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Archive | April, 2011

Crocs Work Shoes: Same Function, More Style

Crocs Work ShoesFinding a good pair of comfortable black shoes for restaurant workers who are on their feet all day can be a challenge.  Crocs shoes are known for their durability, comfort, and great traction on even the greasiest kitchen floor.  And when Crocs came out with some stylish interpretations of their classic shoe, the food service industry snapped to attention.

The Crocs Bistro, Saffron, and Ginger put a stylish stamp on work shoes for restaurant professionals – but what really got the attention were the great features found in every pair. Crocs’ patented Croslite material is used to make all Crocs shoes for the food service industry, and is antimicrobial, odor resistant, and molds to the shape of your foot for a personalized fit. Crocs work shoes feature enhanced arch support and a closed-toe design, balancing comfort and safety perfectly.

Now Crocs has followed up the success of these earlier models with some great new designs, again giving food service some great options when it comes to finding a functional yet stylish shoe:Crocs Work Shoes the Crocs Amaretto, Barista, and Alice all  represent a new innovation in work shoes for anyone who works in a restaurant.  This stylish shoe can be worn in even the most formal dining room yet is as comfortable as any other Crocs work shoe.  The leather upper and custom fit lace-up closure are perfect for anyone wanting a stylish fit.

Comfort means a Croslite footbed that relieves pressure on feet, legs, and back.  Crocs Lock tread means these work shoes are slip resistant in any situation, especially wet floor in restaurant kitchens.

If you’re a food service professional, do right by your feet and get some stylin’ Crocs today.  If you’re a manager or an owner, do right by your employees and get them outfitted!

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The Pre-Shift Meeting (Part One)

The Pre-Shift MeetingI have worked for a number of companies over the years that held pre-shift meetings with the servers. They have been called a variety of things: line up, fresh talk, jump start, family meal, and many other names have been used to refer to these meetings. I have also managed at a handful of restaurants and ran my own pre-shift meetings.  Having been to thousands of these meetings over the years, I have been able to determine a number of factors that contribute to the success or failure of these meetings.

No matter what you call the meeting, the objective should always be to set the proper tone for the shift.  This is your chance to get your staff focused on the shift in front of them.  Many managers enter these meetings casually and without preparation.  Others use it as an opportunity to complain to the staff about their performance.  Some managers will even skip them all together because they feel it is a waste of time. All of these styles still share one thing in common: they set the tone of the shift.  Your pre-shift meeting will set the tone, positive or negative, for the rest of the evening.

With the potential to make this sort of impact on a shift, I am a firm believer in a well-planned per-shift meeting.  When holding a pre-shift meeting, here are some ideas to keep in mind:

Remember Your Audience: The goal of your meeting should be to inform, focus, and motivate your staff.  Too often managers will get sidetracked into discussing profitability or memos from corporate.  These are particularly relevant to managers, but seldom merit any of the limited time available for this meeting.  These things can be discussed in a managers meeting.  Use your time at the pre-shift meeting for just the information relevant to your servers.

Keep It Positive: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  Before you enter a meeting with bad news, come up with a way to spin it into a positive.  You are setting the tone for the shift.  Expressing any negativity or doubt will permeate the shift.  Remain positive and keep the staff motivated.

Maintain Focus:
While it is valuable to keep these meetings upbeat and relaxed, you must maintain control.  It is very easy for these meetings to be carried away by jokes or complaints.  It is your job to see when this is happening and take control of the meeting again.  As you develop a pattern of running your pre-shift meeting in this way, it will be easier to keep them focused.

Convey Weekly Messages: Your pre-shift meeting should follow up on the issues you are trying to impress upon the staff for the week.  Remember that not all of your staff is at every meeting.  The repetition will help drive the point home for those who have heard it before and allow those who haven’t to hear it the first time.  Repetition is vital to the long-term retention of information.

