Archive for January, 2014

Food Trends to Watch in the 2014 Restaurant Arena

January 28, 2014

This time of year, everyone’s looking ahead trying to guess what the new year will bring. In the restaurant industry, there are curiosity upstarts which are likely to be passing fads, as well as a number of food trends that have been slowly gaining steam for years. Both of these menu trends are quite likely to take front and center in the years to come. Here are the highlights of some of the more important and interesting food trends for 2014.

Good-For-You and Guilt Free Dining

Both health consciousness and environmental responsibility have been movements on the rise in the general populace for years now, and all reports indicate that they aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, when asked which food fads are most likely to remain hot menu trends ten years from now, chefs around the country said environmentally sustainable foods and local sourcing are the top two movements and here to stay. This was followed by health and nutrition, children’s nutrition and gluten-free food options. 

In response to the demand for veggie, gluten-free and eco-friendly dining establishments, healthy ‘green’ restaurants are popping up all over the place and steadily moving into the mainstream. Predictions show that in 2014, early investments in green restaurants could well pay off. 

Single Item Restaurants and À La Carte Menus

As consumers get more and more accustomed to the ease and convenience of being able to order exactly what they want, when they want it, many restaurants have found success by offering extensive à la carte menus. Not only do such offerings make the customer feel catered to, but they actually can increase a restaurant’s bottom line since à la carte orders tend to ring up higher totals than traditional plate meals.

What’s more, there has also been an increase in the popularity of single item restaurants, or establishments that focus on serving only one item, and doing it extremely well. For example, there’s a restaurant in Los Angeles that specializes only in sausages. There’s another very popular bakery in Chicago that serves only meatloaf. Even gourmet PB & J and macaroni and cheese shops are being greeted with open arms. There’s something to be said for focusing on doing one thing, very well.

Strange Cuts of Meat and Novelty Items Mark 2014 Restaurant Trends

The final trend we’ll mention in this post is the recent rise in the popularity of luxury and novelty food items. While the specific ones mentioned here may be passing fads that are hot now and forgotten later, people’s love of the strange and new will never cease. Year after year, we will see trends from the novelty category hitting the top of the charts. 

This year it looks to be such items as ice cubes infused with herbs and other ingredients to flavor cocktails, strange cuts of meat such as tripe, beef tongue and beef pastrami being used in chili, and cheese steaks and sliders. Restaurants are now focusing on providing a neurosensory dining experience with meals in the dark, tactile tableware, diffusers controlling temperature and aroma, or music and visuals cued to courses. 

Some of these food trends, such as hyper-local sourcing and healthy eating, are certainly here to stay. Others, such as beef tongue in your chili, may be trends that are over before they really get going. Either way, it pays to pay attention to what’s hot now, what’s likely to stay hot in the future, and how your restaurant can best position itself to take advantage of these movements.

3 Restaurant Industry Trends to Watch in 2014

January 22, 2014

Another year has come and gone and the restaurant industry has seen its fourth year of positive, albeit modest, growth. The sentiment is that things are generally headed in the right direction, but that it’s also going to take both shrewdness and creativity for restaurateurs to succeed in 2014 and beyond. Here are three of the bigger trends on which to keep your eye.

Restaurants Getting Tech Savvy With Yield Management 

With all the shifts in demand, competition and the price of inventory over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the restaurant industry should shift to a ‘yield management’ strategy. The airline and hotel industries have been utilizing it for years. There are a lot of advantages to being able to have up-to-the-minute price adjustments, and today’s technology makes it easier to do than ever before.

Restaurants Build Consumer Confidence and Broaden the Scope of Competition

Despite overall positive growth in the restaurant industry, consumer confidence is still down. Only about 13% of consumer spending is on food, and this figure has been steadily edging downward over the last few years as consumers have changed their spending habits. Restaurant operators are going to need to look for more creative ways to nudge patrons through the door––a task made no easier by an increasingly robust competitive environment.  

