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Archive | June, 2011

Why Is It So Difficult To Convert A Bad Experience Into A Great One?

Managing Customer ExperienceWhen a customer is displeased with the service you’ve promised to provide, whether it be in your restaurant or retail store or any other category that deals with people, why does one think that a simple “I’m sorry” is going to remedy things?

If you truly want to convert a bad experience into a memorable WOW experience that creates word of mouth, then you’ve got to take your “apologies” up a notch and do the unexpected.

For example, my Raleigh News & Observer wasn’t delivered to my door on Sunday morning. After numerous phone calls to their over-seas customer call center and promises that the paper would be delivered within an hour, it finally arrived more than 4 hours later! I met the delivery person who gave me the typical “I’m sorry’s”

So, did he convert this from a bad experience into a good one? Definitely not and thus missed a huge opportunity to turn a dissatisfied customer into a raving fan.

What could he have done to turn this around and make this experience truly wonderful? Simply this – “Mr. Cohen, I’m so sorry we didn’t deliver your paper as promised. I’m sure you wanted it to read with your Sunday breakfast, so here’s a bag of fresh Brueggar’s bagels and cream cheese and some hot coffee to go along with your paper.”

Another WOW opportunity gone down the drain because companies haven’t been trained properly in the process of WOWing their customers and still believe that average customer service is the norm. The best ever opportunity for any company to create a raving fan is when something has gone wrong for that customer.

I’d bet you my next Sunday newspaper that Nordstrom wouldn’t have allowed this to happen.

Joel Cohen regularly writes about his insights into restaurant marketing on his blog, “Restaurant Marketing Blog.” Through consulting and speaking, he focuses on specific principles of restaurant marketing, such as planning, differentiation and how to WOW guests to increase sales.
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Repairing Countertop Warmers

Countertop WarmersSummary – Countertop warmers keep pre-cooked foods warm.  In this Tech Talk, learn how to replace all 4 components that could fail in your countertop warmer.

Critical Note – Never run the warmer without water!

For best results, use the model and serial number on your warmer to identify the right part or call 1-888-388-6372 for help.

There are only four components that can fail in these units.

1. Thermostat (infinite control, bi-metal, or thermostat with capillary)
2. Element
3. Hi-limit
4. Indicator light

Failure of any of these parts with the exception of the indicator light will cause the unit to fail.

How do I repair my warmer?  Which part do I need?

If your warmer is not working at all, begin by unplugging the unit.  Remove the bottom panel and inspect the element for burn spots.  Look for burned wires and connectors.  If the wiring and element appear fine the next step would be to check the hi-limit switch.

This will require an electrical test instrument.  You can use either a simple continuity tester or a multi-tester.

Begin by disconnecting the wires from the hi-limit switch.  Set your tester on the continuity setting and put the leads from the tester on each side of the hi-limit.  If there is continuity (a constant beep from the tester) through the high limit, then it is good.  If there is no continuity the hi limit is bad and must be replaced.

Let’s discuss the thermostat.  You have one of three types.

1. Infinite control – These usually have five to six pins coming out of the back.  To test this control, use your electrical tester.  Set it on the continuity reading.  Make sure the infinite control is turned on!  Connect one lead to H1 the other to H2.  If there is no continuity reading between H1 and H2 then the control is bad and must be replaced.

2. Bi-metal – This is an open control and you can see the contact points inside of it.  Turn the stem to see if the points open and close.  If the points do not snap together, the control is bad and must be replaced.

3. Capillary type thermostat – The last thermostat is one that has a capillary tube with a bulb at the end (attached to the control).  Follow the same procedure for testing as you would for the infinite control.

4. Last is the indicator light. If the light burns out it will not effect the operation of the unit.  It is simply there to indicate if the unit is on or off.

You can also test the element with the electrical tester set for continuity.  Remove both wires from the element and put the leads from the tester across the element connections.  If continuity exists you will hear a continuous beep from the tester.  If there is no beep, the element is bad and must be replaced.

Check out more food service parts.

