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Archive | Restaurant Management and Operations

Find great resources and tips on restaurant management and operations topics like human resources, food safety, going green, and more.

California & Vermont Restaurants: Are You Compliant?

California & Vermont Restaurants: Are You Compliant?If you’re in the food service industry in either California or Vermont, then this blog post is for you. New legislation in these two states changes the kind of faucets and pipe fittings that can be installed in restaurants and commercial kitchens starting early next year.  California Assembly Bill 1953 and Vermont Senate Bill S152 mandate all plumbing and fixtures that come into contact with water intended for human consumption through drinking or cooking must contain less than 0.25% lead by weight.

The new limit on the lead content of plumbing fixtures goes into effect January 1, 2010.  After that time, any new plumbing fixtures purchased in the states of California or Vermont must comply with the new lead limit.

Here’s the breakdown on how your restaurant will be affected:

You don’t have to replace existing fittings.  Whatever you’ve got now in your kitchen can stay until it needs to be replaced through normal wear and tear.  Just make sure that when you do buy new fittings, they comply with the 0.25% by weight lead limit and are properly certified.

Only plumbing fixtures that dispense water intended for human consumption must comply.  Hose reels, washdown stations, service sink faucets, and mop bucket sink faucets are exempt from the new standard.  Pantry, lavatory, hand sink, and pot filling faucets must all comply with these new standards, as well as pre-rinses.  Pipe fittings must also comply, so keep this in mind when you’re repairing an old faucet or installing a new one.  This includes faucet installation kits, foot pedals, and pre-rinse assemblies.

Fittings and fixtures that comply with 1953 and S152 must be certified by an independent third party organization.  Make sure the plumbing parts you buy are certified as containing less than 0.25% lead by weight.  These products will usually be stamped or labeled with a California & Vermont Restaurants: Are You Compliant?compliance certification.

For restaurants in Vermont and California, coming into compliance with the new lead standard is as simple as purchasing properly certified plumbing fixtures and fittings after January 1, 2010.  Some manufacturers have products that are already compliant with the new standard, and several more are planning to offer compliant fixtures and fitting by January next year.

Find compliant plumbing fixtures here.

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Restaurant Management: No Training Budget? Spend Nothing But Time And Succeed

According to a new study by the Council of Hotel And Restaurant Trainers (CHART), 53% of the restaurants surveyed had cut back on their employee training budgets.  Only 19% increased their budget, with the rest remaining the same.  The study covered a wide variety of restaurants, from small independents to large national chains, with the largest number of respondents falling into the small to mid-sized regional category.

These numbers obviously reflect the lean economic reality in which everybody in the food service industry is operating presently.  Cuts are inevitable as revenues fall.  But how much is too much?  Where is the line between trimming back and damaging a key pillar in your business: professional, experienced service?

New employees get some pretty good training for the first 90 days after hire, according to the respondents to this survey.  After that, wait and kitchen staff receive very little or no training, while management tends to receive more.  No matter what the size of your restaurant is, ongoing training should be a cornerstone of your overall strategy.  Research shows that employees who are given regular career training and whose company philosophy revolves around a reputation for service are much more likely to stay longer and perform better, which attacks the biggest monster in restaurant staff: high employee turnover.

Okay, you say, I get it, employee training is important.  But I can’t afford it right now, so what should I do?  Well, as long as you are willing to take the time, staff training doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.  Sure, supplemental training materials and videos are more efficient, but when you need to cut back, canning expenses on training materials doesn’t have to spell the death of your training program.

Some ideas for training on the cheap:

Role play with employees.  Don’t take it the wrong way (and at least one person on your staff is going to snigger in the back every time you bring this up) but role playing customer service situations with your employees is a very effective way to train.  If you hold regular role playing sessions, the awkwardness will eventually wear off and very positive employee interactions will develop.

Start a mentoring program.  Assign your top servers and kitchen staff to one new employee each.  Have the new employee do nothing more than follow the more experienced members of your staff around for a shift a month.  Not only will the new employees learn by example, they will form relationships with your best employees, which encourages retention and improves performance.

