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FOH vs. BOH: 12 Tips to Ease Tension

FOH vs. BOH: 12 Tips to Ease TensionOh the woes of being a server: the fast paced rush, the kitchen yelling at you for what  your customers have ordered, the table of people that are mean to you and make you want to cry and the co-worker who is always telling you how to do things better!  It seems the woes never end!  One of the biggest influences on a shift can be how you and the BOH interact with each other.  Thankfully, this is an area that you have more control over then you may realize.

I asked 100 chefs to offer their advice to servers to create a more pleasant and respectful relationship between the two houses.  Here is what they said.

  1. Use your expediter to communicate.  Your Expediter is the liaison between you and everyone in the kitchen.  Don’t attempt to talk to chef’s on the line for any reason. Problems or modifications should be discussed with the Expediter. They will take it from there.
  2. Run food!  Everyone in the kitchen has taken great pains in preparation and the creation of dishes that sit on the line waiting for anyone with time to deliver them.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your table, your section or not, it is a paying guest’s food; plated and ready.  Any call for “food runner” should be met with a sense of urgency.
  3. Don’t take things to heart.  Thick skin is the order of the day.  Don’t take any immature, stupid or sharp comments personally.  Sometimes it’s not that easy but what is said during a busy rush is best not taken as a genuine insult.
  4. Hush on your tips.  Don’t boast, bitch or talk about the gratuities you have received or not received. While it’s fine to talk to your FOH peers about the money you make that conversation should be a private one and does not extend to the kitchen.
  5. Don’t use your cell phone.  While you are at work you should be focusing on things that need to be done or attended to: cleaning, guest’s needs or running food, not planning your time after work.
  6. Don’t use perfume or cologne at work.  People come out to eat to smell food, look at food and eat food.  The smell of perfume, while pleasant, has no business competing with the natural smells of the food.
  7. Make sure your order is correct.  It begins with what the guest says they want and ends with them receiving what they said they wanted.  The tricky part is everything in between.  Make sure you write down what the guest says, correctly and legibly, and put effort into putting that correct information into the computer system.
  8. Have a solution, know what is needed.  If you bring a dish back to expo from a guest, make sure you know what needs to be done to fix the problem right now.  Don’t explain the whole situation to expo…they don’t care, not at that moment.  What they care about is fixing the problem as fast as possible.  Clear and direct dialogue is key. “Table 1, seat 1: cook this steak up to mid-well, please” or “Table 6, seat 3: Please re-heat this risotto, it’s too cold.” are great ways of communicating.  The chef doesn’t need any back story, not right now.
  9. Say Please.  Please!  These are basic manners.
  10. Say Thank You. Thank you!  You were taught this since you were a kid.
  11. Buy a round.  Not all the time but if you have had an exceptional night thanks to a great kitchen team, it never hurts relations to buy them a drink.  They’ll remember and they’ll be grateful.
  12. Greet and bid adieu.  Saying hello to everyone when you come into work is a friendly and a nice introduction to a shift. There are often many servers that come in at a certain time and yet it is rare that any of them will actually go out of their way to say hello to the kitchen team. Often times they (the kitchen team) have been at the restaurant all day working; a friendly greeting is always welcome.  A genuine good night is always thoughtful as well!

Alright, here is where I ask you to check out my website: http://iamwaitress.com. The 427,826,211 person to visit it will win a billion dollars, maybe it will be you!

Jennifer Anderson is a server, certified Sommelier and FOH trainer/re-organizer.

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Restaurant Glassware: Use Style And Function To Sell More Drinks

Restaurant Glassware: Use Style And Function To Sell More Drinks

Every restaurant takes good food presentation seriously – after all, no one wants to eat something that doesn’t look absolutely delicious.  You carefully place garnishes, make sure the entrée has the proper color, and serve everything on a stylish plate with matching silverware.

