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Choosing a POS System That Best Fits Your Restaurant

Choosing a POS System That Best Fits Your RestaurantWhen choosing a POS system for your restaurant, there are many things to consider. One must choose the system that will best suit the needs of the type of restaurant in question. However, every restaurant needs a terminal that allows them to place orders for food and drinks that are then transferred to a kitchen where the orders can be carried out.

The first criteria one must keep in mind is finding the right POS system that best suits their type of restaurant, including:

  • Fine dining and casual table service
  • Nightclubs which provide limited amounts of food or none at all (drinks only)
  • Quick Service Restaurants (fast food)
  • Pizza takeout and delivery.

Each of these types of restaurants are in need of some sort of POS system.

In addition to the stations themselves, the owner must choose a database that will store the data that is needed on a day-to-day basis. The majority of professionals dealing with POS systems would agree that their preferred type of database for restaurants is the SQL, Structured Query Language.

The advantage that SQL provides is the ability for the operator to experience as little data corruption as possible. Stability is something that should come expectedly, and without question, when purchasing a quality POS system. There should be no need for repairs here and there to correct issues with failure and/or corruption.

When purchasing a POS system, it is also very important that the terminal updates any changes within seconds, without the need for rebooting or manually giving commands.

A crucial aspect of the POS system is the printer.

It is imperative that the chosen system operates with a dedicated print server. This server ensures that at any time a printer becomes offline or runs out of paper, the job will within seconds be rerouted to a backup printer. Before buying a POS system, one must be aware of the time it takes to reroute a job. If minutes pass by before a problem is detected, customer satisfaction could decline due to the lack of timeliness in processing an order. In the restaurant industry, timing is everything.

System restoration is an integral part of the POS system that will keep your business running smoothly.

In the event that something should go wrong with your POS system, there must be a plan within to restore itself. Remote backup is crucial for single station restaurants. You must ask your provider if they can rapidly deploy new hardware with a backup copy of all data, including all open checks, since there is only one station. If the restaurant has multiple stations, they should be networked together for ultimate redundancy. If one unit fails, the rest will continue operating as if nothing happened.

Finally, there is one last thing to ensure before deciding on a POS system that best fits your restaurant’s needs: make sure that the system is PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant.

Whether the business is brand new or has been in operation for a number of years, it is imperative that the owner finds the POS system with all the essentials that best fit the needs of the restaurant, ensuring customer satisfaction.

Curtis Stevens is a sales rep for Gotmerchant.com, a point of sale provider that offers a free POS system.Choosing a POS System That Best Fits Your Restaurant

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Troubleshooting Commercial Refrigeration Problems

Keeping product out of the danger zone and ready for preparation on the line is one of the most important tasks facing any commercial kitchen, and your Troubleshooting Commercial Refrigeration Problemscommercial refrigeration units play a critical role.

Maintaining and fixing the refrigeration units in your restaurant can be expensive, which is why it’s all the more important for you to be able to fix common issues that come up quickly without wasting a lot of time waiting for help.

Here’s a list of common commercial refrigeration issues and how to address them:

Did this troubleshooting guide help you?  Is there something that we missed here that will help others?  Leave a comment below and share your experiences fixing commercial refrigerators!

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Have You Joined The NRA’s Conserve Initiative?

Have You Joined The NRAs Conserve Initiative?The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Conserve Initiative is designed to give restaurateurs the tools they need to start implementing sustainable, environmentally conscious practices in the food service industry.  As quoted from the Conserve Initiative’s website:

“The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve initiative is designed to initiate and inspire actions that improve a company’s bottom line, but also are good for people and the planet.”

The Conserve Initiative website contains news stories about leaders in restaurant sustainability, tools for improving the efficiency and minimizing the environmental impact of your restaurant, and links to important partner sites like government-run Energy Star, which is focused on energy efficiency.

