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How To Earn a Passing Grade on Food & Health Inspection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Food Safety Tips: Safe Seafood

Food Safety Tips: Safe SeafoodFresh seafood will always sell well in your restaurant, and for many businesses it’s a staple item on the menu.  Making sure the seafood you serve is safe requires some careful maintenance and preparation, and it’s good to develop some strategies for ensuring the seafood you serve is safe.  More than likely you already have guidelines in place for serving other types of protein like beef, chicken, and pork.  Preparing seafood requires many of the same precautions along with some additional strategies to make sure you serve safe seafood every time.

Some food safety tips for serving seafood:

Know your distributor.  Always buy seafood from a reputable distributor whom you can trust to deliver a product that has been properly maintained.  This means fresh seafood and shellfish are kept at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower throughout the entire food distribution process.  You have to be able to trust that the distributor is on top of this before the product reaches your door.  Be sure to shop around for several different distributors and weigh price versus quality until you find the right balance between the two.  If you have any doubts, ask to see certified product tags.

Manage raw product.  Once that seafood or shellfish comes through your door, managing it properly is your responsibility.  Store fresh product at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower as soon as possible after you receive it.  Seafood should be stored in an airtight container or using cling wrap until it is ready to be prepared.  Use a thermometer or a data logger to track the temperature of your seafood to make sure it is staying out of the “danger zone” between 41 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Store live shellfish, lobsters, and crabs in a ventilated container covered with a damp cloth.  Storing live shellfish in salt water shortens their lifespan, and using fresh water will kill them outright, so take care when deciding how to store live shellfish.

Before you use seafood touch and smell it.  Assuming you have been tracking temperature and know that the seafood product you are about to prepare has been maintained below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, the fastest and easiest way to make sure the product is safe is by using your senses.  Clean, fresh seafood should have a mild smell.  A fishy or sour smell is a telltale sign of contamination.  Fresh seafood should also be soft yet firm to the touch.  A mushy or dry, hard feel also indicates contamination.

Avoid cross-contamination.  While preparing seafood product on the line, take care to avoid cross-contamination.  The best way to accomplish this is to use color coded knives and cutting boards during preparation.  That way your kitchen staff knows which knives and cutting boards have been used on raw seafood and can avoid using them on other items being prepared.  Also make sure your staff follows proper handwashing techniques and uses disposable gloves to avoid contamination during preparation.

Cook seafood to the proper temperature.  All seafood served in your restaurant should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit when cooked.

Food Safety Tips: Safe Seafood

Sushi and other seafood served raw require extra care

Serving sushi or other kinds of raw fish and seafood add a whole other element of risk to your customer.  If you do serve raw fish or shellfish, like oysters, the guidelines above that cover temperature, cross-contamination, and handwashing become even more important.  Also, many states require that seafood to be served as sushi must be commercially frozen first to kill harmful parasites and viruses that may be present.  Check with local and state laws to make sure you are in compliance.

Seafood can be a delicate product to store and prepare properly while avoiding contamination, but a little extra work and some attention to detail can yield some very popular dishes for your menu that will have customers coming back for more.  Having a clear set of guidelines for maintaining the food safety of seafood products is only half the battle.

The real fight is training and educating your staff on following these guidelines and then conducting regular quality control measures to ensure the standards you have set are being met.  Being vigilant about food safety procedures is the only way to achieve real success in any food safety program, whether it’s for seafood or any other item on your menu.

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Restaurant Inventory: Tips To Increase Efficiency and Boost Profits

Restaurant Inventory: Tips To Increase Efficiency and Boost ProfitsAs a restaurateur, you probably struggle with inventory on a regular basis.  Balancing walk-in space, fast-selling menu items, and slow moving items can create a constant headache.  Some of your product moves quickly, some does not, and inevitably some ends up sitting in the walk-in for far too long.

