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.
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.
Offering a targeted loyalty program will build your customer base — no big surprise there. But how much more effective is it to offer such a program than to not offer a program at all? And with so many businesses offering loyalty programs nowadays, how can you stand out? New research from Accenture Interactive found that members of customer loyalty programs generate 12 to 18 percent more revenue for businesses than customers who aren’t members of a program, Dine Engine reports. What’s more, 81 percent of consumers said they were more likely to continue giving their business to brands that offer a loyalty program and 73 percent are more likely to recommend a brand with a strong program. The report said consumers are more likely to adjust their spending based on a loyalty program by spending more money to earn more rewards. These programs may even help restaurants retain loyal guests during economic downturns when consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending. However, research from Forrester found that more than 80 percent of loyalty programs use currency such as points or miles, which can make it difficult for programs to stand out. To boost your program’s chance of success, it can help to remove the barriers that stand between your guests and the rewards they can earn. Show them a clear path to rewards and try to avoid having them encounter multiple barriers such as having to download an app, remember a membership card or login details at each visit, enter a code or register an account online. Also, take a look at potential experiences you can offer your guests. What memorable events or offers can you provide that won’t easily be replicated by your competitor down the street?
Adopting new technology for your restaurant may seem like a necessary evil — the initial investment can be substantial, there are multiple pieces and functions to consider, and it’s impossible to know how quickly the popular tech tool of the moment will become obsolete. Still, the numbers show clearly that restaurants that don’t adopt technology will be left behind. Operators from brands including Wings Etc., Fazoli’s and Your Pie have struggled with this dilemma and they addressed it at the recent Restaurant Franchise & Innovation Summit in Louisville. According to a report in Kiosk Marketplace, the leaders emphasized that operators feeling vexed over tech decisions aren’t alone. The best way to make progress, they agreed, is to focus on doing one thing (or a few small things) well and then gradually improving upon those efforts. Zero in on your biggest pain points or opportunities: Your Pie has set out to perfect its AdWord campaigns to find the right customers, while Fazoli’s has focused on building upon its data-rich loyalty program. For whichever tech tools you decide to focus on, create a broader strategy that considers all of your stakeholders and spells out how they might contribute to (and benefit from) your success.
Be customer-service savvy on social media
Social media channels provide inexpensive, visible stages for you to promote your restaurant, extend your brand and deliver customer service. Just remember the right and wrong ways to use it when serving consumers. Social Media Week recommends you use it to listen to what people are saying about you (before you use it to talk about what you want them to know about you). That means that when a customer complains about you on social media, engage with that person one-on-one to show you care about making the situation better. The customer may not always be right but if you respond defensively, it will always make him or her look like a victim – and encourage others to avoid you. In an age when transparency is prized, resist the urge to edit consumers’ responses or delete them – Smuckers, for example, disabled customers’ ability to comment altogether and it can make a brand look worse, according to Customer Experience Insight. In the case of a customer’s negative comment or one in which you’re not sure of the best approach, it’s always best to share your response with team members before posting. While customers expect a fast response (an Edison Research study found that 40 percent of customers expect a response to a social media post within an hour), a short delay can mean your post has a more constructive, positive tone. That said, don’t ignore the forum you have. It can be viewed by millions of people, so make sure you post fresh content frequently.
Tap the millennial talent pool
Chances are you’re not only trying to market to millennials but also trying to engage them as members of your team. Making a connection with them as employees can help you enhance your workplace culture and reach those potential guests you’d like to attract and turn into loyal customers. Millennial Marketing suggests you try to build a collaborative work environment before a competitive one – 88 percent of millennials prefer that in a workplace. Take an interest in their personal lives and demonstrate that you know the work they do with you is just one part of who they are. At work, provide detailed and frequent feedback, describe specific actions they can take (while leaving room for them to leave their own stamp on their work) and provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions and share opinions. A survey by the HR services provider TriNet found that 85 percent of millennials felt more confident in their roles when they have frequent conversations with their managers. Those conversations can be digital or face-to-face – they have grown up using digital media to communicate, after all – but don’t discount how much they value face-to-face interaction with you. In fact, the talent development consulting firm Wild Blue Yonder says millennials would prefer an in-person interaction over an email if given the option. Anytime you need to share serious feedback or discuss setting goals, go with a face-to-face meeting.