A skeptic might ask: “Why all the hubbub about environmentalism all of a sudden?”  As the NRA points out, some basic realities are confronting the average restaurant owner every day: utility and energy bills eat up 2.5% – 3.4% of gross revenue.  Poll after poll consistently shows that American consumers place value on products and services that are marketed as “green” or “environmentally friendly.”  Food in your restaurant is no exception to this.  And finally, the food service industry is one of the largest in the United States.  The industry as a whole should take the lead on an increasingly important cultural issue.

Here on The Back Burner, I have written extensively about ways to improve energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in your restaurant.  The NRA’s Conserve Initiative is just another resource in the greening efforts your restaurant can actually profit from engaging in.  And that remains the salient point here: focusing on so-called “green” initiatives and strategies in your restaurant can actually save you money!

So what are you waiting for?  Go green and be happy.

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8 Restaurant Marketing Tips

In these tough times, restaurants can use all the free marketing they can get. If a pricey restaurant marketing consultant is not in your budget, read on to discover ways to get your eatery in the customers’ minds, without spending a dime.

1. Talk to your customers.  Ask how they found you. If it’s not your usual source, follow up to see if you can connect with that niche market.

2. Don’t play by the rules.  How about honoring one of your competitor’s coupons on a night with slow traffic? Or, offer a really attractive loss leader, one that garners you some serious buzz. Take a tip from the gas stations that offered gas for 10 cents a gallon at the height of gas prices—not only did they have lines stretching down the street, but they usually got free publicity from the local television news and newspaper.

3. Use technology.  Submit your web site to the search engines, start a blog, open a Twitter account and figure out how you can use it successfully. Don’t have a website? Why not? You can start a blog easily and for FREE with Blogger or WordPress.

4. Collect customers’ email addresses.  Used cautiously, email is a great, free way to speak directly to your customers and showcase your events. Just be sure not to spam your customers and make the subject line grab attention!

5. Get involved in the local community.  Make a personal difference. It’s good for both you and your business. Volunteer and encourage your staff to as well or donate snacks and drinks to local groups working on improving your community.

6. Cultivate referrals.  When you thank your customers for coming in, remind them to tell their friends how much they enjoyed their meal. Word of mouth is THE most powerful marketing tool you have.

7. Speak with confidence.  People love a winner. Be sure your staff projects the same attitude.

8. Be honest.  Build your customers’ trust with everything you do. People recognize when they are being treated fairly and honestly and they tell other people.

Erin Martin is the Online Editor of MustHaveMenus, an online company that provides restaurants with an online Menu Editor and high quality menu
templates. She blogs her thoughts on menu design trends and restaurant marketing strategies at http://blog.musthavemenus.com.

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How To Calibrate A Thermometer

How To Calibrate A ThermometerThink of a good thermometer as the crescent wrench of your food safety program.  Without it, you have no idea what the temperature of your food products are, either when you cook them or when you store them.  And that means you can’t tighten the bolts of your food safety program, locking out food borne illnesses and locking in food quality.

The problem with thermometers is that they lose their bearings over time and use.  If you’re using that thermometer to make sure food is staying out of the danger zone, and your thermometer is more than a couple degrees Fahrenheit off, you’re taking a risk your restaurant really can’t afford.  Luckily, calibrating a thermometer is easy and it should be done regularly in your restaurant.

You should re-calibrate your thermometer if:

  • You dropped it (especially if it’s a dial thermometer)
  • Before you use it for the first time
  • If you use the same thermometer to measure very cold and very hot temperatures
  • Daily or weekly if you use the same thermometer multiple times

Most health inspectors will recommend daily recalibration if you are checking many temperatures throughout the day (and hopefully, for the sake of your food safety program, you are!).

There are two methods for calibrating thermometers:

Ice point.  Fill an insulated glass with crushed ice and then add a little water.  Let it sit for at least five minutes and then insert the sensing part of the thermometer into the cup.  Make sure the sensor is in the middle of the glass and at least an inch from the sides, bottom, and top of the glass.  Hold it there for 30 seconds or until the dial stops moving or the digital thermometer beeps.  Your thermometer should be reading 32 degrees Fahrenheit after 30 seconds.  If it’s not, it needs to be recalibrated.  The ice point method is the most accurate way to calibrate a thermometer.

