Archive for December, 2011

Are Gourmet Food Trucks the Next Big Business Opportunity?

December 27, 2011

Have you considered a starting up a gourmet food truck? You wouldn’t be the first one. This trend is catching on like wildfire all across America. They even have food truck festivals now! Whether you are an established restaurant-owner thinking about going mobile or a new entrepreneur with a great idea, this article is a must-read if you have been thinking about starting up a food truck.

The gourmet food truck trend started popping up all over the West Coast years ago. In fact, LA and Portland no longer even have food truck vending licenses available. That doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel though. There are plenty of mid-sized cities that want you on their street corner. Just pick carefully.

Is a Food Truck Business a Sound Investment?

It really depends on who you ask. Originally, food trucks were thought of as the cheaper version of a brick and mortar business, but there is more overhead involved than one might think. First you have to invest in both a truck and a fully functional kitchen. Then you need to think about insurance, permits, parking and storage.

Many entrepreneurs have found that they have had to burn the candle at both ends during startup. Think about things like a second job and massive amounts of time on social media networks promoting yourself and where you will be.

Obviously, the startup cost depends on a variety of factors but here are some basic guidelines. A used hot dog cart could be an investment of around $2,000 while the general cost associated with getting the food truck runs anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 and that’s just the barebones necessities of the operation.

Successful Gourmet Food Truck Ideas

You are really only limited by your imagination, but here are some ideas that have worked for others in the past:

  • Gourmet hot dogs with things like Korean and Vietnamese themes
  • A traveling dessert truck
  • Gourmet tacos
  • Gourmet ice cream
  • Baked goods


New Heinz Ketchup Packets Are All the Rage

December 22, 2011

It’s just a ketchup packet—or is it? The new Heinz ketchup packets have caused people to re-evaluate the way that they eat out. Have you ever forgone an order of fries in the drive thru because you don’t want to make a mess? You know how it is when you open those little packets and the whole side rips open causing the ketchup to go all over your hand. Or you bite it with your teeth and it squirts everywhere.

Believe it or not, this has been a dilemma that Heinz has tried to solve for decades.

The Dip and Squeeze Ketchup

Heinz has tried a variety of ketchup solutions with little luck. They tried making it bigger, but that didn’t work. So the next innovation was an easier-to-open solution. Then there came the fries in the cup with ketchup attached.

When the new dip and squeeze single serve packets arrived, they put it through three years of testing before they let a few select restaurants do trial runs. The engineers tested study groups in minivans behind a glass window to see what happened while they ate fries. A Heinz VP of global packaging went as far as to get his own special minivan for ketchup packet experimentation and drove around to various Wendy’s and McDonald’s and ordered fries!

Chick-Fil-A, Smashburger, and Dairy Queen were some of the first to give it a try. Chick-Fil-A went as far as to make promotional material and deck the restaurant in information about the new Heinz ketchup packet arrival. McDonald’s and Burger King are still testing the precious packets.

It’s Just Ketchup, Right?

Well, ketchup packets are big business for Heinz. Did you know that these packets could possibly even mend a relationship with McDonald’s if all goes well? In 1973, they got into a disagreement and almost all McDonald’s will not use Heinz packets—until now. If it goes as Heinz projects, it could even increase sales of fries in the drive thru.



7 Ways Your Restaurant Décor Could Fail to Live Up to a Good Atmosphere

December 20, 2011

How important is restaurant décor to your establishment? There has been a definite trend for fast casual restaurants to upgrade their dining rooms. McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and many other places have also been quick to jump on the casual restaurant décor upgrade. Restaurants like Chick-Fil-A are even in a trial period for tableside service.

Restaurant Atmosphere

You’ve probably heard the restaurant myth before. The restaurant could have the best food in the world but without good atmosphere, it will never make it. Is it true that people go out to eat for the atmosphere just as much as the food? You’ve probably seen the subpar restaurant pack in the customers because of ambiance before. On the other hand, the mom ‘n’ pop diners and greasy spoons haven’t gone out of business due to bad atmosphere.

If you feel like your restaurant décor could use some sprucing up, you may want to take a look at these seven common mistakes in restaurant design.

  1. 1.      Cheap and tacky furniture

You might think that the culprit here is the booth or bar, but think again. Those single pole tables with four little chairs in the middle of the floor are some of the most uninviting furniture in your restaurant.

  1. 2.      Bad lighting

Make sure your lighting is bright enough to read by.

  1. 3.      Restaurant hodgepodge

Have you ever been in one of those restaurants that look like the graveyard of several restaurants before it? It comes in the form of things like the buffet from IHOP in the Chinese restaurant or a French restaurant inside a former Pizza Hut.

  1. 4.      Carpeting that is painful to look at

Pick something that is subtle and muted if you have to go with carpet.

  1. 5.      Muzak

Unless you are in a bar or a themed restaurant where the music is a part of the atmosphere, keep the music as background noise.

