Months after chefs and food industry analysts alike identified cannabidiol (CBD) products as top food and beverage trends of 2019, the CBD industry continues to, shall we say, fly high. In a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by a market research firm focused on the cannabis market, 1,500 respondents said they had used CBD products in the previous three months. The survey also found that 40 percent of consumers aged 21 and older would try CBD products. Consumer interest in the products has driven restaurant operators to provide them – but considering CBD has still not been approved by the FDA and is readily associated with marijuana (despite lacking its psychoactive effects), it has put operators in a tough position. Local health departments in New York, California and other states have begun cracking down on restaurants serving CBD foods and beverages – this despite the passage of the farm bill in December making most applications of CBD legal at the federal level. While many restaurant operators offering CBD products have taken the “ask for forgiveness later” approach with health regulators, the risks may outweigh the benefits. A New York Post report said that restaurants violating the CBD ban could be fined up to $650. In Los Angeles, the Atlantic reports, the county health department said it would start docking points on restaurant inspections this past July. If you’re thinking of including CBD products on your menu, make sure you understand the implications. In the meantime, it may make sense to keep the CBD recipes in mind (but perhaps off the menu) and keep close tabs on regulations as they evolve.
This fall, a sweeping bill is likely going to be introduced in Congress that will ban many single-use plastics, set recycling targets and require deposits for beverage containers, the National Restaurant Association reports. In response to the legislation, the association’s food and sustainability director has emphasized the lack of existing national infrastructure to support such a ban – and the stress that could cause businesses forced to comply. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, the global climate activism on display in recent weeks is a sign that the issue of how restaurants manage their packaging waste (and the need for restaurants to understand new packaging technologies) isn’t going away. If you’re looking for ways to improve your practices, the Food Packaging Institute is working with its members, foodservice operators and other entities to share packaging options and has also developed a strategic sourcing guide to help restaurants identify new suppliers.
Yale University’s produce purchases have increased by more than 68,000 lbs. since last year, according to a recent report in Produce Business. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of 10 elephants. Like many foodservice operators around the country, Yale Hospitality, which the report says serves more than three million meals annually, has been experiencing a surge in demand for plant-based foods well beyond the salad bar. The demand has heightened the importance of having produce suppliers you can trust, since an operation’s food safety is only as good as the food safety practices of suppliers. The produce distributor FreshPoint advises operators to check for verification audits confirming the supplier has passed safety inspections (GAP) and sells food that is protected against accidental contaminants on the part of the vendor (GMP). Beyond that, look for a food defense program that protects against intentional contamination of the food supply, as well as Global Food Safety Initiative certification to demonstrate it is subject to third-party audits. To make sure food is handled safely before it reaches you and stored at the proper temperature before and during delivery, check for an ongoing food safety program for employees and up-to-date refrigerated warehouses and delivery vehicles. Finally, if a recall occurs, what process do they have in place to trace the problem and report it to you? You need to feel confident that if a food safety incident occurs, you will know about it immediately.
Much like how once-ubiquitous plastic grocery bags are now becoming obsolete, could food delivery packaging be following suit? There are signs pointing in that direction. The global food delivery company Deliveroo is partnering with the environmental group RETURNR to enable its customers in Australia to order their delivered food in reusable containers, according to a report in The Food People. For a $6 fee, customers can receive their food in a reusable stainless-steel container that can be returned to participating locations for a refund.
“I’d have a tough time sleeping at night if I was handing our food to an untrained, random third-party driver to then carry that over to our customer, because what happens when you have a service failure or you have a product quality problem in that situation?” That’s what Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison said during an April 2019 earnings call. Of course, Domino’s has the scale to be able to manage delivery orders in-house (and also a vested interest in making consumers doubt the reliability of third-party delivery providers). But if you’re using third-party providers, it’s worthwhile to note – and attempt to manage – their shortcomings, since consumers are more likely to blame the restaurant for service failures than the delivery provider. A recent nationwide survey of 1,000 consumers by Steritech asked questions about the pluses and minuses of delivery and offered suggestions on how to address challenges. When the surveyed consumers have had problems with delivery, they included such challenges as the food taking too long to arrive, the packaging not keeping the food at the proper temperature/containing spills/preventing tampering, and order inaccuracy. Steritech advises taking a range of actions to help: To better resolve service issues, consider printing phone numbers for problem resolution on receipts, packaging or seals – or create an online portal for resolving disputes. Minimize phone orders in favor of online orders for better accuracy. Prioritize order accuracy and quality checks before food leaves your restaurant. Provide real-time delivery tracking or time estimates and send text alerts when food is en route. Offer online tipping options. Communicate your fee breakdown clearly so consumers understand where their money is going. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some brands are trying to provide the best of both worlds: Panera, for one, is offering a hybrid system whereby it relies on third-party providers to take orders but then uses its own fleet for delivery to better manage quality control.
