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.
Restaurant owners are stepping up to the challenge of minimizing their food waste. That was one conclusion of Toast’s recently released Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report, which surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators and staff, along with a similar number of restaurant guests, about the experience of operating and dining at restaurants. Toast asked restaurant professionals to share how they’re reducing food waste in 2019. The responses included such actions as using leftover ingredients from one recipe in another (38 percent), offering multiple portion choices for guests (26 percent) and composting (25 percent). Others said they limit the number of items they prepare for service, offer an a la carte menu and cross-utilize ingredients in an effort to reduce food waste. Still, there is room for improvement as a considerable portion of those surveyed (26 percent) do nothing at all to reduce food waste at their business. The consequences aren’t just environmental but also financial: A reFED study found that the approximately 11 million tons of food waste generated by restaurants annually costs businesses about $25 billion per year – and that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can save restaurants $8. The industry report emphasized that while you can’t control what someone eats or leaves behind, you can control your inventory. Your first course of action in managing waste is to keep close tabs on your shelves to reduce spoilage and avoid a tendency to over-order items – your inventory management system can help you take the best action.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of ordering French fries or a salad for delivery only to receive them in limp, soggy form once they’ve been packaged and transported to you, Bill Birgen feels your pain. A popular speaker at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and winner of the SKS Startup Showcase, Birgin has developed technology designed to manage the condensation that can collect in delivery packaging and make certain foods unpalatable as a result. The goal of the packaging, dubbed the SAVR-pak, is to both improve food quality and reduce food waste. While it’s still early, the Spoon reports that the SAVR-pak has gotten the attention of Deliveroo, who has placed a purchase order, as well as a number of resorts.
Yale University’s produce purchases have increased by more than 68,000 lbs. since last year, according to a recent report in Produce Business. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of 10 elephants. Like many foodservice operators around the country, Yale Hospitality, which the report says serves more than three million meals annually, has been experiencing a surge in demand for plant-based foods well beyond the salad bar. The demand has heightened the importance of having produce suppliers you can trust, since an operation’s food safety is only as good as the food safety practices of suppliers. The produce distributor FreshPoint advises operators to check for verification audits confirming the supplier has passed safety inspections (GAP) and sells food that is protected against accidental contaminants on the part of the vendor (GMP). Beyond that, look for a food defense program that protects against intentional contamination of the food supply, as well as Global Food Safety Initiative certification to demonstrate it is subject to third-party audits. To make sure food is handled safely before it reaches you and stored at the proper temperature before and during delivery, check for an ongoing food safety program for employees and up-to-date refrigerated warehouses and delivery vehicles. Finally, if a recall occurs, what process do they have in place to trace the problem and report it to you? You need to feel confident that if a food safety incident occurs, you will know about it immediately.
Much like how once-ubiquitous plastic grocery bags are now becoming obsolete, could food delivery packaging be following suit? There are signs pointing in that direction. The global food delivery company Deliveroo is partnering with the environmental group RETURNR to enable its customers in Australia to order their delivered food in reusable containers, according to a report in The Food People. For a $6 fee, customers can receive their food in a reusable stainless-steel container that can be returned to participating locations for a refund.
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.
Hepatitis A has reached outbreak status across the U.S., with new cases ranging from Florida to Washington state, Food Safety News reports. The Centers for Disease Control say the liver disease can spread most easily through the ingestion of food that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person, as well as through uncooked (or not thoroughly cooked) food that has been contaminated. Many of the restaurants where the disease has been present have closed temporarily for employee vaccination clinics, but the best way to prevent the spread of the disease from the start is through – surprise – thorough and frequent handwashing, as well as by ensuring employees don’t work when they are ill. Be aware of such symptoms as jaundice, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, low appetite and fever.
When a food delivery order leaves your restaurant, how confident are you about being able to keep that food safe en route to your customers? A new survey found that nearly 30 percent of food delivery app workers sample food they are delivering – and even more than that are tempted to try. To alert customers that someone has tampered with their food, operators are increasingly using tamper-evident labels. A QSR Magazine report advises using ones that will adhere to the full range of your packaging materials and also have security slits that tear if someone tampers with the label. These labels are a good place to market your food safety values, so they’re also a good place to feature your company logo, website or other identifying information.
The complimentary bread-and-butter basket has become a relic from the past at many restaurants around the country, but according to recent menu trends research in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by Flavor & the Menu, that’s just leaving space for bread to occupy a more important place on the menu. The report says some restaurants are elevating bread by focusing on creating small-batch varieties of butter – with such flavors as olive and lemon, bacon fat and malt to make the bread more special – while others are raising their bread game with homemade biscuits, cornbread and grilled focaccia. The showstopper in the trends research was a bread sharing platter at Chicago’s Tied House, where a bread course including locally made breads and a range of housemade spreads such as miso butter, crème fraiche with honeycomb, green tomato marmalade and chicken liver mousse sells for a cool $32.
