The holiday eating season is fast approaching – and it’s a good time to finish the year strong. Restaurant sales are up and food costs, for the moment, are down. The National Retail Federation’s annual survey predicts that consumers will spend an average of $805.65 on holiday merchandise this year, with $107.80 of that going toward food purchases. Consider some additional promotion to encourage some of those dollars to come your way:
Offer something new: Create a special in-house or catering menu; feature an offer for a free drink on your front door, website and social media accounts.
Remember your friends: Send holiday greeting cards to patrons on your email list and to local businesses so you’re front-of-mind when they’re planning their outings and gatherings.
Partner up: Can you bring in guests by offering a pre-theater dinner package or post-shopping cocktail? Consider how you and other local businesses can help each other.
Create goodwill: Consider hosting a charity dinner or designating holiday proceeds for a special cause that you promote to customers online and at your restaurant. Thank your customers for their business throughout the year via your email list, website and social media.
Overstaff if possible: Coordinate vacation schedules in advance and have more staff on hand to make it easier to provide guests with top-tier service.
Tune up your website
Your website is your vehicle for introducing your business to the public. Does it make the right impression? Restaurant industry websites often don’t, according to Krystle Mobayeni, who cofounded BentoBox, a user-friendly platform designed to help restaurateurs create websites that deliver what customers want. If your
website is in need of a refresh, consider these tips from The SEO Chefs, a restaurant marketing firm:
Make sure visitors can find information fast: You have a few seconds to hold visitors’ attention until they give up and move on. So make your site attractive and easy to navigate – on a computer, tablet and a mobile device. Do visitors have to scroll to the bottom of the page to find your menu or operating hours? They should be able to quickly navigate to the information they need.
Balance images and text: Your web visitors should not be waiting for images to load, or feel like they have to skim through endless paragraphs to find the information they need. Use webpage templates to ensure pages don’t look too crowded or too sparse.
Make the most of SEO: If your restaurant doesn’t pop up in a Google search, it should. You can purchase a search engine optimization plan that ensures that when web users type in keywords related to your restaurant, they see your restaurant high on their list of search results.
Who is to blame for America’s poor eating habits?
A recent article in The Atlantic asks if “food deserts” – areas of the U.S. where people have inadequate access to nutritious food options – are preventing the country’s poor from adopting healthy lifestyles. It’s not so simple, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study found that after controlling for differences in education and income, a person’s access to healthy food accounts for less than 10% of the variation in his or her consumption of those foods. So if opening stores that carry more fruits, vegetables and other whole foods doesn’t make a significant impact on health and obesity for the poor, what will? A Surgeon General’s report recommends addressing poverty and poor education first – so people have financial access to the foods in those stores and recognize their importance.
Lawmakers propose $24 billion in cuts to federal crop insurance
Congressional lawmakers who oppose federal crop insurance have proposed cutting $24 billion from the program. According to AgriPulse, Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., have introduced bills in the House and Senate that would eliminate $19 billion over the course of 10 years. The remainder would come from reducing returns for crop insurance companies and premium subsidies for farmers. These proposed cuts are part of legislation known as the Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform Measures (AFFIRM) Act.
Fast food workers fighting for $15
On Nov. 10, tens of thousands of fast food workers and other minimum-wage employees across the U.S. went on strike in an aim to push for a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize. This effort, the largest coordinated demonstration of these workers in three years, was part of a plan to motivate the nation’s minimum-wage earners to become a key part of the discussion during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. A number of cities and states across the country have already raised their minimum wage, though few have reached the $15 threshold.
Cage-free but not problem-free
It seems like every week, a new restaurant or food supplier declares a commitment to cage-free chickens. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera and Taco Bell are just a few of the big brands that have signed on. But some experts say the cage-free label, which is more expensive, does not go far enough for consumers and hurts food suppliers as well. A Seattle Times report described how commercial cage-free regulations (unlike organic regulations) don’t call for chickens to have outdoor access, meaning chickens may live in crowded, albeit cage-free, spaces where they are prone to injury by other chickens or by trying to fly in their enclosures. Combine that with the results of a recent University of California study, which said cage-free hens produce between 5 and 10% fewer eggs and generate operating costs that are 23% higher for farms. Those costs will be passed to consumers, who may continue to press for costly changes to the industry to justify paying higher prices.
