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Archive | Restaurant Trends and News

Keep up to date on restaurant and food service industry news and trends, from serious analysis to more lighthearted fare.

Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comeback

Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comeback

The Good Ol’ Potato

Everyone remembers the bad rap potatoes got when the Atkins Diet was at its peak – too many carbs meant the potato should be avoided at all costs.  But times, and attitudes, have changed as more and more people realize diets are less about all protein and more about making healthy food choices.

Potatoes have zero sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and at only 110 calories per serving are a very healthy option, as long as you have the discipline to stay away from too many toppings like sour cream and cheese.

8 out of 10 people eat potatoes of some kind almost four times every two weeks, and that number has definitely risen since the ebb of the Atkins craze.  More and more quick service and casual dining establishments are adding or revamping their potato offerings – and the result has been solid sales.

While traditional toppings are still the crowd favorite, especially in winter Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comebackmonths when comfort foods are the most popular, more and more restaurants are getting creative with their potato offerings with positive results.

Some examples include treating the potato as two halves of a sandwich – and filling the middle with tried and true crowd favorites like club sandwich ingredients.  Others allow you to build your own topping combination from the existing salad bar for some very tasty, personalized results.

Even some upscale places are getting in on the potato revival, with interesting and very delectable concoctions with shitake mushrooms, feta cheese, shallots, and skirt steak.

Going back to an old standby in tough times is comforting for your customer, and could also be comforting for your bottom line as restaurateurs all over look for creative ways to survive.  The traditional appeal of the potato doesn’t require any additional work on your part.

The best part is you don’t need special restaurant equipment to prepare great potato dishes.  Reminding the customer how healthy and tasty potatoes really are, and coming up with some great creative toppings to compliment old favorites is a great way to add value to your menu.

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Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

Crocs Shoes have become an internationally recognized name in footwear in a very short amount of time.  That’s due to the non-slip, comfortable, and convenient universal usability of the original Croc.  The Boulder, CO company has built upon this success by developing several new styles made specifically for the food service industry.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Bistro

Crocs universal styles include the Bistro and the Velocity, two shoes built with the food service industry in mind.  These shoes are built for roomy comfort and feature non-slip soles, arch support, and anti-microbial material.  The sole molds to the shape of your foot for a personalized fit and makes it easy to be on your feet all day.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Velocity

Some people have complained these Crocs are not very breathable and can get too hot, especially in the kitchen.  In general, however, the response from food service professionals in both the front and back of the house has been very good.

Crocs has followed up the release of the Bistro and the Velocity with two styles designed specifically for women in the food service industry: the Ginger and the Saffron.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Ginger

The Ginger has a two inch wedge heel for style and comfort, plus all the great features of normal Crocs including non-slip soles, customized comfort, and tough durability.

The Saffron is a tasteful take on the classic Crocs shoe Mary Jane, and also retains core features including non-slip soles, roomy comfort, and tough durability.

Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

The Crocs Saffron

The Saffron and the Ginger are fairly new to the market and do not have many reviews written about them (at least not that I could find), so if you have worn any of these Crocs shoes in a food service job, leave a comment below and let us know how you like (or dislike) them!

Check out more restaurant supplies here.

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Yelp Has Restaurant Owners Suspicious

The online restaurant review site Yelp has become increasingly suspicious to the small business owners who the site supposedly supports.  The website is based in San Francisco, where it is also the most popular, although Yelp does post reviews about restaurants in 24 cities across the United States.

Restaurant and small business owners in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York have complained that Yelp employees use bad reviews as a way to cajole them into becoming a sponsor of the site, which costs anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month.

Many owners have reported receiving repeated phone calls from Yelp representatives, particularly after a couple bad reviews appeared on the site’s entry for the owner’s business.

Since it is known that Yelp employees and third party contractors hired by the company have written reviews for the site, suspicion runs high among restaurateurs that Yelp is posting bad reviews as a way to get them to sign on for the monthly sponsorship fee.

For its part, Yelp denies manipulating bad reviews as a sales technique.  But the main problem is that the review ranking system on the site isn’t transparent.  Nobody really knows how Yelp decides which reviews go to the top of an entry on the site.  Sponsors paying the monthly fee are able to decide which reviews appear in the top 5, and this is the primary motivation for them to sign up.

