As the holidays approach, you and many other restaurant operators are likely holding your collective breath and hoping to avoid staff turnover. After all, if you have stretched your operation to accommodate a higher-than-normal rate of holiday traffic, catering orders and events, having your best staff on hand is all the more critical to delivering great service to your guests. But historically, annual employee turnover rates in the hospitality industry have far outpaced those of the private sector, with turnover in the restaurants and accommodations sector surpassing 66 percent compared to 44 percent in the private sector, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If your efforts to retain staff could use some fine tuning, consider recent research from Upserve. The company studied server performance across 3000 restaurants in the U.S. and suggests several tips for retaining staff based on that research. First, measure the average tenure of each position on your staff and design your milestones for incentives around that timeframe and beyond. When staff quit, conduct an exit interview to determine why they are leaving in case it provides insight about how you can keep the employees who remain. On that note, also conduct “stay” interviews with your long-time staff to determine why they stay and how you can keep them. At regular intervals, check in with your staff as a whole to get a realistic sense of the stressors or pain points that make their jobs more difficult and how you can help. Finally, encourage open communication with your staff so they feel comfortable sharing their input about schedules, training and development opportunities.
The applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in restaurants still have many directions to go. As Restaurant Dive reports, while AI is already helping Chick-fil-A identify food safety problems, McDonald’s and Sonic fine-tune their drive-thrus and Chipotle take phone orders, Outback has identified yet another application of the technology. In an effort to improve its guest experience, Outback is testing an AI system that uses lobby cameras to record interactions between employees and guests, track wait times and identify when people leave without being greeted or seated. While the initial program focuses on employee-guest interactions in the lobby, it may expand to include the kitchen, curbside pickup and dining room. Data from the AI system is sent to managers in real time so they have an opportunity to resolve problems before a guest has an opportunity to leave a negative review.
What kind of return on investment do you get from your restaurant’s social media marketing? If it’s low, you’re not alone. In a recent release of the CMO Survey, a biannual marketing survey of marketers at for-profit brands that is sponsored by the American Marketing Association, Deloitte and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, there was a clear disconnect between social media investment and performance. According to Christine Moorman, director of the survey, people who have responded to the survey since 2016 have rated social media marketing between 3.1-3.3 on a scale between 1 (not at all contributing to performance) and 7 (very highly contributing to performance.) Nonetheless, spending on social media marketing persists – and many brands are doubling down on it. Why? In a Forbes report, Moorman points to several primary reasons why marketers should keep the faith: First, it is a tool companies can control and operate at a low cost. This is opposed to digital marketing, which is costly and not always effective at grabbing a person’s attention and maintaining engagement. Social media is also made for mobile, with its visual content and brief updates, which consumers can digest in bits and pieces whenever they pick up their phone (which may be dozens of times per day). Next, social media can be a valuable tool to tell brands what to change and when: It can measure a consumer’s online behavior and engagement with your brand, help you connect with employees and improve their performance on the job, and enable you to move forward with product or service enhancements. Yes, there is still a challenge in connecting likes and engagement with sales, but if you’re struggling to make the connection at your restaurant, it can help to use a social media marketing strategy that seeks to analyse customer behavior across their entire experience with you – not just at the beginning and end. Further, all of the data you collect automatically, whether via social media or other channels, needs to be integrated so you can see the full picture of how your customers are engaging with and supporting your brand.
You may well be using technology that makes it easier for guests to order, or for you to monitor your appliances or inventory. But how about using it to get a reality check from your team? As restaurateur Danny Meyer told attendees of the recent New York City Restaurant Technology Summit, he uses technology to support what he dubs a “trust index,” which checks the morale of staff across his restaurant group. It periodically asks the team a series of questions that help Meyer get an accurate read on whether or not they are happy to come to work. The results offer real-time feedback that Meyer can then use to quickly get to the bottom of problems that may be hurting employee morale.
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 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.
