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Street Food 101: Benefits of Starting a Mobile Food Service Business

Street Food 101: Benefits of Starting a Mobile Food Service BusinessThe earliest street food vendors trace back to ancient Greece where small fried fish were first to make the menu. Today, a new generation of street food enthusiasts are lining up at food trucks. Affordability and flexibility are just a few benefits of starting a mobile food service business. If you happen to be an entrepreneurial spirit a food truck business could be the perfect fit.

Professionally trained chefs and home chefs alike can open a food truck for much less than a traditional restaurant operation. Ask existing food truck owners and they’ll tell you there is no set formula for determining how much it will cost to start a food truck business. However, research has shown that the medium price for starting a mobile food business runs anywhere from $75,000-$100,000 (this depends on location and state). This price includes essentials like the truck, permits, licenses, kitchen equipment and supplies, marketing and promotional needs, disposables, food ingredients and payroll.

Food service experts suggest the increased interest and revenue from the food truck business is largely associated with a slowed economy. People are seeking affordable lunches, breakfasts and snacks. Not to mention the convenience; food trucks quickly serve up hot, healthy meals.

Mobile food service businesses typically have lower overhead and require fewer employees than restaurants and can easily be moved from one location to another if one location does not generate enough revenue. These key points make starting a mobile food truck business great for someone who is entrepreneurial.

Before deciding on what types of food you will sell it’s always a good idea to develop a budget and business plan. A few things to think about:Street Food 101: Benefits of Starting a Mobile Food Service Business

  • Startup financing
  • Time commitment: full or part time
  • What are your ideas? How will you carry them out?
  • Who do you envision as your customers?
  • How will you get to your customers?
  • Finally…what type of cuisine will you serve?

Food trucks can be found across the country in a variety of flavors from grilled cheese and cookie trucks to tacos and pizza trucks, mobile food trucks are a viable food service business that is expected to have huge growth over the next few years.

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Molecular Gastronomy: Making science, food and eating fun!

Molecular Gastronomy: Making science, food and eating fun!

Have you heard of molecular gastronomy before? No? You’re not alone, molecular gastronomy is a modern style of cooking, and practiced by scientists and chefs who take advantage of many technical innovations from scientific disciplines. Put more simply, think of mixing up drinks like Nitrogen Cooled Lemon Drop Martinis. Or whipping up Crispy Chicken Tacos with Chili Relleno Space Foam.

Dreamstaurant celebrity chef and judge, Ian Kleinman is a pioneering molecular gastronomist and owner of The Inventing Room, a unique catering and food entertainment company based in Denver, CO. His molecular gastronomy recipes include Super Cold & Creamy Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream, Floating Truffles, and Root Beer Floats with Liquid Nitrogen Whipped Ice Cream. Chef Kleinman believes food should be fun and every dining experience should have amazing food, Molecular Gastronomy: Making science, food and eating fun!drinks and service but also contain an entertainment quality that makes you think about your food and how it’s made instead of mindlessly eating it.

Borrowing tools from the science lab and ingredients from the kitchen, molecular gastronomists concoct surprise after surprise for their diners. You may wonder ‘Can I really eat this?’ or ‘Is it safe?’ The truth is the chemicals used in molecular gastronomy are all of biological origin. Even though they have been purified and some of them processed, the raw material origin is usually marine, plant, animal or microbial. These additives are also used in very, very small amounts and have been approved by EU standards. Plus the science lab equipment used just helps modern gastronomy chefs to do simple things like maintaining the temperature of the cooking water constant (water bath), cooling food at extremely low temperatures fast (liquid nitrogen) or extract flavor from food (evaporator).

Molecular Gastronomy: Making science, food and eating fun!If you’re passionate about cooking, have a creative mind but at the same time have a scientific background, molecular gastronomy is something worth experiencing.

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The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal Options

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal OptionsRestaurants focus on developing healthy kid meal options that are more appealing to families.

