Build a culture of positive customer experiences
Do you have a culture of customer service? It’s not something you can achieve in a one-day training seminar. Justin McGurgin, who has spent 30 years in hospitality and currently runs Zealifi, a company that coaches operators about how to build a culture that provides positive, memorable experiences for guests, spends most of his time working with leaders, not staff. In a podcast on Profitable Hospitality, he said staff are simply a reflection of the leadership they’re getting (or not getting). One-off training seminars are little more than a band-aid fix, motivating your team only as long as your trainer is in the building. So what does McGurgin suggest instead? In year-long training modules he conducts with operators, McGurgin typically spends the full 12 months with the organization’s leaders – junior team members join in for just five months across that time frame. When working with leaders, he focuses on engagement and empowerment. Do you build connections with your team by saying hello when they walk in the door? Scheduling one-on-one meetings with them in addition to group meetings? Acknowledging their accomplishments with a personal note and in group meetings, emails or texts? When something goes wrong, have you empowered staff to handle it, instead of having them come to you for guidance when a customer complains? When you can answer “yes” to those questions, you have the makings of a strong culture. That has important benefits: You’ll be able to attract more stars to your team (and have a better chance of enticing them to stay), you’ll have a team that won’t tolerate weak links (so you won’t be the only one managing quality control) and you’ll have more time to focus on firing up the creativity at the top of your organization, so you can ensure you continue to bring customers through the door.
Where to innovate first? Try your back office.
“Today’s delights are tomorrow’s expectations,” according to the Culinary Institute of America’s Tim Ryan, who spoke at the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference. It’s true of your food, service and technology. If you’re unsure of where to innovate across your operation, automating your back office is a good place to begin, according to Alister & Paine, a magazine for company executives. As the nucleus of your operation, running it smoothly can help you manage your scale and achieve goals with less effort. If you’re comfortably paying vendors by check, for example, the number of checks you need to write each month can escalate quickly (and become a chore) when you invest in marketing, increase your customer volume or hire additional employees. Electronic payments can help you accomplish more tasks more quickly and with less effort. Vendors are increasingly expecting shorter payment terms, so providing payment with the click of a mouse can help you keep valued suppliers and stay a step ahead of competitors. And if your competitors are automating their back office, it will quickly become compulsory – not just nice to have. That said, what works for your competition won’t necessarily work for you. FSR Magazine recommends you audit your operation to identify process improvements you can make to enhance any automation you introduce. That could mean synching different processes or software programs, identifying ways to ensure all invoices are processed correctly, or using a special barcode on invoices if it helps you save money on each invoice. Consider outsourcing your accounts payable if you find your back-office work is taking attention away from providing great food and service. When outsourcing gives you access to a dedicated customer management team that handles your invoices and vendor requests, for example, it can help you gain some visibility and control over your finances while freeing up time for focusing on other parts of your operation.
What’s the next kale?
What is it about kale that made it skyrocket in popularity and become consumers’ favorite superfood? According to Nielsen data, frozen breakfast entrees featuring kale experienced a whopping 391 percent growth in sales between 2016 and 2017. David Sax, who wrote The Tastemakers, said it comes down to three traits: versatility, availability and cultural significance. As Food Dive reports, kale can be eaten raw or cooked, has a long growing season in a range of climates and has become a symbol of health, which in combination made it a must-have on menus and consumers’ dinner tables. The ubiquity of food images and experiences on social media can help foodservice operators predict the next foods and beverages poised for a big break. Food industry analysts say drinking vinegars could be the next big thing to go mainstream. While they’re appearing on menus as kombucha or alcoholic mixers, there’s plenty of room for them to grow.
It is really organic? Buyer beware.
Food labels can mean the difference between winning new customers and losing the ones you have. A recent Washington Post report detailed the story of a 36 million-pound shipment of soybeans that originated in the Ukraine, passed through Turkey, was fumigated with pesticide like regular soybeans, priced like regular soybeans, then labeled “USDA organic” and increased significantly in price upon arrival in the U.S. That shipment, along with two other grain shipments that passed through Turkey and subsequently sparked questions about organic labeling, demonstrate weakness in current U.S. standards determining what commodities are organic. (Approximately half of organic commodities, including corn, soybeans and coffee, come from outside the U.S.) The Post report says although organic food imports from Turkey, China and other countries have invited increased scrutiny, gauging the level of fraud in imported organics is difficult because organic companies have little incentive to announce their suspicions about suppliers.