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How to Remove Hot Used Fryer Oil Safely

A commercial deep fryer is a vital piece of restaurant equipment in any kitchen.  But as anyone who has worked in a commercial kitchen knows, they can also be high maintenance when it comes to cleaning.  Changing the heating oil is a constant chore, especially in higher volume establishments, and while dirty oil means you’re using your fryer a lot, it also means it’s time to change out the oil.

Transporting hot deep fryer oil is probably not a very popular task for your kitchen staff.  Even more importantly, it can be a dangerous job.  The potential for skin burns is very high, and that’s a hazard and an expense you can ill afford.

A Standard Oil Transporter

The highest risk for injury doesn’t occur when emptying your fryer or transporting the oil to the waste oil container.  The highest risk is actually dumping the oil in the container, because that’s when a spill is most likely to occur.  A standard oil transporter is easy to fill, and provided it has casters like the one pictured above, is easy to move.  But lifting one full of oil and dumping it out safely can be very difficult.

A Shortening Shuttle Hot Oil Transporter

The Shortening Shuttle® is nice because, unlike a regular oil transporter, it’s easy to fill and move.  But the best part about the Shuttle® is how easy it is to empty into a standard 55-gallon waste oil container.  The top of the Shuttle® hooks onto the container, allowing your staff to lift the far end and easily dump the oil out.  All in all it’s a pretty well designed product, with convenience and safety in mind.

Assuming you use the deep fryer in your commercial kitchen pretty regularly, the investment in a safe transporter for spent heating oil is definitely worth it.  After all, one trip to the emergency room for burns is definitely more expensive than a lifetime of using the Shortening Shuttle®.

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Why Restaurants That Offer Discounts Dominate Top U.S. Brand Rankings

Restaurant DiscountsThere has been much discussion about discounting in the restaurant business over the past few years.  Many in the industry worried that serial discounting would forever cheapen their brand and condition customers to be coupon hunters rather than loyal patrons.

That’s why it was interesting to see the results of a comprehensive study released by a British brand management firm recently.  The Nunwood Customer Experience Management (CEM) Top 100 surveyed 5,000 consumers in the United States in order to determine which brands have the best perception among the American public.

To many, Red Lobster’s third place finish was a shock.  The seafood chain beat out top brands like Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Marriot.  Red Lobster is known for their affordable seafood fare – in fact, they have been discounting what is usually considered an expensive menu item for years.

Respondents to the Nunwood survey raved about Red Lobster’s dedication to providing value and top-notch customer service.

Marrying the two seems to be the key to branding success in food service.  Other top 25 finishers included Subway, Applebee’s, and Chili’s – all brands that have engaged in some of the most aggressive discounting in the food service industry over the last three years.  Adding those discounts to a culture of customer service equals a combination these national restaurant chains have been winning with for years.

The time has come for those in the food service industry who fret about coupons and discounts compromising the value of their brand to realize that not only are discounts here to stay, they are the driver behind customer perception of your business.

As the top chains in the industry have irrefutably proven, the formula of getting customers in the door with deep discounts and then treating them like royalty is the way to earn their respect and loyalty.

Contrary to a popular belief among restaurateurs, the practice of deep discounting to get butts in seats has not hurt the images of these brands but enhanced them so much that they now compete with the biggest brands in America in terms of perceived value.  And that perception is certainly worth much more than any discount.

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Choosing Stick Mixers For Your Commercial Kitchen

How To Choose The Right Stick MixerA stick mixer is a hand-held, electronically powered device that allows chefs to mix large amounts of sauces, soups, and stews during preparation and cooking.  The motor connects to a long shaft with an attachment on the end that rotates at a high speed, making large-scale mixing projects manageable in a busy kitchen.

Stick mixers come in various sizes and types, and it’s very important to size the mixer you buy to the size of the task.  The smallest mixers have a 6 or 7 inch mixing shaft and are for small batches of lighter mixtures like sauces or batters.  On the other end, large stick mixers have up to a 21 inch shaft and can power through the heaviest soup or stew in a 25 – 50 gallon pot.