Your waiter won’t be with you shortly
Minimum wage battles, debates over tipping. At many of the nation’s restaurants, the front of the house is an anxious place to be right now. According to the website Open for Business, Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Lee, celebrated husband-and-wife chefs in Southern California, hope to address these problems and solve other ones by eliminating wait staff at their restaurant, Scratch Bar & Kitchen. Instead, cooks will take orders, prepare the food and serve it. This way, they say they will be able to hire more cooks and pay them better. What’s more, their cooks’ excitement about food will be front-and-center for the customer.
School food service gets a facelift
The popularity of food trucks has taken off – the industry has grown by more than 9% annually in recent years, according to IBISWorld market research. Now food service companies are using food trucks to increase the cool quotient of cafeteria food for school-age children. The website Civil Eats reports that in Colorado and Minnesota, serving school lunches out of food trucks has increased the numbers of children eating the food – even if it is roughly the same fare that was served out of the cafeteria. These trucks have appeared on school trips and events – and organizers have found that they can help with school fundraising needs and efforts to get nutritious food to kids in underserved neighborhoods.
The FDA rolls out new food safety guidelines
In the wake of several multistate outbreaks of salmonella and E. Coli at U.S. food service businesses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched a comprehensive set of food safety guidelines governing how the country’s produce is grown, picked and transported to distributors. Growers will need to adhere to an expanded list of responsibilities in a variety of areas, ranging from irrigation practices staff hygiene, to ensure the safety of food. The FDA says it has introduced these safety measures with the intent of preventing food chain contamination before it occurs.
What’s the buzz about agroforestry?
In recent years, the decline of the bee population and the growing world population’s need for farmland have created a problem: How can U.S. farms address the growing need for food production? According to the USDA, research by the U.S. Forest Service is addressing how to incorporate more pollinator habitat into communities, farms and forests. Check out the USDA’s National Agroforestry Center’s list of publications for guidance on how to accomplish this through land management practices.
Amazon enters the food-delivery fray in 20 major markets
Thousands of Amazon users will now be able to click to order their dinner delivery as they surf the site to buy gifts for the holidays. The retailer just gained a major foothold in the increasingly crowded field of food delivery companies by expanding its new food delivery service to 20 metropolitan areas. For now, Amazon’s Prime Now application offers two-hour delivery as a free perk to its Prime members or one-hour delivery for $7.99.
Finding the smart intersection of food and technology
Recent conferences have put a futuristic spin on the food industry – mobile ordering is everywhere and robotic chefs and food delivery by drone are within reach. Venture capitalists are eager to invest in the next big thing and it’s easy to see technological innovation as necessary and positive. But experts warn that the food industry is notoriously resistant to technology. This month, the Culinary Institute of America and MIT Media Lab held its second annual reThink Food conference and presenters tackled this issue. The problem with technology, some experts noted, is that food supply chain is tied so closely to both humans and nature, which technology can’t always adequately replicate. As one presenter put it, if you have a bad experience with Uber, you might not use that driver again but you would use Uber again. Food is more personal. In an interview with Business Reporter, Anthony Fletcher, the CEO of Graze, the revolutionary U.K.-based company that successfully harnessed technology to deliver snack foods, says technology is helpful when it connects the business to the consumer – through customized branding and messaging, interpreting customer feedback, making predictions, and minimizing risk and loss to allow for experimentation and creativity. “By embracing technology,” he said, “you’re embracing the idea of being able to try things, gather data and understand.”
