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Archive | March, 2009

No Lemonade? Call 911!

No Lemonade?  Call 911!

A matter of life and death: lemonade availability.

A Boynton Beach, Florida man experienced a terrible emergency recently: the local Burger King was out of lemonade.

66-year-old Jean Fortune was ordering food at a Burger King location in Boynton Beach when he was told that there was no more lemonade at the restaurant.  A distraught Fortune called 911 and complained about the lack of beverages.

Local police were not very sympathetic.  They cited Fortune for misusing emergency services, resulting in a mandatory court appearance.

No word on whether EMTs were able to revive the lemonade supply at Burger King.

No Lemonade?  Call 911!

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The Economics Of Free

The Economics Of Free

Should everything be free in the new economy???

Google has profoundly affected the way business is done the world over.  Besides becoming a frequently used verb (meaning “to search”) in multiple languages, the internet search and advertising giant became an international success on a business model that has never been attempted before.

Google offers its primary service, internet search, for free.  Ten years ago, when Google started, offering anything for free was unheard of, unless you were hocking towels on an infomercial.  Google’s success has shown that such a business model is not only viable, it’s the wave of the future.

While restaurateurs probably won’t start giving away their entire menu for free anytime soon, new economic realities have forced some innovative approaches to luring customers back to the food service industry, and free has played a huge role.

Denny’s kicked off the new approach to restaurant marketing with a Super Bowl ad announcing that Grand Slams would be free for one full day after the big game.  The success of that promotion has encouraged other chains to get in on the act, including Quizno’s, who recently wrapped up a million sub giveaway through a specially created site called millionsubs.com.

A café owner in Ohio even removed prices from his menu and allows customers to pay what they want for the coffee and breakfast items he serves.  Sales and customer visits have shot up as a result.  The practice of pay-what-you-want was invented in Europe, and has become even more popular since the economy started going south.

Of course, it may not work so well if a guest can rack up a few hundred dollars worth of entrees and bottles of wine.

And there are hundreds of more examples of restaurants finding the benefits of giving something away for free.  In a larger sense, however, the advent of giving away products and services for free has become rooted in consumer culture, and once consumers get something for free, they’ll want other things for free in the future.

But the economics of free also make sense, even if they seem a little counter-intuitive at first.

First of all, your customer appreciates the gift, and if they get one thing for free, they are more likely to buy other things from you, either in the future or at the same time they redeem their free item.

Secondly, nothing should ever be free.  If your customer doesn’t pay money for the thing they get for free from you, then they should either be counted on to buy something else either directly or indirectly from the free thing or you should get something from them, like an email address or a survey.

In an information age, collecting data about your customers has become vitally important to the success of any company.  Giving something away for free is one of the cheapest ways to get the information you’re looking for.

Finally, giving something away for free is a great way to create buzz around your brand.  The free publicity chains like Denny’s and Quizno’s have gotten out of their free food promos has more than made up for the cost of the giveaways.

The economics of free are the economics of the future, and the business you can generate from giving away something for free can far outweigh the cost.  And making more money than you spend isn’t anything new: it just makes good old-fashioned business sense.

The Economics Of Free

Giving things away for free can mean more sales and customer loyalty.

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Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comeback

Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comeback

The Good Ol’ Potato

Everyone remembers the bad rap potatoes got when the Atkins Diet was at its peak – too many carbs meant the potato should be avoided at all costs.  But times, and attitudes, have changed as more and more people realize diets are less about all protein and more about making healthy food choices.

Potatoes have zero sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and at only 110 calories per serving are a very healthy option, as long as you have the discipline to stay away from too many toppings like sour cream and cheese.

8 out of 10 people eat potatoes of some kind almost four times every two weeks, and that number has definitely risen since the ebb of the Atkins craze.  More and more quick service and casual dining establishments are adding or revamping their potato offerings – and the result has been solid sales.

While traditional toppings are still the crowd favorite, especially in winter Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comebackmonths when comfort foods are the most popular, more and more restaurants are getting creative with their potato offerings with positive results.

Some examples include treating the potato as two halves of a sandwich – and filling the middle with tried and true crowd favorites like club sandwich ingredients.  Others allow you to build your own topping combination from the existing salad bar for some very tasty, personalized results.

Even some upscale places are getting in on the potato revival, with interesting and very delectable concoctions with shitake mushrooms, feta cheese, shallots, and skirt steak.

Going back to an old standby in tough times is comforting for your customer, and could also be comforting for your bottom line as restaurateurs all over look for creative ways to survive.  The traditional appeal of the potato doesn’t require any additional work on your part.

The best part is you don’t need special restaurant equipment to prepare great potato dishes.  Reminding the customer how healthy and tasty potatoes really are, and coming up with some great creative toppings to compliment old favorites is a great way to add value to your menu.

