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

Advice for Young Chefs by Marc Vetri

marc-vetriThe Huffington Post – Taste  asked the head chef/owner of Vetri, Osteria, Amis and Alla Spina – Marc Vetri, to give advice to young chefs regarding how to aspire in the food service industry. His advice is not only great for those in the back of the house but any profession, really.

Please take your time to read this, I think you will really enjoy!

“When I was young, my house seemed to be the place where all of my high school friends came for advice. My parents just had a way of handling problems that most parents didn’t seem to be able to control. I remember when my friends came over they would always end up asking my parents to weigh in on something. The advice they got was straight talk and usually pretty harsh, but always honest. It wasn’t always what my friends wanted to hear, but it was always what they needed to hear.

It’s funny how life works out since I now find myself in my parents’ role of being an advisor of sorts. I’m at a point in my career–two decades spent in a professional kitchen–where so many young chefs come to me, email me and write letters to me, all seeking advice.

“How do I break into the business?”

“How did you start, and how do you think I should start?”

“What’s a good road to take?”

“How much money should I make?”

While they all want advice, the fact of the matter is that they usually don’t like what they hear. I can usually tell if someone is going to make it in the industry after a couple of minutes with them. So, in order to speed up the process, I thought I would jot down a couple of tidbits that can help a young chef navigate the decision-making process. If you still want to open a restaurant after reading this, I believe that you’ll have a good shot at making it. Here goes!

1.) No one cares about your resume.

I’m not all that interested in knowing that you spent two months picking herbs at Noma, and three months scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush at Alinea. I would prefer to hear that you cooked at a bar for the last three years and can make a medium-rare hamburger like nobody’s business. That’s something I can work with! Nowadays, I never hire anyone without having them spend a couple days with us to see what they’re really all about. So, if you write on your resume that you worked with a butcher for a year, you better be able to butcher an animal!

2.) Don’t worry about what you get paid.

Whatever you think you should make, you’re probably wrong. Go to places where you want to work and wait for an opportunity there. Those are the places that are going to mold you into the chef that you will become. I waited outside Wolfgang Puck’s Granita every day for two weeks until they let me stage there. Then I staged for six weeks until they hired me…for peanuts. But that was my cooking school. It’s where I learned all the basics about cooking and working in a professional kitchen. I went in early without punching in so I could learn to butcher, make stocks and learn ordering. Without that experience, I would not have been able to do any of the things that followed. Going somewhere for the money is ALWAYS a mistake.

3.) Work ethic and attitude is everything.

It’s the only thing that matters. I would take a less knowledgeable cook with a great attitude and work ethic over a talented prodigy with pissy attitude any day of the week. It will always make for a better team at the restaurant. I can’t tell you how many amazing cooks have been through my kitchens and simply have not made the cut because of their attitude. And guess what? Three, four, five years later those cooks are still line cooks. They still complain about how much everybody else sucks around them. If you’re a line cook at 25 and still one at 35, it’s time to look in the mirror. I can guarantee that YOU are the problem not anyone else.

4.) Learn the basics.

I once had a young cook who used to bring in modern Spanish cookbooks because he wanted to make things like mango caviar eggs and chocolate soil. I told him, “Hey, how about you learn how to blanch a goddamn carrot first, cook meat to a correct temperature, clarify a broth and truss a chicken? Once you can do these things then, and only then, should you try to learn these other techniques.” Trust me when I tell you that José Andrés is a master of the basics. You should strive to be one too.

5.) Don’t ever think you’re above learning from anyone.

I learn from my staff as much as they learn from me. And I am inspired by my staff probably more than they are inspired by me. You can never stop learning, and if you think you can’t listen to a busboy or dishwasher in order to learn how to do something better, you’re dead wrong.

6.) If you’re getting into cooking and the restaurant business for the sole reason of just wanting to be on TV, do us all a favor…stop…turn around…and just go away.
TV has done some great things for me and everyone in the business. What I want you to understand is that the successful chefs who are on TV are still chefs first and foremost. It’s in their blood. If TV somehow went away, these guys would still be in their kitchens. They’ve spent years learning our craft, worked their butts off, sacrificed and studied. They deserve to be showing people what eggplant to choose at the supermarket or how to fondle a tomato because they’ve earned that knowledge. In order to make it in this industry you need to LOVE to cook — period. It just won’t work otherwise. It needs to be your life passion and you need to be willing to make many sacrifices for it. If you go into professional cooking because you think it’ll be a fast track to fame and a TV deal, you’re probably not going to make it past your first prep job of peeling four cases of fava beans and cleaning 30 pounds of baby squid.

