Fast Casual Taps Sales Opportunity With Self-Service Beer

Zpizza International Inc. may have cracked the code on boosting alcohol sales in the fast-casual segment by putting bartending in the hands of customers.

The Irvine, Calif.-based chain is one of a growing number of fast-casual concepts experimenting with self-service beer technology. Other concepts on the West Coast include gourmet hot dog purveyors Dog Haus and Brätworks, as well as Blast 825 Pizza.

The model is based on relatively new technology that some contend could be a game changer in attracting craft-beer-loving Millennials.

Many fast-casual chains carry craft beer and wine in bottles and cans, but the limited-service model can inherently hinder alcohol sales beyond one drink. Customers are less likely to get back in line for a second drink, and workers are often too young to handle alcohol, or are not trained to upsell. As a result, few concepts within the segment have put much effort into alcohol sales.

Zpizza, however, has transformed three units into Zpizza “tap rooms,” which feature a beer wall with 10 to 20 taps. Each restaurant offers a unique collection of local craft brews on draft, said Chris Bright, president of Zpizza.

After their IDs are scanned, customers can open a digital tab and pour their own draft, paying by the fluid ounce. That allows them to taste an ounce or two of different options before they settle on a “long pour.” If they want a second drink, they can get it themselves without having to wait for a server or table runner.

Some traditional Zpizza units offer beer and wine in cans and bottles, as is relatively common in fast casual. But those units typically see only about 2 percent of sales from alcohol, Bright said.

“It’s very difficult to generate liquor sales in a fast-casual environment because consumers are reluctant get in line again to order a second glass of wine or beer,” Bright said.

The self-service format eliminates that obstacle, he said.

At tap room locations with the beer wall, alcohol sales have reached as high as 20 percent, Bright said. “It’s a big winner in that sense.”

And where traditional Zpizza locations do about 75 percent of sales in takeout and delivery, tap room units see 75 percent to 80 percent of sales from dine-in business, he added.

The 95-unit Zpizza has three tap room locations and six more in development. “It’s our growth platform,” Bright said. “Going forward, our focus will be on building tap rooms only.”

The tap room concept has given the brand a jolt of growth at a time when build-your-own pizza concepts with flash-baking ovens are stealing the fast-casual limelight, Bright said.

Zpizza has long offered healthful pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches with all-natural and preservative-free meats, organic tomato sauce and mozzarella made with milk from grass-fed cows. Customers order at the counter, but the chain uses deck ovens that cook pizzas in about eight minutes, slower than the new build-your-own-pizza upstarts.

But now the extra time is beneficial, as it gives Zpizza customers a chance to explore the beer wall. In some locations, wine on tap will also be an option.

Zpizza uses the iPourIt system, but there are a growing number of self-service beer options for restaurant operators.

At a recent National Restaurant Association conference on technology, Josh Halpern, vice president of national retail sales, on-premise and military, for Anheuser-Busch in the U.S. said his company is going after the fast-casual segment in a “big way” with self-service equipment.

Anheuser-Busch partner DraftServ is working with sports arenas and cruise ship companies around the country to install self-serve taps.

Full-service restaurants are adopting the technology as well, but the trend is particularly ideal for fast casual, where concepts have limited square footage, and consumers embrace the opportunity to control their dining experience, said Joseph McCarthy, co-founder of iPourIt.

How it Works ?

Self-service beer offers a revenue boost without the need for more labor, McCarthy said.

With iPourIt, once a customer gets their ID checked, they can open a tab tied to a credit card. Typically, users must preload a certain amount to get started, and they can add to their tab as they go. Customers then receive a wristband or card that uses radio frequency to recognize them at the tap and measure their pour. They can try as many beers as they like, and they only pay for what they pour.

Since the iPourIt system is digital, McCarthy said there is a huge opportunity for collecting data about customers, their age and purchase habits. There is also an opportunity to link with loyalty programs to let users know what’s on tap at their local unit.

Fundamentally, the trend is being driven by the explosion in craft beer, which represented close to $20 billion in beer sales in 2014, McCarthy said.

“There are now over 4,000 craft brewers in the U.S., the highest point ever, and there has been a huge explosion in the products and styles of beer available,” he said.

