For every 10 restaurant employees, seven will leave by the end of the year. That’s according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those comings and goings cost restaurants many thousands of hours and dollars that are required to attract, hire and train staff. Some of that turnover may be hard to overcome, considering the historical demographics of restaurant employees, as well as the seasonal shifts of many restaurants. But there are signs the industry is getting creative about finding and keeping talent — and actions you can take to minimize the turnover you’re experiencing. Starting an apprenticeship program — ACFEF Culinary Apprenticeship Program s are among those available — can help to keep staff in place for a period of years, all while offering the classroom instruction and on-the-job training that can help engage new team members and help them see the longer-term benefits of staying with you. If an apprenticeship program isn’t a good fit for you, at least understand the reasons why your people leave. Like with most other areas of your operation, data can help you here. ChefHero advises you start by conducting thorough exit interviews. If your employees mention poor management as a factor motivating their departure, there are likely steps you need to take to retrain existing staff. If their departure is about a nearby competitor offering better pay, you can reassess your current compensation or identify other benefits you can offer (flexible schedules, time off, development opportunities, employee rewards) that can help you retain people if you’re not able to match the pay of competitors.
Cannabis-infused food and beverages (those items containing cannabidiol, or CBD for short) are a top trend of the year, according to survey feedback from the National Restaurant Association — and yet the FDA still prohibits the use of CBD in these products. That could change soon as the agency is planning to hold its first public hearing in May to determine how it will regulate CBD, which became legal in December. Cannabis-infused products have spiked 99 percent over the past year according to Upserve research, and yet chefs have had to fly under the radar when offering these items, which claim to ease anxiety, pain and other ailments without altering the mind. To date, CBD has been most commonly found in coffee drinks and mocktails, but food applications are on the rise. Carl’s Jr. recently became the first quick-service restaurant in the U.S. to add CBD to its menu, which in Colorado is featuring a limited-time offer of a CheeseBurger Delight that contains about 5 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD extract in its Santa Fe Sauce, according to CNBC.
A study by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service that observed participants cooking in a test kitchen found that 97 percent of attempts to wash hands failed. That resulted in 48 percent of participants cross-contaminating spice jars by transferring harmless microorganisms that act much like human pathogens. (The USDA reports that Campylobacter and Salmonella, bacteria found in poultry, may survive on food contact surfaces for up to four and 32 hours, respectively.) Another 5 percent of participants in the study transferred bacteria to salads they prepared. It’s worth a reminder: To adequately wash hands, wet them with warm or cool running water, apply soap and for 20 seconds rub hands together vigorously, washing both sides of each hand, between fingers and over fingertips and wrists. Rinse and then dry hands and wrists with a towel, which you should then use to turn off the faucet.
Conventional wisdom says to toss out any dented can to prevent the risk of botulism. The truth is more nuanced, however, and the risk depends on the size and location of the dent. A new report in The Takeout provides some guidelines. Of course, in the event of major dents or leaks, discard the can (the USDA defines a major dent as one in which you can “lay your finger into”). The same goes
for cans with dents along any seams of the can. However, a minor dent on the side of a can with no large edges or creases, or on the bottom of a can without a bottom seam is likely safe. If you aren’t sure about the risk of a can with a minor dent, Joe Schwarcz of the McGill University Office for Science and Society advises boiling the contents of the can to kill any microbes or toxins that may be present.
The lines between dayparts are getting fuzzy. As breakfast has grown in popularity as a meal to be eaten at any time of day, ingredients that have long been expected in later dayparts are now drifting onto menus earlier in the day. Mike Kostyo of Datassential told Supermarket Perimeter that ingredients or dishes like chicken or cocktails are now showing up on breakfast menus, while chefs are adding an egg to a wide variety of dishes and calling it breakfast. However, he said, guests still tend to look for higher-energy foods in the morning that can satisfy them until lunch and dishes that can help them relax and wind down later in the day, so bear those rules in mind if and when you reinvent menu items for different parts of the day.
A single foodborne illness outbreak could cause a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant approximately $2 million in financial damage, according to a 2018 study from Johns Hopkins University. Your restaurant’s ability to deliver safety training and respond to threats quickly in an environment of escalating costs and shrinking training budgets can make a huge difference. Modern Restaurant Management suggests digitizing and automating your food safety audits to drive food safety consistency and quality, in addition to making reporting and compliance a less time-consuming process. For example, instead of having to remember to manage certain tasks during a busy shift, you can schedule alerts, surveys and checklists to go out at specific times of day to team members via a mobile app. Instead of recording results with paper and pen or on a spreadsheet, you can report them on a dashboard-based system that can automate food safety standards and reinforce them across multiple restaurant locations.
