Running events at your restaurant can help you generate a reliable stream of income, especially if a shift to more off-premise sales has taken a bite out of your in-house dining sales. But according to the latest Meeting Room of the Future Report from the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), facilities that host corporate events are lagging when it comes to reducing food waste and being mindful of the environment — and there is a significant opportunity for those who have a thoughtful strategy. First off, the times of a buffet line overflowing with food have passed: In the report, which polled 250 meeting planners around the world, 60 percent of respondents said they consider how well a venue manages food waste before they book an event with that venue. Further, 44 percent of respondents said that in the next five years, ethical operations and sustainable practices will be more important when booking a venue — the only factor ranked more highly was access to interactive technology. To put your best foot forward when working with people who are booking corporate events, take steps now to integrate more in-season foods on your events menu and to buy them in bulk, research and partner with producers who follow sustainable practices, ask about nearby services available to compost/recycle both food and packaging (if you don’t ask, you won’t necessarily hear about them), train your staff to speak knowledgeably about your efforts so your values come through to meeting planners and potential guests, and weave your sustainable practices into your marketing materials. They’re as much of a selling point as your menu.
You should be — even though it can feel like a big responsibility to never take a break from recruiting. As Allfoodbusiness.com reports, always being ready to hire a strong candidate who walks through the door can inject your team with new enthusiasm, help sharpen their skills and generate a healthy sense of competition. After all, if you have a capable new person on board who is eager to learn and do well, it’s easier to let a mediocre performer go. Not having the right opportunity available for a strong candidate should not stand in the way of hiring that person. If you don’t have anyone that needs to be removed from your team at the time, you can work the new person in for a few hours a week at first, make small decreases in the hours of several employees to make up for the extra labor, adjust responsibilities across the team, use the extra labor to address pain points you haven’t had the capacity to tackle before, or even just accept that you will overspend on labor for a pay period or two (because that can change at any time). Even if you feel you have sufficient staff to carry you right now, anticipate turnover. It’s better to be in a position of having an additional capable team member on hand than of being short-staffed and unable to serve guests well.
Restaurant operators know it’s important to offer off-premise dining. But what isn’t always clear is how to get your restaurant to the front of the pack. At the recent National Restaurant Association Marketing Executive Group’s annual conference, representatives from such brands as Kitchen United, Technomic, Le Pain Quotidien and Dunkin’ gathered to share their insights about how operators can stand out among the competition in the delivery space. First, put yourself in your delivery drivers’ shoes — or better yet, drive around with them for a shift to observe their experience with other restaurants. Note which brands make it easiest (or even most pleasant) for drivers to collect orders, whether that be via providing separate parking spaces, pick-up windows or shelves, or offering reliably friendly treatment from your staff or a free soda to go. Then note what sort of service those best-performing restaurants get in return (e.g. having their orders picked up fastest or delivered first). That said, make sure you label orders with a stamp detailing the time the order was complete and ready to go — if food arrives late, it can help you and the customer understand who is responsible. Next, offer ordering incentives that will help lift check totals without too much effort on the customer’s part. Offer a free appetizer for a customer ordering food for $25 or more, for example. Finally, pay attention to the factors that boost your delivery numbers. Is there rain in the forecast? At Dunkin’, that means sending out a marketing offer to local customers or posting a promotion on Facebook to help bolster delivery orders.
Restaurants and movie theaters, sports bars and memorabilia shops, cafés and bookstores…Restaurants can seem like natural partners for a wide range of businesses. The promotions you offer through these sorts of partnerships help you attract new customers and streams of revenue. Or do they? It depends on how well the partners suit each other and how well they develop their strategy. A recent Fast Company report advises business owners use several criteria to determine whether another business passes the partnership litmus test. First, focus on your core challenge or goal. Your best partnerships will help you address it, whether it’s tapping into a new market or gaining insights from a tech-savvy business. Then consider how your restaurant’s values mesh with those of the other business —having a shared vision with help you avoid problems down the line. When you map out your strategy for the partnership, make sure both parties understand the other’s goals and try to anticipate potential pitfalls such as increased costs or slower decision making (and how you’ll manage them). If you’re new to this, begin by looking for partners within your own industry who offer products that complement yours — you’re likely to gain the most from these partnerships, whether in insights or other potential partnership opportunities. Finally, consider partnering on a smaller event together before diving into a larger promotion. It will help you understand the other business’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication and working styles before you have made a more significant commitment to working together.
As you contemplate ways to boost your restaurant’s bottom line, don’t forget about small changes you can make to your equipment that can generate significant savings in the long term. For example, is there room to reduce your restaurant’s water and power consumption? As QSR Magazine reports, the U.S. Energy Star program can help you identify energy-efficient equipment ranging from small ice machines and coffee markers to large commercial ovens. Or start with even smaller changes. Swap out incandescent light bulbs for LED or CFL bulbs, or update pre-rinse spray valves or use low-pressure sinks and dishwashers to reduce the wastewater your facility generates.
