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Data Management: 3 Spots Where Your Restaurant Is At Risk

Restaurant Data ManagementTechnology has made data easier to store, manage, and collect than at any other time in human history.  That power has resulted in amazing improvements in the efficiency of business, and restaurants have benefited just as much as any other – few restaurateurs can imagine running their business today without a comprehensive POS system to store ordering, inventory, and payment information.

The power of technology has a dark side however. The ability to store massive amounts of data in one place means anyone who gains access to that data can use it for criminal purposes.

Unfortunately for restaurant owners, identity thieves have started focusing more and more on the food service industry lately.  The high turnover, fast-paced environment, and minimal experience with data security typical in restaurants has created a perfect storm of opportunity for theft.

According to a USA Today article, identity thieves began targeting restaurants after hotels beefed up their data security in response to increased theft in the hospitality industry.  The problem with most restaurants is that they may not even know how vulnerable they are to data theft until it’s already too late.

Here’s the 3 spots where your restaurant may be at risk (and how to fix them):

1.  Employee records.

The first place everyone thinks of when it comes to identity theft is credit card information.  We’ll get to protecting your customers next, but employee records come first because few small business owners even think about the information they keep on file for employees as something anyone would want to steal.

Those W-2s, I-9s, social security numbers, and addresses are a potential gold mine to an identity thief, and most of those records are usually on paper behind one or maybe two locks – making them pretty easy pickings.

What to do: Some restaurants have started contracting a third party to digitally image all of their paper employee records and store them in a secure off-site location.  These contractors will also usually provide secure shredding and disposal services for sensitive paper documents.

If cost or size (you don’t employ enough people to make it worth it) eliminates a third party option, then take the following steps to beef up the security around your employee records:

Limit access. However you store employee records, put them in a place where only one or two people have access.  This means something more secure than a filing cabinet in the back office.

Digitize records.
Electronic information is easier to protect and takes up less physical space in a cramped back of the house, so if you can convert old paper documents to digital and collect new employee information digitally, this is by far the most efficient option.

Conduct background checks on new employees. Fellow employees are by far the most likely to commit identity theft, so when you hire, use a background check to help filter out potential thieves.  This is easier said than done in the restaurant business, but if you take the time it can really save your butt later on.

2.  Customer records.

More than likely if you’ve taken steps to protect data in your restaurant this is the place you’ve focused you’re efforts.  However, the guidelines and standards for credit card security are very fluid and change often.  These standards are called Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS).

These standards are not mandatory, but if your business experiences credit card theft you won’t be protected by the major credit card companies if you are out of compliance.

What to do: Visit the PCI Security Standards Council for a complete guide to PCI compliance.

3.  Employee eligibility records.

As Chipotle is discovering, keeping your I-9 records in order is a critical part of data management that will help protect your business from litigation later.  Naturally, you would never knowingly hire an illegal immigrant, but if they provide you with false information then it will be up to you to provide that information if there is an investigation later.

That’s why it’s imperative, especially as the federal government cracks down on the hiring of illegal immigrants, to make sure you have all of the proper identification information for every one of your employees, past and present.
What to do: Collect and store I-9 information meticulously for each of your employees, including former employees.  Also check this information for red flags like suspicious looking social security numbers, shoddy looking identification, and duplicate information.

One Chipotle employee alleges she was able to get a job by using a friend’s identification information who was already a Chipotle employee.  Don’t let that happen to you.
Dirty Harry
Good data management is an imperative in modern business, and owners who remain complacent about their management practices roll the dice every day they open their doors for business.  Some may go for years without a single problem.  Others will discover just how damaging identity theft and improper hiring can be to their business.

The question is: do you feel lucky or do you prefer to minimize your risk?

Well, do ya?

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How To Deal With Rising Food Costs In 4 Steps

Rising Food CostsMore and more it looks official – the U.S. economy is pulling out of recession slowly but surely.  The restaurant industry is cautiously optimistic about sales growth this year and consumers appear to be venturing out of their downturn shells.

