If you offer grab-and-go foods, adhering to food safety procedures can be especially difficult. The food auditor Steritech found a number of common food safety issues in 3,000 recent reviews of fresh and prepared foods at grocery stores. Their lessons can also apply to restaurants offering prepared foods to go. Of the problems Steritech discovered, several stood out: One major issue across the board was unclean food contact surfaces, particularly when businesses offer a wide range of prepared foods that require the use of more utensils, equipment and prep areas. Further, contamination via chemical, physical and/or biological hazards was among the top food safety
challenges in all departments except produce. Specifically, allergen contamination was a pressing concern for bakery items (demonstrating the need for clear labeling) and improper storage and placement of raw items was an issue in meat, seafood and deli products. Finally, cold holding was among the top problems for produce, seafood, deli and general grocery items – with the principal issue being the temperature of display cases for pre-cut and prepared foods. Make sure these foods are kept at a temperature of 41 degrees or below to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
As cold and flu season threatens to impact your staff, make sure you’re minimizing the spread of germs after handwashing. Statefoodsafety.com advises that after washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, it’s best to turn off the faucet with a paper towel and then dry hands with either a paper towel or hand dryer. Avoid using a cloth towel, which can contaminate your hands and spread germs.
As your kitchen becomes increasingly connected to the Internet, it becomes a bigger target for cybercrime. At The Spoon’s recent Smart Kitchen Summit, panelists who participated in a segment called Hacking the Oven: Cybersecurity and the Connected Kitchen identified three key takeaways to consider as your business adopts new devices to increase efficiency. First, cybersecurity can’t be something you bolt on to your business; rather, it’s important to make it flow through your operation from the start and to have a culture that values it. Second, both manufacturers and end users play a role in securing devices: manufacturers need to build secure devices with easy-to-install updates, and users need to do their part to protect devices with secure passwords. Finally, security is an ongoing process that requires manufacturers (and users) to have a plan to address vulnerabilities as they arise. Panelists expect to see cybersecurity certification labels on appliances in the near future – much like Energy Star rating stickers – to help end users better identify companies with strong cybersecurity records.
As severe weather becomes more common, the increased risk of power outages can threaten food safety. Make sure you monitor your TCS foods to prevent spoilage and discard items that have gone out of temperature range. Steritech advises that you monitor and document food temperatures as long as it is safe to stay in the building. Promptly after losing power, prepare ice baths for your TCS foods. Dry ice can also help you keep refrigeration temperatures at 41° F or below – just be cautious with it as it can produce dangerous gas in enclosed areas. Avoid opening cooler doors as much as
possible – a freezer in good condition may maintain its temperature for 24 hours if unopened. Test foods using a calibrated thermometer and throw out any TCS foods that have been warmer than 41° F for more than two hours.
At a time when the foodservice industry is embracing foods that promote health and well-being, those qualities don’t often come to mind when one thinks of the foodservice profession itself. But finding ways to protect your well-being and that of your staff can protect morale and promote retention. Beyond creating healthy routines around meals, sleep and exercise, Chefify suggests establishing boundaries – with your employer and staff. It can help you handle everything from negotiating sufficient time off between shifts to managing everyday problems more efficiently (and being selective about the ones you take on). Take stock of your day with staff to review what went well and what needs improvement. Establish clear working hours for yourself and your team. Don’t oversell your knowledge and experience – or be afraid to delegate tasks to others: Relying on other people helps make them accountable. Finally, don’t lose your connection with the outside world – keeping tabs on events happening outside of the foodservice industry can provide perspective and may help you conceive of new ideas that will keep your work interesting and fresh.
Clamoring to sell a plant-based burger than can pass for meat? There may be good reason to be a late adopter. Amid the rise in demand for plant-based proteins, a number of industry experts have questioned the more processed options available. (Case in point: The Impossible Burger has been criticized for its inclusion of the ingredient heme, which Food Dive describes as an iron-containing molecule made by fermenting genetically modified yeast.) Further, an article published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association by doctors, nutritionists and public health specialists advised that further research was needed to determine if plant-based meat alternatives designed to mimic the real thing were in fact as healthy and beneficial to the environment as they claim to be.
