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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.

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal Options

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal OptionsRestaurants focus on developing healthy kid meal options that are more appealing to families.

Pizza, hot dogs, chicken fingers and grilled cheeses are just a few kid-friendly foods available when eating out. Recently, these are the same foods that have come under scrutiny from parents and nutritional experts who worry about what kids are eating.

Chefs and restaurateurs have both business reasons and true concerns for what kids are eating, this is one of the reasons children’s nutrition was projected to be a major trend at foods service establishments during 2012.

The National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey of professional chefs determined that healthful meals for young people would be the No. 4 trend in the industry this year.

The National Kids LiveWell Program works in collaboration with Healthy Dining to help parents and children select healthful menu options when dining out. The restaurants that participate in the voluntary program commit to offering healthful meal items for children, with a particular focus on increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.

The big question that remains is: Are kids eating these healthier meals? From early research the answer is, yes. Teaching kids to eat healthy foods from a young age will help them develop healthy eating patterns for life, offering kid-friendly meals with a variety of vegetables, using proteins that are naturally lower in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals will ensure kids choose healthy foods over processed, fatty foods.

I’m a restaurant owner, how do I join the Kids LiveWell Program?

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal Options

According to Restaurant.org: “Restaurants that join Kids LiveWell agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying nutrition criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.” Kids LiveWell Nutrition Criteria for a full meal:

  • 600 calories or less
  • ≤ 35% of calories from total fat
  • ≤ 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • < 0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only)
  • ≤ 35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring)
  • ≤ 770 mg of sodium
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Tap into Better Drink Service with Keg Cocktails

Tap into Better Drink Service with Keg Cocktails Busy nights at a restaurant bar can be hectic. The chaotic atmosphere will test your bartenders’ skill and your customer’s patience. Cocktail orders and other hand-crafted concoctions act as roadblocks in the bartender’s effort to keep up with the barrage of incoming drink requests. These specialty drinks require more time and effort for the server to prepare and are often a favorite among customers.

One way to continue accepting these complicated drink orders and improve the efficiency of your service is to hire another bartender to help out with mixing cocktails. This may help but it will also add another server to your payroll and creates a crowded space behind the bar. Thankfully this is not your only option.

Keg cocktails offer a trendy solution to your service problem. Large batch cocktails allow your restaurant to continue offering all of those tasty drinks your customers love without slowing down your drink service. From red and white wine to vermouth and sangria to house cocktails, serving specialty drinks has never been easier.

Now I know what you’re thinking: these cocktails can’t possibly be of the same quality as fresh drinks made right at the bar. Not so fast! Drinkers have given these large batch cocktails good reviews. Customers at Mercadito Restaurants in Chicago and Miami reportedly preferred an almost week-old batch of kegged margaritas to those that were made fresh at the bar. The theory behind this is that the ingredients have more time to sit and blend together making the cocktail taste better.

Restaurants that already started using these keg cocktails have some methods that will help keep the drinks fresh and tasting as good as new. Tavernita in Chicago serves up to six on-tap cocktails at a time and currently practices a few different preservation methods to keep drinks fresh.

Tavernita stores large batch cocktails in 50 gallon containers that are pumped with carbon dioxide to keep the drinks fresh. The restaurant also attaches cocktail kegs to agitators that periodically shake the large batches to keep the cocktails mixed well.

Quick service is not the only advantage to keg cocktails. Enabling bartenders to get drink orders out faster large batch cocktails also free up more time for customer service. Serving specialty cocktails in large pre-mixed batches allows bartenders to offer samples to customers as well. Cocktail samples are very rare and could give your bar a unique advantage over the competition.

Get on board with this trend before everyone else does. Keg cocktails are an innovative way to improve your service and offer something drinkers have likely not seen before.

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The Affordable Health Care Act & Restaurants: What To Expect

The Affordable Health Care Act & Restaurants: What To ExpectToday is the big day – the day the Supreme Court begins hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Many want to see the whole thing repealed, many want to see the whole thing left intact, and most aren’t really all that sure what the whole thing entails besides an individual mandate to carry health insurance.

