As food allergies have become more prevalent, so has the use of the term “cross contact.” While it’s often confused with cross contamination, the terms mean different things, have different consequences and require different preparation procedures. As Francine Shaw, president of Savvy Food Safety, told Modern Restaurant Management recently, cross contact is dangerous only to those with food allergies. It occurs when care wasn’t taken during food preparation to prevent an ingredient from coming into contact with a food that is then accidentally eaten by a guest with a food allergy. Cross contamination, particularly when it involves food contact with raw poultry, eggs or meat, has more universal implications because it can make anyone ill, allergic or not.
It may take a crisis to make a restaurant enhance its food safety practices ― but other operators can learn from the outcomes whether they experienced it or not. Case in point: A year after the death of a woman who ate a mislabeled baguette from the quick-service brand Pret-a-Manger, the brand
developed a five-point allergy plan. The plan has involved revamping Pret-a-Manger’s labels using new technology to detail all ingredients, launching additional training for 9,000 staff, providing menu tablets in every store that detail product ingredients, removing allergens from products and publishing a quarterly food safety incident report. The plan has required making physical modifications to store preparation areas as well.
Restaurant operators may feel pressured to minimize their food waste. But eliminate it? It’s a lofty goal but one that Henry Moynihan Rich, owner of the hospitality company Oberon Group, aimed to take on in an effort to become a model for restaurants looking to minimize or eliminate waste, GrubsStreet reports. Brooklyn’s Rhodora Wine Bar, formerly named Mettā, has adopted such practices as ordering wine in compostable boxes, eliminating liquor brands that don’t use recyclable caps, using a dishwasher that uses electrolyzed water that requires no soap, sourcing cheeses with edible rinds, eliminating paper receipts and sending used wine corks to a non-profit called ReCORK that turns corks into shoe soles. Any food left on guests’ plates will be fed into a large composter. Consumer waste from restrooms is collected in containers from TerraCycle, a company that collects and recycles items that are difficult to recycle elsewhere.
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.
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.
Hurricane season is here, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s high time to review your emergency response plan to make sure you can manage potential business disruptions that may come your way. Statefoodsafety.com suggests listing potential threats, ranging from power outages to food or water contamination, so you can build a simple but useful response plan from them — your local authority can help you create it. Assign roles to key employees and ensure every employee knows who handles various tasks. Establish talking points so your team communicates the same clear, calm message to customers. Post a list of emergency contacts (and also provide it to employees) so your team knows who can help in an emergency. Finally, protect your food and water supply. Establish a plan to keep food cool by keeping the refrigerator door closed when you can, storing ice in the refrigerator or freezer to keep temperatures down, or securing access to a refrigerated truck. Consider keeping an emergency supply of water and developing a separate menu that requires less water for preparation so you can still operate when your supply is threatened.
Blueberries abound this time of year and they shine in far more than desserts. This summer, try them in savory applications to add some unexpected sweetness and color to entrées. As chef Jason K. Morse, owner of 5280 Culinary, a line of barbecue products, told Flavor & the Menu recently, blueberries work especially well when used to balance out dishes with lots of spice, heat or other strong, savory flavors. Try them as sweet counterpoints to barbecue sauces, marinades and chutneys on grilled pork and poultry, sandwiches and tacos.
Have you harnessed technology to manage your food waste? If not, consider a couple of companies on the forefront of the effort who are helping restaurants limit their waste — and in the process, save money, gain insights into their menu and connect with the community. Goodr, which made the Spoon’s list of 25 companies changing the future of food, uses technology to minimize food waste and then partners with nonprofits to transport it to people in need. The company also has efforts underway to use food waste for renewable energy — a good story to share with guests — as well as to use blockchain to enhance the efficiency of food waste management. Another company, Copia, enables food businesses to donate their unused food in exchange for enhanced tax deductions, as well as data that can help steer purchasing decisions.
Between rising labor costs and falling traffic, there is no shortage of factors squeezing restaurant profits right now. Raising prices to meet margins is one option, but how much are your guests willing to pay before they take their business elsewhere? And what if sales shortfalls are simply due to shifting trends — or your competitor across the street offering a similar product for less? If you use data analytics to manage your food costs, you can uncover helpful information about your inventory. Since your inventory likely eats up 25 to 35 percent of your operating budget, it’s a good place to find lurking costs that can be minimized so you can better manage your spending. To identify opportunities, look at your supply chain and product mix. Do you know how many times your product changes hands and how prices shift with each transition? If you’re looking for help with this and much more, ask about Team Four’s Palette program. We can assess your supply chain, purchases and product mix and then recommend action steps that will help you lower food costs without sacrificing your quality standards. That might involve substituting quality products that still reduce food costs, or identifying trend changes, purchases that aren’t in line with your product specifications, or pricing that doesn’t reflect current trends. Learn more at www.palettefoodservice.com
At a time when even recyclable plastic often ends up in landfills or oceans, the presence of single-use plastic is still widespread in restaurants, most noticeably in the delivery space. The parent of Zume Pizza, the automated pizza delivery company that won accolades for developing a compostable, biodegradable, molded fiber “pizza pod” for shepherding pies to customers, is now helping other companies develop non-plastic packaging alternatives. According to a Forbes report, the company recently launched a new venture to develop plant-based packaging that is designed to have the performance qualities of plastic (and is priced to compete with plastic when used at scale). The packaging, a compostable blend of sugarcane fiber, bamboo, wood pulp and wheat straw, is classified as Type 4 Molded Fiber, the highest grade of molded fiber packaging.
