90 NJ Mayors Join Forces for Liquor License Reform
Favor of Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan. At least 90 mayors are in favor of Gov. Phil Murphy’s plans to overhaul New Jersey’s laws related to liquor licenses. While speaking Thursday in Atlantic City at an event held by the New Jersey Conference of Mayors, Murphy announced the formation of a coalition he’s calling “Mayors for Liquor License Reform.” According to Murphy’s office, the bipartisan coalition includes 90 charter members who represent urban, suburban, and rural towns across the Garden State, and they’re all on board with the administration’s “plan to reform and modernize New Jersey’s antiquated, Prohibition-era liquor license laws.” All members have signed an open letter calling for action that aims to make New Jersey’s liquor license laws more affordable and accessible. During his speech, Murphy shared a video (below) that features numerous mayors from the coalition and business owners. “Given the exorbitant costs for a license, coupled with the lack of availability and the existing population cap for municipalities, the present system favors the economically advantaged while hampering mom-and-pop businesses and towns with smaller populations,” the letter says. Murphy first mentioned his intentions to reform New Jersey’s liquor license laws during his State of the State address in January. He then unveiled a comprehensive plan for reform in February, which would, among other moves, gradually phase out population caps on licenses and remove restrictions on breweries. Mayors from the following municipalities signed on to the letter:
Have Higher Prices Scared Off Restaurant Consumers?
The answer is hardly simple. The so-called “lipstick effect” is not an alien notion for restaurants. This idea that consumers, strapped during rocky economic periods, will spend on “affordable luxuries” to make up for larger cutbacks. Say a Sunday night out instead of a three-day trip to Disney World. But how does inflation factor in? In March, for the first time in 18 months, BLS data showed food-away-from-home pricing outpacing food-at-home on a 12-month basis, at 8.8 versus 8.4 percent. Limited-service menu figures rose 7.9 percent year-over-year and were up 0.5 percent from February. That marked the biggest spike since early 2022 (an 8 percent leap). Full-service menu prices grew 8 percent over last year and 0.7 percent on a month-to-month view, which was closer to recent trends. Again, this as the Consumer Price Index for food at home witnessed its smallest year-over-year increase since January 2022. The 8.4 percent result broke a streak of 12 consecutive months of double-digit gains (a peak of 13.5 percent last summer). Grocery prices fell 0.3 percent between February and March—the first month-to-month decline in two-and-half years. The dressed-down point is restaurant prices have relied, for months now, on feeling like a comparable value play versus consumers’ grocery bills. They’ve fit snuggly into those shoulder occasions between weekly supermarket trips that continue to press consumers’ wallets. That’s a little murkier now.
Is Casual Dining Starting to Take Share from Fast Casual?
What it now costs to dine out One of the reasons fast casual erupted in the 2010s was its value proposition. The category nestled a gap between casual dining and quick service, but with quality closer to the former than what consumers had grown to expect from fast food. And it left casual dining in a dicey middle, where experience and quality had to come forward to justify the difference in the two segments’ price points. It’s why brands from Chili’s to Applebee’s tightened direction to amplify their cores. Chili’s scaled its menu back 40 percent in September 2017 in a “Less is More” initiative that spotlighted what the brand had been known for over the decades (ribs, fajitas, margaritas). Applebee’s, meanwhile, trimmed its footprint, focused on operations and franchise profitability, and turned back in time as well. The “Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood” positioning, abundance, and, more than anything, a value-driven approach difficult to rival at scale. Essentially, casual chains found their footing by leaning into their points of differentiation versus trying to become something they weren’t. Over the past two years, however, this conversation has tilted. The value gap between fast casual and much of the category has narrowed. Chipotle, in one example, has raised menu prices by more than 20 percent. BTIG analyst Peter Saleh recently hosted several meetings with Texas Roadhouse’s Michael Bailen, the steakhouse’s senior director of investor relations and financial analysis, and CMO Chris Jacobsen. A topic that came up often circled this thought: Is the brand benefiting from modest trade down from upscale casual or fine dining, as well as trade up from fast casual?
Why Restaurants Should Focus on Supply Chain Transparency
94 percent of consumers said they’d be more loyal to brands that offer supply chain transparency. Restaurant operators have a lot to worry about. First, they must ensure that all the different food products coming into their restaurant have been grown, processed, and transported with safety and quality top-of-mind. In addition, operators must be certain that the products they’re buying (and serving) have had positive environmental and social impacts, including fair labor practices, animal welfare, and sustainability at every point along the supply chain. Today’s consumers have become more focused on where their food is coming from. They want it to be safe, of course, but they also want to know about how it’s been sourced, the products’ environmental impact, if the animals are being treated humanely, and whether the products’ packaging is eco-friendly. In fact, 94 percent of consumers said they’d be more loyal to brands that offer supply chain transparency. As a result, many restaurant brands are emphasizing supply chain transparency, which lets them identify and mitigate risks, strengthen their supplier partnerships, boost communication with suppliers, and better protect their guests, reputation, and bottom line. Improving supply chain transparency will help restaurants and other food brands:
Menu Price Inflation Surpassed Grocery Inflation in March
First month in which restaurant pricing outpaced grocery pricing since late 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, released Wednesday morning, shows inflation is up 5% year-over-year, and 0.1% versus last month’s numbers. This marks the lowest CPI number since May 2021, which was also at 5%. The biggest takeaway from the report is that food-away-from-home prices are up 8.8% year-over-year, increasing by 0.6% on the month. Food-away-from-home prices were the third biggest contributor to monthly inflation, behind transportation services (up 13.9%) and electricity (up 10.2%). Broken down by segment, limited-service menu prices are 7.9% year-over-year (0.5% month-over-month), while full-service prices are 8% higher versus March 2022 (0.7% month-over-month). Conversely, food-at-home prices – mostly grocery – declined by 0.2% and are 8.4% higher versus last year. The food-at-home index fell for the first time since September 2020. This marks the first month in which restaurant pricing is outpacing grocery pricing since late 2021. Restaurants have tracked lower than food at home prices for over a year, which has made them an attractive wallet share option for many inflation-weary consumers. In a note released Wednesday, Mark Kalinowski of Kalinowski Equity Research wrote, “The pricing advantage that restaurants enjoyed, in which grocery prices were going up at a noticeably higher rate, appears to be fully over.” That said, much of the food-away-from-home uptick was impacted by the end of free school lunch programs. According to the National Restaurant Association, the price index for food at employee sites and schools increased by 131%.
