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Archive | August, 2011

Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every Time

Not all brewing equipment is created equal, and the success of your quest for a great cup of coffee can largely rest on the type of brewing equipment you use.  When investing in new coffee equipment, it’s also vitally important to purchase a brewer that can handle your weekly volume.

For more info on how to brew a great cup of coffee, and why your restaurant should invest in great coffee, read my previous post.

For Low Volume (0-15 lbs. of coffee per week)Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every TimePourovers.  This is your standard coffee brewer and it works just like the one at home.  Water is poured manually into a tank inside the machine, heated, then poured over the coffee bed to brew coffee.  Time, temperature, and water quality can all be hard to control with a pourover, especially as the unit ages.

Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every Time

Automatic coffee machines.  An automatic unit has a direct water line for faster brewing.  It’s also easier to filter water on a direct line to ensure coffee quality.

Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every TimeDecanters vs. Airpots.  Low volume coffee machines dispense brewed coffee into either a decanter (your standard restaurant coffee pot) or an airpot (what you usually see at Starbucks or a hotel’s continental breakfast).  Decanters usually sit on a low-heat warmer to maintain temperature.  The problem is that over Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every Timetime this degrades the coffee’s taste.  Airpots, on the other hand, are not heated but can retain the temperature at which the coffee was brewed for a few hours without degrading the flavor.  Airpots also limit coffee’s contact with oxygen, which reacts with elements in coffee and causes an acidic or bitter flavor.
For Medium Volume (15-50 lbs. of coffee per week)

Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every Time

Satellite coffee brewers.  A satellite brewer has digital controls that allow you to manage all the elements of the brewing process and dispense coffee into an insulated holder that can be filled and moved to various locations around the restaurant like server stations and back bar counters.

For High Volume (50+ lbs. of coffee per week)

Commercial Coffee Brewing Equipment: Serve Great Coffee Every Time

Urn type coffee machines.  An urn type coffee machine can produce large amounts of quality coffee quickly and easily.  These units require a lot of up-front investment, but if you are serving large amounts of coffee, there’s really no other way to go.  Urn type machines are automatic and digitally controlled.

No matter what kind of restaurant you have, serving quality coffee can create great sales and upselling opportunities.  Take the time to experiment with the right combination of equipment and brewing elements until you find a combination that truly gives your business a better cup of coffee.  The results of your investment of time and money will be happy customers and (hopefully!) a fatter bottom line.

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Contaminated Ice: Key Tips To Keep Your Customers Safe

Getting ice from the ice machine bin to your customer’s drink glass without contaminating it is a food safety consideration that is easy to overlook.  That doesn’t mean it’s any less important than the other danger points you deal with every day while preparing and serving food in your restaurant.  In fact, proper ice handling is probably even more important because you don’t have the insurance that heating something about to be eaten by a customer brings you.

The key to keeping your ice safe for consumption is to limit the points of contact it has in its journey from bin to glass.  Having the proper tools is essential to limiting contact, and in recent years reputable companies like San Jamar have developed products that make the transportation of ice a much more sanitary exercise than just scooping and dumping in a bucket.

Contaminated Ice: Key Tips To Keep Your Customers SafeProper ice handling starts with the scoop.  A good ice scoop should have two key components that prevent the user from unintentionally contaminating the ice: a knuckle guard and a holder.  The knuckle guard prevents hands (and the pathogens that might be living there) from coming into direct contact with the ice, either in the bin or in an ice bucket.  The scoop holder provides a sanitary place to leave the ice scoop when it’s not in use.  A good scoop holder completely encompasses the scoop so that outside contaminants can’t come into contact with the scoop.

Part of your food safety SOP’s should be to clean and sanitize the ice scoop and holder on a regular schedule, preferably once a day.  That way you ensure that the scoop remains sanitary and doesn’t communicate bugs to your customer’s ice.Contaminated Ice: Key Tips To Keep Your Customers Safe

The next place ice contamination likes to occur is the ice tote or ice bucket.  For years the ice bucket has been nothing more than a 5 gallon plastic bucket that gets filled with ice for transport to the bar, a server station, or the kitchen.  The problem with a simple bucket is that the open top and lack of a handle on the side don’t inhibit possible contamination.  Stuff can fall into a 5 gallon bucket.  And when someone is dumping ice, it’s easy to allow dirty hands to come into contact with the ice.

Newer ice totes have a lid and a side or bottom handle to limit possible contact with contaminants.  That makes it easy to transport ice without worrying about contamination, no matter who’s doing the work.

Finally, proper handwashing should be standard operating procedure for whoever is moving ice.  While newer tools for moving ice are designed to minimize contact, that doesn’t lessen the importance of clean hands for whoever is handling the ice.  Some proper training and enforcement is needed to ensure employees are handling ice with the goal of minimizing contamination.

