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Archive | October, 2011

How Much Does Hiring The Wrong Person Cost You? (And 4 Simple Ways To Fix It)

Hiring TipsOK, I’ll admit it: there’s no way to actually estimate what a bad hire will cost your business.  While that one bad decision may be hard to quantify, there are still plenty of areas where you’re bound to see the negative effects:

  • Lost productivity
  • Wasted recruiting effort and money
  • Bad service and unhappy customers
  • Unhappy coworkers

So what should you do? Never hire anyone again?  I’m joking of course – everyone in food service knows just how high turnover usually is.  In fact, many restaurants often feel like they’re in a constant state of hiring.

Luckily, it’s an employer’s market out there these days, with more workers looking for a job than jobs available.  That means you can be selective with your next hire, and if you play your cards right, hopefully turn that new hire into a long-term employee.

Read this Back Burner post for tips on how to make a good hire.

That said, everyone makes a bad choice sooner or later.  The key is to contain the damage as much as possible so that everyone can move on as quickly as possible.  Some tips to help you get past a mistake:

Pitch in and pick up some slack.
Not that you need something to add to your daily schedule.  Filling in for the person you just let go is less about getting that person’s job done and more about psychology.  Your employees will appreciate the effort, believe me, and that will make the transition easier for everyone.

Save the runners-up.
Assuming you put a decent effort into due diligence the first time around you should have some candidates for the job ready to go who have already been interviewed and vetted.  This should help mitigate your recruiting costs.  This means you should definitely save every candidate’s contact information whenever you hire someone!

Make it up to your customers. If bad customer service is one of the reasons why you had to sack an employee, make sure your customers know you’re on top of it by getting them to come back any way you can think of.  Run some promos and market through any channels you may use (email, social media, radio, print, etc.).  Next, focus on giving those customers the absolute best service possible.  If done right, all will soon be forgotten.

Be transparent with the rest of your employees. The last thing you need after an ugly break with a bad hire is the rumor mill grinding out partial truths and outright lies.  You know as well as I do that you won’t be able to stop the talking, but you can clear up any misconceptions and boost employee morale by being straightforward.

Call your staff together and tell them exactly why so-and-so was fired and when you plan to replace them.  You’ll be amazed what a little honesty can do for employee attitudes.

Filling the hole left by a trouble employee as quickly as possible is vital to maintaining cohesiveness and morale in your restaurant.  Taking a few fairly simple corrective actions will help you heal that wound fast enough to make that hiring mistake a distant memory.

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Is Restaurant Marketing Technology Getting Scary?

Tom Cruise in The Minority Report

Don’t scan my eyes!

Mobile marketing is beginning to sound like the movie Minority Report, where pedestrians had their retinas scanned by computers as they walked by stores and voices addressed them by name and encouraged them to buy products tailored to their personal preferences.

That would be scary, but it’s never gonna happen to me, right?

Surely you’ve seen TV ads asking you to text such and such to a number and receive deals or promos.  The companies doing that kind of advertising get your number when you text, and use that to target you for future promos.

Seems like we’re getting warmer, Steven Spielberg.

Until recently, nobody in the food service industry was thinking about applying some of these new technologies to an old game: improving sales and customer retention.

That’s changing, and one of the agents of change is Fishbowl Inc., a technology-based marketing company for the food service industry.

The firm has built email and internet marketing campaigns for over 30,000 restaurants and is recommended by the National Restaurant Association.  They recently expanded into mobile technology marketing, where new marketing techniques have revolutionized how restaurants reach their customers.

Scotty’s Brewhouse in Indiana increased to-go orders placed on the internet by 500% with a two-for-one promo that went out via email and applied only to those internet orders.

Smoothie King chain restaurant locations offer a free smoothie in exchange for a text message from customers.  The cost of the smoothie is a fraction of the value of having that customer on an email and text list for future promos, and sales are up on promo days by 24%.

Jack-in-the-Box has even experimented with placing a small computer chip in special promo posters that communicates with mobile devices and alerts customers to local store locations and deals.

Maybe those retina scans aren’t that far off after all.

As marketing methodology improves using these new technologies, restaurants will be able to reach their customers in increasingly innovative ways.

Building email and text number databases of customers will help connect customers and businesses and allow restaurants to improve sales in slow periods and maximize customer retention.

Most importantly, restaurants can learn about their customers and cater more directly to their needs.  Knowing what customers want when they want it is half the battle in any service industry, and especially in the food service industry.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

toolboxIn my last post I talked about a few select parts that you could keep on hand to repair your gas restaurant equipment. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about a few tools that could make a big difference in keeping your restaurant equipment up and running. The costs of these tools are minimal but it could have a BIG effect on some holiday weekend when something goes down at the worst possible time.

