Shift seamlessly into a higher minimum wage
The start of 2017 meant an increase in the minimum wage in 19 states and a number of municipalities, with more increases expected in the next couple of years. How does a restaurant operator cope? Restaurant Hospitality recommends you take these steps: Cross-train your team, especially back-of-house employees. You will then have fewer people doing more (but higher-value) work. Then train those employees and encourage their input so they feel valued and stay. You can also adjust schedules and pay periods – try a two-week schedule instead of a one-week schedule to minimize shift switching and overtime, and shift pay periods to start midweek so instead of breaking overtime during busy weekend periods, you’re doing it when it’s easier to cut back.
What’s your overhead?
It’s hard to know how profitable you are if you’re not calculating your overhead accurately. Toast recommends you calculate it by collecting your indirect costs for a specific time period (e.g. rent, wages, utilities, advertising) and divide it by an allocation measure for the same time period (e.g. the total number of scheduled labor hours for the month). Then, reduce your overhead by cutting back on labor costs during slow periods where possible, swapping out legacy technology for newer technology that will be less expensive in the long run, reducing waste with a smart inventory system, subleasing space and asking staff where they see opportunities to improve practices.
Supermarkets step up their prepared meal game
As supermarkets become centers for fresh prepared food for people on the go, they’re proving to be worthy competition for restaurants. Now the Wegman’s supermarket chain is launching prepared Power Meals, nutritious combinations of main dishes and sides that might inspire (or compete with) restaurant operators. Each of the eight meals in Wegman’s Power Meals line has a maximum of 600 calories, 25 grams or more of protein, at least 5 grams of fiber, fewer than 1,000 mg of sodium, fewer than 10 grams of added sugar and at least one cup of vegetables, Food Dive reports. Priced between $8 and $15, the meals include entrée selections like kung pao chicken, king salmon tataki and tuna poke.
Technology can boost your wine sales
Looking to kick your wine list up a notch? Technology can help. Datassential says that even if you don’t have your food menu on a tablet, you can put your wine list on one, which makes it possible to update your inventory in real time – and avoid having to reprint your list throughout the week. A wine list app can suggest wines based on preferred flavors, prices and styles or even suggest a good pairing based on the dishes your table orders. These apps may help you tell the wine’s story by providing background videos about its makers, for example, or the origin of its grapes.
There’s no doubt restaurant delivery is taking off – and this year, much of that growth is coming from restaurants lacking a storefront. These restaurants are popping up across the country, according to a new report in Fast Company, and because they don’t need as many staff or as much square footage to operate, they’re cutting back on the costs that traditional restaurants must manage and benefiting from economies of scale. Delivery-only operators are seeing additional benefits too, notably the ability to quickly switch out a menu that isn’t working and offer a wider variety of food. For example, the foodservice company Green Summit operates a number of delivery-only brands. Peter Schatzberg, Green Summit’s cofounder, said when poke became popular, they could quickly jump on the trend because most ingredients were already available in-house for the company’s existing sushi concept.
Vegetables can be comforting!
Vegetarian comfort food is on the rise – and no, that’s not an oxymoron. As vegetables continue to appear in the center of the dinner plate, chefs are finding creative ways to disguise veggies as their guests’ favorite comfort foods. In an interview with Forbes about the top food trends of the year, Michael Whiteman, food consultant and president of Baum + Whiteman restaurant and hotel consultancy, said operators can expect more guests to order mashed cauliflower in place of rice or pasta, for example, or even vegetable-based crust on a pizza.
The return of a flavorful tomato?
Modern tomatoes have lost their flavor as growers have bred them to a size and strength ideal for shipping. But one professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, Harry J. Klee, thinks he has found a way to bring the taste back to tomatoes while retaining the traits that make them ship well, the New York Times reports. According to the journal Science, Dr. Klee and his colleagues have identified flavor chemicals deficient in modern tomatoes, along with heirloom and wild varieties of tomatoes that produce better versions of these genes. The research is ongoing but Klee thinks he can produce tastier tomatoes for more widespread consumption in two years’ time.
