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Listen To What Customers Aren’t Saying

Restaurant Customer ServiceSome of you put customer comment cards on your tables and ask that guests fill them out and let you know how you’re doing.  I could put money on the fact that you receive more complaints on those cards than praise.  Unless someone was given absolutely outstanding service or the food was just phenomenally prepared, your guests aren’t going to take the time to tell you some of the things you really should know.

They might tell you that the potatoes were cold or the salad was wilted, but do they ever mention how the server handled the situation?

Probably not; the server is usually only mentioned as an extra in the bad scene.  That is because servers sometimes act as if everything that goes wrong is the kitchen’s fault.  If we really think about it, they are the last pair of eyes to see the food before it reaches the table; they should have the final say in its appearance.

At the risk of seeming pessimistic, I want to caution you if you don’t have many guests filling out those cards.  It isn’t because everything is always great.  Most of us feel that our comments won’t be taken seriously and nothing will change as a result of our taking the time to fill those cards out.

We have become accustomed to mediocre service at the hands of a young, inexperienced person who thinks that serving food is a better way to make money than selling clothes in a trendy store at the mall.  We have become accustomed to asking for another drink because our server is busy chatting with his/her friends and wants guests to move quicker and leave more money.

We have become accustomed to our servers not having any suggestions about some of the highlights of the menu, in fact, not knowing much about the menu at all!  All of these things we have become accustomed to and therefore we don’t even think about asking for a change.

Most of us don’t know it could be so much better!

Guess what? Your servers don’t know it could be so much better, either.  They are getting the kinds of tips they deserve for their lack of attention to guests and the details that go along with them.  Your guests are giving what they think the service is worth.  When they walk out your door they might tell you that the food was great, or maybe the food was a little less tasty than usual, but they will never tell you that the service was only ok or even bad.

Understand that we live in a society where it isn’t ok to be confrontational and tell someone that they aren’t performing well.  In our politically correct society, if you tell Bob or Jane that you don’t like the way he/she is serving you, you are being rude and demanding.

What guests will do is tell you about the food because they never have to meet your kitchen staff.  They know they may have to deal with the same server again.  We don’t feel like our comments are going to be heard and treated as a comment.  We feel like we’re going to be labeled a nasty customer and treated worse.  Most customers are forgiving and will give you another chance and return.  If, however, they receive the same lack of care in service, they will quietly go away.

Who do your guests tell about their bad experiences?
They tell their friends, family and neighbors.  Sometimes they tell your competition.  And when they find out what I do, they tell me at great length and they insist that I go to you and train your wait staff.  They want to continue dining in your restaurant.  They want it to be more pleasurable than it currently is.  What you see is that your staff is taking orders and getting the food out in a timely manner.  Your guests see that, too.  They want more from a dining experience and they are willing to give more tip money when they get it.

When a server suggests wine or particular dishes and sides to go along with them, your guests don’t perceive them as being pushy.  On the contrary, when done in a professional manner and with some charm and class, they perceive it as great customer service!

Guests may not be able to articulate these ideas to you.  They just know that something is missing.  Ask any businessperson who frequently dines with potential clients and he/she will tell you he/she knows the best places to take someone for smooth, seamless service.  Your staff deserves to know that they could be earning more money.  You could be earning more money because they earn more money.

You can bring these issues up at your next employee meeting, but most servers never think you are talking about him/her.  Another shameless plug for my business!  Allow me to come in and interact with them in some role-playing situations.  They don’t need to be accused of being guilty of bad customer service; they will figure it out for themselves through the course of my class.

Training and information is the key! Contact me, Susie, at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  My business number is (720) 203-4615, and email address is  Web address is

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A Glossary of Restaurant Lingo, Slang & Terms

Woman whispering and woman listeningWe at Tundra Restaurant Supply wanted to put together one of the most complete guides to restaurant lingo, terms and slang. Do any of these sound familiar? Sound off on terms we may have missed by commenting below!

Click these links to jump to a letter to look up a term:

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


* Hockey Puck – A well done hamburger.