Consumers demand fresh food — but that can lead to food safety challenges, especially when fresh produce is a key feature of your menu. But there are steps you can take to protect the safety of your food supply and enhance safety protocol within your restaurant. As Restaurant Dive reports, a string of romaine lettuce contamination incidents led Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol, to attack food safety from several angles. First, the brand developed a field leadership team of food safety managers. They oversee five to 10 restaurants and train managers how to run a restaurant with an emphasis on food safety. The company also revamped its supply chain team, introduced quarterly food safety training, developed a “focus prep” team to limit the number of people preparing food, and transitioned more cooking tasks to a central kitchen where food safety could be more closely monitored. Finally, they focused on retaining employees so that food safety knowledge had a better chance of accumulating on staff. The efforts appear to be turning results around for the brand, which generated revenue gains of nearly 9 percent last year, according to earnings data.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.
Looking for alternatives to plastic for off-premise food packaging? Increasingly, it’s coming from plants. Corn is currently being used for plastic alternatives ranging from straws to containers, but according to a report in Scientific American, the disposal of the material poses challenges, along with leaving an environmental footprint. It is compostable and not recyclable, so if not sent to an industrial facility where it can biodegrade, the process can take between 100 and 1000 years (versus just a few months). Still, other promising and more easily biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed from materials ranging from cactus to algae. Some are even designed to eliminate waste altogether. The Spoon reports that the startup Decomer is developing a plant-based capsule containing honey. It can dissolve in coffee, tea, or other liquids at a wide range of temperatures.
Last year, more than 52 percent of all web traffic around the world came from mobile devices, according to Statista. Do your website’s visuals and text come across well regardless of whether a person is visiting your site on a phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer? As Next Restaurants reports, if you have a traditional fixed website as opposed to a responsive one, your site’s images may be distorted or other content may get cut off altogether when people visit your site on a mobile device. What’s more, Google gives priority to responsive sites. You need one to ensure you’re appearing near the top of web searches. Once you convert your existing site to a responsive one or build a new one, ask an objective source to scroll through your site to ensure your graphics or other visuals don’t make navigation more difficult. Next Restaurants advises you give any important call-to-action items prime position on your homepage — email or loyalty program sign-ups, events or other key promotions should be easily viewable on a mobile device. While you’re at it, make sure your site is optimized for key words and SEO. Thanks to Google, consumers can make very specific searches on the Internet and get accurate results (research from the Hubspot indicates that 50 percent of web searches are four words in length or longer). That means your keywords should reflect that specificity. Instead of keywords as simple as “Italian food,” think “best Italian food in West Village.” For help, The Rail suggests using Google’s AdWords’ Keyword Planner to find popular search terms and to identify words and phrases that your competitors are using.
Banning plastic straws is so last month. Around the country and the world, hospitality brands are taking stock of all single-use plastic in their operations, along with other materials that burden the environment, and searching for technology that offers suitable replacements. If you’re looking for models showing how it can be done, examples abound. Take Live Nation, which hosts more than 35,000 events worldwide annually and recently pledged to eliminate single-use plastics at all of its festivals and venues by 2021. The Spoon reports that in addition to eliminating plastic straws, Live Nation will remove plastic food trays, beer cups, water bottles and toiletry bottles, and plans to test plant-based alternatives where possible. This is part of a larger initiative Live Nation has planned to eliminate its landfill waste by 2030.
It’s easy for a buffet to become a breeding ground for bacteria, and the foods that a guest might not question if left out for more than a couple of hours — rice, sliced fruit or cut greens, for example — could spread illness if not monitored carefully. These foods are considered Time/Temperature Control for Safety foods. Statefoodsafety.com says these foods, which are high in carbohydrates or protein, slightly acidic or neutral, or contain moisture, are especially susceptible to bacteria contamination. While there are some foods on the list that are easy to guess, like meat, seafood and
dairy, make sure your kitchen staff are well aware of the others on the list that need to be monitored carefully and replaced regularly.
…Make some changes in your kitchen. As warm weather approaches, your kitchen and staff need to be able to adapt to the heat. Even if you’re careful about keeping your food preparation area clean and avoiding cross-contamination, the simple act of sweating can cause rapid multiplication of bacteria that can contaminate food. Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated, and train kitchen workers to wash hands and change gloves frequently, and to not handle food unnecessarily.