  1. 6.      Temperature control too hot or too cold

Just because the staff is running around and hot, don’t freeze out the customers.

  1. 7.      Lack of Room dividers

These also act as noise dividers and offer a certain amount of privacy that really adds to the atmosphere.




Restaurant Social Media: How Good Is Your Branding?

December 15, 2011

How good is your word-of-mouth reputation? Chances are if you aren’t actively participating in a restaurant social media campaign, you have probably fallen off the radar. In our last blog post, we reviewed some of the best restaurant websites in the industry. A large factor that contributes to the success of these websites involves customer interaction. If you don’t have a social media manager for your corporation, you are giving away business.

National Restaurant News Releases New Social Media Tool

The NRN website announced the release of Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI) in 2011. The tool was invented to give an analysis of how customers are interacting with restaurant social media. Effectively, this will tell you how the general public rates your brand.

You may submit your restaurant for analysis here. The tool measures and reports on activities concerning your restaurant from the following platforms:

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Gowalla
  • Foursquare

By monitoring the activity of your friends and followers, you can tell how well your brand is doing and what customers think. The tool provides the following data:

  • RSMI score out of 300
  • Klout score out of 100
  • Social media growth
  • Ranks your website’s importance on major social networks
  • Customer sentiment

RSMI Top 100 for the Third Quarter

RSMI released the Top 100 social media brands. Here is a quick peek at the top 10.

  1. Starbucks
  2. Wendy’s
  3. Chick-Fil-A
  4. McDonald’s
  5. Outback
  6. Jimmy Johns
  7. P.F. Chang’s
  8. Applebees
  9. Chipotle
  10. Pinkberry

It’s very interesting to see the switch of advertising from print and TV to digital media. For example, Chili’s discontinued three weeks’ worth of TV advertisement in lieu of an intensive social media campaign. The results were astounding. They went under budget and had better results than TV.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on these scores and report interesting findings in the coming months as this scoring becomes standard in the restaurant industry.



The 5 Best Restaurant Websites to Inspire You

December 13, 2011

It’s a peculiarity that some of the best restaurant websites aren’t necessarily for the best restaurants out there. In fact, some of the swankiest restaurants seem to be inversely related to some of the worst restaurant websites on the web. Restaurants are notorious for some of the worst web design on the Internet.

Why is that? Well, many of our chefs and restaurateurs aren’t exactly experts in web design. It seems that they sat down with a web consultant and were talked into some of the flashiest, noisiest, most over-the-top decisions in web design.

Fortunately, some restaurants are setting the bar a little higher. Take note as they lead the way in successful website design.

  1. 1.      Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts has some of the best social media experts and web designers on their side. Every step of the way, they get their customers to interact with them and listen to them carefully as they develop their menu.

  1. 2.      Wendy’s

Is it really any surprise that Wendy’s has some of the market’s share on superior web design? They are some of the first marketing geniuses after all.

  1. 3.      Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday’s overall website is designed well and really shows the restaurant off without too much flash.

  1. 4.      Pizza Express

Pizza Express has a simple design that really interacts with the user. It’s easy to navigate and their promotions are easily visible without being too in-your-face.

  1. 5.      McDonalds

We saved McDonalds for the grand finale. This is web design at its finest regardless of how you feel about the food. The navigation bar is easy to follow. The front page has a clean, simple appearance along with some really eye-catching graphics.

If you feel that your website has been lacking traffic or the bounce rate is too high, check these guys out to see what they are doing right. It’s not hard to stand out in the crowd as one of the best restaurant websites.

What Does Sustainable Food Mean to the Average Consumer?

December 9, 2011

In our last post, we talked about sustainable food and the impact that it bears on restaurant selection. Although the green movement hasn’t affected the restaurant industry as much as some may have expected, it is still gaining traction. It is important to note what consumers look for when it comes to local and sustainable foods.

Sustainable Food Purchasing Data

What are consumers basing their decisions on when it comes to sustainable food choices? It may not be as altruistic as it seems. In truth, the sustainable food movement is largely fueled by a perceived superior quality of food in local and organic products. The Mintel survey reported that 45% of consumers feel that sustainable food and drink are of higher quality than other choices.

Other respondents (43%) felt that sustainable food was important to them because of environmental or humanitarian reasons. This was closely followed by concern for food safety (42%).

The survey also found that certain buzzwords meant more to the end user than others. Marketing that claims “recyclable” or “environmentally friendly” is commonplace vocabulary. Yet words like “Fair Trade” and “reduced carbon footprint” are lesser known factors to consumers.

How Should the Restaurant Industry Approach the Sustainable Food Movement?

These statistics are important to the restaurant industry because the sustainable food movement is increasing. Over 13,000 new sustainable food products have been added to Mintel’s database since 2005. Over 84% of those surveyed reported purchasing some sort of local or sustainable food.