7.) Don’t get involved in kitchen drama.

There is and will always be talk.

“This guy is making more than this guy.”

“Did you see how much the servers made?”

“That kid just doesn’t pull his/her weight.”

“He made that wrong, but I’m not sayin’ anything.”

“Back of the house is better than front of the house.”

It is all cancerous nonsense. Don’t fall into the trap. Yes, servers make more than you. Yes, a cook who is not as talented as you will make more than you. And yes, people will mess things up and you will notice. Be the person with the good work ethic who can look beyond that and see the big picture. Help others if you realize they’re making something incorrect. Come in early, leave late and be the person that the chef can rely on. You’re in this for your own reasons, stick to them and you will shine.

8.) The best cooks develop their own styles.

You can learn from many people, but the greats take all they have learned and they create dishes that inspire them. Like musicians learn licks from other artists, the great ones develop their own lines. Get inspired by other chefs and other restaurants, but let that be a catalyst for you to create that which inspires you and reflects who you are. Be your authentic self and let your personality come through in your food. It will show in your plates and it will be recognized.

9.) If you follow all of the advice here, then this last one will likely be relevant for you.

People ask me all the time, “Who are the chefs that you most admire?” The most important thing a successful chef can do is teach and give back. Be philanthropic. The chefs who excite me the most are the ones who run solid restaurant organizations and give back to the community. Chefs like Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, John Besh, Suzanne Goin, Paul Kahan and so many others, these chefs spend as much time on charitable work as they do running their restaurants. Support a foundation. Give your time to young people trying to learn. Latch onto a cause that you believe in. It’s not only going to make your life more fulfilled and rich, but it will also make you cook better. I promise you that! I was inspired the most by a little girl named Alex whom I had never met. She inspired me to help her foundation, which inspired me to start my own foundation, which has brought smiles to thousands of children. YOU can make a difference, and in order to be great chef, that’s what you have to do.” – 

Marc Vetri

Marc’s advice has success written all over it. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this article as much as me!

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Share Your Story of Restaurant Mayhem

The United States has faced devastating disasters in the last 10 years that have not only affected families, but businesses too.

  • In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes in recent history, hit the Gulf Coast.  In a 90,000 square mile area,  thousands of local residents were left unemployed and homeless while the death toll rose to more than 1,800 people and the total cost of damage was estimated at $125 billion.
  • Midsummer of 2012 ignited another catastrophic disaster – the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado. This fire was named the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history: killing 2 people, burning 346 homes, forcing an evacuation of 32,000 people and smoldering 18,247 acres.
  • Most recently, Hurricane Sandy aka ‘Frankenstorm’ ripped across the east coast. The death toll has risen to approximately 109 people while 17,500,000 people were affected and an estimated $60 billion in damages (see this compelling Katrina vs. Sandy comparison by the Huffington Post).

Now more than ever, restaurant owners are learning what it means to prepare for a natural disaster – like those aforementioned, as well as the numerous earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and other catastrophic  weather patterns that have devastated our nation. Precautionary steps need to be made for before, during and after an event: building and food care, evacuation plans, support needs, etc. Unfortunately, the lack of available resources to learn more about what this means is few and far between.

Share Your Story

Share Your Story of Restaurant Mayhem
That is why we need you! Your story can be extremely valuable to other restaurant owners, not only in the US, but around the globe…
  • What is it like to live through a natural disaster?
  • What did you do to protect your business?
  • What didn’t you do that you wish you would have done to prevent damage?

We would love the opportunity to hear your story, and in return, your story could be published in our next flyer publication! We send our quarterly flyer to 250K independent restaurant owners nationwide and, of course, you would get the opportunity view the article before it goes to print.

If you are interested please share your restaurant’s mayhem story; we can’t wait to hear your story!

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5 Ways to Grow Your Business Starting Today

Customers are always looking for good food, good service and good value. These 5 business growth tips will help you fill your restaurant, remind existing customers why they love dining at your restaurant and bring in more revenue!

