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Archive | February, 2011

Is Your Restaurant Truly Family Friendly?

According to a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), 75% of restaurants offer a children’s menu and another 6.25% are considering offering one.  Most restaurants understand the need to cater to young families and accommodate them in every way possible. Is Your Restaurant Truly Family Friendly?But is your restaurant really making your youngest customers and their parents feel at home?  Having a children’s menu should only be the start of your strategy to cater to families.  Restaurant high chairs, baby changing stations, and booster seats are all necessary tools in your arsenal when it comes to making all of your guests feel at home:

When I was a kid, restaurant high chairs were pretty basic, and usually an afterthought in the restaurant.  These days you have options when it comes to high chairs, and this important piece of furniture can actually complement your décor instead of taking away from it.  Wooden and plastic high chairs are available in a variety of styles and colors, allowing you to choose something that blends in and looks good.

Is Your Restaurant Truly Family Friendly?

Infant seat cradle holders are also another way to make any young family feel right at home in your restaurant.  They provide a convenient and safe stand for any car seat, and they’re available in a variety of colors.

Booster seats for slightly older kids don’t have to be an ugly chunk of plastic anymore either.  Wood finish booster seats, complete with safety strap, are a big improvement over the classic molded plastic model.  And if you want to stick with that classic molded version, at least you can choose from a variety of colors so they don’t have to stick out like a sore thumb.

Is Your Restaurant Truly Family Friendly?And for your restrooms, baby changing stations have pretty much become standard equipment, even in the men’s room.  Luckily companies like Koala are making a variety of configurations so that the baby changing station in your restrooms fits with the layout.  Choose from horizontal, vertical, and recessed versions that will fit almost any size wall, giving you flexibility when you add or replace the baby changing stations in your restaurant.

Being family friendly might start with the menu, but for your customers, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to anticipating and effectively accommodating their needs with the equipment that makes your establishment feel a little more like home.

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HACCP Principle 4 – Establish Monitoring Procedures

HACCP Principle 4 – Establish Monitoring ProceduresNow that you’ve established your Critical Control Points and Critical Limits for every preparation process and every menu item in your restaurant, it’s time to monitor.  Limits and CCPs don’t do any good if there’s no enforcement.  The first thing to establish is someone who will accept responsibility for monitoring.  If no one must answer directly for monitoring, then no one will actively enforce the managerial control points you have taken so much time to identify up to this point.

Of course you may want to have different people monitoring different CCPs.  Regardless of who takes responsibility, proper training is an absolute must.  Training ensures that monitoring processes are carried out accurately and effectively.  Every CCP monitor should understand the following:

  • What the Critical Limit is for each CCP under their control
  • How to measure that Critical Limit (for example: how to properly take the temperature of a cooking chicken breast)
  • Where to find and how to calibrate measurement equipment like thermometers
  • How often to monitor

The CCP, Critical Limit, and the procedures on when, how, and where to monitor should all be written down in clear procedures that the person in charge of monitoring has read and signed.  This helps prevent confusion and assigns official responsibility, which is particularly useful in case of problems down the road.

An example set of guidelines for a specific menu item might proceed as follows:

Menu Item: Chicken Parmesan
Assigned to Process 2 (this restaurant cooks once then immediately serves this menu item)

Identified Prerequisite Program Controls:

Identified CCPs:

  • Cooking temperature
  • Hot holding temperature or using time

The Critical Limits Are:

  • 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds for cooking the chicken breast
  • Serve immediately

Note that this particular restaurant serves their Chicken Parmesan immediately, thus using time as a way to control the return of bacterial HACCP Principle 4 – Establish Monitoring Proceduresgrowth.  If the restaurant did not plan on serving the chicken immediately, then a hot holding Critical Limit of 135 degrees Fahrenheit would need to be in place.

