How Solo Dining Can Help Your Restaurant

When most people think of going out to dinner, they likely imagine the company of a date, family members, or a group of friends. Solo dining might not come to mind for a number of reasons. To some, it can feel taboo or uncomfortable, and many restaurants are simply not set up to cater to dinner for one. Restaurants themselves might see those eating alone as a smaller bill or a hindrance to turning over tables to larger parties. However, restaurants should cater to patrons eating alone. Every guest is an opportunity to demonstrate your restaurant’s ability and to continually bring in business down the line, and below we explain how.

Why Restaurants Should Welcome Guests Dining Solo

pouring white wine into glass with elegant food behind it for a solo diner

If your motivation is to provide a fulfilling and satisfying experience for your guests, all of them should be regarded as equally valuable and worthy of exceptional service, even if they have a small bill.

Solo Guests Can Still Enjoy Your Food and Service

Restaurants create the space for many types of social gatherings, including family celebrations, anniversaries, and reunions with friends. Most fundamental to success, however, is not the space itself but a restaurant’s delectable dishes and great service, which even those dining alone can relish in.

Restaurants Can Be Captivating for Groups and Solo Diners Alike

Much like going to the movies or an exhibition, good restaurants are also sources of entertainment with artful qualities. If restaurateurs have captured a unique concept or brand with commendable cuisine and outstanding, personable service, then the sole experience of dining at a restaurant can be an enchanting experience. Solo diners are a reminder of the full-fledged potential of a restaurant to provide intellectual and entertainment value even without the additional conversation and laughter that a shared social experience might bring.

Benefits of Solo Diners in Your Restaurant

In the short run, some restaurants might view those eating alone as a smaller check or a lost opportunity for a larger table, especially during a busy shift. In the long run, however, treating solo diners with the utmost hospitality can be a meaningful and lucrative experience.

  • Providing consistently accommodating service is a sign of integrity in your business practice. The restaurant industry creates intimate environments and connection among people, including between staff and customers. As such, the emphasis should not solely be on how to yield the most profit but rather on practical planning as well as your food and hospitable qualities. The profit will naturally arise from a healthy balance of the two.
  • You never know who you are serving. This means an inspector or reviewer may be attending your restaurant. This also means you could be serving a new resident scoping out the restaurant scene or a prospective guest deciding where to take his/her next date.
  • Solo diners may return either by themselves or with company. They may also recommend your spot to others. Repeat business can comprise much of your market, but diners will only return if a restaurant creates a welcoming experience for them.
  • A table with one person can be an easy table. Service can be a busy and occasionally chaotic experience, so when a server has a table of one, it may add a relaxing note to the dining rush. It’s easy to have the attention of the guest when taking orders, and you only have to cater to the needs of one guest as opposed to two, four, six, or more.
  • It’s a compliment. It shows that your restaurant is simply worth eating at. Rather than a vehicle for a social experience, perhaps this individual merely wants to enjoy your food and hospitality.

How to Cater to Guests Eating Alone

chef pouring syrup onto dessert for a guest dining solo

Due to cultural stigma, it’s possible that solo diners already feel somewhat uncomfortable, which is why you might want to put even more thought into catering to them. Because these are only tables of one, you can take the opportunity to offer special treatment at a minimal cost.

