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Author Archive | Greg McGuire

Aztec “Beer” Makes a Comeback

Aztec Beer Makes a Comeback

The traditional Aztec drink pulque

Pulque is a thick, milky alcoholic drink first enjoyed by Aztec kings in the centuries before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors.  It is fermented from the juice of the maguey plant, which is an aloe-like relative of the agave, the source of tequila and mezcal.  After the fall of the Aztec empire, the masses of poor mestizos in colonial Mexico adopted the drink and pulque consumption soared.

Fermented maguey is mixed with any of a number of flavors including pineapple, pistachio, strawberry, and even celery to mask its bitter taste.  Places that serve pulque, called pulquerias, have been going out of business one by one over the past century as its popularity dwindled among the working classes of Mexico.

Then, suddenly, young people in the heart of Mexico City rediscovered pulque and now the few surviving pulquerias are thriving hangout spots for Mexican youth.

Technology has also lent a helping hand  as modern pasteurization has led to the bottling and canning of pulque, which traditionally had a shelf life of only a few days.

A few companies have even begun to import the drink to the United States, in hopes of capturing the attention of homesick Mexicans and tuned-in hipsters.  After a hundred years of decline, pulque has made a comeback.  Montezuma would be proud.

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Is Yelp Helping or Hurting You?

If you responded to this question with a confused look and the response “What is Yelp?” then you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  Forces have been at work that you didn’t even know about, and that can be a scary thing.

Yelp is an online review site for restaurants, bars, retail stores, and spas.  Users post their reviews of these businesses, and many others read reviews to help them decide where to eat when dining out.  Which means that Yelp could be helping or hurting you right now, depending on the nature of the reviews posted about your restaurant.

The problem is, your competition can also post a review about you that is probably less than accurate, hurting your chances of converting those increasingly scarce customers into visitors to your restaurant.

It’s a dog eat dog cyberworld out there and Yelp has become a key battleground for the hearts and minds of stingy customers.

Yelp takes advantage of this situation by allowing restaurants to pay to have bad reviews suppressed and good reviews highlighted.  These “sponsorships” start at $150 per month and comprise Yelp’s primary source of revenue.

Some restaurateurs love Yelp.  Their clientele use the site on a regular business and the favorable listings and review postings given to sponsors means a noticeable increase in business that more than justifies the cost per month.

Others view the monthly payment as necessary to prevent bad reviews from hurting business.

Regardless, less than 1% of the businesses reviewed on Yelp have become site sponsors, which is probably more a function of restaurateur ignorance than an unwillingness to pay for a sponsorship.

No matter what, anonymous, user-generated online reviews are the trend of the future, and the day is not far off when most potential patrons of your restaurant will learn about you through Yelp or a similar site on the internet.

It’s therefore up to you to at least know what is being said about your business online, and figure out how your customers are hearing about you.

Conduct a survey of customers to gauge how many came to you as a result of an online review site like Yelp.   Track reviews on the site and ask loyal patrons to post reviews.  You could even offer a free appetizer or other incentive for posting a review.

And if you find that a large portion of your clientele is using Yelp to find and learn about your restaurant, perhaps a sponsorship is the right route to take.

The younger and more urban the customer base, the more likely the need for you to reach customers through new media like Yelp.

Either way, take the time to learn where your customers are coming from and what people are saying about you on Yelp.  Knowledge is power, and you can’t afford to not know what’s being said about your business out in cyberspace.

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Hot Chef Trends for 2009

Despite the economic downturn you’re sick of hearing about (unless you’ve been under a rock), two trends remain hot for the food service industry in 2009: food nutrition and sustainability.

Even as consumers tighten belts and close wallets, they’re looking for healthy foods brought to them in an environmentally sustainable way, and if they think they can afford it, they’ll go for the product with the “green” label every time.

An older trend that’s still going strong is healthy and nutritious foods.

Most customers have started to blend green or organic food with healthy food, which makes it easy for you to blend the two into your menu for 2009.

Here are some tips to help you keep up with the times:

Customers want healthy choices, not demands. In other words, they appreciate healthy options on a menu but don’t want to be forced to eat them.  Menu diversity is nothing new, but it would surprise you how many restaurants have made the mistake of getting a little overzealous with healthy menu options.

Sometimes customers just want a burger and fries.

Advertise your sustainability. In recent years, your business has more than likely adopted cost cutting measures like recycling, energy conservation, and buying local products.

Let your customer know!

These are things they can connect with that make them feel good about consuming your product and bringing them back for more.

Back your claims up with green certification. Claiming to be green is one thing.  Getting certified is an entirely different matter.

The Green Restaurant Association has been promoting sustainable restaurant practices since 1990.

Getting your restaurant certified green will not only help you cut costs, it will give you and your product legitimacy in the eyes of the customer, enhancing their loyalty and increasing person-to-person buzz about your business.

Oh, and you’re helping the environment!

A healthy kids menu equals happy customers. Gone are the days of giving little Jimmy a burger and fries off the kid’s menu while Mom and Dad enjoy their entrees.

Today’s parents want nutritious offerings for their kids that will be eaten with all the enthusiasm of a Happy Meal.

Coming up with creative menu items for kids that are both healthy and satisfying can be a challenge, but the chef who pulls it off can count on happy customers coming back with the entire family.

Buy local (thinking global optional). As energy costs rose in the past few years, buying produce, ingredients, and meats locally became a red hot trend in the food service industry.

Not only does buying locally cut costs, it affords chefs and restaurant managers more purchasing flexibility.

Add in customer appreciation because your business is saving energy and investing locally, and you’ve got a winning combination.

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Welcome to The Back Burner

The food service industry is an amazingly diverse and complex world.

Every day millions of meals are served by all kinds of establishments across the country.

Small independent restaurants function as local hangouts where neighbors enjoy coffee or a beer while watching the game.  Huge commercial kitchens serve thousands of people at once every day in prisons, hospitals, and schools.  And national chain restaurants and quick service outlets feed millions in thousands of locations across the country.

Every kitchen in this vast constellation uses specialized equipment and tools to prepare each meal.

Staff, managers, and owners use strategies particular to food service to make their businesses successful.  The world of food service is uniquely separate from most other business, and yet few other industries are so pervasive.

Welcome to The Back Burner, a blog written by employees of eTundra.com, an online food service equipment, parts, and supplies distributor.  Tundra is based in Boulder, CO, and has been distributing food service products for over 16 years.

Let us just say now that this blog isn’t about Tundra; it’s about the complex and infinitely interesting world of food service.

Yes, we make our living here, and yes, we’d love to sell more of every product we carry.

But we’re also fascinated by how food service works, and we’ve spent years accumulating knowledge and experience about the industry.

And now we’d like to share that knowledge and experience with you, and, in turn, continue to learn.

The Back Burner is intended to assist in that endeavor by functioning as a medium for the wide dissemination of food service information.

We hope that you benefit from our contributions.  We also hope to benefit from yours.

Life in food service can be hectic and crazy.  It can also be incredibly rewarding.  Regardless, it’s always interesting, so no matter which way the pot’s boiling, take a moment to visit us here on The Back Burner.

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