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Archive | January, 2011

Commercial Reach In Refrigerators: Know What To Buy

Commercial Reach In Refrigerator Buying GuideTURJRF45

Commercial reach in refrigerators are generally used in restaurants for short term food and ingredient storage, as opposed to large walk-ins that store bulk items long term. The commercial reach in refrigerators available through are built for heavy duty use and have a more powerful compressor than residential refrigerators.

More horsepower means a refrigerator’s storage space cools quickly and stays cold despite constant door opening.  This is vital for food safety, and NFS regulations require commercial kitchens to store food products at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bottom vs. Top Mounted Compressors

The compressor is the engine of a commercial reach in refrigerator.  Keeping this engine working effectively and efficiently requires a combination of maintenance and environment.  Some compressors work better in certain environments than others, and purchasing the right unit for the job and location you have in mind is an important decision.

Commercial reach-in refrigerators are made with either a top or bottom mounted compressor.  Top mounted and bottom mounted compressors have advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to make your purchasing decision based on where and how you plan to use the refrigerator.

Bottom mounted reach ins:

  • Are more efficient in hot environments because the compressor is on the floor, where it is cooler
  • Feature an ergonomic storage space with more accessible shelving than top mounted units
  • Should not be used where lots of flour (like a bakery) or dust is present as the compressor will clog easily

Top mounted reach ins:

  • Have better compressor airflow than a bottom mounted unit, making them more efficient.  However, this only applies in a cooler environment
  • Perform better in dusty environments or where a lot of flour is present (like a bakery)

Size and Insulation

Commercial reach in refrigerators come in three configurations: one door, two door, and three door.  Doors can also be halved for more compartmentalized storage.  When considering what size reach in refrigerator is right for your commercial kitchen, keep in mind that the larger the unit, the more energy it will consume.

Energy Star has begun rating commercial reach in refrigerators.  Use the Energy Star guide to identify units that are the most energy efficient.

Of course, energy usage must be weighed against the amount of storage space you need.  Probably the most efficient way to organize your refrigerated storage space is in gradually smaller units the closer you get to the hottest part of the kitchen: the production line.

Start with a walk in for bulk storage, then a two or three door reach in refrigerator stocked with daily or weekly supplies, and finish with a one door reach in refrigerator nearest the line for quick and easy access by kitchen staff.

All commercial reach in refrigerators have thick insulation to maximize efficiency and cool air holding power.  Stainless steel interiors are more expensive than aluminum or galvanized ones, but are stain and rust resistant, can withstand heavy use, and are much easier to clean and sanitize.

Commercial Reach In Refrigerator Maintenance

Most commercial reach in refrigerators are designed for heavy duty use and should perform at a high level for many years.  However, a few very simple preventive maintenance tasks will help ensure that your reach in refrigerator is working effectively and efficiently.

Keep the compressor and coils clean.  The coils are usually black tubes that are packed together on the outside of the refrigerator on the back side.  Wipe dust and dirt off coils and the compressor regularly to maximize life cycle and efficiency.

Make sure the compressor fan has good airflow.  A partially blocked or very dirty compressor fan must work harder to cool the refrigerant in your reach in, shortening it’s life

Replace worn door gaskets.  All commercial reach ins have thick self-sealing gaskets on their doors to make sure cold air can’t escape from the unit.  Over time, these gaskets wear out and lose their effectiveness.  A good indication your door gaskets need replacing is the constant presence of frost on shelves and food products.

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Online Ordering: Is It Your Future Blessing or Curse?

You can do anything on the Internet these days, and increasingly people are relying on the web to do all kinds of things that make their daily lives more convenient.  On paper, the idea of introducing an online ordering service sounds exciting to restaurateurs.  After all, who can complain about making sales before your customer ever steps through the door?

At this point, it’s mostly national chains that have introduced online ordering, many with some considerable success.  But as the technology gets more advanced, like order integration with your in-house POS system and cheaper to implement, many smaller operators may seriously consider implementing an online ordering system.

And as this technology trend continues, many can probably learn from the school of hard knocks Chipotle Mexican Grill has been through with online ordering.  When Chipotle launched their online ordering feature a couple years ago, it was almost too successful.  Orders poured into some chain locations, and staff trying to fill online orders frequently got in the way of staff trying to take care of customers in the store.

How many times have you walked up to a restaurant, taken one look at the line, and walked right out again?  Traditionally, this is how food service has regulated its peak periods and prevented extremely long wait times.  When customers are ordering online, however, they have no idea how many people are already waiting in line.  That created all kinds of problems for Chipotle, because online orders kept pouring in even though the restaurant was already full.

A great problem to have, right?  Chipotle responded by adding a dedicated prep line for online orders in their busiest locations.  They also streamlined the order generation process and added staff for those peak times.

For smaller operators, there’s a couple lessons to think about.  Because sooner or later, you will probably have online ordering, especially as customers catch on and start expecting everyone to provide the same service as Chipotle and other big operators.  Besides, an online ordering system can really help boost sales and customer convenience, which makes the concept very appealing to any restaurateur.