That sitting product is costing your restaurant money, because you’ve already invested money in it but you aren’t seeing any return in the form of sold entrees to customers.  Even worse, it’s taking up room in your walk-in while it costs you money.  So how to turn frozen product into dollars in the cash register?  Some tips to help you manage inventory:

What do you need?  What do you already have?  It’s very hard to manage inventory when you don’t know what you’ve got and what you need.  More than likely you use a POS system to help you manage existing inventory and to track sales so you know what you need more of.  However, it’s important to supplement any POS tracking with a regular manual inventory of your stock.  That way you can double check what the software is telling you while also checking that food quality has been maintained.  A regular inventory schedule will also let you track trends in your inventory, like items that sell better or worse seasonally and product that you consistently have too much or too little of.

Get creative with what you’ve got.  Once you identify the food products you’ve got more than enough of, you need to think of a way to move that product from walk-in to plate.  That means getting creative.  Develop specials and supplemental menu items that feature your excess product at a sale price.  This strategy has multiple benefits: it adds some variety to your menu, it turns sitting product into dollars, and it can provide a little easy market research.

Variety and selling product are pretty self-explanatory.  The most exciting benefit is testing new items made from product you already stock on your customers.  You never know when you’re going to stumble across a hit that really sells well.  When you do, adding it to the menu is easy because you already buy the product and you know how to prepare it.  The best part is, you’re taking extra inventory that was sitting around and moving it out the door, all while giving your customers something new to rave about.

Effectively managing and utilizing your inventory first takes accurate data.  Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can apply the best of your creative process to maximize the efficiency of your kitchen.  The opportunities the extra product lying around your freezer represent an exciting way to hone your menu into a selling machine with very little waste.  And once you get your restaurant operating at that level of efficiency, better sales, and better profits, will follow.

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A Glossary of Restaurant Lingo, Slang & Terms

A Glossary of Restaurant Lingo, Slang & TermsHere’s one of the most complete guides to restaurant lingo, terms and slang – including some that our readers left in the comment section below.

Click these links to jump to a letter to look up a term:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W

And don’t forget to add your own terms to the comment section below!

A

* All Day – The total amount.  If table 12 orders two orders of salmon and table 19 orders four orders of salmon, that’s “six salmon, all day.”

B

* Back of the house – The back end of the restaurant, the kitchen and storage areas, where the chefs, cooks, prep people and dishwashers primarily work.

* Bev Nap – The little square paper napkin which a beverage rests on.

* Brigade System – The kitchen organization system instituted by Auguste Escoffier. Each position has a station and a set of well defined responsibilities.

* Bubble Dancer – A disrespectful name for one of the most valuable and unrecognized of kitchen staff – the dishwasher.

* Buried – See “In the weeds”. Way behind. Overwhelmed.

C

* Cambro – A large plastic pan used for storage of perishables and non-perishables. The term Cambro derives from the company that makes these containers. Also referred to as a Lexan (from a competing company).

* Campers – Customers that hang out at a table all night long and even turning off all the lights doesn’t get rid of them at closing time.

* Can’t cook his/her way out of a paper bag – Someone who can’t cook well, usually applied to describe someone thats a terrible cook/chef but thinks that he or she is the greatest. The origin of this phrase is used for many different things. A good expanation of some is found at: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=28317

* Chef de Partie – Station chefs. In the brigade system, these are the line cook positions, such as saucier, grillardin, etc.

* Commis – An apprentice. A cook who works under the Chef de Partie to learn the station and responsibilities.

* Comp – To give something away free. Usually done by owners or managers to get brownie points from important customers. Also used to smooth over problems. i.e. “Table 12’s chicken was raw!” “Comp the whole table desserts and coffee!”

* Cover – A customer, i.e.”It was a slow night, We only did 20 covers tonight.”

* Credits – An amount that is due back to a restaurant from the vendor for a mispicked, damaged or out of date product.  See mispicked.

* Cremate it or Kill it – To almost burn something or be very overcooked. i.e ” Table 5 wants his burger cremated” extra extra well done.

