Millennials & Customization: The Future

The increasing demands from younger diners make the build-your-own-meal platform a must today.  Our next blog explores this in more detail and how to change to thrive.  In the meantime, courtesy of QSR Magazine, see the transcript of the article below or click here for the original:

How Millennials’ Love for Customization is Changing Quick Service
Allowing diners to customize menu items has been part of the quick-service firmament for years, but increasing demands from younger diners make the build-your-own-meal platform a must today.

In fact, while speed has been key to the quick-service experience, it might now be playing second fiddle to choice when these young guests decide where to eat.

“The reason is Gen Y, the millennials,” says Bill Guilfoyle, associate professor of business management at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “Every restaurant, especially in quick service, is moving to attract this group.”

Millennials “love customization,” he says. “They don’t want the same old thing, but would rather do their own thing.”

This ability to create a meal takes a number of forms. Some brands provide a broad range of ingredients and let the customer build their entire dish; some offer chef-crafted options that can be tweaked. Some concepts package meals into combinations of two or more menu items, while others take a more a-la-carte approach.

Setting limits on the number of ingredients guests can select for a dish saves time and labor, Guilfoyle says. Additionally, too many choices may be confusing for diners, something students in his “Intrapreneurship” program discovered at a fast-casual concept they tested in the Hyde Park campus’s student union.

“The items we put on the menu as custom ideas, like a banh mi meatball sandwich, were received better than a build-your-own version,” he says. “In terms of efficiency, it was the way to go.”

Too many ingredients in a build-your-own dish also could create taste issues.

“I think anything over seven [ingredients], where the protein and the sauce are two of them, begins to be an issue,” says Matt Harding, director of culinary at Columbus, Ohio–based Piada Italian Street Food. “Otherwise you potentially add a lot of noise.”

Some ingredients for Piada’s bowls, salads, and namesake piadas—similar to burritos—already use several spices. Also, some choices may clash with others if they are combined into a dish. Restaurant associates are trained to guide guests to the best combinations, but not to balk on requests. “We really push our staff to say, ‘Certainly,’” Harding says.

Every chef or operator has a sweet spot for the number of ingredients in a dish, and guests, particularly newcomers to a concept, often need direction, says Diana Kelter, foodservice analyst with market research firm Mintel.

Take poké, for example. The native Hawaiian chopped seafood salad has made its way to the mainland in recent years, and a number of limited-service restaurants featuring the raw fish dish have popped up in California and are working their way east.

“Guests are saying, ‘I don’t know what kind of sauce works best with this or what combinations are good,’” Kelter says. “It can be a learning process to find the number of ingredients that fit your taste.”

When Sweetfin Poké’s chef and co-owner, Dakota Weiss, was designing the Santa Monica, California–based company’s first restaurant, customer comfortability was a top consideration. “We were always thinking of having build your own, but that can be really intimidating for people not familiar with poké,” she says. “And there are lots of ingredients on the menuboard.”

As a result, she developed a series of signature bowls for the majority of guests “who don’t want to do too much thinking” about the choices.

At Pokeworks, which has units in a half-dozen large markets, its Signature Works are meant to guide diners. “It gives customers the opportunity to explore more options for their palates and then come back and try other ones,” says cofounder Kevin Hsu.

Poké, which includes chunks of seafood traditionally served with salt, sesame oil, and other garnishes in a bowl, is akin to deconstructed sushi. That helps many guests adapt to the concept and create their own dishes, Hsu adds.

The growth in all types of bowls continues unabated. During 2016’s third quarter, menued bowls jumped 9 percent from a year earlier, according to Mintel Menu Insights. At the same time, the number of ingredients in bowls increased 6 percent.

“While bowls are not always served in a build-your-own format, that is a common trend,” Kelter says. “This data demonstrates that bowls continue to get more layered with ingredients.”

Bowls are a popular serving method at Teriyaki Madness. Guests can choose among seven proteins prepared mostly teriyaki-style, along with steamed or stir-fried vegetables atop a base that could be one of three types of rice or yakisoba noodles.

“We’re sort of Seattle-style bowls—big bowls of Japanese-style vegetables, protein, and rice or noodles,” says Michael Haith, chief executive of the Denver-based company. “It’s simple Japanese comfort food with a twist.”

