As technology infuses so many parts of the restaurant industry — and as restaurant brands expand to additional locations — operators may wonder if the connection to consumers suffers in the process, or if the brand could become watered down when consistency-driven processes take over. Sweetgreen is one example of a brand that has kept its guest connections strong through its adoption of technology and physical expansion. Nathaniel Ru, the brand’s cofounder and chief brand officer, calls it delivering “intimacy at scale.” It’s about delivering healthy, real food at scale without losing a local, personal touch. For Ru, that has meant thinking creatively about the supply chain at times. As First Round Review reports, when a winter storm wiped out the peach crop in New England a few years ago, Sweetgreen (in the midst of summer menu planning at the time) had to adjust. Its popular goat-cheese-and-peach bowl was no longer a viable option, so the dish was reinvented in a way that both accounted for supply chain challenges and bonded with consumers. Sweetgreen substituted locally grown strawberries and blueberries for the peaches, changed the name of the dish to the Patriot Bowl and sold it in the northeast, where it quickly became a guest favorite. Ru advises other operators looking to deliver intimacy at scale to keep things simple, from limiting the number of core values to numbers of locations. When you’re ready to expand to a new location, don’t use the same playbook — study the demographics, buying patterns, traffic patterns and basic vibe of each community first. Next, be modular — expect change and build any new locations to account for future adjustments to menus, décor, ambiance and other factors. Finally, collaborate with people and companies that feel like a natural fit — from chefs to musicians to farms — and can help you retain and reinforce the character of a store.
Tap your financial data
Prepare to be shocked: The restaurant industry is known for its unusually thin profit margins (Toast suggests they range from 0 to 15 percent, with most restaurants falling between 3 and 5 percent). Okay, that probably sounds pretty familiar, but as with most other areas of your operation, your data can help you uncover surprising areas of waste and make best use of the profits you do have by tracking your profit and loss, as well as your projected and actual cash flow and cost. FSR Magazine advises collecting information on such costs as your rent and utilities, wages, revenues within a set time period, cost of raw materials, number of items sold and the average cost per item, total food cost, cash flow projections and profit. Reports from your POS can provide the most detailed information here, but also look to your credit card processor to identify trends, as well as records from third-party delivery providers.
In 2019, one of the top trends Technomic forecasts for the restaurant industry is a deeper consumer demand for transparency — and not just about the food you serve. There is a growing expectation from consumers that you will be up front about your packaging, health and safety, corporate social responsibility, corporate performance and other aspects of business that demonstrate your values. Perfection isn’t critical: 85 percent of participants in a Cone Communications/Echo study said they are satisfied if a company is transparent about their practices even if those practices need improvement. The benefits of transparency can range from improved health and safety reports to simpler menus to improved connections with employees and the public. To enhance the transparency of your business in 2019, look at your shortcomings and find ways to be more open and clear about how you’re trying to solve each problem. For example, Mike Husman, a coach with the executive consulting firm The Entrepreneur’s Source, said a quick-service client who struggled with long wait times (and customer complaints about them) placed a timer in the restaurant to show its average serve times, which then decreased substantially. If you struggle with a foodborne illness outbreak, get approval from your lawyer to inform people about the problem and announce the steps you’re taking to fix it. When you share financial information, help people connect the dots: How do your employees’ actions translate to more sales and visits? How does your business spend the money it earns and where are your biggest expenses and investments? Even if your employees don’t have an actual stake in your business, approach them like they do by finding ways to gather and implement their input and show how they impact the organization.
Play the Instagram game
Everyone loves a game — and concocting some simple ones can help you drive traffic and interest in your restaurant. Have a new menu for 2019? Next Restaurants suggests creating Instagram polls, quizzes, word plays or crosswords to encourage people to guess what new items you’ll be adding. Offer points or discounts to the first x number of people who guess correctly. If you need some contest ideas to incentivize people to engage, challenge people to suggest a new appetizer or creative burger topping, put it to a vote on Instagram and feature it for a limited time on your menu. Or, offer an experience that would make for a fun night out with a group: A cooking class with your chef, a food photography workshop with a professional, or an evening of food/wine tastings with a sommelier.
After the holidays, many restaurants see a dip in business. Motivating your best guests to come back will be especially important to keeping business on track. But when you think of your best guests, does a specific person come to mind — or just a list of traits? Creating a set of guest personas can help you understand who you’re trying to attract and fine-tune your marketing so you encourage them to return. According to The Rail, it’s important to combine both qualitative and quantitative data in your research. Studying your Google analytics data may tell you the age and sex of your average website visitor, for example, but may be less specific about their food preferences. For qualitative information, interview and survey your guests — canvass your mailing list and offering a discount or other promotion for their participation — and ask what they care about. Try to elicit quotes from them to understand what influences them. Your final guest personas — and you can have several categories of them depending on the diversity of guests you serve — can be given a name, vocation and other personal information but shouldn’t necessarily be specific individuals you know in real life. Instead, they should be composites of people who encompass the range of qualities you see in your guest community.
Get fired up
‘Tis the season for a fire in the fireplace. While preparing foods over a roaring fire is hardly new, the practice is on trend at the moment for the way it brings together basic cooking methods, local ingredients and memorable dining experiences. It can also help you infuse your menu with unexpected flavors. As the owner of the London Log Company told the Telegraph, salmon smoked over firewood has a different flavor depending on the color of the wood. It also allows a chef to constantly monitor a food as it cooks — all while putting on a show for guests. (Use dry woods for a more even burn.) Even if you don’t have the facility for cooking over fire, you can adapt a barbecue by soaking wood chips in water and then sprinkling them over charcoal for similar effect.
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.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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