With consumers delegating more of their funds to other spending categories, restaurant operators are also going to have to broaden their viewpoint of competition to include a more holistic perspective. To be truly competitive, operators should take a note from the grocery store playbook and be proactive about offering discounts relevant to other consumer spending needs––such as discounts on gas, apparel or entertainment. Offering these kinds of discounts can often open a gateway of mutually beneficial networking with other businesses in your area as well; you scratch their backs, they scratch yours, and the competition in spending is turned into a cooperative effort that helps everybody.  

2014 Sees a Growing Appetite for Better-For-You, Luxury and Specialty Dining

In spite of a somewhat sluggish economy, there are a few restaurant sectors that are rolling into the mainstream with full steam. Better-for-you dining is a big one. From salad restaurants, to the addition of pricey vegetables, to upscale tasting menus, better-for-you dining is a trend that is only going to get bigger in 2014 and beyond. People increasingly want to eat local, healthy fare and what’s more, they want evidence that what they are eating is good for them. 

Restaurants that specialize in luxury or specialty items and/or experiences are the other niche that is growing rapidly. While the public at large still doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around, there is a certain segment that is increasingly spending wads of cash on upscale food halls, spare-no-expense tabletops, costly tasting menus and chicken priced like steak. There is even an increasing demand for what is termed ‘eatertainment’, where luxury is expanded into the neurosensory area and diners come more for the sensory experience than the food itself.

Whichever route you plan to take your restaurant this year, take to heart these two main messages: things are looking up, and the restaurants that come out on top in the coming years will be those who take a creative and savvy approach to cost management and growth.

Potential Challenges to Restaurant Operators in 2014

January 17, 2014

Each year brings a new set of challenges to restaurant operators. While it’s impossible to predict every challenge a business might face, there are some that we can predict with a fair amount of certainty. Here’s the list of potential road bumps for 2014.

Health Care, Hourly Wages, and Garnering Valuable Knowledge Effect Restaurants

The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare,” is set to take full effect in January, 2014. Most analysts are predicting that the act will create a two to four percent increase in costs to businesses with more than 50 employees. If your margin is more than 30 percent, this won’t have much effect, but since the foodservice industry’s average pretax profit is less than five percent, this could cause challenges and a focus on improving your profit margins is going to be critical to success.

The living wage debate flared up strongly in 2013, and is unlikely to go away any time soon. The odds that strikes, demonstrations, and discussions around increasing minimum wage will continue into 2014, is pretty good.

We have a ton of information at our disposal, but sorting what is valuable from what is not can be a major challenge. Vendors who can supply “Big Data” overviews and insights will surpass those who cannot garner such comprehensive information in 2014 and beyond. 

Restaurants must Deal with Increased Commodity Prices and New Consumer Trends

No one can predict how weather and climate change will affect growing conditions in 2014. Commodity prices are always an unpredictable, uncontrollable cost to restaurant operators. You can bet that the prices won’t be dropping though, so the best you can do is make certain that your controllable costs are optimized to give you the best leverage possible in the face of these uncertainties.

How diners are choosing and using foodservice is vastly different than it was even five years ago. There is a new set of expectations involving everything from what consumers want to see on the menu to which devices they can use to interact with your restaurant. Restaurant operators who wish to succeed in 2014 and beyond must keep a keen ear to these new trends and expectations and make regular judgment calls about whether or not to follow suit.

Building Leaders Rather than Employees for the New Age in Restaurants

You can’t predict your company’s future, but you can give it the best chance for success possible by hiring and developing people to be leaders rather than just employees. Picking people based on competencies that were valued ten years ago isn’t going to do much for you now or in the future. To best succeed in 2014, ask yourself what competencies are going to be needed now and in the future and start focusing on hiring and developing your employees into the leaders that they will need to be in this day and age.

