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Managing guest expectations during times of constant change through effective communications tactics

 

Social media icons on a tablet

 

Keeping your guests informed and up to date about what to expect when dining at your establishment has never been so critical to the success of your foodservice operation. The restaurant industry remains in a state of constant change, and to maximize the allowable dining capacities, you need to up your communications game.  

 

Start off by keeping these key questions top of mind for a more tactical approach to your communications: 

  1. What do guests want to know right now about my restaurant?
  2. How will the message we’re communicating make them feel?
  3. Where and how do they want to receive messages?
  4. How will they respond and how can our team be ready?

 

Transparency is a Winning Tactic

First and foremost, a transparent and authentic approach is critical in achieving effective communications that will leave your restaurant guests feeling comfortable, safe and informed about the NEW dining experience at your establishment. Be first to share your health and safety procedures, operational changes such as seating and team updates, and menu modifications, so guests know upfront what to expect without having to ask. This tactic will help to demonstrate that your team takes the changing circumstances seriously, you’re informed, and you want to provide the best guest experience. 

 

 

Consistent and Timely Information is Key for Restaurant Marketing

In a recent poll, 59% of respondents shared that they use Google to find out information about a restaurant, while 41% use Instagram.

 

Reservation booking platforms, search engine listings, your website, social media, and review websites all share pertinent information about your restaurant that informs guests decision-making. The information listed on these digital touch points must to be current and consistent for maximum awareness. There is nothing more frustrating for a guest than showing up to find a closed restaurant, when online it says it’s open. 

 

Here is the key information guests are looking when they search; be sure to keep it updated:

  1. Health policies and procedures
  2. Hours of operation and seating times
  3. Menus 
  4. Reservation system 
  5. Takeout and delivery options
  6. Specials 
  7. Contact information

 

 

TIP:  Help reduce email inquiries, direct messages, and phone inquiries by providing a few frequently asked guest questions and up-to-date team responses on your website, Facebook, and Google Business page! 

 

 

Focus on the Fun

It’s easy these days to overuse the pandemic in our communication, however when the time is right, focus on the new and exciting things happening at your restaurant to entice guests back in to dine and continue to take out. New menu items, improved service, seasonal drinks, revamped décor and design, weekend events, and special occasion celebrations are all things to communicate that will remind guests of why they should choose to dine with you versus a competitor.  Promote what you’re best known for, and feature it on all of your communications platforms! 

 

 

Get Even More Social

Social media is your simplest and quickest way to share what’s happening at your establishment with guests, and to spark two-way communication. Up your posting to daily, and share the unique brand experiences that will excite guests the most. With health and safety top of mind for diners, ensure your photography and video content showcase your team following the proper procedures, in order to resolve any guest concerns; transparency is absolutely the best policy. When boosting your social media presence be prepared for increased guest inquiries through direct messages and comments, and have a plan in place to respond within less than 24 hours. The FAQs and responses are also a useful tool when responding on social media. 

 

 

Land in the Inbox

Whether you send monthly emails or have never sent email communication from your brand, now is the time to get in the inbox. You’ll be fighting for space, however email communication is a great tactic to provide more detailed information for guests to help keep them informed of your weekly or monthly happenings. E-newsletters should be short and sweet, with a catchy subject line, and include hyperlinks either back to your website or a direct email for more information. Utilize email communication to feature operational and safety news, menu features, and special events.  

 

 

 

TIP:  Can’t afford a graphic designer? Try Canva at no charge for a well-designed branded e-newsletter you can create in no time. 

 

Guests are eager and excited to get back to in-dining, and the most effective approach to filling your seats is to communicate timely and accurate information that sets a clear guest expectation. Your brand can’t over-communicate right now; it’s time to get loud!

 

Written by Kate Engineer and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com

 

Visit chefconnexion.com for more great tips

 

 

 

 

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Take Steps Now to Make your Restaurant Staff Feel Safe

 

Waiter wearing mask and wiping down table

 

It’s a fact. Restaurants across Canada are on the brink of reopening, whether to patio dining, in-restaurant meals, or both. Diners are understandably excited to return to their favourite culinary haunts. But what about restaurant staff, many of whom have been furloughed for part or all of the pandemic? How safe is it for them to return?

 

As Jeff Dover, principal of fsSTRATEGY Inc., says, “Very few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as spreading in restaurants; this includes areas of the country where indoor dining has been allowed. In short, the restaurant industry was [already] doing a good job of keeping staff safe.”

 


“Very few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as spreading in restaurants. In short, the restaurant industry was [already] doing a good job of keeping staff safe.”

Jeff Dover, principal of fsSTRATEGY Inc.


 

But keeping restaurant staff safe and having restaurant staff who feel safe are two different things. Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition has been petitioning provincial governments to improve restaurant workers’ protections like paid sick leave and overtime pay. As reported in the Toronto Star, Not 9 to 5, a non-profit providing resources for mental-health well-being among hospitality workers, recently introduced the Mind Your Health project. The project includes a certification program on workplace safety from a psychological perspective, along with an online survey to collect data on mental-health well-being among hospitality workers.

 

 

Where to start

“The key for me is to ensure that staff wear masks and, even more so, keep six feet apart when possible,” advises Dover. “When staff have to be within six feet (e.g., taking orders, picking up food), the time of exposure should be limited. One of the primary challenges is tight kitchen spaces such as a line with multiple stations not six feet apart. Redesigning the menu to have fewer kitchen stations will help keep the staff safe. COVID-19 is more likely to be transmitted indoors and in close spaces. Redesign your workflows to eliminate or limit such interactions.”