Months after chefs and food industry analysts alike identified cannabidiol (CBD) products as top food and beverage trends of 2019, the CBD industry continues to, shall we say, fly high. In a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by a market research firm focused on the cannabis market, 1,500 respondents said they had used CBD products in the previous three months. The survey also found that 40 percent of consumers aged 21 and older would try CBD products. Consumer interest in the products has driven restaurant operators to provide them – but considering CBD has still not been approved by the FDA and is readily associated with marijuana (despite lacking its psychoactive effects), it has put operators in a tough position. Local health departments in New York, California and other states have begun cracking down on restaurants serving CBD foods and beverages – this despite the passage of the farm bill in December making most applications of CBD legal at the federal level. While many restaurant operators offering CBD products have taken the “ask for forgiveness later” approach with health regulators, the risks may outweigh the benefits. A New York Post report said that restaurants violating the CBD ban could be fined up to $650. In Los Angeles, the Atlantic reports, the county health department said it would start docking points on restaurant inspections this past July. If you’re thinking of including CBD products on your menu, make sure you understand the implications. In the meantime, it may make sense to keep the CBD recipes in mind (but perhaps off the menu) and keep close tabs on regulations as they evolve.
This fall, a sweeping bill is likely going to be introduced in Congress that will ban many single-use plastics, set recycling targets and require deposits for beverage containers, the National Restaurant Association reports. In response to the legislation, the association’s food and sustainability director has emphasized the lack of existing national infrastructure to support such a ban – and the stress that could cause businesses forced to comply. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, the global climate activism on display in recent weeks is a sign that the issue of how restaurants manage their packaging waste (and the need for restaurants to understand new packaging technologies) isn’t going away. If you’re looking for ways to improve your practices, the Food Packaging Institute is working with its members, foodservice operators and other entities to share packaging options and has also developed a strategic sourcing guide to help restaurants identify new suppliers.
Foods such as cereals, rice, pasta and spices may seem benign when it comes to foodborne illness, but if these foods are cooled slowly without refrigeration, they can become prime targets for Bacillus cereus, a pathogen that forms heat-resistant spores and can lead to diarrhea or vomiting. The bacteria are found in soil and in foods that grow close to the ground. As the Food Safety Information Council reports, starchy vegetables, meat products, grain-based foods, sauces, puddings and spices are all culprits. While the spores Bacillus cereus produces are dormant, they can multiply when exposed to warmth and moisture. Cooking or reheating the food will not destroy the toxin, so to help prevent it, store cooked foods in shallow containers and refrigerate them promptly, don’t let frozen foods thaw at room temperature, and make sure any precooked foods are stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of two or three days.
When washing dishes or foodservice equipment, cleaning and sanitizing need to happen together – each on its own isn’t enough to protect your guests from pathogens. But even when sanitizer is used after cleaning, Statefoodsafety.com says it can fail to do its job or even spread germs if not used at the proper temperature and concentration for the appropriate amount of time. Chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium compound sanitizing solution all have different temperature requirements. If a sanitizer is mixed with water that’s not the right temperature, it may be less effective. Use test strips to check you are using the appropriate concentration of each sanitizer as it might be dangerous at the wrong proportions. Finally, let each sanitizer work for the required amount of time to make sure it’s effective.
If you offer delivery, take note of what Postmates is doing to improve the benefits package of gig workers. The company recently announced that it will now be offering such benefits as occupational accident insurance, health care, and free access to online college courses and professional certifications. At a time when employee development has become critical to minimizing the high turnover across the industry, these new benefits are something that may be worth considering if you’re considering a third-party delivery company or, particularly, if you manage your own in-house delivery team.
If you operate a restaurant in or near a college town, you’re in a sweet spot: You have access to a large concentration of food-savvy consumers who are looking for their next meal or snack (and are likely not preparing it themselves). If you deliver food, you’re also more likely to be able to maximize your profits by delivering multiple orders in a single trip. But becoming a campus favorite takes some strategy, particularly if you offer higher-end dishes or are otherwise not an ideal match for a student on a budget. To appeal to the convenience- and cost-driven college consumer, Running Restaurants suggests partnering with the college or university on any programs they offer that allow students to use some of their on-campus dining credits at your restaurant. Encourage word about your restaurant to spread on campus by offering promotions in the campus newspaper, taking part in pop-up food events, and hosting happy hours or other social events. Your online presence is important with this demographic, so make sure you offer online ordering and encourage engagement via social media (your social media handle should be visible on all of your marketing materials). Finally, values and transparency count with this community, so if you have a good story to tell about the local produce you offer, or charities you support, or eco-friendly business practices you have long used, talk it up.
