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Working in a restaurant? Then these articles are probably perfect for you! From server issues to recipes for the cook, these are some of our favorite In The Restaurant finds.

How Much Should Restaurant Workers Be Paid?

Pay for restaurant workers. It’s an issue that manages to unite us and divide us at the same time.

According to the National Restaurant Association, half of all American adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and a third got their first job in a restaurant.

Most of us, in other words, can sympathize with the plight of low-paid restaurant workers because we’ve been there ourselves at some point, or have a friend or relative who struggles to cover basic needs while working full-time in a food-service position.

Divisions emerge when we stop to consider what, if anything, to do about it. Should we raise the minimum wage? Should we abolish tipping altogether? Should we pressure owners to pay their employees a living wage? Or should we let “the market” sort itself out and avoid potentially messy policy intervention?

Traditionally, many restaurateurs at our country’s 980,000 food-service establishments argue that forcing proprietors to pay their workers more will simply result in either less hiring or worse: layoffs. Further, they say that paying workers more would result in higher prices for patrons, who might decide to stay home and cook.

The counter-argument, one that I agree with, is that modestly raising pay standards to keep pace with inflation and other cost of living metrics is not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but will have the added benefit of stimulating more economic activity overall, because compensation isn’t’t a zero-sum game.

After all, folks who work in restaurants like to eat out as much as everyone else! If they’re paid a decent wage, they’ll have the means to patronize local restaurants once in a while.

What’s more, there’s the issue of fairness. Consider the situation in New York City, where nearly two-thirds of restaurant servers live at or below the poverty line. How is this situation OK? This strikes me as a classic example of a market failure ripe for correction.

In the meantime, whether you support change or the status quo, we as patrons can make sure our servers are tipped well, because tips aren’t simply bonuses paid on top of good wages. Without tips—heck, even with them—the far majority of restaurant workers wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

And if you’re not convinced that your tip makes a difference, check out this powerful video.

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Top 10 List of Gifts for Chefs

Gift giving for chefs can sometimes be hard, because the majority of them get the things they need, when they need them, but don’t walk away just yet.  We asked a few of our chef friends what types of gifts they’d love to receive (even if they already had it), and we were able to narrow down the list to a few top contenders.  From the foodie in your life to top chefs, here are our favorite food lover gifts.

 1. Pocket Thermometers

Top 10 List of Gifts for ChefsEvery chef needs a pocket thermometer, and extra on-hand at that.  Why you ask?  Temperatures of food are everything for a chef – it keeps their patrons safe and the health inspector happy.  Thermometers that are small enough to fit in a side chef jacket pocket and can give fast digital readings are preferred, especially when they have accuracy within 1⁰F.

Our Favorite: Comark Waterproof Digital Pocket Test Thermometer – $24.90

 2. Wine Keys

Top 10 List of Gifts for Chefs

Whether it’s for the chef in your life or a bartender, for some reason or other, wine keys always seem to disappear.  Pocket size wine keys are perfect for on the job, but other corkscrew sets are helpful for wine aficionados.

Our Favorite: Focus Food Service Swing-A-Way Waiter’s Corkscrew – $31.89/6pk

 3. German Knives

Top 10 List of Gifts for ChefsA knife is at the top of the list for best gifts to give food lovers, but there’s a catch.  Most chefs would prefer to hold their knives before making an investment.  They fall in love with the feel of the knife before they do the actual make of it.  That is, until it comes to German and Japanese knives.  German knives are the most widely used and favored of chefs.  You can basically get any type of German steel knife (boning, paring, slicing, etc.) and your foodie will be happy.

Our Favorite: Wusthof 10” Cook’s Knife – $32.00

 4. Stocking Stuffers

Top 10 List of Gifts for ChefsStocking stuffers are always great, inexpensive items that any chef would adore.  A few that were on our list of favorites included: apple corers, peelers, needle nose pliers, micro-plane graters, cherry/olive pitter, fish spatula, garlic press, offset spatulas, bar mats, bar caddies, 1-9 pans, and squeeze bottles.