Improper cleaning and storage of your knives can cause these tools to become blunt and worn prematurely or cause injury. Chefify advises operators to wash, dry and store knives immediately after each use. Soaking them with other tools may result in damage if the knives knock against those items, prolonged soaking can corrode the blade’s chromium coating, and the heat of a dishwasher may wear out knife handles. When storing knives, avoid placing them in a drawer with other utensils where they may become blunt or cause injury. Use plastic blade guards if you store knives in drawers or, better yet, store them on a magnetic strip or in a wooden block (blade side facing down).
Could your restaurant go cafeteria-style? According to new research from Datassential, cafeteria-style setups may be a modern reinvention of the buffet. In a recent survey of 1,500 consumers, 55 percent of respondents said they like or love cafeteria-style dining. These arrangements are especially popular with consumers who have young children and want a range of choices to suit the whole family. There could be other benefits to these arrangements too: Having a server dish out
prepared food in a cafeteria line could provide the labor-side benefits of a buffet and also help protect food safety, since guests aren’t serving themselves.
If your restaurant has a salad bar, buffet or other self-service food station, pay attention to temperature and cross-contamination risks. Hot foods should be at least 135˚F and cold foods should be 41˚F or cooler — and check those temperatures regularly. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses with other foods so germs or allergens don’t spread from one food to the next.
An apron can tell a story about a kitchen worker’s day, picking up traces of food but also dirt and bacteria. ServSafe advises you make sure your staff know to wear aprons when preparing food and removing them when they use the restroom or when they take out garbage. Have a convenient place to store aprons so your staff can access them easily between tasks.
Who needs meat? As menus become more plant-focused, chefs are taking cues from meat preparation so consumers are less likely to miss the carnivorous experience. Datassential points out that one trend to watch in the coming months is that cooking and preparation methods once reserved for meat are making the leap to produce. (Coffee rubs, once in the purview of barbecue, are now being used on root vegetables like beets.)
Looking to build your business? You’re likely to have more success not by making incremental improvements to your menu — adding creative new condiments that make your burgers a little more interesting than your competitor’s down the road, for example — but by identifying and marketing your specialty. Christopher Lochhead, host of the podcast “Follow your Different” and author of the new book Niche Down, offers the example of Sushirrito, the San Francisco brand that pioneered sushi in burrito form. It combined two of the region’s favorite foods, sushi and burritos, and then focused on solving a problem: How can sushi be eaten on the go? Enter handheld sushi that just happens to introduce some interesting flavor combinations too. The fast-casual brand has generated strong traction in the area since launching in 2011, with now eight locations around the Bay area. They accomplished this not specifically for having better sushi than other restaurants in the region but because they identified a consumer need and found an inventive way to address it. Thinking small — creating and marketing to a specific niche and not simply trying to improve upon what you already do — can help you boost guest loyalty. The good news is that the data you collect about your guests has the power to help you drill down to specifics about their behavior, likes and dislikes, and spending habits. Based on what you know about your guests, is there a menu item you offer that is ripe for a reinvention? Do you know what other food your most loyal patrons enjoy that could give you clues about potential opportunities?
Conventional wisdom says that people who want a harmonious relationship shouldn’t go to bed angry, right? Toast is now applying that logic to negative restaurant reviews. The company commissioned a study that found that 65 percent of one-star reviews on Yelp were posted within one day of a dining experience. To use that one-day window as an opportunity for customer retention, Toast created Toast Guest Feedback, a new guest feedback platform that sends a text to a manager whenever their restaurant gets a one-star review. Often times this will allow the restaurant to correct problems in real time, deescalate customer concerns and avoid losing those customers permanently.
Anthony Bourdain’s death last year, along with a string of 12 suicides and substance-abuse related deaths among hospitality workers in Sacramento, served as a reminder of how restaurants can be fertile ground for mental health problems. The long hours, stressful pace and other extreme conditions can set the tone for unhealthy eating and sleeping habits that exacerbate mental health concerns. To help, a Civil Eats report that appeared in Eater said chef Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney B&L in Sacramento has partnered with Kaiser Permanente, VSP Global, WellSpace Health, the Steinberg Institute and the James Beard Foundation to develop a pilot program called “I Got Your Back.” The program, which has already launched in Mulvaney’s business, trains select workers to spot signs of mental distress at the restaurant. They wear a purple hand on their uniform and check in with other employees to offer support. Mulvaney has hosted workshops to connect with other operators looking to discuss mental health, and he is next looking to develop online resources to help workers in crisis find mental health professionals.
