Author: David Klemt

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5 Books to Read this Month: May 2022

5 Books to Read this Month: May 2022

by David Klemt

Flipping through an open book

These engaging and informative book selections will help you develop next-level beverage skills and motivate you throughout May, 2022.

To review February’s book recommendations, click here.

Let’s jump in!

Rum Rebels: A Celebration of Women Revolutionizing the Spirits Industry

Written by authors Martyna Halas and René van Hoven, Rum Rebels raises a glass to women in the rum world. Readers will learn the inspiring stories of Lorena Vasquez from Zacapa, Joy Spence of Appleton, and more women driving rum forward and shaping this iconic spirit’s flavors, aromas, and textures.

In addition, this book serves as a masterclass in rum production, from tasting to aging. And since that’s enough for these incredible and ambitious authors, Rum Rebels also contains rum cocktail recipes.

Drink Lightly: A Lighter Take on Serious Cocktails

Operators, bar managers, and bartenders should see value in the driving ethos behind this cocktail book. Drink Lightly, authored by Nitecap bartender Natasha David, pairs precision drink-building techniques with a relaxed drinking experience.

Drinking lightly doesn’t mean sipping drinks bereft of complexity and depth. Along with 100 recipes, readers will enjoy a foreword by Alex Day of Proprietors LLC, whose concepts include Death & Co. and Nitecap.

Call Me Chef, Dammit!: A Veteran’s Journey from the Rural South to the White House

Hospitality is rooted in sacrifice and a commitment to serving others. Chef Andre Rush and his story embody service. Call Me Chef, Dammit! is the inspiring story of Chef Rush.

The storied chef has led an incredible life which includes a career in the US Army that spanned 24 years, advocating for military personnel and veterans, and winning multiple awards as a chef. Oh, and Chef Rush and his 24-inch biceps have also worked in the White House for four US presidents.

While there are no recipes in this book, there is one hell of an inspiring story in these pages.

The New Kindred Spirits: Over 2,000 All-New Reviews of Whiskeys, Brandies, Liqueurs, Gins, Vodkas, Tequilas, Mezcal & Rums from F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal

Anyone looking for a spirits bible need search no further. F. Paul Pacult’s The New Kindred Spirits includes over 2,400 in-depth reviews spanning a wide range of spirits. This tome evaluates a massive number of brandies, gins, liqueurs, rums, tequilas, vodkas, and whiskeys.

This all-encompassing compilation of spirit evaluations doesn’t just cover the usual suspects. The New Kindred Spirits also takes a deep dive into the craft side of the beverage industry.

Drinking & Knowing Things

Author and certified sommelier Michael Amon would like to know a couple things from those considering picking up Drinking & Knowing Things. “Do you want to uncork a bottle of whoop-ass on every winedouche and uppity sommelier?” And, “are you too lazy to spend any time whatsoever learning things?”

Anyone who answered “yes” to either or both questions needs this book. Amon says that readers who commit to spending five minutes reading the weekly wine recommendations found in Drinking & Knowing Things will give sommeliers a run for their wine-knowledge money. Wine intimidation? Not after reading this book.

Image: Mikołaj on Unsplash

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Stand Out with Weird Holidays: May 2022

Stand Out with Weird Holidays: May 2022

by David Klemt

Stay Weird neon sign with purple background

Want to stand out from from other restaurants and bars in your area? Then commit to keeping it weird.

Several “holidays” are set against every date on the calendar, and May is no exception. These holidays range from mainstream to “weird.”

Pay attention to the latter to raise eyebrows, carve out a niche for your restaurant or bar, and attract more guests. Why do what everyone else is already doing?

Of course, you shouldn’t try to celebrate every holiday, weird or otherwise. And this month’s list in no way includes every odd holiday.

Focus on the days that are authentic to your brand; resonate with your guests; and help you grab attention on social media.

For last month’s list, click here.

May 3: National Two Different-colored Shoes Day

Promotions don’t need to be complicated to generate traffic, revenue, and social media engagement. Encourage guests and staff to wear mismatched shoes and program around that call to action.

May 6: International No Diet Day

The fact that this holiday comes at the start of the weekend is awesome. It’s Friday, this holiday is all about indulging food and drink cravings, and people want to get back out there after being unable to gather for more than two years. Put your most decadent F&B items front and center!