Economic survivors: steak and seafood restaurants
Looking for a restaurant business that can weather the economic conditions that challenge most operators? Consider steakhouses – or upscale restaurants that combine steak and seafood. Technomic’s Darren Tristano says these operations succeed because they draw affluent guests who are in search of a premium meal and are willing to add alcohol to their tabs. And because the economy is currently in good shape, these restaurants will draw business groups as well as guests celebrating a special occasion. It’s important for these operators to focus on quality beef and sustainable seafood, and in the case of seafood, to offer it at a range of price points to make it more approachable to guests.
Prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen sink
Your restaurant’s kitchen sink can be a source for cross-contamination of food. The U.S. Deapartment of Health and Human Services recommends you take steps to prevent it. Namely, be sure to wash your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds. Wash fruits and vegetables before you peel them and do not wash meat, poultry or eggs.
Plan ahead for a smooth tech rollout
Are you rolling out new technology in 2017? In an FSR report, Lee Leet, founder of restaurant technology firm QSR Automations, recommends operators take steps to ensure a smooth transition: First, ask yourself if the technology addresses your biggest pain points – and how you’ll quantify its success, whether in increased table turns or other objectives. The provider should have a thorough implementation plan, access to training, references and experience. Identify key stakeholders, from employees to executives to your bank, and communicate with them clearly about the rollout. As you develop an implementation timeline, consider the big days ahead for your business and time required for testing. When you communicate about the rollout, clarify what tools will change, what processes will be updated, how the change will help employees perform better, and what the expected timeline is. Once you have implemented the change and trained people, analyze the results and adjust accordingly.
Play some pricing tricks
Between rising labor costs and declining restaurant visits, you may feel pressure to raise prices. Profitable Hospitality suggests these strategies to boost sales: Decoy pricing, or selling one item at a high price, can increase the perceived value of other items. Prestige pricing, inflating prices to indicate higher quality, can work if you also boost the quality of the presentation or packaging. Nine and zero pricing sends a message about value and quality – price an entrée at $15.99 to highlight a bargain or a steak at $30 to demonstrate quality. Middle pricing – providing small, medium and large sizes/prices – can help you steer guests toward the middle price point because it’s not too cheap and not too expensive. Bundle pricing can also work with groups – tempt them with a wine and dessert package or a birthday party package and ensure the items you bundle also appear individually on the menu so guests notice the cost savings.
Boost your online reputation
If a restaurant earns a half-star improvement in an online review, it is 30 to 49 percent more likely to sell out its evening seats, according to economic research cited in FSR magazine. Manage your online reputation by taking these steps recommended in the report: Polish your online image with attractive photos and detailed menus, and maintain your listings on websites like Yelp, Google, OpenTable, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Zomato. Encourage happy customers to post reviews online, which boosts your restaurant in web search results. When guests do leave reviews (positive or negative), respond to them all – whether personally, via a marketing firm or through an automated platform. Your responses are opportunities to focus readers on the positive, subtly market your restaurant’s menu and promotions, and increase your chances of having guests return. Of course, reinforce your online presence by providing a solid in-person customer experience. Ensure you have some mechanism for collecting feedback – once hundreds of customers weigh in, you have actionable insight to help you improve.
What’s all the noise about?
If your restaurant creates a little too much buzz, literally, try making some adjustments. Research conducted by an Oxford University experimental psychology professor found that loud noise can impact people’s ability to taste food, USA Today reports. Loud volume can diminish sweet and salty flavors, while intensifying extra-savory flavors like those of bacon or mushrooms, for example. Beverages are affected too – the research found that loud noise makes it harder for guests to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail and therefore how they think it tastes. If you need to turn the volume down, consider installing noise-absorbing ceiling panels, investing in a quality sound system that makes it easier to improve your atmosphere without adding noise, and conducting hourly noise checks to ensure your guests aren’t having to yell at each other across the table in order to be heard.
