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Archive | December, 2010

Stop Giving Waste Fryer Oil Away!

Stop Giving Waste Fryer Oil Away!Disposing of used vegetable oil has always been a problem for restaurants.  In recent years it has gotten easier with the increasing demand for biodiesel.  Now many restaurants depend on free pickup services by biodiesel companies as a convenient and cheap way to dispose of their waste fryer oil.  Some even pay to have the stuff hauled away.

But what if you could take that oil and use it to save money, instead of just giving it away?  Enter Vegawatt power system that uses vegetable oil to generate electricity and pre-heat water going to your water heater.  It’s a self-contained unit that doesn’t require any special skills.  You pretty much just add oil and clean it out once in a while.

The savings on your restaurant’s electricity and hot water bills can be significant.  Vegawatt says the unit can save your business about $800 a month in electricity bills, although that does include a $100 per month renewable energy rebate from local government, which may or may not exist in your area.  Smaller operators probably don’t generate enough oil to take advantage of the Vegawatt power system, and the company recommends the machine for establishments that have 3 – 5 deep fryers and generate at least 50 gallons of waste oil a week.  If you do generate that much oil, however, you can realize a return on investment in 2 – 3 years.

Your used vegetable oil is now worth a lot more to you if you keep over giving it or selling it to a biodiesel company or paying to dispose of it.  It’s pretty amazing what a little ingenuity can do for a lifelong problem in the restaurant business.  Of course, there is some up-front investment required here, something that doesn’t sound very appealing, especially in a tight economy.  Vegawatt does offer a leasing program as well, and you’ll be saving more than the cost of the monthly lease.

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Menu Pricing’s Theory Of Relativity

Menu Pricings Theory Of RelativityIn a previous oldie-but-goodie Back Burner post I talked about menu engineering – how to put together a menu that effectively markets your dishes and makes customers want to spend more and buy high margin menu items.  One thing that post did not touch upon, however, was how to price and organize those prices on the menu.

Research has shown that organizing prices the right way can affect what customers order and what they consider to be a good deal, and often will encourage them to spend more in your restaurant.  How?  Call it the Theory of Relativity.  When someone looks at a menu, they will inevitably comparing prices.  If you’ve read the post I mention above, you have already helped the customer make an emotional rather than monetary attachment to the item they want to order by de-emphasizing the price altogether – removing the dollar signs, placing it below the description rather than by itself out to the side, etc.

Even so, people are going to compare prices.  That’s where the Theory comes in.  More often than not, customers will choose a middle-of-the-road option.  The trick is to define “middle-of-the-road” for your customer.  That’s why a smart restaurateur will create one entrée that is ridiculously expensive – absolutely and shamelessly high end.  You may never sell a single one, but it doesn’t matter.  That unaffordable entrée will give your customers a compass by which they will judge the rest of the menu.

The research shows that customers will pay more on average if they have a higher priced item to compare against.  Their perception of value changes the higher the number they are comparing against is.  This phenomenon was illustrated very well in a recent study that took a completely irrelevant number – the last two digits of the respondent’s social security number – and then asked participants to bid on different items for sale.  Those with social security digits in the upper 20% bid 200% – 300% more for items than those with digits in the bottom 20%.  Why? Because people innately base their perceived value for a product on the next relative number, whether it’s the last two digits of your social security number or a $25 prime rib.

That means you can price your bread-and-butter, high margin, best selling dishes a little higher and still convince your customer they’re getting a great value.  And you never know, someone just might order that high end entrée once in awhile, which won’t be bad for your bottom line at all.

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Restaurant Management Tips: The Art of Scheduling

The food service industry can be a brutal business, and sometimes the differences between making it and breaking are very, very thin.  As the manager, you have a lot on your plate – from training and supervising employees to running budgets and purchasing new equipment and supplies.  This series is intended to help you navigate the treacherous waters of restaurant management.

The Art of Scheduling

Payroll is the largest single expense category for any restaurant or commercial kitchen.  It is therefore extremely important, especially in a period of downturn, to manage this expense effectively.