Boiling point.  Boil at least six inches of water.  Once the water has reached a rolling boil, stick the sensor part of the thermometer into the middle of the water, taking care to keep it at least two inches from the sides, top, and bottom.  After 30 seconds, the thermometer should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re at 1,000 feet or less of elevation.  See below if you are at a higher altitude.  If it doesn’t read 212, your thermometer needs to be recalibrated.

Changes in boiling point temperature by elevation:

  • Sea Level: 212 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 1,000 feet: 210 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2,000 feet: 208 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 3,000 feet: 206.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 4,000 feet: 204.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 5,000 feet: 202.75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 8,000 feet: 197.5 degrees Fahrenheit

How To Calibrate A ThermometerHow To Calibrate A Thermometer

Dial thermometers have a little screw or nut that adjusts the dial to the correct temperature.  Simply turn the adjuster until the dial reads the correct temperature according to the method you’re using to calibrate.

Digital thermometers have a reset button.  Simply push that button when you’re at the temperature point and your thermometer is ready to go.

If you have employees who regularly take temperature readings, train them on how to calibrate thermometers correctly.  Of course, simply showing an employee how to calibrate a thermometer isn’t enough to ensure calibration is happening on a regular schedule and to the correct specifications.  You must trust but verify.  The easiest way to do this  is to schedule a time for all employees to calibrate their thermometers.  That way you can ensure calibration is done regularly and accurately.

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How To Battle The Evil Reservation No-Show

How To Battle The Evil Reservation No ShowReservation no-shows are a frustrating experience for any restaurant.  On an especially busy night like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day, they can really cost your restaurant some serious money.  Not only do you have to depend on walk-in traffic to fill those seats, but there’s a good chance you turned down other customers looking for a reservation leading up to that high-traffic day.

So how do you fight the evil no-show?

Traditionally, restaurants don’t require a reservation confirmation using a credit card, especially for non-holidays.  In recent years that’s been changing, with many restaurants requiring a credit card for the big days like New Year’s.  Some have even begun holding a credit card for regular weekend nights, especially in locations where foot traffic is very light and the restaurant is heavily dependent upon reservations.

First, the 101 on credit card reservations.

Two schools of thought dominate the discussion over credit card reservations.  The first maintains that anything making it harder for your customer to enjoy a meal in your restaurant, like the inconvenience of giving out your credit card and being on the hook for a fee just to make a reservation, is just plain wrong.  The second school says that taking a credit card protects you from losing business, especially on busy nights, and that many other types of businesses like airlines and hotels require a credit card to secure a reservation, so why not restaurants?
How To Battle The Evil Reservation No Show
Both approaches have a point.  Most restaurants probably shouldn’t sweat a cancellation on a weeknight, and therefore there’s no need to make your customer go through the hoopla of putting a credit card down.  Weekends are (hopefully!) a different story, but for most restaurants higher walk-in rates offsets cancellations, so unless you have the uncommon good fortune of owning a place that is always packed to the gills with reservations every weekend, taking a credit card probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The big dining days should be a different story altogether.  If you’re turning down reservations for New Year’s or Valentine’s, then you should be securing the reservations you do have, because people usually don’t walk in on those days, they get a reservation first.

OK, 101 – Check.  What if there’s a better way than taking a credit card?

Ah ha – now we’re talking.  I don’t know about you, but anytime I have to pull out my credit card I have to pause and think about it.  There’s something mildly unpleasant about giving your credit card number to someone else, especially if all you want to do is take your wife out to dinner.  There’s got to be a better way to maximize the number of people who make a reservation versus those that actually show up.

Really, your reservation crowd is a great one to get to know.  That’s because these are people who are already sold on how great your restaurant is.  They want to eat in your establishment and they’ve made an appointment to do so.

So why not follow up with them?

