At a time when restaurant businesses are feeling pressure to identify new revenue streams, the CIO of Mattson, a food and beverage innovation firm based in Silicon Valley, says many operators are missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity: meal kits. Barb Stuckey of Mattson told Restaurant Dive that she has long been urging operators to take a look at offering the kits to at least determine if they make sense financially or operationally, but few are following through, save for perhaps Chick fil-A. The brand tested meal kits to positive results last year, according to Forbes, though they haven’t announced future plans for them. Stuckey likes the kits because she thinks they can help operators attack some of the quality-control issues they may experience with delivery. For instance, kits may be worth a shot if you have menu items that could do well off-premise but may not travel as well when they are fully cooked (like fries and sandwiches). Or, if you have brisk lunchtime traffic, promoting the kits during lunch may help you sell to guests who want to sort out their dinner plan in advance. At least, the category could help restaurants tap into a less saturated segment that is ripe for reinvention. According to Packaged Facts said, meal kit market expansion in the future is likely to rely more on alternative purchasing venues than on the traditional subscription model, which can clash with the on-demand mentality of off-premise customers. Restaurants can provide that on-demand experience.
A study by IHL Services, Inc. found that 96 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 39 like to use kiosks for ordering food. Restaurant operators who consider kiosks to be the domain of large chains might keep an eye on Tapit, an emerging player that offers a customizable kiosk platform called SELFIT that is aimed at individual restaurants on up to small- to medium-size chains. The platform, which was on display at the recent National Restaurant Association Show, aims to help restaurants customize menus and integrate promotions, lifting check totals in the process. The company’s technology is currently used in the Israeli sandwich chain New Deli, where the head of operations credited the kiosks for boosting individual sales by 30 percent and branch sales by 13 percent. National Restaurant News reports that Tapit’s kiosk platform will have its first U.S. rollout at Duchess Restaurants in Connecticut.
The automation of a growing number of restaurant tasks may be creating anxiety about the future of restaurant jobs, but the National Restaurant Association’s new State of the Restaurant Industry report had some positive news on that front. According to analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of restaurant jobs with annual incomes between $45,000 and $74,999 jumped 71 percent between 2010 and 2017 (that’s compared to climbing just 21 percent for the overall economy during that period). The result is a sign of career growth prospects and upward mobility even as lower-level jobs decline, particularly at tech-forward brands. Still, recruiting and retaining employees was a top concern operators shared in the report, with 35 percent of operators saying they struggled to find people for open positions, particularly in back-of-house roles. Longer-term projections shared in the report indicate a shrinking teenage labor force, long a key demographic for restaurant operators looking to hire staff. Employees older than age 55 could be stepping into their shoes, however: Between 2017 and 2018, the number of adults in this age group who work in the restaurant industry climbed 70 percent, or by 400,000 people. Does this statistic match your hiring experience in recent months? Watch for the National Restaurant Association to launch a training and certification program that will highlight longer-term professional opportunities available in the restaurant industry.
A cloud-based point-of-sale system has plenty of benefits, allowing you to access your system from anywhere and manage your data even when your Internet is down. But as a Cake report points out, other benefits of these systems may also make for happier employees. By having the ability to review dynamic reports stored in the cloud, you can readily identify your busiest and most profitable shifts and then make changes as needed. Your staff, in turn, can make their own changes so they have the shifts they want and can easily trade the ones they don’t — and you’re not caught short-staffed. Beyond that, your cloud-based system can track what your employees earn. At a glance, you can identify who is bringing in the most sales, then reward (and have a better chance of retaining) those who are best for your business.
