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Archive | December, 2011

Chefs: How To Decide Between Apprenticeships or Culinary School

Chef EducationHaving a formal education is a wonderful thing to be able to put on a resume. Training under an experienced Chef can also teach you just as much practical information. There are pro and cons to both. Culinary schools are more structured environments. Apprenticeships are more unstructured environments. If you have the opportunity to do both, I would highly recommend it.

Culinary Schools Pros:

* Culinary schools look good on a resume.
* Culinary schools give a more structured environment to learn in.
* Culinary schools give broad examples and teachings that cross different types of cuisines and styles of cooking.
* Culinary schools have valuable resources and the opportunity to research independently.
* Culinary schools give a person the opportunity to make future industry contacts.
* Culinary schools give what you get out of them.
* Culinary schools teach basic skills along with business basics.

Culinary Schools Cons:

* Culinary school classes can be unrealistic. Six or more people working the grill station in a restaurant is not the reality of what it is really like in the industry.
* Culinary schools can be very expensive. Evaluate whether you want to be paying off college bills for many years.
* Culinary schools may give students unrealistic expectations. Not everyone is going to become an Executive Chef after graduating from a school.

Apprenticeship Pros:

* Apprenticeships give a person a taste of what really working in a kitchen is like.
* Apprenticeships can give you the opportunity to work under many different types of Chefs, and work one on one with them.
* During an apprenticeship, you make money while you are learning.

Apprenticeship Cons:

* The lack of formal education may hurt you in some hiring environments.
* As an apprentice you may not learn as much about the business aspects as you will need to in order to become a Chef.
* Apprenticeship may lack fundamentals that a formal education can and will teach you.

My best recommendation would be to work (or when all else fails) volunteer to work unpaid in a professional kitchen for at least a few months if not longer before you decide to go to school. Unfortunately many people who go right into culinary schools out of high school have no idea what working in a “real” kitchen is like. Boy they generally are in for a big shock.

So before you go spending big bucks on a school make sure you are going to like the industry first before you dive right in. Not all culinary graduates get to be Head Chefs and “in the News.” If you look at the statistics, a year after graduation, over 15% of graduates do not stay in the field, over 40% are still line cooks and 15-20 years after graduation, many are burned out and have changed careers. I know that in my graduating class at CIA, approximately 50% plus are no longer cooking, many of us have migrated to other hospitality industry jobs: food sales, purchasing, product development, etc. but we are we are not sweating in our whites any longer.Chef Education

Half of the chefs and cooks I have worked with over the years have never been to cooking school and they are just as well trained, knowledgeable and talented as ones who have spent the money to be traditionally educated. There is no “wrong way” to get into the field. Regardless of what you decide to do, you get out of it what you put into it.

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50 Restaurant Resolutions For A Successful Year

If ever there was a good time to make some positive changes to your restaurant’s operation, now is that time.  The time to kick things up a notch and really go after more business.  If you’re going to beat out the competition then you need to trim down, work harder, and be smarter.  Here are 50 resolutions to help you get there.


1. Build a good website By good we mean “informational.” When a customer visits your website they want three things: a menu, a map, and a phone number.  Take down all the fancy pictures and put those three things first.

2. Stop being afraid of Yelp – Yes, a bad review by an influential Yelper can be disastrous for a restaurant. But instead of trying to limit Yelp you need to engage.  Respond to bad reviews, reward good ones, and take that bull by the horns.

3. Stop hating Groupon – Many restaurants have used it, few have liked the results. Like it or not Groupon is here to stay so stop being a hater and start getting the most out of your coupon-cutting patrons by collecting as much information from them as you can so you can try to turn them into regular customers.

4. Get new menus – Drop the dollar signs, highlight the good margin stuff, and put your best sellers in the middle of the list – all proven ways to get your customers buying your bread-and-butter entrees.

5. Stop pretending social media doesn’t matter – Despite the ongoing rise of social media marketing restaurants have mostly ignored the trend, preferring to engage customers in more traditional ways.  Well, the time has come to engage using social media.  The investment is small, the potential gains are big, and as adoption continues to increase so will the cost of not participating.

6. Get your food out of the house – Whether you cater events, start delivering your entrees, hold exclusive off-site events, or participate in summer food festivals, your food needs to leave the house to be seen and recognized. The free press these initiatives usually generate are only the side benefit to reaching your customers no matter where they are.

7. Source locally – Local food is great for marketing because when you talk about partnering with other local businesses to bring local food to your tables you become a part of the community, and the word-of-mouth this generates is invaluable.

8. Let customers pay what they want – Some restaurants have gone as far as making pay-what-you-want their only pricing plan.  You may not have the sand for that, and understandably so, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hold special events with pay anything as the core of the promotion.  Even if you only break even, the buzz around the event will help you snag more regular customers.

