Looking for a fun way to woo guests back inside for dining? How about adding some game time to your menu? Increasingly, guests are bringing their “game face” to restaurants where they are expecting entertainment that goes beyond food and drink.
Kids’ games – such as paper placemats and crayons for colouring – have been around for years as a way to entertain the younger generation and keep them occupied while waiting for their meals. But what about the adults? How do you keep them engaged, ordering, and off their smartphones?
Many family restaurants, bars and sports-themed eateries already include active play on their menu, like such popular options as dart boards, billiards tables, trivia games, foosball tables, and more.
Games keep your guests engaged and may encourage them to linger longer – with more opportunities to upsell and increase check size. They also brand your restaurant as a fun venue and the place to be, plus games can help build a bond between staff and guests.
One restaurant offers a gaming option with a twist. Graffiti Market in Kitchener, Ont., a combination restaurant, microbrewery, market, coffee roaster and bakery, features highly interactive game play right at diners’ tables.
Ryan Lloyd-Craig, co-owner of the Ignite Restaurant Group, of which Graffiti Market is a part, wasn’t even thinking of games when he saw his first interactive smart table. “The idea didn’t come to me overnight. I was walking the technology section of the Restaurants Canada show and came across a gentleman standing on what looked like a giant iPad until I got closer and found that it was an interactive table made by Kodisoft (a tech company based in Ukraine).”
Lloyd-Craig’s original thought was not even about games but mainly about using the tables as a way for guests to order interactively, have food runners bring the items to the tables, and then have the tables function as a complete POS system. Other countries were already using the Kodisoft system successfully, but no one in Canada had tapped into combining business with pleasure right at the table.
Lloyd-Craig’s interest in the tables quickly evolved into something different from an ordering and POS solution. “The benefit of these tables is that you can visually see every item on the menu so it makes it easier to order, but their main appeal is keeping people engaged and entertaining them while waiting for their food. People are putting down their cellphones and actually talking to each other. That’s kind of neat.”
The tables offer a variety of gaming options. He started with a simple colouring application, then a doodling app after the first month, before adding puzzles for all age groups (from a basic jigsaw puzzle for kids), air hockey, Chinese checkers, and most recently, chess, all of which can be turned on or off depending on how busy the restaurant is.
The tables can also support advertising, both internal and external (for instance from sports businesses running commercials and interacting with guests), though so far Lloyd-Craig hasn’t tapped that potential.
Interestingly, far from encouraging guests to linger, guests using these interactive restaurant tables want to clear the menus and food off faster to get back to their games. Lloyd-Craig’s initial goal, in fact, was not to get diners to stay longer, but to realize labour savings from integrating ordering with serving and paying for a total POS solution – “any way you can save two or three per cent off the bottom line,” as he puts it. The restaurant hasn’t been open long enough for him to see these savings yet, but he has experienced a steady increase in sales since he brought in the game tables – and that means he’s already ahead of the game.
Not all games have to cost the earth for you to add. Take trivia. This option’s been around since Trivial Pursuit took off decades ago and has become a bar and casual restaurant staple. Trivia is a particular hit with Millennials looking for interactive experiences and can liven up slower winter months in any family-style restaurant. Companies like QuizRunners and Quizzholics design, create and can run your trivia games professionally. Who knows? Your eatery could become a stop on a trivia circuit.
Written by Jane Auster
Here comes summer and, once pandemic numbers are under control and dining opens up widely, it will be time to get your grill on. Customers are raring to get back to outdoor dining, and nothing entices more than the smells wafting from a BBQ grill.
This year’s BBQ hot trends include flat plate grilling, high-end buns, layering, non-meat (plant-based innovations) grilling, and sauces and spices that take old favourites and present them in new and exciting ways.
There’s nothing like cooking over live fire to really ignite the taste buds. If you have that option at your operation, you’ll be able to bring out the flavour in any number of grill dishes — from vegetarian to meat and fish.
Burgers are here to stay, even with more Canadians choosing plant-based options.
Nearly four in 10 Canadians eat at least one burger a week, and men eat even more burgers than women, according to data from Weston Bakeries, which studies burger-lovers’ habits.
Here’s what really turns on burger lovers looking for a premium burger experience:
The patty (63%)
The bun (21%)
Condiments and cheese (3% each)
For many Canadians, a burger is naked without cheese. Not surprisingly, cheddar is the cheese champion at 47%, followed by mozzarella at 35%, Swiss at 33%, and Monterey Jack at 25%. Sliced is chosen by 63% and shredded by 17%.
Meat-topped burgers are trending… and going beyond bacon. Beef burgers are getting piled high with pulled pork, ham and beef brisket for a really meaty experience. They’re marketed as an indulgent, and ultra-savoury meat-on-meat combination.
Most Canadians like it simple and classic when it comes to buns, however new and exciting formulations are adding abundant new bun-opportunities. Here’s what Canadians traditionally look for:
Sesame seed buns (31%)
Cheese buns (22%)
Garlic bread buns (19%)
Onion buns (18%)
Whole wheat and multigrain buns (16% each)
Innovation is certainly coming to buns. According to Technomic, which collects data from the Top 500 restaurant chains, the fastest growing buns are potato buns, sesame seed buns, and brioche. Even ciabatta buns are beginning to have their moment on the grill.
Beef still reigns as burger king followed by chicken, fish and turkey. Eight out of 10 prefer a grilled beef patty. But new grill contenders are ready to take their place. Think seafood skewers and grilled fish.
Salt and pepper remain the most popular burger seasonings, however garlic salt, Worcestershire, peppercorn, and Cajun flavours are all gaining in popularity.
Diners love barbecue, and that’s helping to propel burnt, charred and toasted flavours, Technomic reports. Smoky flavours are no longer limited to just meats and cheese but are also being paired with contrasting flavours such as sweet and spicy to add complexity. The espelette pepper, originating from the Basque region of France, helps deliver that smoky, sweet and mildly hot flavour that makes plancha-grilled food an exciting new trend.
The fastest growing condiments are chipotle aioli, garlic mayonnaise, honey, marmalade and jam, especially savoury flavours like bacon jam and pepper marmalade.
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.