What Other Restaurants Can Learn from “Build Your Own Meal” Concepts

There is no restaurant concept more creative than being one step away from literally putting customers behind a prep table or oven. We’re talking about “build your own meal” restaurant concepts and why they flourish. Popular examples of restaurants that use this concept include Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Burgatory. These restaurants put the creativity in customers hands as they select the ingredients and toppings that are going into their entrée, with endless possibilities.

See how this concept works and how you can shake up your restaurant’s processes with these tips!

Smooth Ordering

Long gone are the days of ‘can you put the tomatoes on the side?’ and ‘can I substitute kale for lettuce?’ Commonly these restaurants use an assembly line system where the meal and customer move down the line or, at sit-down establishments, customers fill out a check list of everything they want on their entrée.

This should also reduce the margin for error with a server taking down an order. It’s easier for something to be misheard and written down incorrectly at a bustling restaurant versus a customer putting a tick mark next to jalapenos.

The typical ordering process for these restaurants allows customers to order comfortably and not have to communicate their likes and dislikes to a waiter- picky eaters unite! It can also save the staff time going through each option with the customer.

What you can do in your restaurant: Streamline the order process for customers by breaking it down, step by step. Start with the base meal and work your way up with options. For example, start with the different kinds of meat they can choose for their burger. Then, work to buns, cheese, toppings, and sauces to finish their order.

Transparency

With “build your own meal” concepts, restaurants are forced to be upfront and honest about their ingredients. It’s likely you’ve been to eateries where you can see their ingredients behind a sneeze guard and they aren’t really looking as “fresh” as they say (here’s looking at you, Subway).

When customers are building their meals down the line or even from a notepad, they want to see basic options, as well as some places they can get a little creative. These ingredients need to look and sound (if written) appetizing to invite customers to have a little fun with their food.

Restaurants offering truly fresh ingredients can make customers can feel good about what they’re choosing to put into their bodies. So, try partnering with local farms to get fresh produce or meat. This is not only a mutually beneficial partnership but will promote local sustainability and sourced foods as well.

What you can do in your restaurant: Label, label, label! If ingredients are gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan-friendly, or soy-based, let customers know. The more detailed you can be with your ingredients, the better.

Experience

The modern restaurant is moving toward these customized experiences, like “build your own meal”, because it integrates the customers into the theatrics. Dinner becomes much more like a production than just ordering tacos a specific way, it’s a curated food adventure. 

With the possibilities of “build your own meal” concepts, customers could come ten times to your pizza place but have a different experience every single time based on their choices.

There is just a little ego-building that goes into “build your own meal” concepts. Customers are being asked to take the reins, so it’s up to them what they create. If they create something they love or is just not quite what they were hoping, there’s a possibility they’ll be back to tweak it so it’s perfection.

Try also featuring a combination of the month. This could spark a customer’s creativity while also enticing people to stop by!

What you can do in your restaurant: When you make your list of ingredient choices, make sure to not offer flavors that will ruin a customer’s meal. For example, if a customer has decided to float their burger in a marmalade and they’re not satisfied with their meal, technically, that was their choice, but you don’t want that to impact their possibility of a return visit.

The trend of putting the customer in control works seamlessly with “build your own meal” concepts because of their smooth ordering process, transparency, and experience value. Putting the customer in charge really changes the whole dynamic of a restaurant’s traditional business model.  

Would you ever try adding “build your own meal” aspects to your menu offerings? Let us know in the comments below.

Food Photography Tips for Restaurants

How many times have you heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words? In today’s world of constant social media interaction, that saying is truer than ever. Photos, especially photos of food, have become a major part of all social media interactions, especially on Instagram.  Now it isn’t like you can just slap up any old photo on your profile and call it a day. The higher quality and more interesting the photos, the more likely they are to be shared and bring customers in your door. But food photography can be challenging, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to have your business putting its best foot forward.

Ideal Lighting

Lighting is probably one of the most important aspects of taking a good photo. If you are able, try to use natural light with indirect sun. This will have your food looking its best, showing off its natural colors, and avoiding harsh shadows. Placing food on a table next to the window is a great way to achieve natural but indirect light. Food placed under fluorescent lighting tends to change tones and colors.

While natural light is best for photos, it isn’t always realistic in restaurants where ambiance and mood lighting are important, and probably dimmer than what you would like. If your restaurant doesn’t have access to natural lighting, you can purchase some equipment to get you closer to achieving great lighting. The Wescott 43” Apollo Orb is a relatively inexpensive option that will get the job done.

Tip: Many commercial table tops will be reflective. Watch out for this when lighting your photos, you don’t want it to distract from the food.

The Perfect Angles

Different angles capture the distinctive components of varying types of food. For example, a plate of grilled chicken and sides might be best shot from above. This will showcase the entire plate and let customers know exactly what they are getting. Items that stack, like burgers and pancakes, are better shot at a 45-degree angle. This showcases the layers and all the goodness in-between. Having photos that vary the angle also help to create variety and interest when you post them to your social accounts or use them in your menu.

Tip: Try to work in triangles. Items shot in groups of three, creating triangles helps to create structure and simplicity.

