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Archive | March, 2010

How Black Board Eats Helps You Control The Foodie Crowd

Black Board EatsAh, yes, the capricious foodie: that enigmatic character who can turn 100 people into loyal patrons with a glowing mention of your restaurant at every dinner party – or become the bane of your existence with nasty reviews on sites like Yelp or a sarcastic blog post.

Especially in competitive urban markets like L.A. or New York, courting the foodie crowd is an essential part of becoming a successful restaurant.  As any veteran restaurateur knows, that courtship can be difficult.

Pleasing the foodie once they’re in the door is one thing. That’s up to the countless hours you’ve already spent developing a menu and a kitchen that can produce your culinary vision.

Getting those foodies through your doors is an entirely different matter. I’m sure you’ve heard it all – create buzz about your restaurant online, through social media, with smart marketing, etc. etc.  For every 10 strategies out there designed to help restaurants get the opinion makers of the local foodie population in your door there are 25 restaurants that have gone under having failed to do so.

Black Board Eats, founded by the former food editor at Yahoo, is a concept so simple in design and application that it Black Board Eatsmakes one wonder why it took so long for anyone to think of it.  It works like this: Black Board signs up as many foodies as it can to its email newsletter.  Then they go out and get good restaurants like yours to offer an exclusive promo deal.  Some common examples include 40% off lunch or a free flight of wine tasters.

Black Board sends these deals out to its network of foodies, who respond to the promos they like and get a coupon that’s good for 30 days.  Soon you’ve got a rush of young, connected customers buzzing about your establishment.

Restaurateurs who have used the service report a surge in customer traffic after sending out a promotional deal through Black Board.  And while repeat customer business after the promo fades (those Black Board foodies are chasing the next deal), the buzz and word-of-mouth referrals you gain during your time in the Black Board sun can be priceless.

A service like Black Board seems to work best for new restaurants and for established businesses looking to promote a new service or feature.  Being able to tap into an existing network like the one Black Board has put together is priceless; and while you might not do it to gain a slew of lifelong customers, you can definitely benefit from having the place bursting at the seams when its important – during opening week, after adding a new dining area, or after revamping your lunch menu.

Being successful can be a lot like a popularity contest, and Black Board gives you an easy way to win the competition, if only for a day.

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A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

The following is a great review of Klick Kitchen by an industry insider with a lot more personal experience in the food service industry than I have.

I came across Klick Kitchen last year and while the concept was intriguing, the price at the time was not. Since then they have apparently changed it to a free basic service to the consumer/back of the house end and also apparently a basic intro on the vendor end as well.A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

Greg from Tundra asked me what my take on KK was. As someone always on the lookout for things that can help my clients I wanted to find out a bit more about the system myself. I was going to write a comment on his recent blog post about it and it started to turn into a full fledged post. TMI.

I called Klick Kitchen and Laurie, one of their account managers, was extremely helpful and gave me a demo of both the chefs ordering end and the vendor end.

The system is interesting, from a vendors perspective it offers quite a bit that’s appealing about it, from a chef’s perspective, it has some things to consider.

For vendors, particularly small ones that don’t have a web presence and as well for some that do, but do not have online ordering as an option, this system is a great offering. It does not have any broadliners on it and most broadliners already have online ordering, so offering it would be duplicating already in existence systems.

From a Chef’s perspective, the system seems like it would be good if you were ordering from a broad variety of small vendors, i.e. more 4-5, any less then that then the convenience factor would become a bit less.

While you can request quotes for items and vendors can set up specific pricing for specific accounts, it does take out some of the “beat up the price” factor.  As a former chef I liked to hassle vendors when pricing was too high on orders and threaten to order elsewhere. Not everyone does this, but for chefs that like a haggle factor this takes out some of the fun (and potentially the bottom line on your food cost as well, if you are a good negotiator.)

It might take a bit of a steep learning curve to navigate around in the system at first. While I know many chefs are much more computer literate then they were 10 years ago, the time to do this and the availability of computers in the workplace may be an issue, as well as taking the time to learn how to get around in the program.. Many chefs (myself included) do some of their ordering from home, so if one has a home computer with fast net access this is great. Laurie says they are working on a video tutorial walk through, which I think would be extremely helpful.

