Five Marketing Ideas to Keep Your Restaurant Top of Mind

With more than one million food service locations across the United States, restaurateurs don’t have to be reminded that they are vying for business in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

While industry pundits routinely state that food quality, service, and value must all remain top of mind in the daily struggle for share, they also maintain that an operation must have a strong and comprehensive marketing plan that will keep it high on the short list of today’s hungry consumer.

But with so many choices out there, how do you cut through the multitude of competing messages to ensure that your restaurant will stand out ?

This article explores key trends.

1. Mobile — why phones mean business:

Today’s consumers are on the go. It’s no surprise that the main resource for restaurant decision making is their phone. How can you make sure they choose your restaurant? Search is essential.

Consider this:

Google searches for “near me” have increased 34 times since 2011 and nearly doubled since last year, 80 percent of them come from mobile.
Half of all diners search for a restaurant within an hour of going.
(Source: Think with Google)

How can you make search engine optimization (SEO) work harder for you?

First, make sure you have the right terms on your website. Menu items are key. You’ll want to list them so that if someone searches for a type of food in the area, your restaurant comes up. You’ll also want to make it easy for your customers to find you. That’s why it’s vital to have location information listed on all of the most important publisher sites. There are a variety of services that accomplish this — making it easy to put all the information local consumers are searching for on top local listing sites, search engines, review sites, and mobile apps.

What else does this mobile trend mean?

Staying top of mind also means staying on top of email. According to recent survey results, 51 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices. Over 80 percent of consumers say it’s “extremely important” to be able to read emails on a smartphone. So if your email marketing isn’t mobile-friendly, you are missing out on business. Even if your emails aren’t being opened, the subject lines and presence in your target’s email can serve as an effective reminder when it’s time to eat.

Email marketing services, like Constant Contact, make it easy to use attractive, mobile-friendly templates that can bring your restaurant brand to life. They also enable flexibility so your other locations can edit them for local flavor.

2. Local events — more than just music:

Events are a strong draw for restaurants. From live music nights to birthday parties to one-of-a-kind neighborhood experiences, they are a useful way to bring in new and familiar customers. They are also a great way to add a local feel to a restaurant chain. Events will give your customers a good reason to try you, remember you, and keep coming back.

Your online marketing platform is an efficient way to promote events. There are services that can not only promote your event, but also turn events into a powerful business tool:

Event emails give you a reason to be in your customers’ inboxes and help you gain awareness.
Event landing pages help you track responses — capturing who’s registered and who hasn’t for targeted follow up.
Search and social help you gain visibility — social sharing of the event is a wonderful way to spread the news and increase exposure.
Event data can show you what locations or events are pulling in the best numbers. You can use that insight as an incentive or guide for other locations.
3. Relevant content:

Keeping your customers engaged requires a conversation. This is where content can help create an ongoing dialogue. There are many resources to help you develop content. From third-party sources and agencies to online marketing companies, there are a variety of ways to create content that can reach your customers and keep them interested in your restaurant.

Engage diners with new menu items, specials, promotions, and news through email, social media, and more.

Content is essential to creating a consistent brand — helping customers get to know your voice and reinforcing what to expect during their dining experience. Content is another effective method for adding local influence to your brand. Restaurants should provide a certain amount of content that can be customized for local outreach. Custom-branded templates are an easy way to create a cohesive brand look while also allowing flexibility for local adjustment.

4. Social media promotions — spreading the word:

Photographs of amazing food. A comment about a great meal. Clicking yes to attending a restaurant event. Shouting out a great deal. Restaurant experiences have naturally become an everyday presence in social media. How can you help spread the word?

Leverage your existing content that is being sent through email and post it on your social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.
Choose a platform like Hootsuite that allows you to preschedule your content. Remember, you want to have a continuous conversation with your customers and keep them interested, so having a plan for content is critical.
Have a great offer? Gate your offer so prospects need to connect with you to take advantage.
Content can get buried on social media. Only a small number of your followers may see your organic posts, so paid advertising on Facebook is an ideal combination to get maximum exposure. And now, thanks to services that can pull your email content and contact lists into Facebook, accomplishing this is easier than ever.
5. Loyalty programs — devotion is good for your bottom line:

According to a CX Pulse Study, the frequency of brand interaction builds loyalty and advocacy: 87 percent daily, 64 percent weekly, 49 percent monthly and 33 percent a few times a year. This is why loyalty programs are a crucial way to talk to your favorite customers and deepen the relationship so they keep coming back to your establishment. Some key ways to make loyalty programs work for you:

Make it personal. Your customers want to feel special. So make sure you communicate with them on their special days such as birthdays and anniversaries. This is a great way to build engagement and remind them where they should go to celebrate.
Loyalty saves. Coupons and discounts still remain an effective way to reward your most frequent customers and encourage repeat business. Tracking redemption will show you the offers that are working the best. Use the data to follow the success or improve future efforts
Loyal can be casual. Now that it’s easy to track who your top diners are, you don’t need to have formal loyalty programs. It can be as simple as tracking their purchase history and tagging frequent customers within your email platform so you know who’s eligible for loyalty deals. With a system like Constant Contact, you can add as many tags as you’d like to send customers more targeted campaigns.

* Abridged from an article by  – Constant Ron Cates and is one of the country’s top email and social media marketing experts. 

Commodity Costs Start Helping Restaurants

Food costs have been on something of a roller coaster in the post-recessionary environment. Unfortunately for restaurants, so have sales. And the coasters have largely coincided. So if sales were up, so were costs. When costs fell, sales fell too.

