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Archive | March, 2009

Would-Be Robber Thwarted By Spoon

Would Be Robber Thwarted By Spoon

Say hello to my wooden friend!

It was just another night at William’s Supper Club, in Muskego, WI until there was a rude interruption recently.  Joey Geraci burst through an open door in the kitchen of the restaurant and immediately grabbed a teenaged busgirl, claiming he had a gun.

The would be robber dragged the poor girl into the bar, where he secured a couple bags of cash from the register and then tried to make his escape back through the kitchen.

Chef Erik Minor was waiting for him there and he cracked the robber over the head with a large spoon.  With the help of a couple other employees, Minor held the suspect down until police arrived.

The girl was unharmed in the incident and Mr. Geraci now faces felony armed robbery charges.

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What Are People Saying About Your Restaurant?

The restaurant-specific internet marketing company BooRah announced recently they have developed a way for restaurateurs to track online reviews of their businesses, although this service doesn’t appear to have gone live yet.

Recent years have seen the exponential boom of user generated content online, or content posted by internet users to websites, from YouTube to Rotten Tomatoes to Consumer Reviews.

This wave of information, often posted anonymously, is starting to have a powerful effect on consumer behaviors.

Increasingly, consumers look to the internet for information on products, movies, books, and restaurants.  And while the reliability of the content can sometimes be shaky, and other content can be disingenuous or even malicious, internet users have learned to sift through the mountains of content to find gems of truth about a given product or brand.

Identifying trends and flagging problems culled directly from the masses can be an invaluable resource, allowing restaurateurs unprecedented access to exactly what their customer thinks after they leave.

It is vital that you know what people are saying about your restaurant online.

Invariably the anonymous nature of posting on the internet is going to lead to undeserved criticisms and smears, but by analyzing all the content that exists referring directly to your establishment, you can weed out the bull and uncover some truly valuable information.

Even if you don’t have the budget or the inclination to purchase BooRah’s service, take some time on a regular basis to go online and read reviews of your restaurant.

Don’t get offended when the ubiquitous jerk says something completely untrue and probably off-color about your beloved establishment.  Instead explore a range of comments, look for trends, and keep an open mind about what customers actually think.

The days of one professional critic coming to your restaurant and making or breaking your reputation are long gone.  Now you have to impress an army of customers and hope they give a genuine review online.

The internet doesn’t have to be your nemesis.  Use it as a tool to make your business better.  So the next time you’re on the internet, take a look around.  You never know.  You just might learn something.

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Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

That thing doesn’t fit in my aquarium!

Sustainable seafood has become an increasingly important issue for restaurateurs as the green restaurant movement gains ground.  This is coupled with increasing evidence that the world’s wild caught seafood supply is in serious decline.

The result has been a renewed search for fish species that have the quality and taste characteristics worthy of center-of-plate presentation but can be farm raised in a sustainable manner.

Striped Pangasius, or Iridescent Shark,  is a type of catfish native to the tropical waters of Vietnam and Thailand.  Its hardy nature and delicious, flaky white meat has made it a favored source of food in Asia, Canada, and Europe.

The shark name originates from aquarium enthusiasts who keep young Pangasius in household tanks.  The young have an iridescent color that is lost as Pangasius grows older.  Full grown Pangasius in the wild can weigh as much as 97 pounds and grow to 4 feet in length.

Pangasius can tolerate low oxygen levels and high school concentrations.  They are very easy to farm (compared to tilapia or bangus) and disease resistant.  These characteristics also make it cheaper to buy than Tilapia, Cod, or Sole, yet the filets are of comparable quality.

Fishery Products International (FPI) recently announced they would begin to import Pangasius from Southeast Asia for sale in the U.S.  The fish is farm raised in Vietnam using sustainable practices overseen by the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries and a separate quality assurance group run by FPI.

Farm raised fish do have an environmental impact, especially concerning water usage and contamination, but in general that impact is far less than the further depletion of  wild fish populations through overfishing.

For years catfish farms in the U.S. resisted the importation of Pangasius because it competes directly with them in supplying the food industry.  In 2002, an Arkansas senator even sponsored legislation restricting the catfish name to fish grown in the United States.

No matter what you call it, Pangasius’ attractiveness comes from cheaper prices for a virtually identical product, and the volume in which it can be produced far exceeds the capabilities of the American catfish industry.

Chefs across the country have responded positively to Pangasius, especially after price comparisons show it is a great product for the price.  Look for the tropical catfish to start showing up on menus near you very soon.

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Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Smoking bans are coming to your restaurant. Are you prepared?

Despite the objections of many groups in the food service industry, public smoking bans have been passed with increasing frequency over the past five years.

Restaurants and bars are primarily concerned with losing business as a result of these smoking bans.  Advocacy groups claim that the health benefits of banning smoking far outweigh any other concern.

As a restaurateur, you are probably either already under a public smoking ban or will be soon, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of these bans on your business.

For starters, research has shown that bar and restaurant revenue did not show an appreciable drop after the introduction of a smoking ban.

