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12 Steps to Prepare for a Restaurant Crisis

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

By Ellen Hartman

DRP start button. Disaster Recovery Plan concept or crisis solutions.

Restaurant operators frequently talk about what keeps them up at night, because they know that a crisis at their restaurant is only a meal away. A poor safety rating, a negative review, an illness or any number of problems can all potentially devastate your brand and cause long-term damage.

The key to effectively and efficiently handling a problem in your restaurant is to have a crisis plan in place. Preparation goes a long way to successfully dealing with the issue and ensuring that your restaurant’s good reputation remains intact.

Don’t wait until something happens, then wish you were better prepared. Instead, here are 12 steps you need to take right now to ensure your restaurant is ready for a crisis.

1. Develop a crisis team contact list. If something happens, you need to know who to contact and get in touch with them quickly. The list should include each team member’s responsibilities. Contacts and responsibilities include: a team leader, food safety coordinator, supply chain coordinator, culinary team outreach person, media communications team, operations contact, legal team, finance contact, human resources contact, guest relations team and external contacts.

2. Brainstorm potential crisis scenarios and how to respond to them. Responses should include media statements, brand messages and a press release template.

3. Name a spokesperson(s). This person will be responsible for communicating directly to the media and other audiences.

4. Media train the spokesperson(s). The spokesperson should be familiar with brand messages and be capable of clearly relaying them to the media while also addressing the crisis. The spokesperson(s) should also be able to remain composed and respond to difficult questions asked by the media.

5. Establish a virtual crisis center. This should house all communication resources, including all necessary messaging, press materials and contact information, and should only be accessible to internal audiences.

6. Identify third-party advocates and have backgrounders available for them. Since your spokesperson is part of your company, the public may not believe he or she is speaking with-out bias. That’s why it’s important to have someone from an organization not affiliated with your business that is willing to defend your restaurant if something bad happens. Third-party advocates may include organizations like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, law enforcement agencies or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

7. Update media lists. Keep a current list that includes appropriate contacts in each city your restaurant operates in. If you are a large franchise with locations across the country, also include national media contacts.

8. Tell people about the good things you do. Update your company’s community relations activities and include a place on the website where media and guests can view activities and learn how they can help.

9. Implement annual crisis planning. Conduct an annual training session with simulation for employees. Annual training will keep long-term employees updated on changes and will train new employees on appropriate actions.

10. Develop a post-crisis debriefing process. Post-crisis debriefing analyzes what went right and what went wrong, how you can do better in the future, and identifies any changes that need to be made to better handle a future crisis.

11. Monitor potential new crisis threats and adjust plans accordingly. Your crisis team should always be on the lookout for potential problems so the team can get ahead of them early.

12. Update your crisis plan quarterly. Make sure contact name and numbers are up-to-date and new scenarios and actions are current.

 

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry.   Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, Frist Watch, Fresh To Order, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s.  An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality.  She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.

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Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Takes on Second Equity Investor

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Rutherford SeydelUncle Maddio’s Pizza announced today that Rutherford Seydel, attorney, conservationist and business investor, who has been part of the Atlanta Hawks ownership since 2003, has acquired a minority share of Uncle Maddio’s and has agreed to serve on the Board of Advisors. Seydel’s investment comes on the heels of a minority share acquisition from S&S Investments.

Both Seydel and S&S view Uncle Maddio’s as the pioneer and leader of the category and a brand positioned for continued growth. The investors cited the experienced leadership team and the nationwide franchisee interest as strong indicators of its potential and believe Uncle Maddio’s is the best-in-class fast-casual pizza concept around.

“I have spent my career leading and working with many great Atlanta brands and organizations,” said Seydel.

Seydel became one of the first investors in Moe’s Southwest Grill, a concept co-founded by Uncle Maddio’s CEO Matt Andrew, among other brands. Seydel is a partner in the law firm of Davis, Pickren, Seydel & Sneed, and is an active part of its growing real estate, franchising and business transactions practices. He is married to environmental champion Laura Turner Seydel, the daughter of Ted Turner. Laura and Rutherford are co-founders of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and he is the Board Chairman.