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


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


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


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


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

* Nuke it – to Microwave.


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

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


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

* Party – A group of people at a table.

* Pittsburgh Rare – Burnt outside, rare inside.

* Pump it out – Getting food out quickly.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Skate – Leaving without doing side-work.

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

* Sommelier – Wine Steward or wine waiter.

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

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

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

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

* Stiffs – Non-tipping customers, see redneck.

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

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


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

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

* Tender – A tenderloin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


* Veg – The vegetable accompaniment to a plated meal.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Add your restaurant slang terms in the comments below!

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Dirty Restaurant Restrooms Say Dirty Kitchen To Many Customers

Bad Restaurant Bathroom

88% of people said they thought a dirty restroom reflected poorly on the entire restaurant’s cleanliness.

A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that 88% of people who encounter a dirty restroom at a restaurant think this reflects poorly on the sanitation of the rest of the establishment, including the kitchen and food preparation areas.  Of those, a full 29% said they would never come back to a restaurant whose restroom they found to be very dirty.

In many ways the restrooms in your restaurant provide the public a window into the overall management and cleanliness of your establishment, at least from their perspective.  Think about it.  How many times have you walked into someone else’s bathroom and taken a quick look around to get a better feel for what that person is like?  The same goes for customers in your restaurant.  Impressing your customers with your restrooms takes some time and investment, but when you stand to lose 30% of your customers because of your bathrooms, it’s an investment you can’t afford to avoid.

The first, and most critical element, is to make sure the bathrooms you have are always clean, fresh, and well supplied. Your servers probably won’t appreciate this, but designate someone’s side work every day to making sure the restrooms are clean.  Draw up some guidelines to make sure everything gets cleaned properly, and take the time for some quality control.  And at least once a week, have a professional janitorial service do a top-to-bottom cleaning of your restrooms.

Of course, old, broken, and dingy equipment in your restaurant restroom is going to look bad, no matter how much it’s cleaned.  It probably pains you to do so, but it’s vitally important to budget some money to invest in new equipment and hardware for your restroom.

Clean RestroomSome examples:

Hand dryers and paper towel dispensers. Nothing is as frustrating as sitting there with freshly washed hands trying to deal with a dispenser that doesn’t work.  If you are looking to replace your dispenser, seriously consider getting a hand dryer.  The up-front cost is more, but over the lifetime of the dryer, the savings on paper towels, not to mention the amount of paper waste you’ll reduce, will recoup your initial investment.

Toilet tissue dispensers. Again, having a functional dispenser is key to a good customer experience in your restroom.  Also make sure your cleaning guidelines include refilling these dispensers on a regular basis.

Baby changing stations. These are becoming more and more common in both men’s and women’s restrooms.  If you haven’t yet invested in baby changing stations in your restrooms, you should seriously consider it.  Being family friendly is great PR for your restaurant, and accommodating the needs of young families will breed customer loyalty.

Air fresheners. You could implement a strict cleaning regimen, invest in all new dispensers and other restroom hardware, and still watch your customers come out of your restrooms disgusted if it smells like a sewer in there.  I personally was in a restaurant restroom not too long ago where everything was tidy and neat but the smell was so overpowering in there I vowed never to return to that particular establishment (of course, slow service, an overpriced menu, and so-so food didn’t help either).

Partition hardware. The stalls in your restroom are going to break down over time.  Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to repair common things like door latches and locks, grab bars, door hinges, and brackets without having to rebuild everything.

Restroom faucets. Nice, new looking faucets can go a long way towards making your customer feel clean and ready to eat when they leave the restroom.  Installing new faucets isn’t too expensive and will add an extra shine to your whole restroom.

The best part about remodeling your restroom is that most of this hardware is relatively easy to install yourself, and taking the time to do so can really improve your restaurant’s image, especially with first time customers.

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The 4 R’s of Driving Server Sales

Servers Are The Key To Better SalesThe tired old maxim “your servers are your salespeople” is as true today as it ever was, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you have armed the front of your house with every weapon they need to drive your restaurant’s profits.

