Archive for the ‘Restaurant Receiverships’ Category

What Restaurants should know about Appealing to Generational Differences

June 14, 2013

Most restaurants hope to attract customers of every age and generation. That said, appealing to people of all ages requires appealing to a vast variety of different values and expectations. Given that the restaurant industry is only expected to grow some 4% over the course of the next ten years, it’s critical to reexamine generational differences and shift your marketing tactics accordingly in order to find opportunities for growth.

What Restaurants should know about Appealing to the Millennial Generation

Millennials are born between 1977 and 1992. As of 2013, they are between 20-35 years old. Numbering more than 68 million people, this is the group that has been hardest hit by the recession with more than 16% of those under the age of 25 unemployed. As a result, more than 40% reported cutting back on eating out due to financial reasons. Given that this group was historically one of the strongest patrons of the restaurant industry, this represents a significant loss and finding ways to bring them back into your establishment is crucial.

Fortunately, appealing to the Millennial generation can be done fairly easily. Not surprisingly, they are drawn to deals, coupons, and discounts more than any other group. They also respond very well to happy hours and home delivery options and are more likely to choose locally-owned, independent, sit-down restaurants than any other age group. They grew up with the Internet and are most likely to use all forms of technology to research and connect with restaurants.

What Restaurants need to know about Appealing to Generation X

Gen-Xers were born between 1966 and 1976 and as of 2013, are between 36-46 years old. Nearly 90% of this generation is employed. This is the group that is most likely to have children at home and be squarely in the midst of trying to balance work and family life. As a result, they now frequent restaurants more than Millennials and are big users of take-out food.

Time and efficiency is important to this group, as is spending quality time with their kids. As a result, providing easy, convenient, kid-friendly options in your restaurant with minimal wait times is what is going to appeal to this generation the most. The hallmark of Generation X is pragmatism and practicality, so marketing messages that are straight-forward and direct are what will resonate with this generation.

What Restaurants should know about Appealing to the Baby Boomer Generation

Baby Boomers are those individuals born between 1946-1965, and will be between the ages of 47-66 as of 2013. With over 82 million people, this is the largest generation with the biggest buying power. Consumers in this generation tend to spend more per visit than younger generations and have a much higher per capita visit rate. This group tends to place a larger emphasis on having healthy eating options, and they don’t think they should have to pay more for those options. Value to the Boomer generation means things like fresh, high-quality ingredients and the ability to have choices such as portion size, substitutions, etc.

Baby Boomers are more tech-savvy than they often get credit for, and are more than capable of utilizing the web to research and evaluate restaurants prior to visiting, so it’s important to keep your website up to date with your most current specials and promotions.

While there are similarities between the values of the different generations, there are key differences as well that are important to keep in mind when designing your marketing messages. The ideal is to find the sweet spot between catering to the values of the individual group while still meeting the needs of every generation who might walk through your door.

Building Restaurant Customer Loyalty by Learning to Really Listen

June 10, 2013

As a restaurateur, you already know how important it is to deliver an experience that your customers want if you hope to have them return to your establishment – let alone recommend your business to others. One of the simplest ways to ensure that you are meeting and exceeding their expectations is, quite simply, to ask for feedback. That said, just asking for general feedback isn’t enough – you’ve also got to ask the right questions, ask in the right way, and act on the information you get.

Ask Your Customers Questions that Really Matter

Learning to ask the right questions of your customers makes all the difference in the world when it comes to getting truly useful feedback about improving their customer experience. Many restaurants make the mistake of asking only questions that are designed to help them better understand their customers’ habits rather than questions that help them understand how they could improve their experience.

For example, while it may be useful to know how often your customers eat out or where they tend to go, it is more instructive to ask questions about how you could improve their experience with your establishment or what you could do to entice them to return more frequently.

Provide Multiple Avenues for Constructive Feedback

Not everyone is comfortable providing honest feedback on the spot. Therefore, it’s smart to provide multiple avenues for customers to tell you how they are feeling. Whether this comes in the form of feedback boxes on a customer’s check, social media pages where they can post their feelings, or simply hospitality ambassadors whose sole job is to make the rounds while people eat to make sure that everything is up to par, you want to provide multiple avenues for people to talk to you.