At Dog Haus, the wide craft beer selection was a perfect match for its gourmet hot dogs, said Quasim Riaz, a partner in the Pasadena, Calif.-based chain.

“Beer goes so well with our food. It’s great that we can take our beer as seriously,” Riaz said.

Two units within the 11-unit chain have the iPourIt system, and franchisees are watching to see how it goes.

The first location with the system opened in Santa Ana, Calif., about six months ago. The second, in Fullerton, Calif., opened in early November, so it’s relatively new, he said.

Traditional locations offer beer and wines in cans or bottles. Some pour draft beer in the back of the house, he said.

But the self-service model offers the potential for improved throughput, with customers pouring their own beer as they would a soda.

The model also has a built-in opportunity for upselling, Riaz said.

As customers try three or four options, those tastes offer incremental sales opportunities that inevitably lead to the selection of a higher-priced product. Customers are more likely to buy a more expensive beer that they know they like rather than taking a risk on an unknown, he said.

“Having a happy customer is something we all strive for in this industry, and if the consumer is able to sample a beer and decide if they want it, they’re happier,” he said.

One consideration: In addition to the investment in the system, which for iPourIt is about $1,200 per tap, operators are required to pay a fee of 1 cent per ounce to iPourIt, which amounts to about 16 cents per 16-ounce beer, cutting into margins.

No Tipping

Tobi Miller, co-founder of the Brätworks build-your-own hot dog chain, said customers like the fact that they don’t have to tip at self-service beer concepts.

Brätworks is opening a unit in Redlands, Calif., with a 12-tap craft beer wall this winter. The original Brätworks opened in San Bernardino, Calif., with beer in bottles and cans, and two more units are in development in Southern California, Miller said.

Miller, who is also a franchise operator of Yogurtland, the self-serve frozen yogurt concept, said he loved the fact that self-service beer allows him to get just the amount he wants, even if it’s just a taste.

The Redlands location will be the brand’s first standalone unit, and a bit larger, at 2,500 square feet. The company is in the process of launching a franchising program, so self-serve beer could become a component that could attract potential operators, Miller said.

For Blast 825, a fast-casual pizza concept operated by Fresno, Calif.-based Milano Restaurants International Corp., self-service beer is also in test.

The company is scheduled to open a new Blast 825 Tap Room prototype in the coming weeks in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with about 20 taps of craft beer, along with four or five wines on tap.

“We have to evaluate it,” said John Ferdinandi, CEO of Milano Restaurants International. “But we think it will enhance the overall experience for the customer.”

Ferdinandi said the key will be whether the model will work in a setting with faster service, where table turns are vital to unit economics.

“We have to balance the idea of sitting and enjoying a few beers, maybe while watching a game, with patrons who are in to get a quick pizza,” he said.

One benefit Ferdinandi sees is that the onus of a bad pour is on the customer.

“If you have a server that isn’t pouring correctly or wastes beer, that’s on the owner’s side to absorb,” he said. “But if the customer doesn’t pour it correctly, it’s on them.”

Bright of Zpizza said they give customers who pour incorrectly, with too much foam, an opportunity to top off.

Zpizza’s first tap room location opened in Sacramento, Calif., about a year ago. So far, customers love the interactive nature of the beer wall, he said.

“It’s a very communal environment, where people come together and talk about what they’re tasting,” he said. “That really keeps them coming back to the beer wall, as opposed to the somewhat mundane act of going up to the counter.”

Will self-service beer and wine become as ubiquitous as self-serve soda fountains?

Bright said it depends on the concept.

“I don’t know that fast casual will go to that format in droves. There has to be a culture around craft beer that fits with the concept. It can’t be an afterthought,” he said. “You have to be committed.”

*Abridged from an article by Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Stanford Gets REAL With Sustainable Dining

Colleges and universities play a major role in forming the dining habits students will follow for the rest of their lives.

The push for campuswide sustainability and a fresh commitment to student health drive institutions to rethink their dining strategies. This might mean buying more food from local farmers and better educating students about their dietary habits.

Along those lines, Stanford University is the first higher ed institution in the nation to earn the United States Healthful Food Council’s REAL certification—an acronym for Responsible (nutrition), Epicurean (preparation), Agricultural (sourcing) and Leadership.

