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Archive | July, 2011

10 Tips For Commercial Water Conservation

leaky faucet Restaurants use a lot of water.  Between cooking, washing dishes, cleaning up, and serving guests, your water bill takes a good chunk out of your monthly budget on a consistent basis.  Commercial water conservation is also a big concern of a majority of your customers, especially if you operate in dry western states like California, Arizona, or Colorado.

This post is going to add to a common theme here on The Back Burner: finding ways to green your restaurant that not only give you serious street cred with your customers, but also add green to your bottom line.  The nice thing about commercial water conservation is that it takes minimal investment to realize some pretty serious savings.

Here’s 10 tips to help you save water in your restaurant:

  1. Serve filtered water on demand only. Don’t just assume your guests want water, and definitely don’t give them bottled water!  Not only is bottled water a needless expense, all that plastic is a landfill nightmare.  If you don’t serve water automatically, train your wait staff to let customers know they can have water free of charge at any time (after they get the drink order of course!).  And if you’re serving water, don’t just pull it from the tap.  Use a filtered glass filler to guarantee taste and water quality.
  2. Fix leaky faucets. That little dribble coming out of the faucets in your kitchen probably don’t seem like a big deal, especially since you’re probably working hellish hours as it is.  But looks can fool you.  That dribble can add up to thousands of gallons of water each month, and if it’s the hot side of the faucet that’s leaking, that’s hundreds of dollars in energy bills going down the drain as well.  Faucet parts are easy to replace and extremely inexpensive, and there’s really no excuse for letting those dollars leak down the drain.
  3. Low flow pre rinses. A low flow pre rinse can slash your water usage at one of its most wasteful points.  These pre rinses give you a heck of a lot more bang for your buck and still clean dishes effectively.
  4. Wash full racks only. This is a headsmacker tip.  The danger is in assuming your kitchen staff is following this rule religiously, because chances are they’re not.  Employ a constant education and enforcement program to make sure only full racks get put through your dishwasher.  Even conserving a small amount of water translates into big savings for you because that hot water is twice as expensive after you pay to heat it up.
  5. Retrofit kitchen and bathroom sinks. Aerators make both bathroom and kitchen faucets use less water and are easy to install.  In the kitchen, install a three compartment sink for washing dishes because the scrape, wash, rinse technique is much more efficient than doing it all in one compartment under a constantly running stream of water.  In the bathroom, install automatic faucets that shut off when not in use and retrofit old toilets and urinals with newer, more efficient ones.
  6. Train employees. In the end, all the best water-saving equipment in the world doesn’t do you a bit of good if your staff doesn’t take conservation seriously.  Make it an ongoing issue in staff meetings and during employee training.
  7. Use a foot pedal for handwashing sinks. Foot or knee pedals serve two purposes: they allow your staff to turn water on and off without contaminating their freshly washed hands, and they shut off automatically, which can save an astounding amount of water.
  8. Compost food waste. Instigating a compost program in your restaurant means staff must scrape food bits into your compost bin instead of washing it into the garbage disposal.  That means significant water savings.  A compost program has the added benefit of giving you additional green credentials for your customers as well.
  9. Landscape with conservation in mind. Many restaurants not only use water inside the restaurant but outside as well.  If you have any landscaping going on outside the restaurant, follow water conservation best practices to keep water usage down.
  10. Sweep and mop instead of spray. It may seem easier to just spray down kitchen floors and outside areas to keep them clean, but it’s certainly not cheaper.  Investing in some good old fashioned janitorial supplies like mops and brooms means some major water savings.  It might be a little more work for your staff, but those savings on the water bill will also help you pay their salary.

Finally, after you’ve put all the time into using the above tips to make your restaurant one lean, green, water-saving machine, make sure you tell your customers all about it!  You’ve worked hard to cut water usage, and perhaps the biggest reward you deserve is appreciation and increased loyalty from your customers.  Incorporate your efforts into your marketing campaigns.  It’ll surprise you just how effective a green message is in improving your name in the eyes of customers.

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Restaurant Equipment: 4 Factors For Calculating Total Cost Of Ownership

There’s always a significant amount of cost involved whenever you buy a new piece of restaurant equipment.  Those costs only continue as that equipment ages in your restaurant – from energy use to repairs, the consequences of new equipment will be around for a long time after you’ve written the check to purchase.

Of course, restaurant equipment makes you money as well.  Without that fryer or reach-in refrigerator or griddle, you wouldn’t be able to prepare your product for your customers.  But understanding the total cost of a piece of equipment over its lifespan has been ignored all too often in the food service industry for years.

Many chains have started doing a Total Cost Of Ownership analysis for equipment because they buy large numbers of the same type of equipment all at once.  A faulty or inefficient piece of equipment can mean thousands of dollars in extra expenses for the chain over the lifespan of the piece, and conducting a cost analysis beforehand helps avoid problems down the road.

By and large, most independent operators do not undertake the complicated task of calculating total cost – usually because the information or the know-how necessary to make an accurate calculation isn’t available.

