At a time when Instagram is helping restaurant menu items go viral and having a well-curated social media presence is billed as a must for a growing business, it can be easy to overlook the power of email. But the numbers tell an important story: According to research from the Direct Marketing Association and Demand Metric, the return on investment for email marketing is 122 percent compared to just 28 percent for social media (other marketing channels rank similarly low). Email carries a number of benefits. When you pour your marketing dollars and ideas into your email list, you retain control of what happens next. You’re not at the mercy of changes to a social media network’s algorithm and you stand a better chance of reaching your most loyal guests directly. Your email subject line has the power to prompt the recipient’s action at the time you send it — you’re not competing with content on a person’s social media feed or having to wait until people visit their account. As The Rail suggests, you can use your data to deliver a more customized experience via email, sending messages when you know your list is most apt to open them and with a mix of images, video and text depending on what you’d like to promote. There are also ample email tools to target guests with not just birthday promotions but also deals that consider their personal preferences and ordering habits. OptinMonster suggests using your list for such tasks as nurturing your loyalty program and spelling out its benefits, winning back guests who haven’t visited in a while, or following up with people who made a Groupon deal or otherwise expressed interest in your restaurant but haven’t visited yet.
When food is prepared and waiting to be eaten by a hungry consumer, every minute can impact the quality of the meal. Now that so many operators are embracing consumer demand for delivery and are seeking to stand out in a growing crowd of off-premise dining options, the next push is to make that delivery as fast and seamless as possible. For a number of major brands, that means delivering in less than 30 minutes and striving to shave additional time off of that rate. In addition to restaurants adding pick-up shelves for delivery drivers collecting orders and opening delivery-only kitchens in locations with a critical mass of customers, Skift Table reports that some brands are introducing prepaid delivery for third-party couriers and retrofitting vehicles to become mobile kitchens that can cook a pizza on the go. (Pizza Hut, for one, is testing a robot-powered pizza kitchen that sits in the bed of a modified Toyota Tundra.) How can you shave minutes off of your delivery?
Could your Instagram presence carry more weight than your Yelp reviews? Instagram influencers are surpassing Yelp Elite — the review site’s subgroup of users that Yelp has recognized for their quality recommendations and reviews, among other qualities — according to a recent Eater report. Considering a Fundera poll that found that 69 percent of millennial diners photograph their food before eating it, Instagram’s power makes sense. It is an ideal platform for you to benefit from user-generated content if you create the right conditions for it. To help boost your Instagram presence, Next Restaurants suggests you add some eye candy — have one distinctive visual element in your restaurant that belongs in photos. That could be accomplished with eye-catching flowers or plants, unusual art or wallpaper that serves as a memorable backdrop, seasonal décor, or unique signage. Add photo-friendly lighting, attractive plates and food presentations, and you have the components you need for compelling photos. Then entice guests with a freebie or discount in exchange for posting a photo with your hashtag and geotag, along with tagging your account. When you have a special event or a new menu to promote, up the ante by running a contest that awards a gift certificate as a prize for the best post. When your guests post content, be sure to do your part and like, comment and share their posts (with credit) to build on your connection. If you know of some Instagram influencers who resonate with your target market, it may be worth your while to invite them in for a free dinner when you want to make a big splash for a grand opening or a rebrand.
Restaurant operators have reams of data at their fingertips to help make business decisions — but quickly distilling all of that data into actionable steps is another story. That’s where artificial intelligence is starting to make a difference, according to Rajat Suri, founder of the tech company Presto. In a recent Restaurant Dive report, he predicted that tabletop technology, connected with wearable technology for restaurant staff and a restaurant’s POS, will increasingly improve service efficiency and — perhaps more importantly — be able to translate data into staff alerts that anticipate guest needs. Presto technology can currently inform staff via wearable technology that there is a line at the door and they need to speed up service, for example. It can also analyze tabletop tablets and change up the menu items they promote in an effort to increase revenue at different parts of the day. Watch for AI to continue to ease the burden of decision making in the years ahead.
How mobile wallets could open the door to more sales
Every year, it seems there is a new way for consumers to pay -- and restaurants and other businesses must scramble to keep up. But among those newcomers, mobile wallets could have some staying power, as they open the door to additional functionality beyond payment. FSR Magazine says mobile wallets offer credit card security in case of a data breach, device validation in the form of a PIN or fingerprint, easy access to loyalty cards and gift cards, and streamlined in-app purchases. Over time, expect there to be new ways that mobile wallets help restaurants engage with guests and make payment easier. Right now, the key players include Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal and ChasePay.
