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Archive | February, 2012

Which Energy Efficiency Upgrades Are The Best Investment?

Let’s face it—restaurants are energy hogs.

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants use five times more energy per square foot than other types of commercial buildings. And of the energy that restaurants use, the kitchen uses five times more than the rest of the building. Energy costs, on average, represent approximately 30% of a building’s annual budget.

Energy efficiency is essential to a restaurant’s bottom line. Given our industry’s razor-thin profit margins—between 4% and 6%, typically—every dollar saved in energy costs is like an extra $20 in sales. Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) estimates that investing in efficiency measures can save you 20% on your energy costs.

The decision to invest in energy efficiency is a relatively easy one, but deciding what to spend money on is a very different proposition. Every facility is different and a variety of  factors—including the age of your building, the kind of food you serve, and the types of appliances you have—affect what will make a dent in your energy costs. What works for you might not be suitable for someone else.

Fortunately, there are some straightforward ways to figure out how best to invest your energy budget.

  1. Determine where your energy is going. In an average full-service restaurant, food prep makes up 35% of the building’s energy consumption, with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) consuming 28%. An energy audit—done by a professional, or simply by evaluating your utility bills—will help you figure out where you’re spending the most money, and where you might be able to improve
  2. Compare your facility with similar buildings. Talk to your neighbours and other restaurateurs to establish benchmarks for your performance. Are they doing better than you? Worse? What are their bills like?
  3. Calculate the payback period of any potential investment. This is how long it will take for an upgrade to pay for itself through savings. For a preliminary introduction, take a look at BizEnergy’s post on simple payback.
  4. Select which energy efficiency measures you’re going to take. These might include purchasing new, high efficiency ENERGY STAR appliances, implementing an energy management system, or simply replacing your lightbulbs—you’ll be able to determine what will work best for your space. Make sure you take a look at rebates and financial incentives that may be available from the government and from your local utilities.

While you may not have the funds to invest in a complete high-efficiency kitchen retrofit, there are inexpensive steps you can take that will have an immediate impact on your bills. Upgrading your lighting, for example, is a simple and relatively inexpensive change that will help reduce your energy costs quickly. Picking the low-hanging fruit is a good way to free up savings that can then be used for more extensive measures in the future.

Another strategy to reduce your energy efficiency investment is to roll your energy upgrades into your equipment replacement plan. When a piece of restaurant equipment needs to be replaced, purchase a model that’s as efficient as possible.

Keep in mind that it’s usually not enough simply to install energy efficient appliances and sit back to watch the savings roll in. Work with your staff to implement operating procedures that emphasize conservation, like formal start-up and shut-down schedules. That way, you’ll support your investment in technology with a change in human behaviour.

For more information, check out BizEnergy’s post on simple, DIY ways to cut your energy costs.

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The Green Restaurant Association: Sustainable Knowledge Is Power

The Green Restaurant Association: Sustainable Knowledge Is PowerWhen Michael Oshman started the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) in 1990, hardly anybody in the food service industry thought much about sustainability.

“The green business movement wasn’t something that really existed,” he says.  “We were one of the first organizations that wanted to help businesses.  We asked: ‘What if we went to businesses and provided tools that helped them directly?’  If we can make it convenient and easy then maybe we can get somewhere.”

The most powerful tool in the GRA’s arsenal of business solutions is information. The organization has built what they call “the world’s largest database of green solutions for the restaurant industry,”  – a resource of information about almost every sustainable product and service available to a food service operation.  Each one is rated on a point system, and each has gone through a certification process that evaluates sustainability – from water usage to energy consumption to waste reduction.

The more points a business accumulates, the closer it gets to becoming Green Restaurant Certified.  Restaurants must attain at least 100 points, meet minimum requirements in certain categories, implement a recycling program, and get ongoing annual training in order to qualify.

“It’s really about the standards for us,” says Oshman.  “The information we give restaurants – whether it’s compostable or energy efficient or whatever – they don’t have to wonder.  They know because we’ve done the due diligence.”

Those standards have become the gold standard for consumers when they are choosing a sustainable dining option.  The issue plays a much larger role in shopping decisions today than it did in the early days of the Green Restaurant Association, and that has only helped them make the case that sustainability makes sense for business.

As Oshman points out: “You better listen to your customer.  If you’re not keeping up then someone else is.  The difference with sustainability is that this isn’t some cool trend.  This is a value.  As people become more and more interested in sustainable values they start to act out those values as a consumer.  What do they do?  They buy green.  They dine green.”

