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Restaurants: Hyperlocal Trends

Oct 24, 2022

Picture a quiet, peaceful meadow, lush with grass, and a vegetable garden big enough to plan a menu around. If you think that maybe you’re in Lancaster, PA, or Sussex, NJ, you wouldn’t be thinking wrong. This garden, though, belongs to a restaurant in Kennebunkport, Maine, and it is one of two organic gardens grown on premises and picked daily to produce the tastiest of dishes on their menu. They aren’t the only ones; restaurants with garden sidekicks are popping up everywhere. As prices rise, menus shrink, and staff continues to grow thin, there is something quite beautiful trending around the country — hyperlocal foods. Because of food distribution chain disruptions since the start of COVID, restaurants have been procuring their ingredients via farms, bakeries, butchers, and even cheesemakers, super close to their location or doing it themselves, says Food & Wine.

Hyperlocal trends in restaurants were on the rise in 2007 with the start of the “locavore,” a term coined by people in the San Francisco Bay area, says WebsterauntStore. This term describes a person who eats only foods grown within a 100-mile radius. According to the article, restaurants took notice of the trend and began sourcing their foods hyper-locally or growing them themselves.

Obtaining food from local spots makes it more sustainable for the restaurant, says Caroline Glover from Food & Wine. Chefs from Colorado to New York have hopped on the hyperlocal trend and have focused on “smaller, tighter menus,” highlighting the foods closest to them. Menus have reflected hyperlocal foods by offering dishes unique to their locations, and customers love it, says Foodwellsaid. The article further shares that shifting from global cuisine to local has been a surprising twist, but it is making both customers and restaurants happy.

 

Benefits for Restaurant Workers and Patrons: Health and Convenience

 

Shopping local farms and bakeries is fantastic, but having your own garden in the back of your restaurant is ideal, which is what many restaurants are doing now to ensure sustainability, says Eco & Beyond. The article says that certain leafy greens can lose over half of their vitamin C by the time it makes it to the supermarket shelf and even local food that has traveled miles to the restaurant. On-site farms, rooftop gardens, and vertical gardens allow restaurants to literally pick food, cook it and serve it. You can’t get more local than that.

Predicted by Whole Foods on their Top 10 Food Trends of 2022 is “ultraurban” farming. Whole Foods pioneered a rooftop greenhouse back in 2013 in their Whole Foods Market Brooklyn location and watched the trend grow, no pun intended, into a huge movement. This indoor farming trend has expanded into other areas, including hydroponics, aquaponics, and robot-grown produce.

 

urban farm

Sustainable and Delicious

Hyperlocal sourcing isn’t just a trendy term. Yes, it’s sustainable and a tremendous step towards significant changes in the food industry. It’s also a source of pride for both restaurant operators and customers. Everyone can enjoy the feeling of warmth and satisfaction because the food is delicious and because their neighbor grew it. It’s the community that’s being served.

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Menu Trends to Anticipate for Spring 2022

Mar 03, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of the restaurant industry—and continues to do so.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s yearly survey, we expect to see healthier trends and choices in 2022. This survey tests the waters for food and beverage trends by surveying over 650 professional chefs.

The good news is that the growing focus seems to be on better quality ingredients, a smaller carbon footprint, and delicious CBD experiments.

CBD-Infused Food and Drinks

Almost 80 percent of chefs have recognized CBD-infused menu items as part of the demand for healthier food products. Infusing foods and drinks with CBD ingredients opens a new food niche to explore and experiment with.

As restaurant owners around the United States update and expand their menu options, many are interested in the CBD market, which could be worth exploring.

Consider creating delicious cocktails or smoothies with a bit of CBD oil for a novel twist!

 

Plant-Based Food and Proteins

One of the biggest trends we’ve seen due to the pandemic is a focus on healthier food options: especially plant-based sandwiches and menu options. We will be seeing a growing trend as menus grow to accommodate meatless proteins.

For example, McDonald’s released a small trial run, the McDonald’s McPlant burger, which became incredibly popular and continues to grow every day. Participating stores have sold 70 plant burgers every day, far exceeding expectations.

As demand for plant-based food continues to grow rapidly in 2022, we can look forward to innovative and delicious developments, including cheese and fish alternatives. One new and fun alternative is potato milk–a healthy and yummy dairy substitute.

 

Sustainability

As supply chain issues and sustainability concerns become more visible, restaurants should explore ways to make environmental changes. From plastic alternatives to zero-waste options, the theme for 2022 seems to center on thoughtfulness and reuse.