9. Give away your cooking secrets – Yeah, then it’s not a secret anymore, right? Maybe so, but your restaurant isn’t a secret anymore either, and that means more customers.  Nothing makes a customer remember you like being let in on all the stuff going on behind the curtain in the back of the house. Heck, you could even put on a cooking class in the restaurant and watch the foodies swarm in.

10. Sponsor a local sports team – Little league, amateur softball or soccer, or even create your own league for your favorite sport – no matter what you sponsor you’re getting your name out there as a part of the community and that word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind.

11. Claim your Google places page – It’s easy to do, free of charge, and gives you an automatic presence every time someone searches for restaurants in your area.  All you have to do is enter your business address and then watch out for the mailer Google sends you.  Enter the confirmation code and your business is now activated.

12. Raffle for charity – Everybody loves a raffle, but you probably haven’t done one in your restaurant because you’re not sure why you would give stuff away to people who are paying to eat there anyway.  This is why: you collect every single email address in the room when they enter the raffle.  Now you have a way to entice all those customers back over and over.

13. Create a YouTube channel – You or someone in your restaurant already has a Flip video recorder (heck even the latest iPhone will work!).  Put these wonders of modern technology to work making behind-the-scenes videos about your establishment.  Uploading them to YouTube is free and pretty simple,  and now you’ve created another way to talk to your customers when they’re not in the restaurant.

14. Hold an exclusive event – Regular customers love nothing more than feeling special, and nothing will make them feel more special than an exclusive event at your restaurant.  Set up a prix fixe menu, throw together some new dishes, and set aside a slow Tuesday night to really impress your biggest fans.

15. Host live music – from a single piano or singer/songwriter to a full-on rock band, every restaurant can use some type of live entertainment. If you’re just trying to improve the ambience then run some drink or food specials to coincide with the live act and turn it into a regular event.  If you’re booking hot local bands, use their performance in your establishment to access their fan base and turn them into regular customers.


16. Stop micromanaging – Making sure everyone is doing their job right all the time is part of owning and/or managing a small business.  On the other hand, double checking people makes them incapable of taking responsibility themselves.  Trust but verify: have a quality control system in place but let your employees take ownership of their jobs.  You just might find that productivity will go up while you actually do less.

17. Get a handle on inventory shrink – Food product is one of your biggest expenses, and because there’s always a lot of it laying around it can be easy for some to go missing.  Sometimes this is unintentional and other times it is very intentional.  Either way you’re losing money.  Start with a good inventory system and then put some checks on employee misuse like clear trash bags (so you can see what’s getting thrown away), ban backpacks and other personal baggage from your kitchen, and train staff to minimize waste.

18. Learn to repair equipment yourself – There are a lot of simple fixes to big equipment items like refrigeration, ranges, and fryers that you can handle yourself.  Learning how to be a restaurant equipment mechanic can save you tons of money in parts & labor and save you a lot of downtime as well.  The Back Burner blog ( has dozens of equipment repair guides available for free.

19. Stop serving dishes that don’t sell – It can be easy to fall into the trap of adding more and more variety to your menu just for the sake of variety.  The problem is, if a dish isn’t moving then it’s costing you money to buy those ingredients and store them.  Go through your sales numbers regularly and ax anything that isn’t turning over quickly enough.  Printing new menus is a much less expensive effort.

20. Add an over-the-top entréeMenu pricing is all relative.  Things are only as expensive as the next item on the list, so why not give your customers something to compare against – something so over-the-top expensive that everything else on your menu will seem affordable by comparison.  Bonus points for putting your highest margin items right next to the expensive one!

21. Get new distributors – You buy A LOT of food product, and it’s about time you started leveraging your buying power to get better deals.  The big guys like SYSCO may not give you a discount but you also don’t need to buy everything from them either.  Shop around, and do so regularly, and make it clear to the guys you already do business with that they had better treat you right before you move on.

22. Train employees to make you more money Anybody can write down an order and bring out drinks and food at the appropriate times.  It takes a true server to be able to connect with customers and recommend a bottle of wine or sell a few specials.  Ongoing training will not only help your servers raise check averages but will also turn them into money machines for your business as well.

23. Separate the campers from the turn and burn Table turnover is the key to maximizing a busy night in any restaurant.  At the same time, you don’t want to push customers out the door who are there to enjoy a nice evening out.  Not sure how to strike the right balance?  Segment your customers into cozy booths or busy open tables in the middle of the floor depending on how they got there – advanced reservations probably want to relax while late walk-ins are probably on their way to do something else.  Let the former camp in the booths and turn and burn the latter out in the open.

