As the supply chain is being impacted by factors including labor shortages, extreme weather, gaps in the availability of raw ingredients, and a spike in demand from consumers returning to foodservice outlets, businesses at every link in the supply chain are feeling the stress. At a time when some foodservice operators have been completely dropped by their distributor(s), the strength of your partnerships is paramount. At the time of this writing, the average fill-rate from manufacturers to distributors was running below 85 percent. But the service level for Premier Value 4 members is considerably higher than this average. That is due to the work our distribution partner, US Foods, is doing to rebalance inventory to provide our members with the best possible service. In recent quarterly earnings releases, US Foods and Sysco disclosed their food cost inflation rates: 8.2 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively. To keep this in context, a normal food cost inflation would be in the 2-3 percent range. Value 4 members have protection against this inflation with contracted manufacturer agreements (CMA). CMA’s give access to 350 vendors covering 105,000 products. Over the past 15 years, inflation on CMA products has been half of the inflation of non-CMA products. Our CMA contracts are firmly in place and while we will not know if that 50 percent “savings” rate is less or more until the current hyper-inflationary period has settled, we are confident that using CMA products is your best protection against inflation – and will offer extra security until we return to conditions that feel closer to normal. If you do not have these protections from your suppliers and partners, consider calling Value 4 to see if you qualify for our programs.
Not so long ago, a food truck was often perceived as a potential means for a fledgling restaurant concept to develop a following with the public before launching a brick-and-mortar location, or for a smaller independent restaurant to spread its brand awareness. Now, established brick-and-mortar brands are looking to food trucks as a way of modernizing to suit the constraints of the Covid era. Take Au Bon Pain. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that Tabbassum Mumtaz, the CEO of Ampax Brands, which is the new franchisor of the Au Bon Pain bakery and café brand, considers food trucks – along with ghost kitchens – to be important tools that the brand can use to modernize itself. Research from IBISWorld found that from 2016-2021, the food truck industry has grown at an annualized rate of 7.5 percent, surpassing the growth of the broader foodservice sector. To be sure, food trucks have their disadvantages – at the time of this writing, most small, independently owned food trucks weren’t eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program or Economic Injury Disaster Loans. However, they do offer a key advantage – namely flexibility – that happens to suit the current times extremely well. While the pandemic has decreased demand for food truck business in office parks, it has increased opportunities for it in residential neighborhoods, hospital and grocery store parking lots, and highway rest stops.
At a time when everything from labor shortages to supply chain kinks are posing challenges for operators, doing anything you can to manage and minimize waste is especially important. To be sure, there are plenty of tech-driven solutions designed to help prevent over-ordering supplies, measure ingredients, condense leftovers and reroute excess inventory – but a number of simpler solutions exist that restaurants can start using today. Most of them have to do with skewing small when it comes to portion size and accommodating size preferences. For instance, you can offer a choice of portion sizes and provide smaller container sizes of any refillable items. Make sure that whatever side dishes or even garnishes you’re serving are ones the guest has chosen, so you’re not perpetually throwing away the potato chips and coleslaw you have always served with your sandwiches. Pricing items à la carte can help. The National Restaurant Association also suggests offering guests the option of splitting an entrée or having part of it wrapped to go before it is served. To help minimize waste once your meals have left your establishment, you can provide reheating instructions on food packages to-go to ensure the meal retains its quality as much as possible when eaten as leftovers.
Other than labor, the top challenges for restaurant operators right now are escalating food costs and short supplies, according to recent commentary from Larry Reinstein, industry consultant and president of LJR Hospitality Ventures. (And of course, labor shortages can impact both costs and supplies.) When you look at your operation, where might there be room to flex when the foods you are known to offer are priced out of your budget or are simply unavailable? First, consider what dishes and ingredients on your menu are more variable and adaptable. You may be able to be more flexible with ingredients than you think. Case in point: When Wingstop, which literally has chicken wings in its name, had to keep business going amid a wing shortage in recent months, it offered the alternative of chicken thighs, the National Restaurant Association reports. For every dish you serve, consider how you might reinvent it without a perceived loss of value for the guest – or if you should temporarily replace it until cost and supply challenges shake out. Of course, you may have some room to raise your prices – media reports are spreading the word to consumers that they have not been paying sustainable prices for restaurant food in recent years. But if you must raise prices, look for other ways to elevate the experience you’re providing guests – particularly if you’re already short-staffed and out of popular menu items. This is where the human side of the restaurant business has an opportunity to demonstrate its worth.
Gift cards are a front-of-mind gift-giving option for a vast number of U.S. consumers. The gift card market is worth more than $160 billion and it has been growing by double-digit margins since 2015 – and gift card purchases have been a means of paying restaurants forward during the pandemic. But according to a new study from Incisiv, restaurants are still leaning on old-school tactics when it comes to managing their gift card sales instead of harnessing the data-driven power they can offer. By better connecting gift cards to loyalty programs, restaurants can capitalize on the special occasions that inspire guests to use these cards – occasions that happen to be predisposed to generating feelings of loyalty. The study advises restaurants fine-tune their approach to gift cards in four areas: First, make gift cards a more frictionless experience for guest and employee alike. That means considering such actions as how to minimize the steps/people involved in processing a transaction, or if you can add a gift card balance to a third-party wallet or loyalty account, for example. Second, make it possible to purchase, transfer, redeem and reload gift cards across all of your purchasing channels. Third, make it more personal – like so much of the experience of dining out, customization of restaurant gift cards helps drive loyalty. Do you offer a range of designs for a range of occasions? Sample messages? Can a giver include a special video message or photo? Finally, make recommendations. Suggesting products based on the occasion and the recipient can help you upsell your cards, as well as generate data that can improve your ability to segment and target your customer base going forward.