Take It Seriously:
You can only expect your staff to take these meeting with a fraction of the seriousness you bring to them.  Showing up unprepared and unfocused will send the signal to the staff that the meeting is not important to you.  If it is not important to you, they will not see the value in it.  Be prepared, focused, and present information with a conviction that it will help them in the upcoming shift.  This is valuable time and you need to take it seriously to get the greatest return on your investment.

The value of a good pre-shift meeting cannot be understated.  Taking the time to get your staff focused on the shift ahead and conveying training points will improve the quality of the shift and the service given.  Managers who fail to take advantage of it too often squander this opportunity.   Running positive, informative, and educational pre-shift meetings in one of the most important skills of a manager.  Fully utilizing this time will improve your shifts and your bottom line.

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Grilling Season Is Here: The Perfect Restaurant Burger

HamburgerSpring is well underway in most corners of the United States, and the warmer weather has every grillmaster itching to get some beef patties sizzling in the backyard.  For restaurants, the spring thaw can also be a great time as well, as you clean off the patio furniture and start setting up the umbrellas of summer.

One thing is certain: everyone is in the mood for a burger.  Whether your restaurant is known for killer patties or not, customers are going to be ordering two slices of bread with a thick, juicy slab of beef in the middle more often in the next three months than any other time of year.

This presents a great opportunity for any restaurant to place their own creative stamp on the classic American hamburger.  This menu item has been prepared in more ways and with more variations than any other, and yet it’s popularity still runs strong through most of the American public.

The popularity of the hamburger is a double-edged sword for the restaurateur: you know it will be a strong selling menu item, but everyone is also a backyard burger slinger, which means everyone is a connosseur.  If you’re going to market great tasting burgers to guests for any price higher than McDonald’s dollar menu, you’d better have a tasty surprise waiting in the wings.

And that’s where you’d do well to take some advice from a true grillmaster – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, an MIT grad who has developed a true science for grilling the perfect burger.  His blog, The Burger Lab, is devoted to the perfection of the hamburger. Recently The Burger Lab posted 10 Tips For Making the Perfect Burger, and a few of them are particularly applicable to restaurants:

Tip #1: Buying Store-Bought Ground Beef is a Crap Shoot

You’re never quite sure when it was ground, what part of the cow it came from, or even how many different cows are in the package. Not to mention baddies like e.coli, freshness issues, rough handling, and tight shrink-wrap packaging that can lead to leaden patties.

If you’ve never ground beef yourself, the task may seem daunting at first, but take it from me: once you grind, you never rewind. Your restaurant probably already has a mixer or a food processor;  getting a meat grinder attachment is relatively inexpesive and can help you create a masterpiece of a burger for your summer menu.

Tip #2: Keep Everything Really Cold

Until your burgers are fully formed, heat is their mortal enemy. Warm fat is soft and pliable, and tends to stick to your hands and work surfaces. And if that fat’s on your hands, then it ain’t in the burger.

When grinding your own meat (and I certainly hope you are), make sure that everything—the feed shaft, the grinding blades, the plate, and the meat—is well chilled to avoid fat smearage. I keep my meat grinder stored in the freezer so I’m ready to grind at moment’s notice.

This should be easy for any restaurant to accomplish – just stick everything in the walk-in!

Tip #3: Weigh and Size Your Patties

Weighing your meat as you divide it and measuring your patties as you form them will ensure that all your burgers will be uniform in shape and size, which in turn will guarantee that they all cook at the same rate. A scale and a good eye are all you need (though the truly OCD like myself will want a ruler as well).

Uniformity is good, but the most important thing here for a restaurant is portion control.  You want consistency in patty sizes so that you can better manage your food cost and profit margins.

Tip #4 Choose Your Bun Wisely

Buns come in all shapes, sizes, densities, and flavors. Make sure you’ve got the right one for the job at hand. For smaller, thinner patties, like a good Shake Shack-style griddled burger or small Northern Jersey-style sliders, soft, sturdy, and slightly sweet Martin’s Potato Rolls set the benchmark, although any soft, squishy, standard-issue supermarket bun will do.

