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Archive | October, 2009

New York City Health Department Finds Menu Labeling Affects Consumer Behavior

New York City Health Department Finds Menu Labeling Affects Consumer BehaviorNutrition information on menus is a trend in food service that doesn’t seem to be going away.  Legislation is still working its way through Congress that would require menu labeling.  In the meantime, New York City has had its own menu labeling law for fast food chains in place for some time now.  The question has been, as critics love to point out, exactly how effective is a list of nutrition information on helping consumers make better decisions?

Despite an independent study that found no effect on the amount of calories customers ordered, New York’s study, conducted by the Department of Health, found that the presence of menu labels reduced the number of calories ordered at 9 of 13 fast food chains.  Over 22,000 patrons were surveyed at 275 locations over 2 years, about half before the city’s law went into effect and half after.

The New York law is considered a model for other cities and states looking at menu labeling, including California.  More than likely, a national bill will mandate labeling for restaurant chains with 20 or more locations at a minimum.

From an independent operator standpoint, menu labeling can seem like an unnecessary expense, and one that is particularly hard to bear after the year the food service industry has had.  In general, it’s probably too early for independents to move on menu labeling just yet, but it seems fairly certain that new requirements loom on the horizon.

That doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing.  As consumers become accustomed to seeing nutrition information with the meals they order, those labels will be seen as a value-added service provided by the restaurant.  That will mean menu labeling will become a fundamental piece of marketing for just about every restaurant, regardless of the segment of the food service industry they occupy.

Like nutrition facts on groceries 20 years ago, menu labeling will start off controversial and meet significant opposition.  Over time labeling will become just as ubiquitous as nutrition facts.  It’s simply a question of when your restaurant conforms to the trend.

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Standardized Coding for Restaurant Products. It’s about time!

Standardized Coding for Restaurant Products. It’s about time!Maybe you missed the announcement by the National Restaurant Association, GS1 US and the IFDA concerning the new initiative for standardized labeling of restaurant industry products, or maybe you saw it and overlooked the potential impact it could have on your restaurant.

The rest of the planet already has retail bar codes which are the same whether you by a candy bar in a local gas station or at a large supermarket, and nearly all of your large food service vendors have bar codes on the products you receive every day. The difference in the restaurant industry is that each vendor has their own bar code for the same product. So, if you buy a gallon of mayo from one vendor and the same gallon of mayo from another vendor you have two different bar codes on the exact same product making cost comparison, tracking, usage (not to mention book keeping) a bit on the troublesome side.

Industry organizations and founding members of the Food Service GS1 US Standards Initiative cite three main objectives and benefits as a result of companies choosing to adopt and implement GS1 standards (and 55 major food service distributors, manufacturers, and operators have already signed on):

* Drive waste out of the food service supply chain;
* Improve product information for customers, and
* Establish a foundation for improving food safety and traceability.

So what does this really mean to your restaurant? According to Stephen R Arens, (Industry Development, GS1 US) “All containers of Brand A Regular Barbeque sauce, 1 gallon size, in a plastic jug, will have the same GTIN no matter who they are sold / shipped to. The Brand A Regular Barbeque sauce, 5 gallon size, in a plastic jug will have a different GTIN than the 1 gallon size.” (The U.P.C. on consumer products is a GTIN)

This alone should make the independent operator smile, because now, when you’re comparing prices, shopping for bids or simply checking on price fluctuations you have one number to give to each of your reps or input into your database. This move by the food service industry, though long overdue, will be a time and money saver for the independent operator once it’s fully implemented. Many franchise operators already have this benefit in place because they belong to purchasing cooperatives for their particular brand. Maybe now is the time for independent operators to revisit the idea of joining or creating a purchasing coop? According to some of the co-ops I’ve looked at recently, savings can be significant. What do you think?

Further information: The GS1 Systems is the most widely used product identification system for items and cases globally; over two million companies in 150 countries use the GS1 System to identify their company’s products as they move through the supply chain; from manufacturer to end user. The GS1 System includes the U.P.C. code found on many consumer and commercial items in a number of industries including food and beverage products, produce, protein products, apparel, health and beauty care items, books, magazines, alcohol beverages, electronic equipment, etc. You can visit http://www.gs1us.org/ for more information.

