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.
Does your restaurant have creative ways of sharing what you do best — whether it be inventing new dishes or surprising guests with unexpected pairings or presentations? For years, operators have used Restaurant Week offers to bring guests in during slow periods, attract people who wouldn’t normally visit and test new menu ideas — but the event needs some reinvention. While it can be profitable for operators, many say that Restaurant Week turns off regular clientele, can be costly to manage and has grown to include so many restaurants that it is difficult to stand out in the crowd. In place of Restaurant Week, operators are coming up with more experimental concepts. Upserve reports that “Off Menu Week,” a joint effort between Resy and Capital One, is taking off in six food-focused cities ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. Participating restaurants will serve dishes that may appear on a future restaurant menu, off-menu items, or one-hit wonders that didn’t make it to the menu. Bloomberg reports that participating restaurants could offer such experiences as having guests try a dish with a selection of wines designed to draw out different flavors, or demonstrating different approaches to making sushi. The goal isn’t about showcasing signature dishes or trying to attract guests looking for a good deal — it’s about providing a behind-the-scenes experience visitors will remember.
Operators typically consider restaurant technology options with an eye toward improving the guest experience or boosting the efficiency of front- and back-of house teams. But it just might help you attract and retain employees too. A recent Deloitte study found that 74 percent of millennials indicated they want technology to be part of their workplace. It doesn’t have to cost operators a lot either. The Rail reports that even free tools like What’s App and Google Groups can help, as can more-targeted paid apps like HotSchedules and RedEApp. Streamlining communication, assigning tasks, shift scheduling and switching, and managing employee payment via tech are all important, though even the quality of your wifi can make a difference to employees looking to log on during breaks. Before a new employee even joins you, tech can help you manage the talent pool more effectively. Tools like RoboRecruiter, for one, which has a multilingual platform, use an online chatbox to automate messaging and help you sort and engage your candidate pool.
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.
As labor costs rise, your ability to monitor and manage your team’s schedule has the power to protect your restaurant’s bottom line. A Restaurantowner.com report advises operators to start by auditing the first last 15 to 30 minutes of a shift. A leisurely pace of work during those times could indicate that you need to make staffing adjustments. Then look to your anticipated sales and guest counts and build your schedule around that instead of leaning on a repetitive schedule that doesn’t flex when business speeds up and slows down. Cost out each schedule by multiplying each person’s hourly rate by hours worked and compare that figure to your sales each day to understand where you can be more efficient with staffing. If you find you have lulls but still need staff on hand in case a large group comes in, plan to have prep work available throughout the day (versus at the start of a shift) to make best use of the people you have on hand during the day. If your shift manager carries a shift card listing employees and hours, it will be easier to see who can be assigned some prep work or cleanup, or who can be sent home. Finally, find the right balance of part-and full-time employees. Restaurantowner.com advises operators maintain one-third to one-half of staff as part-timers. It can help you avoid paying excessive overtime costs and keep staffing affordable.
At the pace restaurant technology is evolving, it can feel like restaurant manager candidates should be just as capable of navigating IT challenges as they are of handling guest complaints. But according to The Spoon, one nascent tech tool — voice-enabled ordering via Google Assistant or Alexa — could soon be an easy, plug-and-play solution for operators, with some help from a firm called Orderscape. The company makes a voice-ordering software layer that works with browsers, mobile phones and watches, and Alexa speakers, and partners with restaurant platforms like Olo, Onosys and Monkey Media. Orderscape can then tell users where a desired food item is available in their area. If someone asks Alexa where to find a bacon cheeseburger nearby and you serve a popular one, your restaurant would be suggested among other options in the area. Marrying a menu with voice-enabled tech isn’t normally a seamless process for restaurants but Orderscape is looking to make the process possible with no installation or training on the restaurant’s part, and no downtime.
Cold winter weather means pests are looking for shelter in warm places that offer food — like your kitchen. Even if you’re careful to clean appliances, counters and other food preparation surfaces, it can be easy to neglect the crevices underneath tabletop equipment like mixers or griddles. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to either seal those items to the table or raise them four inches to allow for easy cleaning — and make them less appealing to pests looking for cover.
Restaurants, an employer of choice for many teenagers, can also be risky for these workers. That’s according to the latest annual report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health about teen worker safety. It reported that almost half of teen workers in Massachusetts who were injured on the job between 2011 and 2015 said they did not receive health and safety training from their employers. What’s more, the accommodation and foodservice industries were the top industries for work-related injuries. Restaurants, specifically, were the most common workplaces (at 22 percent) where these workers experienced concussions. What does your operation do to help ensure the health and safety of its workers?
There is actually a tech trend poised for more substantial growth in the restaurant industry than the powerful mobile app. Gartner forecasts that more than 50 percent of businesses will spend more money on bots and chatbot creation in the next two years. Big Hospitality predicts that this efficiency-boosting technology will soon be an expectation for tech-savvy restaurant guests. Automated kitchen display systems that integrate with a restaurant’s electronic point-of-sale system, one application of the technology, can streamline kitchen processes, reduce waste, and help operators spot business trends more quickly. To consumers, that integration translates to a better experience. When investing in tech this year, avoid one-trick ponies and opt for tech tools that seamlessly connect different parts of your operation.
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