More operators opening new restaurants are finding that soft openings – not grand ones – give a business a more solid start. In an FSR report, restaurant consultant Aaron Allen recommends a soft opening of no less than three or four shifts before opening to the general public. That often reveals changes you should make to the menu layout, food quality and pacing, inventory and back-of-house food stations. Consider inviting friends, family and industry people in for a free or reduced-cost meal in exchange for their feedback on everything from the menu to the service to the lighting. Then, if you wish, have your grand opening and make it feel less like a training session and more like a celebration.
Trial by shift for restaurant manager candidates
A study by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research found that restaurant staff turnover costs as much as $5,864 per employee. The person you hire to manage your restaurant could mean the difference between a business that hums and one that stumbles along with costly, disruptive turnover. If you want to see the true talents – and potential shortcomings – of those in the running to manage your restaurant, Restaurant Owner recommends you plan a “one-shift interview.” Over the course of a shift, the candidate gets a realistic view of your operation and interacts with people at every level of the business who can then provide you with feedback about the person’s potential for the job.
Labor law change will boost overtime wages for restaurant managers
The U.S. Department of Labor just made a sweeping change to double the federal overtime limit. This means that as of Dec. 1, salaried employees who earn less than $47,500 will qualify for overtime – and many restaurant owners may see a benefit to offering higher salaries to avoid paying those higher overtime costs. A report in Eater predicts this is unlikely to result in employers cutting annual pay to adjust for overtime because unemployment is hovering at just 5 percent and the economy is strong – restaurants won’t have much leverage in cutting wages when other restaurants can pay more.
New regulation could encourage restaurant crowdfunding
The newly released Title III JOBS Act could make crowdfunding successful for more up-and-coming restaurants. CNBC says the new regulation allows anyone to invest in start-ups, not just wealthy larger investors, which could open the door to smaller investors who want to see their favorite restaurants thrive. Sherwood Neiss of Crowdfund Capital Advisers says loyal customers who invest money in your restaurant have a vested interest in your success and become walking, talking billboards for you, something a bank is unable to do. Some crowdfunding platforms are offering investment incentives like free food over a period of years – an enticing way to turn your best customers into brand ambassadors.
When in doubt, add cheese to the menu
America has a cheese problem, but not the kind you think. This year, the country has a cheese glut so significant that every American would have to eat an extra three pounds of cheese to level it out, according to the Wall Street Journal. American farmers are expected to produce the most milk in history this year at 212.4 billion lbs. The rise in dairy production in the past couple of years, along with the strong dollar causing exports to shrink, means cheese will be much cheaper in the months ahead – along with grains and meat that are in great supply.
The secret to Chick-fil-A’s success isn’t higher wages
Chick-fil-A generates the most revenue per restaurant of any other chain in the category, QSR magazine reports. In 2014, the brand’s average sales per restaurant were $3.1 million, compared to KFC’s $960,000.The restaurant credits its employee-friendly culture for the results. At a time when restaurant wages are driving employee recruitment, Chick-fil-A’s wages are close to the industry average. Instead, the brand is investing more in training and helping employees advance their careers, even if they want to pursue a career outside of the industry. Business Insider reports that one manager helped one employee fund a marketing degree and another pay for photography classes.
Tipping point near for food delivery service costs
If you have held off on hiring a food delivery service due to cost concerns, take heart in a report from Nation’s Restaurant News. It says Wall Street analysts believe the food delivery market will soon reach its tipping point, when “on-demand delivery providers, armed by technology and rich consumer data insight, achieve economies of scale to drive down their costs and make delivery pricing more compelling for restaurant chains,” says Chris O’Cull at KeyBanc Capital Markets. Last year, the food delivery market grew about 40 percent in number of orders and dollars spent as compared to the previous year, according to data management provider 1010data.
Growing pains for the no-tipping movement
As quickly as restaurants jumped on the no-tipping bandwagon, many are jumping off. An NPR report finds that while many in the industry support the idea and it keeps kitchen staff happy, it may not work until full-service restaurants make the change together. San Francisco restaurateur Thad Vogler, who made the change to no tipping, then changed back, found it had increased front-of-house turnover to an unsustainable degree. He said he would train new servers, they would stay for a short time to gain skills, and then they would promptly give notice and join the competition (who accepted tips). He had wanted to keep prices constant for his customers during the changeover. Since tips had averaged 21 percent at his restaurant, he raised menu prices by 21 percent. In retrospect, he said he should have raised prices closer to 40 percent to make the shift workable for his staff – if perhaps not for his customers.
Take precautions to prevent warm-weather foodborne illness
Foodborne illness peaks during warmer months, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If your business prepares or serves food outdoors, the agency recommends you take extra precautions. When grilling food, use separate tools and cutting boards for raw meat, vegetables and bread. Keep perishable food cold until you’re ready to cook it. Ensure your cooked meats and poultry reach their required minimum temperature (160°F for ground beef, 145°F for other meats with a three-minute rest time, and 165°F for poultry). When serving perishable food outdoors, don’t let it sit out for longer than two hours – one hour if the outside temperature is above 90°F. To keep cold food at the right temperature, serve it in small portions and store the rest in a cooler (a full one will hold its temperature longer). Keep cooked meat and poultry at 140°F or warmer until you serve it.
Social media insights from the NRA Show
Pick one social media platform and use it well…Have your restaurant manager take iPhone tutorials and learn how to take compelling photos to post online…When recruiting new employees, use visuals on social media to showcase your restaurant’s culture. Those were among the recommendations social media consultant Joshua Swanson shared at this month’s NRA Show in Chicago. To succeed in the rapidly shifting social media environment, he said, restaurants that aren’t major brands should focus on content generated by their customers – find out how your best customers are using social media and engage them so they’ll become your business advocates online. Still, it’s not just about posts – once Facebook went public, it became important to embrace online advertising as well. If Facebook is your platform of choice, consider how online ads might build your business.