Regardless of your personal feelings about the legislation, as a restaurateur you are more than likely a small business owner, and as a small business owner you need to understand exactly what’s in store for you in the next couple years, provided the Affordable Health Care Act remains on the books in some form.

What You Need To Know:

The Mandate

The Law:
If you are a business with at least 50 full time employees then you will be required to provide “minimum essential coverage” beginning in 2014 or pay a fine.  Part time employees do not count towards the 50 employee limit and businesses never have to provide minimum coverage to part time employees.

Pro: 50 employees may be an easy threshold to reach but restaurants especially have many part-time employees, making the “mandate” as it were a fairly high threshold to reach for most independent restaurants.

Con:  This mandate puts an unfair burden on businesses with 50 full time employees or more.  It may be cheaper for those businesses to just pay the fine, which means a de facto tax on “medium” sized businesses.

Tax Credits

The Law:
You already qualify for a 35% tax credit on your business’ healthcare premiums if your business has less than 25 employees and their average annual salary is less than $50,000/year.  This tax credit is good between 2010 and 2013; in 2014 the credit increases to 50% for two years.  These businesses must purchase insurance through newly created Exchanges to qualify; the Exchanges are meant to control premium costs and standardize benefits across all insurers.  More info.

Pro: The credit eases the burden on small businesses as they transition to the new Exchange insurance program.

Con:  The tax credit doesn’t offset enough cost or last long enough and not enough businesses qualify.  More info.

Insurance Exchanges

The Law:
New insurance exchanges require insurers to provide insurance for everyone in an employer’s group regardless of health status or preexisting conditions.  These insurance plans are price controlled and have a standardized benefits package.

Pro:  Small businesses will get some form of insurance, no matter what.  The Exchanges also bring premiums down and allow small businesses to enjoy the purchasing power benefits enjoyed by larger companies.

Con:  Insurance Exchanges don’t make the cost of providing health care to employees who did not get health care from their employer in the past any easier to bear.  Either that or pay a fine – both are an increasing cost.

The new law is complicated, to be sure.  And it’s immediate repudiation by the Republican Party makes its future uncertain at best.  In the meantime, however, the provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act continue to phase in, and as they say, knowing is half the battle.

Also, check out the NRA’s Health Care Knowledge Center for more resources pertaining to restaurants.

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Chef Lon Symensma Nominated For Food & Wine’s People’s Choice Award

Chef Lon Symensma Nominated For Food & Wines Peoples Choice Award

Vote For Chef Lon here!

Chef Lon Symensma has a serious culinary pedigree.  That’s why Denver foodies were extremely excited when he decided to partner with Culinary Institute of America classmate Alicia Deters to create ChoLon, his first restaurant, ChoLon, in the LoDo area of downtown Denver.

After stints at Buddakan & Spice Market in New York, and time in Michelin starred restaurants in France and Spain, Chef Lon came to Denver with a lot of top shelf culinary experience under his belt.

But it was his experiences traveling through Southeast Asia that have influenced ChoLon’s menu the most definitively.  The menu is packed with finely crafted versions of the street food that defines the culinary culture in places like Vietnam – pot stickers, spring rolls, dumplings, and more all have a place here.

These simple food items shine when given the royal treatment in Chef Lon’s skilled culinary hands.  5280 Magazine gave the ChoLon menu 3.5 stars out of 4 and Yelp is full of lengthy, raving reviews of Chef Lon’s simple yet powerful creations.

Taking the fundamental building blocks of Southeast Asian cuisine and fusing them with the mature culinary tactics of top European restaurants has earned Chef Lon a nomination for Food & Wine magazine’s People’s Choice Awards.

Tundra Restaurant Supply is a proud partner of ChoLon Bistro and Chef Lon is one of our favorite customers.  We’re extremely excited to see him nominated for this award and we’d like to encourage everyone to cast a vote for Chef Lon before March 11th!

Cast your vote here!