* Cryovaced – Generally used with meat products, but many dried goods are packed this way to retain freshness. Cryovacing is a process used to remove any excess oxygen from a bag, and than then the bag is heat sealed to make it airtight.  When receiving meat products that have been cryovaced, keep a look out for products that are discolored and brownlooking, this means the airtight seal has been broken and you should send the product back.

D

* Deuce – A table with only two seating spaces. For example, “Seat this deuce at Table 12″ See Top.

* Double – Two shifts in a row.  “I’m exhausted, I just pulled a double.”

* Double/Triple Sat – When more than one table is seated in a particular station at the same time.

* Dupe – The ticket/information that gets submitted to the kitchen so the cooks can cook orders of food.

* Drop the Cheque – Taking a guest’s bill to their table for payment.

* Drop – Start cooking the accompanied item. “The mussels are almost done, better drop the calamari.”

* Drop Food/Order – The moment at which the kitchen begins to prepare a guest’s food or the moment a server delivers an order to the customers. “I just dropped the drinks on table 4.”

* Dying/Dead Plate – Food that is nearly or totally unservable, either due to temperature, appearance, the waitstaff talking to look to pick up from the hot line or wrong ingredients. For example, ‘My shrimps dying in the window because I don’t have veg (accompanying vegetables) to go with it!” Also called beyond in the weeds.

E

* Early Bird – Generally elderly people or tourists who want everything included for very little money. The $12.95 all you can eat buffet.

* Early Bird Special – A cheap meal that is generally available for a limited amount of time when the restaurant opens for service.

* Eighty-six, 86 – “We’re out of Sam’s! (Sam Adams) 86 it!” or the kitchen is out of the item ordered. To remove an item from an order or from the menu because the kitchen or bar is out.

* Expeditor, Expo – Person in charge of organizing food from the kitchen and sending it to the dining room; a mediator of the line.

F

* Fire, Fire it – Order given by the head of the line to the other cooks to begin preparation of certain orders, such as “Fire those shepherds pies!”

* Foodie – (Depending on context) The bane of cooks and chefs everywhere, a Wanna-Be professional cook/chef. There is nothing more irritating then going to a dinner party or meeting at a restaurant with a group of people and there is always at least one “Foodie” attending who proceeds to tell you all about how he/she made the most fabulous chicken dish. etc etc. until you just want to strangle them     ZZZ……………

* Food cost – What a menu item costs to prepare. The cost of a chicken entrée with meat, sauce, vegetables and starch is your food cost. Most restaurants run between a 30-40% food cost, this does not include the cost of overhead that needs to get added in before you start making a profit.

* Front of the house – The front end of the restaurant, the dining room and bar where the customers are served and wait staff, bartenders, bussers and dining room managers primarily work.

G

* Garde-Manger – Pantry chef/station. The postion responsible for cold food preparation, including salads, cold appetizers and plating desserts.

H

* Hockey Puck – A well done hamburger.

I

* In the Weeds – Can have meanings for both the front and back of the house. The kitchen being in the weeds can mean having only one 2 ft by 3 ft grill and having 40 people order medium well steaks in the space of five minutes. In the front of the house, it could mean one server just had two parties of 15 seated at the same time and they all want separate checks.

J

* Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune Crowd – Early bird diners. Need to be home early or looking for cheap meals that include everything.

K

* Kill it – To make something very overcooked; see Cremate it.

M

* Mispick – An item that is ordered from a vendor that has a label on it that does not match the product it contains.

N

* No Call/No Show – Employee who does not show up and does not call or a Reservation that does not show up and does not call.

* Nuke it – to Microwave.

O

* On a Rail or On the Fly – Something needed quickly, like yesterday.  “I need table 2’s salads on a rail!”  Or, “Give me a well done tender…on the fly.”

* Overhead – The added in factors when you are costing out menu products to make sure you are making a profit. Overhead may include electricity costs, paper and chemical products, employee salaries and any additional costs that may be relevant in serving an item.

P

* Paddy Well – A term used very frequently in Irish Pubs and Restaurants, which means to cook it until there is no possibility of life remaining. The next level above Cremate it.