The rise of social video
Is the content you post online mostly text, photos or video? In an earnings call last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 10 years ago, most of the content shared online was text, it was now photos, and soon it will be video. To research the rise of video on social media, Animoto conducted a survey of 1,000 consumers and 500 marketers to get a sense of how businesses are using video to market to their customers. It found that 64 percent of consumers say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a buying decision they have made in the past month and 81 percent of marketers are optimizing their videos for mobile viewing. Facebook, Instagram Stories and Snapchat are the top three channels where consumers are viewing videos from business brands. When posting video, remember that visual appeal is all-important – according to Digiday, 85 percent of posted on Facebook is watched with the sound off.
Don’t fear the delivery app
Do you think that offering delivery could hamper your in-restaurant traffic? Those concerns could be unfounded, according to the data insights firm Sense360. Street Fight reports that the firm tracked 21 million anonymous full-service and quick-service restaurant visits before and after guests had downloaded third-party restaurant delivery apps. The research found that the downloading of these apps does not result in any significant drop in restaurant visits – in fact, consumers tend to use the app alongside restaurant visits. Consumers who download these apps tend to have higher incomes and visit fine dining restaurants 2.5 times more often, according to the study. Therefore, instead of looking at apps as competition for in-restaurant sales, it may make more sense to see them as competitors of grocery stores and grocery delivery services.
Tell your story on Instagram
Instagram Stories is growing fast – it now has 250 million users, according to Recode – and it’s an ideal platform for restaurants. Food lovers can post photos and video, along with drawings, text and stickers. Skift says the platform suits restaurants so well because while Instagram gives operators a place to post well-curated images of the menu, Instagram Stories can help build engagement because it allows for a more casual, behind-the-scenes look at your kitchen, staff or ingredients. You can introduce followers to new ingredients you’re weaving into your summer menu – and everything disappears in 24 hours, so your tone can be more low-key. Instagram is backed by Facebook and has highly engaged viewers: A new report from TrackMaven says Instagram is the stand-out leader in social media engagement, with 96 average interactions per post per 1,000 followers. Even so, there’s still room for growth.
Simple steps to pest prevention
Preventing contamination in your kitchen this summer can be as easy as cleaning up at regular intervals, enlisting employees’ help and changing your lighting. In a recent report in Food Safety Tech, the entomologist Tim Husen recommends asking employees to watch for signs of pest activity. Alert them of areas where pests are likely to breed, as well as what signs of pest activity look like. He suggests setting a zero-tolerance policy for spills, debris and waste, as well as daily, weekly and monthly sanitation routines on top of an annual deep cleaning. Remember to clean beneath the surface – of equipment where bacteria may grow, and around boxes and inside gutters where pests hide. Directing lighting toward your facility (not mounting it on your building) and using sodium-vapor lighting or LEDs instead of mercury-vapor lighting can ensure you’re not attracting pests too.
Help your kitchen handle summer heat
Summer is sizzling, and the change in temperature can pose additional challenges to restaurants. Food safety advisor Lisa Ackerley suggests operators take extra precautions in the kitchen. Sweltering days can make it difficult for refrigerators to hold their temperature for food storage, for example. Keep refrigerator doors closed and avoid storing warm food inside, as it is difficult for refrigerators to cool warm food to the proper temperature quickly enough. Help food reach room temperature more quickly by reducing the size of stored portions to dissipate heat or cooling it in an ice bath first. Make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated but resist the urge to open windows and doors, which can invite pests inside. If you’re preparing or serving food outside, ensure you keep it out of the 41 to 145˚ zone, where pathogens can multiply rapidly. That goes for food deliveries you receive as well – ensure you can promptly store perishables as they arrive.
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.
Is 2017 your time for tech?
Even if you’re hesitant to adopt new technology, it affects you, whether through online reviews or the new delivery apps luring your customers to the restaurant down the street. Even if you don’t plan to invest in technology right away, Toast suggests you note where your pain points are. For example, do you have three servers lined up at your point-of-sale system? If so, is that because it’s malfunctioning or unnecessarily complicated to work with? What do your online reviews say about you? Have you responded constructively to negative ones? Are your phone lines busy on Saturday nights, when potential guests might be calling to snag a last-minute reservation? Is your employee scheduling system too time-consuming? Review the parts of your routine that make you procrastinate or struggle. From there, research which solutions are making the biggest impact on the industry and which provider is the best fit for you. If you don’t know what’s available and at what cost, you won’t be able to catch deals that could make the investment worth your while.