If you have ever visited a bakery at the end of the day and scored some steeply discounted bread, you might appreciate an app like Feedback, which helps restaurants with extra meals on hand at the end of the day connect with hungry consumers. Pymts.com reports that the app uses a dynamic pricing model, so a restaurant might charge $10 for a salad at the start of the day but then adjust the discount based on demand throughout the afternoon. While the app is based in Canada and hasn’t yet made it to the U.S., it offers a more universal lesson on how harnessing data about what you’re selling each day can give you tools to help you run business more efficiently, limit waste, and even attract some new customers. The developer behind the app was inspired to pursue the idea when he was presented with the opportunity to buy discounted pizzas at the end of a restaurant shift. How can you use your tech to connect your extra food supply with guests?
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.
Consumers like a limited-time offer: Whether it has to do with short attention spans or a desire for something new and different, there has been a 64 percent spike in LTOs in the past five years, according to Technomic. Their research also found that a majority of female consumers and millennials are drawn to innovative dishes, new flavors and menu launches when they choose a restaurant, and 30 percent of quick-service customers would visit a restaurant they wouldn’t normally visit if it meant taking advantage of a unique LTO. Restaurant Business advises operators to consider several factors when developing an LTO to attract guests. First, set a goal you’re hoping to achieve and design your LTO around it. (An LTO that will bring in guests for several weeks or months will need to have broader, more mainstream appeal than an LTO designed to generate a lot of buzz for a short time.) Second, consider your demographics and let your data guide your decisions. Preferences will vary across generations and genders, so consider everything from your LTO’s ingredients to its portability when anticipating how guests are likely to perceive your offer. Finally, use language that describes the sensory experience of eating what you’re selling (e.g. think “crunchy” vs. “breaded”) and promote the health-conscious aspects of your LTO. Words like “fresh,” “local” and “made from scratch” tend to score especially well with consumers.
Facial recognition technology has become a trend to watch in restaurants this year. While it may sound Orwellian, its potential for streamlining the payment process and loyalty programs is difficult for restaurants to ignore. A number of quick-service restaurants around the country have begun using biometric facial recognition to profile each customer’s order history, demographics and loyalty points. The technology appears to be best suited for the quick-service space at the moment but as rollouts occur across categories, note the effects (positive and negative) it has on customer experience.
Guests make inferences about the cleanliness of your kitchen based on the condition of your restroom. And if your staff share restroom facilities with guests, those inferences tend to be correct. A Modern Restaurant Management report said that in addition to putting a business at risk of negative word of mouth, a dirty restroom can result in a lower food hygiene rating during
inspections. Make sure you have waste bins large enough to avoid overflow, that you have staff monitor the cleanliness of your restrooms at regular intervals, and that you keep the restrooms well stocked with toilet paper, towels and soap. If guests have to chase your staff down for toilet paper in the middle of the dinner rush, they may get the message that you’re overlooking other details of the guest experience in your restaurant.
If your restaurant prides itself on its ability to cater to guests with food allergies or other special dietary needs, new opportunities are becoming available to help you connect with those consumers quickly. For example, Fast Casual reports that the food sensor company Nima has developed an online tool that displays gluten-free and peanut-free items available at chain restaurants. Consumers simply visit the site, register their location and the site shows a map of nearby restaurants with allergy-free items. There are now 250,000 restaurant locations contained in the site’s database. At a time when consumers can indulge their cravings with just a couple of clicks, the ability to quickly direct people with allergies to their best options could become a key differentiator for restaurants.
Wage dispute claims are rampant in the foodservice industry. In 2017 alone, the Department of Labor heard more than 7,000 wage and hour claims and recovered more than $483 million in back wages for employees — nine times more than any other industry. The threshold is low for workers looking to file suit. A QSR Magazine report says foodservice operations are vulnerable if they don’t have clear policies around such topics as compensation for time needed to change into uniform, rounding employee hours, calculating overtime, or taking additional breaks. To help, the report advises you have detailed written information describing your wage and hour-related policies, as well as about meals and break periods — and that you review timecards carefully to ensure staff take their breaks. Consult an employment attorney to make sure your policies are clear and then reinforce them with staff.