24. Refuse reservations Reservations are a necessary evil in the food service business, or at least that’s how the traditional thinking goes.  Sometimes, though, reservations just don’t make sense at all.  Peak holidays – New Year’s Eve or Mother’s Day, for instance, are far too busy for you to risk leaving a table empty because someone is running late or decided to go elsewhere.  So refuse reservations or take a deposit.

25. Clean up your restroom – There’s no denying it: customers are judging you by your bathroom.  If it’s shabby or dirty then they wonder if other places they can’t see (like the kitchen) looks the same.  Send a strong message when your customers visit the restroom: show them the tight ship you run by taking care of the details behind the bathroom door.

26. Start managing portion control – A simple side like mashed potatoes doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance – just whip up a large batch and serve them till they’re gone (or they go bad) – but for every extra ounce you put on a plate you’re losing money.  Using portion control tools like scales and sized ladles will help your busy staff avoid overserving, and help you reduce leftovers.

27. Actually sell desserts It’s far too easy for full customers to turn down a server who walks up to the table, check in hand, and asks “Did you save any room for dessert?”  There’s good money to be made in dessert sales, especially if you know how to sell them.  Start by making desserts small and very affordable, thereby removing the “I’m too full” excuse.  Next, make real models of your desserts for display.  Being able to see desserts rather than imagine them has an enormous effect on the decision making process.

28. Secure your data You are in charge of a lot of very important data.  Between customer credit cards and employee social security numbers your business is an identity thief’s dream.  All too often this data is far too easy to access, so clean up your act and get that stuff secured by limiting who can access important databases and/or files and possibly even using a security company solution to manage valuable information.

29. Stop losing business to allergies According to a study by, accommodating people with food allergies could boost business by as much as 9%.  This is because if one person has an allergy in a group of people deciding where to eat, everyone will change their mind according to which restaurant can accommodate the allergy.  This “veto vote” means you’re losing a lot more business than just the allergic person, so start developing methods for accommodating allergies today.

30. Hand out paid sick days The National Restaurant Association may lobby against them, but paid sick days for your employees are worth far more than they cost.  Here’s why: when one worker comes in sick they will inevitably contaminate something in the kitchen, and before you know it the rest of the staff is sick and then customers get sick.  Retaining good, reliable staff is certainly worth the effort, and perks like a couple paid sick days will help you retain the best.

31. Stay open all night Urban areas are increasingly becoming 24/7, and that means there are hungry customers peering into your dark windows late at night.  If you run a late kitchen with a skeleton crew you can generate some great extra business by capturing the late crowd, especially on weekends.  Pare down your menu to high-margin munchies, find a couple reliable people to work the late shift, turn up the house music and watch your restaurant work for you while you sleep.

Energy Efficiency

32. Get a rebate when you upgrade equipment – upgrading restaurant equipment is no small expense, but sooner or later it will be a necessary one for your business.  As long as you are upgrading, you might as well maximize energy efficiency with an EnergyStar rated piece.  That way you can save on monthly energy bills and also qualify for local, state, and federal tax rebates.  Go to and check out their Rebate Finder.

33. Set equipment schedules – Powering up restaurant equipment puts a huge load on your gas and electric meters all at the same time – and that costs you more money than it should.  Create power up and power down schedules that space out your usage and try to set them for off-peak hours when rates are cheaper.

34. Stop thawing meat with running water – It’s a common practice at home and in many restaurants, and if your kitchen is using hot running water to thaw meat then you’re throwing dollars down the drain.  Create a thawing schedule for every day of operation and see that your staff sticks to it.  Sticking frozen product in the refrigerator 8 hours before the dinner rush is so much cheaper (and safer) than sticking it in the sink an hour beforehand it’s not even funny.

35. Starve the dishwasher beast – Commercial dishwashers are energy hogs, pure and simple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least cut down their usage.  Start by washing only full racks of pre-rinsed dishes.  Next check the water pressure in the unit against the manufacturer recommendation.  If it’s more then cut it down to save water.  Finally, turn off booster and tank heaters at the end of the night to save energy.

36. Get LEED certified The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a program that rewards many types of buildings, including restaurants, with a certification for sustainable and efficient practices.  Getting certified involves earning points for different types of sustainable design elements in your commercial kitchen, and probably only makes sense for certain types of restaurants.  If your customers are very conscious about the going green trend, however, LEED certification starts to make a lot of sense.

37. Replace refrigerator door gaskets Cracked, compressed, and worn door gaskets on refrigeration units are costing you money!  That’s because cold air is escaping the unit through these old, worn-out gaskets.  Even worse, there’s a food safety threat involved: grime and dirt breed bacteria in those cracks and the temperatures of food product near the door may enter the danger zone.  Do yourself a favor and get those gaskets replaced today.