Turn the tables
Empty seats at slow times? You can take some steps to fill them. FSR recommends you connect with local businesses – message HR leaders on LinkedIn and develop VIP experiences you can pitch to business leaders looking to make a positive impression on clients. Connect with local Meetup groups who might be able to use your restaurant for their next quiz night or wine-tasting event. Consider joining the gig economy and charging remote workers a monthly fee in exchange for wifi, free coffee and a quiet table to work – you can often find them by contacting your local business registrar and asking for a list of newly launched small companies, or by joining co-working apps like Spacious or TwoSpace.
No farm nearby? No problem
The demand for farm-to-table food has encouraged many foodservice operations to bring the farm to the city. Restaurant Hospitality reports that technology is continuing to fundamentally change how and from where restaurants source their produce, enabling urban farms and traditional ones to work together to meet year-round demand. Hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic technology is making it possible for companies to grow food in small shipping containers, on rooftops, in converted steel mills and other locations – and without pesticides, weather concerns or, for some, even soil. The technology is helping producers create the ideal conditions for the growing season and then repeat it at faster intervals so a new harvest is available many times throughout the year. While price is still a barrier for many foodservice operators, a drop is likely as more urban farms enter the market and investments continue from the likes of Costco, Whole Foods and Safeway.
New hospitality apprenticeship program grooms management-level talent
A new hospitality industry apprenticeship program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor is now underway in restaurants and hotels. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the program was designed to groom more than 400 people for management careers in the industry this year. Last month, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Association signed a $1.8 million contract with the Labor Department for the program, which places workers in paid, management-level positions. So far, the restaurant and hotel partners in the program include Firehouse Subs, Golden Corral, TGI Friday’s, White Castle, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton and Waldorf Astoria.
Favorite flavors ripe for experimentation
Foodservice operators like to be on trend – but it can be too easy to become a slave to those trends. Instead, consider adding creative, on-trend touches to ubiquitous favorites. In a report in Flavor & the Menu, culinary development experts say it’s about studying what makes a dish a consumer favorite, then adding depth and dimension to make it your own without straying too far from what people love about it. The report proposes some new spins on four flavors ripe for expansion – Alfredo, Buffalo, ranch and teriyaki. For example, reinvent Alfredo sauce in a rich, creamy dip or a drizzle over tacos. Make a Buffalo rub or vinaigrette for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or seitan. Use teriyaki to add flavor to bowls, burgers or burritos. Create a Japanese-style ranch with wasabi, pickled ginger and avocado.
What does “healthy” mean to you?
About 64 percent of consumers say “healthfulness” is a driver in making food and beverage choices, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey 2016. If you don’t have a clear story to tell about the health of your menu, your guests will make it up – and you may not like the one they write. Edward Hoffman of the Food and Beverage practice at PadillaCRT suggests you define “health” and what it means for you and your guests before you develop any new, healthy menu line. Does it mean organic? Locally and sustainably sourced? Hormone free? Low in sugar? Smaller portions? Make sure any changes you make dovetail with the most beloved parts of your brand, like your signature burger or loaded nachos. Don’t alienate or confuse guests by scattering a selection of “healthy” options through the menu and hope they’ll get it. Do have a clear story to tell from that and tell it confidently so you’ll be prepared when guests ask about it.
Don’t fear the fat
Sure, imitation fats have been on the way out for some time. But now food preferences are turning in the opposite direction and the whole milk, lard and other fats that were staples in your grandmother’s kitchen are having a renaissance – even getting some press as a perfectly acceptable part of a healthy diet. Datassential reports a rise in fat-infused cocktails, with drinks including duck fat, brown butter and pork fat appearing across the country. These fats are getting more play on the dinner menu as well: The bread course at Cleveland’s Trentina features a wild fermented pane pita served with…wait for it…an edible beef suet candle.
Food safety research likely to face large budget cuts
Food safety experts believe substantial proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture could make food safety a low priority for the organization, Food Safety Magazine reports. In the 2018 federal budget, potential cuts of $4.7 billion to the U.S.D.A. would drop the agency’s budget to $17.9 billion. Budget items for food safety and international food aid were categorized as discretionary spending. The U.S.D.A. controls the vast majority of food inspections nationwide. While the draft budget does not appear to cut the U.S.D.A.’s Food and Safety Inspection Service, which oversees the safety of meat, chicken and eggs produced in and imported to the United States, funding of agriculture and food safety research has been cut in the draft budget.