That doesn’t mean independents and smaller chains can’t benefit from a cost analysis before they buy new restaurant equipment.  Here’s a quick guide to help you get started on your own cost analysis before you buy your next piece of equipment.
Calculate Ice Machine Capacity
Capacity. The larger the piece of equipment, the more volume it can handle.  The trade-off here is that larger equipment also uses more energy, which means higher operating expenses.  That’s fine if you’re using that capacity to generate revenue, but one of the biggest traps smaller operations fall into is buying too much capacity or not enough capacity.

Let’s use an ice machine as an example.  A large air cooled ice machine with a 1,000 pound ice bin will use a significant amount of energy every day, translating into hundreds of dollars of electricity expenses every month.  That’s perfectly fine if you’re coming close to emptying that bin every day to keep your bar stocked and your kitchen well supplies with ice.  But if you’re barely putting a dent in that ice, even during your busiest periods, then you’ve got a two-fold problem: first, you’re paying to make ice you don’t use, and second, you’re adding labor costs to your budget because now you’ve got to clean all that unused ice out of the bin regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria and other pathogens.

On the other hand, if your ice machine is too small, you risk shortening its lifespan because the unit never gets a break as it tries to keep pace with demand, not to mention the inconvenience to your staff and your customers that comes with an ice shortage.

In general, you want to size new equipment capacity based upon your best estimate of growth over the course of the unit’s life.  A good ice machine should last about 10 years.  Hopefully in 10 years your business has expanded and needs more ice.  That means you need to buy more ice capacity initially to accommodate future growth.
Of course, that means more energy expenses at first as you ramp up to full capacity, but down the road, one ice machine is more efficient than two.

Energy Efficiency. Unfortunately, energy usage information is very hard to come by when it comes to food service equipment.  The government run program Energy Star has begun to rate more and more restaurant equipment, so before you buy, check there to see if you can get some energy usage information.Energy Star For Food Service Equipment

Energy use is a big one when calculating the total cost of a new piece of equipment.  Most equipment in your kitchen uses a lot of energy, so even the smallest differences in usage can translate into thousands of dollars in savings over the lifespan of the piece.

Try to collect energy use information from the different manufacturers as you’re shopping for a new piece of equipment.  Often more efficient units have a higher initial price because more efficient components are usually also more expensive.  However, paying 10% – 20% more for a unit that’s 30% more efficient means you’ll still be saving thousands of dollars over the entire lifespan of the unit.

It’s common practice in the food service industry to shop aggressively for the lowest price point.  While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bargain hunting, an unintended consequence of this has been that many new units still employ older component technology that keeps the price low, even though those components can be significantly less efficient.

Keep in mind that sometimes, spending a little more up front can actually save you a lot of money down the road.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I explore two more areas where calculating the total cost of your restaurant equipment is important.  Click here to read the second installment of this article.

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Increasing Restaurant Profits

profitable restaurant1. Reduce Food Costs With A Descending Dollar Report

A Descending Dollar Report is a fancy way of saying “Find the 10 food items you spend the most money on every month.”  Once you know what those 10 items are, start looking for ways to cut your costs on each one.

Talk to your distributors and see if you can find a similar or even better product that’s less expensive.  Also don’t be afraid to pursue other distributors to find ones that are willing to bring you quality product at a better price.

If you have the capacity to store items in bulk, do so at every opportunity.  If you don’t, seriously consider investing in bulk storage so you can take advantage of available discounts.

Employ a detailed inventory system so you can make as many bulk purchases as possible while avoiding spoilage.  No matter what, use your buying power to find the best deal possible.  More than likely, food is one of your business’ biggest expenses, and saving even a few cents per pound you buy can translate into significant savings.

2. Train Employees to Make You Money

Your employees are your biggest expense.  They should also be your biggest asset.  Let’s face it: your staff is the face and the soul of your restaurant or commercial kitchen.  That’s why it’s important to give them the tools they need to make them your biggest money maker.  The key to accomplishing this is good training.  Set down standard training procedures for all new employees and carry out regular ongoing training for existing employees.

Follow up this training with regular performance reviews.  However, be careful to avoid making a performance review a litany of problems with the employee that need to be addressed.  Rather, turn a review into a conversation that empowers your staff to offer suggestions on how to improve your business.  More often than not, performance problems stem from training and management problems than employees themselves.  If an waiteremployee is truly underperforming, set clear parameters for your expectations of improvement, and don’t be afraid to terminate if those goals are not met.

Take employee suggestions and cycle back through your training and operations guidelines.  Modify and improve them so that problems are addressed.  The most effective training is an ongoing process that corrects past mistakes and always strives to be better.

So why does this increase your profits?  Because well trained employees result in happy customers who tend to spend more than the ticket average.  Well trained servers and bartenders know how to upsell menu items or well drinks.  Hosts double as bussers during busy shifts to make sure tables can be turned quickly.  Head waiters double as hosts to make sure customers get seated.  And so on.

Cross-training is another important element of this equation, as the examples above indicate.  The larger the variety of tasks each of your employees can perform in your restaurant, the more flexible and capable your staff will be.

Finally, set the example of a model employee yourself.  If the head waiter sees you bussing a table, she will realize she’s not above that task either.  Maintain a fun, positive work environment that rewards hard work and honestly confronts problems.  And instill a culture of “customer first” so that every guest walks away happy.

