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Archive | December, 2010

Better Sales Don’t Change Your Restaurant’s New Reality

Better Sales Dont Change Your Restaurants New RealityRestaurants take heart: change seems to be coming.  After two years of declining growth and slowing spending, it appears that consumers are finally going to spend more this holiday season, not less.

A flock of reports have been circulating in the retail and food service worlds pointing to positive growth on the horizon for both industries.  As the Thanksgiving holiday approached last week, many restaurateurs held their breath, waiting to see if the news was good or too good to be true.  Would shoppers be hungry on Black Friday?  Would they even bother to come out at all?

After hopeful reports by many in the food service industry that we had reached the bottom, and the only way out was up, the Friday after Thanksgiving seemed like the best time to find out if it was really true.  And initial reports have been very positive.  There were no major jumps in consumer spending over the Thanksgiving holiday, but spending was definitely up, which is better than the alternative.  Consumer watchers are fairly certain the trend will continue into the Christmas holiday, which is another shred of good news for restaurants.

Even as spending rises, however, value remains the watchword of the day.  That means consumer spending habits have fundamentally changed.  No one is interested in anything besides a deal, and if your restaurant wants to cash in on this little holiday surge, you can bet that the best way is through continuing the aggressive discounting that has become the norm across the food service industry.

There has been grumbling by many in the food service industry that price reductions dilute brand value, but the reality is a bankrupt brand is the one that has no value.  If you don’t find ways to provide value to your customer, you’re going to find yourself bankrupt.

Granted, aggressive pricing is only one way to provide value to your customer.  Superior quality food, sustainable operating practices, top notch service, and a unique concept are all ways to add value to your brand.  Effectively marketing the things your restaurant does well is another thing you must do well to survive in this new reality.

So take heart: the worst may very well be behind us.  But watch out: you better be ready to do what you do even better in the world of heightened customer expectations.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Looking Past Your Kitchen

Green Restaurant Tips: Looking Past Your KitchenWhile your kitchen may be by far the biggest energy user, it is by no means the only thing that racks up your monthly bills. Paying a little attention to some of the other energy drains in your business can help bring your overall energy use down considerably.

Some tips to help you manage those costs:

  • Use fans instead of the central unit. For every degree you adjust your thermostat, you can save 4% – 5% on heating or cooling bills.  Energy Star rated ceiling fans are a great way to circulate air and allow you to turn your thermostat up or down depending on the time of year. Use fans to bring in cooler outside air when you need to cool things down, or use them to circulate hot air from the kitchen when you need to heat things up.
  • Conduct regular maintenance on central air units. Clean the heat transfer coils on air conditioning every month.  Clean or replace air filters regularly.  A dirty air filter not only makes the unit work harder, but it can affect the air quality in your building as well.
  • Repair and seal ducting. Leaky ducts means the air you spent all that money heating or cooling is escaping before it gets to your customer.  Regularly check ducts for leaks and seal them as needed.
  • Set up a service contract with a local company to check and service ducts and the central air unit if you don’t have the time or energy for do-it-yourself.
  • Install an Energy Star thermostat. Programmable thermostats automatically reduce heating or cooling for non-business hours, saving you money and time over a manual thermostat.
  • Use windows to your advantage. Ideally, you should use Energy Star rated windows with the proper solar energy heat gain coefficient (SHGC). Low SHGC windows are used in places with long, hot summers to minimize solar heat and reduce cooling costs. High SHGC windows are used where there is a long, cold winter to maximize solar heat and reduce heating costs.  If you are remodeling or starting a new business, use Energy Star to help you select energy efficient windows.

Since budgets and buildings usually aren’t in sync, use the following tips to help you make do with what you have:

  • Use a UV-resistant window film, blinds, and curtains to insulate and reduce heat gain.  These techniques vary in cost and effectiveness, with the best solution probably being a combination according to your specific needs. No matter what, use something that allows you to block sunlight when it’s hot and add an extra layer or insulation when it’s cold.
  • Have new windows professionally installed. Framing and insulating new windows can make a huge difference in maintaining green heating or cooling.
  • Also caulk and seal existing windows annually to maintain an airtight barrier between your customers and outside weather.
  • Buy Energy Star skylights and doors. Just like with your windows, regularly check and seal doors and skylights to minimize air leaks and reduce your heating and cooling costs.
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A 4.2 HP Vita-Mix Blender!?

