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Archive | August, 2009

How Sub Culture Is Pirating Fine Dining In San Francisco

Sub Culture DiningWhat if you were told about a restaurant that had no fixed location or menu and kept this information a secret until just a few hours before you leave for dinner?  The Dissident Chef of San Francisco does just this to his patrons on a regular basis.  They purchase tickets without any idea what or where they will be eating.

The details are emailed to ticket holders on the day of the event.  The location is usually a unique, wide open facility that wouldn’t strike you immediately as a place to go out to eat.  Abandoned warehouses and wine cellars have been transformed by The Dissident Chef and his entourage into a temporary “environment” for his food events.

For all the secrecy, the actual events are supposed to be wondrous affairs, with unique 6-10 course meals that are usually themed around certain ingredients or types of food.  The food is, of course, sourced locally and served as fresh as possible.  The Dissident Chef, who grew tired of running a top 10 L.A. restaurant before emigrating to San Francisco, focuses on surprising and delighting his guests.

Social media has been crucial to the success of Sub-Culture Dining.  Facebook and Twitter allow Sub Culture’s followers to track events and communicate quickly about developments.  These new mediums have also helped this utterly unique approach to fine dining to rocket to success in only a few years.  The result is limited membership to the Sub Culture club, with The Dissident Chef as ringleader and ultimate decision maker on who gets to attend these exclusive dinners.

Besides social media, the very effective technique of perceived supply shortage (i.e. limited memberships) has helped Sub Culture Dining become the worst kept secret in San Francisco.  For The Dissident, the experience has allowed him to accrue the investors and connections he needed to start his own fine dining establishment in San Francisco.

For the majority of the food service industry, such a unique approach to serving premier fine cuisine may seem a little on the extreme side.  Yet the excitement Sub Culture Dining has produced in San Francisco is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.  Whatever you think about the oddities of The Dissident Chef’s approach, you can’t argue with the fundamentals of the restaurant business he has absolutely nailed: fresh, unique cuisine, quality service, and a great atmosphere.

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Restaurant Equipment Repair: 14 Ways To Save

Restaurant Equipment RepairKeeping your commercial kitchen humming along is not always an easy proposition.  You use this equipment every day, and sooner or later something is going to give out on you.  If the next step you’re used to taking is picking up the phone to call your service tech, these Back Burner posts are for you.

That’s because if you have the right tools and a little basic knowledge, you can handle the most common equipment failures yourself on everything from ranges to fryers to overhead warmers to faucets.  We have written several great guides to help you fix your restaurant equipment yourself.

Restaurant Equipment Repair:

1.  How To Fix Countertop Warmers

2.  How To Replace Door Gaskets on Refrigeration Equipment

3.  Identifying and Replacing Electric Thermostats

4.  Identifying Commercial Faucets and Parts

5.  Replacing Gas Safety Valves

6.  Converting Gas Equipment In 5 Simple Steps

7.  Can You Trust Generic Restaurant Equipment Parts?

8.  Fixing Commercial Fryers

9.  Fixing Commercial Ovens

10.  Fixing Gas Ranges

11.  Replace Commercial Refrigeration Thermostats Yourself

12.  Identifying Electric Cooking Equipment Elements

13.  How To Replace Refrigeration Fan Motors & Blades

14.  Replacing Refrigeration Door Latches & Hinges

Being able to handle minor equipment repairs will not only save you money, it will also reduce your downtime, meaning your busy kitchen won’t miss a beat.  Half the battle is having the skills to replace parts.  The other half is being able to get parts fast.

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A Complete Restaurant Equipment Buying Guide

Restaurant Equipment Buying Guide

If you’re in the market for new restaurant equipment, you know that you’re about to spend a good chunk of change.  You also know the choices you make are ones you’ll have to live with for years to come.  That’s why it’s vital to make an informed decision that’s the perfect fit for your restaurant and your budget.

The Back Burner has a wealth of information for you on most major pieces of restaurant equipment, from ice machines to ranges to fryers.  This information comes from industry insiders who have sold and dealt with every conceivable kind of food service equipment for more years than most people could shake a stick at.  And while these posts may not make your decision any easier, they certainly will help you make a smarter one.

  • Color Code Food Safety Program – Color coded knives and cutting boards help prevent the cross-contamination of food ingredients in your commercial kitchen.  Learn more in this post.
  • Dishwashing Machines – From undercounters to conveyors, there is a wide range of commercial dishwashers out there.  Learn about high temp vs. low temp dishwashers and how to decide which type to buy in this post.
  • Family Friendly – Kid’s menus aren’t enough to cater to young families anymore.  Do you also have restaurant high chairs, booster seats, and baby changing stations?
  • Flatware – Not all flatware is created equal.  Learn how to tell the difference between the different types in this post.
  • Food Processors – Nothing streamlines food prep like a powerful commercial food processor.  Learn about all the different types in this post.
  • Gas Ranges -The gas range is the heart and soul of any kitchen.  Get all the information you need to make the right choice in this post.
  • Hobart Mixer Attachments – Hobart mixers are great because they last so long.  What’s not so great is how much it costs to replace the attachments you depend on every day.  Learn how to keep your Hobart going without spending a fortune.
  • Hood Filters – Keeping the hood filters over your cooking equipment clean and up-to-date is an important safety concern for your operation.  Learn how to maintain hood filters, and get key information on what to buy when you need new ones.
  • Ice Machines – Summertime is ice machine season, and if you’re in the market for an ice machine, you need to make sure you calculate capacity very carefully.  Learn how in this post.
  • Planetary Mixers – The planetary mixer is a mainstay chunk of equipment in many commercial kitchens.  Whenever your restaurant or bakery needs a large project done, and done well, more than likely you’re turning to the mixer taking up a whole corner of the kitchen.
  • Refrigeration – When you’re selecting a new refrigeration unit, you’re making a big decision that will impact your budget and your business for a long time to come.  You’ll be able to make a better decision after reading this post.
  • Scales – Portion, receiving, and liquor scales will all give you better inventory control and save you significant money.  Learn all the ins and outs in this post.
  • Sinks & Faucets – Get some useful tips on buying quality sinks and faucets that will stand the test of time in your busy kitchen.
  • Slicers – Different slicers are ideal for slicing different kinds of product, and using the wrong slicer can burn the unit up quickly, so make sure you understand the differences before you buy.
  • Steamers – Steamers are a great way to cook food to perfection every time while saving on energy costs.  Learn everything you need to know in this post.
  • Stick Mixers – Stick mixers are a great way to cut down on food prep labor costs.  Learn which mixer is best for your kitchen in this post.
  • Water Filtration – Filtered water not only tastes and smells better for your customers, it improves the performance and lifespan of key equipment like ice machines, beverage dispensers, and coffee makers.

If you’ve got questions that aren’t answered in one of the posts above, leave a comment and we’ll get back to you with the information you’re looking for.

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Why Your Restaurant Should Start Catering… And 4 Simple Steps To Start

Restaurants Should Start CateringIn a recent study by Technomic, 36% of consumers said they are doing their socializing at home more often than a year ago.  In addition, 40% said they’d like to entertain at home more often in the next year.

For a restaurant owner, those are some sobering numbers.  The corresponding 4% decline in restaurants nationwide over the last year tells you just how serious the situation is.  If your restaurant has made it this far, then hopefully the worst of it is behind you.  And now might be the perfect time to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

That’s because although consumers are staying home, they’re not necessarily wanting to cook at home.  That means you can find willing customers if you’re willing to venture out from the restaurant.  In fact, 53% of consumers said they bought prepared foods for the 4th of July 2009.  That reveals a market that’s available for what you do best: prepare great food.

Catering for small and mid-sized parties (10 – 100 people) is on a steep rise, and some restaurants have already started offering their services as a way to drum up business, even if those customers aren’t seated in the dining area.  So how can your restaurant get in the game?  Some ideas:

Get equipped. Don’t try to translate what you do in the kitchen of your restaurant so well into a foreign venue without the proper tools.  Catering requires some specialized equipment that allows you to be mobile and quick on your feet.  Don’t get into the catering game without investing in some good equipment first.

Specialize your menu. Stick to the items on your menu that are high margin and require minimal prep work.  Whatever your bread and butter entrees are, the ones you can whip up in your sleep, slap them on a special menu for catered events.  This keeps things nice and simple, especially when you’re starting out.

Try to reach known customers. If you have an email list or other way to market to customers you know haven’t been in for awhile, use it to advertise directly to the people who are probably staying home but like your restaurant.

You probably will want to try a few dry runs before you hit the big time with your new catering operation.  Maybe try catering your own family function or a similar low-stress event so you can work out the kinks.  That will ensure you’re making the best impression possible when you start.

If you choose your menu items carefully and back up some effective marketing with a well prepared mobile operation, your restaurant can stand to make some pretty good money in catering, which gives you another stream of revenue and a little more stability in the uncertain world of food service.

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Cash or Charge: Save Money AND Give Your Customer A Discount

Give Customers a Discount if They Pay With CashCredit cards have become the currency of choice in restaurants everywhere.  Many restaurateurs report 80% – 85% of their customers pull out plastic when it’s time to pay the bill.  For a long time now the conventional wisdom in food service goes like this: any way the customer wants to pay me I’ll take.