38. Optimize the kitchen ventilation system The ventilation system above the cooking line in a restaurant kitchen is constantly running – and that means it’s also constantly costing you money.  Some simple tricks will help you control that cost, like getting the system rebalanced, pushing your equipment up against the wall underneath the hood to maximize suction, and installing a demand control to automatically tone down or rev up the system according to cooking volume.

39. Replace steam table pans
If you use a steam table then you’ve probably got more pans than you know what to do with, and that’s why the new year is a perfect opportunity to get rid of the ones that are costing you money.  Over time the corners and edges of steam table pans bend and crumple from use.  Every crack between the edge of the steam table and the lip of the pan is allowing heat to escape – and that means your table is working far harder than it should be.  Flatten out your pans so they fit snugly against the table and replace the ones too far gone to repair.

40. Install a three compartment sink – Not everything needs to go through your commercial dishwasher, and you can really save some money by resorting to good old-fashioned hand washing, that is, as long as you’re using a three compartment sink.  Using three compartments, one each for washing, rinsing, and drying is much more efficient than trying to do all in a single compartment.

41. Grow your own food – Not that you needed more work in the coming year, right?  Even so, many chefs have started growing their own herbs and vegetables in little vacant lots, on rooftops, or right behind the restaurant as a way to source the ingredients they need as locally as possible.  Customers love the idea and you can also save some money by gardening at least a few of the many ingredients you use daily in your operation.


42. Craft your own cocktails Specialty cocktails have made a serious comeback in restaurants and bars, and if you’re not serving them then you’re missing out.  Add some culinary creativity to bar offerings with specialty cocktails and market them during happy hour.  Just make sure you use quality, fresh ingredients, a witty name, and a unique combination of flavors to make the perfect cocktail.

43. Brew good coffee – It’s sometimes easy to forget about the quality of the coffee you serve, but with the rise of premium coffee you can bet your customers care deeply about sipping only best cup of joe.  Revisit basic brewing techniques like making sure the bed of grounds is only 1-2 inches, the water is filtered, the coffee machine is clean, and the temperature is between 195 and 205 degrees.

44. Cook with quinoa – Quinoa is a grain native to South America that is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.  It’s high in protein, relatively cheap to buy, and very versatile when it comes to preparation.  If you’re looking for some new flavors and textures, quinoa is as good a place as any to start.

45. Buy some iPads Some restaurants have begun using iPads as menus or wine lists, and the interactive nature of tablets turns out to be an extremely effective marketing tool, with some restaurants reporting a 30% jump in wine sales after introducing an iPad wine list.  Obviously, the cost is pretty steep, but digital ordering is definitely the future.

46. Go induction Induction ranges are energy efficient and don’t need to be vented which means you can place them in some creative places in your restaurant.  They do require stainless cookware to work but they are also much faster at heating up whatever you’re cooking.

47. Shrink portion sizes – Smaller portions are all the rage since the Great Recession hit the American economy.  That’s because a smaller portion means less cost to both you and your customer.  And in an increasingly health-conscious world, smaller portions mean you can still use decadent ingredients without blowing up calorie totals.

48. Serve sake without sushi Sake is gaining mainstream appreciation in the U.S., and not just when people go out for sushi.  Try adding a couple premium sakes to your drink list for variety.  You might be surprised how many people order it up.

49. Add nutrition info to menus – This isn’t the easiest task in the world but it can have a real effect on your customers, who have said over and over they would prefer to have access to nutrition information in restaurants, even if they still go with the richest item on the menu.

50. Don’t ignore food trucks –
Yes, they have multiplied like flies across every city and town in America, and for good reason – people love them.  Whether you want to try out a new concept or find some new marketing channels for your existing restaurant, food trucks are the perfect vehicle for hitting the streets with your brand.

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New Super Fast Pathogen Tester Could Change Food Safety

Food SafetyIt seems like every year there are a growing number of food product recalls in response to outbreaks of illness caused by nasty bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.  In 2010 we had outbreaks in lettuce, tomatoes, and alfalfa sprouts that sickened hundreds of people.  In fact, there are 48 million reported cases of food borne illness every year and an estimated 3,000 deaths.

Restaurants often fall victim to blame for contamination that happened earlier in the food supply chain, but that doesn’t excuse them from responsibility.  Instead, food service businesses have to be more vigilant than ever when preparing food for customers.  You simply can’t trust that the ingredients coming in your back door are completely safe.