The flexitarian movement—which focuses on plant-based diets for those who haven’t entirely given up on meat but are curious about exploring vegan options—has grown strong since 2020. Restaurant owners are starting to focus on more locally-sourced, high-quality ingredients to reduce their carbon footprint.

We may see menus transform as we focus on healthier and more eco-friendly menu options and sustainability. We can lookout for more streamlined and refined menus that focus on higher-quality ingredients for even simple offerings like French fries or chips.

2022 is shaping up to be an exciting year for restaurants. We will start seeing locally grown fresh produce, housemade syrups and items, and more vegan-centric cuisine.

If you’re looking for a menu refresh, or even a complete overhaul, look to Synergy! With 35 years of service for both independent restaurants and chain foodservice operations, Synergy Restaurant Consultants is here to help your restaurant achieve optimal efficiency in this competitive market.

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Wrapping Up 2021 and Looking Ahead to 2022

Dec 20, 2021

Much has changed as we wrap up our second year of the pandemic. Vaccines are readily available, and things started to feel that they were back on track. However, new variants are causing the restaurant industry to continue to feel the impact through supply chain issues, staffing shortages, and reinstituted mask mandates in many areas. Whether running a fast-casual or full-service restaurant, the industry has had to innovate and adapt to survive. In conjunction with Wakefield Research, Square shared its data and strategies to shape the industry in 2022 in its Future of Restaurants report.

Contactless Ordering & Delivery is Here to Stay

As operators look for ways to improve the customer experience while meeting changing expectations, contactless ordering and payment options like digital QR-code menus and touchless payments will become mainstream in 2022. When thinking ahead, online ordering, delivery, and curbside pickup must be factored into all parts of the restaurant business.

 

contactless payments

Smart Restaurant Technology to Help Fill the Gaps

Restaurant operators are exploring technology that can help staff be more efficient. These solutions can help fill the gaps when they are short-staffed by automating customer payments and customer communications. Additionally, guests have started to embrace tech as a tool to enhance a more seamless experience. Digital options are now part of today’s restaurants and must be considered in current and future decisions.

Diversified Revenue Streams

Over 50% of restaurant owners added new products or services due to the pandemic, and we expect to continue into 2022. Offering subscriptions, grocery, merchandise, and meal and cocktail kits. David Rusenko, Head of eCommerce at Square, shares, “A restaurant-bar-store, might be a place that sells mixology classes, retail gear, and tastings in addition to serving patrons food and drinks.” We expect that using ghost kitchens with menus designed for off-premise customers will continue to be a growing segment.

Kitchen Automation & Shifting Restaurant Footprints

Streamlining kitchen operations can help deliver a consistent and quality guest experience, so operators should invest in digital technology to improve back-of-house systems and processes. According to Forbes magazine, “as off-premise dining remains popular, operators must rethink how the layout of their restaurant will work best for their business, staff, and customers. We will likely see more drive-thru setups, and virtually all brick-and-mortar restaurants will define specially designated areas for delivery drivers and consumers picking up their takeout orders.”

 

pickup and takeout

Direct Online Ordering

Many operators want to take charge of their online ordering and delivery, and we expect this will continue into 2022, with less reliance on third parties. This allows restaurants to control the entire guest experience from beginning to end. Consumers also want to skip the middle person and support the restaurant directly, rather than a third-party app. Direct ordering allows operators to maintain their customer’s data, which can help develop and deliver better marketing and loyalty programs. According to BentoBox, restaurants saved $38.5 million by switching to direct online ordering last year.

Rethinking Customer Engagement

Restaurant operators are developing creative ways to boost customer engagement and loyalty. Nearly 90% of operators plan to implement customer engagement initiatives focused on rewarding customer loyalty into 2022.

Importance of Community

Restaurants play a unique role in communities. Strong community ties translate to stronger connections with patrons, so we expect to see more investment in community service initiatives in 2022. This can include cooking for community service providers, donating food or money to community organizations, or offering support to local minority-owned businesses.

More Variety to Meet Consumers Evolving Appetites

Restaurant guests have been seeking a variety and new types of food choices, globally-inspired, healthy meals, and unique ingredients. Thanks to social media, specifically TikTok, which exposes people to new food ideas and spreads greater diversity, this trend will likely continue into 2022.