Prevent spices from causing foodborne illness
Spices, critical to adding global influence to your menu and boosting flavor without salt and sugar, have been subject to increasing recalls for food pathogens, Food Safety Magazine reports. An FDA study found that spices like oregano, basil, coriander, sesame seeds, curry powder, cumin and black pepper were contaminated at varying levels with salmonella. Spices produced in third world countries in unsanitary conditions and the movement of product across countries can make it easy for the origins of spices to get lost. Are your spice suppliers taking steps to address the problem? Food Safety Magazine says international spice trade organizations should be involved with efforts to track shipments and develop appropriate supplier controls, such as adherence to Good Agricultural Practices and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Could you find your next star on Snapchat?
McDonald's thinks so. In Australia, the chain is inviting prospective employees to send a 10-second video interview to them via Snapchat, according to Fortune. These "Snapplications" are only preliminary (McDonald's directs applicants to the company's formal application afterwards) but the tool could generate some buzz -- it allows applicants to place virtual McDonald's hats and nametags on themselves so they can see how they would look behind the counter.
Grocery stores poised to compete with pizza restaurants
Pizza restaurants, with a product that's typically a good value, is easily customizable and designed for delivery, have been somewhat impervious to the strains hitting other parts of the restaurant industry. But that could change soon, according to a recent report from Food Dive. It says according to research from Progressive Grocer, the prepared foods departments of grocery stores could clinch some of the pizza market as they can offer fresher ingredients, competitive prices and potentially more interesting combinations. Datassential suggests pizza restaurants compete by offering more on-trend ingredients like Sriracha and roasted vegetables, then let guests customize their pie -- something nearly half of guests desire (but only 23 percent of grocery stores accommodate).
Coffee has its perks
Coffee is continuing its meteoric rise. The National Coffee Association reports that between 2008 to 2016, gourmet coffee beverage consumption rose from 13 percent to 36 percent among 12- to 24-year-olds, and from 19 percent to 41 percent for people between 25 and 39. Want to grab your share of that market? Toast recommends you test out these trends: Try cold brewing for a less acidic, smoother cup at a higher price point -- or even add pressurized nitrogen to that cold brew and serve it from a tap for a naturally sweet "nitro brew." Finally, some coffee companies are experimenting with cascara, the fruit that coats the coffee bean. It can be brewed or add a sweet, maple-like flavor to a latte. Even better, it helps reduce waste by helping roasters use the whole bean in their coffee.
Let your guests make your signature dish at home
Have you ever considered offering a meal kit service at your restaurant? According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. would buy meal kits from their favorite restaurant if they were offered. In a Restaurant Hospitality report about the concept, operators who have tried it say offering kits isn't for every restaurant -- they take a lot of testing to get right. But it can help if you have a signature item you know guests will like, whether it be your steak, burgers or guacamole, and focus on helping guests make experiences around that item.
A new twist on an American favorite
The diner is an American icon -- but a new trend? A new report in Eater says 2017 could be the year of the luncheonette, as new diners pop up across the country. But these restaurants are not purely about nostalgia. In fact, the ones that have taken off have reinvented the concept. Take Dove's Luncheonette (a Mexican diner in Chicago) by James Beard Award winner Paul Kahan. Or Maurice, a Portland, Ore. pastry luncheonette. Others that have thrived include New York's Nickel & Diner, which doesn't serve typical diner food but looks like a futuristic diner, Philadelphia's Rooster Soup Co., which donates all proceeds to charity, and Dad's Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay, Calif., which has a relaxed, community feeling but is located in a renovated train caboose and features a small, locally sourced menu of just seven items.
New York's small (but strong) food safety team
Stopping foodborne illness before it reaches you can feel like an impossible task. But a team of just 43 microbiologists, chemists and support staff at the New York State Food Laboratory gave a substantial boost to the state's record of food safety testing in 2016. They increased testing of food and beverage samples by 10 percent this past year, which led to more than 300 recalls of contaminated items, according to a Food Safety News report of findings from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. This included more testing for health hazards, purity and accuracy of labeling using new more accurate techniques. For the first time, the lab used a DNA-based method to test fish for speciation -- an important step in identifying food allergies and food fraud. They also increased testing of imported items like cheese and spices by 28 percent over 2015.
Before adding an ingredient, check the data
Do you ever wonder exactly how guests will respond to an ingredient you'd like to add to a new dish? Datassential has developed a new tool called Flavor, which helps you track specific foods, beverages, spices and other ingredients across a range of metrics and demographic segments. You can determine the awareness of an ingredient among people in a specific region, for example, and even identify if those people have children. The tool includes millions of consumer recommendations about thousands of products, from acai to za'atar.
Know your Instagrammability
Is Instagram in your restaurant's business plan? For a growing number of restaurants, it is -- credit the social network's more then 500 million active monthly users. The Financial Times reports that the social network has been transforming the restaurant scene in the U.K. and according to Skift, chefs in the U.S. are also creating dishes with an eye toward how they will look in a square photo on Instagram -- menu items have a unique appearance, plates are whiter and some have design or branding elements that people associate with the restaurant when people find them online.
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