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Archive | May, 2009

The Boy Wonder Chef

The Boy Wonder ChefAt the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago earlier this month, Greg Grossman, a promising new chef, impressed show participants with his cooking demos.  He has open invitations to work in the kitchens of some of America’s top chefs, including Grant Achatz and Eric Ripert.  He also has a book and a TV show in the planning stages.

Those accolades are great for any hot new chef, but in Greg Grossman’s case, that isn’t the most amazing thing about him.  The most amazing thing about Greg Grossman is that he has achieved this much success and recognition at 13 years old. Grossman grew up on Long Island in a well-to-do family, and he was exposed to culinary excellence from a very young age.  He was soon dabbling in his family’s kitchen, trying to recreate the fine dishes he tasted while dining out with his family.  By 11, he had his own catering business.  And now, at 13, he is poised on the edge of celebrity chefdom. As everyone is saying these days, keep an eye on this kid.  He is going places, and I’m sure we will all be hearing a lot more from this boy wonder in the near future.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Stay Safe With Alcohol Service Training

Restaurant Management Tips: Stay Safe With Alcohol Service TrainingThe level of liability restaurant managers and owners face in alcohol related incidents can be shockingly high.  Protecting yourself, your staff, and your customers from dangerous alcohol related situations should be a top priority for your business.  And the best way to protect yourself is to make sure your staff is properly trained for alcohol service.  Some tips on how to train your staff:

Be aware of local and state laws.  More than likely you learned the local and state laws that apply to alcohol when you applied for your liquor license.  However, your staff may not be aware of these laws and there may have been changes or amendments since you applied for a license.  Make sure you take the time to educate yourself and your staff on all liquor laws that apply to your establishment.

Create a standardized alcohol service policy.  Set a standard policy and train your staff to follow this policy strictly.  While you will probably need to include some unique clauses for your particular situation, here are some good ideas on what to include:

Train staff to observe patron behavior and identify those who are becoming intoxicated.  Many establishments use a color coded system: green for little or no intoxication, yellow for becoming intoxicated, and red for time to cut off.

Mandate communication between staff, customers, and management.  Staff should know how to communicate your establishment’s alcohol policy to customers.  They should also be encouraged to notify managers of potential problems before they become situations.

Train staff to count drinks and know the difference between alcohol types.  Counting drinks helps avoid problems with patrons who do not exhibit an obvious change in behavior as they become intoxicated.  However, your staff should also know the alcohol content of what they’re serving.  Four domestic beers is very different from four long island ice teas, so make sure your staff knows the difference.

Also train staff to factor in time and food consumption when evaluating the intoxication of a customer.  Four drinks consumed over the course of four hours is much different than four drink consumed in half an hour.  Food, especially fatty or high protein foods, help slow the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, which in turn affects the likely intoxication level of the customer.  Encourage “yellow” intoxicated customers to eat and make sure appetizers or quickly prepared menu items are readily available to drinking customers

Implement strategies to avoid alcohol related situations.  A well trained staff with a clear set of guidelines to follow is the first and most important line of defense in helping you mitigate alcohol liability.  The second line of defense is the implementation of some key strategies that will help you avoid alcohol related problems.  Some examples:

Encourage parties to identify a designated driver and incentivize DD’s by offering free non-alcoholic beverages and appetizers.

Form a good relationship with a reputable cab company and advertise their number for free in your establishment.

Include local police when setting your alcohol service standards and use them as a resource for avoiding and handling alcohol related incidents in your establishment.Restaurant Management Tips: Stay Safe With Alcohol Service Training

How to protect yourself if an incident does occur.  If an alcohol related incident does occur in your establishment, make sure you document as much as you can.  Record eyewitness accounts of what happened and what you and your staff did to control customer intoxication.  This documentation will prove to be worth its weight in gold if litigation arises as a result of an incident connected with your business.

Having clear strategies to control intoxication in your establishment is no longer an optional  policy.  Cases that have been settled in the past five years have shown that you are not only potentially liable for injury that occurs as a result of an alcohol related incident in your establishment but outside it as well, most notably in drunk driving cases.  Such litigation can ruin your business and your life, so taking precautions when serving alcohol is a vital part of operating in the food service industry.

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Restaurant Stocks Beat The Rest of the Dow

Restaurant Stocks Beat The Rest of the DowAs I noted in a blog post earlier this year, restaurants, especially high end ones, get hit hard in a recession.  Eating out is a luxury, not a necessity, to most people, and it therefore becomes one of the first to go when people start watching their pocketbooks.  Luckily, when those same pocketbooks start seeing the light of day again, restaurants are also one of the first businesses to see them.

This phenomenon seems to be occurring this month, and hopefully it’s not just a blip in an otherwise bleak economy.  Consumer confidence is up for the third month in a row and is now higher than it’s been for some time.  Of course, it’s still lower than peaks seen in 2006 and 2007.

