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Archive | July, 2009

NYC Restaurants Make Smooth Transition Away From Trans Fats

NYC Restaurants Make Smooth Transition Away From Trans FatsBack in 2006, despite objections from industry groups like the National Restaurant Association (NRA), New York City banned the use of trans fats in all foods served in the city’s restaurants.  At the time, the NRA said that municipal government had no place regulating restaurants, and the ban would put an undue burden on business.

The deadline for compliance with the new ban was last summer, and a new study came out recently that has shed some light on how valid the food service industry’s fears were when it comes to new regulations like this one.  The study found that 98% of NYC restaurants are compliant with the ban.  It also found that the transition away from trans fats has been cost neutral.  Restaurants were helped by manufacturers marketing trans fat free alternatives during the transition.

Trans fats are present in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a staple in many processed foods for the past 20 years.  They also occur naturally in meat fats and some dairy products.  Trans fats negatively affect cholesterol levels in humans because they raise LDL (so-called “bad” cholesterol) levels and depress HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels.

Other municipalities and local governments across the nation have started to follow New York’s example.  Given the fact that New York restaurants were able to accomplish a full transition away from trans fats in two short years in a way that did not negatively impact business, the entire U.S. should be seriously considering ways to follow suit.  High cholesterol levels contribute to many health problems, including heart disease, obesity, and heart attacks.  There’s no reason why industry groups like the NRA, who once cried foul over trans fat bans, shouldn’t start to take the lead on such an important, and easily fixed, national health issue.

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Email Marketing: 7 Tips For Restaurants

In the marketing industry, email remains one of the most popular and most effective ways to reach customers.  In the restaurant industry, email marketing can be a great way to build customer loyalty and brand recognition.  It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s proven to bring customers in the door.  So why aren’t more restaurants using it?

If you have yet to market to your customers with email, here are some simple steps and best practices to maximize your campaign:

1. Ask your customers to sign up.  There’s no point in sending out an email if you don’t have anyone on your list.  There’s also no point if the people on your list don’t patronize your restaurant.  Tantalize your customers with deals and prizes to collect their email addresses.  For example, use a raffle to collect email addresses, or offer 10% off coupons in exchange for signing up through your restaurant’s website.

2. Don’t send emails unless it’s requested.  Sending unsolicited email is also known as SPAM, and we all know how annoying that is.  That’s why the best way to collect email addresses is to offer a little something in return and get your customer to volunteer their email address.  It’s also important to make sure your customers understand that they are signing up to receive emails.  Make it clear that they will be hearing from you in the future.

3. Offer something every time you send an email.  Every email marketing beginner thinks it’s a great idea to send out emails full of information about themselves and their business.  The hard truth is, however, that your customer really doesn’t want to be bothered reading an email about a restaurant.  What they do want know is when your happy hour is and what days you offer specials.  Don’t send an email unless you have something to offer.  Otherwise you’re just clogging up an already busy email inbox.

4. Track conversions.  Use coupon codes or some other system to track the success of your email marketing campaign.  Try different types of offers and see which ones have the highest conversion rate.  In other words, does a 10% off coupon on any meal over $25 work better than a buy one, get one free drink during happy hour deal?  The only way to know for sure is to get customers who heard about the deal through your email campaign to use a code when redeeming their discount.

5. Create a schedule and stick to it.  In general, you shouldn’t be sending out emails more than once a week, and twice a month is probably a better route.  No matter how frequently you decide to send out email, stick to the same schedule so that customers begin to expect your emails on the same day.  This will improve the chances that your email will be opened and read.

6. Use a proper email marketing system.  There are a variety of options out there: Feedblitz, MailChimp, ConstantContact, Emma.  These services usually charge you per email or per number of subscribers.  Choose one that works for you and pay the money for a proper system.  Don’t try to send emails out from your Hotmail account.  For one thing, it looks unprofessional.  For another, you will get labeled as spam sooner or later.  These email services also have great tracking functions that provide important information, like how many people opened your emails, how many clicked links in your emails, etc.Email Marketing: 7 Tips For Restaurants

7. Avoid spammy words and punctuation.  Words like free and buy now cause automatic spam filters to flag an incoming email message.  Punctuation like lots of exclamation marks and all capitalized letters will also set off the alarm.  Avoid these spammy looking words and punctuation in your emails like the plague.  For more info on avoiding spam filters, check out this blog post.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to email marketing is to experiment.  Best practices only take you so far.  Every restaurant is different, and every one has a different type of customer.  The email marketing campaign strategy you employ for your restaurant will be different from every other one, and the best way to optimize it is to try different types of offers and presentations until you find the one that gets the most customers in the door.  This is also why tracking is so important.  If you can’t tell if you’re having a busy Tuesday night by chance or because of last week’s email, then you can’t improve and refine your campaigns.

When used properly, email marketing can be one of the most cost effective ways to bring customers back to your restaurant again and again.  A little time, a little testing, and a lot of experimenting can turn email into one of your top advertising moneymakers.

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Chefs Make Their Own Honey

Chefs Make Their Own HoneyWe’ve been hearing more and more about the local sourcing of ingredients in the food service industry.  By far the most common form local sourcing takes is a small independent restaurant working out a deal for locally grown vegetables and herbs, or maybe even some locally raised meat.

Of course, restaurants in large urban areas have a much harder time finding local sources because farms are so much farther away.  Some have turned to growing their own food in small rooftop gardens or on empty lots near the restaurant.  These little chef gardens are a great way for a restaurant to get premium fresh ingredients from a truly local source.

Now some chefs have taken the grow-it-yourself trend to a whole new level: they’ve become beekeepers.  Two large urban hotels have allowed their chefs to keep beehives on the rooftop, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Atlanta.  The resulting honey is put to good use in the restaurant, where it makes a much more intricate and interesting sweetener than refined sugar.

Honeybee colonies all over North America have been suffering from a mysterious disease called colony collapse syndrome.  The honeybee pollinates at least a third of the vegetables and herbs humans eat and plays a vital role in the pollination of many other plants.  While a couple executive chefs aren’t going to make much of a difference in the overall bee population, it’s just another example of how the local sourcing of all types of ingredients has become an interesting trend in food service.

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Restaurant Energy Efficiency: 10 Tips

Restaurant Energy Efficiency: 10 TipsIt’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.Restaurant Energy Efficiency: 10 Tips

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.

Check out more articles on Tundra’s Resource Center for Restaurant Energy Efficiency

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Card Check Unionization Bill Losing Steam

Card Check Unionization Bill Losing SteamA bit of good news, at least from the perspective of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), was released last week: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), has agreed to drop the card check portion of the Employee Free Choice Act.  The card check provision would have allowed workers in businesses with 20 or more employees to vote for unionization by a show of hands rather than a secret balloting process.

Proponents of the bill had said that the secret ballot process gives businesses time to intimidate and influence employees to vote against unionization, whereas a show of hands would allow employees a way to quickly unionize.  Critics of the bill, including the NRA, said card check gave unions undue influence over employees by forcing them to vote in a public forum where dissent could be limited.

The fight over the Employee Free Choice Act is far from over.  The bill still shortens the amount of time for deliberation over unionization and would require disputes to go to binding arbitration.  The NRA strongly opposes both provisions, which they say is ant-business.

There is no doubt that unions bring better compensation and benefits to workers.  There is also no doubt that unions raise the operating expenses of any business or industry they touch, and as we have seen in the auto industry, sometimes those expenses become crippling.

The NRA has framed their opposition to this bill in the context of protecting the rights of workers.  Interestingly, so have the proponents of the bill.  What it really boils down to is money.  Restaurant owners, understandably, don’t want and certainly can’t afford additional expenses in this economic climate.  Unions, starving for membership in new industries, need a big dose of dues to help them back to political prominence.

Caught in the middle of this tug-of-war are the people of the food service industry.  I haven’t really heard what they think about unionizing their restaurants.  Do they think it’s worth it to pay union dues?  Would they rather see restaurant owners pass the profits of reduced operating expenses on to them?

If you’re in the food service industry, weigh in on this issue!  Leave a comment below.  Thanks!

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Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?

Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?Healthy this.  Healthy that.  We want nutrition information.  We want healthy menu choices.

The drumbeat coming from consumers and consumer groups over the last five years has steadily increased, demanding healthier options from restaurants in all segments of the food service industry.  Heavyweights like McDonald’s have bent under the pressure, and everyone across the industry has heard the call for healthy menus and responded.  This should be a classic example of the customer asking and then receiving exactly what they wanted.  Responding to the needs of customers is what success in food service is all about, right?

But what if customers are saying one thing and doing another?  A recent study conducted by Mintel Menu Insights reveals that 8 in 10 adults in the United States say eating healthy is important to them.  But when it comes to sitting down to a meal at a restaurant, only 20% of diners are thinking about healthy options.  Taste (at 77%) and hunger satisfaction (at 44%) are much more important to the customer’s dining experience.  Even worse, 54% said that healthy menu items are more likely to be more expensive.

More than three quarters of the American public want to see nutrition information on menus, and legislation has already been passed in several states mandating that information be presented by restaurants.  A national bill is in the works and will probably pass within the year.  Eventually, consumers are going to demand that entrees be healthy AND have superior taste and hunger satisfaction.  The more readily available menu nutrition information is, the faster that time will come.

So customers may be saying one thing and doing another currently.  That will probably change as menus help inform customer decisions with calorie and nutritional information.  As that time approaches, restaurants will do well to figure out how to take the taste and satisfaction that comes from traditional preparation  methods like frying and infuse it with lighter, healthier fare.

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Italian Grandmas Run Staten Island Restaurant

Italian Grandmas Run Staten Island RestaurantThe Enoteca Maria restaurant of Staten Island, NY serves truly authentic Italian style home cooking every evening.  They can make such a bold claim, because anyone who ventures into the kitchen in this small 35-seat restaurant will find an actual Italian Grandma bent over the stove conjuring up classic recipes that have been passed down for generations.

Enoteca Maria employs eight local women, all of whom draw on their Italian heritage and culture to bring traditional dishes to the restaurant’s patrons.  Each chef designs and creates her own unique menu based on the food she has been cooking at home for years.