 

Sanitize regularly. Tables, work surfaces, and other areas, both front and back of house. 

Reduce staff sharing. For instance, kitchen staff should never share utensils at back of house. 

 

Change your menuing. Other changes will need to be instituted to ensure the safety of both your guests and your employees. Reusable menus, for instance, may become a thing of the past. Many restaurants, says Dover, are putting QR codes on tables to limit contact with shared items. “When guests request menus, they should be provided with a single use copy. Condiments should not be kept on tables and should be sanitized before use. Cutlery should be rolled and brought to the table after the guests are seated. Simple adjustments like these will assist in limiting the spread of COVID-19 for both guests and staff.”

 

Appoint a COVID-19 point person. “I recommend having someone responsible each shift to ensure COVID-19 prevention practices are adhered to,” says Dover. “This person could also be the go-to for questions about practices being employed to keep customers and staff safe.”

 

Organize vaccination days. A number of restaurant chains in the US have said they are providing pay for staff to get vaccinated and are even helping their employees to book appointments. 

 

Offer paid sick days. This is key, says Dover. “You don’t want staff to come to work when they are not feeling well. Take advantage of federal and provincial paid sick day programs if you can. Paying sick days will be less expensive in the long run than having your restaurant closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.” Should you experience an outbreak, make sure you have records of which employees worked when, along with info on your dine-in restaurant customers and who served them. Contact tracing is key.

 

Ramp up your communication. Let your staff know what you’re doing to keep them safe, and then inform your guests of the steps you’ve introduced to keep them – and your employees – safe. “If you are able to pay sick days, I would communicate it,” Dover advises. “The restaurant chains in the States paying staff (I heard two to four hours) to get vaccinated received great publicity. We have seen in jurisdictions that have opened up that there is significant pent-up demand. However, not all staff will be comfortable working and not all potential customers will be comfortable in dining rooms. Communication on the safety practices being employed will help alleviate any such fears.”

 

Your restaurant safety protocols checklist

Employee safety, testing and validation will be key to successful restaurant reopening. Healthcare and foodservice workers may be required to validate their health status before handling food in the post-COVID-19 environment. Here are some protocols you should initiate to ensure the highest level of safety:

  • A Validated Body Temperature Check and Log for employees before they enter a place of work. These records will need to be maintained or even submitted to a higher authority on a regular basis, following the lead of most healthcare facilities.
  • Food Safe Certification (or comparable) for all foodservice workers. 
  • Face Masks. All food handlers (and maybe even service staff) will be required to wear a protective mask. Ensure you have masks available for all your staff.
  • Hand washing. Training in proper sanitary handwashing must be demonstrated and followed frequently.
  • Sanitary uniforms. Many restaurants require uniforms but leave them up to employee. Gone may be that favourite Che T-shirt as a uniform of choice, along with unwashed shoes, baseball caps, or cargo pants and shorts, as operators pivot to requiring uniforms laundered daily and professionally, and not left in staff lockers or change rooms. 
  • Work surface sanitation protocol and records. Sanitizing of work surfaces, equipment and documentation of all protocols is recommended.
  • HACCP enforcement. Temperature and travel logs must become second nature. HACCP (time temperature tracking) will become the most critical safety/sanitation issue in the future. 
  • New procedures for clean dishes, flatware and glassware. Flatware must be free of contamination before menu items are plated and delivered to a guest. Discuss with your chemical service providers how to ensure products and equipment are safe for staff and guests.
  • Health inspections. Develop a plan to interact more with your local health department. Involve chefs and managers to create a flow of information.
  • Focus on safe distances between employees. The typical design of a restaurant leads to the smallest amount of kitchen space to accomplish the job – leaving more space for revenue generation out front.
  • Seek opportunities for menu change or equipment location swap to increase safe distancing in the kitchen and service area. While 2 metre social distancing may not be possible at all times, plan to incorporate more space.
  • Rethink your staffing. Use the opportunity to rehire as many of your good staff as possible, but also consider adding new and better hires with more experience. Will you be continuing to offer delivery? Make sure you have the right staff for your right jobs.

 

Written by Jane Auster and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com

 

Visit chefconnexion.com

 

 

 

 

 

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How’s your mental health during Covid?

 

Chef with head down while preparing food

 

Even before COVID became part of our daily vocabulary, the foodservice and beverage industry had high rates of mental health challenges and substance use issues. It can be a stressful job at the best of times and the long, variable hours and fast pace make it difficult to always take care of ourselves. Burnout can take hold.

 

Running a restaurant in the midst of a global pandemic has ratcheted up the pressure, increased anxiety levels and created even more strain on our mental health. “The pandemic has made things worse in so many ways,” says Hassel Aviles, co-founder of Not 9 to 5, which she launched with executive chef and restaurateur Ariel Coplan in 2017. “This is everyone’s first global pandemic so we are all figuring it out as we go, but this has severe consequences.”

 

Through this challenging time, we’re all feeling extra anxiety, frustration, trauma and grief, she notes. Increased isolation due to physical distancing, job loss and business closures, financial insecurity, and a lack of sufficient support and resources are only piling on the pressure.

 

Aviles, who has worked as a bartender and server, knows firsthand the pressures and perils of the job. “Back then, no one was having conversations about mental health or addiction with staff.”