Increasingly, sustainability is a competitive advantage for restaurants.  A Harris Interactive poll from 2010 indicated 17% of consumers would choose Restaurant A over Restaurant B even if it meant waiting in a longer line and an additional 21% would choose A if the wait time was the same.

Green Certified restaurants and the GRA have been featured in most major national news publications and networks, from The New York Times to CNN.  This has led to a widespread recognition of the organization and its certification standards that provides an important advantage to certified restaurants.

Certified restaurants have also realized an unexpected benefit from making their operations more sustainable: improved employee morale.  Oshman has heard restaurateurs report that 50% of their employees are there because of the sustainability efforts that resulted in a GRA certification.

Turnover is a constant source of frustration and cost in the food service industry.  Anything that helps restaurateurs maintain a high level of service with well traiThe Green Restaurant Association: Sustainable Knowledge Is Powerned, experienced employees is vital to keeping a competitive edge.  Connecting with employees on the values of sustainability is an important way to motivate the workplace with a culture built around causes those employees believe in.

Regardless of how food service operators feel about sustainability personally, the fact of the matter is this is a trend that isn’t going away any time soon.  The National Restaurant Association’s Hot Menu Trends For 2012 include several sustainable and locally sourced food trends in their top ten, and sustainability has been in the top ten trends for food service operators for the past several years.

Making the transition to a sustainable operation can make business sense if executed properly, and ultimately that is the mission of the Green Restaurant Association: to give restaurants the tools that will make them want to make that change rather than forcing change through regulation.

The case for sustainability is compelling, and the tools are available.  Says Oshman: “What we’re doing today is what inspired me 22 years ago – to make it easy for businesses to do the right thing.  We’re still far from achieving that with every business but now the game is different, the consumer wants to see the change and that’s what keeps us going.”

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When, Where, And What To Expect From A Health Inspection

When, Where, And What To Expect From A Health InspectionI sometimes hear employees say that health inspections occur only between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm on weekdays. Well…that is when they usually DO occur, but they CAN occur just about anytime.

When Inspections Occur

The Colorado Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations state, “Agents of the Department, after proper identification, shall be permitted to enter any retail food establishment during business hours and at other times during which activity is evident to determine compliance with these rules and regulations.”

If you open at 11:00 am, the inspector can inspect your prep activities at, say, 10:00 am – SURPRISE!  If you close at 9:00 pm, the inspector can arrive at 8:30 pm and inspect your final food service and your closing procedures.

Early-bird inspectors can show up at 6:30 am (I’m not kidding), on Saturday morning, or night-owls may start late and work through the evening hours.  It all depends on how the local agency schedules their inspectors.

What to Expect

Inspections determine compliance with the rules – that is their purpose.  It may be a complete inspection, or it can be an inspection focusing on just the critical items.  At other times a customer complaint can generate an inspection.  In any case, expect the primary emphasis to be on the food, food handling practices, employee hygiene, hand washing, and prevention of cross contamination.
Your inspector will check representative food temperatures in most, if not all, of your hot and cold holding units.  Be prepared to explain your procedures for cooling and reheating.  If you have a pest control contact, show it to the inspector to demonstrate your good faith effort to control this area.

If you use temperature logs, it is a good idea to show them.  If critical violations are found, correct them immediately if possible, and request that the inspector document your corrective action.

For example, if soup is 130 F on the steam table, immediately reheat it to at least 165 F, then place it back into service.

Where Can They Look?

Your premises is subject to inspection.  Premises is defined as “the physical facility, its contents and the contiguous land or property and its facilities and contents that may impact retail food establishment personnel, facilities, or operations.

Practically speaking, be prepared to have at least the following areas routinely inspected:  the entire BOH, all food storage areas, chemical storage rooms or closets, FOH server stations, dining room salad bars, entire bar operations, and dumpster areas.

Few things are more suspicious to an inspector than sensing an area is being concealed from them!

Final Recommendation

Don’t make food safety a game of cat and mouse. For the sake of your customers health, your business investment, and your reputation, exert consistent control over your food safety procedures and the practices of your employees. Do it every shift, every day.

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It’s Commercial Ice Machine Season! Are You Ready?

Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?Commercial ice machines form a critical link in the chain of operation in a restaurant or commercial kitchen.  Ice machines can also be one of the largest expenditures in your budget, so choosing a unit that works for your particular needs and situation is vitally important.

And now that the warm summer months are here, the time of year you are most likely to buy a new ice machine are upon us.  This guide is intended to help you choose the ice machine that’s right for you.