On the other hand, the kitchen, bar, and wait staff you employ are what make your business tick and your personal connection with these people is an important dynamic.  Balancing personal relationships with labor cost management is one of the more difficult aspects of being a food service manager.

Here are some tips to help you walk that tight rope:

Evaluate how much work needs to be done. As you know very well, different times of day, days in a week, and times of month and year can see very different sales volumes.

Restaurant Management Tips: The Art of SchedulingOne of the most common mistakes made in staff management is overscheduling, and you won’t know how many people to schedule unless you can predict sales volume on a given day.

Keep a record of sales so that you can evaluate when your peak sales periods are.

Next, go through a list of your available staff and rank them according to ability. It’s very important to be objective and put personal relationships aside and create an accurate ranking.

Once you can predict sales peaks and valleys, and know the number and quality of staff available to you, you can start creating a schedule that will meet peak demands without having to pay extra staff.

Scheduling is a fine art. You have already ranked your employees and know when peak demand times will occur.  Now it’s time to start matching staff with sales volume.

The trick is to make sure you always have top performing staff around for busy times, which will allow you to reduce the overall staff scheduled for peak sales periods.  Top employees perform many different tasks efficiently, and can help less experienced staff members so you don’t have to.

These employees are the fulcrum of your business, and you want to make sure they are there when you’re making the most money.

Conversely, less experienced staff are never going to develop into top staff if they always have someone there to hold their hand.  Slow and moderate sales days are a great time to schedule these employees and give your top staff the day off.

You can take advantage of the relatively slow activity to train and get to know your newest staff members, improving retention and performance during peak times.

Also update your schedules periodically. Over time factors like sales and staff performance will change, and you’ll need to adjust your scheduling accordingly.

Staff scheduling should be an ongoing process that you constantly refine to make sure your business is maximizing sales.

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Shop For Suppliers

Food Safety is More Than Passing a Health Inspection

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:

Tip #1: Know Your Food Suppliers

Finding quality food suppliers is the first step in developing a quality food safety program.  Food should arrive at your restaurant or commercial kitchen fresh and at the proper temperature.  Some tips to find the right supplier:

Start by developing quality control guidelines. Set clear standards for what food should look like when it arrives.  This makes it easier for anyone checking in new food supplies to inspect and evaluate the quality of arriving product.

When searching for new food suppliers, know exactly what you want in a product before ordering  so that you can ensure your new supplier is meeting the proper standard in quality.

Inspect food shipments. Carefully inspect and grade the quality of new food shipments.  Use a good thermometer to check the temperature of the product as it’s being unloaded, especially if you are using a new supplier.  Track the quality of shipments and flag suppliers that are bringing you degraded product.

If you have developed standard guidelines, train other managers or trusted employees to inspect shipments as well.

The search for suppliers should be ongoing. Suppliers vary in price and quality, and it’s important that you constantly evaluate these two factors with your current suppliers.

Always make sure your suppliers are certified for the food service industry.  If they aren’t performing, don’t be afraid to find another source for food products.

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HACCP Principle 7 – Keep Good Records

HACCP Principle 7 – Keep Good RecordsOf course, all the work you’ve put into the first 6 principles of HACCP won’t do you any good at all if you don’t have accurate records.  In the event that your business is implicated in a food borne illness outbreak, all of your HACCP efforts only help protect you if you have clear, accurate records of your food preparation process, and you are able to prove active managerial control.

You should maintain records of at least these 5 areas to help you manage your HACCP program:

  1. Prerequisite Program records like handwashing, equipment sanitization, etc.
  2. Monitoring records– temperature logs should record the monitoring process at each CCP in your program.
  3. Corrective action records– when corrective action needs to be taken because a Critical Limit is not met, this action should be carefully documented, not only so that the process can be adjusted to avoid future corrective actions, but so that you can protect your business from liability should an outbreak coincide with the action.
  4. Verify and validate record keeping.  Many people in your restaurant will be keeping records.  As we discussed previously, regular verification and quality control needs to take place to make sure temperatures are taken and recorded accurately.
  5. Record equipment calibration.  Thermometers and other equipment you use to measure Critical Limits needs to be calibrated on a set schedule.  Make sure this schedule and a record of the calibration is carefully maintained.