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Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

Crocs Shoes have become an internationally recognized name in footwear in a very short amount of time.  That’s due to the non-slip, comfortable, and convenient universal usability of the original Croc.  The Boulder, CO company has built upon this success by developing several new styles made specifically for the food service industry.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Bistro

Crocs universal styles include the Bistro and the Velocity, two shoes built with the food service industry in mind.  These shoes are built for roomy comfort and feature non-slip soles, arch support, and anti-microbial material.  The sole molds to the shape of your foot for a personalized fit and makes it easy to be on your feet all day.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Velocity

Some people have complained these Crocs are not very breathable and can get too hot, especially in the kitchen.  In general, however, the response from food service professionals in both the front and back of the house has been very good.

Crocs has followed up the release of the Bistro and the Velocity with two styles designed specifically for women in the food service industry: the Ginger and the Saffron.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Ginger

The Ginger has a two inch wedge heel for style and comfort, plus all the great features of normal Crocs including non-slip soles, customized comfort, and tough durability.

The Saffron is a tasteful take on the classic Crocs shoe Mary Jane, and also retains core features including non-slip soles, roomy comfort, and tough durability.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Saffron

The Saffron and the Ginger are fairly new to the market and do not have many reviews written about them (at least not that I could find), so if you have worn any of these Crocs shoes in a food service job, leave a comment below and let us know how you like (or dislike) them!

Check out more restaurant supplies here.

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Yelp Has Restaurant Owners Suspicious

The online restaurant review site Yelp has become increasingly suspicious to the small business owners who the site supposedly supports.  The website is based in San Francisco, where it is also the most popular, although Yelp does post reviews about restaurants in 24 cities across the United States.

Restaurant and small business owners in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York have complained that Yelp employees use bad reviews as a way to cajole them into becoming a sponsor of the site, which costs anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month.

Many owners have reported receiving repeated phone calls from Yelp representatives, particularly after a couple bad reviews appeared on the site’s entry for the owner’s business.

Since it is known that Yelp employees and third party contractors hired by the company have written reviews for the site, suspicion runs high among restaurateurs that Yelp is posting bad reviews as a way to get them to sign on for the monthly sponsorship fee.

For its part, Yelp denies manipulating bad reviews as a sales technique.  But the main problem is that the review ranking system on the site isn’t transparent.  Nobody really knows how Yelp decides which reviews go to the top of an entry on the site.  Sponsors paying the monthly fee are able to decide which reviews appear in the top 5, and this is the primary motivation for them to sign up.

But restaurants that refuse to shell out the money and have many positive reviews seem to be dogged by unfair reviews that consistently appear at the top of their Yelp entry.

Others pay the money, but only because they feel they have no other option to preventing bad publicity.  This is especially true in San Francisco, where Yelp is used by a majority of customers searching for restaurants and other service based businesses in the city.

One popular San Francisco restaurant, Delfino’s Pizza, has fought back by taking some of the more ridiculous negative reviews posted to their Yelp entry and printing them on T-shirts that staff wear while at work.

This subversive tactic has stimulated some good response from customers, and it raised another question about the site: how much do anonymous, unqualified reviews help or hurt a small business?

Either way, Yelp clearly has a customer relations problem, which they have begun addressing in earnest on their blog.  It remains to be seen if Yelp will be seen as a valuable asset or an annoying liability to the small businesses it covers.

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Time To Move the Beef!

Time To Move the Beef!

Prime beef cut prices are at 7 year lows!

Some restaurateurs are taking advantage of a 7 year low in choice and prime beef to offer their customers some great values on more expensive beef cuts like sirloin, T-bones, and ribeyes.

As consumer spending has ground to a halt, expensive cuts of beef have languished while affordable options like hamburger have continued to sell at a brisk pace.  Hamburger prices remain the same, but the oversupply of prime cuts has driven their price down.

Adding to the oversupply is the increased quality of cattle coming to market.  This is because prices on the hoof have stagnated, so ranchers tend to keep cattle longer hoping for a better price, and the older the cow, the more likely it is to qualify as choice or prime.

With top cuts selling at 2002 prices, restaurants have a unique window of opportunity to draw customers in with a great value on prime beef.  Beef prices typically tend to rise in the spring as supply falls, and then again as the residential grilling season heats up.

Still, prices on prime cuts of beef should stay relatively low for about another six months as consumers continue to avoid more expensive meats.

This means restaurants can continue to take advantage of good prices and move some quality beef.

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Insects: Cuisine of the Future?

Entomophagy is the human consumption of insects of any kind.  Before you recoil in horror, consider a few interesting facts about eating insects:

1,700 different insect species are eaten in 113 countries across the globe.  Scientists note that insects are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats as well as other key vitamins and minerals.

