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Eat Responsibly: Support Ethical Treatment of Restaurant Employees

Eat Responsibly: Support Ethical Treatment of Restaurant EmployeesSeveral different factors can help market a restaurant to the public. Quality ingredients, good service and of course tasty food are the first to come to mind. Other standards must be met or exceeded to maintain a good public image. These are factors like food safety and ethical employee treatment.

Failure to meet expectations in theses areas can result in bad publicity and loss of business. Today diners are very interested in the ethical treatment of animals in the food industry and now they’re beginning to focus some of that attention on human rights in the industry. Creating a quality working environment for a restaurant staff is not only the right thing to do, it also helps market your business.

Some businesses in the restaurant industry have been exposed for poor treatment of employees, which draws diners’ attention to the issue. Providing workers with paid sick leave and proper wages will give you a leg up on the competition for all the right reasons.

According to the 2012 Diners’ Guide by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), some popular restaurants in America are not providing proper wages, benefits or advancement opportunities to their employees. ROC United is a nationwide organization that is dedicated to improving wages and working conditions for the low-wage restaurant workforce. The organization was founded after September 11, 2001 in New York City. ROC NY experienced a great deal of success and in 2008 the founders decided to take their cause to the national level. The organization currently has 8,000 low-wage restaurant workers and is growing fast.

The Problem

The report states that many restaurant employees do not get paid sick leave. The ROC surveyed more than 4,300 restaurant workers and in this group 90% said they aren’t offered paid sick days. 2/3 of these people reported cooking, preparing or serving food while sick, potentially putting diners’ health at risk.

Some restaurant workers are not only denied paid sick days but they also receive extremely low wages while working. As reported in the Diners’ Guide more than half of restaurant workers nationwide are below the federal poverty line.

The last troubling trend highlighted by the Diners’ Guide is occupational segregation. The report says that employees are discriminated based on sex, race and immigration status in some restaurants when being considered for career advancement opportunities.

ROC United conducted 4,000 surveys in 8 American cities for a report entitled “Blacks in the Restaurant Industry Brief.” The brief found a gap in pay between black and white restaurant workers of more than $4.00/hr. ROC also discovered that in fine dining restaurants bartenders were 3 times more likely to be white than black and servers were 4 times more likely to be white.

ROC United Takes a Stand

The Diners’ Guide is an attempt to bring awareness to this growing issue and as a result fight back against poor working conditions. The ROC’s ultimate objectives for the Diners’ Guide is to raise the federal minimum wage for tipped workers, provide workers with paid sick days and to eliminate occupational segregation in the industry.

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is currently $2.13. ROC believes this is not nearly enough for people trying to earn a living working in a restaurant. They are teaming with congress members and other organizations to pass the WAGES Act. This act would increase tipped minimum wage to $5.

ROC United is also teaming with a large group of organizations to support the Healthy Families Act. This bill would offer all people working in the United States 7 paid sick days. The bill would help support our public’s health by not forcing sick restaurant employees to report to work while they are sick and endangering the health of their customers in doing so.

ROC is also fighting back against occupational segregation by urging employers to have clear promotion policies that are based on time worked at the establishment and the quality of that work.

The Other Side of the Story  

As a restaurateur the ROC’s Diners Guide must be troubling. If your restaurant is above the problem and treats employees correctly then this report is troubling because your business is being portrayed in a negative light by being grouped into the problems of the industry as a whole.

For restaurants that are not treating employees fairly this is eye-opening because of the possible repercussions in the form of lost business. Either way this is the time for restaurant owners to take a stand and make their own statement on how restaurants treat employees. Fair treatment of employees is both ethical and constructive. If your employees are treated right the quality of their work is likely to increase because they care more about the company and doing their part to improve business.

A few organizations opposed to the Diners’ Guide findings include the National Restaurant Association, Darden Restaurant Group and other advocates for the restaurant industry. These groups believe that the Diners’ Guide is an unjustified attempt to tarnish the industry’s image. They say that the restaurant industry is one of the largest job providers in the country and that they do not deserve this bad publicity.

Darden Restaurant Group restaurants were rated as some of the worst for ethical employee treatment in the Diners’ Guide. The company is accused of several different cases of wage theft, worker discrimination, paying poverty wages and not providing paid sick leave. An example of this alleged employee mistreatment comes from a Capital Grille located in Chevy Chase, MD. Employees claim that several African-American servers were fired because they didn’t “fit the company standard.”