Apparently sometime last year an executive at Vita-Mix walked into the engineering department with a brick and said “I’d like to blend this”. What was created from that moment, was the most powerful blender on the market, the Vita-Mix XL.

I got the chance to see this blender in action at the NAFEM show a couple of weeks ago. The Vita-Mix booth had the XL front and center along with some chefs doing menu demonstrations and then passing out the results.

A 4.2 HP Vita Mix Blender!?

The Vita-Mix XL in action at the NAFEM show.

It was pretty amazing the things this blender can do.  At one point a pico de gallo was made, handed out to the crowd and then with the flick of the switch turned into a puree almost instantly. You could visibly see the chef’s enjoyment over using such a powerful piece of kitchen equipment.

Up until now, if you needed a food blender most likely you would be shopping for a Waring CB15 or Vita-Mix Vita Prep which are significantly less expensive than the Vita-Mix XL. So what are you getting for that extra dough?

  • Larger capacity: The XL features a true 1.5 gallon container as opposed to a 1 gallon container. The way this container was designed allows for it to actually hold a full 1.5 gallons. Also included is a 64 oz container for smaller batches.
  • Horse Power: 4.2 peak HP. For comparison, that’s most likely more than your kid’s go-cart.
  • Control: Features include a smooth variable speed control, a pulse function and pre-programmed timed cycles that allow you to set programs for your various menu items.
  • Food Safety: The clear copolyester container is BPA free.

In addition to all the usual features and benefits talk, the Vita-Mix XL is just plain cool. Walking into the kitchen everyday and seeing this monster of a blender is sure to put a smile on any chef’s face and cutting down on prep time is certain to make any owner happy. So happy in fact, he or she might let you take it home at night to whip up some margaritas for you and your friends.

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Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink?

Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink?Bluefin tuna are one of the most prized catches in the world’s oceans, with some markets, especially in Asia, selling them for as much as $20,000 a fish.  For sushi lovers, the bluefin is the equivalent of a purebred Angus filet mignon, and it’s a mainstay of thousands of restaurants, including the internationally recognized chain Nobu.  The Japanese have long treasured bluefin, and they consume 80% of the world’s catch to this day.

As the popularity of sushi has risen in the past decade, so has the insatiable demand for bluefin tuna.  And because this large predatory fish travels as much as 17,000 miles to hunt food and spawn, many countries have active bluefin fishing fleets.  This, of course, makes it almost impossible to regulate the catch as each country elbows for higher quotas.

The consequence is that the bluefin is facing extinction as early as 2012.  However, this story is not all bad.  The member countries of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) plan to meet about the bluefin next March about saving bluefin tuna.  If two thirds of the 175 countries that are part of CITES vote in favor, all bluefin harvesting will come to a screeching halt.  Already several countries have voiced their support for adding the bluefin to the list of globally endangered species.

More exciting, however, is the work of a long-time fisherman in Australia.  Hagen Stehr became a millionaire harvesting bluefins in the vast Pacific to Australia’s east.  Now he is trying to save the species by breeding them in captivity, and he’s put up $48 million to make it happen.  Earlier this year his company, Clean Seas, successfully fertilized bluefin tuna eggs.  Now the fish have grown into fingerlings and are feeding in a huge indoor tank in southern Australia.

Many thought it wasn’t possible to breed the bluefin in captivity, especially since their predatory nature means they tend to eat their own young.  But Clean Seas has found a way, and they hope to be putting 250,000 bluefin fingerlings in the ocean by 2015.

The prospect of a sustainable bluefin tuna catch is good news for environmentalists and businesses alike.  If Clean Seas has its way, restaurants can serve delicious bluefin across the world, guilt-free.

Bluefin fingerlings feeding in a tank at Clean Seas, Port Lincoln, Australia.

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Food Safety: Controlling Insects And Pests

Food Safety: Controlling Insects And PestsThe primary focus of any food safety program, and rightly so, is on the temperature of your food product.  Heating food to the proper temperature and storing it at the proper cold temperature are vital to preventing contamination.  But allowing foreign objects like hair, metal, and insects or pests to contaminate food can be just as much of a food safety headache for your restaurant and making somebody sick.