Staging Your Food

Staging your photos allows you to put your very best foot forward. That being said, staging should complement your food rather than overwhelm it. There are a few things that you can do to present your food in the best possible way. First thing is to make sure that the area you are taking the photo in is clean. Nothing is worse than having great looking food surrounded by crumbs or other unsightly things. It can really ruin the vibe of the photo and distract from the focal point.

The second thing is to switch up your props and backgrounds. Keeping it the same all the time is going to make your photos become boring after a while. If you find yourself in a slump, you can go to the nearest hardware store for some materials with different textures that you can place your plates on.

Finally, take a moment to make sure your food is looking its best is crucial. Adding a little garnish can go a long way. If you find your food looking a little lackluster, you can brush a bit of oil or water to make things look fresh. Don’t overdo it though.

Tip: For inspiration on staging, find a few Instagram accounts that you love and try to emulate their work.

Benefits of Action Shots

Actions shots are a great way to diversify photos and add some interest. A creative way to get these is with a few behind the scenes photos. Your chef stirring up a batch of soup or about to slice some ingredients for your signature dish is an engaging way to let your customers see what goes on in the back and get them craving your food.

Tip: Action shots are also great for adding a human element. It helps to tell your story so don’t be afraid to include hands in some of your food photos.

Editing

The amount of editing you do is entirely up to you. If you choose to edit your photos, there are plenty of free or low-cost editing apps that you can utilize. Depending on the amount of time you spend taking photos and editing, you might want to consider installing Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. These programs have long been recognized as the top editing software.

Tip: Try not to over edit your photos. To much editing will look fake and potentially tacky.

Branding

Just like everything else in your restaurant, your photos should work within your overall brand design. If your restaurant is a bright breakfast spot it wouldn’t make sense for all of your photos to be dark and dreary. However if you are a romantic little bistro with mood lighting, darker photos might feel just right. Before posting any photo be sure to ask yourself if it is sending the message that you want.

Terms & Concepts

If you are an inexperienced photographer or a pro who needs a refresher here are some photography terms and concepts to keep in mind when shooting. While following some of these concepts might elevate your photos, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to them. Use your own creativity and see what you come up with!

Depth of Field: The distance between the nearest and furthest objects where objects appear acceptably sharp in an image and in focus. By adjusting your depth of field, you can really make it clear to the viewer what you want to be the focal point of the picture. 

Rule of Thirds: A guideline that proposes an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts and that compositional elements should be placed along the lines for a more balanced photo.

Bokeh: The out of focus blurred parts in a background.

Exposure: How light or dark an image is.

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens. The larger the opening the more light allowed into the lens.

Photos are a universal language that doesn’t need a translator. They are an effective way to communicate to customers and entice them to come to your restaurant. Food photography might seem intimidating, but by ensuring that you have good lighting, interesting content, and some creative thinking, you’ll be well on your way to showcasing your food and your restaurant in the best way possible.

Do you have any food photography tips for us? Let us know in the comments!

Don’t Drop the Ball on Your Restaurant’s New Year’s Eve Events

Confetti

The beginning of a new year is an exciting time! People use it as a clean slate and a way to start over. Have your customers end their year and turn over a new leaf in your restaurant with New Year’s Eve promotions that will let them have the time of their life (*cues up Dirty Dancing theme*).

Choose Your Atmosphere

People Dancing on New Years Eve

When you think of New Year’s Eve, sounds of champagne bottles popping and glasses clinking may come to your mind in a more adult setting. But the beauty of a New Year’s Eve party is that it can be geared toward whatever audience you want! While it obviously works well in bars, there are other establishments that can still get in on the holiday festivities. Are most of your customers families with younger children? Have a New Year’s Eve early dinner with kids’ activities and crafts so everyone can be entertained. Even breakfast joints can get in on the celebration by hosting a New Year’s Day brunch and catch the crowd the morning after, bonus points if you have a build your own Bloody Mary bar.

Choose Your Theme

New Year's Eve Hat and Champagne

A theme is very important for creating hype and interest. It’s easy for customers to justify popping a bottle of champagne and watching the ball drop from the comfort of their homes, but a good theme can entice them to see the value in the experience (around 9% of Americans go out for New Year’s). Pick one that you think would be the most fun and memorable for your guests to enjoy. Some popular themes over the years include reality TV, roaring 20’s, beach, New Orleans, and 90’s throwback. Although a theme isn’t necessary (even just New Year’s Eve could be your theme!), it can really lend itself when you’re decorating your space and creating a memorable menu.

Choose Your Promotion Method

Tickets

The key to get people to show up? Make sure they know about it! With so many other holiday gatherings happening, all around a few weeks span, it’s important to promote your New Year’s Eve party around the beginning of December.

Try some of these methods to advertise your party and keep it marked on their social calendar.

  • Flyers in your restaurant, on community boards, and on customer receipts
  • Email blasts
  • Mentioned by staff
  • Menu inserts
  • Text alerts
  • Social media advertisement (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

If you’ve had prior New Year’s events, be sure to send out notices to past attendees that they are not going to want to miss this year!