Smokers just don’t go home after a smoking ban is passed.  Instead, they cut down on their smoking and go outside when they need a smoke.  Some food service businesses actually saw a rise in business after the ban was passed as new customers ventured out because of the new smoke-free environment.

However, specific segments of the industry do not follow this general trend. In particular, blue collar establishments take the hardest hit when a new smoking ban is passed.  Bowling alleys and small local bars have seen as much as a 50% decline in business after the passage of a smoking ban.

While it is unfortunate that some businesses take a huge hit when a smoking ban is passed, the health benefits that are a direct result of banning public smoking are significant, and should really outweigh other concerns.

Heart attacks in public places drop as much as 40% after the enforcement of a public smoking ban.  The air quality of restaurants and bars goes from “dangerous” or “extremely unhealthy” classifications to “normal” and “good” overnight.  The body of evidence linking even small amounts of second hand smoke to short and long term health problems is now overwhelming.

For the food service industry, smoking bans are a reality that must be dealt with.

If you have the bad luck of operating in a segment that will suffer from the passage of a smoking ban in your area, start to develop a strategy for the day the ban arrives, because it will be here sooner or later.  If you have already found yourself under a smoking ban, tell us how it has affected your business.

What are the benefits?  The drawbacks?  Do you oppose or support introducing smoking bans in other states?

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A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance in it’s old New York home

The Moondance Diner used to be an 80 year old fixture in the trendy SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.  Last year it was consigned to destruction by a new condo building.  The Moondance was up for sale, and the chic artists that had once frequented the little restaurant were long gone.

That’s when a couple from Labarge, Wyoming, spotted the Moondance for sale on the internet.  Within a couple weeks they had purchased the diner and shown up in Manhattan with a flatbed truck to haul it away.

That’s when the trouble started.  Permit problems and heavy rain delayed transportation.  The battered Moondance finally arrived in Wyoming after a long trip and landed on some stacked railroad ties next to Highway 189 with a view of the Rockies.

Former employees Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Larson were nowhere to be found.

Instead, Cheryl and Vince Pierce set to work refurbishing the old diner for its grand reopening in a remote corner of the least populated state in the union.

Things were going fine until a blizzard dumped 18 inches of snow and the roof crumpled in like a tin can.

Maybe the Moondance moving west wasn’t such a good idea after all.

At least that’s what people in New York started to think, and several articles were posted in city periodicals lamenting the poor, desolate fate of the hapless Moondance.  The condescension coming out of New York was hardly concealed and laced with an I-told-you-so subtext.

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance Diner lights up Wyoming

Cheryl and Vince were unfazed.

The Moondance’s classic front sign finally lit up on January 12, and the completely restored diner has been building buzz ever since.

Many natives of the Big Apple have stopped by to visit, and the locals love the place.  The celebrity waitstaff may be gone, but the Moondance has settled down to stay in its new western home.

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Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up Controversy

Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up ControversyThe list of opponents to the Employee Fair Choice Act (EFCA) is a long who’s who of business in the United States, including the Chamber of Commerce, nationally known corporations like Home Depot and Walmart, and most notably for those in the food service industry, the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

What is EFCA? It’s a law that would allow employees to form a union at a place of business if a majority signed a card voting for unionization.

Current legislation requires that a secret ballot administered by the company must result in a majority vote for unionization.

Many small businesses would remain unaffected by the new legislation, since the minimum requirement for unionization is a business with $500,000 in gross annual revenue or at least 3 non-supervisory employees.

What’s the big deal? Well, both sides claim that coercion is the problem.

Business owners, including many in the restaurant industry, represented by the NRA, claim that employees will be coerced into signing card checks for unionization by union activists, especially since the card signing occurs in public.

Union supporters say the coercion that goes on currently under the secret ballot procedure is the real inequity in the system.

They say businesses routinely intimidate and even fire employees that push for unionization leading up to a secret ballot vote, and even though these practices are illegal, the penalties are not very harsh and are not regularly enforced.

Needless to say, Democrats support this legislation and Republicans oppose it.  President Obama spoke in favor of this bill on the Senate floor last year and its passage was a routine campaign promise last fall.

EFCA already passed the House of Representatives last year on a strict party line vote but could not attain cloture in the Senate.

With Democrats ever closer to the magic number of 60 in the Senate, the Employee Fair Choice Act is looking more and more like it will become law, probably within the first six months of this year.

The NRA’s opposition to this bill is explained as a defense of worker’s rights to a secret ballot.  They also say that EFCA will hurt small businesses.

With the passion on both sides running high, it’s hard to say who will benefit the most from this bill.  Both proponents and opponents claim to be defending workers’ rights.

In the food service industry, the leading association has taken a tough stand against this bill, but that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with the NRA.

The reality is that most restaurants will remain unaffected by this legislation because of the minimum requirements for unionization.  The ones most at risk, like national chains, are the most vocal opponents driving NRA action.

Tell us what you think about card check legislation!  Leave a comment below.

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