James Guertin gives practical advice to restaurants on his blog The Practical Cafe.

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Use Edible Scraps To Create Restaurant Family Meals

Use Edible Scraps To Create Restaurant Family MealsThe “restaurant family meal” is a central event in many well-run restaurants.  Just before the dinner rush front of house and back of house staff gather to enjoy a well-cooked meal prepared by the chef.  The family meal is a great way to foster positive interaction and a feeling of camaraderie among your employees.  It also gives you a chance to get on the soapbox and talk about issues and work on training.

During the year that I worked as a server in Indianapolis, I was never lucky enough to work in a restaurant that supported a family meal.  In terms of improving employee morale and retention, the family meal has some real benefits for your business.

While this may seem obvious, there’s another, less apparent benefit to the family meal: you can reduce your food waste by investing in them.  Smart restaurateurs take the perfectly edible leftovers that are inevitably created while preparing meals and save them for the family meal.  This means your investment is minimal and the benefits can be immediately realized.

Saving for the family meal also gives you a chance to get your line thinking about everything that can be saved while they cook.  In the process of getting creative for the next meal, kitchen staff will inevitably become better at reducing food waste in general.

Your restaurant’s family meal doesn’t have to be anything fancy: many restaurants, even fine dining establishments, keep the meal for staff firmly in the realm of comfort food: sloppy joe’s, casseroles, meatloaf, etc.

Nothing appeals to the basic human sense of community like sharing food.  And nothing you do for your employees will create as much goodwill for as cheap of a price as using your leftovers to create a hearty meal before the shift starts.

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Christmas Ain’t What It Used To Be – But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Christmas Aint What It Used To Be   But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It ShouldWithout a doubt, company Christmas parties aren’t what they used to be.  The days of opulent parties stacked one after the other are clearly behind us.  On the other hand, there’s definitely some opportunity for restaurateurs looking for a little extra Christmas income.

That’s because companies want to show some appreciation to their employees and boost morale after a tough year.  They just don’t want to pay a lot of money doing it.  That means hors d’oeuvres and light meals rather than New York Strips and an open bar.  The good news is, at least there’s a Christmas party at all.  Last year there was a rash of cancellations as the full effect of the oncoming recession began to hit home, and many in the food service industry who depend on holiday income were left in the lurch.

The key to getting some good Christmas business this year is to cater (both literally and figuratively) to your customers.  The best service you can provide customers looking to throw a holiday party is keep it simple yet unique and interesting.  Chances are, your restaurant already has the character part down.  Now all you need is a way to deliver that character in an exceptionally affordable way.

That’s where an investment in some quality catering equipment can go a long way.  That’s because when you’re set up with catering equipment, you have options and therefore your customer has options.  Do they want to save money by having a party in the office?  No problem, just roll in, set up, and serve.  Do they want to rent the private dining room instead of your whole restaurant?  No problem, you can set up the chafers and let them do their thing while you bring in other customers.

So what catering equipment do you need for a successful holiday season?  Here’s a quick rundown of essentials (and a few nice extras):

Christmas Aint What It Used To Be   But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Chafing Dishes – of course, you knew this already.  But not every chafing dish is created equal.  Having a variety will give your operation more versatility, which means you’ll be better suited to accommodate your customer’s varying needs.  For example, clear roll-top chafers make for a better presentation in a self-serve situation.  Different chafer and food pan configurations allow you to serve soup and divide space for different foods.

Christmas Aint What It Used To Be   But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Serving Utensils – another obvious one, but nevertheless essential to your success.  Buffet-style serving utensils will ensure your customers have all the tools they need.

Christmas Aint What It Used To Be   But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Insulated Beverage and Food Carriers – if you’re planning on doing any out-of-house Christmas catering, then these carriers are key to your success.

Christmas Aint What It Used To Be   But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Portable Stoves – a stove lets you do some serious reheating (above and beyond the gel flames you put underneath the chafers).  Once again, your catering operation should be about options, and this stove gives you plenty more.

