When you log on to Facebook, it typically takes just a moment to see advertisements for items you are likely to buy. These ads aren’t merely tailored to people in your demographic or posted based on the weather or what other consumers happen to be buying that day. They are tailored to you, specifically. Yet somehow, in the current era of personalization, restaurant menus are lagging. At a time when an estimated 32 million American consumers have a food allergy, and many others have a food intolerance or follow some specific eating regimen, be it paleo or plant-based or Whole 30 diets, even the most forward-thinking of restaurants don’t yet provide menus that are designed for an individual consumer. Expect that to change, particularly in light of McDonald’s recent purchase of the menu personalization startup Dynamic Yield. At the moment, restaurant menu personalization is more about adjusting menus based upon broader environmental conditions as opposed to individual consumer tastes. And as The Spoon reports, a number of barriers still remain when it comes to gaining consumers’ trust with personal data. But it’s not difficult to see a time when a person with a nut allergy might be able to log in at a restaurant and bring up a variety of nut-free food choices based on items he or she has ordered at that restaurant and elsewhere, or reviewed on Yelp, posted on Instagram, or even “liked” on Facebook. How do you accommodate personalization at your restaurant? Does your tech currently help you in this effort?
Restaurant take-out supplies comprise a large percentage of the waste that ends up in oceans and landfills. Beyond limiting your single-use plastic, particularly the black plastic that research has confirmed is hazardous not just to the environment but also to human health, there are steps you can take to scale back your waste and to send the message to guests that you care about the environment. Start by conducting a waste audit so you have a clear picture of which menu items, packaging and office supplies generate the most waste, then adjust portion sizes and purchase orders accordingly. Buy non-perishable items in bulk if possible and use suppliers who can provide recyclable products and use less packaging on the items you purchase. Make extra napkins, straws, lids and other paper goods available upon request only. Finally, minimize the paper you generate by asking guests if you can email or text their receipt instead of printing it.
Last year, there were 14 severe weather and climate events that the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information says cost $1 billion or more. There have been six such events already this year. Since restaurants can be impacted by severe weather events both directly and indirectly, it pays to make sure you have sufficient insurance protection in place as part of your disaster preparedness plan — not to mention your day-to-day operating plan. Your insurance cover needs to consider your business type, geographic region and the outcome of the risk assessment you conduct to identify your restaurant’s greatest vulnerabilities. Your commercial property insurance policy, for example, likely will not cover any vehicles your restaurant operates or protect against flood damage your business sustains during a hurricane. And even if your property or vehicles make it through a severe weather event unscathed, toppled trees or flooding on your street could make it impossible for you to get food to customers. Make sure you review your insurance policies for commercial property, flood protection and business interruption to make sure you’re not leaving your business exposed. Purchasing insurance cover from companies that specialize in the restaurant industry can help. Just make sure you read the fine print carefully — especially on bundled packages that offer broader cover for a lower total price but may exclude specific risks you need to protect against.
How much science is behind your menu? In other words, to what extent do you review your restaurant’s sales, inventory, scheduling, loyalty program and other areas of your operation where you collect data to better understand how these predictive analytics work together? Doing so can help you predict what will sell, so you have sufficient inventory on hand and won’t lose sales opportunities. It will also help you put your ordering on autopilot by considering both the historical and day-to-day sales of your business when you order supplies. By having a better handle on what you will need, you can plan your food preparation tasks accordingly so you minimize your waste. Best of all, being able to predict the cravings of your guests goes far in bringing them back.
Any chef can confirm it: Running a restaurant well can require the skills of a lawyer, doctor, designer, HR manager, mechanic, janitor, and the list goes on. And that’s on top of having to offer an appealing, in-season menu that can be readily adapted to different nutritional needs. While that ever-changing environment can bring interest and variety to each day, chances are you were drawn to the restaurant industry more because of the food than for your ability to negotiate a beneficial contract or identify the best cleaning supplies. Further, the multitasking often required in a restaurant setting can kill productivity: A University of Michigan study found that when a person attempts to accomplish more than one task at a time, productivity drops by 40 percent. Team Four’s Palette program can serve as an extra pair of hands, taking on some of the responsibilities on your plate so you can multitask less and focus more on parts of the business that suit you best. For example, Palette can help you fine-tune your brand, including redesigning your menu or updating your graphic identity on your website, signage and marketing materials. You can also access restaurant equipment, linens, office and cleaning supplies, along with services for managing waste collection and pest control. And in case your menu or inventory needs attention too, we can help you develop new recipes, identify cost-effective menu substitutions, improve your food safety record and offer negotiated contract pricing to help ensure you’re getting the products you need at the best value. You can access the full list of services included in Team Four’s Palette program at www.palettefoodservice.com.
