Trends to Habits

Trends to Habits

Go to Market with Everyday Activities

In times of change and challenge, the best friend to have is a partner. Here’s the difference: friends help you get through a situation, and partners are there to face the facts; partners have your best interests in mind, today and for the long run. Your partners in foodservice are the people and organizations that can help you face the fact that the emerging food service trends of three years ago are today’s habits.

Let’s consider the fact your customer base is made up of three groups that are all three years older: Millennials (born after 1980), Gen-X’ers (born between 1965 and 1980) and Boomers (born 1946 to 1964). And your customers, regardless of which group, are experiencing ongoing economic stagnation. The questions you need to face are, “how do I communicate with my customers?” and “what do I communicate to my customers?”

Your road map to success can be found by looking to the buzz words and trends from three years ago to see which ones your establishment now reverberates. Recognize that in the current economic environment, an attractive price is necessary but not sufficient alone to drive traffic and sales. Quality, quantity and price, as well as food freshness, variety and restaurant cleanliness, are all factors to the new foodservice consumer. These strategies should find their way into what you do every day:

Continually adapt your menu mix and/or restaurant’s atmosphere: Consider small changes that will enhance your customer’s experience. Train your staff to ask your customer questions about their experience and then plan for time to discuss the responses on a weekly basis. Use the ideas that come from your staff and challenge them to think creatively. Implement the low cost ideas first to see if you get the desired results. Your staff will be energized by seeing their concepts put to use.

Fulfill customer value by making a shift in your offerings: Go premium on high movers, such as “better” burgers and “better” beverages, including fresh made fruit-based blended drinks. Other concepts include portion strategies that include small plates, snack sized or mini food formats such as mini-burgers and mini-dessert trios, and a variety of portion options for core menu items. With these concepts you are serving to your customer’s new habits without changing your purchasing practices (except to hopefully buy more).

Similarly, build flexibility in your serving options: These might include individual box meals, platters, family-style bowls or salads, and individual and bulk beverages. Most business orders are for lunch or breakfast, and the most popular orders are for platters and hot prepared foods; buffets and individual box lunches are other frequent formats. Meat and cheese platters allow guests to build their own sandwiches. Vegetable and fruit platters are also popular. Plus, you can prep these ahead of time, and diners with children will appreciate putting something healthy on the table that’s also quick.

Boost your takeout, delivery and catering to local businesses by using a highly recognizable delivery van. During slow times, you can use social media to alert your ‘fans of the van’ to its whereabouts; the van can offer coupons and distribute samples to those who go to its location.

When you cater let people know that you cater. Use local store marketing to let your customers know that you can cater their social and business occasions. Reach out to nearby businesses, perhaps offering first-time specials or discounts to build a relationship. Price-point promotions for Administrative Professionals’ Day or Nurses’ Day are attention-getting ways to appeal to decision-makers at corporate offices or business centers. You can also offer promotions around holidays, major TV viewing-party occasions (such as the Super Bowl or Oscar night), yearly milestones (such as graduation season) and summertime picnics.

Be true to your menu positioning. For a pizza operator, a business lunch option could include pizza, pasta, sandwiches and dessert—a single order that will be likely to satisfy most of the group. Mexican restaurants have found success with platters that include such traditional fare as tacos, burritos and quesadillas, as well as self-service formats such as “build it yourself” tacos or fajitas.

To get more take-out, you must first realize how important the right packaging is. It only takes one spill with sauce leaking through to your customer’s seat on the drive home to lose their business. What’s worse is you will probably never hear about it. Items should be individually labeled, and disposable packaging should look upscale. Utensils, plates, napkins and beverage cups should be included with orders. “Green” containers that are recyclable or compostable are increasingly important to consumers.

Evaluate your online ordering system. The availability of online ordering is increasingly important—and even essential to catering customers. There should be an easy-to-find group-orders option on your website; the site administrator can set order limits (minimum number of people, minimum dollar order). Make it easy with a web portal that allows order-placers to select the size of their party, which in turn brings up suggestions for the order. An optional connection to a live operator is a welcome feature. Don’t forget that your online customers expect an email order confirmation.

Go mobile! Get an App! Mobile phone ordering is important for a major segment of the customer base. If you expect frequent orders from repeat customers, consider a downloadable app that allows users to locate restaurants, view restaurant and catering menus, place an order (or repeat a previous order) and make a secure payment via credit card.

Offer options that match your customer’s lifestyle: Some restaurants make their orders available with either disposable plates or the option of renting real china. Others that send staff offsite offer family-style catering for small groups—food is delivered and set up, complete with a table cover, and the staff then departs—as well as catered buffets with service staff and linens.

Be flexible about advance order requirements: It’s best to guarantee pickup orders ready in an hour, and delivery and set up orders ready within three hours of the order being placed. If you want the business, then you need to be willing to go where your competition is not.

A surefire way to get your customer’s attention and business is to ‘wow’ them with your flexibility, your menu options and willingness to exceed their expectations. It is a big task to stay one step ahead, but it’s truly the most important. If you need help adapting your concepts to your customer, contact your local Sysco Marketing Associate who can help optimize menu mix, suggest take-out options, set up social and online systems, and deliver the goods you need to be successful. | GARETT SMITH, MARKETING MANAGER, SYSCO PORTLAND

About Sysco
Be sure to check in with your local Sysco Marketing Associate who is continually trained on the most up to date sustainable products. They can also help you tap into a network of chefs, quality assurance professionals and other foodservice experts who can address each client’s unique needs and problems.