So why aren’t you paying the same amount of attention to your bar presentation?  Top mixologists from around the country agree the glassware you use can be just as important as the drink inside the glass.  And just like that perfect presentation you obsess over in the kitchen, first impressions can be everything when it comes to selling drinks from the bar.

This is especially true for specialty drinks.  So many restaurants have introduced their own specialty drink menu that it isn’t even a hot trend anymore; it’s the norm.  However, you may not be maximizing your drink sales if you don’t have the presentation down right.

Consider two main factors when selecting restaurant glassware:

Style.  Everyone knows what the standard drink glasses look like.  Communicate the originality of your drinks by using glass styles that are a little different.  You can also differentiate your offerings by mixing up the style of glass you use for each type of drink.  The idea is to make the customer feel like they’re not just getting another mojito, they’re getting your special version that can only be ordered in your restaurant.

Function.  Thick stems and wide bases are key to the success of any good glassware.  Don’t let style get so out of hand that the glass doesn’t perform its basic duties properly, namely, holding and dispensing drinks!  Many bartenders also favor thick bases to their glassware because once it cools, it can preserve the temperature of the drink for a longer period of time.

Stocking up on a good variety of stylish yet functional glassware is just another subtle way you communicate to your customers just how good the drinks are in your restaurant.  And while true success lies in making a good drink, good glassware is part of the foundation for any successful bar.

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6 Cool Ways to Use New Technology in Your Restaurant

6 Cool Ways to Use New Technology in Your Restaurant When you think of a restaurant you don’t normally think of modern technology. Usually these businesses are manually run and operated. Restaurant owners typically rely on outdated computers or old-fashioned books to manage their business.

Times are changing. In this day and age of cutting-edge technology there are far more efficient ways to compile information and manage your company. Apple’s iPad is a device that can help your restaurant jump out of the stone and make your operation much more efficient in the process.

The iPad can help you and your staff track and manage daily activity, helping to increase efficiency and profitability.

This technology is also attractive to your customers. People love what’s new and cool and by integrating iPads into your restaurant’s operations your business will be described in this way.

By employing iPads in your restaurant you can improve many different parts of your business including customer loyalty, inventory tracking and marketing.

Customer Loyalty Program

Go cardless with your loyalty program. An iPad in your restaurant will allow you to discard your current program and revamp customer interest in the process. Instead of burdening customers with the task of carrying around a loyalty card and bringing it with them every time they come in, allow them to simply enter their email address into your restaurant’s iPad to access their loyalty program. This will increase customer participation and also give your restaurant a more modern feel as a bonus.

Manage Your Budget

Bring your spreadsheets straight to your fingertips. An iPad will offer spreadsheet programs that you can use to manage your budget. Other computers will do this as well, but iPad is sleek and transportable which will allow you to work on the go. Make this information very easy to take with you to meetings, presentations or to your home. Budget information will also be very easy to transfer to other devices with an iPad.

Track Your Inventory

The iPad is a great device to use to compile information. Similar to managing your budget the iPad allows you to manage inventory information on the go. This can be very helpful for inventory. You can take this portable device with you while surveying the storage room. You can even take pictures of inventory items with your iPad and add them to the database!

Improve Your Menu

iPad provides you with the technology to make your restaurant’s menu more interactive than ever. You can take high-definition photos of menu items and display them to customers. This is a great way to improve customer service and satisfaction by displaying exactly what they are ordering before they make their final decision.

Take Customer Orders

Providing servers with an iPad to record customer orders is a great way to make your service more efficient. The device helps to eliminate the human error involved in the customer order process by allowing servers to send order directly to the kitchen. Also as mentioned earlier an iPad will allow your servers to display high-definition photos of menu items to diners as they make their final menu decisions. An added incentive to this is the modern presentation your customers will notice.

Improve Your Marketing

iPad will also help improve your restaurant’s marketing. It offers an easy way for customers to provide their contact information. Placing an iPad by the front of the restaurant gives customers an opportunity to sign-up for email marketing and promotions while they wait to be seated or place their take-out order. Give customers incentives to offer this information in the form of coupons, deals and specials.