Pizza, hot dogs, chicken fingers and grilled cheeses are just a few kid-friendly foods available when eating out. Recently, these are the same foods that have come under scrutiny from parents and nutritional experts who worry about what kids are eating.

Chefs and restaurateurs have both business reasons and true concerns for what kids are eating, this is one of the reasons children’s nutrition was projected to be a major trend at foods service establishments during 2012.

The National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey of professional chefs determined that healthful meals for young people would be the No. 4 trend in the industry this year.

The National Kids LiveWell Program works in collaboration with Healthy Dining to help parents and children select healthful menu options when dining out. The restaurants that participate in the voluntary program commit to offering healthful meal items for children, with a particular focus on increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.

The big question that remains is: Are kids eating these healthier meals? From early research the answer is, yes. Teaching kids to eat healthy foods from a young age will help them develop healthy eating patterns for life, offering kid-friendly meals with a variety of vegetables, using proteins that are naturally lower in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals will ensure kids choose healthy foods over processed, fatty foods.

I’m a restaurant owner, how do I join the Kids LiveWell Program?

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal Options

According to Restaurant.org: “Restaurants that join Kids LiveWell agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying nutrition criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.” Kids LiveWell Nutrition Criteria for a full meal:

  • 600 calories or less
  • ≤ 35% of calories from total fat
  • ≤ 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • < 0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only)
  • ≤ 35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring)
  • ≤ 770 mg of sodium
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Oktoberfest: What is it?

Oktoberfest: What is it?Oktoberfest is the world’s largest people’s fair where over 6 million people from around the world visit Munich, Germany for a 16-day festival to drink beer, eat “wursts” and join together in song. The celebration is most famous for its heavy liter steins of beer but there is more; dance around with locals, sing with the Bavarian bands, gawk at traditional costumes and get an enormous plate full of German hospitality.

Oktoberfest started when Crown Prince Ludwig, was married to Princess Therese of Bavaria on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n”.

Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.

The horse races ended in 1960 but that has not stopped people from attending. There is quite the lineup of events that lure people in from all over the globe. Since 1950 there has been a traditional opening ceremony which includes a 12 gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at 12:00 pm by the mayor of Munich with the cry “O’sapft ist!” (it’s tapped in the Bavarian language). The Mayor then gives the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria.

10 Fun Facts About Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany:

  1. It takes two months for construction workers to transform the fairgrounds from an enormous 100-acre asphalt expanse to a pulsating city of beer tents and food stands, roller coasters and carnival rides—and one month to disassemble it all.
  2. The festival grounds on located on 103.79 acres of land, there are 100,000 seats in festival halls and they use 2.8 million kWh of electricity (as much as 14% of Munich’s daily need or as much as a 4 person family would need in 52 years and 4 months.Oktoberfest: What is it?
  3. There isn’t a fee for entering festival grounds or beer tents.
  4. 6 million people visit the fairgrounds during the 2-week event and together they consume 6 million liters of beer, 500,000 roasted chickens, 120,000 pairs of sausages, 80,000 liters of wine, 50,000 pork knuckles, 30,000 bottles of champagne and a gazillion pretzels.
  5. You must be seated to order a beer unless you are in the “standing zone”. You also must order beer from the server responsible for your section.
  6. There are roughly 965 toilets and 1 km of urinal troughs at the fairgrounds.
  7. Last year’s lost and found had a mountain 4,000+ unclaimed items, including 260 eyeglasses, 200 cell phones, 2 pairs of crutches, 1 wedding ring and a set of dentures.
  8. The drinking age in Germany is 18 for hard alcohol and 16 for beer; therefore you may see some juvenile faces in the mix.
  9. An immensely popular gimmick and sign of affection, lovers and admirers gift one another huge gingerbread hearts (pictured on the right) that are often worn around the neck before being eaten. “Ich liebe Dich” is the most adoring of all the quotations, meaning “I love you.”
  10. In November 2008, Bavarian Anita Schwarz set a new world record when she carried 19 full beer steins (5 in either hand and 9 on top) totaling 90 lbs—a full stein weighs an average of 5 lbs—over a distance of 40 meters without any spillage and placed on a table.