But credit card companies are good at charging for the convenience they provide.  Every time a card is swiped in any restaurant, a flat fee of 10 – 25 cents is charged to the restaurant outright, plus another 2% – 3% of the transaction’s value in fees.  Depending on how much business you do, those credit card fees add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars every month.

Of course, I’m not really telling you anything you don’t already know if you own or manage a restaurant.  What I do want to tell you is that some restaurateurs have figured out a way to pass some added value on to their customers and save some money on monthly transaction fees at the same time.  By offering as much as 20% off the bill to customers who pay with cash, some restaurants have turned the 80% ratio of plastic payers on its head: now 80% pay with cash and enjoy a discounted meal to boot.Cash is Better Than Transaction Fees!

The discount-for-cash program has proven so successful in some cases that restaurants have been able to actually grow business, even in such a sluggish dining market.  If marketed cleverly, the discount program could work well for any independent restaurant.  Some ideas:

Offer an additional discount coupon.  Use email marketing to offer a coupon that gives your loyal customers an additional discount for paying with cash.  While you’ll be losing profit margin, you’ll be able to gauge how enthusiastic your most frequent customers are about the cash-for-discount program.  The discount will also get some bodies in some seats, where hopefully (with a little server encouragement) order an appetizer or a bottle of wine since they’re expecting a discount.

Offer the discount-for-cash on a specific night.  Take the slowest night of the week and turn it into discount night and then gauge how much that increases business.  This way you can roll out the discount program slowly and get a feel for how the numbers really add up in terms of increased business versus lost margin.

Make a special discount-for-cash menu of high margin items.  If you really want to mitigate your loss on the program but still want to market it to get some butts in seats, make a special menu comprised of the highest margin items on your menu.  That way you know you’ll still be making a little profit after the discount and you can push the entrees that are your favorite kind to sell.

Anybody who leverages a cash-for-discount program is bound to see a bump in business.  Figuring out how to leverage that bump and get the most out of the discount you offer is the real key to success.  No matter how you implement it, make sure you leverage this discount program as much as you can.  If you aren’t getting money from your customers because of the discount, at least get some information so that you can understand your customer better.

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The Inamo Restaurant: Fun High Tech

The Inamo restaurant in London’s Soho district has taken high-tech ordering to a whole new level.  Gone are the days when picking up a phone at your table was the techiest gig in town.  Sure, some restaurants call themselves high-tech because their servers have wireless pads for taking orders.  Inamo takes it even further: touchscreens built into the tables and illuminated with images of menu items from an overhead projector.

The Inamo Restaurant London

The ordering system took some pretty heavy duty programming to create.  That’s because all computers are built to only have one mouse pointer.  Unfortunately, solo diners are a relatively rare thing, and since people want to select and order at the same time, one mouse pointer wasn’t going to do it.  So Inamo developed a system that has multiple pointers.

The Inamo Restaurant London

Guests come in and have their table “activated” as soon as they sit down by their server.  Using their fingers, they flip through menu items on the touchscreen and place their order.  Drinks and food are brought out by a real person, but everything else, including payment, is handled by the touchscreen.  Add the trippy interior design and cool images coming out of the projectors, and this little restaurant makes the act of ordering food a fun, futuristic experience.

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10 Food Safety Tips

One of the most important responsibilities of any restaurateur is the proper implementation of a food safety program.  A lapse in food safety can spell the doom of your restaurant, and if you’re just opening a new restaurant, it can mean a delayed opening night.

Good food safety isn’t something you achieve once and then forget about.  It’s something you practice every day your restaurant is open, from the moment product leaves the truck at the back door all the way through to the time the busboy clears the plates after your guests have finished their meals.

Below are 10 food safety tips from The Back Burner that will help you brush up your program.  You have probably already implemented many of these strategies to one degree or another.  Think of this a refresher course and the chance to learn something you didn’t know.  And if you have food safety topics not covered here that really should be, let us know!

1. Shop For Suppliers – As all of the food recent food recalls have taught us, food safety doesn’t start when product comes off the truck at your restaurant.  The supply chain is much longer than that, and things can go wrong well before you ever lay eyes on a box of tomatoes or a head of lettuce.  Learn how to diversify your supply chain and hold it accountable.

2. Managing Temperature – One of the most important aspects of food safety is monitoring food temperatures and making sure it’s always out of the danger zone.  Learn some effective strategies for managing temperature.

3. Proper Handwashing – All your food safety management strategies can go down the drain in a flash if one employee doesn’t wash their hands properly and then handles food.  Learn how to train and supervise employees effectively here.