Piggy Bank

  1. Start a Rewards Card Program: Reward cards are a great tool to attract repeat business. This tool allows you to apply  iscounts for repeat visits and add credit based on a percentage of total bill. A simple, economical way to start a rewards program is offer a punch card. If you operate a coffee shop, pizza shop or deli shop punch cards can be an easy way to ensure repeat business.  Example: buy 9 coffees and get the 10th for free!
  2. Host Promotional Nights: Everyone loves a classic burger or taco night at a discounted price. Promotional nights are a free way to give customers something to talk about. Remember to always focus your event around your restaurant theme. If you operate a fine dining establishment make sure the event is classy, if you own a local taco shop make sure the event is family-orientated. Ideas for promotional nights are endless, think of how you can incorporate your local community with your event.
  3. Use Local Farmers & Vendors:  Local farmers, vendors and suppliers are an independent restaurant owner’s friend. Such vendors are always looking for community exposure. Ideas include, offering your restaurant in exchange for reduced costs, a win-Watercolor Bird Thinking about Liking Somethingwin for both parties. Local farmers and vendors imply to your guests a local connection with the surrounding community.
  4. Get Social! Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are perfect promotional outlets for independent restaurant owners. These outlets allow you to announce coupons, promotions reward programs, relationships with local vendors, new menu items and anything else you wish to let your customer base know about. Not to mention these media channels are FREE.
  5. Treat Your Customers Like Gold: Customer service is everything in the food service business. Treating customers well and accommodating their requests are keys to creating repeat business. Customer service also encompasses a clean, inviting and comfortable dining experience.

Remember every restaurant concept is different, if you try one tactic and you don’t see the results you’re expecting try something else. Keeping costs down while marketing a successful business takes time; these tips are things you can start today.

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10 Energy Saving & Compliance Tips For Your Restaurant

Here are suggestions for energy savings and compliance with the Colorado Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations:

1. Ensure efficient door closers for coolers. I frequently observe cooks open doors on line coolers and the doors are left standing open until someone thinks to kick them closed. What a waste of cold air and increased compressor run time! It equals $$ lost, plus foods can warm up above 41 F.

PDT3002. Obtain and use the Comark PDT-300 thermometer. The regulations require a thin probe thermometer if you serve “thin foods” such as patties. I use it, it is NSF approved, and in my opinion, it is the best one for the money.

3. Use overhead glass hangers for 3-compartment sinks if drain board space is lacking. The regulations specifically allow for “alternative methods” for drying in lieu of drain boards.

4. Use metal pans, instead of plastic, for prep table coolers. Metal is superior in heat conduction and will REALLY help your foods stay at 41 F or below, which is required.Metal Pans

5. Ensure tight fitting pivot lids on prep table coolers. If yours have gaps or are loose fitting, this allows warm air in, energy $$ are lost, and foods can warm up above 41 F.

6. Be aware that due to the increased emphasis on hand washing and the prohibition of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food, it is more and more common for additional hand sinks to be required, especially in existing facilities. The smaller modular hand sinks with integrated splash guards are a great and relatively inexpensive solution.


7. Use nail brushes…although they are not required, clean fingernails are required.  I know of no other way to clean under nails than with a brush.

8. Purchase color codedutensils.  They are a great way, if used properly, to separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods, preventing cross contamination. They are a convenient, easy for non-English speaking employees to comprehend, and easy for managers to verify their proper use by employees.

9. Install additional shelving in your walk-in cooler.  Step back and look at your shelves and the food containers on them.  Do you have unused vertical space?  Get the most out of your walk-in!

10. Use walk-in cooler curtains.  They help maintain the temperature of foods in the walk-in and result in $$ savings in energy costs.

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6 Key Elements that Make a Strong Brand

When you hear the word brand, what do you think of?

Maybe BMW or Google comes to mind. Others may envision Wal-Mart or Coca-Cola. People all over the world would recognize these brands after just a glimpse and immediately associate it with past experiences. For BMW many people think of luxury and fine automobiles; while for Wal-Mart discounts and enormous retail stores comes to mind.

A brand is a promise. It’s a consistent message to the consumer about what the company does, how they do it and why they do it. This message should be so clear and obvious to the public that just seeing a logo or a sign will immediately provoke specific thoughts and emotions connected with the company.

Branding is a very important step along the path to success for any business. No business is too small for branding. Creating a unique and consistent experience for customers every time they visit the business will keep your loyal customers coming back and also attract new customers. A brand provides a sense of security to consumers; it’s comforting to know what you will get from a business every time, no matter what.Chipotle Logo

Branding is especially important for restaurants. A strong restaurant brand can build a loyal customer base that a company can rely on. One of the best examples of a strong restaurant brand is Chipotle. Chipotle has built a brand that stands for organic, quality ingredients. This is clear every step of the way. The name Chipotle refers to a jalapeno pepper, the company’s tagline is food with integrity, the ingredients are in clear view for diners and even the bag is covered in text about the quality ingredients. Chipotle has many devoted customers and some of them can absolutely be attributed to the strength of the restaurant’s brand.

