Archive for August, 2013

Improve Your Reputation: Take Pride in Your Restaurant’s Menu Offerings

August 28, 2013

It might seem obvious that having pride in your establishment is important for good business, but if you’re not providing education to your staff and customers about what makes your restaurant offerings special, you’re missing an important reputation building opportunity.

Educating your employees and customers about what you’re offering, why you’ve chosen it, and what makes it special is often all it takes to turn an average dining experience into something that feels more special, unique, and memorable.

Educate Your Restaurant Staff about the Food

Being knowledgeable about the food that is offered is critical to the reputation building process. When your employees are intimately familiar with the ingredients on the list, how the food is prepared, and why you have chosen it, they are better able to translate this knowledge to the customers.

For example, let’s take a basic salad that may be on your menu. There’s nothing too exciting about that, right? But what happens when your waitress is able to say, “Oh, the house salad? That’s a great choice. It’s made from organic local greens and produce picked fresh from the garden. We have a homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing that pairs perfectly with that, would you like to try it?” Suddenly the boring old house salad seems a lot more interesting, doesn’t it?

Schooling your employees to take pride in your menu offerings and talk about them knowledgeably and with enthusiasm goes a long way toward setting your restaurant above the crowd.

Integrate Pride in Your Restaurant with Your Marketing Strategies

Along with educating your employees to speak about what you offer in your restaurant with knowledge and enthusiasm, you’ll also want to integrate those same sentiments into your marketing messages. Let your customers know how proud you are of what you offer and why it’s so special. If you pride yourself on offering a truly exceptional dining experience, say so. If you use only family recipes on your menu, tell the crowd. If you donate x percentage of your profits to local charities, let your consumer base know how their contributions are helping the community.

The more that you can make eating at your restaurant something special and unique that your customers can take pride in, the greater your reputation will become.

Show Off Your Restaurateur Skills and Taste-Pairing Expertise

A final way that you can demonstrate your knowledge, pride, and expertise in your niche lies in your ability to suggest additional food and drink pairings that compliment the menu items your customers have ordered. A lot of that comes down to employee training. You want your serving staff to be able to suggest the right side dish, wine, or beer to perfectly compliment the main entree.

Alcoholic drinks are a particularly easy way to demonstrate the pride and enthusiasm you have for what you’re offering. Again, rather than the waiter simply taking an order for the shiraz on the menu and walking away, they can say something like, “Great choice! That shiraz was bottled in 1996 in Australia. It’s got a slightly fruity, blackberry flavor and pairs perfectly with the olive-crusted lamb you chose.” Providing this kind of additional information reinforces the specialness of the customer’s choice and builds your establishment’s reputation as a unique and knowledgeable dining experience.

Restaurant Loyalty Program: 3 Tips to Boost Customer Engagement

August 23, 2013

Despite the upward shift in the national economy, the restaurant industry sales environment remains somewhat shaky in 2013, and has seen several ups and downs over the course of the year. Repeat visitors continue to provide the most income to restaurants around the nation and as such, it pays to find novel ways of engaging and retaining these consumers.

Loyalty programs have long been a favorite approach to meeting that goal and the increasing use of social media and mobile devices have vastly increased the frequency of use for restaurant loyalty programs. As a savvy restaurateur, it’s well worth your while to ensure that your loyalty program is engaging your customers in the most effective ways possible. Here are three tips to make the most of your restaurant loyalty program.

Tip One: Offer Worthwhile Rewards to Your Restaurant Customers

The biggest mistake restaurants make with their loyalty programs is that they make the rewards either too difficult to attain or not enticing enough to bother. It’s critical to make your rewards reasonably easy to achieve without making your customers jump through too many hoops.

It’s just as critical to offer something that they would really like. Earning a free five-course meal, for example, is far more interesting than earning a t-shirt with your business’s logo on it. Getting entries to win a sponsored mountain bike is more fun than getting entries to win a free appetizer. Offering rewards that are truly meaningful to your consumer base is the first and most critical step of a successful loyalty rewards program.

Tip Two: Loyalty Points Should be Easily Gathered and Redeemed

The second step to a successful rewards program is making the accumulation and redemption of loyalty points as easy as possible. Approximately $16 billion dollars, or somewhere around a third of the overall loyalty dollar value, goes unredeemed each year. Part of the problem is making your customers jump through too many hoops to gather and redeem their points, but the other part of the problem is the somewhat cluttered nature of loyalty currencies themselves.

