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What Gen Z restaurant consumers want

Nation's Restaurant News - Sun, 2017-05-21 14:34

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2017 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 20-23. Visit for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

The next generation of restaurant consumers, who are now in their teens, will demand the non-negotiables of good value, a unique experience and superb food safety, according to an NRA Show panel on Saturday. 

“Gen Z will have a huge impact on the global markets and the foodservice industry,” said Abhijeet Jadhav, senior manager of marketing strategy for Georgia-Pacific Professional and moderator of a panel titled “Introducing Generation: The World’s Newest Influential Decision Maker.”

With about 80 million members, mostly in their teens, Gen Z is on the cusp of being the restaurant industry’s major consumer market, Jadhav said.

“These folks are not just Millennial 2.0,” Jadhav told a packed audience that spilled well into the NRA Show’s exhibit hall.

Born between 1995 and the mid- to late-2000s, Gen Z customers have values that are very different from Millennials, he said. They spend a lot of time online and tend to have shorter attention spans, Jadhav said. And because they consume a lot of information, they tend to make decisions quickly.

Early research on Gen Z consumers indicates that they want good value and quality from restaurants, like the food found in fast casual. They also want inviting service and a welcoming ambience that makes them feel valued, Jadhav said. Additionally, they demand cleanliness and the highest standards of food safety.

Adam Millman, senior director of Yale Dining in New Haven, Conn., said Gen Z covers a lot of college students, and that requires approaching them with information. 

“We’re telling a story,” Millman said. “This generation wants to know why we are doing things. And we’re telling that story through technology, which is their major form of communication.” 

Yale uses its foodservice smartphone app to detail food sources, which farms ingredients are from, and when the products were harvested. The university offers supply-chain transparency from farm to plate, he said.

In addition, Gen Z customers don’t want to wait, so Yale allows students to order through the app and have the food ready when they arrive.

Digital nativism is a trait unique to Gen Z, as opposed to Millennials, said Jill Ahern, senior director for insights and design packaging at Havi. Technology has been available to Gen Z consumers for their entire lives, she said.

“That really shapes how they interact with the world,” Ahern said. “It allows them to get ratings and do crowdsourcing for places where they might want to eat or where they might want to work.”

Millman said Yale has adapted worker scheduling to accommodate digital nativism, allowing them to work when they want to work. Short videos are also used for training and available on smartphones or iPads, he said. 

Gen Z student Jackie Mendez said one of her favorite restaurants is Buffalo Wild Wings because it offers tabletop tablet ordering, which also occupies her younger sister. Plus, restaurants have televisions for watching sports. 

“This generation is really about the experience,” Millman of Yale said. “They are willing to wait two hours to go to a place that has the technology behind it, versus the brand they are comfortable with.”

Gen Z customer Christopher Chavez of Chicago said he likes to seek out restaurants that have been suggested on social media in order to get new experiences.

Technology also gives the Gen Z customers the ability to find and compare new places, Ahern said. 

“Another hallmark of this generation is that it is a very diverse generation and very open-minded compared to earlier generations,” she said. “They are very adventuresome. They are very open to new tastes that you don’t typically associate with teenagers.

“If you are looking for trends with this group, you are probably too late with this group,” she added. “You really need to be challenging them and giving them new things. Give them something to talk about.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Is delivery worth the headache?

Nation's Restaurant News - Sat, 2017-05-20 19:20

This post is part of the On the Margin blog.

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2017 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 20-23. Visit for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

No single trend in the restaurant industry is as big as delivery. The wave of third-party services and clear demand from consumers has just about every major restaurant chain headed in that direction.

Delivery can generate a flood of sales when companies start implementing the service, according to a panel of operators at the NRA Show on Saturday.

“The sales volume is extraordinary on the third-party delivery side,” said Monique Yeager, chief marketing officer of Tijuana Flats, which began working with UberEats five months ago. "The first three months was absolutely amazing.”

But … 

“The cost is what we all need to work together as a community of restaurants,” she said. “The cost of this is extraordinary. And sales volume doesn’t cover it.”

