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Archive | December, 2010

Repairing Overhead Warmers

An Overhead WarmerOverhead warmers are fairly simple devices.  They are typically used to keep food that is ready to be served warm before it goes out on the server’s tray.  Overhead warmers have three main parts:

1. Element
2. On/off switch
3. Infinite Control

Warmers come in different voltages such as 120V, 208V, and 240V, and they are made in different lengths.  Always remember that it’s crucial to have the correct voltage on the unit, because severe damage can happen when the unit is introduced to the wrong voltage.  There are two types of elements in most overhead warmers.

1. Cal-rod (metal) type
2. Quartz glass type.

These elements vary in wattage and length.  When replacing an element, it is helpful to provide the following information to ensure you get the correct element.

1. Overall length of the warmer
2. Model Number
3. Serial number
4. Voltage

This information can be found on the name tag that is attached to the warmer.

There are two ways to determine if an element is bad:

1. Visual Inspection. On the Cal-rod element, inspect the outside for burn marks.  On the quartz element, inspect the filament or wire coil inside the glass tube.  If it is separated in any way, it is burnt out.A Nemco Overhead Warmer Element

2. Continuity Testing. A continuity tester can determine if an element is defective.  Remember to disconnect the power! For either element (cal-rod or quartz), first remove at least one wire connection or remove the element if it is a socket type.  If you have a Multi-Tester set your tester in the continuity position and touch the leads to the element.  If there is no digital read out on the display the element is no good.  If you’re using a lighted tester and the light does not light up, then the element is not good.  In either case, the element needs to be replaced.  The element is still good if you get a digital read out or the lights does light up.

A General Use Rocker On/Off SwitchOn/Off Switch

To test the on/off switch, disconnect at least one wire from the switch and perform a continuity test with the switch in the on position.  If you do not get a reading, then you need to replace the on/off switch.

Infinite Control

To test the infinite control, there are multiple wire connections on the back of the control.  These wire connections are marked as follows:  L1 and L2 are the power wires coming in the warmer.  H1 and H2 are the connections for the element wires.  On units with a pilot light there may be a HP connection or a P connection, P meaning pilot light connection.  A General Use Infinite Control

Disconnect at least one wire from any of the H connections and perform a continuity test across the H prongs with the control in the on position.  If you did not get a reading or light it is time to replace the infinite control.  On an infinite control make sure to determine if it is a  screw mount or nut mount before purchasing a replacement.  Screw mount controls screw into the overhead warming unit; nut mount controls bolt onto the unit.

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Two Products That Will Really Help Your Food Safety Efforts

I want to talk about some products that can really help your food safety efforts:

1.  Stainless steel 1/6 pans for your prep table coolers. Stainless is a much better conductor  than plastic, so Stainless Steel !/6 Size Pankeep your foods in them and it will help you avoid critical cold holding violations from the health department.  Additionally, do the following:

  • Ensure that foods are 41 F or below BEFORE placing them in cold holding units.  These types of coolers are designed to hold cold foods, not to cool them.
  • Do not overfill inserts.  Mounding foods is a near guarantee that the top portion rises in temperature.
  • Keep the pivot lid closed during slow periods.  I regularly see open lids during afternoon slow periods, and foods are warming up unnecessarily.

2.  Additional epoxy wire shelving for your walk-in coolers. I often observe shelves in walk-ins with considerable unused vertical space between the shelves.  In a walk-in, this is wasted space that you can easily reclaim for the one time expense of adding shelving.  And if you’re going to buy new shelving, make sure it’s epoxy coated.  This prevents rust from forming and keeps your shelves clean.

Epoxy ShelvingThink about these examples:

  • If you normally cool foods in several 2” pans, then install shelves close enough for the pans to slide in side by side.Stainless Steel Food Pan
  • If you store vegetables in 6” food storage boxes, then install your shelves close enough for them to slide them in side by side:  Food Storage Box

I hope you are visualizing your walk-in cooler and considering how you can maximize your space.  Installing extra shelving eliminates the tendency to stack containers and will ensure airflow around each container.

