure your invitation to join appears front and center on your site.
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