3. Use Incentives to Make Employees Stay Longer and Work Harder

Now that you’ve spent all that time training employees to maximize your profits, it’s time to focus on employee retention.  The longer employees work for you, the more efficient they become, which means more profits for you, so use some incentives to keep staff happy and motivated to come to work every day.

There are many ways to incentivize employees to work harder and reward high performance.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Track sales for bar and wait staff and reward top monthly sellers with a bonus
  • Set ticket time goals for kitchen staff and reward them when they meet those goals for an entire shift
  • Share a percentage of profits with tenured employees
  • Implement a rewards program for employees who go above and beyond the call of duty

No matter how you decide to incentivize employees, the goal is always to reduce hiring and training costs and maximize employee performance and efficiency.  In the long run, this is going to translate into more profits for you and your business.

4. Do-It-Yourself Equipment Repairs

Restaurant equipment is the vital cog in the wheel of any business in the food service industry.  You rely on everything from refrigerators to gas ranges to bar blenders to floor mixers to prepare and serve your product every day.  When a piece of restaurant equipment goes down, more than likely your bottom line is going to be affected, not only in repair costs but in lost revenue as equipment parts

Too often restaurateurs turn to a service company for equipment repairs, resulting in expensive labor and parts costs.  Instead, take the time to educate yourself about the most common types of equipment failures and how to fix them.  Often a simple and inexpensive part can get your restaurant equipment up and running again quickly.

Several companies offer large inventories of replacement parts for all the major food service manufacturers, meaning you can order the parts you need and perform the repair yourself with minimal downtime and even less expense.

5. Leverage Technology to Minimize Waste and Mistakes

POS (Point of Sale) and inventory software have become powerful management tools for your business in recent years.  With a POS system, you can:

  • Track inventory and set reordering schedules
  • Manage employee hours and manage payroll
  • Track sales and indentify trends, like best selling items, high margin items, and underselling dogs
  • Reduce waste from spoilage and ordering mistakes
  • Reduce shrinkage from unauthorized employee comps
  • Increase table turnover rates
  • Increase staff efficiency

More than likely your restaurant already uses a POS system to manage inventory and sales.  However, it’s also likely that you are not getting the most out of that technology.  Most vendors have training guides designed to educate you on system features, so take the time and become an expert.  Utilize your POS vendor’s website and customer support to get new updates for your POS system.  Often vendors will also provide free training and tips for their software that will help you get the most out of your investment.

Also don’t skimp on the hardware that goes with a POS system.  Of course, a lot depends on the size of your business, but in general, buying one touch screen terminal for your whole wait staff doesn’t increase their efficiency since they stand around waiting to enter orders.

If you’re about to buy a new POS system, shop around.  There are a multitude of vendors out there, and many specialize in different segments of the food service industry, like quick service, pizza, small independent, etc.  Make sure the vendor you choose offers a free downloadable trial version of their software so you can check out the interface before you buy.  Also look for vendors that offer updates and good customer support for their software.

6. Leverage Technology to Get New Customers

As more and more consumers use the internet or go wireless, it becomes more and more imperative that you use new mediums to reach your customer.  The most obvious element of a 21st century advertising campaign is a website for your restaurant.  A well designed and optimized website can be a great business generator, but make sure you follow a couple basic principles:

  • Include a current, printable menu
  • Make sure your restaurant’s phone number, address, and driving directions are clearly visible on every page
  • Submit your website to local and national restaurant directories

Your website should really just be a launching point for a larger advertising push using new technology.  View it as a platform to which you can drive new customers.  For example:

Start an email list and send out a regular newsletter to loyal customers.  This is a great way to build customer loyalty and keep your regulars updated and engaged.  If you’re putting the time into producing a newsletter, make sure it goes to as many people as possible.  Encourage customers to sign up at the host stand.  Offer a prize for filling out a survey that requires an email address.  You could even hold a raffle that requires only an email to enter.  Those addresses are worth their weight in gold for attracting new customers and bringing old ones back.

Go wireless.  Many restaurants have started moving beyond email and targeting customers via text message as well.  This is an especially useful tool for targeting younger customers.  The National Restaurant Association has endorsed a progressive new marketing company called Fishbowl, Inc., which has been helping thousands of restaurants and chains across the country to use innovative technology to connect with customers wirelessly.

7. Learn From “Regulars” and Incentivize Them To Come Back

Perhaps your best resource for improving operations in your restaurant are your regular customers.  You have spent a lot of time building loyalty with this group and they have spent a lot of money patronizing your business.  So take the time to survey and incentivize your regular crowd.

Building an effective customer loyalty program is the best way to achieve this.  Airlines have been using loyalty programs for years, but the food service industry has only recently gotten into the game.  Some effective ways to implement a loyalty program:

  • A loyalty card that gives rewards for frequent visits (such as eat ten meals get one free)
  • A regular-only e-newsletter with special promos, prizes, and giveaways in exchange for surveys and feedback
  • Bring-a-friend campaigns that give away a free meal to a regular who brings a friend to eat who has never patronized your restaurant before
  • Special buy-in clubs that target specific segments of your customer base.  For example, Hard Rock Café has a Pin Club for fans of the special collectible pins sold at the chain’s locations

Focus on promoting your brand when implementing a customer loyalty program, and be willing to commit the necessary resources to fund an ongoing program.  The cost can eat up a large part of your marketing budget, but the reward in brand recognition, customer loyalty, and regular feedback and customer information are vital to creating a stable base for your business.