That has changed this year. Costs have started coming down at the same time that sales improved for the first time since 2006.

Consider the third quarter of this year. According to the latest benchmarking report from the consulting firm BDO, prime restaurant costs fell 0.4 percent in the quarter, to 59.1 percent of sales from 59.5 percent. Restaurant same-store sales in the period averaged 3.4 percent and increased for every sector.

Food costs have started to ease, and beef costs in particular have started to decline after years of skyrocketing prices. Beef costs fell 5 percent on average in the third quarter, according to the benchmarking report. They rose nearly 24 percent in 2014.

Labor costs, the big fear at the moment in the industry, have yet to appear as a major problem on chains’ profit and loss statements.

“We’ve been waiting for commodities to come down,” said Dustin Minton, a partner with BDO. “And beef was huge.”

To be sure, traffic remains a problem in the industry. Plenty of chains saw their sales grow, but traffic decline, suggesting that perhaps consumers are turned off by higher prices.

“The consumer is only going to take so much,” Minton said. “At some point, do you just shift where you spend your money?”

But for the most part, restaurants managed to see improving sales at a time when costs are down.

The benchmarking report compiles operating results from publicly traded restaurant chains, and uses the averages to give companies an indication of sales as well as labor and other costs.

Cost of sales averaged 29.3 percent of revenues for chains, down 0.5 percent on average from 29.8 percent in the third quarter last year, according to BDO. Cost of sales ranged from 25.9 percent for pizza chains to 31.2 percent for quick-service concepts.

All sectors saw decreases in cost of sales except for fast casual, where costs increased 0.2 percent.

At the same time, labor costs aren’t going up, at least not yet. Labor costs were largely flat, increasing only slightly to 29.9 percent of revenues from 29.8 percent. Much of that increase can be attributed to Domino’s Pizza Inc., which handed out performance bonuses this year.

Companies have effectively managed labor costs. “Different companies are doing a nice job of keeping it stable,” Minton said. “They’ve had very effective labor management.”

While traffic remains hit or miss, sales were still good, on average. Same-store sales increased 3.4 percent in the third quarter. Pizza (up 6.7 percent) and fast casual (up 5.6 percent) were the top performers. Casual dining (up 2.4 percent) and upscale (up 2.2 percent) were at the bottom. Sales improved for every sector.

* Abridged from an article by Jonathan Maze, On the Margin blog

How Smart Companies Get Employees to Brag About the Business

Your employees can provide the strongest, most passionate endorsements of your business — if they’re engaged.

An astronomical 96 percent of employees who are engaged in their jobs try their hardest at work. If that many of your employees are giving it their all, day in and day out, your company will certainly go the distance. But tapping into that engagement is another story entirely. Here are the five most important strategies that will make your employees want to brag about your company:

1. Put employees first:
Put your employees first by providing flexible scheduling and letting them choose work assignments for select shifts. Make sure they know you have their backs.

According to acclaimed author and public speaker Shep Hyken, great companies will train their employees both technically and on how to deliver the best service possible. However, treating your employees with the dignity and respect that every human being craves is at the core of this process. In doing so, you will create a positive domino effect that trickles down to the customers your employees serve.

Employees will care more about how your customers are treated once you’ve demonstrated that you care about how your employees are treated.

2. Connect with your team:
All too often, there’s a divide between executives and hourly employees. Make yourself accessible, and connect with employees on the floor. Consider trading places with an outstanding hourly employee for a day to recognize good work while demonstrating that you’re willing to do all of the things you ask of your employees. Building camaraderie among your teammates will help them see your company as an establishment that values its people.

3. Recognize good work:
A recent survey shows that while 81 percent of respondents’ employers offer some form of recognition, just 46 percent report that their employers offer recognition on an individual basis. Only 51 percent of respondents feel valued by their employers.

Honest, sincere recognition is much more powerful than a tacky “Employee of the Month” award plaque or a canned company wide congratulatory email. Give your staff members immediate feedback when they meet and exceed your expectations. Instant gratification is powerful. It encourages employees to continue developing positive behaviors at work that lead to better customer service.

4. Give employees a voice:
No matter how well you treat your employees, giving them a platform to discuss issues in a constructive manner will make them feel like they have a say in how they do their jobs. Your platform may be a simple suggestion box or a monthly team meeting at which everyone is invited to speak openly.

Whether your employees want more supplies to do their jobs better or an extra break on busy days, providing solutions to small concerns voiced by your staff members demonstrates that you’re listening and sincerely want them to succeed. In turn, they’ll sing your company’s praises whenever they get the chance.

5. Create career paths and goals:
Employees who see a future with your company are more likely to be engaged with where they work. Provide challenging, rewarding work and advancement paths. If you can help your employees see their work as a career as opposed to simply a job, they’ll be proud to evangelize your company culture. Partner with HR to devise plans for how you can help your staff reach career goals and benchmarks.

Employee engagement isn’t the mystery it’s cracked up to be. Show you care by implementing these simple strategies, and you’ll have a hardworking team of employees by day and passionate brand advocates by day and night.

* Abridged from an article by Sam Bahreini @Entrepreneur.com

We Leave Half Of All Our Seafood On The Table (And In The Trash)

Turned off by a slightly strong smelling fillet of halibut? Don’t think that grilled salmon will be any good tomorrow?

Such mealtime decisions may seem innocent enough, but when they’re made by people all over the country, they add up to a staggering amount of waste. Nearly half the U.S. seafood supply winds up uneaten, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

From 2009 to 2013, 2.3 billion pounds of seafood on average in the U.S. was wasted annually. That’s 208 billion grams of protein a year that no one got to eat.

