The FDA has given restaurants until December to comply with new menu-labeling standards. Some restaurants are pushing their information out in advance to show transparency. Subway, for one, has voluntarily posted its calorie counts ahead of the deadline to demonstrate its commitment to health-conscious eating. For those restaurants that have not released their information, QSR Web recommends using the time between now and December to ensure they communicate accurate information to employees and guests about menu items. Employees should know the calorie count on popular menu selections and how substitutions could affect it. If asked, they should be able to point guests to more information about how nutritional data was collected. The FDA’s delay provides a chance to fine-tune food safety protocols as well – including how to handle special requests and color code for allergen-free menu items.
Make restaurant finances everyone’s business
Do your employees think your restaurant makes more in profit than it does? You could do what Michael Passalacqua, the owner of Angelo’s restaurant in Washington, Penn. does and open your books to them. In a report in Restaurant Owner, Passalacqua says that each year at his 200-seat, full-service restaurant, he reviews every number on his balance sheet with his employees. They know the cost of china, linens, insurance, repairs and even how much he takes home in salary. He says when employees see what percentage of sales funds their paychecks and how much it costs to operate the restaurant, they appreciate how the business works. And, he says, he can prevent employees from making the wrong assumptions.
Fast casual keeps climbing
Times continue to be good for fast-casual restaurants. NPD Group reports fast-casual restaurants outpaced the average restaurant last year. The number of fast-casual chains increased by 5% according to data collected in September, and customers increased their visits by 6% in the year ending in February of this year. (Foodservice traffic overall only increased 1%, according to the results.) And there is still room for the fast-casual segment to grow. NPD Group said fast-casual restaurants represent a small slice of the overall restaurant industry, with 7% of the total visits to quick-service restaurants. Visits to quick-service outlets represent 78% of total foodservice business.
Organic label gets some fine tuning
The term “organic” could have a different meaning on menus in the near future. The USDA proposed a new regulation that could help strengthen and clarify standards for animal welfare. It is designed to align consumers’ expectations and improve their confidence in the organic seal, according to a report in Food Navigator. The proposed rule, developed with input from the organic farming community, set guidelines to clarify how producers should handle livestock and poultry to ensure their wellbeing, what physical alterations are permitted and how much indoor and outdoor space an animal should have. Existing regulations don’t enforce those conditions. Organic industry insiders say having new rules could
help hold producers to one standard. The public is invited to comment on the rule for two months to determine next steps.
Reservations for sale
Ticketed dining is the latest trend in booking tables at high-end restaurants. In a number of cities across the country, restaurants are charging guests a fee to make a reservation and then issuing tickets for the reserved time. Some restaurants are issuing tickets that cover a multicourse meal, with tickets varying in price depending on the day and time. Ticketed dining helps restaurants eliminate no-shows and entice guests to reserve tables at off-peak hours. But a Washington Post report says making consumers pay for just a reservation probably won’t work if table inventories become too limited for regular guests and all but the most deep-pocketed guests are priced out of a Saturday night dinner reservation.
When plain vanilla is too rich
The price of vanilla beans is making vanilla ice cream a costly item on the menu – but what can replace it alongside a chocolate soufflé? Milk-flavored ice cream, according to a growing number of chefs. The Washington Post reports the ice cream is popping up on a lot of menus. Chefs say it helps balance the sweetness of many desserts and it is winning raves for its smaller profile and old-fashioned ice cream flavor and texture.
At a time when restaurants are trying to cut back on their food waste and find sustainable ways to dispose of it, take note of what’s happening in Colorado. NPR reports that Heartland Biogas Project is taking wasted food from the state’s most populous areas and converting it into electricity. The waste is combined with bacteria in large vats and, using anaerobic digestion, is converted into methane gas that is sent through an interstate pipeline and used to generate electricity. Chipping away at food waste in this way comes at a steep cost – building and operating the facilities required to process the food is expensive and policy changes are often required. Still, the digesters have met with success in Europe and are beginning to appear in the U.S.
Pump up your patio
Are you ready for patio dining season? VSAG, an international restaurant and hospitality consulting firm, said restaurants with outdoor patios can increase gross profits by 65%. Beyond providing a clean space with sufficient shade or heat that guests can customize, Restaurant Hospitality recommends taking these steps to make the most of your patio: Lighten up your food and drink menus to match the environment. Music should complement the setting too. Go green with easy-care plants and colorful foliage that doesn’t attract insects. Use lighting, from lanterns to tea lights, to enhance the mood. Add a play area to make it easier for guests with kids to relax over their meal. Choose durable furniture that’s lightweight enough to move and stack – and use it to divide your space into areas for eating and drinking during special events.
Instagram has 40 million monthly users and 90% of them are millennials. Do they know what you’re serving up? Restaurant consultants Aaron Allen said many restaurants have used Instagram successfully to share promotions with guests and build their brands. Taco Bell promoted its “Live Más" slogan by encouraging customers to post photos that demonstrate how they live life to the fullest – with taco in hand, of course. To promote their restaurant’s fun-loving culture, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese posts photos that showcase the personalities of employees (one photo shows humorous Valentine’s Day cookies prepared by one) and provide a behind-the-scenes look at operations. California Pizza Kitchen uses Instagram to reveal new menu items to followers. Other brands encourage customers to post photos to a hashtag in exchange for entry into a contest for gift cards and free meals.
Use tech to build a franchise-friendly supply chain
At the recent Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in Dallas, several franchise executives sounded off about the challenge of managing the supply chain across large brands and helping franchisees adhere to corporate guidelines. Technology, they said, is key. QSR Web shared the tech tips they recommended to smooth communication among the franchisor, franchisee and vendor: One point-of-sale system used across the company, they said, can take human error out of reordering supplies and pricing menus. Technology can also provide data to help an operator test the validity of new ideas based on what has sold well in the past and what the demographics of a restaurant location dictate. Collecting metrics can help measure what’s going well and what needs improvement – whether it’s keeping menu items in stock, managing the supply of a limited-time offering, or tracking produce most likely to cause foodborne illness.