Talk to any restaurant operator and it’s likely to be the top challenge at work: labor and the difficulty of delivering great service in an environment of near-constant turnover. Joni Thomas Doolin, founder and chair of restaurant consultancy TDn2K, thinks a lot about this. Her firm publishes a quarterly workforce index, the latest of which indicated that at fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, vacancies at the back of house were near 80 percent. In that scenario, it’s difficult for a restaurant to do anything beyond keeping the doors open. So how can restaurants operate to change that? Thomas Doolin shared several strategies on a recent Restaurant Business podcast with Jonathan Maze. First, she advised, focus on creating an environment in which you can engage, retain and offer stability to your general managers. She said that across the industry, many brands have focused resources at the employee level while general-manager-level compensation and benefits have remained flat or even declined in the past decade. She cited research that found that in the restaurant industry in the U.S., 35 percent of general managers were engaged in their work, as compared to 61 percent of general managers across industries. Keep them interested by offering development – not training – that will help them handle more complex tasks and manage employees from multiple generations. You can also offer some flexibility – and that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours but it might mean allowing a person a couple of hours to catch his child’s baseball games each week. Brands are succeeding with other retention strategies too: Chick-fil-a employee retention remains high due, in part, to its policy that keeps stores closed on Sundays, giving employees a built-in day off. Others have shown they’re invested in the community. MOD Pizza, for example, has a history of hiring people with backgrounds of incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and mental disability, then paying a higher wage and offering benefits such as a 401(k) – a stance that has kept employees engaged and turnover low while appealing to guests too.
Self-service kiosks remain an important vehicle for reaching and understanding consumers. Research from Tillster found that more than 65 percent of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if it used self-service kiosks and 30 percent said they prefer to order via a kiosk instead of a cashier if the lines were of equal length. While kiosks have helped restaurant operators save on labor costs, watch for much more to come from them. As the CEO of the kiosk company TRAY told AgFunder, the value of kiosks in the years ahead will be more about taking customer personalization (and therefore service) to the next level. With a swipe of a credit card, a consumer will be able to pull up a personalized menu based on what is popular at the restaurant and what meals he has ordered at other restaurants.
Did you know that one of the most common reasons restaurant employees leave a position is lack of training? According to research from Cake, for 62 percent of restaurant workers, not getting proper on-the-job guidance can influence their decision to move on. A recent survey of 2,000 restaurant employees by the scheduling software program 7shifts also found that 50 percent of respondents rated training as a 4 out of 5 on the scale of how impactful the factor was for restaurant employees on the job. Even if your staff does not feel that they need training, your training program is a sure-fire way to build their engagement and investment in your business. As Toast suggests, the first day of a new worker’s job is prime time to impart your restaurant’s values and demonstrate you care about the person’s role in the business, which helps build a person’s pride in (and dedication to) their work. If you devote 30 minutes at the start of the person’s shift to conduct training, you’ll set yourself apart from most restaurants. As you train the person in various responsibilities of the job, first explain why a task should be done in a certain way, explain how to complete the task, demonstrate the task, do the task together, and finally have the person complete the task alone to demonstrate his understanding of it. Provide a handbook of items that can be referenced later, like manager contact information and locations of cleaning supplies. Finally, appoint a mentor or point person who can answer questions that arise in the new employee’s first days and weeks on the job. It will build engagement for both employees and prevent the new person from making assumptions that could negatively impact your service to guests.
If you can raise your restaurant’s Yelp score by one star, it can lead to a revenue boost between 5 and 9 percent, according to a Harvard Business School study. At a time when reviews have that kind of power, it’s critical to stay on top if them. But when reviews can appear anywhere from Yelp to Google to Facebook to TripAdvisor and beyond, tracking and responding to all of your reviews can become a full-time job. Review management software platforms such as Yext can help operators centralize reviews from multiple platforms. As AdAge reported recently, operators using such systems can quickly identify (and fix) problems at a location and also respond quickly to reviews, which can influence how consumers feel about your brand.
You should be — even though it can feel like a big responsibility to never take a break from recruiting. As Allfoodbusiness.com reports, always being ready to hire a strong candidate who walks through the door can inject your team with new enthusiasm, help sharpen their skills and generate a healthy sense of competition. After all, if you have a capable new person on board who is eager to learn and do well, it’s easier to let a mediocre performer go. Not having the right opportunity available for a strong candidate should not stand in the way of hiring that person. If you don’t have anyone that needs to be removed from your team at the time, you can work the new person in for a few hours a week at first, make small decreases in the hours of several employees to make up for the extra labor, adjust responsibilities across the team, use the extra labor to address pain points you haven’t had the capacity to tackle before, or even just accept that you will overspend on labor for a pay period or two (because that can change at any time). Even if you feel you have sufficient staff to carry you right now, anticipate turnover. It’s better to be in a position of having an additional capable team member on hand than of being short-staffed and unable to serve guests well.