Our Favorite: San Jamar Dome 3 Quart Garnish Center – $36.49 (may have to get a bigger stocking for this one though)

5. Mandolins

Top 10 List of Gifts for Chefs Mandolins are often an overlooked accessories that (as one of our chefs put it), “You don’t realize how much you need it until you look over and there it is, and you think, “Geez, I’m glad I have that.””  It may not be the center piece of kitchen must-haves, but they’re definitely helpful for getting precise, consistent cuts.  They’re also great for any budget, because they range from $6 to $150.

Our Favorite: Jaccard Safe Hands ABS Mandoline – $36.95

 6. Knife Bags

Top 10 List of Gifts for Chefs What’s a better gift for knife enthusiasts than knife accessories?  Our next items on the list are knife bags.  If they’re spending the money on nice knives, they also know that it’s worth it to protect their investment, and that’s where knife bags come in.  There are different sizes, depending on how many knives your foodie needs to tote around, but a simply knife roll that holds at least 5 knives will do just fine.

Our Favorite: Mercer Cutlery 10-Pocket Knife Roll – $43.20

 7. Chefwear

Top 10 List of Gifts for Chefs

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know how yucky clothes can get for those working with the food, which is why you can never go wrong with a set of new chef coats, beanies or pants.  Make sure you know the color and fit they prefer, because some restaurants are strict on color and some chefs have preference different sleeve length, other than that, prices vary from $5 to $100, so there are a lot of options to fit any budget.  Our chefs noted that they could never have enough pants and coats on hand, so this is definitely a winner!

Our Favorite: Chef Works Monte Carlo Chef Coat – $82.92

 8. Japanese Knives

Top 10 List of Gifts for ChefsJapanese knives are a different story.   These knives are handmade and are fit for the best of the best cook out there.  The caveat is that these are the type of knives that most chefs want to hold and get a feel for before making a purchase. But, your chef can always exchange the knife, and if they’re a Japanese knife newbie, they’ll love you for being able to experience the beauty of these handcrafted knives.

Our Favorite: World Cuisine 6 ½” Deba Japanese Sushi Knife – $58.05

 9. Dutch Ovens

Top 10 List of Gifts for Chefs If you haven’t ever invested in a Dutch oven, you’ll be surprised at how pricey they can be, and also why they’re a great gift idea for food lovers.  Investing in a great Dutch oven, is like investing in a great set of knives – you collect them overtime, but they last forever.  Any cook that has cooked with a Dutch oven will tell you that the way they cook and keep their heat is unlike any deep bottom pot you’ll ever cook with.  Prices range from $50 to $360, and there are tons of difference sizes and colors to choose from.

Our Favorite: Lodge Red Enameled 6 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven – $69.86

 10. Knife Sharpeners, Steels, and Stones

 Top 10 List of Gifts for ChefsDon’t worry, if you don’t know the difference between knife sharpeners, steels, and stones getting any of these will make your chef happy.  The difference between getting a countertop, handheld, or manual version is completely up to what your chef is interested in, but you definitely can’t go wrong with a sharpening stone with coarse, medium and fine stones.

Our Favorite: Mundial Course/Medium/Fine Sharpening Stone – $145.59

Click to for a video on how knife sharpening works.

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Weight & Volume Conversions for Dry & Liquid Ingredients

Weight & Volume Conversions for Dry & Liquid Ingredients

A lot of what comes down to creating the perfect recipe is knowing the difference between weighing, measuring, and the right conversions.  Simply said; however, these are often overlooked, because a lot of us were raised on the notion that 8 ounces is 1 cup, right?  Unfortunately, that’s not always true, especially when it comes to dry ingredients.

For most liquids, 8 ounces does indeed equal 1 cup; except for heavy liquids, like molasses and honey, where 1 cup is more around 11-12 ounces.  That small adjustment in ounces can make or break a once amazing recipe, especially when it comes to dry ingredients.  When there’s so many other factors that could ruin a recipe (the pan you use, the altitude, the humidity, etc.), it’s important that you know the difference in weights of your ingredients.

