Once a necessity during the tumultuous year the foodservice industry has faced, now smaller streamlined menus are here to stay. And with good reason. Trimming and slimming down your menu adds well deserved money back to your bottom line, benefiting both you and your customers.
Long before COVID-19, if you remember back that far, Technomic had already acknowledged simplification of menus. Their Canada’s Shrinking Menus 2018 report noted that restaurant operators had been gradually cutting back on their menus since 2013.
Technomic reported that operators were being strategic about how and where to spend their money while dealing with the labour issues in the Canadian workforce.
Their Post-Pandemic Playbook continues the same macrotrend, stating labour issues already felt in foodservice pre-pandemic could be worse as former employees find other opportunities.
They also predict that many operators will likely focus on menu items that are revenue and profitability drivers, post-crisis.
Simplifying the menu makes good business sense: assisting cost control, reducing labour costs and keeping customers happy.
Smaller menus naturally use fewer ingredients. A tighter food inventory provides operators with many cost-control options without hurting menu quality. In fact, menu quality will naturally improve.
James Keppy, corporate chef for Maple Leaf Foods, is busy helping operators streamline menus and promoting value-added ingredients to help chefs in their kitchens.
“Operators need to do a few things well. No one can afford to have their menu be a book anymore,” says Keppy.
“Inventory items need to be reduced so that they can be controlled and better utilized in multiple applications across the menu. This inventory reduction affords little to no waste.”
Technomic’s State of the Canadian Menu 2021 report agrees and suggests operators adapt products to various dayparts, mealparts, menu categories and ordering options. They state that menu streamlining will be a necessity for operators amid and after the pandemic, sticking around as a long-term trend. Multiple applications increase efficiency on several fronts, from labour to storage to spending.
Fewer ingredients mean you will be ordering larger quantities of your staples, allowing for bulk purchases and economies of scale.
The time it takes to manage inventory decreases from counting to reordering. With a tighter handle on inventory, food waste is also significantly reduced.
Consumers continue to look for customization when ordering. A smaller menu can still accommodate these requests. Operators can rethink well-performing ingredients and use them strategically in their offerings. But that also means eliminating poorly performing ingredients.
Keppy agrees. “If there are inventory items present that are costly but show low sales on the menu mix, they are a drain on your resources in both money and storage.
“Menu items and their ingredients that travel well are important. Maple Leaf Pulled Pork and Beef can be customized by individual operators with their seasonings and sauce and will keep their heat for delivery. These products can be used for sandwiches, build your own tacos, and for mac and cheese topping.”
Relying on menu fundamentals is key, according to Technomic’s State of the Canadian Menu 2021 report. Operators scaled back their menus to focus on core items. Smaller SKU counts helped operators reduce operational complexity by streamlining their menus, reducing waste and staffing needs, and increasing speed of service.
“Smaller menus factor in labour. This could lead to the elimination or doubling up of stations in the kitchen,” says Keppy.
With fewer items on the menu, it is faster to train new employees — front of house and back of house. Wait staff will have more comprehensive menu knowledge and can effectively upsell and educate customers. Kitchen staff can quickly become experts on recipes, leading to faster service and higher quality dishes.
Additional benefits of having fewer moving parts, people and ingredients are increased efficiency and minimal mistakes — everybody wins in this scenario.
Everyone wants to be happy. Smaller menus help your customers get there. It is easier for your customers to understand who you are and what makes you awesome if they aren’t getting lost in your menu.
Visually, the menu will be more appealing in print and online. The physical menu will have white space and room to move, taking advantage of menu psychology theories. Plus, the digital menu will be simpler to scroll.
“Keep the menu easy to read and therefore easier to make a menu choice… especially if your customers are reading and ordering from a phone,” says Keppy.
Smaller menus increase the perception of quality over quantity and don’t overwhelm indecisive guests.
As ticket times decrease, customers get their orders faster, and that makes them ecstatic.
“Do what you are good at and what you are known for while still offering items that appeal to the general groups of meat eaters, vegetarian and vegans, healthy eaters and indulgent consumers. If you are a chicken place, offer fried, grilled and a plant-based version,” says Keppy.
