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Archive | November, 2010

How To Price Local Foods On Your Menu

How To Price Local Foods On Your MenuIf you’re in the food service industry then you’ve heard about “local food” – ingredients sourced locally that are usually marketed as fresh, organic, and environmentally sustainable.  And while local has fast become a red-hot trend in the restaurant business, some in the industry have wondered how to make local profitable.  Food cost is usually higher for local ingredients, and in an era of price wars and mass discounting, margins have become razor thin as it is.

Well, at least according to one recent study funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, consumers are willing to pay somewhat more for meals that are sourced locally.  In the study, restaurant patrons were given the choice between locally and non-locally sourced meal selections.  When the two options were priced the same, customers showed no significant preference one way or the other.

But when the locally sourced option was priced 18% higher than the non-local one, customer preference for the local option soared.  This doesn’t mean you can price locally sourced entrees wherever you want, however.  At 36% above the non-local option, customers went with the cheaper selection every time.

So what does this mean? Well, customers obviously value local food up to a point.  This most likely stems from the perception that local food is fresh and more sustainable.  If you’ve started sourcing some or all of your ingredients locally, then this study indicates you have some wiggle room on pricing, especially if you employ the Menu Engineering Theory of Relativity.

On the other hand, going through a major menu revamp just so you can offer local ingredients may not make a whole lot of sense.  Remember that consumer tolerance for large price hikes on entrees with local ingredients did not do well.  So unless there are readily available local ingredients that fit naturally with your menu and concept, the slightly higher value consumers place on local foods may not be enough to make economic sense.

This rings especially true when another aspect of this study is taken into account: that consumers did not seem to have a special preference for restaurants that offered locally sourced food versus those that did not.  That means consumers place a higher value on local ingredients when they encounter them, but those ingredients do not seem to change buying habits in any significant way.

Therefore, sourcing food locally makes sense for restaurants only when ingredients that are easy to incorporate into an existing menu at a reasonable price.  If you focus on keeping it simple, then local ingredients can mean some extra margin.  Finding that sweet spot will take some experimentation, but it can definitely pay dividends provided your pursuit of local ingredients doesn’t interfere with the bread-and-butter options on your menu.

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When It Comes To Equipment Repair, Be Prepared

In Kevin Loving’s last post he talked about how keeping a basic tool kit handy in your restaurant will make your life as an operator or manager alot easier. It’s almost certain you will use at least one of these tools everyday on the job. I spent over 5 years on the phones selling replacement parts to restaurants and at least half the times I asked a manger to measure something they either didn’t have a tape measure or didn’t know where it was. So if you haven’t started building your tool kit, now is as great a time as ever. That being said, you should also keep in mind having the tools is only half the battle when it comes to restaurant equipment maintenance.

When It Comes To Equipment Repair, Be Prepared

Keep your burners lit!

Another conversation I had again and again with restaurant managers was the frantic Friday night call. I’m sure you know that call, many of you have probably made a few of them. That’s the phone call to your parts supplier at about 4:30 PM on a Friday night right before they are about to close. You’re in a panic, your fryer is down and weekends in your bar are the busiest times for you. Long story short, without a fryer you can’t serve all those wings and mozzarella sticks so you end up paying $80 in shipping to have a thermopile delivered on Saturday. Sure would have been a lot easier to have a spare thermopile in your office huh? By now you should see what I’m getting at. Maybe while you’re filling that tool box it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep some critical replacement parts on hand as well. Here’s some to consider:

