Tuesday, February 16, 2016

5 of the Key Attributes that Diners Look For in Restaurants

When trying to decide where to eat, restaurant diners take a number of different factors into account. While not every person will consider the same qualities important, it is imperative that restaurant developers have a general sense of what the public looks for in a restaurant. Restaurateurs may think they have a wonderful concept, but they need to put themselves in the customer’s place and view the restaurant through their eyes. A restaurant concept that sounds great to someone with years of experience in the industry may not have the same appeal to people without that background. In addition, much of what customers look for depends on trends, so it’s also important that restaurant developers stay in touch with changing expectations.

Below are some of the qualities that diners value the most when judging a restaurant. Some are tied to current trends, while others are fairly timeless considerations.

1. Menu flexibility

The modern diner may have one or more dietary restrictions. Some of these restrictions may be the result of ephemeral fads or trendy diets—the paleo diet comes to mind—but others, such as vegetarianism, are not likely to fade anytime soon. Restaurants should be able to cater to people with food allergies and restrictions, and have a menu that allows a group consisting of a vegetarian, an omnivore, and a health-conscious diner to eat together happily. Restaurant developers might also want to highlight a few buzzwords in their menu. Right now, some of the most common buzzwords that diners look for include “local” and “organic.” These preferences may fade in years to come, or they may be indicative of subtle shifts in eating behaviors that will continue to grow stronger. Regardless, restaurateurs must continue to offer options and alternatives for diners with restricted diets, which means keeping up-to-date with food trends.

2. Knowledgeable staff

Diners frequently ask wait staff, “What is good here?” Answers along the lines of “everything” will not impress anyone. People want honest opinions about the food and they want to be guided into having the best possible experience. Wait staff must have an intimate familiarity with the menu and the restaurant’s policies. If a diner asks about ingredients in a particular dish, the waiter should have an immediate answer without having to check with kitchen staff. Similarly, if the diner makes a request to leave an ingredient off the plate, the waiter should know whether this is possible. If the waiter must continually check with other members of the staff for answers to common questions, the trust between the waiter and diner is undermined, and the experience becomes less pleasurable.

3. Technology

The use of technology in restaurants continues, and as time goes on, more diners will expect to see it integrated into the dining experience. Already, diners fully expect restaurants to have their own websites, and many also look for a social media presence. In the future, diners may want to see integration with apps like GrubHub and OpenTableto easily order takeout. Restaurants can continue to impress diners by staying ahead of the curve with technology and implementing it in ways that make sense for the restaurant’s brand. Virtually all restaurants can use technology to streamline processes, from allowing customers to use an app to order food in advance at fast casual eateries, to offering tablets for paying the bill at more upscale dining locations.

4. Cleanliness

Hopefully, the importance of cleanliness to diners is obvious. However, restaurant owners need to understand that diners expect complete cleanliness, from floor to ceiling. Wrinkled table linens or water spots on glasses can quickly turn diners off and make them question the cleaning practices of the restaurant as a whole. All surfaces must be free of dust at all times, including light fixtures, which tend to be overlooked. As soon as a mess is made, it should be cleaned up. Even breadcrumbs on the floor from previous diners should be cleaned up before any new diners are seated in the same area. Restaurant developers can make certain choices when it comes to interior design and décor to make cleaning easier, however. For example, black tile and dark-colored surfaces show much more dirt than lighter colors do.

5. Sincerity

One of the things that diners most want out of a restaurant is sincerity. After a hard day of work, people will be turned off if they enter a restaurant and fail to receive a greeting, or if the greeter sounds insincere. Diners want to feel like they are important and not just a source of income for the restaurant. Several factors play into sincerity, from an empathetic and experienced wait staff to an enthusiastic greeter. Another important element is a visible manager. When the manager stops by the table to check in with diners and see how their meal is going, the restaurant demonstrates that it cares about the customer’s experience. Sincerity is a universal requirement, from small takeout joints to elegant, white-tablecloth restaurants. Most diners will easily pay slightly more for a meal that comes with a smile, whether it is from a cashier or a waiter.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

5 Important Considerations for Choosing a Restaurant Name

One of the most important decisions that restaurateurs must make when opening a new eatery is the name. A restaurant’s name plays a key role in branding, as well as in the ultimate success of the business. Without an appealing name, your restaurant will most likely struggle to attract customers.