Be prepared.  Internet sales aren’t going to come in during the afternoon lull.  They’re going to pour in when everyone else is hungry: right at lunch and during the dinner rush.  When you first start out, assign some extra staff.  You don’t know how online orders are going to shake out, and the last thing you want is to compromise service to your in-house customers because you can’t keep up with online orders.

Manage order flow.  As Chipotle learned, having two teams, one working on walk-in customers and the other devoted to Internet sales, is a great idea in theory, but when those two teams are competing for the same food prep resources, problems and inefficiencies arise.  Make sure you develop a way to either give both teams their own resources or a way to integrate orders from both sources that allows your staff to deal with them in a timely manner.

Be flexible.  Every restaurant is different, and each one trying an online ordering service is going to be presented with a unique set problems.  No matter how well you prepare, something is going to go wrong.  Be ready to make adjustments and continue to tweak your service until you get it right according to your circumstances.

For many restaurants, online ordering seems like a distant prospect.  But I’d be willing to bet it’s a trend that sneaks up on the food service industry faster than most realize, and when the day comes for your restaurant, no matter how large or small, to accommodate customers coming in from the Internet, be prepared.

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Beg, Borrow, Or Blow Your Food Cost

Restaurant TipsIn a restaurant, especially a newly started or taken over one, it is highly recommended you get to know the other area food facilities and develop good relationships with them. While this may seem quaint, sort of like moving into a new neighborhood and making nice with the neighbors, there is a very good reason for doing this.

Yes, technically, other area restaurants are competition, but they can also be allies and assets. Similar to a bed and breakfast being full and recommending another one in the area when they are fully booked and it’s in turn reciprocated. This can also happen in restaurants. Each restaurant unless they have the exact same menu as you, the same prices, the same décor and clones of all your staff, is unique to itself.

The primary reason for being buds with your neighboring restaurants is because in a pinch, they may have stock of something you are out of. While this may seem purely mercenary to think about this in advance, it’s not. Most restaurants in business today that have been around for awhile, have a relationship with at least one if not more restaurants in a fairly close proximity, or they have a key food vendor who will go the extra mile for them and track down things at 11 at night for them.

Whether it’s the owners being friends or the chefs, cooks or bartenders, it’s important to be civil to the neighbors. Easy ways to do this may be stopping in for dinner occasionally or an after hours drink and meet everyone in charge. If owners/chefs/key employees stop in your place, buy them a drink, get them some free apps.

Being prepared for this eventuality (of being out of something) may seem overkill and not on an important to do list, but more often then not a key ingredient of your most popular menu item goes out of stock on a Holiday weekend or that caterered party you are doing for 50 people is suddenly increased by 40 people the day before and you can’t get product in the door in time for it. While this may not happen often, and if your management team is a well organized one, it will dramatically decrease the odds of it happening, but it is still best to plan for every eventuality.

When many restaurants run out of product, they send someone to the local grocery to get a replacement instead of running out completely. Doing this will totally kill your food cost. Not to mention many retail products don’t have the same quality as wholesale. Borrowing for a neighboring restaurant who may have paid $0.40 more a pound for Statler chicken breasts instead of buying at retail for 4 times what you paid for it originally, saves you time and money in the short and long term. Buying retail can also affect cash flow in house and result in confusion at the end of the night, when the cash-out doesn’t match up (i.e. the cook or busboy forgot to return and log the receipt from going to a grocery), not to mention headaches for your accountant. Cash for paying for retail items comes directly out of petty cash usually, more cash-out mistakes and petty theft as well can result from this.

In 20 years in the business I have lost count of the number of times other restaurants have bailed me out and in turn I have bailed them out. There are some things you just cannot plan for, no matter how well organized and anal you are about your inventory. The 30 person buffet that wants poached salmon: your normally trusted fish vendor either out of stocks you or on the very off chance you get a bad batch of fish, which was specifically ordered to cover the buffet and you sent it back because it was poor quality. What was the option, take in bad fish and have your customers get sick and/or your reputation go in the toilet? When dealing with perishables there is only some much extra you can keep on hand at any one time.

While you may have a stock in of salmon in this instance (say you run it regularly and it’s a hot item on the menu) do you run that salmon (that you have in house for your party) and 86 it on the menu and have some unhappy customers in your dining room? Run down to your local Stop & Shop, buy salmon for twice the price that has already had twice the day run shelf life? The alternative is borrow from a local that you know has good product and replace it at the first opportunity. You want happy satisfied customers all around.

There are caveats to this:

* Keep careful track of what has been borrowed from whom and make sure product when re-supplied is the same quantity and most importantly the same brand if possible.

* When items are borrowed, especially meat and fish products and most importantly shellfish, keep very very careful records of this, if items were contaminated prior to the borrowee’s restaurant getting hold of it, it needs to be trackable. Most borrower/borrowee relationships buy from many of the same vendors but not all.

* Don’t borrow from others that have bad quality control, if your chef wouldn’t have let it in the door in the first place from a vendor, it’s not something you want either.