Unfortunately a growing economy – even one that’s growing so slowly – has started to creating more demand for basic resources like gasoline, which has spiked in price over the last few months.

That, along with many other factors, like mandates that divert crops into biofuel production, has started driving up the cost of food.

It’s bad news for restaurateurs, who have been through the mother of all price wars over the last two years in order to keep business flowing through their doors.  Customers may be eating out more often, but they are still very price sensitive and deal-hungry.

Despite this, most restaurants will probably be forced to raise prices this year.  Luckily, those increases will be relatively small.  Experts are predicting a 4% rise in food costs, which usually translates to pennies instead of dollars on menus.

Even so, many big chain restaurants are starting to tweak their supply chains in order to wring as much savings as possible out of the market, which has proven pretty volatile in the past six months.

4 Steps to Easing Your Pricing Pain

  1. Cut down on long-term supply contracts. Locking in prices for an extended period of time is nice because you insulate yourself against the risk of a hike.  On the other hand, you also can’t shop around for the best price and you generally lose flexibility. If you’re willing to put in the time, the following tips will save you money, help your margins, and minimize your price increases.  But don’t be fooled – leaving the comfort and security of a long term fixed price contract certainly involves risks.  Ultimately it’s up to you and your restaurant’s particular situation to decide if playing the market is right for your business. It all starts with limiting your long term commitments.
  2. Shop suppliers hard. There’s no room here for long relationships and friendly deals.  The big chains are using their buying power to bleed suppliers dry before moving on to the next guy with a better deal. You have to be the same way if you want to get the best prices possible.  You may not have the same buying power as Darden but you do have a choice, and you need to be brutally rational about every single one.
  3. Be flexible. There are more sources for more kinds of ingredients today than ever before.  That’s great if you’re shopping hard to supply your inventory.  But you also need to be flexible about the kind of ingredients you buy. That doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice quality.  Instead, take advantage of seasonal deals, local surpluses, and market trends to find the ingredients that are moving at rock-bottom prices, then adjust your menu and recipes to accommodate the ingredients you’ve brought in. This kind of reverse-engineering will keep your menu fresh while also saving you big on food cost.
  4. Buy in bulk. Since you’re spending so much time shopping, when you do find a deal snatch up as much inventory as you can possibly cram into the walk-in.  Of course you’ll have to walk a tightrope between storage space, amount of time to sell all that inventory, and available cash, but if it’s done right you can really save by buying up sale items cheap. It may also be time to expand your storage space in order to ratchet up more savings on larger bulk buys.  Of course you’ll have to weigh the trade-off between the cost of a new walk-in and the savings you can realize, but between cheaper inventory rates and a tax write-off for the purchase, you should be able to make your investment back in a reasonable amount of time.

Limiting your long term supply commitments and playing the local, seasonal, and oversupply markets takes time, creativity, and a tolerance of risk.  But if you’re willing to play the game you can be handsomely rewarded.

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Why You Should Tell Your Guests To Order Themselves

Ordering KiosksIf you do it right, guest prefer to order themselves.  This has been proven by the advent of interactive electronic ordering kiosks, which have quickly become commonplace in European and Asian quick service restaurants.

Americans are finally catching up to their European counterparts when it comes to self-service kiosks.  Early adopters like Jack-in-the-Box have already seen the benefits these electronic order takers can provide, including a boost in sales, higher customer satisfaction, and increased order volume.

What’s so great about a kiosk?  And what exactly is a kiosk anyway?

Kiosks are electronic ordering systems that provide a touchscreen menu for guests.  The newest generation of kiosks integrate directly with the restaurant’s POS system, making order processing extremely easy.

