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Archive | January, 2012

The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety?

The EndoTherm ThermometerTo be honest, there has been a lot of skepticism among the people I have talked to in the restaurant supply business when they first encounter the EndoTherm Thermometer.  Maybe it’s the appearance: the oversized outer plastic shell, which houses a normal alcohol thermometer immersed in a special silicone gel, gives the impression of a child-safe toy, meant to be too big for choking.  Maybe it’s the purpose: the EndoTherm accurately reads food temperature rather than air temperature, which sounds a little hokey to the old hands in the industry.

So what is the EndoTherm all about, anyway?  Well, the official party line is that the gel around that regular alcohol thermometer mimics food product: when food freezes, the gel freezes, and the thermometer can therefore get an accurate reading of what’s going on inside your refrigerated product, as opposed to what the air around that product is doing.

Why is that good?  There are two official reasons:

1) Air temperature varies in refrigeration units, especially ones that are opened and closed on a regular basis, like display cases or prep tables.  A thermometer that only measure air temp is affected by how air is moving around the unit, and, especially if it’s at the back, away from the door, it could be reading colder than the food product sitting by the constantly opening door.  This could affect food safety, since it’s possible to have food sitting in the danger zone even though the air temp thermometer is saying everything is fine.

If you were to place a couple EndoTherm thermometers around your refrigeration unit, one right by the door and some others in the middle and at the back, you would know just how well food in different spots were holding temperature.

2) You might also have the opposite problem: you are running the unit too cold.  Again, airflow varies in any refrigeration unit and that can affect the air temp thermometer.  Warmer air coming in from the opened and closed door might be bumping your thermometer up a degree or two, causing you to turn the thermostat down to keep everything below 40 degrees.  And it’s possible that your food product is sitting at a very comfortable 35 degrees or so, unaffected by those little blasts of warm air.

Again, the placement of a few EndoTherms around the refrigeration unit might reveal that you can turn the thermostat up and still maintain food safety.  And every degree you turn up translates into an 8% savings on the energy usage for that unit.  Any restaurateur who has seen the electricity bill knows just how much money that means.

So maybe the EndoTherm isn’t so hokey after all.  This thermometer was dreamed up by two fairly famous inventors in England and apparently it has been all the rage over there, and is just now catching on in North America.  The reputation of the creators lends some credibility to the claim “accurately mimics food temperature.”

I think the jury is still out.  Skepticism dies hard.  I would love to hear from some people who have used the EndoTherm and have found it to be everything they ever dreamed of, and people who thought it really would be better as a kid’s toy.  If you have some real world experience with this thermometer, leave a comment below and tell us about it!

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Your Food Safety Questions Answered!

Food SafetyA good friend of ours and contributor to The Back Burner, Jim Austin, has kindly offered to answer your questions about food safety.  Jim is a former local health department director in Colorado and currently runs a restaurant consulting firm.

So, what food safety questions do you have? Post them in the comments section below and Jim will address them in upcoming blog posts.

Visit Jim’s website at

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Is Your Recycling Program Really Working?

We’ve talrecycleked before on The Back Burner about the importance of greening your restaurant operation for two reasons: because customers appreciate it (and are beginning to expect it) and because frequently green practices mean cost savings.

Unfortunately recycling is not a practice that usually saves your operation money.  It is, however, one of the most visible ways to communicate to customers and staff that you’re serious about running a sustainable establishment.

Implementing a recycling program isn’t hard, but maintaining one can be deceptively tricky.  Tundra Specialties, the restaurant equipment & supplies company behind The Back Burner, discovered recently just how tricky a recycling program can be.

Tundra has had recycling receptacles distributed throughout our office space for several years now, but it was only recently that we discovered something had gone awry.

A few years ago we switched from one sanitation company to another, and during the transition the dumpster for recyclables was removed by the old company and the new company never replaced it.  That meant that when the cleaning crew emptied recycling containers there was only one dumpster to throw the recycling into, and everything in that dumpster went straight to the landfill.



