When you log on to Facebook, it typically takes just a moment to see advertisements for items you are likely to buy. These ads aren’t merely tailored to people in your demographic or posted based on the weather or what other consumers happen to be buying that day. They are tailored to you, specifically. Yet somehow, in the current era of personalization, restaurant menus are lagging. At a time when an estimated 32 million American consumers have a food allergy, and many others have a food intolerance or follow some specific eating regimen, be it paleo or plant-based or Whole 30 diets, even the most forward-thinking of restaurants don’t yet provide menus that are designed for an individual consumer. Expect that to change, particularly in light of McDonald’s recent purchase of the menu personalization startup Dynamic Yield. At the moment, restaurant menu personalization is more about adjusting menus based upon broader environmental conditions as opposed to individual consumer tastes. And as The Spoon reports, a number of barriers still remain when it comes to gaining consumers’ trust with personal data. But it’s not difficult to see a time when a person with a nut allergy might be able to log in at a restaurant and bring up a variety of nut-free food choices based on items he or she has ordered at that restaurant and elsewhere, or reviewed on Yelp, posted on Instagram, or even “liked” on Facebook. How do you accommodate personalization at your restaurant? Does your tech currently help you in this effort?
Restaurant take-out supplies comprise a large percentage of the waste that ends up in oceans and landfills. Beyond limiting your single-use plastic, particularly the black plastic that research has confirmed is hazardous not just to the environment but also to human health, there are steps you can take to scale back your waste and to send the message to guests that you care about the environment. Start by conducting a waste audit so you have a clear picture of which menu items, packaging and office supplies generate the most waste, then adjust portion sizes and purchase orders accordingly. Buy non-perishable items in bulk if possible and use suppliers who can provide recyclable products and use less packaging on the items you purchase. Make extra napkins, straws, lids and other paper goods available upon request only. Finally, minimize the paper you generate by asking guests if you can email or text their receipt instead of printing it.
Consumers demand fresh food — but that can lead to food safety challenges, especially when fresh produce is a key feature of your menu. But there are steps you can take to protect the safety of your food supply and enhance safety protocol within your restaurant. As Restaurant Dive reports, a string of romaine lettuce contamination incidents led Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol, to attack food safety from several angles. First, the brand developed a field leadership team of food safety managers. They oversee five to 10 restaurants and train managers how to run a restaurant with an emphasis on food safety. The company also revamped its supply chain team, introduced quarterly food safety training, developed a “focus prep” team to limit the number of people preparing food, and transitioned more cooking tasks to a central kitchen where food safety could be more closely monitored. Finally, they focused on retaining employees so that food safety knowledge had a better chance of accumulating on staff. The efforts appear to be turning results around for the brand, which generated revenue gains of nearly 9 percent last year, according to earnings data.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.
Looking for alternatives to plastic for off-premise food packaging? Increasingly, it’s coming from plants. Corn is currently being used for plastic alternatives ranging from straws to containers, but according to a report in Scientific American, the disposal of the material poses challenges, along with leaving an environmental footprint. It is compostable and not recyclable, so if not sent to an industrial facility where it can biodegrade, the process can take between 100 and 1000 years (versus just a few months). Still, other promising and more easily biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed from materials ranging from cactus to algae. Some are even designed to eliminate waste altogether. The Spoon reports that the startup Decomer is developing a plant-based capsule containing honey. It can dissolve in coffee, tea, or other liquids at a wide range of temperatures.
Hurricane season is here, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s high time to review your emergency response plan to make sure you can manage potential business disruptions that may come your way. Statefoodsafety.com suggests listing potential threats, ranging from power outages to food or water contamination, so you can build a simple but useful response plan from them — your local authority can help you create it. Assign roles to key employees and ensure every employee knows who handles various tasks. Establish talking points so your team communicates the same clear, calm message to customers. Post a list of emergency contacts (and also provide it to employees) so your team knows who can help in an emergency. Finally, protect your food and water supply. Establish a plan to keep food cool by keeping the refrigerator door closed when you can, storing ice in the refrigerator or freezer to keep temperatures down, or securing access to a refrigerated truck. Consider keeping an emergency supply of water and developing a separate menu that requires less water for preparation so you can still operate when your supply is threatened.