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50 Restaurant Resolutions For A Successful Year

If ever there was a good time to make some positive changes to your restaurant’s operation, now is that time.  The time to kick things up a notch and really go after more business.  If you’re going to beat out the competition then you need to trim down, work harder, and be smarter.  Here are 50 resolutions to help you get there.

Marketing

1. Build a good website By good we mean “informational.” When a customer visits your website they want three things: a menu, a map, and a phone number.  Take down all the fancy pictures and put those three things first.

2. Stop being afraid of Yelp – Yes, a bad review by an influential Yelper can be disastrous for a restaurant. But instead of trying to limit Yelp you need to engage.  Respond to bad reviews, reward good ones, and take that bull by the horns.

3. Stop hating Groupon – Many restaurants have used it, few have liked the results. Like it or not Groupon is here to stay so stop being a hater and start getting the most out of your coupon-cutting patrons by collecting as much information from them as you can so you can try to turn them into regular customers.

4. Get new menus – Drop the dollar signs, highlight the good margin stuff, and put your best sellers in the middle of the list – all proven ways to get your customers buying your bread-and-butter entrees.

5. Stop pretending social media doesn’t matter – Despite the ongoing rise of social media marketing restaurants have mostly ignored the trend, preferring to engage customers in more traditional ways.  Well, the time has come to engage using social media.  The investment is small, the potential gains are big, and as adoption continues to increase so will the cost of not participating.

6. Get your food out of the house – Whether you cater events, start delivering your entrees, hold exclusive off-site events, or participate in summer food festivals, your food needs to leave the house to be seen and recognized. The free press these initiatives usually generate are only the side benefit to reaching your customers no matter where they are.

7. Source locally – Local food is great for marketing because when you talk about partnering with other local businesses to bring local food to your tables you become a part of the community, and the word-of-mouth this generates is invaluable.

8. Let customers pay what they want – Some restaurants have gone as far as making pay-what-you-want their only pricing plan.  You may not have the sand for that, and understandably so, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hold special events with pay anything as the core of the promotion.  Even if you only break even, the buzz around the event will help you snag more regular customers.

9. Give away your cooking secrets – Yeah, then it’s not a secret anymore, right? Maybe so, but your restaurant isn’t a secret anymore either, and that means more customers.  Nothing makes a customer remember you like being let in on all the stuff going on behind the curtain in the back of the house. Heck, you could even put on a cooking class in the restaurant and watch the foodies swarm in.

10. Sponsor a local sports team – Little league, amateur softball or soccer, or even create your own league for your favorite sport – no matter what you sponsor you’re getting your name out there as a part of the community and that word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind.

11. Claim your Google places page – It’s easy to do, free of charge, and gives you an automatic presence every time someone searches for restaurants in your area.  All you have to do is enter your business address and then watch out for the mailer Google sends you.  Enter the confirmation code and your business is now activated.

12. Raffle for charity – Everybody loves a raffle, but you probably haven’t done one in your restaurant because you’re not sure why you would give stuff away to people who are paying to eat there anyway.  This is why: you collect every single email address in the room when they enter the raffle.  Now you have a way to entice all those customers back over and over.

13. Create a YouTube channel – You or someone in your restaurant already has a Flip video recorder (heck even the latest iPhone will work!).  Put these wonders of modern technology to work making behind-the-scenes videos about your establishment.  Uploading them to YouTube is free and pretty simple,  and now you’ve created another way to talk to your customers when they’re not in the restaurant.

14. Hold an exclusive event – Regular customers love nothing more than feeling special, and nothing will make them feel more special than an exclusive event at your restaurant.  Set up a prix fixe menu, throw together some new dishes, and set aside a slow Tuesday night to really impress your biggest fans.

15. Host live music – from a single piano or singer/songwriter to a full-on rock band, every restaurant can use some type of live entertainment. If you’re just trying to improve the ambience then run some drink or food specials to coincide with the live act and turn it into a regular event.  If you’re booking hot local bands, use their performance in your establishment to access their fan base and turn them into regular customers.