Drive-thru business drops off
For many consumers, the convenience of a drive-thru simply isn’t convenient enough. A Mintel analyst says because convenience now means technology, mobile apps and delivery, drive-thrus are taking a hit. While there has recently been a 2 percent uptick in snacking purchases from drive-thrus between 2 and 4 p.m., NPD Group reports, that increase hasn’t been enough to offset the drop-off in drive-thru business at lunch. The gig economy is playing a role as well – people who work from home can eat at home more cheaply, or, if they crave restaurant food, can usually summon it with a few taps to their Smartphone.
UberEats launches analytics to improve restaurant delivery
Uber Eats is releasing an analytics platform to restaurants participating in its food delivery service, TechCrunch reports. Skift says just as restaurants analyze their online reviews and point-of-sale data to improve their performance, they could use this new platform and apply similar metrics to improving delivery service. UberEats has expanded quickly in cities throughout the world to capitalize on its name recognition in an increasingly crowded market. Skift predicts the new analytics should help restaurant partners but also help UberEats assess how its service has been impacting customers to date.
Make sure the best things come in your packages
As more restaurants offer delivery – McDonald’s being among the latest – packaging innovation is critical. (After all, it’s still not clear if hot, crisp French fries can be prevented from getting cold and soggy in the time they’re delivered to customers). Packaging companies have the challenge of making products recyclable, sustainable, portable and capable of keeping food within a certain temperature range – all without costing more than the food they protect. The Food Packaging Institute recommends these dos and don’ts when selecting packaging: Consider packaging early in your menu development so you can focus on the right size, functions, and food and beverage compatibility. Test samples in their actual use and ensure they have multiple applications. Don’t assume custom packaging is the best option – or that all foods can use the same packaging. Avoid buying the cheapest option and don’t neglect to update packaging when you change your menu or brand.
How pop-ups break the echo chamber
For all of social media’s benefits, it also encloses consumers in their own echo chambers. We can all align with the people, organizations and brands that closely reflect – and don’t challenge – our own ideas. Now Mintel’s 2017 North American Consumer Trend Report, “The Echo Chamber of Secrets,” is helping brands break through those barriers. One key recommendation for restaurants: Experiment with temporary, unique physical spaces that break through the clutter and help your brand stand apart for the consumer. (Consider the Big Mac ATM that appeared for one day in Boston and attracted throngs, for example. Or Match.com’s Espresso Yourself campaign in London, where a pop-up café 3D printed photos of eligible members onto the foam of free coffees.) Mintel suggests pop-ups can give consumers a memorable experience that challenges their brand perceptions and engages them in unexpected, technology-based ways.
Out with sympathy, in with empathy
How empathetic is your brand? You might have the best ingredients from local producers but if your guests don’t feel you’re being authentic about the need for those values, you lose. To make sure your perception of your brand jibes with your guests’ perception of you, PadillaCRT recommends you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy – and show more of the latter than the former. For example, take a walk in your guests’ shoes. Where do they shop? What do they do at home? What are their values and interests? (Your research doesn’t even have to be highly scientific – you can identify friends who reflect the qualities of your target customer and ask lots of questions.) Next, dig for their pain points. What’s the toughest part of their day/week/month and what gives them an escape from that? If you know your guests well, you’ll know better how to be a bright point in their day.
Create a worry-free zone on your menu
How often do you have to accommodate a guest’s allergy or dietary needs? Dining out can cause anxiety for both guest and operator when someone consumes the wrong ingredient and gets a severe reaction. Baylor University aimed to accommodate this by developing a new (and much loved) section of a campus dining hall. Dubbed the “worry-free station,” the section offers food that is 100 percent gluten free – along with utensils and equipment guests can use with those foods only. The top eight allergens are also clearly labeled on all food served at the station. Beyond fruit and vegetables, the station offers gluten-free desserts, bread, waffles and more. The station has received a positive response from not only those with gluten intolerance but vegans, vegetarians, those with non-gluten allergy restrictions, and even guests without dietary restrictions.
Operators use surcharges to work around labor expenses
Instead of just raising menu prices to cover the rising cost of labor, restaurants in a number of states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are simply adding labor surcharges of three or four percent to their guests’ bills, the Wall Street Journal reports. The practice is likely to continue as more cities and states raise their minimum wage in the months ahead. In the report, NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs says this change has been more palatable for operators who want to offset increasing expenses without irking guests. By tacking the surcharge on to a bill at the end of a meal, operators may avoid having guests trade down from an entrée to a sandwich because they have strong opinions about how much a plate of pasta should cost, for example. Such guests can be less sensitive to their total costs when they pay their bill at the end of a meal.