8. Promote the Most Profitable Items on Your Menu

1017455_bar_graph_3When it comes to analyzing which items to promote on your menu, it’s important to recognize two main categories: best sellers and best money makers.  That’s because the best selling items on your menu, while important, may not be the ones you want to spend the time and money promoting.

For one thing, these items are already a best seller, so why promote them?  Another consideration, and a much more important factor, is that there are probably other items on your menu that have a much higher profit margin and aren’t selling.

A high profit margin menu item is one where a high percentage of the price of the item is net profit.  These items are often made from inexpensive seasonal ingredients combined with easy prep methods.

Utilize multiple marketing strategies to promote high margin menu items.  On menus, highlight them with a box or other attention grabbing graphic.  Use email marketing for promotion, especially if they are a seasonal item.  And train servers to sell high margin items whenever possible.

Every restaurant has bread and butter best sellers that form their reputation.  But often the secret to higher profits lies in the high margin sleepers.  Properly promoted, these menu items can provide a real boost to your bottom line.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with different high margin items until you find a winning lineup that can be regularly rotated in and out of your menu for a year-round bump in profits.

9. Minimize Energy Expenses

Restaurants use a lot of energy in day-to-day operations.  From heating and cooling the front of the house to cranking a charbroiler for the entire dinner rush, the meter is always moving, and every revolution cuts into your profits.

Optimizing your business for energy efficiency is no small endeavor, and initial investment costs can be significant, however, the long term benefits can be substantial.  Here are some tips to making your restaurant more energy efficient:

Update old restaurant equipment.  From reach-in refrigerators and freezers to steamers to ranges to warming cabinets, the newer the equipment the more efficiently it will operate.  Energy Star, a government-run agency promoting energy efficiency, has started rating restaurant equipment based on efficiency standards.  Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing new equipment and use the Energy Guide to compare energy usage.

Manage front of house heating and cooling.  Keeping your customers comfortable should always be your first priority; however, there are several strategies you can employ to accomplish this efficiently.  Some examples:

Use Energy Star rated ceiling fans to circulate heat from the kitchen and from solar sources through the dining area.  Note that you probably don’t want to push hot air directly out of the kitchen, as this air usually smells like cooking food.  Instead, use fans to push heat radiating off shared walls and ducts into the dining area.  Conversely, ceiling fans can also be used to cycle cool air in summer or in warmer climates

Program or install a digital thermostat.  Digital thermostats automatically cut heat or air conditioning during non-business hours, potentially cutting energy costs by as much as a third

Use windows and doors for energy gain, not energy drain.  If you are remodeling or building new, look for Energy Star rated windows and doors that either reduce solar heat gain in warm climates or maximize heat gain in cold climates.  Make sure all windows and doors are well insulated, and use blinds or curtains or both to block the hot sun or the biting cold.  Use door closers to minimize loss when doors are opened

Manage back of house energy usage.  While cutting energy use in the front of the house is beneficial, the real energy hog in your restaurant is the back of the house, which means it’s also the place to maximize energy savings.

Train kitchen staff to reduce idle temperatures on ranges, broilers, and ovens.  Even though this equipment takes a while to reach peak cooking temperature, reducing the heat during idle times can result in significant energy savings

Set shut down and maintenance schedules.  A recent study revealed that over half of the commercial kitchens surveyed left warming cabinets on overnight.  Write, print, and post shut down procedures for all the equipment in your kitchen, and make sure easy to replace parts like thermostats, temp dials, and refrigerator or freezer door gaskets are checked and replaced on a regular basis

Improve water heater efficiency.  Insulate pipes, set the temp to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, program or install a recirculation pump timer, and make sure the flue damper is working.  Also make sure you fix hot water leaks fast and train staff to only run full racks through the dishwasher

A robust energy efficiency program can be costly up front, but as time goes on and energy costs go up, your profit margins will improve because of the money you invested in efficiency.

10. Diversify Your Revenue Stream

Running a successful, profitable restaurant is just like being a stock broker: you must diversify to minimize risk.  This lesson is even more relevant today considering the current economic climate.  So, you have a great concept, some popular menu items, and a decent dinner rush.  Good.  But your profit margins could be better, and your business more resilient, if you took the time to diversify.  Some ideas:

Add retail items.  Loyal customers love creative apparel referring to your restaurant.  Think of all the money the Hard Rock Café has made just from selling T-shirts and hats alone.  And they still have the gall to charge $16 for a burger!  Plus you’ll get some great free advertising for your business

Make your food more accessible.  Customers love your menu, but they may not have the time or the inclination to sit in your dining room and eat.  Consider carry-out for popular items, large party catering services, and even food delivery to make sure your customer can have your food whenever they want

Host special events.  Weddings, corporate functions, and large parties often require specialized menus and pricing, but making your restaurant available for larger functions is a great way to sell out the place on slow days and to take advantage of high seasons, like corporate Christmas parties.  Plus many of the guests at a large event have probably never been to your restaurant before, so impress them so much they come back for more