An emerging model for restaurant investment?
Restaurants can be a tough investment — and when operators are beholden to investors looking for swift profits and some say in financial and operational matters, the challenges can multiply. But a handful of new investment groups, with restaurant industry veterans at the helm, are coming onto the scene and could be changing the model for restaurant investment. Ron Shaich, founder of Panera, along with his partner and fellow Panera veteran Keith Pacal, just announced a $300 million investment fund for restaurants. Skift Table reports that the fund gives “evergreen” capital and industry expertise to operators in an effort to give them additional time to build a business that has staying power. (This is opposed to traditional venture capitalists or private equity firms that invest in companies with the intention of building business quickly and selling at a profit after three to five years.) While profits matter to the fund, there is less of a rush about them — perhaps because of the industry insiders running the operation. Shaich’s goal for the fund, he says, is to give operators an alternative to having to fundraise, negotiate board disagreements or navigate Wall Street culture when they are trying to run a restaurant — all challenges for him when he ran Panera. The fund comes on the heels of Danny Meyer’s similar private investment firm, as well as the Kitchen Fund, which Eater reports has invested in such industry successes as Sweetgreen. These funds could represent an emerging new model for operators looking for financial tools and operational support with fewer strings attached.
Turn your customers into subscribers
As Amazon has disrupted consumer perceptions about the accessibility of food and other products, some food delivery companies are taking cues from its playbook by offering Amazon Prime-style subscription services. DoorDash, for one, recently unveiled a program in which subscribers pay $10 per month in exchange for free delivery from participating restaurants. Subscriptions could be a winner for restaurants and delivery companies alike, according to Skift senior research analyst Seth Borko, who said such services tend to encourage higher consumer spending and utilization. The challenge, he says, is making sure consumers feel they are getting their money’s worth.
Build a culture of positive customer experiences
Do you have a culture of customer service? It’s not something you can achieve in a one-day training seminar. Justin McGurgin, who has spent 30 years in hospitality and currently runs Zealifi, a company that coaches operators about how to build a culture that provides positive, memorable experiences for guests, spends most of his time working with leaders, not staff. In a podcast on Profitable Hospitality, he said staff are simply a reflection of the leadership they’re getting (or not getting). One-off training seminars are little more than a band-aid fix, motivating your team only as long as your trainer is in the building. So what does McGurgin suggest instead? In year-long training modules he conducts with operators, McGurgin typically spends the full 12 months with the organization’s leaders – junior team members join in for just five months across that time frame. When working with leaders, he focuses on engagement and empowerment. Do you build connections with your team by saying hello when they walk in the door? Scheduling one-on-one meetings with them in addition to group meetings? Acknowledging their accomplishments with a personal note and in group meetings, emails or texts? When something goes wrong, have you empowered staff to handle it, instead of having them come to you for guidance when a customer complains? When you can answer “yes” to those questions, you have the makings of a strong culture. That has important benefits: You’ll be able to attract more stars to your team (and have a better chance of enticing them to stay), you’ll have a team that won’t tolerate weak links (so you won’t be the only one managing quality control) and you’ll have more time to focus on firing up the creativity at the top of your organization, so you can ensure you continue to bring customers through the door.
Where to innovate first? Try your back office.