Your company will have a better chance for success if you plan for contingencies and educate yourself to make the best choices for your business as possible. Being average is easy, but being awesome takes some work – so make a plan for how you are going to address upcoming challenges and get started now!

Hiring and Recruiting Strategies for Restaurants

January 13, 2014

In today’s world of employment, restaurants must rely on a combination of both high and low tech strategies to recruit and hire employees. Along with tradition methods of managing, recruiting, and hiring in-house, there are a variety of web-based employment services that can be utilized as well. Some of these offer a full suite of hiring services – from recruiting to onboarding – and use tests and assessment tools to help find your business optimal candidates.

The fact that much of the employee life cycle (from hiring to onboarding to training) can now be digitized ends up saving both time and money while producing higher quality applicants. Here are a few strategies to put into play while looking for that next best employee.

Make Sure Your Restaurant’s Recruiting Materials are Targeted and Compelling

Regardless of what vehicle you’re using to post your hiring opportunity, it’s critical that all of your recruiting materials are targeted towards the demographic you’re seeking to hire. It’s also critical that your recruiting materials are compelling. Focus on using language and visuals that speak to the crowd of prospective employees. The Millennial crowd in particular (those currently around 18-25 years old) are visual learners who are highly dependent on technology to get their information so it makes sense if you are recruiting from this crowd to have materials which speak their language.

For instance, this crowd will respond far better to a headline which says, “Get a job that doesn’t suck,” than they will to one which says, “Start your career today.” Post videos of current employees talking about what it’s like to work with your business, use lots of pictures and visual content, and ensure that the entire application process can be completed electronically.

Utilize Existing Relationships and Social Media Outreach to get Quality Staff

Posting an ad on Craigslist about your hiring opportunity is going to garner a lot of responses, but typically yields very few people who actually follow through and show up for the scheduled interview. A more cost-effective approach to notifying the public about your employment opportunity is to tap into your existing relationships – such as your social media crowd and professional contacts.

Along with posting your opportunity on your own social media pages, ask your industry contacts if you can post on theirs as well. Make friends with HR offices in culinary schools. Offer a “finder’s fee” to anyone who refers an employee who stays on board for at least a month. Using the people and professional contacts in your life to help find employees is often a better approach, because you’re working with people who already have at least some level of vested interest in your business.

Save Time and Money Using Digital Assessments

Along with being able to speed up your own hiring and training process by making it all digitally available, you can save time and money by using digital assessments to pre-screen your applicants. As you well know, an employee’s ability to be successful at their job often has less to do with their work history and more to do with their personality and work ethic.

Fortunately, you can now use online job boards to pre-screen your applicants according to aspects like personality or work ethic, because the vast majority require prospective employees to fill out personality profiles before they can search for jobs. These profiles typically include everything from work history to personality questions and can be very instructive in terms of finding employees that are well suited for your restaurant’s particular work environment.

The Forecast is Out: Menu Trends for 2014

January 8, 2014

Every year, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) surveys chefs from the American Culinary Federation to find out what menu trends they expect to see in the upcoming year – as well as what they see as yesterday’s news and perennial favorites. This year’s survey had nearly 1300 respondents rating 258 items. Here’s a review of the results:

Today’s Consumers are more Interested than ever in what They Eat and where it came From

As was the case last year, locally sourced meat, seafood, and produce remain as the top ‘hot trends’ of 2014. Environmental sustainability, healthy kids’ meals, children’s nutrition, and hyper-local sourcing followed in close pursuit. Gluten-free cuisine jumped from 9th to 5th place in this year’s annual list, and was joined by a trend towards non-wheat noodles and pasta (such as those made from buckwheat, quinoa or rice), up from 12th place last year. Farm or estate branded items and sustainable seafood rounded out the top 10 list of expected menu trends for 2014.