That’s why it was such encouraging news to hear that a Denver based biotech company called Beacon Food Safety has developed a comprehensive, super fast testing device that can detect up to 112 different kinds of food borne pathogens within a couple hours, and often within just a few minutes.

Visit for more information

Visit for more information

The tester resembles a standard thumb drive, but instead of a couple gigabytes of disk space, this USB device has a chip inside it with 112 individual detectors filled with a protein that was synthetically recreated from a deep sea creature.  When this protein comes into contact with a pathogen, it emits a light that can be detected by a computer when the tester is plugged into the USB  port.

Whoa, that’s high tech.

The device is revolutionary because pathogen testing has traditionally taken days or weeks to complete.  That’s because a sample has to be taken and allowed to steep in a petri dish.  The problem has always been that as few as 10 E. coli cells can make a person gravely ill, and it takes a long time for 10 cells to multiply in large enough numbers in a petri dish to be detected.

The Beacon device can’t detect as few as 10 cells just yet, but it can detect pathogens in very small numbers very quickly compared to traditional testing methods.

This kind of technology stands to revolutionize how pathogens are tracked in the food supply chain.  The ability to catch contaminated food almost in real time will mean outbreaks can be controlled and sources of illness can be found much more quickly.

For restaurateurs, the Beacon tester can add an extra layer of security to any food safety program.  Did some product arrive not quite at temperature?  Test it.  Has something been sitting in the walk-in a little too long?  Test it.  Are proteins getting cooked thoroughly enough?  Test it!

Beacon plans to make its device available for $20 a pop – a little steep for testing everything every day, but certainly in the realm for random spot checking to help ensure your restaurant’s food safety program is definitely working.

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Portion Control: Are You Losing Money To Food Waste?

Restaurant Portion Control Like Coca-ColaImagine for a second that you run Coca-Cola instead of your restaurant.  You sell millions of cans of soda every day, and you’re making a decent profit.  Now imagine that as the founder and owner of Coke, you never bothered to standardize the size of each can, so some cans are 12 ounces, others are 13, and some are even as large as 16 ounces, but you charge the same price for all of them.

Think you’d be losing a little money every time you sold a 16 ounce can of Coke?

There are more similarities between your restaurant and Coca-Cola than you might think.  You both serve a consumable product.  You both charge a flat rate for a portion of that product although you make a lot more of that product than you serve each customer.

But unlike a lot of restaurants, I guarantee you Coca-Cola pours the same exact amount of Coke product into every single can.  Their price is then figured based upon making a certain amount of profit margin assuming that exact amount is in every single can.  As you can imagine, if their machines were off by a fraction of an ounce, they could lose millions of dollars.

Controlling the portion sizes you serve your customers is an easily overlooked but extremely important way to cut costs and preserve your restaurant’s margin.  In the high-pressure atmosphere of a commercial kitchen during the dinner rush, you need simple but highly effective methods for keeping portions exactly the same.Portion Scales

The first place to address portions is with proteins. A good portion scale can weigh out protein portions quickly and simply, giving you an extra measure of control over what is probably the most expensive item on any entrée plate.  Check out this blog post for more info on scales.

Secondly, your starches, veggies, soups, etc. need to be portioned out as exactly as possible.  Even a half ounce over the serving size called for in each entrée can translate into thousands of dollars in lost revenue over the course of year.  The easiest way to control these portion sizes is with kitchen utensils that measure portions accurately.  Vollrath’s line of ladles, dishers, and Spoodles are all designed to allow the quick and effective measurement of portion sizes.Portion Control

Portion control is important because it is the basis for calculating your restaurant’s profitability.  Especially in an era of deep discounting and razor thin margins, being able to control portions is an incredibly important element when you decide how to price your menu.  That’s because you’re making assumptions about how much each entrée served will cost you.  Those assumptions go out the window if the actual quantity served is incorrect.

Effective portion control allows you to dial up an aggressive price at a decent margin that beats the competition but keeps you profitable.  Any restaurant manager knows what a tightrope those margins can be.  Without portion controls, you’re far more likely to fall off than to make it to the other side.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Hiring and Training Employees

Hire and Train Good StaffRestaurants and commercial kitchens have always been relatively high turnover work environments, making new employee recruiting and training a constant chore for management. A few basic procedures can help you maximize employee retention and reduce turnover, which in turn reduces costs and increases efficiency.

Cast a wide net. When you have a job opening, get the word out so that you get a maximum number of candidates.  The more people you get to apply, the more likely you are to find the ideal candidate.

Use multiple media:

Screen carefully. Reading every resume and interviewing many candidates takes time, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.  A little careful screening will save you time and most importantly money later on down the line.

Things to look for during the screening process:

Relevant job experience. The more time a candidate has spent performing a similar job, the faster they can plug in to your operation.

