Archive for October, 2015

The Fast Casual Storm: How You Can Compete

Panera Bread Fast Casual Restaurant.

Trends in the restaurant industry are changing thanks to the influence of fast casual restaurants. Establishments like Chipotle, Taco Del Mar, Five Guys, and Panera Bread, to name a few, are taking the industry over by storm. So, what’s the big deal? Why are these types of restaurants becoming “the” places for dining out?

What is Fast Casual?

Let’s first define what encompasses the fast casual trend. The term fast casual comes from the joining of “fast” food and “casual” dining because it offers elements of both. It is a type of restaurant that offers a higher quality fast food experience with fresh ingredients in a more modern upscale atmosphere.  Front counter service is available to place an order, pay, and retrieve food, followed by customers taking a seat in a dining area that is free of any table service. When placing an order, customers are often offered an interactive experience where they can choose exactly what they want from a visual array of additions, ala Chipotle. It’s customization at its finest! Meal prices at these establishments tend to range from $8 and $15 with payment up front and a minimal wait time.

Customers are changing.

That all sounds great but why is the growth of fast casual restaurants seemingly outpacing other restaurant concepts at an incredibly fast rate? Well, it all comes down to the fact that consumers today are different than those of past decades. In our very fast paced world of cell phones and instant access to the internet, consumers are becoming accustomed to having information and choices available at their fingertips; they want what they want and they want it right now. In other words, people want fast customization especially when they are hungry. And, who wouldn’t? Having fresh, healthy options that you choose and can eat in a matter of minutes is becoming the norm.

Competition is fierce!

With the rapid growth of fast casual restaurants, established restaurants are finding that it’s not easy to compete. McDonald’s is one such establishment who has reported a disappointing global decrease in sales as well as in guest traffic with these new customer demands. Due to these declines, even the industry leader in fast food is realizing that they need to make changes to fulfill the desires of their customers. So, what can you do as a restaurant owner do to maintain a strong business presence while co-existing with this new fast casual trend?

Where do you stand and what can you do to compete?

First, answer this. Are fast casual restaurants your competition? If fast casual restaurants aren’t directly in competition with the type of restaurant that you fall under, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Keep doing what you are doing and do it well.   Maintain excellent customer service, quality menu items, and a clean and friendly atmosphere. There are still diners who want to be served at a table, don’t mind waiting for table service, and might not always be in the mood for the fast casual experience.

If you are in direct competition with the growth of fast casual restaurants, you have one of two options. You can jump on the bandwagon and adopt some of the ideas from the fast casual trend to implement in your restaurant or you can stick to your niche and do it well.

Many well-known restaurants are trying to adapt. Let’s stick with McDonald’s for example. Recent press releases have communicated a change in ways for this famous chain. McDonald’s will be transitioning to cage-free eggs, sourcing antibiotic-free chicken, and hormone free beef. They have already started to serve a new salad mix consisting of a blend of romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach, in addition to simplifying their menu. If you think that adapting to the fast casual experience like McDonald’s is the best way to respond, there are things you can do to make your restaurant more appealing. Add new adventurous flavors to your menu, incorporate fresh natural ingredients, and keep it healthy. To do this, try adding new gourmet sauces to your sandwiches or as a side. You can also replace frozen or processed ingredients with local sourced vegetables and meats. In addition, offer menu items that customers can run in and pick up quickly and don’t take as long to cook.  If feasible, you could even give the interior and exterior of your restaurant a more modern upscale look offering a new arrangement that appeals to this trend.

If you implement these ideas, be sure to tell you customers about it! Use social media as an avenue to advertise to the masses. Pictures of new menu items, a new interior set up, or even added parking for quick to-go orders are all great ideas for Instagram. Twitter tweets and posts on Facebook that incorporate new hashtags or creative ways to let your customers know about the changes you made are imperative to encourage customers to test the new waters. But remember this. If you make all of these changes, be sure to stay true to your brand in the process. In other words, don’t forget the core values that you built your business on. Your goal will be to continue to keep your customer base happy while offering options that align with this new trend. Keeping these things in mind while changing the services you provide to your customers will keep your restaurant from getting lost in the hustle and bustle of this new fast casual world.

A final thought.

As time passes, trends change. Even in the restaurant industry. As you try to decide how or if your restaurant will respond to this new fast casual trend, ask yourself this one question. Will you opt to change to be “like” the best or will you just “be” the best? Your answer will guide you to success.