Laurie had mentioned she thought the system would be convenient for many chefs, who while they may not have access to computers at work, they do have web friendly mobile devices. At the time of this post I had inquired after the fact by email, if there was a mobile friendly version of the site, and had not yet heard back. The current web version is navigable by iPhones and Blackberries but could be more user friendly, as there is a lot of touch drag on the page. If there is a mobile friendly version of the site, I will add an addendum to this.

I do think the system has a lot of potential, especially with many of the things it sounds like they are still working on and being implemented, the one major thing that I would be concerned about starting out using the system is out of stocks.

Currently its up to participating vendors to update their out of stocks. There is no date available as to when the last time a price/inventory list has been updated online as of yet (Laurie assured me that is something they will be implementing soon) As someone who orders and likes to know instantly whether something is out of stock, by phone or by live up to date access, until I knew which particular vendors I dealt with kept up to date on their online inventories, I would be reluctant to rely on the system especially for important items. Once you do know your vendor habits, I tend to think you would rely on the ones you knew kept the system up to date. Mis-picks and returns still need to be handled the old fashioned way by phone and fax.

When I was cooking the only thing I might order late night, when the odds of getting a live person on the phone were slim, was some dairy and the occasional odd case of produce. The majority of my ordering was done during regular business hours. I know some chefs do all, or most of their ordering last minute and late night and leave voicemails for vendors. My personal feeling about this is if you don’t know what your pars are supposed to be and can’t somewhat predict your restaurant’s traffic for the coming time period, then you have bigger things to worry about then having a case of pecans out of stock. For chefs that do have a good idea of their inventories and a good handle on internal trend tracking, the system would be a good time saver to use.

I think overall Klick Kitchen has a lot of potential, Laurie and I briefly touched on, but did not go into the preferred system for chefs and vendors (for which they do charge for) that has additional options available and apparently custom reports can be run. This is something I would suggest individuals investigating the system look into, for smaller restaurants that do not have POS systems, I suspect that many of the run reports would be advantageous for them to have access to.

I will be recommending it to clients in the NY metro area as something for their chefs to investigate. I look forward to seeing what future developments bring to the system.

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How To Rock Your Restaurant Marketing Efforts

Restaurant Marketing Live MusicA common misconception in the food service business is that booking live music takes more time and effort than it’s worth.  The process of finding bands, paying them, and providing enough space for them to perform can be a distraction at best and a downright money loser at worst, or so the theory goes.

Yet many establishments have proven time and again over the years that bringing in local bands is a great way to connect with local customers, and if done right, live music can become a lucrative marketing technique for any restaurant.

Denver based Smashburger, an emerging fast casual chain, has shown just how effective tapping into the local music scene can be for a new restaurant.  The company’s Rock Your City program encourages local bands to submit their videos via YouTube prior to the grand opening of a new location.  Smashburger then selects the best applicants and posts their videos to the company website so that fans can vote on the best one.  The winners get to play at the new location on opening day in exchange for free burgers, plus a local radio broadcast.

Free burgers may not draw the next U2, but Rock Your City events definitely do draw crowds of young people coming out to see their favorite bands.  And because Smashburger engages this audience beforehand by encouraging votes for the winning gig, they ensure a dedicated and reliable local audience on opening day.

Boosting engagement among younger customers is a goal any restaurant would like to accomplish.  If you’ve got the space and an inclination for live music, keep these tips in mind before you rock out your own establishment:

Take advantage of the band’s existing marketing efforts.
A good band plays good music, obviously.  But in an age of social media and the internet, any band even remotely serious about their prospects will have at least a preliminary marketing effort online.  And since both you and the band want people to show up for their gig in your restaurant, this is a great opportunity for you to advertise to the band’s fans through their existing marketing infrastructure.

Have the band post a link to your website on their site, their Facebook, and their Twitter account, and get them to email their fan list about the gig with some more information about your business.

Let your customers tell you who they want to hear. Smashburger’s strategy of taking submissions then allowing fans to vote for the winning gig is the perfect way to get the most mileage out of a live music gig before the band ever steps foot on the stage.  Besides, you don’t want to trust your personal music tastes, which may or may not jibe with those of your customers.

Incorporate live music into your own marketing efforts. Include links to YouTube clips of the bands that are going to perform in your establishment on your website.  Post live music schedules throughout your restaurant and email your customers when their favorite bands have a gig.  If you’ve got a newer band playing, promote drink specials to get people in the door, where (hopefully) they’ll turn into new fans.

