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.
For many restaurant operators around the country, 2019 has been the year of the rising wage. As the restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates reports, 21 states announced increases for 2019, and several states that already had high minimum wage rates saw major rises. California and Massachusetts saw increases above 9 percent and Maine experienced a 10 percent climb. Further increases are coming in 2020. Can your menu prices alone accommodate these sorts of increases in your labor spending? It’s not likely. To help your restaurant thrive amid labor challenges, Aaron Allen suggests operators assemble a plan that involves strategies for menu development, marketing, labor optimization, brand relevance and rejuvenation, technology adoption and even robotics. For instance, crafting a well-developed menu can lift check totals, increase party size and help you identify opportunities for limited-time offers, upsells and new profit lines. Conducting an audit of your brand and what sets it apart, as well as of your past, current and future marketing activity, can help you fine tune your strategy and avoid overspending. Similarly, if you audit how tasks are completed in your restaurant and what you’re spending on the labor required to complete each one, you might identify ways to adjust your service model or uncover tasks that can be eliminated or handled by technology. Speaking of tech, what processes can you make more efficient and guest-friendly through the use of technology? Could a tech-based solution help you minimize ongoing labor challenges? You may not need to take action in every area but knowing where you stand in these aspects of your business can help you pinpoint weaknesses that can lead to financial challenges down the line – and help you identify and build upon your greatest strengths.
The investment bank UBS recently called online food delivery “a mega trend that looks to grow tenfold over the next decade.” As the demand for off-premise food continues to boom, many operators have treated it as a must-have – even if it means losing profits and the ability to market directly to customers. But increasingly, operators are embracing more of a hybrid delivery strategy, which may appeal to those who don’t want to miss out on the business opportunities that delivery can provide but do want to maintain control over key aspects of it. As Restaurant Dive reports, there are several ways to create a hybrid delivery strategy that meshes with your key sales priorities – and a growing number of providers are accommodating them. Concerned about quality control or ensuring you meet delivery time targets? Having third-party providers process orders and keeping drivers in-house may be your best route. Not sure of your best path to delivery – or want to build a temporary bridge that holds you until you’re ready to provide in-house delivery down the line? The Greek chain Taziki’s is testing both delivery with its own drivers and third-party delivery through Waitr (which offered a path to integrating into its system and allowed the restaurant to continue marketing to its customers directly). Corner Bakery, in yet another variation, relies on its own fleet for larger catering orders but third parties for the delivery of individual orders. Receiving orders directly via your website or app (while retaining your customers’ information) and then farming them out to third parties for delivery may also be an option in your area. Olo is one such provider. Above all, research your customer base and available providers to best understand what your customers value versus what you and third parties can offer – and what you do best.
Restaurant owners are stepping up to the challenge of minimizing their food waste. That was one conclusion of Toast’s recently released Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report, which surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators and staff, along with a similar number of restaurant guests, about the experience of operating and dining at restaurants. Toast asked restaurant professionals to share how they’re reducing food waste in 2019. The responses included such actions as using leftover ingredients from one recipe in another (38 percent), offering multiple portion choices for guests (26 percent) and composting (25 percent). Others said they limit the number of items they prepare for service, offer an a la carte menu and cross-utilize ingredients in an effort to reduce food waste. Still, there is room for improvement as a considerable portion of those surveyed (26 percent) do nothing at all to reduce food waste at their business. The consequences aren’t just environmental but also financial: A reFED study found that the approximately 11 million tons of food waste generated by restaurants annually costs businesses about $25 billion per year – and that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can save restaurants $8. The industry report emphasized that while you can’t control what someone eats or leaves behind, you can control your inventory. Your first course of action in managing waste is to keep close tabs on your shelves to reduce spoilage and avoid a tendency to over-order items – your inventory management system can help you take the best action.
At a time when restaurant finances are getting squeezed from many directions, do you know which budgetary battles are most important to fight? In other words, when you’re managing such expenses as labor, ingredients, rent and third-party delivery, does your balance sheet give you clear answers about how much each of those expenses is impacting your bottom line? It needs to, since your gut instinct may not be correct. Case in point: The results of a recent study by New School Center for New York City Affairs and the National Employment Law Project found that restaurants in New York City were more negatively impacted by rising occupancy costs and the fees charged by third-party delivery services than they were adversely affected by the near-doubling of the minimum wage paid to hourly employees in the past five years, Restaurant Business Online reports. The Fight for $15 wage battles of recent years had many operators concerned they would need to boost menu prices beyond what guests were willing to pay – and minimum wage escalation isn’t an insignificant expense for operators to be sure. But while New York isn’t like every market, the rising minimum wage in the city has had a smaller-than-expected impact in a diversity of regions, whether in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. As the minimum wage has been ascending in geographical regions across the country for years, you may be able to protect your bottom line by focusing on negotiating more favorable terms with a third-party delivery company, adjusting your business model so you can occupy a smaller or different footprint, or getting a stronger handle on hidden back-of-house costs.
