Growth of ‘Ghost’ Restaurant Concepts Proves Delivery-Only Trend Has Legs

April 14, 2017

 

Whether you call them virtual restaurants, app-based establishments or headless concepts, it’s impossible to deny the recent rise of delivery-only food businesses around the country.

Restaurateurs are desperate to stem the profit-letting in their struggling sector (especially in the fast-casual world), and this new round of digital-driven establishments solves a variety of perennial industry problems. Add to this the growth of third-party delivery companies, consumers’ increasing comfort with mobile ordering and the recent explosion of meal-delivery kits like Blue Apron, and conditions seem ripe for this idea to blossom.

But first, what are these front-of-house-free restaurants?

A few examples:

David Chang, of Momofuku fame, is the A-list name behind delivery-only Ando in New York City. It offers “second-generation American food” like bibimbap, fried chicken and cheesesteak egg rolls. Orders are accepted via the restaurant’s website or app and third-party services like Seamless. Delivery expanded recently to include more of Manhattan. The business came about as a partnership with Expa, a startup lab with connections to Uber.

In Chicago, home to several virtual restaurants with more on the way, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises recently debuted Seaside, a delivery- and carryout-only operation that shares a kitchen with its Oyster Bah restaurant.

New York-based startup Green Summit Group expanded to Chicago, rolling out nine virtual operations out of one shared kitchen. Since its launch, Green Summit has raised $3.6 million and is anticipating $18 million in sales this year among all locations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Even traditional family-dining brands are taking note of these ghost restaurants.

“I’m fascinated by some of the virtual kitchens that don’t have a brand, that are only supported by a kitchen,” Denny Marie Post, CEO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews told Restaurant Business magazine earlier this year.

So, does the headless trend have legs?

In short, yes.

It appeals to the on-demand generation that’s grown up watching Netflix on the living-room couch. And it’s a good mesh with the gig economy that has given rise to third-party delivery services. States like Colorado, with legalized recreational marijuana, are expected to be primed for expansion of delivery-only concepts.

Even better for restaurant operators and innovators, these virtual establishments address nearly every foodservice-industry pain point.

They are cost-effective. Without the need to waste square footage on dine-in capabilities, these headless operations can run in a smaller footprint compared to traditional operators. There’s no need to hire a designer, account for parking space or spend money on decor and server uniforms (or servers for that matter). Rent is much cheaper for these locations since they can be built in warehouse space and in lower-rent districts. Lastly, the need to invest in costly renovations for service and seating areas is no longer required for these operators.

In Chicago, for example, Green Summit Group’s nine headless restaurants operate out of a shared 2,000-square-foot kitchen that was once home to a dine-in burger establishment.

These kitchens can also act as commissaries for food-truck or catering offshoots.

With so much attention focused on reducing operating costs and keeping labor expenses in check, this new approach will become very appealing to operators who leverage ordering and delivery services and avoid the dining-room distractions. By putting most of the focus on the food quality and preparation, the strategy is sure to deliver praise and strong reviews. Expect to see continued growth in the “ghost” restaurant space.


Strategic Pizza Infrastructure Goes High-Tech

March 5, 2015

BN-HF942_0304_c_G_20150304135445http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2015/03/04/strategic-pizza-infrastructure-goes-high-tech/?mod=wsj_ciohome_cioreport

Stuffed crust isn’t the only battle ground for Domino’s Pizza Inc. and Pizza Hut. The chains are promoting smartwatches, connected cars, retinal scanning and other interactive technology for order and delivery – and learning what works and what doesn’t in customer experience.

Ordering pizza is a time-honored proof of concept for new technology. The very first retail purchase on the Web was a Pizza Hut pizza, the company claims. Now it and Domino’s are experimenting with just how much change customers can tolerate as technology remakes the noble task of ordering a pepperoni pie. Domino’s, for example, lets customers order in Ford Fiestas with voice commands and on Pebble smartwatches with a touch interface. Pizza Hut lets gamers order through their Xbox and in the United Kingdom is testing retinal scanning technology that detects where a customer’s eyes rest on a digital menu board and adds toppings accordingly.

“Pizza companies are paving the path for technology in other kinds of restaurants,” says Darren Tristano, an analyst at Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting firm.

And both companies watch the tech moves of one another — and those of other retailers – closely. Domino’s CIO Kevin Vasconi says customers will jump to Pizza Hut or another competitor the moment an ordering system hiccups. “If you’re on Dominos.com and not having the best experience, it’s not hard for you to go to one of our competitors,” Mr. Vasconi says. “We want to not only have best experience in your car, but on your watch and in other venues, too.”

Pizza Hut is building an in-car ordering and payment system with Accenture and Visa Inc., which announced the project Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Testing is expected to start this spring. The system’s beacon technology can alert restaurant staff when the customer pulls into the parking lot, says Carol Clements, U.S. CIO for Pizza Hut, which accounted for $1.1 billion of the $13.3 billion in sales reported last year by parent company Yum Brands Inc.

Anticipating customer behavior influences where Pizza Hut invests, Ms. Clements says. Aside from drivers, IT is the fastest growing part of the business. Pizza Hut wants to add 100 people, including contractors, to its 160-member technology and digital staff, focusing on analytics talent and mobile developers to build out tablet and self-service kiosk apps. But not every new technology is ripe, she says, including wearable devices. “When you’re ordering a pizza, there’s a lot of information we need. Whether we can do that on a little, 2-inch by 2-inch watch in a way not frustrating for customers, we’ll continue to evaluate.”