Live music is a great way to connect with your customers and turn them into regulars.  It doesn’t take nearly as much work as you might think, and the payoff in new business can make it more than a worthwhile endeavor.

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Instructables: The World’s First Open Source Restaurant is an “open source” website that allows people to post and view instructional videos on just about any topic you can think of.  The website is completely free and part of a larger phenomenon on the internet based around Creative Commons licensing – the liberalization of copyrights in order to enable the free flow of information on the web.

Now an enterprising restaurateur in Amsterdam, Holland, has taken the spirit of and embodied it in a restaurant.  Everything in the place is built from instructional videos on the site, from the chairs to the decorations and tables.

Most interestingly, all of the recipes served in the Instructables Restaurant are also available on, meaning you can get the recipe for your favorite dish right in the restaurant or download it later at home.  And now there is a set of instructions on for building your own Instructables restaurant – complThe Instructables Restauranteting the circle of truly free flowing information.

Not only can you leave the Instructables restaurant armed with recipes for every dish served and instructions for building every piece of furniture, you can also post your own recipes and instructions to the website and then see your instructions in action at the restaurant.

The restaurant claims to allow patrons to “digest the web,” and as a celebration of free internet culture, it is definitely a pioneer.  What remains to be seen is how effective this experiment will be when it comes to being profitable.

Profits may not be the point, however.  The most interesting thing about this project is how the internet has changed the way knowledge is disseminated throughout the world.  The Instructables Restaurant is a reflection of that cultural shift, and a rare time when the abstract nature of the internet is recreated in a physical location.

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Need To Reach Your Customers? How About Communal Delivery?

Food Dudes DeliveryIf you’re a regular reader of The Back Burner, then you know how I feel about diversifying your revenue stream so that when diner’s spending habits change, you have multiple sources of income for your business.  As dining room visits declined last year, more and more restaurants started looking for different ways to reach their customers even though they weren’t coming into the restaurant anymore.

Restaurants in St. Cloud, Minnesota learned just how effective a proactive approach to serving food can be last year.  A local entrepreneur started a company called Food Dudes, whose mission is to deliver food from any local restaurant willing to participate.

Delivery times average about 45 minutes, and drivers use insulated carriers to ensure freshness.  Customers can place their orders via phone or internet, and so far, more than a dozen restaurants have signed on.  The results have been overwhelmingly positive.  Food Dudes takes a percentage of every sale they generate, plus a $2.99 delivery fee.  But the found business for local restaurants more than compensates for the cut Food Dudes takes.

Not many restaurants are lucky enough to have an enterprising local like the founder of Food Dudes to start delivering their food for them.  And few restaurants can justify the expense and time that would be involved in creating their own delivery service.

But what if your local restaurant association created a communal delivery service that benefited everyone?  The business model can obviously work, as Food Dudes has proven, and with a little organization, any group of restaurants can pool their resources and add a service your customers are certainly looking for: convenience in their own homes.

Some suggestions for starting a communal delivery program for a group of restaurants in your area:

Hire an independent manager. Wherever money is involved the potential for conflict is high, especially among businesses who normally compete against each other.  That’s why you need someone to run the show who isn’t actively involved with any of the restaurants in the group.  That way you have a dispassionate third party who can resolve any issues and be trusted by everyone to handle the money side of the operation fairly.

Pool resources. Restaurants that are serious about getting involved in a communal delivery service should have to buy in to help cover operating and marketing expenses.  Whatever you decide that dollar amount should be, make sure the budget is gets general approval and is handled by your independent manager.

Hire independent contractors as drivers. In the end, you don’t want to have to manage a whole separate operation just to deliver your food to customers.  A single manager should be enough to handle the money and the marketing.  After that, any help you need, like delivery drivers, should be independent contractors.  That makes handling payroll extremely easy.

It may take some initial investment of time and money to get a group of restaurants in your community on board with a communal delivery program, but in the end, it’s a program that can be extremely beneficial for everyone involved.  It can also direct a lot more of the revenue you generate back to your restaurant over a concept like Food Dudes.  That’s because your communal delivery service isn’t looking to turn a profit like a business, which is ultimately what Food Dudes is looking to do.

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