As opposed to temporary fads, these menu trends reflect larger shifts in our modern society which have been evolving for years. As health and environmental consciousness increases, it’s no surprise that consumers want products that reflect those values. A number of restaurants have already remodeled their menus to reflect these changes, including several large chain restaurants. Gluten-free items, for instance, are now nearly so commonplace on restaurant menus that consumers are more surprised not to see them there.

Being transparent about where restaurants are getting their food has led to several successful marketing campaigns riding on messages of integrity. The bottom line is that these trends are here to stay, and it pays to pay attention to them.

The Menu Trends that made the Biggest Gains or Losses for the 2014 Forecast

The menu trends that made the largest jumps in this year’s survey (but didn’t quite make it on the top 10 list) were nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking, pickling, ramen, dark greens, and Southeast Asian cuisine. The ones with the biggest fall in the ladder of “what’s hot” were Greek yogurt, sweet potato fries, new cuts of meat, and organic coffee.

The 2014 Forecast for Alcoholic Beverage Menus

In terms of alcohol trends, the top five forecasted for 2014 were: micro-distilled and artisan spirits – locally produced beer, wine, or spirits, onsite barrel-aged drinks, “culinary cocktails” which use savory ingredients typically found in the kitchen rather than behind the bar, and regional signature cocktails. Cocktails, in particular, represent a particularly easy way to dress up the beverage menu – especially when sourced from local favorites!

In sum, the top 10 menu forecast for 2014 seems to be putting a greater focus on health and environmental sustainability than ever before. When asked what they thought the menu trends are going to look like ten years from now, the chefs put environmental sustainability at the top of the list, following closely by local sourcing and a focus on health and nutrition for kids and adults alike. Given this sentiment, it’s wise to incorporate elements of these trends into your menus now.

How a Federal Ban on PHOs could Effect Restaurants

January 3, 2014

The potential health dangers of trans fats have been enjoying a healthy discussion for over a decade now, with a number of policies being put in place to inform consumers and in some cases, already ban their use. Partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, are the main source of trans fats and early in November, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a total ban on their use in food products. The FDA tentatively determined that PHOs are no longer ‘recognized as safe’ – which is a required designation for any ingredient to be added to food without explicit FDA approval. For restaurants, the ban could mean reformulating any menu items still made with trans fats.

Weeding Partially Hydrogenated Oils Out of the Menu

The FDA started requiring the amount of trans fat in a product to be put on labels in 2003, but weeding them out of the menu entirely can still be tricky. You’ll find trans fats in bread, crackers, shelf-stable baked goods (such as ice cream cones), and oily things in general. They’re also present in a number of whipped toppings, pre-made pie crusts, and, of course, in frying oil.

Eliminating trans fats from the menu entirely can take some time and typically requires working with your distributors to determine alternatives that are available. Many restaurants have even taken to making their own trans fat-free items, such as those whipped toppings and pie crusts, creating a superior product for a similar price.

Much of the Transition away from Trans Fats has already Occurred

Fortunately, the proposed ban should be a reasonably easy transition for the restaurant industry since much of the hard work of the transition has already been done years ago. When research about the potentially harmful health effects of trans fats first came out, the availability of a number of alternative products quickly followed suit. Today there are trans fat-free versions of nearly every product – you simply need to look for it.

Furthermore, some states have already passed the ban of their own accord so restaurants in those areas already have a leg up on others around the nation still needing to make the transition.

Restaurants should not Fear the PHO Ban

Ultimately, restaurant operators should not fear the FDA’s ban on artificial trans fats. Thanks to required labeling, better information, and a greater variety of alternatives, making the switch now will be much easier than it would have been had it been required seven or eight years ago. The proposal is currently being put to the public before the final determination is made, but odds are good the bill will pass.

If you haven’t already scrutinized your menu for trans fat culprits, it will take some time to do so – and then to come up with alternatives – but it needn’t be overwhelming. Work with your distributors to determine other options that are available to you and rest easy knowing that ultimately, removing trans fats from your menu means that you will be offering a higher quality product to the public.