Others, however, say the pickup in sales is worth the cost.

Uncle Maddio’s Pizza has one location that generates 50 percent of sales through delivery. COO Scott Goodrich was blunt about the impact delivery had on that one location. 

“It saved the store, in my mind,” he said. 

Goodrich said that third-party delivery is at 20 percent at most of the locations with the service, but not all of his chain’s restaurants has delivery because the company doesn’t trust the service.

“For us it’s been great,” he said.

Delivery is an important consideration for the vast majority of restaurant chains for a simple reason: More consumers are staying home. And for many of them, the only way to get them to eat your product is to bring it directly to them.

According to the NPD Group, 61 percent of all restaurant visits are for takeout, a number that is increasing, even at casual dining chains built on dine-in business.

Consumers are increasingly shopping online, rather than at retail stores, which has devastated that business. It’s also playing a role in the decline in restaurant visits in recent years, and especially over the past 12 months.

That makes delivery a defense mechanism for operators as much as anything else.

“I do think customers are dictating this,” Goodrich added. “We don’t have a choice. They’re going to want to use it that way.”

Yeager called it a “cultural shift to more convenience.”

“It’s an actual shift,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean delivery is a panacea. Because services charge delivery fees, it costs money. And, for many concepts, the amount of potential business remains uncertain.

Yet operators on the panel all agreed that the services generate a surge in sales at first. The big question many have is whether the sales for delivery are not replacing ordinary takeout. 

“If customers are just trading from something that doesn’t cost us to something that does, we have to look at it,” Yeager said.

The other challenge for operators is to make the business profitable. Some operators said they have to hire additional workers to prepare the food and handle the orders, especially at first when a lot more customers order delivery. 

Ultimately, operators said they adjust their operations to make the business more profitable.

Delivery orders were as high as 60 percent of the business at some locations after Blazing Onion Burger Co. started third-party delivery, said CEO David Jones.

“We don’t have the staff for that,” he said. 

That also frustrated workers who were suddenly much busier than they used to be, driving turnover higher. But the orders eased and the company has adjusted its labor accordingly and added training, and now “the bottom line is where it wants to be,” Jones said.

Another question is whether the orders affect overall business. Some chains worry that it will. 

The fast-casual pizza chain Fired Pie will turn off delivery at some of its busy locations during lunch, to not drive away customers who come to the store to order its pizzas.

“We turn it off quite often,” said Fred Morgan, the chain’s co-founder. “We don’t have the luxury of a second kitchen when there’s a line out the door to make orders with five, 10, 15 pizzas. It makes it very difficult.”

Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

As labor costs hit hard, operators look for answers

Nation's Restaurant News - Sat, 2017-05-20 18:55

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2017 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 20-23. Visit for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Low unemployment and a restaurant industry adding jobs at a strong clip, along with rising minimum wages, have conspired to drive up labor costs for most operators.

The rising costs, coming at a time of weak sales, have left many operators searching for answers throughout their operations — from the amount of technology they add, and even the size of their restaurants.

“This labor line, this trajectory, is not sustainable,” Carin Stutz, chief operating officer of Denver-based Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., said at the NRA Show on Saturday.

Solutions to labor issues vary greatly. Stutz, for her part, has implemented a number of strategies at Red Robin to keep good employees from jumping ship. For instance, the company has a “come as you are” policy, so workers no longer have to cover up tattoos or piercings, she said.

That policy “opens up your workforce in a pretty big way,” she said.

It probably helps that Red Robin’s CEO — Denny Marie Post recently received a very public tattoo at the company’s annual conference after workers met what executives considered a “high bar” for customer satisfaction scores. 

“It was amazing what that did for our culture,” Stutz said.

The company also has a two-week scheduling policy, so workers know further in advance when they are scheduled to work.

“It shows respect for team members,” Stutz said. “They don’t have to wait until Friday to know when they’re working the next week.”

Stutz also said the company has “stay interviews” with good workers to catch issues that might drive them away, rather than catching those issues during an exit interview.