4. Be Your Own Health Inspector – Why wait for the health inspector to tell you what needs to  be fixed with your food safety program?  Be proactive and think like an inspector before they come to your restaurant.  That way, your inspections will be a breeze.

5. In The Field At Turley’s – This venerable Boulder restaurant shares some of their food safety strategies for the benefit of all.  There’s nothing like some real world experience to put things in perspective.NSF

6. Understanding NSF and UL – Everybody’s seen the NSF and UL labels on products in their restaurant’s kitchen.  What do those labels really mean?  Learn more in this article.

7. HACCP – If you don’t know what this stands for, then you definitely need to read this article.  Even if you do, you might learn a couple things about this core food safety program.

8. Data Loggers – If you don’t use this vital piece of food safety equipment, you might consider it after reading this article.

9. Vacuum Breakers And Backflow Valves – Clean water is vital to any food safety program, and increasingly health inspectors are looking at restaurant plumbing to make sure you are safeguarding the water supply.  Some simple plumbing parts you can install yourself will make the inspector happy and keep your water safe.

10. Safe Seafood – Seafood handling can be especially tricky in a restaurant.  Learn how to keep your seafood tasting great and your customers safe.

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Want Your Fast Food Fancy?

A website called Fancy Fast Food has taken all the mass produced food that makes Americans fat, but that we love to eat, and turned it into top quality fine cuisine, complete with garnish.  The results are actually very stunning, even after viewing the before picture.  Some examples include:


Nathan’s Not-So-Famous Faux Foie Gras – 6 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, a lemonade, a mustard packet, and a rosemary garnish.  The result looks like anything you might find at a 5 star restaurant, and without the ethically questionable duck livers to boot.


Boston Kreme Brulee – Made from the filling of 8 Dunkin’ Donuts Boston Kreme Donuts,  this “kreme brulee” looks just as tasty as anything you might find in a restaurant, and probably cheaper too.


The Colonel’s Chicken Corn Chowder – Put together a complete meal from KFC and get some top quality corn chowder.  The picture sure makes it look good…

Submit your own fancy fast food recipes, complete with before and after pictures.  The only rule is that you can’t add anything to your recipe besides what you buy in a fast food joint (with the exception of a garnish).  These guys have plenty more amazing recipes, and every one makes their motto ring a little more true: Yeah It’s Still Bad For You – But See How Good It Can Look!

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Will Congress Pay For Healthcare Reform With A Fat Tax?

A National Tax On Fatty Foods?As Congress grapples with the costs of tackling health care reform, a couple ideas have floated to the surface to help fund the effort.  As I mentioned recently, a national tax on soft drinks was the subject of a national feasibility study and it was determined that such a tax could raise a significant amount of revenue while combating the obesity epidemic at the same time.

Now the idea of a national tax on fattening food has also arisen.  Again, the idea is to improve the health of the nation through economic incentive while raising money for health reform.  As should be expected a large segment of advocacy and lobbying groups are up in arms about the idea, including the National Restaurant Association and the American Beverage Association.  They decry the burden placed upon the little guy who is simply trying to enjoy a few simple pleasures in life: a good meal and a soda to wash it down.

For the food service industry, both of these taxes will force restaurateurs to raise prices, which explains the NRA’s opposition.  Opposition to the food tax proposals also point out the likelihood of a high rate of recidivism (meaning poorer people, who tend to eat fattier foods and disproportionately drink more soda, will carry the largest burden).  Of course, such a tax would probably help discourage the lower income people from eating unhealthy foods, and would insure them with a public health coverage plan.

Neither a fatty food nor a soda tax has made it onto any of the health care reform legislation currently being considered in Congress, and at this point their inclusion does not seem likely.  That probably comes as a relief to the NRA, but don’t expect the restaurant industry group to sit back.  They have joined the Americans Against Food Taxes lobbying group, who plans to push hard during the upcoming congressional summer recess to ensure any tax on food or drink doesn’t make into health care reform legislation.

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Restaurant Owner Accused of Paying Employees To Marry

The Thai Ginger RestaurantThe co-owner of a chain of Asian restaurants in the Seattle area was recently indicted on immigration fraud charges.  Varee Bradford apparently paid employees of the Thai Ginger restaurants she owns with her husband to marry her relatives so they could immigrate from Thailand.

Bradford has been charged with arranging four sham marriages over the past eight years.  The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency had been following her for at least three years before they caught her offering an undercover agent cash in exchange for marrying one of her Thai relatives.

Thai Ginger employees were offered up to $20,000 dollars to marry Bradford’s relatives.  A similar case involving a Cambodian woman led to her conviction earlier this year.  She still awaits sentencing.

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