At Domino’s, tech investments must pay off in sales, conversion rates or new-customer acquisition, Mr. Vasconi says. About half of its $2 billion in 2014 sales came from digital platforms and half of that was from mobile devices, he says. At 200 people, IT is one-third of the company’s corporate staff and they want to hire 50 or 60 more this year. Domino’s measures itself against Pizza Hut and other competitors, looking at website load time, number of steps to order and user-interface design. But Mr. Vasconi also studies innovators outside the pizza business, including Zappos.com and Uber. (He promises no surge pricing on pizza.)

A partnership with Ford Motor Co. to use the Sync AppLink connectivity system lets drivers in Fiestas, Mustangs and other cars order Domino’s with voice commands. But it’s not a high-traffic ordering vehicle, Mr. Vasconi says. ”Customers say it’s a great idea but they’re not going to use it every day.”

Still, it’s one more avenue for orders, and being everywhere can increase customer loyalty, Mr. Tristano says. “People want the ultimate convenience of being able to get what they want when they want it.”


McDonald’s: When the Chips are Down

January 13, 2015

20150110_WBP002_1(c) The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2015. All rights reserved

After a long run of success, the world’s largest fast-food chain is floundering–and activist investors are circling

IN A brand-new McDonald’s outlet near its headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, customers do not have to queue at the counter. They can go to a touch screen and build their own burger by choosing a bun, toppings and sauces from a list of more than 20 “premium” ingredients, including grilled mushrooms, guacamole and caramelised onions. Then they sit down, waiting an average of seven minutes until a server brings their burgers to their table.

The company is planning to roll out its “Create Your Taste” burgers in up to 2,000 restaurants–it is not saying where–by late 2015, and possibly in more places if they do well. McDonald’s is also trying to engage with customers on social media and is working on a smartphone app, as well as testing mobile-payment systems such as Apple Pay, Softcard and Google Wallet.

All this is part of the “Experience of the Future”, a plan to revive the flagging popularity of McDonald’s, especially among younger consumers. “We are taking decisive action to change fundamentally the way we approach our business,” says Heidi Barker, a spokeswoman.

After a successful run which lifted the firm’s share price from $12 in 2003 to more than $100 at the end of 2011, McDonald’s had a tricky 2013 and a much harder time last year. When it announces its annual results on January 23rd, some analysts fear it will reveal a drop in global “like-for-like” sales (ie, after stripping out the effect of opening new outlets) for the whole of 2014–the first such fall since 2002.

In the past year Don Thompson, the firm’s relatively new boss, has had to fight fires around the world, some of them beyond his control. Sales in China fell sharply after a local meat supplier was found guilty of using expired and contaminated chicken and beef. Some Russian outlets were temporarily closed by food inspectors, apparently in retaliation for Western sanctions against Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine. And a strike at some American ports left Japanese McDonald’s outlets short of American-grown potatoes, forcing them to ration their portions of fries. (More recently several Japanese customers have reported finding bits of plastic, and even a tooth, in their food.)

However, the biggest problem has been in America–by far McDonald’s largest market, where it has 14,200 of its 35,000 mostly franchised restaurants. In November its American like-for-like sales were down 4.6% on a year earlier. It had weathered the 2008-09 recession and its aftermath by attracting cash-strapped consumers looking for a cheap bite. But more recently it has been squeezed by competition from Burger King, revitalised under the management of a private-equity firm, from other fast-food joints such as Subway and Starbucks, and from the growing popularity of slightly more upmarket “fast casual” outlets (see “Fast-casual restaurants: Better burgers, choicer chicken”).

In response, McDonald’s has expanded its menu with all manner of wraps, salads and so on. Its American menu now has almost 200 items. This strains kitchen staff and annoys franchisees, who often have to buy new equipment. It may also deter customers. “McDonald’s stands for value, consistency and convenience,” says Darren Tristano at Technomic, a restaurant-industry consultant, and it needs to stay true to this. Most diners want a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder at a good price, served quickly. And, as company executives now acknowledge, its strategy of reeling in diners with a “Dollar Menu” then trying to tempt them with pricier dishes is not working.

McDonald’s says it has got the message and is experimenting in some parts of America with a simpler menu: one type of Quarter Pounder with cheese rather than four; one Snack Wrap rather than three; and so on. However, this seems to run contrary to the build-your-burger strategy it is trying elsewhere, which expands the number of choices. That in turn is McDonald’s response to the popularity of “better burger” chains, such as Shake Shack, which has just filed for a stockmarket flotation.

Some analysts think that McDonald’s should stop trying to replicate all its rivals’ offerings and go back to basics, offering a limited range of dishes at low prices, served freshly and quickly. Sara Senatore of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research outfit, notes that Burger King, having struggled against its big rival for years, has begun to do better with a simpler and cheaper version of the McDonald’s menu. For the third quarter of 2014 Burger King reported a like-for-like sales increase of 3.6% in America and Canada compared with a decrease by 3.3% of comparable sales at McDonald’s. That said, sales at an average McDonald’s in America are still roughly double those of an average Burger King. So the case for going back to basics remains unproven.

So far, McDonald’s looks as if it is undergoing a milder version of its last crisis, in 2002-03. Then, an over-rapid expansion had damaged its reputation for good service, its menu had become bloated and customers were drifting to rivals claiming to offer healthier food. Now, once again, “McDonald’s has a huge image problem in America,” says John Gordon, a restaurant expert at the Pacific Management Consulting Group. This is in part because of its use of frozen “factory food” packed with preservatives. In 2013 a story about a 14-year-old McDonald’s burger that had not rotted received huge coverage. Even Mike Andres, the new boss of the company’s American operations, recently asked bemused investors: “Why do we need to have preservatives in our food?” and then answered himself: “We probably don’t.”