Now is the time for your restaurant to integrate technology into its everyday business. This will improve your restaurants functionality and presentation. Invest in an Apple iPad today and help develop every facet of your restaurant’s operation.

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Restaurant Grease Management: How Traps Will Save Your Butt

Restaurant Grease Management: How Traps Will Save Your ButtGrease is an inevitable byproduct of your restaurant’s kitchen.  Unfortunately, grease doesn’t disappear when it gets washed down the drain.  Instead, it tends to build up and stick to the sides of pipes and drainages, just like cholesterol in diner’s arteries.

And just like cholesterol, that buildup over time can cause some serious problems.  Best case scenario, your kitchen smells like a rotting cesspool.  Worst case, you floor drains start spouting the soupy mix that can only be created when the drains of your dishwasher, pot filler sink, and pre-rinse sink combine.

The resulting food safety nightmare would make any health inspector shudder.  The damage is usually measured in the thousands of dollars.  You definitely don’t want that to happen in your restaurant.

Local codes usually require some sort of grease management system for commercial kitchens.  Otherwise cities end up with thousands of dollars worth of damage to municipal water lines.  But just because someone stuck a grease trap in the cellar 20 years ago doesn’t mean your restaurant is safe from the doomsday scenarios I lined out above.

Effective grease management means committing to an ongoing process that is usually unpleasant and never in the cleanest parts of your kitchen.  Some tips to make sure grease waste isn’t creating problems in your restaurant:

Evaluate your grease output.  Some restaurants produce more grease than others, plain and simple.  If you already have a grease trap system, check it once a week for a month and see how quickly grease builds up to the point where a cleaning is needed.  If you don’t have a grease trap, install one right away, then check it regularly to see how often it’s going to need to be cleaned.

Grease traps work by using a series of baffles to prevent grease from flowing from one end of the system to the other.  Since grease is lighter than water, it collects at the top of the trap.  Sooner or later so much grease will collect that it starts to flow over the top of the baffles, and the trap ceases to trap grease.  You want to clean your system well before this happens.

Use this information to formulate a regular cleaning schedule.  You might also want to rotate the poor sucker who gets this thankless task.  You may want to install smaller undersink traps on the biggest grease producing drains in your kitchen that are more accessible than the main trap, which makes cleaning easier and reduces the likelihood of plumbing system damage.

Many restaurants use a professional service company to clean and care for their main grease trap.  This can get expensive, but depending on the size of your establishment and the amount of grease you produce, it could be a worthwhile investment.  Some services even convert the grease they recover from your trap into biodiesel, adding a renewable element to the process.  It’s probably still a good idea to use undersink traps to supplement your main system even if you use a cleaning service, since this will reduce the frequency of their visits.

In general grease traps are pretty indestructible, especially if you clean them regularly, but eventually they will need to be replaced.  Look for damage to the baffles in the trap and cracks or excessive gunk buildup in the inflow and outflow pipes.  Canplas grease traps are one of the best in the business and my personal recommendation if you’re in the market for a new one.

The most effective way to manage grease in any commercial kitchen is to be proactive about it.  Don’t wait to clean traps and don’t assume the problem will take care of itself.  Otherwise your restaurant might look like this:

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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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Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last Longer

Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last LongerThe fryer is one of the central cooking appliances in many restaurants and commercial kitchens.  And central to every commercial fryer is the shortening or oil in the vat.  Maintaining that oil is key to producing great-tasting product every time.  Oil maintenance is more involved than you might think, and if done properly, can add significant time to the productive life of your fryer oil and improve the taste of your product.