Create profitable partnerships.  Chances are there are several other local businesses that would like to reach your customer base.  Come up with creative ways to give such partners advertising access to your customers…for a fee.  This could include advertising in menu inserts, banner ads on the emails you send out, or product giveaways at promotional events in your restaurant.  Of course, there is a fine line here between annoying and pleasing your customer, but use constant feedback and modify your strategies until you get the formula just right.  The result will be a great revenue stream that is almost all profit

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Fixing Gas Ranges

The most used and abused piece of kitchen equipment is the range.  Luckily it’s probably also the easiest to repair.  There are five range components that need to be replaced the most frequently:

If you are having problems with the oven portion of your range, check out these tips on repairing the oven.  There are additional parts depending on what other features your range has.  A convection oven would also have a blower motor and fan.  If there is a griddle on the range then burners and gas valves may need repair.

When working on a range always remember to shut off the gas!

1. The top grates only need replacing if they have cracked due to metal fatigue or if they have been dropped and broken.Burner Head

2. Burner heads usually become plugged over time.  There are usually two screws that connect the head to the venturi.  It is a good idea to use some kind of rust dissolver on the screws to loosen them.  Once the screws are out you can install the new head, and always remember to replace the gasket as well.

One alternative to replacing the head is to get a drill bit the same size as the holes in the head and drill out the grease build up in them.  However, this can sometimes alter the flame pattern.

3. Replacing the venturi is only necessary if it has been dropped or broken.  Use the same procedure for replacing the burner head and remember to install a new gasket.

4. Top burner pilotsneed to be replaced if they become clogged.  They are very difficult to unclog, and generally need to be replaced. There are three types of pilots:

Those with the tube pre-welded to the pilot head.

Those that have a nut and ferral to slide over the tube and be tightened onto the tube.

Pre-formed pilot assemblies specific to a particular range.

Pilot TubingFinally, there are new “flex tube” pilot burners that have a flexible pilot tube, making them very easy to install.

When replacing the pilots you will have to remove the front top plate (bull nose) from the range to access the pilot adjustment valves.  This will also have to be removed to replace the burner valve described below.

The pre-welded type is fairly easy to install. To replace, disconnect the pilot tube from the pilot adjustment valve and remove.  Place the new pilot head and tube next to an existing one and follow the contour while slowly bending to form the same shape.  When you get to the end you may need to cut the tube off, using a tubing cutter.  A nut then needs to be put on, and then a ferral and screw back onto the pilot adjustment valve.

The type with the nut and ferral is very easy.  Simply use a tubing cutter and cut if off just below the old pilot head.  Remove the nut and ferral from the new replacement pilot head and slide them over the tube, nut first and then the ferral.  Slide the pilot head onto the tube and tighten the nut up to the pilot head.

The pre-formed pilot assemblies are far easier because they are all bent and ready for installation, the only draw back is they are a little more expensive than the others.

Gas Burner Valve

5. Top burner gas valves are fairly easy to replace. With the top plate (bull nose) removed you can access them easily (part of the frame runs across the top of them).  If you are replacing all or just one, the burners must be removed if they have a slip type orifice.  If there is a tube type burner valve they need not be removed because you can disconnect the tube from the burner valve and move it out of the way.

In either case when the burners or the tube is disconnected take a wrench and screw out the valve being replaced (in some cases you may have to remove a pilot adjustment valve to be able to turn the burner valve by it).

Once the old valve is removed, put some gas thread sealer on the treads of the new valve and screw it back into position, being careful not to over tighten.  Reassemble the unit except for the top plate.  Turn the gas back on and light the pilots (this may take a few minutes because the gas must first force out the air in the manifold).

Once the pilots are lit, turn on the first burner.  There may be no gas flow because the orifice on the new valve may be closed.  Using two wrenches, one to hold the valve the other to turn the orifice, open the orifice to allow gas flow (this may take a couple of turns).

Burner VenturiOnce the burner lights, continue to adjust the orifice until there is a nice blue flame.  Adjust until you have as little of a yellow flame as possible. If you feel there is still too much yellow flame you may need to adjust the air shutter located on the end of the venturi.  Once you have produced the bluest flame you can get, you are done.  You can reassemble your range and cook to your heart’s content.

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Table Turnover: The Tradeoff Between Experience And Business

Table TurnoverEvery server hates “campers” – those diners who stay firmly parked in your section for hours on end, taking up a table that could have been given to another party ready to order (and tip) all over again.

For restaurant owners, table turnover can be a tricky balance.  On the one hand, you want customers to enjoy a great atmosphere while they dine.  It goes without saying that an enjoyable experience is more likely to bring customers back the next time.  On the other hand, every minute a table remains occupied after the customer orders their food is a minute you can’t seat another party.

The fast-casual segment has table turnover nailed down to a fine art.  When check averages are below $50, volume is the name of the game.  These restaurants employ several strategies to help customers out the door quickly so that new customers can be served.

These strategies include loud decibel levels, which have been proven to make customers eat faster.  Bright colors like red, yellow, and orange entice customers in and also help speed eating up.  Purposefully uncomfortable seating also helps encourage customers to eat and leave quickly.  Finally, “floating” seating – located in the middle of a room and away from walls – will turn customers over more quickly.