Environmentally friendly packaging is rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception. Case in point: Some of the largest foodservice brands in the world — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others — have joined forces in an effort dubbed the Next Gen Cup Challenge to identify a cup that’s easily composted or recycled. Fast Company reports that most of the hundreds of billions of paper cups that end up in landfills each year are coated with a layer of polyethylene that makes them great for holding liquids but poor for the environment. Companies from around the world have submitted designs and 12 have been selected to share a grant that will enable them to test and mass-produce their cups. Brands will begin testing contenders in September, so watch them for clues as to what products are in the pipeline.
Having systems to collect and assess data are critical for large businesses — but the payoff is significant for small operations too. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know, for example, the exact price point that maximizes guest demand and profit for a popular product you sell? Or which promotions generate the most interest? In fact, a BARC research report found that businesses that harness data effectively saw their profits increase 8 percent and costs decline 10 percent. The systems can be just as helpful in predicting what’s ahead as assessing what you have already done — predicting that your past guests want to order burritos for takeout on Friday night and might be tempted to tack on some caramel flan if you suggest it. Or predicting where you should place a promotion on your website, based on how visitors navigate through your pages. Finally, in an age when information breaches no longer make front-page news and businesses are blamed less for experiencing a breach and more for how they manage the aftermath of one, having systems in place can help you pinpoint where and when problems happen in different areas of your business so you can respond and address red flags more promptly. If your data management practices need a boost, take stock of your needs. An Entrepreneur report advises you determine which five or six pieces of information are most critical to the success of your business. Choose technology that addresses those critical needs and determine whether the cost can save time and money, in addition to generating more revenue.
Consumer demand for transparency extends from the origins of the food you serve to the environmental friendliness of your packaging. To address the latter, many operators have embraced recycled packaging, but according to a Food Safety Magazine report, that isn’t without its own risks. The report indicated that recycled fiber may carry lacquers, printing ink and adhesives that may be harmful to humans if used in food packaging. While the FDA makes recommendations to manufacturers regarding the chemical contaminants found in recycled items used for food packaging, these guidelines aren’t legally enforced. While policy catches up, foodservice operators can simply be aware of the potential for contamination. If you use recycled packaging or are considering it, talk to your suppliers about how they manage these concerns.
Build a loyal following
Are you putting your loyalty program to work? Research from Accenture found that 66 percent of consumers in the United States spend more money on brands to which they are loyal. Offering the right mix of benefits can generate a significant boost to sales — one extreme example is Starbucks, which has 11 million members and, as of early 2016, $1.2 billion in customer funds loaded onto its plastic and mobile Starbucks cards, Upserve reports. The brands reaping the biggest benefits from their loyalty programs are using a combination of discounts, targeted marketing and experiential rewards to motivate their guests. Upserve recently assessed some of the most forward-thinking brands in this area. The Palm’s rewards program, for example, carries a $25 fee but that is returned to guests in the form of a $25 gift card after sign-up. Members get changing rewards each month, including exclusive wines and cocktails, as well as substantial discounts on wine. Panera, a longtime innovator in this space, is another to watch, with 28 million members who can easily reorder favorite purchases via the program, receive personalized offers based on those orders, and get recipes and cooking suggestions from the brand. Panera also makes the experience of collecting food more convenient for its members — they can order online, then visit a store and pick up their food from a designated Rapid Pick-Up shelf in the store, avoiding a long wait in line. To maximize your program’s power, Accenture advises you regularly identify and eliminate aspects of it that aren’t working, encourage your members to be your advocates and try to attract new customers through existing ones. Also note that millennials can be tough to attract to these programs — mine your data to understand what range of offerings brings them back.
Prepare for the packaging revolution
The year 1894 brought the “paper pail” now ubiquitous in Chinese food takeout. The early 1960s brought us the cardboard pizza box. Now, in the face of consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging and growing demand for off-premise dining in general, we could be on the cusp of another big change in takeout food packaging. Technomic reports that in 2016, 60 percent of consumers said they would pay more for takeout meals if they were packaged in an environmentally friendly way. That number decreased to 52 percent in 2017, not because the demand for such packaging had fallen but because consumers now expect restaurants to offer it. If you currently provide single-use plastic for your takeout business, it’s time to offer alternatives and work with partners who support them — some third-party delivery partners now notify customers that they will not receive non-recyclable items like straws or packets of ketchup unless they request them. Shake Shack, for one, is now looking to bypass materials that are simply recyclable in favor of options that are biodegradable on their own.
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