  1. Thermostats – keep a spare on hand for all your cooking equipment from fryers to ovens. An infinite control for your countertop warmers would be handy as well, along with some replacement dials.
  2. Burner Valves – these should be a no brainer as they are inexpensive. You’ll find them in range tops, broilers and some griddles. You might as well have some extra knobs for these too so you don’t need to use pliers all weekend to turn on your range.
  3. Elements - you can find these all around your kitchen. Need a hint? Check your soup warmers, steam tables, cheesemelters and the heat strips on your line. If you have a dishwasher that uses a booster heater it’s critical to have a couple of extras on hand.
  4. High Limits – these are critical for your fryer, some warmers and your dishwasher’s booster heater. Have a coffee maker? There’s a little one in there too.
  5. Switches – there’s at least one on much of your equipment. Think convection ovens, steamers, coffee makers and warmers.
  6. Pilots – these comprise of  some pilot tubing and a pilot head. Some of these come together in a complete assembly. There are many different pilot assemblies so get the ones specific to your model. You can also keep some generic 18″ pilot assemblies on hand to use in a pinch.
  7. Ignitors – many times along with your pilot comes an ignitor. This is dependent on the type of equipment as the parts range from a push button spark ignitor to a flame sensor and ignition module.
  8. Gas Valves – there’s a variety of these as well. Depending on the equipment you can have a combination valve, a solenoid valve or any variety of safety valve.

You might need many of these or just a few. It depends on the size of your restaurant and how much equipment you have.  Don’t feel like you need to get every possible part there is either. To start, determine which of your equipment you really can’t live without and get the critical parts for those.

A perfect example is a national chain I dealt with for years.  They served biscuits with almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner they sold.  If their proofer went down nobody was having biscuits and that was a signature part of their meals. I’d say that the proofer was a critical part of their daily business wouldn’t you? I managed to convince quite a few of the area managers to keep an extra thermostat, power switch and a humidity switch on hand just in case. Believe me when I tell you they were very happy that they did.

So go ahead and compliment that set of tools with some common equipment replacement parts.  It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about and you might just save yourself on some expedited shipping charges or an expensive weekend service call.  Next time I’ll go over some parts that are important to have around for fixing things other than kitchen equipment.

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The Time To Upgrade Restaurant Equipment Has Come

The Time To Upgrade Restaurant Equipment Has ComeThere’s always some good reasons for upgrading your kitchen’s restaurant equipment: better energy efficiency, better performance, increased ease-of-use, increased output, etc. There’s always an equally pressing reason why you try to get one more year out of that same equipment: money doesn’t grow on trees, and there’s plenty of other costs your restaurant faces.

That’s understandable.  But if there ever was a time to buy restaurant equipment, that time is now.  Food service industry revenue forecasts are up, the newest equipment is more energy efficient than ever, and to top it all off, a recently passed bill will let you write off up to $500,000 in equipment purchases through 2011, meaning you get a tax credit now instead of depreciating bit-by-bit over the next ten years.

Of course, you’ll want to conduct a total cost analysis before you make the decision to buy, but when you factor in all those tax write-offs, that decision can sure be a compelling one.

Get more info about this tax credit here.

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The Best Of The Back Burner 2009

8 months and 305 posts later, The Back Burner is getting ready to celebrate its first year as a blog for the food service industry.  There’s a lot of great content we’ve posted over the course of 2009 that has been slowly buried in the avalanche of new posts coming down the pike, and we’d like to take a moment here as 2010 approaches to revisit some of our top posts from the past year:

Category #1: The Most Popular

How To Manage Temperature

Restaurant Management Tips: Hiring and Training Employees

Kogi Is Cool – How 1 Taco Truck Is Taking LA By Storm

Commercial Fryers: A Buying and Maintenance Guide

Category #2: The Most Controversial

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up Controversy

Boulder Restaurants Getting Some National Respect

Category #3: The Hottest Trends of 2009

Is Restaurant Marketing Getting Scary?

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

How To Grow Your Restaurant – Without Going Broke

11 More Hot Restaurant Trends

 

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Why Google Is The Future Of Restaurant Marketing

Why Google Is The Future Of Restaurant Marketing“Favorite Places On Google” is a new feature that provides maps, directions, reviews, and photos of 100,000 businesses across the U.S.  Many of these businesses are restaurants, and that’s significant because eventually users will be able to post reviews and other information about your restaurant and have it display on Google.