Before diving into the conversion table, we’d also like to note that there’s a difference between weight ounces and volume ounces.  Weight ounces are used for measuring dry ingredients (whereas 16 ounces is equivalent to 1 pound); however, volume ounces are used for measuring liquid ingredients (whereas 8 ounces equals a pound).  In this case, if you were to look at the difference between 8 weight ounces of honey and 8 volume ounces of honey, the difference would be ¼ of a pound, which is a lot when looking to be precise with your recipes.  Another example, if you take a dry ingredient (which typically has much more air around it) and try to measure it in a measuring cup, rather than weighing it, odds are you’ll get very different numbers: 4 ounces of grated cheese in a measuring cup can equal 8 ounces of grated cheese on a scale (which one do you think is the right measurement of ounces we’re looking for here?).

Dry Ingredients Cup(s) Weight Ounce(s) Gram(s)
All-Purpose Flour 1 4 1/2 128
Bread Flour 1 4 1/2 128
Cake Flour 1 4 113
Pastry Flour 1 4 113
Whole Wheat Flour 1 4 1/2 128
Brown Sugar 1 7 1/2 213
Powdered Sugar 1 4 113
White Granulated Sugar 1 7 198
Chopped Nuts 1 4 113
Cocoa Powder 1 3 1/4 91
Cornstarch  1 4 113
Liquid Ingredients (for most: 1 cup = 8 oz) Cup(s) Volume Ounce(s) Gram(s)
Butter 1 8 228
Cream 1 8 228
Honey 1 12 340
Milk 1 8 228
Molasses 1 11 312
Oil 1 7 1/2 213
Sour Cream 1 8 228
Water 1 8 228
Yogurt 1 8 228
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Let’s Talk Turkey Seasonings

 Lets Talk Turkey Seasonings

When it comes to seasoning your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey, or any turkey for that matter, sooner is better. Two days ahead of time is ideal, but one day is fine too. Let it sit overnight uncovered in the fridge to let the seasoning permeate the bird.

If you don’t have that much time to spare, don’t worry: your turkey will still taste great. In any case, you’ll want to season a thawed, totally dry turkey that has been out of the fridge long enough to get up to room-temperature.

Another question that sparks heated debates this time of year …

Should you brine?

There are well-documented pros and cons to brining, but I’m going to avoid that sticky wicket entirely! I will say this, though: if you’re working with a Kosher turkey, it’s already pre-brined. So instead of giving it a second salt-water bath, you could go with a “dry brine” and rub 1/2 tsp. salt per pound of turkey. Chef and food writer Melissa Clark recommends a dry rub of kosher salt, pepper, citrus zest and rosemary. Sounds good to me!

Seasonings?

What other seasonings can you use? Remember that old Simon & Garfunkel song? The usual suspects of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are popular for good reason: they taste great. But there are excellent roast turkey recipes that include cloves, nutmeg, allspice, basil, ginger, lemon, crushed celery seed, cayenne, and paprika. There are many ways to season a turkey.

When thinking about potential seasonings, it’s worth considering your audience before you stray too far from the beaten path. Many otherwise adventurous eaters can have remarkably conservative palates when it comes to their holiday turkey. (In their defense, simple can be sublime, and sometimes salt and pepper are all you need.)

And don’t forget butter!

Not only is butter delicious, it’s a great medium for herbs like sage, rosemary or thyme, and lemon adds a nice flavor too. AND unsalted butter will give your turkey a nice golden hue and delightfully crispy skin.

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How to Get Customers in the Door on Thanksgiving and Christmas

How to Get Customers in the Door on Thanksgiving and Christmas

Historically, the holiday season is a very profitable time for restaurants, and this year promises to be no exception. As a matter of fact, Experian predicts 2013 holiday spending will increase by 11 percent over last year.