You want to encourage honesty and breed a constructive environment through which you can gain information. Rewarding your employees who get great feedback is a part of this process too – the more that people can see the tangible effects of their efforts, the more likely they are to continue their good work.

Close the Feedback Loop by Taking Action

Last but not least, you want to make sure that you actually take action on the feedback you have garnered. Going to the effort of collecting feedback from your customers but then not bothering to do anything with it can actually hurt your business more than if you didn’t ask for feedback at all! You want to encourage honest responses and demonstrate that you’re really listening by nurturing an attitude of ‘let’s fix it!’ This breeds a culture of respect and integrity that your customers will truly appreciate.  

Taking the time to gather genuine feedback from your customers has the dual effect of helping you create an establishment that truly exceeds peoples’ expectations while simultaneously building the loyalty of the customers who frequent your restaurant. There is always room for improvement and in today’s economic environment, it is more critical than ever to do everything within your power to ensure that your customers’ experience is as remarkable as it can be.

First Quarter Review for the 2013 Restaurant Industry

May 31, 2013

In comparison to a year ago at this time, sales in the restaurant sector during the months of January and February weren’t quite as good. There’s been a variety of factors influencing the downturn which we will discuss below. That being said, March actually saw most restaurants moving back into positive territory, although consumers’ willingness to spend continued to fall (as indexed by Consumer Edge Research.)

Given the slow start to the first quarter, the opening of the second feels somewhat uncertain, though opportunities to solidify market share and attract new consumers can still be found.

Challenges to First Quarter Restaurant Sales

There have been a number of factors which have influenced the sales for the restaurant industry in the first quarter of 2013. Part of it has to do with the impact of payroll taxes and delays in tax refunds, which certainly hurt consumer spending as compared to a year ago. The bad weather that many areas of the nation have been experiencing over the last couple of months has also played a role in first quarter results.

March seems to have shown a recovery to some of these challenges, but the economic environment continues to be somewhat fragile.  In addition, Easter fell in March this year (as opposed to April last year), which alters the numbers somewhat.

A Look at First Quarter Statistics for the Restaurant Industry

Interestingly enough, during the month of March restaurant same-store sales rose by .5 percent, yet same-store traffic declined by 2.0 percent. In comparison to February, this is positive news (February same-store sales declined by 5.0 percent, and same-store traffic declined by 4.2 percent). In addition, 107 out of 171 DMAs reported positive results, compared to only one such report in February.

Overall for the first quarter of 2013, same-store sales fell by 1.3 percent and same-store traffic declined by 3.7 percent. Consumer Edge Research puts out a report called ‘Restaurant Willingness to Spend Index’, which shows that consumers’ willingness to spend their money came in at 83 for January, 82 for February, and 81 for March.

Turnover Results and Niche Market Opportunities

Analysis of turnover rates for the month of March shows that turnover in management positions is decreasing while turnover in hourly positions is increasing. This makes sense given that everyone is looking for ways to make more money – those who aren’t getting paid enough are going to look elsewhere and those that have good jobs are going to want to keep them. Overall job growth for the first quarter remains right around 0.9 percent.

First quarter sales have also seen an increase in adult-only parties, with many families saying that it is simply too expensive to eat out with the kids. This trend represents an opportunity to recapture the family audience through strategic positioning and brand messages.

All in all the first quarter results are a little disappointing, but many businesses are looking forward into the rest of the year with optimism as our economy continues to improve and people are better able to relax the need to be hyper-vigilant over their budgets and expenditures.

Superfoods in the Restaurant

May 23, 2013

The last few years have seen a marked increase in a variety of different foods getting elevated to the status of ‘superfoods’. You’ve probably heard all the hype about how these superfoods go above and beyond in terms of the provision of essential nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy. In fact, you may have heard too much hype and are tempted to simply dismiss these foods as passing fads. Do so at your own peril! Superfoods are here to stay, and Americans are embracing them whole-heartedly.