About a quarter of the waste occurs at sea, where fish are frequently caught by accident, then thrown back, according to the study, which appears in the November issue of the journal Global Environmental Change. An additional 15 percent or so is lost en route from sea to consumer, often because it spoils or is discarded as scraps at processing plants.

The researchers say seafood is more likely to be wasted than other foods for a few reasons. It’s highly perishable, for one. And it can give off strong smells “that are not always associated with food safety risks, but may raise safety and quality concerns among retailers, food service providers and consumers,” the study says.

Consumers are far and away wasting more seafood than any other group. The study, which analyzed data from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture among other sources, found that each year we the eaters buy and then never eat 1.3 billion pounds of fish and shellfish. Some of this seafood is going bad in household refrigerators before it is cooked. Some is “plate waste” — it reaches the dining table but winds up in the trash, compost or dog bowl.

Dave Love, an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the study’s lead author, tells The Salt that consumers who throw out seafood aren’t just wasting a highly nutritious food. They’re also wasting energy that powered fishing boats and processing plants, kept the seafood cold, fueled its transport over land and sea and maybe even cooked it.

“Lots of time and resources go into that final product, that nice morsel on the diner’s plate or on the supermarket shelf,” Love says. For this reason, reducing waste at the end of the supply chain should be considered a top priority, Love says.

That said, fishermen are also guilty of a lot of waste. And there’s growing awareness about the accidental landing of billions of pounds of fish and other creatures each year — called bycatch. In some fisheries, three-fourths of what winds up in a trawl net is tossed back, mostly dead or dying. Drift gillnets — such as those used for swordfish off the California coast — are another major cause of bycatch, killing marine mammals, birds and all kinds of unwanted fish.

To cut this type of seafood waste, Love and his colleagues recommend bans on destructive fishing methods, such as trawl nets, which are dragged across the seafloor and tend to catch and kill most creatures in their path.

Companies that process fish — canning it or turning it into fish sticks, for example — have plenty of opportunities to curb waste, too, the researchers say. They could package fish in smaller, more manageable portions, to reduce mealtime leftovers, and also provide clearer and more accurate information on product shelf life. Selling more fish frozen instead of fresh would also prevent spoilage.

Still, changing consumers’ careless ways may be the greatest hurdle of them of all.

“How do you force people to eat what they buy?” says Jonathan Bloom, blogger at WastedFood.com and the author of American Wasteland. He thinks many Americans will continue throwing food away until they see it as throwing away money.

“To drive behavior change, you have to tie food waste to people’s pocketbooks and wallets,” he says. You also have to educate them about food safety. Bloom says he thinks many Americans have unwarranted fears of food poisoning from fish, which dissuade them from saving leftover seafood that’s perfectly safe to eat.

Another opportunity is to help more people see fish heads and filleted carcasses as tasty — Love says he and his colleagues did not count this waste in the study because most Americans don’t typically eat these byproducts. Other cultures, however, do. In many Asian and African nations, fish heads and bones are prized and are routinely cooked or boiled into broths.

As awareness of food waste grows, and as the challenge of feeding a growing population with limited resources becomes urgent, Bloom guesses the average American may begin utilizing more of all the food we’ve been throwing away.

“I don’t know which happens first — use of insects or fish heads in our kitchens — but both are coming attractions,” he says.

* Abridged from a story by Alastair Bland, NPR Food. Alastair Bland is a freelance writer based in San Francisco who covers food, agriculture and the environment.

Why Chobani, Nestle, and Other Brands Are Opening Brick-and-Mortar Restaurants

Walk down the aisle of any American grocery store and scattered amongst the usual gamut of brands, you’ll find products from popular restaurants. Taco Bell bottles its famous sauce packets (minus the cheeky sayings). P.F. Chang’s boxes frozen versions of its most popular menu items, like sesame chicken and shrimp lo mein. Marie Callender’s is probably better known for its freezer aisle comfort-food meals than for its actual restaurants, and even cult-loved Texas-based chain Whataburger is now selling grocery store versions of is popular sauces.

But what happens when brands, many of which are grocery-store staples, decide to leap from the aisle to the street — in the form of a brick-and-mortar restaurant?

A number of brands — including Chobani, Nestlé, and Barilla — have made the jump from product to restaurant. Popular Greek yogurt company Chobani opened a café in New York City’s Soho neighborhood in 2012 with, unsurprisingly, its yogurt front-and-center on the menu. Nestlé Toll House Café — which has 145 locations across the United States, Canada, and the Middle East — serves cookies, smoothies, and ice cream, the majority of which are made with Nestlé products.

These branded restaurants attempt to leverage grocery-store items into luxurious, upscale entities. But is it working?

The most recent brand to make the jump is Amy’s Kitchen. The vegetarian frozen food company, best known for its microwavable burritos and rice bowls, is now selling pizzas, burgers, and chili made fresh to order at the company’s new San Francisco restaurant Amy’s Drive Thru. Amy’s director of restaurant operations Paul Schiefer reveals that while Amy’s Drive Thru “uses some of the same supplies, growers, and chefs that had made our frozen food,” the menu is “pretty much from scratch.” For the restaurant, which is completely vegetarian like the frozen food offerings, the team held “over a thousand taste tests of the veggie burger alone, just to get feedback and fine-tune what we were looking to do.”