Christmas Aint What It Used To Be   But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Portable Bar – this is by no means necessary but certainly a nice thing to have, especially if you’re going out of house or separating only a part of your restaurant for holiday parties.  Alcohol sales are always a quick way to profitability, and a sharp little bar you can set up anywhere can only help the endeavor.

As I’ve discussed in other posts here on The Back Burner, catering gives your restaurant another dimension of service that allows you to accommodate your customers no matter where they are.  Especially in a cash-strapped holiday season, having the right equipment could go a long way towards boosting your year-end sales.

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20 Restaurant Marketing Tips

Here at The Back Burner we try to provide as many resources as possible for your success.  Over the past six months we have published a treasure trove of restaurant marketing tips that can help you get more butts in seats.  I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a tough year.  The good news is, if you’re still here, you’re obviously doing something right.

This is also the time to grab more customers.  Their favorite eatery might have recently gone out of business, or they’re looking for a place with good eats, good service, and above all, good value.  Now is your chance to shine.  And here are 20 marketing tips that will help you get more customers and remind your existing ones to come back and visit:

1.  Should Your Restaurant Have A Website? – In a word, YES!  Learn how to get your website up and running here.

2.  Use Twitter To Marker Your Restaurant (4 Strategies For Success) – Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about Twitter, and if you haven’t signed up already, chances are pretty slim you will now.  But give this a read and make sure you really do want to pass this opportunity up.

3.  Email Marketing: 7 Tips For Restaurants – Email is one of the most effective marketing tools out there, and if you’re not using it to reach your customers, you’re missing out on one of the best Return On Investment (ROI) marketing strategies out there.

4.  Improve Restaurant Sales At Food Festivals – even though the summer food festival season is mostly over, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.  Learn the why and the how here.

5.  4 Steps To Managing Your Reputation Online – With the advent of social media and user generated content on the internet, people are talking about your restaurant somewhere.  While most of this chatter is probably positive, it only takes a couple disgruntled customers to ruin your online reputation.  Learn how to manage that reputation here.

6.  Restaurant Marketing Goes Hyperlocal - New apps for mobile devices break down restaurants and bars by the block.  Some urban eateries are taking advantage of this “hyperlocal” trend to advertise very specifically to customers in their neighborhood.

7.  Restaurant Promotion Gone Afoul: The Most expensive Free I’ve Ever Seen – In this guest post by Jaime Oikle, learn how a coupon scheme run by restaurant.com can actually hurt your bottom line.

8.  For All The Hype, Are Restaurants Really Using Social Media? – Everyone, including me, is telling restaurants to get into the social media game.  Are restaurants listening?  A new study suggests they aren’t.

9.  The Casa Bonita Secret To Being A Successful Restaurant – Good food, good service, and good prices all play a role in a restaurant’s success.  But being unique is probably the single most important factor in a restaurant’s success.

10.  Menu Pricing’s Theory Of Relativity – Every customer looks at price when selecting their meal.  Behavioral psychology also shows that value is decided based upon the prices around the item they select.  Learn how to set up your menu to make your customers believe they’re getting a great deal every time.

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Are You Ready For Flu Season?

Are You Ready For Flu Season?Personally, if I never hear another story about H1N1 (swine) flu again, I’ll die a happy man.  Unfortunately, the grim reality is everyone is going to have to take steps to combat the spread of flu this winter, and restaurants are no exception.  Organizations like the National Restaurant Association are already educating restaurants about ways to inhibit the spread of viruses, and the food service industry as a whole is taking this flu season very seriously.

For restaurants, preventing the spread of viruses comes down to removing two things: sick employees from the building and any potential contaminant from employee’s hands.

Staff that is exhibiting flu-like symptoms should be sent home immediately and told to return one full day after recovering from the worst part of the sickness.  From a management standpoint, make sure multiple people in the restaurant are responsible for identifying staff with symptoms so that nobody slips through the cracks.  Also make sure you communicate clearly with your staff about the importance of staying home while they’re sick.  Finally, it’s important to have a plan in place in case multiple people are sick at once so that you don’t miss a beat during the rush.  This is where time spent on cross-training will pay you back handsomely.