We Live in an Increasingly Health Conscious Nation

Thanks to all of the media coverage about how Americans are some of the most obese people in the world, in combination with new insights about how to stay healthy, our nation’s people are becoming increasingly health conscious. They recognize the importance of proper nutrition and the effect that it has on our performance and well-being. More and more people want to both look good and feel good. It’s no surprise then that they are looking for healthier options on restaurant menus when they eat out as well.

What Criteria Classifies Something as a ‘Superfood’?

When you hear something called a ‘superfood’, you can expect that it means it is packed full of vital nutrients. In most cases the food either has more than the normal level of certain nutrients or it has quantities of nutrients and/or amino acids that are difficult to find elsewhere. That being said, there actually isn’t yet any set, formal criteria to consider something a superfood. As a result, there is currently a wide variety of foods housed under that umbrella and you should conduct your own research to conclude which are genuinely worthy of being additions to your regular menu options.

Superfood Hits from 2012 Restaurant Menus

Thanks to consumer pressure to provide healthier options and pending legislation about the disclosure of calorie counts on the menu, many restaurants have already added a number of superfoods to the menu. Avocado had the largest menu penetration for restaurants in 2012 – appearing on 35.6% of restaurant menus (an 8.9% increase from 2011). Olive oil followed its heels closely with an appearance on 30.1% of menus. Walnuts hit 23.6%, blueberries at 20% followed by sweet potatoes with an 18.6% appearance rate. Other foods such as kale, quinoa, beets, acai, and brown rice all also made substantial gains in appearance on restaurant menus across the nation.

Now, it’s obvious that consumer trends can change quickly in terms of the specific ingredients they want to have available to them when they eat out. While keeping up with these trends is somewhat important, it’s not necessary to try to feature each and every one on your menu.

The specific foods that are going to fall into the superfood category will shift somewhat according to the tastes and fashions of the moment. Instead of trying to follow every one, what is more important is simply the recognition that the current consumer trend for more healthful foods is a trend that is here to stay.

The Benefits of Using Tech Tools to Manage Labor Costs

May 17, 2013

Balancing your cost of labor against the amount of sales you’re making at any given time is often a big challenge for restaurants. It can be hard to predict whether or not you should keep staff on in preparation for potential customers or send them home to save some money on labor costs.

Fortunately, there’s some great new tech tools designed to not only address this issue, but provide a wealth of other information as well. It’s called POS (point of sale)-based scheduling software, and if you’re not using it yet, you should be!

Restaurant Staff Scheduling Becomes Streamlined

When utilizing POS scheduling software, you no longer have to deal with irritating questions such as, “Do I work today?” Instead, you send out an approved schedule via email, text, or smartphone push alerts letting everyone easily stay on the same page.

Even better, if employees want to switch or trade shifts, it can’t happen without management approval and once the change is made it’s sent out to everyone else on the team immediately.  This system also helps to keep overtime in check as well as assisting your ability to stay within your labor budget. You can see how effective a communication and planning tool this can become for your team.

POS-Based Software Boosts Your Bottom Line

Along with making scheduling far more convenient, POS scheduling software also keeps track of information such as historical sales data, labor expenses in real time, and labor to sales percentages. This information can help improve predictive scheduling, control costs, and catch mistakes as they happen so that there are no surprises at the end of the week.

Above-store access allows district managers to view multiple locations at once, in real time if they wish, to see how closely actual costs are paralleling budget targets. This wealth of information is particularly useful in fine-tuning the actions of your managers. For example, if business has dropped off at 2:00 but the manager has kept everyone on until 3:30, it’s easy to see the impact of that choice.

Generate Forecasts so that You can Better Predict Staff and Sales for Your Restaurant

The final major benefit of implementing POS-based scheduling software is that it can utilize your historical sales data, labor budget, current events, and even extraneous factors such as the weather to help determine the amount of staff you should keep on during any given time frame. Managers who have a forecast of sales revenue handy are better able to schedule labor accurately for all positions and wage levels. It makes them more conscious of scheduling on a focused basis rather than just letting a shift ‘happen’.

Now granted, this technology isn’t fool-proof. Utilizing it effectively still requires some gut instinct on the part of your managers, but when used as a guide it can be a very powerful tool to both streamline your restaurant’s business as well as give you some clear insights on how to best manage the cost of your labor against the amount of money your business is actually bringing in.

