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.
For every 10 restaurant employees, seven will leave by the end of the year. That’s according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those comings and goings cost restaurants many thousands of hours and dollars that are required to attract, hire and train staff. Some of that turnover may be hard to overcome, considering the historical demographics of restaurant employees, as well as the seasonal shifts of many restaurants. But there are signs the industry is getting creative about finding and keeping talent — and actions you can take to minimize the turnover you’re experiencing. Starting an apprenticeship program — ACFEF Culinary Apprenticeship Program s are among those available — can help to keep staff in place for a period of years, all while offering the classroom instruction and on-the-job training that can help engage new team members and help them see the longer-term benefits of staying with you. If an apprenticeship program isn’t a good fit for you, at least understand the reasons why your people leave. Like with most other areas of your operation, data can help you here. ChefHero advises you start by conducting thorough exit interviews. If your employees mention poor management as a factor motivating their departure, there are likely steps you need to take to retrain existing staff. If their departure is about a nearby competitor offering better pay, you can reassess your current compensation or identify other benefits you can offer (flexible schedules, time off, development opportunities, employee rewards) that can help you retain people if you’re not able to match the pay of competitors.
Cannabis-infused food and beverages (those items containing cannabidiol, or CBD for short) are a top trend of the year, according to survey feedback from the National Restaurant Association — and yet the FDA still prohibits the use of CBD in these products. That could change soon as the agency is planning to hold its first public hearing in May to determine how it will regulate CBD, which became legal in December. Cannabis-infused products have spiked 99 percent over the past year according to Upserve research, and yet chefs have had to fly under the radar when offering these items, which claim to ease anxiety, pain and other ailments without altering the mind. To date, CBD has been most commonly found in coffee drinks and mocktails, but food applications are on the rise. Carl’s Jr. recently became the first quick-service restaurant in the U.S. to add CBD to its menu, which in Colorado is featuring a limited-time offer of a CheeseBurger Delight that contains about 5 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD extract in its Santa Fe Sauce, according to CNBC.
The automation of a growing number of restaurant tasks may be creating anxiety about the future of restaurant jobs, but the National Restaurant Association’s new State of the Restaurant Industry report had some positive news on that front. According to analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of restaurant jobs with annual incomes between $45,000 and $74,999 jumped 71 percent between 2010 and 2017 (that’s compared to climbing just 21 percent for the overall economy during that period). The result is a sign of career growth prospects and upward mobility even as lower-level jobs decline, particularly at tech-forward brands. Still, recruiting and retaining employees was a top concern operators shared in the report, with 35 percent of operators saying they struggled to find people for open positions, particularly in back-of-house roles. Longer-term projections shared in the report indicate a shrinking teenage labor force, long a key demographic for restaurant operators looking to hire staff. Employees older than age 55 could be stepping into their shoes, however: Between 2017 and 2018, the number of adults in this age group who work in the restaurant industry climbed 70 percent, or by 400,000 people. Does this statistic match your hiring experience in recent months? Watch for the National Restaurant Association to launch a training and certification program that will highlight longer-term professional opportunities available in the restaurant industry.
A cloud-based point-of-sale system has plenty of benefits, allowing you to access your system from anywhere and manage your data even when your Internet is down. But as a Cake report points out, other benefits of these systems may also make for happier employees. By having the ability to review dynamic reports stored in the cloud, you can readily identify your busiest and most profitable shifts and then make changes as needed. Your staff, in turn, can make their own changes so they have the shifts they want and can easily trade the ones they don’t — and you’re not caught short-staffed. Beyond that, your cloud-based system can track what your employees earn. At a glance, you can identify who is bringing in the most sales, then reward (and have a better chance of retaining) those who are best for your business.