May 8: National Have a Coke Day

Are you a Coca-Cola account? If so, great—create specialty menu items using Coke and promote them.

Not a Coke account? Well…you can always take a play out of some of the cheeky QSR brands’ playbooks and counter-program on this holiday.

May 13: National Crouton Day

Ah, the mighty-but-mini crunchy treat that is the crouton. Not only are they great in soups and salads, they can be an appetizer or shareable on their own. Better yet, they’re easy to make in-house, such as the revered grilled cheese crouton.

May 16: National Sea-Monkey Day

As we pointed out last week, Datassential has identified drinks that evoke nostalgia are a trend to watch this year. The infamous Sea-Monkeys have been around since the 1960s and also resonate with ’70s, ’80s, and even ’90s kids.

May 17: National Graduation Tassel Day

Most colleges hold their graduations in May. So, if you operate a restaurant or bar in a college town, this is your time to shine. A simple food and/or drink promotion aimed at new graduates is an excellent way to drive traffic and generate much-needed dollars.

May 22: National Craft Distillery Day

You most likely have at least a few products from craft distilleries on your menu. This is the day to highlight them, particularly if they’re local to your business.

May 24: National Scavenger Hunt Day

There are a few ways to program for this holiday. One way, of course, is to focus on your own operation(s) and come up with a scavenger hunt that keeps guests on property.

However, you can also team up with surrounding businesses to create a multi-venue scavenger hunt that engages the entire community and drives business to small operators.

May 25: National Sing Out Day

Do you host karaoke? Are you operating a piano bar? What about a raucous supper club? If your restaurant or bar is set up for singalongs, this is the holiday for you.

May 30: National Creativity Day

Hey, guess what you should do on this holiday? Tap into you and your team members’ creativity and come up with a promotion that’s truly unique.

Image: Dan Parlante on Unsplash

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Key Themes from HD Expo 2022

Key Themes from HD Expo 2022

by David Klemt

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino Las Vegas

The educational conference sessions at Hospitality Design Expo 2022 in Las Vegas were connected by a number of key, overarching themes.

Hosted by the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, HD Expo packed each day with invaluable education. Founders, designers, highly placed executives, and other influential industry professionals addressed a wide range of crucial topics.

Below are five key topics and themes from HD Expo 2022.

Sustainability

Unsurprisingly, sustainability was one of the most-discussed topics.

Of course, conversations about sustainable design, construction, and operational practices have been at the forefront of hospitality for several years now. However, the topic seemed supercharged this year at HD Expo.

Drilling down, speakers at the 2022 show are focusing on “building performance,” light-touch construction, and waste recovery, to name but a few session topics.

When some think about sustainability, they think of low- and no-waste practices, energy efficiency, and upcycling. For others, being sustainable means building in an eco-friendly or green way.

However, several HD Expo 2022 speakers, their teams and agencies, and their partners and clients are thinking more locally. The impact of building and operating on local communities is now a greater focus.

For example, Victor Body-Lawson, founder and principal of Body Lawson Associates Architects & Planners. During a panel he co-presented, Body-Lawson addressed the importance of designing, building, and operating for the local community.

In short, he explained how not using local materials and labor has a significant negative impact on the environment. Additionally, Body-Lawson feels that the objective of design is that whomever engages with end product—commercial or residential—comes out better.

Wellness

Refreshingly, it appears the stigma surrounding wellness is dissipating. More people seem to be more comfortable discussing their mental and emotional health openly.

Designers and their clients, particularly in the hotel and resort space, are taking note.

Long a staple amenity, the health center is undergoing reinvention. In fact, many resorts and hotels are focusing on wellness centers and programming.

In fact, a number of concepts are more wellness and healing getaway than hotel or resort. One such project coming to market is the Jenesis House.

The creation of Jenesis Laforcarde, this concept’s focus is explicitly mental health, physical well-being, and self-care. Additional core values are community, hiring local, and engaging with local small businesses.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Like the topic of wellness, DEI has received more earnest attention during the pandemic. And why not? Diversity, inclusion, and equity are inextricably connected to wellness.

Of course, DEI is also connected to community. Moving forward, designers, their partners, and their clients must focus on DEI within their companies and local communities.