* Party – A group of people at a table.

* Pittsburgh Rare – Burnt outside, rare inside.

* Pump it out – Getting food out quickly.

* Push- “Sell” it.  Put it in the window or “We only have two orders of sole left, push it.”

R

* Redneck – The non-tipping public, not related to a rural type person, meaning a cheapskate. See stiffs.

* Rollup – Silverware rolled into a napkin, usually linen but can be paper.

S

* Sacked – Fired, usually employees are considered sacked after a major screw up, like serving a banquet of 200 people the $100.00 bottles of Dom Perignon champagne instead of the $12.95 bottles that they were supposed to get.

* Saucier – Sauté Chef/station. The chef de partie responsible for all the sautéed items and their sauces.

* Server – The preferred term for waiter or waitress, for example, “Could you find my server, please, I need a refill on my Pepsi.”

* Shelf life – The amount of time in storage that a product can maintain quality, freshness and edibility.

* Sidework – Work performed by front of the house staff  (e.g., refilling salt and pepper shakers, polishing silverware).

* Shoe – A slacker cook/chef. Someone who doesn’t cook well. The only origin for this word that I know of was told to me by a European Chef I worked for. The term Shoe came from the fact that in Europe most Chefs in the Northern regions wore wooden clogs in the kitchen. A bad or clumsy chef/cook used to stumble alot and was made fun of by the other cooks and chefs.

* Shoe Chef – (The Sous Chef) See Shoe, sometimes accompanied by the phrase “The Shoe Chef at (my restaurant) can’t cook his/her way out of a paper bag.”

* Shorting – An unscrupulous method used by some vendors to charge a restaurant for more product than they actually receive.

* Sizzle Platter – Heavy grade metal oval plate that is used to reheat or cook something in a high temperature oven.

* Skate – Leaving without doing sidework.

* Slammed – Busy.  See “In The Weeds”.  Perhaps not as out of control as “in the weeds”.

* Sommelier – Wine Steward or wine waiter.

* Sous Chef – Generally the second in command in a kitchen; there can be an Executive Sous Chef, generally found in a larger kitchen with a lot of staff. The Sous Chef runs the kitchen when it’s the Chef’s day off or he/she is not available.

* Starch – Starch can be potatoes, rice, grain or pasta, the other accompaniment besides the “Veg” to an plated meal.

* Station – The set number of tables waited on by a particular server.

* Stiffed – A customer has left the restaurant without tipping the server.

* Stiffs – Non-tipping customers, see redneck.

* Still Moving or Still Mooing – Ultra rare, “they want the tender (tenderloin) still Mooing.”

* Stretch It – To make four orders of hollandaise sauce last through an entire shift by “stretching it” with whatever is available and edible.

T

* Table Turn – Number of times a table has had the full revolution of service from being seated to getting the check and then reset for the next group of customers.

* Tare – The weight of a container that the product from a vendor is delivered in. This weight should legally be deducted from the actual weight of the product. See shorting.

* Tender – A tenderloin.

* The Man, the Boogie Man – Health Inspector. “Wash your hands, The Man is here!” “Better mop the walk-in, the Boogie Man’s coming in 10 minutes.”

* Top – The number in a dining party. For example, an eight top is a dining party of eight. A three top is a party of three.

* Toss – An unscrupulous method used by some vendors to make a box look like its full of product.

* Totes – Plastic containers that are usually used to deliver fish. They are frequently rectangular but sometimes square or round. Totes are horded by kitchen staff because once washed and sanitized, they make excellent airtight storage containers for just about anything.

* Tourne – Vegetables that are cut to resemble a small, slightly tapered cork, but instead of being smooth they are cut to have seven equally large facets. Generally root vegetables, potatoes, carrots, but sometimes zucchini or other soft vegetables are used. Traditionally, they are boiled, steamed or roasted.

* Turn & Burn – Turn a table quickly (usually because there is a long waiting list for tables). see Table Turn

* Tron – Old 80’s slang for a waiter or waitress.