McDonald’s doesn’t seem to be cool any more, especially among youngsters. Parents say their teenage children have been put off after seeing “Super Size Me”, a documentary about surviving only on McDonald’s food; and “Food, Inc”, another about the corporatisation of the food industry; and by reading “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal”. It is hard to imagine the new McDonald’s initiatives getting the reaction Shake Shack got when it opened its first outlet in downtown Chicago in November: for the first two weeks it had long queues of people waiting outside in the freezing cold.

A lot of the negative PR that McDonald’s gets is the flipside of being the world’s biggest and most famous fast-food chain. This has made it the whipping-boy of food activists, labour activists, animal-rights campaigners and those who simply dislike all things American. In America it has been the focus of a campaign for fast-food workers and others to get a minimum salary of $15 an hour and the right to unionise. Last month the National Labour Relations Board, a federal agency, released details of 13 complaints against McDonald’s and many of its franchisees for violating employees’ rights to campaign for better pay and working conditions. The alleged violations relate to threats, surveillance, discrimination, reduced hours and even sackings of workers who supported the protests. McDonald’s contests these charges, while arguing that it is not responsible for its franchisees’ labour practices.

Not all the criticism McDonald’s gets may be merited–or at least it should be shared more fairly with its peers. However, the company’s troubles have begun to attract the attention of activist shareholders, who may prove somewhat harder to brush aside than labour or food activists. In November Jana Partners, an activist fund, took a stake in the firm. Then in December its shares jumped, on rumours that one of the most prominent and determined activists, Bill Ackman, intended to buy a stake and press for a shake-up.

McDonald’s says it welcomes all investors and is focused on maximising value for its shareholders. Even so, Mr Thompson’s new strategy needs to deliver results quickly. Mr Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital has done well out of its 11% stake in Burger King, because the chain’s main shareholder, 3G Capital, has pushed through a drastic cost-cutting programme and a merger with Tim Hortons, a Canadian restaurant group. “If McDonald’s were run like Burger King, the stock would go up a lot,” Mr Ackman mused recently. It looks like Mr Thompson may soon have to fight on another front.


With a Mouthful, A&W Hopes to Draw Baby Boomers’ Offspring

May 5, 2014

pictureA&W plans to submit to Guinness a 304-character hashtag promoting its Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich.

By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN

THE popularity of the A&W Restaurants chain in the United States peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, when the number of locations — many with carhop service — swelled to 2,400, so it is no wonder that the brand stirs nostalgia in the baby boomer generation. But now A&W, which has about 700 restaurants, wants to make an impression on those boomers’ children, and the brand is increasingly turning to social media to do so.

To promote a new menu item with an unwieldy name, the Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich, the brand is introducing a hashtag that is itself unwieldy: #supertastylargeandinchargetexastoasttwohandwichmadewithdeliciousonehundredpercentwhitemeathandbreadedchickentendersandyourchoiceofclassicorspicypapasauceeitherwayyoucan’tgowrongwowthatsoundsgoodyouneedtotryoneitsonlyavailableforalimitedtimeImgoingtohavetogogetonemyselfareyoustillreadingthisseeyouatAandW.

Along with deliberately defying the basic hashtag tenet of being simple to remember, at 304 characters it far exceeds the 140-character limit of Twitter, although other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest allow longer hashtags.

A television commercial introduced on Monday opens with a voice-over asking: “How would you describe the Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich?” To the sound of rapid clicking of keyboard keys, the speaker breathlessly rattles off about half of the hashtag, before slowing down and saying, “In other words, it’s a mouthful.” An end card directs viewers to the A&W website to see the full hashtag.

The brand is calling it the world’s longest hashtag, an assertion that may be difficult to prove, but it says it will seek recognition from Guinness World Records. (A search of the Guinness website yields five records related to Twitter and six related to Facebook, but none related to hashtags.)

The social media and advertising campaign is by Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, the agency of record for the chain. Both are based in Lexington, Ky. A&W, which declined to reveal expenditures for the campaign, spent only $876,000 on advertising in 2013, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP. (Advertising expenditures for A&W root beer sold in stores, which is licensed in the United States by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, is not reflected in the figure.)

A&W ranks 168th among all American restaurant chains, based on estimated yearly revenues of $184.4 million, according to Technomic, a restaurant consulting and market research firm.

“They’re a brand that’s trying to find their way,” said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at Technomic. “It’s a nostalgia and legacy brand that is familiar to a number of Americans, but the problem with A&W is that it was a drive-in and it isn’t really a drive-in today.”

Among A&W’s 700 units in the United States, 50 are drive-ins, 200 are stand-alone dine-in restaurants, and the remainder are co-branded locations where it shares a roof with other fast-food establishments, primarily KFC and Long John Silver’s.

What A&W needs to do, Mr. Tristano said, is “rebuild their brand perception with millennials.”

Tim Jones, a creative director at Cornett, said that to reach younger consumers, the 95-year-old brand aims to strike a tone of “hip nostalgia” that characterizes older brands like Levi’s and Ray-Ban.

Rooty the Great Root Bear, an orange-sweater-wearing A&W mascot introduced in 1974, was returned to prominence in 2012 after having been, in the words of the brand, hibernating for about a decade. Today, A&W’s Twitter account, which has 7,200 followers, is written from the bear’s perspective.

“On Twitter, if you’re the voice of a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall bear with no pants, you can be a little bit more silly and more playful,” said Liz Bazner, associate manager of digital communications at A&W Restaurants. “The idea is also that Rooty doesn’t quite understand technology or Twitter, so he’d use a hashtag that would be too long for Twitter.”