After you have their attention, consider selling ticket packages to the event. This can help lay out what guests can expect from the event and people are more likely to follow through if they have already paid the money upfront to attend an event. For example, packages could include appetizers, dinner, drink tokens, or even a champagne toast. Having these preset packages can help you order food/drinks appropriately for your crowd and prevent overcapacity. You could even incentivize your staff with who can sell the most tickets for a prize to keep them engaged and customers informed!

Choose Your Entertainment

Live Music Performance

Music or some sort of entertainment is a must for your New Year’s Eve party! Having entertainment completely transforms the whole feel for the evening. Whether it’s a DJ, live band, magician, or any kind of performer, give your attendees some sort of show they can enjoy while they wait for midnight. You can factor this into the cost of a ticket to your event.

But don’t forget to make a countdown announcement or put the ball drop on a few minutes before midnight so guests can officially ring in the new year as it happens.

Choose Your Staff

Bartenders at Bar

It may seem obvious that since your doors are open, you’ll need to schedule your staff. Customer service needs to be at its highest since your restaurant has transitioned to more of an event center than its normal eatery operations.

Bartenders should pay careful attention to how much guests are being served, since overserving is a big issue with the holiday. In fact, DUI arrests are at their highest between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend. Having the right staff members on hand to make sure guests have a good and safe experience is crucial to helping everyone have a great time.

Planning a New Year’s Eve party for your restaurant may seem overwhelming but it’s a great way to bring your customers (and maybe some new faces) in for the holiday. A successful New Year’s event, especially those that are ticketed, can be a lucrative start to what may be a slower month in business.

Does your restaurant host an event for New Year’s Eve? What do you found that has worked for your business in the past? Tell us below!

Ways To Make Your Restaurant More Instagram-Worthy

There is no denying that social media is a powerhouse. Every day new accounts are being created at a rate of one new social media user every 15 seconds. There are 3.03 billion active social media users, with the average number of social media accounts being 5.54. The average daily time spent on social is 116 minutes a day.

Instagram is right at the top with over 800 million monthly active users and over 95 million photos uploaded every day. That is a huge market and a fantastic tool that you can use to reach current and potential customers. Instagram can be a powerful promotional tool if used the right way. Yelp data shows that more users are looking up restaurants based upon how “Insta-worthy” they are. There are a few things that you can do to up your game, get those double taps, and use Instagram to fill your seats.

Beautiful Food

As a restaurant, your top priority is the food and the way that it tastes, but nothing says that food can’t be both delicious and photo worthy. Many restaurants are seeing success with creating a novelty food item that brings people in just for the photo opportunity. Bloggers compile lists of the most
Instagrammable food in each city. Readers then flock to these locations to get that next great picture. By offering an item that is a little over the top, you can bring in a lot of business. Hybrid foods such as the Cronut, are also very popular.

Don’t rework your entire menu just to make it Instagram worthy but consider creating a monthly special that is fun to photograph. It will get people in the door and it’s a great creative exercise for your staff.

Presentation of food is always important, but there are a few easy ways to up you game. Investing in some white plates is a great way to show off your food. It helps to accentuate the colors of the food and has a nice minimalistic feel, perfect for photographing.

Many of us can agree that greasy foods are delicious, though packaging with giant grease stains aren’t the most appetizing looking. To avoid grease ruining a Kodak moment, invest is some grease proof paper. It allows fried foods to look their best all the time.

Lighting

As any photographer will tell you, lighting is crucial to the perfect photo. Take a moment to evaluate the lighting in your restaurant to make sure it fits the image you want to create. Are you a dark and moody bar looking to reach college students or a light and airy bakery catering to families? If you are trying to go for a darker vibe, try having a few areas that are well lit enough for a good photo op. Neon signs can be great for this. They also create a signature piece to identify your location.  Photographers love spaces with good natural lighting, it makes taking the photo easier and allows your food to look its best.

Décor

You don’t need to completely redesign your restaurant just for Instagram opportunities. A few small adjustments can be made to encourage guests to take photos. A wall with a quote that embodies your brand, unique wallpapers, and furniture can all enhance the experience offered at your restaurant and promote customers sharing on their account.

You can help set the tone with what part of your décor you would like featured in photos. Do you have a fancy tiled floor? Or perhaps you spent hours obsessing over the perfect counters, feature them as a consistent backdrop on your feed and customers will follow suit.

Murals

Finding a mural and posting a picture with it is a new trend to hit Instagram. If your building has a beautiful blank wall indoor or out, consider pairing up with a local artist to create something unique to your area or restaurant. Brainstorm a signature hashtag and a location tag and you’ll have people traveling from all over to come take pictures. In some cases, people stand in lines down the block to take pictures with certain murals. If foot traffic is an issue this is a sure-fire way to increase passersby.

Hashtags

Share your Instagram account name everywhere. On your menu, on a chalkboard sidewalk sign, or on a receipt. Make sure that your customers know where to find you online. They can’t follow if they don’t know where you are posting. Create a custom hashtag that either references the name of your restaurant or a fun aspect of your brand. This will encourage any Insta-lovers to start snapping and tagging your restaurant.

Hosting a photo contest with a signature hashtag is a great way to improve engagement or get the momentum going on a new account. To encourage participation, offer customers a percentage off if they come in to eat and post.