Management

16. Stop micromanaging – Making sure everyone is doing their job right all the time is part of owning and/or managing a small business.  On the other hand, double checking people makes them incapable of taking responsibility themselves.  Trust but verify: have a quality control system in place but let your employees take ownership of their jobs.  You just might find that productivity will go up while you actually do less.

17. Get a handle on inventory shrink – Food product is one of your biggest expenses, and because there’s always a lot of it laying around it can be easy for some to go missing.  Sometimes this is unintentional and other times it is very intentional.  Either way you’re losing money.  Start with a good inventory system and then put some checks on employee misuse like clear trash bags (so you can see what’s getting thrown away), ban backpacks and other personal baggage from your kitchen, and train staff to minimize waste.

18. Learn to repair equipment yourself – There are a lot of simple fixes to big equipment items like refrigeration, ranges, and fryers that you can handle yourself.  Learning how to be a restaurant equipment mechanic can save you tons of money in parts & labor and save you a lot of downtime as well.  The Back Burner blog (http://blog.etundra.com) has dozens of equipment repair guides available for free.

19. Stop serving dishes that don’t sell – It can be easy to fall into the trap of adding more and more variety to your menu just for the sake of variety.  The problem is, if a dish isn’t moving then it’s costing you money to buy those ingredients and store them.  Go through your sales numbers regularly and ax anything that isn’t turning over quickly enough.  Printing new menus is a much less expensive effort.

20. Add an over-the-top entréeMenu pricing is all relative.  Things are only as expensive as the next item on the list, so why not give your customers something to compare against – something so over-the-top expensive that everything else on your menu will seem affordable by comparison.  Bonus points for putting your highest margin items right next to the expensive one!

21. Get new distributors – You buy A LOT of food product, and it’s about time you started leveraging your buying power to get better deals.  The big guys like SYSCO may not give you a discount but you also don’t need to buy everything from them either.  Shop around, and do so regularly, and make it clear to the guys you already do business with that they had better treat you right before you move on.

22. Train employees to make you more money Anybody can write down an order and bring out drinks and food at the appropriate times.  It takes a true server to be able to connect with customers and recommend a bottle of wine or sell a few specials.  Ongoing training will not only help your servers raise check averages but will also turn them into money machines for your business as well.

23. Separate the campers from the turn and burn Table turnover is the key to maximizing a busy night in any restaurant.  At the same time, you don’t want to push customers out the door who are there to enjoy a nice evening out.  Not sure how to strike the right balance?  Segment your customers into cozy booths or busy open tables in the middle of the floor depending on how they got there – advanced reservations probably want to relax while late walk-ins are probably on their way to do something else.  Let the former camp in the booths and turn and burn the latter out in the open.

24. Refuse reservations Reservations are a necessary evil in the food service business, or at least that’s how the traditional thinking goes.  Sometimes, though, reservations just don’t make sense at all.  Peak holidays – New Year’s Eve or Mother’s Day, for instance, are far too busy for you to risk leaving a table empty because someone is running late or decided to go elsewhere.  So refuse reservations or take a deposit.

25. Clean up your restroom – There’s no denying it: customers are judging you by your bathroom.  If it’s shabby or dirty then they wonder if other places they can’t see (like the kitchen) looks the same.  Send a strong message when your customers visit the restroom: show them the tight ship you run by taking care of the details behind the bathroom door.

26. Start managing portion control – A simple side like mashed potatoes doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance – just whip up a large batch and serve them till they’re gone (or they go bad) – but for every extra ounce you put on a plate you’re losing money.  Using portion control tools like scales and sized ladles will help your busy staff avoid overserving, and help you reduce leftovers.

27. Actually sell desserts It’s far too easy for full customers to turn down a server who walks up to the table, check in hand, and asks “Did you save any room for dessert?”  There’s good money to be made in dessert sales, especially if you know how to sell them.  Start by making desserts small and very affordable, thereby removing the “I’m too full” excuse.  Next, make real models of your desserts for display.  Being able to see desserts rather than imagine them has an enormous effect on the decision making process.