A bigger, pub-style burger can overwhelm a soft bun with juices, soaking through and dissolving the base before the burger even hits your table. Toasting the bun can mitigate some of these effects, but for the most part, you’re better off selecting a sturdier roll, or if you’ve got one nearby, a custom burger bun from an artisan bakery. Brioche has its adherents, but I prefer my buns to be a little more bland, so as not to compete with the flavor of the beef.

Do avoid anything with an overly chewy crumb or a tough crust, unless you want your burger to suffer from the dreaded backslide.

A great burger is nothing without the bun.  There is nothing more frustrating than getting a good burger with a soggy bun.

These grillmaster tips can help you turn your restaurant into everyone’s favorite backyard.  You just can’t go wrong with a great tasting hamburger on your menu as we head into the summer season.  These simple tips will help ensure your burgers are the talk of the town.

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Should You Allow After-Shift Drinks in Your Restaurant?

Some restaurants allow an after-shift drink, after which the staff is allowed to hang around and become regular paying customers.  The issue has come up in my trainings and I have a definite opinion on it.  I prefer that employees do not sit at the bar and drink after their shift – at all.  If they want to come in on a day off, absolutely great.

I have worked with owners who feel that it is a good morale booster for the staff, but they are wary that less than desirable behavior, including language, will ensue.  Accordingly, we have usually come to a mutual decision that rules must be adhered to in order to make it palatable for staff and guests.

Staff must be clocked out and change into clothes other than their uniforms.  And their clothes must be of a business casual style.  They are allowed one free shift drink and then they must pay as if they are regular customers.  Some owners have decided to not give a shift drink, but staff is allowed to stay and drink.

I have never seen any of these policies as a benefit for the image of the restaurant.  Inevitably, someone drinks too much and talks too loudly and inappropriately.  I have seen otherwise polite and charming staff members become loud, embarrassing drunks at the bar.  Even worse behavior has occurred at the horror of owners realizing they should not have allowed alcohol to flow as freely as it did.

For whatever reason, kitchen staff isn’t usually held to the same appearance standards as the service staff.  Chefs who have long, unruly hair and scraggly beards might keep them in check while working, but they often pass through the dining area where guests can see them.  And then they might see them at the bar later, hair flowing freely and language and subject matter being discussed that most guests feel is inappropriate.  It makes them wonder what is happening in the kitchen.

This isn’t exclusive to kitchen staff.  It is merely an example to point out that just because your position might be in the kitchen, where you feel you aren’t ever seen, may give you a false sense of obscurity.  Servers have an obligation to appear clean because of their constant and close proximity to guests.  I have seen servers and kitchen staff alike abuse the privilege of sitting at the bar and drinking.

Personally, just a couple of nights ago, I went out to dinner with a friend and witnessed this behavior.  I wasn’t working; I was out for purely social and fun reasons.  I was in the position of the guest, watching the staff lounge around.  Our waiter was wearing a chef’s coat and his hair was long and in a ponytail under a turned-around baseball cap.  It looked as if all the workers were at the bar.  One young man came shuffling through with his apron tied haphazardly across his body, his hair was long and barely contained in a ponytail and his beard was scraggly and unkempt.

Shortly after, we saw him sitting at the bar.  I don’t know if he was drinking or just hanging out.  Either way, it didn’t look professional.  The only thing that changed about his appearance was the loss of the apron.  His street clothes were sloppy and dirty looking.

Let me get even more specific, in case anyone is thinking of the atmosphere argument.  All of the places I used as examples are in a price point range where this kind of behavior should not be allowed.  There are dinner plates on the menus above $20; in my mind, guests shouldn’t have to witness the staff after work, complaining about work, making fun of each other and talking about their personal lives in front of people who are essentially responsible for their paychecks.

The exception to this rule, outside of the owner saying otherwise, is the very casual bar environment.  I have worked with restaurants who are primarily bar establishments with bar food as a secondary profit.  A very casual environment like that is very different than the other establishments mentioned.  It’s ok and sometimes even expected that staff will hang around and drink with the locals.

