Archive for June, 2011

Technology in Ordering

June 30, 2011

A Cornell study has shown that younger guests tend to be less patient when waiting to be served at a restaurant.  The study showed that 49% of those who responded (69% of those 18-34) walked out of a QSR because of high wait times.  Thirty-four percent (49% of 18-34 year olds) walked out more than once. So the challenge for restaurants is to find a way to get these customers through the line faster.  One possible solution may lie in advances in ordering technology.

Some of this technology includes using restaurant-provided devices to allow customers to place their orders quickly and accurately.  For instance, the use of kiosks in restaurants can help expedite wait times.  These kiosks can not only allow a customer to place his order quickly, but also can result in a more accurate order.

In addition, the kiosks can ask if the customer would like additional items such as a drink or dessert.  The result can be up to a 30% higher check. Customers may also like the use of a handheld ordering system.  These devices can be used in the drive-thru as well as inside of the restaurant.  A customer can place his order using this device and have it waiting for him when he reaches the front of the line.

A restaurant may also want to consider allowing the customer to use his own mobile devices to order.  Using web-based technologies, a customer can text their order and have it waiting for them.  Similar technology can also be used to allow customers to use their mobile devices to place a reservation. With today’s customers being less patient and wanting more control over their ordering experience, it may be wise for a restaurant to look into putting self-ordering systems in place.  Not only can it lead to happier customers, but it may also lead to a higher check for the restaurant.



Technology in Restaurants

June 23, 2011

With the world making use of technology in all areas of life, it would be unwise for restaurants not to take part.  Customers are changing.  They have less time and less patience, but still want to enjoy their restaurant experiences. There is a way for restaurants to tap into this technological trend.  Technology is an investment that can offer relatively quick returns . . . that is, if the customers are on board.

Technology is useless unless the customer feels he is benefitting from it.  Once the customer’s experience is enhanced by the technology available, however, a restaurant can truly make use of it. Electronic devices can be used to cut a customer’s wait time, to increase the accuracy of service, and to provide instant feedback about a customer’s experience.  This can be a boon for both the customers and the restaurant serving them. Forty-nine percent of people who responded to a Cornell study said that they walked out of a QSR because of the wait time.  And the younger the customer, the less patience he had.  A whopping 69% of customers ages 18-34 admitted to walking out of a QSR because of high wait times.

Using this feedback and the technology available, a smart restaurant may put kiosks, mobile devices, or other technologies to help decrease a customer’s wait time and keep those customers from leaving.Technology can also help customers feel more comfortable about eating at a specific restaurant.  Virtual menus offer the ease of providing nutritional and allergy information so that a guest can decide what to eat and where she should dine.

Devices that enhance the customers’ experience and put some control in their hands can go a long way to increasing a restaurant’s business.  Of course, technology cannot replace a friendly and accommodating staff.  The right choices in technology, however, can underscore the staff’s efforts and provide a more pleasant customer experience.


New York Public Library Transcribes Menus

June 21, 2011

This is really interesting: The New York Public library has been working on getting their collection of restaurant menus (all 10,000 of them) transcribed so that they can be searched online or through a database at the library. The plan involves crowd sourcing: using the public to look at scanned versions of the menus and to transcribe them one at a time so that the entire database becomes searchable.

Why the New York Public library would even want to do this is a little difficult to understand however. The library keeps records of almost everything published, from the best sellers by Stephanie Meyers to seemingly useless junk, like records of old telephone books. Those old telephone books bring to mind, however, an unusual situation that arose which showed exactly why such an esoteric collection can prove useful. A few years back, when new immigration laws were passed allowing immigrants who had come to this country illegally to stay if they could prove they had been here a certain amount of time, people found the telephone books which the library had lovingly preserved to be invaluable evidence of their longevity in the country.

In the case of these vintage menus, however, the value may be more in offering a glimpse into everyday life as it evolved over the past century or so in the city rather than in something more concrete, like proving that a particular dish was served in a particular restaurant. The project, called What’s On the Menu is available online and has already spawned a devoted audience who has worked tirelessly to transcribe the menus. Some volunteers have even said that they hope to bring the same concept to their own communities. Who knows? Perhaps your menu will one day be considered a priceless relic of history showing what life was once like in your neck of the woods.


Restaurateurs Feel the Crush of High Prices

June 16, 2011

No restaurateur has been immune to the recent price increases in raw food costs. However, the fact that prices have gone up so much in such a short time has put a huge crimp in our industry. With some Americans still reluctant to eat out because they are worried about their finances, restaurateurs are finding themselves stuck between a rock and hard place – in essence, they are finding that they are unable to raise prices even though their raw material costs are going up exponentially. In order to combat the problem, some restaurateurs have resorted to creative and not so creative ways to stem the tide of red ink.

Among the more creative options, some restaurateurs have begun simply serving slightly smaller portions of food. This is probably the easiest way to keep prices the same in the face of rising food costs – if you usually served four slices of bacon with the bacon and eggs special, cutting down to three slices instead is an easy fix. Unfortunately, that only gets one so far—you can’t cut down from two to one slice without affecting the customers’ experience.