Fryer oil is an organic compound.  That means it breaks down naturally over time, just like any of the food product in your walk-in.  At over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, that degradation process is accelerated.  As if that weren’t enough, three things contribute to the even more rapid deterioration of fryer oil:

  • Oxidation – contact with air makes the oil “stale” over time, just like a bag of chips.
  • Hydrolysis – the presence of water in fryer oil is unavoidable when frying food product, but as water interacts with the hot oil, acidic compounds form that can really affect taste.
  • Polymerization – As oil breaks down, compounds form and bond together, which leads to surface foaming and the further breakdown of oil quality and taste.  This process is made even worse by food particles, which will inevitably collect in the oil as product is cooked.

There are several things you can do to combat the three enemies of oil quality.  Here’s some tips that address each one specifically:

Fighting oxidation: minimize fryer oil contact with the air whenever possible.  The most common method for doing this is to cover the fryer vat when the unit is shut down.  Also regulate oil temperature so that it doesn’t exceed 360 degrees Fahrenheit.  During lulls, reduce heat to 280 degrees.

Fighting hydrolysis: don’t fill fryer baskets directly over the fryer vat.  This is especially true for frozen product, because ice crystals will end up in the oil.  Of the three, hydrolysis is the hardest to fight, because there is going to be water in everything you cook.

Fighting polymerization: again, don’t fill fryer baskets over the vat.  Food particles speed polymerization, so a good technique is to load the fryer basket away from the vat and give it a few good shakes to allow any free particles to fall away before the product takes the plunge.  Another polymerization agent are seasonings, especially salt.  Add any seasoning away from the vat to keep them out of the oil as much as possible.

Of course, no matter how hard you fight, eventually it’s going to be a losing battle.  Water, air, and particulates are going to end up in your fryer oil no matter what you do.  Your only choice is to take them back out before the oil breaks down.  You can do this effectively with a good filtration system.

How much you filter your fryer oil depends on what you’re cooking, in what volume, and how often.  In general, breaded foods like fried chicken or fish mean you should filter more often, because of all the food particles that are going to end up in the oil.  French fries are much cleaner and therefore the oil can handle a lot more rounds before filtering.

Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last LongerNo matter what, you should develop a filtering schedule.  Fryer oil test strips are the best way to keep track of oil quality, and they’ll give you a starting point for your filter schedule.  Filtering fryer oil greatly extends the life of the oil, and smart restaurant operators filter the same oils several times to get the maximum life out of it before having to refill.

Portable fryer filters provide an easy way to filter fryer oil without slowing your busy kitchen down too much.  And when you’ve squeezed every last minute of cooking capability out of that vat of oil, dispose of it safely with an oil transporter.  Finally, use a Smart Spout for pouring new oil into the vat without spilling.Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last Longer

Before you refill with a new batch of oil, however, you’ve got to clean that fryer vat out.  It’s a thankless job, but someone’s got to get in there and remove as much of that great friends of polymerization, food particulates, as possible.  Especially focus on cleaning the “cool zone,” the area underneath the burners in the vat where particles are intentionally concentrated in order to prevent them from heating up too much during cooking.  A water/vinegar mix is a great way to make sure detergents are neutralized after you’ve thoroughly cleaned the vat.

Maintaining fryer oil quality takes a lot of work.  But in the end, it’s worth the extra effort because you get a lot more mileage out of each vat of oil.  And if saving money isn’t enough of an incentive for you, then the prospect of serving great tasting fried foods to your customers every time should do the trick.

If you’re in the market for a new fryer, check out this commercial fryer buying guide.

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Restaurant Hood Filters: A Buying And Maintenance Guide

Restaurant Hood Filters: A Buying And Maintenance GuideMaintaining and replacing the hood filter in your commercial ventilation system is more important than you might think.  The hood filter is a metal square or rectangle that fits into the opening on your hood ventilation system.  Its purpose is to filter out grease from the smoke rising off your cooking equipment.  If this smoke were left unfiltered, it would build up over time in the ventilation system and become a major fire risk.

