eTundra Categories

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.

Time To Move the Beef!

Prime beef cut prices are at 7 year lows!

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?

Social Network MarketingAs 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.

Continue Reading

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake is usually associated with sushi, but not 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.

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

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.

Continue Reading

Would-Be Robber Thwarted By Spoon

Wooden 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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

That thing doesn't fit in my aquarium!

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.

Continue Reading

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Smoking bans are coming to your restaurant.  Are you prepared?

Smoking bans are coming to your restaurant. Are you prepared?

Despite the objections of many groups in the food service industry, public smoking bans have been passed with increasing frequency over the past five years.

Restaurants and bars are primarily concerned with losing business as a result of these smoking bans.  Advocacy groups claim that the health benefits of banning smoking far outweigh any other concern.

As a restaurateur, you are probably either already under a public smoking ban or will be soon, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of these bans on your business.

For starters, research has shown that bar and restaurant revenue did not show an appreciable drop after the introduction of a smoking ban.

Smokers just don’t go home after a smoking ban is passed.  Instead, they cut down on their smoking and go outside when they need a smoke.  Some food service businesses actually saw a rise in business after the ban was passed as new customers ventured out because of the new smoke-free environment.

However, specific segments of the industry do not follow this general trend. In particular, blue collar establishments take the hardest hit when a new smoking ban is passed.  Bowling alleys and small local bars have seen as much as a 50% decline in business after the passage of a smoking ban.

While it is unfortunate that some businesses take a huge hit when a smoking ban is passed, the health benefits that are a direct result of banning public smoking are significant, and should really outweigh other concerns.

Heart attacks in public places drop as much as 40% after the enforcement of a public smoking ban.  The air quality of restaurants and bars goes from “dangerous” or “extremely unhealthy” classifications to “normal” and “good” overnight.  The body of evidence linking even small amounts of second hand smoke to short and long term health problems is now overwhelming.

For the food service industry, smoking bans are a reality that must be dealt with.

If you have the bad luck of operating in a segment that will suffer from the passage of a smoking ban in your area, start to develop a strategy for the day the ban arrives, because it will be here sooner or later.  If you have already found yourself under a smoking ban, tell us how it has affected your business.

What are the benefits?  The drawbacks?  Do you oppose or support introducing smoking bans in other states?

Continue Reading

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance in it's old New York home

The Moondance in it’s old New York home

The Moondance Diner used to be an 80 year old fixture in the trendy SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.  Last year it was consigned to destruction by a new condo building.  The Moondance was up for sale, and the chic artists that had once frequented the little restaurant were long gone.

That’s when a couple from Labarge, Wyoming, spotted the Moondance for sale on the internet.  Within a couple weeks they had purchased the diner and shown up in Manhattan with a flatbed truck to haul it away.

That’s when the trouble started.  Permit problems and heavy rain delayed transportation.  The battered Moondance finally arrived in Wyoming after a long trip and landed on some stacked railroad ties next to Highway 189 with a view of the Rockies.

Former employees Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Larson were nowhere to be found.

Instead, Cheryl and Vince Pierce set to work refurbishing the old diner for its grand reopening in a remote corner of the least populated state in the union.

Things were going fine until a blizzard dumped 18 inches of snow and the roof crumpled in like a tin can.

Maybe the Moondance moving west wasn’t such a good idea after all.

At least that’s what people in New York started to think, and several articles were posted in city periodicals lamenting the poor, desolate fate of the hapless Moondance.  The condescension coming out of New York was hardly concealed and laced with an I-told-you-so subtext.

The Moondance Diner lights up Wyoming

The Moondance Diner lights up Wyoming

Cheryl and Vince were unfazed.

The Moondance’s classic front sign finally lit up on January 12, and the completely restored diner has been building buzz ever since.

Many natives of the Big Apple have stopped by to visit, and the locals love the place.  The celebrity waitstaff may be gone, but the Moondance has settled down to stay in its new western home.

Continue Reading

Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up Controversy

The Employee Fair Choice Act Is Under ConsiderationThe list of opponents to the Employee Fair Choice Act (EFCA) is a long who’s who of business in the United States, including the Chamber of Commerce, nationally known corporations like Home Depot and Walmart, and most notably for those in the food service industry, the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

What is EFCA? It’s a law that would allow employees to form a union at a place of business if a majority signed a card voting for unionization.

Current legislation requires that a secret ballot administered by the company must result in a majority vote for unionization.

Many small businesses would remain unaffected by the new legislation, since the minimum requirement for unionization is a business with $500,000 in gross annual revenue or at least 3 non-supervisory employees.

What’s the big deal? Well, both sides claim that coercion is the problem.

Business owners, including many in the restaurant industry, represented by the NRA, claim that employees will be coerced into signing card checks for unionization by union activists, especially since the card signing occurs in public.

Union supporters say the coercion that goes on currently under the secret ballot procedure is the real inequity in the system.

They say businesses routinely intimidate and even fire employees that push for unionization leading up to a secret ballot vote, and even though these practices are illegal, the penalties are not very harsh and are not regularly enforced.

Needless to say, Democrats support this legislation and Republicans oppose it.  President Obama spoke in favor of this bill on the Senate floor last year and its passage was a routine campaign promise last fall.

EFCA already passed the House of Representatives last year on a strict party line vote but could not attain cloture in the Senate.

With Democrats ever closer to the magic number of 60 in the Senate, the Employee Fair Choice Act is looking more and more like it will become law, probably within the first six months of this year.

The NRA’s opposition to this bill is explained as a defense of worker’s rights to a secret ballot.  They also say that EFCA will hurt small businesses.

With the passion on both sides running high, it’s hard to say who will benefit the most from this bill.  Both proponents and opponents claim to be defending workers’ rights.

In the food service industry, the leading association has taken a tough stand against this bill, but that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with the NRA.

The reality is that most restaurants will remain unaffected by this legislation because of the minimum requirements for unionization.  The ones most at risk, like national chains, are the most vocal opponents driving NRA action.

Tell us what you think about card check legislation!  Leave a comment below.

Continue Reading