Cross train employees.  Train servers how to be hosts, hosts how to be servers, line cooks how to expo, etc.  The benefits of cross training are twofold: your staff will be able to fill gaps on busy nights or when you have no shows, and they will better understand how the restaurant operates as a whole, which usually means they will work better as a team.

Whether money’s tight or pouring in, simple, effective training techniques usually translate into one simple principle: taking time out and spending it with your employees.  There is a cost associated with taking time, but the benefits far outweigh this costs.  Done right, interactive training will form the solid backbone of your business and position you to succeed no matter what the economic climate is like.

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Why Your Restaurant Should Start Catering… And 4 Simple Steps To Start

Why Your Restaurant Should Start Catering... And 4 Simple Steps To StartIn a recent study by Technomic, 36% of consumers said they are doing their socializing at home more often than a year ago.  In addition, 40% said they’d like to entertain at home more often in the next year.

For a restaurant owner, those are some sobering numbers.  The corresponding 4% decline in restaurants nationwide over the last year tells you just how serious the situation is.  If your restaurant has made it this far, then hopefully the worst of it is behind you.  And now might be the perfect time to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

That’s because although consumers are staying home, they’re not necessarily wanting to cook at home.  That means you can find willing customers if you’re willing to venture out from the restaurant.  In fact, 53% of consumers said they bought prepared foods for the 4th of July 2009.  That reveals a market that’s available for what you do best: prepare great food.

Catering for small and mid-sized parties (10 – 100 people) is on a steep rise, and some restaurants have already started offering their services as a way to drum up business, even if those customers aren’t seated in the dining area.  So how can your restaurant get in the game?  Some ideas:

Get equipped. Don’t try to translate what you do in the kitchen of your restaurant so well into a foreign venue without the proper tools.  Catering requires some specialized equipment that allows you to be mobile and quick on your feet.  Don’t get into the catering game without investing in some good equipment first.

Specialize your menu. Stick to the items on your menu that are high margin and require minimal prep work.  Whatever your bread and butter entrees are, the ones you can whip up in your sleep, slap them on a special menu for catered events.  This keeps things nice and simple, especially when you’re starting out.

Try to reach known customers. If you have an email list or other way to market to customers you know haven’t been in for awhile, use it to advertise directly to the people who are probably staying home but like your restaurant.

You probably will want to try a few dry runs before you hit the big time with your new catering operation.  Maybe try catering your own family function or a similar low-stress event so you can work out the kinks.  That will ensure you’re making the best impression possible when you start.

If you choose your menu items carefully and back up some effective marketing with a well prepared mobile operation, your restaurant can stand to make some pretty good money in catering, which gives you another stream of revenue and a little more stability in the uncertain world of food service.

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Cash or Charge: Save Money AND Give Your Customer A Discount

Cash or Charge: Save Money AND Give Your Customer A DiscountCredit cards have become the currency of choice in restaurants everywhere.  Many restaurateurs report 80% – 85% of their customers pull out plastic when it’s time to pay the bill.  For a long time now the conventional wisdom in food service goes like this: any way the customer wants to pay me I’ll take.

But credit card companies are good at charging for the convenience they provide.  Every time a card is swiped in any restaurant, a flat fee of 10 – 25 cents is charged to the restaurant outright, plus another 2% – 3% of the transaction’s value in fees.  Depending on how much business you do, those credit card fees add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars every month.

Of course, I’m not really telling you anything you don’t already know if you own or manage a restaurant.  What I do want to tell you is that some restaurateurs have figured out a way to pass some added value on to their customers and save some money on monthly transaction fees at the same time.  By offering as much as 20% off the bill to customers who pay with cash, some restaurants have turned the 80% ratio of plastic payers on its head: now 80% pay with cash and enjoy a discounted meal to boot.Cash or Charge: Save Money AND Give Your Customer A Discount

The discount-for-cash program has proven so successful in some cases that restaurants have been able to actually grow business, even in such a sluggish dining market.  If marketed cleverly, the discount program could work well for any independent restaurant.  Some ideas:

Offer an additional discount coupon.  Use email marketing to offer a coupon that gives your loyal customers an additional discount for paying with cash.  While you’ll be losing profit margin, you’ll be able to gauge how enthusiastic your most frequent customers are about the cash-for-discount program.  The discount will also get some bodies in some seats, where hopefully (with a little server encouragement) order an appetizer or a bottle of wine since they’re expecting a discount.