The new year allows restaurants to take what they’ve learned from 2021 and use it to drive their business forward into 2022. Have you adopted new technology, transformed your restaurant space, or responded to guests’ behavior changes? Need help preparing for the new era of dining? Synergy can help!

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2022 Consumer Food and Taste Trends

Dec 14, 2021

The last couple of years might have been a bit of a blur, but trends never seem to slow down. Food, especially, is an area we can all enjoy for comfort, taste, and health.

So what are consumer food and tastes trending towards in 2022?

Indoor Gardening and Ultra-Urban Farming

Whole Foods Market has asserted that hot food trends soon to hit your table include an assortment of natural and healthy foods.

You may not be surprised to learn that urban farming has grown in the last few years, allowing consumers to be more environmentally friendly by sourcing their fruits and vegetables locally. With supply-chain issues on the rise and the pandemic still a part of daily life, consumers are learning how to locate nearby farmers or grow their own food. Mushroom growing kits that allow you to cultivate expensive culinary mushrooms in the comfort of your own kitchen keep you healthy and well-fed.

Anyone can join urban farming! All you need is space and the curiosity to learn about aquaponics, hydroponics, and more. Being sustainable and environmentally sound, helps keep your kitchen stocked with perennial herbs, exotic mushrooms, and a personalized, curated indoor garden with your favorite veggies.

 

healthy food 2022

Look Forward to Fresh Fruit Flavors in 2022

Speaking of fresh, Beck Flavor’s Food Trends Report promises a rise in conscientious eating for better, healthier immune systems.

This doesn’t feel like a stretch considering the impact COVID continues to have globally.

Consumers seem to be shifting towards healthier foods with lower calories, less sugar, fewer preservatives, and less processing. We may see food trends that focus on fresh citrus flavors, immune-boosting vitamins, and botanical notes—all of which sound incredibly tasty and refreshing.

Cutting Down on Meat

You have likely noticed meat prices have gone up, which has inspired a movement known as Reducetarianism. This refers to the practice of cutting down on meat and animal products. The keyword is “reduce” because the goal isn’t to stop eating meat or become vegan.

Instead, you might consider only buying high-quality meats, seafood, cheeses, butter, etc. You can still enjoy your favorite meals, but on fewer occasions and with locally-sourced, highly-vetted ingredients.

Their goal is to “improve human health, protect the environment, and spare farm animals from cruelty by reducing societal consumption of animal products.”

As far as food trends go, this one seems conscientious and forward-thinking. The movement has gained a lot of followers, and maybe you are already one without realizing it. If you find yourself looking for pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed meat, raw milk—you’re already being intentional with what you buy.

Food and taste trends for 2022 seem to be more mindful and environmentally aware. This is a beautiful movement, and it’s inspiring to know that more and more consumers are concerned about the greater good. Look forward to more locally-sourced, high-grade foods in 2022!

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Robot Staff – Is This the Answer to the Industry-Wide Staff Shortage?

Sep 29, 2021

What has worked for restaurants pre-pandemic isn’t cutting it today.  The industry is facing an unprecedented labor crisis.  With the shortage of available workers, job openings are at a record high, and restaurant operators have experienced significant obstacles in their rehiring efforts.

To counter these difficulties, many operators are turning to more creative solutions to address their staffing shortages.  With some immediate benefits for owners, staff, and guests, restaurant automation is gaining momentum.

Looking to Restaurant Automation

Automation is answering many of the fundamental challenges operators are facing today, including:

  • Ongoing staffing issues
  • Increased labor costs
  • Standardizing operations
  • Reducing errors
  • Better consistency
  • Increased efficiency – automated robots can work 24 hours a day without rest if needed
automation
A robot serves a woman some wine

Ten Restaurants Utilizing Robotic Automation:

 