But restaurants that refuse to shell out the money and have many positive reviews seem to be dogged by unfair reviews that consistently appear at the top of their Yelp entry.

Others pay the money, but only because they feel they have no other option to preventing bad publicity.  This is especially true in San Francisco, where Yelp is used by a majority of customers searching for restaurants and other service based businesses in the city.

One popular San Francisco restaurant, Delfino’s Pizza, has fought back by taking some of the more ridiculous negative reviews posted to their Yelp entry and printing them on T-shirts that staff wear while at work.

This subversive tactic has stimulated some good response from customers, and it raised another question about the site: how much do anonymous, unqualified reviews help or hurt a small business?

Either way, Yelp clearly has a customer relations problem, which they have begun addressing in earnest on their blog.  It remains to be seen if Yelp will be seen as a valuable asset or an annoying liability to the small businesses it covers.

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Time To Move the Beef!

Time To Move the Beef!

Prime beef cut prices are at 7 year lows!

Some restaurateurs are taking advantage of a 7 year low in choice and prime beef to offer their customers some great values on more expensive beef cuts like sirloin, T-bones, and ribeyes.

As consumer spending has ground to a halt, expensive cuts of beef have languished while affordable options like hamburger have continued to sell at a brisk pace.  Hamburger prices remain the same, but the oversupply of prime cuts has driven their price down.

Adding to the oversupply is the increased quality of cattle coming to market.  This is because prices on the hoof have stagnated, so ranchers tend to keep cattle longer hoping for a better price, and the older the cow, the more likely it is to qualify as choice or prime.

With top cuts selling at 2002 prices, restaurants have a unique window of opportunity to draw customers in with a great value on prime beef.  Beef prices typically tend to rise in the spring as supply falls, and then again as the residential grilling season heats up.

Still, prices on prime cuts of beef should stay relatively low for about another six months as consumers continue to avoid more expensive meats.

This means restaurants can continue to take advantage of good prices and move some quality beef.

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Insects: Cuisine of the Future?

Entomophagy is the human consumption of insects of any kind.  Before you recoil in horror, consider a few interesting facts about eating insects:

1,700 different insect species are eaten in 113 countries across the globe.  Scientists note that insects are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats as well as other key vitamins and minerals.

In fact, there is significant evidence that early humans relied on insects as a major part of their diet, since hunting larger mammals was very difficult and could not be relied on as a consistent food source.  It appears early humans ate ants, bee and silkworm larvae, and even lice.

Some have even suggested that entomophagy be reintroduced to Western culture.  Insects are much more efficient to produce in large numbers than traditional protein sources like cattle, pigs, and poultry, and in many cases the nutritional value of insects is far better.

From a sustainability standpoint, it can be argued that as climate change starts affecting human agricultural capabilities, particularly in world breadbaskets like the midwestern United States and continental Europe, raising insects for food might become an unavoidable reality.

The biggest challenge is figuring out ways to prepare insects that don’t force the people eating them to deal with buggy eyes, spindly legs, and hairy antennae.

Some pretty tasty recipes (well, depending on your perspective) can be found on the Clemson entomology department’s website, including mealworm spaghetti, bee grubs in coconut cream, and grasshopper fritters.

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Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?

Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?As social media matures and becomes one of the leading elements of Web 2.0, business owners, including those in the food service industry, have started to look for ways to engage customers through sites like MySpace and Facebook.

But just how effective is it to make a Facebook page for your restaurant?

Dunkin’ Donuts launched a two-day Facebook event recently that allowed fans to weigh in on the national chain’s new line of healthy menu options, including bagels, lite specialty coffees, and healthy breakfast sandwiches.

The purpose was to engage customers, boost email signups for Dunkin’ Perks, which runs promos for local markets and reinforces national Dunkin’ Donuts messaging, and get feedback on new items.

Their Facebook page has been up for a year and Dunkin’ has 370,000 fans.  They won’t reveal how many people are on the Perks email list, but it’s at least that many.

Those are some pretty impressive numbers.  Independent restaurants are starting to get in the game as well, with more and more pages popping up for local eateries across the nation.