You’re probably thinking: “Great, this sounds like Yelp, Zagat, or a hundred other websites that try to get me to pay to get listed online.”

Well, naturally Favorite Places is done the Google way.  There’s no paying to play, which makes it certainly cheaper than sites like Yelp.  And Favorite Places is on the cutting edge of technology – Google has already mailed out decals with a scannable barcode on it to the first group of businesses.  Mobile device users can immediately access deals and information about that business when they scan the barcode, and will even be able to post a review directly on site.

What makes the Favorite Places concept more democratic than other restaurant directory sites is that it pulls from multiple sources.  You can access reviews from Zagat, photos from UrbanSpoon, and search results from Google.  This dilutes the biases that tend to plague other restaurant review sites, because those sites pull from only one source – their own.

So how do you get your site listed on Google’s Favorite Places?
It won’t happen overnight.  Google identifies popular local businesses by analyzing who’s searching for what on their site.  The most popular searches in geographic areas get designated as Favorite Places.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.  You can help the process along by adding information about your restaurant in the Google Local Business Center.  After you “unlock” your business listing by providing key information, your restaurant’s ready for consideration for Favorite Places.

So how is this going to change restaurant marketing?  By democratizing the process that sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon have started.  Taking away payments and diversifying information sources means the most popular restaurants in a given area will be featured, and they will be able to take advantage of that through the decal system.

Favorite Places also gives restaurant owners a free place to create an online presence that can have a real effect on business.  And being able to engage customers through the decal barcode will definitely change the way restaurants target their customers.

Google plans to send out more waves of decals to Favorite Places in 2010.  If you’re one of the lucky restaurants that gets a decal, consider yourself lucky, and immediately start thinking about how to take advantage of it.  If not, start thinking about how to get that decal in the mail.  The future of restaurant marketing is upon us.

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Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade-Offs Before You Buy

Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade Offs Before You BuyIt goes without saying that commercial cookware is a must for any restaurant’s kitchen.  These are the tools of the trade, and if you’re looking to buy professional cookware, chances are you already know exactly what you want and where to get it.

The purpose of this guide is not to give you a 101 on the types of cookware.  I’m assuming you already know the basics.  The purpose of this guide is to give you some information that may help you become a more discerning shopper when you need new cookware, not to tell you what a fry pan is and why you should use it over a sauce pan.

So based on the assumption you know the difference between sauce pans and fry pans, let’s move on to material.  This is where your cookware buying decisions can start to get a little sticky.  In general, there are three main factors to consider when deciding on the material you want in your cookware:

1.    Price. Some materials are cheaper than others, plain and simple.  In general the scale goes like this, from least expensive to most: aluminum, non-stick, stainless steel, and tri-ply.  There are definitely some trade-offs between each type, which I’ll get into later in this post.

2.    Durability. Heating, cooking, cooling, and cleaning all put serious stress on professional cookware.  Some types of cookware are more durable than others, and durability is going to be a key factor to weigh against price when deciding what kind of cookware to buy.

3.    Heat conduction. Since the purpose of cookware is to conduct heat to the ingredients you’re trying to cook, the efficiency with which different types of materials conduct heat is another important consideration.
You’re probably already familiar with the different types of materials professional cookware is made from.  Let’s go through them anyway so we can weigh how each type stacks up against the three factors I outlined above.

Aluminum

Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade Offs Before You Buy

Price: usually the lowest.

Durability: well, it depends on the kind of aluminum.  1100 series aluminum is the softest material available for professional cooking.  It tends to warp and dent easily, which means it can have a short lifespan in a bustling commercial kitchen.  3000 series aluminum (including 3003 and 3004) is harder because an alloy has been added to the aluminum that makes it more durable.  Of course, alloy aluminum is also going to be more expensive.

