eTundra Categories

Archive | March, 2011

Serve Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable SeafoodSeafood is a wonderful delicacy that helps form the backbone of thousands of restaurants. Seafood is healthy and great tasting, and customers love treating themselves to seafood when they go out to eat.

Unfortunately, overfishing has increased exponentially in the last 25 years, resulting in the collapse of a full third of the world’s fisheries. Many more are in serious decline, and if fishing continues at the present rate, all of the world’s fisheries will be tapped out by 2050. In response, several organizations have started promoting sustainable seafood choices that harvest fishery populations in a responsible and sustainable way. Restaurateurs have also taken notice, and more and more restaurants are offering sustainable seafood on their menus.

To become a sustainable seafood restaurant, check out the resource guide published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for both restaurants and consumers. This resource identifies fisheries that are being harvested sustainably so that you can make buying decisions accordingly.

Also talk with your restaurant’s seafood distributor and work with them to bring sustainable seafood options to your market. Many distributors already offer sustainable options and if they don’t, they should, so let them know that as a customer you would like a sustainable seafood option for your business.

Another option is to buy farm raised fish and shellfish products.  One such species that has recently become available is the striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia that makes a great center-of-plate white fish for any restaurant.

The debate between environmental groups and commercial seafood farms over the impact of farm raised seafood still rages, and The Back Burner will be exploring those issues in future posts.

Choosing to be a  sustainable seafood restaurant doesn’t have to mean compromising on the menu choices you offer your customers. It is possible to continue to bring great seafood menu items in a sustainable way.

And don’t forget to tell your customers you serve sustainable seafood. This is a great marketing tool that lets customers know you care about environmental trends and makes them feel better about ordering seafood items from your menu.

Continue Reading

6 Reasons Why Poor Employee Performance Is Your Fault

restaurant managementManaging a working restaurant is hard.

There are a lot of moving parts that must come together just right in order to pull off a successful shift.  Add in the stress created by a couple missed orders or irate customers and the goal of making every guest full and happy seems pretty daunting indeed. It can be especially frustrating for a restaurant manager when poor employee performance contributes to the general stress of the job.  Worse yet, it only takes one mistake by an employee to trigger a long night of damage control.

It’s only natural that managers expect and demand a lot from their staff. All too often, however, those expectations aren’t met.  And despite all the shortcomings the staff might have, poor performance is usually a symptom of poor management.

That’s right, it’s your fault.

  1. You don’t compliment your staff enough. Oh, they sure hear it from you up, down, left and right when they screw up.  They get detailed feedback about exactly what they did wrong, why it was wrong and how it should never happen again. And no, “good job” isn’t enough.  Detailed, positive feedback is an important way to keep your staff motivated and engaged.  It also makes your negative feedback more effective, because when someone is used to hearing good things from you they pay attention when you have a bone to pick.  A constant stream of negativity just causes your staff to tune you out.
  2. You micromanage. A common mistake made by managers everywhere is to combat lagging employee performance by personally making sure every detail is done right. Unfortunately, this only makes the problem worse. This is because when you take responsibility away from your staff they check out mentally – you’re just going to check everything they do anyway – and that means your job gets harder and harder while performance continues to plummet. Do what Nick’s Pizza does and “trust and check” with your employees.  That means leaving your employees to do their job and then having several layers of quality control spread out among several people.  The nice thing about trusting your employees to do their job, besides getting more out of your staff,  is that you’ll also have more time to focus on more important tasks.
  3. You apply standards unevenly. Setting expectations is one of the most basic and important functions of being a manager.  However, just because you say things should be one way doesn’t mean anything if your staff sees things done differently in practice. Here’s a good example: all servers are required to do side work – pretty standard, right?  Ever seen a “star” server – and every restaurant has one – skimp on their side work because they’re tight with the boss? Of course you have. Every manager has favorites.  Sometimes you just connect with someone personally.  More often you recognize a hard worker who does their job well and you do what you can to try and keep that person around. But when you allow that employee to come in a little late, leave a little early, and skimp on side work, you breed distrust with the rest of the staff.  Soon everyone’s performance is lagging – your star because they’re developing a sense of entitlement and the rest of your employees because they resent the star. And it’s all your fault.
  4. You don’t live up to your own standards. Leading by example is a classic lesson in management, but chances are you’re not setting a good enough example for your employees.  That’s because it’s far too easy to fall into this trap: “I work very hard, have a lot of responsibilities, and therefore I deserve to do things my way.” Unfortunately for you, if there’s anyone in the restaurant that must follow every rule and expectation to the letter, it’s you.  That’s because when employees see you ducking out early on a Friday night to spend some more time with your kids, they don’t care what your reasons are.  All they see are rules being broken by the people who set them.  And nothing makes your staff want to break rules themselves like hypocritical managers.
  5. You don’t have a clear, transparent path for advancement. With all the stress and work that comes from being a manager, it might surprise you that someone below you might actually want to be like you someday.  If you’re like a lot of small business owners then promoting your replacements is the last thing on your mind. But without a clear path for advancement your best employees are eventually going to look elsewhere, and that’s going to cost you.  Even worse, when you have no clearly defined standards, the people with the most tenure tend to get promoted by default, and that doesn’t mean the best, most motivated person got the job. Nothing is worse for employee performance than dealing with a mid or low level manager whose only qualification is having logged the most days as an employee.
  6. You don’t empathize. Em • pa • thy noun – the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the restaurant managersfeelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Every single one of your employees has a strong opinion about their job.  There are things that annoy them, motivate them, make them angry, make them laugh, etc.  As a manager, sitting in your ivory tower, it can be very easy to lose touch with what your staff actually goes through on a day-to-day basis. Sure, you’ve been in the business for years, and you might have even worked your way up from dishwasher to get where you are today.  That doesn’t mean you know what your dishwasher goes through every day in your restaurant. His experience is totally different. Unless you take the time to really understand every employee’s situation, you won’t be able to truly connect with them, and that means eventually you’re going to do something that comes across as clueless.  Every manager has done it.  And unless you understand each employee’s plight you’re doomed to do it over and over again.