Want to win over customers? It’s not about having mouth-watering new specials or transforming your marketing strategy. It’s all about your operations. (At least that seems to be the trend based on recent performance results of a number of major brands.) As reported in Restaurant Business, brands including Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s have prioritized operational changes over menu innovation in recent months. Wendy’s has focused on eliminating tasks and training employees to improve speed of service. McDonald’s continues to experiment with automation and has held competitions to find ways to serve guests faster. Dunkin’ has streamlined its menu and changed the layout of stores to improve flow of operations. As for Starbucks, third-quarter same-store sales increased 7 percent and store traffic increased 3 percent, due to what the company says is its focus on simplification – reducing the tasks that need to be completed in-house and shifting employees’ focus to guests. How can you simplify your operation – both with and without technology – to deliver better service?
Across the restaurant industry right now, profits range from 0 to 15 percent, according to Toast, and profits between 3 and 5 percent are most common. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for making errors or adapting to industry changes such as the rising demand for off-premise dining. Operators have to be continuously creative when it comes to finding and mining sources of revenue, whether from new products, services or partnerships. (Note the current fervor around restaurant brands partnering with Beyond Meat, with Subway and Hardee’s being just two of the latest companies to tap into the meat substitute’s popularity.) Restaurant Nuts suggests operators consider options such as joint ventures – for example, partnerships with grocery stores to sell your products can help you promote a special offering while lowering your sales and marketing expenses. Or, as All Food Business suggests, you can partner with a corporation to offer expense accounts, business dinners, client programs or events that can generate income. You can align with a business or charity whose mission complements yours if it helps you to expand your audience, offer a special event you wouldn’t be able to offer on your own, or tap into resources (such as technology or delivery capabilities) that benefit both parties. Within your business, building out a catering menu can help you make the most of your food costs (and minimize waste) while serving lucrative off-premise and corporate customers. Depending on your business, there may also be opportunity to offer retail products like clothing or take-home versions of signature sauces that your restaurant is known for.
If you feel like the rising costs of ingredients, labor and transport give you no choice but to raise prices at your restaurant, you might take comfort in knowing that across the country, brands are following through and raising prices -- and customers (so far) aren’t blinking. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, Chipotle, which raised prices last year, experienced a 10 percent rise in sales largely as a result of bigger orders. Mondelez and McDonald’s have been experiencing similar results after boosting prices. While talk of a recession looms, U.S. consumer confidence is still at near-record highs since the recession, according to the Conference Board. If you need to raise prices in the coming months, find ways to make consumers feel it’s worth their while to pay you a visit. Link your price increases to discounts and other promotions, particularly for your most loyal guests. As Psychology Today reports, those deals tend lead to greater overall spending – an item regularly sold at a stable, discounted price will seem more valuable and worthwhile when the price is raised and a generous coupon is offered to offset it. Be strategic about the promotions you offer. As Toast advises, for a promotion to be most successful for your business, you should take time to understand your target customers and tailor promotions to what motivates them; address the business operational challenges you face (and which your point-of-sale system – not your gut -- will best help you identify); tap into local media, which can broaden awareness and interest well beyond the time frame of your promotion; and know your margins so you can bundle items that will lead guests to try higher-margin items on your menu (i.e. offering free fries with every milkshake purchase is better than simply giving away fries).
Restaurant take-out supplies comprise a large percentage of the waste that ends up in oceans and landfills. Beyond limiting your single-use plastic, particularly the black plastic that research has confirmed is hazardous not just to the environment but also to human health, there are steps you can take to scale back your waste and to send the message to guests that you care about the environment. Start by conducting a waste audit so you have a clear picture of which menu items, packaging and office supplies generate the most waste, then adjust portion sizes and purchase orders accordingly. Buy non-perishable items in bulk if possible and use suppliers who can provide recyclable products and use less packaging on the items you purchase. Make extra napkins, straws, lids and other paper goods available upon request only. Finally, minimize the paper you generate by asking guests if you can email or text their receipt instead of printing it.