Really, there’s no understandable reason why servers shouldn’t be some of the best trained people in any restaurant, but as I go through a mental check of every place I have eaten in the past two months, I can only think of one that had exceptionally trained staff.

That place was the Macaroni Grill in Ft. Collins, CO.  I’m not trying to promote them or anything, I was just really impressed, as I always have been when I eat there, by the effective way their staff drives sales and provides top shelf service at the same time.  Those two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and in fact they can be completely complimentary if you’re willing to take the time to train your staff.

Tim Kirkland, the founder of the Renegade Hospitality Group, has developed a highly effective strategy to improve sales volume, check averages, and server tips, not to mention the quality of service.  This strategy stems from the fact that 30 years of the standard upsell (“Do you want _____ with that?”) has lost its effectiveness because consumers recognize it as a sales technique and are more likely to say no as a result.

Besides, it’s not a very proactive tactic, because your servers are simply trying to tack something on to the customer’s decision, rather than helping to guide those decisions in the first place.

The more effective strategy, promoted by Kirkland, can be broken down into the 4 R’s:

Reconnaissance:  Evaluate what kind of customer has just been seated in your section.  Is it a couple on a date that probably wants to be left alone as much as possible?  Are they high maintenance or ready to party?  Servers should analyze the mood and disposition of the group and adjust their attitude and technique accordingly.

Regularity:  Determine if you are dealing with first time customers or regulars.  First timers need a lot more information and it’s important to make an exceptional impression the first time.  Regulars, on the other hand, don’t want to sit through all the explanations and are probably ready to get down to business.  Servers should adjust their approach depending on how experienced the customer is in your restaurant.

Reason:  Different customers have different priorities.  Some might be stopping for a quick bite before a game or a movie while others may want a long, leisurely experience.  Servers should engage their customers and determine their priorities.

Rate:  As a response to the information collected in the first three R’s, decide on a pace and flow of service that meets your customer’s expectations and needs.  Fine tuning service according to what the customer wants is a two part process: gathering information and then using that information to serve your customer better.

So how do the 4 R’s help you drive sales?  Because it creates a rapport with guests and that leads to a relationship.  The process of gathering information and then adjusting to it leads to a relationship between the server and the table.  That inevitably is going to create more trust, and when that basic level of trust has been established, the server can be more helpful to the customer.

This isn’t some cynical methodology.  Under no circumstances should your servers be trying to use a carefully built trust relationship to talk patrons into spending more money.  However, servers should absolutely be informative about everything your restaurant has to offer, and tailor the information according to the buying decisions the guest is making.

For instance, if a customer wants a martini, the server should let the customer know what kinds of gin and vodka your restaurant has, and include a mix of top shelf and well brands.  If a customer orders a hamburger, let the customer know that you offer mushrooms and cheese as extra toppings, or a house salad instead of fries.Make Your Restaurant's Customers Happy

Yes, this is upselling, but it’s upselling in a way that informs the customer rather than leading him.  The whole thing is built upon a relationship of trust, and that relationship can bring many benefits, from better service to better sales to great customer loyalty.  As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s imperative that you take the time to train servers in the strategies of relationship building based on the 4 R’s and use that system to drive sales in your restaurant.

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Why Spreadsheets Are Your Restaurant’s Best Friend

Restaurant Management SpreadsheetsI would have to rate a computer as a must have for a Chef, second only to a good set of quality knives. While utilizing a POS (Point of Sale) System and knowing how to use it can be enormously useful to a chef, I think spreadsheets are the cat’s meow.

Before I migrated to MS Excel I was a MAChead and used a program called Clarisworks which had a similar spreadsheet program. I couldn’t have done without and been as organized as I was without the heavy use of spreadsheets.

I strongly recommend if, as a cook or chef, if you don’t know how to use spreadsheets, take a course in it, even over learning to use Word.