One hotel brand that seeks to embody this mission is Caption, part of the Hyatt portfolio. Crystal Vinisse Thomas, VP and global brand leader of lifestyle and luxury brands for Hyatt, is bringing Caption to market.

At this brand’s core is community. Locals are as important as the travelers staying at a Caption property. And, again, why shouldn’t that be the case?

Locals will work at the hotel. Locals will use the hotel. And locals will feel the impact—positive or negative—of the hotel.

A visit to the website provides all the proof anyone needs that Caption is committed to locals:

  • “The people make the place here. We hire local, buy local, and vibe local.”
  • “We strive to be a good neighbor.”

Interestingly, Thomas tied DEI and the community together. While it may be a difficult conversation to start, if a designer, executive, partner, or client sees that a project isn’t representing the community, they need to address it.

Staying silent isn’t how things move forward. In fact, it’s a sure-fire way to take steps backward.

Discovery

What keeps guests coming back? Is it the amenities of a hotel? The food and beverage? Do guests return because of the service they receive?

Of course. However, a shift in guest behavior and expectations shows that F&B, amenities, and service may no longer be enough to motivate repeat visits.

When it comes to hotel and resort design, the future is discovery. Another way to think about discovery is the “hotel within the hotel,” or “resort inside the resort.” A concept that embraces this approach reveals layers that guests can discover.

Perhaps their first stay is in the main or more traditional space. Then, the guest discovers that there are different areas they can book for a stay. These could be villas, luxury tents, a pre-fab luxury Moliving unit (as an example)…

The point is that the guest knows they can engage with the property differently during each stay. While there are core elements that define a particular brand, they can deliver different experiences on the same property.

Of course, such a concept also ties into the themes of community and wellness. Many brands are eschewing the traditional operational ethos of attempting to keep a guest on property for as long as possible. Instead, the local community is a key experiential element of a hotel or resort.

The future of hospitality design—indeed, of hospitality as a whole—encompasses each of these themes. Perhaps most importantly, each theme serves a greater concept: Community.

Image: tommao wang on Unsplash

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Forward Progress: Trends by Venue Type

Forward Progress: Trends by Venue Type

by David Klemt

High contrast image of blue cocktail with lemon zest

One notable difficulty with considering new trends is that they’re not all necessarily a universal fit for all venue types.

For example, what may work well in an upscale restaurant perhaps won’t perform as well in a sports bar. Pursuing a trend that isn’t a good fit, obviously.

As any operator with experience knows, chasing fads and trends just to chase them can be costly. Doing so costs money (inventory, training, labor hours) and time deserving of better allocation.

However, failing to embrace any trends can also be costly. Watching a lucrative trend pass by can cost an operator guest engagement, perception, and traffic.

Take, for instance, the success of White Claw. Plenty of operators and consumers scoffed at the hard seltzer category as a whole at first.

Then, some people decided it was a drink category “for women.” As it exploded in popularity, hard seltzers proved immensely popular with men.

Basically, it’s an incredibly strong beverage alcohol category that resonates with a wide range of consumers. On some menus, hard seltzers are listed alongside beers.

So, hard seltzer, led largely by White Claw, showed itself to be a worthwhile trend to adopt.

Clearly, however, hard seltzer doesn’t resonate with all guests on all occasions in all types of hospitality venue types. For instance, generally speaking, a bucket of White Claws likely to be a top seller in a high-end restaurant specializing in seven- to nine-course meals.

Drink Trends by Venue

During Bar & Restaurant Expo in March of this year, Amanda Torgerson of Datassential presented 2022 drink trends operators should know.

One trend has essentially proliferated the industry. Really, it’s likely wise for us to all view this trend—hard seltzer—as mainstream now.

In the context of Torgerson’s presentation, Datassential is saying that hard seltzers are here to stay.

Among other trends, Torgerson shared Datassential’s data-backed view of drink trends segmented by venue category.

While every venue is unique and not every trend will work for every bar or restaurant in a given category, the results are no less intriguing.

Pubs: Dry-hopped beers, pastry stouts, and hard or spiked coffee.

Sports Bars: Mini-beers, hard seltzer, and reusable growlers.

Casual Bars: Seltzers with unique flavors, hard tea, hard lemonade, and drinks featuring local ingredients.

Upscale Bars: Negroni, wine-barrel-aged spirits, and flaming cocktails.