“If you’re gluten-free, why do you see menus where 80 percent of the items have gluten?” That’s what Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins asked during a restaurant technology event hosted by The Spoon last fall. The point makes sense: After all, why waste space on a menu by trying to sell a customer with celiac disease a lot of food he can’t eat, right? But it’s a typical occurrence. Even as restaurant brands embrace personalization and customization on menus, there is still a ways to go. The transition could be happening sooner than we think, however, particularly considering McDonald’s and its recent $300 million purchase of Dynamic Yield, the personalization startup company. The transaction is designed to make the brand’s in-store and drive-thru menus more technologically dynamic, changing up the food selection that pops up on menus depending on the weather, time of day, trending restaurant menu items, and current restaurant traffic, as well as suggesting additional menu items based on what the customer selects. This doesn’t sound that far off from what many restaurants with touchscreen ordering can already offer, though, so it begs the question: What’s in the pipeline? As restaurants embrace tech that responds to feedback from customers and other external factors, operators should consider how this is likely to play out. Could your restaurant technology help you lay the groundwork for offering guests the specific menu options they’re most likely to buy?
Restaurant work can be physically and emotionally grueling — but operators can take steps to make the environment a healthier one for staff. We Are Chefs offered some suggestions to set a positive tone. First, take charge of hydration: Have a water-drinking competition and award a point for each day a person reaches a set level, and replace energy drinks with body-friendly options like Emergen-C over iced soda water. Offer healthier options on your staff menu. Now that the weather is improving in many places, get staff outside, whether for just a quick stretch, to clean racks or to cook specials on a smoker. Challenge your team to walk or bike to work. Finally, keep your music and conversation upbeat and positive.
Anthony Bourdain’s death last year, along with a string of 12 suicides and substance-abuse related deaths among hospitality workers in Sacramento, served as a reminder of how restaurants can be fertile ground for mental health problems. The long hours, stressful pace and other extreme conditions can set the tone for unhealthy eating and sleeping habits that exacerbate mental health concerns. To help, a Civil Eats report that appeared in Eater said chef Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney B&L in Sacramento has partnered with Kaiser Permanente, VSP Global, WellSpace Health, the Steinberg Institute and the James Beard Foundation to develop a pilot program called “I Got Your Back.” The program, which has already launched in Mulvaney’s business, trains select workers to spot signs of mental distress at the restaurant. They wear a purple hand on their uniform and check in with other employees to offer support. Mulvaney has hosted workshops to connect with other operators looking to discuss mental health, and he is next looking to develop online resources to help workers in crisis find mental health professionals.
We all know that eating plants is better for us, for the environment and for the restaurant operator’s budget. But for flexitarians and carnivores looking to eat less meat, the idea of eating plants doesn’t always feel as satisfying — or to some, as nutritionally balanced — as a meal should be. Being reminded that they’re not eating meat doesn’t help. Enter the Better Buying Lab (BBL), a department of the World Resources Institute that helps businesses reframe their marketing of plant-based foods. Fast Company reports that following BBL’s principles helped one U.K. grocery store selling “meat-free sausages and mash” (to weak sales) make the change to “Cumberland-spiced veggie sausages and mash,” resulting in a 76 percent jump in sales in two months. They have also advised Panera and Google with similar efforts. BBL recommends companies avoid such terms as vegan, vegetarian, meat-free, or other health-restrictive terms such as low-fat, and embrace terms related to provenance, flavor, and look and feel.
At a time when many famous chefs are having to come to terms with their missteps in managing restaurant culture, chefs Ashley Merriman and four-time James Bear Award winner Gabrielle Hamilton stand out for knowing how to establish a healthy one. Hamilton opened Prune in lower Manhattan in 1999 and she and Merriman have since made it into not just a successful restaurant but an employee-friendly place to work. Guiding them are five simple values, which they recently shared in a Quartz report: Be thorough and excellent at everything you do, even when no one is watching; be smart and funny; be disarmingly honest (that means willing to tell the truth, but not in a brutal or overly earnest way); work without division of any kind (strive to put the person who sweeps the floor on equal footing with the owner); and to use service as leadership. That final point implies that through serving people, you set the tone for an experience with your greeting, eye contact and demeanor. They joke that they are actually an institute for living masquerading as a restaurant.
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