This genuine Italian cuisine gets rave reviews every time it comes out of Enoteca’s kitchen.  And the Grandmas love their newfound celebrity.  They regularly receive standing ovations from happy customers, which is much more appreciation than they get at home.

Enoteca’s nightly menu rotation (depending on which Grandma is in for the night), superb wine list, and cozy atmosphere has made for a unique dining experience that can only be created by a grandmother’s kitchen.

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Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAY

Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAYThe dipper well is a small countertop sink that uses a constant flow of water to clean utensils like ice cream scoops and barista thermometers.  The sink fills up to a certain level and then drains away, so a dipper well acts like a constantly filling pool.  The in and out flow of water makes it convenient to clean utensils because any residue drains out automatically as the pool continues to fill.

The problem is that many coffee shops and ice cream parlors leave their dipper wells on regardless of how much business they’re doing.  That means water is constantly flowing, and it adds up very quickly.  As restaurants explore sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, partly out of personal conviction, partly out of the need to cut costs, and mainly because customers are demanding it, things like the dipper well have become more and more obsolete.

The sad fact is that we can hardly afford the convenient luxury of a dipper well any more.  A UNLV professor in Las Vegas conducted a study of water use as a direct result of dipper wells, and the results were pretty shocking, especially for a city located in the middle of a desert that is susceptible to drought: 2,453 dipper wells in 1,134 food service locations used 106.4 million gallons of water in a single year.  The professor says the numbers are pretty conservative and the real totals are probably much higher.Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAY

Starbucks has taken a lot of flack for their use of dipper wells as well, particularly in England, where a news article was recently published with similarly shocking numbers: 5.85 million gallons of water are used in the 10,000 global Starbucks locations every day.  Starbucks has pledged to remove dipper wells from their U.S. locations by the end of this year, and international shops will follow suit soon after.

Dipper wells became so ubiquitous because of food safety concerns.  A constant flow of water helps prevent bacterial buildup, and they are so easy to clean and use that even the greenest employee can be put to work while minimizing contamination problems.  Plenty of other methods address the food safety issue and are almost as easy to implement, however.

Besides the ethical issue of wasting a precious resource like potable water, dipper wells are also a drag on any business’ bottom line.  It’s a deceivingly large monthly expense that’s easy to miss since your water bill also includes dishwashing, food prep, beverages, ice, etc.  Depending on how many dipper wells you use, turning them off could add up to several hundred dollars a year once you account for water and wastewater charges.

Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAYWhat are some alternatives to dipper wells?  Starbucks has started using a one scoop, one pitcher policy in some stores, meaning the scoop and pitcher are used once before being washed.  A commercial undercounter dishwasher could easily replace a dipper well and significantly reduce water usage since many models use less than a gallon per rack.

Many other options exist; just make sure you consult with your local Board of Health to ensure you are minimizing contamination risks before shutting down your dipper well for good.  Replacing the dipper wells in your establishment will save you money, save you face, and earn you some green restaurant credibility with your customers.  And you just might be helping the environment along the way, a very marketable side effect to a smart business decision.

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4 Things You Can Learn From Restaurant Chains

4 Things You Can Learn From Restaurant ChainsBig operators like Chili’s, Applebees, The Cheesecake Factory, and others are always looking for ways to improve taste and customer experience while increasing efficiency.  These companies spend a lot of money every year in research and development, and studying the trends that come out of the big chain restaurant’s R&D can be very informative.

Here are four trends on the rise in the food service industry:

1.  Maximizing ingredients. Inventory control is vital to managing what is typically the second largest monthly expense for any restaurant: food.  The more inventory you have, the harder it is to control, and that is the idea behind using the same ingredients in multiple menu items.  That makes purchasing, regulating temperature, and managing First In First Out (FIFO) practices much, much easier.

2. Diversifying menus. Culinary fusion has long been the norm in fine dining, and now this trend has gone mainstream.  American diners have been exposed to a much more diverse range of ethnic foods than ever before, and restaurant chains are bringing in new and exotic flavors and styles because their customers are much more familiar with the world’s cuisine.4 Things You Can Learn From Restaurant Chains

3. Jumping on the gastropub bandwagon. The success over the past two decades of “gastropubs,” or beer pubs that also serve high quality menu items, has grabbed the attention of menu developers for large chains.  It’s also changed customer expectations when they see a menu.  Potatoes, meat, and other standard pub fare isn’t good enough anymore, and many chains have responded by offering an increasingly diverse and higher quality menu selection.

4. Sweet & Spicy and Sweet & Salty. Adding a kick to new menu items has become a popular trend as chefs expand the flavor horizons of their guests with unique combinations.  Contrasting flavor combinations give simple menu items like salads or appetizers a fresh tasting kick.

These trends seem to reveal a food service industry that reflecting the times in which we live: unprecedented globalization and cultural integration has opened the palates of the average American diner, and if a restaurant can bring fresh takes and flavors to classic dishes, that’s a recipe for success.  Of course, figuring out how to do that while managing to keep inventory under strict control is how you make money here.  Finding that balance is any restaurateur’s challenge, and mastering it is the key.

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