For the restaurant industry, it is important for us to track what purchases mean the most to these consumers as we make our buying decisions. Whether you are dealing with a younger crowd, a more affluent crowd or an aging crowd, be aware that all of them place value on health and safety over green initiatives at this point.



How Important Is Local Sustainable Food to Diners?

December 7, 2011

The local sustainable food movement has indubitably affected the consciousness of American consumers. But just how willing are they to pay more for local and organic menu items when it comes to dining out? Recent studies argue that it’s not as much as the sustainable food movement would like us to believe.

Survey Findings Concerning Sustainable Foods

According to Mintel’s recent press release on a survey of food sustainability on November 14, 2011, over 57% of consumers will pay more for local and sustainable fare. As the restaurant industry’s profit becomes increasingly affected by the green initiative, many of us may breathe a sigh of relief…but not so fast!

Even though these figures may prove to be hopeful, the majority of consumers don’t want to pay more than one to five percent more for sustainable foods. It also turns out that this is a minor detail when consumers decide on a place to eat. So, what do consumers base their decisions on?

  • 74% say menu selection
  • 69% say pricing
  • 67% say location

Sadly, only seven percent are looking for sustainable food when they make their decision; however, the West Coast scored proportionately higher in the survey (11%) compared to the Midwest (4%) and Northeast (7%) when it came to sustainable foods.

Furthermore, the survey suggests that when it comes to concern regarding consumer’s social responsibility, sustainable food is still trumped by pressing issues like living wages paid to employees and medical insurance.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Local and Sustainable Foods in Restaurants?

Many restaurants will find that offering sustainable food will be an added feature that sets them apart from the crowd. As the sustainable food movement grows, this initiative is expected to gain traction and becoming more of a decision-maker.


The Latest in Food Safety News Reports Huge Jump in America’s Consciousness

December 5, 2011

You’ve probably seen the food safety news plastered across the news before. Remember the time in 2006 that Taco Bell had to pull all of their green onions from their North American stores when they had an E coli outbreak? Their business declined dramatically in response to three cases of food borne illness. On top of that, the green onions were not even the source of poison!


Fortunately, America has always paid close attention to food safety guidelines. Many of our restaurateurs are probably already well-aware that many states require employees to pass a food safety sanitation course within a certain amount of time from the hiring date as well as get their mandatory Hepatitis vaccines.


Recent Changes in Food Safety Guidelines


According to Deloitte’s annual Consumer Food and Products Insight Survey in March of 2011, 73 percent of Americans were increasingly aware of restaurant food safety than they were five years ago. Following the survey, in April the FDA released an easier-to-use version of their website on food recall.

This was in response to the Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed under Obama’s administration on January 4, 2011. If you haven’t taken a look at the website yet, do so. It’s well worth your time if you are in the hospitality industry.

In answer to the sky-rocketing concern of food safety due to several high profile food recalls in the recent past, efforts are being made to decrease the risk of food poisoning within the packaging industry. This requires a better tracing system, with labels that can isolate the problem more efficiently.

Food Safety and the Bottom Line

Restaurateurs have pushed for this due to the bad publicity and liability that they have had in the past. Regardless of what role they actually play in the food safety, in the end the distributor usually takes the brunt of the publicity on this.

This is why it is essential that we keep up on the latest innovations in food safety news and guidelines, as well as provide continuing education programs for our employees.

5 Essentials in Restaurant Website Design

December 2, 2011

In the last few blog posts, I talked about marketing and restaurant website design. But what makes the best restaurant website? In this article, I’ll talk about the 5 essentials to a good restaurant website.

  1. Make sure that you can easily update your website.

You may want to change over to a WordPress or Joomla template that can be easily managed by you and your staff so that you can update it whenever you’d like. It also gives you options to add various types of media with an easy-to-understand editor.

  1. Get a website design that allows for growth.

So many times, we see businesses buy the $99 special, but it doesn’t contain any way for you to expand it because you are limited to the number of pages that you have. It’s best to own your own domain and hosting.

  1. Optimize your website so that your target audience can find you.

Let’s say that you are a restaurant located in the Loft District of St. Louis, you should probably have your website optimized with keywords that would reflect that, such as “restaurant loft district”, “restaurant St. Louis”. Don’t forget to optimize for the broader terms with consideration to Google Places and Google Mobile.

  1. Be smartphone friendly.

If a consumer is looking for your location while out on the town, they will probably do it on a smartphone. You don’t want it to show up like a bunch of nonsense.

  1. Tell the guests more about you than just your menu and location.

This is your chance to really reach out to your customer base. Tell them how you got started. Tell them about your visions. You can even have a staff page. Make sure that you include things that enhance the guest experience that they would otherwise not be able to know by just looking at the menu.

Granted, there are still some things missing in this restaurant website design list such as social media buttons, email signup for special offers, a blog, and many other features. Get these five things covered first, and you’ll already be ahead of a lot of your competition.