Good food and a pleasant atmosphere are a big part of bringing customers in the door, but building relationships with those customers is important to securing repeat business. Tools like post-dining surveys, mobile applications and customer recovery programs are key for restaurants that want to get to know their customers and keep them coming back for more, a panel of experts said in a webinar presented Tuesday by NCR titled “Closing the Loop: Turning Customer Engagement into Repeat Business“.

Here are some key takeaways from the panel discussion:

Invest in tech

Technology is quickly becoming an inextricable part of the dining experience for many consumers, whether they are placing an order on a tabletop tablet or using Twitter or Facebook to leave feedback about their experience. Many customers — especially tech-savvy millennials — are starting to expect eateries to offer online ordering and mobile payment, and brands that fail to integrate tech solutions could lose business to competitors who are quicker to embrace tech. (read more…)

Tempting as it is to believe that women still handle most of the household food shopping, and that marketing and merchandising to them is the best way to attract shoppers’ dollars, the reality is more complicated.

Not only are more men shopping – almost half of primary shoppers are now male – but they also shop differently from women. Those differences are worth considering in everything from product selection to store layout.

Men browse less, although they enjoy browsing at club and dollar stores. They tend to shop with a “search and retrieve” method that contrasts with women’s typical “browse and buy” technique. Men go to whatever section they need, consider what’s there and head to the cash register.

As a result, some drug stores have set up special aisles devoted to male grooming products. “The man aisle” includes everything from razors to body sprays to lotions made for men. Sometimes there’s even a flat-screen HDTV. (read more…)

America’s foodies have educated themselves about different cuisines and exotic ingredients through travel, food TV shows, social sharing sites and even old-fashioned word-of-mouth, and the most adventurous among them are fueling the rising popularity of chefs’ tasting menus. Paradoxically, the more they know, the more many want to be surprised and delighted rather than dictate each course.

Chefs Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza bought Philadelphia’s Marigold Kitchen this year from founder Rob Halpern, who spent five years building a following for the eatery’s tasting menu. The partners are carrying on the tradition Halpern started, along with Chef Keith Krajewski and General Manager Christopher Albert.

“We’re doing the same thing as the previous owner, it’s something bold and unique, but we have tweaked it in our own way,” said Lanza.

Marigold Kitchen offers a 14-course tasting menu for $90 per person, with seasonal offerings that change at least four and as many as six times a year, Lanza said. (read more…)

For many people, the restaurant industry is a doorway into the working world — one in three adults report that their first job was in a restaurant. For some, that job leads to a life-long career. In a recent workforce survey of U.S. restaurant workers, the National Restaurant Association found that 88% of restaurant workers were proud to work in the industry, and 70% said they would likely continue to work in the industry until they retire.

SmartBrief talked to NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney about how restaurants help employees rise through the ranks and what it takes to be a leader in the industry.

According to the NRA Educational Foundation’s workforce study, seven out of ten restaurant employees say they will likely continue working in the industry until they retire. What can restaurant companies do to help employees rise through the ranks?

The industry is honestly doing a great job of this already. (read more…)

Small specialty food producers have more opportunities than ever before to get the word out about their products and build their businesses, from blogs and social sites to crowdfunding sites to third-party online retail partners.

Online sales of packaged goods, including foods, are on track to hit $53 billion by 2016, according to Kantar Worldpanel. In the U.S., sales will hit $25 billion this year, up 13% from 2013, and they’re on track to reach $32 billion next year, according to Nielsen. Big-name brands will comprise a big chunk of those sales, but small specialty producers are commanding a larger share as well.

Online sales and marketing are becoming increasingly important tools for many small specialty food businesses, helping them grow more rapidly and reach a much wider audience than they would have in the days before the digital age. Several exhibited at the Summer Fancy Food Show in June, including Bantam Bagels, Barefoot & Chocolate, and Element Snacks, which have their wares for sale on sites ranging from Amazon to Vegan Essentials. (read more…)