While restaurants offering grocery-store products is a way to make brands more accessible, these branded restaurants attempt to leverage basic grocery-store items — which are often not considered to be very chic — into luxurious, upscale entities. But it is working? Are these restaurants actually just one big, ongoing marketing stunt? Or are they viable concepts on their own? The answer falls somewhere in between the two.
First and foremost, these branded stores are another outlet for the companies to showcase their products. Shawnon Bellah, the COO of the Nestlé Toll House Café, says that nearly 60 percent of ingredients used — from La Lechera condensed milk to branded water — are Nestlé’s. At any given moment at Chobani’s cafe, there are at least 12 yogurt-based creations — both sweet and savory — on offer. Amy’s Drive Thru sells its popular burritos using the familiar Amy’s recipe, only freshly made. Nestlé’s high-end coffee-pod Nespresso has nine self-described “boutiques” across the U.S. that serve a range of coffee drinks, alcohol, and food. According to Nespresso vice president of marketing Davide Moro, the main focus of the boutiques (a word usually used to denote high-end, exclusive product) are the coffee pods, many of which are the same as what customers can purchase in stores and online. (Unlike Nestlé coffee, Nespresso pods can usually be purchased in “select fine retailers” as opposed to traditional groceries.)

“Anybody who walks by one of our cafés may not be 100 percent aware of the café concept, but there’s a trust factor in the Nestle brand,” says Nestle Cafe’s Bellah. Unsurprisingly, brands then use that trust factor to demonstrate, in-store, different ways the product can be used. While Chobani SoHo’s yogurt bowls feature the same product that consumers can purchase in stores, the café offers a number of yogurt bowls, like the Fig + Walnut (dried figs, walnuts, and a drizzle of clover honey) and savory takes like the Mango + Avocado (mango, avocado, olive oil, sea salt cilantro, and lime juice). Michael Gonda, Chobani’s vice president of corporate communications, also points out that “everything you see has our yogurt incorporated, from the spreads on our sandwiches to our baked goods.” The Mediterranean-influenced restaurant sells a number of sandwiches made on simit, a Turkish bagel-like bread, all come topped with labne — strained yogurt cheese — made in-house from Chobani yogurt. The yogurt is even found in the café’s dessert options, like a rice pudding.

The same goes for both of Nestlé’s restaurants. Moro notes Nespresso uses its boutiques — which can be found in cities like New York City, Miami, and San Francisco — to showcase how its coffees can be transformed into other drinks (the boutiques recently offered a peanut butter-and-jelly coffee milkshake). “You can try the drink in stores… and then we teach you how to do it, so you can do it at home.” Nestlé Toll House Cafés also makes a number of items recombining well-known products: Bellah points to the chain’s Nestle Toll House Frappé, which blends coffee with its popular Toll House cookies. However, while Nestlé Toll House Cafés share the same parent company as Nespresso, it uses Nestlé’s lower-end coffee line, Nescafé instead.

When asked why the companies created each restaurant, the spokesperson for each brand could not stop iterating — in terms loaded with brand speak — that the restaurants are meant to bring a “new experience” to customers already familiar with the brands. When a customer walks into one of the restaurants, the product is whisked away from the context of a grocery store, a place that people typically visit during the humdrum of their daily lives. Instead, they eat the product in a way that’s elevated — in the case of Chobani yogurt, it’s served a heavy glass jar, topped with “chef-created” fresh toppings, and covered with a rustic cheesecloth — and all of a sudden, it’s now an experience worth talking about. Essentially, the restaurants are attempting to craft a Pinterest-friendly aspirational lifestyle brand, through a mix of healthy and fresh-looking recipes, well-thought-out design, and luxurious ingredients.

The majority of the branded restaurants feature distinct design that help set them apart from the grocery store. For the most part, the spaces and packaging are Instagram-friendly in the way that their grocery counterparts are not. Chobani SoHo features a large glass windows, rich dark wood, and the yogurts are served in glass containers. Nepresso’s boutiques often feature wall art crafted from the colorful coffee pods and plush leather furniture. Amy’s has managed to give itself a modern and cheery makeover at the Drive Thru. Schiefer explains that the restaurant is contained within a “physically unique building,” which features a solar-panel roof, a water tower replica with the logo in bright blue letters, plenty of light wood, and large sunny windows. While the frozen meal packaging is quite dated — its more likely to appeal to those who love burnt orange and a ’70s aesthetic — the restaurant packaging is rife with bright colors and a bevy of stripes.

The lifestyle angle also allows brands to create and sell items that they can’t necessarily package and put in stores. Chobani created the simit sandwiches for its café, as well as yogurt cups with fresh toppings. Amy’s Drive Thru has a number of restaurant-only dishes, like fresh salads, milkshakes, and fries, none of which have previously been available as a frozen options. And in addition to monthly coffee drink creations, certain Nespresso boutiques also serve wine, and sparkling water, the ultimate benchmark of luxury.

However, just because the item was created for the restaurant doesn’t mean that it can’t end up on store shelves. Chobani uses its SoHo cafê as a test kitchen and “incubation and innovation hub,” as Gonda likes to say. He tells Eater that the company takes advantage of being able to directly interact with customers, testing new ways to serve the yogurt. If the recipe proves popular, it often “ends up on supermarket shelves.” One such item is the Chobani Flip, which is a container of sweetened yogurt, packaged with a combination of “crunchy” toppings that customers “flip” into the yogurt. Gonda notes, that “most of our Flips are inspired by creations at the café.”