Just so you know, this is not just a theory to me … I have customers who have successfully done this, solving longstanding cooling and cold holding problems in their walk-in coolers.

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Is Your Restaurant’s Commercial Dish Machine Efficient?

Commercial dishwashers are energy hogs, pure and simple.  There’s no way to get around it, and the best you can do is try to mitigate the costs associated with dishwashing by employing a few effective strategies.Keep Dish Racks Full

Wash full racks only. It’s so obvious it almost seems dumb to say, but train your kitchen staff to never, ever, run anything less than a full rack through the dish machine.  The temptation to run the dishwasher half full is much greater than you might realize, and it’s a colossal waste of energy.

Dishwasher Temp Testing LabelsCheck water temperature. Use a dishwasher thermometer to check the temperature of the water during the rinse cycle on a regular basis.  This is especially important for high temp dishwashers, as you want to ensure you are hitting 180 degrees Fahrenheit on every cycle.  However, a temp check will also help kitchens with a low temp dishwasher because often the unit runs water that is too hot, and the water temp can be turned down to save energy.

Booster heaters, internal tank heaters, and commercial water heaters can all be adjusted to optimize water temperature and minimize waste.  It’s important to continue checking water temperature as well because over time, use and wear may change the water temp in the dishwasher, requiring further adjustments.

For more information on high temp and low temp dishwashers, check out The Back Burner’s Commercial Dishwashing Buying Guide.

Turn off booster and tank heaters. The booster heater and the internal tank heater on the dishwashing unit should be turned off at the end of the night.  Otherwise, they will continue to heat water needlessly while you are shut down, wasting a ton of energy in the process.

Check water pressure. Many larger dish machines have a pressure gauge that indicates the water pressure in the unit.  More than 25 Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) could mean you are using more water than necessary, as most dish machines require only 20 PSI.  Check with the unit’s manufacturer to see what the optimal PSI is for that machine and to learn how to adjust the PSI.A Conveyor Type Dishwasher

Optimize conveyor type dish machines. The tradeoff with large conveyor type dish machines is that you can process a lot of dishes quickly, but they are big energy hogs as well.  Only fire up the big conveyor during your rush periods when you know you’ll have a lot of dishes to wash.  During slow times, it’s much more efficient to use a smaller undercounter or door type dishwasher, as long as you can keep up.  The longer you leave the big conveyor shut down, the more energy you’ll save.

When you do need the conveyor dishwasher, make sure you do a couple things to optimize energy use.  First, run a conveyor in “auto mode,” which will make sure the electric motor inside the unit only runs when needed.  Secondly, install or replace worn door curtain strips.  These strips hold heat inside the unit and make it run more efficiently.

Finally, consider using a heat recovery system in your kitchen. A refrigeration heat recovery system takes the heat generated by your refrigeration units and uses it to pre-heat water that goes into your water heater, which means the water heater has less work to do and therefore uses less energy.  Another heat recovery system uses heat from used hot water going down the drain to pre-heat hot water heater water.  These systems require some up-front cost, but they pay for themselves relatively quickly.  If your operation consumes large amounts of hot water, you could save a significant amount of energy by using a heat recovery system.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Be Like A Stock Broker

Diversify Your Restaurant's Revenue StreamRunning a successful, profitable restaurant is just like being a stock broker: you must diversify to minimize risk.  This lesson is even more relevant today considering the current economic climate.  So, you have a great concept, some popular menu items, and a decent dinner rush.  Good.  But your profit margins could be better, and your business more resilient, if you took the time to diversify.

Some ideas:

Add retail items.  Loyal customers love creative apparel referring to your restaurant.  Think of all the money the Hard Rock Café has made just from selling T-shirts and hats alone.  And they still have the gall to charge $16 for a burger!  Plus you’ll get some great free advertising for your business.