Size According to Needs

commercial ice machine is the most important decision you’ll have to make.  In addition to space constrictions in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, you need to buy the right capacity ice maker and ice bin to make sure you can keep up with peak demand without over producing ice.

To calculate your business’ ice usage, refer to the following chart:

Food Service

  • Restaurant: 1.8 lbs. per person
  • Cocktail: 3 lbs. per person
  • Salad Bar: 40 lbs. per cubic foot
  • Fast Food: 8 oz. per 16 oz. drink

Lodging

  • Guest Use: 5 lbs. per room
  • Restaurant: 1.8 lbs. per person
  • Cocktail: 3 lbs. per person
  • Catering: 1 lb. per person

 

Healthcare

  • Patients: 10 lbs. per bed
  • Cafeteria: 1 lb. per person

The average number of people you serve a day plus your kitchen’s daily usage will give you an idea of how much ice you need in a 24 hour period.  Making sure your business always has ice at its disposal requires a careful consideration of storage space and production capacity.

Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?An ice bin that’s too large will result in a lot of melted ice, costing you money.  But too small of an ice bin means you’ll run out at peak operating hours, costing you customers.  The key is to strike a fine balance between ice production and storage.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s cheaper to store ice than to make it.  In other words, a larger ice bin that leaves you with some leftover ice after peak demand is more efficient than an ice machine that must produce 24/7 to keep up.

Also take into account the future growth of your business when deciding which commercial ice machine to buy.  A good ice machine, if properly maintained, should last at least 10 years, and in that time hopefully your business will grow as well.  It’s usually a good idea to add 10% – 20% to your peak capacity needs to accommodate future growth.  Some ice machines also come with stackable bins that allow you to add storage space as your demand for ice grows, adding more flexibility.

What Kind of Ice?

Different ice machines make different kinds of ice, and the type of ice you select is best suited for different applications in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.

Cubed Ice:Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

  • Comes in Whole Dice or Half Dice sizes
  • Is dense, meaning it melts slowly and cools drinks quickly
  • Recommended for: cocktails and beverages, ice dispensers, and retail sales

Flaked Ice:Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

  • Requires less energy to produce
  • Is easier to mold and shape for salad bar, meat, or seafood displays
  • Reduces choking hazards, making it ideal for healthcare and childcare applications
  • Recommended for: hospital and daycare cafeterias, salad bars, poultry, fish, or produce displays, and blended drinks

Nugget Ice:Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

  • Is softer than cubed ice but more dense than flaked ice
  • Is chewable and a customer favorite for beverages
  • Can also be used in product displays or salad bars

Air Cooled vs. Water Cooled

Commercial ice machines employ two methods for chilling water into ice: water cooled and air cooled.  Both types of machines have their pros and cons.

Air Cooled Ice Machines:

  • Are affordable and easier to install
  • Are usually less costly to operate
  • Raise the temperature in a room and have to work harder in hot environments
  • Are noisy
  • Required in areas with water conservation codes

Water Cooled Ice Machines:

  • Are more expensive and harder to install
  • Can operate efficiently in hot environments
  • Are quiet
  • Depending on where you live, may violate local water conservation codes and be prohibitively expensive to operate due to water use

Remote Condenser Units

Larger air cooled ice machines that produce more than 500 pounds of ice per day can also be equipped with an optional remote condenser unit.  A remote condenser is placed away from the ice bin or dispenser, usually on a roof.

Remote condensers:

  • Are air cooled
  • Are more efficient and quieter than indoor air cooled units
  • Require a more expensive professional installation

Maintenance

Most commercial ice machines are equipped with anti-microbial linings in areas where ice is produced and stored.  These linings inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and algae.  However, it is still very important to follow a regular cleaning schedule for your ice machine.  Thoroughly clean the ice bin and production parts at least once a month with specialized ice machine cleaner.

Also clean the condenser fan (on air cooled units) regularly and the air filter if the unit has one.  On both water and air cooled units, purge the water lines regularly to prevent mineral or bacterial buildup.

Should You Use a Water Filter?Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

Installing a water filter with your commercial ice machine has become a standard practice in recent decades.  Most manufacturers actively encourage adding water filtration to your commercial ice machine and will extend the warranty by as much as two years if you install the correct water filter with your new unit.

Filtered Water:

  • Improves ice machine performance and lifespan
  • Tastes better to your customer
  • Reduces mineral deposits inside your ice machine, decreasing the chances of a breakdown

Buying the right sized ice machine is the most critical element in making the right decision.  Take the time to carefully calculate the ice requirements, both presently and in the future, of your business.  After you buy your ice machine, a few easy maintenance practices plus a water filter will ensure the unit performs for years to come.