Uncle Maddio’s will use the capital to augment the company’s infrastructure and human capital, as the fast-casual pizza chain plans to triple the staff in its headquarters to 30 people this year – a strategy aimed at both enriching franchisee support, as well as staying abreast on cutting-edge technology. Currently, Uncle Maddio’s operates 44 locations in 14 states.

“Rutherford Seydel brings with him an unmatched network of business connections and experience,” said Matt Andrew. “As we grow, his input and insight will be invaluable to our brand.”

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2015 Restaurant Neighbor Award Winner: Unsukay Community of Businesses

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Unsukay Community of Businesses Receives NRA AwardThe NRAEF (National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation) has officially announced the winners of its 2015 Restaurant Neighbor Award, which celebrates the outstanding charitable service performed by restaurant operators. Among this year’s winners is Atlanta-based Unsukay Community of Businesses, a local dedicated restaurant group founded by Ryan Turner, Chris Hall and Todd Mussman.

In response to an employee who was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer and given a grave prognosis that warranted major funding beyond his health insurance coverage to pursue progressive healthcare options, the founders led the charge on hosting a community fundraiser and raised nearly $300,000 within a four week period to help offset his expenses. The outpouring of support from the Atlanta restaurant community sparked the idea for the Unsukay partners to help found and create The Giving Kitchen, a non-profit whose funds provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community. In just over a year, $300,000 dollars has already been granted to over 150 recipients. The Giving Kitchen also just started construction of the forprofit restaurant it owns, called Staplehouse. one hundred percent of all dividends from Staplehouse will flow directly to The Giving Kitchen.

The national awards gala recently took place in Washington D.C., where The Giving Kitchen received a $5,000 check to continue supporting its charitable initiatives.

To learn more about Unsukay Community of Businesses and The Giving Kitchen, please watch the video below:

 

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Sorry, We’re Closed: Why Trademark Protection is Important in the Restaurant Industry

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

By Chase E. Scott

From Restaurant INFORMER, Vol. 4, Issue 5

trademark sign and padlockFirst and foremost, let’s discuss the nuts and bolts of trademark law: a trademark is any word, phrase, symbol, design, or other recognizable expression that an individual or entity uses as an indicator of the source of goods or services. Essentially, if you would like for a word, phrase, or design to uniquely identify your restaurant or culinary product, then you intend to use that word, phrase, or design as a trademark. The standard used to determine if one party is infringing on another party’s trademark is whether the two marks are confusingly similar to consumers. Courts apply a number of factors to determine whether a likelihood of consumer confusion exists, including but not limited to: the degree of similarity between the marks in sight, sound, and meaning, the sophistication of the customer base, and the relatedness of the goods or services provided. Instances of actual consumer confusion, where a customer confuses your restaurant for an unaffiliated restaurant, are a factor in determining likelihood of confusion, but courts do not always find that a likelihood of consumer confusion exists even when there are instances of actual confusion.

The federal trademark application process consists of two key phases: trademark clearance and the filing of the application. During the trademark clearance phase, a trademark attorney will perform an initial “knock-out” scan to determine if there are any identical or confusingly similar marks currently used by a third party in connection with related goods or services. The attorney may also recommend a more in-depth search to be performed by a third party searching company. If the attorney determines that the mark is available for the proposed use following the clearance phase, he or she will complete and file a federal trademark application and will monitor the status of the application through registration, responding to any issues (called “Office Actions”) cited by the United States Patent & Trademark Office along the way.