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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Restaurant

Starting a restaurant of your own is a thrilling, stomach churning, one of a kind experience that will probably change the entire path of your life- for better or worse! While recent research has finally put to bed the widely quoted, but totally false claim that nine out of ten restaurants fail it is still true that the business can be tough and failures do happen.

The good news is that nearly all of the failures are the result of predictable and avoidable mistakes. If you want to open a restaurant and you want to have the best possible chance of seeing it succeed, then make sure you avoid these five common mistakes:

1) Not Being Market-centric

If you know exactly who you want to come and eat in your new restaurant then the decisions you have to make will be much easier. On the other hand, if you have no idea or just assume everyone will love your place and want to come then you are going to be all over the map and as a consequence very likely create something that doesn’t really work for anyone.

For example, if you are starting a restaurant concept for healthy fast casual Mexican food and you know your market is going to be mostly an office lunch crowd looking for something different and a dinner crowd consisting of local singles and couples grabbing something on the way home from work or the way out to a movie or party then you know a lot about what kind of menu, art, décor, tables, portion sizes, etc. you should focus on. The market you are catering to should drive your planning. If you don’t know who your market is then your plans will be vague at best and completely off at worst.

2) Picking a Location for the Wrong Reasons

Many new restaurant owners decide to get into the business because they found what they consider a great location. While there is no doubt your location is important picking a location first is backwards unless you are willing to conform your concept to whatever will work best at that address rather than trying to force your concept into a location that doesn’t suit it. Reread the first point again if this isn’t clear!

There are lots of other poor reasons to choose a location as well that will sink your efforts since your location is one of the few things you can’t change about your business once you’ve started. Signing a lease because it seems “cheap” is bad if the location can’t support even a cheap lease and so is signing an expensive lease for a “high traffic” location if the traffic it offers isn’t the traffic you need. The location must fit with the market and the numbers must make sense in line with your overall financial plan or else whatever else may be appealing about the location is immaterial.

3) Going Too Broad

Aspiring restaurant owners often seem to fall into the mindset of more is better and thinking that if they add more menu choices they will appeal to more people. In fact the opposite is usually true. With fewer menu choices you can concentrate on doing a really great job on those items to create a truly unique and memorable experience instead of having a lot of options that are only average. A smaller menu means better inventory control, less waste and spoilage, faster training for your staff and even lower printing costs for your menus.

While there are a few notable exceptions to this rule there aren’t enough to make going broad a good bet. Again it comes back to the first point and knowing who your market is and what they are going to like. If you can entice and enthrall them with eight great dishes you will be much better off than if you offer 16 or 24 dishes most of which don’t get ordered very often and which simply distract from your signature items.

4) Not Having a Solid Partnership Agreement

It is always surprising to me the number of partnerships running restaurants that have no partnership agreement at all. It’s one thing to split the cost of a sofa with a roommate you don’t really know, but a restaurant business is a six figure investment with serious financial consequences for all involved and it should not be entered into lightly. And it is more than just the money. A good partnership agreement should outline areas of responsibility, commit to a certain amount of work, ideas for future direction of the business and what happens in the event of arguments, divorce, financial trouble, etc.

Even more surprisingly, one of the most common reasons given for not wanting to do an agreement is that the partners “didn’t want to spoil the mood” or felt these topics were “too sensitive” to bring up early on. trust me, the issues will come up either way and a big fight over money or one partner feeling like they are doing all the work while the other takes home cash and food is definitely going to spoil the mood. Discuss the details upfront, before there is money at risk and feelings are hurt. If you can’t work it out at that stage you definitely shouldn’t be going into business together and making it infinitely more complicated and expensive to unravel down the road.

5) Skipping the Planning Stage

The number one biggest reason restaurants fail can be traced back to the owners not doing the proper planning required to ensure success. If planning is done then you can be sure you will have covered all of the above points and therefore reduced your risk to the absolute minimum. Not doing the planning is basically leaving the outcome of the business up to fate.

For example, two of the most common reasons restaurants fail is because they are undercapitalized and because there isn’t enough business to support them. Being undercapitalized is a result of not knowing how much you needed which is a direct result of not planning. Figuring out the cost to open the restaurant you want is easy enough to figure out very accurately with the right software. Taking the time to do it is another matter and if you don’t bother to do it then of course having enough money is going to be a crapshoot and you won’t know until you make it or you run out.

