A recent study by the market research firm Mintel found that 41% of U.S. consumers say locally sourced ingredients influence their restaurant choices. You can provide local food this winter (and promote it) by making some tweaks to your menu. Slow Food USA recommends eliminating lettuce and swapping in root vegetables, grains, nuts, dried fruits, micro greens and sprouted foods. Nuts, beans and grains can liven up side dishes as well. Traditionally preserved foods and dehydrated foods can add variety, and when fresh produce is especially scarce, source greenhouse farmers who can help fill menu gaps.
Win the war on sodium
This month, New York became the first city to require chain restaurants to post salt warning labels on foods with high sodium content – but it may not be the last. Americans currently consume about 3,400 mg of sodium daily, a far cry from the 1,500 to 2,500 mg recommended. If you’d like to tone down the salt on your menu, the National Restaurant Association recommends several actions: After assessing how much salt is in your menu items, gradually reduce it over time, partner with vendors to find low-sodium alternatives, experiment with herbs and spices to create new flavors, incorporate more fruits and vegetables on the menu as alternatives to salty foods, and try reducing portion sizes to automatically cut back on salt content.
Congressional spending bill says a lot about food
Congressional leaders recently unveiled a draft of an omnibus bill that includes a number of food and agriculture policies and is likely to be signed into law. Among the provisions, NPR reports, are giving grocery stores and other food retailers more time to comply with calorie-posting regulations for menus, changing the FDA’s policy on partially hydrogenated oils to protect the baking industry and small businesses from frivolous lawsuits, and stopping further reductions in the sodium content of school lunches. Two additional provisions impact the labeling of food: the bill eliminates the requirement that meat labels reveal where the animal was raised and slaughtered, and it blocks the commercial sale of any of the newly approved genetically modified salmon until the FDA finalizes its guidelines for labeling GMOs, which could take years.
BYOB gets the nod in Boston
In a win for small restaurants in Boston, the city just lifted a citywide ban on bringing your own bottle to dining establishments. The long-debated policy, which should be in effect by the end of 2016, will likely come with some caveats, such as restricting BYOB to just restaurants in outlying neighborhoods with fewer than 30 seats, according to the Boston Globe. Supporters believe the change in policy could help small restaurants survive and encourage other ones to enter the market.
Le Cordon Bleu shuttering its U.S. cooking schools
Le Cordon Bleu may have graduated some famous names in the food industry but the institution will soon close its 16 U.S. schools. The school announced it will stop enrolling new students in January and will discontinue operations once those students have finished. The closure comes in the wake of growing criticism that culinary schools charge tuition rates that are out of proportion with the salaries alumni are likely to earn in the industry. Le Cordon Bleu’s London and Paris schools will remain open.
More than ever, costs of dining outpace grocery costs
In the past year, grocery prices have barely budged. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they have increased just .3% while prices for beef, chicken, milk and coffee have fallen. At the same time, restaurant prices have gone up 2.7%. Of course, labor and technology costs could have something to do with restaurants’ need to keep prices on the incline. But as prepared foods available in grocery stores become more sophisticated, it will be increasingly important for restaurants to innovate – through their menus, technology and other means – to keep customers coming through the door.
Top-requested delivery foods of 2015
Delivery is hardly just for pizza anymore, as technology innovations give consumers access to an increasingly wider range of dining options. GrubHub/Seamless recently reported its top-requested items for delivery this year, which include Tacos al Pastor (up 277% over last year), spicy miso ramen noodles (up 220%) and chicken tikka masala (up 136%). Other items making the list included brisket, empanadas, kale Caesar salad and Poutine. And rest assured consumers still love their pizza: the deep-dish variety also made the cut, with 102% more orders this year.
Cornell launches new food safety institute
A new institute at Cornell University aims to help food companies chip away at the approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the U.S. To help food growers, suppliers and processors adhere to new illness prevention regulations of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, Cornell University just launched its Institute for Food Safety. The institute will focus on produce and dairy production and will bring together scientists to address illness outbreaks and conduct research and training to prevent contamination from farm to table. According to new research from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, contamination of fresh produce causes most foodborne illness in the U.S.
Restaurant tech that works for you
The restaurant industry is ripe for technological advancement and dozens of companies are looking to be a part of it. Food + Tech Connect reports there are now 11 categories of restaurant technology, 200-and-counting companies and $7 billion of investments in the industry this year. To make the most of your technology budget, ask yourself these questions before jumping in:
- What is the biggest problem we want this to solve?
- What functionality does this provide? Does it offer more than we need right now?
- What will help us generate the greatest return on our investment in the shortest amount of time?
- How does this work? How easy will it be for my employees to implement it?
- Who else has used this and how has it worked? What do we lose if we wait for something better?
Reserve offers concierge service for high-end dining
A new Google-backed app called Reserve is tapping into the upscale dining market. Users give the app some details about what they like in a high-end restaurant and, like OpenTable, Reserve makes reservations. If a top choice isn’t available, it will provide alternative restaurants in the area, seating times, or options for sitting at the chef’s counter at a bar when dining room seats aren’t available. Guests dining with friends can minimize end-of-meal awkwardness (and server effort) by using a feature that automatically splits the check evenly between them, then charges their credit cards the amounts, plus tip and a $5 concierge fee. Reserve has partnered with high-end restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston.