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Archive | June, 2009

10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your Restaurant

Energy Efficient RestaurantsIt’s such a buzzword these days it has almost become cliche, but nevertheless green restaurants are an important and lasting trend.  Customers are the main force driving this, and consistently they say they value restaurants with green practices.  Giving customers what they want while reducing your operating costs through more efficient (“green”) practices seems like a win-win for almost any restaurant.

These posts focus on how to improve your restaurant’s energy efficiency:

1. Manage Equipment Effectively – The cooking equipment in your kitchen are some of the biggest energy consumers  for your business.  If you can cut energy use here, you will see a considerable improvement to your bottom line.

2. Energy Efficiency: Look Past The Kitchen – Now that you’ve used post #1 above to improve the energy efficiency of your kitchen, you can start working on the rest of your building.  Again, some very simple steps can result in significant savings.

3. Manage Hot Water Efficiently – Another energy hog is your hot water heater.  Your restaurant goes through a lot of hot water, and anything you can do to improve the efficiency of heating water will also help you save money.

4. Use Efficiency Rebates! – Sooner or later you’ll need to update restaurant equipment, and the sooner you do so, the faster you’ll improve your kitchen’s energy efficiency.  Depending on where you live, you can take advantage of some significant rebates from local goverment and utilities to help offset the cost of new equipment.

5. Understanding Product Packaging Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, Recyclable – Just because packaging sounds green doesn’t mean it is.  The companies that market and package products your restaurant uses are trying to sound green just like everyone else, and it’s improtant to understand the nuances of the language they use on the products you buy.

6. Green Technology: Energy Management Sytems – Chain restaurants are starting to use energy management systems to control energy use in multiple locations.  It’s only a matter of time before this technology can be applied in indepenedent restaurants as well.

7. Why Recycle? Because It Feels Good – Recycling is one of the few tips on this list that won’t result in you saving money.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  Customers who see a robust recycling program in a restaurant feel good about your establishment, and that can mean a lot more than the cost of recycling.

8. Green Consumers Going Strong – Despite recession and financial pressure, studies show that consumers till want green products and services, even if they have to pay more for them.An Energy Efficient Steamer

9. Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer – Investing in a commercial steamer is a great way to improve the efficiency of your kitchen and the taste and quality of your product.  Learn more in this post.

10. Tech Talk: Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets – Get some practical, do-it-yourself advice on one of the easiest ways to increase energy efficiency in your restaurant: by replacing worn door gaskets.

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Man Blames 9 Foot Tapeworm on Chicago Restaurant

After eating a fish salad at a Chicago restaurant, in which he claims the salmon was undercooked, a man developed a nine-foot-long tapeworm.  The restaurant denies they are responsible for the man’s unwelcome gastronomic guest.

After eating a fish salad at a Chicago restaurant, in which he claims the salmon was undercooked, a man developed a nine-foot-long tapeworm.  The restaurant denies they are responsible for the man’s unwelcome gastronomic guest.

The man is, of course, suing.  In general, however, scientists are concerned with a growing trend across the world: tapeworms are multiplying.  The phenomenon is mostly blamed on the new popularity of ceviche and sashimi in the West.  Tapeworm larvae resides in fish meat, and if it’s eaten uncooked, it can result in the parasite multiplying in whoever ate the infested fish. It is recommended to eat only cooked fish to avoid picking up an unwelcome house guest.  If you are going to eat raw fish, make sure it comes from a reputable restaurant and watch for symptoms resulting from parasite infestation: weight loss, a lack of energy, etc.

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Fish Fraud: Tempting, But Definitely Not Worth It

Customers love ordering good fish when they go out to eat.  Species with powerful name recognition like orange roughy, grouper, and salmon are great sellers on the menu and can be found in restaurants across the country.  But are consumers getting exactly what they pay for?  Some fish species, especially those with a light white meat, can be interchanged fairly easily without the knowledge of the customer.

It’s an age-old trick in the food service industry, and a recent undercover report by local television stations in four cities found that mislabeling fish species may be more prevalent than anyone imagined.  The practice has been dubbed “fish fraud,” and it has been an ongoing problem.  A study from the ‘90s revealed that 37% of fish served in restaurants was mislabeled.  And many industry experts believe the rate has gone up since then.

The most recent spate of reports about fish fraud were conducted by Scripps television stations in Kansas City, Phoenix, Baltimore, and Tampa.  The most common mislabeling involves farm raised tilapia and catfish sold as grouper or orange roughy and farm raised salmon sold as wild caught salmon.  Naturally, the farm raised species cost a restaurant pennies on the dollar compared to coveted wild species.  The restaurants in these four cities were busted after undercover reporters conducted DNA tests on samples of the fish they were served.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to regulate fish served in restaurants.  Enforcement of fish fraud violations have been described as lax at best.  Of course, the embarrassment of being caught on local TV is a powerful reprimand for any restaurant, but the opposite draw of making huge margins by charging $20 or more for a fish entrée that costs $2 – $3 a pound makes even the risk of getting caught seem small.Salmon

From a pure business point of view, the short term gains that come from making a high margin through mislabeled fish entrees is more than offset by the risk to your restaurant’s reputation.  As I have been emphasizing on this blog for the last few months, and what has been emphasized in the restaurant industry in general, is that customer loyalty is what gets restaurants through tough economic times.  And fish fraud doesn’t tend to build loyalty.  Sometimes it’s much better to take the long view when it comes to the reputation of your establishment.

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10 Restaurant Marketing Trends

Restaurant MarketingPromoting your restaurant is a never-ending task.  As a restaurateur, you understand just how important marketing is to your success.  You probably also don’t have the resources to carry out a massive campaign (like Coke or Budweiser), and every dollar you spend needs to come back as a paying customer.

Even in trying times like these, your restaurant cannot afford to cut back on marketing.  You absolutely do need to make sure you spend those limited dollars wisely.  The Back Burner has posted several articles that will help you maximize your marketing ROI.  Read on to learn more:

1. Is Restaurant Marketing Technology Getting Scary? – The cutting edge in restaurant marketing is bringing some technologies to bear that remind me of The Minority Report.  Check out this post for more.

2. A Restaurant Survival Guide, Parts I and II – This post was written during the darker economic days of February; however the marketing strategies here are just as relevant now as they were then.

3. Kogi Is Kool: The Twitter Revolution – No matter what you think about “microblogging” and Twitter, you can take advantage of it’s huge popularity to promote your restaurant.

4. Engineer Your Menu – One of the most important advertising pieces in your restaurant is the menu.  Learn how to make people want to buy and spend more in this post.

5. Can FaceBook Help Your Sales? – Anybody who has spent any time studying marketing of any kind these days has heard the mantra “Use social media, use social media.”  This post discusses how the food service industry has used this new medium.

6. Bring In Customers With A Speed Lunch Promo – A healthy, value-driven lunch menu guaranteed to be served in 30 minutes or less can go a long way towards bringing in customers looking for some good “fast food.”

7. What Should You Do About Yelp? – This website has stirred a lot of controversy lately due to it’s business practices.  Learn more about what restaurants are doing about it in this post.

8. Become A Hotspot! – Nothing will speed up your slow afternoon hours like becoming a WiFi hotspot.  Learn how in this post.

9. Does Your Restaurant Have A Leaky Bucket? – Learn about the latest trends in customer attitudes towards the food service industry and what to do about them in this post.

10. Online Ordering: A Blessing Or A Curse? – Some chains have started taking online orders.  Many in the food service industry view this as problematic at best.  Learn why it’s an inevitable wave of the future in this post.

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Menu Trends: Native American Fry Bread

Native American Fry BreadIn tough times, people always rely on familiar, basic foods to get them through.  Trends in the restaurant industry so far in 2009 have borne out this truism.  For Native Americans, the equivalent of chicken soup and hamburgers is Indian fry bread, a staple in their diets for 150 years, dating back to the days when they had little else to eat as they were driven from their lands by settlers.

A local restaurant, though not in Boulder, is the subject of this Spotlight article because Native American cuisine is such a unique and relatively rare phenomenon.  Tocabe restaurant, located in Denver, has taken Indian fry bread and built an entire menu around this simple, but tasty traditional food.  There are fry bread soft tacos, pizzas with fry bread dough, and powdered fry bread for dessert.

What is Native fry bread?  The traditional blend included flour, salt, lard, and water cooked in oil.  Tocabe has updated the recipe and addressed health concerns by substituting canola oil for lard and flash frying rather than deep frying the bread.  The result is a lighter, sweet bread that has greatly reduced trans fats.

There has been some controversy within the Native American community over the celebration of fry bread.  After all, it was the only food American Indians had left after losing everything to the expanding American nation, and it was given to them by their oppressors to boot.  To young Natives like the owners of Tocabe restaurant, however, fry bread’s place in the history of their people is firmly entrenched, and whether it got there as a result of good or evil is beside the point.

To sample Tocabe fry bread, visit them at 44th and Lowell in Denver, CO.

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How To Grow Sales With A Commercial Bar Blender

A Commercial Bar BlenderSummer heat has a way of putting your customers in the mood for cool, refreshing drinks.  You already have the standards covered: cold beer, ice tea, and maybe even margaritas or daiquiris, but are you really satisfying your customer’s demand for great cold drinks?

Mixology is the study and development of cocktails, and it has become an increasingly popular field in the restaurant industry in recent years.  The reason for this is very simple: just like a hit special or entree can bring customers in the door, so can a hit drink, especially if it’s something new or takes a new twist on an old favorite.

Old standbys like margaritas, mojitos, and daiquiris are great, but if you take the time to develop an exciting summer specialty drink menu, you’ll find that customers will be enticed to order.  For example, take 1 part margarita, 1 part sangria, and a healthy scoop of ice and create something your customers have never tried but they’re sure they’ll like.

Exotic and fun new drinks can also create some summer buzz for your restaurant.  Use seasonal fruits and interesting liquor pairings to create blended drinks that really turn heads.  And, of course, not all your specialty drinks have to be alcoholic.  Again, seasonal fruits can make an excellent dessert drink for the kids or blend them with an energy drink for a great pick-me-up.  The possibilities are endless.

Of course, the key to your success when it comes to cool summer drinks is a good commercial bar blender or drink mixer.  Bar blenders can handle high volumes of drinks that require ice, which really is a key ingredient for any summer drink menu.  Drink mixers can’t mix ice, but they can handle large amounts of softer ingredients like ice cream, fruits, etc.

Investing in a quality commercial bar blender is exactly that: an investment with a bit of up-front cost.  But nothing advertises your business like some buzz over a popular specialty drink, and once you’ve got those customers in the door and having a good time, the sales will take care of themselves, as will your investment.

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The Restaurant Of The Future

The Restaurant Of the FutureThe Restaurant of the Future is in Holland, but at first glance it doesn’t seem like anything special.  It just looks like a cafeteria, with a salad bar and long tables.  But there are things going on in The Restaurant of the Future that make this nondescript cafeteria very different.

For one thing, surveillance cameras are everywhere.  Customers sign a waiver before entering that acknowledges the fact that their behavior will be observed and used for scientific research.  Each person is weighed with their tray of food at the cash register.  And the remnants are analyzed to see how much was actually consumed.

This restaurant is actually a partnership with a Dutch university, and their research has revealed some interesting things about the habits and tendencies of restaurant patrons.  Women who are with other women tend to indulge more than women who dine with men.  Groups of men tend to compete to see who can stuff themselves the most. And in general, Monday meals are much lighter than Friday meals.

This ongoing research has started to drive “food service science,” or the concept that an exact understanding of consumer behaviors can not only help restaurants grow sales, but improve service and satisfaction as well.

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Weird Food: Goat Meat Isn’t Really All That Weird

Goat Meat Is GoodTo most Americans, goat meat sounds like a foreign and unsavory dish consumed in far-off places by people who don’t have many other options.  In reality, goat is the most commonly consumed type of meat the world over, and not just in the Third World.  America is one of the few holdouts where goat hasn’t really taken hold.

Until recently, that is.  There has long been localized markets for goat meat, especially in immigrant centers like New York City and southwestern states where there is a heavy Hispanic influence.  But increasingly, middle class white people in America are discovering goat, or maybe they’re simply catching up with the rest of the world.

What does goat taste like?  It’s somewhere between lamb and chicken, with a distinct flavor that isn’t too gamey.  The key with goat is to cook it properly.  It’s very easy to end up with tough, stringy meat that chews like boot leather and goes down like shoe laces.

Goat that is slow cooked with lots of marinade and spice can be very tasty.  Many ethnic restaurants have added it to the menu as America finally starts to catch on, and the results can be excellent, like pulled goat tacos, Jamaican-style jerk stew, and in rich curries.  The best part about goat meat is that it’s leaner than chicken and has more protein than beef, making it a smart choice for the health conscious.