With that rising confidence has come a jump in the Nation’s Restaurant News index of top restaurant stocks, which saw a healthy 3 month climb that culminated this week in a great performance that beat the rest of the Dow.  Once again, these stocks are still down from last year and have seen no gain overall yet this year, but the steady gains made since February lows are certainly encouraging.

The higher consumer confidence is, the more likely consumers are to spend, and the food service industry is usually one of the first places to enjoy increased consumer spending.  Restaurateurs can only hope the worst days are behind them and look forward to a decent summer.

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Menu Trends: The Rise of The Cuban Sandwich

Menu Trends: The Rise of The Cuban SandwichAfter about a century, the Cuban sandwich is finally getting its due respect.  The sandwich was first developed in Florida for the purpose of feeding hungry cigar factory workers, and the cigars are probably more responsible for the sandwich’s namesake than any connection with the long isolated island nation.

What is a Cuban?  It’s roast pork and ham served with Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles on big slabs of ciabatta bread.  What makes this sandwich so tasty is the flash grilling in a Panini grill that melts the cheese and turns this sandwich into a toasted delight.

The Cuban has been circulating on the brew pub and steakhouse circuit for a few years now, but recently it has made the jump to fine dining, with some increasingly creative interpretations and presentations.  The vitality of the Cuban, and its versatility, has endeared it to many chefs looking for new menu additions.  Its simplicity is also a strength, giving chefs a strong foundation on which to develop their own masterpiece.

From a worker’s lunch to the Peninsula hotel, the Cuban has come a long way in the past 100 years, and the sheer pleasure of eating a good Cuban will probably ensure its continued presence in all kinds of restaurants for years to come.

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“Zion Curtains” Come Down In Utah

The liquor laws in Utah have always been bizarre.  From requiring membership in “private clubs” to drink local microbrews to no Sunday beer and liquor sales to limiting beer to 3.2% alcohol content, the requirements placed on restaurants, bars, and liquor stores have always been more stringent than in other states.  But the barriers state senator Michael Waddoups asked state liquor commissioners to require in restaurant bars were just too weird, even for Utah.

Nicknamed “Zion Curtains,” these barriers were placed on restaurant bar countertops to prevent minors from seeing alcoholic drinks being mixed.  Nothing was allowed to pass over these barriers, not drinks, not food, not even a napkin or a bill.  Instead, the bartender had to hand things off to a server, who brought things around the barrier to the customer.  Needless to say, out of state customers required a lot of explanations when they sat down and ordered a beer or a drink.

Implementation and enforcement of the Zion Curtains was so difficult that Waddoups was forced to introduce legislation earlier this spring that removed their requirement.  However, the bill wasn’t all concession for the conservative Republican.  New restaurants from here on out will not be able to store or mix alcohol in their bars (which kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?), and minors will not be allowed to linger in or near restaurant bars.  Existing establishments will at least get to keep their bars stocked with a grandfather clause.

At least customers can get their food served straight over the counter again.  Relieved restaurant  owners tore down their barriers with some enthusiasm earlier this week.

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10 iPhone Apps Your Customers Are Using

10 iPhone Apps Your Customers Are UsingiPhone apps are all the rage right now, and already there is an app for just about anything you can think of under the sun.  This includes the restaurant industry, and these 10 apps are affecting how consumers make their decisions on where and when to go out to eat, which directly affects your business.

Here’s the top 10 ways people are getting info about your restaurant on their iPhone:

1. OpenTable – You’ve probably already heard of OpenTable.com, an online reservation service.  Well, now potential customers can use their iPhone to search for restaurants near a given location based on price, number in the party, and type of cuisine.  If your restaurant is registered with OpenTable they can even make a reservation right then and there.  Wow.

2. Yelp – I’ve already covered all the hot water Yelp has been in lately on this blog.  Now customers can write those sometimes scathing, sometimes retarded, sometimes good reviews of their restaurant right from their iPhone.  They can also find you and read other reviews about you before they walk in the door.

3. UrbanSpoon – this app brings a fun element to the locating a restaurant genre with a slot machine interface that randomly selects three factors – neighborhood, food type, and price.  You can lock any of the three and spin for the others to focus on a specific category.  For a restaurant owner, it can be a little frustrating leaving the fate of your potential customer’s decision to a random spin, but that’s how it goes.  This app also has reviews and maps for restaurants.

4. VegOut – This app searches vegetarian restaurants only.  All the same features are available: search by location, reviews, and maps.  If you run a vegetarian restaurant, this app is your very best new friend.

5. LocalEats – This app focuses on producing the 100 best independent restaurants in the 50 largest cities in the U.S.  If you run a chain or don’t get picked by the editors of LocalEats, you’re kinda out of luck.  But if your restaurant is on the list, potential customers can find you easily by searching by location.