Your Feed

Most importantly, don’t forget to include a human element to your posts. Gorgeous photos of your food are great and can create craveability ideal for generating new customers. That being said, a huge part of the industry is the people and their stories. Integrate photos of people enjoying themselves on your feed, it’ll inspire other to come and join the food party.

Just be yourself. Share photos of your customers enjoying the food or photos that illustrate the story of your business and what makes you unique. In a world of cultivated content people often crave realness.

Social media is a great marketing tool and Instagram is at the forefront of the social media game. Instagram is an excellent tool for meeting your customers where they are at. By making a few adjustments to your current design or marketing plan you can increase your customer base exponentially.

Have you seen results by using Instagram? Let us know in the comments below!

What to Consider Before Opening Your Restaurant for Breakfast

Waiter Serving Breakfast

Bacon sizzling on a grill, crisping in its own grease. The smell of pancakes wafting through the air greets customers at the door. An orange light comes to life as the coffee signals its readiness. Breakfast is served.

These are just a small sampling of the sights, sounds, and smells that await you and your customers when you open for breakfast. But, deciding if you should open your restaurant is all about crunching the hard numbers, not just fantastical sensory feelings. Are you ready to add the “most important meal of the day” to your offerings? Here are some things to consider before you open your doors earlier than ever before. They could also make or break your breakfast business.

Do you have resources to advertise? This doesn’t always boil down to budget. Do you have the time to design promotional materials or to post on social media? It’s not enough to just fling your doors open at 7 am and expect a crowd; people need to be reminded numerous times to have something sink in. The old rule was that people needed to see or hear something about seven times to have it stick with them. Now, in the social media age, it will take more than seven exposures for your target audience to carry that message with them. Put inserts in your menu, promote it on your social media, or even hang posters in your restaurant. These can attract new customers while giving current customers the opportunity to try your breakfast out.

Can you price competitively? Breakfast is often touted as an inexpensive meal because the dishes rely on a lot of commoditized items. These dishes can give you a higher profit margins with their low cost. Which is great for your bottom line, but It’s important to remember guests won’t feel the same way. Somehow, it’s more painful to shell out twelve dollars for avocado toast than twelve dollars for a lunch sandwich. A popular trend right now is to have alcoholic cocktails, like Bloody Mary’s or mimosas, on your breakfast menu. This is a good way to offer something indulgent for the customer and profitable for you. It’s okay to make a profit off your breakfast items but you don’t want to scare off customers with sticker shock, they likely won’t return, damaging your profits for the future.

Will your location support the traffic you need? A good traffic flow is crucial to having a successful breakfast set, especially if you’re not used to opening your doors that early. Having breakfast hours during the weekdays can be successful if you are situated in an office district that has early morning traffic. On the contrary, you can snag church-goers and more casual breakfast eaters in other areas if you focus on weekend hours. It’s important to analyze the traffic ebbs and flows around your location to figure out if you justify the hours open. You might even find that you gain customers by being open at hours you weren’t before.

What time of day will you serve breakfast? The answer to this might be a little harder to come up with than what you would think. Are you willing to offer breakfast dishes all day or would you rather confine it to a time frame? Consider your menu (breakfast and lunch), the space you’ll need to store and prep ingredients, kitchen flow, and staffing.

How will this affect your staff? Knowing your workforce will be an essential factor when figuring out if your restaurant can offer breakfast. You may find that some would prefer to bank on a typically busier lunch or dinner rush to for tips. Others may find that an earlier shift could be better for their family’s schedules. Besides scheduling, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough staff in general and the resources to add more if necessary. Not factoring in your staffing situation could cause tension if not addressed properly and can boil over into a bad customer experience.

What kind of format will you offer breakfast? There are so many ways to provide breakfast options in your restaurant. Will you offer a buffet-style meal, items from a fixed menu, or take-out items? It’s all about the needs of your current and potential clientele in the area. Thinking back to location, if you’re in a bustling business area that has a lot of traffic in the morning, consider light take-out options like breakfast burritos that are easy to just grab and go. Buffets and breakfast cocktails are often best served on the weekends when people really take the time to enjoy their meal.

Breakfast works the best for restaurants when prices are fair, the restaurant is staffed appropriately, and has enough traffic is coming in to justify being open. Opening earlier can be a great way to compete against other businesses in the area and provide more time to make a profit.

Straws: Plastic and Pollution on Our Planet

Plastic Straws in Drinks

 

A little background…

2018 has not been kind to plastic straws. The restaurant and hospitality industries are being encouraged to change the way they use single-use plastic products like straws (“500 million straws are used and discarded every day in the U.S. alone”). In response, many corporations are coming up with alternatives and plans to change the way they use straws.

In 2015, a video was uploaded to YouTube named ‘Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril – “NO” TO PLASTIC STRAWS’ by Texas A&M Ph. D. candidate, Christine Figgener. This video has over 32 million views on the YouTube platform, not counting Facebook or other social media views. Although it wasn’t the first, this viral video put a face on the issue of single-use plastic items and raised awareness about the consequences that aren’t considered after a piece of plastic lands in a landfill, ocean, or beach.

Many restaurant owners are being faced with purchasing questions that they will need to answer. Single-use plastic has long been used in the restaurant and hospitality industries religiously for the past fifty years. It can seem difficult to find alternatives, but not impossible.