Last year, restaurant catering grew 50 percent faster than the industry as a whole, according to research from Technomic and ezCater. At a time when restaurants are scrambling to meet consumer demand for off-premise dining despite the challenge of making delivery profitable, focusing on catering can be a wise business move for foodservice operations. (If you need a rule of thumb for catering profitability, Sandy Korem of The Festive Kitchen in Dallas aims for 67 percent profit from catering and prices food at three times its cost and beverages for twice their cost.) As grocery stores and other businesses eat into the off-premise dining market for individual meals, catering can help you set your business apart. If you haven’t given significant thought or investment to your catering business, you’re not alone: The research cited above found that even though 90 percent of restaurant operators believe catering is somewhat or very important to business, only 28 percent have made a strategic investment in it. Restaurant Nuts offered some tips from operators who have made catering pay off. First, develop a catering-friendly menu that comprises your greatest hits (not new recipes) that travel well or can be started at the restaurant, then easily completed onsite. Make pricing easy for customers by creating sample menus of entrées and appetizers at different price points, and when discussing options with a customer, have an idea of what different prices per head will provide. Make sure you have temperature-stable containers, along with other equipment that holds your food at the proper temperature while in transit. Start with small, manageably spaced events and then expand from there so you can build a reputation for reliability and quality — low prices tend to be less of a priority for catering customers. Finally, make sure you offer a catering-specific loyalty program to entice people to invite you back.
Digital ordering and delivery have grown 300 percent faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, according to Upserve. Thinking of isolating production lines in your restaurant to better accommodate off-premise traffic? Chili’s is seeing the value of it. The brand changed its kitchen structure to allow for better production-line preparation of menu items, and pared down its menu to include more profitable items. It has generated consecutive quarters of double-digit off-premise sales increases as a result. As restaurant operators contemplate how to adjust their business model to accommodate off-premise sales, companies continue to spring up to offer solutions. While ghost kitchens and cloud kitchens have made headlines, alternatives to those alternative spaces are becoming available. One example is KitchenPodular, a new company that develops modular, portable kitchen kits that contain electrical and plumbing, sinks, a walk-in cooler, and a ventilation hood and offer the option of a drive-through or walk-up window — operators supply their own oven and stove. The kit (each costs an average of $150,000 and ranges from 206 to 430 square feet in size) can be set up in a restaurant’s existing parking lot, on the outskirts of a city as part of a hub-and-spoke structure, or placed in another preferred location. KitchenPodular CEO Mike Manion, who was featured on a recent episode of The Takeout, Delivery and Catering Show, said these kits can provide restaurant with a turnkey solution for isolating production lines and churning out food to different customer bases more effectively. While they may not be for everyone — as The Spoon points out, they’re still facilities that need to be managed and staffed, and they don’t offer any shared labor for cleaning and dishwashing that one might find in a cloud kitchen — it’s another option to consider if you’re looking for a way to adapt on an ongoing basis to new streams of traffic.
In the first quarter of this year, 46 percent of consumers who ordered Uber Eats in the U.S. also ordered from one of its competitors, according to the data research firm Second Measure. That’s despite these companies offering incentives to keep customers coming back. As a result, Vox reports, third-party delivery companies are currently engaged in a price race to the bottom. But before long, these companies won’t be able to continue their streak of losses and will need to charge higher prices. Their relationships with partner restaurants and customers will be all the more critical. As vendors risk getting weeded out, restaurants may wield some leverage.
Consumers like a limited-time offer: Whether it has to do with short attention spans or a desire for something new and different, there has been a 64 percent spike in LTOs in the past five years, according to Technomic. Their research also found that a majority of female consumers and millennials are drawn to innovative dishes, new flavors and menu launches when they choose a restaurant, and 30 percent of quick-service customers would visit a restaurant they wouldn’t normally visit if it meant taking advantage of a unique LTO. Restaurant Business advises operators to consider several factors when developing an LTO to attract guests. First, set a goal you’re hoping to achieve and design your LTO around it. (An LTO that will bring in guests for several weeks or months will need to have broader, more mainstream appeal than an LTO designed to generate a lot of buzz for a short time.) Second, consider your demographics and let your data guide your decisions. Preferences will vary across generations and genders, so consider everything from your LTO’s ingredients to its portability when anticipating how guests are likely to perceive your offer. Finally, use language that describes the sensory experience of eating what you’re selling (e.g. think “crunchy” vs. “breaded”) and promote the health-conscious aspects of your LTO. Words like “fresh,” “local” and “made from scratch” tend to score especially well with consumers.
New research from the National Restaurant Association found that delivery, drive-thru and takeout food are on track to comprise 63 percent of restaurant sales this year – and many industry insiders see off-premise sales as the industry’s key growth engine. Recent consumer data demonstrates the potential. For example, Foodable reports that more than 80 percent of consumers younger than 35 are using on-demand food ordering apps about twice a week, and Food On Demand reports that delivery sales are 75 percent higher than in-store sales. At the same time, a declining percentage of consumers want to talk to others when visiting a restaurant, according to a recent study from Harvard Business Review. Clearly consumers still crave a restaurant experience but the best way to engage those people may no longer be via an in-person conversation. Harnessing technology to drive off-premise sales is key to tapping into the off-premise opportunity. Do you have a technology blueprint for driving off-premises sales? As of this writing, we were a few weeks away from the 5th annual Takeout, Delivery & Catering Symposium, which will gather industry leaders to forecast what’s ahead for off-premise sales, as well as how operators can use customer analytics to drive sales and engagement, and how technology can make a restaurant operation more efficient. Stay tuned for details from the event in the coming weeks.