Nightclubs: Hard seltzers served with spirits, cocktails and punch bowls served with dry ice, and flaming cocktails.

Casual Restaurants: Wine cocktails, elevated brunch cocktails, and tea-based alcohol beverages.

Upscale Restaurants: Flaming cocktails (smoked may be better), all-natural wines, and made-to-order cocktail cart presentations.

Hotels, Resorts and Casinos: Made-to-order cocktail carts, alcohol vending machines, and drinks made with cold-pressed juices.

Interestingly, a few of the above trends identified by Datassential appear in multiple venue types.

The main things for an operator to keep in mind is what will resonate with their guests and what’s authentic to their brand. When it comes to trends, one size doesn’t fit all and an individual venue’s mileage will vary.

However, the above list should at least show operators what Datassential sees resonating with guests in an array of venues.

Image: Ozge Karabal on Pexels

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Forward Progress: 2022 Drink Trends

Forward Progress: 2022 Drink Trends

by David Klemt

Cocktail on bar mat behind bar

Curious about what drink trends to leverage throughout 2022 to fulfill guest desires and expectations? Datassential has answers.

Of course, nobody has a crystal ball. However, as their name suggests, Datassential has something similar: data.

A trove of their valuable data was shared during Bar & Restaurant Expo 2022. Amanda Torgerson, senior account manager at Datassential, revealed the trends operators should be aware of this year.

Datassential MegaTrends

During this informative session, Torgerson shared what Datassential has identified as three “megatrends.” In other words, two trends that are particularly noteworthy.

First up, self-service. Whether beer, wine, or cocktails, Datassential thinks today’s guest wants more control.

Self-service beverage alcohol taps offer control in multiple ways, pour size and customization among them.

In addition, guests don’t have to wait for servers or bartenders when serving themselves. And, of course, self-service cuts down on front-of-house labor costs.

Second, experiential imbibing. In this context, this doesn’t simply relate to occasion, service, location, and ambiance.

Rather, the drink itself is an experience. Experiential cocktails engage multiple senses and include:

  • color-changing cocktails (those using butterfly pea powder, for example);
  • cocktail carts (similar to tableside guacamole preparations, tableside cocktail prep and service);
  • fire and smoke: smoked, charred, and burnt cocktails;
  • drinks that invoke nostalgia and guests’ childhoods;
  • frozen drinks; and
  • beer, wine, spirit, and cocktail flights.

Finally, botanicals. As we know, scent is a crucial component of taste. Botanicals, obviously, activate one’s olfactory sense.

Additionally, botanicals can affect a drink’s appearance and taste. So, break out the Chartreuse, Lillet, and elderflower liqueurs.

And while your team is at it, consider how else scent can be used to entice guests and enhance the drinking experience.

Best of the Rest

Treating this as more of a speed round, let’s review Datassential’s trend predictions in four major categories.

Seltzer/Beer

When it comes to hard seltzer, Datassential has (re)confirmed what we all know: This category has staying power. And as many operators found out during the pandemic, seltzers can boost to-go and delivery sales.

Beer cocktails are also trending up, per Datassential. Mini-bottles of beer also having a moment, and can easily tie into the beer cocktail trend.

Finally, heirloom beers—those made with heirloom grains—are proving popular with consumers.

Wine

According to Torgerson, wine seltzer is poised for a moment. Relating it to the hard seltzer trend, consider this Wine Cooler 2.0, as Torgerson said.

Other key wine trends are frizzante and red sparkling wines, orange wines, and canned sake.

Then there’s fruit wines, which means any wine not made from grapes. During her session, Torgerson suggested using these in cocktails.

Cocktail

In addition to cocktails on tap, Datassential sees the following as cocktail trends to watch:

  • Drinks made with genever.
  • Hybrid rums, blends of light and dark rums.
  • Ranch Water (typically a highball made with tequila and lime juice, topped with Topo Chico).
  • Single-serve, premade cocktails such as RTDs. These are great for off-premise sales.
  • Boozy frozen desserts.

Global

Focusing first on increasingly popular spirits, Datassential’s data shows that pisco, mezcal, and Japanese whisky are trending up.

In terms of wine, operators should look into regions that are perhaps “lesser known” in North America. Some examples from Torgerson’s presentation are Georgian and Hungarian wines.