Heat conduction: just about the best.  Technically, copper is a better conductor of heat than aluminum, but because copper reacts chemically to certain food types, and is even softer than aluminum, it typically isn’t used in commercial cookware.  The exception to this is tri-ply cookware, which I’ll get into later.

Non-stick

Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade Offs Before You Buy

Non-stick means the cookware has been coated with a special material that makes it harder for food to stick to the pan when cooking.  This coating is usually applied to aluminum cookware and limited to types that are used for high heat applications – typically fry pans.

Price: a bit more than natural aluminum, but still very affordable compared to other materials.

Durability: it depends on how you care for it.  Non-stick will scratch off very quickly if you use metal utensils during cooking or clean it with an abrasive surface like a brillo pad.  And of course non-stick still has all the durability issues of other aluminum cookware.

Heat conduction: just as good as aluminum.

Stainless Steel

Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade Offs Before You Buy

Price: more expensive than non-stick and natural aluminum.

Durability: stainless is about the most durable material you can get in commercial cookware.

Heat conduction: here’s where the trade-off with stainless steel comes in.  On the one hand, you’ll get some super durable cookware.  On the other, stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat very well at all compared to aluminum.  Of course, it will get hot over time, and has pretty decent heat retention, but if you’re trying to get ingredients hot very quickly, stainless isn’t going to perform as well.  That’s why stainless steel tends to perform best for long, slow, simmering type cooking, like stock pots and sauce pans.

Tri-Ply

Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade Offs Before You Buy

Tri-ply is a hybrid of multiple materials, and in many ways this approach embodies the best attributes of stainless steel and aluminum.

Price: similar in price or more expensive than stainless steel.

Durability: tri-ply usually consists of a stainless steel body with a layer of copper or aluminum on the bottom to boost heat conduction.  This gives your cookware the durability of stainless steel without sacrificing any heat transfer.
Heat conduction: is usually excellent because of the highly efficient conduction of the aluminum or copper layer on the bottom.

Finding the right trade-off between price and performance is the perennial problem of any equipment purchase.  At least there are some intriguing options when it comes to professional cookware, and those options definitely give you some flexibility when it comes to deciding what kind of cookware you’d like in your kitchen.

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Proper Hand Washing

Health inspections are a regular part of life in any food service business, but too often it’s easy for a restaurant or commercial kitchen to fall into the trap of just passing the inspection rather than regularly practicing good food safety procedures.

This series is intended to help your business improve food safety practices, because it’s about more than passing an inspection.  It’s about protecting yourself, your employees, and your customer.

The FDA estimates that 81,000 people suffer from a food borne illness every year, and that 9,000 deaths are a direct result of a preventable food borne illness.  Food borne illnesses are still the leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States.

With those sobering statistics in mind, here are some tips to help you make safe food handling an integral part of your day-to-day routine:

Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Proper Hand Washing

Wash Your Hands!

Cross-contamination resulting from kitchen staff touching contaminated surfaces and then touching food being prepared to serve is one of the most common causes of food borne illness.

Employees should be trained on when to wash their hands and information regarding proper hand washing technique should be posted throughout your commercial kitchen or restaurant, especially over hand sinks and in bathrooms.When To Wash Hands:

  • After touching other food
  • After eating, drinking or smoking
  • After performing other tasks like cleaning, taking out trash, etc.
  • After coming into contact with their person or bodily fluids, like sneezing, coughing, or touching hair or skin

How To Wash Hands:

  • Wet hands first and then apply plenty of soap
  • Use warm water
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds (it’s longer than you think!)
  • Use the palms of the hands to rub soap over other areas like the back of the hand, fingers, wrists, and forearms
  • Use fingers to vigorously rub palms and between fingers, where bacteria and pathogens tend to collect
  • Dry in a sanitary manner: clean, unused paper towels or automatic hand dryer

Developing and training a hand washing procedure for your employees is important, but it’s also useless without effective enforcement.  Make sure you have a method for monitoring and reminding staff of proper hand washing procedures.