The council modeled its program after the LEED designation for facilities to denote excellence and innovation in the culinary field, says CEO Lawrence Williams, who founded the nonprofit in 2011. Other REAL recipients include Nashville’s Music City Center, Bareburger restaurants, Hint Water, and Root & Stem Catering and Events.
But REAL isn’t simply about going organic. “There is little transparency in the food service space, as opposed to prepared food, which plainly lists ingredients and calories on the label,” he says. “The program looks at responsible food sourcing, composting, refills and portioning, as well as sustainability.”

Colleges and universities play a major role in forming the dining habits students will follow for the rest of their lives, Williams adds.

“For most kids, this is their first time dining away from home and having complete autonomy over their food,” he says. “We encourage universities to offer food awareness courses in the same manner they offer alcohol and sex education to students.”

* Abridged from an article by Stefanie Botelho, University Business Magazine – universitybusiness.com

 

 

Green Roofs Grow on Multifamily Buildings in Major U.S. Cities

“There are lots of benefits to having a green roof—the short-term benefit is having a usable amenity space,” says Steven Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

A growing number of cities are paying multifamily building owners to add green roofs to their buildings. That’s helping to motivate more owners to plant their rooftops.

Adding an extensive green roof that covers most of a building’s roof space adds between $10.30 and $12.50 per sq. ft. to the cost of the roof, compared to a conventional, black roof, according to a study by the U.S. General Services Administration. Annual maintenance for a green roof is typically higher than for a black roof, by $0.21 to $0.31 per sq. ft. Of course, those costs are for the most basic green roofs. Apartment developers can spend millions to create and maintain rooftops gardens for their residents, with plants ranging from trees to roses.

Some cities offer cash incentives to help owners pay for green roofs. In Washington, D.C., owners can get a rebate of the cost to put a green roof on their buildings, though the District of Columbia Department of the Environment’s green roof rebate program. The rebates start at $10 per sq. ft. of green roof, rising to $15 per sq. ft. in targeted sub-watershed areas.

The word “sub-watershed” is an important clue to the city’s motivation to pay for green roofs. Older cities like Washington, D.C., often have sewer systems that combine water from rainstorms with waste. During large rainstorms, the systems often overflow, effectively poisoning rivers and streams. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered cities solve this problem, but it’s not easy. Chicago has spent over $3 billion starting in 1970 dig a series of massive underground reservoirs to keep toxic waters from flowing into Lake Michigan. The latest phase of the Chicago Deep Tunnel Project is now expected to be complete in 2029.

Infrastructure like green roofs can help by slowing rain water as it races from rooftops to sidewalks to storm drains. That gives a city’s water treatment systems time to handle the water from storms and prevents flooding.

Chicago is another city that provides cash incentives for green roofs, not surprisingly, since the Chicago Deep Tunnel project still isn’t finished. Portland, Ore.; Milwaukee, Wis.; and New York City also offer cash incentives. These programs are constantly changing as cities expand or start new incentives. San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Pa., are both on the verge of creating green roof programs.

“The best thing to do—the easiest thing to do—is call your local government and ask what incentives are available,” says Peck.

Local also require developments to create infrastructure to keep storm water from pouring off their properties. To please local officials, residential developers in many localities build storm water retention ponds and underground storage tanks.

Green roofs can be a relatively inexpensive alternative to other forms of storm water abatement. A green roof can save a building owner $14 per sq. ft. of green roof in local storm water fees or in the cost of other storm water improvements, on average, over the 50-year life of the roof, according to the GSA. The green roof also saves owners an average of between $6 and $8 in the cost of energy per sq. ft. of green roof over the 50-year life of the roof—mostly because the green roof shields the rooftop from the harsh beating of the sun during air conditioning season.

Washington, D.C., is the number one city for green roof installations according to the 2014 Green Roof Industry Survey, from Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the green roof and green wall industry association.

Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Denver, Baltimore, Montreal, Seattle and Boston rounded out the top 10 cities when it comes to the number of green roofs. Not surprisingly, many of those are older cities with aging storm water systems that are prone to flooding, and therefore offer generous local incentive programs for green roofs.