28. Secure your data You are in charge of a lot of very important data.  Between customer credit cards and employee social security numbers your business is an identity thief’s dream.  All too often this data is far too easy to access, so clean up your act and get that stuff secured by limiting who can access important databases and/or files and possibly even using a security company solution to manage valuable information.

29. Stop losing business to allergies According to a study by AllergyEats.com, accommodating people with food allergies could boost business by as much as 9%.  This is because if one person has an allergy in a group of people deciding where to eat, everyone will change their mind according to which restaurant can accommodate the allergy.  This “veto vote” means you’re losing a lot more business than just the allergic person, so start developing methods for accommodating allergies today.

30. Hand out paid sick days The National Restaurant Association may lobby against them, but paid sick days for your employees are worth far more than they cost.  Here’s why: when one worker comes in sick they will inevitably contaminate something in the kitchen, and before you know it the rest of the staff is sick and then customers get sick.  Retaining good, reliable staff is certainly worth the effort, and perks like a couple paid sick days will help you retain the best.

31. Stay open all night Urban areas are increasingly becoming 24/7, and that means there are hungry customers peering into your dark windows late at night.  If you run a late kitchen with a skeleton crew you can generate some great extra business by capturing the late crowd, especially on weekends.  Pare down your menu to high-margin munchies, find a couple reliable people to work the late shift, turn up the house music and watch your restaurant work for you while you sleep.

Energy Efficiency

32. Get a rebate when you upgrade equipment – upgrading restaurant equipment is no small expense, but sooner or later it will be a necessary one for your business.  As long as you are upgrading, you might as well maximize energy efficiency with an EnergyStar rated piece.  That way you can save on monthly energy bills and also qualify for local, state, and federal tax rebates.  Go to energystar.gov and check out their Rebate Finder.

33. Set equipment schedules – Powering up restaurant equipment puts a huge load on your gas and electric meters all at the same time – and that costs you more money than it should.  Create power up and power down schedules that space out your usage and try to set them for off-peak hours when rates are cheaper.

34. Stop thawing meat with running water – It’s a common practice at home and in many restaurants, and if your kitchen is using hot running water to thaw meat then you’re throwing dollars down the drain.  Create a thawing schedule for every day of operation and see that your staff sticks to it.  Sticking frozen product in the refrigerator 8 hours before the dinner rush is so much cheaper (and safer) than sticking it in the sink an hour beforehand it’s not even funny.

35. Starve the dishwasher beast – Commercial dishwashers are energy hogs, pure and simple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least cut down their usage.  Start by washing only full racks of pre-rinsed dishes.  Next check the water pressure in the unit against the manufacturer recommendation.  If it’s more then cut it down to save water.  Finally, turn off booster and tank heaters at the end of the night to save energy.

36. Get LEED certified The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a program that rewards many types of buildings, including restaurants, with a certification for sustainable and efficient practices.  Getting certified involves earning points for different types of sustainable design elements in your commercial kitchen, and probably only makes sense for certain types of restaurants.  If your customers are very conscious about the going green trend, however, LEED certification starts to make a lot of sense.

37. Replace refrigerator door gaskets Cracked, compressed, and worn door gaskets on refrigeration units are costing you money!  That’s because cold air is escaping the unit through these old, worn-out gaskets.  Even worse, there’s a food safety threat involved: grime and dirt breed bacteria in those cracks and the temperatures of food product near the door may enter the danger zone.  Do yourself a favor and get those gaskets replaced today.

38. Optimize the kitchen ventilation system The ventilation system above the cooking line in a restaurant kitchen is constantly running – and that means it’s also constantly costing you money.  Some simple tricks will help you control that cost, like getting the system rebalanced, pushing your equipment up against the wall underneath the hood to maximize suction, and installing a demand control to automatically tone down or rev up the system according to cooking volume.

39. Replace steam table pans
If you use a steam table then you’ve probably got more pans than you know what to do with, and that’s why the new year is a perfect opportunity to get rid of the ones that are costing you money.  Over time the corners and edges of steam table pans bend and crumple from use.  Every crack between the edge of the steam table and the lip of the pan is allowing heat to escape – and that means your table is working far harder than it should be.  Flatten out your pans so they fit snugly against the table and replace the ones too far gone to repair.