Swap out the sugar
The message is finally taking hold around the globe: Cut the sugar. Food Quality & Safety reports that sugar sales may grow at their slowest pace this year and next as consumption drops in developed countries. Many such countries have proposed or implemented taxes on sweetened beverages, have banned vending machines in schools and introduced warning labels on high-sugar foods, among other measures. The analyst group Platts Kingsman forecasts sugar consumption to increase just 1 percent, half of the annual growth it has experienced in the past decade. While some countries are accommodating consumers’ cravings for sweet foods by using sugar stand-ins like high-fructose corn syrup, many foodservice operations are reformulating products to decrease the amount of sweeteners overall. Now is the time to consider creative ways to bring sweetness (but not added sugar) to your menu.
Facebook brings (some) restaurants one step closer to customers
Soon, it may not be sufficient to simply have a restaurant page on Facebook – your neighborhood restaurants might be accessible directly from Facebook users’ homepages. Facebook recently made it possible to order food directly from its app menu on the main login page. It allows users to find a restaurant list, review the menu, include a tip and pay for the meal without having to navigate away from their Facebook page. The Next Web reports that on the app menu on the left-hand side of the Facebook home page, a new hamburger icon links to local restaurants that deliver (it currently includes just restaurants using Delivery.com or Slice). While the functionality isn’t universally available yet, look for it to expand and give some restaurants first dibs on hungry customers.
What makes for a professional-looking post? Here’s a cheat sheet.
Social media is a must for any foodservice operation – unfortunately, having a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram or other networks requires you to meet different standards for the photos and logos you post. To help, Louise Myers Visual Social Media, which advises companies about using graphics, photos and other images effectively on social media, provided a cheat sheet to help you navigate the requirements of various sites and the recent updates that could alter what you can post. Visit http://louisem.com/2852/social-media-cheat-sheet-sizes for a handy chart you can reference when posting images to a variety of networks.
Strategies to thrive in 2017
It looks like 2017 will be a low-growth year for the restaurant industry. To stay the course, Foodable recommends you raise your operation’s game in these areas: Embrace social media marketing and use it less for selling and more for engaging with your guests – consider Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram Live and Facebook to bring video to your guests. Ensure you have a top-tier team, which means releasing bad hires, training well and always looking out for new talent. Make your menu a profit machine by costing out your food, analyzing your product mix report from your point-of-sale system and updating your menu pricing at regular intervals. Finally, be careful about entering the discount game – choose your offers carefully. Foodable suggests value-driven appetizers or a three-course prix-fixe menu on slow days, for example.
Produce is the new protein
If you’re looking to build a better sandwich (or provide non-salad options for health-conscious guests), many chefs are demonstrating that vegetables can be a key attraction in sandwiches – either alongside meat, fish or poultry or in place of it. Flavor & the Menu reports that at Oak + Char in Chicago, one of the most popular sandwiches is filled with stacked smoked eggplant, pepper jam, curried chickpea mash, smoked cilantro yogurt and Upland cress. Other chefs are stacking plantains and testing combinations like roasted cauliflower and peppers with Vidalia onions and shallots. At Plenty Café in Philadelphia, a housemade tasso ham baguette with spicy aioli was transformed into a mega-hit when the chef added sliced tart apples, fig jam and melted Gruyère. Experiment with produce to add crunch, meaty texture or unexpected spice to a dish.
New superfoods on the horizon
Consumers are showing signs they want nutritious foods that make them feel good about what they consume all year long. Datassential, which tracks “functional” foods that promise a healthy heart, along with boosts in energy and brainpower, has predicted three categories of superfoods we’ll see more of in 2017. Look for the next kale in algaes like spirulina and chlorella, which often appear in detox drinks (or even with alcohol for a saintly spin on cocktails). Aquafaba, the thick chickpea-soaking water, is a close substitute for egg whites and is adding frothiness to cocktails and condiments. Sprouted grains are being touted as an easier-to-digest, high-protein alternative to whole grains in pasta, bread, pizza crust, cereal and more.