This can be a double edged sword however.

A candidate with many recent jobs may have problems you can’t see up front, or a candidate with a long list of experience may want too much compensation and be hard to train.

References. At least three references can provide a window into a candidate’s background and personality.

Salary requirements. Perhaps the easiest way to rule out a candidate is to ask what their minimum salary requirements are.

Interview. Ask questions that require more than a one word answer.  Get a feel for how the candidate views their prospective job and where they are in their life.  Depending on the position, pare candidates down after the first interview and then conduct a second interview.

Structure the screening process so that everybody who will be working with the new employee is involved in some way, no matter how small.

This will help cohesion when you bring a new person in.

Use your best resource for training your employees. Once you have selected the right candidate, make sure they have all the tools they need to succeed in their new position by taking the time to train them well.

One of the best resources you have at your disposal to accomplish this is your existing employees.

Have the new person shadow one of your top performing staff members for a few days to start.  This will not only help them start to learn the details of their new job, but will also give them your restaurant’s best example of a good employee.

Create clear expectations. Nothing is more confusing to a new employee than contradictory or constantly changing expectations.

This is an easy trap to fall into, since everybody in your company will have expectations for the new guy.  Make clear not only to the new employee but also to the rest of your staff what your expectations are for him or her so that you avoid crossed signals.

Creating Clear Goals For Restaurant StaffSet a positive example. Ultimately, your employees look to you for cues on how they are performing and what their expectations are.  The best way to improve new employee and overall staff retention is to set a positive example for all employees to follow.

Create a positive work environment that values constructive criticism and mutual support.  Such an environment will not only keep morale high, but will reduce turnover and improve customer service.

Check back often for more restaurant management best practice tips from The Back Burner.

Also, please weigh in with your opinion!  What did we miss?  What can be better?

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration

In this article I would like to talk about the refrigerators and freezer units commonly found in a commercial kitchen and restaurant. The average unit will give long service with minimal maintenance; however there are a few things you should know that could possibly prevent breakdowns. You should also read Greg’s article on this subject he posted some time back.

The way it works: Any common unit used to cool (refrigerator or freezer) that operates with a refrigerant (freon) works in essentially the same way. I will give you a rough outline so you will get the basic idea.

Every commercial refrigerator or freezer is made up of 3 main parts you can identify:

A refrgeration compressor
1. The compressor: the compressor is really nothing but an electric motor that is sealed (welded) in a metal case. The case will be located on the outside of the unit (not in the compartment to be cooled). Compressors are made by several companies and in various styles but most compressors are made by Copeland. You cannot mistake the compressor for anything else because nothing else on your cooling unit will look like the compressor. Think of the compressor as the HEART of your cooling unit. There is no maintenance that can be done on a welded compressor. It is full of oil but typically the oil is designed to last the life of the compressor.

When a welded compressor goes out all you can do is replace it. A compressor is expensive but it is often cheaper to replace the compressor than to replace the entire unit. I have also replaced compressors because the particular equipment was built into “the line” and it has to repaired rather than replaced.
A Condenser Coil
2. The condenser coil: The condenser coil is square, usually black in color, and will have a fan placed behind it that forces air through it. Most of these coils are around 12 inches by 12 inches. The condenser coil will be located very near the compressor (usually directly in front of it). The fan that forces air through the coil is almost always located between the coil and the compressor. This fan not only removes heat from this coil but has the added benefit of cooling the compressor. You must keep the area where this coil and fan are located FREE FROM ANYTHING that blocks air flow (i.e. don’t stack boxes on top of or in front of the area where the compressor and coil are located). The condenser coil will require cleaning on a regular basis (every 3 months). The coil will pick up whatever is floating in the air in your kitchen and deposit it on the coil.

If you allow the coil to clog up, it will cause your cooling unit not to perform at it’s optimum. In fact if this coil is left completely clogged for any extended period of time it will shorten the life of your compressor or completely burn it up. Think of this coil as one of the LUNGS of your cooling unit. Without air, the HEART (the compressor) will stop.An evaporator coil

3. The evaporator coil: the evaporator coil is also called the “cold coil”. This coil is located inside the compartment to be refrigerated.  In most cases you will not be able to see this coil without removing a cover. This coil’s purpose is to distribute cold air into the unit. Like the condenser coil, there is a fan near the evaporator coil used to force air through it. The evaporator coil can be many different sizes and is usually a lot thicker than the condenser coil. It is often a silver color (aluminum) and can have several fans blowing air through it. Think of this coil as the other LUNG of your refrigeration unit.

