At a time when restaurant finances are getting squeezed from many directions, do you know which budgetary battles are most important to fight? In other words, when you’re managing such expenses as labor, ingredients, rent and third-party delivery, does your balance sheet give you clear answers about how much each of those expenses is impacting your bottom line? It needs to, since your gut instinct may not be correct. Case in point: The results of a recent study by New School Center for New York City Affairs and the National Employment Law Project found that restaurants in New York City were more negatively impacted by rising occupancy costs and the fees charged by third-party delivery services than they were adversely affected by the near-doubling of the minimum wage paid to hourly employees in the past five years, Restaurant Business Online reports. The Fight for $15 wage battles of recent years had many operators concerned they would need to boost menu prices beyond what guests were willing to pay – and minimum wage escalation isn’t an insignificant expense for operators to be sure. But while New York isn’t like every market, the rising minimum wage in the city has had a smaller-than-expected impact in a diversity of regions, whether in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. As the minimum wage has been ascending in geographical regions across the country for years, you may be able to protect your bottom line by focusing on negotiating more favorable terms with a third-party delivery company, adjusting your business model so you can occupy a smaller or different footprint, or getting a stronger handle on hidden back-of-house costs.
You’re likely using your restaurant’s internet connection to process orders, access customer data, monitor the functioning or your kitchen appliances, and communicate with employees, vendors and guests, among many other functions. If your connection suddenly fails, would you be able to operate your business? Using failover technology as a backup connection can help ensure your Internet connection is never interrupted. RocketBroadband is one company that works with restaurants to prevent internet blips. It also offers a mobile connectivity option that may suit restaurants running food trucks or stalls at offsite events where it’s necessary to process payments apart from the restaurant’s usual internet connection.
As labor costs rise, your ability to monitor and manage your team’s schedule has the power to protect your restaurant’s bottom line. A Restaurantowner.com report advises operators to start by auditing the first last 15 to 30 minutes of a shift. A leisurely pace of work during those times could indicate that you need to make staffing adjustments. Then look to your anticipated sales and guest counts and build your schedule around that instead of leaning on a repetitive schedule that doesn’t flex when business speeds up and slows down. Cost out each schedule by multiplying each person’s hourly rate by hours worked and compare that figure to your sales each day to understand where you can be more efficient with staffing. If you find you have lulls but still need staff on hand in case a large group comes in, plan to have prep work available throughout the day (versus at the start of a shift) to make best use of the people you have on hand during the day. If your shift manager carries a shift card listing employees and hours, it will be easier to see who can be assigned some prep work or cleanup, or who can be sent home. Finally, find the right balance of part-and full-time employees. Restaurantowner.com advises operators maintain one-third to one-half of staff as part-timers. It can help you avoid paying excessive overtime costs and keep staffing affordable.
At the pace restaurant technology is evolving, it can feel like restaurant manager candidates should be just as capable of navigating IT challenges as they are of handling guest complaints. But according to The Spoon, one nascent tech tool — voice-enabled ordering via Google Assistant or Alexa — could soon be an easy, plug-and-play solution for operators, with some help from a firm called Orderscape. The company makes a voice-ordering software layer that works with browsers, mobile phones and watches, and Alexa speakers, and partners with restaurant platforms like Olo, Onosys and Monkey Media. Orderscape can then tell users where a desired food item is available in their area. If someone asks Alexa where to find a bacon cheeseburger nearby and you serve a popular one, your restaurant would be suggested among other options in the area. Marrying a menu with voice-enabled tech isn’t normally a seamless process for restaurants but Orderscape is looking to make the process possible with no installation or training on the restaurant’s part, and no downtime.
Americans currently eat half of their weekly meals on the go, according to Statista research. If you haven’t yet taken steps to accommodate the convenience-driven consumer looking to satisfy a craving, you stand to lose market share to not only restaurant competitors but also to grocery and convenience stores offering prepared food. A QSR Magazine report suggests operators looking for a greater share of grab-and-go business ensure their menu effectively promotes the brand. While grab-and-go food is becoming ubiquitous, it can fall short when it’s too generic, with the expected mix of yogurt parfaits, fruit cups and pre-packaged sandwiches. If you have a dish or even a condiment that is a signature item, find a way to translate it to your grab-and-go menu. The report also advises operators tap into the millennial mindset when selecting and packaging grab-and go menu items. Think locally sourced, plant-based foods and “ugly” produce, along with environmentally friendly packaging that demonstrates your commitment to cutting back on waste. Consider using packaging that not only showcases your food effectively but can be returned and reused (in exchange for a discount on a future order, perhaps). Layered salads or smoothies served up in glass mason jars are just two examples. Finally, don’t forget to weave in on-trend flavors. A report from The Caterer suggests Japanese-inspired dishes like gyoza dumplings or yakisoba noodles can add interest and health to a grab-and-go menu, along with fruit-and-herb infused beverages.
While third-party delivery gets a lot of press lately, 78 percent of all delivery orders are currently placed directly from restaurants — not from third-party delivery providers, according to the 2018 Takeout & Off-Premise Consumer Trend Report. That could continue as savvy consumers lean toward ordering direct in order to check on potential deals and avoid excessive delivery fees. Cake advises operators to make that process as streamlined as possible by placing an “order now” button and phone number in plain view on their websites. These web visitors are also prime candidates for your loyalty program, so make sure your invitation to join appears front and center on your site.
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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