Prepare for the rush
Sometimes, a seemingly small addition to a menu can blow up into a viral sensation. Last month, Popeyes sold nearly 1,000 chicken sandwiches daily. That not only doubled the chain’s traffic and made up for about 30 percent of sales during the time it was available, but it also caused a shortage that ended the promotion quickly.
Social media responses create free publicity and advertising, causing food crazes like this to become a common occurrence. From the Impossible Burger this past spring to the “cronut” in 2014, there are plenty of examples where keeping up with demand hasn’t always been easy. So how can your restaurant prepare with the large influx of customers and sales? Below are some tips for how to handle a viral moment at your restaurant.
Monitor the Social Media Response
If your restaurant has a pretty decent following on social media, try to monitor your channels after a new item has been released. For example, if you’ve released a new burger that patrons are raving about when they come in your restaurant, see if the discussion has moved to social media. Check Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see if your establishment has been tagged or mentioned. If there are positive posts about your new burger or lots of pictures of it, you may have a viral moment on your hands.
Embrace It & Act Fast
Always remember that good publicity can go a long way, whether it’s on social media or coverage from food blogs and local news. If you’re seeing an uptick in traffic and a large number of orders for that new item, capitalize and prepare accordingly. In the social media world, the discussion can change on a dime, making a seemingly new trend old in a matter of days or hours. Think of ways to keep the discussion going. For instance, try harnessing the power of Instagram by posting photos or videos of that new menu item. If people are responding or sharing the post to their stories, it’s continuing to get people’s attention
Restock the Ingredients
OK, so your new item is starting to blow up. What’s next? First, see if you have enough supply to meet the demand. While running out of an item wasn’t detrimental for Popeyes, not every restaurant has the equity or staying power to survive those moments. Using our burger example from above, make sure you have all the key ingredients in stock. That means ordering everything from extra patties and buns to viral-worthy fixings and special sauce. If you have to pay a premium to get it fast, do it. Your establishment is likely going to make up the cost very quickly.
Get Your Commercial Kitchen Equipment in Order
After you restock ingredients, see if your kitchen equipment is in top shape. The worst thing that can happen is your griddle or broiler breaking down in the middle of a rush. Definitely follow the routine maintenance on your commercial kitchen equipment. Sticking with our burger example, keeping cooking equipment clean is crucial. Regularly check and clean the cooking surfaces, filters and hoses on these pieces of equipment. Refrigeration units that store ingredients also should be maintained consistently. That means checking door gaskets and cleaning everything from drain pans to condenser coils.
Prepare Staff Accordingly
Last but not least, prepare your staff. Whether you’re a sit-down, takeout or quick-service restaurant, have enough people working in the front of the house. Make sure you have enough staff ready to handle orders or tables during the peak hours of the day. In the back of the house, have plenty of chefs on hand for the rush. In fact, consider designating a couple of cooks to handle just that viral item. If scheduling is difficult, consider offering time-and-a-half to hourly employees. It gives them added incentive, and the increase in orders should help offset the cost.
Matt Gentile is a Senior Content Specialist with Parts Town, a market-leading distributor of genuine OEM foodservice equipment parts. Parts Town has the most in-stock parts on the planet to help repair commercial kitchen equipment for chain restaurants, institutions, independent restaurants and more.