Often overlooked when opening a new restaurant, trademark issues can have a significant impact on an establishment’s bottom line and can potentially be the downfall of an otherwise profitable restaurant. How so? To illustrate potential pitfalls, I present two hypothetical scenarios in the context of a fictional local restaurant:

Restaurant Alpha

Chef/owner John Doe opened Restaurant Alpha in Atlanta on May 1, 2009. In the interest of avoiding attorney’s fees, John opted not to investigate whether anyone else was already using “Restaurant Alpha” before he settled on the name. John has operated Restaurant Alpha peacefully for several years. The quality of the food, friendliness of the staff, and beautiful décor of Restaurant Alpha has established the restaurant as a mainstay in the community. John invested a significant amount of money into marketing and building his brand, and Restaurant Alpha is well-known throughout the greater Atlanta metropolitan area.

Scenario #1 – What you don’t know can still hurt you:

On the eve of the restaurant’s anniversary in late April 2014, John receives a cease and desist letter from Peter, the chef and owner of an unaffiliated restaurant named Restaurant Alpha in Seattle, WA. John learns from the letter that Peter owns a federal trademark registration for “Restaurant Alpha” for use in connection with restaurant services that was filed on December 1, 2008. John’s mistake in choosing the identical name for his restaurant was inadvertent. He had never heard of a Restaurant Alpha in Seattle or Chef Peter, nor did he believe that he was infringing another party’s trademark. Nevertheless, a trademark attorney informs John that he is indeed infringing on Peter’s registered trademark. With little to no likelihood of a successful defense in the event of litigation, from a practical standpoint John is faced with two options: 1) change the name of his restaurant, destroy all menus, signage, and advertisements in his possession bearing the name Restaurant Alpha, and reach out to any third parties currently running advertisements or promotions featuring the mark requiring them to pull the ads from the marketplace; or, 2) take a license from Peter (if offered) to use the name in a limited capacity in a limited territory and pay Peter a license fee to use the name, while being subject to additional onerous terms.

Scenario #2 – Local participation may vary:

One of John’s friends from Colorado tips him off that another restaurateur, Bill, has opened a restaurant named Restaurant Alpha in Denver and it is quickly becoming a popular spot amongst the locals. Somewhat concerned, John hires a trademark attorney to investigate the restaurant and its use of “Restaurant Alpha.” The trademark attorney discovers that Bill began using the name Restaurant Alpha in connection with his restaurant on October 1st, 2014, and that Bill filed a federal trademark application for “Restaurant Alpha” for use in connection with restaurant services on November 1st, 2014. John’s attorney informs him that, without evidence that Bill knew of John’s restaurant and that he had adopted the mark “Restaurant Alpha” in bad faith in an attempt to benefit from Bill’s hard work and marketing dollars, it would be very difficult to stop Bill from using the name in Denver. Up to this point, John has been a “common law” user of the trademark “Restaurant Alpha,” meaning that his exclusive right to use the mark extends only to the geographic area in which the mark is being used. In this case, John’s common law rights would likely extend only to Atlanta and the surrounding counties. Further, if John elects not to spend the money to challenge Bill’s trademark application, Bill could become the owner of a federal registration for “Restaurant Alpha” even though John used the mark first on a common law basis. Bill’s registration would not prevent John from continuing to use the mark in Atlanta, but John could not expand outside of the Atlanta market. Bill, however, would be free to franchise or expand across the U.S., provided he does not use the mark in Atlanta.

Strong trademarks are the building blocks of successful businesses. They are the core of your brand – the name of your restaurant, the design on the front door, and the name of a signature dish or cocktail. The hypotheticals above are just a few examples of scenarios in which a few thousand dollars spent on the front end on trademark clearance and trademark application filing fees could prevent incurred costs of tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend a trademark dispute in the future.

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Diversity Programs: A Business Imperative and Marketing Opportunity

Thursday, February 19th, 2015
diversity article

From left, Denny’s CEO John C. Miller; April Kelly-Drummond, director of diversity affairs, community relations and multicultural marketing for Denny’s; and Raymond Goulbourne, executive vice president of BET Networks

By Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. is currently roughly 17 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, five percent Asian, about three percent multiracial and 62 percent White. The numbers continue to point to a growing multicultural nation: The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043.