Chances are your waste management practices have evolved in recent years, whether you are finding new uses for vegetable stems and roots, donating unused ingredients or integrating other practices altogether. As Shannon Bergstrom, a sustainability operations manager at the tech-driven waste and recycling company RTS, told the Rail, new methods for reducing and rerouting food waste are appearing all the time. Coffee grounds are being used to create such items as ceramics as well as logs that can be used as fire wood. Spent grains left over from beer production are being remolded into all-natural dog treats. Even if you can’t go to those lengths to find uses for your food waste, you likely can make better use of technology to improve your practices. RTS, for one, helps foodservice operators use technology to access on-demand collection services that can help businesses connect to a wide range of vendors looking for anything from raw ingredients to cooked meals. It may help you find uses for leftover ingredients that you’re not even aware of.
As consumers have demanded packaging that’s friendlier to the environment, operators have quickly replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and plastic containers with packaging containing natural materials. But as an investigation by the New Food Economy found recently, the fiber bowls that are widely used in place of plastic contain chemicals known as PFAS that don’t biodegrade and aren’t really compostable, despite being labeled as such. On the contrary, they may actually be making compost more toxic. San Francisco is the first city to ban the bowls, effective in January, and to date, there are no known commercially viable alternatives according to the report. In the meantime, Eater reports that after McDonald’s in the U.K. and Ireland phased out plastic straws in favor of recyclable paper ones that generated customer complaints, the brand introduced a thicker paper straw to replace the first solution. But new reports indicate it is non-recyclable. So what is a restaurant brand to do to become more eco-friendly? Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to first understand the terminology. The term “biodegradable,” for example, sounds eco-friendly but is only indicative of a product that will decompose – and that could take several hundred years. Working with organizations that research and certify environmentally friendly options can help too. Modern Restaurant Management suggests Green Seal, an environmental standard development organization that tests and certifies products, services and venues like restaurants and hotels, then awards certification based on performance, health and sustainability criteria.
If you’re on the fence about offering tabletop technology at your restaurant, consider this: tabletop tech can improve sales by 1 percent per check and reduce meal duration by 10 percent, increasing sales per minute by 11 percent. That’s according to soon-to-be-published research from the business schools at Southern Methodist University and the University of Pennsylvania that studied 2.6 million transactions at a U.S. restaurant chain with 66 locations. The lead researchers of the study said the technology can help operators compensate for shortfalls in their ability to offer excellent table service, as well as give operators a financial leg up on competition.
Restaurant operators often have a love-hate relationship with delivery: They want to accommodate customers’ need for it but often see it as a minefield of challenges. A newly released RestaurantOwner.com survey of 1,000 operators confirms these mixed feelings. More than half of the operators surveyed (56 percent) offer some form of delivery at their restaurant, yet 47 percent of those operators plan to make some changes to their delivery offering. Delivery is worthwhile on the whole -- 67 percent of operators surveyed who use third-party delivery said they were satisfied with the service -- but those who were dissatisfied had feedback that fit three key themes explaining why: the high fees charged by third-party providers, poor service delivered by drivers at those companies, and a lack of control over food quality and presentation. If you’re in the latter category, understanding the overall landscape may help you adjust your delivery strategy. In terms of costs, there was a wide range of fees charged by third-party providers – enough variation to indicate that operators may have some wiggle room when landing on their ideal revenue model: Most operators surveyed are being charged between 21 and 30 percent of the sale but 11 percent being charged less than 6 percent and 3 percent aren’t being charged at all (the delivery service places the order and charges the fee to the customer). To gain more control over the service and overall experience provided, operators who are making changes are taking such steps as adjusting the packaging they use for delivering food (perhaps to both keep food at the proper temperature and to prevent driver tampering), integrating their POS with delivery, limiting delivery to weekdays when the restaurant is in greater need of business, and even – much like large brands like Panera and Domino’s who are showing how it can be profitable and protect the customer experience -- taking on the management of a delivery fleet themselves.
Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable with (and even reliant on) digital assistants. For proof, just ask Alexa: Earlier this year, Amazon announced it had sold more than 100 million Alexa devices to date. For their part, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri have hundreds of millions of users apiece. Foodservice brands are finding new ways to tap into consumers’ growing ease with such tech tools. Take Aramark, which has partnered with the tech company Mashgin to expand its use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the baseball parks where it operates. Mashgin offers express self-checkout kiosks that are capable of scanning multiple items at once without barcodes, Verdict Foodservice reports. The result is a faster payment and a shorter time waiting in line for consumers, a valuable service when you’re dashing to pick up food and merchandise between innings. Every transaction then feeds data back to Aramark about consumer preferences.