For example, suppose that the developers of a Japanese restaurant choose an obscure Japanese word for a name, because they believe that it speaks to the brand they hope to create. In a large, multicultural city like New York, this decision could be a smart one, as some people may recognize the word and others will be attracted to trying something new. But if the same name is used in a small, more homogenous town where there’s no real exposure to Japanese culture, people may dismiss the restaurant quickly because they cannot pronounce its name or figure out what kind of food it serves.

With so much riding on a restaurant’s name, developers need to consider a number of factors before making a final decision. Below are some of the most important elements to keep in mind.

1. Memorability

A restaurant’s name must be memorable. If people cannot think of your restaurant’s name when speaking to their friends, then you’re missing out on important organic marketing opportunities. Foreign words can prove particularly difficult to remember. When the name confuses diners or makes them uncertain about the pronunciation, it is less likely that they will remember it down the line. Of course, a certain element of unfamiliarity and uniqueness can make the name more memorable. Fun and playful names can prove especially memorable, but restaurateurs need to ensure that diners will still take the place seriously. For example, a restaurant called Bonzo’s may certainly be memorable, but many diners may dismiss it as a place for children.

2. Appropriateness

When thinking about whether a name is appropriate, restaurant developers need to think about both their target market and their physical location. If you want to appeal to an upscale clientele, then you should avoid choosing a name that is overly playful and instead focus on finding something that sounds elegant. At the same time, a restaurant that endeavors to be an inexpensive local hangout will do better with a quirky name than something overly refined, which will come across as stuffy. Location also plays a role. In some ways, location dictates the types of diners that you’ll attract. The target markets in New York or Washington, D.C. can be much more diverse than those in smaller cities or rural areas, for example.

3. Uniqueness

Some restaurateurs want to ride on the success of other establishments and thus choose to adopt a similar name and concept, so that the restaurants become conflated in diners’ minds. For example, it is not uncommon for Mexican restaurants to use a common Mexican name such as Jose’s, but this doesn’t do anything to distinguish the restaurant from competitors. An undistinguished name may make the first months of operation a little easier, but ultimately it will hinder the growth of your brand.

To distinguish your restaurant from competitors, the name you select should reflect the brand. If your restaurant stands out because you serve Mexican food with organic, local ingredients, this fact should be reflected in the name. Linking the brand with the name makes the restaurant stand out in diners’ minds. Note that this doesn’t mean that the name has to spell out the brand and mission—this could result in some very boring, wordy names. Rather, the name should suggest and hint at it.

4. Adaptability

Restaurant developers frequently overlook the importance of adaptability when it comes to a name. The name should have room to grow with the business as the brand expands and its scope widens. For chains, this sort of name rebranding is incredibly expensive. For an independent restaurant, the costs may also be prohibitive, and the disconnect between the eatery’s changing brand and name could hurt business moving forward. By adopting a more flexible name to begin with, restaurant developers can avoid this unnecessary expense.

5. Functionality

When it comes to a name’s functionality, restaurant developers need to consider social media and online marketing. If the name is too common, it may be difficult to brand the restaurant online. For example, trying to secure a URL for a restaurant called La Cucina could prove very difficult and may require putting the neighborhood or city name in the web address. Visibility in online searches is another concern—something as generic as “Good Eats” could be a nightmare in a large market like New York. A Google search for “Good Eats New York” would return an incredible amount of results. Before finalizing the name, restaurant developers should take the time to secure social media handles and URLs to ensure that the name is searchable and unique. If the handles are already taken, it may be time to think of a different name. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

8 of the Most Tantalizing Food Trends Expected to Emerge in 2016

When developing a menu for a new restaurant, it is important to pay attention to food trends. By incorporating recent inclinations into their menus, restaurants can keep their food feeling fresh and creative. In 2016, a number of new developments are expected to emerge based on the evolution of popular tastes in 2015.