  1. Spyce Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant in Boston, serves grain and vegetable-based bowls prepped in-house before being fed into a robot called the Infinite Kitchen, “that is able to properly cook individual foods with its separate griddle, steamer, and dispenser.  The robot can make up to 350 bowls an hour and can complete an order in two to five minutes.”
  2. Cali Burger uses a high-tech kitchen assistant, Flippy. Flippy, created by Miso Robotics, assists chefs in the kitchen in preparing burgers.  It helps with cooking and flipping burgers, placing on buns, and adding toppings.  Using Flippy aims to increase the quality and consistency of products and increase food safety.
  3. CaféX offers the fastest, most advanced, fully automated café system to operate a Robotic Coffee Bar. They use assembly-line-style robots to serve coffee orders.
  4. Haidilao Hotpot – with worldwide locations features robots that take orders, prepare and deliver raw meat and fresh vegetables to customers to put into soups prepared at their tables.
  5. McDonald’s – already using digital ordering kiosks worldwide and adding automated drive-through ordering and robot fryers to boost production and efficiency. One location in Phoenix, Arizona, is entirely run by robotics.
  6. La Duni in Dallas has rented three robots from Robotech “to serve drinks, seat guests and belt out Happy Birthday if the need arises.”
  7. White Castle – Flippy works 23 hours a day (one hour is reserved for cleaning) at the fry-station of Merrillville, Indiana, White Castle location.
  8. Sugar Mediterranean Bistro in Stockton, California, was struggling with a worker shortage, so it purchased a food delivery robot to ease the burden on staff.
  9. Noodle Topia in the Metro Detroit area uses a robot that looks like a rolling bookshelf, with four trays, a touchscreen, and an upward-facing infrared camera that helps it navigate around the dining room. Staff loads food onto one of the trays, enters a table number, and the robot takes off to deliver the food to the table.
  10. Sergio’s Restaurant in South Florida has brought on its robot, “Astro,” short for Automatic Service Tray Removal Organizer. CEO Carlos Gazitua says this robot “came out of the crisis that we have currently in the labor force where we can’t get employees to come in to work.”
delivery robots
Delivery robots en route to destination

 

Improvements in technology allow robots to do many tasks that previously required people – tossing pizza dough, flipping burgers, cleaning floors, and taking or delivering your food order.  In addition to robots, we are seeing software and AI-powered services on the rise. Starbucks has been working on automation to keep track of store inventory. More stores are moving to self-checkout options.

 

Dina Marie Zemke, an associate professor at Ball State University, recently published a study called “How to Build a Better Robot for Quick Service Restaurants” in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research. In this study, she found that the “overwhelming majority of respondents believe there is no stopping the robot transformation of the foodservice industry, including quick-service restaurants (QSRs).” In the end, Zemke believes rising labor costs will force restaurants owners to turn to robotics.

 

As the restaurant industry continues to rebound from the pandemic, innovation and automation are of paramount importance and is essential and beneficial for both restaurants and customers alike.  Are you looking for solutions to ease your staff shortages? Need help finding ways to make your operations more profitable and efficient? Reach out to Synergy Consultants today!

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Plant-Based Products: A Restaurant Revolution

Aug 24, 2021

Organic. Vegetarian. Vegan. These diet choices have been growing trends for many years. Eating a plant-based diet is smart for many reasons. Younger consumers do it because they care about the environment. Older consumers do it because they care about their health. Either way, the development of plant-based food products has become something between a science and an art. In recent years, many options are appearing on restaurant menus and in grocery stores, yet often, do not resemble a plant.

 

The most popular trend is the plant-based hamburger. Impossible Foods developed this faux red meat to create the Impossible Burger (2016). Its production requires 87% less water, 96% less land, and produces 89% less greenhouse gas emissions. Environmentally sustainable, it is reverse engineered from plants and mixed with soy products. The secret, however, lies in a molecule found in plants as well as in human blood called heme. This molecule carries oxygen to blood in the human body and is in virtually all foods people eat. Plant-based burgers with heme deliver the craveability of beef. In other words, it sells because it tastes like blood.

 

Torchy's Tacos
MoFaux plant-based tacos at Torchy’s

 

As a niche product sold in high-end restaurants, plant-based meat alternatives (PBMA) have evolved into mainstream meat products. The recipe varies but incorporates protein bases such as legumes, nuts, soy, tofu, whole grains, seeds, tempeh, and vegetables. The result is a malleable lump similar to ground beef which can form into burgers, minced meats, sausages, and other meat alternatives. Due to the flavor and price matching similarly to familiar animal-based products, drive-thru restaurants, and grocery stores that sell plant-based products had a winning moment during the pandemic. People paid more attention to where their food comes from while spending more time at home, and plant-based foods proved to be sustainable, opposed to animal-based foods. Surprisingly, this caused sales for plant-based meats and other plant-based products to grow 25% compared to animal-based products, which rose 9.5% from May 2020 to May 2021. In addition, with interest in reducing greenhouse emissions, billionaire Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, has shown support for the plant-based movement by investing in several faux meat startups, including Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats, and Hampton Creek Foods. As the largest private farmland owner in the US, his decision to advocate for plant-based companies is powerful.