What’s the issue?

Plastic straws (used in homes, restaurants, etc.) are turning up in the ocean and harming wildlife while also adding themselves to heaping piles of garbage that can’t be recycled.

What are other companies doing about straws in their restaurant?

Food industry behemoths like Starbucks and McDonald’s were some of the first to make headlines in the fight to abolish straws. Starbucks is looking to ditch plastic straws for their strawless lid cup in all locations by 2020. McDonald’s is banning single-use plastic products in their U.K. and Ireland locations while also testing plastic straw alternatives in the U.S. Other players like Aramark, Hyatt Hotels, Fox Restaurant Concepts, Eataly, Shoney’s, the Four Seasons Hotel group, and even Ikea are just a few of the food/hospitality companies are in the process of or have promised to change their straw policies.

What do restaurant owners need to consider?

Consider where your restaurant is. Cities like Malibu and Seattle have already passed ordinances banning plastic straws, forcing restaurant owners to offer an alternative.

Don’t forget to look at your menu. Could you save money by reducing straw distribution? Could you serve your mixed drinks without cocktail straws? Are there alternatives you could use instead? Read on…

 

Plastic and Paper Straws

 

What can I do in my restaurant?

If you’re thinking about making the switch from plastic straws to an alternative, here are some options to consider. There are pro’s and con’s to each alternative so it’s important to choose what is right for your business model and menu.

Sippy-type cup (aka no straws)

Getting rid of straws all together in larger companies seems to be the way of larger corporations (like McDonald’s and Starbucks). While this may seem like a grand and great gesture, it’s also a major point of contention for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities rely on straws to avoid aspirating liquid into their lungs. Another issue with the strawless lid is the additional plastic that goes into their production. Although no straw is needed in this redesigned lid, the new recyclable lids actually have 0.32 or 0.56 more grams of plastic product than the current lid and straw combo. While this lid is recyclable, it’s still likely to end up in a landfill or in the ocean.

Paper straws

The biggest complaint? The straws get soggy and collapse after a couple sips. The key to finding a good paper straw is to have one made with higher quality materials. Straws from companies like Indiana-based Aardvark focus on materials like special paper with a cleaner carbon footprint and a food-grade safe adhesive to maintain a quality straw. Paper straws are pricier but reduce the plastic consumption. This will hopefully be a better alternative in the future as the technology becomes more widespread.

Metal straws

Not a bad solution, in fact it may be a great one for dining-in situations as they are a little expensive. By using metal, this alternative basically becomes part of your silverware set. If you plan on using this type of straw, opt for those with a bend in them, an important characteristic for customers with mobility issues. The drawback? You may want to also invest in another alternative such as compostable or paper straws for your take-out orders.

Pasta straws

They may be firmer than paper straws and less bendy than plastic straws, but pasta straws don’t have all the answers. These can get soggy and don’t work for customers who have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.

Compostable straws

These straws have a very similar consistency to plastic straws but are compostable, meaning if they reach a landfill, they will break down. It’s important to note that these straws can be 70% more expensive traditional plastic ones, causing business owners to cringe at this alternative.

Available upon request

For independent restaurants where the decision-making lies with you or your general manager, having straws be available on request can lessen the straws given out. Most people use straws because they are handed one, making them just another step in the dining process. If customers have the need or desire to have a straw, having them available only upon request will cut down on those who just use a straw for convenience. And in the same move, you are still providing an option for those who have mobility issues. Having straws available upon request could also help you save money since you’ll be cutting back on how many you order by not giving them out as freely.

Is your restaurant making moves to sustainably serve your customers? If you are in a straw-banned area, how has it affected your business? Tell us below.

For more information on anti-single-use plastic campaigns, please visit The Last Plastic Straw for more details on what your restaurant can do.

Order Up! Four Food Delivery Technology Giants You Need to Know About

Cell Phone Ordering

The newest trend in the restaurant industry? Cuisine on the couch, your customers’ couch that is.

The decline of customers stepping into retail stores has finally caught up to the restaurant industry with a surge in food delivery technology. Because, in the evenings, the hardest question customers want to answer is the slightly judgmental “are you still there?” from Netflix.

It’s all about convenience.

Yes, there is normally a delivery fee of some sort, and yes, they should tip your delivery driver, but often, customers are fine with paying a little more for convenience. Think about Amazon Prime. People pay an annual fee just to guarantee their purchases arrive on their doorstep within two days. Now that’s convenience at its finest and it’s something that more people are finding desirable in their eating establishments.

If a customer wants a meal from an across town restaurant that doesn’t deliver and can’t see the drive, wait time, and drive home as a valuable use of their hours, they are likely to pay for the convenience of that meal coming to them.

It can be intimidating to launch a delivery program, consider partnering with one of the restaurant delivery service apps that can get your meals into the hands of hungry, homebody customers. So who are the big players you need to know as a restaurant owner?