In 2013, A&W created a profile for the mascot on LinkedIn, and when other users would add Rooty to their professional network, the bear would write far-fetched recommendations on their behalf.

“Using only a large-ish glass of water, he once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants,” Rooty wrote on behalf of one LinkedIn user. About another, he offered, “He can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with almost zero accuracy.”

LinkedIn removed Rooty’s profile a couple of weeks after it went up, citing a policy of permitting only actual people on the site. In response, the brand posted a video in mock indignation to YouTube.

An A&W smartphone app encourages users to draw a mug of root beer for the bear, who, when tapped on his stomach, emits a hearty belch. The app, Burping Rooty, also allows users to direct the bear to recite the alphabet in belch form.

“If you’d like to grab some attention for your business on social media,” Forbes.com reported in 2013, “A&W Restaurants is currently providing a training manual on a fun-filled way to do it.”


Burger King to Add Mobile-Phone Payment at U.S. Locations

March 26, 2014

AR-140329974.jpg&maxw=248&maxh=191&updated=Burger King Worldwide Inc. is introducing an application that will allow customers to pay for Whoppers with their smartphones as it races rivals to woo younger diners.

The program will be introduced next month and should be in all of Burger King’s more than 7,000 U.S. locations in “a few months,” Bryson Thornton, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement. The option to order food and drinks ahead of time for later in-store pickup may be added, he said.

Fast-food chains including McDonald’s Corp. and Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. are competing to quickly introduce the best loyalty programs and smartphone apps to try to attract millennials and teens. McDonald’s last year said it was testing coupon and mobile-payment apps at some of its U.S. locations. Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out a rewards programs to all of its domestic shops in January.

“I don’t think there is a clear leader,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago-based Technomic Inc., said in a phone interview.

Burger King’s app, developed by Tillster Inc., will give customers coupons for deals, such as $1 any-size drinks and free fries, as well as nutrition facts. To pay with mobile phones, users can load value onto a virtual card within the app.

Mobile ordering and payment apps appeal to millennial diners — those 18 to 35 years old, Tristano said.

“What younger consumers are looking for is the ability to use their phones to do everything,” he said. “The cell phone has replaced the wallet.”

About 19 percent of American consumers had recently used a mobile device to make a restaurant pickup or delivery order, according to a 2012 study from Technomic. That will probably increase as younger generations age, the researcher said.

McDonald’s, the largest U.S. burger chain, said in December that it was testing a smartphone app, called McD, at 1,000 U.S. stores. The trial app, created by Palo Alto, California-based Mowingo Inc., sent customers deals and discounts to redeem with their phones at participating stores.


On the Horizon: Five Trends for U.K. Restaurants

January 24, 2014

The trends driving restaurant growth and innovation are driven by consumer demands for transparency, quality, flavour, and flexibility.

The U.K. foodservice scene continues evolving in unique and interesting ways. Looking forward to next year, Technomic’s analysts and consultants have identified five key trends that expected to play major roles at British restaurants.

Catering to the Millennial customer

As the influence and collective spending power of the U.K.’s Millennial generation grows, expect to see restaurant operators amplify efforts to target these consumers via foods and brands that appeal more directly to a Millennial demographic.

For instance, consumers aged 18–34 display the strongest interest in ethnic flavours. And a greater proportion of younger than older consumers indicate that it is important to them that cafés offer a variety of side options and seasonal menu items, according to Technomic’s U.K. Café Consumer Trend Report. Further, 31% of consumers aged 18–34 strongly agree that they would order limited-time offerings (LTOs) at cafés, compared to just 22% of all consumers polled.

Also watch for new mobile apps and digital tools that integrate seamlessly into Millennials’ lifestyle. Offering free WiFi in-store and letting customers place orders online are great starting points for connecting with these on-the-go, always-connected guests. Leading operators are also going beyond these steps.

Last spring, Wagamama partnered with Blippar, an image-recognition mobile application, to introduce augmented-reality place mats. Guests who downloaded the free Blippar app could hold their mobile device over (aka “blip”) the special place mats to access promotional information about the Wagamama Lounge, a pop-up concept featured at London-area summer music festivals.

Domino’s last September rolled out the free Pizza Hero app in the U.K., giving customers the chance to play professional pizza maker, rolling out pizza dough virtually, adding tomato sauce and then sprinkling on cheese and assorted toppings. A direct link takes users to the ordering page on Domino’s website.

And Apple’s Passbook lets iPhone users group their coupons, loyalty/rewards cards and more in one quasi mobile wallet—giving them quick access to their most-used or most-important passes. Last fall, casual-dining chain Harvester Salad & Grill became one of the first U.K. restaurant concepts to offer Passbook integration, and gave diners who used the app at Harvester £5 off when they spent £30.

The evolution of pubs

Classic British pubs will push even harder in 2014 to transform and grab market share from conventional restaurants by focusing more attention on creating upscale, premium food and drink (particularly speciality coffee and American craft beer); launching repositioned outlets in nontraditional sites; introducing web-enabled ordering systems that emphasise convenience and speed of service for guests; and promoting low-price-oriented menus and new loyalty programmes designed to spur customer traffic and strengthen the value perception.

Die-hard traditionalists might scoff at the idea of having a coffee and working on a mobile device at the pub, but a customer-centric evolution can help pubs maintain their relevance with a new generation of consumers.

Throughout 2013, we’ve seen examples of how pubs and pubcos are tackling the task of serving consumers who have higher expectations for food/drink, amenities and service at pubs. We expect the focus on this imperative to be that much keener in the year ahead.