When it comes to truly addressing, reflecting and embracing diverse cultures, it’s important to dive deeper into the numbers. What does it all mean for the restaurant industry and small businesses? How does it impact how small businesses draw customers and the next generation of employees?

The Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) was founded in 1996 to act as a catalyst for creating opportunities for diverse communities in the food and hospitality industry. Gerry Fernandez, founder of MFHA, has been part of the restaurant industry since 1976. “I went from dishwashing to the board room,” he says. “It’s one of a few remaining industries where you can start from the bottom and really work your way to the top.”

Opportunities for all –from top to entry-level—are core to what makes the restaurant industry special. It also makes MFHA’s mission to bring the economic benefits of diversity and inclusion to the food and hospitality industry by building bridges even more important today.

“Everybody wants to improve the bottom line and add value to their brand, and we believe you can do all those things by understanding diversity and inclusion practices in your business,”he says. “There are some real implications with multicultural. We believe that the work we do can help spark the industry to do more to capitalize on the opportunities that come with diversity.”

Throughout the past two decades, Fernandez has witnessed the evolution of the industry and the role “cultural intelligence”plays well before researchers promoted the term. Popularized in 2005, cultural intelligence is defined as having the knowledge, skills and abilities to effectively and appropriately engage people from different ethnic, racial and cultural groups to deliver better results.

Since its first conference more than 15 years ago, MFHA has delivered high-quality events, workshops and conferences that have driven diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the industry. While Fernandez notes gains for women in senior leadership positions, the biggest opportunity of improvement lies in increasing diversity at the middle management level.

“Why aren’t more people of diverse communities advancing? There are unique challenges that people of color face in the workplace. Companies have to offer training and education that addresses those differences,”he says.

MFHA provides guides, on-demand e-training and live workshops to help with professional development of executives. In addition, the group works with partners like The Coca-Cola Company to field research to paint a clear picture of today’s multicultural consumer.

Roy Jackson Coca-Cola Co

Roy C. Jackson

Roy C. Jackson serves as the chairman of the board of MFHA and Senior Vice President of Business Development and Industry Affairsfor the Coca-Cola North America Foodservice and On-Premise business. He knows firsthand the value of diversity.

“The multicultural consumer has always been extremely important to The Coca-Cola Company. Diversity is at the heart of our business, and diversity efforts reach across every aspect of our business –workplace, marketplace, supplier relationships and community,”Jackson says.

For The Coca-Cola Company, diversity is not only inclusive of ethnicity and gender, but hiring and marketing efforts take into consideration various generations, sexual orientation, gender identities and learning styles. Hiring and acquiring the best talent may be one of the biggest challenges for the franchisee community. Naturally, diversity and inclusion efforts can play an important role in setting some companies apart from others in the competitive landscape.

“Attracting the best talent may sound like the easy part, but sharing opportunities and more about the workplace culture with potential employees is more akin to marketing,” Jackson says. “It’s important we showcase how we’re different and what distinguishes us from the competition.”

In a recent study, MFHA looked at some of the top chains and found that fewer than 8 percent of companies surveyed communicate a dedication to diversity and inclusion well. For example, company websites are the first impression not only consumers see, but potential candidates. It’s critical that the commitment to diversity and embracing all cultures is clear.

Social media is a growing space where multicultural audiences lead and offers an additional chance for business to connect with consumers and customers. For example, according to the Pew Institute, 40 percent of black Internet users age 18-29 use Twitter. MFHA is looking at ways to “meet the millennial multicultural consumers where they are”and tap into digital platforms to showcase companies that are doing an excellent job.

“The millennial generation wants to feel good about the companies they work for,” Fernandez says. “Sometimes there is a disconnect when people of diverse communities don’t see companies giving back or how they represent them.”

Denny’s CEO John C. Miller understands the importance of capturing the attention of millennials. Leveraging social media is one way the restaurateur successfully connects with this audience.