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Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer

Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer

Steamers are energy efficient and cook food quickly without nutrient loss

Commercial steamers use either circulated or pressurized hot steam to quickly cook food items.  Steamers are ideal for cooking rice, vegetables, fish, and shellfish.

Because food is cooked by circulating hot steam over it, most nutrients are retained, making steam cooked food appear more appetizing and taste better.

Food is also cooked much more quickly using a steamer.

There are different types of steamers using different methods to cook food.  Selecting the steamer that works for you depends on the specific situation in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.

Steamers also come in various sizes, and you need to take into account the volume you plan to handle with your steamer before purchasing one.

Types of Steamers

  • Pressureless – these steamers use a convection fan to circulate steam through the unit and cook food.  The circulating air cooks more evenly than a pressure steamer, though cooking times are longer.  A pressureless steamer door can also be opened during cooking to check or season food.
  • Pressure – pressure steamers cook food by letting steam pressure build in the unit as opposed to circulating it.  This cooks food faster but the door or lid of the unit cannot be opened while cooking because of the pressurized steam.

There are two types of pressure steamers: cabinet type and steam kettle models.

Cabinet type models look and operate mostly like a pressureless steamer except they use pressurized steam to cook food rather than a convection fan.

Countertop steam kettles operate like a residential pressure cooker.

Connection vs. Boilerless

Most countertop steamers are boilerless, meaning you add water to a built in reservoir in the bottom of the unit with its own heating element.

Connection steamers have a direct water line that comes in to the steamer from the building’s water source.  This steamer type can handle higher volumes but is harder to clean and maintain.

Both types should use only filtered water with a scale inhibitor to reduce cleaning and maintenance.  Using unfiltered water can also affect food taste.

Combi Ovens

Combi ovens can use steam, standard convection, or a combination of the two to cook food very quickly and efficiently.  Although combi ovens are very expensive, they can replace many other standard restaurant equipment pieces like fryers, holding and warming cabinets, and of course steamers and convection ovens.

Combi ovens also save space because they can replace other restaurant equipment.

Calculating Steamer Size

Steamers (excluding kettle steamers) come in 1, 2, 3, or 4 compartment sizes, with a one compartment unit capable of producing up to 200 meals per hour.  Combi ovens are most often used in high volume situations because they can cook food so quickly and offer multiple cooking options.

Maintenance and Operation Tips For Steamers

Some maintenance and operation tips for your commercial steamers:

  • Use filtered water with a scale inhibitor. A scale inhibitor removes minerals from tap water.  These minerals can build up in your steamer, requiring constant cleaning and performance problems.  Some models have an indicator light alerting you when they need to have buildup cleaned.  Unfiltered water can also affect the taste of food cooked in steamers.
  • Preheat steamers before cooking food. It usually takes at least 5 minutes for a steamer to heat up.
  • Season food after it has been cooked in a steamer for best taste results.
  • Use a perforated pan for vegetables and break up frozen vegetables so they cook evenly.

Steamers are a great addition to any commercial kitchen, and because they are much more energy efficient than other conventional cooking equipment like ranges, you can make up for the cost of purchasing a steamer through energy savings.

Factor in optimized food taste and quick cooking, and the reasons for buying a commercial steamer become very clear.

Check out more restaurant equipment.

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The 4 R’s of Driving Server Sales

The 4 Rs of Driving Server SalesThe tired old maxim “your servers are your salespeople” is as true today as it ever was, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you have armed the front of your house with every weapon they need to drive your restaurant’s profits.

Really, there’s no understandable reason why servers shouldn’t be some of the best trained people in any restaurant, but as I go through a mental check of every place I have eaten in the past two months, I can only think of one that had exceptionally trained staff.

That place was the Macaroni Grill in Ft. Collins, CO.  I’m not trying to promote them or anything, I was just really impressed, as I always have been when I eat there, by the effective way their staff drives sales and provides top shelf service at the same time.  Those two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and in fact they can be completely complimentary if you’re willing to take the time to train your staff.

Tim Kirkland, the founder of the Renegade Hospitality Group, has developed a highly effective strategy to improve sales volume, check averages, and server tips, not to mention the quality of service.  This strategy stems from the fact that 30 years of the standard upsell (“Do you want _____ with that?”) has lost its effectiveness because consumers recognize it as a sales technique and are more likely to say no as a result.

Besides, it’s not a very proactive tactic, because your servers are simply trying to tack something on to the customer’s decision, rather than helping to guide those decisions in the first place.