Simplicity Pays Off
A new survey by Siegel+Gale found that simplicity pays off when it comes to customer loyalty. According to the survey, 63% of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences. Nearly 70% percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it is simple. In addition, the simplest brands in the global stock markets outperform their rivals by more than 200%. In the food world, that boils down to three familiar names: McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. Happy meals, finger-lickin, flame grilled foods are now close to defining the American menu, for better of worse.
McDonald’s Continues Cuts
Despite a major rebound in profits for the first time in three years, food giant McDonald’s has announced that it plans to make up to $500 million in general and administrative cost cuts, The National Restaurant Association reports. The company also plans to franchise up to 95% of its restaurant properties, take on more debt, and return more cash to its shareholders. McDonald’s stopped short of creating a REIT for its real estate holdings, but did not discount the idea in the future. Industry observers, meanwhile, are predicting further improvements in company profits through the end of the year and beyond.
Holiday Restaurant Traffic May Be Slow
Macroeconomic reports predict mixed results for restaurant sales this holiday season, Nation’s Restaurant News reports. While economists agree the economy is stronger with unemployment down, hiring up, and shoppers already planning their holiday spending spree, there are some indications that restaurant sales may not be as strong. First, the quarter got off to a rocky start for restaurants, with sales averaging below 1%. Also of concern is a Friday Christmas, which historically is an under performer. The consensus for restaurant spending for the holidays? A 3.1% rise, says Black Box Intelligence.
Dear Restaurant Owner: The Digital Age Is Upon Us
A recent SmartBlog.com column noted that restaurants adding a digital ordering component are adhering to Moore’s Law, which implies that the ranks of digitally perceptive restaurants are doubling every year. In fact, in 2015 over 12 million consumers have used mobile ordering and some fast-food pizza chains firms such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s now say their digital platforms account for 50% of their business, or roughly $234 billion. Based on those results, you ought to be asking if your restaurant is prepared to take advantage of the digital revolution that some prognosticators say is worth some $100 billion a year.
Tis The Season For Roasting More Than Turkey
Sure, fall is roasting season. Beyond turkey, veggies, in particular, are favorites for roasting. However, root vegetables are not the only things good for roasting, bonappetit.com says. In a recent edition of the online food magazine, chef favorites for roasting also include grapes, citrus, cabbage, leeks, cherry tomatoes, and even fruits, such as peaches, apples, even cranberries. Spice up some of your own seasonal dishes this year with a new twist on roasted veggies and fruits. Your regulars just might keep coming back for seconds.
Three Quick Tips To Optimize Labor Costs
Let’s face it… hourly wages are increasing. That means there is an added responsibility on you to pay your staff more, possibly contribute more to a 401(k)… you get the picture. So what can you do to save? First, you need to make shift management a priority. We are not talking about taping up some paper version a week ahead of time either. You really need to get a handle on working in tandem with your employees to develop a viable system that accommodate both your needs and their needs as well. Second, settle in on one form of communication with your staff, and do yourself a favor, use a system that allows employees access autonomously. “In fact, 65 percent of workers say they'd try harder to find shift replacements if they had an easier way to communicate with coworkers, while 53 percent would be more likely to pick up open shifts,” QSRweb reports. Finally, dump the paper schedules and spreadsheets. Studies show that nearly a third of staffers receive mixed-up schedules, which can lead to understaffing in key dining periods. If you need more incentive to get off the pencil-and-paper routine, remember this: most restaurants admit that being understaffed affects customer experience, “which can easily discourage restaurant-goers from dining there again,” QSRweb says.
Pumpkin-flavored Products Are Soaring
Yes, pumpkin-flavored lattes are all the rage, leading Forbes to estimate that it will earn Starbucks about $100 million this year. But, the global love affair with pumpkins is not limited to pies and coffee. According to Mintel Menu Insights, pumpkin as a beer flavor accounts for 90% of the ingredient’s growth on beverage menus. As a seasonal product in the estimated $20 billion craft beer market, pumpkin-flavored beers are on the upswing, Forbes says.