So someone in your restaurant needs to be trained and accept responsibility for monitoring the chicken breast while it cooks and ensure that it is regularly hitting 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  It is up to you to establish the guidelines for the frequency of the monitoring.  The restaurant in this example tests one chicken breast in the beginning of the dinner shift, one in the middle, and one at the end of the rush to ensure temperature Critical Limits are being met.  Consult with your local Board of Health while you are developing your own guidelines.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment

Going Green” is a hot buzzword these days, and everyone, including the food service industry, is jumping on board the environmentally friendly bandwagon.

The great thing about going green in your restaurant is that you can cut costs and save yourself considerable money while improving customer loyalty and visibility at the same time.  In a time when cutting costs might mean sinking or swimming, going green might be the thing that helps you stay afloat.

This series is intended to help you cut costs and improve your business’ bottom line while making legitimate green restaurant claims to your customers.  And you just might save the planet in the process.

Tip #1:  Manage Equipment

The equipment in your restaurant or commercial kitchen uses thousands of dollars worth of energy every year.  Running this equipment is essential to your business, but it can also be a drain on profits if not managed properly.  Some tips to help you manage equipment:

Reduce idle times. Cooking equipment like broilers, steamers, ovens, holding cabinets, and fryers all take time to heat up for optimal use.

Because your kitchen staff is usually more concerned with food preparation times than energy efficiency, they tend to leave equipment running during downtimes to avoid being slowed down by heat up time.

Obviously, you also want to minimize food prep time, but striking a balance between time and energy use is easier than you might think.

Things like broilers and connectionless steamers don’t take very long to heat up, so shutting them down during even short lulls can save you money.  Ovens and fryers can be reduced to an idle temperature that uses less energy than constantly maintaining peak cooking temperature.  Newer fryer models even offer an automatic idle temperature feature.  And warming cabinets are often left on overnight, wasting energy.

Utilize efficient cooking strategies. Using energy hogs like salamanders or broilers is necessary to cook and serve a quality product.

But that doesn’t mean you have to use the least efficient weapons in your cooking arsenal all the time.  Evaluate how each menu item is prepared and devise strategies to employ the most efficient equipment in your kitchen as much as possible.

Steamers, convection ovens, griddles, and microwaves are more efficient than ranges, broilers, standard ovens, and salamanders, so if you can substitute one for the other without compromising the quality of your product, do so.

For more information on managing eqiupment, check out Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment…Continued

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Microbrew Rebels: Oskar Blues Does Craft Beer Their Way

Microbrew Rebels: Oskar Blues Does Craft Beer Their WayWhen Oskar Blues opened its doors in 1997 in the tiny burg of Lyons, CO, just north of Boulder, it was just a place to get some great Southern style food and listen to the best offerings from the local music scene.  That all began to change when Oskar founder Dale Katechis began brewing beer in 1999.  In November 2002, Oskar Blues produced its first microbrew in a can, an event that has since been dubbed the “Canned Beer Apocalypse.”

The arrival of Dale’s Pale Ale turned the bottle based craft beer industry on its head.  “We thought the idea of our big, luscious pale ale in a can was hilarious,” says Katechis.  Cans have other benefits as well.  The lighter, more durable containers made Oskar beers much more portable, an essential ingredient in outdoors-crazy Colorado.  Can liners also lock in brew freshness and prevent the aluminum from affecting taste.

Soon microbrew aficionados from all over the U.S. were picking up on the Apocalypse that had taken place in Lyons.  In addition to Dale’s Pale, Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scottish Ale, Gordon Imperial Red, and Mama’s Little Yella Pils Malt Pilsner have all earned accolades in an impressive collection of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Beeradvocate.com.

Oskar Blues canned microbrews are now available in 25 states, and production is humming along with a new brewing facility and taproom in nearby Longmont, CO.  The canned beer revolution started here has since spread to other well-known Colorado microbrews, but Dale and his team take special pride in turning non-believers on to the benefits of full bodied beer in cans.

“We’re in this to have fun and put some extra joy on the planet,” Katechis says. “We love the way people’s heads spin around after they try one of our four-dimensional canned beers. ‘That came out of a can?’ We hear it all the time.”