 

When Aviles and Coplan asked their hospitality community, 90 per cent said “yes” to experiencing mental health and/or substance use challenges. Their research and surveys over the last two years have revealed depression, anxiety, substance use, burnout and disordered eating as some of the top concerns.

 

There are some signs to watch for that can indicate someone you work with, or someone who works for you, might be struggling with their mental health:

  • Change in personality. You may notice sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves or the person may just seem different.
  • Agitated. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody.
  • Withdrawn. They withdraw or isolate themselves from others.
  • Poor self-care. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behaviour.
  • Hopelessness. They seem overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by their circumstances.

Adapted from https://www.changedirection.org

 

“The best way for employers to ensure they’re paying attention is to create a working environment built on psychological safety,” Aviles says. “It means you feel you can be vulnerable with one another without experiencing any negative consequences. For too long, workers have been told to ‘check their emotions at the door,’ and this intolerance of vulnerability has created an environment of suppression.”

 

Restaurant staff having a discussion

 

Five tips for fostering psychological safety

  • Demonstrate engagement. Be present and focus on the conversation, and ask questions because you truly want to know the answer.
  • Role model. Practise active listening, and recap to show that you’re understanding and validating the thoughts and input of others. If something goes wrong, don’t place blame, instead focus on solutions.
  • Be approachable. Be available and build rapport by talking about life outside of work.
  • Involve your team. Seek the input, opinions and feedback from your coworkers, and acknowledge their input when you do make your decision.
  • Mistakes are okay. Encourage teammates to take risks, and demonstrate that making mistakes are part of the process, and they provide opportunities to learn.

 

Tips for improving workplace health

  • TIP: Acknowledge verbally and openly that no one is unaffected by this pandemic and its consequences, there is a lot of healing that comes from validation and feeling heard.
  • TIP: Practise active listening skills.
  • TIP: Rest, rest and rest. We are all exhausted, this experience is incredibly taxing on our bodies and minds.
  • TIP: Be extra gentle to yourself and others.
  • TIP: Triple down on a self-care routine, including nourishing yourself with a healthy balanced diet, exercise, sufficient sleep and social connection.
  • TIP: Make a list of activities that spark joy for you. Refer to it weekly.
  • TIP: Find safe ways to channel your intense emotions. These may or may not include anger, rage, sadness, frustration. Examples include rigorous exercise like boxing, art, singing, dancing, screaming, punching a pillow.
  • TIP: Avoid toxic positivity for yourself and others. An excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations isn’t healthy.

 

Aviles suggests creating a working environment where all team members are encouraged to seek help when needed, and have easy access to resources for mental health and substance use challenges. “It’s important to have an understanding of what supports are available including workplace accommodations, employee benefits and other means of support.”

 

Aviles and Coplan have created an online course to educate and train hospitality industry workers to better identify, understand, and respond to mental health and substance abuse challenges. They call it CNECTing, which stands for Change Needs Everyone Coming Together. “We chose this name because connection is essential to make a positive impact and change in our industry,” Aviles says.

 

Important Resource: Digital assets for the CNECTing course are available here.

 

Learn more:

  • Mind the Bar Foundation provides information and support resources for those in the hospitality industry who are struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, addiction, or workplace harassment.
  • The Full Plate offers free resources and services designed for all hospitality workers.
  • Wellness Together Canada was funded by the Government of Canada in response to the unprecedented rise in mental distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • United States-based #Fair Kitchens is working to create a healthy kitchen culture based on open communication, passion, support and teamwork. More than 50 Canadian foodservice and beverage operators have already signed on as friends.

 

Visit chefconnexion.com for more expert advice

 

 

 

 

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Server packing take out food wearing gloves

What does the future hold for foodservice?

Here are 7 top trends to keep you on track

 

Hindsight is 2020, as the old expression goes. Certainly, as we rounded the corner in 2019, the prospect of a bright new year was uppermost in our minds.

 

Who could have foreseen a pandemic that would upend every aspect of foodservice? But there is a resilience in the industry and a sense of optimism that once we return to some semblance of normality, or at the very least, a new normal, restaurants will shine once again. To get a better read on what’s in store for foodservice, we turned to our data partner, Technomic Inc., to take a deeper dive into the trends for 2021:

 

1.Diversity & Inclusion (Operations)

Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 spurred calls to action for foodservice companies to fight for social justice and equality. As a result, businesses across the supply chain are committing to working harder to produce meaningful change. We’ll see more conscious efforts to hire, mentor and promote (especially in leadership positions) minority races and ethnicities, as well as women. There will also be an uptick in internal antibias training, partnerships that support minority organizations and donations to social justice-related causes.  

 

BACKGROUND

Stat: Nearly half (46%) of consumers report that it’s important to them that restaurants are engaged in social justice – consistent across all generations. In addition, more than two-fifths (42%) of consumers, including 59% of Gen Zers, express that it’s important to them that restaurants support the Black Lives Matter movement.

 

Base: 1,000 consumers ages 18+


Source: Technomic Canadian Omnibus consumer survey data

 

Example: Uber Eats waived delivery fees for consumers ordering from Black-owned restaurants throughout 2020.

 

2. Safety Stays Top of Mind (Consumer)

As the pandemic rolls into another year, consumers will continue to prioritize safety when making restaurant decisions. They’ll favour operators who earn their trust by always executing strict sanitation and social distancing protocols, such as proper food handling, rigorous restaurant cleaning and limited indoor seating. This will lead to more touchless digital menu boards, contactless ordering and delivery options, pre-packed and grab-and-go items, tamper-proof packaging, and high-quality air filtration and ventilation systems.