The more effective strategy, promoted by Kirkland, can be broken down into the 4 R’s:

Reconnaissance:  Evaluate what kind of customer has just been seated in your section.  Is it a couple on a date that probably wants to be left alone as much as possible?  Are they high maintenance or ready to party?  Servers should analyze the mood and disposition of the group and adjust their attitude and technique accordingly.

Regularity:  Determine if you are dealing with first time customers or regulars.  First timers need a lot more information and it’s important to make an exceptional impression the first time.  Regulars, on the other hand, don’t want to sit through all the explanations and are probably ready to get down to business.  Servers should adjust their approach depending on how experienced the customer is in your restaurant.

Reason:  Different customers have different priorities.  Some might be stopping for a quick bite before a game or a movie while others may want a long, leisurely experience.  Servers should engage their customers and determine their priorities.

Rate:  As a response to the information collected in the first three R’s, decide on a pace and flow of service that meets your customer’s expectations and needs.  Fine tuning service according to what the customer wants is a two part process: gathering information and then using that information to serve your customer better.

So how do the 4 R’s help you drive sales?  Because it creates a rapport with guests and that leads to a relationship.  The process of gathering information and then adjusting to it leads to a relationship between the server and the table.  That inevitably is going to create more trust, and when that basic level of trust has been established, the server can be more helpful to the customer.

This isn’t some cynical methodology.  Under no circumstances should your servers be trying to use a carefully built trust relationship to talk patrons into spending more money.  However, servers should absolutely be informative about everything your restaurant has to offer, and tailor the information according to the buying decisions the guest is making.

For instance, if a customer wants a martini, the server should let the customer know what kinds of gin and vodka your restaurant has, and include a mix of top shelf and well brands.  If a customer orders a hamburger, let the customer know that you offer mushrooms and cheese as extra toppings, or a house salad instead of fries.The 4 Rs of Driving Server Sales

Yes, this is upselling, but it’s upselling in a way that informs the customer rather than leading him.  The whole thing is built upon a relationship of trust, and that relationship can bring many benefits, from better service to better sales to great customer loyalty.  As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s imperative that you take the time to train servers in the strategies of relationship building based on the 4 R’s and use that system to drive sales in your restaurant.

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Why Spreadsheets Are Your Restaurant’s Best Friend

Why Spreadsheets Are Your Restaurants Best FriendI would have to rate a computer as a must have for a Chef, second only to a good set of quality knives. While utilizing a POS (Point of Sale) System and knowing how to use it can be enormously useful to a chef, I think spreadsheets are the cat’s meow.

Before I migrated to MS Excel I was a MAChead and used a program called Clarisworks which had a similar spreadsheet program. I couldn’t have done without and been as organized as I was without the heavy use of spreadsheets.

I strongly recommend if, as a cook or chef, if you don’t know how to use spreadsheets, take a course in it, even over learning to use Word.

These are many things that spreadsheets can be used for to make your life easier. (While some POS systems can spit out reports in CSV (comma separated value) format, so you can integrate them with information you are using at home, you can’t take the POS system home with you.) As a former chef, much of my computer time was spent at home working on things for the restaurant on my own time (something that happens a lot, especially if you are on salary)

Here is a listing of some of the things you can use spreadsheets for:

  • Staff scheduling
  • Order sheets for vendors
  • Vendor lists with contact information
  • Daily prep lists
  • Inventory control lists and tracking
  • Variable food cost lists (if you learn to program formulas this makes life much easier.) The cost of fish for the special you run every Friday varies dramatically week to week. Plug in the cost and if your calculations are in correctly, it will give the cost of what you should sell the entrée for in order to maintain your food cost properly.
  • Recipes (again if you learn to program formulas) changing a recipe with ingredients for 10 servings to 150 becomes a snap.
  • Long term recording and forecasting (track inventory levels and compare them month to month, track vendor usage, track food pricing, track covers (people dining), track your scheduling of staff-who needs a vacation?)
  • Waste and food loss usage: If bread baskets are coming back from the dining room with an average of 2 rolls left in them, track waste and reduce accordingly. Having to note and track raw food (vegetables, meat, fish and poultry) being prepared also cuts down on waste, cooks who have sloppy knife skills will show up wasting more food over time then ones with better. If a cook, in an average time period, cleans a case of tenderloins, make him weigh the trimmings. Trimmings should be just silverskin. If the average unusable trim is high, it’s something you need to keep an eye one.
  • Menu items and trends (if you track an average of two weeks worth of sales of a new entrée and compared to a similarly priced entrée or one that it is replacing, sales are down, it may not be worth keeping it on.)
  • Schedule your specials and date when you ran them; this makes finding out whether certain ones sold better easier and also whether some sold better if ran on certain days then others. I always found it interesting that a high end grilled vegetable panini special sold better when run midweek then on the weekends for example.