Collect an email address and/or a telephone number and call them and/or email them 24 hours before their reservation to confirm.  The vast majority of no-shows simply had their plans change or decided to eat somewhere else and never let you know.  Taking the time to engage this customer not only shows how interested you are in their business, it allows you to make your reservation process more efficient and leaves fewer holes due to no-shows.How To Battle The Evil Reservation No Show

Naturally, some days, like New Year’s, are always going to be credit card days.  You just absolutely have to know who’s doing what on those days.  But for the rest of the year, requiring a credit card seems like too much, and relying on your customer 100% of the time seems like too little.  Engaging your customer, especially since they’ve already indicated they’re interested by calling for a reservation, is a great way to bridge that gap.

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Why Fast Food Lunch Is Good For Your Restaurant

Why Fast Food Lunch Is Good For Your RestaurantOne restaurant that has been doing just fine during the economic downturn is McDonald’s.  Their combination of convenience and affordability has made the golden arches the restaurant of choice in tough times.

As consumers become more and more health and value conscious, restaurants have an inherent advantage over fast food chains during the lunch hour.

The one element holding you back from expanding your lunch rush is time.  People just don’t have as much time during lunch as they once did, and in an on-the-go society, a leisurely lunch just doesn’t realistically fit into most people’s agenda.

Chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Houlihan’s have effectively maximized lunch traffic with a simple formula: value – time = more customers.  In other words, the more value you offer in the shortest amount of time, the more lunchtime customers you’re going to see.

Both chains offer “speed lunch” promotions, where the customer’s meal is guaranteed on the table in 15 minutes or it’s free.  Servers place a timer on the table when the order is taken and after that, it’s off to the races.

Houlihan’s has made landing lunch on the table in less than 15 minutes and turning the table in 30-45 minutes an exact science, and any restaurant can benefit from their example.  Customers appreciate your restaurant accommodating their tight schedule and still delivering a quality product.

Here are some strategies to help you implement your own speed lunch promotion:

Cut down the menu.  You don’t want your kitchen staff prepping and cooking a variety of menu items when they’re on such a tight timeline.  Stick to your core offerings that have good margins (because you might be giving away a free one!) and are relatively easy to prepare.

Develop benchmarks for meal prep and service.  Houlihan’s requires that servers enter orders in 2 minutes or less after they are taken to allow the kitchen as much time as possible.  Servers are then given 2 minutes to serve the meal after it’s ready.  No matter how much time your speed lunch allows, make sure you have benchmarks so that you and your staff know when you start getting into the dangerous free meal zone.

Leverage POS technology.  More than likely you have already invested in a POS (Point Of Sale) computer terminal system that allows orders from the front of the house to be entered electronically.  A POS system is vital to the success of a speed lunch promo because it greatly increases the efficiency of transferring orders from servers to the back of the house.

If you already have a POS system, consider adding more terminals to reduce lines and distance so that servers can meet their order entry deadline.  If you don’t have a POS system, taking on a speed lunch promotion is going to be very interesting.  Investing in one not only helps the success of your speed lunch promo, it also improves efficiency across your restaurant.

Leverage restaurant equipment.  Before launching a speed lunch promotion, carefully analyze the cook times of the items you’re going to offer and make sure your staff can consistently produce under a given time limit.  Quick and efficient cooking equipment like steamers, broilers, and microwaves should be used whenever possible to make sure prep times stay down.  Food prep equipment like food processors and vegetable cutters are great ways to increase your kitchen staff’s efficiency.

Continue to analyze preparation and cooking techniques and look for ways to improve efficiency.

Make sure your staff is ready.  You may want to schedule extra staff for speed lunch promo days, especially when you first start out.  Evaluate staff performance and put teams together that operate well under the deadline pressure.  Keep top performing teams together so that familiarity breeds added efficiency.

A speed lunch promo is a great way to create lunch crowds in your restaurant.  And the challenge for you and your staff to perform can make it an exercise in teamwork that can have many unintentional benefits for your business, such as finding ways to increase efficiency and teamwork.

These new findings can be applied to the rest of your business easily, and while your dinner rush might have a little more time, the lessons you learned turning tables at lunch might help you make an extra buck at night too.

