Consumers like a limited-time offer: Whether it has to do with short attention spans or a desire for something new and different, there has been a 64 percent spike in LTOs in the past five years, according to Technomic. Their research also found that a majority of female consumers and millennials are drawn to innovative dishes, new flavors and menu launches when they choose a restaurant, and 30 percent of quick-service customers would visit a restaurant they wouldn’t normally visit if it meant taking advantage of a unique LTO. Restaurant Business advises operators to consider several factors when developing an LTO to attract guests. First, set a goal you’re hoping to achieve and design your LTO around it. (An LTO that will bring in guests for several weeks or months will need to have broader, more mainstream appeal than an LTO designed to generate a lot of buzz for a short time.) Second, consider your demographics and let your data guide your decisions. Preferences will vary across generations and genders, so consider everything from your LTO’s ingredients to its portability when anticipating how guests are likely to perceive your offer. Finally, use language that describes the sensory experience of eating what you’re selling (e.g. think “crunchy” vs. “breaded”) and promote the health-conscious aspects of your LTO. Words like “fresh,” “local” and “made from scratch” tend to score especially well with consumers.
Facial recognition technology has become a trend to watch in restaurants this year. While it may sound Orwellian, its potential for streamlining the payment process and loyalty programs is difficult for restaurants to ignore. A number of quick-service restaurants around the country have begun using biometric facial recognition to profile each customer’s order history, demographics and loyalty points. The technology appears to be best suited for the quick-service space at the moment but as rollouts occur across categories, note the effects (positive and negative) it has on customer experience.
The push for eating a plant-based diet with less animal protein may be missing an important point: Eating the right kind of seafood — and a broader range of it — can benefit the environment (and your menu too). That’s the conclusion of a new study published by Eating with the Ecosystem, a non-profit that promotes local and sustainable seafood harvesting in the Northeastern U.S. The research, as reported in The New Food Economy, considers the findings of 86 scientists who, over a six-month period, were assigned four species from a list of 52 seafood species commonly harvested by fishermen in New England waters. The scientists were told to find the different species in local markets, bring them home and prepare them. But often, they couldn’t find their assigned seafood. In fact, the study found that on the list of 52 species, only five (lobster, sea scallops, soft shell clams, cod and haddock) were available more than half of the time. When the scientists could track down a lesser-known fish, they were often pleasantly surprised: The John Dory, for example, was routinely rated as the best-tasting, easiest-to-prepare fish. By diversifying the seafood you offer and educating consumers about tasty varieties they haven’t tried, you could not only help maintain balance in marine ecosystems but also stand out with consumers. There isn’t a 100 percent foolproof system for ensuring you offer sustainable seafood but Restaurant Nuts advises you get to know your supplier well and ask plenty of questions about how and where the fish were caught. Get to know the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of eco-labels, which identifies fish that they believe have been caught sustainably. If you source farm-raised fish, go with a supplier in the U.S., which has stricter regulations about farm-raised fish than most other countries.
There is a new way for Google to help you connect with your guests. The company just announced some enhancements to Google Lens, its image recognition software, that may change the consumer experience of eating at restaurants, according to a report from The Verge. Consumers who either have Google Pixel phones or a Google Lens app can point their phone’s camera at your menu, and the Lens will highlight your most popular dishes and be able to call up photos and reviews of individual dishes via Google Maps.
Not every restaurant wants to be family-friendly. But if families are in your target demographic, there are steps you can take to serve them well as summer approaches and they spend more time eating out. First, offer some healthy (or at least real) options: think chicken nuggets that are breaded and baked instead of deep-fried, fresh fruit and vegetables, and desserts that aren’t packed with sugar and artificial ingredients. Scale down portion sizes and be flexible with sauces, sides and substitutions to accommodate allergies and fickle appetites. Package or present kids’ options as meal deals with creative, kid-friendly themes — and weave in your branding to get a social media boost. Adjust the rhythm of the meal so you serve adult drinks and kids’ appetizers first, follow with adult appetizers and kids’ meals, and then serve adult entrées and kids’ desserts. Offer crayons and create an activity placemat or cover tables in butcher paper so parents don’t have to struggle to keep kids entertained while they wait. And speaking of making things easier for parents, try offering a kids-eat-free deal on days when you’re also promoting parent-friendly specials. If you have the space available, seat families at booths or larger tables that can accommodate extra gear and give children space to spread out. Having changing stations (or at least a flat space that can be used as one) in all restrooms can help make your restaurant an easier choice for families too.