In the long run, use of spreadsheets will save you time, make you better organized, save your food costs and down the road save quite a few headaches.

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It’s You: Three Reasons for Losing Tips

Its You: Three Reasons for Losing TipsThere are many servers and the occasional manager who believe that your tips are based on your clientele.  To them it’s all about the people you have.  Through my experience,  I have found this to be untrue.  Recently, I thought of some things a server could be doing wrong.  With that, I have some information on why a server may be losing tips.

1.    Missing Details

All restaurants have protocols and specifications for restaurant service.  Most restaurants have a specific protocol for front of the house service which is often labled “steps of service.”  It is simple.

A generic outline would read as follows:

  • Greet
  • Take Drink and/ or Appetizer Order
  • Take Order and then Place Food Order
  • Deliver Apps / Salads
  • Clear Plates
  • Deliver Entrees
  • Check Back
  • Clear
  • Offer Dessert / After Dinner Drinks
  • Deliver Check
  • Process Payment Promptly

According to this outline, it is 11 steps.  If you execute these steps effectively, service will go well.  If not, you will create problems that can eat up time and some problems that you cannot resolve, which result in lost revenue or losing future business.  How you prioritize and execute the steps of service is a separate issue, but nonetheless you need to do it.

When problems arise, they are a matter of two things.  They either don’t like you or your work habits and/or you missed steps of service.  More will follow on why they might not like you or your work habits.  As for the missed steps of service, it helps to know why they are important.

The two biggest things that upset patrons are long ticket times and incorrect or unsatisfactory orders.  Should you follow protocol properly, these things are less likely to happen.  If you greet someone on time, and take and place their order promptly, you are less likely to have a long ticket time.  If you perform check backs, specifically within 1 – 3 minutes of delivering a meal, you can resolve any issues with the meal, whether it is an undercooked steak, an incomplete meal, or the dish is incorrect in some way.

2.    Not Knowing the Art of Interaction

Interacting with guests is an art form.  How you execute your interaction rests squarely on you the server.  Most importantly, you should observe and read the cues of the guest and tailor interaction according.

Observe the appearance and makeup of the party

Most communication is non-verbal.  Likewise, good observation is a crucial skill for a server, particularly when it comes to interacting with guests.  The makeup of the party will often give clues as to what kind of interaction.  A business lunch, romantic evening, and birthday celebration will all be treated differently.  The manner in which people speak and the clothing people wear is also important.  By reading the guest, you should get information on how to mold your communication to them.

Mirror the Guests and Tailor Interaction to Their Wants and Needs.

While working in sales, I was instructed to “mirror the client.”  This was the best sales advice I have received.  To do this you mirror their tone.  If they are serious be serious, if they are lighthearted be lighthearted, and if they are quiet keep things to a minimum.  While everyone has their own personality and style, mirroring the guest and adapting your tone is still necessary.

Guests will always dictate the kind of interaction and how much interaction they want. Their experience is what matters.  If they have a good time, you will be taken care of.  I have watched amateurs try and win everyone over and fail.  There is a basic framework for being cordial and polite and there are some instances where you will treat everyone the same.  Everything after that will be dictated by the guest.

3.    The Server Does Not Put Their Best Foot Forward

Lack of Energy, Enthusiasm

When people dine out they expect their server to be coridial, energetic and enthusiastic.  They expect you to make eye contact and smile, have a hospitable attitude, and use hospitable language.  Without this, the patron may feel like they are the burden.  If you look and speak like you do not want to be at the restaurant, the patron will think you do not want to wait on them.  This will hurt your tips at the end of the night.

Volume of Business

Everyone ends up slammed and in the weeds from time to time.  There are also times when the restaurant is running on a skeleton crew or gets overwhelmed with business.  When this happens, the server must be graceful under pressure.  The business is about taking care of as many people as possible.  Lunch and dinner rushes happen within small windows of time.  When the business is there, you need to have a sense of urgency.  Do not miss details or lose business under pressure.

Not Adhering to Grooming and Appearance Standards

This should be obvious.  You must come to work prepared.  You must display a neat and clean uniform, appearance and hygiene.  But anyone who dines out can tell the story of the waiter with the dirty shirt or apron, scruffy beard, or wild hair.  Patrons want the people around their food to be clean.  If you’re not, don’t expect for those same people to tip you.