The most popular combination is white rice, chicken teriyaki, and a mix of vegetables. The food is cooked and assembled in the kitchen when ordered.

The staff at Teriyaki Madness is trained to understand the flavor profiles of the ingredients and to deal with dietary needs of guests with special requirements. “Then it’s easy to help customers put together the best combinations,” Haith says.

Most operators say training is essential in the build-your-own movement, especially as guests progress along a Chipotle-like assembly line.

“When guests create their own and it’s not fantastic, it’s our fault because we allowed them to do that,” Piada’s Harding says. “But if you have someone up front who knows the flavors and can guide consumers, you have more control.”

Piada had mostly build-your-own dishes when it launched in 2010. But it developed chef-inspired versions to give diners more direction and to keep service from bogging down.

If guests require guidance in well-known styles like Italian, imagine the issues that could arise in poké.

“Some people would literally put every ingredient on their poké, and then tell us it wasn’t great,” Sweetfin’s Weiss says. “We don’t say to a guest, ‘You can’t do that,’ but we can steer them in the right direction.”

With nearly 30 potential add-ons, choosing can be difficult, so staffers may recommend a few for flavor and texture. The nine signature dishes at Sweetfin consist of three or four basic ingredients, plus poké basics like scallions, white and black sesame seeds, and salt.

Pokeworks not only has bowls, but also poké burritos, which are large sushi rolls. The construction of the rolls, like the bowls, is done along an assembly line.

“You can choose your protein, like tuna or salmon, then mix-ins, sauces, toppings, and then crunch,” Hsu says, noting that the crunch can be something like roasted macadamia nuts or wonton crisps.

The whole idea of customization is to provide options for guests’ tastes and dietary needs, and offering these alternatives has become increasingly popular, says Andrew Pudalov, founder and chief executive of Rush Bowls. The Boulder, Colorado–based chain has 15 nutritious bowls—good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner—as well as limited-time offers.

“For most people, these are something to start with, then a percentage want them fine-tuned for their own liking,” Pudalov says. “Say they want extra whey protein because they’re working out, or soy or almond milk because of a lactose issue.”

Popular Rush bowls include Peanut Butter & Jelly, with house-ground peanut butter, bananas, and strawberries. The Jungle bowl features strawberries, pineapple, bananas, shaved coconut, two juices, and more. Fat-free frozen yogurt is optional.

The Create Your Own salad is a favorite at Saladworks. Guests can choose among five lettuce or pasta bases, any five of 60 toppings—including proteins, vegetables, cheeses, and other ingredients—and then one of 17 dressings. Anything more is extra.

“If you think about the salads you have at home, you’re probably not having more than five ingredients,” says Patrick Sugrue, chief executive of the Conshohocken, Pennsylvania–based company. “You want to have a consistent flavor throughout the salad.” That’s difficult to achieve as more ingredients are added in, he says.

For most customers, five toppings are plenty, he adds, and some guests seek even less variety, doubling up on some toppings. Also, more ingredients mean that the salad creation will take longer, and “speed is crucial at lunch.”

In an effort to give consumers more control, Saladworks is testing kiosks that help guests choose ingredients and provide nutritional and dietary data directing them to ingredients reflecting their lifestyles. “This will add a lot of value to customers,” Sugrue says.

Older concepts, such as burger and pizza joints, still can develop new build-you-own ideas. Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes, for example, has made burger customization one of its staples, with guests choosing among five protein options, four buns, and 27 toppings and sauces. The only items that bring an extra charge are bacon and cheese.

Over the past few years, however, Plano, Texas–based Mooyah created a “Taste to Try” burger of the month. This introduces new combinations of existing ingredients to guide guests. Combinations have included the Hamburgdog, which is a beef burger topped with a hot dog, cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapeños, fried onion strings, and ketchup on a white bun.

Offering many ingredients “brings a little bit of choice anxiety” for diners, says Natalie Anderson Liu, vice president of marketing at Mooyah. “You may not be building your best-tasting burger because you can’t imagine it. So some people just have them stripped down with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and ketchup.”

“Taste to Try” offerings are not limited-time offers, because the toppings are always available. Liu says many guests continue to choose these special burgers, maybe with some tweaks. And the guest check for them is 40 percent higher, partly because they include at least one extra-charge ingredient.

