Every week, another restaurant announces plans to bring healthier foods onto their menu – antibiotic-free poultry, grass-fed beef, organic produce, you name it. Should you do the same? A Nation’s Restaurant News report recommends that any changes you make to your menu should consider the costs to your business against the needs of the demographic you serve. Incorporating healthier foods on your menu may feel like the right ethical move, but does your customer base demand it and are they willing to pay for it? Healthful menu changes must boost your sales or reinforce your brand – or both.
Let your data drive sales
Are you using your customer database as effectively as you could be? Restaurant Owner polled its members and found that the top marketing strategy operators recommended was to mine their customer database. To make best use of your customer data, make sure you’re segmenting your customers – knowing their food preferences, household size, and whether they’re willing to receive messages via text, for example, can ensure your promotions reach them with relevant, meaningful information. Birthdays provide a perfect excuse to connect with a customer and provide a discount. Finally, when your customers are waiting for their food, you have a captive audience – use your tabletop real estate for tent cards, flyers or technology that can help you collect customer insights that will boost business.
Legal case could impact ethnic restaurants
If you have ever considered hiring specialty foreign chefs to provide authentic cuisine, pay attention to Fogo de Chao’s pending litigation. The Brazil-based chain, which has more than two-dozen U.S. locations, prides itself on its specially trained chefs from Brazil who have grown up immersed in the culture the restaurant seeks to replicate. Restaurant Hospitality reports that since Fogo de Chao tried to sponsor a chef for an L1B visa in 2010, it has been locked in a legal battle with the U.S. government over which key personnel a restaurant should be allowed to transfer from a foreign country to the U.S. There is currently no clear immigration path for foreign specialty chefs and restaurants have applied for the L1B visa in these cases with varying degrees of success. The outcome of the case could impact all ethnic restaurants’ ability to hire specialty talent from abroad.
Free-food promotions can provide a short-term sales boost
When Chipotle closed its restaurants for a four-hour period recently to provide companywide safety training, the company offered a free burrito to any customers whose lunch plans were affected by the closure. Customers could text “raincheck” that day to a provided number in exchange for a coupon good for a free meal. Other chains have tried this before, particularly after public relations disasters. A report in Eater says these promotions don’t necessarily set a business on a course for long-term growth but they can replace a customer’s negative thoughts about a brand with a psychological boost. That may be all Chipotle needs to hook customers again and normalize sales.
Beef prices on the decline
Beef prices had been high for several years running – but not so anymore. Industry experts expect production to increase this year and for prices to drop by double-digit margins. Nation’s Restaurant News sees restaurant categories responding in different ways to the decline. Some in the quick-service category are passing the savings on to the consumer. Others see this as an opportunity to invest in higher-quality beef and sustainable production practices so they can share that story with customers focused on the origins of their food.
Cheesecake Factory among Fortune’s top workplaces – again
For the third consecutive year, The Cheesecake Factory has made Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” It was the only restaurant to make the list, which recognizes companies with a strong culture as determined by a comprehensive employee survey. Employees answered questions about their job satisfaction, pride in their work, trust in the company and working environment. Of the employees surveyed, 97% indicated they took great pride in working for the company and 96% said the company provided a great work atmosphere.
Sweetgreen’s founders reinvent quick-service labor structure
Sweetgreen, the 40-outlet salad chain that brands itself as healthy, fresh, organic and local, has become a model for national chains. A recent article in Fortune recognizes the strength of its management philosophy. Five times each year, the company shuts down its corporate office almost completely so all employees can work in its restaurants in an effort to stay close to customers. The cofounders have further broken down the hierarchy by building up their surrounding team, limiting the size of the company’s headquarters, and decentralizing its employees. Those actions, along with a continuous focus on improving technology – 30% of their food orders come in via the web or their mobile app – have helped Sweetgreen increase its scale smoothly.
The FDA analyzes spices to curb foodborne illness
As part of its multi-pronged effort to trace the roots of foodborne illness, the FDA just concluded a two-year study to determine the degree to which Salmonella contaminates spices. A report in Eater said the FDA had previously identified spices as being at risk due to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. Once the FDA’s analysis of the study results is complete, it will post its findings and recommendations at www.fda.gov.
The Happy Meal takes a trip into virtual reality
McDonald’s Happy Meals have come a long way. In select locations this month, the company is offering Happy Meal boxes that customers can transform into virtual reality headsets, dubbed Happy Goggles, by tearing and folding the containers, then inserting a provided virtual reality lens. Adweek reports that McDonald’s created a ski-themed virtual reality game to accompany the headsets, which retail for about $4.10.
Google tests the boundaries of digital payments
Google just announced it is testing a new app for Android and iOS devices at quick-service merchants in northern California. The app, Hands Free, is an alternative to a mobile wallet that combines a stand-alone app with Bluetooth technology. It allows customers to confirm purchases without tapping a button. Google announced it plans to offer Hands Free in addition to its Android Pay payment technology, which has 1.5 million new users registering each month in the U.S. and two million locations accepting it.