And finally, what Datassential identifies as “drinking for a cause.” Such causes and beverage activations can be local or global as the world is so much more connected.

Image: ABHISHEK HAJARE on Unsplash

 

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Hiring Struggles? Engage These Age Groups

Hiring Struggles? Engage These Age Groups

by David Klemt

Chef plating greens on plates

Staff turnover rates are still above pre-pandemic levels and there’s no silver bullet solution. However, two companies have some helpful advice.

Both Service Management Group and Technomic shared their tips during Restaurant Leadership Conference. Interestingly, each company has a different approach to the current hospitality industry labor problem.

In short, both SMG and Technomic advise operators to engage with vastly different age groups. However, they each have information that supports their recommendations.

Service Management Group

Jennifer Grimes, senior vice president of client services for Service Management Group, co-presented a session with Jim Thompson, COO of Chicken Salad Chick.

SMG is a software-with-a-service platform that seeks to the employee, customer, and brand experience. One crucial element of the company’s mission is the reduction of staff turnover.

During the RLC session, Grimes shared several years of hospitality turnover rates:

  • 2017: 72%
  • 2018: 75%
  • 2019: 79%
  • 2020: 130%
  • 2021: 86%

First, some context. The general consensus is that the industry’s average turnover rate has been between 70 and 80 percent for close to a decade. However, in comparison to other industries—10 to 15 percent—that’s stratospherically high.

Secondly, the turnover rate has been on rise since before the pandemic. Per some sources, the rate jumped from 66 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2015, a trend that continues to this day.

For SMG, the age group operators should seek to engage—generally speaking, of course—is 25 to 34 years old. Per the SWaS platform, this group was the most engaged pre-pandemic.

One reason for SMG’s suggestion is that Boomers appear to opting out of the workforce.

During the presentation by Grimes and Thompson, the latter shared that Chicken Salad Chick predicts the 2022 turnover rate to be just slightly above the 2019 rate.

Technomic

Unsurprisingly, Technomic had some numbers to share during RLC 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Per data provided by Joe Pawlak and Richard Shank, 70 percent of operators are still struggling with labor. Recruiting, hiring, and retaining staff doesn’t appear to be getting any easier four months into 2022.

Technomic also pointed out that the US saw the lowest population growth in its history last year: 0.1 percent.

Additionally, almost 17 percent of the country’s population is now at least 65 years old. In 2019, 48 percent of people 55 or older retired. That number is now just over 50 percent for the same age group.

Nearly seven million American consumers turn 60 each year, while four million turn 70 or older.

Logically, one may assume that Technomic is saying a significant portion of the US population is leaving the workforce. So, it’s best to focus on the same age group as SMG recommends.

However, Technomic is recommending a different strategy. Per Pawlak and Shank, retirees (mostly ages 55 and up) tend to have valuable managerial skills and experience.

Obviously, those skills and all that experience can be of great benefit to operators and our industry.

Certainly, all groups should be engaged by operators seeking to recruit, hire, and develop their teams. So, as KRG Hospitality sees recruitment, operators should craft targeted, authentic messaging that appeals to each age group.

Image: Sebastian Coman Photography from Pexels

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Código 1530 Pursuing Low-waste Initiatives

Código 1530 Pursuing Low-waste Initiatives

by David Klemt

Blue Weber agave plant in Tequila, Mexico

Tequila Código 1530 is making the upcycling of the agave they use a cornerstone of the brand’s sustainability efforts.

Some agave growers and tequila producers the plant as mulch, fertilizer, and biofuel. Bagasse, the fibrous material distillers separate from agave piñas, along with the leaves, is composted and used to fertilize agave fields.

While not common, some distillers will even take other producers’ agave bagasse and leaves to compost it.

However, Código 1530 is now doing even more with their agave.

Agave Sustainability

According to some in the spirits and hospitality industries, tequila may end vodka’s dominance in the US this year. Obviously, this would be the result of an increase in consumer demand.

Well, that necessitates an increase in production. So, it follows that agave growers have motivation to grow and harvest as much mature agave as possible.

However, it takes about eight years for some agave plants to mature. Others take more than ten years. For some rarer species, maturation takes twelve years or more.

Of course, production leads to waste. In simple terms, that’s the problem producers must solve.