40. Install a three compartment sink – Not everything needs to go through your commercial dishwasher, and you can really save some money by resorting to good old-fashioned hand washing, that is, as long as you’re using a three compartment sink.  Using three compartments, one each for washing, rinsing, and drying is much more efficient than trying to do all in a single compartment.

41. Grow your own food – Not that you needed more work in the coming year, right?  Even so, many chefs have started growing their own herbs and vegetables in little vacant lots, on rooftops, or right behind the restaurant as a way to source the ingredients they need as locally as possible.  Customers love the idea and you can also save some money by gardening at least a few of the many ingredients you use daily in your operation.

Trends

42. Craft your own cocktails Specialty cocktails have made a serious comeback in restaurants and bars, and if you’re not serving them then you’re missing out.  Add some culinary creativity to bar offerings with specialty cocktails and market them during happy hour.  Just make sure you use quality, fresh ingredients, a witty name, and a unique combination of flavors to make the perfect cocktail.

43. Brew good coffee – It’s sometimes easy to forget about the quality of the coffee you serve, but with the rise of premium coffee you can bet your customers care deeply about sipping only best cup of joe.  Revisit basic brewing techniques like making sure the bed of grounds is only 1-2 inches, the water is filtered, the coffee machine is clean, and the temperature is between 195 and 205 degrees.

44. Cook with quinoa – Quinoa is a grain native to South America that is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.  It’s high in protein, relatively cheap to buy, and very versatile when it comes to preparation.  If you’re looking for some new flavors and textures, quinoa is as good a place as any to start.

45. Buy some iPads Some restaurants have begun using iPads as menus or wine lists, and the interactive nature of tablets turns out to be an extremely effective marketing tool, with some restaurants reporting a 30% jump in wine sales after introducing an iPad wine list.  Obviously, the cost is pretty steep, but digital ordering is definitely the future.

46. Go induction Induction ranges are energy efficient and don’t need to be vented which means you can place them in some creative places in your restaurant.  They do require stainless cookware to work but they are also much faster at heating up whatever you’re cooking.

47. Shrink portion sizes – Smaller portions are all the rage since the Great Recession hit the American economy.  That’s because a smaller portion means less cost to both you and your customer.  And in an increasingly health-conscious world, smaller portions mean you can still use decadent ingredients without blowing up calorie totals.

48. Serve sake without sushi Sake is gaining mainstream appreciation in the U.S., and not just when people go out for sushi.  Try adding a couple premium sakes to your drink list for variety.  You might be surprised how many people order it up.

49. Add nutrition info to menus – This isn’t the easiest task in the world but it can have a real effect on your customers, who have said over and over they would prefer to have access to nutrition information in restaurants, even if they still go with the richest item on the menu.

50. Don’t ignore food trucks –
Yes, they have multiplied like flies across every city and town in America, and for good reason – people love them.  Whether you want to try out a new concept or find some new marketing channels for your existing restaurant, food trucks are the perfect vehicle for hitting the streets with your brand.

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How Is The Economy Affecting Your Business?

SURVEY IS NOW OVER

It’s been the talk of the country all summer long: the state of the economy.  There’s a lot of uncertainty out there, and that’s why we want to know: how is the economy affecting your business – good, bad, or indifferent?

We are preparing a report on the economy and its effect on food service and your input will help.  You could even be quoted in our official press release if you want!

We’ve put together a 2 minute survey to get an idea of how different economic factors are affecting you.  Fill out the survey and be entered to win a $100 gift card from Amazon!

Now that’s a good economic reason to talk economy!

Take the 2 min. survey right now!

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Why Restaurants That Offer Discounts Dominate Top U.S. Brand Rankings

Why Restaurants That Offer Discounts Dominate Top U.S. Brand RankingsThere has been much discussion about discounting in the restaurant business over the past few years.  Many in the industry worried that serial discounting would forever cheapen their brand and condition customers to be coupon hunters rather than loyal patrons.