Blueberries abound this time of year and they shine in far more than desserts. This summer, try them in savory applications to add some unexpected sweetness and color to entrées. As chef Jason K. Morse, owner of 5280 Culinary, a line of barbecue products, told Flavor & the Menu recently, blueberries work especially well when used to balance out dishes with lots of spice, heat or other strong, savory flavors. Try them as sweet counterpoints to barbecue sauces, marinades and chutneys on grilled pork and poultry, sandwiches and tacos.
Have you harnessed technology to manage your food waste? If not, consider a couple of companies on the forefront of the effort who are helping restaurants limit their waste — and in the process, save money, gain insights into their menu and connect with the community. Goodr, which made the Spoon’s list of 25 companies changing the future of food, uses technology to minimize food waste and then partners with nonprofits to transport it to people in need. The company also has efforts underway to use food waste for renewable energy — a good story to share with guests — as well as to use blockchain to enhance the efficiency of food waste management. Another company, Copia, enables food businesses to donate their unused food in exchange for enhanced tax deductions, as well as data that can help steer purchasing decisions.
Between rising labor costs and falling traffic, there is no shortage of factors squeezing restaurant profits right now. Raising prices to meet margins is one option, but how much are your guests willing to pay before they take their business elsewhere? And what if sales shortfalls are simply due to shifting trends — or your competitor across the street offering a similar product for less? If you use data analytics to manage your food costs, you can uncover helpful information about your inventory. Since your inventory likely eats up 25 to 35 percent of your operating budget, it’s a good place to find lurking costs that can be minimized so you can better manage your spending. To identify opportunities, look at your supply chain and product mix. Do you know how many times your product changes hands and how prices shift with each transition? If you’re looking for help with this and much more, ask about Team Four’s Palette program. We can assess your supply chain, purchases and product mix and then recommend action steps that will help you lower food costs without sacrificing your quality standards. That might involve substituting quality products that still reduce food costs, or identifying trend changes, purchases that aren’t in line with your product specifications, or pricing that doesn’t reflect current trends. Learn more at www.palettefoodservice.com
At a time when even recyclable plastic often ends up in landfills or oceans, the presence of single-use plastic is still widespread in restaurants, most noticeably in the delivery space. The parent of Zume Pizza, the automated pizza delivery company that won accolades for developing a compostable, biodegradable, molded fiber “pizza pod” for shepherding pies to customers, is now helping other companies develop non-plastic packaging alternatives. According to a Forbes report, the company recently launched a new venture to develop plant-based packaging that is designed to have the performance qualities of plastic (and is priced to compete with plastic when used at scale). The packaging, a compostable blend of sugarcane fiber, bamboo, wood pulp and wheat straw, is classified as Type 4 Molded Fiber, the highest grade of molded fiber packaging.
Running events at your restaurant can help you generate a reliable stream of income, especially if a shift to more off-premise sales has taken a bite out of your in-house dining sales. But according to the latest Meeting Room of the Future Report from the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), facilities that host corporate events are lagging when it comes to reducing food waste and being mindful of the environment — and there is a significant opportunity for those who have a thoughtful strategy. First off, the times of a buffet line overflowing with food have passed: In the report, which polled 250 meeting planners around the world, 60 percent of respondents said they consider how well a venue manages food waste before they book an event with that venue. Further, 44 percent of respondents said that in the next five years, ethical operations and sustainable practices will be more important when booking a venue — the only factor ranked more highly was access to interactive technology. To put your best foot forward when working with people who are booking corporate events, take steps now to integrate more in-season foods on your events menu and to buy them in bulk, research and partner with producers who follow sustainable practices, ask about nearby services available to compost/recycle both food and packaging (if you don’t ask, you won’t necessarily hear about them), train your staff to speak knowledgeably about your efforts so your values come through to meeting planners and potential guests, and weave your sustainable practices into your marketing materials. They’re as much of a selling point as your menu.
A robot that can flip burgers behind the scenes is one thing. But somehow, a robot that can take on a wide range of front-of-house roles normally held by humans still feels a little space-age. However, a voice-activated, cloud-enabled service robot called the Sanbot Elf Robot seems to be making that possible. Canada-based Autonetics Universe recently acquired the rights to distribute the robot, which Nation’s Restaurant News reports can be programmed to take on such roles as greeting guests, taking orders, and sharing promotions, as well as serving as food runner, cashier and even security guard. The service robot is already used widely in Canada and Japan — the company says there are currently 100,000 in use — and it’s not difficult to see how such technology may appeal to U.S. operators struggling to manage labor costs. (Well, aside from the $13,000 price tag.) McDonald’s is currently testing robotic technology used for frying, taking drive-thru orders and cooking chicken and fish, so front-of-house applications may not be far behind for major brands.
