eTundra Categories

Author Archive | Greg McGuire

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Smoking bans are coming to your restaurant. Are you prepared?

Despite the objections of many groups in the food service industry, public smoking bans have been passed with increasing frequency over the past five years.

Restaurants and bars are primarily concerned with losing business as a result of these smoking bans.  Advocacy groups claim that the health benefits of banning smoking far outweigh any other concern.

As a restaurateur, you are probably either already under a public smoking ban or will be soon, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of these bans on your business.

For starters, research has shown that bar and restaurant revenue did not show an appreciable drop after the introduction of a smoking ban.

Smokers just don’t go home after a smoking ban is passed.  Instead, they cut down on their smoking and go outside when they need a smoke.  Some food service businesses actually saw a rise in business after the ban was passed as new customers ventured out because of the new smoke-free environment.

However, specific segments of the industry do not follow this general trend. In particular, blue collar establishments take the hardest hit when a new smoking ban is passed.  Bowling alleys and small local bars have seen as much as a 50% decline in business after the passage of a smoking ban.

While it is unfortunate that some businesses take a huge hit when a smoking ban is passed, the health benefits that are a direct result of banning public smoking are significant, and should really outweigh other concerns.

Heart attacks in public places drop as much as 40% after the enforcement of a public smoking ban.  The air quality of restaurants and bars goes from “dangerous” or “extremely unhealthy” classifications to “normal” and “good” overnight.  The body of evidence linking even small amounts of second hand smoke to short and long term health problems is now overwhelming.

For the food service industry, smoking bans are a reality that must be dealt with.

If you have the bad luck of operating in a segment that will suffer from the passage of a smoking ban in your area, start to develop a strategy for the day the ban arrives, because it will be here sooner or later.  If you have already found yourself under a smoking ban, tell us how it has affected your business.

What are the benefits?  The drawbacks?  Do you oppose or support introducing smoking bans in other states?

Continue Reading

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance in it’s old New York home

The Moondance Diner used to be an 80 year old fixture in the trendy SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.  Last year it was consigned to destruction by a new condo building.  The Moondance was up for sale, and the chic artists that had once frequented the little restaurant were long gone.

That’s when a couple from Labarge, Wyoming, spotted the Moondance for sale on the internet.  Within a couple weeks they had purchased the diner and shown up in Manhattan with a flatbed truck to haul it away.

That’s when the trouble started.  Permit problems and heavy rain delayed transportation.  The battered Moondance finally arrived in Wyoming after a long trip and landed on some stacked railroad ties next to Highway 189 with a view of the Rockies.

Former employees Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Larson were nowhere to be found.

Instead, Cheryl and Vince Pierce set to work refurbishing the old diner for its grand reopening in a remote corner of the least populated state in the union.

Things were going fine until a blizzard dumped 18 inches of snow and the roof crumpled in like a tin can.

Maybe the Moondance moving west wasn’t such a good idea after all.

At least that’s what people in New York started to think, and several articles were posted in city periodicals lamenting the poor, desolate fate of the hapless Moondance.  The condescension coming out of New York was hardly concealed and laced with an I-told-you-so subtext.

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance Diner lights up Wyoming

Cheryl and Vince were unfazed.

The Moondance’s classic front sign finally lit up on January 12, and the completely restored diner has been building buzz ever since.

Many natives of the Big Apple have stopped by to visit, and the locals love the place.  The celebrity waitstaff may be gone, but the Moondance has settled down to stay in its new western home.

Continue Reading

Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up Controversy

Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up ControversyThe list of opponents to the Employee Fair Choice Act (EFCA) is a long who’s who of business in the United States, including the Chamber of Commerce, nationally known corporations like Home Depot and Walmart, and most notably for those in the food service industry, the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

What is EFCA? It’s a law that would allow employees to form a union at a place of business if a majority signed a card voting for unionization.

Current legislation requires that a secret ballot administered by the company must result in a majority vote for unionization.

Many small businesses would remain unaffected by the new legislation, since the minimum requirement for unionization is a business with $500,000 in gross annual revenue or at least 3 non-supervisory employees.

What’s the big deal? Well, both sides claim that coercion is the problem.

Business owners, including many in the restaurant industry, represented by the NRA, claim that employees will be coerced into signing card checks for unionization by union activists, especially since the card signing occurs in public.