To be sure, higher pay remains the most important element of recruitment and retention.

Ryan Rose, president of Medina, Ohio-based Romeo’s Pizza Franchise, said the company is “starting to pay people more,” and that begins with general managers. The company has increased general managers’ average annual salary from a range of $33,000 to $36,000, to $37,000 to $42,000.

General managers are important, Rose said, because they influence everything else, including labor control and sales growth.

“We look at investing in the highest quality GM we can afford, and making life very good for them,” he said. “They influence everything in the formula that can make for a successful bottom line.”

His company also uses personality testing, and also tests workers on leadership skills to find people who could make the best general managers.

Rose, for his part, sees labor as an important part in driving topline sales, which can offset higher labor costs.

“Hire the right people to increase store sales, and labor will stay in check,” he said.

Some companies are finding workers from different groups. Sue LaTour, president of Passport Pizza, said the company takes advantage of incentive programs to hire people who just left prison.

She said the workers’ connection with a parole officer keeps them in check, and they are motivated to do well.

“This is a great workforce, because they’ve been through hell,” LaTour said. “They show up on time. They’re polite and helpful.”

Technology is playing a major role in companies’ efforts to control labor. Passport Pizza uses a scheduling program that texts employees 30 minutes before they start a shift as a reminder, so they can’t say they overslept.

“They’re always checking their phones,” LaTour said.

Many companies are also using kiosks and online ordering to make business more efficient.

Romeo’s Pizza Franchise generated just 6 percent of sales online when he started 28 months ago. After numerous improvements, that percentage is up to 40 percent.

That doesn’t directly influence labor, he said, but it does drive up revenue 

“Our average guest check is $3 higher online than when they call into the store,” Rose said. “We’re doing more with less.”

“It’s not taking employees’ positions,” he added. “We still need employees. It’s all about increasing the top line.”

Rising labor costs are even influencing the size of restaurants. Stutz noted that Red Robin is shifting to a more mid-sized building.

“We’re trying to slim down, see if that helps a little bit,” she said.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Deliv joins online grocery competition

Store Front Talk Back - Sat, 2017-05-20 17:50
Delivery startup Deliv announced it has joined the e-commerce grocery game with the launch of Deliv Fresh. The service provides same-day delivery from numerous grocers and meal services across the U.S.

LAcarGuy's racing videos strike a chord

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-05-20 01:01
California dealer Mike Sullivan, the self-branded LAcarGuy, has headed to the track to promote his Porsche of South Bay store.
Categories: Latest News

The metamorphosis of C.J. Wilson

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-05-20 01:01
There's retiring, and then there's retiring at age 35 with millions of dollars in the bank and a passion for racing, owning and selling some of the world's most pedigreed car brands.
Categories: Latest News

Retail Roundup—CVS overhauls beauty, Ralph Lauren names new president

Store Front Talk Back - Fri, 2017-05-19 18:03
CVS gave its beauty department a makeover, Ralph Lauren named a new president, Target announced an urban location in Denver, plus more need-to-know news from the world of retail.

Working Lunch: Cities push for menu labeling enforcement

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:33

This week, Align Public Strategies discusses why New York City will not wait for delayed federal requirements on menu labeling, and the mayor’s call to action for other cities to follow. Distractions in Washington, D.C., are getting worse, which means the legislative agenda is sidelined. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and Congress appear to be heading toward a possible agreement on parental paid leave.  

Align Public Strategies is a full-service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation's Restaurant News or Restaurant Hospitality.

Future of Food: Diners will expect an influx of ‘new’

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

According to a study by the National Restaurant Association, 76 percent of consumers are open to trying new dishes, with 56 percent open to doing so occasionally and 20 percent saying they “really enjoy trying new dishes.”

That’s a lot of sisig and nkatenkwan.

Sisig is a Filipino dish of braised, sizzling pork, and nkatenkwan is a chicken-and-peanut stew from Ghana, in West Africa. They represent cuisines that we don’t often see in the U.S., but that may become more popular as adventurous consumers seek new flavors — and prove to their Instagram followers that they tried something before any of their friends.