Establishing a strong brand is a process and takes time to be successfully completed. Before any branding can begin the company needs to set a clear message from which the brand will be based. Remember this message is a promise to customers about what to expect when dealing with the company at any point in the future. Once this message is clear, branding can begin. A company’s brand should be evident during every aspect of a customers experience with that company.

Business Name

In most situations a business’ name is the first piece of branding a customer is exposed to. The business name in most cases will become the most recognizable piece of the branding strategy. The name needs to logically correspond with the desired brand.


A logo is another extremely visible part of your branding campaign. This design should be symbolic of the company’s overall message or theme that has inspired the brand. The keys to having a great logo are consistency and awareness. This decal should be easily recognizable by customers so that just catching a glimpse of it will remind them of your business.

Color Scheme

It is important to pick the appropriate color combination for your brand to help set the mood and feeling that customers experience during every visit. Different colors have different effects on people. For instance, many restaurant chains utilize warm colors (red, orange, yellow) because they are known to stimulate hunger. Choosing a color scheme gives you the opportunity to influence what customers will feel when walking through your restaurant’s door.

Server in UniformUniforms

Uniforms add to the customer experience and a brand’s consistent presentation in two ways. First, uniforms add to the brand’s presentation simply because all of the employees are dressed in company designed clothing that complement the restaurant’s atmosphere. A dress code also positively impacts workers’ attitudes. Marilyn Schlossbach , principal partner of Kitschens Hospitality Group, says, “Being in uniform puts you in a frame of mind of being at work and getting into the role for your theater production.” The theater production is employees playing their role and doing their part in the effort of presenting the brand in a positive fashion.


A good slogan is something a company can hang their hat on. This is a brief message that sums up the company’s mission in a few words. A good tagline must be original and creatively specific to the company. Some good examples of successful slogans are:

•    Nike-Just Do It.
•    Wendy’s-Where’s the beef?
•    M&M Candies-Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Customer Experience

The final and most important element is customer experience. This includes the way the food is cooked, how customers are greeted at the entrance, average time they have to wait and every other experience they have while at the restaurant. This experience needs to be consistent every time the customer is in the restaurant. This will make customers more comfortable visiting your restaurant because they know what to expect each time they come in.

A superior branding strategy has to be unique and consistent. Straying away from the overall theme or message at any point in the process can result in a weaker brand. Maintaining a strong cohesive brand throughout all company media elements will give your restaurant an advantage and set it apart from the competition.

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Not Your Typical Concession Stand

Who doesn’t love a good concession stand? Whether you’re at a baseball game, fair, carnival or concert, concession stands are a must. People expect to see concession stands at events and probably salivate like Pavlov’s dog over the classic staples for hours leading up to their arrival. Hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, soft pretzels, sno-cones, cotton candy, you name it, these tasty goods are exactly what a concession stand is all about! Here are some concession stand recipes with a twist that will take your customer’s taste buds on a while ride.

Grilled Hot Dog with Mango Chutney and Red Onion Relish

1 (9-ounce) jar mango chutney (such as Major Grey’s), any large pieces chopped
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard plus additional for serving
8 beef hot dogs
8 hot dog buns, opened

Directions: Mix chutney, onion, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon mustard in bowl. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill hot dogs and buns until heated through and grill marks form, 2 to 3 minutes per side for hot dogs and about 1 minute per side for buns. Transfer buns to plate. Place 1 hot dog in each bun. Add mustard and relish; serve.

Walking Tacos

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 little sweet peppers or 1 green and 1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 Cup Salsa
1 small can tomato paste
1 Cup warm water
3 cans of beans, drained (black, pinto and red kidney)
1 can black olives sliced
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Pinch of Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and garlic salt (to taste)
1/2 Cup fresh chopped cilantro
Bags of Fritos or Doritos
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Jalapenos or green onions

Directions: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté onion and peppers for 5 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add ground beef, salt and pepper. Cook until browned. Drain if needed. Pour in tomatoes, salsa, and tomato paste then stir to combine. Add 1 Cup warm water to thin out slightly then add in beans, olives, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, lime juice, salt, pepper and garlic salt. Start with a pinch and continue to add salt to your liking. Add chopped cilantro and reduce heat to low to simmer until ready to serve. When ready, open bags of Fritos or Doritos. Spoon in chili, cheese, sour cream and jalapenos. Stick a fork in it and eat!!

Mango Strawberry Snow Cones

2 mangoes, peeled and chopped
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 lime juiced, plus wedges for garnish

Directions: Fill a food processor with ice. Process until the ice is very fine, like snow. Add the mangoes and strawberries and pulse to blend. Pile the crushed ice into dessert glasses or dishes and squeeze over the lime juice. Garnish with lime wedges; serve immediately.