If you’re interested in carrying Oskar Blues “Liquid Art in a Can” in your establishment, contact Wayne at wayne[at]oskarblues[dot]com.

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The Back Burner Rated Top Food Service Blog

The Back Burner Rated Top Food Service BlogThe Back Burner was recently honored with the top spot in the Business Schools Directory: 60 Best Blogs In The Restaurant Industry. After two years of blogging, we’ve accumulated quite a library of information for everyone in the food service industry here at The Back Burner. If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to check out our main categories and catch up on the latest from the restaurant business:

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The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket

The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket

ModMarket founders Rob McColgan and Anthony Pigliacampo

You’d think finding a place to eat lunch in a health nut haven like Boulder, Colorado that featured simple, all-natural ingredients made from scratch for a good price would be pretty easy.  Boulder residents Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan realized a couple years ago that unless they wanted to eat at Chipotle every day, finding good, affordable, healthy food prepared fresh and fast was much harder than it should be.  The two friends then set out to fix this problem.

Their solution is Modmarket, a fast casual restaurant located in the heart of Boulder’s 29th Street Mall.  The menu and the food follow a simple set of principles laid out by Anthony and Rob when they started: serve food that

  • Tastes great
  • Is made from scratch
  • Features simple ingredients that anyone can recognize
  • Is served quickly
  • Is affordable
  • Wouldn’t turn you into the guy from Super Size Me if you ate it every day

The crazy thing is how revolutionary this simple credo has turned out to be.  Modmarket’s daily offering of fresh salads, brick oven pizza, gourmet sandwiches, and made-from-scratch soups has been an instant hit with the Boulder locals, and founders Anthony and Rob are hard at work on a second location in Denver that opened at the start of the year.
Even more impressive than Modmarket’s fresh and tasty menu is their extremely savvy marketing campaign.  The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket

Modmarket’s founders are skillful practitioners of  cutting edge restaurant marketing techniques,  but one of their mostThe New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket successful campaigns comes from an innovation all their own: using receipts as advertising space.

“We view the receipt as an asset,” says co-founder Anthony Pigliacampo, “We’ve taken what was going into the trash and turned it into a marketing tool.”  All Modmarket receipts list nutritional information for each item the customer ordered, not only placing the restaurant ahead of the curve on menu labeling but also reinforcing Modmarket’s message: we’re a healthy alternative to other fast casual chains.

“People like the fact that it’s transparent.  We’ve had people come in just because they’ve heard about it,” Anthony says of the nutrition information on receipts.  But Modmarket’s use of all that white space on customer receipts doesn’t end there.  At the bottom of each receipt is a bold black arrow pointing to the right that reads “Turn Me Over.”

On the back is a limited-time promo giving the customer 10% off their next order, provided it happens in the next two days.

Below the Modmarket promo is an ad with a coupon for a local chiropractor, which Modmarket prints for free in the name of supporting local business.  Below that ad are instructions for connecting to Modmarket’s Wi-Fi network – a great way to get customers to come back on their next lunch break.

Modmarket also uses catering as a secondary revenue stream and as a way to get their brand of fresh, tasty, healthy food in front of more potential customers in the Boulder area.  “Catering has spread through word-of-mouth and it’s great because it exposes our brand to new people and helps us utilize dead times at the restaurant,” says Anthony.

Catering can sometimes present a logistical challenge – especially when customers request Modmarket’s services with very little lead time.  On the other hand, margins are higher on the catering side and “getting our food into more hands,” as Anthony puts it, only helps find more Modmarket converts.

By far the most effective marketing campaign for Modmarket has sprung from local media.

Generating buzz around a story can be a delicate art, but when done properly can result in some great publicity for a restaurant.  The Modmarket guys landed in the local news after they placed a street sign in front of the restaurant that read “You Can’t Eat At Chipotle Every Day.”

On the surface it seemed like a fairly straightforward statement, but the Chipotle location a few hundred yards down the 29th Street Mall didn’t see the humor.  They asked Modmarket to take down the sign and soon enough the story was in the papers and a lot of new customers were coming through the door.