Not having enough sales is also directly related to planning. Again, with financial software you can figure out exactly how much business you will need every month to break even and you can pretty quickly determine if you can get there or not. If the software suggests you’ll need every table in the place to turn over eight times a day just to pay the bills and you go ahead and open anyway then how you fare shouldn’t come as any surprise. Your planning should also have gone a long way toward telling you if your concept was going to work and how big the market was to support it.

Opening a successful restaurant is not a matter of luck or of having some certain X factor that can’t be explained. If you do the planning, use common sense, avoid the obvious mistakes and keep at it despite the obstacles you will inevitably encounter, having your own restaurant is very much within the reach of anyone who sincerely wants to own one.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance Part 2

If I had one wish to be granted to make my job easier, it would be that the people I work with could somehow know what I know about restaurant equipment.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance Part 2As much as 50% of equipment breakdowns (possibly more) are due to equipment being misused by staff. Commercial restaurant equipment is “HEAVY DUTY,” so it’s designed for long use.

However, it will succumb to misuse in a lot of ways. I can’t tell you the hours I have spent making repairs that are worse than it had to be or wouldn’t have to be done at all if kitchen staff using the equipment were informed on the proper way to use and clean the equipment.

Before I start giving you actual examples, let me offer some suggestions on how to educate kitchen staff.

1. Find a way to inform your employees how much the equipment costs and how much you will have to spend on repairs. In the past I worked for a restaurant franchise with 30 restaurants in a huge area. I put together a newsletter article with a short piece about a particular piece of equipment. I would start off every article with an illustration as to the cost of the piece of equipment. I would say for example:

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance Part 2“The commercial grade toaster you use every day costs $1,050 dollars to buy new! You would have to sell 420 hamburgers to replace it!! Now THAT is a lot of hamburgers!”

I would take a common menu item and divide it into the equipment price to form a real example (in the minds of the employees) related to the amount of WORK  required to replace a piece of equipment. It worked pretty well with the staff that read the newsletter.

Most employees are not negligent, they are just uninformed on the cost of restaurant equipment and the cost of replacement parts. The employee has to make a connection between what you can afford to pay them in relation to what it costs you to keep the equipment running.

Use whatever method you can devise to make them aware this equipment is NOT the stuff you see on the shelf at Wall Mart!

2. Set up a formal way for kitchen staff using the equipment to report when there is a problem. This “mentioning it in passing to someone” will NOT WORK. Have them put it in writing on a simple form so someone can address the problem BEFORE a complete breakdown occurs.

Your relationship with your employees and the way you have your kitchen set up will dictate to you how to do this best. It might be something as simple as a log that hangs on a clipboard listing the date and description of the problem.

You would be surprised how many times I could have fixed a problem for little or no money had I known about it. The result of not knowing will inevitably lead to the problem getting worse and a complete breakdown of the equipment. Make it a REQUIREMENT to report equipment problems. It will save you a lot of time and expense (and aspirin!).

3. In all kitchens, there are “key” pieces of equipment. The definition of “key” would be a piece of equipment you would have a very hard time doing without, or you just can’t do without. Identify that equipment and personally check it at least once a week.

If a handle is loose, tighten it. Are all the pilots burning? Are the burners/elements clean? Is there any unusual noises or sounds that it wasn’t making last week? Are the indicator lights all burning? These personal checks will prove invaluable in keeping dow time to a minimum.

Also read the manual on the equipment and educate yourself on what it should be doing and when.

I could tell many stories that would demonstrate the value of what I am talking about, but for the sake of time I will list only one:

I got a call to look at a gas convection oven that “would not cook.” I thought it was a problem with the gas supply so I took the parts I thought I would need. When I got to the oven it was hot. I checked the burner and gas supply and all was fine.

I did notice the fan was not running when the doors were shut. When I spoke with the operator I was told cakes were browning in an “uneven” way. He also told me it had been making a “sound” for some time.

I inspected the blower wheel that distributes the heat and found it was frozen in place. I took my pocketknife and tried to free it. It was encrusted with burnt food and under the food was a piece of tin foil that had become lodged in the fan some time ago. I questioned the operator and he said the oven had not been “right” for a couple of months.

I had to replace the fan motor at a cost of $400 dollars, a replacement blower wheel for another $75 dollars and several hours of labor.

Oh and by the way, the delay on the parts caused the oven to be down for over a week (it would have been longer but I paid almost a hundred dollars for express shipping). This oven was a KEY piece of equipment.

The sad part is, if the operator had notified me 2 months prior to the fan failure when the “noise” (tin foil on a fan will make a noise) started, I could have spent 15 minutes with a pocketknife and we wouldn’t have had a fan motor failure and over a week of down time!

Make it part of the culture of your kitchen to educate your employees!