 

Started through Impossible Foods, Inc., alternative meat products are currently offered at various fast-food restaurants. A few listed here are Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, White Castle’s Impossible Slider, Red Robin’s Impossible Burger, TGI Friday’s Beyond Burger, The Cheesecake Factory’s Impossible Burger, and Hard Rock Café’s Impossible Burger, Del Taco’s Beyond Taco, and Dunkin’s Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich. Through research and development, these new restaurant menu choices are viable options with taste, nutrition, convenience, and affordability

 

Although select plant-based products are sold at many grocery stores, Trader Joe’s grocery store is the place to be if you want your cart full of plant-based products. From plant-based alternative meats, cream cheese, and specialty drinks for humans to treats for your dog, Trader Joe’s is at the cutting edge of the plant-based movement.

 

Beyond Burgers
Beyond Burgers

 

How exciting to see what will happen next as more meat alternatives and plant-based product options become available.

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Eat to Live, Live to Eat

Jun 28, 2021

By Shane O’BrienCulinary Consultant

 

Fascinating trends never stop in the world of food, and largely it revolves around ingredients and raw materials.

 

One interesting feature of consumer interest is within the area of wellness. Stress relief and food have a long relationship. Take, for instance, mushrooms and the clever but proven approach taken by the Finnish-American food and beverages company specializing in mushroom-based drinks, Four sigmatic. Their “Mushroom Hot Chocolate” contains an adaptogen known as reishi, which may induce calmness to help you sleep better and lower occasional stress. This is not a fluke either; according to a story on Healthline, “In 2021, we’ll notice more food and beverage companies coming out with products that contain these ingredients with an emphasis on reducing stress and improving sleep, which is also linked to better mental health.”

 

plant based food
Reishi mushrooms

Other examples of emerging trends are, of course, in the plant-based space. Beyond Meat, well on its way to becoming a household name, has more to offer than a burger patty replacement.

The Deep-Fried Philly Eggroll from the Vegan A.F. truck located in Los Angeles, specifically in the eastern part of Fairfax District, takes Beyond Meat and seasons it heavily, adds plant-based cheese, and to add necessary texture and acidity, a little giardiniera. This all gets filled into an egg roll shell and then crisped up in the deep-fryer.

 

 

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A post shared by Vegan A.F (@veganafoodtruck)

The plant-based lifestyle is moving from an emerging trend to a sustained one, as we have seen in recent years in the form of U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increasing 11 percent from 2018 to 2019.

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Food Trends for a Happier, Healthier 2021

Jun 28, 2021

By Natasha Reta, Culinary Consultant

 

Food trends in 2021 are focused on health and sustainability, which is surprisingly delicious. These healthy trends are flavorful and exciting. Try them out for healthy alternatives when you are tired of the same old same old.

Aquafaba

Canned or cooked from raw, chickpeas are an amazing source of fiber and protein. Besides exploding on the market in various hummus flavors, chickpea is also used as a gluten-free flour alternative. And because we all love chickpeas so much, we found yet another alternate way to use chickpeas, by using their water waste. Also known as Aquafaba. The starchy liquid leftover from cooked chickpeas can be used to make vegan whipped cream, mayo, plant butter, egg substitute, and more! Don’t want to cook it from raw? Try opening a can and saving the liquid you would normally drain out.

aquafaba
Aquafaba–a great egg substitute!

 

Banana Blossom

If left on the tree, banana blossom would grow into bananas, but this blossom may be the next new plant-based alternative for vegan meat.  When cooked, the tightly packed petals of the banana blossom mimic the flaky texture of fish.  The dark purple husk of the blossom is removed to reveal tender, yellow-green leaves inside. The taste has been compared to artichoke or bamboo shoots.  Although not readily available fresh in areas that do not produce bananas, these blossoms are also sold canned, jarred, and sometimes frozen.

 

banana-blossom
Banana blossom

 

Sea Buckthorn

It sounds like a mythical creature, but in fact, it’s a hardy shrub with thorny branches, willowy leaves, and bright orange-yellow berries. A native of Asia and Europe, this small berry has been emerging in popularity due to its high amount of vitamin c and B12. It’s used in juices, preserves, smoothies, chocolate, and even skincare products. Look for sea buckthorn berries dried in your local health market.

