Finding and retaining talent is a perennial challenge for restaurants, and the millennial generation’s reputation for favoring flexible work arrangements stands to make things more difficult for the industry. So instead of fighting the inevitable, why not embrace it? If you’re able to adjust your labor model to accommodate a regular influx of temporary or even one-time staff of various skill levels (and particularly if you’re located in a metropolitan area) technology is quickly making it possible for restaurants to fill staffing gaps with skilled people. A recent report from Bloomberg Businessweek offered up the example of Pared, a staffing app founded by two tech and restaurant veterans that enables operators to fill last-minute staffing needs. What began as a Bay-area resource for finding dishwashers and prep cooks has since expanded to new cities (they aim to be in all major U.S. metro markets by next year) and to roles including servers, baristas and oyster shuckers. Operators are able to request various levels of experience as well. While some operators have found the app costly — a skilled worker can walk into a restaurant for one might and make a higher hourly wage than a longtime cook — they acknowledge that insurance, taxes, overtime and hiring costs make apps like Pared a viable alternative to hiring staff. As Wade Moises, executive chef of Rosemary’s in New York noted in the report, “Thinking about Pared now, I’m not sure if I should fire my whole staff or quit myself.”
You are throwing money away. That’s one lesson Google has learned since it began partnering with Leanpath to measure and track the food waste it generates when serving 200,000 meals in its cafés each day. Fast Company reports that Leanpath provides equipment that can display the monetary value of wasted food, which has provided Google chefs with some extra motivation to be resourceful with ingredients. It has also helped them make adjustments such as cooking items in batches, offering smaller plates and using shallower serving pans to minimize waste without sacrificing the appearance of abundance. Google employees play a role too. At certain Google cafés, Leanpath equipment can measure wasted food where employees return their plates. Those measurements feed a digital display employees can see when ordering food and deciding how large of a portion they’d like. (Leanpath is just one company in this business — Winnow is another to check out.)
The automation of a growing number of restaurant tasks may be creating anxiety about the future of restaurant jobs, but the National Restaurant Association’s new State of the Restaurant Industry report had some positive news on that front. According to analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of restaurant jobs with annual incomes between $45,000 and $74,999 jumped 71 percent between 2010 and 2017 (that’s compared to climbing just 21 percent for the overall economy during that period). The result is a sign of career growth prospects and upward mobility even as lower-level jobs decline, particularly at tech-forward brands. Still, recruiting and retaining employees was a top concern operators shared in the report, with 35 percent of operators saying they struggled to find people for open positions, particularly in back-of-house roles. Longer-term projections shared in the report indicate a shrinking teenage labor force, long a key demographic for restaurant operators looking to hire staff. Employees older than age 55 could be stepping into their shoes, however: Between 2017 and 2018, the number of adults in this age group who work in the restaurant industry climbed 70 percent, or by 400,000 people. Does this statistic match your hiring experience in recent months? Watch for the National Restaurant Association to launch a training and certification program that will highlight longer-term professional opportunities available in the restaurant industry.
A cloud-based point-of-sale system has plenty of benefits, allowing you to access your system from anywhere and manage your data even when your Internet is down. But as a Cake report points out, other benefits of these systems may also make for happier employees. By having the ability to review dynamic reports stored in the cloud, you can readily identify your busiest and most profitable shifts and then make changes as needed. Your staff, in turn, can make their own changes so they have the shifts they want and can easily trade the ones they don’t — and you’re not caught short-staffed. Beyond that, your cloud-based system can track what your employees earn. At a glance, you can identify who is bringing in the most sales, then reward (and have a better chance of retaining) those who are best for your business.
Does your restaurant have creative ways of sharing what you do best — whether it be inventing new dishes or surprising guests with unexpected pairings or presentations? For years, operators have used Restaurant Week offers to bring guests in during slow periods, attract people who wouldn’t normally visit and test new menu ideas — but the event needs some reinvention. While it can be profitable for operators, many say that Restaurant Week turns off regular clientele, can be costly to manage and has grown to include so many restaurants that it is difficult to stand out in the crowd. In place of Restaurant Week, operators are coming up with more experimental concepts. Upserve reports that “Off Menu Week,” a joint effort between Resy and Capital One, is taking off in six food-focused cities ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. Participating restaurants will serve dishes that may appear on a future restaurant menu, off-menu items, or one-hit wonders that didn’t make it to the menu. Bloomberg reports that participating restaurants could offer such experiences as having guests try a dish with a selection of wines designed to draw out different flavors, or demonstrating different approaches to making sushi. The goal isn’t about showcasing signature dishes or trying to attract guests looking for a good deal — it’s about providing a behind-the-scenes experience visitors will remember.