* Two second rule – The amount of time between when a piece of food hits the floor and when it’s picked up and placed in a sauté pan or on a plate, generally accompanied by a guilty look to see if anyone else saw it.

U

* Upsell – To suggest a higher priced item. “I’d like a glass of merlot, please.”  suggesting Iron Horse at $6.00 a glass as opposed to the house vino at $4.00 a glass.

V

* Veg – The vegetable accompaniment to a plated meal.

* VIP – A very important customer, perhaps well known and deserving of extra special treatment. Food critics fall into this category. Generally accompanied by many Comps.

W

* Waitron – Coined in late ’80’s to avoid using “sexist” terms “Waiter/Waitress”. Was replaced in the ’90’s by Server.

* Walk-in – A refrigerated room for cold storage of perishable items.

* Walked – A customer has left without paying the bill or a employee get fed up and just left in the middle of their shift.

* Window – A shelf, usually heated and connected to the kitchen, upon which the food is placed after preparation and awaiting delivery to the table.

* Well drinks – “Well” drinks are made from the inexpensive house liquors on hand. i.e. If you ask for a unspecified gin and tonic you will get whatever gin they serve as opposed to a Tanqueray and tonic.

Add your restaurant slang terms in the comments below!

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HACCP Principle 3: Set Critical Limits

HACCP Principle 3: Set Critical LimitsEvery CCP you identified by grouping menu items into processes now must have a critical limit set for it in order to become an official part of your HACCP program.  The FDA’s Food Code and your local Board of Health have established time and temperature specifications for every type of food you serve in your restaurant.  Research the time and temperature requirements at each CCP for each food type in every menu item you serve in your restaurant.

The most important critical limits usually involve keeping food out of the danger zone as much as possible.  The “danger zone” is generally 42 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, although this upper limit will vary depending on what you’re cooking.  The space between 42 and 135 is called the danger zone because that temperature range is ideal for bacterial and pathogen growth.  The less time food spends in the danger zone, the less likely it is to develop contamination.

It’s also important to remember that time plays an important part when setting critical temperature limits.  For example, the critical cooking temperature for a chicken breast in a Process 2 or 3 (see Principle 2) menu item is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  For Process 3 menu items, where food is cooled after being cooked, it is not enough to set a critical limit for cooling at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.  The food must reach 41 degrees within 6 hours, and must reach 71 degrees by the end of the first 2 hours.  Consult with your local Board of Health or the FDA’s Food Code for more information.

Time can also take the place of a temperature control, and in some cases it might make sense to do so.  For instance, if you cook food using Process 2 and set your critical limit for temperature to be reached during cooking and then serve the food right away, you do not need to set a critical limit for hot holding.  The same principle applies to some cold holding critical limits.  Consult with your local Board of Health to determine exact time specifications.

So now you have identified hazards, grouped your menu items into Processes, and set critical limits for each CCP in each Process.  You have gone a long way towards implementing an effective HACCP program.  Unfortunately, the first three principles were the easy part (relatively anyway!).  Now you have to monitor, establish corrective action procedures, verify monitoring and verification procedures, and establish a record keeping system.  These last 4 steps are designed to make sure the lofty standards you set in steps 1 – 3 are actually achieved.  It’s one thing to talk the HACCP talk.  Now you have to ensure your restaurant is walking the walk.

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9 Back Burner Posts That Will Boost Your Profits

After three months and 124 posts, The Back Burner is fast becoming a wealth of information for anyone involved in the restaurant industry.  The downside of putting up so much content, however, is that some really good posts kind of get lost in the mix and are quickly buried in the archives.

That’s why we’re starting a new series of posts that bring some of these “oldies but goodies” back to the surface in case you missed them the first time.  Recent news has suggested that food service might finally be turning around, and as we look forward to a brighter summer (couldn’t get worse, right?), take a moment to peruse these 9 Back Burner posts that will help your establishment pile the black onto your bottom line.