  • Read the table. As with all guests, staff should know how to alter their approach to create a seamless, comfortable interaction. Based on a guest's demeanor, servers can gauge if a person is looking for solitude or an involved experience. If they seem more engaged, consider how you can make the meal more special and experiential for them.
  • Offer a special treat. Because this is only a table of one, you can easily offer a complementary glass of champagne, an extra amuse bouche, or a dessert.
  • Alter your setup for those who want to eat alone. Some contemporary restaurants are incorporating seating and service styles to create an inviting space for those eating out alone.
    • Fast casual restaurants –– Some eateries cater to solo diners through ambiance and service style. Automated systems make it so guests can quickly order from a mobile POS system and pick up their food to go or stay. The atmosphere is typically a hybrid between a casual cafeteria and a cafe, which makes customers feel comfortable eating alone.
    • Medium-fancy restaurants –– Consider incorporating individual walled booths or small tables. Or, simply pay attention to where you seat solo guests. They might prefer a seat by a window or in a quiet area. You might even devise a ticket system that minimizes interaction with servers. This allows guests to focus on the food rather than the surroundings or social encounters.
  • Create a social space for solo guests to interact with each other. Consider having an area with group seating or long tables to encourage interaction. Solo guests can choose if they'd prefer your individual seating or your collaborative concept area. Your restaurant could help foster connection between people.
  • Provide books or paper. Depending on the formality of your restaurant, you can include an organized bookcase or paper for writing.

Solo Guests Are a Reminder of a Restaurant’s Purpose

a woman solo dining holding fork over a plate of spaghetti

The hospitality industry boasts a unique opportunity to provide an outlier experience in people’s day-to-day lives. In an age where iPhones and laptops are a frequent source of entertainment (or distraction), a restaurant is a place where people can simply engage with what is literally right in front of them, whether that be a plate of food, a server, or the person across from them.

Recent studies show that the restaurant industry itself will continue to grow because consumers increasingly want to spend money on experiences, such as dining out. As solo diners are more likely to have undivided attention to dedicate to your food and environment, you have the chance to create a fully encompassing and satisfying experience for these guests. This will not only benefit you and your guests, but it brings the focus back to the simple yet profound core of the industry: great food and wonderful hospitality.

Posted in: Foodservice Trends | Management & Operation | By Hannah Herrera

Fast Casual Dining Trends

Whether you’re looking to start a new business or give your restaurant a trendy makeover, consider operating as a fast casual kitchen. Filling the gap between fine dining restaurants and quick burger joints, fast casual is a category packed with potential. The market is filled with an endless amount of flavors, fusions, and cultural inspiration to fit the taste of any consumer. Discover below this year’s trends in fast casual dining to keep customers happy and potentially expand your target market.

What is a Fast Casual Restaurant?

customer at restaurant counter signs tablet with finger

A fast casual restaurant combines the sit-down service of fine dining with the convenience and quickness of fast food establishments.

Typically, fast casual restaurants boast healthier options and menu items prepared with fresher ingredients than fast food. Customers may still order at a kiosk or counter, but food is often brought out to their table where they’re encouraged to relax and enjoy eating in a comfortable dining area. Additionally, fast casual restaurants may include more customizable options than fast food places.

Popular fast casual restaurants include:

  • Panera Bread
  • Chipotle
  • Au Bon Pain
  • Noodles & Company
  • Moe's Southwest Grill
  • Boston Market

Benefits of Operating a Fast Casual Restaurant

Making the distinction between fast casual and fast food or fine dining can provide a number of benefits for your business. Below are a few ways operating a fast casual restaurant can be beneficial:

  • “Fast food” is often associated with unhealthy options, making "fast casual" a more appealing choice for many
  • Fast casual kitchens can charge more per menu item than fast food restaurants because of the additional quality of service and fresher ingredients
  • Most fast food restaurants are operated by franchises, whereas fast casual places offer both franchising opportunities and independent operations
  • Having customers pay when they order offers quick service for customers in a rush
  • Fast casual restaurants can usually accommodate larger parties better than fine dining establishments

Trends in Fast Casual Dining

While popular fast casual chains may remain timeless, there are a few ways in which your business can stay on top of customers' current wants and needs. Consider taking advantage of some or all of the trends below in your fast casual kitchen.

Incorporating Seasonal Options

With a current push for eating local and organic, it’s no surprise that a top trend in fast casual dining includes fresh, seasonal flavors. Offering a rotating, seasonal menu brings a fine dining feel to your fast casual menu. Take advantage of fresh, in-season produce to create delicious yet cost-effective seasonal dishes.