A little prevention, especially with something as easy as washing your hands, can go a long way in maintaining high restaurant food safety standards.

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3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve Quality

3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve QualityThere’s nothing quite as exciting as watching a busy restaurant’s kitchen gear up for the dinner rush.  Every chef and restaurateur knows that thorough preparation is the only way to effectively combat the chaos that is a kitchen during peak dinner rush.  And that’s why the kitchen starts prepping hours before the guests arrive.  Vegetables and garnishes are cut.  Potatoes and meats are pre-sliced and prepared for quick cooking or frying so that popular appetizers can go out quickly.  Everything has its own bin and is ready to go when the tickets start coming in.

The amount and type of prep work varies from restaurant to restaurant according to their menus and the ingredients used, but some standard principles apply across the board: consistency, quality, speed, and portion control.  Any chef will tell you it takes work to train staff to the point where they know how to prep the various ingredients used on the restaurant’s menu consistently without wasting food product.

High turnover rates means this training is a constant chore.  Maintaining consistency and quality without waste in a high stress environment is a lot to ask of new and inexperienced staff.  This is where investing in some simple yet very effective food preparation equipment can really streamline your kitchen’s operation.  Let’s revisit the principles of food prep:

  1. Consistency.  Manually operated slicers and dicers cut your food product the same way every time – no matter who is pushing the handle – a green newbie or a 10 year veteran.  Some popular options include tomato and onion slicers, chicken slicers, and lettuce cutters.
  2. Speed, safety, and comfort.  Good food prep equipment will cut the amount of time it takes your kitchen to prep ingredients significantly.  And because your staff isn’t dealing with a very sharp knife and a cutting board, one of the most common safety concerns in a busy kitchen goes away.  French fry cutters and wedgers also take typically difficult product like potatoes and make preparation easy and extremely fast, which is key to getting your popular appetizers out fast.  Finally, good food prep equipment is designed for easy operation, which reduces staff fatigue, enhances comfort, and reduces injuries.
  3. Portion control.  Apart from improving the quality and consistency of your product, and increasing the speed with which it can be prepared, food prep equipment is a great way to control inventory and reduce food waste.  There’s three main reasons for this:3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve Quality
  • Greater consistency means product is sliced or cut the same way every time to exact widths, minimizing oversized portions
  • Mechanized slicing uses all of the available product, eliminating the tendency to throw away ends or extras that could be used
  • Food prep equipment greatly reduces human error, which often leads to incorrect portion sizes or incorrectly prepared product

Over the years more and more specialized food preparation equipment has become available, allowing you to get several different machines to perform a variety of tasks in your kitchen.

No matter what kind of restaurant you run, your kitchen can benefit from the consistency, speed, and portion control a piece of food prep equipment can afford you.

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Product Watch: Robot Coupe’s J80 Ultra Juicer

The new J80 Ultra juicer by Robot Coupe represents another leap forward for a company that has long been known forProduct Watch: Robot Coupes J80 Ultra Juicer its reliable and innovative products. With many food service operations moving towards fresher, healthier offerings in response to increasing customer demand, a quality juicer like the J80 has become a vital tool in any kitchen’s arsenal.

Some key features of the J80 juicer:

  • Productivity.  Unique Feed System design for continuous output.
  • Lifespan.  Stainless steel motor base for longer lifepsan and hassle free cleaning.
  • Power.  Very powerful commercial grade motor with constant speed whatever the load.
  • Ergnomics.  Easy removal of the stainless steel basket for cleaning – no tool required!
  • Low Noise.  The J80 Ultra juicer has such low noise levels it can be operated in front of the customer.

If you’re looking for ways to diversify your healthy menu items, the J80 could very well be the solution.  Robot Coupe has always been known for the quality of their products, and the J80 is no different.  No vegetable or fruit is a match for the J80, and your customers will appreciate the speed and quality of the new healthy drinks on your menu.