Jordan Scampoli, Tundra’s Pricing Analyst & Sustainable Operations Coordinator

The cleaning crew works in the evenings when nobody is here in Tundra’s office headquarters in Boulder, CO, so there was little opportunity for them to communicate to our staff that recycling and trash was going to the same place.  The warehouse staff knew something was wrong because they regularly dispose things directly in the dumpster, but again, there was little opportunity for communication between them and the people managing our new sanitation company.

It wasn’t until Jordan Scampoli, Tundra’s pricing analyst and newly minted Sustainable Operations Coordinator started digging into the recycling program that we discovered the mix-up.

“We got a little complacent about the recycling program and we just assumed things were working as they always had,” he says.  “Now we know better and we won’t let it happen again.”

Tundra has renewed its commitment to being a sustainable part of the Boulder community, and thanks to Jordan’s passion we have someone who will make sure that commitment is honored.  Plans are already in the works to add compost receptacles and hard-to-recycle materials like packing Styrofoam and pallet wrap, and new employee training programs are also planned to make sure each new receptacle is used appropriately.

“Failing to sort recyclables and compostable stuff appropriately can ruin an entire recycling program,” Jordan says.  “If too many contaminants are found in a bale of recyclables at the recycling center then the whole thing goes straight to the landfill.  It’s so important to sort properly and know what is recyclable and what is not.”

Your operation can learn from Tundra’s mistake!

Simply putting out a few recycling bins in your restaurant doesn’t make for an effective program.  Sure, it might look good to have those three arrows in a triangle next to your trash bin, but if you’re not following through with proper staff training and making sure someone is responsible for the program as a whole you might just end up with two trash cans.

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Want to Make More Money as a Server? Know Your Liquor

Know Your LiquorBeverage sales are a great way to increase your check totals.  Since that is what your tips are based on, the higher the better.  In order to do this you must know your liquor.  Not everyone does. A server’s lack of vital bar knowledge can result in lost sales for the restaurant and lost tips for the server.  To prevent this from happening, the service staff must know their product.  You need to know basic information about bar drinks and the products your bar has.

Here are 5 different ways to increase your bar knowledge:

1. Read your training manual, handbook, or menu.

If you did not get a training manual or handbook when you were hired, skip this part.  You’ve been left out on your own.  If you did, your manual is a valuable resource.  Revisiting your manual after training can help re-cement the information.  As the bar is a profit center for the restaurant, people providing training materials strive for through and pertinent information.  That way it is easy to sell drinks.

Within this information, you should be able to learn which beer, wine, and liquor that your restaurant carries.  Ideally it will provide a list of draft beers, bottled beers, wine varietals and selections, and different liquors and brands.  It is important to know what you have and don’t have because experienced drinkers often ask for specific brands.   Should you not carry something, you want to resolve the situation on the spot and provide an alternate.
Know Your Liquor Sales
The manual will also have information about specialty drinks.   These are signature items and/or best sellers – often high dollar items – that bring people into the restaurant.  As a server, you want to know specifically the ingredients, the brands of liquors, and what makes them unique.  If you stumble, you could lose a sale or ring in a drink incorrectly.  Thorough knowledge will keep that from happening.

2. Get a bartending book from the library, book store or for your e-reader

There are many out there, including Bartending for Dummies, Bartending Basics, and Bartending 101, amongst others.  While somewhat encyclopedic, these books are thorough, providing both basic and advanced information on drinks.

For servers, bartending books are best for their basic information about beer, wine and liquors. The information about beer will provide detailed information about brews, explaining the differences between ale, lager and porter along with other specifics.  There will also be a list of currently popular domestic and import brands.   There is also information on wine, describing different varietals and comparing and contrasting different wine regions.  Lastly there is information about liquors including how they are made, the differences between them, popular brands, and popular drinks that they are featured in.  All of this information is helpful.