Artificial intelligence (AI) might still sound a little futuristic — or like technology that mainly large national brands can harness at this stage. But the next decade should be eye-opening: By 2030, almost 70 percent of businesses will use some form of AI in their operation, according to McKinsey research. Restaurants that readily understand how to adopt it and where it can provide the greatest value should be able to gain a competitive advantage. Restaurant Nuts suggests two areas that are ripe for AI adoption in restaurants of any size: improving sourcing and translating reams of data into sales. For example, when you consider your inventory, how accurate are you able to be about the items you will need? Do you rely on last year’s data mixed with some guesswork? AI can use predictive analytics that incorporate historical data from a range of relevant periods, along with weather, holidays and other factors that can impact demand, to help eliminate the trial and error that can waste money. Further, even if you have a POS system that gathers thousands of data points about your guests, that data is only useful to you if you’re able to analyze it quickly and apply it to strategies that will keep guests happy and returning. AI can help operators by collecting a wide range of data about everything from sales to purchasing, then assessing it against current consumer trends. As a result, you’ll be able to make decisions in real time, not weeks or months behind schedule. Forbes reports that the hospitality technology company Fourth, which supports such brands as TGI Friday’s, Eataly, Bar Louie and Dairy Queen, among others, is one that has expanded into AI recently. Other reports indicate that McDonald’s uses AI to find diverse employee candidates. Look for more restaurant technology systems to start to integrate AI functionality into their software.
Blockchain technology has been slow to take off in the restaurant industry. But the launch of a new credit card currently accepted by Palo Alto, Calif. merchants and restaurants could help restaurants see the tangible benefits. Restaurant Dive reports that Yosemite X, a technology company that developed a public blockchain platform, has just launched Yosemite Card, a 0 percent transaction fee credit card that is expected to save businesses 2-3 percent on transaction costs annually. It generates a random PIN every 30 seconds, which could provide protection against data breaches, and it can also integrate with a restaurant’s existing systems to offer a rewards program. The technology could still be a ways off from being widespread in the industry, but applications like this could well provide telling data points about how blockchain can help restaurants improve margins, as well as manage and protect their data.
Any food safety training course provides information about the temperatures needed to help prevent the growth of bacteria in food. But following those rules won’t necessarily prevent problems in your kitchen. A Statefoodsafety.com report dispelled some common myths. One common one: Meat can be thawed any way you like as long as you cook it to the proper temperature. (Bacteria can actually begin growing on the outside of meat as it thaws — even if the inside is still frozen — and some bacteria produce toxins that cooking does not destroy.) A myth about cooling also persists: As
long as food was cooked to the proper temperature, it can be cooled most any way. This, of course, is also incorrect. It’s critical to minimize the amount of time a food stays in the temperature danger zone (41˚F-135˚F) while cooling. The best approach can vary depending on the dish: For example, refrigerating a large pan of hot food (before placing it in smaller, shallow containers) can inadvertently accelerate bacteria growth instead of slowing it down.
As you fine-tune your menu based on seasonal changes, trending ingredients or problems with current suppliers, you are likely speaking with potential suppliers on a regular basis. At the 2018 Food Safety Consortium, Doug Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins, recommended some key questions companies should ask when sourcing ingredients and building a strong supply chain verification program. For one, ask the supplier if they have a food safety plan and if you can review it. Second, ask if they have been part of a Global Food Safety Initiative-based audit and if they can share the results of their last audit with you. Finally, ask if the supplier has ever been part of a recall or outbreak. If so, you can research the event and find out how the company resolved it. It may not disqualify them — particularly if the event occurred just once and ushered in a retooling of safety practices that have protected the company since.
How efficient is your kitchen? Even if you’ve got a full dining room, your kitchen staff is busy and guests aren’t complaining, there could be room for improvement. The data you collect can give you the clearest idea of where those opportunities are. While you can manually collect information, your automated kitchen display system is your most valuable tool here. FSR Magazine suggests you collect such data points as estimated time needed for a menu item to get from order to completion, the difference in cooking time for two items on the same order so that both dishes are fresh and at the proper temperature when served, and the amount of time it takes for a prepared dish to leave the kitchen and reach a guest’s table. If you have data like this at your fingertips, it can have a beneficial ripple effect across your business, helping you minimize waste, manage your inventory better, expedite service and keep track of orders more efficiently.