* Abridged from an article by Bendix Anderson, National Real Estate Investor Magazine

 

 

How Restaurants And Retailers Are Evolving Together

Traditional competitors have been moving into each other’s territory, and are using many of the same methods

Whole Foods, the Austin, Texas-based grocery store chain, has for years been taking share from restaurants by offering unique stations where customers can get freshly made pasta, wood-fired pizza or cocktails.

But some restaurants have also been shifting into retail categories. At an NRA Show session this month on the convergence of restaurants and retail, Tim McEnery, founder and CEO of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, noted that the chain has been working to offer more retail space at its locations. There, it can sell the wines the company produces, as well as food products and other items that pair well with wine.

“We’ve worked hard to bring the retail experience to the forefront,” McEnery said, but noted that it is challenging. His restaurants have a slow sales ramp-up, and are thus built smaller, for those early, lean years. “We’re trying to be more efficient with our space.”

Both restaurants and retail concepts are evolving with today’s consumers, shifting toward more local ingredients and open kitchens where guests can see their food being prepared.

This is particularly true at airports, where foodservice providers like HMSHost bid on contracts to serve food in limited spaces to a captive audience. Increasingly, airport specifications are calling for more local brands and products, said Roy Wunderlich, vice president of design and construction for the company.

HMS, for instance, operates a version of The Larder at Tavern at Los Angeles International Airport. More of its locations are bringing food forward, and have open kitchens so airport guests can see the food being prepared — an increasingly important option for customers.

“Gone are the days of the sports bars in airports,” Wunderlich said. “We’ve made a concerted effort to change our design.”

There are strong reasons for that change, he said. Women make 85 percent of consumer purchases and 80 percent of travel decisions, and spend $125 billion on travel. They also represent slightly more than half of all travelers.

“Our menus have healthy options and smaller portions,” Wunderlich said, adding that HMS has also worked hard on its children’s meals, and to make sure the lighting is better and that storefronts are larger and more open.

Having a local focus can be challenging, Wunderlich said, because consumers who are traveling feel more comfortable with brands they know rather than a local brand they’ve never heard of.

Technology can also help brands improve the customer experience. Whole Foods is starting to use self-serve kiosks, where customers can order pizza or tacos, then shop and have the food ready when they’re done, said Christine Sturch, Midwest senior interior design and branding coordinator for the company.

“To me, at Whole Foods, adding technology felt like we would be losing customer service,” Sturch said. “But if we can add technology to make the customer experience and shopping pattern easier and better, and not lose that customer experience, then we have something special.”

Wunderlich noted that HMS is developing a smartphone app that would enable fliers to order food while still on the plane, en route to the gate, so they can quickly grab a meal while rushing to a connecting flight. It also has an app that will enable customers to order food from the gate and have it brought to them.

Regardless of these innovations, operational excellence remains important, and McEnery noted that Cooper’s Hawk spends no money on marketing, choosing instead to devote its resources to training and other elements that improve operations.

“Casual dining isn’t dead,” said McEnery, whose restaurant operates in the upscale-casual space. “Just casual-dining brands have not been able to keep up with changing customers.”

This is especially true nowadays, given the competitiveness of the market, especially with restaurants and retailers increasingly vying for the same customers.

“It’s so wicked competitive right now,” McEnery said. “You can go to the airport now and get awesome food. Everybody has to step up their game. To play in this space, you have to hit it out of the park.”

* abridged from an article byJonathan Maze at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Energy-Efficient Restaurant Trends

The fact that energy-efficient equipment reduces energy costs is a given, but it can also improve food quality and consistency, according to equipment experts who shared their insights on a webcast entitled, “Amp Up Productivity, Turn-Down Energy Costs: Cooking Equipment Technology Revisited.”

In the presentation, hosted by Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality, and sponsored by Vulcan Equipment, featured speakers — Ann Lovecik, foodservice energy efficiency consultant for CenterPoint Energy in Minneapolis, and Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education for PG&E Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. — discussed the variety of ways energy-efficient equipment can save money despite the higher initial cost.

Lovecik said combination ovens — which combine the abilities of a convection oven and a steamer — are among her favorite types of kitchen equipment. Developed in Europe, where space is tighter, these ovens arrived in the United States in the 1980s and were mostly used for institutional cooking, but are becoming more widespread in restaurants. With their ability to bake, steam or cook with moist heat, these multitaskers take up less space in the kitchen. That means restaurants can install smaller ventilation hoods, which on average cost around $1,800 per linear foot.

