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Restaurant Management Tips: Be Like A Stock Broker

Restaurant Management Tips: Be Like A Stock BrokerRunning a successful, profitable restaurant is just like being a stock broker: you must diversify to minimize risk.  This lesson is even more relevant today considering the current economic climate.  So, you have a great concept, some popular menu items, and a decent dinner rush.  Good.  But your profit margins could be better, and your business more resilient, if you took the time to diversify.

Some ideas:

Add retail items.  Loyal customers love creative apparel referring to your restaurant.  Think of all the money the Hard Rock Café has made just from selling T-shirts and hats alone.  And they still have the gall to charge $16 for a burger!  Plus you’ll get some great free advertising for your business.

Make your food more accessible.  Customers love your menu, but they may not have the time or the inclination to sit in your dining room and eat.  Consider carry-out for popular items, large party catering services, and even food delivery to make sure your customer can have your food whenever they want.

Host special events.  Weddings, corporate functions, and large parties often require specialized menus and pricing, but making your restaurant available for larger functions is a great way to sell out the place on slow days and to take advantage of high seasons, like corporate Christmas parties.  Plus many of the guests at a large event have probably never been to your restaurant before, so impress them so much they come back for more.

Create profitable partnerships.  Chances are there are several other local businesses that would like to reach your customer base.  Come up with creative ways to give such partners advertising access to your customers…for a fee.  This could include advertising in menu inserts, banner ads on the emails you send out, or product giveaways at promotional events in your restaurant.  Of course, there is a fine line here between annoying and pleasing your customer, but use constant feedback and modify your strategies until you get the formula just right.  The result will be a great revenue stream that is almost all profit.

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Better Sales Don’t Change Your Restaurant’s New Reality

Better Sales Dont Change Your Restaurants New RealityRestaurants take heart: change seems to be coming.  After two years of declining growth and slowing spending, it appears that consumers are finally going to spend more this holiday season, not less.

A flock of reports have been circulating in the retail and food service worlds pointing to positive growth on the horizon for both industries.  As the Thanksgiving holiday approached last week, many restaurateurs held their breath, waiting to see if the news was good or too good to be true.  Would shoppers be hungry on Black Friday?  Would they even bother to come out at all?

After hopeful reports by many in the food service industry that we had reached the bottom, and the only way out was up, the Friday after Thanksgiving seemed like the best time to find out if it was really true.  And initial reports have been very positive.  There were no major jumps in consumer spending over the Thanksgiving holiday, but spending was definitely up, which is better than the alternative.  Consumer watchers are fairly certain the trend will continue into the Christmas holiday, which is another shred of good news for restaurants.

Even as spending rises, however, value remains the watchword of the day.  That means consumer spending habits have fundamentally changed.  No one is interested in anything besides a deal, and if your restaurant wants to cash in on this little holiday surge, you can bet that the best way is through continuing the aggressive discounting that has become the norm across the food service industry.

There has been grumbling by many in the food service industry that price reductions dilute brand value, but the reality is a bankrupt brand is the one that has no value.  If you don’t find ways to provide value to your customer, you’re going to find yourself bankrupt.

Granted, aggressive pricing is only one way to provide value to your customer.  Superior quality food, sustainable operating practices, top notch service, and a unique concept are all ways to add value to your brand.  Effectively marketing the things your restaurant does well is another thing you must do well to survive in this new reality.

So take heart: the worst may very well be behind us.  But watch out: you better be ready to do what you do even better in the world of heightened customer expectations.

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3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve Quality

3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve QualityThere’s nothing quite as exciting as watching a busy restaurant’s kitchen gear up for the dinner rush.  Every chef and restaurateur knows that thorough preparation is the only way to effectively combat the chaos that is a kitchen during peak dinner rush.  And that’s why the kitchen starts prepping hours before the guests arrive.  Vegetables and garnishes are cut.  Potatoes and meats are pre-sliced and prepared for quick cooking or frying so that popular appetizers can go out quickly.  Everything has its own bin and is ready to go when the tickets start coming in.