Offer the discount-for-cash on a specific night.  Take the slowest night of the week and turn it into discount night and then gauge how much that increases business.  This way you can roll out the discount program slowly and get a feel for how the numbers really add up in terms of increased business versus lost margin.

Make a special discount-for-cash menu of high margin items.  If you really want to mitigate your loss on the program but still want to market it to get some butts in seats, make a special menu comprised of the highest margin items on your menu.  That way you know you’ll still be making a little profit after the discount and you can push the entrees that are your favorite kind to sell.

Anybody who leverages a cash-for-discount program is bound to see a bump in business.  Figuring out how to leverage that bump and get the most out of the discount you offer is the real key to success.  No matter how you implement it, make sure you leverage this discount program as much as you can.  If you aren’t getting money from your customers because of the discount, at least get some information so that you can understand your customer better.

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Email Marketing: 7 Tips For Restaurants

In the marketing industry, email remains one of the most popular and most effective ways to reach customers.  In the restaurant industry, email marketing can be a great way to build customer loyalty and brand recognition.  It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s proven to bring customers in the door.  So why aren’t more restaurants using it?

If you have yet to market to your customers with email, here are some simple steps and best practices to maximize your campaign:

1. Ask your customers to sign up.  There’s no point in sending out an email if you don’t have anyone on your list.  There’s also no point if the people on your list don’t patronize your restaurant.  Tantalize your customers with deals and prizes to collect their email addresses.  For example, use a raffle to collect email addresses, or offer 10% off coupons in exchange for signing up through your restaurant’s website.

2. Don’t send emails unless it’s requested.  Sending unsolicited email is also known as SPAM, and we all know how annoying that is.  That’s why the best way to collect email addresses is to offer a little something in return and get your customer to volunteer their email address.  It’s also important to make sure your customers understand that they are signing up to receive emails.  Make it clear that they will be hearing from you in the future.

3. Offer something every time you send an email.  Every email marketing beginner thinks it’s a great idea to send out emails full of information about themselves and their business.  The hard truth is, however, that your customer really doesn’t want to be bothered reading an email about a restaurant.  What they do want know is when your happy hour is and what days you offer specials.  Don’t send an email unless you have something to offer.  Otherwise you’re just clogging up an already busy email inbox.

4. Track conversions.  Use coupon codes or some other system to track the success of your email marketing campaign.  Try different types of offers and see which ones have the highest conversion rate.  In other words, does a 10% off coupon on any meal over $25 work better than a buy one, get one free drink during happy hour deal?  The only way to know for sure is to get customers who heard about the deal through your email campaign to use a code when redeeming their discount.

5. Create a schedule and stick to it.  In general, you shouldn’t be sending out emails more than once a week, and twice a month is probably a better route.  No matter how frequently you decide to send out email, stick to the same schedule so that customers begin to expect your emails on the same day.  This will improve the chances that your email will be opened and read.