Just a little of that human touch
As technology gains a growing role in restaurants looking to cut labor costs and make food ordering more accurate and efficient, some operators realize they now lack the human touch. The New York Times reports that some restaurants have found a solution in a new kind of employee whose primary role is to schmooze with guests. Often found in fast-casual restaurants where guests must line up to order and wait for food, the report says these employees have the old-school task of walking the room to offer help, entertainment or a welcome distraction from the wait in the form of contests with food giveaways. While some patrons aren’t missing the human interaction that automation has been phasing out, the effort is helping to placate other guests and forge the kind of connection with them that motivates their return.
Preventing food waste can save big money
For every $1 organizations invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. That’s according to Modern Restaurant Management’s recent study, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” which evaluated data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries. Sites included food manufacturers, food retailers, hospitality companies and foodservice operations. As part of the study, the organizations surveyed made investments including quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on waste-reduction practices, adjusting food handling and storage processes, changing packaging to increase shelf life, and changing date labels, among other adjustments.
Food-delivery robots have arrived
San Francisco Business Times reports that the robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with DoorDash to launch robotic food delivery in Redwood City, Calif. and with and Postmates to offer the delivery service in Washington, D.C. The robots will complement the companies’ existing workforces in an effort to make food delivery even faster and more convenient. The robots are covered in cameras and maneuver down sidewalks at a rate of four miles per hour to deliver food to customers, who tap a button on an app to release their food order. The company says the robots are designed for short distances and better suited to carrying small meals than several pizzas. Still, they could serve an important purpose, enabling delivery drivers to focus less on local orders and more on distant, more complicated deliveries.
Faster ordering through facial recognition
The kiosk appears to be here to stay – Wendy’s is the latest brand to adopt the machines in an effort to streamline ordering – and some operators are taking things a step further. Kiosk Marketplace reports that facial recognition software is now helping restaurants remember their guests. UFood Grill in Maryland, for example, was getting feedback from guests who wanted ordering to be easier. So now, in addition to allowing guests to order at a traditional cashier counter, guests can order at one of two kiosks (and at their drive-thrus soon too). Then they either add their phone number or have their picture taken to make future orders go more quickly. The next time they visit, they can order their favorite meal with just a glance into the camera. From order to payment, the process takes 10 seconds.
Be a smooth operator
It’s a new year – take a fresh look at your restaurant’s efficiency. FSR recommends you consider these ideas: What steps does your team have to take from creating the menu to delivering service? If you analyze each step, you’ll uncover processes that are slow, messy or inefficient. Where is technology needed – or not? Too little capacity can stall your growth during peak periods and too much adds unnecessary expense, so ensure you have the right support to ease your biggest pain points. Is your restaurant’s layout as efficient as possible? More space means greater costs so make it count by considering how employees and guests move throughout the restaurant. Are your menu items and promotions easily prepared during peak periods? If not, simplify. Do you have the right staff in place at the right time to increase sales? Remove bottlenecks and roadblocks so the smallest number of people can capably provide the best hospitality.
Moneyball for restaurants
Can you quickly answer questions such as “Who are my best- and worst-performing servers?” or “Why are my ingredient costs rising?” Your competition may be able to. Consider tuning in to software companies like Damian Mogavero’s firm, Avero, which advises 10,000 restaurants in 70 countries about how to use data to maximize performance – much like how statistics were applied to make a winning baseball team in the film Moneyball, Skift reports. The company scrutinizes data that can get lost in a spreadsheet. It consults about such topics as how to identify and stop theft in a restaurant as technology evolves, or for seasonal operators, how weather patterns affect business and how to make the most of the weather they get. Mogavero details the power of analytics in his new book, The Underground Culinary Tour.
How a food trend is born
Do you know how avocado toast, broccoli rabe and kale became hot menu items? The Wall Street Journal and food and beverage consulting firm PadillaCRT analyzed trendy foods’ paths to stardom and found they have qualities in common: It must be approachable and easily understood by a mass audience – something a person could assemble without tracking down special ingredients. It must be seeded with the right group – PadillaCRT’s Jason Stemm said avocado toast took off after it was served to clean-living aficionados at the Wanderlust “Yoga in the City” event in New York in 2012. Finally, the trend must have a means to expand, whether that’s adoption by celebrities, an Instagram-worthy appearance, or a mention on a popular food blog. For the record, Stemm predicts kale sprouts could soon have their moment in the spotlight.