The amount and type of prep work varies from restaurant to restaurant according to their menus and the ingredients used, but some standard principles apply across the board: consistency, quality, speed, and portion control.  Any chef will tell you it takes work to train staff to the point where they know how to prep the various ingredients used on the restaurant’s menu consistently without wasting food product.

High turnover rates means this training is a constant chore.  Maintaining consistency and quality without waste in a high stress environment is a lot to ask of new and inexperienced staff.  This is where investing in some simple yet very effective food preparation equipment can really streamline your kitchen’s operation.  Let’s revisit the principles of food prep:

  1. Consistency.  Manually operated slicers and dicers cut your food product the same way every time – no matter who is pushing the handle – a green newbie or a 10 year veteran.  Some popular options include tomato and onion slicers, chicken slicers, and lettuce cutters.
  2. Speed, safety, and comfort.  Good food prep equipment will cut the amount of time it takes your kitchen to prep ingredients significantly.  And because your staff isn’t dealing with a very sharp knife and a cutting board, one of the most common safety concerns in a busy kitchen goes away.  French fry cutters and wedgers also take typically difficult product like potatoes and make preparation easy and extremely fast, which is key to getting your popular appetizers out fast.  Finally, good food prep equipment is designed for easy operation, which reduces staff fatigue, enhances comfort, and reduces injuries.
  3. Portion control.  Apart from improving the quality and consistency of your product, and increasing the speed with which it can be prepared, food prep equipment is a great way to control inventory and reduce food waste.  There’s three main reasons for this:3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve Quality
  • Greater consistency means product is sliced or cut the same way every time to exact widths, minimizing oversized portions
  • Mechanized slicing uses all of the available product, eliminating the tendency to throw away ends or extras that could be used
  • Food prep equipment greatly reduces human error, which often leads to incorrect portion sizes or incorrectly prepared product

Over the years more and more specialized food preparation equipment has become available, allowing you to get several different machines to perform a variety of tasks in your kitchen.

No matter what kind of restaurant you run, your kitchen can benefit from the consistency, speed, and portion control a piece of food prep equipment can afford you.

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Bars and Restaurants Using Spotters To Increase Profits

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

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

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

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

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

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Use Twitter To Market Your Restaurant: 4 Strategies For Success

Use Twitter To Market Your Restaurant: 4 Strategies For Success

So, have you jumped on the Twitter bandwagon yet?  Or are you sick and tired of hearing about tweets, tweeting, and all other variations of bird noises?  Are you wondering what the heck I’m talking about?

For those of you who answered “yes” to the last question, you’ve got some catching up to do.  Twitter is a “micro blog” tool that allows users to send short 140 character messages to a list of subscribers.  Although the stated goal of the site is to give friends a way to update each other on what they’re doing, Twitter has quickly become much more than that.

Celebrities are using Twitter to gain large followings of loyal fans.  There are massive lists of users who share information and news through links that spread quickly through the entire Twitter community.  And, of course, marketers are using Twitter to reach customers.

In the food service industry, the Kogi Taco Truck in Los Angeles pioneered Twitter marketing by using tweets to broadcast their stops around the city and build buzz.  The meteoric success of Kogi has everyone in the restaurant industry trying to figure out how to use Twitter to their own advantage.

And judging from recent news stories coming out of places like Kansas City and Boston, Twitter is turning out to be a very effective marketing tool for restaurants.  Chefs are using the site to engage customers by giving out recipes and asking for feedback on new dishes and ingredients.  Other restaurants are advertising meal specials and events to draw in loyal customers are specific days.  And one restaurant in Boston even started tweeting months before the doors opened for the first time.  Potential customers followed the new restaurant’s progression and the result was a packed opening night.