My job is to keep the equipment in the kitchen working! The chef I work for is a wonderful guy, but when he reaches to use the equipment, he expects it to work! I have a responsibility to do everything reasonably possible to make sure that happens. I have many thousands of dollars worth of tools and a large supply of parts to make sure I keep the chef satisfied. As a restaurant owner/manager you probably don’t have the tools I have or the parts I keep on the shelf to make every repair yourself.

I want to share with you a FEW tools you CAN have that will help you with the repairs you CAN make and you are most likely to need. This will represent a small investment of money for your restaurant, but most of all it will represent an investment of time for you to educate yourself about your equipment and how it works. If you are happy with your current system of calling someone in for every repair and paying the price in dollars, that’s OK. I am attempting with these articles to give you and your restaurant a few alternatives on the simple repairs. I don’t have to tell you that repair companies cost a lot and will not always be able to get your equipment up and working in a timely manner.

I recommend you put together an “equipment toolbox” that is customized for your kitchen equipment.

Tools: Tools are the easy part. You can buy them almost anywhere and the varieties are endless. Buy tools that are not the cheapest but are not the most expensive. Sears brand (Craftsman) are pretty good tools and you can take them back if you break them (you won’t break them, you will lose them—LOL). I would pick up a metal tool box with a lock that is big enough to hold parts and tools but also small enough to put in a convenient place that not everyone has access to. Although I have thousands of dollars worth of tools, I use only a small number of those tools everyday.

Here is a list of some of tools you will need to do simple repairs:

Hand Tools:


Pocket knife: You can buy a “multi-tool” that has a knife blade like the Leatherman.


Crescent wrenches: You will need a 4 inch (small) and a 6 inch (medium). Don’t buy the cheap brand; get Crescent brand or at least Craftsman.


Channel Lock pliers: There is a small one made by Channel Lock that is 7 inches long.


Wire strippers/cutters: Klein tools makes a good one that you can buy at Sears.


¼ inch socket set with deep and shallow sockets: You can buy a complete set of these at Sears that comes in it’s own molded case for under $50. You will almost never need anything bigger than a ¼ inch drive.


Allen wrench set: Get a set that has a holder or you will lose the small wrenches!


Screwdriver set: You will use a #2 Philips head the most, and you will also need a good quality “jeweler’s” screwdriver.


Small flashlight: I recommend a good brand like a “Mag-light” that holds AA batteries.

Note: Some of these tools will come in “standard” (or “inch”) and metric. Most restaurant equipment is in “standard.” I do run across metric from time to time and I have my tools in both but I have no idea if you will need metric. The socket set I recommend from Sears will have both standard and metric. The Allen wrenches are often sold in sets with standard and metric. You will have to decide if your equipment is metric (ask the salesman, he can find out).

Electric tools:


Multimeter: This is a small meter that will read the amount of voltage you have on electric wires. You can use tool a lot, but if you are not going to read the small manual that comes with it and educate yourself on how to use it, don’t waste your money. This meter doesn’t cost much and has many uses but you will have to educate yourself on how it is used.


Voltage Check (also called VoltAlert): This is a device you really must have. It looks like a pen and will tell you by just touching a wire if there is electricity going through the wire. These came out a few years ago and are great time savers. You can just touch it to the cord and find out if there is power to the equipment. I carry one of these with me while at work and can often diagnose a problem with just this tool. The one Fluke (a electric tool company) makes is called VOLTALERT. You can know almost nothing about maintenance and still use this tool. Easy to use and less than $20!

These are the BASIC tools I would recommend. There are a lot of other tools you might want depending on how far you want to go in repairing your equipment (and how much you like tools—LOL). Don Walker has a more extensive list he recommends in his book Keeping Your Gas Restaurant Equipment Cooking. You should buy and read what he has to say on the subject. You might be surprised to find out that working on equipment is something you actually enjoy doing. I work with one chef that I believe would make a GREAT equipment technician!

As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will answer them as soon as possible.

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Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

The planetary mixer is a mainstay chunk of equipment in many commercial kitchens.  Whenever your restaurant or bakery needs a large project done, and done well, more than likely you’re turning to the mixer taking up a whole corner of the kitchen.  The tasks you can perform with a well outfitted mixer are numerous, and the speed with which you can accomplish these tasks is impressive.