Oktoberfest: What is it?Oktoberfest in the US.

Almost 20 percent of Americans can claim to have German ancestry. Therefore the traditional fall festival Oktoberfest is a popular event in many cities around the country. Oktoberfest in the USA roughly follows the same calendar as the one in Germany, and includes lots of beer drinking, oompah bands, and chowing down German food like bratwurst and knockwurst. Does that sound like a fun time to you? If you said “Jawohl!” (German for an emphatic “yes”), take a look at the following list of the most popular places to celebrate Oktoberfest across the USA.

Cincinnati – Cincinnati, Ohio, hosts the largest Oktoberfest in the United States with over 500,000 visitors a year. Six blocks of Fifth Street in downtown Cincinnati are closed for the weekend. Started in 1976, you can enjoy the festivities in 2012 from September 21st to 23rd. Highlights include the Running of the Wieners and the World’s Largest Chicken Dance.

Addison– Addison, Texas located just north of Dallas, hosts Oktoberfest from September 20-23, 2012. The Addison Conference Centre is transformed into an authentic Munich beer hall with a Texas twist. It is considered one of the most authentic Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States.

Chicago: Who can forget Ferris Bueller singing “Danke Schön” on a float at the German heritage parade in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?” Indeed, German roots run deep in Chicago, which makes it one of the best places in the country for Oktoberfest revelry.

Alpine Village, Torrance, Los Angeles – Southern California has been celebrating Oktoberfest at Alpine Village for 44 years. USA Today named it one of the best Oktoberfests in the world. It is held on seven weekends in September and Oktober in a 32,000 square foot tent. Located in Torrance, it is the most popular Oktoberfest celebration in Los Angeles.

Denver – Latimer Street in Denver’s Historic Ballpark Neighborhood is transformed for two weekends in September for this celebration of German culture. Over 250,000 people attend Oktoberfest Denver annually.

Pittsburgh: German heritage is very prevalent in Western Pennsylvania, so it’s fitting that the Pittsburgh area has a couple of Oktoberfest events worth checking out. The best known Pittsburgh area Oktoberfest festivals include the Pennsylvania Bavarian Oktoberfest, billed as Pennsylvania’s largest Oktoberfest, and the Penn Brewery Oktoberfest. Pittsburgh’s Penn Brewery hosts this event in its biergarten and brews a special Oktoberfest beer for the occasion.

Washington DC: The Nation’s Capital and environs has quite a number of Oktoberfest, ranging from beer bashes at local breweries to an Oktoberfest at Jessup, Maryland’s Blob Park, purported to be America’s first Oktoberfest.Oktoberfest: What is it?

New Orleans: If there’s an event that revolves around drinking, you can be sure that New Orleans will be up for celebrating. While New Orleans is not known for its Germanic culture, there are many pubs, clubs, and beer gardens where you can celebrate Oktoberfest in New Orleans. The biggest of these celebrations is at the Deutsches Haus, which celebrates with plenty of beer, schnapps, and chicken dancing.

Atlanta: There are a few places to celebrate Oktoberfest in Atlanta, the most interesting of which is an Oktoberfest party bus that takes revelers to the small town of Helen, Georgia, decked out to look like an authentic German village.

Americans love drinking, eating and dressing up so if you are not involved in an Oktoberfest celebration I recommend you jump on the band wagon. They are fun and a great way to connect with your community. Plus who doesn’t want happy customers in their establishment. Just invest in some Oktoberfest beer, liter steins, brats and you will be good to go!

References: funtober, Harrimon Travel Books, VistaWide

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Tap into Better Drink Service with Keg Cocktails

Tap into Better Drink Service with Keg Cocktails Busy nights at a restaurant bar can be hectic. The chaotic atmosphere will test your bartenders’ skill and your customer’s patience. Cocktail orders and other hand-crafted concoctions act as roadblocks in the bartender’s effort to keep up with the barrage of incoming drink requests. These specialty drinks require more time and effort for the server to prepare and are often a favorite among customers.