Pest mitigation should be a regular part of your food safety program – just like checking to make sure chicken breast is cooking at 165 degrees.  Fighting pests takes two forms: preventative measures and reactive measures.  The goal is to have enough preventative measures in place to minimize or eliminate ever taking reactive measures.

Preventative measures include:

Keep it clean. Pests want to be in your restaurant for two reasons: shelter and food.  And while your kitchen will always be a warm and inviting place, you can do a lot to make sure it’s not particularly filling.  The standard place to start in your effort to make your kitchen a hungry place for pests is with the trash.  Take it out every day, wash out containers regularly, and use a plastic liner.

You’ve already got those bases covered.  More important to preventing pest infestation is to make sure everything makes it into the trash that should before you take it out.  That means food bits and debris from every corner of the kitchen.  It can be easy to miss the many corners and hidden crevices where pest dinner tends to collect, so make sure there is a regular top-to-bottom cleaning schedule with hefty enforcement.  This goes for the front of the house as well.

Run a tight ship.
The best way to keep pests from making your restaurant their new home is to make it very hard for them to break in.  Use caulking, screens, and other patching materials to stop up holes wherever they occur.  The most common areas where holes occur are around doors, ventilation systems, pipes, and plumbing installations.

Food Safety: Controlling Insects And PestsAlso make sure particularly sweet or strong-smelling ingredients are stored in airtight ingredient bins to prevent pests from using them for meals and breeding grounds.

Set the trap. After you’ve made your restaurant as inhospitable as possible by storing foods properly, sealing entryways, and cleaning regularly, it’s time to set some traps to catch any brave pests that still insist on making your restaurant their home.

For mice and rats, standard snap traps will work well enough.  If you start catching mice and rats, it’s time to investigate further and find out where they’re nesting and how they’re getting into the building.

For insects, an insect control system that uses UV light to attract and trap anything with wings is very effective.  The Paraclipse system is an easy-to-maintain way to keep flies and other bugs out of your food and in the trash instead.Food Safety: Controlling Insects And Pests

In the case of cockroaches, don’t try to solve your problems with cheap residential-strength traps.  Call an exterminator right away.  Cockroaches are one of the hardiest creatures on earth, and it is going to take several rounds by a professional to eliminate the problem.  This will surely be expensive, but all it takes is one cockroach sighting to turn a customer away from your establishment for life.

If you’re vigilant about these preventative measures, then hopefully you’ll never get to the reactive measures stage, which usually involves you, your checkbook, and a licensed exterminator.  If you do discover an infestation problem, then address it right away with the help of a professional.  The risk to your business is much larger than the expense of extermination.

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Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice

Over 60 years, Hoshizaki has built a reputation across the globe for quality, design, and performance.  Since 1986, Hoshizaki’s plant in Peachtree City, GA has supplied the U.S. market with domestically produced ice makers and bins. As one of the largest producers of commercial ice machines worldwide, Hoshizaki understands that quality, durability, and performance are the keystones to customer satisfaction.

Food service industry professionals recognize Hoshizaki for their commitment to these prinicipals by buying Hoshi ice machines again and again, and they have selected the company for various awards, including “Best In Class” in FE&S Magazine.

Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice

Cuber ice machines are the standard in food service.  Hoshi builds a variety of capacities, with optional stackable bins and air, water, or remote condenser cooled.

Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice

Nugget ice machines are a consumer favorite because the porous ice is chewable and it soaks up the flavors of the beverage.  Hoshi makes an air, water, and remote condenser cooled version of their nugget ice machine.

Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice

Flake ice machines make ice perfect for salad bars and fresh fish or meat displays.  You can also get air, water, and remote condenser cooled versions of this flaker ice machine.

Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice

As with all ice machines, you should have a water filtration system to prevent breakdowns and reduce maintenance.  Hoshizaki makes their own water filter systems for their ice machines.  Usually, for warranty reasons, it’s best to use the water filter system recommended by the manufacturer, which of course is the one they make.

Hoshi also makes sushi cases and ice dispensers.

Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice

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Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

You’ve probably seen the NSF and UL labels in your restaurant or commercial kitchen before.  And you probably already have an idea what these organizations do and what that label means.  But fully understanding what the NSF and UL do to make sure restaurant equipment and tools meet food and personal safety standards is worth your time, so here’s a brief explanation:

Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

NSF International (formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation) is an independent, non-profit organization that certifies food service equipment and ensures it is designed and constructed in a way that promotes food safety. NSF is internationally recognized and most food service equipment is NSF certified.

What does that certification mean?  Equipment certified by the NSF must complete the following process:

  • The facility where the product is made is thoroughly audited by an NSF representative.  This ensures the product is constructed in a sanitary manner and that the standards for sanitary design elements are actually met during construction and assembly.
  •  A physical evaluation of the product is carried out to ensure it meets food safety standards.
  • Testing and evaluation is done on the materials used to make the product to make sure they meet standards.
  • The facility and product must also undergo annual follow up audits to maintain certification.

NSF certified products have therefore passed a stringent set of evaluations to ensure food safety requirements and standards are met. Some common food service equipment that is certified by the NSF include: commercial dishwashers, cooking, hot holding, and transport equipment, dispensing freezers, commercial refrigerators and storage freezers, automatic ice making equipment, and food and beverage dispensing equipment.  Many restaurant and commercial kitchen utensils and cutlery also get NSF certification.

As a restaurateur, purchasing NSF certified equipment and small wares ensures that your business is promoting food safety.  The power of NSF’s reputation means that most equipment you buy is already certified, but understanding what that certification means is important when you look to buy new equipment or during your next health inspection.

Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL)

Millions of products, from consumer electronics to commercial cooking equipment in your restaurant, carry the UL symbol.  UL certification means the product and its components meet a set of safety and hazard standards that ensure the safety of the product’s users.

Over the last 100 years, UL has become the primary authority on product safety.  The UL label on the equipment in your kitchen means it has met a set of standards that ensure your equipment operates in a safe manner.  This includes electrical, design, and structural elements of restaurant equipment.

UL conducts ongoing analysis of products to make sure they continue to meet safety standards.  And UL also has a sanitation certification for equipment that is important to food safety.  Look for this label when dealing with such equipment:

Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

As a restaurateur, it’s important to understand the stringent process certified products must go through to bear the NSF and UL labels.  These products have gone the extra mile to ensure the food and personal safety of their equipment.  Purchasing NSF and UL approved products shows you the manufacturer has taken the time to create a quality product, and that can lend you a little peace of mind.

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Why Water Filtration Is Essential In Your Restaurant

Why Water Filtration Is Essential In Your RestaurantWater filtration systems provide two key benefits for your commercial kitchen or restaurant: restaurant equipment maintenance and breakdown is reduced by as much as 75% Beverages and ice tastes (and smells) better for customers. Restaurant equipment that use water like ice machines, coffee and espresso makers, steamers, and dishwashers can all benefit from a water filtration system.

Mineral deposits (also known as “scale”) build up in these machines, causing maintenance problems and breakdowns.  Water filtration systems with scale inhibitors prevent the buildup of scale as well as filter the water in the commercial kitchen equipment you use every day. Water filters with scale inhibitors are particularly beneficial for ice machines, as ice will appear clearer and break up easier than non-filtered ice, not to mention taste better to the customer.

Water filtration removes:

  • Chemicals
  • Sediment
  • Minerals
  • Organic matter

The presence of these elements in your commercial kitchen or restaurant’s water affects water taste and odor and increase the likelihood of maintenance problems or equipment breakdown.

Types of Water Filters

Not all water filters and water filtration systems are the same. Some water filtration systems feature a drop-in replacement cartridge whereas others are screwed into the filter head. Some water filters need to be activated by cycling water through them for a period of time before use.  Other types allow you to simply drop in the cartridge and put it to work right away.

Some systems require multiple filter cartridges, especially for higher volume applications whereas others, most notably Cuno, have single cartridge systems for all capacities, saving space and money since you only have to purchase one replacement cartridge at a time.