The chefs have spoken – top food trends for 2017
The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation to get their take on 2017’s hottest food trends. They just released the top-10 results, which include new cuts of meat, street-food-inspired dishes, healthy kids’ meals, house-made charcuterie as a cured-meat version of the cheese plate, sustainable seafood, ethnic-inspired breakfast items, house-made condiments, authentic ethnic cuisine, heirloom produce, and
African flavors and ingredients. How many of these items are appearing on your menu in the New Year?
Coffee and cocktails…why not?
It seems coffee cocktails are popping up more frequently on menus lately as both a winter warmer and as vehicle for a showy tableside presentations. Consider Chicago-area Carlucci’s Restaurant and Bar, which offers a tableside service where they light Grand Marnier on fire, sprinkle it with cinnamon to create sparks, then combine it with coffee and Bailey’s in a mug rimmed with crystallized cinnamon and sugar. Expect more alcoholic coffee concoctions to go mainstream in the coming months, considering Starbucks announced at its recent investor day that it would feature a mixology section in its large new location in New York City.
New national seafood program holds imports to higher standard
Stricter safeguards now protect the seafood you import. President Obama just announced the launch of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which will require “at-risk” seafood imported into the United States to be tracked to its source and labeled properly, according to Seafood Source. Past studies have concluded that about one-third of market and restaurant seafood products were mislabeled and up to one-third of the wild-caught seafood imported to the U.S. is acquired through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While environmental groups say the protections must expand to include the full supply chain, the program promises to at least hold imported seafood to the same standard as domestically caught seafood, helping American fishermen and reducing consumer risk.
If you can’t beat meal kits…
Some restaurant brands are joining the trend to avoid having the services eat into their profits, Restaurant Business reports. Cracker Barrel offered heat-and-serve meals as a takeout option over Thanksgiving, and the hot dog chain Portillo’s has launched a subscription meal service. For $365 a year, their customers receive a partially cooked meal mailed to their home every other month. Their meal for January is an Italian Beef Sandwich Deluxe Package includes two pans of beef, two containers of gravy and eight rolls, for example.
USDA study finds low pesticide levels in U.S. foods
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced that its Pesticide Data Program, which collects data each year on pesticide residues in food, determined that 99 percent of produce samples it studied across the U.S. have low pesticide levels. The Pesticide Date Program, which has been in operation for 25 years, collected samples from 10 states across the country in 2015 to determine pesticide levels in a wide variety of foods including apples, cucumbers, spinach and peanut butter, to name a few. The pesticide levels are based on limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which Food Safety News reports are the strictest in the world. Residues exceeding the EPA’s levels were found in 54 samples, or less than 1 percent of the samples tested.
Make hay with your hashtags
Just about every day, there’s an occasion people recognize on social media with a hashtag, whether to build awareness of an important cause or to simply have fun. You can use these hashtag holidays to build your brand. Sprout Social recommends you first determine how relevant the hashtag holiday is to your brand – it should build rapport with your audience and not annoy them. Is the correct hashtag being used? If you have a list of hashtag holidays you’d like to promote, try plugging them into Sprout’s Twitter Listening Report to see which occasions generated the most volume and shares and to make sure you’re using the most widely used version of a hashtag. Finally, does the hashtag holiday overlap with other major holidays or events that are central to your brand? Check your calendar and prioritize before you post.
Amazon tests tech-enabled grab-and-go concept
Chef-prepared breakfasts, lunches and dinners with no cashiers or check-out lines. This is Amazon’s new grab-and-go food concept – a hybrid of a grocery store, meal kit service and quick-service restaurant. Customers use a smartphone app to gain entry to an 1,800-square-foot facility called Amazon Go that lets them collect the groceries and ready-to-eat foods they want, then leave, reports Restaurant Business. All costs are calculated and charged through the app. Ready-made foods include salads, sandwiches and baked goods prepared onsite and displayed in cases much like those in Pret A Manger, the report says. Amazon meal kits will also be available for purchase. This concept is currently in a test phase – Amazon says it intends to build 20 supermarket-style facilities.
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