* Don’t abuse the area relationships, running out of Maraschino cherries every Friday night tends to get old very fast to the borrowee. (not to mention annoying to regular customers)

* Be wary of the habitual borrowers in return (see above)

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Management Styles – Micro Manager or Laissez Faire

Restaurant Management StylesYour management style can have a lot to do with your success in running a restaurant, or any other business. While people can debate all day long about which is the best management style to use in different situations, one thing people will agree on, if you get it right (or wrong) it can have a big affect on the success of your business.

There are a variety of management styles, and most effective managers use a combination of styles to handle different situations. A firm approach might work in one situation while different circumstances may be better handled with a softer approach. It largely depends on you and your personality.

It is when managers spend too much time at either extreme of the management spectrum, micromanagement and laissez-faire management, that problems can start to arise. While there may be times where either of these styles can be effective, too much time will lead to difficulties with your staff.

Micromanagement is a style that refers to a very hands on approach. It is typified by a manager that wants to control even the smallest details of every employees job. They want to know the details of every thing that goes on in their business. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, if it is the defining factor of a manager the staff may start to feel like everything they do is under scrutiny. They begin to feel like they have no power to make any decisions on their own.

The biggest downside is that supervisors and employees will not take ownership in their jobs, and without any ownership, there is very little pride in the work that they do. Over time, employees will feel frustrated to the point that they will start looking for a new place to work. While some employee turnover is a natural part of the restaurant industry, too much turnover can really disrupt your business. You will spend so much time in training that you will not have the time you need to move your business forward.

The other end of the spectrum is the laissez-faire manager. This is the complete opposite of the micro manager. Rather than trying to control every detail, the laissez-faire manager allows employees to make most of the decision on their own. The manager makes very few decisions about the running of the business. Most of the day to day operation is handled by supervisors or by the staff themselves.

Employees need to have some responsibility, if there is no management control the inmates will begin to take over the asylum. If left unsupervised employees may begin to start making decisions that look out for their own best interest, and not the best interest of your business.

Like in so many area in life, you need to have balance in your management style. Rather than have one style that you force onto every situation, you will be better served to use a variety of styles that you can use in different situations.

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The Holidays Are Coming: Is Your Restaurant Going To Give Back?

Open Present BoxAs the holidays approach, giving back to the community is something that should be important to any business, and not just as a shameless marketing ploy.  Being authentic about your business’ involvement in charity is something that only time and commitment can communicate.  Having a genuine passion for charity work is a huge plus, and well-run businesses of any type aren’t shy about showing it.

But all too often it’s easy to get swept up in busy schedules and the hectic day-to-day effort that comes with running a restaurant.  It’s not that you don’t have the passion, it’s that you don’t know where to start.  Here’s two ideas for jump starting your involvement in the community during the best time of year: Christmas.

Hold a food drive. This is a great way to get butts in seats, engage your customers in the charity work you’re doing, and do something a little more meaningful than writing a check, all at the same time.  The concept is pretty simple: give a percentage point discount off the final bill for every pound of non-perishable food your customers bring in during a designated dinner rush.

This concept is great because it works on so many levels.  Customers are happy because they feel like they participated in the event, plus they get a discount.  You get to make a big show out of weighing the goods and talking about how much food you collected for needy families.  And underneath it all, feeding hungry people at Christmastime is truly a worthy cause.

Donate surplus food to the Food Donation Connection. Sponsored by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the Food Donation Connection takes surplus food from restaurants and gives it to local food banks in a timely way so that it feeds people before spoilage.  The NRA ‘s partnership with Food Donation Connection is a perfect opportunity for any restaurant to get involved with a great cause.

No matter how you decide to give back to your community, make it a priority this holiday season.  Yes, it’s an especially effective method for marketing your restaurant.  But on another level, a well-run charity program has reward all its own.

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Is ZapHour A Groupon Killer?

ZapHourEver since Google tried to buy Groupon for a reported $1 billion last year the buzz has been incessant around the group discount site.  Now, with rumors flying about a public offering later this year and more big tech companies trying to get into the Internet coupon game, it seems that the only people not all that excited about all the hype are those in the food service industry.

That’s because it’s hard to find a restaurant that has good things to say about their experiences with Groupon.  The discounts are steep, the customers usually never come back after they redeem their coupon, and restaurants run the risk of upsetting regular customers when the house is packed with one-timers.

The problems presented by Groupon for restaurateurs prompted a Portland, OR owner to create his own coupon site, called ZapHour.  The site functions a lot like popular travel industry sites like in that it addresses a perennial restaurant problem: how to get butts in seats NOW, when it’s slow, not on Saturday night, which has been booked for months already?

ZapHour does this by letting restaurants be very specific with their offers.  Unlike Groupon, which decides the discount amount and usually makes coupons redeemable for a full year after issue, ZapHour lets a business owner create deals for a short time frame on specific days that can only be redeemed a certain number of times.

That means if you’re really slow on Tuesday night, you can send out a coupon for that night and try to drum up some quick business.  On Friday, when you’ve got a packed house of full-paying regulars, you don’t have to worry about a bunch of foodie nomads armed with 50% off coupons clogging your tables.

The site has signed on 12 food service businesses in the Portland area so far and has a patent pending for the concept. What have your experiences with Groupon been like?  Would you support a ZapHour concept if it was available in your area?

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