Make your food more accessible.  Customers love your menu, but they may not have the time or the inclination to sit in your dining room and eat.  Consider carry-out for popular items, large party catering services, and even food delivery to make sure your customer can have your food whenever they want.

Host special events.  Weddings, corporate functions, and large parties often require specialized menus and pricing, but making your restaurant available for larger functions is a great way to sell out the place on slow days and to take advantage of high seasons, like corporate Christmas parties.  Plus many of the guests at a large event have probably never been to your restaurant before, so impress them so much they come back for more.

Create profitable partnerships.  Chances are there are several other local businesses that would like to reach your customer base.  Come up with creative ways to give such partners advertising access to your customers…for a fee.  This could include advertising in menu inserts, banner ads on the emails you send out, or product giveaways at promotional events in your restaurant.  Of course, there is a fine line here between annoying and pleasing your customer, but use constant feedback and modify your strategies until you get the formula just right.  The result will be a great revenue stream that is almost all profit.

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Food Safety Tips: Prerequisite Programs

Food Safety Prerequisite ProgramsThose of you familiar with the HACCP approach to food safety know that HACCP is just one part of the food safety puzzle in your restaurant.  It’s very good at managing cooking and holding temperatures for food product, which should be considered the first line of defense against pathogens that could sicken customers.

But HACCP also relies heavily on what it calls “prerequisite programs,” or standard operating procedures (SOPs) that keep your restaurant’s kitchen a clean, microbe-free environment at all times.  Without prerequisite programs, HACCP becomes your only defense against food borne illness, and that means unacceptable risk for your business.

Think of these SOPs as the base and HACCP as the tip of a spear in the battle against bacteria.  Most of these procedures are obvious precautions which you probably already have in place in your restaurant, but having a checklist can be helpful in making sure you’re taking a comprehensive approach:

Staff handwashing.  A handwashing sink with posted guidelines on when to wash hands and how to wash hands properly is a fundamental SOP for any restaurant.  Also make sure you train your staff on handwashing procedure and carry out regular enforcement to make sure your staff are handling food product with clean hands.  Learn more here.

Cover up.  Hair and beard restraints, disposable gloves, and proper chef apparel prevent foreign objects from ending up in food.  A properly clothed staff is key to keeping unwanted things out of the entrees you serve your customers.

Sanitization procedures.  Everything that touches food in your restaurant needs to be sanitized on a regular basis.  Food processors, mixers, slicers, countertops, utensils, and cookware are all good examples.  Smaller items like kitchen knives and fry pans can be sanitized using your commercial dishwasher.  Larger equipment like mixers and slicers need to be washed down with a sanitizer solution.  The same goes for surfaces where food is prepared.  Buying concentrated sanitizer for this task will save you a lot of money over pre-mixed sanitizer.

Receiving product.  When your supplier truck rolls up to the back door of your restaurant, you and your staff should be following a standard set of procedures for processing and storing product.  The temperature of cold stored product should be checked as it comes off the truck and a minimum time for getting it into your walk-in should be set.  These guidelines make sure product is arriving at a safe temperature and is stored properly without entering the danger zone over 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Employee health.  Employees that come in direct contact with food during its preparation should be sent home if they exhibit symptoms of illnesses that can be transmitted to customers, including vomiting and diarrhea.  The loss of that employee for that shift is minor compared to the problems your business will face if a customer is infected.

Use potable water.  The vast majority of kitchens have ready access to potable water through existing plumbing.  However, it’s important to have procedures and staff training in place that ensures water used for cooking, washing, or otherwise preparing food product and for ice making is free from pathogens and contamination.  Usually this means preventing the cross-contamination of water after it comes out of the tap.  In the case of ice making, ice machine lines and ice bins should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent bacterial growth.