 

sea-buckthorn-berries
Sea buckthorn berries

 

Halva

Made of sesame seeds, this treat is popular in the Middle East and seen on brunch platters and served as dessert. It is currently being sold on the market in various products, including shelf-stable halva slices and halva butter. Halva originated in Persia as a mash of dates and milk. As preparations varied throughout its discovery, the word began to refer to any confectioners sweet made of a mash and flour or semolina paste. This sesame seed version is a later modified recipe adopted by the Ottoman Turks. This halva has a dry and crumbled texture that dissolves into a sugary sweet paste on your tongue with warm notes of toasted sesame seeds.

Fonio

Tired of the same grains? Fonio is an ancient grain from Senegal that is gluten-free, high in dietary fiber, and supports sustainable land use. It is growing in popularity due to its use in porridge, couscous, bread, and even beer.  The fonio millet species grows to maturity in as little as six to eight weeks and grows in dry climates without irrigation and poor soil. Compared to quinoa in texture, fonio is also used as a gluten-free ingredient in chips, cereals, and crackers.

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How Your Restaurant Can Thrive As It Grows

Jun 16, 2021

Nearly every restaurateur dreams of transforming their establishment into a food empire. Multiple locations, international expansion, franchising — these are the stuff of food industry dreams! However, making that dream a reality can be incredibly difficult (which is saying a lot in an industry where 60% of new ventures fail within a year).

While scaling out your business is unquestionably difficult, it is possible to do it successfully. Smashburger, for example, is expected to open 40 new locations this year — even though the restaurant industry took a nose-dive in the face of COVID-19!

How did Smashburger manage to survive the pandemic and come out stronger than ever? The answer is simple: the company invests in employee training.

What Do Workers (and Customers) Want?

Anytime a business explores expanding (restaurant or otherwise), they need to ask themselves two questions: what do their customers want, and what do their workers want? Obviously, customer service is of the utmost importance for every business. Equally critical is keeping your workforce happy to improve work quality and reducing turnover.

Customers primarily want great food, a pleasant atmosphere, and friendly and capable service in the restaurant industry. In the wake of COVID-19 a new requirement has emerged — high safety standards. In a survey from the ONE TABLE initiative, nearly 40% of respondents said they wanted to see safety measures like spaced-out tables, visible sanitation and cleaning regularly, and employees wearing masks and gloves.

And what do employees want now that restaurants are reopening? Many workers are asking for safer conditions, better pay, approved sick leave, and other benefits that prove their worth within the industry. Listening to worker requests and considering these benefits just might be the determining factor for which restaurants survive in the post-COVID world.

How Training Can Help

 

 

Restaurant owners might wonder how to accommodate both their customers’ needs and their workers’, particularly when they’re also trying to expand their business. Luckily, there is one straightforward answer: TRAIN YOUR EMPLOYEES.

Proper training on issues like customer service, food safety, and sanitation will go a long way toward improving your workforce and your business. When employees are properly trained, they are more likely to take pride in their work and perform better on the job. This directly impacts your business; a well-trained and hard-working staff will attract more customers, which will increase your profits and allow you to give your employees the working conditions they deserve!

Investing in employee training and helping your staff learn the skills for success in the restaurant industry is one of the best ways to improve your business in the long run — and we’re here to help make it happen. Contact our team today to learn how the SynergySync app makes training your workers easier (and more cost-efficient) than ever.

Visit us at www.synergyconsultants.com for more information about growing a restaurant.

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The Rise of Ghost Kitchens and Virtual Brands in the Restaurant Industry

Feb 15, 2021

Ghost Kitchens

Ghost Kitchens are professional commercial facilities typically used for preparing delivery-only meals. Although some ghost kitchens are now offering pick up or shared outdoor dining spaces, it is best to think of a ghost kitchen as a shared kitchen (typically commissary space) used by multiple brands. Picture a hotel; only instead of rooms, identical cooking suites are available to rent designed for restaurant brands looking to expand their off-premise sales without adding to their brick and mortar overhead with an outpost to extend their delivery reach.  Regional hot dog chain Dog Haus is planning to expand nationwide but it’s newest locations won’t have a dining room or bar.  Instead they are using ghost kitchens “devoted to off -premise sales without a dining area, to grow it’s delivery footprint.”  Through a partnership with Kitchen United, concepts from Chick-fil-A to Outback to Carrabba’s and Famous Dave’s are utilizing ghost kitchens as a “strategy for growing off-premise orders without burdening their already busy store locations” The Halal Guys and Canter’s Deli have spots at Kitchen United’s Pasadena, CA location.