6. Pocket Cocktails Drinks & Wine – Customers can use this app to search for hundreds of cocktails, get drink recipes in case they stump your bartender, and even get wine recommendations based on what they have ordered.

7. Tipulator – This app allows your patrons to calculate any tip from 0 to 50% among as many people as are in the party.  It could be a double edged sword for your servers, but this cool little app will probably help customers calculate a good tip rather than a bad one.

8. Calorie Tracker – an app developed by Livestrong.com, it calculates the calories of over 525,000 different ingredients so your customers can select the most healthful items on your menu.

9. Fast Food Calorie Counter – this app does exactly what it says it does – calculates the calories and fat of 6,000 menu items from 55 fast food chains.

10. 160,000 Recipes from BigOven if you’re ever hurting for a new recipe, you might want to check this app out.  Get ingredients and preparation instructions, plus save your favorites and randomly select new recipes.

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Greener and Cheaper: Restaurants Grow Their Own Food

Greener and Cheaper: Restaurants Grow Their Own FoodYou’ve heard about organic ingredients.  You’ve also heard about food miles and skyrocketing food costs.  Anybody in the restaurant business can tell you these issues have affected their customer’s tastes and their bottom line.  Stir in increasingly frugal customers and you’ve got a recipe for trouble in any restaurant.  That devilish combination of customers expecting better quality and also expecting to spend less is enough to make any restaurateur tear their hair out.

More and more chefs are turning to a simple solution that addresses both the quality and the cost on this two-headed monster.  Chefs are growing their own ingredients.  Of course, this is hardly a new concept, but as the demand for organic rises along with the prices on top quality greens and vegetables, the number of chefs turning to gardening during the day what they plan to cook that night has risen sharply.

Abandoned lots, small terraces, and modest urban gardens from San Francisco to Cincinnati are being converted into tiny organic farms by chefs passionate about finding the best ingredients possible without having to pay through the nose.  Many have discovered that being able to control the process, from seed to harvest to the walk-in, affords them a pride and a certainty in the quality of their ingredients.

Restaurants that source their food so locally (often in their own backyard) is also a great green practice, saving the thousands of miles ingredients typically travel through the traditional food supply network.  Those saved miles not only means less transportation emissions, it means less cost to the restaurant.  And any time a restaurant can bring better ingredients to their customers at a better price, they should take it.

Are you thinking about starting a garden for your restaurant?  The first three steps you should take:

Location.  Climate, water, and soil will all affect what you can grow well and what you can’t.  Research which plants and vegetables do well in the local climate and what their water and soil requirements are.

Organic.  If you’re going to garden your own herbs and vegetables, they might as well be organic.  Research organic practices and implement them in your garden from the beginning.Greener and Cheaper: Restaurants Grow Their Own Food

Time and alternative local sources.  Organic gardening takes time and effort.  Doing it successfully requires a passion and an investment of time that not every restaurant has.  If you are looking to source local ingredients, but don’t have the space, time, or climate to do so successfully, contact local farmers and build relationships that will still save you money on food costs and allow you to make your restaurant more sustainable.  You might also settle on a combination of both methods, growing herbs like basil or cilantro that are easy to tend while sourcing locally other ingredients that require more effort and space.

No matter which way you decide to go, local food sources are becoming a popular trend in the food service industry, and not only because it sounds good to customers.  There are some real economic incentives as well, and any restaurant looking to cut costs would do well to look into the local food network for some solutions.

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Hungarian Pigs Are Cool Again

Hungarian Pigs Are Cool Again100 years ago, a Hungarian breed of pig called Mangalitsa was the preferred pork breed for restaurants across Europe and the eastern U.S.  Over the last century their popularity declined for a variety a reasons.  The Mangalitsa also fell out of favor with pork producers, because they require open pasture and high quality feed, as opposed to common breeds today, which can be raised in small pens on an industrial scale on cheap feed like corn or soy.

However, recently, the Mangalitsa has returned as a favorite in some chefs kitchens, because, unlike most popular breeds, Mangalitsa pork is marbled.  This gives the meat a rich, authentic taste that makes it unique among pigs.  This is good news for the Mangalitsa, because just a few years ago the breed was bordering on extinction, with numbers in the hundreds, as opposed to 30,000 individuals in 1950 in Hungary alone.

At least one farm has imported the Hungarian pig to the U.S., and Mangalitsa pork, previously only available from Spain, has begun to spread to other Western countries.  Restaurants like the Spotted Pig in New York city have begun serving the pork with much success.  Mangalitsa meat fetches a much heftier price than industrial pork, but for customers who value taste over price, the succulent marbled meat of Hungarian pork can be a satisfying experience.

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Restaurant Technology and Marketing: Become a Hotspot!