One way to continue accepting these complicated drink orders and improve the efficiency of your service is to hire another bartender to help out with mixing cocktails. This may help but it will also add another server to your payroll and creates a crowded space behind the bar. Thankfully this is not your only option.

Keg cocktails offer a trendy solution to your service problem. Large batch cocktails allow your restaurant to continue offering all of those tasty drinks your customers love without slowing down your drink service. From red and white wine to vermouth and sangria to house cocktails, serving specialty drinks has never been easier.

Now I know what you’re thinking: these cocktails can’t possibly be of the same quality as fresh drinks made right at the bar. Not so fast! Drinkers have given these large batch cocktails good reviews. Customers at Mercadito Restaurants in Chicago and Miami reportedly preferred an almost week-old batch of kegged margaritas to those that were made fresh at the bar. The theory behind this is that the ingredients have more time to sit and blend together making the cocktail taste better.

Restaurants that already started using these keg cocktails have some methods that will help keep the drinks fresh and tasting as good as new. Tavernita in Chicago serves up to six on-tap cocktails at a time and currently practices a few different preservation methods to keep drinks fresh.

Tavernita stores large batch cocktails in 50 gallon containers that are pumped with carbon dioxide to keep the drinks fresh. The restaurant also attaches cocktail kegs to agitators that periodically shake the large batches to keep the cocktails mixed well.

Quick service is not the only advantage to keg cocktails. Enabling bartenders to get drink orders out faster large batch cocktails also free up more time for customer service. Serving specialty cocktails in large pre-mixed batches allows bartenders to offer samples to customers as well. Cocktail samples are very rare and could give your bar a unique advantage over the competition.

Get on board with this trend before everyone else does. Keg cocktails are an innovative way to improve your service and offer something drinkers have likely not seen before.

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Food Safety Update: Time To Get Your Management Certified

The food service industry is buzzing right now about a report released by the Food and Drug Administration last week revealing the results of a food safety study the FDA conducted over the past 10 years.

What’s the big deal? The FDA found that “a certified food protection manager was correlated with significantly higher compliance levels with food safety practices,” according to Nation’s Restaurant News. In fact, food service establishments with a full-time certified food protection manager were 12% (70% to 58%) more compliant with food safety practices than those without. That’s a pretty large number.

What’s this mean? The FDA will almost certainly modify their Food Code recommendations to include a full-time food protection manager for all food service establishments. That doesn’t mean a mandate for every restaurant in the country – the Food Code is voluntary and different states and cities adopt different parts of the code.

However, a new food safety standard has been set, and there’s no reason for you to sit around and wait for this to become a requirement, which many industry experts expect in the next few years. Needless to say, there is some legitimate concern among restaurateurs that payroll costs are going up in the face of these new recommendations and any future mandates. The last thing you need is another full-time employee doing something you’re already supposed to be doing, right?

So what can you do? Get your management certified. The upshot of these new recommendations is that the FDA has found a fairly simple way to significantly improve your food safety program: train someone well and then make them responsible for managing food safety in your restaurant.

While it’s not entirely clear what a “certified food protection manager” is, there are already courses out there like Serve Safe’s 16 hour training session that will pass muster for now. If all of your restaurant’s managers pass a similar course, then you’re already playing ahead of the game.

The fact of the matter is, if it has been statistically proven to improve food safety compliance, then getting your management certified is a worthy investment.

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Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Here are some more tips on how to make sure your restaurant equipment is performing at maximum efficiency.

Perform regular equipment maintenance. Simple parts on cooking and refrigeration equipment break down or degrade over time from constant use, reducing energy efficiency and equipment performance.

Usually these parts are so easy to replace you can do it yourself:

 

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Different refrigeration gasket styles

Door gaskets. The constant opening and closing of oven, steamer, and refrigerator or freezer doors leads to wear and tear on the gasket that helps seal in heat or cold.