Control contaminants and toxic compounds.  Some of the things you use in your restaurant kitchen cannot come into contact with food, like sanitizers, equipment lubricants, pesticides, etc.  Make sure these contaminants are properly labeled and stored in a separate, dedicated place and that machines and surfaces that come into contact with food product are properly washed.

Control pests.  The reasons for controlling pests are obvious.  However, it’s easy to forget about a control program and tempting to save a little money by not calling the exterminator.  Make sure you regularly locate and eliminate pests with an effective program on a regular schedule.

Calibrate hot and cold holding equipment and temperature measuring devices.  Over time the temperature this equipment says it’s at becomes less and less accurate, potentially allowing food to slip into the danger zone between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.  Calibrate this equipment on a regular schedule to ensure temperature accuracy.

Depending on what your kitchen prepares and how it’s configured, additional safety procedures may be warranted.  Consult with your local health inspection official for advice on how to address unique situations you might encounter in your restaurant.

Enforcement is also an important concern.  The best laid guidelines in the world are useless if they aren’t followed properly.  HACCP procedures for monitoring employees create a great, multi-layered system for ensuring guidelines are followed.

Food safety is a constant work-in-progress.  Training employees and then effectively monitoring the implementation of prerequisite programs will create a solid base upon which your food safety program can rest, ensuring you are serving the best food to your customer day in and day out.

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The Big Red F Restaurant Group: One Vision, Many Places

big red  fIf you’re at all familiar with the favorite local haunts of Boulder and downtown Denver, then you probably know a Big Red F restaurant or two, even if that name doesn’t ring a bell.  Big Red F is a group of unique concepts started by Culinary Institute of America graduate, former Q’s Restaurant owner, and Boulder native Dave Query.  Big Red F’s concepts are as varied as they are fun, including Zolo Southwestern Grill, Jax Fish House, Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, and The West End Tavern.

As differently as each concept approaches their cuisine, all of Chef Query’s restaurants take a singular approach to guest services, and anyone who has visited a Big Red F restaurant can tell you exactly how that feels.  Anyone who walks through the door is treated as a friend and a welcome guest at an exclusive party where the host knows exactly what he’s doing.

Chef Query sums it up the best: “Running a successful restaurant is like juggling ice cubes on a hot day: you have to be quick and precise, sourcing the freshest foods, being the home of all things seasonal, and keeping the chalkboards constantly fresh in an effort to do your very best to serve an incredibly fresh product smack in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. This is what we try to accomplish at our restaurants every single day.”

Big Red F restaurants view sustainability as an integral part of customer service, and since service is a thing they take very seriously, each restaurant is dedicated to reaching a high bar.  All paper products and many plastic products, including straws and trash bags, are either compostable or recyclable.  Big Red F offsets 100% of its energy usage with wind power and CFL light bulbs are used whenever possible.  Most Big Red F restaurants are also either PACE (Partners For A Clean Environment) certified or in the process of getting certification.

Bryce Clark, Big Red F’s PR director, explains why sustainable practices are so important:  “Some things like having CFL light bulbs save us money down the road, but most of our eco-friendly practices are just important to us and our customers.  Our customers come into our restaurants not only for the experience, but also because we care about being socially responsible.  To us it goes hand in hand with helping out the community.”

The synergy between Big Red F and their community reveals how powerful great customer service can be when you’re in tune with more than just a customer’s desire to eat great food.

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10 Back Burner Food Safety Tips

Food SafetyOne of the most important responsibilities of any restaurateur is the proper implementation of a food safety program.  A lapse in food safety can spell the doom of your restaurant, and if you’re just opening a new restaurant, it can mean a delayed opening night.

Good food safety isn’t something you achieve once and then forget about.  It’s something you practice every day your restaurant is open, from the moment product leaves the truck at the back door all the way through to the time the busboy clears the plates after your guests have finished their meals.

Below are 10 food safety tips from The Back Burner that will help you brush up your program.  You have probably already implemented many of these strategies to one degree or another.  Think of this a refresher course and the chance to learn something you didn’t know.  And if you have food safety topics not covered here that really should be, let us know!