Of course, recruiting new customers doesn’t do a lot of good unless they become repeat customers.  A large part of the process of turning new customers into loyal ones depends on good food and great service, but there’s no reason why some smart marketing can’t help that process along a little.

Modmarket definitely recruits loyal customers through their receipt promos, but another method that has turned out to be very effective is email marketing.  There’s a computer terminal placed on a prominent wall in the restaurant that encourages customers to sign up for messages.  In a little over a year the list has grown to over 5,000 email addresses.

The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket“We make it so people want to open the emails we send them,” says Anthony.  “We don’t send them very often, and when we do, there’s always a great deal.”  In fact, Modmarket has seen as many as 1,000 redemptions on coupons they’ve sent via email.  Three elements of their email marketing strategy contribute to their success: 1) getting customer permission to send email, 2) carefully controlling how much email is sent, and 3) always including a compelling offer with every email.

Of course, no restaurant can call their marketing strategy effective without wading into the messy world of social media and the web.  Modmarket has rolled up two sleeves and plunged in on this front, with positive results.

For starters, the Modmarket website is clean, informational, and easy to navigate.  It’s also been optimized to show up in search engines like Google for specific keywords unique to people searching in Boulder for a great, healthy place to eat.

Anthony’s advice for other restaurateurs wanting to get more traffic to their website is to have Google help for free.  “The Google Local Business Page is the easiest way to increase visibility on the web,” he says.  “Even if you don’t have a website, at least create a Local Business Page for free.”

As far as social media goes, Modmarket is active on both Facebook and Twitter.  They test different marketing messages on the two social sites by using a unique coupon code specific to each message and then track code performance through their POS system.  The messages that work get used again, those that don’t are tossed.

These marketing messages are then mixed with a healthy dose of non-promotional messages that help create a conversation with customers.  For example, on Modmarket’s Twitter feed, a message promoting “Free Lunch Fridays” was followed by a link to pictures of the new location in Denver before opening day.  Posts like that give customers a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant and help engage loyal customers even when they aren’t there.

The conversation continues on Yelp.  Many restaurateurs have viewed the review site with a mixture of suspicion and fear, especially after revelations that Yelp was aggressively selling $300-a-month “sponsorships” that allowed users to decide which reviews ended up at the top of the list for a restaurant.

Modmarket views Yelp as an opportunity to engage customers, no matter what they have to say.  “The thing with Yelp is that you can respond to customers,” says Anthony.  “We’ve had a ton of reviews that started as 3s and are now 5s because we talked to that customer and addressed their issue.”

The secret is to respond to customers on Yelp as you would if they were standing in your restaurant.  Accept blame – even if you know their criticism isn’t true – and then win their trust by offering an incentive to try your restaurant again.  “We like to reward people for criticizing us,” says Anthony.

Modmarket also uses the criticisms they receive on Yelp to motivate their staff and hold them responsible for service.  Negative reviews are posted on a bulletin board in the back of the house so that employees get direct feedback on their performance.  This approach in turn helps Modmarket gain more positive reviews in the future.

Another aspect of web marketing for restaurants is using the website as a tool for collecting orders.  Some restaurants have struggled with online ordering systems in the past because the orders interfere with service in the dining area as staff try to fill online orders while dealing with a rush in the front of the house at the same time.

Modmarket dealt with online ordering by integrating it with their existing POS system.  That means the process of taking the order and getting it to the line in the back of the house is fully automated and frees up precious staff resources to handle in-store customers.  “I wouldn’t do online ordering without point-of-sale integration,” says Anthony.

The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarketThere’s not a single one of these Modmarket strategies that emerges a clear winner in the battle to gain more customers and keep the ones they have coming back again and again.  But taken together, the sum of these many parts adds up to a very effective campaign that has generated a lot of business and helped Modmarket expand very quickly.

None of these strategies require a huge budget, although they all do need some investment and especially some time to succeed.  And what works for Modmarket may not necessarily work the same way for another restaurant.  The key is to take a comprehensive strategy and test different parts until you find what works for your restaurant.