Many trend watchers have cited Philippine cuisine, driven by chefs like James Beard Award nominee Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint, a Filipino restaurant in Washington, D.C., as well as celebrity chef and Filipino-American Dale Talde. The cuisine is rich, acidic and increasingly trendy among younger diners in California, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

African food has been on the NRA’s “What’s Hot” list for the past couple of years. Based on a survey of chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, the robust cuisines of countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa are still rarely seen outside of ethnic enclaves, although the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., maintains three restaurants offering African-influenced dishes.

Nonetheless, the rich, spicy stews of sub-Saharan Africa and the cured meats of South Africa, as well as many gluten-free starches made from ancient grains, could well find a place with diners looking for the next cool thing.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Future of Food: The dawn of the Internet of Things

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Once upon a time, it was crucial for a restaurant manager to be on site during all business hours to make sure operations ran smoothly.

No more.

Now, with a smartphone and a decent Wi-Fi connection, managers can handle from afar everything from the temperature of freezer units to lighting in the dining room.

It’s the Internet of Things in restaurants, and it’s only the beginning.

For example, oven sensors can send data to a cloud where the information can be analyzed to reveal, say, a temperature issue or a need for maintenance. 

Operators can even receive alerts about equipment issues that could compromise food safety. 

But it’s not only about connecting equipment. A growing number of digital scheduling tools can send alerts about workers’ overtime or mandated breaks. 

Reservation management systems help identify important guests, their preferred dishes and whether they’re allergic to nuts.

Fast-casual chains like Panera Bread are using table-
tracking technology to help food runners find customers quickly in the restaurant to deliver their meals. 

And suppliers are increasingly using smart kitchen equipment monitors to know when to deliver ingredients like cooking oil for the fryer.

As kitchens get even more connected and data-gathering tools become more sophisticated, there will be a world of opportunity in freeing humans from mundane tasks so they can focus more on pleasing guests.

Contact Lisa Jennings at

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

Future of Food: Meat steps up its game

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

It used to be that only socially conscious chefs of a certain political bent used and promoted meat not treated with antibiotics.

Now everyone does it.

That’s mostly due to consumer demand, aided by the fact that, as of this year, the Food and Drug Administration has largely banned the routine use of “medically important” antibiotics, or those used to treat humans, on animals.

But if even giant chains like Chick-fil-A and Subway are selling antibiotic-free chicken, what are operators supposed to do to distinguish themselves?

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s moved to set themselves apart in 2015 with all-natural beef — free-range, grass-fed and not treated with hormones, antibiotics or steroids — and extended the offering earlier this year to chicken, which is never treated with hormones.

Some independent operators are going further. Southern California chainlets The Crack Shack and Two Birds have used Jidori chicken the minute they opened. The brand, widely used in fine-dining restaurants in the area, touts the small farms and humane treatment of its free-range, all-natural chicken, while chefs love its robust taste and finer texture.

Others are seeking out specific breeds, such as Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, which gets all of its chicken from a farm in Arkansas that’s a cross between Naked Neck and Delaware breeds.

Le Coq Rico in New York offers five different breeds to allow customers to explore the birds’ “genetic diversity and terroir,” said chef-owner Antoine Westermann.

Meanwhile, Perdue Farms, the country’s fourth-largest chicken producer, has set up a test farm to explore slow-growth chickens that it hopes will be healthier and tastier than what’s already on the market.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Future of Food: Trucks drive without a person at the wheel

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Some of the biggest tech companies, and a few traditional automakers, are working to bring self-driving vehicles to the road.

But these vehicles could also come to the back of your restaurant, in the form of a truck without a driver.

To be sure, driverless trucks are many years away. But a number of companies, such as the Uber-owned Otto and the California-based startup Embark, are bringing automated technology to trucks and commercial vehicles for use inside manufacturing plants. 

Theoretically, self-driving technology in manufacturing could reduce labor costs, improve efficiency, and provide manufacturers with more information and data. 