If you do decide to use Twitter, here are some best practices that will help you succeed and get the most out of your efforts:

Post regularly. Some Twitter users send out several tweets every day.  You probably don’t want to annoy your customers with a lot of updates, especially at first.  But you should definitely choose a schedule and stick with it.  That way your followers know when to expect an update and (hopefully) they look forward to your next one.

Be creative. 140 characters doesn’t give you a lot of space.  It also doesn’t give you a lot of time to catch someone’s attention.  Boring tweets will get deleted, guaranteed.  Straight-up sales pitches will also be ignored, trust me.  Instead, use colorful, creative language to engage your subscribers and draw them in.

Do more than just sell. Yes, the ultimate goal here is to get people through the door of your business.  But if all you do is sell, sell, sell, you’ll start seeing unsubscribe notices pouring in.  Throw your customers a few juicy bones before you set the hook.  Give out a few recipes.  Tell a story about the behind-the-scenes action.  Ask for opinions on a new dish.  Get them looking forward to your next tweet.  Then hit ‘em with a dinner special.

Customize offers. Want to know how much all your hard work is paying off?  Offer a special meal deal to your Twitter subscribers only.  Give out a special code that allows them to redeem the deal.  Every time a customer uses the code, you know they are there because of your Twitter efforts.  This strategy has the added benefit of making your twitter followers feel special because they are the only ones getting a special deal.

As I concluded in a post about the benefits of Facebook to restaurants a while back, Twitter can’t hurt your restaurant.  And chances are good new social media like Twitter and Facebook will help you connect with your customers and encourage them to come in and eat.  The best part is, using these services only requires your time.  You don’t have to develop some big marketing budget and fret over the return on investment.  Not counting your time, it’s free!

Use Twitter To Market Your Restaurant: 4 Strategies For Success

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12 Restaurant Management Tips

12 Restaurant Management TipsOne area of the restaurant industry we have continually focused on here at The Back Burner is management.  I don’t have to tell you that restaurant managers are often overworked and under-appreciated, and that’s on top of the stress involved with trying to manage a business in one of the largest and most competitive industries out there.

These tips are meant to be useful tidbits that will make you a more effective manager, and maybe entertain/inform you at some point in your busy day.  Check them out when you have an extra three seconds of time and leave comments on your favorite posts!  Let us know what you think!

1.  How To Sell Your Restaurant – The time to sell your restaurant may come for many reasons.  Whatever the motives are behind this difficult decision, the process of selling your establishment needs to be handled carefully to make sure you get the right price at the right time.

2.  Why Buying Scales Will Save You Money- I’m not telling you anything new when I tell you that inventory control is very important in any restaurant.  But I think it’s surprising just how few restaurants view the use of scales as a way to manage shrink and really control how food product is used.

3.  Menu Pricing’s Theory Of Relativity – In a previous oldie-but-goodie Back Burner post I talked about menu engineering – how to put together a menu that effectively markets your dishes and makes customers want to spend more and buy high margin menu items.  One thing that post did not touch upon, however, was how to price and organize those prices on the menu.

4.  Restaurant Management: No Training Budget?  Spend Nothing But Time And Succeed – According to a new study by the Council of Hotel And Restaurant Trainers (CHART), 53% of the restaurants surveyed had cut back on their employee training budgets.  Only 19% increased their budget, with the rest remaining the same.

5.  California & Vermont Restaurants: Are You Compliant? – If you’re in the food service industry in either California or Vermont, then this blog post is for you.  New legislation in these two states changes the kind of faucets and pipe fittings that can be installed in restaurants and commercial kitchens starting early next year.

6.  How To Grow Your Restaurant – Without Going Broke – Restaurants are a business like any other, and as an entrepreneur, you’ve already taken the plunge into the risky but potentially rewarding world of business ownership.  Growing a business is never easy, and trying to grow that business in the current economic climate is even harder, which is why a few key principles for small business ring more true today than ever.

7.  Is Your Restaurant Truly Family Friendly?- According to a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), 75% of restaurants offer a children’s menu and another 6.25% are considering offering one.  Most restaurants understand the need to cater to young families and accommodate them in every way possible.