The purpose of restaurant apps is evolving. According to research from App Annie, Gen Z, as compared with other generations, is 30 percent more engaged in apps that aren’t about gaming and other forms of entertainment. Instead, they value apps that are key to the mobile checkout process and help to keep them loyal to and engaged in a brand. Last year, Americans overall spent 140 percent more time in food and drink apps than they did during the two years prior to that. While there are certainly more apps joining the market that help account for that growth, operators are also becoming more savvy about guest engagement. Connecting with consumers and elevating their level of engagement is less about having an app that entertains and more about providing a simple, relevant, customizable experience whether the person is accessing the restaurant online or in person.
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.
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 taking steps to reduce your restaurant’s waste and make your packaging more environmentally friendly, why not share the benefits with your guests? A study from Cone Communications about corporate social responsibility found that 88 percent of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues. Similar proportions of guests say they trust such companies and would buy a product from them if given an opportunity. Upserve suggests some tips for building a positive image around your sustainability efforts, including offering a discount on the dishes you offer that have the lightest environmental impact (try assessing your ingredients with an eye toward how local they are or how much water or pesticides were used to grow them). If a guest brings his own container to pack up leftovers, offer a small discount or promotion. You can even host a recycling event, encouraging guests to drop off electronics or less-easily-recycled items and then recycling those items on their behalf. If you need to increase your operation’s sustainability efforts before you promote what you’re doing, QSR Magazine suggests you make space behind your restaurant for compost and recycling bins in addition to trash bins, as well as a cardboard baler that will allow you to condense the footprint of your boxes and have them collected at one time. Then work with your supplier to improve upon your packaging. Order compostable or biodegradable packaging and utensils, or if you have to order plastic, aim for only plastic No. 1 items, which are the most frequently recycled plastics. Finally, understand what can and cannot be recycled by your provider. You may be overlooking items —lightbulbs, batteries and printed menus, to name a few — that are recyclable.
Are your accounting practices still paper-heavy and technology-light? Automating your processing of invoices can unlock a number of real-time benefits for your business, according to a Restaurant Nuts report. For one, automating your invoices can help you capture data by line item and decrease the number of manual processes you must manage, which allows you to spend more time on other parts of your business. You can track inventory prices (in addition to your other bills) in real time, so you can make adjustments to your ingredients or menu pricing as soon as they’re needed and not have to play catch-up. The same goes for waste — an automated system can help you see what’s selling and what’s not so you have a better handle on the supplies you need, and if you ever have to reject a shipment, you can make sure you keep on top of any credit given to you by a vendor.
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.
Artificial intelligence (AI) might still sound a little futuristic — or like technology that mainly large national brands can harness at this stage. But the next decade should be eye-opening: By 2030, almost 70 percent of businesses will use some form of AI in their operation, according to McKinsey research. Restaurants that readily understand how to adopt it and where it can provide the greatest value should be able to gain a competitive advantage. Restaurant Nuts suggests two areas that are ripe for AI adoption in restaurants of any size: improving sourcing and translating reams of data into sales. For example, when you consider your inventory, how accurate are you able to be about the items you will need? Do you rely on last year’s data mixed with some guesswork? AI can use predictive analytics that incorporate historical data from a range of relevant periods, along with weather, holidays and other factors that can impact demand, to help eliminate the trial and error that can waste money. Further, even if you have a POS system that gathers thousands of data points about your guests, that data is only useful to you if you’re able to analyze it quickly and apply it to strategies that will keep guests happy and returning. AI can help operators by collecting a wide range of data about everything from sales to purchasing, then assessing it against current consumer trends. As a result, you’ll be able to make decisions in real time, not weeks or months behind schedule. Forbes reports that the hospitality technology company Fourth, which supports such brands as TGI Friday’s, Eataly, Bar Louie and Dairy Queen, among others, is one that has expanded into AI recently. Other reports indicate that McDonald’s uses AI to find diverse employee candidates. Look for more restaurant technology systems to start to integrate AI functionality into their software.
Blockchain technology has been slow to take off in the restaurant industry. But the launch of a new credit card currently accepted by Palo Alto, Calif. merchants and restaurants could help restaurants see the tangible benefits. Restaurant Dive reports that Yosemite X, a technology company that developed a public blockchain platform, has just launched Yosemite Card, a 0 percent transaction fee credit card that is expected to save businesses 2-3 percent on transaction costs annually. It generates a random PIN every 30 seconds, which could provide protection against data breaches, and it can also integrate with a restaurant’s existing systems to offer a rewards program. The technology could still be a ways off from being widespread in the industry, but applications like this could well provide telling data points about how blockchain can help restaurants improve margins, as well as manage and protect their data.