Fortunately, there has been an outcropping of new loyalty currency aggregator apps to address this issue. These mobile applications allow members to use and share the same points across multiple small businesses, including restaurants, right from the convenience of their personal mobile devices. Businesses benefit from joining one of these networks because they get a ton of free user data, social media exposure, and increased enrollment in their loyalty programs.

Tip Three: Tie Your Restaurant Loyalty Program to Your Social Media Campaign

Odds are you already have a social media campaign going, and if you aren’t already using it to leverage your loyalty program membership, you should be. Social media provides a great forum for user engagement. You can make it very easy for your customers to garner points for online activities such as leaving reviews, posting pictures eating at your establishment, or sharing your restaurant’s page with their friends. Doing so has the double benefit of both engaging and building loyalty with your customers as well as gaining free crowd-sourced marketing and reputation building.

It ends up being a win-win for everyone, and creates an on-going conversation with your consumer base that helps to build long-term relationships and traffic that comes through your doors again and again.

Legal Tips for Restaurants Who Wish to Donate Surplus Food

August 19, 2013

As a restaurateur, you’re well aware of the massive quantities of food that can go to waste at the end of each work day. Aside from the benefit of not letting food go to waste, implementing a food donation strategy can work nicely as a part of your overall charitable works program – giving “feels goods” to you, your consumers, and the community at large.

That said, if you wish to donate excess food from your restaurant, you’ll need to follow specific procedures to do so. It also helps to know the laws which protect and help you. Here are some tips to assist you along the way.

Good Faith Food Donors are Protected from Liability

Millions of pounds of food and groceries go to waste every year. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was signed into law in 1996 to protect would-be food donors from liability so that food can go to people rather than landfills. The law specifically protects you from liability when you donate to a non-profit organization and from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient. The only exceptions to this protection occur in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Restaurants can Donate both Perishable and Non-Perishable Foods

While it’s no surprise that unopened or canned food can be donated to food banks and distribution centers, you may be pleasantly surprised to know that prepared perishable foods can be donated as well – as long as appropriate steps are taken. Those appropriate steps include proper handling according to the U.S. Food Code and ServSafe practices and must address restaurant handling, food rescue transportation, and recipient agency storage with regards to thawing and reheating requirements.
As the donating restaurant, your job is to hold the would-be food donation at a temperature higher than 140 degrees until it is ready to donate. At that point, it must be stored in food-safe, sanitized plastic bags or containers, labeled with the date and time of storage, and rapidly cooled to under 41 degrees.
Frozen prepared food should be donated within a week, whereas refrigerated food should be donated within 72 hours. There are a number of food-rescue programs whose sole purpose is to fetch such food from restaurants and distribute it to the appropriate centers – making food donation in the restaurant that much easier.

Tax Deductions for Restaurants Who Donate Food

According to the Internal Revenue Code Section 170(e)(3), you are entitled to a deduction for a contribution to a charitable organization. The Federal Tax Code also provides that wholesome food which is properly saved, donated to a qualified non-profit organization, and accurately documented may be eligible for an incremental deduction (typically the lesser half of the food’s appreciated value). This law is permanent for C-corporations, but has to be extended every two years for non-C corporations.
It’s important to remember that the above information is intended for informative purposes only, and you should definitely consult your attorney to discover any additional information pertinent to your individual situation prior to implementing a food donation program.  That said, it can be done, and if you’re the sort of person who would rather see good food go to people rather than to waste, it’s well worth the time it will take to investigate any additional details.

New Gluten-Free Standards set to Change Restaurant Offerings

August 14, 2013

It is estimated that roughly 18 million Americans have a non-celiac, gluten sensitivity while another 2 million have a diagnosis of celiac disease. Add on the growing number of people who are avoiding gluten for various other health-related reasons and it’s no wonder that so many restaurants are making the move to offering gluten-free items on the menu.

‘Gluten-Free’ has Varied Widely from Restaurant to Restaurant

That said, what the term ‘gluten-free’ actually reflects can vary greatly from one restaurant to another, with as much as 90% of restaurant items currently labeled as gluten-free actually containing quite a bit of gluten. Part of the problem is inadvertent cross-contamination. The other part of the problem is that gluten is found in a number of items a person wouldn’t necessarily suspect. As a result, those whose health can be seriously affected by gluten currently can’t trust gluten-free labels or menus.

This safety risk has led the FDA to put out a new rule which requires items voluntarily labeled as gluten-free (or with similar terms such as “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten”) to contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.

