In an age when consumers feel compelled to share opinions on the Internet, it’s difficult for restaurants to avoid the burn of a bad review. How should you respond? Restaurant Hospitality offered these tips: Stay positive and don’t get defensive. Contact the guest offline and apologize for the experience, explain how you’re addressing the problem and invite the person to return (and notify you when that happens). Know that negative reviews can actually make a business sound authentic – nobody’s perfect – and they provide an opportunity for you to showcase your commitment to great service by making things right with a disgruntled guest. When you hear people rave about your restaurant, encourage them to provide testimonials on your website (then link them to your Google Maps page). Register for free accounts from sites like Yelp to monitor your reviews online so you know what people are saying.
Committing to catering?
If you have considered expanding your restaurant’s business into catering, you must do three things to succeed, according to experts from restaurant chains who weighed in at the recent Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in Dallas. First, as QSR web reported, it’s critical to deliver food how it’s supposed to be served – not only at the proper temperature but in a container that preserves its presentation. (Omit menu options that don’t cut it.) Second, operators must allow customers to order according to their preferences, so your ordering functionality should be seamless, whether customers are ordering via phone, mobile device or desktop computer. And finally, speaking of orders, ensure your paper and electronic catering menus are updated with the same information. Even if your in-restaurant business is your main focus, don’t treat catering like an afterthought: QSR web reports that off-premise catering sales generated more than $52 billion last year and 64% of that business went to restaurants.
Tell your story
Try a subtle approach to marketing to guests: engage them with your stories. The National Restaurant Association says restaurants build brand loyalty by finding ways to hook consumers on their back story. How did you develop your most popular dish? How did you get into the restaurant business? What about your restaurant makes you proud? This goes both ways. Encourage guests to share their feedback with you in person or on social media. The National Restaurant Association’s latest Restaurant Industry Forecast found 34 percent of consumers consider information on social media when selecting a restaurant, while 36 percent of consumers look to review websites to help them make a restaurant choice. Be a dynamic presence online by posting original messages, photos and videos that showcase your brand – and encourage guests to share those stories with others.
Chains improving the health of their children’s menus
A new study appearing in the April issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that 72% of quick-service restaurants and 63% of full-service chains offered children’s meal combinations of less than 600 calories. The study considered the menus of 10 major fast-food brands including Arby’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Dairy Queen, Jack-in-the-Box, KFC, McDonald’s, Sonic, Subway and Wendy’s, as well as 10 full-service restaurants including Applebee’s, Chili’s and Red Lobster. While the results
showed restaurants moving in a positive direction when it comes to providing healthier menu options for children, the study found room for improvement. It found that just 32% percent of quick-service restaurants and 22% of full-service restaurants met the standards for calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium.
Help your menu take flight
As the weather warms up, you can use your beer menu to entice guests to try new flavors and food pairings, and possibly find a new favorite beverage. FSR magazine reports that more restaurants are experimenting with beer flights on their drink menu. Some are encouraging guests to customize their own flights and choose options they might not necessarily try in pint form, while other restaurants like LUCK in Dallas have used beer flights to give guests a crash course in craft beer by pairing a pre-selected beer with a different food. They recently ran a $10 promotion that paired each beer in the flight with a different Girl Scout cookie (they sold out, by the way, emptying 250 boxes of the cookies in six days).
Coffee, customization and cost reduction
The intersection of escalating labor costs and consumers’ desire for customization is changing the way quick-service restaurants are serving coffee. McDonald’s has become the first restaurant in the category to provide a kiosk that allows customers to brew and customize their own cappuccinos, lattes and mochas, according to Business Insider. For $2.99, customers create their own beverage from a selection of flavored syrups and milks, while controlling the milk-to-espresso ratio in their drink. The kiosk enables customers to skip the food line if they just want coffee – and it also frees employees from having to process complicated coffee orders. The units are currently being tested in Chicago locations.
Start a new chapter
While no restaurateur aspires to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, some struggling brands are using the experience as a way to reenergize their businesses. QSR magazine reports that Saladworks and Quizno’s, two brands that have filed for Chapter 11 in recent years, are examples. Saladworks wanted to feel like a younger brand. After its filing, employees visited restaurants in all categories, took photos of design elements they liked and disliked, and provided them to a firm hired to create a new restaurant design encompassing its menu, logo and overall image. For its part, Quizno’s has sought to reduce supplier costs, tweak ingredients and portion sizes, and simplify the menu to ease training and deliver greater consistency. Directors from national financial services firms assisting these brands say consumers care less about a bankruptcy filing and more about the image you’re selling, what you are trying to accomplish, and how you’re using your window of opportunity to make significant changes.
A loyalty program for the lucky few
Want to bring some caché to your loyalty program? You could do what Chick-fil-A does and extend it to guests by invitation only. Eater reports that the quick-service brand offers free meals, behind-the-scenes tours and other giveaways as part of their VIP program, the A-List, which is limited to the restaurant’s most loyal customers.
Monitor and manage your restaurant from anywhere
If you operate restaurants with multiple locations – or simply wish you could be in more than one place at once – integrated tablet technology may bring some efficiency to your business. QSR magazine reports that the technology, currently in place at the fast-casual restaurant Crack Shack in San Diego, allows restaurant management to use a tablet or other mobile device to control a range of functions, including television and music selections, security, temperature and lighting. What’s more, operators can access video of restaurant locations to keep an eye on business from afar.
Compliments to the robot
MIT students have developed an appliance that experts say could revolutionize the quick-service restaurant industry. Spyce Kitchen prepares food without human intervention and produces meals at a low cost. Tech Insider reports that users can order a meal via a smartphone app or touchscreen, customize the ingredients, sauce and quantity, then place a bowl under a cooking pot and wait for their order to be dispensed. Sensors monitor the food’s temperature and quality. The cooking pot mixes and cooks the ingredients itself, then rotates to the sink and cleans itself afterwards. The appliance currently serves up a wide variety of bowls, including curry, Pad Thai, pasta, rice, stir-fry and quinoa. Spyce Kitchen currently prepares meals at an MIT dining hall and the creators plan to pilot it at other Boston universities once it obtains USDA and FDA approval.