3. Visit a liquor store

By visiting a liquor store, you can sort out a few things.  Mainly, you will become familiar popular brands and prices.  You will also learn of what’s popular locally.  Things at the local liquor store can be similar to what’s at your bar.   Liquor stores and wine merchants sometimes have tastings for wine, high gravity beer, and liquor.  Tastings will allow you to make recommendations and provide feedback to guests.   Another benefit of attending tastings is that you can sample the product without spending a lot of money.  Should you want to invest a little of your own money, you can also pick things up for yourself and try them on your own time.  Don’t forget store owners, and most especially wine merchants, are a good source of information and like to talk about their product.

Know Your Liquor4. Talk to your bartenders

Bartenders function as specialists.  Like the kitchen staff, they deliver the servers the product.  Often times you will get drinks from a service bartender.  When it’s slower, they may have time to talk.

They are the best resource for two things: the product in your restaurant and the drinks that can be made.  Training manuals contain product information, but the bartender knows what you have right now in real time.  If the information is dated or a product is out of stock, they will know.  They can help you out with the obscure drink if you get stumped.  While you may not always be sure of whether you can make a drink, the bartender will usually know.   Bartenders can also educate you on how certain drinks are made and also answer questions about barware and glassware.    The bartenders are directly tied to your ability to generate tips, so developing a good relationship with them helps.

5.  Take a bartending class or ask to get trained on bar

One of the best ways to learn is through doing.  By taking a class or getting trained to work behind the bar, you will learn the products your bar has and how to make many drinks.  This could provide an opportunity to bartend, which could allow you to make more money.

Classes and bartending school can be great ways to learn as well, but they come with pros and cons.  The pros are that you will learn and get a certificate to show for it.  The cons are you might not get a bartending job and there are many bartenders that never went.   For that reason, if you have a choice, I would recommend getting trained on the job ahead of taking classes.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has over six years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is

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4 Tips To Keep Inventory Shrink From Making Profits Smaller

Is Your Food Inventory Shrinking?Every month your restaurant spends thousands of dollars buying food.  More than likely, it’s the second largest expense on your balance sheet after labor.  And every month, that inventory of food products might be “shrinking,” meaning a percentage of it is disappearing due to either unintentional waste or very intentional theft.

When you’ve got thousands of dollars worth of inventory, even a tiny percentage of shrink can mean big money off the bottom line.  Unfortunately, simply trusting employees, especially when turnover rates are so high, is not an acceptable option.  A much more effective strategy for minimizing shrink is “trust, but verify.”

Some tips to minimize shrinking:

  1. Use clear trash bags.  A common tactic used by employees who steal is to stash inventory in trash bags and recover it later after their shift is over.  Other employees may simply be throwing perfectly usable product away without realizing its value.  Either way, you’re losing money.  Clear trash bags make it easy for you to spot product that should be in the walk-in instead of the dumpster.
  2. Audit the trash.  Even though this doesn’t sound like a particularly appealing strategy, regularly going through trash and auditing the contents will help you catch and prevent both intentional (deliberately taking food product) and unintentional (mistakenly tossing usable food product) theft.  Using the clear trash bags will make this task much easier.
  3. Ban backpacks and other personal bags from the kitchen.  Ideally, set up an employee changing room with shelving or lockers where your staff can leave their personal belongings while they are working.  If you don’t have such a room, ban backpacks anyway.  Otherwise you’ll have no way of knowing what’s coming out of your inventory and landing in the bags of your staff.  And not knowing simply isn’t good enough when you’re a restaurateur trying to survive this economy.
  4. Break down cardboard boxes.  The old boxes that food product comes in is another popular way for thieves to move your inventory out of your kitchen.  Luckily, the solution is easy: have staff break boxes down before taking them outside.  That way there’s no chance that product is leaving in boxes.

