Conventional wisdom says that email marketing is king: Restaurant operators have a higher chance of targeting consumers with the right message at the right time if they prioritize email promotions. But what if your promotions are landing in spam folders? A recent episode of the Restaurant Rockstars podcast covered the power of text and how your wifi system can unlock a lot of potential in growing your database and bringing guests back – as long as you’re not giving away access with no strings attached. The guest, Steve Fletcher, runs Wifi Technology Solutions, a firm that partners with hospitality businesses to develop their marketing strategy through wifi. If you currently rely on guests to actively sign up to your mailing list, read on: For better or worse, 62 percent of people who go out to eat are looking to use wifi. Why not accommodate that demand while making it easier to expand your customer database? Fletcher advises tapping into a concept called social wifi, in which restaurant guests connect to a restaurant’s wifi network via a password that connects them to a splash page where they sign in via Facebook, email or cellphone. Thereafter, he suggests sending one email and one text per week (with text being the priority). The open rate for text is north of 90 percent and the conversion rate is about 32 percent – odds that can be profitable for you if text messaging suits your brand. Fletcher usually advises sending a text on a Tuesday morning between 10 and 11am, limiting the message to 114 characters, offering a promotion that lasts four or five days so the recipient has a good shot at using it, and always including an opt-out option at the bottom. Need help finding a solution check, we can help. To learn more check out https://www.palettefoodservice.com/marketplace.html to learn more about our social wifi solutions.
Customizing menu items or related products for a guest can add to your brand’s wow factor and increase your Instagramability. Think chocolates molded into the name of a child celebrating a birthday with you or drink garnishes molded into the shape of the numbers of a couple’s wedding anniversary. That has traditionally required some investment or outsourcing but a new tool called the Mayku Formbox is leveling the playing field for those looking to customize the items they sell (and it’s gaining a following among foodservice brands). The Spoon reports that the product, which has a similar footprint to an open laptop, softens a thin sheet of food-safe material and forms it around an object up of to 7.8 square inches in size. After the sheet sets, it can be removed and then used as a mold for anything from plastic to molten sugar. It currently retails for $699, including 40 moldable sheets.
When you log on to Facebook, it typically takes just a moment to see advertisements for items you are likely to buy. These ads aren’t merely tailored to people in your demographic or posted based on the weather or what other consumers happen to be buying that day. They are tailored to you, specifically. Yet somehow, in the current era of personalization, restaurant menus are lagging. At a time when an estimated 32 million American consumers have a food allergy, and many others have a food intolerance or follow some specific eating regimen, be it paleo or plant-based or Whole 30 diets, even the most forward-thinking of restaurants don’t yet provide menus that are designed for an individual consumer. Expect that to change, particularly in light of McDonald’s recent purchase of the menu personalization startup Dynamic Yield. At the moment, restaurant menu personalization is more about adjusting menus based upon broader environmental conditions as opposed to individual consumer tastes. And as The Spoon reports, a number of barriers still remain when it comes to gaining consumers’ trust with personal data. But it’s not difficult to see a time when a person with a nut allergy might be able to log in at a restaurant and bring up a variety of nut-free food choices based on items he or she has ordered at that restaurant and elsewhere, or reviewed on Yelp, posted on Instagram, or even “liked” on Facebook. How do you accommodate personalization at your restaurant? Does your tech currently help you in this effort?
Restaurant take-out supplies comprise a large percentage of the waste that ends up in oceans and landfills. Beyond limiting your single-use plastic, particularly the black plastic that research has confirmed is hazardous not just to the environment but also to human health, there are steps you can take to scale back your waste and to send the message to guests that you care about the environment. Start by conducting a waste audit so you have a clear picture of which menu items, packaging and office supplies generate the most waste, then adjust portion sizes and purchase orders accordingly. Buy non-perishable items in bulk if possible and use suppliers who can provide recyclable products and use less packaging on the items you purchase. Make extra napkins, straws, lids and other paper goods available upon request only. Finally, minimize the paper you generate by asking guests if you can email or text their receipt instead of printing it.