Lovecik said that modern combination ovens also can be labor savers, because multi-step cooking instructions can be programmed into them, adjusting the temperature and steam ratio over the course of the cooking, allowing, for example, for a quick sear followed by low-and-slow cooking.

“It speeds up cook time and allows for retention of juice and less shrinkage of proteins,” she said.

They also can be programmed to roast meats overnight and then hold them at a safe temperature for use in the day. Most of them have probes that can be inserted into the meat so they can be cooked to a precise internal temperature, she added.

Many of them also record cooking times that can be transferred via their USB ports to computers for easier food safety HACCP documentation.

Young noted that modern Energy Star convection ovens and combination ovens can reduce operating costs by nearly 50 percent.

Lovecik also noted that high efficiency fryers with heat exchange baffles recover lost heat faster, making them more productive and also improving the quality of the fried food, which ends up spending less time in the oil.

Demand control ventilation systems were discussed as well. Unlike typical hoods, which turn on at full power whenever any equipment is turned on, Lovecik said these systems have sensors that monitor equipment use and ramp up or slow down exhaust as needed, resulting in less energy use. That is particularly important with ventilation systems, since they generally account for about 20 percent of all energy use in a kitchen.

Young looked at how some classic equipment has evolved. Broilers, for example, traditionally are just grates over flames.

“They’re not thermostatic — they’re like your backyard grill,” he said. “You turn them on and they run all day with very limited controls.” They’re such energy guzzlers that one year of operating them can be equal to their purchase price, he said.

However, after a decade of development, better designed lidded broilers are available with lower input rates and radiant heating that make them more energy-efficient.

Griddles, too, now have infrared burners that transfer heat better and result in savings. Young noted that even simple advances such as finned-bottom pots increase energy efficiency and can reducing cooking times for items like pasta, because water comes to a boil faster in them.

Young noted that energy efficient equipment can be a lot more expensive to begin with: an inexpensive, but also inefficient fryer, can cost around $800, while a high efficiency one will be closer to $1,500. High efficiency fryers recover their heat faster, which means they’re better for high-volume environments, and oil in them also tends to last longer than in conventional fryers.

He said that, assuming a fryer is used 12 hours per day and that 125 pounds of food is cooked in it each day, a high efficiency fryer will save more than $13,000 over the course of five years in energy and oil costs.

Lovecik addressed the benefits of energy efficient conveyor ovens, which have conveyor belts that run food through a heated cavity at a set pace.

Lovecik said new versions have sensors on the belts that slow the belts down and lower the temperatures during times of no activity.

Although it’s common knowledge that energy will be saved if ovens are turned down when they’re not being used, it’s difficult to follow through on that, especially since you want the ovens to be hot as soon as your restaurant gets busy. The new conveyor ovens take care of that automatically, which Lovecik said can result in a 40 percent reduction in energy use.

Young said there also are new cold preparation tables that are kept cold using chilled liquid rather than chilled air. The result is more even temperature and 20 percent energy savings.

Similarly, better griddles with more uniform heating can result in faster cooking times, easier use and lower energy use.

* Abridged from NRN, Bret Thorn at [email protected]

 

Office Kitchen Can Boost Employee Productivity

Progressive workplaces see value to a lunchroom that’s more than a fridge and vending machines.

For generations, office kitchens were hidden out of sight, an unloved necessity kept stark to ensure that workers didn’t linger.

Now some companies are seeing office kitchens in a new light, turning them into gathering showplaces intended to boost morale, encourage collaboration and impress clients.

Lawyers eat lunch at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, which has scaled back its library to create a communal hang-out space called the “loungebrary” in Los Angeles.

Lawyers eat lunch at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, which has scaled back its library to create a communal hang-out space called the “loungebrary” in Los Angeles. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times “At home, where does interaction happen? The kitchen,” said commercial interior designer Chris Coldoff, who tries to get people to do the same thing at work. “It’s about making personal connections: Starting conversations that lead to a lot of creative ideas.”

Showcasing the kitchen calls for a repeal of old attitudes at most businesses, workplace experts said. Historically, the office kitchen was a simple service function with a refrigerator, a coffee pot and some storage space.