Now that Uber Eats is testing a “Dine-In” feature on its app, expect other third-party delivery providers to follow suit. The feature allows a person to order food at a restaurant, track the process of its preparation so she can arrive at the restaurant in time to eat it, and also leave a tip. The benefits to restaurants could include having to pay a smaller fee to the delivery provider than would be required for third-party delivery, faster table turnover, and the opportunity to offer deals that could attract dine-in guests during slow periods. It remains to be seen how accurate the app’s food preparation tracker will be at peak periods, but if you’re struggling to fill seats, it might offer an opportunity to entice guests to come in and sit down.
Offering local, in-season foods not just during peak growing season but year-round will help you present your brand as more authentic to guests. And according to Mintel research, 78 percent of consumers consider seasonal dishes to be a treat (and therefore an extra enticement to support your business). Of course, using seasonal ingredients on your menu might be a breeze in the middle of summer, but what about in the dead of winter? Your marketing efforts in this area can help you sell the best of the season year-round and also create some urgency to encourage guests to enjoy your latest offerings while they can. Chefify suggests using each season to tell a range of stories. Who are your growers? Why does your chef love cooking with a certain item on your menu when it’s in season? What beverages are the ideal complements for the new foods you’re offering? Create excitement around the change of seasons by adjusting your restaurant’s environment — everything from the music to the artwork on the walls to the images you use on social media — to reflect the new season. To generate some buzz about the new menu offerings, plan a special tasting event where guests can sample and rate new dishes. (You can also do the opposite and have an end-of-season party to give guests a final chance to taste your popular summer berry cobbler.) If you’re just starting out and aren’t ready to make a larger commitment to offering seasonal foods, Chefify suggests creating one menu of staples and another with seasonal specials that you can test and swap out as you weigh guests’ reactions to them.
Even if you don’t think insects have a direct place in the food you serve (cricket cookies, anyone?), they could still play a large role in lab-grown cells that could eventually become replacements for such foods as shrimp, lobster or even hybrid alternatives to plant-based meat. That’s according to a new study out of Tufts University that found that insect cells are especially good building blocks for other proteins because they are safe, nutritional and cost-effective — qualities that put them in a more favorable position than lab-grown beef at the moment. A Fast Company report said that while lab-grown insect meat still has a ways to go before it’s ready to market — researchers still need to determine how to develop the cells into the muscle and fat that builds the meat-like structure of the protein — the study provides a strong basis for insects as the basis of related crustacean-like proteins on menus down the line.
About 40 percent of people discover food and restaurants through websites, blogs or social media, according to research from Valpak. Tapping into social media influencers can help you get some business from local consumers — but how can you get the right kind of attention from those gatekeepers? An Entrepreneur report suggests avoiding the big fish in favor of smaller, more local influencers who have enough followers to deliver an impact but not so many that they won’t notice you. Take a look at their engagement rates and make sure each one of their posts garners sufficient engagement (e.g. Valpak advises that if only 2 percent of their 100,000 followers comment on or like a post, it may not be worth your while to connect with them). Make an effort to do some background research on the person’s values and overall brand to make sure your business aligns accordingly, and take note of what the person likes and dislikes so you’ll have a sense of who they are before you ask for any favors. On that note, always give before taking. That could mean doing something as simple as sharing the person’s post, or making pertinent comments on their blog posts that help further the conversation in a productive way. If you make a request, respect their time and if you don’t get the kind of response you’d like, be patient and move on until you find the right match.
Imagine being able to cater to your guests’ food preferences and sensitivities — all without having to train employees. AI is making that a reality for restaurants. One example is THE.FIT, which can help restaurants personalize menus and even show a person what he can or can’t eat due to allergies or other dietary restrictions. The idea is to make guests’ experiences so customized that it’s just as easy for them to eat out — and order more of their favorite foods — as it would be to prepare their ideal dish at home. The Spoon reports that to use the technology, customers simply scan a QR code on a restaurant menu via smartphone, select their dietary requirements and then the technology will generate a new menu based on the person’s preferences. The tool already knows the ingredients on a restaurant’s menu and what someone following a specific diet (e.g. keto) can and cannot eat, then saves those preferences for the next time the person dines with the restaurant.