Even though Amy’s Drive Thru has only been open less than a month, it has already inspired a new frozen item. Inspired by a customer that would top macaroni and cheese with the brand’s canned chili, Amy’s decided to add a chili-topped macaroni and cheese to its not-so-secret secret menu. While the chili mac “is not an ‘official’ restaurant menu item, it became a popular special request.” So much so that the Amy’s decided “to make a Chili Mac as part of our Amy’s Kitchen range that we are launching soon.”

So are these restaurants actually just one big ongoing marketing stunt? While the companies will say no, the restaurants provide a brick-and-mortar counterpart to a brand’s social media profile — edited, filtered, and presented at just the right angle. It is a version of the brand that really only exists in that one, heavily curated, place. And that’s just how the brands like it — so much so that the companies will continue to open restaurants. Chobani “definitely” wants to build more cafés, Schiefer admits that Amy’s Drive Thru is a concept the company wants to “take further,” Nespresso plans to “continue to open [boutiques] in major cities,” and Bellah reveals that Nestlê Toll House Café is “on track” to open 43 new locations this year.

Grocery-brand restaurants are clearly a financially viable concept and here to stay.

*Abridged from an article by Khushbu Shah, www.eater.com

Sophisticated Breads Rise On Menus

With many Americans now avoiding gluten, and a growing number of people eschewing most carbohydrates as they follow the paleo diet, bread is less of a meal staple and more of an indulgence. Consumers are also more sophisticated and discriminating, so when they do decide to have bread, they want it to be something special.

Jana Mann, senior director of menu research firm Datassential, said she’s seeing consumers gravitate toward breads that evoke a sense of freshness, that seem premium or are ethnically inspired.

Variety and choices are also important, observed Mark Mears, chief marketing officer of Schlotzsky’s Franchise LLC, which continues to expand beyond its classic sourdough bread to offer other varieties as well.

“Bread is the undisputed foundation of every great sandwich,” Mears said. “Guests are more discriminating than ever before. They know more about food and want to explore new flavor options.”

Apart from adding gluten-free rolls to the menu, Schlotzsky’s has added ciabatta, which Mears said is more suitable than sourdough for cold sandwiches, and thus appeals to some customers who order catering.

The 337-unit Schlotzsky’s, a subsidiary of Focus Brands, also is experimenting with focaccia, flatbreads and pretzel rolls which have enjoyed a rise in popularity in recent years.

Here’s a look at how restaurants are incorporating pretzel breads and four other fast-growing bread types onto menus:

Pretzel rolls:

Other than the catchall term “artisan,” “pretzel” is a fast growing bread descriptor on menus. Pretzel bread not only has an ethnic heritage that appeals to diners; it also has a nice combination of salty flavor offset by mild sweetness that can work across proteins.

Pretzels are traditionally dipped in a lye solution that causes the outside to brown deeply and more quickly while leaving the inside soft, moist and chewy.

Talera Rolls:

The appeal of ethnic fare also appears to be at the core of the recent growth of telera rolls, the soft, thick carrier for Mexican sandwiches called tortas. Telera rolls are on 245 percent more menus now compared with four years ago — the fastest growing bread in that time period — and 17 percent more menus in the past year, according to Datassential.

Chef Torano of CBD Provisions in Dallas says telera rolls classify as comfort food among Dallas’ large Mexican-American population.“Telera rolls are used here a lot in Dallas because of the demographic,” he said. “It’s very simple to create, but on top of that I think everyone is looking for something they grew up with, something that’s easily approachable and recognizable, and telera is one of the prime examples of that.”

The straightforward roll is made simply with flour, yeast, water and a little sugar and salt, although Torano adds some shortening to his for a softer crust.“It’s great on the griddle, too,” he said.

Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery has seen so much demand for its telera rolls that it recently introduced a miniature one-ounce version.

Datassential’s Mann said other ethnic breads, from bao buns to Indian breads such as roti and naan, are being used to add slightly exotic character to familiar foods.

“Consumers can’t eat two things they don’t know, but pairing something unfamiliar with something familiar grounds it,” she said.

Conversely, she said some restaurants take familiar breads, like pizza dough, and top them with “all types of crazy ingredients,” whether it’s cheeses or veggies or sauces.

Brioche:

When it comes to premium bread, brioche rules the roost.

This rich, buttery egg bread from France is sprouting up with increasing frequency as a burger bun. But it’s traditionally a breakfast bread in France, according to Lionel Vatinet, chef of La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C.

He said that although he used to only make this bread — which typically has a minimum butter-to-flour ratio of 50 percent — on special occasions, demand is now so high that he keeps it on the menu regularly.

Doug Taylor, the new corporate pastry chef of three-unit Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grills, with locations in the Seattle area and in Portland, Ore., said he was hired in part so the restaurants could start baking its own bread.

Taylor said that although brioche is expensive to make because of the high butter content, it’s relatively easy to make and also easy to switch up its flavors. Most bread develops its flavor through slowly rising and fermenting, Taylor explained. But brioche is flavored directly by the fat, and since many flavor components are fat-soluble, brioche absorbs them easily.

Vatinet of La Farm normally flavors his with lemon zest, although for Mother’s Day he also adds dark chocolate and white chocolate. For savory brioche, he often adds thyme, rosemary or puréed garlic.

Lavash – Flatbread:

Relatively new to the trendy bread scene is the Middle Eastern flatbread lavash, which was on 20 percent more menus at the end of 2014 than at the beginning of the year, based on Datassential figures.

Although the term can refer to a variety of different breads, including soft, pliable ones, the type that seems to be catching on is more cracker-like.