 

BACKGROUND

Stat: Nearly two-fifths (38%) of consumers think restaurants could do a better job promoting their safety and sanitation protocols.

 

Base: 1,000 consumers ages 18+
Source: Technomic Canadian Omnibus consumer survey data

 

3. Post-Lockdown Buzz (Global)

In anticipation of a vaccine, operators across the world will innovate highly buzzworthy products to attract guests back into restaurants and stand above the competition. This is a tactic we’ve seen Asian markets employ during a previous easing of lockdown restrictions. Compelling menu development will include inventing wacky mashups and next-level collaborations, expanding into new mealparts and dayparts, and investing in product improvements.

 

BACKGROUND

Stat: Most consumers agree that they are likely to visit a fast-food (65%) or fast-casual (71%) restaurant that they don’t typically patronize if it has a unique limited-time offer.

 

Base: 551 and 701 consumers ages 18+


Source: Technomic Ignite consumer data featuring the 2020 Canadian Future of LSR Fast Food & Fast Casual Consumer Trend Report

 

Example: Woodhouse Brew Pub launched a modern take on nostalgic TV dinner trays with its “Hungry Friends” reheatable meals. (Toronto)

 

4. Investing in Technology (Operations)

COVID-19 has motivated both consumers and operators to quickly embrace foodservice technologies that offer contactless and/or touchless aspects, including mobile apps, ordering kiosks and digital menu boards. Operators will test more advanced technologies in the coming year as consumers continue to prioritize safety and convenience. On the horizon innovations will include more GPS tracking, voice ordering via an AI assistant, facial recognition systems and drone delivery to provide frictionless off-premise services, as well as greater investments in robotics to maximize labour efficiencies for both back and front of house operations.

 

BACKGROUND

Stat: Nearly a quarter (23%) of consumers 18-34 strongly agree that if available, they would be interested in having items delivered via innovative delivery technologies (e.g., drones, self-driving robots, etc.).

 

Base: 1,282 consumers who ever order off-premise


Source: Technomic Ignite consumer data featuring the 2020 Canadian Delivery and Takeout Consumer Trend Report

 

Example: Swiss Chalet updated its mobile app. The chain’s new version of its mobile app features an updated interface where guests can save their favorite items, collect coupons in the Coupon Wallet, opt in or out of receiving silverware with their order, tip ahead and more. It also includes a “giving” feature where customers can gift Swiss Chalet meals to friends and family.

 

5. Going Dark (Menu)

Operators will increasingly look to black and deep purple ingredients in 2021. All of these ingredients provide a wow-factor colour when featured in food and drink, and some also have either umami flavour profiles or immunity-boosting benefits (due to their anthocyanin-rich capabilities). Ingredients to watch include dark berries, such as saskatoon serviceberry and blackcurrant; purple corn and potato; black salt, kale and gnocchi; activated charcoal cocktails; squid ink beyond pasta dishes; and ingredients in ashes, such as ash-covered cheeses, onion or leek ash, etc.

 

BACKGROUND

Example: RGE RD’s Purple City cocktail with Park Distillery vodka, Hanson Distillery cherry rye, maple saskatoon berries and plum bitters (Edmonton)

 

6. Thinking Local (Operations)

Movements to support Canada’s economy will grow as borders remain closed and small businesses continue to struggle. We’ll see operators increase their sourcing from area suppliers and visibly promote these collaborations on menus. At the same time, community-minded consumers will actively seek to patronize restaurants where their money also helps support local farmers and other purveyors. Driving this effort will be distributor partnership with local suppliers and producers that help spread awareness of their products and fulfill growing patron demands.

 

BACKGROUND

Stat: Approximately two-thirds of consumers (67%) say they are more likely to purchase and/or are willing to pay more for food and beverage that is locally sourced.  

Base: 355 consumers ages 18-73


Source: Technomic Ignite consumer data featuring the 2020 Canadian Generational Consumer Trend Report

 

Example: The Pickle Barrel celebrated Ontario farmers by rolling out LTOs featuring local ingredients, including rainbow trout from Manitoulin Island and corn from Waterford

 

7. Off-Premise Escalates (Operations)

Off-premise services have served as a lifeline for operators throughout the pandemic. But as consumers grow accustomed to the perks of these occasions (i.e., convenience, speed and contactless experiences), operators are hedging their bets by incorporating off-premise into their long-term strategy to offset future dine-in disruptions. We’ll see an uptick in new and remodeled stores that emphasize takeout, delivery, drive-thru and curbside pickup, as well as new and upgraded technology to make these services seamless and distinctive.

 

BACKGROUND

Stat: Approximately a third of consumers say they plan on ordering food and beverage for takeout (38%) and delivery (31%) more in 2021 than they did in 2020.

Base: 1,000 consumers ages 18+


Source: Technomic Canadian Omnibus consumer survey data

 

Visit chefconnexion.com for more great articles

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Make your Drive Thru Safe and Tasty

 

Sign promoting Drive Thru on a black background

Have you opened a drive-thru to supplement income from takeout and delivery? Here are some key considerations to make sure you have the safest, cleanest window selling environment, from Paul Medeiros, Managing Director, Consulting, Technical and Retail Audit Services at NSF International.

 

PHYSICAL DISTANCING REMAINS KEY
Drive-thru employees may find the two-metre distance guide challenging, especially if drivers stop their vehicle too close to the window or if staff need to take the meal out directly to a parked car. Here are some ideas that may help keep physical distance working:

 

1. Ensure your bollards are properly positioned (and present) to help guide drivers away from the window. Attach a small flag (similar to the flags you see protruding from the side of bikes to keep cars away.