Some of these trends point to greater integration of technology into the restaurant experience, while others show a growing concern about the intersection of food and health. Below are some of the trends that restaurant developers can expect to see emerge in the coming year.

1. A growing interest in exotic, spicy flavors.

Due to the extreme popularity of Sriracha in the past few years, more diners have become willing to experiment with exotic flavors, especially spicy ones. Restaurants can make use of this trend by incorporating unique ethnic ingredients into their menus. Some of the most obvious choices include sambal from Southeast Asia and gochujang from Korea. A few options from North Africa are harissa, dukka, and sumac. Very bold chefs may even explore more uses of the ghost pepper from India.

2. A push against genetically modified foods.

While scientists have not reached a consensus about the effects of consuming genetically modified foods, consumers are growing increasingly leery of GMOs. Some diners have backed a call to require restaurants to explicitly label all dishes on their menus with GMOs, and many choose to eat only at restaurants that advertise a menu completely free of GMOs. However, this trend may be difficult to follow, considering the ubiquitous nature of certain modified foods, like soy, which is used to feed livestock.

3. More interest in elevated versions of street food.

street vendor
In recent years, street food has grown increasingly popular as people demand affordable and portable edibles. When diners go to restaurants, they are now more interested in trying elevated versions of popular street foods, like sausages and dumplings. Restaurant developers can offer popular street foods with a unique twist for some fun, playful appetizers. Perhaps the menu offers meatballs made out of exotic protein blends. Diners have also shown more interest in dumplings, from the Chinese bao to the Polish pierogi.

4. Smoke will become a driving flavor profile.

Toward the end of 2015, smoke and fire already began appearing on many menus up and down the East Coast. Garnering an enthusiastic response from diners, this trend will likely continue to grow in popularity over the course of 2016. Some excellent ways of incorporating this unique flavor profile into a menu include charred vegetable sides and desserts with burnt sugar toppings or grilled fruits. Some restaurants have even incorporated smoke into their cocktail offerings via smoked salts and syrups.

5. A rise in traditionally-underused cuts of meat.

cuts of meat
With the price of proteins rising, restaurants may begin offering some underused cuts of meat, as well as offal, to ensure that they get the most from the money that they spend on animal products. A similar “use it all” mindset in popular culture could drive consumers to opt for these rarer cuts and perhaps even perceive them as exotic. This trend could also extend to produce. For example, last year the fast food chain Sweetgreen began offering the wastED Salad, which combines what many would consider vegetable scraps, such as cabbage cores and broccoli stalks, with upscale ingredients to reduce overall waste.

6. Greater demand for bison meat.

As diners continue to be interested in low-fat versions of the foods that they love, demand for bison meat may increase in the coming year. Bison meat is lower in fat than beef and even turkey, meaning that the bison burger may become the next go-to “healthy” burger option. Bison are also free-range, grass-fed animals, making them a popular choice among ecologically-concerned customers. Restaurants can incorporate bison into their menus in a number of creative ways, from burgers and sliders to stews and tacos.

7. A larger market for artisanal soft drinks.

The craft beer trend continues in full swing, but many people who do not like beer or do not drink alcohol are left behind, and they are looking for something that caters to their tastes. Last year, the National Restaurant Association conducted an online survey of American Culinary Federation members. The results pointed to a sharp increase in interest in artisanal soft drinks, so that people can try homemade colas and root beers while other people in their party enjoy craft beers and cocktails.