If you do encounter intentional employee theft, make sure you have some strategies in place to deal with it.  In the case of unintentional waste, make sure you use examples of waste to educate your entire staff on how you want food product used and disposed.  Taking the time to train staff and emphasizing the importance of completely using product rather than discarding it can translate into some significant savings for your restaurant.

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Tundra Goes Full Service

In an effort to communicate more effectively to our readers about the company that makes all this possible here at The Back Burner, we are launching a new series of posts here highlighting Tundra and the things this company does very well.  We hope you enjoy learning more about Tundra!

Tundra acquired the Katz Design company recently and brought owner Jeff Katz on board here in Boulder, CO to manage a new restaurant design department.

Woo-hoo! Right?  Wait, what does that mean?  Well, Tundra is now a full service client for businesses in the food service industry.  That means we can get you equipment – any kind of equipment, no matter how weird or exotic (trust us, we’ve seen some pretty crazy requests before!).  We can get you supplies – you name it, we’ve got it, from floor drains to forks to furniture.  In fact, we’ve got a whole department that specializes in getting you exactly what you need for a new restaurant opening or a remodel.

So wait, where does this Jeff guy come in?  Jeff is an expert in restaurant design with over 30 years experience in the industry, a degree from Cornell’s prestigious School of Hotel Administration, and a well-known book, “Restaurant Planning, Design, & Construction – A Survival Manual for Owners, Operators, & Developers.

These credentials means he can offer something that up until this point Tundra has not been able to: top quality design help for new and remodeling restaurants.
Combining Tundra’s unique ability to supply a comprehensive package of products needed by a new restaurant with the Katz Company’s ability to design and build beautiful restaurant spaces means Tundra can now offer food service entrepreneurs a full service, start-to-finish opening or remodeling package all in one place.

Add in Tundra’s ability to replenish supplies, provide replacement equipment parts, and sell new equipment after a restaurant opens its doors, and now you’ve got a full service company in every stage of the life cycle of restaurant.

Learn more about Tundra in this Boulder Daily Camera article.

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Replacing Refrigeration Door Latches & Hinges

There are many different styles of hinges and latches for refrigeration equipment.Walk-in hinge

Both the hinges and latches have a number on the back.  In addition, they may say “flush” or have the offset size, e.g. 1 1/8, 1 ½, etc.  It is important to have that number on the back to ensure you get the proper replacement.

Let’s talk hinges!

Walk in cooler or freezer hinges are either flush or offset.  The easiest way to determine which style you have is to place your hand on the outside wall of the walk-in and slide it towards the door.  If the door stops your hand from moving across the door then you have an offset door.  If your hand slides across the door it is flush.

Determine the offset measure by measuring from the wall surface to the door surface.  The offset measure combined with the number on the back will ensure you receive the correct hinge.

Also, some walk-in hinges are reversible.  If you receive a hinge and it is the reverse of what you need, you can reverse the new hinge.

Reach-in LatchLet’s talk latches!

Walk-in latches, like hinges, are for either offset or flush doors.  Use the same procedure as you would for a hinge to determine if it is an offset or flush latch.  Also make sure you find the number on the back of the latch.

Edgemount latches and hinges are most commonly found on reach-in type refrigerators and freezers.  Edgemount means they mount on the edge of the door.  The hinges and latches can mount on either side of the door.

Some hinges are spring assisted and some are self-closing:

  • Self-closing hinges use a cam system to close the door
  • Some of the edgemount hinges have spring assist kits available.  As with all latches and hinges, there’s a number on the back for identifying the correct replacement

There are two types of edgemount latches: Magnetic type or those that have a strike that the latch locks into.  These latches also have a number on them.

The best way to get the correct hinge or latch is to get that number off the back!

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Electrolux-Dito: Mix, Cut, Slice, & Cook

If your restaurant is short on food prep equipment, Electrolux-Dito can definitely help.  From the popular Bermixer stick mixer series to vegetable cutters, slicers, and big floor mixers, there’s a Dito for whatever food prep task you have in your kitchen.