Leveraging Facebook to Drive Sales and Increase Customer Loyalty

May 13, 2013

By now it’s old news that every business should have a Facebook presence. That said, many businesses continue to flounder in terms of garnering any real results from their pages. To simply have a presence is not enough – nor is attempting to use your page as a mere placeholder for advertisements. You’ve got to have an effective strategy to engage your audience and get them to take action. When it’s done properly, Facebook pages can be a particularly powerful tool for restaurants to both build their customer base AND drive sales. Here are the highlights of how to do just that.

Post Messages that are Fun, Engaging, and Speak to What Your Customers Value about Your Restaurant

Having an effective presence on Facebook means that you have to walk a fine line between providing content that is entertaining versus content that is brand-relevant. You go too far in either direction and you end up, quite frankly, wasting your time. It’s important to consider what your customers really value about your restaurant – not just menu items they might like, but what makes your establishment stand out from the crowd for them. Figure this out and you’ve got your starting point for posting content that is both engaging and relevant to them.

Take a Note from the Big Guys’ Facebook Campaigns

The fastest way to get an effective Facebook campaign up and running for your restaurant starts by checking out what is really working well for other businesses. Chain restaurants have been particularly good at creating effective social media campaigns. In fact, it was just 14 brands that produced the top 100 Facebook posts by restaurants with the most likes, comments, and shares in the first quarter of 2013.

Spend some time investigating brand pages such as Applebee’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Papa John’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Subway, and Red Lobster to get some great ideas about strategies you can implement on your own restaurant’s page.

Facebook Graph Search Changes the Game

Facebook Graph Search was announced at the beginning of the year and promises to be quite a game changer in terms of how people find your business through online search. The idea is that a person can look for say, a nearby place to eat, based on the likes and recommendations of their Facebook friends. The kicker is that the search results for Graph are based on a variety of factors including the number of likes, virtual check-ins, location in relation to the searcher, number of friends’ photos tagged to your restaurant, reviews, etc., and what shows up for one person will be totally different with the next.

Fortunately Facebook Graph Search is still in beta, so you’ve got a little time to get all your ducks in a row and optimize your pages appropriately so that they show up in Graph search results. Facebook Graph Search is going to become a major pillar in how Facebook presents information about businesses, so it would be a savvy move on your part to get started now and get an edge on your competition.

Methods of Communicating With and Luring In Cautious Customers

May 3, 2013

Our economy over the last several years has created a lot of fear and anxiety for both customers and businesses alike. That said, as a restaurant owner it’s important not to cut back on your marketing budget, but rather to simply shift the types of marketing messages you are putting out. Doing so will not only help your retain your customers when the economy shifts, but can actually go a long way toward branding yourself as a positive, responsible establishment which people truly enjoy patronizing.

Shift Your Marketing Message to Reflect the Minds of Your Customers

Even after the recession lifts, customers are unlikely to return to the willy-nilly spending habits of years gone past. That said, a reduced price on your menu items is far from the only (or even the best) way to catch your customers’ attention. In fact, you need to be careful about marketing based on discounted price points, or you may forever relegate your establishment to being associated with ‘cheap’.

A smarter way of marketing to your more cautious customer base happens when you not only acknowledge their mindset, but also give messages that resonate with them in a positive way. Rather than making your message just about price (which can inadvertently remind customers of how hard up they feel), it’s smarter to emphasize value.

For example, you could draw their attention to menu items which could serve as two meals allowing them the convenience of not having to deal with tomorrow’s meal prep. Or, you could emphasize the opportunity to spend more quality time with the family by eating out, rather than having to waste that time on shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Emphasize Responsibility in Your Marketing Messages

Given our economic circumstances, the word ‘responsibility’ is particular resonate with the average consumer. Gone are the days of gaudy extravagances and in their place consumers want less excess and more discipline and sustainability from both themselves and the businesses they patronize.

When you consider a ‘marketplace of responsibility’, picture upscale styles and experiences delivered with moderation and class. Going ‘local’ is one way to demonstrate your commitment to responsible practices, and is something that many consumers consider when making their choices about where to eat and shop.

