Tuesday, April 26, 2016

5 Powerful Ways to Better Connect with Customers on Twitter

In today’s competitive restaurant market, diners are coming to expect an increasing amount of engagement with the establishments at which they dine. One of the best ways to connect with diners is through social media. In years past, restaurants could get away with having their own website and little else. Later, a Facebook profile became necessary. Today, however, restaurants need to reach out to customers through a wide variety of different social-networking platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. An extremely popular social-media platform, Twitter allows people to “tweet” short messages and photos to their followers.

For restaurant developers, Twitter offers a great way to let diners know about specials or new offerings. In addition, tweeting is an excellent method of attracting new customers. As followers organically retweet the restaurant’s messages to their own circles, they give the establishment an incredible amount of free marketing that comes across as a recommendation from a friend rather than as an advertisement. 

Unfortunately, many restaurant developers may not understand how to use Twitter effectively to market their establishments or realize the wide range of ways to engage customers using the platform. The following are some tips on how a restaurant can get the most from its Twitter account:

Post photos.

People are said to eat “with their eyes first,” so posting appealing pictures of food can bring people into a restaurant. From a computer, restaurateurs can use twitpic, yfrog, and similar services to upload photos, and most smartphone Twitter apps support photo posting. Another great way to share photos is to retweet photos that followers have taken—provided that they make the food look great. Doing this not only demonstrates how much other people love the restaurant’s food, but it also makes individuals feel recognized by the restaurant. When retweeting, restaurant owners should always send a quick thank-you note to the initial tweeter to develop a strong relationship with the customer.

Share daily specials.

Most restaurants feature special dishes and cocktails that aren’t on the regular menu. Before Twitter, restaurants would use signs or chalkboards outside the restaurant to advertise these specials. While Twitter does not render these old-school methods irrelevant, it is often a much more effective way of bringing people into the restaurant to try these unique offerings.

Restaurant developers should think strategically about when they tweet these specials. Dinner specials should be sent out around 4 p.m., when people are just getting hungry and starting to think about what they want to eat. Another approach is to tweet early in the day so that people have time to alter their plans and try a particularly intriguing dish.

 Build a strong following.

While many restaurant developers wait for their social media networks to grow organically, it is smart to jumpstart the process by following local food lovers. Often, these people will follow back so that messages instantly reach a larger crowd. Food lovers are more likely to retweet photos and messages so that the network expands at an exponential rate. Restaurant developers should be aggressive about building a following, especially if their establishment is new.

Another trick for building a quick following is to hold contests, such as trivia games. Every few days, the restaurant can tweet a question and offer a free appetizer or cocktail to the first correct response. Many people will follow the restaurant for a chance to win.

 Humanize the restaurant.

Followers can get burnt out on pictures and posts about food. To build a strong following, it is important to humanize the restaurant by posting funny things that staff members say and regular updates about employees, such as an engagement or a new pregnancy. With the permission of customers, restaurants can also share photos of regulars having fun at the restaurant. In the case of special events, the restaurant should focus on the fun that people are having as much as the food itself. People love feeling a personal connection to a business that they patronize; therefore humanizing the establishment will build a more loyal following.

Pay attention to what people say.

Twitter allows people to search tweets, so restaurant developers can see exactly what users are saying about them. While this function is a great exercise for collecting constructive feedback and seeing some positive reviews, it is also an effective way to connect with users and respond to their concerns. Restaurant developers should avoid getting defensive and instead focus on making customers happy and letting them know that their feedback has been received.

Restaurant developers can also use Twitter to discover what people are saying about their competition. If someone posts something negative about a competitor, it is a great opportunity to invite that individual into the restaurant for a more pleasant experience. In addition, good reviews of competitors can give restaurant developers and idea about how to improve their own services and align offerings with customer expectations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How to Choose the Best Restaurant Flooring

When restaurant developers begin to think about design, flooring is usually low on the list of priorities. However, flooring is an extremely important decision, and making the right choice is more complicated than one might initially imagine. Some of the most critical factors to consider include durability, cost, and aesthetics, as well as safety.