A Dito Bermixer

Use Dito Bermixers to power mix whatever you’re making: sauces, soups, etc.  For bigger jobs, Dito’s line of planetary mixers might be more your speed:

A Dito Planetary Mixer

And when you need to prep vegetables fast, nothing beats Dito’s Mighty Green veggie cutter and other models:

The Mighty Green Vegetable Cutter

When you’re ready to cook, Dito has some killer pannini grills that can really spice up your lunch menu:

A Libero Pannini Grill

And don’t forget about the Libero line of cutting edge, top quality cooking appliances, ideal for catering and concessions:

A Dito Electric Countertop Griddle

From induction woks to electric griddles to slicers, mixers, and cutters, depend on Dito for a job well done in your kitchen.

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Replacing Refrigeration Fan Motors & Blades

Refrigerators are the backbone of your kitchen.  They are usually durable and long-lasting, but when they go down, you have to have them fixed right away.  Some tips on replacing the fan motor in your commercial refrigeration unit:Refrigeration Fan Motor Blade

There are two types of motors for refrigeration.

1. Condenser fan motor.
2. Evaporator fan motor.

First, we will discuss the condenser fan motor:

The condenser fan motor is mounted on the condensing unit located outside the refrigeration interior.  The size of the refrigerator unit will determine the motor size.  Motors vary in size, voltage and rotation.  All of this information is found on the motor, and is very important to have when ordering.  Rotation is vital to the operation of the unit.  Rotation will either be clockwise (CW) or counter-clockwise (CCW).

The fan blade is also a critical part of the motor.  The blade is similar to the motor in that it is either CW or CCW.   Normally the rotation of a fan blade is stamped into the blade assembly.  When replacing either the motor or the fan blade be sure to use the same rotation type.

A General Use Fan Motor

Next, we will discuss the evaporator fan motor:

The evaporator is located inside the refrigeration interior, and will always be located on the ceiling or top of the unit.  There are two types of evaporative motors:

1. Open winding type.
2. Closed type.

On the open winding motor the copper wires are exposed and visible to the eye.  The open winding motors are usually reversible.  This is done by removing the bearing housing and pulling out the armature.  The armature is the part that has the fan blade attached to it.  Simply turn it around and put the shaft through the other direction and reassemble.  Now you have gone from CW to CCW motor or a CCW to a CW.  Each manufacturer will vary in what direction their motors rotate.

The closed winding motor has an encasement around it.  The rotation will be stamped on the back of the motor.  Mounting holes will be either on the side or rear of the motor.  If the motor fails, the motor will need to be replaced and cannot be repaired.

Buy general use fan motors or search by manufacturer here.

As with every piece of equipment the most important thing is the model and serial number on the equipment itself.  Generally, the model and serial numbers are found in the interior of an upright cooler/freezer, prep table or under counter cooler/freezer.  If the condensing unit is attached to one side or the other of the unit, the model and serial numbers may be found inside that area.

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How to Recruit, Train, and Keep Top-Notch Restaurant Staff

High turnover rates are a perennial challenge in the restaurant industry, with many contributing factors. But while many restaurant owners and managers shrug their shoulders and dismiss the problem as something they can do nothing about, there are in fact several practical things you can do to recruit, train and keep top-notch restaurant staff. In a business where people are your only true sustainable competitive advantage, it’s a wonder why more restaurants don’t make the effort.

Hire the Right People

If you want top-notch, high performing staff, that are engaged and loyal to your restaurant, you need to start by hiring the right people, right from the start. Here are some practices you should adopt to make your hiring more effective:

Track the effectiveness of your “Sources of Hire”
It’s important to keep track of each employee’s source of hire (i.e. where did you get their resume from – job board ad, agency, referral, walk-in, school, etc.), then map that to their performance in the first year. Watch for trends. Do your best employees tend to come from one or more particular sources? Do problematic employee tend to come from the same source? Trends in employee performance related to source of hire can help guide future recruiting efforts and make them more effective.