Restaurants and movie theaters, sports bars and memorabilia shops, cafés and bookstores…Restaurants can seem like natural partners for a wide range of businesses. The promotions you offer through these sorts of partnerships help you attract new customers and streams of revenue. Or do they? It depends on how well the partners suit each other and how well they develop their strategy. A recent Fast Company report advises business owners use several criteria to determine whether another business passes the partnership litmus test. First, focus on your core challenge or goal. Your best partnerships will help you address it, whether it’s tapping into a new market or gaining insights from a tech-savvy business. Then consider how your restaurant’s values mesh with those of the other business —having a shared vision with help you avoid problems down the line. When you map out your strategy for the partnership, make sure both parties understand the other’s goals and try to anticipate potential pitfalls such as increased costs or slower decision making (and how you’ll manage them). If you’re new to this, begin by looking for partners within your own industry who offer products that complement yours — you’re likely to gain the most from these partnerships, whether in insights or other potential partnership opportunities. Finally, consider partnering on a smaller event together before diving into a larger promotion. It will help you understand the other business’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication and working styles before you have made a more significant commitment to working together.
Need another reason to fine-tune your restaurant’s presence on Google? Google Maps has now made it possible for consumers looking for their next meal to pull up photos of a restaurant’s most popular dishes. (And in the meantime, other companies are angling to help restaurants make the most of that exposure). When Google Maps users post reviews and photos of their restaurant meals, machine learning will be able to identify and promote the most popular dishes at that business so they are front and center when consumers search for information about that restaurant. The feature is available on Android now, with iOS devices to follow. This news comes on the heels of Google’s announcement that users of Google Maps, Search and Assistant can now order food delivery directly from those apps. Locl is one player looking to disrupt this space: It partners with restaurants to jazz up their listing on Google (and in the process, might end up making restaurant websites obsolete).
About 40 percent of people discover food and restaurants through websites, blogs or social media, according to research from Valpak. Tapping into social media influencers can help you get some business from local consumers — but how can you get the right kind of attention from those gatekeepers? An Entrepreneur report suggests avoiding the big fish in favor of smaller, more local influencers who have enough followers to deliver an impact but not so many that they won’t notice you. Take a look at their engagement rates and make sure each one of their posts garners sufficient engagement (e.g. Valpak advises that if only 2 percent of their 100,000 followers comment on or like a post, it may not be worth your while to connect with them). Make an effort to do some background research on the person’s values and overall brand to make sure your business aligns accordingly, and take note of what the person likes and dislikes so you’ll have a sense of who they are before you ask for any favors. On that note, always give before taking. That could mean doing something as simple as sharing the person’s post, or making pertinent comments on their blog posts that help further the conversation in a productive way. If you make a request, respect their time and if you don’t get the kind of response you’d like, be patient and move on until you find the right match.
Imagine being able to cater to your guests’ food preferences and sensitivities — all without having to train employees. AI is making that a reality for restaurants. One example is THE.FIT, which can help restaurants personalize menus and even show a person what he can or can’t eat due to allergies or other dietary restrictions. The idea is to make guests’ experiences so customized that it’s just as easy for them to eat out — and order more of their favorite foods — as it would be to prepare their ideal dish at home. The Spoon reports that to use the technology, customers simply scan a QR code on a restaurant menu via smartphone, select their dietary requirements and then the technology will generate a new menu based on the person’s preferences. The tool already knows the ingredients on a restaurant’s menu and what someone following a specific diet (e.g. keto) can and cannot eat, then saves those preferences for the next time the person dines with the restaurant.
The push for eating a plant-based diet with less animal protein may be missing an important point: Eating the right kind of seafood — and a broader range of it — can benefit the environment (and your menu too). That’s the conclusion of a new study published by Eating with the Ecosystem, a non-profit that promotes local and sustainable seafood harvesting in the Northeastern U.S. The research, as reported in The New Food Economy, considers the findings of 86 scientists who, over a six-month period, were assigned four species from a list of 52 seafood species commonly harvested by fishermen in New England waters. The scientists were told to find the different species in local markets, bring them home and prepare them. But often, they couldn’t find their assigned seafood. In fact, the study found that on the list of 52 species, only five (lobster, sea scallops, soft shell clams, cod and haddock) were available more than half of the time. When the scientists could track down a lesser-known fish, they were often pleasantly surprised: The John Dory, for example, was routinely rated as the best-tasting, easiest-to-prepare fish. By diversifying the seafood you offer and educating consumers about tasty varieties they haven’t tried, you could not only help maintain balance in marine ecosystems but also stand out with consumers. There isn’t a 100 percent foolproof system for ensuring you offer sustainable seafood but Restaurant Nuts advises you get to know your supplier well and ask plenty of questions about how and where the fish were caught. Get to know the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of eco-labels, which identifies fish that they believe have been caught sustainably. If you source farm-raised fish, go with a supplier in the U.S., which has stricter regulations about farm-raised fish than most other countries.