Union supporters say the coercion that goes on currently under the secret ballot procedure is the real inequity in the system.

They say businesses routinely intimidate and even fire employees that push for unionization leading up to a secret ballot vote, and even though these practices are illegal, the penalties are not very harsh and are not regularly enforced.

Needless to say, Democrats support this legislation and Republicans oppose it.  President Obama spoke in favor of this bill on the Senate floor last year and its passage was a routine campaign promise last fall.

EFCA already passed the House of Representatives last year on a strict party line vote but could not attain cloture in the Senate.

With Democrats ever closer to the magic number of 60 in the Senate, the Employee Fair Choice Act is looking more and more like it will become law, probably within the first six months of this year.

The NRA’s opposition to this bill is explained as a defense of worker’s rights to a secret ballot.  They also say that EFCA will hurt small businesses.

With the passion on both sides running high, it’s hard to say who will benefit the most from this bill.  Both proponents and opponents claim to be defending workers’ rights.

In the food service industry, the leading association has taken a tough stand against this bill, but that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with the NRA.

The reality is that most restaurants will remain unaffected by this legislation because of the minimum requirements for unionization.  The ones most at risk, like national chains, are the most vocal opponents driving NRA action.

Tell us what you think about card check legislation!  Leave a comment below.

Continue Reading

Boulder Has A New Top Chef

Boulder Has A New Top Chef

Boulder Chef Hosea Rosenberg Is THE Top Chef

As some of you may know, Tundra and The Back Burner are based in Boulder, CO so we were especially pleased to learn that Boulder chef Hosea Rosenberg claimed first place on Wednesday’s finale of Top Chef: New York.

Rosenberg is the executive chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder.  He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in engineering physics before pursuing his true dream in culinary arts.  Rosenberg has worked with top chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Kevin Taylor, and Sean Yontz.

The Top Chef win garnered Rosenberg a $100,000 prize, and he is currently working on a food line with Whole Foods and a new restaurant is in the works as well.

Another Boulder chef, Melissa Harrison, was also a contestant on the show but was eliminated earlier in the season.

We would like to congratulate Hosea on his win and we look forward to enjoying his work in the Boulder area for years to come!

Continue Reading

Crazy Eats: Cuy Will Make You Smarter

Crazy Eats: Cuy Will Make You Smarter

Two cuy dishes from Peru

Yes, your favorite childhood pet is also a favored delicacy in the Andes.

Called “cuy,” (coo-wee) by locals in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, roasted guinea pig has a gamey taste similar to rabbit and is said to improve intelligence and focus if eaten regularly.

In Cuzco, Peru, cuy is roasted like a suckling pig and served with hot peppers.  Other regions fry several cuy whole and serve them with a hot pepper or achiote sauce over rice or potatoes.

Crazy Eats: Cuy Will Make You Smarter

A view of Machu Piccu, the former stronghold of Incan Kings

Cuy is a traditional source of protein in the Andes going back centuries before the arrival of Columbus, when the Incan nobility dined on cuy exclusively and used their entrails to foretell the future.

Now guinea pigs are raised commercially and can be found in markets all over the Andes.

So if you’re ever in South America, and you don’t want to eat your childhood pet’s cousin, stay away from the cuy!

Continue Reading

The Obama Room Angers Restaurant’s Patrons

The Anaheim White House, a fine dining restaurant in Anaheim, CA, drew an unexpected amount of criticism recently after renaming one of 12 presidential-themed private dining rooms the Obama Room.

Irate customers asked to be removed from the restaurant’s email list and others swore they would never patronize the restaurant again as a result of the renaming.

The Obama Room Angers Restaurants Patrons

The Obama Room at the Anaheim White House Restaurant

The White House is located in a solidly Republican district, which may explain some of the anger.

But owner Bruno Serato pointed out that naming other private dining rooms after Democratic icons like John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter didn’t result in such a negative response.

The restaurant even rechristened the unpopular George W. Bush room for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis without much complaint.

And angry diners could always opt for the Reagan or Nixon room if the Obama room isn’t to their liking.  For some reason the Obama Room has really stirred up a negative response.

Regardless, Serato remains determined to keep the Obama Room.  He says the historic nature of the last election is too important to ignore, even if a few customers are angered by it.

Continue Reading

A Restaurant Survival Guide (continued)

The Back Burner’s Restaurant Survival Guide continues with some more tips on how to keep customers coming in the door in these tough economic times.