Kevin Loving

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In The Field: Food Safety At Turley’s

Here at The Back Burner we have talked a lot about food safety.  It’s an ongoing project for any restaurateur, and also a potential matter of life and death for any food service business given the stakes if a food borne illness were to break out in your restaurant.

So instead of sitting here in my ivory tower writing blog articles about the importance of this or that food safety procedure or product, I decided to get out from behind my computer (a rare occurrence, I must say!) and venture out into the real world for a closer look at the practical application of a food safety program in a real restaurant.

In The Field: Food Safety At Turleys

Turley’s Restaurant in Boulder, CO

Turley’s Restaurant in Boulder, CO is a family owned business that has been a Boulder icon since 1977.  Their eclectic menu focuses on diversity and healthy eating while serving exquisite flavors and beautiful presentation.

Turley’s management also take their food safety program very seriously.  Sandy and David are second and third generation Turley family, respectively, and they took a moment recently to talk about food safety in their restaurant.

Every good food safety program has a primary line of defense at critical points in the process of turning product and ingredients into entrees ready to be eaten, and the line in the kitchen is definitely one of those points.

Turley’s two-date temperature logs allow line cooks to track product over time and make sure it’s staying out of the temperature danger zone between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is prime bacteria breeding weather.

The restaurant equipment on the line is also checked and logged routinely by line cooks to ensure they are reaching the proper temperature, and the high-temp dishwasher is also monitored to make sure it’s sanitizing dishes at 180 degrees.  Turley’s management then spot checks product and equipment at random to make sure accurate readings are being logged by the kitchen staff.  Their preferred method for checking temperature is a quick-read digital thermometer.

“It’s an evolving process,” says David as he shows me the temperature logs he prints for his line cooks.  “It gets involved very quickly, but if you make people sick, you’re out of business.”

A recent evolution at Turley’s has been identifying problem product that has trouble staying out of the danger zone and putting it in freezer pans to make sure it chills quickly and stays below 40 degrees even if it’s pulled frequently for use on the line.

The process of collecting data, analyzing it and identifying trouble spots, then developing a solution is what makes a food safety program effective.  It’s also a cycle that must be repeated consistently to make sure your restaurant is a success.

Please stay tuned as we talk further with Turley’s management David and Sandy and get some important tips on staff training and their philosophy on a successful food safety program.

Visit Turley’s if you’re in Boulder at 2805 Pearl St., Boulder, CO 80302.

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Restaurant Management: Why Nick’s Isn’t Just Another Pizza Joint

Inc. Magazine did an article recently about pizza and pub owner Nick Sarillo, a restaurateur with blue collar roots based in the Chicago area.  Sarillo has built his business based upon a corporate culture that emphasizes customer service and employee development.

Sarillo’s Nick’s Pizza & Pub is another example of how the labor environment in food service is changing.  Progressive restaurants are starting to place a high value on employee retention in an industry that has traditionally had extremely high turnover.  Those that do invest in their employees enjoy a level of customer service that helps them stand out from the competition.

Let’s face it: a pizza and pub joint isn’t the most original concept out there.  The difference between Nick’s and the next pizza place are the intangibles his customer perceives as added value.  Nick’s people make his pizza place different from the rest, and that’s why he’s succeeded where others have failed.
What are some of his secrets?  For a full interview, check out the Inc. article.  Here’s a quick summary, with some great food for thought if you’re looking for ways to add value to your restaurant:

Take the time to hire right. The interview process at Nick’s involves at least two separate interviews and at least three managers.  Nick’s takes hiring very seriously and they don’t take anything less than top notch candidates.

I don’t know about you, but when I worked in food service the most I was ever screened was a cursory 5 minute interview.  Restaurants often scramble to hire help because positions need to be filled very quickly in order to maintain continuity.  Unfortunately, customer service is usually the thing that suffers the most.

Of course, the other things on this list that Nick’s does to retain staff allows them to be more selective when hiring.  It can be a vicious cycle for some restaurants: trouble retaining employees means new ones must be hired quickly just to stay open.

Reward employee development. Nick’s has several levels of additional training that are completely voluntary once an employee is hired.  Those who choose to take the extra training courses are rewarded with automatic raises once certain levels are completed, and those that attain the highest level get the honor of training newer employees.

A transparent, open, and fair process for employee development not only rewards those who work hard without playing favorites, it allows management to identify the go-getters.

Spread responsibility around. The traditional hierarchy in any restaurant (and most businesses) place responsibility on managers, who in turn boss employees in an effort to make sure all responsibilities are accomplished.  This system has the advantage of narrowing the responsible parties when blame needs to go around.  The downside is that there is no incentive for employees to work at anything outside their narrow job descriptions.