These are many things that spreadsheets can be used for to make your life easier. (While some POS systems can spit out reports in CSV (comma separated value) format, so you can integrate them with information you are using at home, you can’t take the POS system home with you.) As a former chef, much of my computer time was spent at home working on things for the restaurant on my own time (something that happens a lot, especially if you are on salary)

Here is a listing of some of the things you can use spreadsheets for:

  • Staff scheduling
  • Order sheets for vendors
  • Vendor lists with contact information
  • Daily prep lists
  • Inventory control lists and tracking
  • Variable food cost lists (if you learn to program formulas this makes life much easier.) The cost of fish for the special you run every Friday varies dramatically week to week. Plug in the cost and if your calculations are in correctly, it will give the cost of what you should sell the entrée for in order to maintain your food cost properly.
  • Recipes (again if you learn to program formulas) changing a recipe with ingredients for 10 servings to 150 becomes a snap.
  • Long term recording and forecasting (track inventory levels and compare them month to month, track vendor usage, track food pricing, track covers (people dining), track your scheduling of staff-who needs a vacation?)
  • Waste and food loss usage: If bread baskets are coming back from the dining room with an average of 2 rolls left in them, track waste and reduce accordingly. Having to note and track raw food (vegetables, meat, fish and poultry) being prepared also cuts down on waste, cooks who have sloppy knife skills will show up wasting more food over time then ones with better. If a cook, in an average time period, cleans a case of tenderloins, make him weigh the trimmings. Trimmings should be just silverskin. If the average unusable trim is high, it’s something you need to keep an eye one.
  • Menu items and trends (if you track an average of two weeks worth of sales of a new entrée and compared to a similarly priced entrée or one that it is replacing, sales are down, it may not be worth keeping it on.)
  • Schedule your specials and date when you ran them; this makes finding out whether certain ones sold better easier and also whether some sold better if ran on certain days then others. I always found it interesting that a high end grilled vegetable panini special sold better when run midweek then on the weekends for example.

In the long run, use of spreadsheets will save you time, make you better organized, save your food costs and down the road save quite a few headaches.

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4 Tips To Keep Inventory Shrink From Making Profits Smaller

Is Your Food Inventory Shrinking?Every month your restaurant spends thousands of dollars buying food.  More than likely, it’s the second largest expense on your balance sheet after labor.  And every month, that inventory of food products might be “shrinking,” meaning a percentage of it is disappearing due to either unintentional waste or very intentional theft.

When you’ve got thousands of dollars worth of inventory, even a tiny percentage of shrink can mean big money off the bottom line.  Unfortunately, simply trusting employees, especially when turnover rates are so high, is not an acceptable option.  A much more effective strategy for minimizing shrink is “trust, but verify.”

Some tips to minimize shrinking:

  1. Use clear trash bags.  A common tactic used by employees who steal is to stash inventory in trash bags and recover it later after their shift is over.  Other employees may simply be throwing perfectly usable product away without realizing its value.  Either way, you’re losing money.  Clear trash bags make it easy for you to spot product that should be in the walk-in instead of the dumpster.
  2. Audit the trash.  Even though this doesn’t sound like a particularly appealing strategy, regularly going through trash and auditing the contents will help you catch and prevent both intentional (deliberately taking food product) and unintentional (mistakenly tossing usable food product) theft.  Using the clear trash bags will make this task much easier.
  3. Ban backpacks and other personal bags from the kitchen.  Ideally, set up an employee changing room with shelving or lockers where your staff can leave their personal belongings while they are working.  If you don’t have such a room, ban backpacks anyway.  Otherwise you’ll have no way of knowing what’s coming out of your inventory and landing in the bags of your staff.  And not knowing simply isn’t good enough when you’re a restaurateur trying to survive this economy.
  4. Break down cardboard boxes.  The old boxes that food product comes in is another popular way for thieves to move your inventory out of your kitchen.  Luckily, the solution is easy: have staff break boxes down before taking them outside.  That way there’s no chance that product is leaving in boxes.

If you do encounter intentional employee theft, make sure you have some strategies in place to deal with it.  In the case of unintentional waste, make sure you use examples of waste to educate your entire staff on how you want food product used and disposed.  Taking the time to train staff and emphasizing the importance of completely using product rather than discarding it can translate into some significant savings for your restaurant.