Creating a Specific Concept

Creating a niche, focused menu is one of this year’s top trends for fast casual restaurants. Instead of operating a generic burger joint or pizza place, try honing in on specific flavors, cultures, or genres. Successful fast casual concepts include specific menus such as vegan, Nepalese, organic foods, Vietnamese, smoothie bowls, and other similar ideas. Offering a niche subsection of generic genres makes your restaurant unique enough to stand out amongst the competition and pique the interest of potential customers.

Locating Near Business Parks

More and more restaurants are bringing their food closer to the consumer by operating their kitchen near or in business parks. Areas packed with corporate offices means you’re almost guaranteed a lunch rush every Monday through Friday. And with everyone on a limited lunch hour, that makes your fast casual concept especially appealing. It’ll offer business professionals a quicker option than full-service restaurants without sacrificing flavor or packing on the calories like fast food places may do.

Balancing Indulgent Flavors and Healthy Options

restaurant worker assembles sub

As customers become more and more conscious about the calories they’re consuming, your restaurant needs to adjust its menu accordingly. Find a happy medium with indulgent dishes that include healthy and flavorful ingredients. Seeing foods commonly associated with healthy, wholesome choices can give customers peace of mind when choosing items off your menu.

For example, a smoothie bowl or frozen yogurt bowl packed with fresh fruits, dark chocolate shavings, seeds, and nuts may not be a low calorie dish, but thanks to the inclusion of fresh and flavorful ingredients, health-conscious consumers may feel more comfortable ordering it.

Offering More Digital Interaction

In the age of technology, customers want to be able to browse, order, and pay for food right on their smartphone. This means integrating technology into your restaurant is one of this year’s top trends. These types of digital interactions could include:

  • Kiosks used by customers to order food
  • Online ordering or mobile pickup
  • Robots behind the counter preparing food for customers
  • Digital marketing campaigns via text message or social media ads

Using Third-Party Delivery Services

This trend pairs well with the addition of technological advances in your restaurant. Offering delivery services allows you to instantly expand your customer base and provide potential consumers with easier access to your food. Incorporating the use of third-party delivery services into your business takes away the time, hassle, and financial burden of creating your own delivery program. Instead, allow customers to peruse your menu and order delivery through mobile apps including Uber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates, and Grubhub.

Creating an Aesthetically Pleasing Atmosphere

Today more than ever, restaurants ranging from fast food joints to fine dining kitchens are putting more thought into the appearance of their food and, maybe more surprisingly, their restaurant’s decor. That’s because today’s consumers are influenced by what they see on social media sites including Instagram and Twitter. Creating a unique, aesthetically pleasing, or especially photogenic dining area encourages consumers to take and share photos of their experience with social media followers. This then draws curious consumers into your restaurant to have their own dining experience, or photo shoot, in your place.

Plating and Presenting Foods with Vibrant or Unique Colorings

closeup of an iphone taking pictures of a colorful plate of food

Along the same lines, creating especially photogenic presentations of your fast casual food can make your place well worth a visit. While fast casual restaurants are on stricter time constraints than their sit-down service counterparts, you can still get creative with presenting vibrantly colored or exotic-looking dishes.

Incorporate unusual ingredients, such as spices or fruits, to transform dishes into eye-catching colors. For example, create pitch-black foods such as ice cream, waffles, or macarons with the help of activated charcoal. Or, use matcha powder to create bright green smoothies, lattes, cakes, and ice cream.

Fast casual restaurants are in the enticing position to create unique flavors and offer fresher or more exotic ingredients than fast food kitchens. Taking advantage of this year’s top fast casual food trends can help your business stand out in a crowd. Pair your fresh and exciting menu options with any of the above suggestions to help grow your customer base and turn curious consumers into weekly regulars.

Posted in: Foodservice Trends | By Rachel Jenkins

What Is Caster Sugar?