1. Engineer Your Menu - Discover some simple menu layout strategies that are proven to improve check averages and get your customers buying rather than looking.

2. Improve Your Restaurant’s Energy Efficiency – Having a green restaurant isn’t just a hot buzzword, it’s a great way to brand your restaurant, build customer loyalty, and slash expenses.  Get some front-of-house energy saving tips here.

3.  The Economics of Free - It might seem counter-intuitive at first, but giving things away for “free” can actually help you build your customer base and boost profits.

4. Why Fast Food Lunch Is Good For Your Restaurant – Value minus time equals a busy lunch rush.  Learn to market your lunch menu properly and fill your establishment all week long.

5. Dirty Restrooms Will Keep Patrons Away – Sometimes it’s the simple things that can affect customer retention and therefore profits.  A recent poll shows just how badly a dirty restroom reflects on your restaurant.

6. Should You Cut Costs In Payroll? – When profits are suffering, it’s tempting to cut costs where you tend to spend the most: payroll.  Unfortunately, this can turn out to be a sharp double-edged sword.  Learn more here.

7. The 4 R’s Of Driving Server Sales - Well trained servers are the engine driving your restaurant’s sales.  Learn how to turn that engine into a well-oiled machine that fires on all cylinders.

8. Use A Bar Spotter To Increase Profits – As tips decline for bartenders, the bar and restaurant industry have turned to “secret shoppers” for help reducing graft and improving sales for bartenders.

9. How To Improve Dessert Sales – Selling dessert is probably one of the toughest jobs any server will encounter.  Get some tips on how to help your customers go from saying “No” to saying “Yes.”

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80/20 vs. 4: Restaurant Marketing By The Numbers

80/20 vs. 4: Restaurant Marketing By The NumbersThe Pareto Principle has long been hailed as the Holy Grail of marketing, the one rule by which all marketing efforts succeed or fail.  The principle itself is pretty simple: 20% of your customers drive 80% of your sales.  There’s always a core group of loyal customers who not only spend money in your restaurant, they bring their friends, give glowing reviews at dinner parties, and otherwise provide a vital linchpin in your money making machine.

Figuring out who those 20% are can be a full time job, and the logic has long held that if you find them, and target them effectively, you’ll be well on your way.  But as the Information Age has matured, so has the wealth of tools available to marketers, and therefore the size of the groups you can target has gotten much smaller.  Some marketers have even begun to parse groups of customers down to what some are calling the 4% factor, or specific offers that have a high conversion rate among 4% of your customers.

So how does this apply to restaurants?  Well, for starters, restaurants are a business, just like any other.  And as a business, restaurants have products that need to be sold to the right customer.  Every day your restaurant has the opportunity to learn more about your customers: how often they come in, how much they spend, what they order, etc.

The more you know, the better you can target your promotions and marketing.  Too often restaurants take a shotgun approach to their marketing campaigns – blanket advertising in local media outlets and generalized coupons (20% off your order, etc.).  That strategy used to be enough.  But as more restaurants compete for the same customers, aging marketing approaches are simply not going to work anymore.

Here are some tips to bring your restaurant marketing strategy into the 21st century:

Know thy customer.  You’ve probably heard this one before, but it has never been more true.  The main difference is that you have many more ways to get to know your customer today that simply didn’t exist before.  For restaurants specifically, consider some strategies to learn more about your customers:

  • Hold a raffle/door prize event.  Customers who enter must fill out a card with their email address, favorite menu item, really anything you want to know about them
  • Use an email marketing campaign to engage customers and collect information about them
  • Conduct surveys, either electronically or on paper in your restaurant
  • Use coupons to learn more about your customers – if you can collect an email when a customer redeems a coupon for a specific menu item, then you can use that information to target them for specific types of future promotions

Leverage thy knowledge.  Now that you’ve put some effort into collecting information about your customers, you need to leverage that information to your advantage.  Use the 4% factor to separate customers into specific groups with particular tastes.  Then hit those groups with specially tailored promotions made just for them.  The goal is to get your response rate (i.e. conversion rate) through the roof.