One definition of “sustainability” is striking an ecological balance that preserves natural resources. For tequila production in particular, this means finding ways to meet consumer demand while harvesting agave reponsibly.

While composting and mulching is a great idea, Código 1530 sees the need to take things further.

More than Mulch

We’ve probably all been given at least one drink served with a paper straw. Unfortunately, that means most of us know how quickly that experience can become less than enjoyable.

Even some of the best-made paper straws can turn soggy long before a drink is finished. On the operator side, that’s not great for the guest experience, to say nothing of the costs associated with stocking paper straws.

However, some operators and their guests are willing to stick with paper straws to be sustainable. That’s admirable but there may be a better way, and it involves agave.

“We quickly realized that after harvesting agave to distill Código 1530 Tequila, the remaining agave was only being used as mulch to top our soil for future plants or burned as a fuel source,” explains George Strait. “We are still using some of the excess agave fiber as mulch, and now have begun producing straws and cups in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.”

Strait, as some may know, is an investor in Código 1530. A lesser-known fact is that Strait graduated Texas State University (formerly known as Southwest Texas State University) with a degree in agriculture.

“This is a lifesaving program for sea life affected by plastic pollution,” says Strait of Código 1530’s new agave sustainability efforts.

Unlike paper straws, agave straws don’t get soggy or deform. Additionally, they can be thrown out in normal trash after use as they’re biodegradable.

However, this agave initiative doesn’t end with straws. Código 1530 is also making agave fiber cups, coffee cups, cocktail shakers, and shot glasses.

Tea-quila

To celebrate Earth Day and their sustainability efforts, Código 1530 has created the drink below.

Codigo 1530 low waste tequila cocktail

Image: Amir Shafii, Código 1530

  • 1.5 oz. Código 1530 Blanco
  • 3 oz. Bergamot tea
  • 0.75 oz. Lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz. Lavender simple syrup
  • Lavender sprig to garnish

Housemade simple cuts down on the waste associated with producing and shipping bottles of syrup. To make the lavender simple syrup, bring one cup of water and one cup of sugar to a boil. Add ten sprigs of lavender while water and sugar are boiling, let cool, then strain. For this low-waste cocktail build, add all ingredients and ice to a shaker. Shake, then strain into a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with a sprig of lavender.

Image: BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

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Chain Restaurants: Present & Future

Chain Restaurants: Present & Future

Woman dining with friends in restaurant

Technomic presented the state of chain restaurants, now and next, during Restaurant Leadership Conference 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Obviously, the entire hospitality industry is facing significant struggles. Rising costs, supply chain chaos, labor shortages and challenges, inflation… The past two-years-plus haven’t been easy.

However, there’s reason for operators and their leadership teams and staff to be optimistic. Additionally, independent and small-chain operators can learn from Technomic’s findings.

Challenges & Threats

Well, let’s take our medicine first, starting with the supply chain. In short, it’s bedlam.

Joe Pawlak (standing in for David Henkes) and Richard Shank of Technomic said as much during RLC 2022. Per their data, 35 percent of operators dropped at least one manufacturer between 2020 and 2021.

Whether because of rising costs, an inability to consistently deliver product, or other factors, operators had to adapt. Clearly, there’s a nasty trickle-down effect when an operator drops a supplier.

And then there’s inflation. Interestingly, Shank calls what we’re seeing currently as “existential inflation.” Relating to consumers, this means their confidence is shaken in terms of spending.

Of course, this type of consumer perception manifests in several ways. For example, some guests cut down on visits. Others will cut down on ordering, skipping appetizers and desserts. Perhaps they have one less beer, glass of wine, or cocktail.

Also, some guests “trade down.” Meaning, there are consumers who opt for casual restaurants rather than fine dining. Or, they’ll move from fast-casual to QSR.

Looking at the numbers, however, nearly 40 percent respondents to a Technomic survey say they’re visiting restaurants less. This makes sense, as 81 percent are concerned about how inflation will impact them personally.

On the operator side of inflation comes pricing. During Pawlak and Shank’s presentation, they used QSR dinner pricing as a real-world example.

According to Technomic, the tipping point for guest perception of good value is just $7. At only $10, consumers feel things are getting expensive.

As Pawlak and Shank pointed out, this is a problem. After all, the average price for dinner at a QSR is $10.08. That number may already be higher today.