“It’s a miserable space to spend any time, a closet with fluorescent lights, linoleum everywhere and unpleasant smells,” said Georgia Collins, head of workplace strategy for real estate brokerage CBRE Group Inc. “You want to get in and get out as quick as possible.”

But what if the kitchen were also a place where you could work?

At CBRE’s new headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, employees do not have assigned desks and can set up a workstation wherever they choose. Legal assistant Nicholas Watson likes to drop anchor at the hand-carved, 18-feet-long wooden table in the kitchen. It’s a pleasant space that provides chance interactions.

“Ordinarily, you wouldn’t be encouraged to mingle with people,” he said. “You get to learn more about other departments in an informal way and I can have impromptu, informal meetings with my boss. It really has become sort of a favorite spot.”

Law firm Morrison & Foerster had the same goal in its downtown LA office, where it created a space big enough for 80 people that was dubbed the “loungebrary” for its combined function as lounge and library.

The kitchen and lunch room are separated by a large sliding door from the library, which includes banquettes and other casual seating areas.

“It’s worked out just like we wanted it to,” said Gregory Koltun, managing partner at the firm. The space can be used for company meetings and social events such as wine tastings, but is more often simply a place to eat, work or hang out a bit.

“People bring lunch in more often because it is more inviting,” he said, “or they can leave their office and get work done in a comfortable setting.”

Visitors seem to be impressed with the space, Koltun said, and he makes it a highlight of office tours with potential recruits to the firm.

“It looks like a kitchen you could have in a house,” Angel Wou said as she ate lunch there with other associates at the firm on a recent weekday.

A big-screen TV is an office-wide draw during major events, such as soccer’s World Cup, said Carlos Espinoza, an associate in the firm’s litigation department.

“Whenever there is a big game on,” he said, “people come down.”

The trend of making work kitchens more inviting is about 5 years old, according to interior designer Coldoff of architecture firm Gensler, who created Morrison & Foerster’s loungebrary. And the firms that are paying for people-friendly kitchens tend to be ones that are perpetually competing for talent.

“For a lot of our clients there is new focus on creating spaces that bring people together,” Coldoff said. “Spaces that get them jazzed about interesting interactions and make them feel like the company is giving something back to them.”

Management interest in building plush kitchens often goes beyond making employees happy and impressing clients and new recruits, he acknowledged. Unfriendly kitchens have the effect of pushing employees out the front door at mealtime, something that financial trading firms and other businesses such as tech startups want to avoid because they need workers at their posts for long hours.

“If you can provide a great place for lunch or a snack it helps to keep them in the office,” Coldoff said.

*Abridged from an article by Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times 

Good Eats – Leveraging Real Estate

We’ve all heard about the awesome food at Google. In a survey of IT workers conducted earlier this year by Forbes contributor Kate Harrison, “Good Eats” was voted second in a list of favorite employer-provided amenities, right behind “Game Rooms” and ahead of “Physical Health.” Food has definitely become a new workplace perk, and not just in the tech world. More and more, clients across all industries are building amenity spaces that either provide food or support it. Just as most people gravitate to the kitchen at a party, office cafés and cafeterias—whether they are fully catered facilities, a place to heat up a homemade lunch, or merely a place to eat that’s not your desk—have become the heart of the office.

Leveraging Real Estate

Café and cafeteria spaces can provide a great way for companies to leverage their real estate. Unlike the quiet rooms, collaboration zones, lounge areas and other amenities that companies build as give-backs to employees in an ever-densifying workplace, these spaces don’t tend to get turned into offices and workstations to accommodate growth. Rather, the café/cafeteria now plays multiple roles. During the day, employees can use them to perform solo work, collaborate in small groups, and hold town hall meetings; after hours, they can serve as event spaces in which employees socialize and clients are entertained, or they can generate income by being hired out for events outside the firm. Whether building a café, grab ‘n go or cafeteria, designing these facilities is as much about science and business as it is art. It demands detailed knowledge of the labyrinth of codes, an understanding of the workings and circulation patterns of a professional kitchen and some expertise in inventing any kind of space, in any kind of building. Here are a few trends we have been watching.