Nick’s approach is to create checklists in different areas of the restaurant for which all employees are responsible.  Once a checklist is completed, it is checked and crossed off by the manager.  Spreading the responsibility around means staff accomplish tasks more efficiently because they can react to specific situations and set their own goals and methods for getting things done.

Encourage feedback – and actually listen to it. Guaranteed every single employee in your restaurant has an opinion about how things could be done better and a gripe about how things are done currently.  The problem is, most management systems don’t allow a time and place where employees can feel safe giving feedback without suffering consequences.

Nick’s has a designated area for employees to give feedback.  They can call the management, all the way up to Nick himself, into this “safe” area whenever they feel the need.  In turn, Nick’s management listens carefully to that feedback and takes a proactive attitude toward resolving any issues that are brought up.

The rules in the food service industry are changing as customers define their dining experience based on intangibles like customer service rather than price alone.  This trend has been magnified even more as the price wars of the last year have forced every restaurant to become price competitive.

Creating a corporate culture that reduces turnover and encourages excellence in service is the way to make your restaurant stand out from the competition.  You’re already competitive on price.  Now you need to win on service.  That starts with the environment you create for your employees.  If your staff wants to come into work every day, then you’ve found a formula that will help your restaurant succeed where others fail.

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80/20 vs. 4: Restaurant Marketing By The Numbers

80/20 vs. 4: Restaurant Marketing By The NumbersThe Pareto Principle has long been hailed as the Holy Grail of marketing, the one rule by which all marketing efforts succeed or fail.  The principle itself is pretty simple: 20% of your customers drive 80% of your sales.  There’s always a core group of loyal customers who not only spend money in your restaurant, they bring their friends, give glowing reviews at dinner parties, and otherwise provide a vital linchpin in your money making machine.

Figuring out who those 20% are can be a full time job, and the logic has long held that if you find them, and target them effectively, you’ll be well on your way.  But as the Information Age has matured, so has the wealth of tools available to marketers, and therefore the size of the groups you can target has gotten much smaller.  Some marketers have even begun to parse groups of customers down to what some are calling the 4% factor, or specific offers that have a high conversion rate among 4% of your customers.

So how does this apply to restaurants?  Well, for starters, restaurants are a business, just like any other.  And as a business, restaurants have products that need to be sold to the right customer.  Every day your restaurant has the opportunity to learn more about your customers: how often they come in, how much they spend, what they order, etc.

The more you know, the better you can target your promotions and marketing.  Too often restaurants take a shotgun approach to their marketing campaigns – blanket advertising in local media outlets and generalized coupons (20% off your order, etc.).  That strategy used to be enough.  But as more restaurants compete for the same customers, aging marketing approaches are simply not going to work anymore.

Here are some tips to bring your restaurant marketing strategy into the 21st century:

Know thy customer.  You’ve probably heard this one before, but it has never been more true.  The main difference is that you have many more ways to get to know your customer today that simply didn’t exist before.  For restaurants specifically, consider some strategies to learn more about your customers:

  • Hold a raffle/door prize event.  Customers who enter must fill out a card with their email address, favorite menu item, really anything you want to know about them
  • Use an email marketing campaign to engage customers and collect information about them
  • Conduct surveys, either electronically or on paper in your restaurant
  • Use coupons to learn more about your customers – if you can collect an email when a customer redeems a coupon for a specific menu item, then you can use that information to target them for specific types of future promotions

Leverage thy knowledge.  Now that you’ve put some effort into collecting information about your customers, you need to leverage that information to your advantage.  Use the 4% factor to separate customers into specific groups with particular tastes.  Then hit those groups with specially tailored promotions made just for them.  The goal is to get your response rate (i.e. conversion rate) through the roof.

Engage thy followers.  Targeting small groups of loyal customers should generate an enthusiastic response.  And when customers respond, you should be poised to engage them and solidify your rightful place as one of their favorite brands.  The tools you have available to you today make customer engagement even easier.  Experiment with different avenues until you find the social media that works for you.

Gauge and repeat.  The idea is that these small groups you find through your marketing campaign will respond at much higher rates than a traditional (and usually more expensive) marketing campaign.  You’ll only know for sure if you gauge response.  Use coupon codes and other ways to measure who’s biting on what, and then modify and improve your campaign until you have it honed down to a high performance machine.

The good news is that running a 4% campaign will probably be much cheaper than a traditional shotgun blitz.  The bad news is that it takes some significant time investments and more than a little trial and error.  For those willing to put the time in however, the gains can be huge.