He also reminds us that “no matter what you offer, always consider the quality and appearance on the plate as well as in the takeout container.”
Shrinking your menu is all about dollars and cents, and just makes good sense. Your operation will be stronger, more focused and even better than before. Your customers will thank you, and so will your bank account.
Written by Cheri Thompson
Could catering help restaurants bolster their bottom line? The question may seem counterintuitive since catering, like other areas of foodservice, has been hard-hit by the pandemic. But restaurateurs who have weathered pandemic restrictions and public hesitancy about dining out may be considering whether or not to add a catering operation.
Glenn Whitehead, owner of Plant Matter Kitchen and Plant Matter Café in London, Ontario, says, “Adding any possible revenue stream is probably just good common sense, to be honest. […] If you own a business right now and you’re open, then offering whatever you can is certainly something that I would strongly suggest.”
Jeff Dover, principal at fsSTRATEGY Inc., a foodservice and hospitality industry consultancy, adds, “The pro is that catering is more profitable than the restaurant business. Some of the fixed costs that impact the profitability of restaurants are known. You know how many orders, of what, and at what time. It also makes use of kitchens and kitchen labour that are idle or have excess capacity during COVID.”
On the con side, he points out that pandemic gathering limits affect the size of events, decreasing demand for catering. And many businesses that used to have staff meals catered now have those staff working remotely for the foreseeable future. No staff = no office catering.
Which has a better future: event (e.g., weddings) or office catering? The answer depends on whether you’re looking at the short term or beyond.
Dover says he’d choose event catering because these contracts “are typically larger and can involve alcohol-generating additional revenues.” He also notes the pent-up demand for event catering.
Public health restrictions, however, continue to restrict catering demand for such events. Whitehead is well aware of the pandemic’s impact on this part of his business. He catered hundreds of events before COVID-19 took hold, but that business dried up once restrictions hit. “Basically, we haven’t done a thing in a year,” he says.
Many variables influence when a hundred or more people will be able to get together again, Whitehead says. He doesn’t anticipate catering large events of any kind before mid- to late-2022. However, he does see opportunity in catering office lunches, especially in office towers where there are multiple businesses open with non-skeletal staffing.
Adding a catering operation requires fresh thinking about what catering means and how to plan carefully, especially as the third wave of the pandemic is making its presence felt in Canada.
Whitehead says, “Looking for other [revenue] streams is a critical piece to try to get enough sales to cover things and keep moving forward.”
Rather than the traditional weddings and conferences, foodservice operators looking to get into catering need to consider smaller-scale approaches that can generate revenues in the short term. In addition to the office lunch trade, options include catering meals for small gatherings at people’s homes and meal kits, both of which have become more popular during the pandemic.
Technomic, Inc., which provides insights to the foodservice industry, reports that for the second quarter of 2020 in Canada “45% of younger consumers, including Gen Zers and millennials, are buying more meal kits now from restaurants compared to before the pandemic.”
Whitehead says that with people being more cautious but also bored of cooking, restaurants can offer them more variety through items like meal plans and seasonal kits. “It’s a little bit less catering and more meal kits, but I would put it under that same category.”
He has always offered a meal plan service, with clients who come twice a week to pick up several days’ worth of assembled meals. “They don’t have to do anything but heat them up,” he says, “so that’s certainly an option that I think will continue to grow.”
Operators exploring adding a catering operation should think about the following considerations.
Written by Marlene Cornelis.
During the pandemic, the need for outstanding visuals to sell your food is even greater than before, when competition was already fierce for food dollars. That’s where professional-looking food photography comes in.
Consider food photography being worth not only a thousand words, but a thousand dollars in revenue for your restaurant brand. In a digital world that’s easily influenced by visual storytelling, this is the impact that high quality styled food images can have in attracting new business to your restaurant.
According to the TripAdvisor “Influences on Diner Decision-Making” survey from 9,500 international diners, 60% of respondents from the US reported that online photos influence their dining decisions. The impact of online photos proved even higher in Spain at 72%, followed by Italy with 67%, France with 64%, and the UK with 52%. This is definitely something to keep in mind when trying to attract tourist (and other) diners.