2. If your drive-thru window design doesn’t allow the installation of a plexiglass shield (like those in grocery retail), train employees to avoid leaning out the window or moving closer than necessary to the vehicle. A plexiglass is still the best bet, and all you need is around 12 inches at the bottom to slide through products.


3. Place signage at your drive-thru menu board, letting your customers know that you’re ‘keeping space’ and asking them to do the same.


4. Consider using takeout trays for all drinks as they reduce the risk of employees making direct contact with customers.

 

COMMON TOUCH POINTS FOR THE CONSUMER
Restrict payment to tap only, online payments or other ‘frictionless’ ordering methods. If cash is used, the employee needs to wash hands thoroughly after handling the cash and before touching other surfaces or items. The debit card machine keys also need to be wiped down between customers.

COMMON TOUCH POINTS FOR THE EMPLOYEE
Conduct a safely check and verify the drive-thru window automatic open/close mechanism is working. Manually opening and closing the window introduces a common touchpoint.

HANDWASHING 
Employees need to wash hands thoroughly after each customer order.

BAG HAND-OFF 
Even though your staff will wash their hands after each order, care must be taken to avoid hand contact. Bags are easier to handle in this case but takeout drinks and trays often result in hand-to-hand contact. Note: with all the extra handwashing, rotate employees often so that hands get a rest from washing.

GARBAGE HANDLING 
Most customers are very considerate, but some have taken to throwing out potentially dangerous items in drive-thru trash receptacles. The option of removing these (and posting accompanying signage) is an option, but could result in greater littering. The most common option is to make sure the employees who handle the garbage wear adequate PPE (gloves and apron) and that the garbage is double-bagged. Assume all garbage contains potentially harmful materials including used masks.

RETURNED ITEMS 
Do not handle a bag or package after it has been given to a customer. If a customer tells you an item is missing from the order, hand them another.

COHORT STAFF 
Hospitals and nursing homes taught us long ago the value of ‘cohorting’ staff and patients. Cohorting basically refers to the segregation of people into ‘groups’ or ‘pods’ or ‘bubbles’ or ‘shifts’. By cohorting people and avoiding contact between cohorts, you minimize the spread of infection. If someone in a cohort gets ill, then only that cohort is affected. The food industry has been applying this concept as one way to address COVID-19 risks. This should serve as a reminder to all foodservice companies with multiple sites to make sure they limit their employees to working one site only. If possible, maximize employee hours so they are not incentivized to work multiple part-time jobs, which introduces them to various ‘cohorts’ and could increase both their risk and yours.

 

And two other tips:

• DRIVE-THRU SHOULD SUPPLEMENT TAKEOUT. Not everybody has a car so recognize you may be missing out on sales if you do away with instore/curbside takeout.

• CASH MAY STILL BE KING AT TIMES. Not everybody has access
to noncash payment options, so be prepared to have to handle some cash or deny
some customers access to food.

 

This post was shared in connection with Brand Points Plus, a FREE loyalty program for independent operators.  Easily collect points for amazing rewards, if you're not a member - we highly recommend you become one.

 

 

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Think like a Grocerant

 

Bags of produce in brown paper bags on a wood background

 

Since the mid-teens, traditional grocery stores in Canada have been blurring the lines between grocery and restaurant foodservice with so-called “grocerants.” These intersections of grocery and eatery have seen a number of food retailers, like Longos, Loblaws and Farm Boy (Sobeys) add in store restaurants and full meals for shoppers who want to do more than pick up their bread and bananas. For Millennials on the go, especially, these hybrids have offered the perfect combination of convenient food shopping and a hospitality experience.

 

Fast forward to 2020 and the changing world under COVID-19. More and more people need groceries – and prepared meals – at a time when grocers are reporting shortages of key products, and consumers are scrambling to satisfy home needs.

As more and more restaurant operators pivot to offer their customers takeout & delivery, why not pivot even more? Many restaurants have surplus supplies and continued access to food from their distributors. Savvy operators are already becoming food “purveyors,” and not just restaurants as they realize they are in the “food business,” and not only in the restaurant business.

Operators are turning from takeout & delivery and converting into restaurant-grocers offering meal kits, take-home/make-at-home meals, and more.

Set up your online grocery section

Earls Kitchen and Bar’s website now features an entire Grocery section as the chain adds a virtual grocery store to its regular takeout & delivery menu. Customers can buy grocery staples such as produce, dairy and toilet paper by the roll, as well as DIY meal kits and prepared meals.

Try food box subscriptions

Farm-to-table operations have been sending fresh boxes of goods to customers via subscription for years. Restaurants with access to local and seasonal ingredients can get into the game with their own branded food boxes. If you already send e-newsletters to your regulars, you can easily introduce this new service to supplement your takeout & delivery sales. The food box can contain meals as well as grocery staples...and even a roll of toilet paper.

Replicate the restaurant experience

Pre-packaged ingredients, meal kits, and menus can help turn your social distancing regulars into sometime gourmet cooks.

Upscale Toronto eatery Buca has created branded packaging of its favourites for customers who want to replicate the experience of eating a Buca meal, but in a take-home grocery format. Even traditional pizzerias can add groceries to their deliveries.

The pie is still the main event, but your customers will appreciate having access to other pantry staples too like milk, butter, tomatoes, cheese, and olive oil. And yes, you can even throw in a roll of toilet paper.