Guests See You Not Working

This one also should be obvious.   Patrons do not want to see you chatting with friends, watching TV, eating or standing around.  Even if there is nothing else to do.  While this often happens when business is slow or late at night, it does not look good.

Conclusion

Should your tips be less than you would like, fixing the problem could be simple.  While there are many reasons why you could lose a tip, this article provides some basic reasons as to why.  This information can be helpful to servers and also manager’s looking to develop new or inexperienced servers.

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

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10 Holiday Restaurant Marketing Tips

The folks at MustHaveMenus.com were kind enough to share some great marketing insights from John Foley, editor of The Restaurant Blog.  Must Have Menus is your source for food menu templates, event flyers, restaurant menu software, and restaurant marketing ideas.

1.    What are some easy, inexpensive ways to drive customer traffic to your restaurant during the holidays?

Without any question, Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to a targeted customer list are all ways to communicate with people, expand your footprint and entice people to come to your restaurant.

2.    People like to be indulged during the holidays. What are some indulgences you can serve that can increase sales or attract new customers?

Many restaurant owners keep their eye on the big party or catering event. One joyous thing to do during the holidays is to pick a theme and offer it one night each week. In my restaurant, we loved a “Dickens of a Christmas.” We served a variety of roasted meats – turkey, chicken, duck and Cornish game hen – buffet style, along with stuffing, vegetables and puddings. My staff would dress up in tattered, Dickens-styled clothing, act a little like the Dickens characters. In addition, we offered an array of old-styled cocktails. Many people, who didn’t have a large enough staff for a catered Christmas party, would reserve large tables. Eventually, I had to offer the event two nights a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a huge success.

3.    Are there any service considerations during the holiday season?

Nothing changes at Christmas when it comes to service. People demand and deserve the same service whenever they go out to eat. And, there is no excuse for frazzled servers, as there are thousands of very professional restaurant employees begging for work.

4.    If you notice sales are slumping, what should be the first steps you take?

Slumping sales are like a cold. If you don’t catch them quickly, they could lead to something much worse before you even realize it. I believe that if a sales slump lasts a week, it’s either the economy, the stock market or a new television series. If it lasts two weeks, kids are going back to school, income taxes are due or it’s vacation time. Anything longer than three weeks? It’s time to review your menu, your pricing and your competition.However, slumps during the Holiday may not be a reason to panic. The holiday season is very deceiving. Everyone fantasizes about being busy and festive, yet most people are either going to parties at other people’s houses or are attending events. In many cases restaurants see an uptick in volume, but most already know how busy they are going to be. The time to think about the slump is now, before the season really begins. Once the season is upon us, it may be too late to counter a “slump.” That being said, an email blast with a “special holiday coupon” is a great way to fill a dining room on a slow night.

5.    What are some tips to make your staff feel appreciated during this busy time?

Owners should always be aware of the staff’s feelings and mood. And, the stresses the staff goes through should always be taken into consideration. It’s a festive time and owners and managers need to convey that.Contests are a great way to boost staff spirits. Base the contest on your servers’ strong points. If one server always sells the most desserts, design a contest around that. Other ideas: the most wine sold and the most after dinner drinks, etc. Be sure to make the prizes worthwhile. It is the holiday season and a bit of extra cash helps everyone. A $25 bonus for each of the contest winners is a great prize. Also, go to a neighboring restaurant and trade some gift certificates for $25, so they can give your certificates to their staff and theirs to yours.

6.    What is the best holiday offer you’ve ever seen? Why did it work?

The best holiday offer I have ever seen was a kitchen whisk with a small Santa Claus inside the wire ball, completed with a a bow and a tree ornament hanger. We placed it in a gift-wrapped box and mailed it to 50 of our best customers. My wife came up with the idea, which may be why I think it’s the best holiday offer. The card inside simply read, ‘We are whipping up some delightfully delicious holiday specials to cater to your festive needs. Stop by for a libation, a glass of cheer or call us and we’ll help you plan that perfect holiday event. We hope to see you throughout the holiday season. But if by chance we don’t, have a Merry Christmas.”  We put the logo of our restaurant on the card and attached it with ribbon. Results: Out of the 50 people who received the gift in the mail, we catered, dined with or saw each of them throughout the holidays. Most booked parties and brought many guests. The following year and each year after that, people requested our different kitchen ornament gifts.

7.    How can restaurants leverage community events to increase sales (i.e. fundraisers, flea markets, etc?)

Giving back to the community is a tremendous way to promote business, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to develop relationships and to get them to work for you.