So how can your restaurant really take advantage of this season of spending? Let’s run though some smart holiday promotion strategies …

Communicate with your current patrons

Time to put that email list to good use! Email is an easy way—and quite cost effective—to spread the word and bring in customers over the holidays. If you don’t have an email marketing provider, MailChimp is a great option, and they have a free plan that will accommodate the needs of most small establishments.

Table displays (tents, postcards, etc.) are another good option because they take advantage of your captive audience. Also: train hosts and hostesses to mention your holiday hours, promotions, menu items, etc., when answering the phone.

All the work you’ve put into building your social media presence and attracting a following? That effort is going to pay huge dividends during the holidays! Be sure to beat the drum over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, et. al, to get folks excited about your seasonal offerings.

Another idea: a direct mail campaign, while somewhat pricey, can be an effective way to reach potential customers over the holidays.

Connect with folks who haven’t dined with you yet

Have you considered running a promotion on a daily deal site? Sites like Groupon and Living Social have gotten a bad rap lately, and there some truth to the notion that these deals can be great for customers but terrible for small-business owners. However, there’s still a time and place for this marketing tool, particularly if you don’t have a large email list or social media following and you want to reach a big audience quickly. What’s more, if you design the right offer you can certainly make the financials work!

Do something special

It’s the holidays, so business as usual won’t cut it. (Nor will simply changing the satellite/Pandora radio station to Christmas tunes.) If you want to attract customers this November and December, we suggest tapping your creative imagination. Maybe new table displays, a cozy cocktail list, or even a totally revamped holiday menu.

Make sure hungry holiday shoppers can find you

These days everyone carries a smartphone, and they’re using them to find nearby bars and restaurants. According to one study from Nielsen, 64 percent of mobile restaurant searchers convert immediately or within an hour!

Does your restaurant show up when customers search online? Improve your visibility and ensure accuracy by updating your important local directory profiles on Google+, Yelp, etc.

Ideally you have a website that looks decent and displays quickly on a 4-inch smartphone screen, but if you don’t … at least try to position the key info that customers need—your address, phone number, hours, menu link—front and center. It’s hard to hunt for information on a tiny screen! Smartphone users are famously impatient, so don’t make them work/wait for it—because they’ll just tap away to competitor’s site.

Another method you might try is slightly “Minority Report”-ish but could be really effective this year: reach nearby shoppers with geo-targeted ads. Google, Twitter and Foursquare currently offer this service. Why not give it a shot?

Last-minute catering services?

In most cases, larger companies have already made holiday-party plans, but if you’re late to the catering party (so to speak), you might still have a chance to pick up some catering business, because this time of year there are always contingencies—companies that forgot to book a venue (small firms are notorious procrastinators) or catering companies that accidentally double booked themselves. You never know!

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Lemp Mansion: Haunted Restaurants That Make You Say ‘NOPE’

4. Lemp Mansion | St. Louis, Missouri

Want to dine with ghosts?  How about get married around them?  Or you could decide to spend the night with them; either way, the Lemp Mansion is probably one of the scariest restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of researching, so far.  It was likely all of the ghost pictures I saw, that gave me a scare, well, that and the fact that there have been at least four suicides and one death in the mansion. 

Of the Lemp family, William Lemp Sr. committed suicide in the house, which set an example for his children to follow suite.  Out of five children, three of them also committed suicide, in the house: Elsa in one of the guest rooms, William “Billy” Lemp Jr. in the office (now the dining room), and Charles in his room.  All family members chose to use a gun to pull off their feat. 

It also turns out that William “Billy” Lemp Jr. had a secret in the attic.  His illegitimate child, (crudely called “the monkey faced boy”) Zeke, was born with Down Syndrome, and hidden away in the attic.  Unfortunately, he never left the attic when he lived, and since death, he remains there.