When you first start keeping records, the frequency you record critical information should be high.  This allows you to spot problems in your new HACCP program quickly.  As you master the processes laid out in the first 6 Principles of your program, record keeping can be modified to promote efficiency.

Remember that these are just guidelines!  Every restaurant is different and has unique situations and requirements when it comes to planning and managing an effective HACCP program.  Consult with your local Board of Health to make sure that the unique situations you encounter in your HACCP program still meet food safety guidelines and are helping you accomplish your ultimate goal: successfully controlling food borne illnesses in your establishment.

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Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

Maintaining a safe work environment for your kitchen staff is always one of your priorities.  One of the most common injuries besides knife cuts is probably burns from hot cookware or hot surfaces on cooking equipment.

The problem with garden variety oven mitts is they aren’t NSF certified, which means they can become mediums for transmitting food borne illnesses to your employees and customers.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s just an oven mitt, right?  As long as nobody gets burned while wearing it, what’s the big deal?

Companies like Tucker BurnGuard have taken the oven mitt to a whole new level, and the results are pretty impressive.  Tucker gloves are NSF certified for personal and food safety, and different Tucker gloves are specialized for specific tasks in your commercial kitchen.

Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

The Tucker Steam Glove

The Steam Glove protects in wet or oily jobs up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  These gloves also feature a SteamGuard material that protects the wearer from hot vapor and water.  They are of course waterproof and have a rough texture for easy gripping in wet conditions.

Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

The Tucker SiliGlove

The SiliGlove is a silicone glove with heat protection up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  The removable liner can be dishwasher cleaned and the glove itself is anti-bacterial.  These three-finger gloves are 18” long and offer full heat protection plus superior food safety.

Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

The Tucker Quick Klean Mitt

Quick Klean mitts are the ultimate combination of heat protection and food safety.  Standard cotton gloves get wet and grimy and can transmit bacteria.  These mitts are easily cleaned and have removable liner that can also be cleaned for maximum sanitation.

Buying Tucker oven mitts for your restaurant is going to be more expensive than buying standard cotton ones.  However, the improvements in staff safety and food safety can make up the difference between a cheapie and a Tucker mitt.  There’s also something to be said about the durability of a well made mitt.  These Tucker mitts probably last through two or three life cycles of regular cotton mitts.

How has your experience been with Tucker oven mitts?  Is the price worth the quality?  Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Restaurant Management Tips: Recognize The Kids

Restaurant Management Tips: Recognize The Kids

Training servers to engage the kids at the table helps encourage the family to come back the next time.

I know this was the case when I was a server, and maybe a lot of you out there are a little more accommodating than I was when a family was seated in your section, but for me, kids were a disappointment.

Kids don’t order $8 martinis, and usually neither do parents when they’re with kids.  Plus those are one or two spots at the table you just know is going to order the least expensive entrees on the menu.  As a server I never minded actually dealing with the kids, I just knew my tip was going to be lower for that 4-top because ticket average was going to be way down.

What I didn’t realize, and what most managers and restaurant owners may not know, is that kids play a large role in deciding which restaurant to visit.  And in an economic situation where parents are limiting the number of times they go out to eat, anything you can do to get your restaurant at the top of the list becomes extremely important.

Patricia Farnham is a long-time restaurateur with a successful restaurant consulting website called Restaurant Pitfalls and Profits.  One of the more interesting pieces of advice she provides is training servers to recognize children by name.

Imagine two scenarios: one in which bored kids scribble idly with crayons or sit uncomfortably still while your server and the parents talk about what they want to order in the third person (“And what do they want?”).  Now imagine your server learning the children’s names and addressing them directly.  Suddenly that child is the center of attention (and what kid doesn’t want that??).  That makes him or her engaged in the dining experience and therefore invested in coming back to your establishment the next time.

