Winter is here – and it’s tempting to order food for delivery instead of dining out. What’s more, consumers demand it. The National Restaurant Association found that about 74% of Millennials would order delivery from a full-service restaurant if it were available. If you don’t offer delivery but are considering, now is a good time to start, with so many companies vying to get a piece of the delivery market. But first, consider how well you can answer questions like these: Are you ready to introduce some separation between you and your customers? Do your food and packaging represent your hospitality on their own? Does your packaging keep food at its desired temperature? Have you tested the deliverability of your food so consumers consistently receive a high-quality product? How can you access delivery vehicles to keep food warm (or even cook it en route)? Is your delivery territory so small that you won’t get sufficient orders or so large that you won’t be able to keep up? To gradually build a successful delivery business, Restaurant Hospitality recommends testing a portion of your menu that travels well – and only offering it for a portion of the day at first.
More restaurants taking the reservations out of reservations
Concerned about reservation no-shows? A ticketing dining system that addresses the problem is picking up momentum with several dozen upscale restaurants around the country. The systems – like the one launched last year by Nick Kokonas, a partner at Chicago’s Alinea – have diners make reservations and pay for their meals in advance, with no changes or refunds allowed. According to Restaurant News, they can circumvent issues with tipping, which might make them continue to catch on with full-service restaurants.
Pork prices set to fall as inventory skyrockets
Just two years after the PED virus wiped out hog and pig populations for many breeders in the U.S., pork production has recovered – and then some. The USDA just reported hog and pig inventories are at their highest levels since 1988. Expect producers to try to lock in pork prices now before prices fall further this year.
The tables turn for Yelp and OpenTable
In a testament to growing competition among technology companies looking to take charge of consumers’ dining experiences, Yelp and OpenTable have ended their partnership. While Yelp is better known for its review service and OpenTable for its reservation system, each company has been moving in on the other’s territory in recent years, according to Reuters. OpenTable has expanded its reviews and in 2013 Yelp acquired SeatMe, a competitor of OpenTable that offers similar services at a lower price. Both companies are looking to expand their markets by enhancing consumers’ entire dining experience as opposed to segments of it, says analyst Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies.
Pricier gift cards under the tree this Christmas
Restaurant gift cards were winners during the 2015 holiday season. According to Stored Value Solutions, the dollar value added to gift cards during the Thanksgiving through Christmas period was up 3% over the same period the previous year. Dining gift card sales by dollar value increased 8% during the same period. A spokeswoman for Stored Value Solutions said these increases demonstrate consumers’ preferences for experiential gift-giving this holiday season.
Vegetables take center stage
We all know it’s important to eat our vegetables but let’s face it: They’re not always what we crave. However, the clean eating trend, consumers’ growing desire to eat local foods, negative attitudes about GMOs and artificial ingredients, rising beef prices – all of these factors have aligned to give vegetables their fair due. And now food service businesses are finding creative ways to make vegetables shine in the center of the dinner plate. Bon Appetit’s top restaurant of 2015 was AL’s Place in San Francisco, where meats are side dishes and vegetable-focused items are main courses. Food service operations at many educational institutions across the country are offering more vegetable-centric main dishes as well. Restaurant Hospitality predicts that more restaurants will give vegetables top billing and bring a wider variety of them onto the menu this year.
Shrimp imported to U.S. grocers and restaurants linked to Thai slavery
In an announcement sure to strengthen calls for increased transparency in the food supply chain, a recent Associated Press article revealed that shrimp peeled by slaves in Thailand made its way into the U.S. supply via outlets including Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and others. The Thai supplier to those companies outlined corrective measures in response to those companies, including taking all shrimp processing in-house by year-end as a means of rooting out abusive factories. Susan Coppedge, the State Department’s anti-trafficking ambassador, encouraged consumers to protest the findings “through their wallets” by insisting companies not supply slave-made products, though federal authorities say they can't enforce U.S. laws banning imported goods produced by forced labor. The U.S. consumes 1.3 billion lbs. of shrimp annually and Thailand controls the market, exporting half of its shrimp to the U.S each year.
Start-ups bring local, organic farming nationwide
This fall, a number of alternative farming companies gathered in New York for Indoor Ag Con to discuss how they could help restaurants and other food suppliers throughout the U.S. provide local, organic food year-round. According to a report in the Guardian, these companies take farming indoors, using LEDs or high-pressure sodium lamps to substitute for sunlight and aeroponic or hydroponic systems to irrigate crops. Because the crops are grown indoors, pests and pesticides are less of a concern for the food these companies produce. One Chicago-area company mentioned in the report, FarmedHere, has a 90,000-square-foot facility, the largest indoor farm in the nation, and plans to open 20 additional facilities across the country. Critics warn that these alternative farming companies consume too much energy and hurt traditional farmers. Still, they’re getting plenty of encouragement elsewhere: Dutch banking group Rabobank says investments in food and agriculture topped $4 billion at the end of 2015.
For food as art, restaurateurs buy the perfect canvas
Nowadays, your customers aren’t the only ones seeing the dishes you prepare. Facebook and Instagram users know this well: A friend eats at an upscale restaurant and posts a photo of a mouth-watering and artfully plated entrée. The Washington Post says many restaurants are taking advantage of those photo ops by commissioning and even helping to design their own serving dishes and tableware. The appeal is visual for sure – restaurant operators can bring logos front and center and create a customized look for a table that coordinates dishes and flatware with the table surface. But there’s functional appeal as well. Some chefs, according to the Post, are customizing tableware that allows sauces to pool on parts of the plate or elevates ingredients to bring their aromas closer to the customer.
Beacon technology could be your competitive advantage this year
Imagine one of your regular customers is in your neighborhood trying to decide between ordering lunch at your restaurant or your competitor’s. Suddenly, her smartphone alerts her to a sandwich discount you’re offering. She chooses your restaurant, places her order and because her phone signal informs your kitchen staff of her distance from the restaurant, your employees know how quickly they need to prepare her meal. Alternatively, let’s say the customer decides to wait until arriving at the restaurant to place her order. When she walks in, your new cashier can address her by name and call up her usual order. Beacon technology gives restaurants these (and other) capabilities and Nation’s Restaurant News predicts restaurants will learn how to use them to their best advantage this year. The technology has already taken off with retailers but restaurants are still in the early-adoption phase.