In fact, there is significant evidence that early humans relied on insects as a major part of their diet, since hunting larger mammals was very difficult and could not be relied on as a consistent food source.  It appears early humans ate ants, bee and silkworm larvae, and even lice.

Some have even suggested that entomophagy be reintroduced to Western culture.  Insects are much more efficient to produce in large numbers than traditional protein sources like cattle, pigs, and poultry, and in many cases the nutritional value of insects is far better.

From a sustainability standpoint, it can be argued that as climate change starts affecting human agricultural capabilities, particularly in world breadbaskets like the midwestern United States and continental Europe, raising insects for food might become an unavoidable reality.

The biggest challenge is figuring out ways to prepare insects that don’t force the people eating them to deal with buggy eyes, spindly legs, and hairy antennae.

Some pretty tasty recipes (well, depending on your perspective) can be found on the Clemson entomology department’s website, including mealworm spaghetti, bee grubs in coconut cream, and grasshopper fritters.

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Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable

Any restaurateur interested in making their restaurant more green has encountered these terms before.  The problem is, just because a product claims it is compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable doesn’t make it so.

Making the right decisions to green your restaurant in a way that makes sense for your business means you need to know the difference between these terms and the impact they can have on your buying decisions.

The most common product used in restaurants that uses all three of these terms is plastics.  More than likely your restaurant uses small wares like cups and utensils, and many products your kitchen uses are packaged using plastics like condiments and other food products.

Here are some tips to understanding your options when it comes to plastic products:

Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and RecyclableCompostable

Compostable plastic products have the highest green threshold to reach.  This means any product claiming to be compostable should be viewed with a certain skepticism because it really is hard to make a plastic that conforms to the definition of compostable.

Compostable products break down naturally into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose or paper (usually about 180 days) in an industrial or municipal composting facility.  Compostable materials do not leave a toxic residue and cannot be distinguished from the rest of the compost after full degradation.

The most important issues in this definition are where the plastic is put to compost and whether any toxic residue is left after degradation.

A municipal or industrial composting facility breaks down composting materials differently than a farm or in-house composting unit.  Plastics are given a compostable designation based on how they degrade in a larger industrial facility, which means they may not be compostable using other methods.

Since the availability of large scale composting facilities is limited, it’s important to know that a compostable plastic may degrade more slowly before deciding if it can be used in a smaller scale compost facility.

PLA and Master-Bi corn starch based plastics like corn cups are the two most common types of compostable plastics.  However, these resins are also sometimes mixed with inorganic substances to make them more heat resistant or for other purposes, meaning they do not always qualify as compostable.

Plant-based plastics have the added benefit of being “carbon neutral,” meaning that the carbon dioxide emitted to produce them is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants used to make the plastic.

Any plastic that leaves a toxic residue after degrading is not compostable but can be designated biodegradable.

BiodegradableUnderstanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable

Biodegradable products break down over time into smaller and smaller chunks as a result of the action of agent enzymes produced by bacteria or fungi.  This process can leave behind toxic chemicals and still be designated as biodegradable.

The problem is, no standard exists for the amount of time a product takes to biodegrade.  And no requirement exists for the addition of agents like bacteria to aid the degradation process.

This means that most products are labeled “biodegradable” as a way to promote their supposed environmentally friendly capabilities when in fact most of these products do nothing to help reduce waste or emissions.  Biodegradable sounds good to the consumer but really doesn’t help green your restaurant at all.

If you are looking to improve the green practices of your restaurant, go for compostable products over biodegradable ones whenever you can.

Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and RecyclableRecyclable

The truth is, just about anything can be recycled, and surely you have seen the little triangle with a number inside it on most plastic products claiming it’s recyclable.

The problem?  The company or local government agency that does your recycling limits what they recycle.

Check with your recycler to verify which types of plastics they accept.  Training staff and getting customers to recycle the right products can be very difficult, but many restaurants have had success with comprehensive recycling programs.

The main ingredient to success is creating a clear set of guidelines and communicating those guidelines to your staff and customers.

What Should Your Restaurant Do?

Compostable products are more expensive to buy.  But in many cases the extra expense can be at least partially recouped through reduced waste disposal.

Leftover food makes up 50% of the waste produced by a typical restaurant.  If this plus compostable plastics like cups were removed from the waste you produce and composted instead, significant savings can be realized.

Perhaps more importantly, a majority of consumers respond favorably to restaurants that engage in green practices.

Get feedback from customers before investing in more expensive compostable products.  If it looks like you can improve customer loyalty and branding by doing so, and the additional expense makes sense after accounting for marketing benefits and waste disposal savings, then there’s no reason why your business shouldn’t invest.

Chances are the products you use now are biodegradable, so there’s no real benefit in pursuing products that market this designation.  And as long as you’re reducing waste costs, implement a recycling program that saves the types of plastics local recyclers accept and gives you some real credibility when you say “green restaurant.”