“We have taken an ‘always open’ and ‘always on’ approach to managing social media platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram,”Miller says. “Our customers can see our ‘come as you are’ mantra not only come to life but become a part of their everyday interactions online.”

Billing Denny’s as “America’s Diner”is more than a brand platform as the organization implements programs that truly reflect the nation’s diversity. In 2013 under Miller’s direction and leadership, Denny’s spent $81.5 million with minority and women-owned businesses, representing 13.8 percent of its overall spending and surpassing the industry average.

“We’re incredibly proud that our staff come from such diverse backgrounds and make up 63 percent of Denny’s total workforce and 44 percent of its overall management,”Miller says.

The success of companies like Denny’s didn’t happen overnight. It required its leaders to be intentional in its diversity and inclusion efforts. Often the next step to creating and promoting an inclusive culture is as easy asking the right questions: Is our organization reflective of the community? When we say we believe in diversity, do our words match our actions? How can we share and showcase the diverse backgrounds of our current and future employees better?

These questions can help lead to a path of progress and allow leaders to focus on doing more of what works and addressing deficiencies with action.

 

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola Refreshments, Olo Mobile/Online Ordering, Chili’s, Huddle House, First Watch, Fresh To Order, and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.

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Can Your Business Survive a Data Breach?

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

By John C. Stivarius, Jr.

From Restaurant INFORMER, 2014, Vol. 4, Issue 4

oncept For Loss Of Personal DataRecently in the news are accounts of various businesses who have been victimized by a security breach allowing intruders/hackers access to credit card information. Jimmy John’s had a potential security breach involving customers’ credit and debit card data at 216 of its stores and franchised locations. The breach allegedly was caused by an intruder who obtained the log-in information from a vendor then remotely accessed the point-of-sale systems. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro was victimized by an intruder who stole the credit and debit card information of customers for nearly eight months. These are just a few of the many examples of data breaches which seem to permeate the news.

Is your business taking affirmative steps to reduce the likelihood of a cyber attack?  There are essentially two types of attacks. One involves the point-of-sale at the location, wherein the theft occurs from locally held stored information. The other happens through the internet stored information at host locations.  The most pertinent question to any business is “Do you know where you currently stand?” You also need to be thinking about:

  • How capable is the business in the protection of the data?
  • When is the last time the data was cleaned of extraneous metadata, eliminating IP addresses, email addresses and the like?

When customers allow for their data to be stored, they will expect that the business is taking all measures and steps to protect this data. If the information is stolen, the customer will most certainly look to the business for blame. Once this happens, the business reputation and credibility is at stake, trust is reduced or eliminated and potential liability soars. It matters not that your business is a Fortune 100 company or a smaller operation.

Below is a list of some of the steps a business may take to reduce the exposure to a cyber-hacker. The list is not an exhaustive list, but suggestions to undertake.

  • Always store the data of the customer in an encrypted database. This makes use of the data much more difficult for the hacker to use it if acquired.
  • Avoid using a singular password to access any database storing customer information. Use multiple layers and require that the passwords be changed on a regular basis and frequently.
  • Check to make certain your business is running a malware detection system on the servers and workstations and take steps to ensure the applicable firewalls are up at all times and secure.
  • Clean your information. Review the currently published documents and web pages and eliminate unnecessary metadata, internal names, IP addresses, email addresses and the like. This may discourage a potential attacker since the attacker generally searches for these types of information.
  • Inform and educate everyone in the business, from the top to the bottom, to understand the enormity of keeping the information protected and secure and how to protect it. For example, initiate well-designed procedures and back them up by training and a general culture of strictness in the procedures.
  • Always approach this problem knowing that adjustments must be made. Keep your software, malware and the encryption up-to-date.  Implement some type of security controls and frequent checks.
  • Check your insurance policies to see if the coverage is available for data security breaches.
  • Have your counsel review the hold harmless agreements and make sure the clauses cover data security breaches.
  • Have a disaster plan ready to implement in the event of a data security breach.  These plans will prove very valuable in the event your business is the unfortunate victim of an attack. Document the changes you have made, the security steps you have taken and the updates your business makes.

