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.
When you need to revamp your strategy
Any restaurant can experience peaks and valleys in sales – so how do you know when you need to rethink your restaurant’s strategy? In a recent Toast blog, restaurant coach Donald Burns identified a couple of key areas to consider: First, does your restaurant plan need adjustment? Consider how your guests see your brand, how that compares with how you see your brand, and how you might need to reposition your brand in your market. Also ask yourself if your product mix is right – review your sales reports to determine what is selling (not what you want to be selling). Second, do you need to replace staff? Perhaps you have a culture that doesn’t attract top talent, or you made bad hires and kept them. Address snags in these areas – and in any other areas that keep you awake at night – to set your business on a positive course.
Gift card give and take
Last year, 90 percent of consumers either purchased or received gift cards, First Data Corp. reports. To stand out from the crowd of retailers offering them, it’s important to get creative. Restaurant Hospitality recommends you offer foods rewards instead of monetary ones – or let the person buying the card get a piece of the reward too. Saladworks in Conshohocken, Penn., for example, offers a free salad with a gift card purchase instead of a cash reward. Other brands offer menu items or cash bonuses that correspond with different gift card price thresholds. Try to use your restaurant’s personality to help make the sale, like Chicago-based Portillo’s, where employees in the drive-through are known to dangle gift cards from their hats – the tactic helps the brand sell more than half of its gift cards for the year.
Growing pains for operators who don’t accept tips
For restaurant operators that have gone the no-tipping route, running a business has become like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – or, says one director of operations, like opening a new restaurant. In a New York Times report about restaurants that have made the switch, the businesses have tried different strategies to adjust to the tip-free model: adding bulk to a plate to better justify a higher charge, adding a smaller cut of meat to the menu to balance a larger and more expensive one, limiting some organic produce, working with a smaller kitchen crew, and buying ingredients in bulk and in partnership with other restaurants to save on expenses. Expect more adjustments to come as operators test their pain points – and those of their guests – when it comes to adjusting menu items, prices and staff.
Back to basics for Chipotle
While Chipotle would surely like to say good bye to 2016, the brand’s challenges this year provide a valuable list of lessons for the rest of the industry. The Chicago Tribune reports that its efforts to win guests back following its brief wave of contamination incidents have fallen flat, with sales down 22 percent in the most recent quarter. While Chipotle has tried overhauling food safety measures, adding chorizo to the menu, launching a summer rewards program and offering free kids’ meals, it now seems to be running into trouble on such customer service no-nos as long lines, messy dining rooms and drink stations, and missing ingredients. Now it sounds like the brand is refocusing on the basics that made it a darling of the industry in the hopes that guests will return.
Automation spreads from coast to coast
Eatsa, the eatery that offers quinoa bowls from a high-tech dispensary with minimal human involvement, now has a New York restaurant to match its west-coast outlet. Guests order food from tablets in the restaurant or via smartphone app and pick up their food from electronic cubbies. While humans do work at Eatsa, they’re limited in number, working behind the scenes making food and standing out front to answer guest questions. Eater reports the model helps the brand cut costs and customize orders too – Eatsa owner Scott Drummond hopes to bring the cost of a quinoa bowl from $7 down to $5 and further develop its technology to offer custom bowls to guests based on their past orders.
The bar menu gets reinvented
Seventy percent of people between the ages of 21 and 34 purchase alcoholic beverages away from home at least once a week, reports Technomic and Beverage Marketing Corp.’s new On-Premise Intelligence report. That’s compared to just 48 percent for everyone older than those in that bracket. To capitalize on younger consumers, the report predicts we’ll see more alcohol popping up on menus at limited-service restaurants – Taco Bell and Starbucks are already cashing in on this idea. These consumers like to branch out and try new flavors, so bars targeting the demographic will offer a broader variety of alcohol categories, brands and styles, limited-time drink specials that rotate through the menu, and craft beer made on site.
Restaurant industry flexes to accommodate the independent worker
More cafes and restaurants are finding ways to embrace the 35 percent of the workforce who work independently. Eater recently reported on some newer approaches for appealing to these guests, such as cafes charging guests a $6 flat fee for their first hour spent onsite, then five cents each hour thereafter, which grants each person a workspace and unlimited coffee, tea and snacks. Others offer hybrid hospitality/workspace for monthly fees ranging from $95 to $220. In cities with bustling happy hour and evening business but non-existent lunch business, restaurants are offering space to independent workers during the day when they purchase either a monthly or day pass.
Protect your dry goods storage
Start your new year with a food supply that meets safety standards. Food Safety magazine shared some simple rules for making sure your dry goods are stored safely: Rotate your food – the first item in should be the first out. Keep your storerooms dry, well ventilated and cool (between 50 and 70˚F), with humidity of 15 percent or less. Avoid storing food in direct sunlight. Store food at least six inches from the floor and at least 18 inches from walls to minimize the development of condensation and ease cleaning and vermin control. Keep doors and windows sealed and shut whenever possible to prevent the entry of rodents, insects or birds. Finally, have adequate space to accommodate what you store. Use this equation to help determine if you have sufficient space: Required storage area (sq. ft.)= (Volume per meal x number of meals between deliveries)/(Average height x fraction of usable storeroom floor area).
A purple blow torch promises safer food
A major food safety innovation on the horizon could help restaurants prevent norovirus. Food Safety News reports that cold plasma treatment, also known as a purple blow torch, kills 99.9 percent of norovirus on blueberries without harming the fruit. The researchers report that the method has the potential to extend shelf life by slowing spoilage rates. While they say there is further research needed before the cold plasma method is available commercially, they expect the technology to be accessible and affordable for the food industry to use. Food Dive reports that when that occurs, it could revolutionize the industry, benefiting the security of meats, poultry and produce.
Do you have the right point-of-sale system for you?
Are you using a retail point-of-sale system at your restaurant? Toast outlined why even if it offers you the basics, it’s likely holding you back. A system designed for restaurants will offer you table management, online ordering (without having to pay a third-party ordering site), and analytics that will help you see what sold best that day, how you can create sales forecasts and which server generates the best tips. It will help you develop a reliable customer database that tracks who your most loyal guests are, what they love about you, and what they order -- information you can use to deliver communications and promotions that resonate with them. Finally, it offers efficiency by helping you integrate your inventory, sales, employee scheduling, loyalty program and customer database. Does your current system offer these tools?
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