So are sales going to go up the minute your Facebook profile goes up?

Well, maybe, maybe not, but the bottom line is having a profile definitely can’t hurt you, and may very well help.  If you don’t start bringing in loads of new customers, you’ll at least improve retention among existing ones.

That’s because you can easily keep a conversation going with loyal customers through social media like Facebook.  A Facebook profile can be a great way to collect information about your customers and get feedback about your restaurant.  You can leverage this information to connect with customers in new ways and expand your email marketing and other campaigns.

You’ll also have a direct way to find out what’s wrong with your establishment and what needs fixing.

And as your restaurant’s Facebook page gains popularity and fans, more people are bound to find out about you as friends of your friends end up on your Facebook page.  This form of marketing is still in its infancy and remains an inexact science.

The beauty is that Facebook costs nothing but your time, and at that price a little experimental marketing is too cheap to avoid.

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Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake is usually associated with sushi, but not anymore

Sake is fermented from rice and lies somewhere between beer and wine as an alcoholic beverage.  It’s popularity has grown in the U.S., and this has mostly been the result of the growth of sushi in popularity.

In fact, most people would never think about ordering sake if they weren’t eating Japanese cuisine.

Well, that’s changing, and fast.  The introduction of premium sakes into the American market has given birth to a group of sake connoisseurs across the U.S., and as more people learn about sake, the more this trend is going to grow.

The heated sake you’re used to having at your favorite Asian restaurant is actually the bottom of the barrel in the sake world, like ordering one of those gallon jugs of E&J Gallo wine.  Sake is heated to mask impurities and poor flavor.

Good sake should be served at room temperature or even slightly chilled, depending on the brewer’s recommendation.

Premium sake also varies widely in taste, and like wine, ranges from sweet to dry.  And more and more Americans are discovering that good sake can be enjoyed with a variety of cuisine, not just Asian food.

It’s become a hot trend in fine dining restaurants from Seattle to Minneapolis to New York, and as consumers become more educated, the market for premium sake is going to continue to grow.

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Premium sake is like a fine wine and there are even different types of sake associated with different regions in Japan!

Sake has been around for thousands of years, but the brewing process for premium sake was only developed about 30 years ago, when technological advances allowed Japanese brewers to achieve new purity levels in the milled rice, water, and other ingredients of sake.

This, combined with an advanced brewing process, led to a blossoming of complex flavors in the new generation of sake.  This range of flavors means that sake can now be enjoyed with a variety of foods, just like wine.  And, like wine, different regions produce different types of sake, from light, dry offerings that pair well with fish to rich, darker varieties for meats and heavier meals.

If you’re considering buying some premium sake for your restaurant, here’s a couple tips to keep in mind:

If at all possible, taste the sake first.  Look for balance in taste.  Sake can range from sweet to dry, but no matter what, it should have balance and smooth drinkability.  Harsh or artificial flavor is a sure sign of poor quality.

Look for color.  Most premium sakes will have a light amber or golden color.  Clear sake can also be good, but typically clearness indicates too much filtration, which tends to rob the sake of its flavor and character.

Watch out for dark brown coloring.  Unlike wine, sake doesn’t age well, and if it is exposed to hot temperatures or excessive light, it will degrade even more quickly.  In general sake shouldn’t be kept for more than a year.  A surefire sign that a sake has degraded is dark brown discoloration.

Price doesn’t always mean you get what you pay for.  Of course, Japanese sake is going to offer a better range of flavors and quality than American sake.  But prices for Japanese sake is usually doubled when it’s imported.  There are a surprising variety of American brands that are very drinkable and a fraction of the price.  Naturally, the best of the best is going to come from Japan.

Sake can be a great addition to your restaurant’s repertoire and give your customers a truly unique dining experience they will remember for a long time to come.

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Would-Be Robber Thwarted By Spoon

Would Be Robber Thwarted By Spoon

Say hello to my wooden friend!

It was just another night at William’s Supper Club, in Muskego, WI until there was a rude interruption recently.  Joey Geraci burst through an open door in the kitchen of the restaurant and immediately grabbed a teenaged busgirl, claiming he had a gun.