Finding and retaining talent is a perennial challenge for restaurants, and the millennial generation’s reputation for favoring flexible work arrangements stands to make things more difficult for the industry. So instead of fighting the inevitable, why not embrace it? If you’re able to adjust your labor model to accommodate a regular influx of temporary or even one-time staff of various skill levels (and particularly if you’re located in a metropolitan area) technology is quickly making it possible for restaurants to fill staffing gaps with skilled people. A recent report from Bloomberg Businessweek offered up the example of Pared, a staffing app founded by two tech and restaurant veterans that enables operators to fill last-minute staffing needs. What began as a Bay-area resource for finding dishwashers and prep cooks has since expanded to new cities (they aim to be in all major U.S. metro markets by next year) and to roles including servers, baristas and oyster shuckers. Operators are able to request various levels of experience as well. While some operators have found the app costly — a skilled worker can walk into a restaurant for one might and make a higher hourly wage than a longtime cook — they acknowledge that insurance, taxes, overtime and hiring costs make apps like Pared a viable alternative to hiring staff. As Wade Moises, executive chef of Rosemary’s in New York noted in the report, “Thinking about Pared now, I’m not sure if I should fire my whole staff or quit myself.”
You are throwing money away. That’s one lesson Google has learned since it began partnering with Leanpath to measure and track the food waste it generates when serving 200,000 meals in its cafés each day. Fast Company reports that Leanpath provides equipment that can display the monetary value of wasted food, which has provided Google chefs with some extra motivation to be resourceful with ingredients. It has also helped them make adjustments such as cooking items in batches, offering smaller plates and using shallower serving pans to minimize waste without sacrificing the appearance of abundance. Google employees play a role too. At certain Google cafés, Leanpath equipment can measure wasted food where employees return their plates. Those measurements feed a digital display employees can see when ordering food and deciding how large of a portion they’d like. (Leanpath is just one company in this business — Winnow is another to check out.)
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.
The average person gets norovirus — a period of diarrhea and vomiting at once — five times in his or her life. The virus can live for several days on ice buckets, glasses, cash drawers, cell phones, remote controls, carpets and many other surfaces, and because it’s so easily spread (a pencil tip can hold the number of cells required to transfer it) it’s a big threat to the foodservice industry. Do you have norovirus procedures in place? (If not, you’re not alone: A poll conducted during a recent webinar for foodservice operators with food safety expert Francine Shaw found that 41 percent of participants had no documented procedures.) Shaw said 75 percent of norovirus outbreaks are attributed to infected workers. Proper handwashing plays a major role but it’s also important to ensure employees know what they need to do when they experience symptoms of a number of illnesses that can spread norovirus. Shaw advised using Form 1B during your employee orientation. It’s available through the FDA and explains the major illnesses that can spread norovirus, as well as what employees must do when they experience the onset of specific symptoms so they are not working in a food preparation situation when they experience them.
Does your kitchen team know where to start when cutting various proteins? Statefoodsafety.com advises that when cutting different types of meat in succession, start with the meat that has the lowest cooking temperature and work up to the one with the highest cooking temperature. For example, start with beef, veal, lamb and pork, then work up to poultry. It will help ensure that any germs the knife carries are killed during cooking.
There are ample financial incentives for restaurant operators to make their existing business practices more environmentally friendly — even if you don’t consider that consumers are loyal to such businesses. If you’re interested in either learning more about green business practices or about improving upon your existing efforts, check out this survey from the Green Restaurant Association. It asks a series of questions about your restaurant’s current practices when it comes to energy use, water efficiency, chemicals and pollution, sustainable food, and use of reusable and disposable products. Depending on your answers, you will be prompted with details about how adopting certain practices could help your bottom line, as well as what specific appliances, products, brands and other resources can help you operate more efficiently in various capacities. Your answers can also give you a baseline assessment to help you see what efforts might help you become a Certified Green restaurant if you’re seeking an industry designation.
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.
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