Placing a few bits of information on your TCS food storage bins can have a range of benefits: It can help you avoid serving expired product that could potentially lead to illness, give you a heads-up about when you’ll need to offer specials to get rid of excess items, save you money, and demonstrate to your health inspector that you’re managing your operation well. Upserve suggests you use a food rotation label that clearly lists the type of food being stored, the date it was prepared and added to the storage area, and the date it will expire. Then all it takes is a quick scan to make sure the first bin in is also the first one out.
You stick to strict cleaning procedures and take steps to avoid the cross-contamination of foods, but how much do you know about the quality of the air in your facility? You may have excess dust accumulating in the air that can contaminate food, or moisture from ovens that can generate condensation and lead to mold. Further, the simple act of cooking can make indoor air as dangerous to breathe as smog, according to new research from HomeChem. Asthma or other respiratory ailments on your kitchen team can signal you have a problem, but you can improve air quality going forward by maintaining appliances and ventilation units routinely, having your air tested for chemical or biological pollutants, replacing old cookware with models that are less likely to contaminate the air, and using natural building materials and decorative elements in your restaurant.
It’s the season for grabbing some prepared food to go, then enjoying it at summer picnics and other outdoor events. If you offer grab-and-go foods, double check that you’re following food safety procedures so you can avoid contamination hazards and other safety risks. Daymark Safety Systems suggests operators follow several steps to protect grab-and-go storage areas. Regularly clean any doors, shelves, machine dispensing areas and lights that are part of your food displays. If you have any automated kiosks with touchpads, clean and also disinfect those high-touch areas to kill any contaminants — you may need to leave the disinfectant on the surface for a few minutes before wiping it away. Check regularly for spills on the floor and within your display, and consider using an absorbent pad or mat to reduce the risk of slips when spills occur. Clean floors at least once a day, and ensure trash and recycling bins are cleaned inside and out and don’t become overfilled.
At a time when restaurant businesses are feeling pressure to identify new revenue streams, the CIO of Mattson, a food and beverage innovation firm based in Silicon Valley, says many operators are missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity: meal kits. Barb Stuckey of Mattson told Restaurant Dive that she has long been urging operators to take a look at offering the kits to at least determine if they make sense financially or operationally, but few are following through, save for perhaps Chick fil-A. The brand tested meal kits to positive results last year, according to Forbes, though they haven’t announced future plans for them. Stuckey likes the kits because she thinks they can help operators attack some of the quality-control issues they may experience with delivery. For instance, kits may be worth a shot if you have menu items that could do well off-premise but may not travel as well when they are fully cooked (like fries and sandwiches). Or, if you have brisk lunchtime traffic, promoting the kits during lunch may help you sell to guests who want to sort out their dinner plan in advance. At least, the category could help restaurants tap into a less saturated segment that is ripe for reinvention. According to Packaged Facts said, meal kit market expansion in the future is likely to rely more on alternative purchasing venues than on the traditional subscription model, which can clash with the on-demand mentality of off-premise customers. Restaurants can provide that on-demand experience.
A study by IHL Services, Inc. found that 96 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 39 like to use kiosks for ordering food. Restaurant operators who consider kiosks to be the domain of large chains might keep an eye on Tapit, an emerging player that offers a customizable kiosk platform called SELFIT that is aimed at individual restaurants on up to small- to medium-size chains. The platform, which was on display at the recent National Restaurant Association Show, aims to help restaurants customize menus and integrate promotions, lifting check totals in the process. The company’s technology is currently used in the Israeli sandwich chain New Deli, where the head of operations credited the kiosks for boosting individual sales by 30 percent and branch sales by 13 percent. National Restaurant News reports that Tapit’s kiosk platform will have its first U.S. rollout at Duchess Restaurants in Connecticut.
Restaurant operators know it’s important to offer off-premise dining. But what isn’t always clear is how to get your restaurant to the front of the pack. At the recent National Restaurant Association Marketing Executive Group’s annual conference, representatives from such brands as Kitchen United, Technomic, Le Pain Quotidien and Dunkin’ gathered to share their insights about how operators can stand out among the competition in the delivery space. First, put yourself in your delivery drivers’ shoes — or better yet, drive around with them for a shift to observe their experience with other restaurants. Note which brands make it easiest (or even most pleasant) for drivers to collect orders, whether that be via providing separate parking spaces, pick-up windows or shelves, or offering reliably friendly treatment from your staff or a free soda to go. Then note what sort of service those best-performing restaurants get in return (e.g. having their orders picked up fastest or delivered first). That said, make sure you label orders with a stamp detailing the time the order was complete and ready to go — if food arrives late, it can help you and the customer understand who is responsible. Next, offer ordering incentives that will help lift check totals without too much effort on the customer’s part. Offer a free appetizer for a customer ordering food for $25 or more, for example. Finally, pay attention to the factors that boost your delivery numbers. Is there rain in the forecast? At Dunkin’, that means sending out a marketing offer to local customers or posting a promotion on Facebook to help bolster delivery orders.