Engage thy followers.  Targeting small groups of loyal customers should generate an enthusiastic response.  And when customers respond, you should be poised to engage them and solidify your rightful place as one of their favorite brands.  The tools you have available to you today make customer engagement even easier.  Experiment with different avenues until you find the social media that works for you.

Gauge and repeat.  The idea is that these small groups you find through your marketing campaign will respond at much higher rates than a traditional (and usually more expensive) marketing campaign.  You’ll only know for sure if you gauge response.  Use coupon codes and other ways to measure who’s biting on what, and then modify and improve your campaign until you have it honed down to a high performance machine.

The good news is that running a 4% campaign will probably be much cheaper than a traditional shotgun blitz.  The bad news is that it takes some significant time investments and more than a little trial and error.  For those willing to put the time in however, the gains can be huge.

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How To Improve Dessert Sales

How To Improve Dessert SalesAny server will tell you the hardest thing to sell is dessert.  The meal has come to an end, customers are ready to go or just enjoy a cup of coffee, and more often than not the dessert menu is met with some pretty stiff resistance.  Add in a climate of tightening belts and reduced budgets, and restaurants are facing a very difficult dessert climate indeed.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful dessert menu, however.  Tantalizing dessert items that are priced right and presented well can make for a very nice addition to your check averages.  All it takes is some investment in time and energy until you find just the right combination that gets your customer to go from saying “no” to “yes.”

Flavors: Exotic vs. Comfort

Exotic sounding desserts have been very fashionable for the last 10 years or so.  But it appears that customer’s tastes are changing to more familiar fare, and desserts are no different.  The flip side of that coin is coming across as too conventional, like cheesecake or vanilla ice cream.  By all means, serve these venerable stand-bys, but do so with a little attitude and flair.  Put some unique, and maybe even a little exotic, twist on your dessert offerings to make them feel fresh but not unfamiliar.

Sizes: Less Is More

Downsizing dessert options encourages customers to indulge a little at the end of their meal.  Quick, tasty desserts are the best way to get your guests buying.  Not only are more and more people health conscious these days, but also price conscious, and a trim but attractive little dessert addresses both of those issues.  Which leads us into the next component of a successful dessert menu:

Price: Less Is More Too

Single digit prices (i.e. $9 or less) are vital to selling desserts.  Since smaller portions are also more desirable, meeting this price requirement shouldn’t be too hard.  Standard pricing also makes the decision easier for the waffling guest.  Many restaurants set one price for all their desserts.  Some have also introduced tapas-style desserts: super small portions of inventive desserts that can be ordered individually or as a group (think 1 for X dollars or 3 for X dollars).

Training: Servers Need To Know Their Stuff

As with the rest of your menu, servers are going to be the key factor driving sales.  If they have followed the 4 R’s, they should be able to tailor their dessert presentation to what they anticipate the customer will want.  Servers should also have a good command of the details involved with each dessert: what’s in it, how it’s prepared, etc.  And the best thing you can do for your servers besides train them well is to give them props.  Being able to show guests a 3-D likeness of what they’re about to order is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get your customer’s sweet tooth active.How To Improve Dessert Sales

Finally, don’t forget to have a good cup of coffee ready to go with all desserts.  The two go hand in hand for most people, and making sure your brew is up to par with your great dessert menu is more involved than you might think.  Desserts and coffee are mutually supportive, so if you take the time to fine tune both, you’ll end up driving after-dinner sales, and that will make both your servers and your bottom line happy.

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Be Your Own Health Inspector

Health inspections are a regular part of life in any food service business, but too often it’s easy for a restaurant or commercial kitchen to fall into the trap of just passing the inspection rather than regularly practicing good food safety procedures. This series is intended to help your business improve food safety practices, because it’s about more than passing an inspection.  It’s about protecting yourself, your employees, and your customer.