Therefore maintaining and replacing these filters is an important task.  Some things you should know about commercial hood filters:

Types of Hood Filters

Unless your cooking equipment is burning mesquite or some other sort of solid fuel, your hood ventilation system is using a baffle filter.  Baffle filters are most commonly made out of one of three types of metal:

  • Galvanized – these filters are the least expensive option.  They are rarely used in open kitchens where customers can see them because they have a dull appearance
  • Aluminum – these hood filters have an appealing sheen to them, making them usable in open kitchens, but they are prone to corrosion after repeated cleanings
  • Stainless Steel – these filters are by far the most durable.  They are also appealing to look at and can be used in an open kitchen.  They are less prone to corrosion than aluminum as long as they are not cleaned using bleach or other chemicals

Cleaning Hood Filters

Hood filters should be cleaned every day to keep them free of grease and maximize their filtering capability.  If you have a high temp dishwasher, run your hood filters through the dishwasher.  Make sure you don’t use any bleach when you clean hood filters as this will cause rapid corrosion!

If your dishwasher uses any kind of chemical, do not use it to clean hood filters.  Instead, clean the grease out of your hood filters with hot soapy water and dry them immediately after.

If grease is allowed to build up in hood filters, the risk of fire in your kitchen becomes very high.  The more packed with grease filters become, the less they filter from the smoke passing through your ventilation system.  That means the unfiltered grease ends up in the ducting, and if enough builds up, it could catch fire, potentially causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

When To Replace Your Hood Filter

Conduct regular visual inspections of your restaurant’s hood filters.  If corrosion, dents, or wear has created holes or disfiguration in the baffles, then it’s time to replace them.  It’s important to replace worn hood filters as quickly as possible.  Otherwise, grease will build up in the ducting of your ventilation system, and this can pose a very serious fire risk.

Sizing And Replacing Your Hood Filter

Properly sizing your hood filter is the most important thing you’ll do before ordering a new one.  Hood filters are typically sized ½ inch smaller in vertical and horizontal dimensions than the nominal sizes listed for your hood ventilation system.  In other words, if the hood opening is 20” x 20”, the correct sized hood filter for that system is 19 ½ “ tall by 19 ½ “ wide.

To determine the vertical height of the filter, measure parallel to the baffles from edge to edge.  The horizontal width is the distance from edge to edge perpendicular to the direction of the baffles.

To replace your hood filter, lift the old filter out of the slot rail in which it rests and slide it out.  Slide the new filter all the way into the slot opening and then drop the end into the rail.  Make sure you insert the hood filter with the baffles in a vertical position!  This means the lines in the filter are running up and down and not side to side.  Installing hood filters the wrong way means the grease will not drain properly and cause clogging.

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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 Equipment: 4 Factors For Calculating Total Cost Of Ownership (cont)

There’s always a significant amount of cost involved whenever you buy a new piece of restaurant equipment.  Those costs only continue as that equipment ages in your restaurant – from energy use to repairs, the consequences of new equipment will be around for a long time after you’ve written the check to purchase.

Of course, restaurant equipment makes you money as well.  Without that fryer or reach-in refrigerator or griddle, you wouldn’t be able to prepare your product for your customers.  But understanding the total cost of a piece of equipment over its lifespan has been ignored all too often in the food service industry for years.

Many chains have started doing Total Cost Of Ownership analyses for equipment because they buy large numbers of the same type of equipment all at once.  A faulty or inefficient piece of equipment can mean thousands of dollars in extra expenses for the chain over the lifespan of the piece, and conducting a cost analysis beforehand helps avoid problems down the road.

By and large, most independent operators do not undertake the complicated task of calculating total cost – usually because the information or the know-how necessary to make an accurate calculation isn’t available.