Pizza has always been a create-your-own dish, but Fresno, California–based Blast & Brew is adding a new twist: creating meals that allow guests to pair their pizza with a choice of more than 30 taps of self-pour, by-the-ounce craft beer. That gives diners the opportunity to try small amounts of different beer with their pizza.

Staff behind the counter is trained to recommend beer that works best with certain pizzas, says Mike Reynolds, chief development officer. There’s also an expert “beer genius” working near the taps that can provide guidance.

“You can not only customize your pizza experience, but you can customize your entire dining experience,” he says.

Blast & Brew is mostly a fast-casual operation, although the beer genius can take orders for food and deliver them to the tables, which Reynolds says occurs more in the evening, when alcohol sales are higher.

The concept of building your own meal is also being combined with creating your own menu. Dallas-based Corner Bakery Cafe’s Choose Any Two option allows guests to construct a set-price lunch or dinner with two items. They choose from among a half sandwich, half panini, grilled flatbread, pasta, salad, and cup of soup.

A number of the menu items “lend themselves to customization, and we see a significant amount of modification,” says chief executive Frank Paci. While few guests build their own sandwiches or salads, many make changes, adding and subtracting ingredients.

“Ultimately, what you want to do is make the customer happy,” he says. “You previously could do a half sandwich and cup of soup, but now you can get a chopped salad or one of our pastas in combination. It gives you great choice and flexibility.”

That’s an advantage of fast-casual dining, he says, because “if something is made to order, it is easy to change. The term I like is ‘personalizing your meal.’”

This story originally appeared in QSR’s March 2017 issue with the title “Creative Construction.”
QSR Magazine #foodserviceequipment #restaurant

Effective Restaurant Managers

Restaurant News offers advice to restaurant managers on how to be effective both back and front of house. Transcript taken from Restaurant News’ article

Restaurant managers have a lot of responsibility…and of course, this can be a good thing or a bad thing! If you’d like to avoid making some of the biggest management mistakes, read on to find out what you should never do.

1. Mistreat employees.

If you’re unfair or unkind, it will come back to haunt you in the form of employees who don’t feel any loyalty towards their job. A restaurant can’t be successful without dedicated employees.

2. Don’t give customers any opportunity for feedback.

Whether it involves checking in with them at their tables or leaving comment cards, give your customers the opportunity to let you know about any problems. If you don’t, you have no way of knowing what mistakes you’re making.

3. Ignore customer complaints.

If a customer takes the time to complain, it’s important to take them seriously and do everything you can to make it better, whether that involves apologizing, comping the meal, or giving out coupons for future meals.

4. Tell customers they’re wrong.

Even if you know a customer’s complaint is ridiculous, there’s still no excuse for telling them they’re wrong. It’s important to take every customer complaint seriously, even the ones that don’t make sense.

5. Ignore social media.

Check Facebook, Twitter, and review sites (like Yelp) often to see what customers are saying about your restaurant. It’s important to know what impression customers are getting of your business.

6. Argue with customers online.

Social media gives you a great opportunity to respond to customers in public, but this opportunity can turn into a pitfall if you just argue and insult customers. Remember that everyone can see your online comments!

7. Don’t give employees clear instructions.

Your employees aren’t mind readers! If you want dishes prepared a certain way or tables arranged just so, you have to tell them. Clear instructions will save time and hassle.

8. Keep employees who are dead weight.

Is an employee lazy, constantly late, or just a bad worker? It’s your job as a manager to keep the restaurant running smoothly, and you can’t do that if you keep employees who don’t do their jobs.

9. Be a stickler about the rules.

Yes, it’s good to have rules, but realize that you can’t be strict all the time. Occasionally, it’s in your best interest to bend the rules for a customer if it will make them happy (and if it isn’t too much of an inconvenience).

10. Ignore problems.

A leaky faucet? An underselling menu item? Employees who just don’t get along? Broken equipment? These problems shouldn’t just be swept under the rug. If you ignore them, they’ll just hurt you more in the long run.

11. Discipline employees in front of customers.

If an employee screws up, of course you have to talk to them about it (and possibly take disciplinary action). But never do it in front of customers! It’s awkward for everyone in your dining room to watch, and it won’t make customers want to come back.

12. Fail to communicate with employees.

If there’s an important change to the schedule or menu, your employees need to know. If you fail to keep them in the loop, your entire restaurant will look bad.