The FDA estimates that 81,000 people suffer from a food borne illness every year, and that 9,000 deaths are a direct result of a preventable food borne illness.  Food borne illnesses are still the leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States. With those sobering statistics in mind, here are some tips to help you make safe food handling an integral part of your day-to-day routine:

Be Your Own Health Inspector

If you make food safety a priority in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, then the day the health inspector does show up shouldn’t be anything to worry about. If anything, a health inspector can be a great resource for helping you improve your food safety practices and you should take advantage of his or her expertise to make your operation better. However, in the meantime before your next inspection, it’s a good idea to conduct your own examination of food safety practices and identify trouble areas that need improvement.

Some tips on being your own health inspector:

  • Arrive unannounced. Surprise your employees and enter your business from the outside, giving you a more accurate perspective of what the real health inspector sees when they come for an inspection.
  • Use a copy of the local health inspection form. This will help you understand exactly what the health inspector is looking for and familiarize you with the process so that you know what the inspector is looking for.
  • Conduct a thorough walk through. Take out the white glove and be as objective as possible in identifying problems with food safety procedures.  Ensure that guidelines for food storage, labeling, handwashing, and food preparation are being followed.
  • Take the time to speak to employees. Make these mock walkthroughs a training exercise for your employees so they can stay fresh on food safety procedures.  Point out errors and take the time to teach employees about how to improve food safety.  This will only help them perform better when the real inspector arrives.
  • Identify problems and define strategies to address them. If you find potential violations, develop a strategy for addressing the problem. Don’t just lecture your staff about transgressions and consider the problem taken care of.  Re-check for violations more frequently until the problem has been addressed, and reward employees who quickly correct mistakes. Providing your employess with the proper training is also a good idea!
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3 Tips To Give Your Host Stand Some Personality

The host stand is the first thing your customers see when they enter your restaurant.  That first impression can be an opportunity or a potential stumbling block, and no matter which way you impress your customers, the host sets the tone.  It’s like any new relationship: every word and action takes on an importance unique to the situation.  Just like a first date, your customer is wondering why they should trust you.

Your host staff should excel at putting the customer at ease.  I doubt I need to tell you to train your hosts to be friendly, warm, and inviting.  If they don’t have that down pat then your restaurant has bigger problems.  Beyond the basics like knowing how to seat a section without double-seating and always striving to go above and beyond the customer’s expectations for service, here’s some tips to help your host turn your customer into a life-long friend:

  1. Encourage individualism.  Training your host staff to look and act alike might seem like the best way to create a good first impression every time, but in fact you take away their personalities when you try to control them.  Instead, let your host’s personality highlight how personable and accessible your restaurant is.  Obviously, people with warm, positive personalities are better suited to hosting, and your hiring choices should reflect that job reality. Allowing your host staff to express their individual personalities also has a positive effect on your regular customers because they get to engage with a different type of interesting and happy person every time they patronize your establishment.  That makes customers look forward to the next time they go out to eat.
  2. Allow different interpretations of style.  This goes hand-in-hand with the first tip concerning individualism.  The reality is that a uniformed host staff is a boring host staff.  Your servers are uniformed because they are operating as a team to bring you the best service possible.  Your host, on the other hand, is the face of your restaurant and their primary objective is to engage and welcome the customer.  Nobody wants a drone who looks like everyone else in your restaurant to welcome them, because it makes them feel less important. Allowing hosts to express their personalities through their own (tasteful) styles presents an intriguing face to the customer and makes them want to engage.
  3. Create a culture of exceptional service.  Now that you’ve got these interesting and unique personalities running around seating and taking care of guests in your restaurant, you need a common thread to tie them together.  That thread is the idea of providing exceptional service to every customer every time.  If each host on your team buys into that concept, then they will find unique and creative ways to accomplish that goal with each customer.

In many ways the host stand is the personality of the restaurant, because that’s the first place the customer looks for cues on how their relationship with you is going to work out.  The hardest part for a manager is letting the personality of the host represent the restaurant.  However, allowing a little creative freedom at the front door of the house is by far the best way to make your restaurant seem like a relationship the customer wants to keep.

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