8.  Restaurant Management: Use Creative Compensation Strategies – The traditional model has been to pay your kitchen by the hour depending on what they do, let waitstaff earn their living on tips, and maybe pay a hostess by the hour as well if you get too busy.

9.  Are You Ready For Flu Season? – Personally, if I never hear another story about H1N1 (swine) flu again, I’ll die a happy man.  Unfortunately, the grim reality is everyone is going to have to take steps to combat the spread of flu this winter, and restaurants are no exception.

10.  A Free Inventory Management Tool???  Where Do I Sign Up? – Count-n-Control is the brainchild of long-time industry pro Paul Clarke, and it’s a tool that is going to revolutionize how you track inventory in your restaurant.  No, Count-n-Control doesn’t have some crazy new way to track your stock so that shrink is 100% eliminated, and no, it’s not going to help you find the cure for cancer.

11.  Use Edible Scraps To Create Restaurant Family Meals – The “restaurant family meal” is a central event in many well-run restaurants.  Just before the dinner rush front of house and back of house staff gather to enjoy a well-cooked meal prepared by the chef.

12.  Management Styles – Micro Manager or Laissez Faire? – Your management style can have a lot to do with your success in running a restaurant, or any other business. While people can debate all day long about which is the best management style to use in different situations, one thing people will agree on, if you get it right (or wrong) it can have a big affect on the success of your business.

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Don’t Take Coffee For Granted

Dont Take Coffee For GrantedEvery restaurant serves coffee.  It’s one of those standard beverages that any food service establishment takes for granted: restaurants of all kinds have always served coffee, and will continue to serve it forever.  But unlike other standard beverages like Coke or Pepsi that are made by a third party, coffee is almost always brewed in house.  That means the quality standard varies widely from restaurant to restaurant, and any customer who orders a cup knows it’s usually a crap-shoot on how the coffee will taste.

With the rise of Starbucks and the rest of the specialty coffee industry in the past 10 years, consumer’s tastes in coffee have become more refined, even as most restaurants still employ the same old standard pour-over coffee machine they’ve always had.  And even though Starbucks has been getting killed lately as consumers cut back on $8 lattes, their taste for quality coffee remains.  The fact is, customers want a better cup of coffee at a good value.

Restaurants are well positioned to provide good quality for a good price, and serving good coffee can lead to better sales and better profits for any restaurateur who takes the time to invest in a quality coffee brewing system.

That’s because not only can you make a tidy profit on coffee sales alone, but customers who enjoy good coffee are more likely to order other after-meal items like desserts and drinks.  You can also use good coffee to boost sales during slow periods during the day like late afternoon.  A reputation for great coffee plus a few simple appetizers or desserts off the menu can become a popular afternoon happy hour very quickly.

So how do you brew great coffee?  Here’s some basics:

Water. Coffee is mostly water, so if the water you use doesn’t taste that great or is hard (full of minerals), your coffee isn’t going to taste that great either.  You should always use filtered water to brew coffee.  This is also important because a water filter will remove minerals from the water that build up in your brewing equipment and cause machine failures and bad taste problems.Dont Take Coffee For Granted

Temperature. The ideal brewing temperature for coffee is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.  Water temperatures outside of this range can result in weak or bitter tasting coffee.  Use a thermometer to measure the water temp in your coffee machine.  Modern digital coffee machines allow you to adjust the temperature of the water with the push of a button.  Older machines may need to have parts replaced.

Time. This is the most important factor in determining how the coffee will taste.  The longer water is in contact with the coffee grinds, the more the soluble elements of coffee are absorbed into the water.  This is what gives coffee it’s taste, but the best tasting elements are usually absorbed at the beginning of the brewing process.  The longer water is in contact with coffee grinds, the more compounds that give coffee a bitter or strong taste are absorbed.