When To Replace Your Water Filter

It’s probably time to replace your water filter cartridge if:

  • Water pressure drops significantly.  Many water filtration systems have a PSI (pounds per square inch) indicator needle.  If that needle is in the red or below 30 PSI, replace your filter
  • The water in your restaurant or commercial kitchen tastes or smells funny
  • Mineral deposits or “scale” start building up in your restaurant equipment
  • More than six months have passed since the last time you replaced the filter

The best way to avoid problems with your water filtration system is to replace filters every six months. If your water filter cartridge is clogging or going bad in less than six months, you may need a pre filter for your water filtration system. A pre filter removes larger organic matter and sediment before it reaches your main filter, improving the main filter’s lifespan and effectiveness. Different geographic areas have different water qualities, but in general if your area has especially “hard” water (it contains lots of minerals), has a lot of sediment or debris, algae, or other organic matter problems, installing a pre filter is a good idea. Wherever your restaurant is, you should have a robust water filtration system in place.  It’s good for your equipment, your product, and your customers.  There’s not three more compelling reasons for a restaurateur out there.

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Handle Bulk Vegetable Oil The Smart Spout Way

Handle Bulk Vegetable Oil The Smart Spout WayIf you’ve got a restaurant, you probably deal with a lot of oil.  Between changing the oil in fryers, making dressings and sauces, and cooking on the line, the only person moving more oil in the neighborhood is the local mechanic.  And, like any restaurateur, you probably buy the stuff in bulk containers so that it’s a little easier to handle and a little cheaper to buy.  And we all know how annoying those bulk containers can be to handle.  They’re, well, bulky.

The Smart Spout is exactly what it sounds like: a smart idea that makes a restaurateur’s daily life a little easier.  It’s simple, functional, and easy to use.  What does the smart spout do?  It allows you to pour bulk fryer or vegetable oil easily without spilling.  Simple as that.  Anyone who has stepped on oil on the floor in a commercial kitchen can attest to the dangers even a small spill can create.

The Smart Spout fits 1, 17.5, and 35 gallon bulk oil containers.  It swivels so that oil can pour freely in any direction.  It comes in red and green so you can tell fryer oil from ingredient oil.  It’s washable, sealable, and reusable.

The Smart Spout reminds me of old gasoline cans.  20 years ago they had a screw cap and that was it.  Then somebody got smart and invented a pour spout so you didn’t spill gas everywhere, which is both costly and dangerous.  Now every Jerry-can in the world has a spout.

I don’t know if every bulk vegetable oil container in the world will have a spout one day, but they should, for the very same reasons every gas can now has one.  If you deal with those bulk oil containers, make your life a little easier.

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Managing Temperature

Maintaining proper food temperature should be a constant process in your commercial kitchen, from the time it arrives through your back door to the time it arrives on the customer’s plate.

Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Managing TemperatureWhen the delivery truck arrives, immediately check food products for temperature.  Reject food that arrives above 41 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once you have ensured that the food has arrived in good condition, store it immediately.

Use a good thermometer.  Make good thermometers available to your staff to help with the temperature monitoring process.  Make sure you and your staff are trained in proper thermometer use:

Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of what you want to measure, and make sure the tip is in about the center.

Wait about five minutes for a proper reading.  Newer digital thermometers will beep when they have reached the absolute temperature.

Sanitize the thermometer before and after each use.

Constantly monitor food temperatures. Develop and post a temperature monitoring schedule for all the different food types you are currently storing and prepping.

Train other employees to help you maintain this schedule.  Stay out of the food temperature danger zone between 41 degrees and 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

For heated foods, post a safe temperature chart for cooked foods and train your employees to properly use a thermometer to check food temps during heating.

Safe Chilling and Heating Instructions

Keeping out of the 41 degrees to 145 degrees danger zone should be the top priority for all foods and ingredients.  The one exception to the danger zone rule is freshly cooked food, which can be held at 140 degrees before serving, although you should establish a deadline for hot held food after which you should either rapidly chill and store the product or dispose of it.

If you are chilling food that was heated, chilling it rapidly is the best way to prevent bacterial growth.  Use a blast chiller or a cold paddle to bring food temperature down quickly.

This also retains maximum food freshness.  After food has been rapidly cooled, store it in a commercial refrigerator or freezer.  Use storage containers to maintain freshness.

If you are serving cold foods, use a chill pan with built-in refrigerant and ice to ensure food maintains the correct temperature.  Monitor temperature to make sure food items are not rising above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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