Of course, as great as the planetary mixer is, it may not be the right mixer for your operation, especially if you’re looking for a mixer that does one specialized task very well.  The two most obvious exceptions to the planetary mixer rule are the spiral mixer and the vertical cutter-mixer.  The spiral mixer has a fixed dough hook and rotating bowl and it’s designed for mixing large amounts of dough all day long.

Some people even claim that spiral mixers mix better dough than a planetary mixer, but that’s a matter of opinion to be sure.  Vertical cutter mixers are more of a food processor; they can do mixing, chopping, blending, etc., and are ideal for operations that need to process large amounts of a specific food product day in and day out.

So what makes the planetary mixer so great?  Well, to start, it’s a very versatile machine that can operate on a large scale.  Different attachments allow you to mix dough, whip up creams, sauces, and icing, chop, shred, or grate vegetables, or even grind up meat products.  Planetary mixers have a single offset shaft that turns in an orbital motion resembling planets going around the sun, which accounts for the name.  When attachments are affixed to this shaft they rotate through the mixer bowl in an elliptical shape, which ensures an effective mixing of the entire contents of the bowl.

Sizing Your Mixer

The capacity of the mixing bowl determines the size of the mixer.  Commercial mixers can be separated into three main categories: countertop, bench, and floor models.

Commercial Countertop Mixer

Countertop mixers are usually 5 – 8 quarts in capacity and resemble a residential model mixer.

Bench Model Mixer

Bench mixers are quite a bit larger than a countertop model (10 – 24 quarts) but can still sit on a sturdy work table.

Floor Model Mixer

Floor mixers are the most common type of commercial mixer.  These large mixers range in capacity anywhere from 30 – 80 quarts and are a freestanding unit.

To determine what size mixer you need, take a couple factors into consideration:

Leave yourself some extra capacity.  Some products will expand when agitated in the mixing process, which can mean a mess if you’ve completely filled the mixing bowl.  Besides, you may need to make larger batches of whatever you’re mixing in the future as your business grows.

If  you’re mixing dough, calculate the absorption ratio (AR).  The drier the dough, the tougher it is to mix, and that is going to affect how large a batch you can mix according to the size of your mixer.  To calculate the AR, divide the water weight by the flour weight, e.g. 20 lbs. of water and 50 lbs. of flour equals a 40% (0.4) AR.  The lower the AR, the more stiff and therefore more difficult to mix the dough is and therefore the smaller the batch will need to be.

Please note that just because you need to mix a smaller batch due to the stiffness of the dough does not mean you should use a smaller mixer.  The point of calculating the AR is to find a batch size that your mixer can manage without overworking the motor.  Consult with your operator’s manual or the mixer manufacturer for recommended batch sizes for different absorption ratios.

In general, if you plan to use your mixer for day in and day out dough mixing, go with a heavier duty floor mixer that can handle the heavy load dough puts on a mixer motor.

Mixer Attachments

Planetary mixers have several attachments for performing different tasks.  Here are the most commonly used ones:

Commercial Mixer Attachment Dough Hook

Dough Hook – these spiral shaped attachments are for mixing and kneading yeast-based dough.

Commercial Mixer Attachment Flat Beater

Flat Beater – this paddle shaped attachment is perfect for mixing batters and icings or for mashing vegetables like potatoes.  Basically, anything that needs to be creamed should get the flat beater treatment.

Hobart Mixer Attachment Wire Whipe

Wire Whip – the wire whip looks just like a handheld version but packs a lot more punch.  Use it for the same things you would use your hand whip – meringue, creams, and frostings, just on a much larger scale.

Commercial Mixer Attachment Pastry Knife

Pastry Knife – use this thin dough hook to mix shortening and flour for light dough for things like pie crusts.

Commercial Mixer Shredder/Grater Attachment

Vegetable Slicers & Grater/Shredders – these attachments can process a high volume of just about any kind of vegetable very quickly.  Use them to slash your prep times on tedious slicing tasks.

Commercial Mixer Meat Chopper Attachment

Meat Chopper/Grinders – these attachments allow you to chop up or grind meat products quickly and efficiently.

Mixer Maintenance

If you maintain a good planetary mixer that is properly sized for the tasks you give it, that mixer should serve you faithfully well into the future.  Some tips to make sure your mixer has a long and happy life:

Clean it regularly.  The mixing bowl, attachments, and shaft should be cleaned after every use.  The rest of the mixer should be cleaned on a regular basis.  No matter what part of the mixer you’re cleaning, always use soapy water and a soft rag or brush.  Never use abrasive pads or steel wool to clean any part of a mixer.

Lubricate moving parts regularly.  Refer to your owner’s manual for an official schedule and the location of all the parts that need regular lubrication.  Always use food-grade lubricant, especially on parts that could come into contact with food product, like the mixer shaft.