The age-old nuisance of technology is that as soon as one gadget or tool comes out to address a business challenge, there’s a new one ready to do the same job faster, better and cheaper. A new example of this is Dash Now, one company (among a number of them) that says mobile phones serve as more convenient payment vehicles than tableside tablets in restaurants. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the company, which plans a July launch, will let guests use their phones to pay a check by scanning a QR code listed on their receipt. During the payment process, the guest is asked to provide feedback about their experience — much like the prompt you receive on your mobile phone at the end of an Uber ride.
It’s easy for cross-contamination to happen at the grill, particularly when you have produce, proteins and different marinades in close proximity and vying for a limited amount of cooking space. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cooks start with a grill that is clean and free from any charred bits of food that may spread bacteria. Make sure you have separate plates, trays, tongs, basting brushes and other cooking utensils for cooked and uncooked foods, and wash them with hot, soapy water between uses. When using marinades, keep a separate container of marinade for use on cooked items and discard any marinade covering raw proteins. Finally, use paper towels or wipes — not dishtowels — to clean up any spills.
If your food safety values aren’t second nature to your team, there are steps you can take to improve your culture. A Fast Casual report by the president of Steritech advises operators first explain the why behind each food safety practice they preach — i.e. hearing that bacteria can spread more easily and cross-contaminate food when chicken is stored on the wrong refrigerator shelf is more compelling than hearing that chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf. Next, celebrate wins. Five Guys, which has conducted research into communication practices that engage employees, offers monetary rewards and other incentives to stores that score highly on safety
assessments. Chicken Salad Chick celebrates top performers at an annual banquet and funds parties for top-performing stores. Along those lines, focus significantly more on positive feedback than on negative. Harvard Business Review research found that reinforcing six things someone does well for every individual item that needs improvement leads to better overall performance.
Identifying and halting foodborne illness quickly takes a 360-degree approach, with restaurants looking both internally and externally for signs of trouble. Chick-fil-A recently unveiled a system that uses social media and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify such threats. Venture Beat reports that the brand is using algorithms to scan social media sites for potential food safety problems at its 2,400 restaurants across 47 states. Every 10 minutes, the AI framework reviews data from 10 social media platforms, then scans it for 500 different terms, ranging from “food poisoning” to “nausea”, that can provide clues to a food safety issue at a restaurant. The terms are also reviewed by AWS Comprehend, Amazon’s natural language processing service, for sentiment and legitimacy. Managers are alerted to problems via push notifications and can contact customers directly via social media to investigate the issues. To date, the brand reports a 78 percent accuracy rate for the system.
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.)
In an industry known for its employee turnover, food safety can be a challenge for restaurants to uphold. How do you ensure your restaurant adheres to food safety practices or other procedures critical to your operation, no matter how experienced your team members may be? Modern Restaurant Management suggests you use app-delivered games to not only protect your food safety culture but to drive employee engagement and retention through the accrual of points and rewards for individual employees or stores. By using such a system to improve your program, you’re tapping into an element of human psychology that can inspire people to improve whether they’re performing poorly or well. A recent New York Times article indicated that Uber considered McDonald’s as a key competitor, so consider this example from the ride-hailing company Lyft, whose decentralized structure and reliance on the gig economy requires it to understand how to motivate employees to not only stay with the company but to continuously improve upon their performance: A Guardian report from a Lyft driver described receiving weekly driving challenges that could result in power-driver bonuses. Having her results tracked and then receiving regular reports about those results gave her a strong desire to “beat the game” — when she had a slow week and received low scores, she was motivated to improve against other drivers. When she was a top performer, she wanted to retain her high score. If you’re looking for ways to keep employees engaged, consider what tools companies like this are using to make the work interesting and motivating for employees (all while ensuring the company achieves the underlying results it seeks).
The National Restaurant Association’s State of the Industry report made a telling statement about the current and future impacts of technology on the restaurant industry. Hudson Riehle, who heads the research and knowledge group at the association, recently reported that delivery, drive-thru and takeout represent 63 percent of restaurant traffic this year, and as a result, the association will now be looking at the industry in terms of “points of access” and not numbers of locations. “The basic paradigm of what constitutes a restaurant in America is changing, and will continue to evolve in the years ahead,” he said.
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