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How To Beat Groupon With Core Value Marketing

How To Beat Groupon With Core Value MarketingFor years now restaurants have been instructed that marketing through social networks is the wave of the future.  A second dot.com boom has surfaced with companies promising closer ties to consumers for restaurant owners.  Social networking does provide a tremendous opportunity to restaurants that commit to successfully managing their online presence.

The reason why this works is that your potential guests are more likely to take the recommendation of friends or fellow customers over a much more expensive advertising campaign.  This is an important element of a restaurant’s marketing strategy, but I would contend that it leads too many restaurants to ignore a much greater marketing opportunity.

The highest form of bond you can create with a guest is not having them become your “friend” or “mayor.”  Instead, a greater bond is formed when a guest feels that a restaurant shares their values and believes in the things that they believe in.  I refer to this as “Core Value Marketing.”

The premise of this is simple.

People care far more about a number of issues than they do about where they eat.  If your restaurant can convey to these guests that it cares about their issues, loyalty is created with the guest.  In saturated markets where several similar restaurants serve similar products at similar prices, this is the best way for a restaurant to stand out.

The tremendous upside here is that there are many causes that people care deeply about.  People who care deeply about an issue will often be members of groups and online communities, or write blogs dedicated to these issues.  A mention in the PTA newsletter or on a popular community blog will create a far greater impression on a potential loyal guest than a simple advertisement.

It is more than just creating awareness of your restaurant; it is making a statement about what your restaurant believes in.  It is speaking to the core values held by your potential guests.  It gets the attention of your potential guests in a much more profound way than a special menu offering or discount ever could.

This has a number of benefits for the organization you choose to partner with as well.  They are able to generate funds without a great deal of extra work.  Instead, their supporters can contribute simply by choosing your restaurant instead of your competitor.  This means not having to send their kids out to sell something or hassle friends and family for a donation.

It does not require the organization to put forth much effort.  No upfront expenditures are required of them.  This means that the group does not have to spend a portion of what they raise to sponsor the event.  All you ask of them is to make their supporters aware of the promotion.  They do a little marketing and the restaurant does the rest.  This makes it a win/win for the organizations you are helping.

The long term benefits are also tremendous for the restaurants.  This type of promotion donates money to an organization, but does not devalue your menu.  Coupons, groupons, discount cards, etc. all reinforce the idea that your menu contains a great deal of markup.  While guests are always aware of this, these types of promotions place it in the forefront of their minds.

Making a donation from the guest’s total is seen as sacrifice rather than merely a discount.  This maintains the integrity of your pricing and creates the impression that you are charitable rather than momentarily less greedy.

The other long term benefit is creating a long term bond with your guests.  All other things being equal, a guest will still choose the restaurant that made a contribution to their favorite organization in the past over competing restaurants.  The exposure you gain from these types of promotions is far more likely to create long term guests.

Guests that come in for a deal will often only return for another deal.  Guests that are aware of your support of an organization that they care about will often return at full price as a sign of gratitude.

I have never seen a coupon create that kind of loyalty.

The best part of Core Value Marketing is that you can do well by doing good.  You can maintain most of your profit margin while creating a greater sense of community.

There are a number of creative ways to do this as well.  If you create a successful partnership, there are also many opportunities for free publicity.  In searching for stories for my Saturday column this week I came across examples of restaurant benefits for UNICEF, diabetes awareness, parent/teacher organizations, and many others.

As John Maxwell said, “You can get everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

In my next post, I will outline some of the steps necessary to launch a Core Value Marketing effort.  This will highlight some of the best practices of successful efforts and how to avoid some of the potential pitfalls.  The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive.  You need a way to stand out from your competitors.  This is a way to market your restaurant while giving back to your community and the causes that you care about.  This is a rare opportunity to help improve your bottom line and the lives of your guests.

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Color Code Your Food Safety Program

Color Code Your Food Safety ProgramBacteria, contaminants, and pathogens are all the enemies of your restaurant’s kitchen.  It’s a battle you fight every day.  The first line of defense is controlling the growth of pathogens that could make your customers sick.  That is best accomplished through a robust HACCP program.  Unfortunately, as effective as HACCP is at controlling pathogen growth through temperature management, there are many other areas where contamination can occur.

The most obvious is through food preparation equipment and utensils.  Food processors, mixers, and slicers all need to be cleaned regularly with an approved sanitizer to prevent cross contamination.  As for utensils, cutting boards and knives are probably the two most likely candidates for cross contamination, and it’s very important to your food safety program that you make sure different types of food are not coming in contact with each other through the use of the same utensils.

As you know, that’s easier said than done in a busy kitchen.  Serving food on time is the number one priority, and, especially during the rush, your line isn’t always thinking about cross contamination first, no matter how much you train them.