8. Increased expectations for food delivery.

Revolutions in technology have made delivery easier than ever before. Uber and even Amazon are trying to get in on the food delivery market, and services like GrubHub have already expanded out of major urban centers. With the popularity of services like Netflix, more people are spending Friday and Saturday nights at home with friends and family in front of the television. As a result, they are looking for excellent food delivered to their doors.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

4 Fundamentals to Keep in Mind about Soft Openings

When opening a new restaurant, having a soft opening is important to work out any kinks that restaurant developers may not anticipate. The format of soft openings differs from restaurant to restaurant. The choice of how to approach them depends on geographic location, time of year, and even the inclinations of the restaurant staff.

Some restaurateurs choose to open new restaurants early, without any fanfare, in order to give the staff a chance to become accustomed to the menu and wait on a few tables. Other restaurants host a friends and family night to get honest feedback about food and service. Charity events are another popular way to get a test run in before opening a restaurant for business. Restaurant developers who want to keep the event low-key may simply have half the staff serve the other half and then switch.

Regardless of the form that a soft opening takes, it is critical for new restaurants to get a trial run in before the location’s formal opening. This trial run will not ensure everything goes perfectly on opening day, but it can help iron out some of the issues that might otherwise cause disaster when the restaurant officially opens. Below are four pieces of advice that restaurant developers should keep in mind as they plan soft openings for their newest projects.

1. A soft opening is a stress test.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about a soft opening is that it is a sort of stress test for the restaurant. As a general rule, restaurateurs should not expect service to go smoothly during the soft opening. After all, troubleshooting is the very reason to have a soft opening. Instead, restaurateurs should view a soft opening as a chance to evaluate employees and see where service providers need improvement, whether in the kitchen or on the floor.

Often, restaurant developers send their wait staff out with very little instruction to see how they operate in demanding situations and then make adjustments as necessary. The stress test applies as much to waiters as it does to cooks. Typically, chefs can only guess what dishes will be the most popular and which will take the longest to make, so a soft opening helps to plan better for future dinner services.

2. Soft openings fuel menu development.

Developers should view soft openings as a chance to make the menu as close to perfect as possible before the restaurant actually opens its doors. Even the most talented chefs cannot guess exactly what diners want, especially since trends in food come and go quickly. The soft opening is the first time that a restaurant’s concept is previewed by people not directly attached to the restaurant, so all feedback should be taken to heart.

For this reason, it may be wise to hold several different soft opening events for different crowds, such as the media, industry workers, and friends and family. Each of these groups will have different opinions, but if all three reported that they did not like the same dish, then it may be time to reconceptualize the offering from scratch. Some restaurant developers will work with chefs to tweak the menu after each soft opening event, while others will take aggregated feedback from all the events to make major changes before the grand opening.

3. A soft opening can strengthen neighborhood ties.

When planning a soft opening, it is wise to involve local merchants as much as possible. Especially when restaurants open in busy downtown areas, they should invite local business owners to a soft opening event, such as a happy hour. This “handshake” can forge important business relationships and create loyal customers. Also, restaurants can also team with other local artisans to offer hyper-local products that draw in crowds.

For example, a restaurant may team with a baker to make special desserts, or with a local brewery to offer special collaboration beers. To build buzz within the neighborhood, restaurants may also want to offer certain services prior to the grand opening. A restaurant could operate as a café or a bar before opening its full dining room. This move brings people from the community into the space and gets them excited for the beginning of full food service.

4. Soft openings are an investment in the future.

Through soft openings, restaurant developers can identify exactly what they need to work on to ensure the future success of an establishment. Sometimes, this work involves a significant financial investment. Different philosophies exist about how to price soft openings, but many restaurants end up offering food and drinks for free as a way to bring people in the door and encourage them to offer honest feedback.