Customer Experience

According to the NPD Group, a leading market researcher, 40 percent of consumers are loyal to a brand despite promotions offered by other establishments. In retail, this means every aspect of the design must represent the brand; in corporate and institutional food service, the focus is on capturing the culture of the organization. Together with good food, location and price, the artful combination of aesthetics, layout, circulation, service and other amenities creates a customer experience that draws people back time and again.

Variety and Healthy Choices

Just as we’re seeing a demand for a variety of activity-based space types and transparency in the workplace, we’re noticing that people want food choices too—and they want to know what they’re getting. As exhibition cooking, themed action stations and self-serve stations make labeling, ingredients and preparation transparent and accessible have become the norm, the design of these spaces has become more complex. Front-of-house display, delivery, occupancy planning, circulation and point-of-payment must now be seamlessly woven with back-of-house operations like shared preparation, storage, catering and administration.

Scalable Use

Eating habits are changing: breakfast meals are on the rise, lunch is becoming the largest meal and people are working (and eating) 24/7. Corporations and institutional cafeterias must plan for peak occupancy and varying degrees of access ranging from full food service to vending and grab and go, as well as to alternative use of the space for training, meetings and special events. For companies wanting to provide convenient access to food and beverage without investing in a cafeteria, honor-system vending is an option, and we’re seeing these stations co-located with break-out lounges and café seating. In either case, the design emphasis is on what’s visible to the customer.

Technology in food service is not only driving greater operational efficiencies but shaping layout and design. Back-of-house is all about assembly line setup and cook/chill systems, remote refrigeration and automatic ice delivery systems—all centrally controlled and linked to building systems. Customer-facing technology includes WiFi throughout, video display of news and entertainment, digital and Web menus, self-service kiosks and point-of-sale systems—all of which drive and determine layout, occupancy and circulation and inform the aesthetics that will enhance the customer experience.

Sustainability

Creating attractive, dynamic environments that deliver peak performance is a significant investment. Protecting that investment means specifying energy-efficient equipment and materials, and furniture and finishes that can endure not only customer use but the abuse of cleaning products and maintenance crews. Additionally, for a space to look good and perform well from day one into the future, the design must ultimately transcend trends and deliver functionality that can adapt to multiple uses and users over time.

A New Form of Networking

Ironically, one of the best endorsements for food-oriented spaces came from Ross Resnick, CEO and founder of Roaming Hunger, an online catering hub and mobile food (food truck) dispatcher. “We consider it a new form of networking,” says Resnick. “Senior executives are [standing in line] with the rank-and-file … It’s very democratic.” That’s an observation that applies as readily to the cafeteria line as it does to the food truck line. Whether congregating to grab a meal or a snack, seeking a change of scene, or spill over from fully-subscribed conference rooms, these spaces offer opportunities for serendipitous encounters that can promote collegiality and enhance the culture of the organization.

*Abridged from an article in National Real Estate Investor, by Fran Ferrone, Director of Mancini-Duffy’s Center for Workplace Innovation in New York City.

How to Pay Employees for Great Ideas

Most companies say they want employees to be more innovative, to the point that it’s become a nearly meaningless buzzword. But can you actually pay people to innovate?

Yes–depending on how you pay them, according to a pair of Canadian researchers.

In a review of seven years of corporate survey data, the researchers found that individual performance bonuses and salary did not spur a rise in new ideas and products. However, group or team bonuses, profit-sharing plans and indirect pay, such as robust employee benefits, did relate to higher creativity and better problem-solving at work.

“You can pay employees to innovate if you do it properly. But be aware that individual incentives really are not going to help,” says Bruce Curran, a co-author of the research, and a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.

Curran speculates that group bonuses encourage the kind of team-based brainstorming that leads to meaningful new ideas. “Innovation is in many respects collaborative, and these incentives are encouraging collaboration,” he says.

What’s more, rewarding teams may allow workers to take more short-term risks because their own pay isn’t necessarily on the line. “If you go down a blind alley, you aren’t going to be punished for that,” he says.

Curran and co-author Scott Walsworth of the University of Saskatchewan studied survey data compiled by the Canadian government from nearly 3,000 workplaces. The data included information about how workers were paid, as well as questions about whether firms had developed or significantly improved a product or production process, and whether the firm created an innovation that was new to the market. The paper was published in the most recent edition of Human Resource Management Journal.