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Food Service Product Watch: 10 Products For Your Restaurant

Food Service Product Watch: 10 Products For Your Restaurant

Every restaurant kitchen is full of tools of the trade, from heavy duty gas ranges to the lowliest spatula, it takes a lot of equipment to serve your customers right – day in and day out.  Keeping track of all the equipment and products that can help make your operation run more smoothly could be a full time job in itself, and I know you don’t have the time for another full time job.

These Back Burner posts cover some products that might be of use in your commercial kitchen.  Feel free to browse through and see if you find something you like:

  1. Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals - These Crocs are designed specifically for the food service industry and have proven to be a hit with the chefs and waitstaff that have tried them.
  2. Two Levels Of Oven Mitt – There’s your standard, garden variety oven mitt and then there’s Tucker, which takes the commercial oven mitt to a whole new level of safety and convenience.  Learn the difference in this post.
  3. Floor Matting - If your kitchen doesn’t have floor matting, or if you need to replace the worn stuff you’ve got now, this post will help you understand why you need new matting for the sake of safety and which type will work best.
  4. The Poseidon: The New God Of Digital Portion Scales - If you haven’t heard about The Poseidon digital portion scale from Edlund, you’ve been missing out on one of the hottest new products in food service.
  5. How Ice Machine Water Filters Can Help With More Than Just Ice - If you’re not filtering the water coming out of your glass filler, you should be.  Luckily, you can easily add a water filter just like the one you use for your ice machine to produce clean, fresh, great tasting water for your customers.
  6. Restaurant Equipment Casters: Buy Smart – If you need to replace the casters on your restaurant equipment, or if you need to add casters to new equipment, read this post first to make sure you don’t pay too much and that you get the right casters the first time.
  7. The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety? – The EndoTherm is a thermometer inside a liquid gel that mimics food product in your walk-in.  This allows you to check the actual temperature of your product rather than the ambient air temperature in the walk-in giving you a more accurate sense of food temperatures.
  8. Lincoln Smallwares: A Little Cookware For Everyone – Lincoln has four lines of cookware and each one is designed for a different chef.  No matter what, you’re going to find the line that’s right for you.
  9. Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice – Hoshi ice machines are a great choice if you’re in the market for ice machines.  Learn more about their products here.
  10. Krowne Underbar Equipment – You already know about Krowne’s great restaurant plumbing, but if you haven’t seen their modular underbar equipment, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

BONUS PRODUCT: Handle Bulk Vegetable Oil The Smart Spout Way – The Smart Spout makes pouring bulk vegetable oil safer and easier.  It’s one of those simple product innovations that really makes you wonder why you didin’t have one before this.

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How to Wage War on Water Orders

How to Wage War on Water OrdersNow is the time for your restaurant to take a stand. The war on tap water is steadily spiraling out of control. You may have lost the battle but the war can still be won.

Whether it’s their growing waistlines, shrinking budgets, or a combination of the two, restaurant diners are ordering more tap water when dining out. The motivation for customers to do so is obvious: tap water is free and contains zero calories.

Over the last five years tap water has become increasingly popular, while other beverage sales have suffered. According to NPD Group, a market research company, tap water accounts for 10% of beverages ordered in the past five years, and total beverage orders are down 6%.

This is a trend that restaurant owners want to reverse. Beverages sales make up a large part of a restaurant’s revenue and when customers are sticking to water this revenue is diminished.

Restaurant owners need ways to attack their falling beverage sales. Here are a few possible ways to increase your restaurant’s beverage sales.

Maximize Your Beverage Options with Coca-Cola Freestyle

Coca-Cola Freestyle is a new beverage dispenser that offers more than 100 different drink options. Customers are able to choose their favorite option or customize their own beverage.

This is a great way to increase your beverage options and provide customers with a selection they cannot ignore. Five Guys and Burger King restaurant chains have already endorsed Coca-Cola Freestyle and will install machines in restaurants nationwide.