Lavash was one of the first bread types Taylor began baking for Salty’s, along with brioche and multiseed, because it can be adapted easily.

“It’s an easy thing to change flavors,” he said. “You roll the dough out paper thin, which gives you a high yield. You can put sesame seed on one, peppers on another, different kinds of salt, poppy seeds [and] mustard seed,” he said. He bakes it in a 24-inch by 12-inch baking pan and then tears it into shards.

CBD Provisions’ Torano also makes lavash, but said that rolling it out is an arduous, labor-intensive process. Instead of including it in the restaurant’s tableside bread offerings, he has relegated it to his charcuterie board.

Rebecca Isbell, pastry chef of Betony in New York City, puts a fusion-style twist on the item, with her pretzel lavash.

“I wanted to give our guests something super delicious — crunchy, salty, kind of sweet and a little bitter, and earthy from a quick spray of lye,” she said.

She uses regular pretzel dough, lets it rise until it doubles in size, then rolls it out on sheet trays flipped upside down. She lets it proof until it triples in size, stretches it paper thin, allows it to dry a bit and sprays it with a 4-percent lye solution. She sprinkles it with fleur de sel and bakes it at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it’s golden brown and crispy.

“They are pretty epic,” she said.

Walnut bread:

Walnut bread is spreading fast, too: Its menu presence has risen 92 percent in the past four years, according to Datassential.

Part of that spread might be due to the growing popularity of cheese and charcuterie boards. That’s where Florian Wehrli, chef of Triomphe at the Iroquois hotel in New York City, uses it. Triomphe makes a dense rye bread studded with walnuts.

He makes a dense rye bread from the Swiss canton of Valais, for which he uses his own starter and no other yeast. He uses 100-percent rye flour with no wheat added. He kneads it briefly and then adds walnut halves, forms it into loaves and bakes it. He serves it thinly sliced.

“I like it with a little plain butter on top, but with cheese or some charcuterie, with some fat content on top, it’s also good. In Switzerland, we have a lot of good cheese, so it’s perfect.”

Rabii Saber, executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando in Orlando, Fla., makes a cranberry-walnut bread for his cheese plates. He makes dense bread out of whole-wheat flour and cracked oats, sweetened with a little honey. “It’s a very rustic, country-style loaf of bread,” he said.

“Walnuts are a little bit different than other nuts because they have a little more fat content, so when you mix them in the dough they give it a rich flavor,” Saber said. Like most chefs who add fruit or nuts to their dough, Saber adds the walnuts and cranberries after the bread has risen, so it doesn’t affect the bread’s development.

* Abridged from an article by Bret Thorn at [email protected] , Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Boosting Sales With Beverages

With competition continuing to heat up across the foodservice landscape, operators increasingly are turning to beverage-focused strategies to help boost customer traffic and build loyalty.

In addition to gathering pertinent information about the consumer groups they’re looking to target, operators are employing such tools as special promotions, menuing of specialty beverages, the use of distinctive packaging, order customization and enhanced customer service.

Foodservice executives took the opportunity to discuss those and other marketing tactics during a beverage marketing roundtable sponsored by Whirley-DrinkWorks!, a designer and manufacturer of high quality food and beverage containers. The roundtable was convened during the National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel and Restaurant Show in Chicago in May.

While roundtable participants underscored the importance of devising effective beverage promotions, they all agreed that it was critical to first understand the customer base they hope to attract.

Knowledge: “You have to start with understanding what the customer wants,” said roundtable participant Peter Zilper, vice president of operational excellence and food and beverage for Aramark’s Sport and Entertainment.

A few years ago Philadelphia-based Aramark conducted a study of customers at its major league baseball venues. Among its findings, the company discovered that sports fans who attend events most often tend to spend more. And beyond the beer options, they found younger customers — millennials, the generation born after 1990 — were interested in cocktails and food pairings with alcoholic beverages, such as a pork sandwich and a cucumber cooler.

At college campuses operated by onsite feeder Sodexo, students want less sugary drinks and more healthful options, said Jeff Pente, senior director of brand development for Sodexo. In response, Sodexo-run dining areas have “hydration stations” that offer fresh fruits like watermelon or cucumber to flavor carbonated or still water.

Other trends in the beverage arena include energy drinks, according to James Park, vice president of marketing and research and development for Which Wich, the Dallas-based sandwich brand. The chain has experimented with adding caffeine to food and drinks.

“We do believe there’s a big component in energy,” Park told roundtable participants. “Every day there’s more and more fatigue. There’s a lot more information than there ever was before, a lot less time to consume that information. We need something to give us a boost in energy.”

The late afternoon daypart can be a good time to promote energy drinks and caffeinated beverages, the executives said.

McAlister CupPackaging. The packaging of a beverage also can help an operator boost sales. For example, every 18 months or so, McAlister’s Deli introduces a new tumbler for its popular handcrafted sweet tea, said Donna Josephson, chief marketing officer for the Alpharetta, Ga.-based fast-casual chain.

“It’s something, too, that the guest expects; in fact, they actually demand that we provide the new cups and the tumblers,” Josephson said. “They see them as collectables.”

At Sodexo-run State University of New York at Binghamton, students can participate in a prepaid refill mug program that allows them to use the same mugs for drinks throughout the semester. The mugs, produced by Whirley-DrinkWorks! sister company ValidFill, feature RFID tags that can be scanned so students who only want a beverage can skip the cash register lines, Pente said. The mug also meets student demand for sustainable drink container options.