The evaporator coil gets extremely cold when the unit is running. Air on the inside of the refrigeration unit is re-circulated through this coil over and over again and getting colder with each pass. This air is what makes your unit cold. It takes the heat from any object you place in the cooling unit and transfers it to the evaporator coil. The heat is then absorbed by the refrigerant (freon) passing through this coil and delivered to the rest of the system (compressor and condenser coil) to remove it from the unit.

These three main components work in unison to cool your refrigerator or freezer. Your freezer will also be equipped with a defrost heater that melts the frost off the evaporator coil several times a day to keep it from freezing up.

What you as a owner/manager can do:

You can extend the life and efficiency of your refrigerators and freezers by keeping the condenser (outside) coil clean. You can also insure the door gaskets are in good shape and are sealing all the way around. Also train your employees not to leave the door open any longer than necessary.
The refrigerators and freezers are some of the most maintenance free equipment in your kitchen. If you buy a quality unit and see that the minor maintenance described above is done then these units should give you many years of trouble free service.

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Restaurant Dishwasher: A Complete Buying Guide

Fagor Undercounter

Undercounter dishwasher

Deciding on the right dishwasher for your restaurant or commercial kitchen depends on a few important factors, and it’s vital to get the right machine for the job.There are multiple types of dish machines depending on what you plan to wash and how much of it you plan to wash in a given day.

The most common restaurant dishwasher types are:

Undercounter – these dish machines are similar to residential models and can handle up to 35 racks per hour.  They usually use a built-in heating element to flash heat dishes and ware to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for sanitization.

Door Type – these washers are larger than undercounter models and can handle up to 150 racks per hour.  Door type washers are most commonly used in most restaurants.

They have a large door that opens and allows racks to be easily moved in and out.  Some models even have a conveyor that allows the constant processing of dish racks.

Hubbell Booster Heater

Booster Heater

Booster Heaters – these stand-alone units pre-heat water to the NSF required 180 degrees Fahrenheit for proper sanitization.  They operate independently of the dish machine and insure that enough hot water is available for washing.

Booster heaters are typically used on large Conveyor or Flight dishwashers that process large volumes of dishes per hour.  Most undercounter and door type units have a built-in booster heater.

Check before you buy any dishwasher to see if you’ll need a booster heater or not.

Conveyor and Flight – these washers are for high volume applications like cafeterias or institutions and can process over 400 racks per hour.

High Temp vs. Low Temp

High temperature dishwashers:

  • Use heat to sanitize dishes and glassware
  • Must achieve 180 degrees Fahrenheit to meet NSF regulations
  • Use slightly more energy than a low temp dishwasher
  • Do not require the regular purchase of chemicals
  • Do not damage flatware and plastics
  • Is the most commonly used commercial dishwasher

Low temperature dishwashers:

  • Use a chemical bath to sanitize dishes and glassware
  • Are not as effective at removing grease
  • Are slightly more efficient than high temp models
  • Can damage flatware and plastics
  • Require you to purchase chemicals on a monthly basis

Some argue that the cost of chemicals for a low temp dishwasher is much less than the increased energy savings versus a high temp unit.

While this may be true, the main factor to consider when you are trying to decide between a low or high temp dishwasher is the damage to flatware, plastics, and dinnerware that might occur with a low temp model because of the sanitation chemicals used.

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Can You Trust Generic Restaurant Equipment Parts?

Any restaurateur who has dealt with equipment parts has heard of OEMRestaurant Equipment Parts (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and generic parts.  If you haven’t, here’s a quick rundown:

OEM parts are produced by the manufacturer of the piece of equipment or a subcontractor commissioned to make parts for the original manufacturer.  OEM parts are distributed by the manufacturer of your restaurant equipment.  If your equipment is under warranty, the manufacturer will replace broken parts using an OEM part and a certified service technician.

Generic parts are not made or distributed by the manufacturer of the restaurant equipment.  These parts are made using the same specifications as the original part and are equal or better in quality to the equivalent OEM part.

And this is where the whole thing gets a little complicated.  Restaurant equipment manufacturers have spent a lot of time and energy telling the entire food service industry that generic parts are inferior in quality and perhaps even dangerous to use.  There is an obvious economic incentive for them to say this: if you buy an OEM part from them, they make a lot of money.  Ironically, many “generic” parts are made in the same factory, and by the same company, that makes the OEM part (Robertshaw parts being the most common example of this).  The only difference between the two is the box the part comes in.  If it’s in a Southbend box, it’ll cost you as much as 50% more than the identical part in another parts distributor’s box.

I will say this again because the myth out there is a powerful one: generic parts are equal to or better in quality than the OEM part.  Really, there are only a few reasons why you would ever want to buy an OEM part over a generic part:

Warranty.  Your equipment is still under warranty and using anything besides an OEM part installed by a certified service technician will void the warranty.