Clean surfaces. The surfaces the coffee comes into contact with inside the coffee machine and outside, like decanters, airpots, and cups, can all lend bad tastes to coffee if they aren’t cleaned properly.  The most common problem is lime (mineral) buildup in the coffee machine.  The best way to prevent this, as mentioned above, is to use filtered water.  However, these surfaces should be cleaned regularly to ensure quality coffee every time.

Coffee grounds. The granule size of ground coffee will affect how long it takes to brew.  Very finely ground coffee brews much more quickly than coarsely ground coffee.  Experiment with different coffee grinds until you find one that results in optimum flavor.  The depth of the coffee ground bed in the brewing basket also affects taste.  A bed depth of 1-2 inches is ideal.  A shallow bed will result in weak coffee.  A deep bed will make the water percolate very slowly, which results in bitter coffee.

Stay tuned to The Back Burner this afternoon as I will be posting the second half of this article, which will cover the coffee brewing equipment basics you need to know to make sure your restaurant is brewing good coffee every time.

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Restaurant Management Tips: More Is Not Always Better

Restaurant Management Tips: More Is Not Always BetterLarge parties present a difficult choice for restaurant managers.  How many times have parties of 12, 16, or even 20 shown up at your restaurant ready to experience the great food and service you have to offer?

Your initial reaction is probably: “Great!  We love more customers!”

Of course you always want to have a packed house.  And that party of 12 is a great way to fill the front house quickly.  But, as most of you already know, that party of 12 can also turn into a headache very quickly.

Think about how the night progresses:

A good portion of your “turn & burn” four and two tops are gone for the night.  Not only does your wait and buss staff have to scramble to put together a section for the large party, but the inevitable disruption this creates disturbs other diners and distracts the staff.  And you know this party will probably be there for a good portion of the night, meaning a table you might turn three or four times in a night is no longer available.

Your best server(s) are also gone for the night. Handling a large table is not for the new guy or the faint of heart.  You’ll probably assign your top wait staff to handle the large party, and this will keep them occupied, and not serving other important guests, for the rest of the night.  Plus, large parties are notoriously bad tippers, and the automatic gratuity is usually less than what the server earned and more than the guest wants to pay.

Your kitchen gets slammed. You’ll do your best to get all those entrees out at the same time, and inevitably that’s going to cause problems in the back of the house as your kitchen staff scrambles to get out the big order and fill all the other orders at the same time.

Other guests feel ignored. Big parties make lots of noise, and draw a lot of attention from your staff.  This leads to other guests feeling like they’re being ignored, and they may be annoyed by how loud the large party is being.  Seating 12 does you no good businesswise if you lose other loyal guests in the process.

Many restaurant managers are probably reading this and thinking to themselves:

  1. I’d still never turn down a large party; most of those people have probably never been here before and this is my chance to show them what we’ve got
  2. My staff is trained to work as a team and we’ll show them what good service is all about
  3. If I don’t seat them, they’ll go somewhere else.  What if those tables sit empty for the rest of the night?
  4. We can handle it, and a packed house is always best

The key to serving large parties is to set parameters and not bite off more than you can chew.

Large parties demand an extra level of service because they are so large, and taking on a large party can actually hurt your business if overall product quality and service suffer.  Anyone who has been in the food service business has seen a large party negatively affect overall product and service quality.

Some strategies for handling a large group:

Separate them as much as possible, but not too much. If you have an area of your restaurant that is off to one side or separated by dividers, place large parties there whenever possible.  This strategy is a double-edged sword, however, because large parties usually don’t want to feel like they are being stuck in a forgotten corner either.

The customer is always right, except when they’re wrong. It is vitally important when handling large parties to draw the line when accommodating their requests will interfere with the quality of your service.  Separate checks on a group of 20 is going to lead to problems.  Seating them in the bar area so they can watch the game means you can’t keep track of who sat where since they keep moving around.

Maybe you’re able to handle these particular examples.  Either way, something will come up eventually that will affect your ability to serve a large group.  Know when to say no.