Operators typically consider restaurant technology options with an eye toward improving the guest experience or boosting the efficiency of front- and back-of house teams. But it just might help you attract and retain employees too. A recent Deloitte study found that 74 percent of millennials indicated they want technology to be part of their workplace. It doesn’t have to cost operators a lot either. The Rail reports that even free tools like What’s App and Google Groups can help, as can more-targeted paid apps like HotSchedules and RedEApp. Streamlining communication, assigning tasks, shift scheduling and switching, and managing employee payment via tech are all important, though even the quality of your wifi can make a difference to employees looking to log on during breaks. Before a new employee even joins you, tech can help you manage the talent pool more effectively. Tools like RoboRecruiter, for one, which has a multilingual platform, use an online chatbox to automate messaging and help you sort and engage your candidate pool.
The food you offer your guests has specific time and temperature requirements for serving and storing. Are your thermometers coming through for you? Thermometers should be calibrated if it is ever dropped, if it is used to register a wide range of temperatures, and if it is new. A thermometer used daily should be calibrated daily, but you can keep tabs on other thermometers using the ice point method. Statefoodsafety.com suggests filling a cup with ice water, letting it sit for a few minutes, and then placing the thermometer in the cup. Once the temperature reading on the thermometer stabilizes, it should read 32˚F. If it doesn’t, calibrate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
On-the-job accidents and injuries are widespread in the foodservice industry. In quick-service restaurants in particular, a 2015 poll taken by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health found that 87 percent of employees had experienced a workplace injury the previous year. Slips, trips and falls are a key cause of these injuries and can be prevented with proper precautions. QSR Magazine suggests operators at a minimum have employees wear non-slip shoes, and non-slip mats are an additional help when placed in front of sinks, cooking areas and ice machines. Your floor-cleaning schedule should include protocol for deep-cleaning areas prone to heavy grease buildup and should enforce using separate mops for the front and back of the house.
As consumers are demanding their favorite foods whenever and wherever they like, an important trend has taken shape that may be here to stay: The barriers between meal times are becoming more fluid. NPD Group expects that afternoon and evening snacking will continue to grow in popularity, and industry analysts are looking at the trend as a reason for operators to offer all-day menus and extend their hours to make better use of their real estate. Skift Table reports that Taco Bell has made a push to claim lucrative late-night business, McDonald’s has won over customers
with its all-day breakfast, and Starbucks has even shifted its employees’ administrative tasks to closing time so they have more opportunity to engage with guests in the afternoon and give stores a more homey feel that encourages snacking.
Protect against pests this summer
As the weather warms, pests will be all the more tempted to frequent your restaurant, potentially spreading bacteria and damaging your property. (JP Pest Services says rodents harbor and spread more than 2000 human pathogens and termites cause $5 billion in property damage each year.) You can help deter unwelcome guests by taking action inside and outside of your facility. Chris Del Rossi, founder of Food and Drug and the Bug integrated pest management company, spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Quality Assurance Executive Study Group meeting and recommended operators focus on sanitation, structure and storage to prevent pest infestations. Any cracks or crevices between equipment can house pests, so use equipment with lockable wheels and flexible gas and electric lines to help ensure you can clean hard-to-reach places. When storing food, avoid placing anything on the floor or against walls. Installing wire shelves that keep food off of the floor and inches from walls can help you avoid an infestation. Dispose of food waste in trash bags and take it to a dumpster promptly. Make sure your dumpster isn’t dirty, has a lid and isn’t within easy access of your doors or windows. Consider pests when landscaping as well: Ensure plants around your premises don’t touch the ground or the walls of your property and surround your foundation with a strip of gravel, which can deter pests far better than bark mulch. Check the exterior of your property to make sure your pipes, roof, walls and tiles are crack-free and well-sealed.