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E.M.P.L.O.Y.E.E.: How to Spell Hired in the Restaurant Industry

Any restaurateur knows that hiring the wrong employee can be very costly for business. Not only will a bad employee cost you literally, by spending the money to hire and train them and the employee that eventually replaces them, but the level of work they bring to the table in your restaurant can also be very costly. While employed this problem employee is representing your business to the public. This can be more costly than the money spent to hire and train them because your company may lose current or potential customers as a result of the poor customer service.

Waitress with trayThis makes employee interviews and knowing how to recognize a good worker when you see one an important skill for a restaurateur to master. This skill does not come easy; people can seem like a very capable candidate in an interview and turn out to be a below average employee after they are hired.

Before starting an interview it is always important to be prepared. First thing to do before an interview is know exactly what characteristics and experience you are looking for in a potential candidate. Setting a clear list of required skills and work experience will help you judge the candidates and find the ideal employee. Also, before the interviews, review each candidate’s resume carefully and form a list of questions for each one. It is important to ask open-ended questions that require the candidate to do most of the talking. This will give you a better insight into the person’s personality and work history. Some key questions are asking them to describe previous jobs, how they preformed and why they left.

It is not always easy to identify a good candidate in an interview but there are a few personality traits to look for that can indicate a good restaurant worker. The characteristics of a successful restaurant worker can be outlined by the acronym: E.M.P.L.O.Y.E.E.


When working in a restaurant atmosphere it’s always important for an employee to be engaged with their work and the customers they are serving. This means that they are always focused on the task at hand and are ready and capable to handle any problem that may arise. A good way to test if a job candidate possesses this quality is to judge the way they carry themselves in the interview, an engaged person will not only give you their full attention but also capture yours with their answers.  Also talk with past employers to get a feel for if this characteristic was evident in their past working experiences. This includes being engaging with customers who come into the restaurant by being able to interact with them and keep them comfortable and satisfied throughout their visit


Many workers in the restaurant industry are students and young adults. This demographic can be tricky to judge and manage in a work environment. If you aren’t careful it can be very easy to hireMature looking waitress someone in this age group that simply is not mature enough to thrive or even survive in a work environment. An employee like this can be very toxic to a restaurant’s work environment.  An immature employee will struggle to carry themselves in a professional matter when dealing with coworkers and customers which will hurt customer service and staff teamwork. This may be the easiest personality trait to identify in an interview by judging the way they carry them self and looking at the quality and importance of their prior responsibilities.


Attitude is contagious in a work environment. The way one employee carries them self in the restaurant affects the attitude and work ethic of the staff around them. For example, if an employee is constantly complaining it will bring down the morale of the whole team and negatively affects productivity. And the opposite is true as well; a positive attitude can raise the staff to another level. This personality trait will be evident in the interview and when checking on past work experience.


Having leaders on a restaurant staff is crucial. It is important for staff members to know what they need to do at all times and be willing to take the initiative when they know something needs to be done. An employee that always needs to be told what to do and needs help with simple tasks is not a very productive employee. Leadership skills will be evident when looking at a person’s extracurricular activities and other tasks that they have voluntarily taken on.


Being well organized in any professional setting is crucial to an employee’s success. In a restaurant this skill is paramount. A restaurant worker needs to be organized in order to stay on top of incoming orders and customer requests. An unorganized restaurant staff can be a big headache for a restaurant manager. A well-organized candidate will be very easy to spot. A well put together resume and appearance are good indications of this skill.

Yes Sir”

A restaurant employee must be able to take orders from managers, customers or anyone else in a position of power without resistance. This is especially important when dealing with customers. In the restaurant industry the customer is always right; even if they really aren’t. When customer makes an employee aware of a mistake that has been made it is that employee’s job to accept the complaint, admit they made a mistake, apologize to the diner and immediately fix the mistake. Many people struggle with this and it can be very detrimental to customer service if an employee can’t swallow their pride and fix the problem. This characteristic may be hard to spot in an interview but can be verified by checking with the candidates past employees.


Woman holding a hired signAs stated before jobs in the restaurant industry are demanding. Restaurants are fast paced environments where timeliness and quality of the product being served are very important and is commonly how a restaurant gains an advantage over the competition. Employees must be able to complete tasks quickly and without mistakes. Efficient employees help the business run smoothly and make up for the inefficiencies of others on the staff. This is another trait that will be obvious upon contacting the candidate’s references.