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Portion Control: Are You Losing Money To Food Waste?

Restaurant Portion Control Like Coca-ColaImagine for a second that you run Coca-Cola instead of your restaurant.  You sell millions of cans of soda every day, and you’re making a decent profit.  Now imagine that as the founder and owner of Coke, you never bothered to standardize the size of each can, so some cans are 12 ounces, others are 13, and some are even as large as 16 ounces, but you charge the same price for all of them.

Think you’d be losing a little money every time you sold a 16 ounce can of Coke?

There are more similarities between your restaurant and Coca-Cola than you might think.  You both serve a consumable product.  You both charge a flat rate for a portion of that product although you make a lot more of that product than you serve each customer.

But unlike a lot of restaurants, I guarantee you Coca-Cola pours the same exact amount of Coke product into every single can.  Their price is then figured based upon making a certain amount of profit margin assuming that exact amount is in every single can.  As you can imagine, if their machines were off by a fraction of an ounce, they could lose millions of dollars.

Controlling the portion sizes you serve your customers is an easily overlooked but extremely important way to cut costs and preserve your restaurant’s margin.  In the high-pressure atmosphere of a commercial kitchen during the dinner rush, you need simple but highly effective methods for keeping portions exactly the same.Portion Scales

The first place to address portions is with proteins. A good portion scale can weigh out protein portions quickly and simply, giving you an extra measure of control over what is probably the most expensive item on any entrée plate.  Check out this blog post for more info on scales.

Secondly, your starches, veggies, soups, etc. need to be portioned out as exactly as possible.  Even a half ounce over the serving size called for in each entrée can translate into thousands of dollars in lost revenue over the course of year.  The easiest way to control these portion sizes is with kitchen utensils that measure portions accurately.  Vollrath’s line of ladles, dishers, and Spoodles are all designed to allow the quick and effective measurement of portion sizes.Portion Control

Portion control is important because it is the basis for calculating your restaurant’s profitability.  Especially in an era of deep discounting and razor thin margins, being able to control portions is an incredibly important element when you decide how to price your menu.  That’s because you’re making assumptions about how much each entrée served will cost you.  Those assumptions go out the window if the actual quantity served is incorrect.

Effective portion control allows you to dial up an aggressive price at a decent margin that beats the competition but keeps you profitable.  Any restaurant manager knows what a tightrope those margins can be.  Without portion controls, you’re far more likely to fall off than to make it to the other side.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment

Buy Dependable Restaurant Equipment“Which _____________ do you recommend?” This is a question I have been asked countless times by owners/managers that operate the restaurants I have worked in.

The real question they are asking is: “What equipment will run the longest and have the fewest breakdowns and cost the least to fix?”

The answer to such a profound question is “it depends.” I have been involved in repairing restaurant equipment for years. I have worked on a lot of different equipment made by many different manufactures. I cannot name a single brand of equipment that I would recommend in all situations. Nor have I discovered a manufacturer that designed equipment with an eye towards maintenance.

I have found some companies where the replacement parts are less expensive when compared to similar products. I have also found the reverse: particular brands of equipment where the replacement parts were higher than others who make equipment of the same type. The biggest difference I find in various manufactures is the AVAILIBILITY of replacement parts in a timely manner.

Some things to consider when buying restaurant equipment:

Is the equipment a “KEY” or “critical” to your operation? In other words, if this equipment went out on a busy Saturday night, how bad would it affect your ability to serve your customer? You need to know how critical the equipment is before you make any decision on what brand of equipment to purchase! If the equipment is a “KEY” piece of equipment, you need to do some research before you buy! Remember, you will likely own this equipment for YEARS. If you make the wrong decision, you will be stuck with the results for as long as you own the equipment.

1. Company (or Brand)
I would not buy a “key” piece of equipment in anything except a well known national brand. The reason goes way beyond what kind of warranty is offered. A well known national brand will be in business 10 years down the road when you need a good service department to call.

