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Archive | July, 2010

Cooking In Public: Restaurants Bring Food Prep To The Customer

Restaurant TrendsKitchen culture has captured the American public’s attention in recent years with the explosion of celebrity chefs, various reality shows featuring said chefs, and dedicated cable channels like the Food Network.  All of this media attention has made consumers much more knowledgeable and very curious about the inner workings of a restaurant’s kitchen.

More and more restaurants have responded to this trend by opening up their kitchens and bringing elements of the food preparation process to the table.  Customers love the show, and it reflects well on your service and atmosphere to bring the prep to the front of the house.  If done well, making food preparation public connects with customers your menu and adds a showy aura to your dining room.

“Open” kitchens, designed to allow customers a full view of the cooking going on before their meal comes, has become ever more popular in independent restaurants and national chains alike.  But the fastest growing trend, especially in the fine dining segment, is tableside prep – serving up specific appetizers, sauces, and even entrees right in front of the customer.

Some tips for bringing the back of your house to the front:

Start with good ingredients.
The fastest way to turn patrons off is to have a bunch of wilted greens or mushy looking fruit before you even start.  Ultra fresh, vibrantly colored ingredients are key to the success of any tableside performance.  You’ll need to plan with your food suppliers and tweak your recipes before starting to make sure only the best ingredients make it out of your walk-in.

Appearances are everything. Just like with ingredients, the entire process, whether in an open kitchen or tableside, is under the intense scrutiny of your customer.  That means every last detail must be addressed – from dingy utensils and dishware to the grease collection on the side of your fry pan, make sure any tool you use to prep food in public is either brand new or looks like it is.

Appearances also apply to your staff.
Anybody who is even remotely close to food and ingredients you’re preparing in public must be spotlessly clean.  The bar goes up when people can actually see who is preparing their food.

If it’s not a show, don’t bother.
As those reality TV shows about cooking have shown, culinary excellence can be a spectacle.  If you’re not going to make this entertaining, there’s no point in going through all the trouble to institute tableside prep in your restaurant.

The good news is that some very simple tricks can make the whole thing seem pretty spectacular to your customers.  Fancy turner or tong tosses, elaborate pouring methods for sauce ingredients, and quick chopping or cutting jazzes up the process and really adds to the entertainment value.  Get creative with the process and delight your customers with a show.

Tableside food prep is a great way to make your restaurant unique and give your servers a chance to shine for the customers.  With a little preparation and an eye for the showy, any restaurateur can turn their kitchen into a main attraction for guests.

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Managing Social Media Marketing For Restaurants

Social Media Restaurants2010 is the year of social media, and the food service industry has really started to embrace the world of social in a big way.  As I’ve mentioned on The Back Burner before, the biggest expense marketing with social media is your time.  That’s good news for tight marketing budgets but bad news for restaurant managers and owners who are already overworked.

The time commitment is especially large at the beginning of a restaurant’s social media campaign, before a critical mass of followers has been built.  Once the ball gets rolling, it can still be a big commitment to manage all of the different outlets – twitter, facebook, foursquare, etc.  It’s often not long before you feel like you could do nothing else besides manage all those social media accounts and still not have enough time.

That’s why I was intrigued when I heard about Single Platform.  It’s a social media marketing solution designed with restaurants in mind.  As the name implies, Single Platform allows restaurateurs to manage different social media accounts and post information to those accounts in one place.

“Through SinglePlatform, you can enter one-time, recurring specials, events, game packages, tv schedule etc… and all of your profile pages are updated across facebook, twitter, myspace, citysearch, urbanspoon, foursquare, gowalla, their website and their mobiel site, as well as dozens of other review and social sites,” says Wiley Cerilli, Single Platform’s CEO.

Those features can free up a lot of time for busy restaurants who need to be focusing on the day-to-day operations of their business without losing the ability to penetrate the social media market with specials and events.  Over 3,000 restaurants have signed up for Single Platform’s service, and the company is pushing their social media marketing message across the entire food service industry.

“Social media allows you to share which places you like in an incredibly viral way. 7 people liked comments on a bar of ours in the upper east side of NYC. Their opinions were shared with over 3,800 friends of theirs. There is nothing more powerful than that. Restaurants need to be able to have people “like” and follow them so their friends can see that as well,” says Cerilli.

For the skeptics who have not yet embraced the social media craze, finding a cold, hard number for the business actually generated through social media can be incredibly difficult.  Single Platform does offer tracking that allows users to watch trends in fans and link clicks in social media posts, but identifying the customers in your restaurant who are there because of your efforts online can be extremely difficult.

That’s why more and more businesses are starting to view social media as less of a marketing tool to drive new business (although it is certainly capable of that) and more of a critical touchpoint in the life cycle of a customer’s engagement with your restaurant.

In other words, engaging customers online either before they eat in your establishment or after helps reinforce your brand and keeps your name in the conversation.  There may be many factors besides social media that affect how a customer actually arrives at your door, but in the end you can’t afford to allow not hearing about you on the hottest sites on the internet like twitter and facebook to negatively affect that decision.  Single Platform is indeed a good foundation from which you can start getting more involved in that conversation.

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Move Over Beer: Craft Cocktails The Latest Trend

cold Drinks With FruitsFor generations Americans have had a fairly straightforward approach to cocktails – gin and tonic, highball, rum and coke – without ever giving a second thought to the possibilities a true bartender genius is capable of when given the space.  Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, specialty cocktails were commonplace, featuring interesting flavor pairings and even more interesting names.

Those days are starting to come back as the craft cocktail movement gains momentum in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.  American tastes started evolving 25 years ago when wine was rediscovered in a big way.  That was followed by an extensive love affair with craft beer and the rise of the microbrewery across the U.S.  Now it’s finally the cocktail’s turn, and bars and restaurants that have tapped into the trend have flourished.

So what makes a craft cocktail a craft cocktail?

Some key attributes include:

  • Fresh ingredients, preferably locally sourced
  • In-house additives with unique flavors like bitters and syrups
  • Interesting flavor pairings, like sweet and nutty or lemons and bacon
  • Seasonal offerings like cider flavors in winter and mint in summer

Introducing a menu of your own craft cocktails is not only an adventure, it livens up your happy hour and grabs customer attention.  Some tips on how to craft your own cocktails:

Think outside the box
when you’re developing your drinks.  Interesting twists is the name of this game.  Intrigue your customers with exotic flavors and weird pairings.

Make it fresh as much as possible.
Flavorings made in-house and fresh ingredients help give your cocktails a flavor that can’t be captured in anything you get from the liquor distributor and helps your craft cocktail menu stand out.

Train bar staff well.
A proper craft cocktail menu will take some significant creative effort to create and perfect.  Nothing will lead those efforts to waste faster than a busy bar staff that doesn’t have the time or the training to get these cocktails just right.  This isn’t time for soda gun slinging.  Each cocktail should be made carefully and to specific standards to ensure a level of quality that allows you to charge that high price you should be asking.

Get some witty names.
The tradition of branding cocktails with clever double entendres, famous songs or people, and off-color puns is as old as the cocktail itself.  Engage your customer with some great names for your creations on the menu.

A quality menu of craft cocktails can be a great way to create some buzz around your restaurant or bar and get the word-of-mouth going.  It can also be a great outlet for your natural culinary inventiveness.  Done right, craft cocktails can be an outlet for your creative juices as well as a booster for your bottom line.

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