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Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?

Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?As social media matures and becomes one of the leading elements of Web 2.0, business owners, including those in the food service industry, have started to look for ways to engage customers through sites like MySpace and Facebook.

But just how effective is it to make a Facebook page for your restaurant?

Dunkin’ Donuts launched a two-day Facebook event recently that allowed fans to weigh in on the national chain’s new line of healthy menu options, including bagels, lite specialty coffees, and healthy breakfast sandwiches.

The purpose was to engage customers, boost email signups for Dunkin’ Perks, which runs promos for local markets and reinforces national Dunkin’ Donuts messaging, and get feedback on new items.

Their Facebook page has been up for a year and Dunkin’ has 370,000 fans.  They won’t reveal how many people are on the Perks email list, but it’s at least that many.

Those are some pretty impressive numbers.  Independent restaurants are starting to get in the game as well, with more and more pages popping up for local eateries across the nation.

So are sales going to go up the minute your Facebook profile goes up?

Well, maybe, maybe not, but the bottom line is having a profile definitely can’t hurt you, and may very well help.  If you don’t start bringing in loads of new customers, you’ll at least improve retention among existing ones.

That’s because you can easily keep a conversation going with loyal customers through social media like Facebook.  A Facebook profile can be a great way to collect information about your customers and get feedback about your restaurant.  You can leverage this information to connect with customers in new ways and expand your email marketing and other campaigns.

You’ll also have a direct way to find out what’s wrong with your establishment and what needs fixing.

And as your restaurant’s Facebook page gains popularity and fans, more people are bound to find out about you as friends of your friends end up on your Facebook page.  This form of marketing is still in its infancy and remains an inexact science.

The beauty is that Facebook costs nothing but your time, and at that price a little experimental marketing is too cheap to avoid.

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Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake is usually associated with sushi, but not anymore

Sake is fermented from rice and lies somewhere between beer and wine as an alcoholic beverage.  It’s popularity has grown in the U.S., and this has mostly been the result of the growth of sushi in popularity.

In fact, most people would never think about ordering sake if they weren’t eating Japanese cuisine.

Well, that’s changing, and fast.  The introduction of premium sakes into the American market has given birth to a group of sake connoisseurs across the U.S., and as more people learn about sake, the more this trend is going to grow.

The heated sake you’re used to having at your favorite Asian restaurant is actually the bottom of the barrel in the sake world, like ordering one of those gallon jugs of E&J Gallo wine.  Sake is heated to mask impurities and poor flavor.

Good sake should be served at room temperature or even slightly chilled, depending on the brewer’s recommendation.

Premium sake also varies widely in taste, and like wine, ranges from sweet to dry.  And more and more Americans are discovering that good sake can be enjoyed with a variety of cuisine, not just Asian food.

It’s become a hot trend in fine dining restaurants from Seattle to Minneapolis to New York, and as consumers become more educated, the market for premium sake is going to continue to grow.

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Premium sake is like a fine wine and there are even different types of sake associated with different regions in Japan!

Sake has been around for thousands of years, but the brewing process for premium sake was only developed about 30 years ago, when technological advances allowed Japanese brewers to achieve new purity levels in the milled rice, water, and other ingredients of sake.

This, combined with an advanced brewing process, led to a blossoming of complex flavors in the new generation of sake.  This range of flavors means that sake can now be enjoyed with a variety of foods, just like wine.  And, like wine, different regions produce different types of sake, from light, dry offerings that pair well with fish to rich, darker varieties for meats and heavier meals.

If you’re considering buying some premium sake for your restaurant, here’s a couple tips to keep in mind:

If at all possible, taste the sake first.  Look for balance in taste.  Sake can range from sweet to dry, but no matter what, it should have balance and smooth drinkability.  Harsh or artificial flavor is a sure sign of poor quality.

Look for color.  Most premium sakes will have a light amber or golden color.  Clear sake can also be good, but typically clearness indicates too much filtration, which tends to rob the sake of its flavor and character.

Watch out for dark brown coloring.  Unlike wine, sake doesn’t age well, and if it is exposed to hot temperatures or excessive light, it will degrade even more quickly.  In general sake shouldn’t be kept for more than a year.  A surefire sign that a sake has degraded is dark brown discoloration.

Price doesn’t always mean you get what you pay for.  Of course, Japanese sake is going to offer a better range of flavors and quality than American sake.  But prices for Japanese sake is usually doubled when it’s imported.  There are a surprising variety of American brands that are very drinkable and a fraction of the price.  Naturally, the best of the best is going to come from Japan.

Sake can be a great addition to your restaurant’s repertoire and give your customers a truly unique dining experience they will remember for a long time to come.

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