The bathrooms, the kitchen, and the dining area should have different flooring that reflects the unique needs of each space. If not well thought-out, flooring choices can even affect a restaurateur’s bottom line. The National Floor Safety Institute reports that trips and falls cost the restaurant industry between $11 and $12 billion annually in increased insurance expenses, lawsuits, and missed days of work.

Making Restaurant Flooring Safer

Restaurant developers typically consider the following three key points when choosing flooring that is safe and appropriate:

1.  Slip resistance—Each space in the restaurant requires a different type of flooring that provides adequate slip resistance. Historically, tile manufacturers included coefficient of friction (COF) information that spoke more about quality of the tile than its ability to prevent slips. While new standards that are more stringent have been introduced, it is the restaurant developer’s responsibility to do due diligence and choose the ideal products for each different space in the establishment.

2.  Care and cleaning—Before investing in a specific type of flooring, one should have a good idea of what proper care is required. Indeed, this information can have a major impact on ultimate decisions. When floors are improperly cared for, they become a hazard for customers and employees. If the desired floors will demand a large investment in cleaning, it is perhaps a better decision to invest in something that looks similar but requires less stringent care.

Importantly, restaurant developers should never compensate for care expenses by purchasing cheap cleaning supplies. Over time, grease and oil will accumulate on the flooring in any restaurant, especially in the kitchen. This build-up creates a slippery film that cheap products will not remove. Some especially cheap cleaning products add their own film, which makes the flooring even more dangerous.

3.  Floor coverings—All coverings, such as mats and rugs, should have rubber, slip-resistant backings. They should be also be properly maintained so that they do not curl up at the ends and become tripping hazards. When cleaning floors, it is critical to ensure that the floors dry completely before laying coverings back down. Otherwise, the water still on the floor can serve as a lubricant and cause the covering to slip out from under a patron or employee.

Other Flooring Factors to Consider

While safety should be one of the primary factors in a restaurant developer’s mind when choosing flooring, a number of other factors also come into play. Restaurateurs need to think about the restaurant’s brand and what kind of flooring fits the aesthetic. A family restaurant will likely have much different flooring than an upscale Italian eatery or a hip, lounge-like establishment. 

Several different types of flooring are available to restaurant developers depending on their needs. Carpeting has long been a primary choice because it is affordable and easily maintained. In addition, carpet has more traction than virtually all other options, and it can have a wonderful acoustic effect. However, when carpet is placed in high-traffic areas, its durability can wane.

Because durability is a major factor, a popular trend in flooring is to mix various finishes so that the restaurant benefits from the acoustic effects of carpet, as well as the bright splashes of color that it can provide, while keeping durable materials in other areas. One of the most durable materials on the market today is finished concrete, which is virtually indestructible. Also, various treatments can achieve a wide range of aesthetic affects. The downside of finished concrete is that it reflects sound waves, which could mean additional costs for ceiling and wall treatments that dampen the echoes.

Another fashionable option for restaurant flooring is reclaimed wood. While hardwood is not typically considered to be extremely durable, reclaimed wood is already worn, therefore damage to it will not be obvious. The other benefit of reclaimed wood is that it is environmentally friendly. However, this option can be extremely pricey. Many restaurants use reclaimed wood for highlights, particularly in bar areas or entrances.

When looking at different flooring options, many restaurant developers forget to ask about installation. Different materials require various subbase and underlayment materials. These additional materials can add to the cost, and failing to adhere to manufacturer recommendations can shorten the lifespan of flooring and even make it dangerous. For example, if people use the wrong kind of mortar and grout with a tile, the flooring may quickly crush and crumble. When installing flooring, it is imperative that restaurant developers consult with experienced experts to ensure a quality job. Something as small as an air bubble beneath the mortar bed can jeopardize the integrity of the floor.

Tuesday, April 12, 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.

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.

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 Amazon are trying to get in on the food delivery market, and services like GrubHub and Seamless 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.

Tuesday, April 5, 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.

menu item
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.