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Restaurant Management: 4 Ways To Invest In Your Staff & Why You Should

Restaurant Management: 4 Ways To Invest In Your Staff & Why You ShouldHard times make it easy for small businesses like restaurants to forget about the things that make their operation successful.  Revenues are down, customers are spending less, and costs only seem to be rising.  The problem is, we are entering an era when the customer expects maximum value for their dollar, and at the same time, they expect to spend less.

That means most restaurants are engaged in heavy discounting to get customers in the door.  But are you nailing your customer’s new expectations when it comes to bang for their buck?  That’s the second half of the equation, and if you don’t have a dedicated, passionate staff, you’re going to lose customers fast, no matter where you set prices.

A constant headache for managers in the food service industry is employee turnover.  Every time you lose one person and start another, your customer experience suffers.  And while a good employee training program is key to effectively incorporating new staff, in general your preferred option would be to keep the employees you have.

Easier said than done, right? Fazoli’s, an Italian fast-casual chain, started taking employee retention very seriously a couple years ago.  Recognizing that people tend to like their jobs more if they feel like they’re part of the organization they work for, Fazoli’s took it upon themselves to engage their staff, including holding an annual Pasta Bowl, which tests employee knowledge about their jobs and rewards the winner with company-wide recognition and an all-expenses paid vacation.

As a result, turnover at Fazoli’s has fallen over the past five years, and dropped 24% last year alone.  Customer complaints have also dropped.  So what are some strategies you can use to keep your best employees engaged?

Some ideas:

Listen and recognize. Every day your staff experiences something while doing their job they realize could be done better.  And more than likely they have their own opinion on how to improve those daily glitches.

Listening to employee feedback has two huge advantages: first, you can tap into a well of in-the-trenches experience that will help you improve your experience, and second, you create employee engagement and a sense of responsibility when you listen to what your staff is saying and then recognize those who offer an idea for improvement that is implemented.  You’ll be surprised how much your employees appreciate it when their ideas are used, and how that sense of ownership will improve service and reduce turnover.

Reward top performers. Nothing motivates like a little friendly competition.  The most important thing here is to avoid the cliché “employee of the month” approach, which can come off as playing favorites.

Instead, tie rewards to numbers that are indisputable.  For example, reward the server with the highest sales, the kitchen employee with the least number of sick days, etc.  Make sure these numbers are transparent and clearly posted to encourage competition and minimize conflict.

Also make sure you recognize second and third place and make the prizes meaningful ( a $10 gift card to your restaurant is NOT an acceptable prize!).

Plan an event. At least once a year, treat your employees to an event outside of work that makes them feel appreciated and allows them to relax and interact with each other outside of the normally stressful work environment.  This is a simple and easy way to strengthen your ties to your employees and help relieve the strain created from working with the same people every day.

Embody your culture. First, decide what kind of culture you want to promote in your restaurant.  More than likely this is going to be a culture of “customer first” service.  Whatever your culture, write it down in a mission statement, communicate it clearly to your employees, and then become the living example of that culture.

Nothing reinforces the values you want your employees to follow every day at work like a strong culture, and nothing tears that culture down more effectively than the perception that management talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.  Leadership is most effective by example, and if you follow that simple credo, your employees will stick with you through thick and thin.

Three of these four tips involve your business making an investment, which, understandably, can be a difficult proposition in an environment of reduced sales and dropping revenues.  However, I would argue that it’s an investment that must be made.

The new watchword in the restaurant business is value, and after a year of discounting, value doesn’t mean low prices anymore.  You have to give your customers an experience that goes beyond price and addresses their desire for a great experience.

The only way to do that is through your people.

And the only way to keep great people is to make an investment in them.
Restaurant Management: 4 Ways To Invest In Your Staff & Why You Should
Fazoli’s has proven, on a fairly large scale, that a few simple steps can dramatically reduce turnover and improve customer service.  Use the strategies I mentioned in this post to replicate their success in your own business, no matter how small.

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