Sugar is an ingredient that we see everywhere. We're all probably most accustomed to granulated white sugar, sometimes referred to as "table sugar," but there are several kinds of sugar that are suited for a variety of different purposes. Among them is caster sugar, which you may see in your baking or cocktail recipes. To learn more about caster sugar and how you can substitute it when you're in a pinch, keep reading.

What Is Caster Sugar in the US?

"Caster sugar" is a term used in the UK as well as the US, and in both cases, it refers to a sugar that is ground to a consistency between granulated and powdered sugar in coarseness.

Caster sugar in a baking recipe

In the United States, caster sugar is often called superfine sugar, baker’s sugar, or bar sugar.

What Is the Difference Between Caster Sugar and Granulated Sugar?

Caster sugar has more finely ground crystals than granulated sugar, which means that it can dissolve faster than granulated sugar in creamed mixtures, whips, and more. Caster sugar is often called for in recipes for delicate baked goods like meringues, souffles, and sponge cakes.

Because of its ability to dissolve easily, caster sugar is also frequently used for sweetening drinks. Many bartenders use caster sugar in place of simple syrup when making cocktails.

What Is the Difference Between Caster Sugar and Powdered Sugar?

Powdered sugar, also called confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar, is more finely ground than caster sugar. In the United States, powdered sugar also typically contains an anti-caking agent, like cornstarch, that makes up 3-5% of the sugar. Because it does not have the same powdery texture, caster sugar does not contain any agents to prevent clumping.

What Can I Use as a Caster Sugar Substitute?

Caster sugar in a cocktail recipe

The best caster sugar substitute is to make caster sugar yourself. If your recipe calls for caster sugar and you don’t have any on hand, it may be tempting to use powdered sugar as a caster sugar replacement. However, using powdered sugar instead of caster sugar could give your baked goods a thin texture that may even ruin your recipe. Substituting standard granulated sugar could have the opposite effect, giving your recipe a grainy texture. As a result, it's best to make your own.

Here’s how to make caster sugar:

  1. For every 1 cup of caster sugar that your recipe calls for, add 1 cup plus two teaspoons of granulated sugar to a clean coffee or spice grinder, food processor, or blender.
  2. Grind the granulated sugar for only a few seconds, until the sugar is finer in texture, but it is not fine enough to form a powder that starts to clump together.
  3. For added precision, run your homemade caster sugar through a fine strainer before adding it to your recipe.

Caster sugar is useful for making smooth and consistently sweetened baked goods, and it is great for effortlessly adding sweetness to beverages. Next time your recipe calls for caster sugar and you don't have any, don't reach for the powdered sugar. Instead, try making your own caster sugar in a blender, food processor, or spice grinder.

Posted in: Bars & Breweries | Bakeries | By Christine Potts

Green Catering Tips: How to Make Your Catering Business Environmentally Friendly

Going green may have started as a trend, but it’s quickly becoming a way of life for conscientious consumers and business owners alike. By making your catering business more environmentally friendly and energy efficient, you can both appeal to a wider customer base and help reduce your business’s negative environmental impacts. Below are a few ways you can go green with your catering operations.

Serve Environmentally Friendly Foods

Since food is the most important part of your catering business, it’s the perfect place to start when trying to implement a few eco-positive changes.

Offer More Vegetarian or Vegan Dishes

While this may surprise some, vegetable farming is a more sustainable practice than animal farming. Producing meat such as beef, pork, or poultry involves more land and water use than produce. Additionally, raising animals such as cows naturally produces a large number of greenhouse gases that get released into the atmosphere.

While you may still choose to offer a few meat options, consider cutting down your menu and implementing more plant-based proteins including lentils, chickpeas, potatoes, quinoa, and nuts.

Incorporate a Seasonal Menu

Not only does cooking seasonally allow you to use the freshest, tastiest produce available, but it also cuts down on your business’s negative environmental impact. Incorporating seasonal produce into your menu reduces the amount of resources needed to transport food from the farm to your serving tray. With a shorter distance to travel, your food is creating less gas emissions and logging less food miles in gas-guzzling vehicles.