If your restaurant shows games or other live events on television, you are likely aware of Tunity, a company that makes it possible for people in fitness centers, sports bars, hotels and other venues to use their smartphone to listen to audio from muted televisions showing live events. The company was onsite at the National Restaurant Association Show to promote its testing of a new feature that may help restaurants target guests with special offers based on their viewing preferences. So, as Nation’s Restaurant News reports, if one of your guests is an L.A. Lakers fan, Tunity’s app can help you send a push notification to entice the person to watch the Lakers’ next game with you — and get a free beer or other offer in exchange.
Does this sound familiar? Third-party delivery services can be like a drug that addicts restaurant owners: You sign up at a significant expense to get quick hits in the form of incremental sales, then pay even more to sustain business as more companies join the platform. That’s the view of Noah Glass, the CEO and founder of Olo, a mobile and online ordering platform. Glass advises restaurant operators to control their own online ordering site and he built his company to help them do that. While it can be more work to get customers to visit your site or download your app, he says, you will reap the benefit of more money earned on each sale. Others agree. Keeping your ordering in-house could increase your profitability by 35 percent, according to Software Advice, which advises operators to use a simple equation to determine how much they could be spending on third-party platforms. (Take the value of your monthly revenue and multiply that by 25 percent, which is the average percentage of commission fees charged by the platforms, and your answer will be the amount of money you will lose each month.) Instead, you could keep your ordering in-house for a lower monthly fee and supplement your system with Google’s My Business to benefit from the marketing exposure in your area. Then, when you capture the contact information and order history of customers, you can send targeted push promotions to them to entice them to return. Finally, keeping your ordering platform in-house keeps you in the driver’s seat when making menu changes or updates, or when managing issues with orders. Even if your third-party vendor seeks to provide a good customer experience, the may not be able to update your information as quickly as you would and they don’t necessarily value your business over the growing numbers of other restaurants on their platform.
Speak your guests’ language
Do you have an item on your menu that should be popular with guests but somehow doesn’t get many takers? Before you exchange it for something new, consider adjusting how you describe it on your menu. Even if you use colorful language to paint a mental picture of a dish, it may not strike an emotional chord with a guest. Cake suggests guiding guests to make a decision using nostalgic language rather than logic. It worked well for Dolester Miles, who earlier this year was named the best pastry chef in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. The Washington Post reports that she created a layer cake containing zabaglione — a foamy custard sauce flavored with marsala wine — but no one ordered it when the menu description mentioned the ingredient. When she changed the name of the dessert to Frank’s Favorite Cake, however, “it started flying off the shelf.”
Is your off-premise strategy on the mark?
Off-premise dining is on the rise — 86 percent of consumers are using off-premise services at least monthly, while one-third of consumers are using them more frequently than they did a year ago, according to Technomic. As the demand for off-premise dining climbs, it will have impacts across your business well beyond your choice of a delivery provider. For example, it is likely to affect the mix of items you offer on your menu, the customers you target, how you design your restaurant, how you package your food and how you develop your loyalty program. Restaurant Business suggests offering meal bundles with entrees, sides and desserts for busy families looking for easy and affordable options — create some pre-set or customizeable options so the customer can avoid ordering items a la carte. Since younger consumers are big supporters of off-premise dining (Technomic’s Takeout & Off-Premise report found that nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds are ordering food to go more often than they did three years ago), consider offering some lighter, nutritious, unprocessed options that appeal to health-conscious people on the go. Your restaurant design should streamline the process of picking up food for customers and delivery drivers, and evolve with the idea that an increasing share of your business will be from off-premise sales. Choose packaging that ensures each item gets to the consumer in good condition — fries, for example, should not be in packaging that traps steam. Offer discounts or free items when customers bring in friends, visit on their birthday, or spend a certain amount of money with you. This is all to say that while your off-premise strategy impacts more than just these areas, it’s important to trace it through each step of your business. You may understand what your customers like, but your front of house and back of house (and the technology supporting them) need to be ready to deliver it.
Beef up your burger menu
Who doesn’t love a burger? There are appealing options for carnivores and vegetarians alike, and while you can’t go wrong with a classic version on your menu, there is ample room for innovation too. If you want to bring some creativity to your burger selection, try some on-trend tweaks. Restaurant Business suggests swapping out the traditional cheddar for options like Gruyere, mozzarella, Muenster or goat cheese, which have all risen in popularity on menus according to Technomic. Liven up your condiments with ethnic sauces like Sriracha, sweet chili or poblano (and take it further by creating burgers themed to a particular global cuisine). Finally, substitute a premium roll like a pretzel bun or brioche for the standard roll — it will help your burger stand out on the menu and also justify a higher price point.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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