For independents, these strategies can be employed to get turnover moving, but at a cost.  That cost comes when customers looking for a pleasant meal start complaining about loud music, go somewhere else when they see that the only tables available sit in the middle of the room, or don’t come back because their back hurt days after sitting on your furniture.

It all depends on what kind of customer you want in your restaurant.  Fast casual eateries are not trying to sell you a dining experience.  Their customers are looking for value and a quick serving time.  If a restaurant in fast casual delivers on those two expectations, then a customer is going to tolerate the gentle nudging these establishments employ to maximize their volume.

Fine dining restaurants had better be careful about how they try to move customers out the door.  Nobody wants to spend $100 on dinner and have to yell over the din at the same time.  Of course, the customers who eat at a fine dining establishment understand they are paying for the experience as much as the food, and the restaurant’s owner had better make that experience a good one.1047072_american_diner

Unfortunately, many independents fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  The art of managing table turnover while still providing a rich customer experience can be difficult.  Some strategies to help you strike the right balance:

Segment seating. People who took the time to reserve ahead of time are looking for a dining experience that stands out from the norm.  Nice, comfortable booths, quiet corners, and big partitions with lots of plants will make these customers stay longer, but chances are they are expecting to do so anyway.

Use other methods to make sure the check average is high, like presenting realistic models of dessert offerings.  Anytime the customer can see what’s available rather than just hear about it, they tend to order more.

Other sections, especially near the kitchen and the entrance, should be more open, more noisy, and have a lot more “floating” furniture.  On busy nights, when it’s time to turn and burn because you’re filling up with walk-ins, use these sections to get table times down and turnover way up.

Create scarcity. Like most restaurants, some nights, usually on weekends, are much busier than others.  On those busy nights you want customers turning over more frequently and you don’t want reservation no-shows leaving tables empty.  Many restaurants deal with this by refusing all reservations on their peak nights and taking walk-in business only.

This has the effect of creating a more chaotic environment, which turns over your tables more quickly.  It also looks great on nights when there tends to be more foot traffic, because the sight of a dining area bursting at the seams does more to advertise your establishment than anything else.

Train your staff to help move customers along. Without being pushy, a well-trained staff can present several hints to help turn tables.  Making sure all dishes are promptly cleared, dropping checks at an appropriate, yet early, time after the meal, and processing payment promptly will help nudge the customer towards the door.

No matter what strategies you choose to employ in your restaurant to maintain a high turnover rate, be vigilant about analyzing their success and gauging that against customer experience.  Keeping turnover high is good, but only to the point where customers enjoy eating in your restaurant.

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Food Service Equipment: Getting Properly Stocked

A restaurant kitchen is alive with the hum and bustle of life and movement, and while nothing beats a good staff, stocking the right food service equipment can infinitely improve the efficiency and quality of your restaurant. No matter what type of restaurant you own or operate, you’ll need a massive amount of equipment on hand; ovens, ranges, processors, blenders, freezers, mixers, not to mention plates, knives, forks, chopsticks, etc, etc. In this article, we’ll take a closer at everything your restaurant needs to run as smooth as butter.

Food Service Equipment

One thing that any kitchen needs, whether it’s a smoothie bar or a sushi bar, is proper commercial refrigeration. You need a fridge to keep things cold, fresh, and legal. From walk-ins to reach-ins, do your research to ensure that you get a refrigerator that best suits the needs of your establishment.

Also, you’ll most likely need to make ice on site, so if you’re looking for your restaurant’s ideal commercial ice machine, take a look at these tips on the importance of the right ice machine.

All things start with prep, so you need to be sure that you’ve got the right tools to get any dish started. There are many specialized food prep machines which simplify anything from making pasta to sausages.

Nothing is worse than old, worn knives that waste your time inefficiently cutting, dicing and slicing, so be sure to have top quality cutlery on hand, and to sharpen or replace them frequently. Look over this cutlery Q & A to find the better blade for you.

Food Service EquipmentOr, you can walk away from the knife and find a new cutting strategy. Using a quality food processor is a multifaceted method to save time while providing consistency of quality. Processors do your slicing and dicing for you, so you needn’t spend time you don’t have choring away at it. Time is money, so don’t waste another minute doing what a food processor could do for you. Also take a peek here to know what processor to buy.

If your restaurant serves food, that food presumably needs to be cooked, so while looking for any or all sorts of cooking equipment, check out this guide to commercial cooking equipment, which includes options for ranges, ovens, steamers and griddles, to find what best suits your needs.

As the American obesity rate continues to grow so does the popularity of fried food, so depending upon your restaurant’s health-stance, you may want to invest in a commercial fryer. While certainly not healthy, fryers make food undeniably delicious, so don’t exclude this enticing addition.

Food Service EquipmentFrom water to wine, your restaurant will need to find a way to appropriately serve drinks, so consider whether you need a beverage dispenser, or frozen drink machine to make the job easier. Or to make anything from smoothies to mixed drinks, stock up with a blender.

After the dish is served, enjoyed and finished, you’re left to clean up the mess, so investing in a commercial dishwasher is essential for timely turn around.

So whether your restaurant is just starting up, revamping, or merely replacing old equipment, be sure to properly stock your food service equipment to ensure the best restaurant experience possible.