The most important factor to consider when selecting the right sized mixer is the length of the mixing shaft.  You want a mixer that can reach the bottom of the pot or mixing bowl you’re mixing in, otherwise ingredients will not be fully mixed.  The second factor you want to take into account is the wattage of the mixer’s motor.  Thick, heavy sauces, soups, and stews will burn out a smaller motor.  Stick mixer wattages usually run from about 350 watts all the way up to 650 watts or more.  The more powerful the mixer, the longer it can run and the heavier duty work it can handle.

A Combination Stick MixerStick mixers are made with either a single speed setting or variable speed settings.  Variable speed mixers are much more versatile.  Some mixers are also combination models, meaning they have a stick mixing attachment and a whisk attachment.  If you need a power whisk, these combo models are perfect for you.

Most mixers are immersion resistant, meaning the casing housing the electric motor can get pretty wet while working, but I wouldn’t recommend dropping the whole thing in a big stock pot.  Finally, some smaller mixers are cordless, which can be very convenient in some situations, although battery power can be higher maintenance.

Cleaning & Maintenance

Some mixers are easier to clean than others.  Those with a removable shaft make cleanup very easy because the shaft can be detached and cleaned separately from the motor.  Many of the heavier duty stick mixers have a permanent shaft, which makes cleanup a little harder but is worth the extra work when it comes to durability.A Bermixer Stick Mixer

When using a stick mixer, make sure you keep it from overheating.  Some mixers have an indicator light and automatic shutoff to prevent damage to the motor, but if you buy a model that doesn’t have a warning, make sure your staff knows how to prevent overheating.  The factors that cause a mixer to overheat vary depending on the thickness or heaviness of the mixture and the power of the mixer, but in general, let mixers cool every 15 minutes.  Also train staff to recognize the signs of mixer overheating, such as an extremely hot motor casing, a strange electrical smell, and a slowing of mixer blade rotation.

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Engineering Your Menu

The menu is often the first thing your customers see when they decide to eat at your restaurant, and sometimes might even be the thing that convinces them to come inside in the first place. But you’d be surprised how many restaurants spend little or no time on menu design, and as a result miss out on easy ways to help servers sell top menu items.

Some Menu Engineering Pointers

  • Drop the dollar signs. Anyone who has sat in a restaurant trying to decide what to order is a liar if they tell you they don’t look at the price for help in making a decision. So, if every customer is going to be looking at that number beside menu items, you might as well make it as appealing as possible. A recent study by the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) showed that menus without the symbol “$” or the word “dollars” saw an increase in sales of over 8% per person. That’s enough to make any restaurateur scrambling to get the white out!
  • In fact, deemphasize prices as much as you can. Another important tip is to place prices right next to the end of descriptions so that they blend in as opposed to setting them out all by themselves to the far right margin which just gets your customer thinking about how much it will cost rather than how good it will taste.
  • Strategically place best sellers and money makers. Customers scan lists of appetizers, entrees, and desserts in a predictable way. Naturally, they look at the top item first.  Maybe not so logically, they check out the very last item second.  Then a customer will usually go to the second item from the top, then second from bottom, until they get to the middle. Now that you know this, take the menu items of each category and split them up into groups:best sellers,high margin favorites, and then everything else. Place the items that fall into best seller and high margin groups in the prime locations at the top and bottom of your app, entrée and dessert lists. Place high margin items or categories in the top right of the menu and lower margin items in the lower left as well.  The customer’s eye will track to the upper right first, giving items placed there a much higher viewing percentage.
  • You can also promote new items and specials by highlighting them with a box or a “New!” graphic.  These simple visual tricks can increase sales of those items by as much as a third.
  • Train servers to back up your menu. You could have the best menu of all time and still go under in a hurry if your servers aren’t selling your menu. The trick is to get a good combination of menu engineering and servers who know what they’re doing.  Teach servers to helpfully suggest one of your top three most profitable items when customers ask. Have servers ask for upsells like side salads or a specific brand of alcohol instead of well.  Even a simple technique like using a pen to point to menu items the server is suggesting are proven to be very effective. The point is, give your servers a strategy, and strive to improve that strategy every day.
  • Get some help. For more menu engineering help, you might want to hire a consultant.  Many more factors should be taken into account when you are designing or redesigning your menu than those listed here. The most important of these is customer demographics.  A blue collar mom-and-pop diner probably shouldn’t print sleek menus with an art deco theme. Menu consultants specialize in taking the unique characteristics of your restaurant and using them to maximize sales through one of the primary tools at your disposal: your menu.