The point is this:  what image are you projecting to your guests?  You might be ok with tattoos, long hair and piercings, and personally, what people choose to do with their bodies is their business; however, when you’re dealing with the public at large and especially the preparation of their food, you might consider asking your staff to put their long hair into a neat ponytail or bun, cover up the tattoos and take out the piercings.  Health codes dictate length of nails and specific cleanliness details of food handlers – chefs and servers alike.

Just think about how it looks.  I’m not suggesting that people change who they are; I’m a big fan of individual characters and quirky personalities.  I encourage them!  But we’re dealing with food; the perceptions of our guests should match the reality.  That means that no matter your personal style, you should also appear and be immaculate.

This is a sensitive topic and I welcome comments and feedback.  If anyone has a unique perspective and/or a successful rule about this subject, please share it!

Training and information is the key! Contact Susie at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  The business number is 720.203.4615, and email address is  Web address is

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How To Deal With Rising Food Costs In 4 Steps

Rising Food CostsMore and more it looks official – the U.S. economy is pulling out of recession slowly but surely.  The restaurant industry is cautiously optimistic about sales growth this year and consumers appear to be venturing out of their downturn shells.

Unfortunately a growing economy – even one that’s growing so slowly – has started to creating more demand for basic resources like gasoline, which has spiked in price over the last few months.

That, along with many other factors, like mandates that divert crops into biofuel production, has started driving up the cost of food.

It’s bad news for restaurateurs, who have been through the mother of all price wars over the last two years in order to keep business flowing through their doors.  Customers may be eating out more often, but they are still very price sensitive and deal-hungry.

Despite this, most restaurants will probably be forced to raise prices this year.  Luckily, those increases will be relatively small.  Experts are predicting a 4% rise in food costs, which usually translates to pennies instead of dollars on menus.

Even so, many big chain restaurants are starting to tweak their supply chains in order to wring as much savings as possible out of the market, which has proven pretty volatile in the past six months.

4 Steps to Easing Your Pricing Pain

  1. Cut down on long-term supply contracts. Locking in prices for an extended period of time is nice because you insulate yourself against the risk of a hike.  On the other hand, you also can’t shop around for the best price and you generally lose flexibility. If you’re willing to put in the time, the following tips will save you money, help your margins, and minimize your price increases.  But don’t be fooled – leaving the comfort and security of a long term fixed price contract certainly involves risks.  Ultimately it’s up to you and your restaurant’s particular situation to decide if playing the market is right for your business. It all starts with limiting your long term commitments.
  2. Shop suppliers hard. There’s no room here for long relationships and friendly deals.  The big chains are using their buying power to bleed suppliers dry before moving on to the next guy with a better deal. You have to be the same way if you want to get the best prices possible.  You may not have the same buying power as Darden but you do have a choice, and you need to be brutally rational about every single one.
  3. Be flexible. There are more sources for more kinds of ingredients today than ever before.  That’s great if you’re shopping hard to supply your inventory.  But you also need to be flexible about the kind of ingredients you buy. That doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice quality.  Instead, take advantage of seasonal deals, local surpluses, and market trends to find the ingredients that are moving at rock-bottom prices, then adjust your menu and recipes to accommodate the ingredients you’ve brought in. This kind of reverse-engineering will keep your menu fresh while also saving you big on food cost.
  4. Buy in bulk. Since you’re spending so much time shopping, when you do find a deal snatch up as much inventory as you can possibly cram into the walk-in.  Of course you’ll have to walk a tightrope between storage space, amount of time to sell all that inventory, and available cash, but if it’s done right you can really save by buying up sale items cheap. It may also be time to expand your storage space in order to ratchet up more savings on larger bulk buys.  Of course you’ll have to weigh the trade-off between the cost of a new walk-in and the savings you can realize, but between cheaper inventory rates and a tax write-off for the purchase, you should be able to make your investment back in a reasonable amount of time.

Limiting your long term supply commitments and playing the local, seasonal, and oversupply markets takes time, creativity, and a tolerance of risk.  But if you’re willing to play the game you can be handsomely rewarded.

