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Microbrew Rebels: Oskar Blues Does Craft Beer Their Way

Microbrew Rebels: Oskar Blues Does Craft Beer Their WayWhen Oskar Blues opened its doors in 1997 in the tiny burg of Lyons, CO, just north of Boulder, it was just a place to get some great Southern style food and listen to the best offerings from the local music scene.  That all began to change when Oskar founder Dale Katechis began brewing beer in 1999.  In November 2002, Oskar Blues produced its first microbrew in a can, an event that has since been dubbed the “Canned Beer Apocalypse.”

The arrival of Dale’s Pale Ale turned the bottle based craft beer industry on its head.  “We thought the idea of our big, luscious pale ale in a can was hilarious,” says Katechis.  Cans have other benefits as well.  The lighter, more durable containers made Oskar beers much more portable, an essential ingredient in outdoors-crazy Colorado.  Can liners also lock in brew freshness and prevent the aluminum from affecting taste.

Soon microbrew aficionados from all over the U.S. were picking up on the Apocalypse that had taken place in Lyons.  In addition to Dale’s Pale, Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scottish Ale, Gordon Imperial Red, and Mama’s Little Yella Pils Malt Pilsner have all earned accolades in an impressive collection of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Beeradvocate.com.

Oskar Blues canned microbrews are now available in 25 states, and production is humming along with a new brewing facility and taproom in nearby Longmont, CO.  The canned beer revolution started here has since spread to other well-known Colorado microbrews, but Dale and his team take special pride in turning non-believers on to the benefits of full bodied beer in cans.

“We’re in this to have fun and put some extra joy on the planet,” Katechis says. “We love the way people’s heads spin around after they try one of our four-dimensional canned beers. ‘That came out of a can?’ We hear it all the time.”

If you’re interested in carrying Oskar Blues “Liquid Art in a Can” in your establishment, contact Wayne at wayne[at]oskarblues[dot]com.

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Shop For Suppliers

Food Safety is More Than Passing a Health Inspection

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:

Tip #1: Know Your Food Suppliers

Finding quality food suppliers is the first step in developing a quality food safety program.  Food should arrive at your restaurant or commercial kitchen fresh and at the proper temperature.  Some tips to find the right supplier:

Start by developing quality control guidelines. Set clear standards for what food should look like when it arrives.  This makes it easier for anyone checking in new food supplies to inspect and evaluate the quality of arriving product.

When searching for new food suppliers, know exactly what you want in a product before ordering  so that you can ensure your new supplier is meeting the proper standard in quality.

Inspect food shipments. Carefully inspect and grade the quality of new food shipments.  Use a good thermometer to check the temperature of the product as it’s being unloaded, especially if you are using a new supplier.  Track the quality of shipments and flag suppliers that are bringing you degraded product.

If you have developed standard guidelines, train other managers or trusted employees to inspect shipments as well.

The search for suppliers should be ongoing. Suppliers vary in price and quality, and it’s important that you constantly evaluate these two factors with your current suppliers.

Always make sure your suppliers are certified for the food service industry.  If they aren’t performing, don’t be afraid to find another source for food products.

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Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

Maintaining a safe work environment for your kitchen staff is always one of your priorities.  One of the most common injuries besides knife cuts is probably burns from hot cookware or hot surfaces on cooking equipment.

The problem with garden variety oven mitts is they aren’t NSF certified, which means they can become mediums for transmitting food borne illnesses to your employees and customers.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s just an oven mitt, right?  As long as nobody gets burned while wearing it, what’s the big deal?

Companies like Tucker BurnGuard have taken the oven mitt to a whole new level, and the results are pretty impressive.  Tucker gloves are NSF certified for personal and food safety, and different Tucker gloves are specialized for specific tasks in your commercial kitchen.

Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

The Tucker Steam Glove

The Steam Glove protects in wet or oily jobs up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  These gloves also feature a SteamGuard material that protects the wearer from hot vapor and water.  They are of course waterproof and have a rough texture for easy gripping in wet conditions.

Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

The Tucker SiliGlove

The SiliGlove is a silicone glove with heat protection up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  The removable liner can be dishwasher cleaned and the glove itself is anti-bacterial.  These three-finger gloves are 18” long and offer full heat protection plus superior food safety.

Two Levels Of Oven Mitt

The Tucker Quick Klean Mitt

Quick Klean mitts are the ultimate combination of heat protection and food safety.  Standard cotton gloves get wet and grimy and can transmit bacteria.  These mitts are easily cleaned and have removable liner that can also be cleaned for maximum sanitation.