 

 

Tips:

1. Get the word out on your website and social media platforms that you have groceries, as well as prepared items, on offer.

2. Use the opportunity to brand your grocery packaging. This is a great way to build brand loyalty.

3. Choose your delivery platform carefully. Will you DIY or rely on a third-party service like Skip the Dishes, DoorDash, Foodora or Uber Eats? While you may save money doing it yourself, consider if you can increase your geographical reach using one of the biggies.

 

 

 

This post was shared in connection with Brand Points Plus, a FREE loyalty program for independent operators.  Easily collect points for amazing rewards, if you're not a member - we highly recommend you become one.

 

 

Learn more about Brand Points Plus

 

 

 

 

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Using Instagram to stay connected during COVID-19

A hand holding a hash tag sign on a yellow background

 

If you’re not on Instagram, you don’t exist. That’s the hard truth. The social media landscape has quickly become the dominant marketing tool for restaurants to connect globally and directly with existing and potential customers. No biggie, there are just around 1 billion of them.

The “gram” user, combined with Instagram algorithms, continues to challenge restaurants to push creative limits, in order to achieve Follows, LIKES and Comments.

What are some social media tactics your restaurant can employ to develop impactful social campaigns?

 

START WITH A MONTHLY PLAN

Take the time to plan out your key messages and posts for the upcoming month by developing a social media content calendar. Your goal should be to support and highlight initiatives within your restaurant operation that set your brand apart, while reinforcing key brand messages.

PUT YOUR BEST POST FORWARD
During COVID-19, Instagram can be a powerful tool to stay in touch with your loyal customers, to let them know what you're doing:

how you've changed your menu for takeout and delivery
strategies you've put in place to retain staff
gift cards and other loyalty promotions to keep customers engaged while your restaurant is closed to eat-in dining

 

TIMES TO POST
Social media reporting suggests that the social guest is most engaged in the early mornings, lunch and dinner hours, and later in the evening. These moments tend to be when we are taking a "break," which results in spikes in social media activity. Instagram for businesses also provides effective reporting on your social guests' most engaged days and times per day. Utilize this data to identify the optimal days and times of when to post.

#HASHTAG IT!
Hashtags can make or break the effectiveness of your content strategy by how relevant they are to the content you are posting. Digital users can follow hashtags to collect content on their feed that is of interest to them. The goal is to use hashtags that will place your content on the feeds of your target guests. Popular hashtags are identified in the "TAGS" search bar on Instagram by the number of times they have been used in a post.

Follow these five top tips to develop a list of hashtags relevant to your brand content:

  1. Research what competitors and the foodie community are using as popular hashtags.
  2. Identify 30-50 hashtags that align with your menu offerings and location, and are popular, and reference them selectively within your content calendar.
  3. Post hashtags that match the photography or video content you are sharing.
  4. Post the hashtags as a "comment" to your post, versus within the post.
  5. Post between 15 and 30 hashtags from your list per post.

As you monitor the effectiveness of your social campaign, be aware of spikes in your engagement when certain hashtags are used in your posted content, to identify your top-performing hashtags.
 

UTILIZE APPS

Developers are launching innovative useful social media content editing, organizing and
publishing apps on a monthly basis to support small businesses in managing digital campaigns. We recommend downloading a few different apps to test them out and understand which will be most effective in supporting your social media goals.

Using Instagram and Facebook to build a community of engaged brand advocates can seem intimidating, until you realize what makes them work. Implement these tactics to see what a powerful tool social media campaigns can be for your restaurant business.

 

This post was shared in connection with Brand Points Plus, a FREE loyalty program for independent operators.  Easily collect points for amazing rewards, if you're not a member - we highly recommend you become one.

 

 

Learn more about Brand Points Plus

 


By Kate Engineer
Kate Engineer’s agency, Fervid Communications, was recently acquired by The Fifteen Group Inc., a restaurant consulting company with offices in Toronto and Vancouver.

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Rae's Bistro weathers the COVID-19 storm...and so can you

Person carrying take out bags in hand.

 

Until March 2020, 4,800-sq. ft. fine dining restaurant Rae's Bistro, in North Kildonan, Winnipeg, was a popular spot offering fusion comfort food. Co-owned by Jillian Flynn and Danny Van Lancker, Rae's was noted for its 50-bottle wine list, 12 craft beers, scotch flights, and a premium atmosphere appealing to an adult clientele.

 

"We were known for our service and fresh feature chalkboard (rotated weekly), and guests would come in to hear our staff 'romance' the 10 features to them. It was almost a form of entertainment," says Danny.

 

Before March 17, Rae's Bistro did not offer any takeout or delivery

 

"We were just too busy to seek other revenue streams. We were on track to do $1.5 million in sales our second fiscal year. We were busy all the time (from 11 a.m. to midnight or later, if demand was there), with lineups, reservations, loud bar top, funky new age music, cool looking staff."

 

All that changed on Friday, the 13th - auspicious!

 

By Monday, March 16, sales had declined 60%. On the next day, Rae's Bistro closed to the public for dine in.

 

"On Monday, we reached out to the local health authority for advice and spent the day researching the science behind the pandemic and looking at the leading scientists' predictions/models. Pratt's (a great partner to have) obtained proper viral sanitation products for us.

 

"We jumped into action immediately. We laid off 22 staff by issuing emergency payroll and ROEs, and all staff applied for EI by Friday. Our first reaction was concern for the Rae’s family. It was completely devastating to think about taking away 22 people's source of income."

