Cornell University’s Michael Lynn has just released a data-rich study of tipping, according to Restaurant Hospitality. Here is a quick summary of key findings: Servers are overpaid by traditional tipping practices (though many servers would disagree) and they put the front and back of house on unequal footing. If you want to stop tipping, you’ll still be able to get good candidates for server jobs in any pay scheme except perhaps a tip pool with subminimum wage model. Tipping has a net positive effect but guests don’t like having to pay any automatic service charges (with or without tipping permitted). Despite the belief that customers want fair treatment for restaurant employees, customers may get sticker shock from no-tip menu prices. Finally, the greater the inequality between front- and back-of-house staff and the less price sensitive guests are, the more an operator should consider abandoning tipping. The biggest reason to keep it? It lets operators reduce prices, which boosts demand.
Run, grow, transform
Whether you’re just opening your restaurant or have been in business for years, the Digital Restaurant recommends you keep this rule of thumb in mind to help you build your business: run, grow, transform. Running the business means reminding yourself of the items that can impact your daily operations: ensuring your food meets the health department’s standards for health and safety, reducing waste through better planning and forecasting demand, and spotting signs of dissatisfaction among your guests. Growing the business means attracting more foot traffic, and increasing guest counts and bill amounts. Transforming the business means adapting to changes and staying relevant: knowing your strong and weak points and promoting/fixing them, knowing your competition’s weak points so you can capitalize on them, and knowing your customers’ needs so you can address them.
Restaurant prices increase nationwide
Restaurant prices are up 2.6 percent over last year, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some companies are being bolder about the increases than others. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, for instance, has posted an open letter on Facebook saying that effective this October, all partners and store managers in U.S. company-operated stores will receive an increase in base pay of 5 percent or greater to ensure Starbucks remains a retail employer of choice in the markets where they operate. Some customers have been irked by the price increases, which have occurred for the past three years in a row, but the company says the latest increases are likely to increase the average customer ticket by just 1 percent.
Court throws out multibillion-dollar credit card fees settlement
Restaurants and other retailers got a big win this month when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a 2012 legal settlement between plaintiff retailers and Visa and MasterCard concerning credit card transaction fees. Associations Now reports that some retailers argued that the $7.25 billion settlement provided too little compensation to merchants and that it wouldn’t result in lower swipe fees or prevent credit card companies from raising fees in the future. The National Restaurant Association’s Cicely Simpson praised the latest decision and said the settlement was so restrictive
that it could have allowed the credit card companies to dominate the payments industry at a time when new technologies have the potential to change the competitive landscape.
Where there is smoke, there is…an audience
Want to put on a show in your restaurant? Restaurant Hospitality recommends you find ways to use smoke on the menu. Operators are bringing both hot and cold smoke to cocktails, salads and entrées because the spectacle creates excitement throughout a restaurant and nowadays, some easy publicity. Operators note that smoke can set them apart. One New York City restaurateur said his guests take photos or videos of the smoke and post them to social media. And because no two chefs do it the same, each dish is a surprise to guests.
She said what?
If you’re looking to polish your front-of-the-house service, you might run through Restaurant News’s list of eight items hosts and servers should never say to guests: Are you still working on that? It makes the meal feel rushed. That’s not possible. Even if a request seems impossible, put a positive spin on it by saying you’ll check with your manager or do your best to accommodate it. Would you like freshly ground pepper? If you’re offering it as food is served, guests won’t know if the meal needs seasoning before they try it. The wait won’t be long. It’s better to over-estimate, then over-deliver. Did you save room for dessert? Don’t make it seem like a sinful extra – just ask if they’d like to see a menu. Sweetie. Or honey or other cute nicknames – many guests find them too familiar. Just one? Don’t make a single diner feel even more conspicuous. Would you like change? Assume the guest does unless he or she says otherwise.
USDA to begin quarterly releases of food safety data
Food Safety News reports that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will soon begin quarterly releases of data that cover inspection and enforcement actions, along with sampling and testing results specific to establishments. The effort is seven years in the making and will make it possible for the public to access vast amounts of additional data related to emerging food risks. The quarterly data set will show results for Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli and Salmonella in raw, not intact beef products; results from Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and young turkeys, communed poultry, and chicken parts; routine chemical residue testing data in meat and poultry products; and advocated meat recovery testing data.
Prevent food safety slip-ups behind the bar
Summer is prime time for colorful cocktails piled with eye-catching garnishes – just make sure you’re handling those garnishes safely. While garnishes may be decorative, they are classified as read-to-eat food. The National Restaurant Association recommends these handling tips from ServSafe Alcohol: Prepare produce only on approved food-contact surfaces that have been cleaned and sanitized. (Other garnishes like bacon or roasted vegetables should be cooked to minimum internal temperature requirements.) When you are finished with prep, cover and refrigerate (at 41˚F or lower) any product you won’t immediately use. To reduce contamination risk, cover garnish containers and store them in interior areas of the bar, away from customers. Use tongs to remove the garnishes. Finally, don’t bounce between handling edible garnishes and handling money, glassware or cleaning surfaces without washing your hands first.
Who is at fault for mishandled leftovers?
If food you have donated makes someone sick, the Good Samaritan law protects you from getting sued. But what if your guest gets sick on restaurant leftovers she left in a hot car for a couple of hours? Are you liable? A chef asked that question of Restaurant Business and attorneys weighed in. Most said the restaurant would not be liable in this case. But nowadays, a report of illness on social media can trigger a PR nightmare for a restaurant. To play it safe, you might consider decreasing your portion sizes so that takeaway boxes aren’t needed as often, and advising guests on how to properly store and reheat food.
Stand out in the social media crowd
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have become the big four social media outlets for the restaurant industry – but there are some new ones on the scene that can help you stand out, according to a new Foodable report. Waze, like a hybrid of Facebook and Google Maps, is a network of drivers in your area who report road accidents, traffic conditions and approaching police. It can also help you advertise to consumers in traffic, then direct them to your door. Periscope is a live video streaming app available via Twitter that restaurants can use to share live cooking demos, take guests behind the scenes during a busy time in the kitchen or at a special event, or launch contests to generate publicity.