Early tests appear to focus on helping truck drivers — not replacing them — by self-driving trucks on Interstate highways. Human drivers take the wheel in cities. The system would enable trucking companies to handle more loads per day.

Otto, which Uber acquired last year, has tested this technology in Colorado and Ohio.  

Embark unveiled its self-driving truck technology in February, after the state of Nevada said it would let the company test its truck on public roads. Embark’s truck uses radars, cameras and depth sensors to perceive the world around it. The system also uses artificial intelligence to “learn from its own experience.”

Could self-driving vehicles be of use by food distributors and other restaurant vendors one day? Sure. Otto predicts that the market for self-driving trucks could equal the market for self-driving passenger cars, expected to be over $80 billion by 2030. 

So, get ready. The driverless truck could be heading your way soon. 

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Future of Food: Consumers yell their orders

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

In the near future, hungry consumers might be able to yell at any of their belongings and food will eventually appear.

Until then, there’s Alexa.

Alexa is the digital assistant in Amazon’s Echo, similar to Google Assistant in Google Home devices. These digital assistants are being embedded into consumer’s lives, with more applications on the way.

Amazon partners say they will offer Alexa in alarm clocks, Ford Fusion and F-150 and Volkswagen cars, light switches, refrigerators, Roombas, televisions, washers and dryers.

For more than a year, Domino’s Pizza has offered ordering capabilities through Alexa, launching it before the Super Bowl in 2016. The chain expanded that to Google Home in December. Pizza Hut also adopted hands-free voice ordering through Alexa in December, and Wingstop did the same in January.

Restaurant brands have also adopted ordering through social platforms like Facebook Messenger and Twitter.

And social gift giving got a boost this spring when Starbucks debuted a program that lets customers send gift cards through the Apple operating system’s iMessage texting platform, paid for with Apple Pay.

Tech-savvy restaurant companies are making sure their food is convenient for the customer, not just at their fingertips but also within shouting distance.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Future of Food: Couch service will be key

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The future of food isn’t inside a restaurant — it’s inside your home.

Restaurants and third-party delivery services are racing to get food directly to consumers. They’re delivering this food in many different ways — with contract drivers, employees and even via drone or wheeled robot. 

As it is, only a tiny percentage of restaurant orders are delivered. According to a study in November by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, only 4 percent of food sold by restaurants is delivered. Most delivery is through traditional channels, notably pizza chains, such as Domino’s.

But many restaurants are betting that delivery will grow. In recent years, investors have pumped money into delivery startups such as Postmates, Grubhub and UberEats.

Numerous restaurant chains are heading in this direction. McDonald’s, which operates its own delivery services in China, plans to roll out delivery through UberEats in the U.S. this year. 

Meanwhile, Panera Bread plans to roll out delivery using its own drivers. 

And casual-dining chains, such as Outback Steakhouse operator Bloomin’ Brands Inc., see delivery as the biggest potential sales driver for the struggling segment.

Some companies are even ditching delivery drivers. Domino’s has tested delivery robots and drones in some international markets. Postmates has also tested robots.

The potential of delivery remains to be seen. Consumers tend to be fickle and may not want to spend the extra money. 

On the other hand, consumers like their food to go. Noah Glass, founder of online ordering company Olo, said that 60 percent of food purchased inside a restaurant is consumed outside the restaurant. 

“Consumers are increasingly turning to restaurants to outsource the kitchen,” Glass said.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Future of Food: Meat raised in a lab

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

In the future, meat might be a thing of the past.

Picture beef without cows, pork without pigs, or chicken without, well, chickens.

Universities and startups are investing in ways to grow meat in laboratories, a growing field known as cellular agriculture.

Scientists at Maastricht University in The Netherlands have created cultured beef by painlessly harvesting muscle cells from living cows. The cells are fed and nurtured so they multiply and create muscle tissue, the main component in the meat we eat.

New York City-based New Harvest, a non-profit institute, has funded research in cultured beef, chicken, turkey, pork and lobster. And Tufts University has started the first doctoral program in cellular agriculture in the United States.