Being a restaurant manager is a tough job, but that’s why they pay you the big bucks right? (sarcastic smile) On the other hand, strong, consistent leadership can make your job one of the most rewarding things you do in life, and your restaurant successful to boot. So the next time you see employee performance faltering, look in the mirror before you start spreading blame around. 9 time out of 10 the reason is staring right back at you.

Continue Reading

POS Systems: Love Them, Learn Them, and Please Don’t Ignore Them

Restaurant POS SystemI didn’t learn to program my first Point of Sale (POS) system until I actually become a head Chef at a restaurant and the POS system impacted my food cost. I taught myself how to use it, as there was no operating manual and none of the waitstaff or the owners knew how to program it either. After two weeks of not being able to program in specials and receiving hand written dupes with orders written on them, flank steaks coming through as tenderloins, sides of fries being no veg, and a host of other things that no one knew how to change or delete, I got fed up. This was my first introduction to the world of PCs, formerly being a Machead.

I have worked in many places where none of the kitchen staff knows how to program or change the POS system. This is a recipe for bad news and a food cost that can go through the roof even in a well managed kitchen. Even if it seems to be simple inexpensive errors, a side of fries instead of no vegetables, on a repeat basis, the small stuff can add up quickly. A side salad with no dressing or dressing/side gets sent out repeatedly with dressing on it, this salad can not be saved, its dressed and the salad wilts quickly.

An inexpensive side at $1.50 a pop, can quickly add up over time when line cooks don’t know or forget that X really means Y. Not to mention the time wasted for a waitperson to physically have to enter the kitchen, tell the cook that this salad has dressing/side and the time the cook wastes (especially on a busy night) noting this.

$1.50 X 100 times is not small change. Multiply this daily for a month and the small change equals thousands of dollars.

Not only does having a properly programmed POS system make sales and inventory easier to track, it cuts down on error, time wasted by waitstaff and by back of the house staff clarifying things and it can also impact tracking theft of product.

Point of Sale systems are wonderful tools, take advantage of them.

Continue Reading

Why Food Allergies Are Costing Your Restaurant Money

Food Allergies RestaurantsFood allergies are a serious problem that millions of people deal with every day.  Sometimes those reactions can even be life-threatening, which makes the allergy problem something restaurants cannot afford to ignore. And yet for quite awhile now there has been a distinct ambivalence in the food service industry when it comes to food allergies.

Part of it comes from a reluctance to change recipes to accommodate one diner – something that is difficult to do in a busy kitchen, especially when that extra work hardly translates into more money for the restaurant.

Another factor is the small yet significant minority of customers who use food allergies as an excuse to force restaurants to custom prepare their food.  The problem many restaurateurs see here is a slippery slope of catering to food allergies leading to a flood of custom orders that is impossible to handle.

Finally, culinary purists, particularly in the fine dining crowd, see the removal of ingredients from their dishes as a compromise of artistic expression.  This segment of the restaurant business is especially opposed to accommodating food allergy requests.

But how harmful, at least economically speaking, is it for a restaurant to refuse food allergy requests?

Luckily, Paul Antico, a former financial advisor for Fidelity Investments, has taken a Freakanomics approach to the food allergy problem and come to a provocative conclusion: accommodating food allergic customers could result in a 9% boost to a restaurant’s bottom line.  He’s started a website,, to help people with food allergies find and rate restaurants based upon their ability to accommodate them.

According to a Fast Casual magazine article covering Antico’s research, nine million people with food allergies go out to eat on a regular basis and actively seek restaurants that accommodate their allergy.

When you account for the phenomenon of the “veto vote” – one food allergy sufferer in a party of potential customers will cause the entire group to go somewhere else if their needs are not met – you start to see some pretty significant cash walking out the door.

So how do you make your restaurant food allergy friendly?

The first step is to establish a procedure to deal with an allergen-related special order.  Just like your food safety program, this procedure needs to be trained, enforced, and monitored.

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has some great guides for restaurants who want to become allergen friendly.
Here’s a summary:

First, ask these questions:

  • Who will answer the questions guests have about the ingredients in menu items?
  • Who will make sure the proper ingredients are used (and not used) when preparing a special order dish?
  • How will you avoid cross-contamination?
  • How will you deal with an allergic reaction?

To help control cross-contamination, San Jamar has a purple cutting board that makes it easy for kitchen staff to keep potentially harmful ingredients away from special orders.  Color coding the rest of your utensils, like chef’s knives and tongs, will also help your staff avoid contact with allergens.

Because a food allergy sufferer’s buying power is greatly amplified by the veto vote, it makes sense for restaurants to start thinking about ways to accommodate them.  If Paul Antico’s estimates are anywhere close to the actual number of customers and sales you’re leaving on the table, then you’ve got a strong incentive to start a food allergen safety program in your restaurant today.

Continue Reading