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The Importance of The Right Ice Machine

Maintaining any kind of restaurant requires ice, lots of ice, and the only way to meet your frosty needs is with the right commercial ice machine. If your restaurant is stuck with an excessively large ice machine, you may be spending extravagant costs to make ice you don’t need.

This is not only wasteful and inefficient, but it’s an unnecessary financial investment doomed to melt away. On the other side of the cube, an undersized icemaker can be equally disastrous; imagine unsatisfied customers with lukewarm drinks, and improperly chilled food that wilts alongside patron loyalty. Again, a potentially devastating expense to your business.
Commercial Ice Machines

Icemakers aren’t cheap, so when shopping for your perfect frozen-water machine you need to consider two things: production necessity and storage capacity. You need to ensure that you are making enough ice to meet the needs of your customers and your kitchen without wanton ice cube creation. In order to discover the perfect ice machine for your restaurant, use the following strategy to roughly determine your daily ice needs.

Within the restaurant, have approximately 1.8 lbs of ice per customer; with cocktails, keep 3 lbs ice on hand per expected patron whereas soft drinks require about 8 oz per 16 oz drink. Catering companies and cafeterias usually should have about a pound per person to keep meals ideally chilled. Using your restaurant capacity and average daily visitors, you should be able to calculate how much ice to create per day.

If your restaurant typically serves a hundred people a day and half of them drink cocktails then you should have 180 lbs of ice with an additional 300 lbs for cocktails for a total of 480 lbs of ice daily. Once you’ve ascertained your ideal ice creation quota, direct your attention towards which ice machine is right for you.

The most convenient and space conscious icemakers come with built-in storage bins, whose capacity range from 80 lbs to 1100 lbs so you can find the perfect fit for your icy needs. After calculating the right amount of ice for your restaurant, browse Tundra’s selection of restaurant ice machines.

Like a snowflake, not all ice is the same. It can come cubed, flaked or even in nuggets and the choice lies with you (although the right option is really just a matter of preference). While most restaurants opt for cubed ice, flakes or nuggets can work well with cocktails or soft drinks. Because of its smaller surface area, flake and nugget ice melts faster.

This can, however, be advantageous within the restaurant. Flake ice’s tendency to melt faster makes it a faster cooling agent, and makes it perfect for quickly chilling a drink or for temporarily housing fresh seafood or chicken. Nugget ice is the midway point between the other two and goes perfectly in cocktails or sodas because they cool drinks quickly without melting away too soon. You can find cube ice machines, flake ice machines and nugget ice machines all at Tundra.

Will the ice machine market as vast and mysterious as the Antarctic, make sure you learn what you need and how to meet those needs in your restaurant.

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Commercial Cooking Equipment

Whether you’re steaming, frying, charring, griddling or baking, is your number one source for quality commercial cooking equipment. While searching for new cooking equipment, it’s crucial to be energy efficient and financially conscientious, a surefire way to improve your restaurant and your finances.

Commercial Cooking EquipmentThe true centerpiece of any kitchen is a good restaurant range. Ranges come with a customizable amount of burners, the option of an attached oven and various additional accessories. When shopping for ranges, you should keep a couple things in mind. If you value speed over energy efficiency, you should look for a gas range with a higher BTU (British Thermal Units) because while it requires more energy, it heats up faster. A gas range with a lower BTU, on the other hand, will take longer to warm but will eat up less energy. Depending upon your restaurant’s criteria, you should consider which BTU level you want for your range. You can further customize your range by adding a griddle or charbroiler to make food prep even easier, or you can order them as separate units. And remember, altitude matters in a kitchen, so be sure to inform your manufacturer if your restaurant is located above 2,000 ft so that gas valves get properly tweaked.

If you’re looking to cook veggies, rice and fish in a Commercial Cooking Equipmenthealth conscious and nutrient rich way, you pretty much have to invest in a commercial steamer. Steamers don’t only make your food healthier, they cook it faster and even make your dishes more tasty. There are two main types of steamers; pressure steamers and pressureless steamers; and they have different functions within the kitchen. A pressure steamer is more time-efficient, allowing pressurized steam to build up to quickly cook what’s inside. One thing to keep in mind with a pressure steamer is that once you begin the steaming  process you cannot open the unit to check on or season what’s steaming inside. With a pressureless cooker, checking on food or seasoning is not an issue, as the steam is circulated using fans to cook food so there is no loss of prep time if you open the unit. Choosing the right steamer also means choosing the suitable number of steaming compartments (with each steaming compartment capable of making approximately 200 meals/hour). Depending upon restaurant capacity and output, you may want only 1 compartment or you may opt for 4.

A multi-purposed combination oven is ideal for those who want variety in their efficiency. Combinations use both steam, convection or a combination of both to produce meals quickly and in large quantity. If you’re shopping for a convection oven or a steamer, you may want to consider getting a combination oven to kill two birds with one stone. While combination ovens are an expensive addition to any kitchen, they eliminate the need for other equipment, saving you space and potentially money.

So whether you’re searching for a range, steamer or combination oven, Tundra has you covered with the lowest prices and highest value.

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Fixing Commercial Oven Problems


Oven problems are fairly simple to diagnose.