Is your delivery menu a mirror image of your dine-in menu? Chances are it shouldn’t be. That’s the verdict of a recent Restaurant Business report about how to maximize the benefits of offering off-premise food options. You need to consider how well your food and beverages travel, how many pages of options people are likely to tolerate scrolling through on their phones, and how efficiently your kitchen can manage the preparation of various items during peak periods. To make your restaurant more guest-friendly when it comes to delivery, as well as more profitable for you at a time when delivery often squeezes restaurant margins, consider how you can scale down your menu. The Restaurant Business report cited an example of one restaurant that placed its entire menu online, requiring viewers to click through six screens, and another that winnowed its menu down to six items on one page. (The latter restaurant generated an average of 10 times more sales than the first.) It also pays to know your highest-margin items and find ways to feature them more prominently on your menu and boost their appeal. Customers might view beverages, for example, as items that are easy to skip in favor of alternatives available at home or elsewhere. But if you create specialty or seasonal beverages served in containers that travel well and come in sizes that can serve a family or group, you can make them a more compelling sell. Finally, ease the pressure on your kitchen at peak times. Operators are experimenting with a range of options to do that, from reserving front- and back-of-house space for delivery orders, focusing the delivery menu on foods that require less effort and time to prepare, and taking delivery out of the restaurant altogether and using ghost or commissary kitchens to prepare and farm out orders.
Your sustainability efforts could soon be visible front and center for people considering your restaurant for their next meal. Yelp just unveiled its Green Practices Initiative in an effort to help consumers understand how restaurants approach sustainability. Yelp reviewers will now be asked if in their experience a restaurant uses plastic bags, utensils or straws, compostable takeout containers, and whether or not the restaurant offers a discount to guests who bring their own beverage containers. The results won’t be visible immediately but will gradually build a trove of data that will eventually be included in Yelp’s restaurant reviews.
“If you’re gluten-free, why do you see menus where 80 percent of the items have gluten?” That’s what Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins asked during a restaurant technology event hosted by The Spoon last fall. The point makes sense: After all, why waste space on a menu by trying to sell a customer with celiac disease a lot of food he can’t eat, right? But it’s a typical occurrence. Even as restaurant brands embrace personalization and customization on menus, there is still a ways to go. The transition could be happening sooner than we think, however, particularly considering McDonald’s and its recent $300 million purchase of Dynamic Yield, the personalization startup company. The transaction is designed to make the brand’s in-store and drive-thru menus more technologically dynamic, changing up the food selection that pops up on menus depending on the weather, time of day, trending restaurant menu items, and current restaurant traffic, as well as suggesting additional menu items based on what the customer selects. This doesn’t sound that far off from what many restaurants with touchscreen ordering can already offer, though, so it begs the question: What’s in the pipeline? As restaurants embrace tech that responds to feedback from customers and other external factors, operators should consider how this is likely to play out. Could your restaurant technology help you lay the groundwork for offering guests the specific menu options they’re most likely to buy?
Restaurant work can be physically and emotionally grueling — but operators can take steps to make the environment a healthier one for staff. We Are Chefs offered some suggestions to set a positive tone. First, take charge of hydration: Have a water-drinking competition and award a point for each day a person reaches a set level, and replace energy drinks with body-friendly options like Emergen-C over iced soda water. Offer healthier options on your staff menu. Now that the weather is improving in many places, get staff outside, whether for just a quick stretch, to clean racks or to cook specials on a smoker. Challenge your team to walk or bike to work. Finally, keep your music and conversation upbeat and positive.
Looking to build your business? You’re likely to have more success not by making incremental improvements to your menu — adding creative new condiments that make your burgers a little more interesting than your competitor’s down the road, for example — but by identifying and marketing your specialty. Christopher Lochhead, host of the podcast “Follow your Different” and author of the new book Niche Down, offers the example of Sushirrito, the San Francisco brand that pioneered sushi in burrito form. It combined two of the region’s favorite foods, sushi and burritos, and then focused on solving a problem: How can sushi be eaten on the go? Enter handheld sushi that just happens to introduce some interesting flavor combinations too. The fast-casual brand has generated strong traction in the area since launching in 2011, with now eight locations around the Bay area. They accomplished this not specifically for having better sushi than other restaurants in the region but because they identified a consumer need and found an inventive way to address it. Thinking small — creating and marketing to a specific niche and not simply trying to improve upon what you already do — can help you boost guest loyalty. The good news is that the data you collect about your guests has the power to help you drill down to specifics about their behavior, likes and dislikes, and spending habits. Based on what you know about your guests, is there a menu item you offer that is ripe for a reinvention? Do you know what other food your most loyal patrons enjoy that could give you clues about potential opportunities?
