Three steps to transparency
The costs of a foodborne illness outbreak are steep. The National Restaurant Association says an affected operation may have to manage declining sales and staff morale, negative media exposure, lawsuits and legal fees, climbing insurance premiums, more frequent staff absences and increased spending on retraining. If you build trust with consumers long before you face a foodborne illness outbreak or other crisis, you’re much more likely to overcome those challenges and rebuild. According to Food Safety News, recent research from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that the way to earn trust is through transparency – and there are three ways to do it. First, open the doors to your safety practices: Use video, blogs, advertising and promotion to demonstrate how your food is produced, where it comes from and how it impacts their health. Second, ensure your guests feel they can engage with you about your food. Do you provide clear answers to their questions and respond to other feedback promptly? CFI’s research found that 40 percent of the consumers surveyed agree they have access to all of the information they want about the source, production and safety of the food they consume. That’s up from 28 percent in 2007, when the last such surveyed was conducted, so consumers are feeling increasingly empowered to demand transparency from the foodservice businesses they support. Finally, if applicable to your operation, show third-party certification or audit results as a seal of approval demonstrating your credibility and integrity.
The complications of third-party delivery
Do you offer third-party delivery? The demand for it – and operators’ rush to accommodate it – has resulted in some growing pains, according to a report from The Kitchen. Operators working with multiple third-party delivery services can quickly start to resemble command centers where restaurant staff must monitor multiple tablets to manage orders. (Even large brands can struggle to keep up: At a recent franchisee convention of a brand with more than 500 locations, the COO suggested operators dedicate an employee to simply “watch the tablets” and manually key orders into the point-of-sale system.) There is also plenty of room for error when restaurants update menus and those changes aren’t reflected on the websites of the delivery services. It wasn’t long ago that delivery was tech-free, so when you’re making the transition to tech-driven delivery, make sure your in-house technology is sophisticated enough to accommodate multiple new streams of orders from these services. If they require additional labor and manual order handling, the added costs (and potential for errors) can add up quickly. And the end consumer is more likely to hold you accountable for problems than the person who delivers their meal: A Technomic study found that 76 percent of customers hold the restaurant partially responsible for errors, even if restaurants have formal agreements with third-party delivery companies, and even though the consumer never communicates directly with the restaurant itself during their transaction.
Kitchen tech for improved food safety
How connected is your kitchen? Food Safety Magazine says technology has made it possible for foodservice professionals to improve safety processes in three critical ways. See how your operation stacks up: Do you have technology that monitors your systems around the clock? Employees can be around to monitor equipment for only so many hours in a day, but technology that monitors your refrigerator, for example, can send an alert if the system malfunctions in the middle of the night and threatens the safety of the food inside. Are you using technology to gain insight into your processes and data? If your data indicates there are temperature fluctuations in your walk-in cooler occurring at a certain time each day, for example, you might discover that the cooler is left open during food deliveries and could be causing a food safety risk. Finally, technology can automate manual, tactical tasks such as recording over temperatures at set points throughout a shift, so you’re free to think more strategically about your food safety plan.
Help your team talk about food safety risk
The disclaimer is nearly ubiquitous on restaurant menus: Consuming undercooked meats may increase risk of foodborne illness. But does your team follow through with that message when interacting with guests? Many front-line employees don’t, according to Ben Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University and co-author of a recent study about food safety. The study sent trained “secret shoppers” to 265 full-service restaurants around the U.S., where they ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. They then noted how well, if at all, the employees communicated about the risk of eating the medium-rare hamburger. The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t serve the medium-rare burger but among those that did, 77 percent of servers provided unreliable food safety information, such as noting the color of the burger instead of its cooking time and final temperature.
New preparation methods require enhanced safety practices
Consumers are demanding foods, flavors and dining experiences from around the globe. When experimenting with foods and preparation methods that may be outside of your kitchen’s comfort zone, take extra precautions with food safety. Sous vide preparations, for one, can result in food that remains raw or undercooked. Food Quality News also reported recently that a salmonella outbreak in Canada suggested the cooking method for chicken shawarma may cause food safety risks. When the marinated meat is roasted on the spit in front of the grill, raw portions of the meat may come into contact with cooked portions. Particularly if the restaurant is busy, the food may be partially undercooked.
Airbnb lets consumers reserve restaurant tables
If your restaurant operates in an area popular with tourists or prides itself on providing guests with a chance to experience your region through food, you may now be able to tap into Airbnb to boost your business. Airbnb, which invested in the restaurant software company Resy, is now enabling consumers to book restaurant tables on the company’s mobile app and website, according to Skift. Initially, the reservations will encompass 650 restaurants in 16 U.S. markets, or about 65 percent of the restaurants currently using Resy. According to a recent Nielsen consumer survey of 2,083 U.S. adults on behalf of Airbnb, 66 percent of travelers make restaurant reservations when they’re away from home, and 39 percent would prefer to make those reservations online when they travel.
Cashless and carrying on
It’s been nearly two years since the salad-focused Sweetgreen restaurants began experimenting with cashless payments – and it doesn’t sound like that’s changing anytime soon. The brand went cashless in an effort to improve employee safety, reduce line length and eliminate the health concerns involved in handling cash – all while driving consumers (and their data) onto Sweetgreen’s mobile payment app, according to Recode. Cash-carrying customers are left out. The brand’s co-CEO Jonathan Neman took to the stage at Code Commerce recently and said Sweetgreen is looking for ways to help customers turn cash into digital payments, since not everyone is able to pay with a credit card or smartphone. But he didn’t announce any solution to it. That may imply the cashless experiment is working -- at least in the restaurant’s 75 locations in California and the Northeast – and other operators might give it a shot.
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