 

Ramp up for takeout

 

Rae's kept on a core staff – culinary, suppliers, the CFO – to adapt to the new reality. Within a matter of two days, working around the clock, the team approached their task with military precision. They created a takeout menu, bought Safeway thermal boxes to launch the service, designed banners for the windows, printed temporary menus, completely revamped the website to focus on the takeout menu, and branded takeout bags with personalized messages and menus.

 

All packaging is recycled brown paper, and even the takeout cutlery is wood, as the co-owners are committed to respecting the environment. (In fact, that is one of the reasons they had not considered offering takeout before.)

 

"By Friday, March 20th, we realized this might work, with two takeout specialists on staff, two drivers, and an additional kitchen employee we brought back. Much to our surprise, by Saturday, it was working and offering a flawless experience to all guests. Our delivery team is now our two veteran servers and bartender. We take responsibility for each order, text when on the way, and follow up with guests...treating them as a table and not a delivery. I personally close every box and write a thank you note to this day. I insist on a proper food chain of command. Safety officer/expo is my new position."

 

Create an effective menu

 

You need to accept that your regular menu likely will need adaptation. The Rae's team streamlined their menu to focus on high quality sandwiches, snacks, pizzas, pastas, steaks, ribs and fish.

 

"Stuff that travels well, and a lower price point for our entrées (not a discount, just not over-$30 items). People are going to be eating comfort, and more often now. We need to focus on our lower priced items without sacrificing our commitment to quality."

 

Rae's takeout/delivery challenges

 

Labour modelling, having to do it day by day as there is no past to use for forecasting.
Infrastructure, going from a single (phone) line to multiple lines with busy signal.
Communicating continued relevance to the public.
Delivery tracking, estimating and planning.
Installing mobile POS terminals for at-door payments.
Figuring out how to translate personalized service to guests in a different way.

 

Success!

 

By pivoting quickly and effectively, Rae's was able to turn around the operation from dine-in to takeout/delivery – and see significant sales increases.

 

From a modest beginning on March 18 to see if takeout and delivery would even work, Rae's is now up to nearly $7,000 in sales on the weekend and $1,000-$1,700 on weekdays. A scheduled postal drop of advertising may see even higher numbers.

 

 

Rae's top takeaways

 

  • Take care of your team first and foremost, do the right thing and lay them off so they can apply for EI.
  • Get proper sanitation measures in place. This is a serious thing, so don't do half measures. Get higher grade quat sanitizers.
  • Offer over-the-phone payment and curbside pickup.
  • Carefully consider your delivery model. Try to use existing staff for delivery rather than turning to a service that may charge a premium.
  • Get your social media game on. Do daily posts and reminders that you are open and relevant. Put some money into social media ads to farm page likes and get followers.
  • Use (old school) mail/email. Junk mail is now prime reading material, says Danny. Take advantage of this phenomenon, do flyers, post notices in your window.
  • Look at this crisis as an opportunity. "Remember that a bomb was just dropped on our industry. Independents are at a level playing field with mega chains. This is an opportunity to beat these entities to a new emerging market. Nothing will go back to normal. Don’t wait this out. Act now."
  • Be your best self. "Just get out there and be the best damn takeout and delivery business you can be."

Focus on the personal touches

  • Keep your brand front of mind. "Within a week we created the most amazing branding on our bags; every box, bag and container is sealed with Rae’s Bistro branded labelling. They also have spots for the guest's name. I got the idea when I opened a DVD this week and it had the frustrating plastic circle sticker on it. I couldn’t get it open, had to get up and find a knife. The feeling of 'this is brand new' as I sliced it was satisfying and I knew I had to bring this feeling to our guests.
  • Raise customers' spirits. "All bags get a takeout menu with a personalized message of good will." Treat your guests as a table and not a delivery. They will appreciate the service.
  • Talk up your menu, even though it's takeout. "We still romance our features over the phone to our guests."
  • Ramp up your social media. "We now have full-time social media and email monitoring. A daily feature wall is now posted daily with fresh content for the guests eating multiple times a week." But "old school" window signage is also attracting new takeout/delivery business. People have the time to stop and look.

 

This post was shared in connection with Brand Points Plus, a FREE loyalty program for independent operators.  Easily collect points for amazing rewards, if you're not a member - we highly recommend you become one.

 

 

Learn more about Brand Points Plus

 

 

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Ontario Pork Supports Local Restaurants


Ontario pork producers know that supporting local restaurants through these uncertain times is the right thing to do. Whether that support is through ordering delivery/take-out or buying gift cards online, we should all come together to ensure local restaurants have a steady income into the future.

 

This is why they are offering free social media advertising — paid for by the producers — to eligible local restaurants that serve Ontario pork in the province. This Facebook and Instagram ad will target over 5,000 or more customers in their area, and promote that their restaurant has delivery or take-out options.

 

Ontario Pork is offering to support local restaurants. Contact jeremy.yim@ontariopork.on.ca

 

They are talking about an actual paid and targeted ad, not just a normal social media post.

 

Professional digital marketing is an area that many restaurants can’t normally tap into (even in normal circumstances), so they are offering our team to support.

 

All they need from restaurants is a high-quality photo of a pork menu item, and they would do the rest— so you can focus on running the business.

 

Please contact Jeremy Yim, Retail and Food Marketing Specialist at Ontario Pork for more information and to sign-up to the free branding program.