Take your product to the customer. You have already developed delicious entrees, trained your kitchen staff to cook them, and purchased all the equipment you need to produce on a large scale.

Yet your restaurant is seeing falling or stagnant visits every month.

You’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.  So go out.

Many large chains like Applebees, Chili’s, and O’Charley’s have developed very successful fast takeout operations to supplement sales of their core menu items.

Now some of these businesses are getting into full catering services as a way to boost sales in a gloomy economic environment.

Recent surveys of restaurant patrons have indicated they plan to stay home in record numbers in 2009, but that doesn’t mean they always want to fire up the home kitchen.

And small to medium sized get-togethers (of 10 – 50 people) still happen all the time, just not at your restaurant.  Customers see a great value in serving familiar foods from their favorite eatery right in their home, and you already have the staff and tools to service them there.

A little marketing, a slight adjustment in your menu offerings, and you’re on your way to finding your customers even if they aren’t coming to your restaurant as often as they used to.

Gift cards help. More and more chains are marketing gift cards, and smaller operations can do the same.  Not only are gift cards a quick and convenient gift for your customer, but they guarantee future sales that can help you through slow times.

They can also help bring in new clientele if they are offered as a promotion.  And best of all, customers who use gift cards tend to overspend the gift card amount, which means some added sales for you.

Meanwhile, the customer leaves full and happy, having spent less than he or she expected.

You can survive. The salient point here is that customers still want your product.  They haven’t forgotten how good it tasted two years ago.

They just don’t want to pay the same amount for it.

You have rising expenses to deal with, but that doesn’t mean a little repackaging and some clever marketing can’t help your customer realize exactly why they fell in love with your restaurant in the first place.

Continue Reading

A Restaurant Survival Guide

A Restaurant Survival GuideThe current economic downturn has affected every aspect of the American economy, including the food service industry.

The NRA has projected a 1% drop in all restaurant sales for 2009 (when adjusted for inflation), potentially making 2008 and 2009 the only two consecutive years where restaurant sales have fallen since the NRA started keeping track in 1971.

That’s sobering news for any restaurateur, and many restaurant managers can tell you after a quick glance over last quarter’s books that this NRA prediction isn’t coming as a huge surprise.

But there is silver all over the huge cloud bank of gloom that is our economy, and a smart business owner should be able to hang on until the ride is over.

For starters, the food service industry isn’t hurting as badly as other sectors of the economy (at least you’re not a UAW member, right?), and typically restaurants are the first to turn around after a slump.

The key lies in holding down costs while attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Right.

Here’s a few food service trends that can help you survive:

Comfort foods are rising in demand. Chicken, beans, and even spam all saw significant increases in sales in the last quarter of 2008.

These products can help your business manage costs while you portray them to the customer as a “value” menu item (well, maybe not spam), especially if you highlight them against perceived “luxury” items like beef.

Put together a value menu of comfort foods to bring customers in, then hope they decide on dessert.

Divide best sellers into smaller portions. Popular menu items are always going to be popular, no matter what the economy is like.  It’s just that when your customer takes his wife out this month, he doesn’t want to spend like he did in the freewheeling days of 2007.

Many restaurants are responding by taking popular menu items and offering an appetizer version of the same thing, or a two person value platter that can be shared.

Taking your core product offerings and making them affordable to your customer is a great way to retain your faithful base while enticing new customers who are searching for value.

Stay tuned for some more Restaurant Survival Tips from The Back Burner in the coming days.

Continue Reading

Menu Labeling Law Being Considered in Congress

The movement to accurately label menu items with nutrition information is gaining ground at a remarkable pace.  In 2008, the state of California, the cities of New York and Philadelphia, and two counties in Washington and Oregon passed legislation requiring restaurants to provide nutrition information to their customers.

20 more cities, counties, and states currently have similar laws on their dockets.

Studies have shown that 75% of consumers favor mandatory menu labeling in food service establishments.  Consumers are already familiar with nutrition labeling since it became standard on food products, and most want the same information when they dine out.

Critics cite the cost of analyzing menu items for their nutritional content as being prohibitively expensive for most small and mid-size food service businesses.

They also say menu variety will disappear because once a recipe is analyzed for its content, it cannot be changed even slightly since this will alter nutrition information.