The rule was added to the Federal Register on August 5th, and gives packaged food companies one year to comply with the new standard. Once in effect, restaurateurs will be able to purchase anything with a gluten-free label without having to examine the ingredient list for hidden sources of gluten.

Next Step: Preventing Cross Contamination

Cross contaminating an otherwise gluten-free food in the restaurant is very easy to do and is another area of real concern for those with health issues related to gluten. For example, a gluten-free food cannot be fried in the same oil as foods with gluten; nor can knives, cutting boards, or other food preparation tools be shared. Airborne flour can even be a gluten culprit, meaning that gluten-free foods must be prepped in a sealed area.

Many restaurants are developing company-wide training programs to teach staffers proper food handling and preparation for their gluten-free customers. Some restaurants have even gone so far as to develop a “GF” prefix code for their point-of-sale systems so that employees can follow specific plating instructions and recipes when a gluten-free item rings up.

Education and Alternatives for Restaurants to Meet the Gluten-Free Demand

In some cases, it is simply not feasible for a restaurant to be able to prepare gluten-free foods in the establishment itself. For example, many restaurants don’t have a dedicated fryer for gluten-free items nor the capability to prep gluten-free foods in an area sealed from airborne flour. Some restaurants are working around such problems by simply not offering any gluten-free items that are fried or by purchasing pre-made pizzas, for example, which have been packaged and sealed in a certified gluten-free facility, cooked in the bag, and are opened only by the gluten-free customer.

A number of restaurants have been utilizing the training provided by nutrition consulting groups and advocacy organizations such as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to train staff, implement procedures, and find new methods of meeting the gluten-free demand in their establishments. The prevalence of gluten sensitivity is a real issue that has a significant impact on consumer choices. New labeling standards, staff education, and the willingness of restaurateurs to be a part of the solution are making all the difference in the world to the 20 million Americans who need gluten-free options.

Cause Marketing in the Restaurant: Charitable Strategies for Growth

August 6, 2013

The degree to which a business makes the world a better place has a major impact on the purchasing decisions of its consumers. In fact, research has shown that nearly half of U.S. consumers are already making a monthly purchase from an establishment that supports a cause while 64% say they would switch their loyalties to a similar brand if the company decided to support a cause they care about.

What does this mean for you, the restaurateur? Put simply, doing good is good business and charitable strategies are well worth the time and effort of implementing if you are not already doing so.

The Difference between Philanthropy and Cause Marketing in the Restaurant

Whereas philanthropy is given purely through the desire to do something good in the world without any expectations for return (other than perhaps a ‘thank you’), the goal in cause marketing is to do the most good while simultaneously creating measurable business benefits.

In cause marketing, you build relationships with your customers by supporting causes that both appeal to their values as well as align with the values of your business.

The idea is to build your establishment’s reputation as a business with strong morals and ethics that make your customers and employees feel good about supporting it.

Selecting the Right Cause to get Your Restaurant Behind

Given the high number of donation requests that restaurants get each year, it’s critical to set parameters for giving and charitable participation. Rather than taking a broad-wash approach, restaurants have found it far more valuable to focus on supporting issues which tie to their brand identities, leverage their currently available resources, and appeal to their target audiences.

Providing your customers and employees with the opportunity to select causes that they care about is one way to keep them engaged and involved in your efforts.

Keeping your charitable giving at the local level is another way to ensure that your efforts are maximized and that the results can be easily seen. Focusing on building long-term partnerships with the charities you select is also a savvy approach, and helps your program build momentum and notoriety over time.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to give to anyone and everyone to benefit from the cause marketing model. Instead, focus on building relationships and harnessing the power and energy in your local community by selecting strategic, meaningful causes to get behind.

Keep an Eye on Your Restaurant’s Return on Investment for its Charitable Efforts

Keeping an eye on and being transparent about the success of your charitable efforts is the final ingredient to cause marketing success. Not only do you want to ensure that your efforts are worth the while, but you also want the consumers who have participated in your campaign to see the results of their efforts.

Being transparent about the success or failure of your campaign builds confidence in the integrity of your establishment and allows your followers the opportunity to help you improve your program. This creates a collaborative experience that will continue to build loyalty and participation for years to come.

Everyone likes to feel like they are doing something good and to feel like their money is going towards a worthy cause. There are a number of easy and creative ways that restaurants around the country are utilizing this basic truth to improve their bottom line while simultaneously improving the world we live in.

If you’ve been looking for ways to build your business and inspire people to help you do it, cause marketing is an extremely effective method of doing so.