Ease your restaurant's labor pains
Labor challenges are enough to keep any restaurant operator awake at night, from the rising minimum wage to the struggle for talent in a high-turnover industry. In a recent Toast survey, 46 percent of restaurant operators said their top challenge was hiring, training and retaining staff. So how do you cope? Restaurant Hospitality suggests you consider a range of actions. To help address the pay disparity between front- and back-of-house workers, you could charge administrative fees (say 2-3 percent of the final bill) or raise menu prices to fund a pay increase for those not included in tip pools. That can help ensure that on a busy night, everyone reaps the benefits; just be transparent with guests about what you're trying to achieve with new charges. Consider opening your books to your team -- training everyone from your dishwashers to your cooks about the financials of your business -- and sharing in the profits to encourage everyone to think and behave like an owner of the business. That can also help you identify and limit practices that waste money and time, from unprofitable menu items to an excess in staff. Some operators continue to experiment with service charges or sales commissions, adding a 20 percent surcharge to checks and not expecting tips (though still accepting them) on top of it, or just eliminating tipping altogether by including a hospitality fee if you feel your clientele will pay the increased menu prices to support it.
Who's in charge of social media?
Social media marketing represents a growing percentage of most restaurants' promotional campaigns. But is your social media best kept in the hands of a tech-savvy team member or is it time to hire a firm to manage it for you? Social Media Restaurant says for the majority of operators out there, the answer to that question should be "both." Consider hiring a consultant with industry expertise who can develop a campaign for you that includes the vehicles that make sense based on your brand, goals and clientele. (If you're part of a restaurant group, your consultant can help you ensure you use a consistent voice across locations as well.) Once you have a creative strategy in
place with clear objectives and tasks built into it, someone in-house who knows your customers well should spend some time each day making updates and accomplishing set tasks.
Prevent summertime Salmonella
The warmer months are prime time for the spread of Salmonella, which causes about 1 million foodborne illnesses each year in the United States. It's often found in foods including chicken, vegetables, eggs, fruit, sprouts, beef and pork. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends you remember four key actions to prevent Salmonella. Remember to properly Clean (wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces, though not the poultry, meat and eggs themselves), Separate (set the meat, poultry and seafood apart in the refrigerator and use different cutting boards for those items), Cook (ensure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature and stay at 145 degrees or above after cooking) and Chill (store foods at 40 degrees or colder in general, and refrigerate or freeze perishables and prepared foods within two hours, or within one hour if the room/outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher).
Don't let it go to waste
After labor costs, food costs are the top expenditure for restaurant operators, according to POS Sector. Those costs should range from 28 percent of sales (typical of casual restaurants) to 33 percent at fine-dining restaurants, according to the Wall Street Journal. If they're not, review your menu to ensure your top-selling items are also the most profitable. Chef Klime Kovaceski, who opened the Miami restaurant Crust in 2015 and posted sales of more than $1 million and a pre-tax profit of more than $200,000 for 2016, keeps a close eye on food waste. He recommends using minimal ingredients to keep costs down and reduce the incidence of spoilage -- risotto is a common item on his menu, for example, but herbs and spices lend wide variety to it. He also insists employees show him spoilage before throwing away food so they can determine what went wrong, and enforcing strict standards with suppliers to ensure he always receives fresh product.
Marketing with meaning
Investment in social media marketing is projected to increase by 90 percent in the next five years, according to Salesforce.com. Regardless of your budget size, you’re wise to allocate some resources to it. But how? The CMO Survey, which collects and distributes the opinions of top marketers, suggests that your marketing budget should comprise 5-15 percent of your revenue. Of that, 10-50 percent should be used for digital marketing, to include SEO, pay-per-click, social media and content marketing. The types of social media that marketers use vary widely but the most popular outlets right now are social networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, blogging (or microblogging on Twitter), and sharing video and pictures on sites like YouTube or Instagram. Video, according to the marketers surveyed, is the medium ripe for expansion in the months ahead.
Give tours of your restaurant (before guests even walk through the door)
Posting your menu online is customary. Posting a Google 360-degree virtual tour of your restaurant is less common – but it’s a great way to bring guests to you. Before consumers read your reviews on Yelp on TripAdvisor, they’re searching for you on Google. When you post a virtual tour, you get the chance to impact consumers’ first impressions of you. Social Media Restaurant says the tours appear in Google searches and on Google maps and you can also include them in your digital marketing. (Facebook just introduced a feature that allows you to post a panoramic shot of your restaurant on your business page, for example.) During a recent Restaurant Week in New York City, 55 percent of participating restaurants offered a “Business View” virtual tour – and consistently, diners booked tables at those restaurants more frequently.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
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