With that much tragedy in one location, you could likely imagine that the hauntings in the Lemp Mansion are very active; so much so, employees of the restaurant don’t often stick around.  Such hauntings include the sound of someone running up the stairs, doors being kicked, a peeping Tom in the women’s restroom (thought to be William “Billy” Lemp Jr.), apparitions appearing and vanishing, voices and sounds, and objects flying through the air.  But that’s not all, there are also doors that are locked and unlocked, lights that turn on and off, a piano being played, and objects that vanish. And don’t forget about Zeke, visitors have said that they see him peeking from the third floor windows, and ghost investigators have gotten him to play with toys they leave for him.  It’s also said that these ghosts aren’t shy, they stay very active at all hours of the day.

At one point, the mansion started deteriorating because guests were scared to stay, but now with so many ghost enthusiasts, it’s booming with business!

Seriously people, you want to get married here?  Nope.

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Brennan’s Restaurant: Haunted Restaurants That Make You Say ‘NOPE’

2. Brennan’s Restaurant | New Orleans, Louisiana

Built in 1795, Brennan’s Restaurant is one of New Orleans most famous restaurants, both for its menu and ghosts.  Chef Paul Blange was known for helping to build Brennan’s menu and inventing choices that are well known around the world today, like bananas Foster.  He was so devoted to what he did, that when he passed in 1977, he was buried with Brennan’s Restaurant menu and a knife and fork across his chest.  But death didn’t stop him from occupying the restaurant.  Chef Blange watches over the kitchen by keeping his eye on the employees, and sometimes reaching out to touch them.  He also bangs pots and pans together at the end of the night, just as the doors are being locked. 

If feeling watched and being touched by something that isn’t there, isn’t enough for you, let’s chat about Herman Funk that dwells in the wine cellar, even though he has also passed.  Mr. Funk was known as a wine master, and makes it very clear that is presence is still around by clinking wine bottles to let staff know which choice would be best for the diner. Although employees could easily ignore Funk’s suggestion, they usually go with his choice to make sure this ghost stays happy (which is probably a good idea since Brennan’s is known for their incredible wine selection).  Wine Spectator magazine named the restaurant as one of the 100 best wine cellars in the world.

Oh, that’s not it, there’s still plenty more ghosts to help make Brennan’s one of the most haunted places in the world.  There have been sightings in the Chanteclair room of an old woman peering through the windows, but it is the Red Room that seems to be the most cryptic.  As one of the original owners continued to feel the grief of financial woes, he felt that his best option to escape the trouble was to murder his wife and child, just before hanging himself in the Red Room.  Of course with such horrific events, the Red Room is now the source of many different hauntings, and the current owner’s don’t make the feeling any easier by keeping portraits up of all three of the previous owners that died in the room.  There are reports of cold spots, portrait facial expressions changing, misty fogs, feelings of being watched/touched, and even the feelings of being hated. 

Want to have dinner now? Nope.

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St. James Hotel: Haunted Restaurants That Make You Say ‘NOPE’

5. St. James Hotel | Cimarron, New Mexico

Out of the 5 restaurants (some within hotels) that I’ve written about so far, this one is likely one of the most famous, simply because of its former, famous guests and the more than 26 murders that occurred in the building.  The guest list of famous people that frequented St. James Hotel, included Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp, Bob Ford, Bat Masterson, General Sheridan, Kit Carson, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Frederick Remington, Governer Lew Wallace, and Zane Grey (to name a few of course).  And all of these cast of characters, including the other guests that passed through, definitely left their mark when they stayed: when the roof was replaced in 1901, there were 400 bullet holes found in the ceiling, and today, you can still see 22 bullet holes in the dining room of the restaurant (formerly the saloon). 

Of course today, those 26 murders have led to numerous spirits that still linger around and cause mischief.  Although paranormal activity has been felt throughout the establishment, it is the second floor that is the most active.  People have reported feeling cold spots, smelling cigar smoke (no smoking allowed in the hotel), apparitions (very clear, detailed ones at that), objects flying off the wall and shelves, electrical equipment acting sporadically, lights that turn on and off, feelings of being watched, and guest digital gadgets ceasing to work. 