We all know that eating plants is better for us, for the environment and for the restaurant operator’s budget. But for flexitarians and carnivores looking to eat less meat, the idea of eating plants doesn’t always feel as satisfying — or to some, as nutritionally balanced — as a meal should be. Being reminded that they’re not eating meat doesn’t help. Enter the Better Buying Lab (BBL), a department of the World Resources Institute that helps businesses reframe their marketing of plant-based foods. Fast Company reports that following BBL’s principles helped one U.K. grocery store selling “meat-free sausages and mash” (to weak sales) make the change to “Cumberland-spiced veggie sausages and mash,” resulting in a 76 percent jump in sales in two months. They have also advised Panera and Google with similar efforts. BBL recommends companies avoid such terms as vegan, vegetarian, meat-free, or other health-restrictive terms such as low-fat, and embrace terms related to provenance, flavor, and look and feel.
At a time when many famous chefs are having to come to terms with their missteps in managing restaurant culture, chefs Ashley Merriman and four-time James Bear Award winner Gabrielle Hamilton stand out for knowing how to establish a healthy one. Hamilton opened Prune in lower Manhattan in 1999 and she and Merriman have since made it into not just a successful restaurant but an employee-friendly place to work. Guiding them are five simple values, which they recently shared in a Quartz report: Be thorough and excellent at everything you do, even when no one is watching; be smart and funny; be disarmingly honest (that means willing to tell the truth, but not in a brutal or overly earnest way); work without division of any kind (strive to put the person who sweeps the floor on equal footing with the owner); and to use service as leadership. That final point implies that through serving people, you set the tone for an experience with your greeting, eye contact and demeanor. They joke that they are actually an institute for living masquerading as a restaurant.
Having a food inspector visit can be an opportunity — not merely a necessary interruption in the midst of a busy shift. How you prepare for the inspection and implement action steps afterwards is critical. There is power in seeking outside input. The Caterer suggests hiring a food safety consultant who can design a food safety management system tailored to your business. You can also seek out foodservice businesses with strong records and ask to visit their facilities — they may help you identify ways to make improvements. Finally, partner with your health inspector and proactively ask questions between inspections. Investing the time and — in the case of hiring a consultant — money in soliciting feedback is less costly than doing damage control after a food safety violation or illness outbreak.
If you still use manual processes to track ingredients and recipes, be aware of how they can impact your operation’s food safety. For example, a team member who knows one version of a dish well may not know how a dish is altered to accommodate a food allergy if your processes aren’t automated. Restaurant Business advises you consider menu engineering technology to help automate these processes and keep your menu’s ingredient and nutritional information in step with modifications you need to make on the fly. For example, as you create dishes or adjust existing ones, technology can automatically update their allergens and nutritional values down to the ingredient level. It will help ease communication between your team and the guest, as well as give your chef time and freedom to focus on enhancing the menu.
Eggs are having a moment. Now safely in the realm of healthy foods, eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore and are being embraced by consumers and chefs alike for their craveability and versatility. Runny yolks atop everything from avocado toast to burgers to pizza are adding an extra flavor layer to foods. Because they mix well with global ingredients, eggs have become common street food options too. Flavor & the Menu cites such examples as Queen’s Danh Tu, the Vietnamese street food vendor in Brooklyn, which offers bánh xèo, an omelette-crêpe served in a cone. It found a number of other creative egg applications at such places as Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, which makes a crispy rice dish topped with a swirl of vibrant “yolk jam,” and at Mason Eatery in Miami, which offers an appetizer of lightly cooked beaten egg, sour cream, Muenster cheese and salt, served as a gooey mixture with bagel chips for dipping.
Cybersecurity incidents have become so widespread and increasingly sophisticated that it may not be a question of if your business is targeted, but when. Smaller businesses tend to be easier targets than larger ones, but even the biggest players can be caught unawares. (Note the breach that recently impacted Marriott and wasn’t announced until 11 weeks after the fact.) But regardless of the size of your business, there are a number of steps you can take to fortify your operation against cybercriminals. Cybersecurity expert Steve Tcherchian told Restaurant Insider that operators should first manage the devices connecting to their wireless network. Make sure your operating system is up-to-date so you’re less vulnerable to security loopholes, your system is accessible via PIN or password only, your staff isn’t using POS devices to access the Internet, and that you use a firewall to separate parts of the business that have different functions. Train your team to identify phishing emails and to avoid clicking on suspicious attachments. Make sure your staff have access to just the information they need to do their job and nothing more — and that you use online password managers (Dashlane is one) to manage and monitor access to files. Any vendors you hire should have security practices at least as strong as yours, so stay aware of how they store and protect data. Finally, hold your staff accountable by conducting employee background checks (Team Four can help you here) and by issuing each person a unique identifier on your POS, which can help you pinpoint where data breaches and staff shifts overlap.