Souvenirs and re-useable mugs and cups labeled with a company name and logo also helps reinforce a brand, said Tom Minella, national director of business development for Whirley-DrinkWorks! Having the cup within arm’s reach in their car, office, or home increases the likelihood consumers will return to that establishment.

“It keeps the operator’s brand front and center,” he said.

Restaurants and foodservice operators also can identify returning customers by using refillable brand cups and mugs in promotions, Minella said.

“When an operator offers a refillable mug promotion and their guests bring the mug back for a refill, it’s a way to identify your loyal customers,” he said. “Here is Jim or Sally back with a mug versus a new customer. When you see them on a regular basis, you can learn their names and call them by their name. It’s a way to surprise and delight the customer.”

Customization: Just as today’s consumers — millennials, in particular — like to customize their food by adding or subtracting ingredients, they also want the same freedom or ability to personalize their drink options.

Firehouse Subs was one of the first to test Coca-Cola’s Freestyle soda machines, which offer more than 100 drink combinations — and even more than that at Firehouse, which had its proprietary cherry limeade drink added to the machines, said Doug Reifschneider, vice president of marketing for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain.

Meanwhile, Quiznos is able to offer a good variety of beverage options for customers by working with Pepsi and using coolers and bottled drinks, said Jonathan Tress, senior vice president of marketing at the sandwich specialist headquartered in Denver.

Smashburger, the fast-casual burger brand, promotes local brewers and suggests beer and burger pairings to also give customers variety and personalize their dining experience, said Josh Kern chief marketing officer of the Denver-based chain.

Special promotions. Concepts must be able to tailor promotions to fit the brand’s message and image. For example, McAlister’s Deli’s sweet tea outsells carbonated drinks in the chain’s restaurants. The tea is freshly brewed multiple times a day and made with cane sugar. Because of its popularity, the company’s annual Free Tea Day has become a highly anticipated event, Josephson said. Last year the company gave out some 350,000 glasses of tea.

“Obviously for McAlister’s, beverage inspires the loyalty,” she said. “We do that giant event once a year as a gift back to our guests.”

Hospitality: But no matter how great the quality of the food, the uniqueness of the cup or the customizable options operators provide, the customer’s experience remains the best traffic generator, executives said. Roundtable participants agreed that experience depends on having well-trained, hospitable employees.

“It isn’t about getting a free soda or coffee,” said Aramark’s Zilper. “You want to feel cared for. You nourished me. You cared. You gave. Inherently, I think that’s the answer here. Figure out hospitality. People embrace that and come back.”

For the most part, though, operators have access to many tools to help drive visits, restaurant executives agreed.

Knowing the customer’s likes and dislikes can help operators shape successful promotions. In addition, enabling guests to customize their drinks, providing high-quality ingredients, using well-made sustainable containers that can be branded with the company logo, and offering personalized and friendly service are all steps to using beverages to increase visit frequency and build greater brand loyalty.

*Abridged from an article in Nations Restaurant News, NRN.COM 

 

Wine Trend Spotting – Key Themes To Watch

The wine world, while steeped in tradition, is far from stagnant. Innovations from commerce and culture find their way into wine product development, leading to new experiences for consumers and new opportunities for producers.

At the recent Wine Vision conference in London, two leading lights in wine trend-spotting: Lulie Halstead, co-founder and CEO of Wine Intelligence and an expert on wine consumer behavior, and Mandy Saven, head of food, beverage and hospitality at Stylus, identified the four trends below as key themes to watch.

Fusion: In the food world, “Fusion” suggests a combination of two or more unique styles to create something new. It appeals to the risk-averse, because it incorporates elements with which people are already familiar.

Numerous speakers at Wine Vision argued that Gen Y is more cautious and less experimental than preceding generations. Halstead thinks fusion in the wine world will rise in popularity because it lets new wine drinkers mitigate risk by building upon their existing levels of trust.

The new Downton Abbey wine is one example. It mashes up a UK television and cultural concept with a U.S.-conceived brand extension into wine—and a Bordeaux wine at that. Plus, the product is slated for major distribution, including retail expansion in China.

Feel-good: The health and well-being craze has reshaped the food and beverage industry over the last decades, and wine hasn’t been immune. Saven cited how wine has been marketed as a health choice through product innovations like reduced-calorie offerings, intolerance protection, and super-fruit enhancement.

Yet Feel-good is a broader term that also incorporates food safety and origin, and both of these are prime concerns in European and Asian markets. Consumers want to feel positive about a company, including its ethics, corporate social responsibility, and branding. Will they pay more for such feel-good attributes? That’s a matter of debate, but momentum is growing, with countries like Sweden boasting 12.7% organic products on their shelves.

In wine, Feel-good also translates into organic, biodynamic, and low-sulfur options, along with the ethics of “drinking local.” It’s also about charitable causes, like the wines from Nomacorc customer One Hope, in which half of all profits are donated to its non-profit partners—totaling more than $1.3 million to date.

Freehold: Content overload is a hurdle for brands trying to gain consumer mindshare. To be memorable, brands must be both distinctive and inspirational. Now, brands must also incite people to share their content with friends and network connections. “Freehold” refers to the mindshare earned when brand touch-points are shared and influence others beyond the initial target.

Gaining Freehold requires brands to develop sharable content—short, memorable and concise—and to leverage cultural icons and themes so the material has broader appeal. This lets brands ignite a community of engagement, enhancing mindshare and stickiness.