That’s why it was interesting to see the results of a comprehensive study released by a British brand management firm recently.  The Nunwood Customer Experience Management (CEM) Top 100 surveyed 5,000 consumers in the United States in order to determine which brands have the best perception among the American public.

To many, Red Lobster’s third place finish was a shock.  The seafood chain beat out top brands like Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Marriot.  Red Lobster is known for their affordable seafood fare – in fact, they have been discounting what is usually considered an expensive menu item for years.

Respondents to the Nunwood survey raved about Red Lobster’s dedication to providing value and top-notch customer service.

Marrying the two seems to be the key to branding success in food service.  Other top 25 finishers included Subway, Applebee’s, and Chili’s – all brands that have engaged in some of the most aggressive discounting in the food service industry over the last three years.  Adding those discounts to a culture of customer service equals a combination these national restaurant chains have been winning with for years.

The time has come for those in the food service industry who fret about coupons and discounts compromising the value of their brand to realize that not only are discounts here to stay, they are the driver behind customer perception of your business.

As the top chains in the industry have irrefutably proven, the formula of getting customers in the door with deep discounts and then treating them like royalty is the way to earn their respect and loyalty.

Contrary to a popular belief among restaurateurs, the practice of deep discounting to get butts in seats has not hurt the images of these brands but enhanced them so much that they now compete with the biggest brands in America in terms of perceived value.  And that perception is certainly worth much more than any discount.

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Helping Food Service Workers In Need

Anyone who has worked for a significant amount of time in the food service industry has seen the dark side of the restaurant business.  While food service can be incredibly rewarding, and can provide many opportunities for advancement with little or no formal education, there are also many in the industry who struggle to make ends meet, fall on hard times without a safety net, and fall into alcohol and substance abuse.

That’s because the restaurant business is a tough business.  Half of all restaurants fail in the first three years.  Employee turnover rates are much higher than most other industries.  Because turnover is so high, both in operations and employees, benefits are much more restricted.

That means a lot of food service workers don’t get the support they need when they get into trouble, either financially, emotionally, or physically.

Kevin Finch, a Spokane, WA food critic, has been observing the restaurant industry for a long time and saw firsthand just how tough the business can be.  Realizing there was little support for the hardworking people in the restaurants he visited, Finch started Big Table, a non-profit that treats food service workers to a 5 course meal every other month. More importantly, Big Table uses their meal events as a way to find the people in the restaurant business who need help.  At the dinners, guests are asked who needs help in the local restaurant scene.  Once they’ve identified those who are struggling, Big Table offers no-strings-attached help.  They have fixed cars, paid medical bills, and even sent flowers to people in need.

Food service is the single largest job category in the U.S., and that means there are a lot of people who need support.  Big Table eventually hopes to expand their concept to other regions in the U.S., but in the meantime food service certainly could do a better job taking care of its own.

Striking the right balance between competing in a tough marketplace and taking care of staff at the same time is a difficult task for any business, and the restaurant business is tougher than most.

That said, the dark side of food service is a place most know about, but few discuss.  It took a food critic to shed light on the difficulties food service workers live with every day.  Now it’s up to the entire industry to work towards making the table big enough for everybody.

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Telling The Customer “No” In The Name Of Culinary Perfection

Telling The Customer “No” In The Name Of Culinary PerfectionFor most restaurateurs saying no to a customer is something you just don’t do.  Being accommodating is an integral part of what service businesses like restaurants do, and therefore the customer gets what the customer wants.

As the New York Times reported recently, a surprising number of restaurants in New York have no problem telling a customer no – as long as it serves a higher artistic purpose.

Some examples include:

  • A bagel shop that will not toast your bagel for love or money
  • A bistro famous for its fries does not serve ketchup
  • One restaurant serves their burgers one of two ways: with or without Roquefort cheese

The reason for putting limits on customer preferences is the same in each one of these establishments: special requests compromise the original vision for the taste and presentation of the dish.