Get Creative with Your Marketing Appeal

There are numerous ways that you can creatively appeal to your newly cautious consumers. Aside from simply providing positive (don’t remind them of the bad times), responsible and value-based marketing messages, you can also appeal to your customers’ need to have some control in terms of both finances and food choices. Letting customers order the portion sizes they want, being flexible about what they can substitute, and showing them how to find better value in your menu all serve to give customers feelings of comfort and control and end up creating loyalty to your establishment.

The take home message here is that while today’s economic situation does dictate some changes in behavior, the opportunity to attract more cautious consumers still exists through the appeal of value, experience, and quality.

Innovations in Chicken Wing Processing

April 29, 2013

Whether you call them hot wings, Buffalo wings, or simply plain old chicken wings, these tasty treats are absolutely a staple of the American diet – especially in the casual dining and retail ready-to-eat sectors. Just to underscore how truly popular chicken wings are with the populace, one only has to take a look at how many chicken wings are consumed during, say, the Super Bowl.

It was estimated that during the last Super Bowl event, Americans consumed a whopping 1 billion chicken wings over the course of the weekend alone! Wings also happen to be the priciest part of the chicken, up 14% since 2011.

Improvements That Make Offering Chicken Wings on the Menu More Lucrative

The last few years have marked vast improvements for the poultry industry. Along with increased efficiency and better management practices, carcass sizes have vastly increased due to improved genetics. Predictably, chicken wing sizes have gotten bigger and meatier as well. In fact, it is estimated that more than 30% of the market is harvesting chickens over six pounds – with 18% over eight pounds.

Aside from the increased quantity of meat that these larger chicken wings produce, the increased sizes have the added benefit of allowing the use of more efficient and automated processing technology as well. The larger size of today’s modern chickens allows the wing to be cut into three sections (the tip, mid-section, and the drumette).

The ability to segment wings in this way is particularly beneficial to restaurants, who typically serve wings by the piece rather than by the pound. As a result, the segmentation process is something most restaurants are willing to pay a little extra for.

Differing Types of Innovative Processing for Chicken Wings

Segmenting the wing into its three key parts can be done through a variety of different automated processing techniques. One style is the overhead in-line wing cutting system. The wings are first stretched and cut into sections before the rest of the carcass is cut up. This system has the added benefit of creating very uniform cuts. The downside of this style is that removing the wings doesn’t leave anything for the machine to grab on to in order to chop up the rest of the carcass.

Another style of automated wing segmentation is the wing portioner. This is a small, stand-alone system that requires manual feeding and positioning of the wings into the machine. The circular saw then portions the wings into its segments. This is a very space saving option, but has the downside of needing the handler to position the wings properly in order to get the right cut.

Problems to Watch For as a Result of Wing Segmentation

There are a few issues to watch for if you opt for wings which have been segmented in this way. The first is that if the wing is not positioned properly in the machine, bone and bone marrow end up getting exposed. If the bone cap is removed, the meat ends up shrinking around the bone during cooking and can result in a health hazard to the consumer.

The other problem with bone marrow is that it contains a lot of heavy metals such as iron.  These heavy metals can cause increased rates of oxidation (even in frozen wings), thereby reducing shelf life.

The final consideration in all of this is the need to buy wings which are uniformly sized in order to avoid a potential health hazard, since different sizes demand different cooking times in order to destroy pathogens.

The end result of all of the innovations in processing and segmenting technology is quite simply to supply the public with the copious amounts of chicken wings that they demand. Restaurants should consider wing sizes as an important factor in being able to serve the public with their insatiable appetite for chicken.

How Engaging Your Workforce Boosts Your Sales

April 25, 2013

It is a well-known fact that your employees’ level of happiness with their jobs directly impacts the perception of your brand, your customer loyalty, and ultimately the amount of revenue you accrue. In fact, research has shown that as much as 70% of customers’ feelings about an establishment are directly related to their experience with your employees – with 68% of customers defecting due to negative interactions with employees and 41% of customers who stay specifically because of having had positive interactions with employees.

These numbers underscore how critical it is to maintain a workforce that is happy with their jobs.