Others are trying to substitute cheaper ingredients (for example, cheap white bread in place of the more expensive house breads), especially for things like toast where it’s less noticeable to the diners. Others have simply dropped the most expensive items from their menus as unprofitable in light of the extreme rise in the cost of raw food products and still others have been forced to lay off staff and require waiters and dishwashers to do more work for the same money just in order to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much relief in sight as the turmoil in the Middle East continues to consume the world’s economy with increasingly high prices for crude oil. This in turn, more than anything else has been pushing up prices and causing all the pain for restaurateurs and ordinary Americans trying to put food on the table.

Is Chenin Blanc the New Riesling?

June 14, 2011

An old new wine variety is starting to gain some traction in this country and it’s time to add it to your wine list. The wine in question is the Chenin Blanc variety, which is grown primarily in the Loire Valley and has a similar flavor to that of Rieslings, which have become all the rage these days for the white wine crowd.

The thing that seems to make Chenin Blanc less popular is actually the thing that would seem to make it something that every serious sommelier would want on their list and in their cellars. In essence, unlike the more popular Riesling, Chenin Blanc is grown primarily in the Loire Valley and in few other places, making it somewhat harder to come by.

Also known as Vouvrays, Chenin Blanc is a rather dry wine, though there is a hint of sweetness to the vintage, making it a perfect accompaniment to a wide variety of meals (especially seafood) – which of course is traditionally served with whites anyway. The wines are available from a number of vintners.  However, the most popular ones do seem to come from Huet Clos du Bourg.

It is worth noting for your restaurant’s sommelier that not all Vouvrays are actually quite so dry and as such one really needs to read reviews in order to find the right wines to stock in the wine cellar and to recommend to diners looking for that something new. Still, given the fact that Chenin Blanc does seem to be gaining in popularity, it does make sense to add a few cases to your cellar and possibly even to run the gamut of dry to slightly sweet in order to satisfy the palettes of a wide variety of your customers, some of whom just want to taste something different but don’t necessarily enjoy very dry wines.

Another Restaurant Allegedly Serves Alcohol to a Child

June 9, 2011

In what may be the start of a disturbing trend, it seems that yet another child may have been served an alcoholic drink in place of the chocolate shake he actually ordered, this time at a Chili’s restaurant.

Readers will of course remember the situation where a 4 year old child was served an alcoholic drink in an Applebee’s restaurant recently. In that case, there was no question that the drink was alcoholic or that it was served to the child since it was provided, oddly enough, in a sippy cup. That case became the butt of jokes for numerous late night comics, with the likes of Jay Leno and Jimmy Falon repeatedly mentioning it in their monologues.

Applebee’s announced following the incident that they would change their procedures in order to ensure that this never happens again in one of their restaurants. Now it seems that Chili’s may have to follow suit, also changing policies after another four year old was allegedly served a Mudslide in place of a chocolate shake. The report came from a Chicago branch of the restaurant where the mother of the child claimed that her daughter had tried the drink but declared that she didn’t like it because it “tasted funny.”

The mother tasted it and discovered that there was alcohol in the drink. Chili’s, however, has been denying the claim from the mother and says that the drinks were all served correctly but that someone at the table accidentally or deliberately switched the drinks. No charges were filed against the Chili’s employee in question as there was no clear evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the restaurant. However, this clearly does call for our industry to be more careful about serving drinks, especially when children are at the table and have ordered drinks which may appear similar to the alcoholic ones that adults have ordered.

The Skies Are Safe for Peanuts

June 7, 2011

Well, peanut lovers can rest easy knowing that the little, hard to open bags of the stuff offered on airplanes are safe from regulation. Apparently, the Department of Transportation had been looking into banning the peanuts on flights due to widespread peanut allergies. However, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and CNN, the agency has been forced to back down from their plans due to a law which specifically prohibits them from regulating the distribution of peanuts on aircraft without first doing a peer reviewed study to look at the issue from a public health point of view. Since no such study was done, the ban is currently dead in the water.

The original plan had asked for public comment on three possible ways of restricting the use of peanuts on board aircraft because of concerns regarding peanut allergies. The three options included restricting peanuts completely, restricting them on planes where passengers made such a request in advance and restricting them in special “peanut free” areas of the aircraft for those who prefer not to be in the vicinity of the stuff.

It is worth noting however that airlines are not required to serve peanuts even though they are not officially banned. In fact many airlines have switched to bags of pretzels instead, specifically because of passenger complaints regarding the peanuts. In our industry, there have been no plans to restrict the use of peanuts in bars, though again, many bars have voluntarily moved to pretzels in order to accommodate diners who were allergic to them. Now the real question is, since peanuts have been banned by some due to peanut allergies, will low carb dieters start demanding yet another alternative since they are unable to eat the pretzels that are being offered in place of the peanuts?