Across industries in the U.S., labor productivity has effectively doubled over the past 30 years, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the foodservice industry has been among the slowest to grow, at about 80 percent below the national average and ranking just below the post office and just above the mining industry in productivity. The food and beverage strategy firm Aaron Allen & Associates points to one culprit holding the industry’s productivity back: restaurants’ slow adoption of new technologies. The company says the next five years will be more disruptive to foodservice operators than the past 50 years have been, and slow adopters of technology are likely to be left behind. Specifically, technology is making the restaurant experience more and more frictionless for customers and operators alike: Once a consumer gets used to ordering his favorite take-away meal with merely a couple of taps on his phone, then automatically earning loyalty points redeemable for this item at the times of the week when he craves it most, he won’t want to give up that experience. Similarly, once an operator is using tech to monitor everything from the most popular menu items to the functionality of appliances, she has time to focus on providing better customer service, connecting with staff or even scaling up the business. While these updates can be difficult to transition to for an older operation used to managing business more conventionally, restaurant startups are launching with this technology already embedded into their business models ― and it’s giving them a clear advantage when competing with more established brands.
Food packaging technology is evolving so fast that it’s making plastic cutlery seem almost quaint. A startup called Planeteer LLC, for example, has taken on the challenge of packaging waste and developed a variety of cutlery that isn’t merely compostable but also edible. The company has created a spoon that it promises will hold its shape for 25 minutes in hot soup and 50 minutes in a cold dessert, The Spoon reports. Planeteer cofounder Dinesh Tadepalli said it is vegan, all-natural, rich in protein and composts in days if not consumed. The company will be presenting its product at the Smart Kitchen Summit’s Future Food Competition in October.
Restaurant owners are stepping up to the challenge of minimizing their food waste. That was one conclusion of Toast’s recently released Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report, which surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators and staff, along with a similar number of restaurant guests, about the experience of operating and dining at restaurants. Toast asked restaurant professionals to share how they’re reducing food waste in 2019. The responses included such actions as using leftover ingredients from one recipe in another (38 percent), offering multiple portion choices for guests (26 percent) and composting (25 percent). Others said they limit the number of items they prepare for service, offer an a la carte menu and cross-utilize ingredients in an effort to reduce food waste. Still, there is room for improvement as a considerable portion of those surveyed (26 percent) do nothing at all to reduce food waste at their business. The consequences aren’t just environmental but also financial: A reFED study found that the approximately 11 million tons of food waste generated by restaurants annually costs businesses about $25 billion per year – and that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can save restaurants $8. The industry report emphasized that while you can’t control what someone eats or leaves behind, you can control your inventory. Your first course of action in managing waste is to keep close tabs on your shelves to reduce spoilage and avoid a tendency to over-order items – your inventory management system can help you take the best action.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of ordering French fries or a salad for delivery only to receive them in limp, soggy form once they’ve been packaged and transported to you, Bill Birgen feels your pain. A popular speaker at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and winner of the SKS Startup Showcase, Birgin has developed technology designed to manage the condensation that can collect in delivery packaging and make certain foods unpalatable as a result. The goal of the packaging, dubbed the SAVR-pak, is to both improve food quality and reduce food waste. While it’s still early, the Spoon reports that the SAVR-pak has gotten the attention of Deliveroo, who has placed a purchase order, as well as a number of resorts.
“I’d have a tough time sleeping at night if I was handing our food to an untrained, random third-party driver to then carry that over to our customer, because what happens when you have a service failure or you have a product quality problem in that situation?” That’s what Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison said during an April 2019 earnings call. Of course, Domino’s has the scale to be able to manage delivery orders in-house (and also a vested interest in making consumers doubt the reliability of third-party delivery providers). But if you’re using third-party providers, it’s worthwhile to note – and attempt to manage – their shortcomings, since consumers are more likely to blame the restaurant for service failures than the delivery provider. A recent nationwide survey of 1,000 consumers by Steritech asked questions about the pluses and minuses of delivery and offered suggestions on how to address challenges. When the surveyed consumers have had problems with delivery, they included such challenges as the food taking too long to arrive, the packaging not keeping the food at the proper temperature/containing spills/preventing tampering, and order inaccuracy. Steritech advises taking a range of actions to help: To better resolve service issues, consider printing phone numbers for problem resolution on receipts, packaging or seals – or create an online portal for resolving disputes. Minimize phone orders in favor of online orders for better accuracy. Prioritize order accuracy and quality checks before food leaves your restaurant. Provide real-time delivery tracking or time estimates and send text alerts when food is en route. Offer online tipping options. Communicate your fee breakdown clearly so consumers understand where their money is going. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some brands are trying to provide the best of both worlds: Panera, for one, is offering a hybrid system whereby it relies on third-party providers to take orders but then uses its own fleet for delivery to better manage quality control.
Chances are your waste management practices have evolved in recent years, whether you are finding new uses for vegetable stems and roots, donating unused ingredients or integrating other practices altogether. As Shannon Bergstrom, a sustainability operations manager at the tech-driven waste and recycling company RTS, told the Rail, new methods for reducing and rerouting food waste are appearing all the time. Coffee grounds are being used to create such items as ceramics as well as logs that can be used as fire wood. Spent grains left over from beer production are being remolded into all-natural dog treats. Even if you can’t go to those lengths to find uses for your food waste, you likely can make better use of technology to improve your practices. RTS, for one, helps foodservice operators use technology to access on-demand collection services that can help businesses connect to a wide range of vendors looking for anything from raw ingredients to cooked meals. It may help you find uses for leftover ingredients that you’re not even aware of.
As consumers have demanded packaging that’s friendlier to the environment, operators have quickly replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and plastic containers with packaging containing natural materials. But as an investigation by the New Food Economy found recently, the fiber bowls that are widely used in place of plastic contain chemicals known as PFAS that don’t biodegrade and aren’t really compostable, despite being labeled as such. On the contrary, they may actually be making compost more toxic. San Francisco is the first city to ban the bowls, effective in January, and to date, there are no known commercially viable alternatives according to the report. In the meantime, Eater reports that after McDonald’s in the U.K. and Ireland phased out plastic straws in favor of recyclable paper ones that generated customer complaints, the brand introduced a thicker paper straw to replace the first solution. But new reports indicate it is non-recyclable. So what is a restaurant brand to do to become more eco-friendly? Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to first understand the terminology. The term “biodegradable,” for example, sounds eco-friendly but is only indicative of a product that will decompose – and that could take several hundred years. Working with organizations that research and certify environmentally friendly options can help too. Modern Restaurant Management suggests Green Seal, an environmental standard development organization that tests and certifies products, services and venues like restaurants and hotels, then awards certification based on performance, health and sustainability criteria.
If you’re on the fence about offering tabletop technology at your restaurant, consider this: tabletop tech can improve sales by 1 percent per check and reduce meal duration by 10 percent, increasing sales per minute by 11 percent. That’s according to soon-to-be-published research from the business schools at Southern Methodist University and the University of Pennsylvania that studied 2.6 million transactions at a U.S. restaurant chain with 66 locations. The lead researchers of the study said the technology can help operators compensate for shortfalls in their ability to offer excellent table service, as well as give operators a financial leg up on competition.
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.
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 email@example.com or 888-891-3103 for more information.
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