The last but absolutely not the least important trait is energetic. Having energy in the work place can be contagious just like attitude. One employee’s level of energy can either bring others down or raise them to new heights. An energetic candidate will bring energy and great work ethic to your restaurant and help to positively influence workers around them. Energetic people will obviously bring energy to the interview and come across as extremely active on their resume.

These are in no way set in stone as qualities that every good employee must possess, but this is a good place to start when judging the quality of a job candidate. Some potential employees may be very well organized but not possess any leadership skills or they may be highly energetic and not as efficient. These types of candidates can still be highly successful but combining all of the qualities together should describe the ideal employee.

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How To Earn a Passing Grade on Food & Health Inspection

Restaurateurs have a lot on their plate; hiring and training employees, attracting new customers, providing quality ingredients, keeping diners happy, treating workers well to start, but the list never ends. On top of all this these businesses must also make sure that their restaurant can pass a health inspection with flying colors.

Restaurant owners know this is harder than it sounds. It is well known in the industry that inspection requirements and transparency differ by state, county or even city. Different parts of the country grade on different scales with different requirements that need to be met.

Health departments across the country are also making these inspection scores more visible to the public. Health scores are revealed in the newspaper, online or are even required to be posted in the front window of a restaurant in some cities.

Restaurateurs must be educated and completely aware of their jurisdiction’s health codes and inspection policies in order to protect their business from the wrath of a bad inspection score.

Health inspections focus on food temperatures, food handling, employee hygiene, facility maintenance and pest and rodent control. A restaurant can receive a low grade for anything from food cross contamination to missing ceiling tiles to cockroaches.

Restaurant health inspections can be a good thing or a very bad thing for a business depending on how its operation is run. With the public’s heightened interest in good food with quality ingredients health inspections are as important now as they have ever been. A couple good or bad reviews could quickly swing consumer opinion on a restaurant and affect its business.

A new restaurant grading system was implemented in New York City in July 2010. This grading system requires restaurants to post their health inspection grades in the front window of the business. This makes receiving a good grade that much more important for restaurant owners.

The problem is some of the cooking requirements in the health code are hard for cooks to work with while still trying to maintain good tasting food. These cooking requirements indicate temperatures at which food must be stored and served at. Some temperature requirements go against decades of cooking practices.

Table d’Hote, a French Bistro in New York City, serves a country-style terrine that is best served at room temperature to give the dish a soft texture. The city’s health code requires the restaurant to serve terrine frozen, which William Knapp, the restaurant’s owner, knows is not appetizing. He says serving the dish according to regulations, “just not a satisfying experience for our customers.” Even though Knapp knows the dish is not the same, he is forced to serve it this way in order to avoid a 7 point violation that would bring his restaurant’s health inspection score down to a B.

Other restaurant owners risk violations for the sake of better tasting food. Some chefs decide that some requirements are not completely necessary and decide to ignore them in favor of their own discretion on what is safe. An example of this is a chef allowing steak or poultry to reach room temperature before throwing them into the pan. The city requires them to begin cooking these meats while they are still frozen. This is something that people do while cooking at home and doesn’t seem like a serious infraction but could actually drop a restaurant’s grade down a letter or even two and greatly affect the business’ public image.

One way to avoid health regulations and prepare a dish in a different way is by customer request. If a diner requests a meal be prepared outside of health department regulations, only then can the restaurant disregard regulations.

There are a few ways restaurateurs can help induce these requests from customers:

  • Train servers to inform customers about the regulations and how they changed the traditional cooking method
  • Add a note below menu items that are prepared differently because of health inspections
  • Post a list of health regulations somewhere in the restaurant to spread awareness on the issue

The key for restaurateurs in the case of health inspections is to be aware of your jurisdiction’s requirements. This can be done by simply doing some online research about your state’s health inspection guidelines. These requirements vary by region and can be altered when deemed necessary. Knowing what is required is the first step toward meeting all of your health department’s guidelines. With public awareness on the issue at an all-time high a good score is all the more important.

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Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 3

By Jay Fiske, VP of Business Development & Jason Roeder, Director of Energy Products & Services, Powerhouse Dynamics

Last week, we continued our discussion on the critical questions that need to be addressed in order for a business to extract the maximum value from their investment in an energy management system:

•    Who should be involved in the use of these systems?
•    Where are the opportunities for saving money?
•    When should the customer expect to reap savings?

In last week’s post, we focused on the second question.  In this third and final post, we will focus on the last question:

When should the customer expect to achieve savings?

A system to help manage energy costs is just like any other business tool or system in that it requires: some effort to set up, some effort to get people trained and using it, and a time period over which the system moves from “new and different” to “how we do things.”  In this way the benefits from the system build over time rather than arriving all at once.