Plant-based menu items have skyrocketed 800 percent in four years, according to research from the taste and nutrition company Kerry. If you’re not making your menu more plant-based to suit your guests’ tastes, do it to help your bottom line. Severin Nunn, the director of food and beverage at The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., told FSR Magazine that a restaurant’s food cost for plant-based entrées is about 15 percent compared to 30 percent for meat-based dishes. That differential gives operators more room to shift menu prices while retaining an item’s profitability. To beef up your plant-based offering, so to speak, the FSR report advises you approach these dishes with the same care and creativity you’d apply to meat-based entrées, and weave in nutrient-dense, on-trend protein sources such as quinoa, lentils and spirulina.
Long relegated to side dishes and light options for the calorie conscious, vegetables are getting comfortable in the center of the plate as entrées, presented as filling and complete on their own. A GrubHub report found that its customers ordered vegan food 19 percent more in the first half of 2017 than in the same period a year earlier. Sports icons are also lending their star power to the plant-based trend — Shaquille O’Neal and more than a dozen other top athletes recently invested in the vegan Beyond Meat to promote the performance-enhancing benefits of plant-based diets. Menu trends analyst Nancy Kruse told Nation’s Restaurant News that vegetables are standing out on menus in three key categories. One dish doesn’t necessarily work for every restaurant, however, so if you understand who your guests are and what they crave, you can add subtle nuance to your vegetable-based dishes in ways that boost sales. First, veg-focused foods feature vegetables in place of grains and meats in dishes such as the potato lo mein (with potato strands standing in for noodles) at Philadelphia’s Vedge. Veg-forward options promote the craveability and health of vegetables, with well-sourced animal proteins playing a supporting role as condiments or a condensed choice of entrées. At DC’s Beefsteak, for example, the BEETSteak burger features marinated beets and condiments like pickled onion, lettuce, sprouts and vegan chipotle mayo. Finally, veg-friendly options vie for the attention of carnivores, flexitarians and vegetarians alike. Operators have to get creative here to stand out. Kruse says Park City, Utah’s Twisted Fern succeeds with dishes such as a root-veg cassoulet with stewed white beans and herbs, then adding roasted root vegetables in place of animal protein. If you need help with plant-based menu and ingredient development, new options are appearing on the horizon all the time. (One example is Fieldcraft, the Austin-based startup that is rapidly developing a large B2B marketplace for plant-based ingredients.)
It’s not enough to have a loyalty program: 59 percent of millennials quit loyalty programs because the rewards were not valuable enough, according to a recent study by Software Advice. Other common complaints: Guests feel like some restaurants string them along too long before they can earn a reward, and they feel bombarded with emails and other notifications. The right use of tech can help. The Rail suggests operators first find ways to clarify the path to rewards. So instead of saying “50 points earns you a free appetizer,” show the guest how many meals she has purchased or points she has earned toward that free offer. If you have a mobile app, integrating mobile payment into it is a bonus because it helps guests speed past the steps typically required to make an online purchase. Finally, when you send notifications, aim to customize them based on the guest’s past buying behaviors to better your chances of translating promotions into sales.
Consumers, increasingly, want to know the truth behind the food they eat. It isn’t always a pretty story: A new study published in The BMJ traced the longterm effects of fried foods and, while it’s no shock to hear that these foods aren’t healthy, the study found some alarming connections between fried foods and mortality. Upon studying 20 years’ worth of data about U.S. women aged 50 to 79, the study’s authors found that people who reported eating at least one serving of fried food daily had an 8 percent chance of dying early and an 8 percent higher chance of dying from cardiovascular disease specifically. So what is a foodservice operation to do? Taco Bell’s first-ever in-house dietician, Missy Schaaphok, has some ideas — and is proof that quick-service brands can continue to serve their core customers while improving their efforts to tell a healthier story. A Skift Table report indicates Schaaphok has been working to transform the brand’s image from a place where people cave to indulgences in fried food to one where vegetarians, flexitarians, or people looking for lower-fat, lower-calorie or other healthier options can find something they like. Her focus is in making “stealth health” upgrades — evaluating the nutritional content of menu items, improving on what exists and introducing new menu items. She has already eliminated artificial colors and flavors from the menu, as well as high-fructose corn syrup — and is working to reduce sodium content too. She is now working on the brand’s first dedicated vegetarian menu, which is set to launch later this year.
If you offer your guests free wifi, you could be collecting valuable data as a result. Are you? As NextRestaurants reports, your wifi marketing can take off if you ask guests connecting to your wifi to log in using their email address or social media account information as opposed to a universal password. While it may feel Big Brotherish to some, this system can help you forge stronger connections with visitors who log in. (Upon signing on, visitors are taken to a landing page where you can offer them a discount on food or drink, or introduce them to your loyalty program.) This system can give you a much deeper understanding of who your guests are, how often they come and how long they stay, and what your most popular days and times are — particularly if you are able to integrate this data with your POS and build targeted marketing campaigns from it. (Need a wifi solution? Team Four can help with that, contact us anytime).
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