Starbucks commits to hiring refugees, providing healthcare
As the restaurant industry adapts to a new administration, Starbucks has stepped out with an announcement that may make waves: CEO Howard Schultz announced recently that Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 refugees over five years and will continue to offer health insurance to employees, whether or not the Affordable Care Act is repealed. QSR magazine reports that Schultz said the company will focus first on hiring those refugees who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support staff in countries where the U.S. has needed support. He promised that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, employees will be able to reclaim their insurance coverage within 30 days of losing it, rather than wait for open enrollment.
Food delivery industry’s bumpy ride
Industry analysts point to food delivery as the big space for growth in 2017. But there’s much to learn from the industry’s growing pains: Take Munchery, the San Francisco startup that cooks and delivers meals to hundreds of thousands of customers in several cities. Bloomberg reports that according to current and former employees, Munchery has had to cut back on premium ingredients like organic chicken and wild salmon to keep budgets in check, and that from September 2014 through July 2016, Munchery’s San Francisco kitchen made more than 653,000 meals that were never sold. While a company spokesperson said overproduction was a given in the food industry, the startup’s challenges reveal difficulty in striking the balance between profits and losses in food delivery.
Tap into the wedding market
Domino’s has found an innovative way to appeal the Millennial consumer base and capitalize on guest loyalty: Pizza lovers who are engaged to be married can now create a wedding registry on the site. Registrants who prefer receiving gifts of pizza instead of the traditional wedding china can register for pizza to be served at wedding festivities like bachelorette parties or offered as a take-away to guests as they depart the wedding reception. Couples can also register for gift cards good for a low-key date night or night off of cooking sometime after their wedding. Registrants can share their wish list with guests on social media, of course.
Walmart finds an organic restaurant partner
In a new sign showing the mainstream appeal of organic food, a Walmart Supercenter near Orlando, Fla. is opening an organic quick-service restaurant, according to Restaurant Hospitality. The restaurant, Grown, is the first quick-service restaurant on the east coast to be certified organic by the U.S.D.A. The restaurant, which was founded last year by the former professional basketball player Ray Allen and his wife, Shannon, serves breakfast, soup, salad, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies and cold-pressed juices. Walmart pursued Grown as a partner to help promote foods local to Florida and connect guests to fresh foods sold in other parts of the store.
Signs of a vendor that protects food safety
Considering a new food vendor? Or trying to decide whether to split from another? Food Safety magazine suggests you analyze a number of factors, such as to what degree they’re innovating. For example, do they have continuous temperature monitoring so that if there’s a problem with your order, they can demonstrate the temperature of the stock at all stages of the journey? Do they anticipate your needs, stay in touch and add unexpected value? Such companies often show their leadership by serving on councils that make it a public service to share their expertise. Your vendors, whether it’s your pest control expert or the account manager of your seafood supply, should make an effort to be on a first-name basis with you and expend extra effort to ensure your needs are met.
The biggest food recalls of 2016
Food recalls surged 22 percent last year as compared to 2015 and two of the main sources were Listeria contamination and undeclared allergens. Major culprits included milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat and a smaller, but still significant, number of recalls were issued for soy and tree nuts. That's according to Food Safety magazine, which tracked food product recalls issued in the U.S. and Canada based on announcements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The recalls stemmed from a variety of causes, including insufficient food production and monitoring processes, failure to maintain facilities and equipment, failure to comply with federal food safety regulations and inability to track ingredients through the supply chain.
Mobile technology driving future of the drive-thru
Technology changes so quickly that it can be hard to know where to invest – but mobile technology seems to be at the foundation of much of it. Take the touchscreens appearing at many drive-thrus nationwide. Restaurant Business reports that in five years, those screens will be passé. It’s more likely that the drive-thrus of the future will be pick-up windows for food that guests order in a variety of ways, according to Rob Grimes of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association, such as via voice-recognition software on site, the restaurant’s website, mobile apps or their car’s GPS system. Some operators are already using mobile apps that connect to their restaurant’s point-of-sale system to order food and set a pick-up time, at which point restaurant staff bring the meal to the person’s car.
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