The most common complaints are:

  • The pilot won’t stay lit.
  • The oven won’t get up to temperature.
  • The oven gets too hot.
  • The oven does not cook evenly.

ThermocoupleProblem number one is probably the most common.  Usually it’s the thermocouple that causes this problem.  When lighting the pilot, if the thermocouple is not directly in the flame it can not get hot enough to allow it to open the safety valve.  If it is directly in the flame and it won’t stay lit then the thermocouple is probably defective and needs to be replaced,  Keep in mind that some safety valves have the thermocouple permanently attached so the entire valve must be replaced.

If you’ve replaced the thermocouple and attempt to light the pilot and it still will not stay lit then the safety valve is defective.  Remember to check the type of safety valve you have to get the correct replacement.  For correct identification  procedures check out this Tech Talk post.

When working on any type of gas equipment always remember to shut off the gas!

Number two is usually a thermostat problem.  When you set the thermostat at a set temperature and it does not reach that point it may be one of two problems:Gas Thermostat

1. The thermostat may be defective.
2. The thermostat may be out of calibration.  To check the calibration get a thermometer that you know is accurate.  Put it in the oven and set the thermostat to 250º.  Open the kick plate below the oven door and watch the burner flame, if it goes off before the oven reaches 250º you may be able to calibrate it.

To calibrate a thermostat remove the knob and check to see what type of thermostat you have.  The thermostat is either a type with a round disk that has two screws holding it in place or it will have a D shaft with a small screw in the center of it.  In either case only turn the disc or screw a fraction of a turn at a time and no more than a quarter turn either direction.

Continue to turn the disc or screw a fraction of a turn each time until you see the burner come back on.   If you reach that quarter of a turn point and the burner does not come back on, the thermostat is defective and must be replaced.  If the burner comes back on, watch the temperature of the oven and if it gets to within 5 or 10° of the preset temperature, you are good to go.  It may take several tries to get it properly calibrated.

If you still can not get it calibrated within the temperature range, you need to replace the thermostat.  All thermostats are preset from the factory and should not require calibration when installed.  If you find that the new thermostat does require calibrating, follow the previous instructions.

Number three is also a thermostat problem.  Follow the same procedure to calibrate as you did for the oven not getting to temperature.  Again, if you can’t get it to calibrate, replace it and the oven should heat to the correct temperature.

Number four is a common problem after a new thermostat has been installed.  All the thermostats have a capillary tube with a bulb attached to the end of it.  This is the part that senses the temperature in the oven.  The bulb is attached to clips inside the oven.  If the bulb is not put back in the same place, i.e. it’s just stuck in the oven cavity and left hanging, then the thermostat will run “wild,” meaning the oven cooks unevenly.

Remember to get that bulb back into those clips no matter how hard it may be.

If your oven is running wild check and make sure the bulb is installed properly.  Another reason for the oven running wild is that the thermostat is totally defective and in this case must be replaced.

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Identifying Electric Cooking Equipment Elements

There are five types of elements in electric food service equipment:

1. Calrod (metal) type
2. Glass tube (quartz) type
3. Ceramic type
4. Wire type
5. Solid typeReplacement Electric Elements

These five elements are either submersible, dry, or both.  No matter what type of element you’re trying to replace, the most important piece of information you need is the element’s manufacturer, model, and serial number.  Search for elements by manufacturer here.

When working on any piece of equipment always remember to disconnect the POWER!

Calrod elements are found in both overhead warmers and well type warmers.  The well type warmer can be a counter top or a steam table warmer.  The configuration (shape) of the elements depends on which unit they go in.  Most overhead warmers use a straight calrod or glass tube element.  Steam table elements can be many different shapes: u-bend, w-shape, s-shape, round, etc., so the best means of identification is by brand name, model and serial number.  The voltage is also very important.

Glass tube type elements have a wire element curled like a spring inside a glass tube. These elements are found in overhead warmers, cheesemelters, and some conveyor type toasters and impingers.  The best way to identify these elements is with brand name, model and serial numbers as well as voltage.

Ceramic elements are most commonly found in overhead warmers.  Although they are a rarity, the same identification method should be used, model number, serial number and voltage.

Wire type elements are usually those that are referred to as a card element.  This means the element is a thin flat wire or spring type wire that is wrapped around some type of conductive flat card.  This type of element is most commonly found in pop up or pop down toasters.  For proper identification, again having the model and serial number and the voltage is very helpful.

Solid type elements are calrod or filament elements and are incased in a block of metal or possibly ceramic.  They come in various sizes and shapes but perform just like other elements.  They can be found in warmers, toasters and even chafing dishes.  The best way to identify these elements is by brand name, model and serial number and voltage.

If you can’t find a brand name, model or serial number, there is another way to identify that element (and this goes for all elements).  Every element has information either stamped into it or stenciled on to them.  You may need a magnifying glass to read the information (especially on calrod elements).

The information you need to find on the element is:

1. Voltage
2. Wattage
3. Part number
4. Color coding

With this information, it is more likely that you will receive the correct element the first time.  Also don’t forget the style and the piece of equipment it is in.  Remember, there are many pieces of equipment that have elements, and the above information also applies to their identification.

Check out more food service parts.

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