For restaurant brands large and small, the importance of capturing high quality, well-planned menu photography remains the same – HIGHLY IMPORTANT! And during the pandemic, the need for outstanding visuals is even greater.
So, when is using a phone to take your restaurant brand’s photography a good idea?
For chefs or restaurateurs, if you have basic photography knowledge and understand lighting, angles, product positioning, shot styling, and are tech-savvy with the latest editing applications, then go for it!
TIP: Scroll through Instagram to find inspiration and shot examples to guide your photoshoot.
However, if you are like most of us, with little photography expertise beyond selfies, and even less time to spend in this area, and if you want to put your best visual face forward, here are some other solutions to create a professional profile at reasonable cost:
1. Hire New Talent
Aspiring photographers or recent photography graduates are a great place to start as they need projects to build their portfolios and often have very affordable rates. Try posting a free ad on jobsites like Indeed.com and on your restaurant’s social media pages to attract résumés.
2. Find the food influencers
A food influencer is an Instagram user with an above average following who focuses on curating and sharing food and restaurant-related content that produces user engagement to influence consumers’ decision-making.
These are savvy photographers and editors who are always on the lookout for new content to curate!
Whether you choose to take your own photos, or use a trained photographer, understanding how to make your food look its best from the kitchen preparation to the final shot can help to achieve your desired look.
Your website and social media channels might be the first experience and interaction potential guests have with your brand. You have one chance to attract business from that first impression.
This is why it is so important to put your best shot forward!
Consumers will search your website and scroll through your social media channels to read reviews and look at photos of your menus and space before deciding whether or not to book a reservation or order from your restaurant. Those visuals may mean the difference between choosing your place…or the eatery down the street.
Written by Katen Engineer and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com.
The perennial challenge of staffing in the labour-intensive foodservice industry has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread staffing shortages as restaurants reopen, coupled with serious financial losses due to long periods of closures and restrictions, mean savvy foodservice operators are looking for effective retention and hiring strategies that won’t break the bank.
Objective analysis of a problem’s root causes is the first step to finding solutions. While some reasons for staff shortages are beyond your control, be open to the possibility that your own practices may be a factor. For instance, ongoing government support programs may be one reason foodservice staff aren’t flocking back. But telling staff that their colleagues who haven’t returned would rather collect a benefit cheque than work could backfire: finger pointing may be part of your retention problem.
There are many nuanced reasons that many have chosen to leave the foodservice industry — or perhaps your establishment — including:
Some retention and recruitment strategies come with a price tag. Assess that against the costs of losing valuable employees you’ve already invested in and operating short-staffed. You may find that you can’t afford not to implement some of those strategies.
The cost of turnover can run to several thousands of dollars per departure, based on hiring process and training costs, lost productivity, and other factors. In pandemic times, turnover cost cuts even more sharply. Without enough staff to run your restaurant, tables may sit empty; some restaurateurs have even had to cut back on operating hours or close altogether.
It may seem counterintuitive, but think about retention before hiring strategies. Why? Because the reasons your staff want to stay are also why people want to join your workplace. A poor reputation in the job market due to high turnover has a chilling effect on hiring; being known as a great employer attracts applicants.
The pandemic created a seller’s market in real estate, but when it comes to foodservice jobs, it’s a buyer’s market. Job seekers have their pick and so do your current staff — retention is more important than ever.
In addition to providing competitive starting wages, consider implementing pay ranges with increases at set intervals. On a four-step scale, the starting rate could be followed by three incremental increases every six months to a year to encourage employees to stay.
Is your tipping policy — or lack of one — a source of staff dissatisfaction? You may not be ready to build gratuities into menu costs, but tip sharing could address compensation inequities between front- and back-of-house staff.