Handwashing is a much more straightforward proposition.  Review proper handwashing techniques with your employees and step up the enforcement of your standard procedures on when to wash hands.  Many restaurants have also started introducing disposable gloves for kitchen staff that directly contact food during preparation; if you haven’t added this to your food safety program yet, now is the time to consider it seriously.

Besides technique and enforcement, the other key to ensuring your employees have clean hands is good equipment.  The problem is that the very viruses you’re trying to contain tend to collect around communal areas with a lot of moisture, like sinks and faucets.

Investing in some good hand sink equipment can go a long way towards improving your restaurant’s food safety.  Some key elements to a good hand sink include:Are You Ready For Flu Season?

Easily accessible towel and soap dispensers.  Dispensers make sure your employees actually use the soap and the towels and limit the number of surfaces they touch after cleaning their hands.

Knee or foot pedals.  A pedal allows staff washing their hands to turn the water off and one without having to use their freshly cleaned hands.  Pedals also tend to use less water because they automatically shut off, which mean lower utility bills for you.  These pedals can also be retrofitted on existing hand sinks.

Wrist blade faucet handles.  Wrist blade handles are the same ones you see in doctor’s offices.  Their shape allows you to use your forearm or wrist to turn off the water instead of your hands, which helps prevent re-contamination.  Use wrist blade faucet handles if you don’t have a knee or foot pedal.

Stainless steel sinks.  Stainless is easy to clean and doesn’t offer a friendly surface for pathogens to hang out.  Almost all new hand sinks are stainless, and if your staff is still using an older sink, now is a great time to upgrade.

The food service industry is taking the spread of flu this season very seriously for a very important reason: it’s good for business.  Widespread sickness doesn’t make people want to go out and eat, and after the beating the industry has taken over the past year, an outbreak connected with a restaurant would be disastrous.

For all we know, an outbreak might be inevitable.  Having the right combination of standard procedures, managerial enforcement, and equipment is the best you can do to protect your business against infection.

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Need Your Company To Pick Up Lunch?

All over the country food service has been suffering from a decline in business meals, and the upscale eateries of midtown Manhattan are no exception.  Manhattan steakhouse Maloney & Porcelli’s is fighting back with a deceptively simple tool it recently made available to its customers that has the entire business district suddenly willing to spend their lunch hour enjoying a hearty meal in the restaurant.

It’s called Expense-A-Steak, and it allows you to enter any dollar amount online and then download and print receipts for essential office supplies, effectively wiping away that $150 lunch you just enjoyed.  Simply return the manufactured receipts to your boss and tell him you already dropped the printer ink toners off and return to work.

Of course, anybody checking the company credit card will notice that the “Office Supply Hut” receipt doesn’t match the Maloney & Porcelli’s name on the statement, but those couple weeks of bliss before the hammer comes down may very well be worth it.

Expense-A-Steak produced over 88,000 receipts in its first week.  The gadget is generating a lot of buzz around the venerable steakhouse, making Expense-A-Steak look more and more like a brilliant PR play.

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Restaurant Management: Use Creative Compensation Strategies

Restaurant Management: Use Creative Compensation StrategiesAs if you didn’t have enough on your plate trying to keep your restaurant’s head above water this year, some in the food service industry are starting to talk more and more about changing some basic assumptions about employee compensation.

The traditional model has been to pay your kitchen by the hour depending on what they do, let waitstaff earn their living on tips, and maybe pay a hostess by the hour as well if you get too busy.  But as we’ve discussed here before, high turnover rates are a constant problem in restaurants.  You’re always going to have young people who are just “passing through” the restaurant industry as they look for the right time to start their careers, but in general managing and dealing with staff turnover takes up a lot of time and resources.

The worst part about turnover is that service suffers. And as any restaurateur will tell you, service probably suffers before that employee walks out the door.  Having employees who are not engaged in the long term interest of any company causes service and productivity to decline.