For example, Orchid Group—whose approximately 250 pubs are now up for sale—realised that those establishments best positioned for success in Ireland and some U.S. cities after smoking bans took effect there were those that emphasised attractive food offerings. Orchid re-evaluated its menus and added pizza and Thai food, among other items, driving increases in food’s share of the sales mix. The company also took efforts to appeal to women.

Similarly, Marston’s PLC announced at the beginning of the year that it would install free Wi-Fi at about 550 pubs under its managed pub estate, Marston’s Inns & Taverns. The Prince George pub in Brighton, East Sussex, offers an all-vegetarian menu and a vegetarian-friendly wine list. And in August, Wetherspoon announced a new initiative pairing craft brewers from the U.S. with U.K. brewers, as part of an effort to seize upon U.K. consumers’ heightened interest in craft beer. The U.S. brewers produce their beers in the U.K. for sale at Wetherspoon pubs.

Honest chicken

Thanks in part to the recent crop of “better chicken” concepts opening in London, emerging chicken-focused concepts will flourish in 2014, a trend closely tied to growing consumer interest in sourcing, preparation and menu transparency. Pret a Manger, for instance, touts that its chicken is starch-free, phosphate-free and sourced from a higher-welfare supplier in Suffolk. Expect to see chicken increasingly described as “free-range,” “locally sourced” and “hand-battered.” We’ll also see more American influences in the form of barbecue chicken and buttermilk fried chicken, as well as simpler cooking techniques that let the quality of the chicken speak for itself.

KFC in the U.K. touts that its chicken on the bone comes from only British and Irish chickens, and that chicken goes from the refrigerator to a breading of flour and the chain’s 11 signature herbs and spices and then to the fryer within two minutes. Little Chef touts that its Crispy Chicken Platter features 100% chicken breast fillet.

Other takes on fried chicken include Scream’s Southern-Fried-Style Chicken fillets served with barbecue seasoned chips, Jubo’s Chicken Roll with Korean fried chicken fillet, kimchi slaw and gojuchang mayo, and Clutch’s Love Me Tenders, fried chicken tenders in a peanut and chilli crust.

These dishes also illustrate U.K. consumers’ growing appetite for spicy heat, also evidenced incurries that pack a little more punch than chicken tikka masala; the rising popularity of Mexican cuisine; and the cult-like following of London-based Nando’s, the fast-casual concept specialising in flame-grilled piri-piri chicken. Neutral-flavoured, food-cost-friendly chicken offers an ideal protein platform for showcasing the vibrant flavours and colours of chillis from around the globe.

Migration of street food

Fueled by younger consumers’ demand for authentic and unique offerings, chefs are looking to global street foods for menu inspiration for their brick-and-mortar restaurants. Trendy street-inspired dishes starring on menus include Venezuelan arepas, Chinese jian bing and bao, Taiwanese hirata buns and Italian arancini.

KFC U.K. got in the game last year, introducing a limited-time Streetwise Sweet Chili Wrap featuring a chicken mini-fillet, sweet chili sauce, lettuce and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. And London-based fast-casual chain Leon introduced a Thai Green Chicken Curry box, featuring slow-cooked shredded chicken thigh, roasted aubergine and bamboo shoots served on brown rice.

Looking ahead, ethnic beverages like Mexican aguas frescas and horchata will carve out a wider niche on the menu. Also watch for dynamic flavour mashups from different cuisines and the continued growth of food trucks serving ethnic and fusion street foods.

Telling the sourcing story

Transparency is now top-of-mind for operators who want to keep customers confident in their brand. Use of eco-friendly food packaging, such as recycled or reusable cups or stemware, is increasing along with a growing commitment to ethical food sourcing. Next year will bring a surge in brand campaigns communicating quality and traceability. Watch for package logos denoting animal welfare standards, in-restaurant signs documenting supplier sourcing, and marketing initiatives focusing on the use of British and Irish products.

A good example is the Olive Branch Pub in Clipsham. Its website highlights a story about head chef Sean Hope’s recent lobster fishing trip, to source the freshest lobster for dishes such as grilled lobster Thermidor and a fresh lobster claw and tail meat with lobster tortellini. The site also provides a list of the pub’s suppliers and producers—not just the names of the farms but also the actual farmers with whom the Olive Branch works.

For its part, McDonald’s U.K. invited three young British farmers to get a behind-the-scenes look at operations inside McDonald’s stores as the part of its Progressive Young Farmer Training Programme. The mentoring-focused programme, according to McDonald’s, “aims to help young people looking to work within agriculture kick-start careers in the industry by providing them with the blend of farming and business acumen needed to succeed in today’s modern farming sector.”

The programme has the added benefit of providing a fresh, interesting supply-chain story that McDonald’s—which also announced in April that it was switching to serving 100% Freedom Food pork raised on farms that meet strict animal-welfare standards—can share with consumers.

Similarly, fast-casual burrito specialist Chipotle, whose Food With Integrity philosophy/sourcing model has won acclaim in the U.S., notes on its U.K. website that it uses Freedom Food chicken, Farm Assured beef and free-range pork.

Key Takeaway

The trends driving restaurant growth and innovation are all driven by consumer demands for transparency, high-quality and -flavour, and flexibility. Restaurant operators should examine and pay attention to these trends but follow the lead of their own customers and those they are trying to attract.


Restaurant And Hospitality IT News For VARs — January 6, 2014

January 14, 2014

pictureMobile apps with integrated loyalty and rewards is boosting digital gift card spending — and restaurants are planning to invest in smartphone app and other mobile technology. Also in the news, the RPI reached a five-month high in November 2013, at 101.2.