Soft opening events can cost, collectively, tens of thousands of dollars, but restaurant developers need to see this expense as an investment in the future of the restaurant. Many restaurant developers would not hesitate to spend an equivalent amount of money on a spectacular grand opening, but grandeur will not impress diners if the food and service are not up to par. Often, this money is better spent on soft openings to ensure that the menu going out on the grand opening is solid and that servers understand the food and will provide the highest level of service possible.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Make the Most of a Small Restaurant Space with These 5 Tips

One of the biggest challenges that restaurant developers face is finding adequate space for their new establishment. In highly competitive markets on the East Coast like New York City, space is extremely limited, and restaurateurs often have to work magic to make small locations look appealing and attract repeat customers. Below are some important tips for maximizing the space in a small location and making your restaurant feel inviting, rather than cramped.

1. Focus heavily on the front of house.

The first impression that diners have is colored largely by the front of house space. When diners enter a restaurant, they may feel claustrophobic if the foyer is very tiny. However, following a few key tips can make a small entry area feel more open. Light paint colors, for example, make any room feel more spacious, because light colors reflect more natural light and can make walls appear to recede. In addition, the use of stretch fabrics on ceilings can create further dimension. High ceilings also give rooms extra volume. Many restaurants have strategically placed mirrors in the foyer to give the space more depth and make it looker larger than it is. These small tweaks can make your front of house much more impressive and welcoming, and lend an excellent first impression.

2. Incorporate restaurant trends that maximize space.

For restaurateurs, flexibility is extremely important. Keeping up with dining trends can help restaurants continue to feel fresh even after many years of operation. Luckily, a few rising trends in the industry can also help maximize space. For example, one of the more popular trends throughout the country is the use of communal dining tables. These bigger tables can seat a large number of guests more efficiently than several small tables, and they leave more room for the space needed to accommodate walkways between tables. Some other trends that can make a smaller space feel larger are floor-to-ceiling glass windows, strategically placed lighting, and rollup garage doors, which can be opened to create a hybrid indoor-outdoor dining area in the summer.

3. Don’t cram the space with too much seating.

Many customers prefer a smaller dining room because it offers an intimate, cozy feel. After all, larger dining rooms can seem like a cafeteria. However, restaurant developers sometimes go wrong by trying to incorporate too much into a smaller space. When diners are constantly bumping into other customers or wait staff, the dining area has too many tables. Restaurateurs often think that more tables equate to more income, but this doesn’t hold true when the number of tables actively detracts from the customer experience. Customers who have a negative experience won’t return, and moreover, they’ll likely discourage their friends visiting as well. In contrast, having limited seating can give the restaurant an air of exclusivity that makes people eager to come.

4. Consult with the necessary professionals.

Before signing the lease on a new space, restaurateurs should work with compliance consultants or construction engineers, who can survey the space to ensure that it meets local building code requirements. Some spaces may simply be too small to meet code requirements for restaurants, or to seat enough diners to make the business profitable. Designers who have experience in the restaurant and bar industry can help give restaurant developers a better idea of what they can do to transform a space and make the most of a floor plan. When designers are hired early in a restaurant development project, they can provide invaluable input by identifying spaces that are simply too small from a design standpoint and those that may have a lot of potential even if they don’t look like it. Restaurateurs should also consult with construction engineers to ensure that plumbing and electrical needs can be met.

5. Use a reservation system to stagger seating.

Fine dining establishments often implement reservation systems to keep the restaurant from becoming too crowded. Moreover, a reservation system can prove especially beneficial for restaurants that don’t have waiting areas. Some smaller restaurants use staggered reservation times for nearby tables so that the dining room is never filled to capacity. This sort of staggering can also help pace the flow of orders to the kitchen, so that cooks never get overwhelmed. As a result, people spend less time waiting for a table and waiting for their dinner. Restaurants may also limit the reservation times offered to diners. For example, they may only offer seating at 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00 p.m. This system helps control the flow of diners in and out of the restaurant to minimize crowds.