Reduce Food Waste

Reducing food waste is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Here are a few ways to reduce food waste in your catering business:

  • Track inventory over time and adjust order amounts with a food waste audit
  • Get creative and repurpose ingredients to make new dishes
  • Donate leftovers from your event
  • Take advantage of overripe fruits and vegetables by making sauces, stocks, breads, and desserts
  • Create a compost pile for food that’s past the point of serving

Use Sustainable Servingware

Disposables can become a large source of pollution in nearby oceans, lakes, and landfills. While they’re an important part of any catering business, consider making the following changes to your servingware.

Incorporate Biodegradable Disposables

Biodegradable disposables offer a sustainably sourced alternative to foam or paper products. Not only are these products environmentally friendly, but they provide a rustic, trendy feel.

Opt for disposables made with PET plastic, which is biodegradable and recycled easily. Or, opt for bamboo utensils and bowls. Unlike other wood products, bamboo is an abundant (and sometimes invasive) plant species. Plus, these bamboo products are biodegradable.

Switch to Reusable Tableware

Swapping out disposable tablecloths, napkins, and flatware for reusable tableware is both environmentally friendly and an ideal option for upscale catered events. Cloth tablecloths and napkins are perfect for use at formal weddings, banquets, cocktail hours, and luncheons. If you have the space to wash dishes and linens, steering clear of disposables is your most sustainable option.

Create a Beverage Station

trendy beverage station with clear bowl of fruit

Instead of offering guests individual cans of soda or bottles of water, try setting up a beverage station instead. Take advantage of reusable beverage dispensers to limit your use of disposable plastics. This more sustainable option can even allow you more creativity in what you serve. For example, you can infuse beverages like tea or lemonade with fresh fruits and herbs.

Separate Recyclable Materials

Recycling is a great way for foodservice establishments of all types, including catering companies, to be more environmentally friendly. However, recycling at catering venues can require a few simple additional steps:

  • Train staff about proper waste management practices
  • Ensure staff understands what can be set aside to be recycled
  • If guests are clearing their own place settings, offer a separate receptacle for recyclables
  • Clearly mark your recycling containers and all-purpose trash cans

Look for Energy Efficient Equipment and Supplies

Along with food and disposables, the equipment you prepare and deliver food with can have an impact on your catering company’s overall sustainability efforts.

Consider Using Energy Star Qualified Equipment

Energy Star qualified equipment is built to use much less energy than their non-compliant counterparts. Since this energy-efficient equipment ranges anywhere from refrigerators and freezers to fryers and stovetops, you can equip your entire catering kitchen in low-energy, high-efficiency equipment.

Clean with Greener Cleaning Products

Once service is over, consider keeping your green streak going by using more environmentally friendly cleaning products. Normal products may contain bleach or other chemicals that are harsh on the environment, especially if you’re catering an outdoor event. Many green cleaning supplies offer the same cleaning power but with less effects on the surrounding area.

Keep Your Vehicle Serviced Regularly

electric car being charged

More than a typical brick-and-mortar establishment, catering companies use vehicles regularly to transport food, equipment, and staff to and from event locations. While it may not always be a top priority, regularly maintaining these vehicles can stop older cars or trucks from emitting excess pollution. And if you’re in the market to upgrade your ride, consider all-electric vehicles or hybrids.

There are lots of small changes you can make to an existing catering business to be more eco-friendly. If you’re starting a new business with the Earth in mind, feel free to implement as many of these changes as possible when writing your business plan. Whether your business has been around for years or is brand new, don’t forget to advertise the ways you’re contributing to a greener planet. Many like-minded customers will appreciate your efforts and be more likely to choose your business over one that isn't environmentally friendly.

Posted in: Catering Tips | Eco-Friendly Tips | By Rachel Jenkins
Webstaurant TVProduct demonstrations, how-to's, & descriptions ArticlesIn-depth information and tips for running a successful restaurant Buying GuidesTools to help you find the perfect product for your business