The bulky equipment in your kitchen may not be the most convenient to clean, but it’s important your kitchen team does it properly to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. For items that can’t be cleaned automatically, Statefoodsafety.com advises you first turn off and unplug the electrical equipment you plan to clean, then wash and rinse the outside of the equipment, followed by the area underneath and around it. Clean and sanitize any removable parts by soaking them or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Anything that cannot be removed and cleaned must be washed and rinsed in place. Finish by wiping everything down with sanitizing solution. To avoid contamination, air dry all equipment instead of using a cloth, and resanitize any surfaces that may have gotten recontaminated when you put the equipment back together following cleaning. Clean ovens weekly, refrigerators and freezers monthly, and sinks regularly between uses — especially if they are used frequently throughout the day.
When a London restaurant was informed in advance about a guest with a severe nut allergy coming to dine recently, the restaurant said the guest could either bring his own food and have the restaurant heat it (at a cost of $22), or eat food from the kitchen and sign a waiver acknowledging risk of cross-contamination. While this was a public relations mistake for sure, it demonstrates the pressure restaurants feel to lower the risk of preparing food for guests with allergies. How do your risk management practices measure up? Public health consultants EHA Group advise foodservice operators to assess a food’s path from warehouse to plate, which requires careful communication with your suppliers, distributors and staff. Use a production matrix that labels, tracks and dictates how to handle allergens so you can feel confident about managing them. Isolate allergens in storage and preparation areas, cook allergen-free foods first, change utensils after each item, wash hands thoroughly after handling allergens, change aprons or uniforms when there is a contamination risk, and clean preparation areas and equipment well after handling allergens.
Receive a shipment of fruit and the clock starts: You have a small window of time to either use the fresh fruit or freeze it, right? But an emerging company called StixFresh has developed technology that they say can extend the shelf life of a fruit by up to two weeks, helping people minimize food waste and save money at the same time. (The company says up to 52 percent of fruit goes to waste each year in the U.S.) StixFresh developed stickers made from an all-natural material that can slow the ripening process when stuck to fruit. The stickers work best on apples, avocados, dragon fruits, kiwis, oranges and pears and can also be used on such fruit as apricots, lemons and pomegranates. The StixFresh stickers will be available this summer.
Is your restaurant known for its local flavor? Do you (or could you) offer a creative dining experience or other event that could become a memorable part of a person’s vacation or business trip? Consider who may be passing through town in search of a good meal. Skift Research found that 43 percent of tourists plan their travel with food as the main purpose. Tourists and business travelers are often looking for an authentic, local dining experience — and then posting about it to their friends online. Local Airbnb hosts, hotel companies, delivery providers and other complementary businesses can be helpful partners who can connect you with potential customers. Consider DoorDash’s new partnership with Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which allows guests at its 3,700 U.S. hotel properties to bypass room service and get restaurant delivery for free from DoorDash member restaurants. (InterContinental Hotel Group already has a similar relationship with OpenTable and GrubHub, while Resy also works in partnership with Airbnb, allowing guests to make in-app reservations at a curated selection of restaurants in a number of cities.) But even without formal partnerships you can get the word out to people visiting your area. At the very least, get to know the travel bloggers who cover your region so you’re on their radar when they suggest local dining options.
Do you know your business case for managing food waste? According to a recent report from the World Research Institute and the Waste and Resources Action Programme, restaurants can earn $7 for every dollar they spend on food waste management. AgFunder reports that the research behind the study assessed the food waste management practices of more than 100 restaurants in 12 countries, including restaurants ranging from international quick-service brands to upscale, sit-down restaurants. The participating restaurants tried a “target, measure, act” approach to food waste, which involved measuring the food being wasted to identify the biggest pain points, then engaging staff, reassessing inventory and purchasing practices, reducing overproduction and repurposing excess food. Participating restaurants reduced food waste by 26 percent on average, and more than 75 percent of the restaurants had earned back the investment they made to cut food waste in the first year alone.
