Across industries in the U.S., labor productivity has effectively doubled over the past 30 years, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the foodservice industry has been among the slowest to grow, at about 80 percent below the national average and ranking just below the post office and just above the mining industry in productivity. The food and beverage strategy firm Aaron Allen & Associates points to one culprit holding the industry’s productivity back: restaurants’ slow adoption of new technologies. The company says the next five years will be more disruptive to foodservice operators than the past 50 years have been, and slow adopters of technology are likely to be left behind. Specifically, technology is making the restaurant experience more and more frictionless for customers and operators alike: Once a consumer gets used to ordering his favorite take-away meal with merely a couple of taps on his phone, then automatically earning loyalty points redeemable for this item at the times of the week when he craves it most, he won’t want to give up that experience. Similarly, once an operator is using tech to monitor everything from the most popular menu items to the functionality of appliances, she has time to focus on providing better customer service, connecting with staff or even scaling up the business. While these updates can be difficult to transition to for an older operation used to managing business more conventionally, restaurant startups are launching with this technology already embedded into their business models ― and it’s giving them a clear advantage when competing with more established brands.
Food packaging technology is evolving so fast that it’s making plastic cutlery seem almost quaint. A startup called Planeteer LLC, for example, has taken on the challenge of packaging waste and developed a variety of cutlery that isn’t merely compostable but also edible. The company has created a spoon that it promises will hold its shape for 25 minutes in hot soup and 50 minutes in a cold dessert, The Spoon reports. Planeteer cofounder Dinesh Tadepalli said it is vegan, all-natural, rich in protein and composts in days if not consumed. The company will be presenting its product at the Smart Kitchen Summit’s Future Food Competition in October.
Late this summer, the Mediterranean fast-casual brand Cava opened its first innovation kitchen, a technology-driven effort designed to collect and analyze consumer tastes and trends in real time – without the time-consuming hassle of organizing focus groups or experimenting with new menu items in test locations. Cava isn’t the first brand to launch such an effort and it’s further evidence of the increased pressure restaurant operators face to innovate their menus and to get them right each time. Even if you don’t have state-of-the-art technology to help you fine-tune your menu, you can still innovate your menu well if you start with the problem you’re looking to solve. Are you looking to improve the quality of your off-premise options? Increase your dine-in traffic? Then let that question drive your decisions. Chefify advises operators to keep several factors in mind when making menu changes. First, be able to back up your prices with market research and an understanding of what your guests will enjoy and are willing to spend for a particular product. Next, make sure your new menu items are extensions of what you already do well – not overeager attempts to follow the latest trends. Third, be clear about your ingredients and list them so guests (particularly those with food allergies) can make the best choice for themselves. Fourth, make sure that if you need to cut food costs, focus on your less-essential ingredients so you’re not sacrificing the quality of the core ingredients that make your restaurant appeal to guests. Finally, opt for a minimal, easily understood menu that allows guests to make decisions quickly when they’re hungry and allows you to both minimize your food waste and improve your order accuracy.
Hummus is a menu workhorse. It can help you deliver on-trend spices, serve as both a condiment and a main attraction, and add interest to a broad range of different dishes. Flavor & the Menu suggests it as a base with such ingredients as eggs, onions, pickles and harissa oil. Its versatility also helps it add depth when added to sandwiches, as a base for grain-and-vegetable bowls or meat skewers, and even as a salad dressing.
If you feel like the rising costs of ingredients, labor and transport give you no choice but to raise prices at your restaurant, you might take comfort in knowing that across the country, brands are following through and raising prices -- and customers (so far) aren’t blinking. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, Chipotle, which raised prices last year, experienced a 10 percent rise in sales largely as a result of bigger orders. Mondelez and McDonald’s have been experiencing similar results after boosting prices. While talk of a recession looms, U.S. consumer confidence is still at near-record highs since the recession, according to the Conference Board. If you need to raise prices in the coming months, find ways to make consumers feel it’s worth their while to pay you a visit. Link your price increases to discounts and other promotions, particularly for your most loyal guests. As Psychology Today reports, those deals tend lead to greater overall spending – an item regularly sold at a stable, discounted price will seem more valuable and worthwhile when the price is raised and a generous coupon is offered to offset it. Be strategic about the promotions you offer. As Toast advises, for a promotion to be most successful for your business, you should take time to understand your target customers and tailor promotions to what motivates them; address the business operational challenges you face (and which your point-of-sale system – not your gut -- will best help you identify); tap into local media, which can broaden awareness and interest well beyond the time frame of your promotion; and know your margins so you can bundle items that will lead guests to try higher-margin items on your menu (i.e. offering free fries with every milkshake purchase is better than simply giving away fries).
Long a trend setter in the delivery space, Domino’s is now going national with its use of e-bikes to boost delivery efficiency, according to a QSR Magazine report. The brand, which announced a partnership with e-bike company Rad Power Bikes recently, had been testing electric bikes in markets including Miami, New York and Houston and saw improvements in delivery and service as a result. As third-party aggregators vie for restaurant delivery customers, Domino’s has sustained its use of an in-house delivery team. While that can be a financially beneficial move for a large brand, the introduction of delivery via the Rad Power e-bikes, which have integrated motors that assist with pedaling up to speeds of 20 miles per hour, may enhance that efficiency further. Domino’s reports that there have been labor benefits from being able to hire candidates who don’t have a driver’s license but can use a bike, as well as team satisfaction benefits from workers who had been delivering via bike and can now get an extra boost when pedaling up hills with the help of a motor.
As consumers have demanded packaging that’s friendlier to the environment, operators have quickly replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and plastic containers with packaging containing natural materials. But as an investigation by the New Food Economy found recently, the fiber bowls that are widely used in place of plastic contain chemicals known as PFAS that don’t biodegrade and aren’t really compostable, despite being labeled as such. On the contrary, they may actually be making compost more toxic. San Francisco is the first city to ban the bowls, effective in January, and to date, there are no known commercially viable alternatives according to the report. In the meantime, Eater reports that after McDonald’s in the U.K. and Ireland phased out plastic straws in favor of recyclable paper ones that generated customer complaints, the brand introduced a thicker paper straw to replace the first solution. But new reports indicate it is non-recyclable. So what is a restaurant brand to do to become more eco-friendly? Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to first understand the terminology. The term “biodegradable,” for example, sounds eco-friendly but is only indicative of a product that will decompose – and that could take several hundred years. Working with organizations that research and certify environmentally friendly options can help too. Modern Restaurant Management suggests Green Seal, an environmental standard development organization that tests and certifies products, services and venues like restaurants and hotels, then awards certification based on performance, health and sustainability criteria.
If you’re on the fence about offering tabletop technology at your restaurant, consider this: tabletop tech can improve sales by 1 percent per check and reduce meal duration by 10 percent, increasing sales per minute by 11 percent. That’s according to soon-to-be-published research from the business schools at Southern Methodist University and the University of Pennsylvania that studied 2.6 million transactions at a U.S. restaurant chain with 66 locations. The lead researchers of the study said the technology can help operators compensate for shortfalls in their ability to offer excellent table service, as well as give operators a financial leg up on competition.
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.
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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