Buying Tucker oven mitts for your restaurant is going to be more expensive than buying standard cotton ones.  However, the improvements in staff safety and food safety can make up the difference between a cheapie and a Tucker mitt.  There’s also something to be said about the durability of a well made mitt.  These Tucker mitts probably last through two or three life cycles of regular cotton mitts.

How has your experience been with Tucker oven mitts?  Is the price worth the quality?  Leave a comment below and let us know!

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10 Back Burner Food Safety Tips

10 Back Burner Food Safety TipsOne of the most important responsibilities of any restaurateur is the proper implementation of a food safety program.  A lapse in food safety can spell the doom of your restaurant, and if you’re just opening a new restaurant, it can mean a delayed opening night.

Good food safety isn’t something you achieve once and then forget about.  It’s something you practice every day your restaurant is open, from the moment product leaves the truck at the back door all the way through to the time the busboy clears the plates after your guests have finished their meals.

Below are 10 food safety tips from The Back Burner that will help you brush up your program.  You have probably already implemented many of these strategies to one degree or another.  Think of this a refresher course and the chance to learn something you didn’t know.  And if you have food safety topics not covered here that really should be, let us know!

1. Shop For Suppliers – As all of the food recent food recalls have taught us, food safety doesn’t start when product comes off the truck at your restaurant.  The supply chain is much longer than that, and things can go wrong well before you ever lay eyes on a box of tomatoes or a head of lettuce.  Learn how to diversify your supply chain and hold it accountable.

2. Managing Temperature - One of the most important aspects of food safety is monitoring food temperatures and making sure it’s always out of the danger zone.  Learn some effective strategies for managing temperature.

3. Proper Handwashing – All your food safety management strategies can go down the drain in a flash if one employee doesn’t wash their hands properly and then handles food.  Learn how to train and supervise employees effectively here.

4. Be Your Own Health Inspector – Why wait for the health inspector to tell you what needs to  be fixed with your food safety program?  Be proactive and think like an inspector before they come to your restaurant.  That way, your inspections will be a breeze.

5. In The Field At Turley’s – This venerable Boulder restaurant shares some of their food safety strategies for the benefit of all.  There’s nothing like some real world experience to put things in perspective.10 Back Burner Food Safety Tips

6. Understanding NSF and UL – Everybody’s seen the NSF and UL labels on products in their restaurant’s kitchen.  What do those labels really mean?  Learn more in this article.

7. HACCP - If you don’t know what this stands for, then you definitely need to read this article.  Even if you do, you might learn a couple things about this core food safety program.

8. Data Loggers – If you don’t use this vital piece of food safety equipment, you might consider it after reading this article.

9. Vacuum Breakers And Backflow Valves – Clean water is vital to any food safety program, and increasingly health inspectors are looking at restaurant plumbing to make sure you are safeguarding the water supply.  Some simple plumbing parts you can install yourself will make the inspector happy and keep your water safe.10 Back Burner Food Safety Tips

10. Safe Seafood – Seafood handling can be especially tricky in a restaurant.  Learn how to keep your seafood tasting great and your customers safe.

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Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

You’ve probably seen the NSF and UL labels in your restaurant or commercial kitchen before.  And you probably already have an idea what these organizations do and what that label means.  But fully understanding what the NSF and UL do to make sure restaurant equipment and tools meet food and personal safety standards is worth your time, so here’s a brief explanation:

Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

NSF International (formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation) is an independent, non-profit organization that certifies food service equipment and ensures it is designed and constructed in a way that promotes food safety. NSF is internationally recognized and most food service equipment is NSF certified.

What does that certification mean?  Equipment certified by the NSF must complete the following process:

  • The facility where the product is made is thoroughly audited by an NSF representative.  This ensures the product is constructed in a sanitary manner and that the standards for sanitary design elements are actually met during construction and assembly.
  •  A physical evaluation of the product is carried out to ensure it meets food safety standards.
  • Testing and evaluation is done on the materials used to make the product to make sure they meet standards.
  • The facility and product must also undergo annual follow up audits to maintain certification.

NSF certified products have therefore passed a stringent set of evaluations to ensure food safety requirements and standards are met. Some common food service equipment that is certified by the NSF include: commercial dishwashers, cooking, hot holding, and transport equipment, dispensing freezers, commercial refrigerators and storage freezers, automatic ice making equipment, and food and beverage dispensing equipment.  Many restaurant and commercial kitchen utensils and cutlery also get NSF certification.