Don’t get too greedy. If you have the dubious luck of having more than one large party walk in to your restaurant on a given night, be careful.  Don’t automatically assume you can handle the business.  Remember, creating a situation where overall service and product quality is affected is going to cost you more customers over the long run than you’ll gain with this one large party.

Rock Bottom Brewery handles a lot of large parties, and their strategy is to have the host communicate directly with the kitchen, and if the kitchen’s “plate count” (unfilled orders) gets too high, they alert the host and he or she doesn’t seat anybody until the plate count goes down.  Make sure you have some system in place to evaluate your capacity to meet incoming demand and adjust accordingly.

Get all hands on deck. Make sure your staff is supporting the server or servers who are working the large party.  As the manager, you’ll probably end up getting personally involved with the large table and doing what you can to expedite service to a large group.

Whether you consider large parties the bane of your existence or the butter on your bread, coming up with an effective strategy to handle them is an essential part of doing business.  What are your strategies for handling a large party?  We’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment below!

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The Age of the Groupon: Does It Make Sense For Restaurants?

The Age of the Groupon: Does It Make Sense For Restaurants?Groupon, along with BlackBoardEats.com and a whole array of other discount coupon websites have proliferated in the last year as restaurants struggle to get customers through their doors.  These sites operate by getting large discount vouchers from restaurants (usually in the 50% range) and then marketing them to a large list of potential customers through email and the internet.

The argument made to restaurants goes like this: bite the bullet on this deep discount coupon and you’ll earn a repeat customer who comes back for more, making you money in the long run. It’s a compelling argument, and already many restaurants have tried it.  There is still quite a bit of debate, however, about how effective these deep discount coupons actually are at getting a restaurant repeat business.

The first school of thought is that butts in seats are better than empty chairs, no matter what it took to get them there.  These restaurateurs are indeed biting the bullet and hoping for some repeat business down the line.

The second school of thought takes a more skeptical approach.  The biggest fear with bringing in customers on such deep discounting is that all the new business is there because of the once-in-a-lifetime deal being offered by the restaurant, not because they have or plan to have any connection with that establishment.  Without repeat business, the Groupon concept is completely sunk, because there’s no money in that first visit for restaurants.

Naturally, Groupon claims a 90% return rate for customers who use their coupons.  That number hasn’t been independently verified.  It’s also a bit of a logistical problem to track customer visits after they redeem their Groupon coupon.  The fact that coupons are good for a year on average also makes it difficult for restaurants to track exactly how successful their discount program is, since it can take a long time for all coupons to be redeemed.

The X factor in making a calculation about using a deep discounting coupon service for your business is the number of guests who actually redeem their coupons versus the number who purchase a coupon.  This is known as the “breakage rate” and can really help a restaurant get back some of the money they’re giving away on coupons that are redeemed.

Unfortunately, statistics are spotty on breakage rates.  Many restaurants hope for 30% (i.e. 30% of customers who bought a Groupon coupon for their restaurant never redeem it), but since it takes up to a year to find out exactly who is redeeming these coupons, business owners may have to wait awhile to find out how high their breakage rate actually is.

Thus it comes as little surprise that many restaurant owners view these deep discount sites with a healthy dose of skepticism.  That’s not to say these coupons can’t ever be an effective tool for restaurants.

Some restaurateurs have used deep discounting sites like Groupon or BlackBoardEats to promote grand openings or significant additions like a new dining room or patio or a new menu.  In situations where it’s important to build a lot of buzz very quickly because you’re offering something new, a deep discount program can be a great way to reach customers en masse.  You’re not as worried about getting repeat business as you are about filling your establishment for a specific reason.

The jury is still out about deep discounting, but in certain situations, like opening night, it can be a surefire way to pack your restaurant.  For restaurants with an established brand and customer base, deep discounting appears to be a much more risky proposition.

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A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

The following is a great review of Klick Kitchen by an industry insider with a lot more personal experience in the food service industry than I have.