 

Together we support local.

jeremy.yim@ontariopork.on.ca
1-519-766-7893

 

 

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Brand Points Plus logo with hand reaching for a take out order

Making Food Delivery Easy

Turning to Takeout

 

by Jane Auster

This post was written by Jane and the Brand Points Plus team.  If you're not a member, this is an amazing, no-cost loyalty program.  To learn more click here.

 

Flexible restaurant operators are converting from eat-in to takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic. And whether they're fine dining, QSR or casual eating establishments, they're finding it's not as hard as you may think to revamp an eat-in operation. Also, according to infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch, the risk of contracting the virus from takeout and delivery is "so extraordinarily small" – good news for consumers and restaurant operators alike.

 

Here are the top takeaways to ensure your takeout is a success:

 

Make ordering and payment a snap. Many diners, especially Millennials, are already conversant with online and app ordering. Make sure your web and app menu allows for easy ordering and that you're capable of receiving text message orders and app orders from mobile devices. Then add a pre-payment option to make the whole process seamless. Companies like cloud-based commerce platform Lightspeed POS Inc. have set up special resources during the crisis to help restaurants who are converting operations to takeout and delivery.

 

Change up your restaurant layout. Without the need to provide tables and chairs for traditional eat-in dining, you can easily convert that space into takeout/delivery work stations. Think assembly line in the way you organize your takeout operation.

 

Revisit your staffing. There's no doubt you will not need the same number of employees as a full-service restaurant requires. But you will want to retain as many as possible to keep you up and running professionally and prepare for a return to more normal operations. Now is the time to redeploy your talent. You'll still need cooks (short order especially), cleaners, order takers and payment processors, delivery staff, and quality control personnel. You may also need a person assigned specifically to answer customer questions about your menu, takeout and delivery options, payment, and so on.

 

Carefully consider your menu. Not everything on your regular menu will be suitable for takeout and delivery. A takeout menu is more a snapshot of your full offerings. Confine your takeout to top sellers (as long they're not too elaborate or time-consuming to prepare), dishes that will transport well in takeout and delivery, and entries that will still give you a good return on investment.

 

Use the right packaging for the job. No one likes to pick up or receive soggy, leaking, messy or unattractive food packages. Companies like W. Ralston, Novolex and Polar Pak feature packaging specifically for foodservice operations that include takeout and delivery, and also packaging that's size-appropriate. “The packaging a French fry requires for travel is different than a pasta dish. And packaging will also depend on the miles or time it needs to travel,” says John Veder, director of innovation - paper for Novolex North America. Also consider packaging that can be easily reheated without having to be transferred to other dishes.

 

“With takeout, the customer is in control of when that food is consumed,” says Veder. “For delivery, the customer is at home, waiting. Their expectation is that the food is ready to eat. Not soggy. Not cold.”

 

Make delivery easy. "Delivery was a growing market segment prior to COVID-19," says foodservice principal Jeff Dover of fsStrategy Inc. "Restaurants have been adjusting delivery menus to include products that hold well and working on takeout containers that hold the food well. Increasingly, they are looking for tamper proof containers. If a restaurant hasn't worked through this yet, they may want to think about it before going full delivery. If they don't normally do takeout or delivery, they will need to get the packaging."  

 

If you're new to delivery, you may want to partner with an established foodservice delivery company like Uber Eats, DoorDash, Foodora, or Skip the Dishes. Uber Eats has announced that the company is waiving its normal delivery fees for customers who order from independent restaurants and allowing restaurants to receive payment daily instead of on a regular billing cycle in order to help their cash flow. Door Dash has said it will be not be collecting service fees for the first 30 days for a new restaurant client. Restaurants who partner with delivery services also benefit from the online exposure on food delivery sites.

 

Do it yourself? Some restaurants are choosing to do their own delivery by training their regular waitstaff to become delivery door-dashers. In the short term this is a great way to continue employing front-of-house staff. But don't forget to check your insurance to make sure your staff are covered for "other" employment within your operation.

 

Plus, ask yourself these questions:

 

What kind of vehicle will you need? Motorized, bike delivery, or via public transit?
What's your radius? How far are you willing to travel for your customers? During this difficult period, literally going the extra mile will make a huge difference and help retain loyalty.


How's your branding? What kind of branding will you use to stand out? The big food delivery companies are able to advertise themselves through their distinctive, logo-ed carry-on packaging. Like the big guys, your new visual identity as takeout and delivery food providers matters. Consider branding your takeout packaging with your company logo and tagline or marketing messages. Market and promote the service on your website as well.

 

Ramp up your social media. Never has your social media been more important. It's your direct conduit to customers, a way to let them know that you are still in business and you value their patronage and support. If you're adding takeout and delivery, you need to spread the word. Social media such as Instagram, Facebook and other community pages can let people know you are open and active. Don't be afraid of doing something different and a little crazy on your Instagram. Get personal, do a virtual meal in your restaurant and film it, sing an aria outside your restaurant and post to your Instagram.

 

You may also want to create an old-fashioned paper flyer with your takeout menu and have a staff member deliver it to your local area. Sometimes old school is the best school. The point is to communicate as often as you can with customers to keep them close. And don't forget to thank them. They want to help.

 

Get creative. Some clever restaurants are throwing in extras with customers' takeout and delivery orders. Have any logo-ed t-shirts on hand? Send one with each order. Do you make any branded food items for sale, such as jams? Add one to each order. A restaurant in Toronto is even offering to throw in a roll of toilet paper to food orders made through Uber Eats.

 

 

 

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