There is a new way for Google to help you connect with your guests. The company just announced some enhancements to Google Lens, its image recognition software, that may change the consumer experience of eating at restaurants, according to a report from The Verge. Consumers who either have Google Pixel phones or a Google Lens app can point their phone’s camera at your menu, and the Lens will highlight your most popular dishes and be able to call up photos and reviews of individual dishes via Google Maps.
Could your Instagram presence carry more weight than your Yelp reviews? Instagram influencers are surpassing Yelp Elite — the review site’s subgroup of users that Yelp has recognized for their quality recommendations and reviews, among other qualities — according to a recent Eater report. Considering a Fundera poll that found that 69 percent of millennial diners photograph their food before eating it, Instagram’s power makes sense. It is an ideal platform for you to benefit from user-generated content if you create the right conditions for it. To help boost your Instagram presence, Next Restaurants suggests you add some eye candy — have one distinctive visual element in your restaurant that belongs in photos. That could be accomplished with eye-catching flowers or plants, unusual art or wallpaper that serves as a memorable backdrop, seasonal décor, or unique signage. Add photo-friendly lighting, attractive plates and food presentations, and you have the components you need for compelling photos. Then entice guests with a freebie or discount in exchange for posting a photo with your hashtag and geotag, along with tagging your account. When you have a special event or a new menu to promote, up the ante by running a contest that awards a gift certificate as a prize for the best post. When your guests post content, be sure to do your part and like, comment and share their posts (with credit) to build on your connection. If you know of some Instagram influencers who resonate with your target market, it may be worth your while to invite them in for a free dinner when you want to make a big splash for a grand opening or a rebrand.
Restaurant operators have reams of data at their fingertips to help make business decisions — but quickly distilling all of that data into actionable steps is another story. That’s where artificial intelligence is starting to make a difference, according to Rajat Suri, founder of the tech company Presto. In a recent Restaurant Dive report, he predicted that tabletop technology, connected with wearable technology for restaurant staff and a restaurant’s POS, will increasingly improve service efficiency and — perhaps more importantly — be able to translate data into staff alerts that anticipate guest needs. Presto technology can currently inform staff via wearable technology that there is a line at the door and they need to speed up service, for example. It can also analyze tabletop tablets and change up the menu items they promote in an effort to increase revenue at different parts of the day. Watch for AI to continue to ease the burden of decision making in the years ahead.
In 2019, one of the top trends Technomic forecasts for the restaurant industry is a deeper consumer demand for transparency — and not just about the food you serve. There is a growing expectation from consumers that you will be up front about your packaging, health and safety, corporate social responsibility, corporate performance and other aspects of business that demonstrate your values. Perfection isn’t critical: 85 percent of participants in a Cone Communications/Echo study said they are satisfied if a company is transparent about their practices even if those practices need improvement. The benefits of transparency can range from improved health and safety reports to simpler menus to improved connections with employees and the public. To enhance the transparency of your business in 2019, look at your shortcomings and find ways to be more open and clear about how you’re trying to solve each problem. For example, Mike Husman, a coach with the executive consulting firm The Entrepreneur’s Source, said a quick-service client who struggled with long wait times (and customer complaints about them) placed a timer in the restaurant to show its average serve times, which then decreased substantially. If you struggle with a foodborne illness outbreak, get approval from your lawyer to inform people about the problem and announce the steps you’re taking to fix it. When you share financial information, help people connect the dots: How do your employees’ actions translate to more sales and visits? How does your business spend the money it earns and where are your biggest expenses and investments? Even if your employees don’t have an actual stake in your business, approach them like they do by finding ways to gather and implement their input and show how they impact the organization.
Play the Instagram game
Everyone loves a game — and concocting some simple ones can help you drive traffic and interest in your restaurant. Have a new menu for 2019? Next Restaurants suggests creating Instagram polls, quizzes, word plays or crosswords to encourage people to guess what new items you’ll be adding. Offer points or discounts to the first x number of people who guess correctly. If you need some contest ideas to incentivize people to engage, challenge people to suggest a new appetizer or creative burger topping, put it to a vote on Instagram and feature it for a limited time on your menu. Or, offer an experience that would make for a fun night out with a group: A cooking class with your chef, a food photography workshop with a professional, or an evening of food/wine tastings with a sommelier.