Opportunities

Medicine taken, we can move to the good news.

First, Technomic predicts a strong Q3 this year. Additionally, they don’t expect double-digit year-over-year inflation.

In terms of labor, Technomic doesn’t expect costs to go down. However, they do anticipate that they’ll level off rather than rise.

Then there are the numbers. For the top 500 chains in the US in particular, 2021 was a “banner year,” according to Pawlak. On an aggregate basis, sales for the top 500 (McDonald’s is number one, for those wondering) are up 17.9 percent.

Also, every category of restaurant is performing better. The top 500 chains, for instance, are up 18 percent year-over-year. Midscale restaurants are up 38.5 percent. Casual is up 30.2 percent while fast is up 22.2 percent, QSRs are up 13.2 percent. As far as the biggest bump, fine dining is up 56.9 percent.

Looking at 2019 for obvious reasons, the industry was down 49.1 percent in sales in April 2020. However, the industry was down just about a single percentage point in February of this year compared to the same time in 2019.

So, how do we keep sales trending upward when facing inflation and other threats? Pawlak, Shank, and Technomic have some advice.

Operators, for instance, can implement the “balanced barbell” pricing strategy. In this model, high-value items drive business alongside premium offerings. In other words, don’t discount the entire menu just to entice guests to keep visiting.

Once guests get a taste for falling prices, they’ll consider the lower prices the standard. After that, any increase can be perceived as “too expensive.” Of course, discounting the whole menu also impacts guest perception of the brand negatively.

In addition, Technomic suggests offering higher net profit discount bundles, and implementing off-premise, large-party strategies.

Should Technomic’s predictions prove true, the industry may see an even stronger Q4 and start to 2023.

Image: Alex Haney on Unsplash

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Dining Room Tech on the Rise

Dining Room Tech on the Rise

by David Klemt

Printed circuit board with gold details

After years of restaurant technology adoption moving at a glacial pace, the industry now appears to be embracing innovations at light speed.

In fact, in just two short years some in the industry think it may be time to slow down. New tech can be exciting but jumping on every “innovation” is expensive, time consuming, and inefficient.

However, slowing down doesn’t equate to hitting the pause button.

Dining room tech was a topic of discussion at the 2022 Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. The two speakers agree that our industry needs to ease off the tech throttle a bit.

However, they also feel that tech innovations in the restaurant space will continue at a faster rate than they did pre-pandemic.

Session host Raymond Howard, a co-founder of Ziosk, interviewed Chris DeFrain and Hernan Mujica about dining room tech. DeFrain is a CPA at Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, which operators 21 Red Robin franchises throughout Pennsylvania. Mujica is CIO for Texas Roadhouse.

Red Robin

Industry professionals and consumers alike should be familiar with Ziosk. After all, Red Robin has been a client with tech company since August, 2012.

Anyone who has visited a Red Robin has certainly interacted with a Ziosk terminal.

According to DeFrain, there are some interesting consumer behaviors taking place in Red Robin dining rooms. When it comes to tech, guests appear satisfied to place orders for appetizers and desserts via Ziosk terminals.

As DeFrain sees it, the guest would rather not wait for a server for ordering those types of food items. However, guests do seem to prefer ordering entrees from a server.

That’s a positive in DeFrain’s opinion, as he believes that ordering must remain the domain of servers. While he contends that the tech-based ordering process needs streamlining, DeFrain doesn’t appear interested in taking it out of servers’ hands completely.

This makes sense; the server as an integral element of the guest experience. How can a casual dining restaurant build guest loyalty and deliver a memorable guest experience without an engaging front-of-house team?

Of course, dining room tech should do more than accept orders, summon a server, and offer tableside payments. Today, data is king. Powerful platforms collect as much useful data as possible.

To that end, DeFrain appreciates that Ziosk provides data Red Robin leadership teams can share with staff. For example, a server can be shown how much they’re making in tips during their shift.

Finally, DeFrain says that guest usage of Ziosk terminals is improving feedback and comments.

Texas Roadhouse

In comparison to Red Robin, Texas Roadhouse took longer to sign on with Ziosk. In part, interestingly, this was due to the redesign of the terminal itself.

Turns out, Texas Roadhouse waited for a Ziosk terminal that took up less space and looked better on the chain’s tables.