13. Act above the rules.

The restaurant rules are there for everyone to follow…and this includes managers! When you act like you’re above the rules, this sets a bad example for employees.

14. Let a customer leave unhappy.

You should do whatever it takes (within reason) to make sure everyone leaves your restaurant happy. It may seem like an expense to offer a free meal or coupon to a disgruntled customer, but it will pay off in the long run.

15. Not know what’s going on in every part of the restaurant.

Could you describe everything your kitchen staff does in a day? What about your bussers or your servers? As a manager, it’s your job to be aware of these things at all times.

16. Avoid giving positive feedback.

It’s important to let your employees know what they’re doing wrong, but it’s just as important to let them know what they’re doing right! This leads to happier, more satisfied employees, which in turn leads to a more successful restaurant.

17. Forget about customers.

Remember, customers are the reason why the restaurant exists in the first place! Always put their needs first.

Managing a restaurant may be a lot of responsibility, but by avoiding these 17 pitfalls you can be a better manager and help your restaurant succeed.

Article provided by Buzztime.

#foodserviceequipment #foodservice #restaurantmanager

NRA: Restaurant sales to hit $799B in 2017

The restaurant industry is expecting sales of about $799 billion in 2017 – much of the growth is coming from limited-service options as consumers continue shifting their spending toward quicker, more convenience-oriented fare.
#foodservice #foodserviceequipment #restaurants

Industry expected to grow by 1.7 percent, driven by new options and locations
Jonathan Maze | Feb 28, 2017

The restaurant industry is expecting sales of about $799 billion in 2017 as consumers continue to allocate more money towards eating out, the National Restaurant Association said in its annual industry outlook this week.

The $799 billion increased 4.3 percent over last year’s estimated sales of $766 billion, and 1.7 percent when adjusted for inflation. That rate of growth is slightly better than the 1.5 percent increase estimated in 2016.

And much of the growth is coming from limited-service options as consumers continue shifting their spending toward quicker, more convenience-oriented fare. Sales at quick-service restaurants are expected to increase 2.5 percent, when adjusted for inflation, to $234 billion.

Full-service restaurants, meanwhile, are expected to see 1.1 percent growth to $263 billion.

“The real growth rates for quick service is more than double than that of full service,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for the research
and knowledge group at the association. “That’s been the case for quite a few years now.”

Projected growth is not evenly spread across the country. More growth is coming from states in the Southeast and Western states — which, not surprisingly, is also where the population is growing. Sales will be slowest in the Midwest.

The industry has grown at a steady pace since emerging from the brutal financial crisis that led to a rare absolute decline in restaurant sales in 2009. Yet the rate of growth has slowed, as the industry has become saturated with dining options and consumers keep a tighter control on spending.

Between 1970 and 2017, Riehle said, the compound annual growth rate for the industry has been 6.4 percent. Since 2007, however, that rate of growth has slowed to 4.3 percent.

“The fact remains that growth rates are definitely more moderate than the pre-recessionary period,” Riehle said. “That’s the environment we see in the years ahead.”

Restaurant chain executives have spent the past 18 months fretting about declining traffic and weak same-store sales, and many have suggested consumers have been skittish. And Riehle said that is a clear factor in slowing, post-recessionary sales.

While the economy has grown and unemployment has fallen, incomes have grown only modestly. The restaurant industry is competing with other consumer expenditures like cars and cell phones.

“With income growth positive yet still moderate, consumers are more diligent about their spending,” Riehle said. He noted that 13 percent of consumer spending is on food, and about half of that is at restaurants.

The NRA’s numbers feature a wide variety of places where people eat food, including restaurants but also grocery store prepared foods, hospital cafeterias and concession stands at baseball stadiums.

The traditional restaurant piece of that business is expected to grow 1.7 percent, adjusted for inflation, to $571.5 billion from $547.0 billion.

That, plus restaurant unit growth from new and existing concepts, have made for a competitive industry: There are more than 1 million places where consumers can get a prepared meal.

“This is a competitive environment, not only among other operators, but also in terms of options and necessary spending the consumer now has — cell phones, for example,” Riehle said.

