As Nation’s Restaurant News said recently, 2016 could be a profitable year for restaurants, in theory – if it weren’t for labor costs. In some states considering minimum-wage increases, restaurants are raising rates preemptively or otherwise adjusting compensation structures to retain their best employees. Those added costs often end up on the menu. So how do you keep customers coming back? Eater recommends a few strategies. First, avoid surprising customers with significant pricing spikes. Include prices on your online menus so guests can anticipate what they are likely to spend. Be up front about the cost (or potential value) of splitting big-ticket entrées or bottles of wine. Finally, customers will pay more for a better atmosphere so if you can increase elbow room or otherwise boost your ambiance, customers aren’t as likely to blink at the bigger tab.
Food prices dropped by double-digits in 2015
Commodities prices fell 19% on average last year, their fourth consecutive annual decline. That’s according to data the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released this month. The FAO tracks activity for five commodities including cereal, dairy, meat, vegetable oil and sugar. Oil and sugar were the only commodities to see modest increases but they were still far lower than prices in previous years. The FAO says overabundant supply, weak demand and a strengthening U.S. dollar were key factors keeping prices low.
Take the reins after a bad review
Sometimes a bad review can work in your favor. When a woman complained on TripAdvisor last month that she would never return to Bennett’s Café & Bistro in York, England because they charged her the equivalent of $3 for hot water and a slice of lemon, the restaurant’s manager struck back – factually and firmly. In a response that has since gone viral, the manager took the opportunity to educate the reviewer (and the thousands of others who have read the response) about the actual cost of running a restaurant. The manager detailed the steps the server had to take to serve her, factoring in the overhead costs, down to the penny, that were required for the few minutes required to prepare and deliver her hot water with lemon. Glowing reviews have since poured in from guests who side with Bennett’s.
Un-bruisable potatoes coming to a supplier near you
Potatoes are the latest food product to enter the GMO fray. The FDA just approved a new GMO potato that will not bruise and can withstand cold storage temperatures. These qualities enable it to generate a lot less food waste, according to the supplier, Simplot. The industry currently loses hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted production per year due to bruising. The hybrid potato also eliminates acrylamide, a potentially cancerous chemical that traditional potatoes generate (albeit in small amounts) when fried or baked. Many of the usual arguments against GMOs don’t hold up against the un-bruisable potato. Nonetheless, McDonald’s and Frito Lay have already said they aren’t interested, according to Grub Street.
Food & Wine says 2016 could be the year of the bowl, and for good reason. There’s ample evidence bowls are moving beyond Asian and Mexican restaurants where they first appeared. Many operators are forgoing the plate in favor the bowl for everything from fruit-topped smoothies on the breakfast menu to low-carb entrées. Bowls have the two-pronged advantage of seeming healthier while allowing for customization. Because bowls are designed to combine flavors and textures, it’s natural for restaurants to provide a variety of ingredient choices that enable guests to make a meal their own.
It’s a chocolate emergency
Some customers just need their chocolate – but lately it comes at a steep price. Ghana, a top-two grower of cacao beans, suffered last year from bad weather and old, diseased cacao trees. Cocoa production was down as a result, while demand increased. Recent reports say the industry needs to take bold steps to bolster cocoa production to avoid drastic shortages and companies are stepping up. The Wall Street Journal says the world’s 10 biggest chocolate suppliers have agreed to band together to share data on cacao farming and crop yields to stimulate production. Mondelez, maker of Cadbury and Oreo products, has pledged $400 million to supporting a cocoa sustainability program through 2022. So don’t take it off the menu just yet.
Acclaimed chef joins school lunch business
Daniel Giusti, the chef who has run the kitchen at the famed Noma in Copenhagen since 2013, will soon leave the restaurant to launch a Washington, D.C.-based foodservice startup called Brigaid, Grub Street reports. Brigaid will focus on bringing healthy, delicious food to American schoolchildren. One of his challenges will be to provide those meals for pennies apiece – his usual patrons willingly pay hundreds of dollars. This comes just as the Senate Agricultural Committee is set to reauthorize the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which expired in September. When it is released this week, the updated version of the bill is expected to remove barriers to child participation and provide flexibility to nutrition professionals who operate school and summer feeding programs, according to Food Service Director.
Post-injury, pave the way for smooth return to work
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says for every 100 restaurant employees in 2014, there were 3.2 nonfatal injuries and illnesses. Fast Casual provided tips to help you, your employee and your employee’s doctor ensure an optimal recovery and return to work:
* Paint a clear picture of the employee’s work requirements and environment. Training videos or other visuals can help.
* If light or modified work is recommended, provide concrete examples about what tasks constitute that. Taking inventory? Lifting 10 lb. sacks of flour? You may have different assumptions.
* Ensure the work considers physical and psychological effects of the injury – one injury might affect memory and concentration while another disrupts coordination. Does the employee’s medication have side effects that pose safety risks?
* Make break times fit the need. The employee may need to stretch or take food with medication
ICR Conference abuzz about restaurant opportunities online
At last week’s ICR Conference, web opportunities for restaurants had everyone talking. In 2012, there was $1.5 billion invested in the online grocery and restaurant industries, up from $25 million in 2012, according to Equities.com. Two noteworthy trends: Analysts said with the boom in quality meal kit delivery services like BlueApron, restaurants could gain competitive advantage by investing in kitchen production and delivery instead of maintaining a dining room and paying waitstaff. (Take California’s automated Eatsa, for example.) Second, digital ordering is becoming the dominant way to order food for many brands. (Chili’s is revamping its digital platform to better accommodate to-go ordering, the fastest- growing part of its business.) For many mid-range outlets, finding ways to streamline online ordering is rapidly becoming just as – or possibly more – important than coaching dining room waitstaff about customer service.
What price loyalty?
The days of signing up for a loyalty program on paper and swiping a plastic rewards card are fading fast. Customers want rewards but the process must be easy and streamlined – using one app to order dinner, collect rewards and pay, for example. Millennials also demand it, according to Restaurant Hospitality. A recent study by Software Advice found that for restaurants to attract and retain millennials, they need to help them accrue points for future discounts, align with organizations or causes that the demographic supports, seek feedback from them via surveys and offer points or valuable discounts to keep them engaged, and ensure their app allows them to easily view rewards and place orders.