That doesn’t mean independents and smaller chains can’t benefit from a cost analysis before they buy new restaurant equipment.  In a continuation of yesterday’s post, here are two more factors to consider when calculating the total cost of a piece of equipment over its lifespan:

Restaurant Equipment: 4 Factors For Calculating Total Cost Of Ownership (cont)Service and Parts Availability.
Every food service operator loathes equipment downtime.  If your equipment isn’t working, you’re losing money.  Therefore it’s usually a good idea to do some research on the availability of equipment services and parts in your area before you buy.  It’s also good to get an idea of how easy it is to make do-it-yourself repairs on a unit that will save yourself an expensive service call.

There are many quality manufacturers in the food service sector who design units that are easy to pull apart and fix common component failures.  If you’re shopping around, make sure you ask about common parts and how they can be fixed on each unit so you can get a better idea of how quickly (and affordably!) you can fix those problems down the road.

Finally, consider the availability of generic parts for new restaurant equipment pieces.  Generic parts can save you a considerable sum of money if they are available for the unit you own, and are equal to or better in quality than Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts.

Ease Of Use. Energy efficiency is important, but so is labor efficiency.  A piece of equipment that’s difficult or dangerous to operate means more training time and a higher incidence of work-related injuries.  In a high turnover industry like food service, equipment that requires a lot of training to operate simply doesn’t make any sense.

In addition, difficult to operate equipment slows down production and reduces worker efficiency, which can bring some pretty high costs in a high-pressure environment like a restaurant kitchen.  When people order food, they want it quickly and usually at the same time as a lot of other customers.  Easy to use equipment that promotes employee efficiency rather than hindering it is an important cost to factor into your buying decisions.

Considering these factors before you buy a new piece of equipment will help you make an informed decision that goes beyond simply finding the lowest price.  In many cases, the initial price tag has little to do with how much that piece of equipment will actually cost you over its entire lifespan.  A total cost analysis helps you make a more informed decision.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth analysis of total cost, try this standard practice resource from ASTM International.

Read the first installment of this article.

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How To Give Your Customers Value

In yesterday’s post I talked about the new reality facing restaurants, namely, the consumer expectation of great value.  This doesn’t appear to be changing despite an uptick in consumer spending.  A number of voices in the food service industry have been advising restaurants to provide value to their customers in order to survive these turbulent times, and many have been listening.  The result has been prix fixe meals, deep discounting, and any other method to lure customers looking to save a buck.

But what does “value” really mean?  The obvious answer is great food and service for a great price.  Well,  duh.  Everybody has slashed their prices or discounted in some way.  Not everybody has survived.  So what’s the difference between the guy who makes it and the guy who’s left behind?

A look at the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) hot trends for 2010 provides some insight into what customers are looking for when they say “value.”  Granted, this trends report surveys chefs, not restaurant patrons, but one can safely assume chefs are following the trends that increase their sales and therefore these views are reflecting customer expectations.

The interesting thing about the NRA’s top 10 trends is that  5 out of 10 deal with local sourcing and sustainability.  “Green” values are becoming a permanent fixture in our culture, and successful restaurants are figuring out ways to make their operations source locally and sustainably.

The perception that a restaurant has a reputable, “green” operation adds a value that is a little more intangible, but definitely important, in the customer’s mind.  Just ask Chipotle how in the world they get away with selling an $8 burrito in a fast casual environment.  Customers recognize the value of their green practices and locally sourced ingredients.  There are hundreds of ways to make your restaurant more green, and advertising your practices to your customers add value.

Another top restaurant trend is portion sizes. Reduced portion sizes allow customers to spend less or pick and choose more than one dish.  This is also a hot trend because the perceived value for the customer is that they have options, and not all of them require a lot of money.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether restaurants can sustain the price reductions everyone has rolled out over the last year.  The truth is, the value customers find in the restaurants they choose to patronize has to do with much more than great prices.  Prices just happen to be the most obvious factor.

Putting together a complete value package that includes a great atmosphere, top notch service, good prices, a quality menu with good choices, and a green operation that sources locally whenever it can takes a lot of work and even more smart marketing.

Restaurants that have a complete package are the ones who win the value competition.  Those that focus on price are bound to fail.

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