Raw protein products like beef, poultry, and fish typically go with red cutting boards or knives.  Raw vegetables go with green, and other food types go on white.  Many restaurants will also separate poultry from other proteins and assign them to yellow utensils.Color Code Your Food Safety Program

The added bonus of using color coded food prep utensils is that you also prevent taste contamination.  No one wants the juices left over from a T-Bone mixed with their chicken breast in a white wine sauce.  Potential allergens are also effectively separated when you assign specific foods to certain colors.  Shellfish is one of the most common culprits; many people can become violently ill if their food is in even passing contact with any kind of shellfish.

Finally, color coded labels can help your staff select the right product to pull from the walk-in very quickly.  Most restaurants use a First In, First Out (FIFO) policy, which is effective at prioritizing the oldest product for first use on any given day.  Color coded labels (e.g. red for “use now,” green for “just arrived off the truck,” and yellow for “use soon”) make sure you minimize spoilage and use your inventory in a safe but intelligent way.

Even in the sometimes chaotic atmosphere of a busy kitchen at the peak of the dinner rush, clear color codes can help staff maintain a high food safety standard that will keep your customers safe and coming back to your restaurant for more.  This is especially important in an industry where employee turnover rates are so high.  A simple color code system means new hires can plug into the team quickly without you having to worry about food safety being compromised.  Color coding your food preparation process will make your kitchen run more efficiently and safely, which means you’ll have more time to take care of what’s really important: your customers.

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25 Marketing Ideas Restaurant Owners Overlook

Most restaurant owners get the basics of restaurant marketing down pretty well: they get a Facebook page, buy a couple local media ad spots, and get some big signs for the front of their location.  But there are a lot of marketing ideas that are simple to implement that can really go a long way towards building a loyal customer base for any restaurant.  Many of these tactics are also really easy to overlook.