Jeff Dover, principal at the foodservice consultancy fsSTRATEGY Inc., says health and/or dental benefits can be cost effective for small operators. “Benefits are important and, given that many restaurants don’t offer them, can make a restaurant an attractive place to work. Help with childcare is very beneficial as well.” Dover says paid sick days are timely given the pandemic. While some employees may treat them as vacation days, there is a pressing need for employees not to come to work sick.
“Referral bonuses are becoming more prevalent,” Dover adds. Not only are they attractive to current staff, but he says they work well too. “New hires are more likely to stay if they know someone, especially if that person has stuck their neck out to recommend them.”
Offer ongoing training and development for staff who’d like to learn new skills, rotate through different jobs, or advance into leadership.
Training isn’t just for new hires. Offer ongoing training and development for staff who’d like to learn new skills, rotate through different jobs, or advance into leadership. Ask what they’d like to learn more about to keep it timely and meet their needs.
Establish Career Paths
Communicate the career paths in your establishment. Dover says, “Teaching people what it takes to get promoted and helping them do so is great for retention.”
Prioritize Staff Health and Safety
Health and safety is top of mind these days. Make it a topic at all staff meetings, reviewing protocols to bolster employees’ confidence that they and their co-workers are doing the right things the right way for safety. Be proactive about discussing mental health, and consult industry and community resources to address any issues.
Is your culture rigid or flexible? Do schedules take staff needs into account? Are minor repairs and interpersonal issues addressed quickly to minimize day-to-day work frustrations? Do you communicate openly with your team? Do staff feel safe bringing forward concerns? Do you offer open recognition but private criticism (constructive, of course)? Never underestimate the retention and hiring power of your staff feeling supported and heard.
Think about recruiting online, offering applicants the choice of submitting traditional or video résumés, and conducting Zoom interviews.
Hiring Strategies that Reflect the Times
Asking applicants to drop off paper résumés can be off-putting for a digital-savvy labour pool. Trendy speed-dating-style hiring fairs are problematic during the pandemic. Think about recruiting online, offering applicants the choice of submitting traditional or video résumés, and conducting Zoom interviews. If you want to meet in person before making the final decision, use those tools to shortlist candidates.
Use Your Website for Hiring
Your website is an important tool in your hiring process. Amina Gilani, co-founder and COO of Sociavore, the independent restaurant website platform and Brand Points PLUS partner, says: “Use the Sociavore job creator tool to create customized job listings and generate mobile-friendly application pages right on your restaurant website. You will receive virus-screened application packages directly in your email — no third-party recruiting website required. Accept and manage application submissions all from one dashboard.”
Go Social for Recruiting
You work hard to build your social media accounts, so why not harness them for recruitment? Your followers just may want to work for you or refer candidates to you, so let them know you’re hiring and link to your website job listings.
Signing and Retention Bonuses
Signing and retention bonuses can sweeten the deal for potential new hires.
When it comes to hiring and retention, Dover says, “The best thing you can do is make your restaurant a great place to work. […] Treat employees like a valuable commodity (which they are), and do what you can to keep people happy. […] Make your restaurant a place where Gen Z wants to work. They want to work for a company whose values align with theirs, so be environmentally friendly, address social issues, etc. Get the staff involved in implementing programs. If you nail this, you will have a way easier time than other restaurants finding and retaining staff.”
Written by Marlene Cornelis. For more great articles visit chefconnexion.com.
You don’t need a fine art degree to execute beautifully presented plates. Somewhere between Chicago restaurant Alinea’s Da Vinci-esque attention to detail and a cafeteria scoop and slap, there is a style of food plating that represents your very own establishment. Plating, like art, is personal and should tell the story of your menu.
Menus changed dramatically in the last year to cover losses from restrictions and shutdowns. Entire menus were downsized, menus became hyper-focused and the individual menu items remaining were squeezed to maximize profits. Has your plating adjusted accordingly?
With a splash of art, a touch of math, and a dollop of common sense, you will be on your way to palatable plating. Follow these handy tips:
Elevating your food with thoughtful plating gives a memorable first impression before your customers even take a bite. If they grab their cameras before their forks? Your food plating is a masterpiece.
Written by Cheri Thompson, originally posted on chefconnexion.com