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.

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

Boulder Has A New Top Chef

Boulder Chef Hosea Rosenberg Is THE Top Chef

Boulder Chef Hosea Rosenberg Is THE Top Chef

As some of you may know, Tundra and The Back Burner are based in Boulder, CO so we were especially pleased to learn that Boulder chef Hosea Rosenberg claimed first place on Wednesday’s finale of Top Chef: New York.

Rosenberg is the executive chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder.  He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in engineering physics before pursuing his true dream in culinary arts.  Rosenberg has worked with top chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Kevin Taylor, and Sean Yontz.

The Top Chef win garnered Rosenberg a $100,000 prize, and he is currently working on a food line with Whole Foods and a new restaurant is in the works as well.

Another Boulder chef, Melissa Harrison, was also a contestant on the show but was eliminated earlier in the season.

We would like to congratulate Hosea on his win and we look forward to enjoying his work in the Boulder area for years to come!

Continue Reading

The Obama Room Angers Restaurant’s Patrons

The Anaheim White House, a fine dining restaurant in Anaheim, CA, drew an unexpected amount of criticism recently after renaming one of 12 presidential-themed private dining rooms the Obama Room.

Irate customers asked to be removed from the restaurant’s email list and others swore they would never patronize the restaurant again as a result of the renaming.

The Obama Room at the Anaheim White House Restaurant

The Obama Room at the Anaheim White House Restaurant

The White House is located in a solidly Republican district, which may explain some of the anger.

But owner Bruno Serato pointed out that naming other private dining rooms after Democratic icons like John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter didn’t result in such a negative response.

The restaurant even rechristened the unpopular George W. Bush room for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis without much complaint.

And angry diners could always opt for the Reagan or Nixon room if the Obama room isn’t to their liking.  For some reason the Obama Room has really stirred up a negative response.

Regardless, Serato remains determined to keep the Obama Room.  He says the historic nature of the last election is too important to ignore, even if a few customers are angered by it.

Continue Reading

A Restaurant Survival Guide (continued)

The Back Burner’s Restaurant Survival Guide continues with some more tips on how to keep customers coming in the door in these tough economic times.

Take your product to the customer. You have already developed delicious entrees, trained your kitchen staff to cook them, and purchased all the equipment you need to produce on a large scale.

Yet your restaurant is seeing falling or stagnant visits every month.

You’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.  So go out.

Many large chains like Applebees, Chili’s, and O’Charley’s have developed very successful fast takeout operations to supplement sales of their core menu items.

Now some of these businesses are getting into full catering services as a way to boost sales in a gloomy economic environment.

Recent surveys of restaurant patrons have indicated they plan to stay home in record numbers in 2009, but that doesn’t mean they always want to fire up the home kitchen.

And small to medium sized get-togethers (of 10 – 50 people) still happen all the time, just not at your restaurant.  Customers see a great value in serving familiar foods from their favorite eatery right in their home, and you already have the staff and tools to service them there.

A little marketing, a slight adjustment in your menu offerings, and you’re on your way to finding your customers even if they aren’t coming to your restaurant as often as they used to.

Gift cards help. More and more chains are marketing gift cards, and smaller operations can do the same.  Not only are gift cards a quick and convenient gift for your customer, but they guarantee future sales that can help you through slow times.

They can also help bring in new clientele if they are offered as a promotion.  And best of all, customers who use gift cards tend to overspend the gift card amount, which means some added sales for you.

Meanwhile, the customer leaves full and happy, having spent less than he or she expected.

You can survive. The salient point here is that customers still want your product.  They haven’t forgotten how good it tasted two years ago.

They just don’t want to pay the same amount for it.

You have rising expenses to deal with, but that doesn’t mean a little repackaging and some clever marketing can’t help your customer realize exactly why they fell in love with your restaurant in the first place.

Continue Reading

A Restaurant Survival Guide

The Restaurant Life SaverThe current economic downturn has affected every aspect of the American economy, including the food service industry.

The NRA has projected a 1% drop in all restaurant sales for 2009 (when adjusted for inflation), potentially making 2008 and 2009 the only two consecutive years where restaurant sales have fallen since the NRA started keeping track in 1971.

That’s sobering news for any restaurateur, and many restaurant managers can tell you after a quick glance over last quarter’s books that this NRA prediction isn’t coming as a huge surprise.

But there is silver all over the huge cloud bank of gloom that is our economy, and a smart business owner should be able to hang on until the ride is over.

For starters, the food service industry isn’t hurting as badly as other sectors of the economy (at least you’re not a UAW member, right?), and typically restaurants are the first to turn around after a slump.

The key lies in holding down costs while attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Right.

Here’s a few food service trends that can help you survive:

Comfort foods are rising in demand. Chicken, beans, and even spam all saw significant increases in sales in the last quarter of 2008.

These products can help your business manage costs while you portray them to the customer as a “value” menu item (well, maybe not spam), especially if you highlight them against perceived “luxury” items like beef.

Put together a value menu of comfort foods to bring customers in, then hope they decide on dessert.

Divide best sellers into smaller portions. Popular menu items are always going to be popular, no matter what the economy is like.  It’s just that when your customer takes his wife out this month, he doesn’t want to spend like he did in the freewheeling days of 2007.

Many restaurants are responding by taking popular menu items and offering an appetizer version of the same thing, or a two person value platter that can be shared.

Taking your core product offerings and making them affordable to your customer is a great way to retain your faithful base while enticing new customers who are searching for value.

Stay tuned for some more Restaurant Survival Tips from The Back Burner in the coming days.

Continue Reading