Assess Key Competencies in the Interview ProcessHiring Restaurant Staff
Figure out what the key competencies are for both your restaurant and the role. (Competencies are also referred to as skills or behaviors.) Then make sure you ask questions in the interview that help reveal the candidate’s abilities in those areas. For example, if your establishment is more formal, you might want to assess potential customer facing staff on their manners and etiquette. If you cater to families, you’ll want to make sure staff are child-focused. By identifying your key competencies up-front, and assessing candidates’ demonstration of them, you increase the quality of your hires.

Consider “Cultural” Fit
Every workplace has a culture. Is yours formal, friendly, trendy, casual? Think about the work atmosphere you want to create. Now when you interview, ask yourself if the candidate will be a good cultural fit for your workplace. If they fit in, and get along with your existing team, they’ll likely stay and be more effective in their role. If they don’t, you’ll likely run into problems.

Use Employee Referrals
Your existing employees are sometimes your best sources for new candidates. Afte all, they have a vested interested in getting someone good in the new role. Ask them for referrals or recommendations for new hires.

Make Employee Development a Priority

Provide Ongoing Development
Often restaurant owners and managers think of employee training as something you do when you hire a new person. The goal is simply to get them up and running as quickly as possible. But good employers make employee development an ongoing priority. Train to refresh skills. Train to expand skills. Train to develop abilities or expand career potential. Train to keep abreast of innovations or trends. And make use of all the development media/vehicles available to you: webinars, seminars, courses, job-sharing, job-shadowing, mentoring, reading, podcasts, etc. Being given the opportunity to develop on the job is one of the key enablers of employee engagement and retention.

Support or Subsidize Ongoing Career Development
As long as the employee wants to advance their career in the restaurant or hospitality industry, you really can’t go wrong by fostering their career development. Where possible, financial support or subsidies are a great help. But you can also support career development by allowing time off, accommodating shifts, temporarily reducing workloads, offering work practicums, etc. Think of it as an investment in both your restaurant’s, and your employee’s future.

Crosstraining develops your workforce in two powerful ways. First, it broadens your available talent pool, enabling you to use your existing staff to fill in quickly when someone is sick, someone is on vacation, someone leaves, or the workload shifts. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it helps to build a more cooperative and appreciative workforce. When you know and understand someone else’s role, constraints and pressures, you can work better and more effectively with them, because you understand the impact your work has on the other.

Address Engagement Needs
A quick web search on “employee engagement” reveals a number of studies on the contributors to employee engagement and satisfaction. Among these factors are: getting feedback on performance, having a context for your work, having opportunities for development (as stated earlier) and being fairly rewarded or recognized for good performance.

Give Ongoing Feedback on PerformanceGive Restaurant Staff Feedback
Make sure your employees know what they’re doing well, so they can continue to do it, where and how they can improve, and what they need to stop doing. We all need performance feedback on a weekly, if not daily, basis so we know if we are on track and meeting expectations. This kind of ongoing feedback is the best way to foster high-performance.

Engage Employees in Achieving the Restaurant’s Goals
Research repeatedly tells us that employees need a context for their work, so they feel they are “making a difference”. So share your restaurant goals with your employees. And make sure they each have individual goals that link to your higher level restaurant goals. This kind of goal alignment has been shown to increase both employee performance and engagement.

Recognize and Reward Great Performance
While this certainly includes your compensation program, which should correlate to employee performance, not just seniority, inflation or other external factors, it really needs to go beyond this. A simple thank you, some paid time off, a complimentary meal, acknowledgement in front of peers – all these are ways to recognize and reward great performance and encourage more of it. Be creative and find consistent, effective ways to reward your staff.

These basic “people management” practices can go a long way to helping any restaurant hire, develop and retain a high performing staff. And isn’t that really what we’re all after?

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