Document the changes you have made, the security steps you have taken and the updates your business makes.

As much as businesses are attempting to reduce their exposure, hackers are working equally diligently on breaching the security.  The protections are an on-going and living necessity.

Mr. Stivarius heads the Complex Litigation Group at Elarbee Thompson Sapp & Wilson, LLP in Atlanta, Georgia.

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FDA Finalizes Rules Requiring Calorie Information to be Listed

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

FDAThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finalized two rules requiring that calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments and vending machines to help consumers make informed decisions about meals and snacks.

“The National Restaurant Association strongly believes in the importance of providing nutrition information to consumers to empower them to make the best choices for their dietary needs,” says Dawn Sweeney, the National Restaurant Association’s President and CEO.

“We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.

The menu labeling final rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering for sale substantially the same menu items. A restaurant or similar retail food establishment is generally defined as a retail establishment that offers for sale restaurant-type food, which is generally defined as food that is usually eaten on the premises of the establishment, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location. Examples of restaurants and similar retail food establishments include sit-down and fast-food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and grocery and convenience stores. The menu labeling final rule also requires calorie labeling for certain alcoholic beverages and certain foods sold at entertainment venues such as movie theaters and amusement parks. The FDA also clarifies in the menu labeling final rule that certain foods purchased in grocery stores or other retail food establishments that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require additional preparation before consuming, such as pounds of deli meats and cheeses and large-size deli salads, are not covered.

To help consumers understand the significance of the calorie information in the context of a total daily diet, the FDA is requiring a succinct statement that says, “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary” to be included on menus and menu boards. The menu labeling final rule also requires covered establishments to provide, upon consumer request, written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

Restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are covered, including those that voluntarily register with FDA to comply with the menu labeling requirements, will have one year from the date of publication of the menu labeling final rule to comply with the requirements.

The vending machine final rule requires operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie information for food sold from vending machines, subject to certain exceptions. Vending machine operators that are covered, including those that voluntarily register with FDA to comply with the vending machine labeling requirements, will have two years from the date of publication of the vending machine labeling final rule to comply with the requirements

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Promoting your Brand – One Carrot at a Time

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

By Ellen W. Hartman

Doug TurbushRestaurant operators today are continually seeking balance. As an industry, we want to give our guests a quality, great-tasting product – at a great value. We want to provide an enriching experience – with an eye on the bottom line. We want to create an experience that offers escape – and follows the rules.

Historically, healthy menus were tough to fit into this balance. A chef or operator understood the need for balanced meals, but customers wanted something different. They wanted an indulgence, not something with a “healthy” label, which was associated with “not flavorful” and “not tasting good.”

Times are changing, and they are changing for the better. Today, due to champions in the top levels of government, industry groups such as the NRA and, most importantly, demand from consumers, healthy is hot. Restaurant operators that meet the newly found appetite for nutritious meals will gain loyal customers and establish their brands as industry leaders at the front of change.

But where to begin? Focus on sustainable products? Low calorie? Low fat? Locally sourced? One option is to start with the kids. Childhood obesity has become a rallying cry at the highest levels of government – we’ve all heard of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.

Big players in the industry are on board, too. In 2011, McDonald’s rolled out a new kid’s meal with apple slices included, and Darden Restaurants now offers fruits and vegetables as the default sides on its kids’ menu, with 1-percent milk as the default beverage.

Most importantly, healthy eating for kids is now becoming a big concern for consumers. In the NRA’s annual survey of members of the American Culinary Federation, “healthful kids’ meals” was among the top five menu trends this year. Also in the top five was “children’s nutrition as a culinary theme.”