According to Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, which has produced lab versions of chicken, meatballs and duck, demand for meat is growing so quickly that there are not enough resources to meet it.

“We need to completely change the way meat gets to the plate,” he said.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that demand for meat will rise more than two-thirds in the next 40 years, and the resources and space devoted to raising animals to produce meat will become scarcer. 

Mark Post, a researcher at Maastricht University, has created hamburger meat in the lab, but said it will be years before we see such products sold in restaurants or supermarkets.

Still, lab-grown meat is on the horizon.

“We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, and an incredible business opportunity — to transform a giant global industry while contributing to solving some of the most urgent sustainability issues of our time,” Valeti said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless


Future of Food: The robots are coming

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The future of food is technology, and the rise of robots is already here.

From coast to coast, robots are tossing salads, pouring cappuccinos and even handing customers McDonald’s orders at the drive-thru. Want a preview of what’s to come? At Tian Waike Restaurant in Kunshan, China, a fleet of robots cooks and serves food to customers — with some actual humans watching over.

Robots have the potential to radically change how food is prepared and presented to customers, and a consequence of this may be lost jobs. The restaurant industry employs 10 percent of all Americans, accounting for nearly 15 million jobs, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In the meantime, these automated machines will likely create heightened expectations of accuracy and efficiency in the restaurant industry. For instance, a robot built by Moley Robotics will be able to execute 2,000 different recipes when it goes on the market this year. And Momentum Machines’ fully autonomous robot can produce 400 made-to-order burgers per hour.

Let’s not forget the restaurant Eatsa, which makes it possible for customers to order and pay for healthful dishes like quinoa bowls without any human interaction, or HMSHost’s Pepper robot, at Oakland International Airport, which can greet guests, offer menu recommendations and give directions.

We can’t say decisively what a future with robots looks like, but, as with every other technology that has swept through the restaurant industry, we are sure to be in for major disruption.

Contact Marcella Veneziale at

Future of Food: You will really know your customers

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Consumer demand is one driver of the proliferation of restaurant apps. But for restaurant operators, the benefit is unlocking access to a treasure trove of customer data.

For proof of how essential these technologies are to restaurants today, look no further than McDonald’s. In March, the company announced plans to double down on kiosks, delivery and curbside service, all powered by the latest digital innovations.

“Technology is disrupting everything around us,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook told analysts at the time. “The question for McDonald’s: Do we want to be disrupted, or do we want to be the disruptor?”

For instance, curbside service would allow customers to order on McDonald’s app, which would use geofencing technology to alert the restaurant when the customer is in the restaurant vicinity. An employee would then deliver the order directly to the customer’s vehicle.

Smaller players are also tapping into the power of tech. Papa Gino’s, a 150-unit pizza chain based in Dedham, Mass., has invested heavily in digital capabilities to boost business. The operator hired Los Angeles-based Bridg to target existing customer data.

Providers like Bridg can target all of a restaurant’s customers, even those who don’t use apps or opt in to emails.

By breaking down what customers order and how much they spend, operators like Papa Gino’s can tailor marketing to the individual customer.

“It enabled us to engage with our customer base on a very direct, one-to-one basis, leveraging our transactional database to be able to tailor very, very specific messages to get people and reach them in high impact media,” Papa Gino’s senior vice president of brand strategy Peter Cronin told NRN in January.

Contact Marcella Veneziale at


Future of Food: Kiosks will take your order

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Will restaurant workers who take customers’ orders one day become obsolete?

Probably not, but the industry is moving toward a future in which more guests place orders on computer screens inside restaurants.

Some of the world’s biggest restaurant chains are moving in that direction. McDonald’s, the largest of the bunch, has been adding kiosks in international markets for years.

McDonald’s wants to expand its “Experience of the Future” model, which includes kiosks, in most of its 14,000 domestic locations by 2020. And its competitor Wendy’s plans to add kiosks in 1,000 locations by the end of the year.