Replace these gaskets as they become worn to reduce leaks.

Thermostats. The thermostat on your freezer, refrigerator, or fryer can lose its calibration or wear out, meaning the machine isn’t operating at optimal temperature.

Check thermostats regularly with a commercial thermometer and recalibrate or replace them as needed.

Check pilot lights and clean burners. Pilot lights are convenient but also represent a constant use of energy in your kitchen.  Make sure they aren’t using more energy than needed by checking them regularly.

If the flame is taller than a couple inches or yellow in color, adjust the flame until it’s small and blue.  Also clean oven and range burners regularly and replace burners that have worn out to maximize their efficiency.

Train kitchen staff. Implementing the tips above sounds good in theory, but unless you train your staff to think about energy efficiency, these strategies will remain just a theory.

Set idle time and shut down procedures for all your equipment to minimize their energy use.  Train head staff to check for bad door gaskets and thermostats.  Make sure full racks of dishes are going through the dishwasher instead of half full or mostly empty ones.

Most importantly, get your staff to understand why energy savings are important, and incentivize them to act efficiently.

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)Buy Energy Star rated restaurant equipment. Replace old equipment in your kitchen as quickly as possible.  When shopping for new equipment, look for Energy Star ratings.  Most restaurant equipment has annual energy usage statistics.  Use this information to compare units and purchase the most efficient one.

No matter what, new equipment is going to be more efficient and perform better than old equipment.  Often the annual energy savings from new equipment will recoup the cost of purchasing it within a few years.

Also check for rebates from your local, state, or federal government for purchasing energy efficient equipment.

Carefully calculate capacity. One of the most common mistakes restaurant or commercial kitchen managers make when purchasing new equipment is buying too big.

Ice machines, refrigerators or freezers, and dishwashers are big energy users and are the most common units where this mistake is made.  Of course, buying too small is just as bad, and that’s why it’s important to accurately calculate your production needs.

Start by analyzing peak demand.  Once you know how many people or how many meals you serve per hour at peak demand times, you can better analyze what size equipment you need.

However, you should also take into account future growth.

Most restaurant equipment, if properly maintained, should last 5 – 10 years.  In that time your business should grow as well, meaning peak demand 5 years from now is going to be more than peak demand right now.

In general, overestimate equipment capacity by 10% – 20% to make sure it can meet your needs over the entire lifetime of the unit.

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Restaurants Need To Catch Up On Technology

Restaurants Need To Catch Up On TechnologyAt the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show last month, a lot of restaurateurs were talking about the technology gap in the food service industry.  Big chains like T.G.I.Friday’s and Hard Rock Café have already begun to introduce digital gadgetry into their restaurants as a way to connect with younger customers.  And much has been written over the last year about how the battle for customers has moved online.

But despite these modest gains, food service as a whole lags far behind when it comes to incorporating technological advances into their operations and marketing.  That’s because until recently it was hard for restaurateurs to see the gains in sales that could be tied directly to investments in technology like interactive digital signage or a comprehensive website.

Now the time has arrived where restaurants that don’t make these investments are simply going to be left behind as the Millenium Generation gains more and more buying power and therefore preferences for restaurants with a strong foundation in technology go up.

Technology has the added benefit of improving the efficiency and capacity of your operation, if it’s leveraged properly.  The main problem restaurants encounter is justifying the up-front expenses technology upgrades entail, and this problem explains why many restaurants have not yet made the leap.

Does your restaurant need to catch up?  Check out the seven hottest technology trends in food service.

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Barcraft: How To Fill Your Establishment With Thirsty Geeks

Barcraft: How To Fill Your Establishment With Thirsty GeeksSuperstars you’ve never heard of are playing a professional sport you never knew existed… and video game geeks everywhere are staying home because you decided to show the ball game instead.