Darden Restaurant Group is closely reviewing its own policy and evidence of how their employees are treated daily. According to Rich Jeffers, Darden’s director of media relations and external communications, the company believes the accusations of wage improprieties and racial discrimination from former employees and ROC are “baseless.”

The world’s largest full-service restaurant company says that to their knowledge they have done nothing wrong and point to awards they have received in the past in support of their case. Darden Restaurant Group has received awards from Black Enterprise and Diversity Inc. for being one of the top companies for diversity in the country. The company was listed in Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2011 and 2012. Finally, Darden also received the National Restaurant Association’s “Faces of Diversity Award” in 2007. Darden believes that its awarded track record is proof that it treats employees ethically.

The National Restaurant Association is standing behind Darden and other restaurants that were negatively exposed in the Diners’ Guide. NRA spokesman Scott Defife says the guide is a “transparent attempt to disparage” the restaurant industry. He goes on to point out that the industry has continued to be a leading job creator in the country.Eat Responsibly: Support Ethical Treatment of Restaurant Employees

These groups are united in their belief that ROC has not provided enough evidence for their findings and that the restaurant industry has not earned this negative publicity.

What You Can Do

Restaurant owners and managers are in a position where they can directly help solve this problem. It is pretty simple. If you are ethical about your employment practices then great, keep doing what you’re doing, but if not then fix them by doing what you know is right. Doing so will be obviously beneficial to your employees first of all but it will also be good for your brand’s public image.

With the new information circulating about poor treatment of restaurant employees diners will seek eateries that are above the problem. If you treat your workers right, then let people know and your business will be positively impacted.

The low wages and poor conditions that restaurant workers have to endure is a serious issue. In a time where the restaurant industry is beginning to take a stand for animal rights and sustainable farming practices it is time we stood up for the workers. Read the Diners’ Guide today and fight back by improving your employee treatment standards and informing others in the industry of this serious problem.

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The Church of Cupcakes

The Church of Cupcakes Priests. Prayers. Candles. Confessionals. Cupcakes?

Are you looking for a new place to worship? Need a way to fill the void in your spiritual life? The Church of Cupcakes may be the delicious solution to your problems. This is not your typical church. This culinary cathedral will satisfy even your sweetest tooth.

The Church of Cupcakes is religious in its cupcake construction; comparing it to the indescribable sensation experienced after hiking a mountain, kayaking a river or rafting through raging rapids. They welcome all worshippers to join in the “euphoric bliss” gained through preparing and enjoying a cupcake.

The Denver based company recently changed its name from Lovely Confections. The Church of Cupcakes is very excited about the new direction of the business but could use some extra funding to get this plan in action. They are currently registered for a grant contest and could use your help. The contest is sponsored by Chase and Living social and designed to award 12 small businesses with a $250,000 grant. In order to be considered for one of the grants each small business needs at least 250 votes.

The Church of Cupcakes brings a new and exciting approach to the world of cupcakes. They are dedicated to providing tasty treats made with organic, local and sustainable ingredients and making sure their entire operation is environmentally safe. This is clear when reading the company’s “Ten Commandments.” This is a list of ten culinary laws that the company cooks by. These commandments vow that the company will always bake from scratch, never use artificial colors or flavors, use renewable packaging and always celebrate the cupcake for bringing joy.

Along with offering fresh local ingredients the company’s style is unique because of their ironic humor and clean, vintage design. The colorful store is complete with glitter floors, a foosball table, photo booths and scripture chalkboards in the bathrooms. The company also sells custom t-shirts and bumper stickers as well.

The store isn’t the only unique aspect the Church of Cupcakes offers to customers. The menu is one of a kind because of its ingredients and clever names. From rapture raspberry to sprinkle salvation and pillar of salted caramel all of the menu items are fun and delicious. The cupcakes are baked in small batches throughout the day in order to offer customers the freshest cupcake every time. The Church of Cupcakes offers a “virgin” cupcake that is gluten free and available in chocolate or vanilla which can be paired with any frosting option.

The Church of Cupcakes is located at 1489 Steele Street in Denver. The store’s hours of worship are Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5p.m. You can also visit churchofcupcakes.com or call (720) 524-7770 to place an order.

The church bells are ringing, come in to the Church of Cupcakes today and enjoy a little piece of heaven in every bite.

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Is Restaurant Marketing Technology Getting Scary?

Is Restaurant Marketing Technology Getting Scary?

Don’t scan my eyes!