2. Warranty
The warranty on equipment can vary widely. What’s more, the way warranty service is performed can also be different from one company to the next. Some equipment has different warranties with regard to various parts of the equipment. For instance, an ice machine might have a one year warranty on everything except the compressor that comes with a 5 year warranty. Inform yourself on the warranty and what it covers. Your new equipment will come with a warranty card. Read it and send the little card in and register the equipment.

I make a copy of the card before I send it in and staple the copy to the operator manual for future reference. It has vital information you might not have in 10 years such as the model and serial numbers along with the date it was installed.

3. Parts AvailabilityA Replacement Thermostat
You should inquire on how hard the equipment is to get parts for. This is where it is critical to have purchased a well known national brand. You should not rely on the salesman to provide you this information. I would call a place that sells parts and just ask. The question should be something like this: “I am buying a _____________, do you stock parts for this equipment? If I were to order a critical part, how long would it take to receive it?”

In other words, does the company keep critical parts ON THE SHELF for this equipment? No company keeps ALL the parts for any given equipment in stock; a good company, however, will keep CRITICAL parts available to ship right away on common equipment. This can make a REAL difference on a “KEY” piece of equipment when you have to have it back up and running FAST.

4. Model
You should try and buy a model that has been made for several years. Most manufacturers will make popular models of equipment for several years before changing anything significant. You might be looking for the latest “bells and whistles” on your new equipment and have to purchase a model that just came out; but unless it is something you HAVE to have, I would not recommend it. It takes parts companies time to determine the critical parts needed and spend the money to put them on the shelves. If you stick with a tried and true model, you will likely have less headaches in the future if it should break down.

Another good reason not to go with the “newest model” is your kitchen will not be stuck with working out the “kinks” on something that has not been tested in the “real world.” Chances are it will be warranty work, but you will still suffer some down time waiting for a technician to show up and fix it.

Under no circumstances do you want a “prototype” model. You will have to investigate the model number you are buying to insure you are getting what you want. You can’t count on a salesperson telling you “this is the prototype!” The manufacturer’s website is a good place to find out; or just call the tech service line and ask one of the technicians that work for the manufacturer what he or she thinks of a given model. These folks are usually honest about problems with a particular model.

Use all the information available to make a decision you can feel good about not only now but when the equipment breaks down in a few years. You notice I said WHEN it breaks down; not IF it breaks down. All equipment will break down! The best thing you can do is educate yourself so you will be prepared when it happens.

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9 Restaurant Management Tips

Restaurant Management TipsAs you know, restaurant management is more than a full time job.  It means long hours and lots of hard work.  Here at The Back Burner we understand that restaurant managers and owners are always on the go and that every day is a challenge to meet revenue goals, keep both customers and employees happy, and still retain a little sanity at the end.

Over the past few months we’ve published several articles aimed at giving you tips on how to make things run more efficiently, smoothly, and hopefully, more profitably in your restaurant.  Here’s a recap of the best of those articles:

  1. How To Deal With Employee Theft – High turnover means you always have employees who are either new or are untrustworthy or both.  Some key tips on dealing with theft when it happens and also how to prevent it in the first place.
  2. Should Your Restaurant Have A Website? – The simple answer to this question is yes, definitely, without a single doubt.  In this article we’ll also tell you how to start and manage a website easily.
  3. Be Like A Stock Broker – Not that any of the large investment banks followed their own advice in recent years, but typically a stock broker will tell you to diversify your revenue.  Here’s how to do so in your restaurant.
  4. How To Implement A HACCP Food Safety Program – This is a complete guide to implementing a HACCP program in your restaurant, from start to finish.  If you’re not familiar with the principles and implementation of HACCP, this is a must read!
  5. Stop Giving Waste Fryer Oil Away! – A new invention will be able to turn your waste oil into electricity, which could end up saving your restaurant A LOT of money.
  6. 7 Tips On How To Email Market For Restaurants – Email marketing can be a very cost-effective way to reach your customers.  Learn how to implement an email marketing program in this article.
  7. 4 Steps To Managing Your Reputation Online – With the advent of social media, everybody who visits your restaurant is an opinion maker.  Learn how to respond to what people are saying online in this post.
  8. Why Your Restaurant Should Start Catering… And 4 Simple Steps To Start – Customers are staying home in record numbers this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to buy your restaurant’s delicious food.  Learn why you should start catering today.
  9. 4 Steps To Keep “Inventory Shrink” From Making Profits Smaller – Whether inventory in your restaurant is intentionally stolen or accidentally stolen because it’s thrown away, controlling shrink is key to boosting your profits.