“Today’s delights are tomorrow’s expectations,” according to the Culinary Institute of America’s Tim Ryan, who spoke at the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference. It’s true of your food, service and technology. If you’re unsure of where to innovate across your operation, automating your back office is a good place to begin, according to Alister & Paine, a magazine for company executives. As the nucleus of your operation, running it smoothly can help you manage your scale and achieve goals with less effort. If you’re comfortably paying vendors by check, for example, the number of checks you need to write each month can escalate quickly (and become a chore) when you invest in marketing, increase your customer volume or hire additional employees. Electronic payments can help you accomplish more tasks more quickly and with less effort. Vendors are increasingly expecting shorter payment terms, so providing payment with the click of a mouse can help you keep valued suppliers and stay a step ahead of competitors. And if your competitors are automating their back office, it will quickly become compulsory – not just nice to have. That said, what works for your competition won’t necessarily work for you. FSR Magazine recommends you audit your operation to identify process improvements you can make to enhance any automation you introduce. That could mean synching different processes or software programs, identifying ways to ensure all invoices are processed correctly, or using a special barcode on invoices if it helps you save money on each invoice. Consider outsourcing your accounts payable if you find your back-office work is taking attention away from providing great food and service. When outsourcing gives you access to a dedicated customer management team that handles your invoices and vendor requests, for example, it can help you gain some visibility and control over your finances while freeing up time for focusing on other parts of your operation.
What’s the next kale?
What is it about kale that made it skyrocket in popularity and become consumers’ favorite superfood? According to Nielsen data, frozen breakfast entrees featuring kale experienced a whopping 391 percent growth in sales between 2016 and 2017. David Sax, who wrote The Tastemakers, said it comes down to three traits: versatility, availability and cultural significance. As Food Dive reports, kale can be eaten raw or cooked, has a long growing season in a range of climates and has become a symbol of health, which in combination made it a must-have on menus and consumers’ dinner tables. The ubiquity of food images and experiences on social media can help foodservice operators predict the next foods and beverages poised for a big break. Food industry analysts say drinking vinegars could be the next big thing to go mainstream. While they’re appearing on menus as kombucha or alcoholic mixers, there’s plenty of room for them to grow.
It is really organic? Buyer beware.
Food labels can mean the difference between winning new customers and losing the ones you have. A recent Washington Post report detailed the story of a 36 million-pound shipment of soybeans that originated in the Ukraine, passed through Turkey, was fumigated with pesticide like regular soybeans, priced like regular soybeans, then labeled “USDA organic” and increased significantly in price upon arrival in the U.S. That shipment, along with two other grain shipments that passed through Turkey and subsequently sparked questions about organic labeling, demonstrate weakness in current U.S. standards determining what commodities are organic. (Approximately half of organic commodities, including corn, soybeans and coffee, come from outside the U.S.) The Post report says although organic food imports from Turkey, China and other countries have invited increased scrutiny, gauging the level of fraud in imported organics is difficult because organic companies have little incentive to announce their suspicions about suppliers.
Swap out the sugar
The message is finally taking hold around the globe: Cut the sugar. Food Quality & Safety reports that sugar sales may grow at their slowest pace this year and next as consumption drops in developed countries. Many such countries have proposed or implemented taxes on sweetened beverages, have banned vending machines in schools and introduced warning labels on high-sugar foods, among other measures. The analyst group Platts Kingsman forecasts sugar consumption to increase just 1 percent, half of the annual growth it has experienced in the past decade. While some countries are accommodating consumers’ cravings for sweet foods by using sugar stand-ins like high-fructose corn syrup, many foodservice operations are reformulating products to decrease the amount of sweeteners overall. Now is the time to consider creative ways to bring sweetness (but not added sugar) to your menu.
Facebook brings (some) restaurants one step closer to customers
Soon, it may not be sufficient to simply have a restaurant page on Facebook – your neighborhood restaurants might be accessible directly from Facebook users’ homepages. Facebook recently made it possible to order food directly from its app menu on the main login page. It allows users to find a restaurant list, review the menu, include a tip and pay for the meal without having to navigate away from their Facebook page. The Next Web reports that on the app menu on the left-hand side of the Facebook home page, a new hamburger icon links to local restaurants that deliver (it currently includes just restaurants using Delivery.com or Slice). While the functionality isn’t universally available yet, look for it to expand and give some restaurants first dibs on hungry customers.
What makes for a professional-looking post? Here’s a cheat sheet.
Social media is a must for any foodservice operation – unfortunately, having a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram or other networks requires you to meet different standards for the photos and logos you post. To help, Louise Myers Visual Social Media, which advises companies about using graphics, photos and other images effectively on social media, provided a cheat sheet to help you navigate the requirements of various sites and the recent updates that could alter what you can post. Visit http://louisem.com/2852/social-media-cheat-sheet-sizes for a handy chart you can reference when posting images to a variety of networks.
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