Help Clients Boost Engagement With Stored Value Cards

In his article for QSR Web, Jon Squire says that the launch of mobile apps with integrated loyalty and rewards has encouraged more spending on digital/mobile gift cards. For clients looking to invest in mobile platforms this year, it would be beneficial to discuss how gift cards fit in. Companies like Starbucks have seen success from stored value cards, which can be mGifted, can earn your client new customers, and can encourage repeat app usage. An app that integrates loyalty and rewards and promotes stored value cards could be an important strategy for your clients for 2014.

6 Priorities For Mobile Commerce

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than half of full- and limited-service restaurants planned to invest in smartphone apps and other mobile technology in 2013. However, there are six priorities that must be accomplished to ensure a successful future of mobile commerce in the U.S. These six priorities include: standards development, transparency, cost efficiency, legacy rule limitations, payment security improvements, and mobile commerce advancement.

RPI Reaches 5-Month High

The National Restaurant Association announced that the Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) hit a five-month high in November. The RPI rose 0.3 percent from October, reaching 101.2 in November. This is the highest its been since June. Operators attribute this increase to improving same-store sales and increasing customer traffic. A majority of restaurant operators (54 percent) also reported making a capital expenditure within the last three months.

Burger Joints Investing In Online Ordering

According to QSR Magazine, burger joints have been focusing on ways to incorporate online ordering into business. Even chains as large as McDonald’s have tested ordering capabilities via app to help ensure quicker customer service. These new services however, are daunting to businesses because of the staff training it involves and the overall effort to develop the service. Darren Tristano from Technomic says businesses looking into online ordering should invest in an app that is easily downloadable, free, and can securely store payment information. Making the app about more than just ordering will only help to boost convenience for customers.

Restaurant And Hospitality IT Talking Points

A Japanese company has begun to use QR codes to inform customers about where certain apples are from and how they’re produced, Japan Daily Press reports. These QR codes can provide consumers with information on how and where the apples were grown, along with a message from the farmer.


A&W Canada digs into the Hawthorne Effect to Gamify Food Service

December 12, 2013

aw.kiosk_Thanks to a new gamified app, food isn’t the only thing that’s fast at A&W restaurants in Canada.

In as little as three seconds, burger and root beer lovers can now rate their dining experience using Loop, a mobile app designed to improve customer service at 50 A&W Canada locations across the country.

“Businesses want to be in tune with guest satisfaction and guest experience. This allows A&W Canada to connect with their customers on their terms and capture their insights, all in real time,” says Tony Busa, marketing director at Benbria, the Kanata, Ont. firm that built the app.

Customers can use Loop on iPad kiosks placed in each restaurant (shown above) or download it on their smartphones. The app poses three quick questions to each customer: “Was your meal delicious? Were we fast and friendly? Were the facilities clean?” The ratings are posted in real time on an electronic scoreboard for employees to see. That gamified element is aimed at motivating staff to provide better customer service. (Busa says that in future, A&W may add a competitive element by posting real time rankings of the top performing Canadian locations based on Loop ratings.)

Incorporating mobility, gamification and real time location-based data may seem like a surprisingly high-tech approach for a chain that built its first Canadian restaurant in Winnipeg back in 1956. In fact, 20-year food industry veteran Darren Tristano says Loop is the first app of its kind he’s seen in the restaurant sector.

“We’ve not run across this before,” says Tristano, executive vice-president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago research and consulting firm covering the global restaurant trade. The firm publishes the monthly Canadian Foodservice Digest and also organized the recent Canadian Restaurants 2013 Trends and Directions Conference in Toronto. While some chains display Twitter feeds in their restaurants, run social media contests and respond to reviews on sites like Yelp, “often times it’s too late for the customer to be acknowledged by management,” he says.

“More of this real time, publicly displayed information is very positive,” Tristano says of the Loop approach. “It demonstrates the willingness of the brand to recognize and acknowledge feedback and be able to grade their stores and how they’re doing in terms of how the customer feels.”

Busa says the app is based on principles of the Hawthorne effect, which suggests that people change their behavior when they know they’re being watched. In this case, A&W employees have an incentive to improve or maintain customer service levels because they know their performance is being tracked in real time, he explains.

Customers may also become more engaged with the A&W Canada brand because they know their opinions are being monitored—and potentially acted on—immediately, Busa adds.

“Typically, in many industries, [a comment card] goes to corporate headquarters where they analyze it, and maybe six months down the road something happens from it,” Busa says.

He notes that Loop user participation is highest in A&W locations where scoreboard ratings are displayed for customers as well as staff, suggesting the Hawthorne effect impacts customer behaviour, too.

Loop users also have the option of adding their own specific feedback comments, which are then sent directly to the manager of that A&W store via text or email. Since it all unfolds in real time, managers can potentially address a customer’s feedback before they’ve even left the restaurant.

Does Loop get results? A&W Canada didn’t provide any data to correlate the Loop program with higher sales figures. But at locations where the Loop system is in place, more than 15 per cent of customers are using it. By comparison, the industry-wide participation rate for traditional paper surveys and comment cards is just one per cent.

When it comes to Loop’s “heat map” feature, which gives the store manager at-a-glance metrics about customer feedback from a specific shift (or day or week), there’s at least some anecdotal evidence that the app is effective. Spotting particularly high or low ratings can help managers pin down the reasons and react accordingly. At one A&W restaurant, consistently low ratings on Wednesdays helped managers realize they were understaffed on that day of the week.

“It’s actually boosting staff morale because the majority of [feedback] is positive,” Busa says.