Availability. Sometimes, due to the geographic location of your business in relation to parts distributors, you can get an OEM part faster than a generic.  And sometimes speed really matters, like when your fryer thermostat goes down the Friday before the Super Bowl.  In those situations you might be willing to pay more for the same part just so you can get it right away.

A Generic Gas Burner ValveGeneric availability. Some parts, especially rare parts, are not manufactured generically and can only be purchased from the original equipment manufacturer.  That’s when you just have to grin and bear it.

Otherwise, there’s really no reason to not buy generic (and remember that in many cases “generic” means the same exact part from the same place in a different box).  Of course, always buy from a reputable restaurant equipment parts distributor no matter what kind of part you’re looking for.

There are many very common parts that go out all the time in the most common types of restaurant equipment.  These parts are easy to buy generically and easy to install.  Learn more about easy do-it-yourself restaurant equipment repair.

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Huge Money Saver Or Needless Middle Man? KlickKitchen Offers Online Ordering For Chefs

The website KlickKitchen allows chefs to source food products for their restaurant or commercial kitchen exclusively through the web.  Vendors upload their food products and restaurants log in and order what they need from the website’s catalog of foodstuffs.  The site is the creation of Jordan Glaser, formerly of the Institute for Culinary Education.  KlickKitchen contends that it saves chefs valuable time because the ordering process is streamlined and saves them money through reduced errors.

Overall, food service industry media has been very friendly to KlickKitchen, giving it positive reviews and repeating the company’s mantra: that their service will save chefs out there time and money.  But what do actual executive chefs in the real world think?  Surprisingly, there’s not much out there when it comes to talking about the KlickKitchen concept.  There was a spate of comments in forums that were started by people associated with the website last year, when it first launched.  Since then, there hasn’t been much, save for a QSR magazine reference in this month’s issue, which again repeated the mantra: this site will save you money and time.

After $300 in setup fees and a $30/month membership fee afterwards, it seems like KlickKitchen  had better be very effective at making your current method of ordering from food vendors more efficient.  Some have pointed out that they already order online from their food vendors.  Mostly, however, the food service industry seems pretty quiet about this website.

So what do you think?  Do you struggle with ordering errors and time spent trying to maintain your inventory?  Or do you find a third-party vendor like KlickKitchen to be just another middle man between you and your vendor?  Weigh in with your thoughts below!

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Vital Food Safety Equipment: Data Loggers

As the past year’s worth of food contamination scares have shown, managing food safety must be a top priority for the food service industry. In fact, it can mean the survival or failure of your business, since a foodborne illness case linked to your restaurant or commercial kitchen could put you out of business with sickening speed. The good news is there are many ways to apply technology to the timeless problem of managing temperature, and data loggers from companies like Comark are a major part of the 21st century approach to managing food safety.

Use data loggers to keep track of food temperature over time.

Use data loggers to keep track of food temperature over time.

A data logger is a small (they usually fit in the palm of your hand) digital device capable of taking regular air temperature and humidity readings in a walk-in refrigerator or freezer.  This allows you to accurately record average food temperatures on a consistent basis and keep a log of temperature patterns over time.

Many data loggers even have an optional probe that can be inserted into cooling product to make sure it is getting out of the temperature danger zone quickly.  Multiple probes can be linked to a single logger through a link box system, allowing you to track temperatures in several types of product simultaneously.

Data loggers have incredible memory capabilities, with many able to record tens of thousands of temperature readings.  Even more useful to managers is accompanying software and a USB cable that enables data to be transferred from the logger to a PC, where it can be stored and analyzed.

Why are data loggers so important?

Besides the obvious ability to constantly monitor temperature in your commercial kitchen, a good data logging system will help you during your next health inspection.

Having cool time data for stored product and average walk-in temperatures at your fingertips means you can quantify for the inspector exactly how your food safety program is keeping product out of the temperature danger zone.

You’ll also be able to identify and head off problems before they become issues with the inspector.  If product isn’t cooling down fast enough or your walk-in isn’t staying cold enough, a data logger can tell very quickly.

Tracking temperature changes can also save you money.  If the data shows your walk-in’s temperature rises at the same time every day, it’s that much easier to identify the cause of the problem.

Maybe an employee leaves the door open to pull product every morning.  Perhaps the door gasket needs to be replaced.  Knowing temperature trends means you can devise ways to improve energy efficiency and save on the bills in the process.

It’s said “knowledge is power,” and having a data logger working for your restaurant or commercial kitchen is definitely a powerful way to manage food temperature.  And as recent events have shown, you can’t afford to ignore this very important issue.

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