Mobile marketing is beginning to sound like the movie Minority Report, where pedestrians had their retinas scanned by computers as they walked by stores and voices addressed them by name and encouraged them to buy products tailored to their personal preferences.

That would be scary, but it’s never gonna happen to me, right?

Surely you’ve seen TV ads asking you to text such and such to a number and receive deals or promos.  The companies doing that kind of advertising get your number when you text, and use that to target you for future promos.

Seems like we’re getting warmer, Steven Spielberg.

Until recently, nobody in the food service industry was thinking about applying some of these new technologies to an old game: improving sales and customer retention.

That’s changing, and one of the agents of change is Fishbowl Inc., a technology-based marketing company for the food service industry.

The firm has built email and internet marketing campaigns for over 30,000 restaurants and is recommended by the National Restaurant Association.  They recently expanded into mobile technology marketing, where new marketing techniques have revolutionized how restaurants reach their customers.

Scotty’s Brewhouse in Indiana increased to-go orders placed on the internet by 500% with a two-for-one promo that went out via email and applied only to those internet orders.

Smoothie King chain restaurant locations offer a free smoothie in exchange for a text message from customers.  The cost of the smoothie is a fraction of the value of having that customer on an email and text list for future promos, and sales are up on promo days by 24%.

Jack-in-the-Box has even experimented with placing a small computer chip in special promo posters that communicates with mobile devices and alerts customers to local store locations and deals.

Maybe those retina scans aren’t that far off after all.

As marketing methodology improves using these new technologies, restaurants will be able to reach their customers in increasingly innovative ways.

Building email and text number databases of customers will help connect customers and businesses and allow restaurants to improve sales in slow periods and maximize customer retention.

Most importantly, restaurants can learn about their customers and cater more directly to their needs.  Knowing what customers want when they want it is half the battle in any service industry, and especially in the food service industry.

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Klick Kitchen: Can Your Restaurant Save By Ordering Online?

Last summer I wrote about Klick Kitchen, an internet-based replenishment service for food service businesses.  At the time it struck me as odd that despite all the press Klick Kitchen had been getting, there didn’t seem to be any feedback from real chefs/managers/owners in the field who could substantiate Klick Kitchen’s claim that their service saves restaurants time and money when ordering food product from suppliers.  At $300 to sign up and a $30/month subscription fee, Klick Kitchen just didn’t seem like it could really save a lot of money, time notwithstanding.

Recently Billy Humble of Klick Kitchen contacted me wanting to discuss the new direction the company was taking, and he was gracious enough to spend some time with me on the phone explaining Klick Kitchen’s new approach.

Klick Kitchen is now free for restaurants to sign up and free to use. The company plans to generate revenue through paid featured listings for vendors and optional reporting services for members.

In case you’re unfamiliar with how it works, members who sign up get access to a list of vendors in their area, complete with real-time pricing and contact information.  The site allows users to contact their vendors to order and shop for new vendors very easily.

According to a recent press release quoting Klick Kitchen’s founder and CEO Jordan Glaser, the company can help restaurants because: “Even for chefs who are already ordering online, Klick Kitchen provides a central marketplace where they can order from all their vendors in one place using one system,” explains Glaser.  “With the new 3.0 innovations, chefs can further expedite ordering, reduce errors in the order process, find new products, stay on top of pricing fluctuations and keep well-organized records of their orders.”

Klick Kitchen is currently available for restaurants and vendors in the New York City metro area only, but they do have plans to expand at some point in the future.  The website has about 155 vendors and 60 member restaurants.
With all due respect to Klick Kitchen’s ongoing efforts to streamline the food product replenishment process for restaurants, my original question remains: do chefs and restaurateurs find such a service useful in their day-to-day operations?

Klick Kitchen’s press release features a glowing testimonial from a NYC chef, and I am sure there are other satisfied customers out there.  But how does the food service industry feel as a whole?  The company’s premise is that there isn’t another place to find a comprehensive list of food vendors by product, and that using Klick Kitchen save a lot of time that would otherwise be spent tooling around Yahoo or Google searching for vendors.

While that may be true, how many of you out there see a need for a service like Klick Kitchen?

Leave some feedback below!

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Is ZapHour A Groupon Killer?

Is ZapHour A Groupon Killer?Ever since Google tried to buy Groupon for a reported $1 billion last year the buzz has been incessant around the group discount site.  Now, with rumors flying about a public offering later this year and more big tech companies trying to get into the Internet coupon game, it seems that the only people not all that excited about all the hype are those in the food service industry.

