Team Four’s corporate chef identified the rise of food halls as a trend to watch in 2020, and for good reason: There are many significant food hall projects under development throughout the US and worldwide right now, the ones in operation have a strong track record of success (only three projects have failed of the more than 100 that have opened across the U.S.), and they offer low-risk, potentially high-reward environments for restaurant operators looking to take part. If you’re considering adding food halls to your restaurant marketing plan, Touchbistro says they offer a number of benefits and can reduce the substantial risks of opening a new restaurant, such as lower startup costs, shared maintenance expenses, shared infrastructure and shorter, more flexible contracts than you would have to agree to when signing for a conventional restaurant space. Newly added restaurants can hit the ground running in a food hall, benefitting from pre-existing foot traffic and fewer up-front marketing costs. Just bear in mind that a food hall experience may challenge your brand and require you to adapt your existing menu, service approach and marketing efforts. For instance, when you’re one stall in a crowded food hall, the experience of eating your food may feel different for guests than it would in a standalone restaurant – and the hundreds of options and long queues for food can cause overwhelm for some. How can you make your food memorable and your customer experience positive when your surroundings may be beyond your control?
What would it take for your restaurant to eliminate its trash cans? While it may seem like an impossible feat for a business that churns through goods ranging from food products to linens to cleaning supplies each day, thinking about how you might operate if you didn’t have trash cans – at least in the traditional sense – might help you rethink how your operation manages its waste. A recent article in the New York Times relates the stories of a Brooklyn restaurant, Rhodora, which has strived to become a “zero-waste” business in recent months. While its owners readily admit that its practices aren’t perfect, it has taken important steps – largely with suppliers and within its kitchen – to make it possible to winnow its waste down to nearly nothing. With consulting help from other restaurant operators who have minimized their own waste, Rhodera’s owners have researched and switched to suppliers that deliver (by bicycle) bread, eggs and pickled vegetables in reusable containers, and others that have ditched plastic wrap and committed to packaging foods in compostable materials. In the kitchen, they have introduced tools including a shredder that turns wine boxes into compostable material. As a result, they are able to save money and share a positive story with their eco-conscious clientele at a time when food waste is costing restaurants $2 billion in potential profits, according to the USDA. If you’d like to take a bite out of the waste your restaurant generates each year, there are many potential actions you can take, including and beyond packaging and composting. Consider these steps from Toast as a starting point.
Amid the rise of restaurant technology, many restaurant industry leaders have held that while robots and other technology would progressively be used to handle repetitive tasks once completed by employees, the employment landscape would also change, not just eliminating jobs but creating new roles that require human skills and allow people to build longer-term careers in the industry. This could be the year when that shift becomes more visible. In a QSR Magazine article predicting 2020 trends, GJ Hart, the CEO of Torchy’s Tacos, predicts this year will bring increased efforts by operators to attract and retain talent, such as providing educational benefits and other programs that help employees climb the corporate ladder. Torchy’s, for one, has a managing partners program that allows restaurant managers to operate their own locations. Taco Bell is also raising the bar when it comes to employee incentives. A recent Bloomberg article reports that the brand will be testing a higher salary – $100,000 – for restaurant managers in select U.S. restaurants in the midwest and northeast. (Current salaries for general managers at company-owned stores fall between $50,000 and $80,000, the report says.) While other brands may not be able to afford to transition to this kind of model, brands that are making such changes stand to alter the competitive landscape when it comes to hiring – and perhaps shift the kind of worker restaurants are able to attract. This year, what actions can you take – large or small – to make your business attractive as a long-term career prospect for the people you hire?
More isn’t more when it comes to your menu. As Fred LeFranc, managing partner of Results Through Strategy, told Restaurant Dive recently, operators can expect menus across restaurant segments to become simpler this year. There are a number of benefits your restaurant can generate by slimming down its menu – both for your financials and for your guests. The blog Chef Works suggests that a smaller menu will help you ensure your menu is a clear reflection of your brand, since extra items can muddy guest perceptions of a restaurant and the values behind it. It can also help your chef shine by focusing on the dishes and concepts that are his or her central strengths. As for your guests, you will make their decision simpler and easier to customize, minimizing the potential regret they may feel after ordering an item they’re uncertain about and making it easier for you to adapt items to their tastes and tolerances. (On that point, a smaller menu makes your business more efficient too, with fewer ingredients to prepare, potentially fewer suppliers to manage, fewer invoices to pay, and less waste.) Finally, having a smaller menu may give your restaurant more of a boutique feel, making each dish feel more special – not like a large collection of items offered in the hopes of appealing to every possible appetite.
At a time when consumers are eager to sample new trends, tire of eating the same dish repeatedly, and yet have highly customized dietary restrictions and preferences, how do restaurants respond? Operators might tune in to what’s happening at Sweetgreen, which made its mark as a fast-casual salad chain and is now in the midst of scaling up its brand. A recent New York Times report about Sweetgreen said while the chain used to update its basic menu of 10 items every 18 months and offer three seasonal options five times each year, its current lineup of 60 ingredients allows for nearly endless customization – all while ensuring each item tastes like a Sweetgreen salad. As one of the cofounders said in the article, “There is a physical limit to the number of items we can have on that line. Every item has to earn its keep.” You can beat menu fatigue at your restaurant by incorporating limited-time-only choices and seasonal items that guests will expect to disappear in a few weeks. Cycling in new ingredients on top of the foundational workhorse ingredients you use can help you test guests’ response to new items and audition potential keepers. What tactics do you use to make sure your inventory is stocked with menu workhorses – while also allowing for the breadth of new choices guests demand?