Create Your Own Unique Beverage Options

Instead of presenting diners with the same beverage list they might find at any other restaurant put a creative and customized spin on your drink menu. By putting in the extra effort to set your drink menu apart from the rest you will provide your customers with more incentive to indulge and experience drinks they have not encountered before.

Millennium, a gourmet restaurant in San Francisco, has embraced this idea and created an extensive customized drink menu. This drink menu includes specialty cocktails made of hand-crafted ingredients (like ginger agave) prepared by the kitchen staff, the bartenders then use these ingredients and their creativity to concoct unique beverages. The restaurant also offers specialty non-alcoholic juices and natural sodas.

Train Staff to Sell Beverages

Your servers are fighting on the front line and you should provide them with the artillery to combat incoming water orders. It is common for restaurant servers to just ask a customer whether they want a beverage and accept “no” for an answer.

Train your employees to use “suggestive selling” to help persuade diners to order a beverage with their meal. This can be done by suggesting an item from the drink list that would complement the meal they ordered or by highlighting some of the more unique and enticing beverage items your restaurant serves. It is important that your staff knows how to suggest a beverage without being too aggressive and overwhelming in the process.

Combo Meals

Creating combination choices on your restaurant’s menu is another good way to increase beverage sales. Combo meals can be implemented in any style restaurant, whether it is fine dining or fast food.

This is a great way to get your customers to order a beverage, allowing you to combine an entree with a beverage option and provide your customers with an easier and more affordable way to order a drink with their meal. Combo meals also create an opportunity to add an appetizer or dessert to generate more orders for these parts of your menu.

Happy Hour

Offering a happy hour for customers is a great way to not only increase beverage sales but also increase foot traffic that comes through your restaurant daily. A happy hour provides customers with a reason to stop by your restaurant frequently and order drinks.

This promotion will also increase appetizer sales. People are constantly looking for a reason to go get a drink with friends; by creating a happy hour you are giving them a reason and a place to go.

With the war on water out of control it is time for your restaurant to make a strategy change with its beverage sales. Tap water orders are becoming more and more popular as other beverage sales fall. Your restaurant needs to plan its counter attack today. By employing a new plan of action you may be able to reverse or at least slow this troubling trend.  Don’t loose your beverage sales in the fight against tap water.

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Restaurant Marketing: Your Focus Shouldn’t Be On Social Media

I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin last week to do a restaurant marketing workshop for Sysco and was looking for a place to eat. Obviously in a strange town and no one around to make recommendations, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and downloaded the Yelp app.

Immediately, I got hundreds of restaurants with thousands of reviews. I searched for some restaurants in my area where my hotel was located—because Yelp is GPS enabled—read the reviews and made my choice. It was that easy … and thanks to those who had already visited that restaurant and submitted a review, I made the right choice and had a great dining experience.

This is how many will decide which restaurant to choose—online referrals from other people who have dined at your restaurant.

This experience really drives home the point that your guests can control your destiny. They can make you really successful and fabulously rich. They can create a buzz about you that no one else can. But it’s all up to you.

Ironically, as our guests are moving to “hi-tech” sources for their information and referrals, restaurants need to focus on “low-tech” marketing to be successful. That means, mom and pop marketing, the principles of mayor marketing; making connections, wowing your guest and their dining experience. The list goes on and for those who have been with me over the past years, you know what I’m talking about.

So, while other restaurants are focusing their attention or bragging about building the “largest” list of facebook fans—by attracting customers with discounts galore (that sounds familiar) and truly believing that these “fans” are the end-all and be-all of loyalty to your restaurant, (c’mon, who are we kidding here) … I urge you to focus your attention on your guests and their dining experience … from the nano-second they drive into your parking lot.

And what does this have to do with Facebook? Here’s the million dollar tip to having a winning social media program that you won’t find at any workshop (other than mine) or in any book—If you’re successful at Wowing your guests, they’ll handle your social media marketing for you.

Joel Cohen regularly blogs about  Restaurant Marketing. Through consulting and speaking, he focuses on specific principles of restaurant marketing, such as planning, differentiation and how to WOW guests to increase sales.

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