That’s because it’s hard to find a restaurant that has good things to say about their experiences with Groupon.  The discounts are steep, the customers usually never come back after they redeem their coupon, and restaurants run the risk of upsetting regular customers when the house is packed with one-timers.

The problems presented by Groupon for restaurateurs prompted a Portland, OR owner to create his own coupon site, called ZapHour.  The site functions a lot like popular travel industry sites like Hotwire.com in that it addresses a perennial restaurant problem: how to get butts in seats NOW, when it’s slow, not on Saturday night, which has been booked for months already?

ZapHour does this by letting restaurants be very specific with their offers.  Unlike Groupon, which decides the discount amount and usually makes coupons redeemable for a full year after issue, ZapHour lets a business owner create deals for a short time frame on specific days that can only be redeemed a certain number of times.

That means if you’re really slow on Tuesday night, you can send out a coupon for that night and try to drum up some quick business.  On Friday, when you’ve got a packed house of full-paying regulars, you don’t have to worry about a bunch of foodie nomads armed with 50% off coupons clogging your tables.

The site has signed on 12 food service businesses in the Portland area so far and has a patent pending for the concept. What have your experiences with Groupon been like?  Would you support a ZapHour concept if it was available in your area?

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The Time To Upgrade Restaurant Equipment Has Come

The Time To Upgrade Restaurant Equipment Has ComeThere’s always some good reasons for upgrading your kitchen’s restaurant equipment: better energy efficiency, better performance, increased ease-of-use, increased output, etc. There’s always an equally pressing reason why you try to get one more year out of that same equipment: money doesn’t grow on trees, and there’s plenty of other costs your restaurant faces.

That’s understandable.  But if there ever was a time to buy restaurant equipment, that time is now.  Food service industry revenue forecasts are up, the newest equipment is more energy efficient than ever, and to top it all off, a recently passed bill will let you write off up to $500,000 in equipment purchases through 2011, meaning you get a tax credit now instead of depreciating bit-by-bit over the next ten years.

Of course, you’ll want to conduct a total cost analysis before you make the decision to buy, but when you factor in all those tax write-offs, that decision can sure be a compelling one.

Get more info about this tax credit here.

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Brazilian Chef Recognized On The International Stage

Chef Alex Atala, son of Lebanese immigrants and raised in Brazil, is himself a blending of cultures separated by huge geographical distances and divergent attitudes.  Perhaps this is why he is perfectly suited to bring the flavors of Brazil to global prominence.

Chef Atala achieved recognition by creating a hybrid cuisine from two very different worlds.  After receiving formal training in Europe, Atala returned to Brazil and began applying the French and Italian techniques he had learned to Brazilian ingredients like banana, maracuja (Passion Fruit), and tangerine. The result has been a refreshing, tropical take on traditional dishes like ravioli, mushroom consommé, and breaded oysters that has earned the rising chef an international name.

The tireless Atala has expanded to a new restaurant, called Dalva e Dito, which opened this January less than a block away from the legendary D.O.M.  The new restaurant features all the best dishes of Atala’s Euro-Amazonian cuisine, served tableside family style, just like a traditional French restaurant. The globalization of culinary techniques, ingredients, and flavors has led to unusual pairings like Atala’s Brazilian fare, with fascinating results.  A new generation of worldly chefs are creating exciting new cuisine that hails from very different cultures.  If the results are as delicious as Chef Atala’s, then the world is in for a golden age in fine dining.

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Does The Rise of the Spanish Mean the Death Of French Cuisine?

Does The Rise of the Spanish Mean the Death Of French Cuisine?French food has always been the gold standard in fine dining.  Over the years the fusion of French cuisine with flavors from around the world has bred a culture of ingenuity and dynamism that helped perpetuate French style cooking as the center for culinary excellence.  But recently some trends have started pointing in other directions, and author Michael Steinberger even argues in a new book that the decline of French cuisine will lead to the rise of Spanish fare.

Stepping into the opening void is internationally renowned Spanish chef David Munoz, whose Asian/Spanish fusion restaurant in Madrid, Spain has earned wide accolades and remains booked months in advance.  Munoz is a devout follower of Asian style cooking, and has turned in time at prestigious Asian fusion restaurants like Nobu of London.  The result of his obsession with Asian cuisine is exciting and fresh Spanish style dishes heavily seasoned with the rich flavors of the Orient.

