Talk to any restaurant operator and it’s likely to be the top challenge at work: labor and the difficulty of delivering great service in an environment of near-constant turnover. Joni Thomas Doolin, founder and chair of restaurant consultancy TDn2K, thinks a lot about this. Her firm publishes a quarterly workforce index, the latest of which indicated that at fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, vacancies at the back of house were near 80 percent. In that scenario, it’s difficult for a restaurant to do anything beyond keeping the doors open. So how can restaurants operate to change that? Thomas Doolin shared several strategies on a recent Restaurant Business podcast with Jonathan Maze. First, she advised, focus on creating an environment in which you can engage, retain and offer stability to your general managers. She said that across the industry, many brands have focused resources at the employee level while general-manager-level compensation and benefits have remained flat or even declined in the past decade. She cited research that found that in the restaurant industry in the U.S., 35 percent of general managers were engaged in their work, as compared to 61 percent of general managers across industries. Keep them interested by offering development – not training – that will help them handle more complex tasks and manage employees from multiple generations. You can also offer some flexibility – and that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours but it might mean allowing a person a couple of hours to catch his child’s baseball games each week. Brands are succeeding with other retention strategies too: Chick-fil-a employee retention remains high due, in part, to its policy that keeps stores closed on Sundays, giving employees a built-in day off. Others have shown they’re invested in the community. MOD Pizza, for example, has a history of hiring people with backgrounds of incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and mental disability, then paying a higher wage and offering benefits such as a 401(k) – a stance that has kept employees engaged and turnover low while appealing to guests too.
Self-service kiosks remain an important vehicle for reaching and understanding consumers. Research from Tillster found that more than 65 percent of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if it used self-service kiosks and 30 percent said they prefer to order via a kiosk instead of a cashier if the lines were of equal length. While kiosks have helped restaurant operators save on labor costs, watch for much more to come from them. As the CEO of the kiosk company TRAY told AgFunder, the value of kiosks in the years ahead will be more about taking customer personalization (and therefore service) to the next level. With a swipe of a credit card, a consumer will be able to pull up a personalized menu based on what is popular at the restaurant and what meals he has ordered at other restaurants.
Did you know that one of the most common reasons restaurant employees leave a position is lack of training? According to research from Cake, for 62 percent of restaurant workers, not getting proper on-the-job guidance can influence their decision to move on. A recent survey of 2,000 restaurant employees by the scheduling software program 7shifts also found that 50 percent of respondents rated training as a 4 out of 5 on the scale of how impactful the factor was for restaurant employees on the job. Even if your staff does not feel that they need training, your training program is a sure-fire way to build their engagement and investment in your business. As Toast suggests, the first day of a new worker’s job is prime time to impart your restaurant’s values and demonstrate you care about the person’s role in the business, which helps build a person’s pride in (and dedication to) their work. If you devote 30 minutes at the start of the person’s shift to conduct training, you’ll set yourself apart from most restaurants. As you train the person in various responsibilities of the job, first explain why a task should be done in a certain way, explain how to complete the task, demonstrate the task, do the task together, and finally have the person complete the task alone to demonstrate his understanding of it. Provide a handbook of items that can be referenced later, like manager contact information and locations of cleaning supplies. Finally, appoint a mentor or point person who can answer questions that arise in the new employee’s first days and weeks on the job. It will build engagement for both employees and prevent the new person from making assumptions that could negatively impact your service to guests.
If you can raise your restaurant’s Yelp score by one star, it can lead to a revenue boost between 5 and 9 percent, according to a Harvard Business School study. At a time when reviews have that kind of power, it’s critical to stay on top if them. But when reviews can appear anywhere from Yelp to Google to Facebook to TripAdvisor and beyond, tracking and responding to all of your reviews can become a full-time job. Review management software platforms such as Yext can help operators centralize reviews from multiple platforms. As AdAge reported recently, operators using such systems can quickly identify (and fix) problems at a location and also respond quickly to reviews, which can influence how consumers feel about your brand.
It’s easy for cross-contamination to happen at the grill, particularly when you have produce, proteins and different marinades in close proximity and vying for a limited amount of cooking space. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cooks start with a grill that is clean and free from any charred bits of food that may spread bacteria. Make sure you have separate plates, trays, tongs, basting brushes and other cooking utensils for cooked and uncooked foods, and wash them with hot, soapy water between uses. When using marinades, keep a separate container of marinade for use on cooked items and discard any marinade covering raw proteins. Finally, use paper towels or wipes — not dishtowels — to clean up any spills.