Smaller operators may be wondering what they can do to engage. With tight margins and, potentially, low demand for kid’s meals, fruits and veggies are often out of budgetary reach. In response to this concern, NRA rolled out Kids LiveWell in 2011, in partnership with San Diego-based consultant Healthy Dining. The program, part marketing and part nutrition, is an effort to help operators identify and validate kid’s menu choices that meet 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.

Fresh to Order (f2o) is a perfect example of a smaller operator making large strides towards kids’ health. The Atlanta-based “fine-fast” chain, with nine locations in Georgia and Tennessee, is a featured member of Kids LiveWell, and its many fresh and health options are also featured on Healthy Dining’s restaurant finder for adults. Fresh to Order Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Chef Jesse Gideon designs the chains kid’s menu to be fun, nutritious and affordable – the perfect recipe for both meeting the demands of health-conscious consumers and driving sales consistency.

Gideon’s reward is loyal customers. His concept already had a great appeal among women, but the Kids LiveWell designation has expanded his reach. Now his loyal female customers see f2o both a place to meet friends or business associates AND a great place for their kids. Dads are also a big part of Gideon’s customer base. The chain offers a fresh and healthy, no-cook weekend dinner that Gideon’s dad customers know is good for their kids.

It doesn’t have to be hard. “Healthy Dining was indeed great to work with,” Gideon says. “They took all the hard work out the equation by giving me access to a team of amazing registered dieticians. They helped me to identify items currently on our menu that meet Kids LiveWell criteria; the overall process was a joy to be a part of.”

For operators interested in joining the cause, Kids LiveWell offers a turn-key method for verifying and promoting qualified menu items, including valuable assistance from Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians. Once the process is complete, Kids LiveWell is a brand champion, highlighting participants on their website, mobile app, at conferences and to the millions of parents interested in making the best choices for their families.

So Kids LiveWell is easy on operators – and it’s a marketer’s dream. As a public relations professional serving the restaurant industry, I highly recommend the program as a great way to build brand recognition and loyalty.

At a broad level, Kids LiveWell members are included among a growing group of industry leaders working on a solution to an obesity epidemic facing our country – a stance much appreciated by many potential customers and thought leaders throughout the nation. More importantly many restaurants, such as f2o, have found that a healthy kids program increases customer visits and builds loyalty. Kids LiveWell has a broad marketing reach that expands brand awareness of your restaurant to customers looking for healthy options for their kids. Moreover, when your current customers know that you care about their health and the health of their families, they are more likely to become loyal customers that come back time and time again.

For more information on joining the Kids LiveWell program, please contact Joy Dubost at the National Restaurant Association at 202-973-5361 or jdubost@restaurant.org. You can also access information on designing choices on your menu at www.cokesolutions.com or www.honesttea.com/kids/

Take the First Bite
Want to make the most of a partnership with Kids LiveWell? Take these easy steps:
1. Form a true partnership. Brand leaders should get to know the NRA/Kids LiveWell team. A personal relationship allows even more opportunities for long-term success of the program and your brand.
2. Announce your partnership. Parents will choose brands that make their child’s health a priority. Spread the word about your brand’s smart choice through a press release or media campaign.
3. Tell local influencers. Local media, food, restaurant and ‘mommy’ bloggers care deeply about what local restaurants are doing to improve health. Let your local media know about what you’re doing.
4. Be a spokesperson. Offer your brand’s chef or food and beverage/research and development leaders to comment on the program or nutritious options for kids.
5. Stay active. You are constantly improving your regular menu – keep your kid’s menu top of mind, too, in order to keep it healthy.

Ellen Hartman is president and CEO of Hartman Public Relations, LLC, a full- service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice industry. Hartman and her team have experience working for full service brands such as Chili’s, Huddle House and Olive Garden, fast casual brands such as Cosi, and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s, and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 20 years, Hartman is a frequent speaker at industry events, is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escoffier International and has served on the board of the Multi-Cultural Foodservice Hospitality Alliance.

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