Spanish chefs and new Spanish-themed restaurants have been gaining notoriety in major U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles.  For David Munoz, Spanish cuisine is less about Spain and more about combining flavors from all over the world to create exciting new cuisine.  And maybe the new found trendiness of Spanish food has less to do with the decline of the French and more to do with a new willingness by diners and chefs alike to try new combinations and types of flavors and foods.  In an increasingly globalized world, it seems the domination of the French is giving way to the fusion of the rest of the world’s cooking styles.

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Is The Grocery Store Stealing Your Business?

Is The Grocery Store Stealing Your Business?The days of visiting your local grocery store once a week to stock up on food supplies is starting to give way to more frequent, even daily visits, and customers are buying a lot more than a gallon of milk.  What started as a simple salad bar and deli in supermarkets in the ‘80s and ‘90s has grown into a full-blown restaurant industry inside American grocery stores.

The variety of prepared food offerings now available in supermarkets is rivaled only by their rapidly increasing quality.  Pioneers like Whole Foods have changed how consumers view the local grocery store, and the space inside many stores is evolving into a more comfortable dining environment.

All of this means supermarkets are fast becoming competition for any restaurant in the same neighborhood.  Many in the food service industry contend the local grocery will never be able to compete with a restaurant’s service and atmosphere, no matter how sophisticated their menu gets.  That may be true, but the unparalleled convenience of blending the traditional grocery with fast-casual dining at an affordable price means customers are going to have a higher tolerance for the perks of a restaurant.

As supermarkets expand their offerings and develop even better menus and spaces, the risk to nearby restaurants will only grow.

So how can restaurants compete?  As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em:

Get in the game. Approach your local grocery owners and propose a fast-casual version of your restaurant in their store.  If you’re a local favorite, it should be an easy sell to convince them that an already well-known brand will do well.

Of course, dealing with bigger chain supermarkets won’t be easy.  Most probably already have partnerships and rules about who can be involved in the store.  If that’s the case, try to get them to allow you to set up a tent in front of the store or in the parking lot.  You could even invest in a mobile food truck (a huge trend these days) and use that to market your restaurant in front of several area grocery stores.

The point is that as customers associate dining out with grocery stores more and more, a presence there is going to become more and more important for your restaurant.  Besides being a good opportunity to make some money, the marketing and brand exposure you gain for your restaurant is priceless.

Make yourself more convenient.
The supermarket-as-restaurant trend owes its success primarily to the convenience customers get when they combine a trip to the grocery with their dining out plans.  Most big restaurant chains figured out a long time ago that locating next to a shopping center or mall was a no-brainer for business.

For independents, it’s a lot harder to break into that market.  Rents are higher and competing with chains for the same customers difficult.  However, you  may be able to find some cracks in the strip mall armor.  Try partnering with a small organic grocery or some other specialty food shop to make a trip to your restaurant more of an all-purpose outing.

If you can’t take yourself to the grocery store, bring the grocery store to you. Cracker Barrel and, very recently Bob Evans, both dominant Midwestern chains, devote half the space in their restaurants to selling things besides food.  If you can’t break into the grocery store market, try diversifying the offerings in your restaurant.

A simple place to start is with “secret recipe” sauces and spices that come right from your kitchen.  Getting production rolling can be a pain, but many restaurants have had great success with marketing their own sauces and recipes.

At some point the convenience factor offered by grocery stores gives way to the service and experience factors restaurants bring, but that doesn’t mean restaurant owners should sit idly by and let supermarkets move in on their business.  Your restaurant can be a convenient destination as well if you’re willing to invest in positioning your brand and your products just right.

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New Bill To Hike Tax Deductibility of Business Meals

New Bill To Hike Tax Deductibility of Business MealsA bill was introduced to the House of Representatives recently that proposes to increase the percentage of a business related meal that can be deducted from 50% to 80%.  The bill, sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), has twice been introduced in past sessions of Congress and has twice failed to become law.

Opponents say the bill will reduce tax revenue for the federal government in a time when deficits are running extremely high.  Proponents of the bill say the increased business that results from the bill will more than recoup any tax loss and help drive job creation in the United States’ largest single industry: food service.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has already voiced its support for the bill, citing its own research, which found that the deduction hike would spur $6 billion in annual sales for the restaurant industry.

Business related meals used to be 100% deductible until they were decreased by Congress to 80% in 1986 and then to 50% in 1993.  The restaurant industry has been lobbying for a restoration of the previously high level of deductibility since.  This bill, H.R. 3333, has been referred to committee and awaits their vote before it goes before the entire House of Representatives.

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