Team Four’s corporate chef expects the year ahead to bring an increase in smaller meal offerings – that includes more snacks on demand, as well as a range of smaller entrée portion sizes. These changes can be opportunities for chefs to test new ingredients, offer more health-conscious options and minimize food waste and cost. For example, as snacking grows in popularity and replaces the three-square-meals mindset in some cases, you can develop your menu with items that aren’t simply comfort food but also pack some nutritional value and dietary functionality. A recent Technomic report found that in the past two years, 40 percent of consumers said they were snacking on healthier foods. So when it comes to your snack menu, think plant-forward tapas, hummus sharing plates, vegetable-based dips and chips made from ingredients beyond the potato: lentils, quinoa, eggplant or kale to name a few. As for entrées, reducing your plate size – or offering the option of half-plates to help guests customize their experience with you – can ensure plates come back cleaner. A Danish study found that if the size of a plate shrinks by just 9 percent, food waste can be reduced by 26 percent.
One of the biggest restaurant industry stories – and challenges – of 2019 was about sustainability. Even brands that had taken the initiative to invest in compostable, eco-friendly packaging were surprised to learn that these materials were still ending up in landfills. Blue Bottle Coffee, which operates coffee cafés across the U.S. and parts of Asia, is one such business, and it is handling the problem in a way that’s worth watching if you’d like to improve your record (and story) when it comes to sustainability. Blue Bottle Coffee’s CEO, Bryan Meehan, recently announced that since discovering that too many of its 100 percent compostable, bioplastic cups and straws were ending up in landfills, the company created a policy that by the end of 2020, all of its U.S. cafés will be zero waste. (According to Zero Waste International Alliance’s definition, this means that at least 90 percent of the operation’s waste will be diverted from landfills.) The company is also testing out a program in the San Francisco Bay area to eliminate single-use cups – until now the company has gone through 12 million single-use cups annually in its U.S. cafés alone. Meehan also pushes a commitment to not only recycle but to reduce and reuse – and tells stories about his family’s efforts in these areas. He readily admits that it’s not an easy, inexpensive or convenient undertaking to make similar changes at Blue Bottle. He says on the company’s blog, “a commitment to reuse will wreak havoc on every aspect of our pilot cafe’s operations. We expect to lose some business.” But by taking an extreme stand and being open with consumers about its plans, the company also stands to increase its relevance – and win business in the process.
If you think restaurant delivery is big now, there is more to come: The NPD Group said in 2019 that restaurant digital orders have grown at an average annual rate of 23 percent since 2013 and will triple in volume by the end of 2020. At the same time, consumers have yet to commit to one third-party delivery provider, so they are willing to accept promotions from the many companies angling for their business. If you offer delivery or are considering it, now is a good time to see how providing it through your own digital platform might work for you. Nation’s Restaurant News expects more brands to take this route in 2020 in an effort to build more permanent relationships with customers – all while maintaining control of data and avoiding third-party delivery fees. Physical restaurant structures are continuing to change as well, with more restaurants not just creating separate prep lines and pick-up windows, but investing in virtual kitchens and other satellite facilities in close proximity to delivery customers in an effort to compete for business. In fact, Michael Schaefer, Euromonitor global lead for food and beverage, recently told Restaurant Dive that virtual kitchens and drop-off points will be crucial to compete in the future of delivery.
The past decade brought quality restaurants to just about every corner of the country – well beyond restaurant cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago. This was among the eight trends that New York Times food critic Pete Wells identified in his recent look back at what has happened in restaurants since 2010. This shifting of the restaurant landscape has set the stage for a focus on all things local: Team Four’s corporate chef predicts that in 2020 we can expect more hyper-local food, with restaurants in smaller metro areas driving the push to connect consumers with the foods and flavors of the local region. Your marketing efforts should follow suit. The marketing website jeffbullas.com offers seven guidelines for hyperlocal business marketing: First optimize your Google My Business listing, representing your business in the way people would search for it (not necessarily its legal name). Then offer local content – blogs, videos, articles, graphics, quizzes – and build them upon events or special features of your region. Make your contact information stand out on your site. On Google, categorize your business as local, including structured data mark-up for your business to help the search engine find you. Your site should both help people locate you online and present itself in a way that converts online visits into sales. If you have multiple locations, create individual landing pages for each business location, which will help elevate your appearance in search and improve your local rankings. Finally, use hyper-local advertising, bringing together location-tracking features and geo-fencing to help you direct content to people in a specific location around you – and hopefully lead them to your business.
Storytelling is “the new strategic imperative of business,” according to a report in Forbes. A brand with a strong narrative is a powerful brand – and science backs up the power that stories can bring to a business. Studies have found that by telling stories, the brains of the storyteller and listener synchronize, creating a shared experience. The brand consultancy Buffer suggests three ways you can use storytelling to help your business as it relates to employees, vendors and customers: First, instead of offering suggestions to get people on board with your ideas, tell a story that has the outcome you’re hoping the suggestion would have achieved. Use persuasive language – bringing in quotes or stories from outside experts as needed – and simple, heartfelt words to get your message across. Then apply those actions to a challenge you’re facing using the communication vehicles you have at your disposal. Need to get your team to improve its waste management or food safety practices? Weave real-life stories into their training sessions. Want to make sure your guests know about your efforts to buy from local suppliers and support the community? Integrate language into your menu that describes the origins of your ingredients and make sure your marketing materials and social media communications tell stories about your local connections.