Crunching the numbers, the researchers found that group variable pay was far more important than individual salary when it comes to corporate innovation. Curran says firms need to pay enough to take major salary concerns off the table, but above that baseline, salary seems to have little effect on innovation.

Pay alone, of course, isn’t the only factor driving innovation. Regular corporate training, among other things, plays a big role.

Benefits matter too. Companies with more robust benefit packages, tended to produce more innovation, the researchers found. That may be because benefits encourage employees to take a longer-term view of their relationship with the company. “People tend to innovate more when they feel secure,” says Curran.

* Abridged from an article by Rachel Emma Silverman

A New Building Meant To Spark Innovation

U.S. Cities are establishing “Innovation Districts” to foster entrepreneurship.

They should take note of Boston’s new District Hall. 

Silicon Valley may be the capital of the tech scene, but the geographical spread of the country’s innovation has expanded far beyond its borders. Cities all over the country, from Brooklyn to Charleston to Las Vegas, are making a concerted effort to take advantage of the creative bustle of the urban environment, creating dedicated innovation districts. In the words of the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz, these districts cluster “leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, office, retail, and 21st century urban amenities.”

In Boston, a fledging District Hall, a city-sponsored center with workspaces, classrooms, community rooms, and a restaurant. The center comes out of a public-private partnership between the city of Boston and Boston Global Investors. Opened in October, the sleek, modern building by Boston-based Hacin + Associates offers a gorgeous civic space centered around collaboration.

As Katz has argued, the innovation district model profoundly impacts the physical design of our offices and research labs:

Innovation Districts embrace the redesign of buildings and office spaces in support of collaboration and open innovation, and they provide the physical and social platform for entrepreneurial growth—incubator space, collaborative venues, social networking, product competitions, technical support, and mentoring.

District Hall’s design is firmly in this collaborative, open camp. As the flagship component of Boston’s emerging 1,000-acre innovation district, the center stands out visually, beckoning the public in and offering a peek of what’s inside. Hacin’s angular design was inspired by the former industrial nature of the neighborhood, which used to be a waterfront rail yard. The cantilevered roof gestures toward the harbor, and large glass panels and bright LED lights make it a beacon at night, a transparent advertisement for the bustling activity within.

The 12,000-square-foot facility also had to be flexible and dynamic enough to house a variety of different functions—networking events, casual gatherings, demonstrations of new technology, coworking. Inside, there are writable wall surfaces and roll-down partitions that allow the large assembly space to be subdivided into smaller spaces as necessary. The main gathering space is accessible from all the major surrounding streets, and the entrances are visually connected by colored lighting, “reinforcing the role of the building as a public place and path,” according to the architects.

If there was ever any doubt, Hacin’s design proves that, yes, innovation can be a beautiful thing. Burgeoning innovation districts, take note.

* Abridged from an article by Shaunacy Ferro, a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences, fastcodesign.com

Why Restaurants Are Investing in Mobile Payments & Marketing

From restaurant chains like Starbucks, Panera and Wendy’s announcing mobile payment rollouts to smaller restaurant players getting on board with payment apps like Cover, the restaurant world is abuzz with mobile app news. But how widespread is the trend?

A new infographic, produced by mobile payment summit CONNECT 2014 and mobile payment startup Isis, illustrates the huge opportunity for restaurants to use mobile technologies to increase sales. Leveraging data from Google Shopper Marketing Council, Technomic, the National Restaurant Association and other sources, the graphic shares some fascinating statistics.

For example, 83 percent of smartphone users surveyed use their phones to make dining decisions while traveling, and 46 percent have tried a new menu item based on a mobile ad. People are also increasing interested in paying for meals electronically. Of those surveyed, 40 percent say they would like to for quick service meals via a mobile or wireless device, and 55 percent say they want mobile payments.

And restaurants are slowly but surely starting to catch on. Currently, 95 percent of independent restaurants do not have a mobile site and only 16 percent of restaurants have mobile apps. But 50 percent of limited-service restaurants say they plan to invest more resources in customer-facing technologies, like tablets and smartphone apps. Which is smart since, according to the infographic, mobile payment users spend twice as much through digital channels.

Looks like it’s time for restaurants small and large to start exploring the expanding mobile app ecosystem.

*Abridged from an article by Nina Meijers, foodtechconnect.com