The efforts follow fast-casual operator Panera Bread, which added kiosks at its 900 company-owned locations in its “Panera 2.0” model, which includes online ordering and other features.

Smaller chains are also following suit. Fast-casual BurgerFi has tested kiosks at one of its 91 restaurants. And seven-unit Eatsa, the San Francisco-based healthful-food concept, doesn’t have employees to take orders at all — just kiosks. 

Kiosks have entered the debate over rising minimum wages. Many see them as a natural result of higher labor costs. In theory, kiosks can result in chains employing fewer workers.

But efforts so far appear to be mostly at the top line. Restaurants see kiosks as a way to improve service, with faster ordering and fewer mistakes. Consumers are more relaxed at kiosks and tend to order more items. 

McDonald’s executives said its restaurants with kiosks generate sales growth of 4 percent to 8 percent. 

At Panera Bread, same-store sales at company-owned restaurants, where kiosks are prevalent, increased 4.2 percent in 2016. At franchised locations, which have been slower to add the technology, same-store sales rose 0.7 percent. 

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Future of Food: Local will get more local

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The bar for local produce is rising. A continued embrace of urban farming is leading to an uptick in volume of leafy greens available in even the densest metropolis. 

Restaurants can offer local produce 52 weeks per year, sourcing food that uses 95 percent less water than traditional farming methods. 

Urban farming consists of four subsectors, which are continuing to build supply for restaurants. Hydroponic plants are grown with little or no soil, areoponic plants are grown in closed loop systems with roots exposed to a nutrient-rich mist, aquaponic plants are raised alongside fish in a symbiotic relationship, and greenhouse plants are raised in enclosed facilities with regulated conditions such as carbon dioxide levels and humidity. 

The wildcards of weather and global warming are also removed from the equation, as are pesticides and herbicides.

Infinite Harvest, based in Lakewood, Colo., subscribes to the popular vertical stacking method. If laid out flat, the growing surface would amount to approximately an acre of farmland, yet it produces about 25 acres worth of food per year. Other operations, such as the 70,000-square-foot AeroFarms in Newark, N.J., and the soon-to-come 14-acre Tender Greens facility in Northern California, are a bit larger.

The move toward futuristic farming is considered by many to be a necessary advancement.

Tobias Peggs, co-founder and CEO of New York’s Square Roots, projects that by the year 2050 the planet will host approximately 9 billion people and that 70 percent of the population will inhabit cities.  

Urban farming, with its year-round growing season, minimal environmental footprint, and ability to maximize production in small spaces, could be the key to feeding the upcoming influx of

Contact Dan Orlando at

Follow him on Twitter: @DanAMX

Future of Food: Insects for dinner

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Crickets and grasshoppers are coming to a menu near you.

In fact, this sustainable protein source is already available in many American restaurants as chefs are incorporating insects into their dishes. Take a peek inside the tortillas at The Black Ant in New York City, where grasshoppers, or chapulines, are a focal point of the modern Mexican menu, showing up in tacos, grasshopper croquettes and pastry chef Jesus Perea’s platano y chapulin banana cake and ice cream.

Mario Hernandez, chef and partner at The Black Ant, grew up in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where grasshoppers aren’t so shocking on the menu. Other insect-forward items include black ant guacamole with black ant salt, and a black ant salt-rimmed jalapeño cocktail.

At the moment, sophisticated Mexican restaurants are leading the charge in bringing ingredients like insects to the mainstream. Flora Street Cafe, the latest restaurant by Stephan Pyles, the godfather of elevated Southwest cuisine, uses crispy crickets as a signature garnish.

But bugs on the menu reached a pop culture milestone this year when grasshoppers sold out on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day at Seattle’s Safeco Field.

A 4-ounce snack bowl of chili-lime grasshoppers, Poquitos’ Oaxacan chapulines, is part of a partnership with local Mexican restaurant Poquitos. About 13 pounds of grasshoppers sold that day, selling at $4 per bowl, according to management company Centerplate.

The stadium has already sold more grasshoppers than the restaurant sells in a year, after just three games.

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