A number of food industry analysts are looking at 2019 as a turning point for plant-based meats. One in three American consumers is a flexitarian, according to a recent study from OnePoll, and while the Big Mac is hardly going away, plant-based (and even patty-free) options are appearing on menus with greater frequency as more consumers adopt vegetarian or flexitarian diets. A confluence of factors are driving the trend, from an increased consumer focus on eating more organic or natural foods, to greater interest in the treatment of animals, to health concerns. There are a number of ways you can make your menu more pleasing to flexitarians without disappointing the carnivores in your midst. First, make your meat count. If a flexitarian is eating meat just once or twice a week, it’s got to be a special: a petit filet mignon, premium-quality bacon, house-ground brisket. Second, break beyond the usual suspects. There are some tired plant-based menu items out there. Pasta primavera is but one — and it’s not likely you’ll lure flexitarians or vegetarians unless you have more creative tricks up your sleeve. Add some options or make your existing options stand out from those of competitors. Finally, while there is a place for a meatless burger made from plants in disguise, simple vegetables (done well) can stand their ground at the center of the plate. As Hamilton Beach Commerical points out, the vegan, raw, six-course tasting menu at Washington, D.C.’s Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is one example. A recent menu included pink banana squash soup with sage crème fraîche, curry spaghetti squash and turmeric ginger foam; and cauliflower panna cotta with seaweed caviar, parsnip celeriac crème, black garlic chips and shaved persimmon. Not a Portobello burger in sight.
Partner with your POS
What does your POS data tell you about the flow of guests visiting you each day? Do you have a large lunch crowd on Fridays? A reliable happy hour business on Thursdays? A steady stream of snackers all day? Use this data to empower your team. Cake suggests scheduling shift changes so they don’t overlap with your busiest times (e.g. if 12-3pm is busy, schedule a shift that runs from 1-4). If you have regulars on these days, learn their names and (with help from your POS) food preferences quickly. Using your data can ensure you’re less harried when guests arrive, can help you personalize the experience for them and reveal what foods might be most enticing for them to add to an order if you make a suggestion.
As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
Employee morale need a boost? The New Year is a good time to retool your management approach and set a motivating tone for the months ahead. The one-on-one meeting is an ideal place to have a back-and-forth about challenges, opportunities for the employee and the learning behind the feedback they’ve (hopefully) been receiving. Feedback about behavior that needs to be changed is better delivered on the spot, soon after it happens, while status updates are best shared in daily team huddles and scorecards posted in the restaurant. The restaurant consultant Mike Ganino shared this 25-minute framework with QSR for more effective one-on-ones: First, review action items from the previous week and catch up on personal life (7 minutes), then have employee set the agenda and share items to review and problem-solve together (15 minutes). Next, recognize good work/share important company news (3 minutes), and wrap up by reviewing commitments (yours and theirs), accountabilities and action items (5 minutes). You or the employee should post notes on those items in your digital meeting invitation or in another shared document you both use to track progress. If you find that the content of your meeting could have been delivered via email, it’s likely that your one-on-one needs some adjustment. Amid busy schedules, these meetings can be easy to overlook but, done well, they go far in helping you impart values, identify what drives an employee, and build engagement and trust.
Is your POS up to the challenge?
If you’re fine-tuning your technology in 2019, your point-of-sale-system — the nerve center of your business — is a natural place to start. Here are five areas you want to make sure it can manage, according to The Restaurant Technology Guys: It needs a customer relationship management and loyalty program so you can manage email campaigns, personalize offers and promotions, (which all have the potential to increase customer spending by up to 41 percent). Next, it needs to help you manage your staff rotations so you can track attendance and productivity, as well as keep staff informed. Third, your system should help you manage your inventory so you are alerted when you need to reorder an item. Finally, you need a system with reporting options that allow for customization and file exporting so you can monitor trends in relation to your goals — having the option for remote access can help you make business decisions more quickly too.
Take care with allergens
If you offer food for take-out and delivery, or as convenience items purchased from a kiosk, make sure you are as clear about your ingredients as you would be if you were listing them on the menu in your dining room. Pret A Manger has just begun labeling its foods with allergen information following the 2016 death of a 15-year-old customer with a sesame seed allergy. The customer saw no allergen information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, or on the display where the sandwich was sold, and she consumed the sandwich without realizing it contained sesame seeds. Researchers from Food Allergy Research & Education estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one of every 13 children under the age of 18.
America’s most food-focused holiday is coming up. Are you ready? On Thanksgiving weekend, your restaurant has an opportunity to give consumers a break from cooking, shopping or both. Upserve suggests creating a Thanksgiving-day menu for eat-in or take-away. Have an Instagram contest that challenges guests to share what they are thankful for. Poll your most loyal customers on social media about their favorite charities and donate to the winning cause. And since Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, make sure you’re ready with gift cards for guests looking for ideas, as well as a selection of meal or snack specials that can entice consumers looking for a break from the crowds. Make sure your inventory and staffing plan are ready to handle extra foot traffic too.