Virtual Brands

A virtual brand is a delivery-only food concept sold exclusively online with no physical space for guests to interact with the brand. A single restaurant can have multiple virtual brands running out of their facility with all meals produced in their existing kitchen. This model allows operators an opportunity to lean in on food trends and leverage staff and facility capabilities to create a new branded experience that extends their audience reach beyond their core concept. Some estimate there are about 100,000 of these types of restaurants currently in operation, with more being launched every day.  Take “It’s Just Wings,” a wings and deep-fried Oreo brand on Doordash, which is coming to you from more than 1,000 Chili’s and Maggiano’s kitchens.

 

It's Just Wings

It’s Just Wings/ Facebook

 

Krispy Rice, an offshoot of Katsuya, a 13-unit sushi concept originally from Los Angeles has designed a $30 bento box designed to compete against higher-end sushi delivery like Sugarfish and is currently operating out of pre-existing Umami Burger and Katsuya locations.

krispy rice

Krispy Rice is a new delivery-only bento box brand spinoff of the Katsuya franchise. (Source: Krispy Rice)

 

Commonalities between the Ghost Kitchens and Virtual Brands

A virtual brand could be produced within a ghost kitchen. If a ghost kitchen, or shared kitchen space offered pickup of shared outdoor dining spaces, they wouldn’t be considered a “delivery-only” brand.  However, there are distinct differences between the two and varying sales tactics to drive delivery-only sales.

 

Ghost kitchens

virtual brand


Sales Tactics for Delivery-Only Virtual Brands
 

Target Market Evaluation

For delivery only brands, you are at the mercy of your delivery radius. The radius varies based on the marketplace (Doordash, UberEats, Postmates, Grubhub etc.), but the standard is 5-15 miles or estimated drive time. Understanding your market will help you build successful menus. For example, if there is demand for hot chicken in your area – and also a void in the market, this may be a virtual brand concept to explore.

Menu Optimization

To succeed as a virtual brand, you need to ensure your menu is optimized for each marketplace platform. Each marketplace will have a different strategy to ensure success. This strategy may include creating multiple virtual brands under your brand umbrella to ensure menu segmentation. Menus should be optimized to drive profitable sales, including copywriting, descriptions, allergens, tags & menu item names.

Photography

One of the most important aspects to a successful online-only, delivery-only brand is high quality, beautifully styled and appetite appealing photography.  We do not recommend including your packaging in these photos.

Packaging

Another critical component of any successful delivery only brand is the packaging. You need to ensure your items travel well. Hot food arrives hot, and cold food arrives cold. We have all heard the frustration with how to deliver crispy french fries or pesky items like burgers properly. This can be accomplished! Work closely with your packaging representatives and ensure you select packaging with proper ventilation. Always ensure your bags are sealed and tamper-resistant.

Pricing

One of the main reasons operators do not want to join a delivery-only marketplace is high commission rates. These rates can range anywhere from 12%-30%. Most menus were never built with these types of margins in the first place, let alone now adding packaging costs into the mix. We recommend you look closely at your menu mix and either eliminate items that are not profitable or create new menu items.  If you are creating a new virtual brand, always build in the highest possible commission rate.

Menu Cannibalization

It is good to note that you never have to offer your entire menu on a delivery marketplace. You can create a delivery specific menu for the platforms and have particular menu items only available if your guest orders direct. You can also include groceries, family meals, or special “date night” menu opportunities.

Training and Consistency

Kitchen operations and consistency will be the central focal point of your virtual brand or ghost kitchen. They will need essential training materials such as a safety program, packaging guidelines, a checklist for daily operations, gluten-free and allergen training, and menu item rollouts.

Guest Connection

Not having the ability to create a guest connection in the traditional sense can be another reason brands prefer not to be on a marketplace platform. You will need to find new ways to connect with your guests. This can include a handwritten note, swag, offers to order directly, a small dessert, or anything else to show your guest you value them and are grateful they have chosen to order from you.

3rd Party Tactics

In the beginning, it is imperative to drive as many orders as you can to ensure you stay high on the marketplace algorithm. Put together a marketing budget and plan to achieve 100 orders in the first few days. This budget can include offering free delivery, BOGO deals, or  X item with the purchase of another. You want to deliver a perfect experience each time to ensure you have all positive reviews as a few negative reviews will hinder your chance of success on each platform.