6. Use a proper email marketing system.  There are a variety of options out there: Feedblitz, MailChimp, ConstantContact, Emma.  These services usually charge you per email or per number of subscribers.  Choose one that works for you and pay the money for a proper system.  Don’t try to send emails out from your Hotmail account.  For one thing, it looks unprofessional.  For another, you will get labeled as spam sooner or later.  These email services also have great tracking functions that provide important information, like how many people opened your emails, how many clicked links in your emails, etc.Email Marketing: 7 Tips For Restaurants

7. Avoid spammy words and punctuation.  Words like free and buy now cause automatic spam filters to flag an incoming email message.  Punctuation like lots of exclamation marks and all capitalized letters will also set off the alarm.  Avoid these spammy looking words and punctuation in your emails like the plague.  For more info on avoiding spam filters, check out this blog post.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to email marketing is to experiment.  Best practices only take you so far.  Every restaurant is different, and every one has a different type of customer.  The email marketing campaign strategy you employ for your restaurant will be different from every other one, and the best way to optimize it is to try different types of offers and presentations until you find the one that gets the most customers in the door.  This is also why tracking is so important.  If you can’t tell if you’re having a busy Tuesday night by chance or because of last week’s email, then you can’t improve and refine your campaigns.

When used properly, email marketing can be one of the most cost effective ways to bring customers back to your restaurant again and again.  A little time, a little testing, and a lot of experimenting can turn email into one of your top advertising moneymakers.

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4 Things You Can Learn From Restaurant Chains

4 Things You Can Learn From Restaurant ChainsBig operators like Chili’s, Applebees, The Cheesecake Factory, and others are always looking for ways to improve taste and customer experience while increasing efficiency.  These companies spend a lot of money every year in research and development, and studying the trends that come out of the big chain restaurant’s R&D can be very informative.

Here are four trends on the rise in the food service industry:

1.  Maximizing ingredients. Inventory control is vital to managing what is typically the second largest monthly expense for any restaurant: food.  The more inventory you have, the harder it is to control, and that is the idea behind using the same ingredients in multiple menu items.  That makes purchasing, regulating temperature, and managing First In First Out (FIFO) practices much, much easier.

2. Diversifying menus. Culinary fusion has long been the norm in fine dining, and now this trend has gone mainstream.  American diners have been exposed to a much more diverse range of ethnic foods than ever before, and restaurant chains are bringing in new and exotic flavors and styles because their customers are much more familiar with the world’s cuisine.4 Things You Can Learn From Restaurant Chains

3. Jumping on the gastropub bandwagon. The success over the past two decades of “gastropubs,” or beer pubs that also serve high quality menu items, has grabbed the attention of menu developers for large chains.  It’s also changed customer expectations when they see a menu.  Potatoes, meat, and other standard pub fare isn’t good enough anymore, and many chains have responded by offering an increasingly diverse and higher quality menu selection.

4. Sweet & Spicy and Sweet & Salty. Adding a kick to new menu items has become a popular trend as chefs expand the flavor horizons of their guests with unique combinations.  Contrasting flavor combinations give simple menu items like salads or appetizers a fresh tasting kick.

These trends seem to reveal a food service industry that reflecting the times in which we live: unprecedented globalization and cultural integration has opened the palates of the average American diner, and if a restaurant can bring fresh takes and flavors to classic dishes, that’s a recipe for success.  Of course, figuring out how to do that while managing to keep inventory under strict control is how you make money here.  Finding that balance is any restaurateur’s challenge, and mastering it is the key.

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How To Grow Sales With A Commercial Bar Blender

How To Grow Sales With A Commercial Bar BlenderSummer heat has a way of putting your customers in the mood for cool, refreshing drinks.  You already have the standards covered: cold beer, ice tea, and maybe even margaritas or daiquiris, but are you really satisfying your customer’s demand for great cold drinks?

Mixology is the study and development of cocktails, and it has become an increasingly popular field in the restaurant industry in recent years.  The reason for this is very simple: just like a hit special or entree can bring customers in the door, so can a hit drink, especially if it’s something new or takes a new twist on an old favorite.

Old standbys like margaritas, mojitos, and daiquiris are great, but if you take the time to develop an exciting summer specialty drink menu, you’ll find that customers will be enticed to order.  For example, take 1 part margarita, 1 part sangria, and a healthy scoop of ice and create something your customers have never tried but they’re sure they’ll like.