For these reasons some restaurants have begun to rethink their compensation plans. The best kind of compensation is the kind that motivates the employee to bring their priorities in line with the priorities and goals of the restaurant.  These strategies are different depending on whether you’re talking about Front of House or Back of House employees:

Front of House: Salary your waitstaff. Tips are so ingrained into the psyche of the restaurant industry that it feels weird to even suggest another compensation model.  And the initial knee-jerk reaction is to wonder how in the world a restaurant could afford the payroll for a salaried staff.  European restaurants have run with salaried servers for years.

The interesting thing about salaried servers is that their priorities completely change. When you are paid on tips, your two primary goals are to upsell customers to raise check averages and to turn tables over as quickly as possible.  Those two goals don’t really jibe with the restaurant’s goal of providing top-notch service every time that focuses on customer experience.

Salaried servers, on the other hand, feel no such pressure to turn and burn.  They are free to focus on maximizing customer experience every time, which means your pool of loyal, repeat customers will grow.  Typically a flat rate service charge is added to the bill that goes directly into payroll.  A smart restaurant owner would also include bonuses and incentives for salaried servers who are top sellers.

The best part about the salary method is that you enable and encourage career servers.  Turnover is almost non-existent because you provide a stable income for your employees.  The savings on new staff training and the ability to maintain a consistently high level of service can offset increased payroll costs.

Back of House: Share Profits. As you already know, the name of the game in your kitchen is efficiency.  The ideal kitchen doesn’t waste any food, uses minimal energy to prepare meals, and accomplishes all this so quickly that customers are never waiting.

In reality, that’s an almost impossible ideal to reach.  Your kitchen staff is paid an hourly wage, and they’re going to be paid that hourly wage whether they ruin an entire stock pot of the soup special or not.  Often their primary incentive isn’t the wage itself, which is probably nothing special, but the fear of losing their job.  Fear is a terrible incentive when it comes to encouraging maximum productivity and efficiency.

An excellent incentive to promote productivity and efficiency is profit sharing. Kitchen staff accumulate shares depending on how long they’ve worked for your restaurant.  Every quarter, a portion of the profits is divvied up among the kitchen staff depending upon how many shares they have.

I can imagine what you’re thinking: “First you want me to send my payroll costs through the roof with salaried servers and then you want me to share profits with my dishwashers????”Restaurant Management: Use Creative Compensation Strategies

Imagine the same scenario I brought up above: an employee accidentally ruins an entire stock pot of the daily soup special.  All the employees in your kitchen are paid by the hour.  They shrug their shoulders and start making another batch, which costs you time (paying staff to do the same work twice), resources (all those ingredients will have to be reordered sooner), and efficiency (the gas/electricity needed to prepare the soup all over again and the lost work the staff doing the work over again could have spent doing something else).

In a profit-sharing kitchen, the sous chef who’s been working in this kitchen for 10 years and makes a couple grand every time the profit sharing checks go out takes it upon himself to show the kid who makes the soup how to do it right the first time.  It’s in his interest to cut food costs whenever possible.  Line cooks turn off half the range during slow periods to save on utilities and everybody uses portion scales to make sure there’s no waste.

You’ll probably find that even after you pay out the kitchen staff, your profits still rise because of all the savings a truly efficient, well-trained kitchen produces.  And your turnover rate will plummet, saving you training time and quality control issues with inexperienced staff.  Who doesn’t want a job that pays out a bonus check 3 or 4 times a year?

Do you think these incentive programs will make your restaurant a more successful business?  Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

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The Struggle Between Art and Efficiency

The Struggle Between Art and EfficiencyGreat Lakes pizza, on Chicago’s north side, has been getting A LOT of press lately.  The tiny pizzeria has only been around for a little over a year, but in that time the reputation of owners Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza has catapulted Great Lakes into one of the hottest pizza joints in all of Chicago.

Their sudden fame hasn’t affected the artistic approach to pizza making that made Great Lakes famous in the first place.  Every single pie is hand crafted by Mr. Lessins.  All of their ingredients are sourced from premium, mostly organic suppliers.  The reviews by Chicago foodies range between glowing and ecstatic.