No matter what segment your restaurant is in, tweaking restaurant operations can make a big difference on the bottom line.

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Restaurant Management: Why Nick’s Isn’t Just Another Pizza Joint

Inc. Magazine did an article recently about pizza and pub owner Nick Sarillo, a restaurateur with blue collar roots based in the Chicago area.  Sarillo has built his business based upon a corporate culture that emphasizes customer service and employee development.

Sarillo’s Nick’s Pizza & Pub is another example of how the labor environment in food service is changing.  Progressive restaurants are starting to place a high value on employee retention in an industry that has traditionally had extremely high turnover.  Those that do invest in their employees enjoy a level of customer service that helps them stand out from the competition.

Let’s face it: a pizza and pub joint isn’t the most original concept out there.  The difference between Nick’s and the next pizza place are the intangibles his customer perceives as added value.  Nick’s people make his pizza place different from the rest, and that’s why he’s succeeded where others have failed.
What are some of his secrets?  For a full interview, check out the Inc. article.  Here’s a quick summary, with some great food for thought if you’re looking for ways to add value to your restaurant:

Take the time to hire right. The interview process at Nick’s involves at least two separate interviews and at least three managers.  Nick’s takes hiring very seriously and they don’t take anything less than top notch candidates.

I don’t know about you, but when I worked in food service the most I was ever screened was a cursory 5 minute interview.  Restaurants often scramble to hire help because positions need to be filled very quickly in order to maintain continuity.  Unfortunately, customer service is usually the thing that suffers the most.

Of course, the other things on this list that Nick’s does to retain staff allows them to be more selective when hiring.  It can be a vicious cycle for some restaurants: trouble retaining employees means new ones must be hired quickly just to stay open.

Reward employee development. Nick’s has several levels of additional training that are completely voluntary once an employee is hired.  Those who choose to take the extra training courses are rewarded with automatic raises once certain levels are completed, and those that attain the highest level get the honor of training newer employees.

A transparent, open, and fair process for employee development not only rewards those who work hard without playing favorites, it allows management to identify the go-getters.

Spread responsibility around. The traditional hierarchy in any restaurant (and most businesses) place responsibility on managers, who in turn boss employees in an effort to make sure all responsibilities are accomplished.  This system has the advantage of narrowing the responsible parties when blame needs to go around.  The downside is that there is no incentive for employees to work at anything outside their narrow job descriptions.

Nick’s approach is to create checklists in different areas of the restaurant for which all employees are responsible.  Once a checklist is completed, it is checked and crossed off by the manager.  Spreading the responsibility around means staff accomplish tasks more efficiently because they can react to specific situations and set their own goals and methods for getting things done.

Encourage feedback – and actually listen to it. Guaranteed every single employee in your restaurant has an opinion about how things could be done better and a gripe about how things are done currently.  The problem is, most management systems don’t allow a time and place where employees can feel safe giving feedback without suffering consequences.

Nick’s has a designated area for employees to give feedback.  They can call the management, all the way up to Nick himself, into this “safe” area whenever they feel the need.  In turn, Nick’s management listens carefully to that feedback and takes a proactive attitude toward resolving any issues that are brought up.

The rules in the food service industry are changing as customers define their dining experience based on intangibles like customer service rather than price alone.  This trend has been magnified even more as the price wars of the last year have forced every restaurant to become price competitive.

Creating a corporate culture that reduces turnover and encourages excellence in service is the way to make your restaurant stand out from the competition.  You’re already competitive on price.  Now you need to win on service.  That starts with the environment you create for your employees.  If your staff wants to come into work every day, then you’ve found a formula that will help your restaurant succeed where others fail.

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