I came across Klick Kitchen last year and while the concept was intriguing, the price at the time was not. Since then they have apparently changed it to a free basic service to the consumer/back of the house end and also apparently a basic intro on the vendor end as well.A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

Greg from Tundra asked me what my take on KK was. As someone always on the lookout for things that can help my clients I wanted to find out a bit more about the system myself. I was going to write a comment on his recent blog post about it and it started to turn into a full fledged post. TMI.

I called Klick Kitchen and Laurie, one of their account managers, was extremely helpful and gave me a demo of both the chefs ordering end and the vendor end.

The system is interesting, from a vendors perspective it offers quite a bit that’s appealing about it, from a chef’s perspective, it has some things to consider.

For vendors, particularly small ones that don’t have a web presence and as well for some that do, but do not have online ordering as an option, this system is a great offering. It does not have any broadliners on it and most broadliners already have online ordering, so offering it would be duplicating already in existence systems.

From a Chef’s perspective, the system seems like it would be good if you were ordering from a broad variety of small vendors, i.e. more 4-5, any less then that then the convenience factor would become a bit less.

While you can request quotes for items and vendors can set up specific pricing for specific accounts, it does take out some of the “beat up the price” factor.  As a former chef I liked to hassle vendors when pricing was too high on orders and threaten to order elsewhere. Not everyone does this, but for chefs that like a haggle factor this takes out some of the fun (and potentially the bottom line on your food cost as well, if you are a good negotiator.)

It might take a bit of a steep learning curve to navigate around in the system at first. While I know many chefs are much more computer literate then they were 10 years ago, the time to do this and the availability of computers in the workplace may be an issue, as well as taking the time to learn how to get around in the program.. Many chefs (myself included) do some of their ordering from home, so if one has a home computer with fast net access this is great. Laurie says they are working on a video tutorial walk through, which I think would be extremely helpful.

Laurie had mentioned she thought the system would be convenient for many chefs, who while they may not have access to computers at work, they do have web friendly mobile devices. At the time of this post I had inquired after the fact by email, if there was a mobile friendly version of the site, and had not yet heard back. The current web version is navigable by iPhones and Blackberries but could be more user friendly, as there is a lot of touch drag on the page. If there is a mobile friendly version of the site, I will add an addendum to this.

I do think the system has a lot of potential, especially with many of the things it sounds like they are still working on and being implemented, the one major thing that I would be concerned about starting out using the system is out of stocks.

Currently its up to participating vendors to update their out of stocks. There is no date available as to when the last time a price/inventory list has been updated online as of yet (Laurie assured me that is something they will be implementing soon) As someone who orders and likes to know instantly whether something is out of stock, by phone or by live up to date access, until I knew which particular vendors I dealt with kept up to date on their online inventories, I would be reluctant to rely on the system especially for important items. Once you do know your vendor habits, I tend to think you would rely on the ones you knew kept the system up to date. Mis-picks and returns still need to be handled the old fashioned way by phone and fax.

When I was cooking the only thing I might order late night, when the odds of getting a live person on the phone were slim, was some dairy and the occasional odd case of produce. The majority of my ordering was done during regular business hours. I know some chefs do all, or most of their ordering last minute and late night and leave voicemails for vendors. My personal feeling about this is if you don’t know what your pars are supposed to be and can’t somewhat predict your restaurant’s traffic for the coming time period, then you have bigger things to worry about then having a case of pecans out of stock. For chefs that do have a good idea of their inventories and a good handle on internal trend tracking, the system would be a good time saver to use.

I think overall Klick Kitchen has a lot of potential, Laurie and I briefly touched on, but did not go into the preferred system for chefs and vendors (for which they do charge for) that has additional options available and apparently custom reports can be run. This is something I would suggest individuals investigating the system look into, for smaller restaurants that do not have POS systems, I suspect that many of the run reports would be advantageous for them to have access to.

I will be recommending it to clients in the NY metro area as something for their chefs to investigate. I look forward to seeing what future developments bring to the system.

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