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Marketing Your Restaurant’s Core Values

Cor3e Value MarketingIn a previous post, I discussed the benefits of implementing Core Value Marketing as part of a successful growth strategy.  This type of program creates a bond with your potential guests while providing tremendous opportunities for free publicity.

Most importantly, it allows you to provide much needed support to organizations in your community that need it to continue their good works.  This is a win/win proposition that allows your business to grow while helping the causes you care about.  Your business does well because it is doing good for others.

Success in Core Value Marketing is contingent upon a number of factors. Determining the right organization, offer, and tracking methods are instrumental to producing the results that you would like to achieve.

Restaurants that attempt to provide benefit to their community often are disappointed in the response, but rarely recognize that the failure was based on a poorly designed and implemented plan.  Successfully organizing a Core Value Marketing program that benefits both the restaurant and the group you are helping, requires taking several factors into account.  Failing to consider each of these items could result in a plan that disappoints both the restaurants and the groups you intend to help.

Here are some important steps in executing a successful Core Value Marketing campaign:

Determine the Offer: Are you going to offer a rebate to the organization or a discount on gift certificates?  Is it going to be valid for a day or a month?  Just during the week or on the weekends as well?  How will your distinguish which guests came in because of the offer?

The first step is to determine what type of offer you can afford to make.  A smaller rebate or highly restricted offer will deter many of your potential guests.  A large rebate with no restrictions may displace other guests or damage your bottom line.  Before making an offer to any organization, you must know what is practical and affordable.

Determine the Organization:
Once you know what you can afford to offer, it is time for you to find a group to partner with.  There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting the group.  You must choose a cause that people feel passionate about.  The group that represents this cause should have the ability to quickly distribute this information to those who care about it.

Large charities may not find your offer worth investing their time in.  Smaller charities might not have the reach to drive traffic through your doors.  A mid-sized, community based group will probably yield the best results.  Also take some time to consider any drawbacks to the organization you are considering.

There are too many worthwhile causes available to choose one that may potentially cause a backlash.  Stay away from political groups or those who are even slightly controversial.  You may also want to add special consideration to groups who allow you to make a tax deductible donation.

Spread the Word: While the organization you choose should do most of the marketing, use your connections to publicize it as well.  Send a well written press release to any media outlets in your market.  These often will appeal to newspapers and radio stations looking for a feel good story on a slow news day.

Do not forget to provide these releases to any local bloggers who write about the issue.  Make sure your contact with the organization has copies of your logo and basic information about your restaurant.  Make certain that they have all the information on the promotion and the restaurant correct to prevent angry guests from arriving at your door.

Track the Progress: This is one of the most important steps in the process and the one where most restaurants fail to capitalize on the program.  One of the first decisions you must make is how you will track the sales generated by this program.  If your promotion continues for more than one evening, you should opt to track it in house.

You should provide updates on the amount of money earned by the group throughout the promotion.  This creates excitement for the group and may inspire a last minute push to get more of their supporters to take advantage of the promotion.  This also creates another great opportunity to send out a press release and gain some more free publicity.

Publicize the Outcome: After completing a successful campaign, the last thing you want to do is mail a check.  This is another great opportunity to solidify your connection with the organization you are supporting.  Again, press releases are your friend.

Bring the group a big oversized check and find a good opportunity to present it.  Try to get the local media to show up for the ceremony.  Make sure you have a camera present as well.  Hang a picture of the presentation in your lobby.  Let your guests know about the size of your donation.  Use this positive publicity to excite the next organization you work with.

The opportunity to gain exposure for your restaurant while helping the community is far more fulfilling than publishing another coupon.  The benefits of this type of marketing go far beyond simply increasing sales.  Your staff will respond far more favorably to this type of promotion than discount based incentives.  The integrity of your menu pricing is maintained in the minds of your guests.  You also have the ability to convey to the community that you want to be a good corporate citizen.

These benefits make Core Value Marketing a wise component of your restaurant’s marketing plan.

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