Continual improvement is the hallmark of any successful marketing campaign, and Modmarket founders Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan are no exception to that rule.  Even as they see success with their current efforts, Modmarket’s approach is to look for ways to make their marketing and customer engagement initiatives ever more effective.

“Nothing has ever been good enough the first pass,” says Anthony.  “That’s why we track what happened and then try again.”

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Commercial Dishwashers: High Temp vs. Low Temp & How To Size A New Unit

Commercial Dishwashers:  High Temp vs. Low Temp & How To Size A New UnitAre you a high temp person or a low temp person?  It seems like most restaurants have either one type of commercial dishwasher or the other, and the owner/manager is a big believer in one or the other, with very little crossover between the two.  No matter which side you come down on, there are some clear advantages to high temp dishwashers, and even if you’ve sworn that low temp is the way to go, some hard truths about low temp dishwashers may very well change your mind.

First things first: what are high temp and low temp? These two terms refer to the sanitation cycle of the dishwasher.  High temp commercial dishwashers use an internal heater to heat water to 180 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill any germs and effectively remove grease from dishes.  Low temp commercial dishwashers rely on a chemical bath to sanitize dishes.

Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits and drawbacks of each:

High temperature dishwashers:

  • Use heat to sanitize dishes and glassware
  • Must achieve 180 degrees Fahrenheit to meet NSF regulations
  • Use slightly more energy than a low temp dishwasher
  • Do not require the regular purchase of chemicals
  • Do not damage flatware and plastics
  • Dishes flash dry at the end of the wash cycle, reducing food safety risks
  • High temp dishwashers usually wash dishes faster

Low temperature dishwashers:

  • Use a chemical bath to sanitize dishes and glassware
  • Are not as effective at removing grease
  • Are slightly more energy efficient than high temp models, however, they use more water and deposit chemicals into drainage systems
  • Can damage flatware and plastics
  • Require you to purchase chemicals on a monthly basis

Those in the low temp camp argue that the cost of chemicals for a low temp dishwasher is much less than the increased energy savings versus a high temp unit.  The initial purchase cost is usually less as well.
While this may be true, the main factor to consider when you are trying to decide between a low or high temp dishwasher is the damage to flatware, plastics, and dinnerware that might occur with a low temp model because of the sanitation chemicals used.

How To Size A Commercial Dishwasher

Buying the right sized dishwasher is critical to your kitchen or bar’s ability to keep up with demand.  Most dishwasher manufacturers list the number of racks per hour a particular model can process.

In general, racks can hold 18 dishes or 36 glasses.Commercial Dishwashers:  High Temp vs. Low Temp & How To Size A New Unit

Calculate how many dishes you generate per hour and then weigh that number against the number of racks the dishwasher you’re looking at can handle.

When calculating how many racks you need to wash per hour, consider the following factors:

  • About 35 racks of dishes are produced for every 100 meals served
  • Your dish machine should be able to easily handle peak demand volume like Valentine’s Day dinner rush
  • Dish machines have a 5 – 10 year lifespan, so add 10% – 20% capacity for future growth

Also don’t forget to account for dishes created in the kitchen.  In general, most restaurants need a door type dishwasher to accommodate pots and pans and other things that need washing in the kitchen.  Door type dishwashers can typically handle 100-150 racks per hour, making them perfect for the dinner rush in most small and medium sized establishments.

Make sure you take future growth into account!  A dishwasher should have about a 10 year life, and in that time your business should be growing.  If you purchase some extra capacity at the beginning, you’ll save yourself some time later on.

For more on commercial dishwashers, check out these links:

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What Kind Of Website Is Hurting Restaurants The MOST??

SURVEY IS OVER.

5 years ago Facebook was in its infancy.  Twitter was a year away from conception.  Yelp was no more than the apple in the eye of a creative Silicone Valley entrepreneur.  And Groupon was still 3 years away from development! In 5 short years the restaurant marketing landscape has changed.  These sites and many more have changed the way the game is played – and many restaurateurs have had both good and bad experiences trying to keep up with the unrelenting pace of technology.

