Foodborne illness outbreaks can damage the strongest of brands – even those with corporate standards designed to minimize food safety risk. But even if you value food safety at your restaurant, slip ups can happen if you don’t live, eat and breathe those values. In a recent report in FSR magazine, the head of Food Safety Solutions, Inc., recommends you require suppliers to have Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans and your managers to obtain a Food Manager’s Certification. Urge frequent hand washing with soap and hot water, and drying with single-use towels. Pay attention to temperature – keep food thermometers readily accessible; take the temperature of foods upon delivery and reject anything improperly stored; and calibrate food thermometers once per shift, before their first use and if they are dropped. Train employees on a continuous basis, both to encourage safe handling procedures and to lower your liability risks in the case of an illness outbreak.
Restaurant surveys signal possible economic downturn
If what happens for the restaurant sector is an indicator of what’s to come for the rest of the economy, recent industry research is pointing to a recession on the horizon. An analyst from Stifel Financial Corp. said recent restaurant surveys indicate the beginnings of a serious downturn and the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index has declined for the second consecutive month. The NRA said in June the index fell .3 percent to 100.3 (it considers the restaurant industry to be expanding at levels above 100). In its monthly operator survey, the NRA found that 43 percent of those surveyed reported a drop in same-store sales and 38 percent reported an increase. When asked about restaurant traffic in June, 49 percent of the operators reported a decline and 33 percent reported a rise in guest visits.
Healthy options in demand on the beverage menu too
As consumers are demanding healthier food options, they’re looking for the same in the drinks they consume. QSR magazine reports that as soda sales have plummeted to their lowest level in 30 years, other beverages with a healthier image are taking off: smoothies, juices, teas and cocktails are among them. Operators are incorporating fresh fruit and other good-for-you ingredients, like almond milk, live cultures and apple cider vinegar, into Matcha tea lattes, vodka kombuchas and hard ciders, for example. In addition to natural ingredients, consumers are pushing for low- and non-alcoholic beverages at the bar, as well as the elimination of high fructose corn syrup and common allergens.
Train staff to manage family-style meals
Family-style meals are becoming more common at restaurants around the country as operators make it possible for guests to order a spread of food to share with each other. The model can be a profitable one for restaurants but Restaurant Hospitality recommends you take precautions to ensure it works well for your restaurant. Serving family-style portions means you’ll need to put more effort into training staff to guide the experience for guests. They should advise guests about the best balance of portions, ideal progression of plates served and appropriate order size so guests won’t feel they’ve ordered too much or too little.
Meal kit companies pose little threat to restaurants
When meal kit companies like Blue Apron launched, restaurant analysts considered them to be competition for restaurants – but new research from the NPD Group and the Harris Poll says these companies aren’t drawing much business that would normally go to restaurants. The research indicates that only 3 percent of consumers have tried meal kit services and of those who have, just 22 percent say they would have gotten a restaurant meal if they hadn’t ordered the kit. Two-thirds of respondents would have just eaten at home, NPD Group says, so the grocery industry appears to be more likely to lose sales to meal kit providers than restaurants are.
Monitor and measure your beverage inventory for increased profit
How much extra inventory do you keep behind your bar? The higher your excess inventory is, the higher your exposure to unnecessary operating expenses and lost productivity will be, according to BevSpot. This, in turn, lowers your profitability. BevSpot studied the inventory data of restaurants and bars across the country and found that the 25 percent most efficient beverage programs have less than one and a half weeks of excess beer on hand, four weeks of spirits and three weeks of wine. The efficiency of the beer program may not surprise – after all, beer takes up more physical space than spirits and there are limits on the number of beers available on tap, so there is greater urgency in minimizing inventory. Spirits, in contrast, don’t take up as much space and bars often stock a lot of them even when it takes time for them to sell.
Organic advocates take an inclusive approach to promote produce
Organic branding may be getting a makeover – and it provides food for thought for operators crafting menu language around fruits and vegetables. Food Safety News reports that at the recent Organic Food Summit in California, organic advocates had a more inclusive message that promoted the benefits of eating real foods, both organically and conventionally grown. The move comes in an effort to boost the produce category overall, encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, and avoid turning people away with fear-based promotions, such as the “dirty dozen” list that makes claims about the pesticide residue on popular fruits and vegetables.
Don’t be afraid to charge even more for guacamole
Avocados are getting plenty of positive press these days for their healthy fat content, versatility on menus and popularity with the millennial generation. But an ongoing price surge for avocados could make it less appealing for restaurants to carry them. The price of a medium-sized avocado has jumped 46 percent since last July, to $1.25, according to The Street, and a supply shortage in recent months is sending prices higher. Yet Eater reports that restaurants are hesitating to raise the price of menu items containing avocado, even though avocado buyers are a group that doesn’t mind spending more for them: a study (albeit sponsored by the Haas Avocado Board) found that shoppers spend about 65 percent more in-store overall when avocados are in their shopping baskets.
The return of the medium-sized plate
Observers believe some Washington, D.C. restaurateurs have started a trend in embracing the medium-sized plate at their restaurants. To avoid confusing guests with different plate sizes in various categories, Chef Cedric Maupillier, a proponent of the medium-sized plate, said he set out to provide budget-conscious guests with dishes for less than $20 and also encourage guests to sample more than one dish if they choose. Other operators are touting the medium-sized plate as providing guests with a filling-yet-not-excessive meal that helps the restaurant reduce waste and minimize the expense of garnishes used to fill larger plates (and the extra kitchen time required to style them).
Data-driven restaurant experiences on the rise
Software testing and analytics are increasingly making it possible for restaurant companies to test the financial impact of a menu item before it rolls out – and determine how technology can drive sales and replace human workers, according to an Eater report. McDonald’s, for example, is using its digital menu boards to highlight different food options during different day parts and according to the weather, which impacts what items guests crave. The boards are also enabling more menu customization and upselling while reducing a restaurant’s reliance on human workers. As labor costs increase, the report says, quick-service and fast-casual operators are asking themselves whether it makes sense to increase customer costs or to implement technology that could allow them to rely less on human employees.