And for those who are concerned with the industrial-scale production of beef, pork, and chickens, with the accompanying environmental and animal cruelty issues, goat presents a unique alternative.  That’s because goats are usually raised on marginal pastures that are not suitable for other types of agriculture, and they thrive in those environments.  When they are raised on pastures also used by beef cattle and other animals, they do not compete for the same plants, which improves land use and gives ranchers a natural way to control weeds.  No matter what, they don’t end up in a feed lot.

Goat meat may not be a white, middle-class American tradition, but for the rest of the world, it’s a staple, kind of like soccer.  So the next time you encounter goat meat, give it a try and see what you’ve been missing.

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Menu Trends: Smaller Portion Sizes Seen As A Big Value

Menu Trends: Smaller Portion SizesNational chains like The Cheesecake Factory, Chili’s, and T.G.I. Friday’s have rolled out smaller, leaner, competitively priced menu items that are having considerable success targeting two primary consumer concerns: watching their weight and watching their wallets.

For years the trend in the food service industry was towards bigger and bigger portion sizes.  The “bigger is better” approach worked as long as customers were willing to pay more for more food.  The financial crisis and ensuing economic downturn turned that strategy on its head, and the restaurant industry is starting to respond.

Independent operators can take advantage of this trend as well.  The best way to implement it is to take perennial favorites from your existing menu and trim down the size and the price, then feature these new items on a special menu.  This approach highlights the new items and gives your offerings a fresh look that will help get customers in the door.

And that’s been the most difficult thing about the current climate in the food service industry: getting customers to actually come out to eat.  A leaner, more affordable menu doesn’t do you any good if your customers stay home because they don’t know about it.  Getting the word out is vital to the success of slimmed down menu offerings.  If marketed right, your new menu should be the reason why customers go out to eat in the first place.

No restaurant can afford to look like they are out of touch with the times, and adjusting portion sizes kills two birds with one stone: addressing customer health concerns and dinner price points.

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Darden Group Driving Sustainable Seafood Practices

Sustainable Seafood is Vital To Future ConsumptionThe Darden Group, which operates both Red Lobster and Olive Garden national chain restaurants, is understandably also the largest purchaser of seafood in the U.S.  As concern grows over the dwindling seafood supply in the world’s oceans, Darden has made every attempt to stay out in front of the situation and look for solutions to a growing problem.

Darden spends an estimated $800 million annually on seafood for its restaurant chains.  In order to keep their restaurants supplied with product, the company has gotten involved with several initiatives, primary among them the development of aquaculture, or fish farming.  The problem with fish farming is that, if done improperly, it can have just as detrimental effect on the environment as trawling.  Fish farms are water-intensive and produce a lot of waste, which often ends up in local water supplies.  There is also the danger of disease cross-contamination between farmed and wild populations.  The Global Aquaculture Alliance, which Darden helped found, has set guidelines and standards for global aquaculture.  The restaurant group began requiring that all farmed shrimp suppliers adhere to the Alliance’s standards in 2006.

But aquaculture can only satisfy part of America’s constant appetite for seafood.  When it comes to the harvesting of wild seafood, Darden has made moves to ensure the product they buy is coming from sustainable populations.  The company also heeds an advisory group that makes recommendations on problematic fish populations, like swordfish and orange roughy.Lobster Is Regulated

Perhaps the best known sea creature sold by Darden is lobster, and the crustacean is also unique in that it is almost entirely wild-caught.  Darden has made moves to block the unregulated import of Caribbean lobster that are not of reproductive age, a key requirement for lobster populations in U.S. waters that help sustain the population.

However, Darden does still struggle with sustainable seafood issues.  Swordfish, which Red Lobster stopped serving several years ago, is still on the menu at the Capital Grill, recent Darden acquisition.  And many fish species, like salmon and red snapper, are purchased from unregulated fish farms with questionable environmental practices.

But overall Darden’s mission to pursue sustainable seafood is recognized as industry-leading, which is an important role for the biggest kid on the block, and one that can be extremely influential.  With scientists predicting the collapse of the world’s fisheries by 2050 if they are harvested at today’s rates, Darden views their efforts to move towards sustainability as vital to their survival.

For more info on serving sustainable seafood in your restaurant, check out this Back Burner post.

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