Exotic and fun new drinks can also create some summer buzz for your restaurant.  Use seasonal fruits and interesting liquor pairings to create blended drinks that really turn heads.  And, of course, not all your specialty drinks have to be alcoholic.  Again, seasonal fruits can make an excellent dessert drink for the kids or blend them with an energy drink for a great pick-me-up.  The possibilities are endless.

Of course, the key to your success when it comes to cool summer drinks is a good commercial bar blender or drink mixer.  Bar blenders can handle high volumes of drinks that require ice, which really is a key ingredient for any summer drink menu.  Drink mixers can’t mix ice, but they can handle large amounts of softer ingredients like ice cream, fruits, etc.

Investing in a quality commercial bar blender is exactly that: an investment with a bit of up-front cost.  But nothing advertises your business like some buzz over a popular specialty drink, and once you’ve got those customers in the door and having a good time, the sales will take care of themselves, as will your investment.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Stay Safe With Alcohol Service Training

Restaurant Management Tips: Stay Safe With Alcohol Service TrainingThe level of liability restaurant managers and owners face in alcohol related incidents can be shockingly high.  Protecting yourself, your staff, and your customers from dangerous alcohol related situations should be a top priority for your business.  And the best way to protect yourself is to make sure your staff is properly trained for alcohol service.  Some tips on how to train your staff:

Be aware of local and state laws.  More than likely you learned the local and state laws that apply to alcohol when you applied for your liquor license.  However, your staff may not be aware of these laws and there may have been changes or amendments since you applied for a license.  Make sure you take the time to educate yourself and your staff on all liquor laws that apply to your establishment.

Create a standardized alcohol service policy.  Set a standard policy and train your staff to follow this policy strictly.  While you will probably need to include some unique clauses for your particular situation, here are some good ideas on what to include:

Train staff to observe patron behavior and identify those who are becoming intoxicated.  Many establishments use a color coded system: green for little or no intoxication, yellow for becoming intoxicated, and red for time to cut off.

Mandate communication between staff, customers, and management.  Staff should know how to communicate your establishment’s alcohol policy to customers.  They should also be encouraged to notify managers of potential problems before they become situations.

Train staff to count drinks and know the difference between alcohol types.  Counting drinks helps avoid problems with patrons who do not exhibit an obvious change in behavior as they become intoxicated.  However, your staff should also know the alcohol content of what they’re serving.  Four domestic beers is very different from four long island ice teas, so make sure your staff knows the difference.

Also train staff to factor in time and food consumption when evaluating the intoxication of a customer.  Four drinks consumed over the course of four hours is much different than four drink consumed in half an hour.  Food, especially fatty or high protein foods, help slow the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, which in turn affects the likely intoxication level of the customer.  Encourage “yellow” intoxicated customers to eat and make sure appetizers or quickly prepared menu items are readily available to drinking customers

Implement strategies to avoid alcohol related situations.  A well trained staff with a clear set of guidelines to follow is the first and most important line of defense in helping you mitigate alcohol liability.  The second line of defense is the implementation of some key strategies that will help you avoid alcohol related problems.  Some examples:

Encourage parties to identify a designated driver and incentivize DD’s by offering free non-alcoholic beverages and appetizers.

Form a good relationship with a reputable cab company and advertise their number for free in your establishment.

Include local police when setting your alcohol service standards and use them as a resource for avoiding and handling alcohol related incidents in your establishment.Restaurant Management Tips: Stay Safe With Alcohol Service Training

How to protect yourself if an incident does occur.  If an alcohol related incident does occur in your establishment, make sure you document as much as you can.  Record eyewitness accounts of what happened and what you and your staff did to control customer intoxication.  This documentation will prove to be worth its weight in gold if litigation arises as a result of an incident connected with your business.

Having clear strategies to control intoxication in your establishment is no longer an optional  policy.  Cases that have been settled in the past five years have shown that you are not only potentially liable for injury that occurs as a result of an alcohol related incident in your establishment but outside it as well, most notably in drunk driving cases.  Such litigation can ruin your business and your life, so taking precautions when serving alcohol is a vital part of operating in the food service industry.