Takeout Box

Grubhub holds the bulk of the market share by being in 1,600 US cities including Philadelpia, Boston, Denver, and San Antonio. In 2013, Grubhub merged with Seamless creating a powerhouse portfolio of 80,000 takeout restaurants with the acquisition of Eat24, AllMenus, and MenuPages. The most recent reporting, according to GrubHub’s About Us page, shows Grubhub sending “nearly $4 billion in gross food sales to local takeout restaurants”. Grubhub/Seamless is noted as the delivery service of choice, used whopping 92% of the time in El Paso, Texas, and preferred in New York and Jacksonville 85% and 72% of the time, respectively. Grubhub can be ordered through both iOS and Android device apps that give customers a variety of payment options, saves your order history, and the ability to pre-order a food delivery.

UberEats, it’s like Uber, for your dinner! Even though it’s a separate app, UberEats works very similar to the Uber you’re used to. Customers can order UberEats delivery in 12+ US cities from hundreds of restaurants by using their website or app to browse, order, and track deliveries. This service is available nationally but is used most prevalently in Texas. UberEats ranks as the top delivery service in Houston, Austin, and Dallas. One of the most unique qualities about UberEats is their GPS locator. Like the ride app, customers can watch their dinner make their way to them via their delivery car. For the most part, UberEats charges a flat $5 delivery fee which can be a drop in the bucket or double your cost, depending on what you order.

Amazon Restaurants. You may have heard of a little thing called Amazon? It now offers food delivery through its Prime Now feature for 20 US cities and around 10,000+ restaurants, with its popularity peaking in its home stomping grounds of Seattle. But here’s the catch, this service is exclusive for Amazon Prime members. Integrating restaurant delivery seems like a natural fit; what can’t Amazon do? For those who read on an Amazon device, receive Prime packages every couple of days, and are fine with shelling out for a Prime subscription, using Amazon to order your favorite takeout probably makes a lot of sense. Amazon Restaurants is still in the beginning stages and is no small contender considering the experienced infrastructure and delivery network of its parent company.

DoorDash, from start-up to starting lineup. This service is available in large regions across the US including Southern California, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. DoorDash focuses on building partnerships with national chains like Jack in the Box, Wendy’s, and El Pollo Loco. DoorDash blankets most of the market share in San Jose with 78% usage with Fort Worth and Indianapolis close behind. Of course, it’s easy to know what you want from restaurants you’re used to ordering from, but what if you wanted to try something new? DoorDash make it easier to explore the unknown with its “DoorDash Delight” system. This score rates a user’s overall experience with the restaurant’s delivery program, which can help customers decide between Restaurant A or Restaurant B. Users can order through DoorDash with an iOS or Android device.

Cell Phone

Food delivery technology has come leaps and bounds from where it was 10 years ago but this technology is still highly concentrated in major cities where delivery is second nature. It’s important for restaurant owners to understand the appeal of the food delivery technologies that are out there because they say a lot about customer preferences. Using a food delivery technology, is not always going to be the largest portion of your sales but it is interesting to add that touch of convenience for your customers.

The restaurant industry is changing and evolving at a high pace, and with more pixel power than ever before, can your restaurant keep up?

Valentine’s Day Promo Ideas For Restaurants

One of the busiest days in the restaurant industry is fast approaching, and you don’t want to be caught off guard. Valentine’s Day is the second biggest day for dining out, second only to Mother’s Day. A quarter of Americans eat out to celebrate the holiday with their special someone. That totals about 8 billion dollars spent in restaurants across the United States. What restaurant doesn’t want a piece of that? As a restaurant owner, you want to make the very most of this opportunity.

What can you do to make your restaurant stand out among the competition? We’ve gathered together some Valentine’s Day best practices and brainstormed some fresh ideas to help you create a memorable and lucrative night.

Menu

First things first, you need to think about your menu. To make it easier for you and your staff consider offering a preset prix fixe menu, otherwise known as a fixed price menu. It will cut down on wait times for guests and give you a better understanding of what needs to be ordered for the night, helping to increase your profits by lessening waste.

Having a prix fixe menu can also be beneficial for customers. They know exactly what they are getting and at what cost. No unexpected surprises for either of you.

As part of your prix fixe menu, consider including a starter, main course, dessert, and a recommended wine pairing. If you want to go the traditional route, try to incorporate pink or red foods into your menu and a chocolate dessert.

Valentine’s Day can be a great time to incorporate some current food trends into your meals. A little bit of fun experimentation can help to set your restaurant apart from others who might be offering more traditional entrees. Perhaps offering a dessert sampler instead of a complete dessert would appeal to an audience looking for that extra special experience.

Beverages

Altering your beverage service can also be beneficial for the busy day. Make sure to have suggested wine pairings available for guests who might not be very knowledgeable. Also, make sure your staff is well educated on the different wines and specialty cocktails you are offering. Fruit flavored red and pink cocktails are a favorite, but taking a risk could pay off too.  Consider adding a chocolate martini with chili pepper for an added zest.

 

 

Atmosphere

Having the right atmosphere is crucial. Everything other detail can be perfect, but if the atmosphere is off, it’ll still feel like something just wasn’t quite right. Make sure to give your patrons the whole package. Dim your lights a little extra. Take a look at your music for the night and make sure it fits with the rest of your ambiance. Consider reusing those string lights you brought out for Christmas time to create a romantic lighting for your guests, or perhaps some candlelight to dine by.