Restaurants Are Now Managing More Tech Than Ever
From QR codes to credit card swipers. Even before the pandemic, running a restaurant was a complicated business. Since COVID-19, it’s become even harder. A typical restaurant today is managing an average of seven service models, including table, curbside, delivery, catering, and drive-through, according to a recent study from point-of-sale software maker Toast. Not only that, but because of rising prices and tight labor, it has become more important than ever for restaurant owners to better track their purchases, inventory, and labor budgets. As a result, many of my clients who own or manage restaurants are upgrading their point-of-sale systems to new versions that are helping them address these issues. Point-of-sale systems are the hardware and software — such as a cash register or barcode scanner — that enable a business to make sales. “The pandemic forced the restaurant industry to address a key pain point in innovation: the limitations of legacy technology paired with a steadily growing ecosystem of disconnected technology point solutions,” said Teddy Tsang, vice president of product marketing at Toast. Whether it’s QR codes to read menus or individual credit card readers for each server, restaurant owners are using more types of technology to bring in money. Each different point-of-sale system requires its own workflow, training, auditing, and management.
5 Tips for Building an Omnichannel Restaurant Strategy
Set up online ordering. Customers are connecting and interacting with restaurants across multiple platforms. According to Square Future of Commerce data, 84% of customers prefer to make reservations online, 78% of restaurants are using social media to communicate with customers, and 48% of restaurants are reaching customers via email. Restaurants are finding new ways to meet consumers on the channels they’re already using, providing a more seamless and user-friendly dining experience. Here are five tips for building an omnichannel restaurant strategy to more effectively reach and engage with customers. Ensuring your restaurant has a solid online presence is essential, with 79% of consumers making purchases directly from their mobile devices. Setting up online ordering can help customers discover you online or in ordering apps and allows you to accept orders from wherever customers want to place one — whether that’s on Google, social platforms, or through a QR code.
How to Make Sure Texts Reach Customers
Restaurants can take full advantage of the power of SMS. Text messaging is now mainstream for many restaurant and food retail businesses and their communications plans. And rightfully so. Research from Gartner has found 90 percent of all people read texts within three minutes of receipt, and notes that short message service (SMS) boasts a 98 percent open rate. It’s no surprise that restaurants big and small are tapping into text messages to reach their customers. Restaurants can take full advantage of the power of SMS by sending messages like:
- Sending texts to let customers know their table is ready after a wait.
- Sending texts to ask customers to join a loyalty program or let them know they’ve reached a loyalty member milestone.
- Sending internal text messages to coordinate staff schedules.
- Sending texts to customers that link to an online menu.
There are, however, some considerations for texting that restaurants must be aware of. Chief among them is the fact that business text messages are subject to being blocked at a much higher rate than person-to-person (P2P) texts. Within the past year, mobile carriers have implemented new rules for local business texting with 10DLC, short for 10-digit long codes, which are used to send business texts. Among other changes, like registration requirements and new fees, these rules also are more stringent about what kinds of text messages can be sent. More messages from businesses are being blocked, and many senders don’t even realize it’s happening until they hear complaints from their customers, as many business texting platforms don’t notify the user when there’s an error. Knowing that rules for business texting have intensified alongside the 10DLC rules, restaurant owners and marketers should take time to analyze and reevaluate the texting campaigns used throughout the year. During that analysis, it is important to ensure all sends follow these guidelines.
Did You Know?
A case study for automating the AP process. Matt Ogle, the AP and Vendor Manager for Montana Brands Management (MTB), a fast-growing Taco Bell franchisee in Western Montana, is responsible for all accounts payable and vendor management for 12 Taco Bell stores and the management entity. This is how they made the investment to automate their AP system. AP automation has consolidated and simplified what was an extremely time-consuming and tedious process. We now have fewer errors, more visibility, and complete confidence in our payment process, all of which helps us manage our business much more effectively.
How can restaurants better support workers’ mental health? The pandemic only worsened the toll on frontline restaurant workers, and a 2023 survey from The Workforce Institute at UKG found that 40 percent of employees are “often” or “always” stressed about work—but 38 percent say they rarely or never talk to their manager about their workload. Some other key findings:
Bielat Santore & Company – Restaurant Industry Alert
BIELAT SANTORE & COMPANY SELLS BERGEN COUNTY STEAK HOUSE!
The River Palm Steakhouse located on heavily traveled Route 4 in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, has been sold according to David Alvarez, Sales Associate with Bielat Santore & Company, Allenhurst, New Jersey. Both Alvarez and company President Barry Bielat worked diligently to close the sale.
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