Between taste tests of countless hot dogs, wontons, pizza slices and the occasional healthy dish at this weekend’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, FoodService Director editors had our eyes peeled for stealable trends and ideas during the noncommercial segment sessions. Here are a few tips we gathered from operations tackling evolution and embracing change.
1. Education and innovation go hand in hand
More operators are pushing plants to the center of the plate, a move reflected in show floor dishes like vegan “sashimi” made from tomatoes and a burger made from pea protein, coconut oil and beet juice. But that doesn’t mean chefs are automatically equipped with the skills to properly cook vegetables, said Chandon Clenard, corporate chef for True Food Kitchen, during Monday’s Noncommercial Summit. Clenard advocates that operators ensure their staffs get proper training to keep up.
2. Don't be afraid to test
So you’ve decided to transition to a more plant-focused menu—what’s next? Clenard said diners may not understand that grains like quinoa provide protein on their own without the need for additional meat on the plate. His solution: Allow guests to add chicken, salmon or other animal proteins to their dishes—after all, who wants to turn down an upsell?—but don’t advertise the option.
Colleen McClellan, director of client solutions for market research firm Datassential, also advised safe experimentation. “Take an interesting ingredient, and ground it in the familiar and traditional,” she said, noting that kohlrabi, a cousin of cabbage, is gaining ground and may be a good test subject.
3. Different dayparts, different customers
With one in three customers now paying for their orders via mobile app, Starbucks has had to “change a ton” with regard to its in-store experience, said Heath Nielsen, vice president of branded solutions for the coffee behemoth. There’s now less need for cashiers and more need for interaction while customers wait—sometimes.
For the morning customer on their first drink of the day, “We give them what they want, which is speed and accuracy. They don’t want to engage in a long conversation,” Nielsen said. Meanwhile, the afternoon customer is the “linger customer,” the ones who will sit for an hour and engage. “We’re trying to be more selective and personalized to each customer,” he said. “It’s a huge topic—if there’s one area where improvement must come, it’s that area.”
4. Evolving with workers is key, too
“When I first started at Starbucks, I went to a shareholders meeting and [then-CEO Howard Schultz] said, ‘As long as I’m here, we will never have open tattoos,’” Nielsen said. Two years later, that changed. Last summer, Starbucks announced a detailed new dress code, complete with a 15-page lookbook to both show and tell employees what was expected. Patterned shirts, hats, ties and, yes, tattoos, are now allowed.
Guidance for the new policy came directly from the baristas and millennial workforce, said Nielsen. “While the green apron signifies something for us, having to go back to something a little more local that feels like flavor and personality of store was important,” he said.