Reservations

To help the day run smoothly, encourage guests to make reservations early. To encourage reservations, you can offer promotions, such as a free dessert, to those who book ahead. As tempting as it may be, do your best not to overbook. Consider that guests might want to take their time and linger over dinner to fully enjoy the experience. You don’t want a bad review showing up on Feb. 15th saying that guests had to wait hours, even with a reservation.

 

 

Staffing- Call In the A-team

Make sure that you have your A-team working. Your most experienced workers should be present in both the front and back of house. Valentine’s Day is not the time to try training a new host or waitress. Leave that for the 15th when the rest of your staff has earned a day off.

Valentine’s Day is all about the specialness. Going above and beyond for the people you love. The restaurant industry is no different. You want your customers to leave feeling that they had the best food, drinks, and service. Take a moment to speak to your staff about the importance of offering an extra special experience. Try to have your most experienced servers working that night. You can trust them to give the kind of service you expect, and more experienced servers tend to be better at up selling a customer.

You can also offer take home gifts for customers. A custom wine glass or even something as simple as a flower can set you up as going above and beyond in the mind of a customer.

 

 

Marketing

Make your Valentine’s Day specials and hours as easily accessible as possible. If customers can’t find the information, chances are they will move on to someone else who already has theirs readily available. Create a graphic and post it on your social media accounts and start a Facebook event. It also never hurts to print out some flyers and hang them around your restaurant or hand them out with receipts during January and February. The easier it is to access your important information, the better the chances you will have a full venue for Valentine’s day.

Thinking Outside of the Heart Shaped Box

If you are looking to try something new this year, we’ve got a few ideas for you that are a twist on the classic Valentine’s day meal that we all know.

Wine Tasting or Beer Tasting – For those who love the beverages more than the food. Local breweries and wineries are popping up all over the United States and consumers are responding positively. Join up with some wineries or breweries in your area to offer a tasting night.

Offer Valentines Meals the Weekend Before and After– Some people just can’t make it out on a weeknight to celebrate. Offer them the same meal the weekend before and after with a discount or a promotion. You can bring in even more business and will be able to offer it as an option to anyone who asks for a reservation for the 14th after you are booked up.

Galentine’s Day Brunch – Galentine’s Day is a day where women across the world celebrate their female friends. And what do gal pals love? Mimosas. Galentine’s Day is February 13th but you would probably do best on the Sunday before or after Valentine’s Day.

DIY Dinner – DIY is all the rage and that extends to the restaurant industry. Talk to your chef and see if they would be willing to offer a class to customers on how to make their own Valentine’s dinner. What could be better than having customers pay you to make their own meal?

Takeout Meals – We all have one in our lives that we know and love. An introvert, someone who works odd hours, or even moms whose only chance at a peaceful dinner is after the kids have gone to bed. You can still market to the person who wants to eat in but doesn’t want to spend hours cooking the perfect meal? That is where you come in. Offering takeout meals are a great way to continue to offer food, even after your reservations are full. Consider asking customers to order a few days in advance to give your team plenty of time to order and prepare the extra meals.

Whether you stick with the traditional candlelight dinner or do something a little different, a few ideas will remain the same. Good marketing, great food, perfect atmosphere, and a staff that goes above and beyond for the customer, will make your Valentine’s day a success.

Do you do something for Valentine’s day that your customer’s fall in love with every year? Let us know in the comments below.

Facebook Local: How Facebook’s Latest App Could Affect Your Restaurant

Social media is a constantly changing medium that can be hard to stay on top of. while you may be overwhelmed with the amount of apps there are out there, there is a new one that should definitely be on your radar. Recently Facebook launched its latest app called Local and it could have a major effect on the restaurant and hospitality industry. But don’t worry, we’ve done the research on this new app so that you don’t have to.

What is Local?

You might not yet have heard of Local, Facebook’s newest venture in the app world, but you soon will. Local is Facebook’s take on the popular Yelp and Foursquare apps and a reinvention of their Events app. They have combined permanent places and events, into a single search engine powered by Facebook’s 70 million business pages, while factoring in reviews and check-ins made by the user’s friends.

The goal is to help users pick between great bars on a block, and find out which one will best fit their needs and wants for that outing. Facebook Local’s home page shows nearby restaurants, cafes, drinks, attractions, as well as the places the people you follow are going. Through the app, users can even search for a specific type of food or event.

How Does Local Work?

With the discover feed, users can find out what’s popular with friends and see a feed specifically curated for events they’re interested in.  Once they find a restaurant or event they’d like to learn more about, they can click the page to learn all the details and even check in. Under the Guides tab users can explore their interests based upon category, ranging from Food & Drink to religion & Spirituality.

Local can connect to their personal calendar to make sure they never miss an important event. Users can adjust their location when traveling so that they can find great spot and events even if they are unfamiliar with the area. The app has something for everyone.

What it Means for Restaurants

You might be asking “Why does this matter for my restaurant?” First of all, you’ll have to have a Facebook page to be included in any of the searches made in the app. So, if you don’t have a page or you don’t update your page often, you might want to take steps to rectify that.