Loop will be rolled out to all 770 A&W Canada locations by early next year. (The Canadian company is a completely separate corporate entity from the U.S. A&W chain.) Other Loop clients include the Intercontinental Hotel’s San Francisco location and BeaverTails Brand Inc., a chain of pastry kiosks founded in Ottawa and now based in Montreal.


Loyalty Programmes Drive U.S. Restaurant Visits

May 16, 2013

Smart restaurant operators have always endeavored to take care of their most frequent visitors. That may have taken the form of a server simply knowing her customers’ names and whether they took cream in their coffee. Some restaurant managers kept a Rolodex or card catalog of customers, with notes about favourite tables, anniversaries, kids’ names and other key data points. These are still valid tactics, but they require staff and managers with a keen sense of hospitality and a long memory.

Punch cards put the loyalty programme into customers’ hands. Customers carry a card that gets signed, hole-punched or stickered each time they make a purchase. The customers need to keep coming to get that 10th sandwich for free.

Restaurant loyalty programmes evolved with the digital age, and swipe cards or keychain fobs replaced many punch cards. Today these programmes collect valuable data on consumers’ purchases and behaviours, what they like and when they visit. Online and smartphone-based programmes are even more convenient for consumers and enable more data collection on the part of operators.

Consumer Insights on Loyalty Programmes
Current restaurant loyalty programme participation rates in the United States suggest that opportunities are going untapped, and there are lessons to be gleaned for U.K. operators as well.

Technomic’s recent “Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing” found that while only about one-third of consumers (36%) say they participate in a restaurant-based loyalty programme, 72% say that if the restaurant they visit most often offered a programme, they would sign up. This indicates that there is opportunity for more restaurants to offer loyalty programmes. It is possible that some of these favourite restaurants do have loyalty programmes already; here, the opportunity exists in building awareness about the programme and its benefits.

The prevalence of restaurant loyalty programmes and consumers’ willingness to participate begs the question of why someone would be reluctant to join. Consumers say they are concerned about privacy, and they demand to know how their personal contact information will be used.

  • Fully 70% of consumers say they would be more inclined to sign up for a rewards programme if they could be guaranteed that the restaurant would not pass along their information.
  • Two-thirds of consumers want to know how restaurants intend to use the personal information provided.
  • Forty-six percent say they are concerned about receiving spam or junk mail after signing up with loyalty programmes.
  • And 39% are concerned that restaurants might share their personal information with others.

Technomic asked consumers specifically which personal information they would be willing to provide to join a loyalty programme. While 60% would share an email address, only 43% would provide a home address and only 30% would provide their phone number.

At the same time they explain what their loyalty programme’s rewards are, restaurants should let customers know what they will do with their information. Such transparency can help build trust, which is a good step toward building an emotional connection.

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Base: 1,000 consumers age 18+
Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1-6, where 6=agree completely and 1=disagree completely
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Operators will also want to consider who their customers are—or who they are trying to attract as customers. Our research has found that the more income consumers make, the more likely they are to participate in restaurant loyalty programmes. This may be because higher-income groups want to be recognised for the money they are spending.

However, don’t neglect “aspirational” diners, those who go out to eat at restaurants that are just out of their reach for most occasions but are used for special occasions. These consumers may not be your key demographic, but they add up, and you would miss them if they didn’t come at all. Programme tiers could offer different rewards to different customer groups. Aspirational members may be attracted to a reward that simply makes them feel included, such as an offer to try a new menu item and give their opinion. It would tell them that even though you don’t see them every week, you value them and their input.

Developing Programmes That Lead to Loyalty
Technomic recommends three steps to moving toward emotional connections.

  • Set up a loyalty programme, offering enough of an incentive for customers to provide personal information.
  • Use the data gleaned from those users to provide compelling and relevant rewards.
  • Speak to what is important to them to build real loyalty.

Initial communications should focus on free or discounted food or beverages or other giveaways. As the following exhibit shows, the relationship will probably begin as a materialistic one, dependent on regular coupons and discounts and immediate benefits for signing up. Being invited to sign up by the restaurant’s staff or being welcomed by one’s favourite restaurant are incentives that begin to build the relationship between the consumer and a favourite brand.

loyalty_chart_2_450

Base: 358 consumers age 18+ who participate in restaurant loyalty programmes
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Customers don’t want to have to work hard—or at all, really—for their perks. Even when they are willing to sign up for a loyalty programme, they want restaurants to make it as painless as possible. Seven in 10 consumers (71%) would be more likely to sign up for a programme if perks were “effortless,” 59% don’t want to have to print coupons, and 39% don’t want to have to carry a physical card in order to receive loyalty-club benefits.

loyalty_chart_3_450

Base: 1,000 consumers age 18+
Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1-6, where 6=agree completely and 1=disagree completely
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Compared to other consumers, loyalty club members are more likely to be active social media users. While 53% of all consumers “like” restaurant brands on Facebook at least occasionally, 62% of those who participate in restaurant loyalty programmes do the same. Similarly, 19% of all respondents read and/or write restaurant reviews on sites like Yelp, but 29% of loyalty-club members do so. This speaks to the importance of two-way communication with frequent diners.

To successfully communicate with frequent diners, operators must also speak the correct language and use the correct medium. Fully 78% of consumers who have smartphones and participate in restaurant loyalty programmes use their phones to access information or discounts from the programme. It’s no surprise that younger people use their smartphones more often than older consumers. It’s interesting, though, that a majority of consumers 45 and older also use their smartphones to access their loyalty programme. Savvy loyalty-programme operators will use this information and input from their own members to determine the best means of communication.

loyalty_chart_4_450

Base: 230 consumers age 18+ who have smartphones and belong to restaurant loyalty programmes
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Loyalty Membership Drives Restaurant Visits
The good news for restaurants with rewards programmes is that a majority of consumers who participate in loyalty programmes are likely to decide which restaurant to visit based on whether they are a member of that restaurant’s programme. And, just as higher-income consumers are more likely to join such a programme, they are also more likely to base their decision on where to eat on their membership.