Some restaurateurs are finally starting to catch on, like Mad Dog in the Fog in San Francisco, and those that do have tapped a nice extra revenue stream for their business.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, a little background:

The History

Starcraft I was released in 1998 by the same software company that brought us World of Warcraft.  The video game allows players to build and command vast armies of space creatures against other players in real time.

Starcraft I became immensely popular in South Korea, and over the last decade an entire network of competitions, leagues, and fans has sprung up around the game.  Korea even has two TV channels dedicated to broadcasting Starcraft competitions.  Top players even have the same status as professional athletes.

In the U.S., Major League Gaming (MLG) started holding live competitions for a variety of head-to-head video games like Halo, Call of Duty, and of course Starcraft.  These events have attracted a growing following, especially among the under 25 set.

Until recently fans of MLG competitions could only see the action by either attending a live event or streaming to a home computer.  That’s where barcraft comes in.

The Rise Of Barcraft

Barcraft refers to broadcasting a Starcraft or similar video game competition in a bar.  The establishments that have tried it see scores of young and enthusiastic patrons filling seats even on normally slow nights like Sunday.

The best part about broadcasting a live video game competition is the costs are a fraction of the costs of common professional sports packages like NFL Sunday Ticket.  Any restaurateur wanting to host a barcraft event will need a fast internet connection and a little technical know-how to get the ball rolling however.

It’s worth the effort, however.  The finals of a Los Angeles tournament logged 85,000 viewers across the country.  Chances are at least 50 of them live near your establishment – and getting them up off the couch and into a barstool shouldn’t be too hard.

That’s because gamers are excited about being able to share their passion for these tournaments with other gamers for the first time.  Experiencing a thrilling moment with a bar full of like-minded people has long been the reason why thousands of restaurants started drawing football fans every Sunday or baseball fans every October.

Now gamers are getting their moment.

For more information on streaming MLG events visit their website.

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How To Use Google To Manage Your Restaurant’s Reputation

How To Use Google To Manage Your Restaurant’s ReputationWe’ve talked about the importance of reputation management on The Back Burner in the past, and as review sites like Yelp and discount sites like Groupon continue to influence the way consumers make their dining decisions it becomes even more important for restaurants to make sure they are engaged with their customers online.

Yet that job has only become more difficult as social media continues to grow in importance, and the reality is there are dozens, maybe hundreds of sites where your customers may be talking about your restaurant and there are only so many hours in the day.

This is not to say you should spend your time combing the internet for every last mention of your business.

This is to say, there’s an easy way to manage the most important mentions of your business and quickly decide where to respond (and where not to) without adding a lot of work to your already busy day.

And it’s free.

Restaurateurs, meet Google Alerts.  Google Alerts, Restaurateurs.

Google Alerts is a way to make the  most popular search engine in the world work specifically for your restaurant.  By entering your business name as a keyword in Alerts Google will start keeping an eye out for that name on every webpage it crawls every day, and by all accounts that’s a lot of web pages, like billions of web pages.

Every time Google’s crawler finds a mention of your business name it will save it to a report.  That report is automatically emailed to you every day where results are found.  This way you can sit back, check your email, and watch for the places on the internet where your customers are talking about.

How To Set Up A Google Alert:

It’s as easy as that and suddenly managing a restaurant’s reputation online just got a whole lot easier.  Of course, you’ll probably still want to check up on yourself on the major sites like Yelp just to make sure important comments aren’t slipping through the cracks.  And it would definitely help to refine the keywords you use to search for customer comments based on what Google Alerts is sending you versus what you find when you do a search.

Some suggestions for tweaking your search:

  • Use quotes (“ “) around your business name to make sure results match the phrase exactly and not just partially.  This will help limit the number of irrelevant results you get, but may cut out some relevant ones as well.
  • If you have a common restaurant name add location to the keyword phrase you use to weed out the Johnny’s Café in the next state over.
  • Experiment with some common variations of your restaurant’s name to make sure you are catching all the references your customers might be using.

Google Alerts is a quick, free and easy way to help you manage your business reputation online.  Start taking advantage of the power of Google today!

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