Top Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Food Waste in a Garbage Can - Image Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

There is a growing concern in our country that those in the restaurant industry need to know about: food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the food supply, which is about 133 billion pounds of food per year. That is a lot of food! With this abundance of food waste, the negative impacts are becoming greater. We are seeing nutritious food that could help feed families in need being sent to landfills. As these landfills continue to fill up, methane is being generated, a known contributor to climate changes and global warming. In addition, the resources that are being used to produce, process, transport, prepare, store, and dispose of wasted food, are ones that could be used towards other uses that would have a greater benefit on our society. As these impacts add up, our country is noticing how big this problem truly is.

In response to this problem, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030. What does this mean for restaurants? It’s time to take action to reduce food waste! Not just for the sake of the national goal of reduction, but also for your own sake of saving your business the increasing amounts of money that is being spent on food that just goes to waste. Here are some tips that you can implement is your restaurant to combat this growing concern.

Track Your Food Waste

The first step to controlling food waste is to figure out how much food you’re actually wasting.  If you’re unsure of how much food waste your restaurant produces, institute a process to track your food waste for a week. Ask all staff to document what percentage or amount of food that they throw away before it hits the trash. With this data, make a plan to minimize that waste with the considerations below.

 Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge is a program that the USDA and the EPA launched in June of 2013. This program challenges “entities across the food chain”, restaurants included, to join efforts to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. By joining, entities demonstrate their commitment to take action to reduce food waste for free. You are just asked to document ways that your restaurant will reduce food waste in the next year and follow through on that list.   To join the Food Waste Challenge, click here.

Proper storage

When storing foods, we all know how important temperature control is. Best practices for temperature control are twofold: frequent checking and documentation of your cooler and freezer thermometers in addition to making sure they are at the required temperatures. Coolers should remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for proper storage and freezers should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, not all foods need to be put in the cooler or freezer. For those items that do not, storage considerations should involve standard food containers and food packaging wrap. The more proper you are about storage, the longer it will last, and the less you will have to throw away.

Labeling paired with a “first in, first out” policy

Labeling is a key part to food storage. Not only because your staff needs to know what each container or box holds, but also so they know which foods to use first. Using the “first in, first out” policy means that you are storing newer products behind the older ones, therefore using the older products in the front first. Monitoring your staff is the key to this policy because even if you train them to pull down the older products first, it is likely that it will be tempting for them to grab a newer or fresher product in the back.

Portion control

The portions you serve to your customers are in direct correlation to your food waste. Plates full of food are often destined for the trash can because it’s just too much to eat. Consider offering smaller portions of your foods and make sure that the portions remain consistent.  We suggest that you have your staff measure each portion that they make and serve. Not only will this help with waste, but it will also help to reduce your food costs. In addition, consider adding half-portions of meals already on your menu at a lower price in order to avoid the excess food landing in the trash.

Smart purchasing

Since over-purchasing of perishable items is a big problem when it comes to food waste, it’s important to buy smart. Smart buying encompasses taking regular counts of your inventory, inspecting foods upon arrival with the non-acceptance of items that are spoiled, and consistency with inventory tracking. Add to this the fact that you should only buy what you need. Use your inventory tracking system to identify trends in purchasing. Once those trends are identified, you can let them lead the way to successful ordering that keeps money in your register.

Other general tips

In addition to the tips listed above, please find below some other general tips that might help you in reducing food waste.

  • If you find you have perishable items that will be soon to spoil, add menu items that include that item into your daily or weekly specials
  • Institute creative ways to re-use food like turning bread into croutons or using vegetables and meats in soups
  • Encourage employees to take home foods that you will only end up throwing away at the end of the day or night
  • Donate food that you will not use to families in need. There are federal laws that encourage food donation and offer tax deductions as well as protection from liability if a donation causes illness or injury. Many organizations exist that collect and distribute food donations to those who need it. For a listing of laws in place or organizations to donate to, click here.
  • Always offer take home containers to your customers for any foods that might still be on their plate. Offer containers that are microwave safe and re-usable to encourage an easy heat up and less waste.
  • Use refillable bottles, dishes, or containers for condiments instead of the single packs. Set these items on each table so that customers use only what they need.   If you are using the single packs, avoid putting them out where customers can grab them. They will likely grab more than what they need and throw away the unused packs in the trash.
  • Reduce the amount of bread and rolls that are offered before each meal and/or reduce the size of appetizers that you offer. These foods tend to fill customers up thus contributing to the possibility of having more food left over from the main dish.
  • Purchase a commercial vacuum sealer to keep your foods as fresh as possible for as long as possible

Regardless of the steps you decide to implement, taking action against food waste is an important part of creating a solution to this growing problem. Simple steps in the regular routine and daily processes within your restaurant will serve a huge benefit to your wallet as well as have a positive impact on society and the environment. That’s what you call a “win, win” situation.