Coppola Winery, for example, has used memorabilia and other Hollywood assets from The Godfather to generate interest and drive traffic to their tasting room. And a growing number of wine-related projects are popping up on community funding sites like Kickstarter, which give contributors a stake in the project and rewards engagement with a signed book or a unique experience. Alder Yarrow funded the production of his recent book, The Essence of Wine, via this channel.

Fit: If we think of the wine world as a pyramid, its foundation (and the biggest segment) is value, the middle tier is mass, and the elite pinnacle is luxury. With this model in mind, we can think of Fit as the brand’s suitability to the demands of each tier—its fitness for both purpose and audience—and the effort needed to occupy that niche or expand into others.

But the pyramid’s traditional tiers are becoming more permeable, and younger drinkers are the ones driving the shift. They tend to spend more than their older counterparts on a bottle of wine—when they want a particular experience. In other words, they’re willing to reach from value into luxury when they can get a great price to quality ratio.

Also, although many wine labels aspire to be luxury, the reality is that most aren’t. They need to find ways to acknowledge their strengths and market them to consumers. For example, the subtle and complex concept of terroir isn’t prevalent in the mass and value categories. However, these categories can embrace the idea of a wine style—big and bold, or light and fresh—and address it through a story on a back label. And as in many consumer goods categories, the more simple and relevant the story, the stronger the connection with the audience.

 * Abridged from an article by Katie Meyers, Nomacorc.com

Restaurants Need To Improve Labor Productivity

Labor costs are a growing concern for the restaurant industry. Numerous restaurant company executives are saying that labor costs are an increasing problem. And more operators are saying they’re struggling to find good workers.

Hudson Riehle, head of the research and knowledge group at the National Restaurant Association, said that employee recruitment is a growing worry for operators. According to the NRA, 12 percent of operators in April said that recruiting employees was their top concern.

A year ago, he said, only 4 percent of operators considered recruitment was their top concern.

Employee recruitment concerns have come as restaurants have expanded and added new employees. The industry has been adding jobs at a rapid clip in recent months as operators add new units and expand existing locations.

But that expansion is coming with a price in the form of higher wages. In addition, it has drawn activists pushing for higher wages. State governments are raising minimum wages. And it’s possible, albeit unlikely, that Congress could get in on the act.

The answer for the industry may be labor productivity.

Riehle, at the NRA Show, noted that restaurants average $84,000 in sales per worker. By comparison, grocers average $304,000. Gas stations average $855,000. Both of those industries compete with restaurants for food away from home.

“Going forward, this will have to change,” Riehle said. “If you look at the history of labor productivity in the industry, it has not been good.”

It’s not easy for restaurants to increase labor efficiency. The industry has a significant service element. Many restaurant consumers are looking for high service levels that they won’t get eating at home. Reducing labor can risk that. In addition, the industry has also been generally shy about adapting technology.

But there are emerging technologies that can make restaurants more efficient. Tabletop tablets making their way across the casual dining sector could enable restaurants to ultimately reduce wait staff.

Perhaps kiosks, or smartphone apps, or some other technologies we don’t know of yet could finally improve labor efficiency in the industry. Indeed, McDonald’s executives note that as they work to improve speed of service in their restaurants, they can use technology to accomplish that even while keeping the company’s enormous menu.

If the industry can find ways to improve productivity, it could pay higher wages even while keeping labor costs under control by employing fewer, better workers.

*Abridged from a story in Nation’s Restaurant News, May 2015 , nrn.com

Study: Restaurant Dine-In Traffic Rises

According to the latest research from The NPD Group, dine-in, or on-premises, visits to restaurants grew 2 percent in 2014, in addition to 1-percent growth in 2013. Meanwhile, takeout, or off-premises, traffic declined 1 percent for each of the last two years. The new research was presented at NPD’s Foodservice Summit 2015 Get Growing Again—Inspiring Consumer Visits, held in Chicago on April 15.

Although the growth in dine-in traffic is small, the opportunity for restaurants is huge, officials at Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD said.

Takeout has been the growth driver for years,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “To see dine-in grow, it’s quite a turn.”

It’s better for the bottom line when consumers dine in, NPD found. Dine-in visits account for 39 percent of industry traffic and generate more than $233 billion dollars a year, compared with take-out occasions, which account for 61 percent of traffic but only bring in $200 billion dollars a year.

“We want to get more of that dine-in business. It’s more profitable,” Riggs said. “When you dine in the restaurant sales are much higher, you order more items.”

Quick-service restaurants experienced the largest growth in dine-in traffic, increasing dine-in visits by 5 percent in the year ended December 2014. Dine-in visits at casual-dining restaurants have been holding steady for the last year following years of decline.

No matter the segment, Riggs said the improved economy is driving consumers to dine in more.

“We want to be out and about,” Riggs said. “That’s not just young people.”

According to NPD’s Foodservice Summit Dine-in Study, consumers of all ages are eating out to get out. For some consumers, dining in is a chance to get out and be social. For others, it’s a chance to spend time with family. Younger consumers want the convenience of avoiding meal cleanup, while those over 50 seek the pleasantries of eating away from home, including not being rushed.

Of all the segments, consumers surveyed ranked casual-dining restaurants strongest when it comes to meeting the dine-in demands of good tasting food, good service and convenience.

While there’s a big opportunity for growth in dine-in traffic in casual dining, operators’ responses to consumers’ new dine-in needs has been varied, ranging from some brands that have made minor menu tweaks or begun offering a heavy rotation of combo deals, to others that have completely evolved the restaurant experience.

*Abridged from an article by Fern Glazer, nrnews.com