Spices and stealth food risk
Spices from around the world can give your menu the authenticity and flavor guests crave – but food safety risks are bringing the industry under increased surveillance by the FDA and CDC, Food Safety magazine reports. There are approximately one million Salmonella infections per year, which is a high estimate compared to the relatively low discovery of outbreaks, the report says. That has led experts to believe that many of the illnesses are coming from “stealth” foods used at low levels in a variety of applications, such as spices in condiments and garnishes. It’s a good time to ensure your suppliers have sufficient sanitation practices and training programs in place, as well as hygienic equipment design and repair practices.
Weigh in on healthy food labels
The FDA just extended its deadline for accepting public comments regarding the use of the term “healthy” on food labels. Food Safety News reports that the FDA wants the new definition of the term to be specific due to push back from the food industry on existing law concerning use of the term. Currently, for example, eggs cannot be labeled “healthy” because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content, even though they are recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can submit a comment at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/30/2016-31734/use-of-the-term-healthy-in-the-labeling-of-human-food-products-request-for-information-and-comments#open-comment until April 26.
Protect yourself against wage and hour violations
In the past 30 years, the Department of Labor has prosecuted more than 23,000 foodservice operations for wage and hour violations, resulting in the industry having to pay $247 million in back wages and civil money penalties, Toast reports. Many affected establishments simply failed to follow complex rules. With minimum wages in flux, it’s critical to know where related violations can crop up, such as in tracking employee time over multiple restaurant locations, irregular employee scheduling, poor record keeping and violating the minimum wage. To protect yourself in a dispute, Toast recommends you move quickly and cooperate, with the goal of resolving problems without litigation (or starting litigation without delay). If you have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act knowingly or not, you will likely owe money in damages, so know your value and what you can afford. Finally, take corrective action right away with systems to prevent ongoing problems.
Restaurant outlook for 2017 favors quick-service
If you’re a quick-service restaurant, you’re among the lucky ones: NPD Group predicts the sector will experience 1 percent growth this year, full-service restaurants will see a 2 percent decline and the industry overall could see little to no traffic growth. To buck that trend, Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, suggests operators stay relevant in consumers’ minds, focus on innovative products and promotions, provide a good value and demonstrate the benefits of the experience of eating a restaurant as opposed to staying home. CNBC suggests watching these brands, which have fared better in recent months: Domino’s (revenues were up nearly 17 percent in the third quarter over the previous year), as well as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s.
The power of your public
You know it’s important to have a compelling story behind your food and to promote it well to the public. But chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson recently learned exactly how critical that can be when New York Times food critic Pete Wells awarded zero stars to the chefs’ Oakland, Calif. Restaurant LocoL, the quick-service restaurant that aims to bring wholesome, fresh, affordable foods to underserved neighborhoods. Eater reports that while Wells had earned popular support after withdrawing two stars from Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se restaurant last year, he generated serious social media backlash with his treatment of LocoL. One reader said his review was akin to booing at an elementary school musical, while others suggested he “take on soup kitchens next.”
Voice-ordered food to your door in less than an hour
Amazon continues to push the limits of food technology. The company just announced that its Prime customers can now order food via voice command from Amazon Restaurants on Alexa-enabled devices and have any meal they’ve ordered previously delivered for free in less than an hour. A customer can say, “Alexa, order sushi from Amazon Restaurants,” and the service pulls that customer’s order history from a specific restaurant or cuisine type and lists meal options available for reorder. The selected meal is then sent for delivery to the customer’s default address. The new option allows customers to reorder food from any restaurant available on the service in more than 20 cities.
Investing in tech-assisted food ordering
Among 18-to-34-year-olds, 77 percent want or expect mobile ordering at quick-service restaurants and 83 percent feel the same about fast-casual outlets. In the Middle East and Asia, a majority of consumers report being able to do just that – but the percentage falls to just 32 percent in North America. That’s according to Technomic’s 2016 Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Consumer Trend Report. The U.S. lags behind Asian and Middle Eastern countries when it comes to tech-assisted ordering programs due to the expense of investing in technology in a low-margin business. But the risk may pay off: According to the data, U.S. consumers choose delivery or takeout for 51 percent of all foodservice needs – that is a bit more than in Asia and only slightly less than in the Middle East.
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