In most cases, especially in a place as saturated as New York City is with restaurants, these picky chefs can get away with imposing some ground rules on their patrons.  That’s because there’s a large pool of people who have an enormous amount of choice in a small area when it comes to eating out.  If you don’t like go next door.  There’s enough people here who do.

That feeling of exclusivity actually appeals to a lot of guests, and probably works in the chef’s favor, at least in an environment like New York City.

For the rest of the country, however, where the pool of customers is smaller and the amount of choices fewer, restaurants must and do play the role of catch-all.  The hard reality is that turning people away because they don’t subscribe to your vision of culinary perfection is typically bad for business.

And when business is bad there’s no money to prepare perfect dishes.

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Why You Should Tell Your Guests To Order Themselves

Why You Should Tell Your Guests To Order ThemselvesIf you do it right, guest prefer to order themselves.  This has been proven by the advent of interactive electronic ordering kiosks, which have quickly become commonplace in European and Asian quick service restaurants.

Americans are finally catching up to their European counterparts when it comes to self-service kiosks.  Early adopters like Jack-in-the-Box have already seen the benefits these electronic order takers can provide, including a boost in sales, higher customer satisfaction, and increased order volume.

What’s so great about a kiosk?  And what exactly is a kiosk anyway?

Kiosks are electronic ordering systems that provide a touchscreen menu for guests.  The newest generation of kiosks integrate directly with the restaurant’s POS system, making order processing extremely easy.

Kiosks add a couple key benefits to a guest’s experience, at least in a quick service restaurant environment:

Improved order accuracy. Whether or not kiosks actually reduce the number of botched orders is up for debate.  Regardless, guests feel like orders are more accurate because they are directly involved in the order taking process, and that perception can go a long way towards improving a restaurant’s overall customer service.

Guests buy more. Having an interactive menu that automatically suggests upsells, lists the best menu items first, and advertises specials without forgetting is a potent weapon for restaurants.  Guests who use kiosks are more likely to spend more and order more than those who order from a human.

This means a restaurant using kiosks can shift staff from being order takers to order fillers and service providers.  In fact, the restaurants that have introduced kiosks did not have to cut any staff because order volume went up significantly.

Ordering kiosks certainly make sense for quick service restaurants, but what about independents?  Is there a place for an automated menu and order taking system in the more traditional dining experience?

That certainly remains to be seen.  However, here are a couple ideas for ways independents could bring kiosks to bear:

Make waiting interactive.
If you’re fortunate enough to be a restaurant that regularly makes guests wait for a table, then a kiosk could become your very best friend.  Instead of making customers sit on a bench staring blankly at the wall next to the host stand, invite them to place their order on a kiosk, then time their meal to drop 10 minutes after they are sat.

The potential for slashing your table turnover times with that kind of system is tremendous.  That kind of system also gives your servers more time to provide top notch service as well, especially when things get hectic on a busy night.

Make kiosks part of your concept. Remember restaurants with telephones at each table for calling in orders?  Their success depended on the novelty of ordering via phone but eventually it proved much too hard to create a quality experience when the guests’ only interaction with staff was through a phone.

Kiosks could be different.  If they are used to replace menus at tables servers can still interact with guests while they order, have more time to attend every detail, and benefit from the kiosk’s tendency to make customers order more.  All of this could be accomplished without sacrificing face-to-face service, and in fact the iPad has already proven itself to be a great replacement for the traditional menu.  Kiosks at tables just takes that concept one step further.

Change the way you take reservations. Especially if your restaurant is in a high foot traffic area, plop a kiosk on the sidewalk in front of your establishment and invite guests to place their order and then come back to dine at a time of their choosing.

Guests that have already chosen their meal are going to be more likely to come back, reducing reservation no-shows.  That kiosk would also serve as some great advertising for your restaurant and take some pressure off your host stand and servers on busy nights.

Naturally kiosks are going to have to run their course in the quick service segment before independent restaurants start considering them.  But a future where all menus are electronic and interactive is not that far off, and restaurateurs stand to benefit immensely from this new technology.

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