It’s easy to look at your restaurant’s social media account as a conduit for connecting with your guests and your community, but if you’re not applying a marketing approach to it, you could be missing opportunities to turn online traffic into sales. To ensure your social media strategy is designed to bring in business, Upserve suggests you first calculate your customer acquisition cost. Divide the money you spend on social media by the number of new customers you acquire during the period in which the money was spent. It will tell you how you have benefited from the marketing dollars you have invested — and if you need to tweak your campaigns. Next, understand who (or what) is behind the “likes” you receive. You might pay a social media marketer to promote your post, resulting in hundreds of new likes and followers, but if those followers are bots, other social media managers, or people thousands of miles away from your restaurant, their support won’t translate into sales. Finally, get support from the right person but know enough about social media and what you want it to help you achieve. Hiring a social media manager can help you set a strategy to promote your restaurant but for the sake of building and sustaining a genuine connection with your community, you don’t want to outsource it all. You might use a social media manager for larger projects — videos, advertisements and games, for example, or for help in identifying local social media influencers who can boost your brand in the community — but handle all customer inquiries and reviews yourself.
It’s a model that has long worked for the hotel and transportation industries: Charge a higher rate at times when there is high demand and offer a discount during slower periods. When a high-end London restaurant launched a dynamic pricing framework in early 2018 (regular prices at peak times, 25 percent off the bill at off-peak times and 15 percent off at mid-peak), it faced ample criticism for what the public interpreted as “surge pricing.” But now a lot of other operators are following suit. Alinea cofounder Nick Kokonas praised dynamic pricing at a recent Bloomberg conference and other panelists deemed it among the trends likely to transform dining out in 2019.
Could 2019 be the year of automation? If John Miller, the CEO of CaliGroup has anything to say about it, it could be. As he told attendees at the recent National Restaurant Association Innovation Summit, “I think that in the next six months, we will deploy robots to customers in ways that will shock people.” CaliGroup may be ahead of the curve (its CaliBurger restaurant launched the burger-making robot Flippy last year) but the technology it has in the works is worth bearing in mind, since it is likely going to have impacts on guest experience, food safety and employees’ perception of restaurant work. For instance, the restaurant is piloting a facial recognition payment system in partnership with NEC Corp. (facial recognition is already in use in the restaurant’s loyalty program). Its kiosks are also being enhanced to provide a one-on-one experience with the customer. While robots are replacing the jobs at hot grills and fryers, Miller said other kitchen jobs are being rebranded — instead of a “grill cook,” kitchen workers are called “chef techs”. He said the change to a tech focus is providing workers with gateways to higher-level jobs. At the same time, it is helping his restaurant manage kitchens more efficiently and protect the safety of food on the production line. The change could, helpfully, shift the more mundane or less safe jobs to technology. But the challenge for restaurants adapting to these changes, according to Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Future of Work,” will be to determine how to retrain employees for more sophisticated jobs in the industry.
Be more businesslike on Instagram
Does your restaurant have a business profile account on Instagram or a personal one? If it’s still a personal account, consider making a switch. You’ll be able to collect better data on how your followers are interacting with your content. A business profile account allows you to track the number of impressions, likes, comments and saves your content gets, as well as monitor the number of different accounts that see and interact with what you post. While some features carry a fee, they are likely to pay off as they make it easier for you to run ad campaigns and for followers to get in touch with you via a “contact” button (instead of having to scan your page for your web address).
Small fluctuations in temperature can mean the difference between a dish that is safe to eat and one that harbors harmful bacteria. Your food thermometers are among your most useful tools to protect against foodborne illness, so make sure they are up to the task. Statefoodsafety.com advises that restaurants calibrate bimetallic food thermometers before every shift or any time they are bumped or dropped.
There is always a new food trend or cooking technique your restaurant may want to try. But whether you’re incorporating sous-vide cooking techniques or simply adding seasonal produce to drinks, you want to ensure your food safety standards keep up with your menu developments. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, microbiologist Brian Nummer reminded the audience of the acronym FAT TOM, which lists the top factors that contribute to bacteria growth: food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture. He said when restaurants incorporate new trends into their cooking, it can be easy to neglect safety. But that is less likely to happen if chefs are trained in the science of cooking as well as the art. When that happens, Nummer said, chefs more naturally tweak dishes to ensure safety (say, adding extra lemon to a dish so it reaches a pH 4, which kills bacteria).
Nowadays, maintaining your restaurant’s online presence is as important as your in-person presence. The new Google My Business app (available for Android and iOS) is a useful tool to help you manage your business profile. Using the app, you can communicate with guests, respond to reviews, edit your business profile and monitor how guests interact with it, post photos and event updates, and manage these items across multiple locations.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
About Food For Thought and Profit
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.