1. Shop For Suppliers – As all of the food recent food recalls have taught us, food safety doesn’t start when product comes off the truck at your restaurant.  The supply chain is much longer than that, and things can go wrong well before you ever lay eyes on a box of tomatoes or a head of lettuce.  Learn how to diversify your supply chain and hold it accountable.

2. Managing Temperature – One of the most important aspects of food safety is monitoring food temperatures and making sure it’s always out of the danger zone.  Learn some effective strategies for managing temperature.

3. Proper Handwashing – All your food safety management strategies can go down the drain in a flash if one employee doesn’t wash their hands properly and then handles food.  Learn how to train and supervise employees effectively here.

4. Be Your Own Health Inspector – Why wait for the health inspector to tell you what needs to  be fixed with your food safety program?  Be proactive and think like an inspector before they come to your restaurant.  That way, your inspections will be a breeze.

5. In The Field At Turley’s – This venerable Boulder restaurant shares some of their food safety strategies for the benefit of all.  There’s nothing like some real world experience to put things in perspective.NSF

6. Understanding NSF and UL – Everybody’s seen the NSF and UL labels on products in their restaurant’s kitchen.  What do those labels really mean?  Learn more in this article.

7. HACCP – If you don’t know what this stands for, then you definitely need to read this article.  Even if you do, you might learn a couple things about this core food safety program.

8. Data Loggers – If you don’t use this vital piece of food safety equipment, you might consider it after reading this article.

9. Vacuum Breakers And Backflow Valves – Clean water is vital to any food safety program, and increasingly health inspectors are looking at restaurant plumbing to make sure you are safeguarding the water supply.  Some simple plumbing parts you can install yourself will make the inspector happy and keep your water safe.Safe Seafood

10. Safe Seafood – Seafood handling can be especially tricky in a restaurant.  Learn how to keep your seafood tasting great and your customers safe.

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This Isn’t American Idol: How Chipotle Went Platinum

Chipotle Platinum LEED CertifiedA Chipotle restaurant in Gurnee Mills, IL recently gained Platinum level certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which is run by the United States Green Building Council.  The restaurant was built on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable technology, boasting a six-kilowatt wind turbine, a 2,500 gallon cistern for storing and reusing rainwater for sprinklers, and a building built using various recycled materials.

LEED is a voluntary program, and participants are independently certified by the Green Building Certification Institute.  The program focuses on sustainability and green practices in several areas, including site selection, water conservation, energy efficiency, building materials, and design innovations.  Buildings are evaluated on a point system and then awarded different levels of certification.  The Gurnee Chipotle has achieved the platinum level, which is the highest available.

To get platinum certification, Chipotle had to score at least 80 points on a 100 point scale in the different areas of emphasis in the program.  More and more restaurant chains are looking to LEED certification and other green practices as consumers continue to indicate they prefer companies that do so.  Chipotle has long been a leader in sustainability, including sourcing food locally, using recyclable materials, and minimizing packaging waste.

For small independent restaurants, things like LEED certification probably seem like a pipe dream reserved only for the rich big chains that can afford a PR stunt.  But in reality consumer expectations are changing fast, and sooner or later smaller restaurants will be expected to belly up to the green movement trough by their customers.  Starting that transition now makes it easier to finish later, and besides it’s great publicity.  Just ask Chipotle.   The Back Burner has all kinds of green restaurant and sustainability tips.  You might as well start digging in now, because green is here to stay.

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Boulder Spotlight: Chef Radek Cerny’s L’Atelier Restaurant

Chef Radek Cerny’s love of French cuisine is explained easily by using another of his passions for comparison: fast cars.  “Why buy a Fiat when you can drive  a Ferrari?” he asks without further elaboration.  And none needed.  A taste of his exquisite menu explains the rest.