To be successful, the improvement of business processes that an energy management system can drive should be laid out in advance and approached at a reasonable pace. None of this is to say that implementing a modern energy management system is difficult – it is not.  But expecting your next month’s utility bill to magically go down by 20% is a recipe for disappointment. Like any “project”, some project management is required to maximize the benefits available.  Here is a sample deployment schedule, or project plan, for a modern energy management system.

Months 1-2: Training + Baseline data

During the first two months after an installation, an energy management system will gather baseline data on the magnitude of energy consumption and energy consumption patterns for each circuit in a restaurant.  This data characterizes “as-is” operations and equipment performance and will be the basis for identifying operational and equipment performance improvement opportunities.

In addition, all parties involved in the use of the energy management platform should be trained and become familiar with the use of the system during this period.

Months 2-6: Tune Daily Operations

By viewing energy consumption patterns, management can identify the “low-hanging fruit” opportunities for recapturing lost profits from relatively easy operational changes.  The low-hanging fruit opportunities include analyzing off-hours energy consumption and taking corrective action to ensure equipment is running only when it needs to be.

Initial opportunities for savings also include updating thermostat programming for more effective use of HVAC systems.

For those companies managing a portfolio of restaurants, the baseline data will enable benchmarking of their facilities.  Which restaurants have the best practices in terms of energy use?  Where are the worst practices?  Which functional areas (e.g., HVAC, refrigeration, lighting, etc.) are driving the biggest problems?  Through benchmarking, management will be able to prioritize which restaurants represent the largest opportunities for savings and can focus their efforts accordingly.

In order to sustain the operational improvements established during the first phases of an energy management system implementation, restaurant management can implement energy cost controls.  These controls can include establishing or updating opening and closing procedures for each store, establishing or reinforcing temperature set point on thermostats, and training staff in any changes.

In addition, the energy management system can be configured for email or text alerts that can be sent out to reinforce proper hours of operation of critical equipment.

Months 4-6: Identify Underperforming Equipment

In parallel with implementing new or enhanced energy cost controls and operational improvements, management will be able to identify problematic equipment during this period.  An energy management system can tag equipment exhibiting problematic energy consumption patterns (e.g., a roof-top unit short cycling, or a refrigeration compressor running continuously) and alert the facilities/maintenance team accordingly.

With this information, the facilities/maintenance team can revise equipment maintenance schedules and establish equipment alerts to highlight under-performing assets.

Month 7: Project Review

During the seventh month of deployment, it is very useful to schedule a review of the energy management system implementation to ensure all appropriate management feedback loops are in place, celebrate successes, and to reinforce areas that need improvement.
Months 9-12: Assess Equipment Upgrades

Some energy management systems can measure the exact cost of running a piece of equipment.  Based on the data collected during the first six months of implementation, is there a case for upgrading equipment to more energy efficient models?  What is the real-world performance of the EnergySTAR refrigeration equipment, HVAC equipment, and lighting in which you’ve already invested?  Just how costly is that “old dog” equipment that you know needs to be replaced sooner or later?  Which equipment should we use in our soon-to-be constructed new restaurant?

By providing actual run-time costs, an energy management system can give management the data it needs to tackle these questions.  Rather than projecting the ROI for replacing a piece of equipment using estimates of its energy consumption, one can now use the facts for how much energy the equipment uses now, which reduces the risk of not achieving your ROI.

Months 7 – Onward: Ongoing Daily Operations & Equipment Performance Management

Studies have shown that in the absence of active energy management, buildings can lose up to 80% of energy efficiency gains achieved via audits or retro-commissioning within the first two years after efficiency measures have been implemented.  This so-called “energy drift” can be prevented by incorporating an energy management system into ongoing operational practices in restaurants.  In the same way restaurants have systems for tracking inventory and labor costs, it is now possible to track and improve energy cost performance.

In addition to making sure all the operational and equipment improvements implemented during the first 6 months are continuing to be effective, restaurant management teams should consider implementing longer lead-time changes in broader operating policies that can save energy.  Examples of this type of business optimization include water vs. chemical sanitation, the sequence of food preparation that determines how much food warming is required, or the re-balancing of HVAC systems.

Also, it is critical to verify savings from new maintenance and / or capital equipment upgrades.  Has new equipment performed according to spec?  Are the equipment upgrades delivering their anticipated savings?  Are the service providers delivering improved maintenance and therefore equipment performance?

Finally, an energy management system can deliver on-going analysis that can help prevent catastrophic failure of critical equipment through early detection of abnormal energy consumption patterns, which can often indicate problems with equipment.