Being in a loyalty programme does appear to put the restaurant in consumers’ consideration set, which helps get them in the door. It’s a good first step toward building those emotional connections.

loyalty_chart_5_450

Base: 358 consumers age 18+ who participate in restaurant loyalty programmes
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Darren Tristano is Senior Managing Director of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information, visit http://www.technomic.com.

Examples of Successful U.S. Restaurant Loyalty Programmes

Incorporating Social Media
Dunkin’ Donuts held a competition to award the title of President of Dunkin’ Nation. Members earned points for checking in via FourSquare and Facebook, and then selected the winner from among the top visitors.

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Offering ‘Important’ Rewards
Understanding customers creates the ability to offer rewards that customers find important. For example, la Madeleine’s Card for the Cure speaks to the core values of the chain’s regular clientele, who are mostly women. The loyalty card costs $35 up front, and gives the customer 10% off all purchases for a year. Additionally, 1% of sales goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The card can be renewed annually for $25.

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Making Consumers Part of the ‘In Crowd’
Some successful programmes appeal to consumers’ psychological need to be part of the “inner circle.” The Greene Turtle Mug Club enables the chain’s customers to purchase their own mug at their local Greene Turtle restaurant. The mug is assigned a number and stays on display in the unit until the member comes in and orders a beverage. The company boasts that there is an average of 1,000 members per unit.

greene_turtle_275


On Restaurants New menus appeal to healthy resolutions

February 5, 2013

rest-0115-art-gqml6tdj-1rest-0115-jpgIn January, when people resolve to undo the damage they did to their waistlines during the holidays, restaurants roll out menus designed to help.

Wendy’s, Panera Bread and Applebee’s are among the chains that either have added or are promoting new lower-calorie or fitness-focused menu items.

It’s a good time to do so, “because the public is already thinking about it. The mindset is already there, so people are likely to respond to it,” Columbus restaurant consultant Bob Welcher said. “If a restaurant is already planning to offer this, there isn’t a better time to roll it out.”

Wendy’s “New Year, New You” campaign is promoting menu items and combo meals with 300 to 600 calories on menu boards inside and in the drive-through lane. Featured items include the Ultimate Chicken Grill sandwich without sauce, served with a salad or chili and a diet soda. On Twitter, the company rang in the new year by touting its Wendy Wise smartphone app, which helps customers create their own meals within certain calorie counts, and contains nutritional information on Wendy’s menu items.

On Jan. 1, Applebee’s added new items to its “Unbelievably Great Tasting Under 550 Calories” menu, including several steak entrees, a Roma chicken and shrimp dish, and a Weight Watchers-endorsed lemon parmesan shrimp meal. Applebee’s also has physically changed the menu, merging its previously separate low-calorie options and its Weight Watchers-endorsed meals onto a single new page.

Although it’s too soon to tell how well the new entrees will sell — and whether their appeal will last longer than a newly minted January gym membership — “They all tested extremely well, and every indication is they will do well,” company spokesman Dan Smith said. “The low-calorie and Weight Watchers menus already have proven, dedicated followers.”

Panera Bread has introduced a new spinach “power” salad, a breakfast “power” sandwich, and a fat-free SuperFruit Power smoothie with ginseng and organic Greek yogurt, with a focus on fitness rather than calorie counts alone.

“The power menu focuses on the benefits of the whole picture — not just calorie content, but protein” and other nutrients, said Laurie Berg, marketing director for Covelli Enterprises, a Columbus-area Panera Bread franchisee. “People are looking to eat more healthfully and incorporate (restaurant meals) into their fitness routine, and they’re looking for more well-rounded food, rather than just items low in calories that could be high in something else, such as carbs.”

Restaurants may be promoting the low-calorie options on the tail of the new year, but there’s evidence that the appearance of more-healthful menu items is a trend that will stick.

The restaurant-industry research firm Technomic found 90 percent of women and 75 percent of men say they appreciate when restaurants have lower-calorie meal options, even if they don’t personally order them. Half of consumers also say they would like restaurants to offer more healthful foods, and 38 percent said they’re more likely to visit restaurants that have healthful menu options, even if they don’t order one themselves. That’s up from 33 percent in 2010.

“More consumers than ever before tell us that eating healthy and paying attention to nutrition is important,” said Darren Tristano, Technomic’s vice president.

Restaurants have responded. In the past few years, they have added more diet-conscious menu items. IHOP added a Simple & Fit menu of items under 600 calories in 2010; Cheesecake Factory added its Small Plates & Snacks menu in 2009; and T.G.I. Friday’s rolled out its Right Portion, Right Price menu in 2007.

A Center for Science in the Public Interest study found restaurants also are working behind the scenes to lower the calorie counts and improve the nutritional content of some menu items ahead of requirements in the Affordable Health Care Act that restaurants with more than 20 locations provide calorie information on menus.

“It’s a good strategy for restaurants to develop year-round low-calorie menu items, because it’s a trend that has been growing over a long period of time, and demand is only going to get stronger,” Welcher said.

“It needs to be integrated into the menu at all times, not just for a New Year’s promotion.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service says that restaurants account for 41 percent of food expenditures and 32 percent of the typical American’s caloric intake.