Restaurant Technology and Marketing: Become a Hotspot!

More and more restaurants, especially fast casual, coffee shop, and quick service chains, are becoming WiFi internet hotspots, allowing customers to plug in to an internet network directly from their laptop computer at their table.

Turning your restaurant into a hotspot is relatively easy and has proven to help boost lunch sales by as much as 8%.  It also encourages customers to come in during that extremely slow period between lunch and dinner, and helps facilitate business meetings, which can translate into some good sales for your establishment.

If you are considering setting up a WiFi hotspot in your restaurant, keep a few key things in mind:

Give away internet service for free.  First of all, that’s what most other hotspots do, and so your customer already expects to get service for free.  Secondly, you’ll be increasing sales and customer loyalty by giving away free internet.

Password protect the network.  Have servers give out the password to patrons when they are seated.  This helps prevent people from neighboring buildings from pirating your connection and slowing it down.

Make electrical outlets scarce.  When WiFi hotspots were first brought in to restaurants, many owners worried that patrons would turn into serial “table campers,” hanging out for hours on end without ordering anything more than a cup of coffee and surfing the net.  The reality has been that the vast majority of customers do not overstay the standard table turnover time, however, the best way to ensure this is to make sure they can’t plug in their laptops.  That thing is going to run out of juice eventually, and this helps your restaurant avoid abuse of your WiFi connection.

Create separate networks for customers and internal use.  Just because you already have an internet network set up for your business’ computers doesn’t mean you should make that same network available to customers.  The last thing you want is some creative patron getting in to your POS system or other important information through your network.  Spend the four or five hundred dollars to get a dedicated business class router for your customer network.  That way everything stays separated and secure.

WiFi isn’t for every restaurant concept.  Carefully consider who you want to target with your WiFi service and what kind of customer is likely to use it.  Obviously, a fine dining atmosphere targeted towards couples out on dates doesn’t jibe well with a WiFi service.  On the other hand, if that’s your dinner crowd but you want to jump into the business lunch market, advertising a WiFi network could make a lot of sense.  Understanding your customer is key to any marketing strategy, and implementing a WiFi network is no exception.

There’s a lot of talk about customers looking for value these days when they go out to eat, and providing a WiFi network in your restaurant, provided it makes sense, is just one more way you can do that.

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The Long Hard Road To Sushi Greatness

The Long Hard Road To Sushi Greatness

Matsuhisa restaurant in Beverly Hills, CA

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa always knew he wanted to be a sushi chef.  From the first time his brother took him to a sushi restaurant in his native Japan, Matsuhisa he has aspired to make people happy with top quality sushi using only the best ingredients.  With 22 restaurants all over the world, and three new locations opening this year in places as far flung as Mexico City, Moscow, and Cape Town, he has obviously achieved his goal on a global scale.

However, this determined sushi chef didn’t find his success easily.  His career started when he was 18 with a seven year apprenticeship in Japan that included three years of nothing but dish washing and bussing.  Afterwards, Chef Nobu travelled to Lima, Peru to ply his trade in his own restaurant.  For awhile he was very successful, and lived comfortably.  His restaurant was popular with the many travelling Japanese businessmen who frequented Peru’s capital, and the city’s location right on the Pacific meant ready access to the finest fresh seafood.

But Matsuhisa’s business partner was more concerned with profits than making fine sushi every day.  He insisted the chef buy cheaper ingredients and reduce his operating expenses.  To Chef Nobu, this was an impossible demand.  He simply wasn’t able to compromise the quality of his work.  For three years they fought over food expenses.  Then he quit.

The Long Hard Road To Sushi Greatness

Sushi artistry by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

After a few years working here and there, Matsuhisa got the chance to open his own restaurant again, this time in Anchorage, Alaska.  He worked tirelessly to make the restaurant a success, and even worked the first 50 days they were open without taking a day off.  He finally shut the doors on Thanksgiving day for a rest.  And that’s when his friend and business partner called in a panic to tell him their beloved restaurant was on fire.  They had no insurance, and Chef Nobu lost everything in the disaster.

After a short return to Japan, Nobu travelled to L.A. to work as a sushi chef in a friend’s restaurant.  It would take him several years to climb out of debt, regain his confidence, and find a restaurant that he could call his own.  Finally, Matsuhisa opened in Beverly Hills, nine years after the fire in Alaska.

Robert DeNiro became one of many Hollywood notables who were also regular customers.  After much cajoling, DeNiro finally convinced Chef Nobu to start another restaurant in New York city.  The two, along with several other investors, have since built the global sushi empire that Matsuhisa now runs.  These days the celebrated sushi chef contents himself with travelling the world and managing his restaurants.  He has finally seen success, and he takes great satisfaction in bringing the world his particular art, expressed through quality sushi.

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