There’s just one problem.  On many nights, a lot of people who want Great Lakes pizza don’t get one, or they end up waiting a very long time for one.  This has resulted in profanity-laced reviews on sites like Yelp complaining that the lack of service at Great Lakes nullifies any great pizza, no matter how close to a work of art it is.

The owners seem to take it all in stride, and in pursuit of quality they haven’t sped up the service process at all.  Every pizza is still a work of art.  This raises an interesting conflict for the food service industry, and indeed for any business: where do you draw the line between art and efficiency?

Especially in food service, customer service is about half of the equation for success.  And while a beautifully prepared meal is the other cornerstone of your business, you can hardly afford to sacrifice service for the food.  Striking a balance between quality and efficiency is a necessary compromise if you want your business to grow.  Some people are satisfied just making a perfect pizza every time, and if that’s your disposition, then by all means follow the Great Lakes model.  I’m sure they’re making plenty of money, and I’m sure they will for some time to come, despite the bad reviews from unhappy customers on Yelp.

But for most businesses, the Great Lakes model just doesn’t cut it.  Let’s face it, we can’t all be artists.  That means you have to survive using other skills, including training and managing people to make your operation run more smoothly.  That doesn’t mean your food can’t be transcendent.  It merely means you know how to teach 5 people to make your pizzas, even if they don’t make them quite as perfectly as you.

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20 Restaurant Marketing Tips

20 Restaurant Marketing TipsHere at The Back Burner we try to provide as many resources as possible for your success.  Over the past six months we have published a treasure trove of restaurant marketing tips that can help you get more butts in seats.  I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a tough year.  The good news is, if you’re still here, you’re obviously doing something right.

This is also the time to grab more customers.  Their favorite eatery might have recently gone out of business, or they’re looking for a place with good eats, good service, and above all, good value.  Now is your chance to shine.  And here are 20 marketing tips that will help you get more customers and remind your existing ones to come back and visit:

1.  Should Your Restaurant Have A Website? – In a word, YES!  Learn how to get your website up and running here.

2.  Use Twitter To Marker Your Restaurant (4 Strategies For Success) – Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about Twitter, and if you haven’t signed up already, chances are pretty slim you will now.  But give this a read and make sure you really do want to pass this opportunity up.

3.  Email Marketing: 7 Tips For Restaurants – Email is one of the most effective marketing tools out there, and if you’re not using it to reach your customers, you’re missing out on one of the best Return On Investment (ROI) marketing strategies out there.

4.  Improve Restaurant Sales At Food Festivals – even though the summer food festival season is mostly over, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.  Learn the why and the how here.

5.  4 Steps To Managing Your Reputation Online – With the advent of social media and user generated content on the internet, people are talking about your restaurant somewhere.  While most of this chatter is probably positive, it only takes a couple disgruntled customers to ruin your online reputation.  Learn how to manage that reputation here.

6.  Restaurant Marketing Goes Hyperlocal - New apps for mobile devices break down restaurants and bars by the block.  Some urban eateries are taking advantage of this “hyperlocal” trend to advertise very specifically to customers in their neighborhood.

7.  Restaurant Promotion Gone Afoul: The Most expensive Free I’ve Ever Seen – In this guest post by Jaime Oikle, learn how a coupon scheme run by restaurant.com can actually hurt your bottom line.

8.  For All The Hype, Are Restaurants Really Using Social Media? – Everyone, including me, is telling restaurants to get into the social media game.  Are restaurants listening?  A new study suggests they aren’t.

9.  The Casa Bonita Secret To Being A Successful Restaurant – Good food, good service, and good prices all play a role in a restaurant’s success.  But being unique is probably the single most important factor in a restaurant’s success.

10.  Menu Pricing’s Theory Of Relativity – Every customer looks at price when selecting their meal.  Behavioral psychology also shows that value is decided based upon the prices around the item they select.  Learn how to set up your menu to make your customers believe they’re getting a great deal every time.

10 More Restaurant Marketing Tips Here

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