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Boost Sales With A Free Meal

Boost Sales With A Free Meal

The Laguna Grille in Long Island, NY

An increasing number of restaurateurs are looking to boost sagging sales with value-minded deals to lure customers back into their restaurants.  A particularly successful strategy has been employed by the Laguna Grille in Long Island, NY: a “Bailout Program,” which randomly awards free meals to a table per shift.

The ensuing buzz packed his two locations on a recent weekend and generated some great PR in the local press.  Not only do customers feel that you are commiserating with them about the hard economic times, free meal promos also build brand recognition and loyalty, which in turn can boost word-of-mouth marketing.

Denny’s Restaurants has embraced this hot marketing technique fully.  On Super Bowl Sunday the chain announced it would offer a free Grand Slam breakfast to customers from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, February 3.  Denny’s market share has been slipping in the face of intense competition from fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King and breakfast-only chains like IHOP.

The Denny’s gambit was a complete success.  2 million customers showed up for their free Grand Slam, and sales have ticked upward since the promotion.  It was so successful that Denny’s followed up recently with another promotion that gave away a Grand Slam for every one purchased.

There are many ways to creatively apply a free meal campaign to your own restaurant, whether you’re a small independent operator or a mid or large sized chain:

  • Encourage customers to sign up for your email list and randomly select a monthly winner from new signups to receive a free meal
  • Follow Laguna Grille’s example and randomly give away a free meal per shift
  • Give away a free entrée or appetizer in exchange for filling out an online or paper survey and providing an email address
  • Hold “happy hour” specials featuring a buy one, get one free entrée, appetizer, or drink
  • Have customers bring in a down economy related item like a pink slip, stimulus check, or foreclosure notice to receive a free meal

The best way to leverage a free meal offering is to gather some information from your customer while they take advantage of it.  The more you know about your customer, the better you can target them for repeat business in the future.  And the more you build your base, the more likely you are to survive hard times.

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Should You Cut Costs In Payroll?

Should You Cut Costs In Payroll?My recent post, “Missouri Legislature Debates Wage Cuts For Servers” sparked some debate about cutting payroll expenses in your restaurant.  Finding places to cut expenses as revenue falls is never an easy endeavor.  And since labor is almost definitely your number one expense, it’s easy to look there first when considering ways to save money.

There may definitely be some places where labor costs can be reduced, such as cutting back employee hours or eliminating underperforming staff.  All businesses look to their human resources department for cost cuts in tough times.  But be careful here, because cutting labor is a task best left to a scalpel rather than an axe.

That’s because the one thing you need now more than anything else is good customer service.  Actually, you need stellar customer service.  When consumers start cutting back, their expectations of service go up, and the only way to get them to spend at all is to take care of them in every way possible.

Your staff is the best tool you have to make sure every hungry customer that walks through your doors leaves satisfied and full.  If you start cutting back on staff to save money, you could start hurting your chances at increasing future revenue.  Overall morale goes down when people are let go because of hard times rather than performance.  And no matter what, customer service will suffer when you lose experienced staff.

Now is the time to focus on fulfilling the needs of your customers even better than before.  If some staff have been a drag on your operation, by all means cut them now.  But look for other ways to reduce costs before you start cutting quality staff.  Your best customers will appreciate the attention, and hopefully maintain their regular visits to your restaurant.  And new customers will be blown away by your commitment to quality service and hopefully come back, even if times are hard.

While Circuit City isn’t in the food service industry, a lesson can be drawn from their experience.  When sales started declining, Circuit City decided to cut staff as a way to reduce costs and boost profits.  It worked for a while.  But then customers stopped coming in altogether.  Circuit City’s rival Best Buy refused to cut back on customer service, and soon customers were flocking to their stores, not because Best Buy’s prices are better or because they have a better selection, but because Best Buy staff were always there to help.

Circuit City has since declared bankruptcy.  Best Buy may not be breaking any profit records, but they’re still in business, and their customers are happy.  Things could be a lot worse.

What do you think about this issue?  Leave a comment below!

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