Don’t overload the mixer, ever!  If you do, you’re going to break something sooner or later.  Take care to size the mixer properly for the tasks you have at it and overloading shouldn’t be an issue.  Always remember that what seems like a bargain when you buy a smaller mixer can end up being a headache later when it burns out on you from overwork.

A planetary mixer can do a lot of work for you.  Buy the right one at the start and take care of it throughout, and you’ll have a permanent fixture in your kitchen’s daily operations.

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HACCP Principle 2 – The Difference Between CCP & SOP

This post is a continuation of last week’s HACCP post and the second in a series of posts here on The Back Burner that will completely outline a proper HACCP program for your restaurant.

HACCP Critical Control PointsA Critical Control Point (CCP) is a specific place where food can become contaminated.  After conducting the Hazard Analysis in Step 1, and identifying the what, where, when, why, and how, you should have a good idea of what your CCPs should be.  However, not all potential contamination points should be labeled a Critical Control Point.  Critical control points are exactly that: absolutely essential to ensuring food safety in your restaurant.

Other points of potential contamination should absolutely be addressed without using the HACCP system.  This is a key distinction when using HACCP: this program is designed for the control of critical contamination points in the food preparation and storage process, and should be used in conjunction with a robust food safety program, not in place of a food safety program.

Unless you are brand new to the food service industry, you have probably already created a list of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for applying proper food safety in your restaurant.  New operators should work with their local Board of Health to develop their SOPs before opening the doors.  These SOPs are called Prerequisite Programs in HACCP.  This distinction is important because as you identify risks and hazards in your restaurant, you are going to find points that should be addressed, but are not absolutely essential to achieving food safety for food safety.

These less critical points should be addressed with a Prerequisite Program, with definitive steps for minimizing risks and hazards.  The critical points in food preparation and storage that have to be done right every time to prevent contamination should be labeled a CCP and folded into your HACCP program.

So how do you decide which points are a CCP and which can be handled by a Prerequisite Program?  A good strategy is to analyze the food preparation process for each item on your menu.  There are a few exceptions, but in general most menu items can be divided into three groups (please keep in mind that the CCPs listed below are the most common examples only; actual CCPs may vary depending on the situation):

Process 1 – No Cook
Process 2 – Cook & Serve
Process 3 – Complex Prep

More on these processes in the next post.

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9 Back Burner Posts That Will Boost Your Profits

After three months and 124 posts, The Back Burner is fast becoming a wealth of information for anyone involved in the restaurant industry.  The downside of putting up so much content, however, is that some really good posts kind of get lost in the mix and are quickly buried in the archives.

That’s why we’re starting a new series of posts that bring some of these “oldies but goodies” back to the surface in case you missed them the first time.  Recent news has suggested that food service might finally be turning around, and as we look forward to a brighter summer (couldn’t get worse, right?), take a moment to peruse these 9 Back Burner posts that will help your establishment pile the black onto your bottom line.

1. Engineer Your Menu – Discover some simple menu layout strategies that are proven to improve check averages and get your customers buying rather than looking.

2. Improve Your Restaurant’s Energy Efficiency – Having a green restaurant isn’t just a hot buzzword, it’s a great way to brand your restaurant, build customer loyalty, and slash expenses.  Get some front-of-house energy saving tips here.

3.  The Economics of Free – It might seem counter-intuitive at first, but giving things away for “free” can actually help you build your customer base and boost profits.

4. Why Fast Food Lunch Is Good For Your Restaurant – Value minus time equals a busy lunch rush.  Learn to market your lunch menu properly and fill your establishment all week long.

5. Dirty Restrooms Will Keep Patrons Away – Sometimes it’s the simple things that can affect customer retention and therefore profits.  A recent poll shows just how badly a dirty restroom reflects on your restaurant.

6. Should You Cut Costs In Payroll? – When profits are suffering, it’s tempting to cut costs where you tend to spend the most: payroll.  Unfortunately, this can turn out to be a sharp double-edged sword.  Learn more here.

7. The 4 R’s Of Driving Server Sales – Well trained servers are the engine driving your restaurant’s sales.  Learn how to turn that engine into a well-oiled machine that fires on all cylinders.

8. Use A Bar Spotter To Increase Profits – As tips decline for bartenders, the bar and restaurant industry have turned to “secret shoppers” for help reducing graft and improving sales for bartenders.

9. How To Improve Dessert Sales – Selling dessert is probably one of the toughest jobs any server will encounter.  Get some tips on how to help your customers go from saying “No” to saying “Yes.”

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