Room 17 is home to a previous owner’s wife, Mary Elizabeth.  Although guests are more than welcome to stay in the room, they’ll likely be greeted by the smell of roses, insistent tapping when the window is left open, and her apparition. 

A staff once reported that he heard ear-piercing shrieking while working at the front desk, where two other patrons that were in the lobby, went undisturbed.  Yet, another guest got invited to play poker with a round table of gentleman, that were proved to be ghosts – the person that saw the ghosts could have sworn they were flesh and blood people.

Then there’s room 18.  This room is off limits to everyone.  It stays locked, but houses a bed frame without a mattress, a rocking chair, coat rack, a hand of cards, shot glasses, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.  This room remains locked because it is said to be the most haunted room in the building, and is where the angry ghost of Thomas James Wright resides.  Mr. Wright was shot outside of this room, but stumbled inside the door before he slowly bled out.  His ghost is likely uneasy, because he was shot after he had just won the hotel in a poker game, and obviously someone wasn’t willing to hand it over to him.  Mr. Wright makes it very clear that he doesn’t like people to visit his room, as he pushes people to the ground when they enter and appears as a raging ball of light.  It has also been rumored that other deaths have occurred in this room.

Definitely, nope.

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Patsy Clarks: Haunted Restaurants That Make You Say ‘NOPE’

With Halloween around the corner, I thought I’d bring together a list of 5 haunted restaurant stories to get you in the mood for tricks with a little side of treats.  And although I love a great horror movie, some of these tales got me a little frightened, even in the office – you really shouldn’t tap someone on the shoulder when they’re researching haunted restaurants.

1. Patsy Clarks | Spokane, Washington

Let’s start this off with restaurant ghosts that are best described as playful.  If I had to deal with ghost sightings, I’m sure that wine bottles and glasses flying across the room would be better than feeling like you were being watched… oh wait, that happens at this mansion too.

Patrick (Patsy) Clark was the original owner of this mansion, and spent over $13 million to build and furnish this house back in 1897.  Now called the Patsy Clark mansion, it has been known that ghosts like to play pranks on employees by throwing wine bottles across the wine cellar and following them around the building, although no tragedies ever occurred in the mansion.  There were various stories around who haunts the mansion, but it is either three entities that lurk the wine cellar or Patrick’s wife Mary that lurks the entire building.  Either way, expect to get your wine thrown at you if you visit this place.

Unfortunately, the place is no longer a restaurant, but it does offer to host events on the first floor. 

I think I’ll say nope to eating here.

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Catfish Plantation: Haunted Restaurants That Make You Say ‘NOPE’

3. Catfish Plantation | Waxahachie, Texas

Another restaurant with plenty of ghosts to help you enjoy your meal, is the Catfish Plantation.  Located in Waxahachie, Texas, the Catfish Plantation has three ghosts named: Elizabeth, Will, and Caroline. 

Elizabeth was murdered in the house back in the early 1920’s on her wedding day by an ex-lover.  But being murdered on her wedding day wasn’t Elizabeth’s only misfortune, because she still resides in the building to this day.  She’s often found in the bathroom, but has also been seen looking out windows and bursting through doors.

Will was a former owner that died in the building from a sickness, and he too still resides at the plantation.  Will can be seen on the front porch in his overalls and felt touching legs of female patrons.

Then in 1970, Caroline passed away in the building from old age, and she had very set ways that she continues to share with the restaurant’s employees.  She loved cooking, so she usually hangs out in the kitchen, but she hated alcohol, so wine glasses usually don’t last long.  In fact, the staff has to keep wine glasses behind glass in an armoire, to try and prevent Caroline from flinging them across the room.  Caroline also likes to brew coffee herself, and rearrange supplies to her liking.

Other paranormal activity includes banging on the walls, food being flung, doors unlocking themselves, lights going on and off, water being turned on, equipment doors being opened and closed, and dead clocks chiming.  All of which, leaves many patrons leaving before dinner is even served.

Yeah, nope.

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