The celebrated chef and owner of the critically acclaimed L’Atelier restaurant in Boulder, CO, has been tantalizing the palates of Colorado for more than 20 years.  With 11 restaurants under his belt, Chef Cerny has proven time and again that his effective blend of mastery of the culinary arts and savvy business sense brings success.

That success hasn’t slowed in recent months, despite the sharp decline in sales at fining dining establishments.  L’Atelier has fought back with clever promos like twice-a-week Recession Dinners ($29 per person for appetizer, choice of entrée, and dessert on a specialized menu), wine specials, and Thursday happy hour.  “I’m helping the customer in tough times, and they appreciate it.  They come in for the dinner deal and maybe they buy some wine or some drinks.  We both win.  You have to give them something in this economy.”

Full Belly, Chef Cerny’s new project, is the perfect remedy for patrons with the economic blues: excellent food from a top chef at an affordable price.  The “downscale” bistro features affordable breakfast, lunch, and dinner without losing the style and flavor of signature Cerny cuisine.  “This menu is perfect for these times,” he says.  “Everything is affordable but the food is still great.”

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Why Doesn’t Your Social Media Bring In Customers?

Restaurant Social Media MarketingMeet Bob. Bob might be considered equivalent to the strategic design behind, and the effective level of marketing across your social media profiles. Let’s take Bob off the internet and put him in your dining room to see how accurately he reflects your online presence and your overall performance.

You don’t view social media as an extension of your customer service; instead you look at it simply as medium for advertising.

* [Bob at the door. No greeting, smile, conversation or introduction.] “Our specials today are our leftovers from yesterday (actually Easter). Let’s just say we’re now called The World of Ham!”

You jumped into social media without any research (because everyone else was doing it.) You have no idea who your customers are, what social medium(s) they use, how to connect with them, or how to target new potential customers. Your strategy is to follow the lead of the big boys.

* [Bob at the table. He does not look up, only at the pad in front of him.] We now have $5 all you can eat subs; a $3.99 make your own burger bar; McWaffles for $.09; and a Homerun Hit menu for the kids for just $9.99.”

Your strategy is “Tweet and they will come.”

* [Bob with a bull horn on the side of the road… in a residential neighborhood… at 3 AM. The social media police show up, tell him he’s doing it wrong and begin beating him with their truncheons.]

You don’t advertise the fact that you even have social media outlets (in print, radio ads, on your website, or via connecting/integrating with business listing sites.)

* [See Bob inside the restaurant; in a body bag, duct-taped to the floor trying to relay what a “great” place you have.]

You don’t listen, even when fans ask you to post more info on your social media sites.

* [Bob at the table (nonstop, echoing in an empty room): “Our place is great!  Tomorrow we’ve got a balloon guy; Thursday its Tom’s Mystery Meat Roll Day (if you can guess it, it’s FREE); then it’s Fun for the Family Fridays where we throw your mom in the kitchen for that burnt food retro feel, etc.…”] (See customer…leaving.)

Your social media “guru” knows nothing about the restaurant biz in general and even less about your business specifically.

* [See Bob boasting in the service area. “Sure I know all about petro chemical engineering. I sold tires for 2 months at The Rubber House before I got kicked out of my dad’s Liberal Arts College.”]

You tried that social media thing for a month and it didn’t work, so you quit.

* [See Bob waving sadly to the hot new waitress Vanessa who quit because she didn’t make $300 on her first full day on the floor.]

You’re not involved locally, in anything. You literally have to earn every page view, tweet, fan and dollar the hard way.

* [See Bob pushing the local Girl Scouts out the door because he’s afraid they might steal the hearts (and tips) of the cheap bastards that still patronize this place.]

You’re not tracking keywords relative to your business, your hometown, your competition, or your industry.

* [See Bob back in his body bag.]

You think “social media” equals Facebook.

* [See Bob, on his mobile phone, surfing the internet, texting and looking for a new job. He would like to be a better Bob but you’ve tied his hands.]

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