Site selection for restaurants is a delicate balance of art and science. Twenty-plus years ago, when I started my career as director of construction for one of the country’s largest restaurant franchisees, site selection primarily fell into the “art” category — we had a few basic criteria such as traffic counts, ABC classifications and general community demographics, but after that we relied on our instincts and experience. Today science has taken over, as smart brands increasingly rely on the incredible troves of data points — both big and small — that now exist on market conditions, customer preferences, demographics, even where a potential customer was five minutes before they arrived in the drive-thru.

The risk of “paralysis from analysis” is real, however, as our team looked to expand our South Florida-based Pollo Tropical brand into Texas, we identified target markets based on several factors: consumer acceptance studies of the brand offering, supply chain efficiency, operational span and the number of stores needed for media efficiency. (read more…)

Websites and technology are pretty much ubiquitous these days, no matter what industry you work in, but there are challenges that can come with incorporating technology into an existing business model, especially in more traditional industries like food retail and restaurants.

As consumers become more connected via smartphones and other gadgets and technology like mobile payment systems take root across industries, it is vital that retailers and restaurants keep pace with technology and keep customers engaged. And sometimes that means facing the challenges that come with such technology head-on and overcoming them.

Mobile payments is an arena in which retailers and restaurants are seeing a lot of change right now, especially with the introduction and increasing adoption of Apple Pay. High-profile chains and smaller merchants alike are incorporating Apple Pay into their point-of-sale systems, just as customers are starting to incorporate paying without cash or a card into their daily routines. (read more…)

A dear friend and avid scuba diver recently said to me, “If you never explore the ocean, you will only ever see half of the world.”

Above water, enjoying the same kind of pure oxygen I’ve been breathing my entire life, is a more comforting environment by nature. Unfamiliar places are the ones we tend to fear. Yes, you’re still reading a restaurant column. I’ll come back to this.

Speaking of oceans, Olo Founder & CEO Noah Glass turned the ICR XChange’s Mediterranean Ballroom blue during a part of his presentation showing a blue pie chart at 75%. It represented the three quarters of all restaurant purchases that are consumed outside of the restaurant property itself according to Hudson Riehle, SVP of the National Restaurant Association’s Research & Knowledge group.

The chart on the screen seemed infinitely large — and not just because it towered over the audience in a fifteen foot radius of blue. (read more…)

Eateries from white-tablecloth restaurants to casual chains have been on a mission to improve their bar menus for several years, with new twists on familiar fried favorites and original exotic dishes designed to keep patrons sipping and spending from happy hour to late night.

Chains have been spicing up their offerings, with bar menus like Applebee’s new Apps & Bar Snacks menu, BennigansCrowd Pleasers and Chili’s extensive appetizer list. But independent eateries have greater leeway to get even more creative and to change bar menus up on short notice.

“We love to eat, and we get bored easily,” said Kate Jacoby, co-owner of V Street in Philadelphia. “So we are always experimenting with new stuff. Just the other day, we ran a meaty South African sandwich called a Gatsby. We made ours with seitan. The beauty of it is stuffing it with some crispy french fries and a tangy sauce.” The sandwich was a hit, and now the team’s “looking for new inspiration — new ways to play,” she said. (read more…)

For restaurateurs, practicing sustainability can be challenging, but ultimately rewarding. It is important to start small and make incremental steps, but sometimes it’s fun and illustrative to think big.

Going zero waste is thinking and acting big! It can also boost your business.

So what is zero waste? Basically, it means reducing the amount of material you send to landfills by 90% or more.

Restaurateurs undertaking zero-waste efforts are essentially using nearly all of their raw resources efficiently (e.g., food, packaging, service ware) and adopting a “thou shall not waste” mentality. It is a mentality that they teach (and enforce) to their employees and, perhaps, even their guests. Once you do though, it could position your business to operate extremely efficiently.

If you’re wondering why you should care about practicing this zero-waste concept, here are four solid reasons:

  1. It can save you cash. The former Chicago restaurant Sandwich Me In,[1] which didn’t create trash for two years, is a great example.
  2. (read more…)