That’s why The Back Burner wants to know: which websites are helping you?  Which are hurting your business?

Take the short, 1 minute survey and tell us what you think!

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A Free Inventory Management Tool??? Where Do I Sign Up?

Count-n-Control is the brainchild of long-time industry pro Paul Clarke, and it’s a tool that is going to revolutionize how you track inventory in your restaurant.  No, Count-n-Control doesn’t have some crazy new way to track your stock so that shrink is 100% eliminated, and no, it’s not going to help you find the cure for cancer.

But everything you need and expect from an inventory management system is here at your fingertips, including:

  • Stock and supplier tracking
  • Transaction and sales tracking
  • Quick-view graphing of stock
  • Roll period feature
  • CSV file data importing
  • Multiple users and access from any internet-enabled device

These are the things you would expect from a good stock control tool, and it’s all here in a simple and easy-to-use interface.  You can track and import stock data easily from anywhere, have employees update stock, and view reports on your current stock all in one place.

Great, you say, so where’s the revolution you were talking about earlier?  Okay… drumroll please… Count-n-Control is free to use.

That’s what makes this tool revolutionary.  I’ve talked a lot here on The Back Burner about how you can add to your bottom line by controlling inventory effectively.  If you’re a successful restaurateur, you probably already knew that.  The beauty of Count-n-Control is that you can control your restaurant’s stock (which saves you money) completely free.A Free Inventory Management Tool???  Where Do I Sign Up?

That’s what I would call a double-whammy of green for your bottom line.  If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I don’t usually sound like Billy Mays (R.I.P), the late great salesman, but seriously, here’s my best impression:

You can get this great inventory tracking tool for your restaurant… absolutely free!

Try it out and let me know how Count-n-Control works out for you.  Leave a comment below with your own review!

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Is The Restaurant Dead?

You know the old saying: “desperate times call for desperate measures.”  The past two years have certainly been a rough time for the food service industry, and even though things are looking up now, the lean times have left an indelible stamp on which way the industry is trending.

In lean times the most efficient restaurant is the most likely to survive, and increasingly restaurateurs all over the country have taken to moving their operations outside of the traditional restaurant setting.  This trend has been propelled by many more factors than just the economics of opening and maintaining a traditional restaurant space, to be sure. But it’s undeniable that the downturn got a lot of influential chefs in the industry to start rethinking the fundamental assumptions of the business, like spending inordinate amounts of money to develop and stock a full-blown restaurant. This has resulted in some revolutionary ideas that have since become some of the hottest trends in the business, like the Kogi Taco Truck in L.A. and the “underground” fine dining movement that germinated in San Francisco and has since taken the country by storm.

Now a growing number of chefs are thinking short term when it comes to defining their next project, and stripping all the trappings of a concept down to the bare bones.  A great example was featured in The New York Times recently: What Happens When is a restaurant that opened last week on a nine-month lease in New York’s SoHo district.

Conventional wisdom says it’s pure folly to sink a ton of cash into a location that won’t be around all that long.  But everything about What Happens When is unconventional.  Used furniture, a short-stocked bar on a mobile cart, and replacement flatware in drawers beneath the tables are all ways in which this restaurant plans to save cash.

In addition, the building in which the restaurant plans to reside has been condemned, so rent is cheap (at least by New York standards).

The short lifespan of this restaurant has a certain freedom to it – with low overhead and a Spartan setting, What Happens When can focus on what’s truly important – the food.

So is the traditional restaurant, with a carefully groomed dining area and state-of-the-art kitchen, dead?  As more and more restaurateurs find new and creative venues to showcase their food, the conventional restaurant will certainly seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

As long as customers continue to enjoy the idea of stripping the dining experience down to the food at the expense of atmosphere, keep a careful eye on how restaurants in more traditional spaces compete with these leaner and much meaner upstarts.

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