The restaurant industry attracts $783 billion in sales and is an attractive sell to many investors. If you're looking for an investor to support your business, you don't necessarily need to be bringing in millions (though it helps if you're covering overhead and generating an increase of 5 to 7% in same-store sales, according to Technomic's Darren Tristano.) Tristano recently shared these recommendations with restaurateurs looking for investors: For one, do one thing and do it well -- think specialized restaurants with smaller menus. Have a flexible, scaleable concept. Can it operate well in 400 square feet? Then it saves on overhead costs and may be a great fit for a nontraditional space, like a food truck offering catering and delivery. Finally, have a well-packaged brand with contemporary signage, decor and service capabilities like digital payments.
Put a new twist on an old concept
Instead of overhauling menus or tweaking décor to appeal to millennials, some restaurants are creating entirely new models. Taco Bell recently launched Cantina in Chicago and San Francisco. It offers the same menu as Taco Bell’s original stores, but with free wi-fi, late-night hours, and beer, wine, sangria and alcoholic slushies in a setting that looks more like an urban hotspot than a quick-service restaurant, Restaurant Business reports. Customers have responded well, booking Cantina for parties and expanding the restaurant’s occasions to serve guests. Management has had to invest time and money in new approaches with staffing and training due to the alcohol sold on site, but so far, they think the strategy is working: Their average check is 50 cents higher at Cantina and they have plans to expand.
New rule dictates how restaurants handle union-related counsel
Restaurant operators who hire consultants to advise them during a union organizing effort will be required to reveal the guidance they receive, according to a new rule announced by the U.S. Department of Labor. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the rule will ensure workers know whether the information they're hearing is coming from their employer or from a paid, third-party consultant. Restaurant advocates quoted in a Restaurant Business report about the news say the rule, which goes into effect in July, will put restaurants at a disadvantage when negotiating with organized labor and will discourage them from seeking sound counsel.
Industry spends big on lobbying in 2015
The food and beverage industry spent $33 million on lobbying in 2015, according to the political research group OpenSecrets. Eater recently looked behind that figure to see where the industry was spending its dollars. Of course, the industry wants to support efforts that benefit their bottom line. But Eater's report says many of the initiatives the industry opposes tend to be good for the consumer. The report studied 14 top restaurant chains and found the top issues lobbied focused on taxes, food industry regulation and health.
It’s a bacon boom
Pork production has outpaced beef production in the U.S. (and is gaining on chicken production) due to a public obsessed with bacon and countries overseas increasingly interested in importing it, according to Food & Wine. Bacon has demonstrated its versatility in recent years in the U.S., appearing in main dishes, drinks and desserts at restaurants ranging from quick-service outlets to top-tier full-service establishments. Bloomberg reports Mexico and Japan are top importers of bacon from the U.S., which exports 15% of its production. In January, U.S. pork production hit 25 billion pounds per month, compared to chicken production of 40 billion pounds a month.
Vanilla prices spike
It’s hard to find a dessert menu that doesn’t offer vanilla ice cream, but you may want to steer your guests toward chocolate or strawberry in the coming months. After a period of steady increases following a poor harvest last year, prices for Madagascar vanilla have shot up more steeply recently due to higher demand, according to Eater. Prices have reached $200 per kilogram, up from $20 per kilogram just five years ago. Companies are struggling to find a suitable replacement, considering many of them are shunning artificial ingredients in favor of the real thing. The coming harvest is expected to be plentiful but it won’t be ready for shipment until November. Until then, look for appealing alternatives.
Leading restaurant group targeted for its practices
These days, restaurants are hearing the message from every corner: Adopt sustainable practices. Recently a coalition of 50 social welfare, environmental and animal welfare groups have launched an initiative to publicly urge Darden Group and its Olive Garden brand to improve its food sourcing and labor practices. The advocacy group Friends of the Earth reports that it targeted Darden Group because they believe it has the responsibility to use its purchasing power to adopt and encourage sustainable practices. Darden operates more than 1,500 restaurant locations worldwide.
Restaurants with stagiaires come under scrutiny
High-end restaurants have long relied upon stagiaires (a.k.a stages, the equivalent of unpaid interns) to help with everything from ingredient preparation to sweeping up. Though these positions don’t promise future employment in the industry, they open the door to it and many top chefs once held these roles. But the Fair Labor Standards Act requires restaurants to pay at least the federal minimum wage to workers – and stages qualify. Eater says a culture of compliance has permeated the industry thus far, but that will not last. The newest cooks joining restaurants are more apt to challenge unfair working conditions and the vast number of stages passing through top-tier restaurant kitchens makes the industry ripe for class-action lawsuits. Restaurant insiders believe stages are here to stay but in the future, they will need to be paid minimum wage or prevented from performing actual work.
Testing for E. Coli with a laser focus
Everyone from consumers to large-scale food producers could be using lasers to screen for E. coli in the not-to-distant future. Eater reports that the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology have developed a laser that can be mounted on the inside of a refrigerator to test for the bacteria. The laser
has a camera that repeatedly scans the food to detect the movement of bacteria across the food's surface.
Sommelier or digital wine list?
If you depend on a substantial wine list to drive a large percentage of your sales, the tablet could be an important addition to your team – and even test the benefits of having an in-house sommelier. Restaurant Business reports tablets can improve efficiency and boost sales because they help guests easily narrow down a wine selection by varietal, vintage, price and other factors, then access a trove of additional information on a wine’s reviews or background if they are interested in learning more. Plus, the tablet can help keep your wine list accurate by updating your cellar supply in real time and eliminating paper revisions.