One of the best parts of Local is that owners don’t need to download a separate app to contribute to it. Simply post about different events to your Facebook business page through either the desktop or mobile app and it will also appear on the Local app. By taking a few minutes out of your week to update your page regularly, you could reach new customers.

This new app can help you to reach an audience that you might not have otherwise been able to contact before. Who knows, you could have a first-time customer that found you through Local become a lifelong customer after checking their phone one night when they were bored.

Currently, users can find restaurants through the app and book reservations if their Facebook page is enabled to do so. To learn how to enable reservation booking through your Facebook page, check out our step by step instructions on setting up your OpenTable Reservation Facebook App. If you aren’t sure if your Facebook page is enabled for reservations, you can check here.

In the Future

Currently, the app does not offer the ability to order food, but developers say that it could be on the horizon. Adding that feature would really create opportunities to increase takeout sales for restaurants.

Local is still a young app so there are no certainties, but with some effort and creative thinking restaurateurs can turn this tool into filled seats, new customers, and more profit.

If you have had success with Facebook’s new Local app let us know in the comments below.

Loyalty Programs: The Profit Behind the Rewards

The phrase “customer loyalty program” often brings to mind images of punch cards and freebies, but loyalty programs have evolved through the years into so much more. Technology and data mining techniques have turned the programs from cheap promotional tactics into big data goldmines that allow smart establishments to tailor their marketing to each customer.  In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different types of loyalty programs, why your restaurant needs one, and the best practices for implementing it.

How it works

In the restaurant industry, there are two basic types of loyalty programs: points based systems or tiered systems. Points-based systems reward customers for dollars spent or frequency of visits, while tiered systems benefit long-time customers by awarding them special access and exclusive opportunities.  To determine what type of system would work best at your restaurant, consider which behaviors you would like to reward.

Why You Should Implement a Loyalty Program

The numbers are in and they show that it is much more lucrative to focus on creating loyalty in your customers than gaining new customers. A study by Bain & Company reported that a 5% improvement in customer loyalty can increase lifetime profits by as much as 95%. Even more, a whopping 70% of customers who participate in loyalty programs report purchasing more.  New business is great but it costs more to acquire a new customer than retaining an existing one: in some cases, up to 6 or 7 times more.

Some restaurants who have implemented loyalty programs have also seen a reduction in attrition and an increase in referrals.

The kind of loyalty that influences the frequency of a customer’s visits occurs when customers relate to a dining establishment. Take a look at the demographic that you would like to focus on and make sure that your business positioning and processes align with those of that demographic. Creating a customer persona could be helpful during this process. Customer personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers.

For example, in a college town, your customer persona is probably an early 20-something looking for a meal at the most affordable price point. If you are located in a more family friendly area the persona might look more like someone in their mid-30’s who is willing to spend a little bit more for a higher quality meal.

Return on Investment

Having a loyalty program can also do wonders for collecting customer data. By tracking the items purchased, the frequency of visits, and dollars spent, you can determine the best areas to invest your money. Managers or owners can even take the gathered analytics to analyze the popularity of a dish and determine what other items could be purchased to pair with it and increase sales. For example, if one of your all-time best sellers is a poultry dish, you might want to consider ordering a new chardonnay known to pair nicely with chicken.  You’re customers receive a better all-around experience and you see an increase in profits.

These same analytics can be used to analyze customer behaviors, which can then be organized into data to develop promotions that are designed specifically to appeal to a certain group of customers.  The ultimate goal is to create motivational offers to influence a customer, increasing the frequency of return visits as well as per-visit spending.

Loyalty Program Best Practices

  • Provide an Immediate Incentive
    • That instant reward for signing up might be just enough to convince any customers that are on the fence about joining to take the plunge.
  • Make it Easy to Join
    • Don’t force your target audience to have to scour your website to find your sign-up page. Have it in a highly visible spot as well as talking to your staff about encouraging customers to sign-up in the restaurant. Signing up should take no longer than a few minutes.
  • Take only the information you absolutely need
    • Customers don’t want to spend their time filling out long surveys just to sign up for your program. Try to limit your questions to essentials like name, birthday, and email address.
  • Personalize offerings to members
    • Loyalty programs often fail because their offerings are too general. By creating specialized incentives based on what the customer has previously purchased you are more likely to see them walking through your door.

What Not to Do

  • Limited Time Offers
    • Limited time offers can be a great way to get customers in the door and increase traffic, but these strategies are not enough to create loyal customers. Spending money on these promotions may see an uptick in new customers but these are the same customers who are not likely to return until you run another promotion.
  • Don’t Have Customers Wondering if the Rewards Will Work
    • Make sure your employees are well versed in redeeming your loyalty system. It can lead to frustration on both sides if customers are trying to use a loyalty program reward and aren’t able to because of faulty programming or a poor system. Your relationship with the customer is the most important thing.
  • Don’t Forget to Use the Data
    • Customers will expect relevant offers in exchange for the personal information they are providing. It is crucial to make use of the information provided to tailor your message as much as possible.

Loyalty programs may seem like they are geared more towards benefiting the customer but in the end, it is a mutually beneficial relationship. The value of the data gathered, and brand loyalty that is inspired far outweigh the costs of a few perks. By implementing and utilizing a loyalty program your restaurant could see a significant increase in profits.