If your food safety values aren’t second nature to your team, there are steps you can take to improve your culture. A Fast Casual report by the president of Steritech advises operators first explain the why behind each food safety practice they preach — i.e. hearing that bacteria can spread more easily and cross-contaminate food when chicken is stored on the wrong refrigerator shelf is more compelling than hearing that chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf. Next, celebrate wins. Five Guys, which has conducted research into communication practices that engage employees, offers monetary rewards and other incentives to stores that score highly on safety
assessments. Chicken Salad Chick celebrates top performers at an annual banquet and funds parties for top-performing stores. Along those lines, focus significantly more on positive feedback than on negative. Harvard Business Review research found that reinforcing six things someone does well for every individual item that needs improvement leads to better overall performance.
Identifying and halting foodborne illness quickly takes a 360-degree approach, with restaurants looking both internally and externally for signs of trouble. Chick-fil-A recently unveiled a system that uses social media and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify such threats. Venture Beat reports that the brand is using algorithms to scan social media sites for potential food safety problems at its 2,400 restaurants across 47 states. Every 10 minutes, the AI framework reviews data from 10 social media platforms, then scans it for 500 different terms, ranging from “food poisoning” to “nausea”, that can provide clues to a food safety issue at a restaurant. The terms are also reviewed by AWS Comprehend, Amazon’s natural language processing service, for sentiment and legitimacy. Managers are alerted to problems via push notifications and can contact customers directly via social media to investigate the issues. To date, the brand reports a 78 percent accuracy rate for the system.
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.
Small fluctuations in temperature can mean the difference between a dish that is safe to eat and one that harbors harmful bacteria. Your food thermometers are among your most useful tools to protect against foodborne illness, so make sure they are up to the task. Statefoodsafety.com advises that restaurants calibrate bimetallic food thermometers before every shift or any time they are bumped or dropped.
There is always a new food trend or cooking technique your restaurant may want to try. But whether you’re incorporating sous-vide cooking techniques or simply adding seasonal produce to drinks, you want to ensure your food safety standards keep up with your menu developments. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, microbiologist Brian Nummer reminded the audience of the acronym FAT TOM, which lists the top factors that contribute to bacteria growth: food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture. He said when restaurants incorporate new trends into their cooking, it can be easy to neglect safety. But that is less likely to happen if chefs are trained in the science of cooking as well as the art. When that happens, Nummer said, chefs more naturally tweak dishes to ensure safety (say, adding extra lemon to a dish so it reaches a pH 4, which kills bacteria).
Nowadays, maintaining your restaurant’s online presence is as important as your in-person presence. The new Google My Business app (available for Android and iOS) is a useful tool to help you manage your business profile. Using the app, you can communicate with guests, respond to reviews, edit your business profile and monitor how guests interact with it, post photos and event updates, and manage these items across multiple locations.
Bring out their best behavior
As the holidays approach and you prepare to hire additional staff, it’s a good time to refine your onboarding processes to ensure you and your new employees have a clear shared understanding of how you operate and what behaviors are important to you. The Rail suggests having a behavior contract in place to help you clarify your expectations with your team. (Though avoid one Florida operator’s punitive approach, which included a contract listing monetary penalties for such employee infractions as having a cell phone out during work hours.) Instead, consider having your team sign a document in which they agree to give their best effort regarding certain behaviors central to your brand and financial stability, such as greeting guests when they enter or depart, leaving their phone in the car during work hours, or committing to being thoughtful about the amount of napkins, straws or other operating supplies offered. Having clear expectations at the outset provides a foundation upon which to have coaching conversations about performance areas that need to be corrected later. When you need to have those conversations, follow through by documenting the problem, explaining what needs to be corrected, and providing clear consequences that are in line with the magnitude of the problem. Miracle Restaurant Group has a guide to progressive discipline that includes such steps as an oral warning, written warning, suspension and separation, as well as a matrix listing a range of behaviors that can result in various consequences. It advises that operators choose the level of discipline with care so it is appropriate to the situation and is consistent with their actions in similar situations with other team members.
Tech to attract hungry guests in your neighborhood
Technology is increasingly making it possible for restaurant brands to successfully play matchmaker with guests looking for a place to eat. Geofencing is allowing a number of brands to identify when their loyal guests are in the vicinity — then making it worth their while to visit. Tavern in the Square uses its geofencing feature to identify loyalty program members within a set radius of the restaurant, then send limited-time discounts. One recent buy-one-get-one-half-price offer boosted sales by 50 percent in one day. OpenTable is now making a play to help a lot more restaurants accomplish this sort of feat. Skift Table reports that the online reservations company found that 25 percent of its bookings were happening within 90 minutes of their seating time. Their goal is to become more of a recommendation engine, so a sushi lover who uses the site is more apt to get Japanese restaurants and offers on his list of top recommendations.
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