  1. Sponsor a local team – amateur softball, soccer, and baseball leagues are always looking for help when it comes to buying equipment.  Sponsoring a local team gets you involved with the community and is a much more affordable option than local radio or TV spots.  Just make sure the team you sponsor matches the type of people you want in your establishment.  Family restaurants are better off sponsoring little league teams while a pub would do better with the local adult soccer or softball team.
  2. Participate in food festivals – Every year more and more food festivals happen in cities large and small all over the U.S.  Setting up a booth and serving portions of your restaurant’s best menu items takes a lot of work and commitment but the personal connections you can create with people while showcasing your best stuff is priceless.  Bonus points if you give away a coupon with each meal you serve at the festival.
  3. Claim your Google places page – every business with an address has a Google Places page.  As the restaurant owner you can claim your Google places page and add photos and information about your restaurant.  This listing will show up in many Google searches for local restaurants so make sure your information is correct.  Bonus points to restaurants who provide incentives to their customers for submitting a review to their Places page.
  4. Put on a cooking class - if there’s one thing you know how to do well it’s cook, and with the rise of the foodie movement your customers want to know how to really cook well too.  Why not start a monthly cooking class, invite in your customers and put on a show of your best cooking secrets?  There’s a good chance the story will get picked up in the local press and an even better chance your students will either bring a friend or stay after class to eat or both.
  5. Hold an exclusive dining event – more and more fine dining restaurants have started putting on “underground” events – one-of-a-kind meals served in a unique location that’s kept secret until hours before dinner is served.  Customers love the adventure and exclusivity they get from getting tickets to these events and it can really make a media and word-of-mouth splash for your restaurant.
  6. Raffle for charity - Support a local charity by giving away some awesome prizes and some free meals.  That in itself is great press for your restaurant, but where this idea really makes things worth it is when you ask for an email address on all submitted raffle tickets.  Now you’ve got a list of people to contact with a well-built email campaign.
  7. Partner with other local businesses – you’re all struggling to make ends meet together, so why not pool your resources, especially with local businesses that are not direct competitors?  Partner with your neighbors to throw special events, refer customers to each other, and share expensive marketing costs like billboards or radio spots.
  8. Cater events – all it takes is some pretty simple catering equipment and you can take your menu on the road to corporate events, weddings, and more.  Being able to bring the experience and food your restaurant offers anywhere your customers need it is a great way get more business, and undoubtedly there will be new customers at each event you cater, giving you the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself.
  9. Join a delivery network – more and more entrepreneurs in cities all over the U.S. are offering delivery services to local restaurants.  Whether you choose to partner with one of these companies or build your own delivery service, make your food available to your customers even if they don’t feel like going out.  There’s nothing to lose and more business to gain.
  10. Start a green initiative – it’s been proven over and over again that customers appreciate businesses who attempt to make their operations more “green.” Better standing with your customers is great, but the local press you’ll get with a well-crafted green initiative is even better.
  11. Host live musichosting live music is a well-known way to get more people into your establishment.  What’s often overlooked, however, is how to involve your customers with the decision of who gets to play.  Use social media to get your fans talking and then voting on which acts should perform in order to get the most mileage out of the live music you host.
  12. Create a YouTube channel – now that there are tons of easy-to-use handheld devices like the Flip and many newer smartphones that can easily record HD video, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be shooting all kinds of cool clips about your restaurant.  From hopping Saturday nights to behind-the-scenes clips of your cooking line hard at work, it’s very easy to shoot and edit your own videos to post to YouTube.  Those videos will show up quickly in places like Google and help generate interest in your restaurant.  Just make sure that whatever you shoot is interesting and very original.
  13. Hold a special Foursquare event – surely by now you have heard about connecting with your customers on Foursquare. Over the last couple years Foursquare has continued to grow in size and it’s a must-do for restaurants at this point, especially those in large urban areas.  What’s often overlooked are Foursquare Events, which let you invite people who have checked in at your establishment to a special event, which you can leverage to create some awesome customer engagement.
  14. Create a VIP club – Everybody loves to be a VIP, and if you make your most loyal customers VIPs they will come back more often and spend more each time.  The key is to make your VIP club really cool – don’t just give member 10% off and call it a day.  Add as many perks as you can think of and watch your best customers delight in all their VIP benefits.
  15. Use receipts as advertising space – It would be easy to overdo it, but if you keep the advertising low key receipts can become much more than worthless strips of paper you give your customers.  Modmarket in Boulder, CO makes their receipt advertising useful by adding calorie counts to the menu items listed to reinforce their healthy brand.
  16. Track coupon codes – Giving a discount is nice but far too many restaurants have poor methods for tracking coupon uses.  Set up your POS system to recognize and track coupon codes as they are redeemed so that you can try different types of offers and see which ones perform the best and drive the most revenue.
  17. Clean up the menu – really simple changes to your menu can make a huge difference in average amount your customers order and how often they order the highest margin items.  Try dropping dollar signs, putting high margin best sellers in the upper left hand corner and placing a few really expensive items in strategic spots to make other items look like great deals.
  18. Use the power of email – if done right email can be a great way to get regular customers coming back through your doors more often.  Just be careful to not look like spam, make sure your customers knowingly sign up for your list, and offer some real value in every email in order.
  19. Make happy hour the best in town – think beyond the traditional $2 drafts and supercharge your happy hour in order to generate some real buzz around town.  Try making top shelf drinks the same price as well drinks and coming up with some really awesome appetizers for a great price.  After your happy hour starts bumping make sure you get a few patrons to stay for dinner by offering additional incentives.
  20. Let customers pay what they want – pick one day a week or one day a month and throw prices completely out the window.  Instead, let patrons pay whatever they think their meal was worth.  Restaurant have tried this in the past and those who overpay tend to balance out those who underpay.  The best value for you is all the local press you’ll get by running this promotion.  If all you do is break even on the promotion you’re still ahead because of the free advertising you got in local media.
  21. Try a speed lunch – most people are very busy throughout the workweek and many don’t have much time to eat lunch.  This can cause sit-down restaurants to lose out on lunchtime business.  Combat this by guaranteeing lunch served in 15 minutes or less or it’s free and get those busy workers streaming through your doors.
  22. Host free wi-fi all afternoon – you may not see huge crowds if you start offering free wi-fi but a steady stream of customers during the slow afternoon hours is better than nothing.  Wi-fi is easy and relatively cheap to set up and can really make your restaurant feel like a home-away-from-home.
  23. Give away an after shift drink – not all restaurateurs like this approach but I have seen it work well for Rock Bottom Brewery: give your servers a free after-shift drink to encourage them to hang around and start calling their friends to come over and hang out.  Pretty soon you can fill up the bar area and make the place look like it’s hopping on a normally slow weeknight.
  24. Give away special sauces – have some secret sauce that makes your most popular entree to die for?  The process can take some work, but if you get the necessary paperwork out of the way then bottling your own condiments, marinades, or sauces is a great way to plant a nice piece of advertising in every patron’s home right there on the label.  Bonus points if you give a bunch of it away for free in order to get customers coming through the door.
  25. Run specials for local sports teams – even if you don’t have a sports bar it’s really easy to connect with customers when it comes to sports.  Take a popular menu item and give it a twist that corresponds with a local team that’s doing really well or at the beginning of the season.  The easiest way to do this is to use food coloring to make something you serve a lot of match the team’s colors but there are many much more creative ways  to incorporate local fan mania into your menu.
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