However, the NRAsupports menu labeling legislation, but has chosen to lobby for a national bill that will preempt the growing patchwork of local and state laws regulating menu labeling and set a single national standard for menu labeling.

Menu Labeling Law Being Considered in Congress

The LEAN Act is currently being considered in Congress

The Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act was introduced in 2008 and sets a national standard for restaurant menu labeling.  It is supported by the NRA and the Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information (CRNI), an NRA-led advocacy group.  LEAN is currently in front of Congress and awaits a vote.

As restaurants in places like California begin the process of evaluating their menu nutrition information, a new industry has sprung up around nutrition.

One of those companies is MenuCalc, a San Francisco based organization that has compiled a huge database of laboratory analyses of common food ingredients.  Restaurateurs can use this information, which is accessible through the web, to create their own menu nutrition data.

No matter what, menu labeling is probably a trend in the food service industry that is beyond the point of no return.

It’s likely that in 10 years nutrition information will be as common on menus as Nutrition Facts labels are on food products today, and that leaves restaurateurs two choices:

Analyze and post nutrition information for their menu items today, or put it off for tomorrow.

Continue Reading

Hot Restaurant Trend: Menu Nutrition Labeling

Nutrition labeling is nothing new in the food industry.  Nutrition Facts have become ubiquitous on everything from milk cartons to candy bars.

But up until recently nutrition information on menus was largely absent.

That’s changing, and places like California and New York city have already passed legislation requiring nutrition information be displayed on menus.

Complying with new regulations is a compelling reason to begin recipe analyses, but it shouldn’t be the only reason why you start labeling your menu items with nutritional information.

Providing nutrition information creates customer loyalty and gives healthy menu claims credibility.

In an increasingly health conscious society, consumers want access to nutrition information.  The advent of nutrition labeling on grocery products has made them familiar with nutrition information and restaurants that have tried labeling have received an overwhelmingly positive response.

And menu labeling is a great way for you to market healthy menu choices because customers have all the information they need right in front of them.

Conducting recipe analysis will help you improve ingredient choices and streamline food preparation.  The process of analyzing the ingredients and preparation process you use for each recipe on your menu means you can reassess how you prepare menu items.

Often better ingredients can be employed to improve a recipe’s nutritional value.  Simple changes in food preparation methods can also improve nutritional value.

Perhaps most valuable to restaurateurs is the standardization of the food preparation process.  Small changes in how food is prepared, like variations in sauce and ingredient amounts and cooking times, can drastically change the nutritional value of a menu item.  Recipe analysis means you must prepare menu items the same way every time to maintain accurate nutritional labeling, and this has the valuable side effect of improving kitchen efficiency and reducing waste.

Laboratory Analysis vs. Database Analysis

Restaurateurs have two choices when deciding how to analyze their menus: a laboratory analysis of nutritional content or the computer database analysis of recipe ingredients based upon previous laboratory analyses of those ingredients.

Laboratory analyses are conducted by an independent laboratory, where each ingredient in a recipe is studied and it’s nutritional value calculated through testing.

This method is:

  • Generally used for standardized products with large distributions
  • Used by many large chain restaurants
  • Necessary for fried food products, because the variations in cooking times and the fat absorption qualities of individual foods require case-by-case analysis
  • Typically do not provide nutritional breakdowns of individual ingredients in a recipe, making it more difficult to adjust preparation methods and ingredients to achieve more healthy combinations
  • Requires a standardized food preparation method to ensure the accuracy of the analysis.  Slight variations in food preparation or ingredient amounts
  • Is much more expensive and time consuming than a database analysis

Database analyses collect the results from lab tests already conducted on a wide range of common recipe ingredients, eliminating the need to pay a laboratory to conduct a new test.

Access to database analyses:

  • Are much more affordable and less time consuming than lab analyses
  • Yield breakdowns of different recipe elements like sauces and condiments, giving you a more accurate picture of the nutritional content of each menu item
  • Allow you to adjust recipe ingredients and preparation methods to improve nutritional content and market claims like low sodium, fat free, etc.

Hot Restaurant Trend: Menu Nutrition LabelingMenuCalc is an online tool that uses database analysis to calculate the nutritional value of your menu’s recipes instantly.

You can do the analyses yourself using their wizard style interface and also get help from their experienced staff to create accurate menu labeling for your business.

Continue Reading