Finding and retaining talent is a perennial challenge for restaurants, and the millennial generation’s reputation for favoring flexible work arrangements stands to make things more difficult for the industry. So instead of fighting the inevitable, why not embrace it? If you’re able to adjust your labor model to accommodate a regular influx of temporary or even one-time staff of various skill levels (and particularly if you’re located in a metropolitan area) technology is quickly making it possible for restaurants to fill staffing gaps with skilled people. A recent report from Bloomberg Businessweek offered up the example of Pared, a staffing app founded by two tech and restaurant veterans that enables operators to fill last-minute staffing needs. What began as a Bay-area resource for finding dishwashers and prep cooks has since expanded to new cities (they aim to be in all major U.S. metro markets by next year) and to roles including servers, baristas and oyster shuckers. Operators are able to request various levels of experience as well. While some operators have found the app costly — a skilled worker can walk into a restaurant for one might and make a higher hourly wage than a longtime cook — they acknowledge that insurance, taxes, overtime and hiring costs make apps like Pared a viable alternative to hiring staff. As Wade Moises, executive chef of Rosemary’s in New York noted in the report, “Thinking about Pared now, I’m not sure if I should fire my whole staff or quit myself.”
You are throwing money away. That’s one lesson Google has learned since it began partnering with Leanpath to measure and track the food waste it generates when serving 200,000 meals in its cafés each day. Fast Company reports that Leanpath provides equipment that can display the monetary value of wasted food, which has provided Google chefs with some extra motivation to be resourceful with ingredients. It has also helped them make adjustments such as cooking items in batches, offering smaller plates and using shallower serving pans to minimize waste without sacrificing the appearance of abundance. Google employees play a role too. At certain Google cafés, Leanpath equipment can measure wasted food where employees return their plates. Those measurements feed a digital display employees can see when ordering food and deciding how large of a portion they’d like. (Leanpath is just one company in this business — Winnow is another to check out.)
Is your delivery menu a mirror image of your dine-in menu? Chances are it shouldn’t be. That’s the verdict of a recent Restaurant Business report about how to maximize the benefits of offering off-premise food options. You need to consider how well your food and beverages travel, how many pages of options people are likely to tolerate scrolling through on their phones, and how efficiently your kitchen can manage the preparation of various items during peak periods. To make your restaurant more guest-friendly when it comes to delivery, as well as more profitable for you at a time when delivery often squeezes restaurant margins, consider how you can scale down your menu. The Restaurant Business report cited an example of one restaurant that placed its entire menu online, requiring viewers to click through six screens, and another that winnowed its menu down to six items on one page. (The latter restaurant generated an average of 10 times more sales than the first.) It also pays to know your highest-margin items and find ways to feature them more prominently on your menu and boost their appeal. Customers might view beverages, for example, as items that are easy to skip in favor of alternatives available at home or elsewhere. But if you create specialty or seasonal beverages served in containers that travel well and come in sizes that can serve a family or group, you can make them a more compelling sell. Finally, ease the pressure on your kitchen at peak times. Operators are experimenting with a range of options to do that, from reserving front- and back-of-house space for delivery orders, focusing the delivery menu on foods that require less effort and time to prepare, and taking delivery out of the restaurant altogether and using ghost or commissary kitchens to prepare and farm out orders.
Your sustainability efforts could soon be visible front and center for people considering your restaurant for their next meal. Yelp just unveiled its Green Practices Initiative in an effort to help consumers understand how restaurants approach sustainability. Yelp reviewers will now be asked if in their experience a restaurant uses plastic bags, utensils or straws, compostable takeout containers, and whether or not the restaurant offers a discount to guests who bring their own beverage containers. The results won’t be visible immediately but will gradually build a trove of data that will eventually be included in Yelp’s restaurant reviews.
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.
What’s your challenge? Whether you need help developing recipes and concepts, analyzing food costs, fine-tuning purchasing, planning a marketing campaign or managing another aspect of your business, we can provide guidance tailored to your needs. Contact Team Four at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-891-3103 for more information.
About Food For Thought and Profit
Food For Thought And Profit is brought to you by Team Four Foodservice/Value 4. We offer the latest foodservice trends, news, safety, and technological advances in the industry. We are an outsourced purchasing and logistics company that provides comprehensive supply chain solutions to our customers. Our executive team has many years of foodservice experience and we bring that experience to work for you. We have expertise in all areas of the foodservice sector.