The would be robber dragged the poor girl into the bar, where he secured a couple bags of cash from the register and then tried to make his escape back through the kitchen.

Chef Erik Minor was waiting for him there and he cracked the robber over the head with a large spoon.  With the help of a couple other employees, Minor held the suspect down until police arrived.

The girl was unharmed in the incident and Mr. Geraci now faces felony armed robbery charges.

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What Are People Saying About Your Restaurant?

The restaurant-specific internet marketing company BooRah announced recently they have developed a way for restaurateurs to track online reviews of their businesses, although this service doesn’t appear to have gone live yet.

Recent years have seen the exponential boom of user generated content online, or content posted by internet users to websites, from YouTube to Rotten Tomatoes to Consumer Reviews.

This wave of information, often posted anonymously, is starting to have a powerful effect on consumer behaviors.

Increasingly, consumers look to the internet for information on products, movies, books, and restaurants.  And while the reliability of the content can sometimes be shaky, and other content can be disingenuous or even malicious, internet users have learned to sift through the mountains of content to find gems of truth about a given product or brand.

Identifying trends and flagging problems culled directly from the masses can be an invaluable resource, allowing restaurateurs unprecedented access to exactly what their customer thinks after they leave.

It is vital that you know what people are saying about your restaurant online.

Invariably the anonymous nature of posting on the internet is going to lead to undeserved criticisms and smears, but by analyzing all the content that exists referring directly to your establishment, you can weed out the bull and uncover some truly valuable information.

Even if you don’t have the budget or the inclination to purchase BooRah’s service, take some time on a regular basis to go online and read reviews of your restaurant.

Don’t get offended when the ubiquitous jerk says something completely untrue and probably off-color about your beloved establishment.  Instead explore a range of comments, look for trends, and keep an open mind about what customers actually think.

The days of one professional critic coming to your restaurant and making or breaking your reputation are long gone.  Now you have to impress an army of customers and hope they give a genuine review online.

The internet doesn’t have to be your nemesis.  Use it as a tool to make your business better.  So the next time you’re on the internet, take a look around.  You never know.  You just might learn something.

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Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

That thing doesn’t fit in my aquarium!

Sustainable seafood has become an increasingly important issue for restaurateurs as the green restaurant movement gains ground.  This is coupled with increasing evidence that the world’s wild caught seafood supply is in serious decline.

The result has been a renewed search for fish species that have the quality and taste characteristics worthy of center-of-plate presentation but can be farm raised in a sustainable manner.

Striped Pangasius, or Iridescent Shark,  is a type of catfish native to the tropical waters of Vietnam and Thailand.  Its hardy nature and delicious, flaky white meat has made it a favored source of food in Asia, Canada, and Europe.

The shark name originates from aquarium enthusiasts who keep young Pangasius in household tanks.  The young have an iridescent color that is lost as Pangasius grows older.  Full grown Pangasius in the wild can weigh as much as 97 pounds and grow to 4 feet in length.

Pangasius can tolerate low oxygen levels and high school concentrations.  They are very easy to farm (compared to tilapia or bangus) and disease resistant.  These characteristics also make it cheaper to buy than Tilapia, Cod, or Sole, yet the filets are of comparable quality.

Fishery Products International (FPI) recently announced they would begin to import Pangasius from Southeast Asia for sale in the U.S.  The fish is farm raised in Vietnam using sustainable practices overseen by the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries and a separate quality assurance group run by FPI.

Farm raised fish do have an environmental impact, especially concerning water usage and contamination, but in general that impact is far less than the further depletion of  wild fish populations through overfishing.

For years catfish farms in the U.S. resisted the importation of Pangasius because it competes directly with them in supplying the food industry.  In 2002, an Arkansas senator even sponsored legislation restricting the catfish name to fish grown in the United States.

No matter what you call it, Pangasius’ attractiveness comes from cheaper prices for a virtually identical product, and the volume in which it can be produced far exceeds the capabilities of the American catfish industry.

Chefs across the country have responded positively to Pangasius, especially after price comparisons show it is a great product for the price.  Look for the tropical catfish to start showing up on menus near you very soon.

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