Before implementing an energy management system, it’s important that you have a plan which clearly articulates who should be involved in the use of the system, how the tool will be used to save money, and when you should expect to reap benefits from the use of the system.

With a modest amount of planning, an energy management platform can be a powerful tool for boosting profits in restaurants by cutting energy consumption and improving the performance of critical equipment.  By bringing visibility to what has historically been an invisible cost for restaurants, it is finally possible to move energy from an “uncontrollable” cost to a “controllable” cost.

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4 Ways to Improve Restaurant Training

There are some fantastic training programs and trainers working in the industry. At most restaurants though, training is squeezed in with other daily activities because of the urgent demands of operating a restaurant.  This is the nature of the industry.  Because of this, there is room to improve restaurant training.

Well into my tenure as a waiter, I realized that most of what I know about waiting tables I did not learn during formal training.  Because of this, I started writing down ideas about improving restaurant training, particularly for front of the house service.

Invest Resources in Training   

You must exhaust resources to improve training: time and energy.  Should one of your restaurants goals be to improve training, consider increasing that time by a reasonable amount.  If training is 2% of your activity, consider making it 3-4%.

Focus on the Trainee    

The focus on restaurant training is about the material and tasks that need to be learned. And for good reason.  Chances are, training will not be successful if the trainee determines what is and is not important.  However, failure to properly engage the trainee or tailor the program to their needs could render training ineffective.  Good trainers are skilled in adapting the training to meet the trainee’s needs and being able to assess progress during the training process.  If your program’s and/or trainer’s approach is always the same with everyone, you may not be getting the most out of training.

Two things need to be assessed before training begins.  First, you must assess the trainee’s experience level.  This helps determine the pace of training and expectations of the trainee.     Someone with no experience needs to be handled differently than someone with over three years experience.

If possible, find out how the trainee learns best.  Most of restaurant training is hands on, and in order for the trainee to be successful, they will need to actively participate.  However, when dealing with menus, wine lists and POS systems, a trainee’s ability to learn along with their learning style becomes very important.  A good training program will allow visual, auditory and hands-on learners equal opportunity to grasp the material.

Be Selective in Choosing Trainers    

Selecting restaurant trainers is a tricky task.  A trainer is an ambassador within the organization. There is pressure and responsibility in choosing them.

The most important criteria for being a trainer are simple.  First and foremost, a trainer must set a good example.  This is not the only qualification, but it is the most important one. There are top performers and effective employees who do not represent a picture perfect example of the textbook way to do things. They may not be the best selection for a training role.  By contrast, you may have someone who may not rank at the top of the list for sales or work in the best sections, but is a picture perfect example of how to do the job.  That candidate could be the better choice.   For trainers, execution is important, but so are ideals.

Also remember, a trainer is a mentor.  Once you have identified a candidate’s ability to represent your organization then consider their ability to teach and mentor.  These skills are vital.  The pedigree of a top performer and a mentor do not always intersect.  Are your trainers actually willing to teach?   If they are not, do not select them.

Also remember, training may end, but the learning process continues.  During their early tenure, a new employee will continue to ask questions.  And they will ask people whom they feel comfortable asking.  There is a good chance they will approach the trainers first.  They will also look for help from the official or unofficial leaders in your restaurant. Ideally, your trainers set a good example, teach and mentor, and have the respect of the entire team.  Should you select approachable people who are perceived leaders within your ranks, you increase the chances of success with your training and development efforts.

Add Continuous Training and Coaching  

Most of what I learned about waiting tables took place after training was over.  Even with great training, this will likely be the same for most trainees. Development must be treated as part of the training process.

First and foremost, wisely use pre-shift meetings. These are great opportunities to communicate knowledge and best practices and further develop your employees.  Another function of pre-shift meetings is for briefings and when needed lecturing.  Only managers and owners can decide the content and structure of a pre-shift meeting.  Nonetheless, the opportunity to train and develop is there.

Another way to ensure employees develop is to evaluate them.  While I see a fair amount of in the moment coaching, I see very little in the way of formal evaluations.  Again, I understand the many demands in operating a restaurant.  However, simple evaluations can go a long way in reinforcing policies and best practices and improving performance.   Consider what’s important to you and your team and give your staff feedback on those criteria.

A third way to improve development is to have periodic meetings and training sessions.   Typically these are held before or after hours and are longer than pre-shift meetings.  These present great opportunities to train.  However, scheduling and attendance can be issues.  Also, everyone can relate to attending meetings that seem like a waste of time.  Regular pre-shift meetings have potential to be more effective.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has more than 6 years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is Writer, Salesman, Waiter.

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