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Menu Engineering: Combo Meals Make Customers Think Value

Menu Engineering: Combo MealsNo matter what kind of restaurant you run, from fast casual to fine dining, combo meals can help your customer make a choice that makes them feel like they’re getting a deal, even if the combo costs exactly the same as the a la carte menu.

This is backed up by a study conducted last year by a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and discussed in Fast Casual magazine.  The study concluded that customers preferred combo meals regardless of portion size or actual savings versus ordering each item separately.

Part of the combo meal’s popularity is that it’s easier to order than choosing a bunch of a la carte items separately.  Even so, customers who participated in the study said definitively that they thought they were getting a deal when they ordered a combo, even when this turned out to not be the case.

For restaurateurs this information probably confirms something that most knew already.  But that doesn’t mean menus can’t be re-engineered using the combo concept to boost margins, sales, and customer satisfaction.

That’s because large national chains like Applebee’s have taken the combo concept beyond the days of “I’ll have a number 3 please.”  These chains present a series of menu items in a la carte format and let customers build their own combos.  The menu items are undoubtedly high margin winners, and customers love the ability to customize their combo selection.

If you’re an independent restaurateur with no combos on the menu, or even if you already have a more traditional combo section, consider changing up the menu for the new year by taking some of your most popular entrees and apps and placing them on a mix-and-match combo offer.

You don’t have to mark them down all that much (or at all), and combined with a marketing campaign promoting your very own value menu, you just might drum up some business in an otherwise slow January.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Cross-Training

The food service industry can be a brutal business, and sometimes the differences between making it and breaking are very, very thin.  As the manager, you have a lot on your plate – from training and supervising employees to running budgets and purchasing new equipment and supplies.

This series is intended to help you navigate the treacherous waters of restaurant management.

Train Your Staff To Handle Multiple Jobs

Cross-Train StaffThis technique is also referred to as cross-training, and is one of the most effective ways for you to reduce labor costs.

Inevitably, gaps are going to appear in the line of tasks involved in seating, serving, and feeding your customers.  Line cooks get sick.  Bartenders quit suddenly.  Servers and hosts no call no show.

And even if you get through a shift with every one of your staff present and ready for work, a busy night gets hectic, and someone is always going to need extra help.

This is where cross-training comes in.  Some examples include:

  • Train your hosts to be backup servers
  • Train your servers to be backup hosts
  • Train prep cooks to run the grill
  • Train bussers to expedite and run food
  • Train top servers to bartend, and bartenders to serve

Effective cross-training makes your staff more efficient and brings better service to your customers.

It also allows you to save on employee hours: on a slow night, cut your hosts and let servers handle both hosting and serving.

Bussers who can run food allow your servers to handle more tables, meaning you can schedule one less server for that shift, saving you money and making your servers happy because they will get more tips.

The list of benefits you reap from cross-training goes on.

Conduct periodic employee reviews.  Tracking staff performance is always an important task.  The best resource you have when it comes to evaluating your staff is the staff themselves.  Sit down face-to-face with each member and get a feel for how they and the employees around them are performing.

Use these meetings as a way to hand out raises, promotions, and feedback.  Meanwhile, you’ll be getting feedback on how your restaurant is running, and what areas need to be addressed.  Employee reviews help you cut the staff that aren’t working while quickly promoting the staff that are performing well.

The reveiw and cross-training process are mutually supportive.  Every reveiw period should reveal the areas that require more training, and as you train more you’ll be able to conduct more reveiws to track progress.

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