Harness your POS system’s power of customization
Consumers prefer customization, and your POS system can help you deliver it. For example, does your system make it easy for you to add and subtract extra items like avocado or shrimp on a salad or bacon or extra cheese on a burger? Cake suggests that clearly listing such potential upgrades on your menu — upgrades that some consumers may not have even realized they wanted — are an easy way to help you give your checks a boost.
Flu-proof your business this winter
Want to protect the safety of your food (and employees) this flu season? Consider sponsoring flu vaccination for your employees. While some operators question the investment, research indicates that it pays off in the long run, costing relatively little per employee as compared to the potential costs of staffing shortages and business interruption in the wake of an outbreak. According to 2010 research published by the National Institutes of Health, “Employers who subsidize workplace vaccination programs stand to see significant a significant return on their investment, particularly during a severe influenza season or pandemic when employee productivity may be interrupted by influenza-related absenteeism.”
Don’t forget the drying
When it comes to preventing bacteria growth in your kitchen, make sure your team understands that drying your dishes is as important as cleaning them. Drying with a towel can spread bacteria, and nesting dishes, bowls, pans or other items together while they are still damp can be a recipe for bacteria growth too, even when the dishes have been washed at high temperatures. Your best defense is having a dish rack that allows for proper airflow between dishes and allowing dishes to dry completely before storing them.
Are monitoring food costs a significant challenge to your business? If so, you’re hardly alone: 60 percent of restaurant operators struggle to manage food costs, according to Upserve. It can be especially challenging if you have a long list of suppliers, as many operators do. When food costs comprise 28 to 35 percent of an average restaurant’s gross sales, taking control of your inventory can generate substantial savings. If you’re still using an Excel spreadsheet — and hours of your time — to keep tabs on your food costs, it’s time to integrate your inventory management and POS so you have real-time information at your fingertips when you are negotiating with suppliers and placing orders. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more information about a new program from Team Four that can help you manage food costs more efficiently and retain your competitive advantage.
Use your POS to appeal to existing guests
Are you making the mistake of focusing more on attracting new customers than on retaining the ones you already have? Research from Performark found that the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is about 60 to 70 percent — far higher than the likelihood of selling to a new one (5 to 20 percent). The good news is that engaging your existing customers is also easier, particularly if you harness the power of your POS. Your system can help you in several key ways, according to Upserve: First, it can tap into the preferences of your guests and help you identify offers that are likely to entice them. If your barbecue wings appetizer is a best seller, your POS can tell you — and you can use it as part of a promotion to bring guests in the door during slow periods. Second, you can offer an automated rewards program that requires almost none of your staff’s time. Your guest can sign up via smartphone and their credit card becomes their loyalty card, automatically collecting rewards (and providing you with more data to improve and personalize that person’s experience) each time it is used. Third, it speeds up the overall experience. When you have a system that gets orders to the kitchen faster, helps your staff avoid standing in line when cashing out a check, and allows guests to pay and leave as soon as they are ready, the result is a faster, smoother flow of a business and a more satisfied guest. Finally, when your POS can seamlessly integrate and track your in-house and delivery orders, you can appeal to guests who already know what to expect from you and want to enjoy your food from home, as well as attract new customers looking to try a new option.
Is HPP part of your food supply chain?
As you look for ways to protect your food supply before it reaches you and while it’s sitting on your shelf, talk to your suppliers about high-pressure processing (HPP). The method uses cold water and extreme pressure to disable foodborne pathogens and microorganisms that spoil food. HPP is on the rise around the world as a means of protecting food safety, extending shelf life, ensuring clean labels and reducing waste, Food Safety Tech reports. It also protects the flavor and nutrient content of foods. It is used most often to preserve proteins, as well as juices, dips, coffee, tea and broth. The market for HPP is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years in response to growing consumer and foodservice industry demand.
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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Food For Thought And Profit is brought to you by Team Four Foodservice/Value 4. We offer the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.