As a restaurateur, purchasing NSF certified equipment and small wares ensures that your business is promoting food safety.  The power of NSF’s reputation means that most equipment you buy is already certified, but understanding what that certification means is important when you look to buy new equipment or during your next health inspection.

Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL)

Millions of products, from consumer electronics to commercial cooking equipment in your restaurant, carry the UL symbol.  UL certification means the product and its components meet a set of safety and hazard standards that ensure the safety of the product’s users.

Over the last 100 years, UL has become the primary authority on product safety.  The UL label on the equipment in your kitchen means it has met a set of standards that ensure your equipment operates in a safe manner.  This includes electrical, design, and structural elements of restaurant equipment.

UL conducts ongoing analysis of products to make sure they continue to meet safety standards.  And UL also has a sanitation certification for equipment that is important to food safety.  Look for this label when dealing with such equipment:

Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

As a restaurateur, it’s important to understand the stringent process certified products must go through to bear the NSF and UL labels.  These products have gone the extra mile to ensure the food and personal safety of their equipment.  Purchasing NSF and UL approved products shows you the manufacturer has taken the time to create a quality product, and that can lend you a little peace of mind.

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The Best Of The Back Burner 2009

8 months and 305 posts later, The Back Burner is getting ready to celebrate its first year as a blog for the food service industry.  There’s a lot of great content we’ve posted over the course of 2009 that has been slowly buried in the avalanche of new posts coming down the pike, and we’d like to take a moment here as 2010 approaches to revisit some of our top posts from the past year:

Category #1: The Most Popular

How To Manage Temperature

Restaurant Management Tips: Hiring and Training Employees

Kogi Is Cool – How 1 Taco Truck Is Taking LA By Storm

Commercial Fryers: A Buying and Maintenance Guide

Category #2: The Most Controversial

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Card Check Unionization Bill Stirs Up Controversy

Boulder Restaurants Getting Some National Respect

Category #3: The Hottest Trends of 2009

Is Restaurant Marketing Getting Scary?

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

How To Grow Your Restaurant – Without Going Broke

11 More Hot Restaurant Trends

 

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Proper Hand Washing

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:

Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Proper Hand Washing

Wash Your Hands!

Cross-contamination resulting from kitchen staff touching contaminated surfaces and then touching food being prepared to serve is one of the most common causes of food borne illness.

Employees should be trained on when to wash their hands and information regarding proper hand washing technique should be posted throughout your commercial kitchen or restaurant, especially over hand sinks and in bathrooms.When To Wash Hands:

  • After touching other food
  • After eating, drinking or smoking
  • After performing other tasks like cleaning, taking out trash, etc.
  • After coming into contact with their person or bodily fluids, like sneezing, coughing, or touching hair or skin

How To Wash Hands:

  • Wet hands first and then apply plenty of soap
  • Use warm water
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds (it’s longer than you think!)
  • Use the palms of the hands to rub soap over other areas like the back of the hand, fingers, wrists, and forearms
  • Use fingers to vigorously rub palms and between fingers, where bacteria and pathogens tend to collect
  • Dry in a sanitary manner: clean, unused paper towels or automatic hand dryer

Developing and training a hand washing procedure for your employees is important, but it’s also useless without effective enforcement.  Make sure you have a method for monitoring and reminding staff of proper hand washing procedures.

A little prevention, especially with something as easy as washing your hands, can go a long way in maintaining high restaurant food safety standards.

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Restaurant Floor Matting: Safety First, Comfort Second

Getting quality kitchen floor matting isn’t only a staff comfort issue; it’s an important safety issue as well. Kitchen floor matting is made from a rubberized material and can be placed anywhere in your kitchen where staff stands while working, including on the line, in front of the dishwasher, behind the bar, and in front of sinks.

Floor matting is great for safety because, as anybody who has worked in a kitchen knows, floors become wet and greasy very quickly, no matter how recently you cleaned.Commercial kitchen floor matting is anti-slip even when greasy or wet.

The best thing about it is your staff will love you for putting down floor matting because it’s so much more comfortable to stand on than concrete

Restaurant Floor Matting: Safety First, Comfort Second

Black grease-resistant floor matting

Black matting is grease resistant and is usually used for bar areas and other areas away from cooking equipment.

 

Restaurant Floor Matting: Safety First, Comfort Second

Red grease-proof floor matting

Red matting is grease proof, and even though it’s more expensive, is the best option for the line and around cooking equipment.