The competitiveness of the industry is driving a wave of technological innovation that hasn’t been seen in years, and perhaps ever. The industry has been focused on adding technology, such as mobile ordering and payment technology as well as delivery and options such as kiosk ordering.

“It’s actually more important to think about it as points of access than bricks and mortar,” Riehle said.

Indeed, more industry access is coming from take-out, to go and delivery formats, rather than traditional dine-in options. Even traditional casual dining and other dine-in concepts see the future in to-go business.

“It’s important to note that restaurants are in a better situation than they were a few years ago,” Riehle said. “But the fact is, a lot of growth in the industry has not really come from more people going through the doors.

“The market is much more off-premise oriented.”

The technology focus could help address the industry’s biggest challenge: Labor costs.

Hourly wages last year increased 4.2 percent in the industry. Restaurants offset those higher costs with price increases and by taking advantage of lower food costs.

But higher minimum wages and a tight labor market are driving up wages. Operators say in surveys that their biggest current concern is the recruitment and retention of labor, Riehle said.

Much of the technology integration could help offset that by increasing labor productivity — a rarity in an industry that depends heavily on people power.

“Productivity growth in the restaurant industry has really been quite minimal over the past decade,” Riehle said. “Sales per employee in the industry is still low not only compared to other retailers, but it’s low compared with other industries.”

The good news for restaurants is that consumers still like eating out. Two of five adults say they don’t eat out as often as they’d like, Riehe said. So, despite heavy competition and slowing growth, that means there’s still plenty of growth potential.

“If you look at it on a 21-meal [per week] basis, consumers eat five or six of those away from home,” Riehle said. “You’re still talking 13 to 14 traditional, at-home occasions. There is still considerable upside to be had.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze

The Microsoft Dining Experience

Echoing our recent blog about the millennial generation’s need for transparency, Microsoft’s senior manager of services talks about how he ensures the Redmond Campus dining experience is an employee success with FoodService Director magazine (copy courtesy of FoodService Director):

With the resources of one of the nation’s most prominent tech companies behind him, how does Mark Freeman, senior manager of employee services for Microsoft, harness all that power? Two words: “ingredient revolution,” or providing diners more transparency about where their food comes from and how it’s taken care of. The ingredient revolution has “been an interesting journey because it’s taken us into a lot of different places,” Freeman says.

1. Misfit produce program
Freeman’s team talked to farmers, and realized 40% of crops were being towed under because they were unattractive. Microsoft’s use of “ugly” produce gives customers a good feeling, he says, because “the farmer has taken time and energy to grow it.”

2. Soldier flies
Freeman says his team recently learned about these insects, which eat up to 30 times their own weight in garbage—or, in this case, plant-based waste. “As we start to understand the 360-degree economics of somebody’s waste becoming somebody else’s fuel, we look at the soldier fly, and that becomes food for fish; fish through aquaponics become food for plants; plants become food for flies,” he says.

3. Hydroponic towers
The misfit program got the dining team thinking about how far its produce had traveled to reach Microsoft’s campus—which led to growing 14,000-plus pounds of lettuce and microgreens annually in 55 cafe installations. “We’ve cut our carbon footprint from 600 miles to 6 feet,” Freeman says.

4. Efficient growth
Because Microsoft dining’s customers are, in fact, techies, they wanted to see how data could be applied to hydroponic towers. Software developers wrote programs to monitor water, pH, nutrients, humidity and more to predict when the hydroponic tower’s plants will need nutrients “instead of them asking for it, if you will,” Freeman says.

5. Managing big data
Not only does monitoring the towers allow Freeman’s team not to overproduce, the process “opened up some ideas around food waste, and how we’re dealing with it.” Data from cash register sales, employee badge swipes, daily traffic reports, weather forecasts and moon phases is being matched up as part of a waste reduction initiative. “What we’re finding is that all the data streams that are out there are starting to tell us a story,” Freeman says.

Microsoft dining—by the numbers
3.6M Cups of tea consumed annually
1.8M Bottles of lemon-lime flavored Talking Rain water consumed annually, making it the most popular free beverage
917,000 Pizza slices sold annually
90+ Dining destinations in the Puget Sound region, including 12 food trucks and three full-service restaurants
2,064 Average daily transactions at Cafe 16, the most popular eatery on campus

Source: Compass Group supporting Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities

#foodservice #foodserviceequipment #Microsoft