Nothing could possibly work better for influencing your customer’s next decision to go out to eat than a couple kids jumping up and down and yelling your restaurant’s name.  And engaging the youngest patrons in your restaurant can do a lot to help you get a positive note the next time the family goes out.

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Replacing Gas Safety Valves

There are many different types of safety valves. These are the most common types:

  • FMDA
  • BASO
  • TS
  • Combination Type

1. The FMDA safety valve is the only type with the thermocouple permanently attached to it.  This means the thermocouple cannot be replaced; the entire safety valve must be replaced if the thermocouple fails.  The easiest way to identify an FMDA type safety is a ½” diameter red button on the bottom of the valve.  You must know the gas pipe size and if the pilot tube is an “in and out” or an “out only.”  An “in and out” safety valve has two threaded holes at the top of the part, one for gas for the pilot to come in and one for gas to go out.  An “out only” safety valve has just one threaded hole to connect gas for the pilot to.

Replacing Gas Safety Valves

FMDA Safety Valve

2. The BASO safety valve can vary in design depending on the piece of equipment it is on, so it is important to know the brand name, model and serial number of the piece of equipment to get the correct safety valve the first time.  The easiest way to identify a BASO valve is by the 15/16” diameter red pilot button.  The thermocouple is separate from the safety.

Replacing Gas Safety Valves

BASO Safety Valve

3. The TS type safety valve is the only one that can be rebuilt.  It is similar to the FMDA and BASO types in that it has “in and out” or “out only” pilot tubing, so you must know what is in your equipment.  A rebuilt kit is available in both and it is not necessary to replace the body unless it is damaged.  The body has no moving parts in it.  The easiest way to identify the TS safety is by the 5/8” diameter red button.  The thermocouple is also separate from this safety, similar to the BASO.

Replacing Gas Safety Valves

TS Type Safety Valve

4. Combination safety valves come in three different styles:

  • 120 Volt Type
  • Tubing Type
  • Millivolt Type or 24 Volt Type

A combination valve is a gas valve with the safety built into it.  Most combination valves are found in fryers.

Replacing Gas Safety Valves

Combination Safety Valve

How to determine which type you have:

  • If there are two wire leads coming out of the valve then it would be the 120 volt.
  • If the wire leads are screwed to the top terminal block, and two tubes are coming out of the top of the valve, it is the tubing type combination safety valve.
  • If the wires screw into a terminal block it would be a mulitvolt type.If you are not sure, just provide the brand name, model and serial numbers.

Every combination valve uses either a thermopile or thermocouple.  The most common is a thermopile, and there are two different thermopiles:

  • Screw-in type
  • Two-lead type

The screw-in type screws directly into the body and the two-lead type has a terminal block on the combo valve to directly screw into.

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Becoming A “Zero Landfill Company” Is A Journey

Becoming A Zero Landfill Company Is A JourneyBeing completely trash-free is a daunting task.  Even a company in the business of “green” with highly educated Eco Patriots is challenged by this.  Last week, Eco-Products reviewed our waste diversion results from 2009.  We strive to divert 100% of our waste from landfills – everything is either composted or recycled.

Last year, we diverted 7 tons of compost/recyclable materials from the landfill out of total of 10.95 tons of waste – that’s a 64% diversion rate.  Honestly, it wasn’t as high as we had hoped.  We think some of the factors that may have contributed to our lower than expected % were:

  1. Moving to a larger building in which people were more spread out and couldn’t closely monitor each other’s disposal habits
  2. More employees which makes waste management more difficult
  3. Battling with illegal midnight dumping of construction debris in our dumpsters
  4. Bringing more waste into the building from the outside
  5. Not doing as much continual reinforcement and education with employees as in prior years.

In a company meeting, we reaffirmed our commitment towards waste diversion and set a goal of achieving at least 80% in 2010.  At the meeting, our CEO made a great comment about how he views our work environment.  Since starting at the company 8 months ago, he has viewed the building as a campsite in which he tries to leave no trace.  Whatever he packs in he packs out.  What a great philosophy to make you think twice about the packaging you use/buy.