Conventional wisdom says that people who want a harmonious relationship shouldn’t go to bed angry, right? Toast is now applying that logic to negative restaurant reviews. The company commissioned a study that found that 65 percent of one-star reviews on Yelp were posted within one day of a dining experience. To use that one-day window as an opportunity for customer retention, Toast created Toast Guest Feedback, a new guest feedback platform that sends a text to a manager whenever their restaurant gets a one-star review. Often times this will allow the restaurant to correct problems in real time, deescalate customer concerns and avoid losing those customers permanently.
Having a food inspector visit can be an opportunity — not merely a necessary interruption in the midst of a busy shift. How you prepare for the inspection and implement action steps afterwards is critical. There is power in seeking outside input. The Caterer suggests hiring a food safety consultant who can design a food safety management system tailored to your business. You can also seek out foodservice businesses with strong records and ask to visit their facilities — they may help you identify ways to make improvements. Finally, partner with your health inspector and proactively ask questions between inspections. Investing the time and — in the case of hiring a consultant — money in soliciting feedback is less costly than doing damage control after a food safety violation or illness outbreak.
If you still use manual processes to track ingredients and recipes, be aware of how they can impact your operation’s food safety. For example, a team member who knows one version of a dish well may not know how a dish is altered to accommodate a food allergy if your processes aren’t automated. Restaurant Business advises you consider menu engineering technology to help automate these processes and keep your menu’s ingredient and nutritional information in step with modifications you need to make on the fly. For example, as you create dishes or adjust existing ones, technology can automatically update their allergens and nutritional values down to the ingredient level. It will help ease communication between your team and the guest, as well as give your chef time and freedom to focus on enhancing the menu.
Eggs are having a moment. Now safely in the realm of healthy foods, eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore and are being embraced by consumers and chefs alike for their craveability and versatility. Runny yolks atop everything from avocado toast to burgers to pizza are adding an extra flavor layer to foods. Because they mix well with global ingredients, eggs have become common street food options too. Flavor & the Menu cites such examples as Queen’s Danh Tu, the Vietnamese street food vendor in Brooklyn, which offers bánh xèo, an omelette-crêpe served in a cone. It found a number of other creative egg applications at such places as Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, which makes a crispy rice dish topped with a swirl of vibrant “yolk jam,” and at Mason Eatery in Miami, which offers an appetizer of lightly cooked beaten egg, sour cream, Muenster cheese and salt, served as a gooey mixture with bagel chips for dipping.
For a typical restaurant, 80 percent of food sales are generated by just 16 percent of menu items, according to Upserve. That leaves a lot of room for improvement. How does your restaurant measure up? If your menu needs a remodel, the sometimes-slow month of January could be prime time to refresh your offering and give guests a new reason to visit. First, identify the right mix of dishes. The Balance suggests you offer an assortment that includes the classic dishes that people look for when dining with you, along with some dishes that incorporate food trends. Next evaluate the food cost of those items so you’re in position to improve sales — now is the perfect time to tweak a dish that is popular but not profitable. Once you have your menu set, draft brief descriptions that clearly describe key ingredients and incorporate prices (as opposed to listing them in a column at the right). Your menu design should reflect the atmosphere and values of your restaurant, as well as steer guests to the items you’d most like to sell. Highlighting profitable items in boxes or placing them in among higher-priced items can help. If you are designing your menu yourself and need help, there are a number of templates (some free) that can assist. Upserve likes Canva’s library of stock images and layouts, Adobe Spark’s professional-looking results, and 99designs’ speed and ease of use — and also offers a free menu design builder that incorporates menu design psychology.
Restaurants that serve meat currently face a range of ethical questions: How was the animal fed and raised? How local is the farm? Was the farm impacted by foodborne illness outbreaks? How does the farm administer antibiotics in livestock production? Now lab-grown meat, which is made from stem cells extracted from poultry and livestock and eliminates many of the concerns surrounding conventional meat, is a step closer to becoming a mealtime staple for consumers. Representatives from the USDA and FDA, which recently announced they would oversee production of lab-grown meat, say they would have the authority to regulate it. This would eliminate the need for additional legislation, Newsweek reports. That could mean big changes for how restaurants source the protein on their menus — and how quickly that can happen.
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 email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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