8.    How can restaurants get the word out and garner holiday party or catering business from local businesses?

Nothing beats the free lunch program. The first year I decided to do catering was on Lake Minnetonka in Deephaven, Minn., where I had a small 20- seat café. The catering season was getting off to a very bad start. However, one Thursday afternoon I had an impressive variety of ladies lunching and lounging in the cafe. So, I decided to do a bit of self-promotion.I prepared a skillet with butter, garlic, chives and white wine. I added a large portion of snails and topped those with toast points. The aroma from the skillet was heavenly. As I walked from the kitchen, through the café, to the front of the room, I was loudly asking my wife if this was the dish Mrs. Pillsbury (Yes, that Mrs. Pillsbury) – might like on  her dinner party menu. My wife looked at me as though I was crazy. On the way back to the kitchen I left a sample of the escargot and toast points at each table.Catering calls increased within three days. People couldn’t stop talking about how the new guy in town was catering the Pillsbury’s party. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a call from them that year. The next year, however, we catered the Pillsbury Christmas Eve family party and numerous other events for them. Senator George Pillsbury came to my wedding.

9.    We loved your idea about having a catering salesperson for each shift. How do you prep that person?

Having a shift leader or designated server know about catering is an effective way to increase sales. To do this, you first need to develop a compensation plan for the server in case they develop a lead for a catering event. It could be as small as 3 percent or as much as 10 percent. The catch is they only receive compensation if they get all of the contact information, fill out a catering information form, and the event gets booked. Don’t fall for “Yeah, Mrs. Johnson wants to have a dinner party.”Secondly, the server needs to know the basic catering menu and operation. They don’t need to quote prices, as those should vary with the season, the dish and the market. Plus, you never discuss price until they are sitting at the table with your catering director, chef or yourself. Finally, the server needs to mention one of your successful past events. They also need to trow in the name of the person who booked it. Make sure its someone in the community or neighborhood people might know.

10.    How can you use your menu and social media outlets to increase sales?

The world has become coupon crazy. Last month alone, more than 22 million people visited the two largest coupon sites in the country. If you are efficient in social media, use it consistently to make offers, give discounts or promote bounce backs. Emails should be more than just “thinking of you, love to see ya.”  Offer a discount. Announce a cost-saving special. And, you should always highlight menu items and recipes.

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Independent Restaurant Marketing – 3 Ways To Compete With The Big Boys

Independent Restaurant Marketing – 3 Ways To Compete With The Big BoysBig chain restaurants dominate the mass market when it comes to advertising – a fact of life that can sometimes make it difficult for smaller independent operations to be heard among all the songs about baby back ribs.  Launching a restaurant marketing campaign for an independent means less money to spend and more to lose if the campaign doesn’t drive more business.

That means a successful marketing campaign has to stand out to be effective.  Independents can’t rely on constant coverage through big media outlets, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a disadvantage.  Some tips on how to make your restaurant’s marketing campaign, no matter how small, a success:

Be controversial. An edgy advertising campaign is a great way to tell customers you’re different than those corporate chains, and many controversial ad campaigns have the added advantage of drawing local media coverage, which spreads your message for free.  Of course, the line between edgy and over the top is very thin, so proceed with caution.  You don’t want to find yourself having to defend something your advertising said that others found offensive.

Use several channels. Diversify the places you advertise.  Supplement traditional channels like newspapers, flyers, and billboards with newer channels like email, social media, and websites.

Create a culture around your message. So your customer reads an edgy, funny message that draws him or her to your restaurant.  They’re expecting something fun and maybe even a little hip.  Instead, they experience the same thing they get in every other mom and pop burger joint.  They go home disappointed and probably not very enthusiastic about coming back.

The most successful marketing campaign has complete harmony between the image that’s projected and the one your customer actually experiences in your restaurant.  Luckily for you, this is precisely why you have an advantage over the big chains in your area: you can make your restaurant’s culture unique and inviting in a way chains simply can’t.  They’re shooting for the lowest common denominator.  You can offer so much more.

Of course, creating a culture your customer will find enticing takes some real effort.  You have to hire staff that buy into the culture you want to create.  You have to train that staff.  You have to create and design a menu.  And you have to tie all that in to your marketing campaign.

The good news is that if you can build a successful image and get your customers to buy into that image through a smart marketing campaign, you’ll be able to beat the pants off your local chain restaurant.  In the end, people value unique brands that have a clear identity.  Your ability to create that identity is the key to your success.

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