Here are some steps we are going to take to achieve our goal this year:

  • Continue to only have trash bins in centralized locations, no bins in offices/cubes
  • Make a more conscious effort to treat the building as a leave-no-trace zone.  Pack-in-pack-out mentality.
  • Monitor our diversion rate quarterly instead of annually.
  • Search for solutions to products we currently don’t recycle or compost.  For example, the wrapping on reams of paper can’t be recycled or composted due to their lining.
  • Be more diligent about recycling hard to recycle items such as plastic bags and block styrofoam.  Drop them off at a local hard-to-recycle facility.
  • Install locks on our dumpsters.
  • Educate, educate, educate.  We are inviting in a representative from Eco-Cycle, a local recycler, who can answer our recycling questions.
  • Tour a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) – a recycling center – to see first hand what is considered a contaminant.  I’ll be doing this in the middle of March.
  • Hang up more signage near our recycling/compost/trash bins
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Commercial Food Processors: Know What To Buy

Food processors and mixers have evolved considerably in the past decade to become more versatile and more powerful; meaning, they can satisfy a growing number of food preparation tasks in greater capacities.

A food processor has a central motor, usually self contained, that drives a shaft to which a blade or other cutting implement is affixed.

Food is either processed in a bowl for sauces, soups, or finely diced vegetables, or through a continuous feed chute that allows sliced or shredded vegetables to be ejected quickly into bins.

What to Look For When Purchasing a Food Processor

  • Be sure to size your new food processor to the task. If you overwork the processor by constantly pushing its capacity, you could shorten its lifespan and effectiveness. Manufacturers usually list this information for each model.
  • Some units have more than one bowl size, allowing you to change the capacity according to what you are processing.  This is especially useful if you have medium and small size processing tasks.
  • Variable speed units are more versatile and can handle foods of different densities.
  • Look for units that come with multiple attachments. The more attachments a unit has, the more food preparation tasks it can perform in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.
  • Safety features that prevent kitchen staff injury, especially with new or untrained help. The most common is an automatic shut-off feature.

Types of Food Processors

Commercial Food Processors: Know What To Buy

Robot Coupe R2B CLR

The most important factor in choosing the correct food processor is to select a machine that is right for the type and quantity of food you want to process.

  • For maximum versatility, a Blixer, or combination mixer and blender, is ideal, with emulsifying and liquefying options that can blend sauces and soups without too much aeration plus the normal chopping and grinding features of a food processor.
  • Bowl mixers chop or grind relatively small amounts of core ingredients like garlic, shallots, or basil.
  • Combination models feature a variety of cutting blades and can perform multiple tasks, such as slicing, shredding, kneading dough, and julienne, plus normal chopping and grinding functions.
  • Vegetable prep models have a continuous feed chute that allows you to chop, dice, shred, grate, or julienne large amounts of vegetables at a time.
  • Heavy duty floor blixers and food processors are designed for large operations and can mix, blend, or process up to 1,200 lbs. per hour.
  • Vertical cutter mixers feature a continuous feed chute and a large capacity stainless steel bowl, have a variety of blade attachments, and can process larger volumes than a standard bowl mixer.

Caring For Your Food Processor

Food processors should last seven to ten years if used and maintained properly.  Typically, a food processor does not require much maintenance, since the motor is usually a sealed unit.

However, a few basic steps can be taken to maximize your food processor’s life:

  • Wash food processor bowls, attachments, blades, covers, and pushers regularly.  Most are dishwasher safe.
  • Always use the food pusher that comes with your unit to guide food into the processor.  Not only is it unsafe to use other objects or hands, but damage to the unit could also result.
  • Don’t overload the machine. It’s important to size the processor according to the types and quantities of foods you wish to process.  Too small of a machine or one without enough horsepower for more dense foods will not last as long or work as efficiently as a larger one.
  • Blades and attachments become dull over time and should be replaced.

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