Restaurant Floor Matting: Safety First, Comfort Second

Black cloud anti-fatigue floor matting

Cloud matting brings an extra level of comfort to whoever gets to stand on it, and is almost a requirement for staff who stand in the same place all day while they work.  Cloud matting is also slip resistant and anti-microbial and is the best in comfort and safety.

Over time your kitchen floor matting will wear from constant use. You should replace your matting if it has begun to tear, or if it’s become very thin. No matter what, maintaining good floor matting in your kitchen and bar is very important for staff safety and comfort, so make sure you keep good matting down at all times in your restaurant.

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Bars and Restaurants Using Spotters To Increase Profits

Bars and Restaurants Using Spotters To Increase ProfitsA bar spotter, or “nightclub secret shopper,” is a person sent into a bar by the owner or manager to conduct a secret quality control review of bar staff.  Spotters carefully observe bartenders and other employees, watching for telltale signs of theft and misconduct.  Most spotters were once bartenders themselves, and understand the industry and how it works.  Many companies across the U.S. have sprung up in recent years to meet the rising demand of restaurants and bars for spotters.

The worst thing a bartender can do is give away drinks for free by never ringing up the sale or just pocketing the cash.  Only about 10% of bartenders are caught stealing, however.  Most bar owners get a lot more value out of the other things a bar spotter watches for during their visit, like generous pours on drinks, failing to upsell customers on top shelf brands, and long wait times.

In general, bartenders are making a lot less than they used to from tips as patrons dial back on bar visits.  This has led many of them to try to earn tips in creative ways, like giving customers an extra long pour.  The drink rings up the same for the owner, however, and that costs the bar money.  And if bartenders simply push out well drinks whenever someone orders a rum and coke instead of asking the customer what kind of rum they would like, that’s costing bars money too.

For bar owners, revenue is down as well.  Many have found that the solution, counter-intuitive as it may be, is to spend money on a bar spotter to identify places where thin profits are leaking out.  Hiring a bar spotter isn’t cheap, often running into the hundreds of dollars per visit, but the invaluable information you can gain from having an anonymous person observe your bar staff has proven to be more than worth the cost.

Finding a bar spotting company is relatively easy.  Just type “bar spotter” into a Google search and you’ll find several companies that offer services across the country.

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Restaurant Marketing Trends: Do You Have A Leaky Bucket?

Restaurant Marketing Trends: Do You Have A Leaky Bucket?Think of your restaurant as a 5 gallon bucket.  Every day you fill that bucket with customers.  Sometimes there’s a steady flow, sometimes it’s just a trickle, and sometimes it seems like a flood.  No matter what kind of day it is, every customer flowing through your doors grades their experience and makes a decision on whether to come back or not.

The fewer holes you have in your bucket, the more customers you retain, and the more likely your bucket is to be full on a daily basis.  After all, you don’t need much of a flow into your bucket if it’s already over half full.  The Restaurant Marketing Group recently released their annual Leaky Bucket Report, which studies in-depth the most common holes in the major restaurant brands around the nation.

The trends in this year’s report probably won’t surprise you, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some lessons here to take to heart.  According to the Leaky Bucket Report, 36% of respondents to the survey cited price and value as a reason for not returning to a restaurant.  That’s an 11% increase in a single year.  Restaurant Marketing Trends: Do You Have A Leaky Bucket?

Customers are looking for value.  That means good food a great prices.  Fine dining has been getting killed in the current economic climate.  In fact, anybody who is viewed as too expensive is headed for disaster (think Starbucks).  Undoubtedly you have seen national chains like Applebee’s roll out prix fixe dinner menus and other deals on traditionally pricy food (like steaks) at cut-rate prices.

Quality service rose 10% to 23% as a reason for restaurants to leak customers.  The most interesting thing about the 2009 report is that location declined 7%, the first time a restaurant’s proximity was less important to customers in years.  It appears that customers are saying “Give me a good price and great service and I will travel a few extra miles for it.”

The good news is price and service are two things a restaurant can control, as opposed to location, which most cannot.  These are truly trying times for anyone in the restaurant industry, but it appears that those who chose to focus on the basics of good restaurant management, i.e. good service, good food, and good prices, are going to be the ones who survive the downturn.

In the end, the causes for leaks in your bucket are always the same; the only difference is that in times of growth, the stream of customers into the bucket masks the leaks.  When that stream fades to a trickle, it’s what you’ve managed to save in the bucket that will get you through.

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