Facilitating Workforce Happiness Means Nurturing Feelings of Confidence, Purpose, and Engagement

The factors which influence workforce happiness have to do with how confident they feel about your brand, whether or not they have a sense of purpose and responsibility, and how engaged they are in their jobs. There are several things you, as the workforce manager, can do to nurture these feelings.

The first question you need to ask is what motivation your staff has – day in and day out – to do the things that you have determined will build customer loyalty. This motivation could be as simple as pats on the back and recognition for a job well done. In fact, research has shown that emotional factors such as recognition for good work and trust in leadership are actually more influential on an employee’s level of engagement than even pay and benefits.

The bottom line is that you want your employees to feel positive about your business and to understand how valuable they are to your operation. Give them a reason to love you, and they will give your customers a reason to love you as well.

Providing Additional Motivation to Engage Your Workforce

Aside from verbal recognition for an employee’s capabilities, restaurants around the country are experimenting with different rewards and perks to keep staff engaged and add enjoyment to the workplace. For example, some restaurants allow staff to submit their favorite recipes as specialty items on the menu. Others give rewards such as bonuses, paid time off, or a free dinner for two to employees who outperform benchmarks.

Keeping an open line of communication is critical as well in terms of boosting morale and keeping your workforce focused. Making them feel like they have a stake in what you’re doing further strengthens their bond to your business.

Don’t Let the Economy Negatively Impact Your Employees’ Perception

The downturn in the economy has caused many restaurant operators to feel that providing motivation and employee rewards programs is an acceptable cost to cut. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Your employees are your most valuable resource and it’s important to reassure them that your business is going in a positive direction and they have no need to fear losing of their jobs or pay. Their confidence in your business directly impacts your customer’s confidence in your business, and an engaged workforce outperforms one that is not engaged time and time again.

The lesson here is simple: Invest in your people, reward them for their loyalty, and reap the rewards of having a team of people championing your establishment.

Why Breakfast Options on the Menu Increase Your Bottom Line

April 19, 2013

As a savvy restaurant owner, you’re always looking for new tactics to draw traffic into your establishment. If you’re not doing so already, offering breakfast items can be a very smart and cost-effective way to do just that.

In fact, breakfast items accounted for nearly 60 percent of the restaurant industry’s traffic growth between 2005-2010 (the last time at which a breakfast study for the restaurant industry was conducted). Breakfast sales have also steadily grown by +2 percent per year over the course of the last decade, as opposed to a -2 percent decline in dinner time traffic during that same time.

What does all of this tell us? That what mom always said is the truth – breakfast IS important.

Offering Breakfast on the Menu Serves Many Needs

In a day and age when our hectic lifestyles create demanding schedules, many of us end up skipping breakfast because we don’t have the time or the energy to make something for ourselves. On the other hand, if you had someone hand you something small and portable as you ran out the door, wouldn’t you take it?

Restaurants with breakfast items on the menu offer people a quick, convenient way to jump start their day by grabbing breakfast on the go. Since breakfast orders usually consist of only one or two items, they are typically cheaper than other options on the menu which makes eating out feel more affordable.

Offering Breakfast Items Builds Customer Loyalty

It’s important to recognize how important the morning meal can be in both capturing a market share as well as building customer loyalty. It’s been shown that customers who visit an establishment for more than one day return more often, become more loyal, contribute more volume, and are far more likely to recommend your eatery to the people in their networks.

In sum, restaurants that serve breakfast end up being more memorable, and are, therefore, frequented more often. After all, who doesn’t make a mental note of a great place to swing in and grab some nourishment before they start their day?

Keep Your Breakfast Options Short and Sweet

Want to take a guess at the two most popular breakfast items? No surprise that it’s coffee and breakfast sandwiches. This is great news for you as it means that meeting the peoples’ demands for morning food can be a simple endeavor. Now granted, it’s technically specialty coffee that is all the rave, but that’s not too tough of an acquiescence to make, is it? Who doesn’t love a really great cup of brew?

When you consider all the benefits, serving at least a few breakfast options only makes sense. It is even more compelling when you consider the shift toward offering breakfast that many chains have undergone over the course of the last few years. It almost feels like a person could expect breakfast anywhere they go, which is all the more reason to get your restaurant on the boat if it isn’t there already.