Rising labor costs are forcing all restaurant operators to make tough decisions about how to manage staff and how to prepare the food they serve. But what happens when the decisions you have to make are central to the brand identity your guests associate with you? Case in point: Chop’t. The fast-casual chain is known for chopping salad in front of the customer, a practice that provides some visual intrigue while sending the message to guests that their food is freshly prepared according to their tastes. But the company announced recently that it would be making the switch to pre-chopped ingredients. (Guests can still have their salad chopped but have to request the service.) Darren Tristano of FoodserviceResults predicts that regular guests could be turned off by these changes — in the short term — but will probably forgive the changes and return to old habits eventually. Just the same, if you’re experiencing a similar need to cut back on services that are central to your brand and important to your best guests, what can you do? A well-executed loyalty program may help you bridge the gap. Chipotle, for example, recently unveiled a new digital loyalty program designed to both give guests what they want and continue to collect customer data that will help the brand feed future decisions that will keep guests engaged. Skift Table reports that the new loyalty program, which was market tested for months, awards guests with free chips and guacamole after one purchase. Each $10 purchase earns guests one point and after $125 spent, guests earn a free entrée. These enticements are encouraging more visitors to sign up for the loyalty program — and share their data in the process. From there, Chipotle can study what factors bring those guests back and make them spend more money, whether it’s discounts on certain items or special promotions. What can you do to keep your guests coming back?
A growing number of fast-casual restaurants are becoming less about having guests stay and eat and more about letting them pick up food to go or have it delivered. Eatsa, the fast casual bowl concept that pioneered the idea of automating food to go, is now focusing on helping many of these fast casuals launch virtual restaurants, which can help brands test potential concepts or service models with minimal investment. The Spoon reports that Eatsa’s new tech offering, dubbed Omnichannel Intelligent Queue Software, can calculate the exact status of an order, send customers a down-to-the-minute update, and alert delivery drivers about the exact time to pick up an order so it doesn’t wait for long. When a driver arrives, a branded pickup station directs the person to the specific order that needs to go. (Deliveroo is the first customer to put the new Eatsa tech into practice at its 10-kitchen food hall in Singapore.)
A Harvard Business School study found that by increasing customer retention rates by just 5 percent, profits will climb anywhere between 25 and 95 percent. It pays to identify your regulars and find ways to keep them coming back. Katrina Kutchinsky of KK Communications, a public relations and social media agency focused on the hospitality industry, told OpenTable she recommends restaurants focus on offering added value over any type of discount. So once you have regulars who have already joined your email list and your loyalty program and you’d like to go the extra mile to take care of them, taking after-dinner drinks or dessert off their bill may go further than offering them 10 percent off their next visit. (This also makes your specific experience harder for competitors to copy.) There are other ways to build value into the experience you offer too. Offering free samples of a new appetizer, a bookshelf of donated books or games accessible to guests waiting for food, tableside entertainment, live music offered by musicians from a local college, or small gifts for children and for special occasions like birthdays and holidays can all communicate value as well. You don’t even have to spend money to generate value: Create memorable ways to involve guests in your decision-making, like asking them to vote on a variety of dishes you’re considering adding to the menu. Or simply be present. Having your manager make a brief stop at a table to ask for feedback or help with a concern, or to invite guests to take a post-meal survey or join your loyalty program — can go far in helping you demonstrate that you care about guest preferences.
Hospitality Technology’s 2018 Restaurant Technology Study found that 45 percent of operators said they planned to increase their spending on back-of-house software — up from 25 percent the year before. The key factors driving that spending were the need to provide better service, manage rising labor costs and consolidate disconnected technology tools used within their business. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that Arby’s Restaurant Group has been rolling out technology that has been addressing those specific pain points. They installed mobile app-connected HVAC systems that can generate monthly usage reports, as well as automated cook and hold ovens, Bluetooth-connected ovens that “can sense when the roast beef is perfectly cooked,” and hardware that can make it possible for traditional kitchen equipment to send time, temperature and cooking data to the cloud. Peter Cryan, senior director of equipment innovation at Arby’s parent company, said the savings have been dramatic. The cook and hold ovens alone have saved the restaurants 67 percent in energy each year, two hours of daily labor related to checking manual processes, and $45 million in energy costs since the changes began in 2011. Cryan said the tech platform more than paid for itself in the course of a year.
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