Per Mujica (and any Texas Roadhouse guest), the in-person experience is core to the brand. Therefore, dining room tech must be an enhancement, not a detriment.

Like Red Robin, the chain has no interest in adopting tech that replaces FoH staff.

Another consideration regarding dining room tech should be important to all operators: The tech must be user friendly. According to Mujica, restaurant guests are happy to embrace tech innovations—if it’s easy to use.

So, operators must be careful and deliberate when choosing their tech stack. Generally speaking, native tech users (Gen Z) will likely be much quicker to learn how to use a particular technology than a Baby Boomer or even Gen X counterpart.

As such, operators must know their guests in order to adopt tech that enhances rather than alienates.

Another reason Texas Roadhouse chose Ziosk, per Mujica, comes down to mobile pay. In short, the chain didn’t like the mobile pay guest experience.

In terms of the future, Mujica predicts that handheld, tableside ordering is the future of dining room tech.

Takeaway

Like Mujica says, operators have now seen what tech innovations can do for them. In short, there’s no turning back.

And I agree with Mujica and DeFrain: it’s likely (and necessary) that tech development will slow a bit moving forward. Honestly, we all need room to breathe, consider the innovations available currently, and decide what works best for a particular business.

Likewise, I agree that tech can’t be allowed to alter the service model. Technology shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for staff.

Interestingly, restaurateur David Chang addressed this very subject during a 2022 RLC conversation. In his opinion, tech won’t replace restaurant roles, it will streamline them. At most, said Chang, tech will replace small, repetitive tasks, such as the physical flipping of a burger.

In closing, when deciding on the tech stack, operators should consider the following: ease of use for guests, ease of use for staff, streamlining of operations, and cost.

In this space, tech should never be embraced simply because it’s shiny and new. Not only is that costly in terms of investment, it can cost guest loyalty and visit frequency.

Image: Vishnu Mohanan on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

This Simple Test Reveals Process Problems

This Simple Test Reveals Process Problems

by David Klemt

Server helping guest in restaurant

There’s an easy way to identify whether there are changes that need to be made to processes and practices that only requires observation and time.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much time, either. In less than a week, an operator can determine if there are issues relating to onboarding new hires.

This simple test was shared during the 2022 Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale.

Interviews are Just the Start

It should go without saying but here we go: The hiring process doesn’t end with the interview.

An operator or their leadership team found an amazing job candidate? Awesome! That’s no small feat these days.

However, that’s just the first step in hiring and building a rock star restaurant, bar or hotel team.

Step two is onboarding, step three is training, and step four is advancement.

For KRG Hospitality, onboarding goes far beyond filling out federal and state paperwork. There’s more to it than setting up direct deposit and getting a new hire on the schedule.

Rather, operators need to implement a fully developed onboarding process. The key word there is “process.”

True onboarding includes the review of an employee handbook and an introduction to the business. During this process new hires should become familiar with the brand’s history, vision, culture, mission, and core values.

By the end of this process, a new team member should understand what’s expected of them, both in their individual role and behaviorally. Additionally, they should be introduced to the entire team.

In reality, the onboarding process is the development of a professional relationship.

The Test

Technically, the actual test for operators is for them to have in-depth hiring, onboarding and training processes in place.

So, operators should take a moment to review whether they have those processes.

However, the test I’m talking about here relates to onboarding directly. It’s simple and it was shared during RLC 2022 by Jim Thompson, COO of Chicken Salad Chick.

The only requirement is a few days’ time and an observant operator and/or leadership team.

Let’s say a candidate nails the interview. In particular, their personality is perfect for the available role. As the the hospitality industry maxim goes, hire for personality, train for skills.

The new hire works their first shift but their personality doesn’t shine through. However, that could be first-day jitters. Unfortunately, that personality the leadership team hired for is nowhere to be seen during their next few shifts.

According to Thompson, if a new hire’s personality doesn’t shine through within four shifts, there’s likely a process and practices issue. The lack of personality is an indicator that the new team member doesn’t feel confident in their role.

The onboarding process—either too shallow or nonexistent—is a likely culprit. Operators can use this test, a simple four-shift observation of a new hire, to determine if there’s a problem.

Once identified, the operator and their leaders can put their heads together, review the issue, and implement effective, positive change.

Image: Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

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