Kiosks add a couple key benefits to a guest’s experience, at least in a quick service restaurant environment:

Improved order accuracy. Whether or not kiosks actually reduce the number of botched orders is up for debate.  Regardless, guests feel like orders are more accurate because they are directly involved in the order taking process, and that perception can go a long way towards improving a restaurant’s overall customer service.

Guests buy more. Having an interactive menu that automatically suggests upsells, lists the best menu items first, and advertises specials without forgetting is a potent weapon for restaurants.  Guests who use kiosks are more likely to spend more and order more than those who order from a human.

This means a restaurant using kiosks can shift staff from being order takers to order fillers and service providers.  In fact, the restaurants that have introduced kiosks did not have to cut any staff because order volume went up significantly.

Ordering kiosks certainly make sense for quick service restaurants, but what about independents?  Is there a place for an automated menu and order taking system in the more traditional dining experience?

That certainly remains to be seen.  However, here are a couple ideas for ways independents could bring kiosks to bear:

Make waiting interactive.
If you’re fortunate enough to be a restaurant that regularly makes guests wait for a table, then a kiosk could become your very best friend.  Instead of making customers sit on a bench staring blankly at the wall next to the host stand, invite them to place their order on a kiosk, then time their meal to drop 10 minutes after they are sat.

The potential for slashing your table turnover times with that kind of system is tremendous.  That kind of system also gives your servers more time to provide top notch service as well, especially when things get hectic on a busy night.

Make kiosks part of your concept. Remember restaurants with telephones at each table for calling in orders?  Their success depended on the novelty of ordering via phone but eventually it proved much too hard to create a quality experience when the guests’ only interaction with staff was through a phone.

Kiosks could be different.  If they are used to replace menus at tables servers can still interact with guests while they order, have more time to attend every detail, and benefit from the kiosk’s tendency to make customers order more.  All of this could be accomplished without sacrificing face-to-face service, and in fact the iPad has already proven itself to be a great replacement for the traditional menu.  Kiosks at tables just takes that concept one step further.

Change the way you take reservations. Especially if your restaurant is in a high foot traffic area, plop a kiosk on the sidewalk in front of your establishment and invite guests to place their order and then come back to dine at a time of their choosing.

Guests that have already chosen their meal are going to be more likely to come back, reducing reservation no-shows.  That kiosk would also serve as some great advertising for your restaurant and take some pressure off your host stand and servers on busy nights.

Naturally kiosks are going to have to run their course in the quick service segment before independent restaurants start considering them.  But a future where all menus are electronic and interactive is not that far off, and restaurateurs stand to benefit immensely from this new technology.

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Efficient Water Heating in Restaurants

Save Hot Water!Restaurants and commercial kitchens use A LOT of hot water.  In fact, it’s probably one of your larger energy expenses in a given month.

Tips to Cut Costs

  • Set water temperature to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Your dishwashing unit should have a built in booster heater that heats water to the required 180 degrees for dish sanitization. If it doesn’t, it’s more efficient to purchase a booster heater for the dishwasher than heat all your water to 180 degrees.  There’s no benefit to spending the extra energy to heat your water past 140 degrees, and reducing the heat can save you some significant money.
  • Insulate hot water pipes. Pipe insulation is cheap to buy and easy to install, and the energy you can save from such a simple technique is considerable.
  • Fix leaks right away. Whether it’s faucets or dishwashers or pre-rinse assemblies, fix whatever is leaking hot water right away.  A leak is just money going down the drain, something you can ill afford.
  • Use aerators and low-flow pre-rinses. Faucet aerators and low-flow pre-rinses reduce the amount of water you use and the amount of wastewater you produce, both of which will save you money.
  • Use the automatic flue damper. Most commercial water heaters have a flue damper that seals in heat when your water heater is idle.  Make sure this damper is working.
  • Set the timer on the recirculation pump. If your hot water heater has a recirculation pump, set or install a timer so that it turns off during non-business hours.  This prevents heat loss through the hot water pipes and could result in hundreds of dollars worth of savings.
  • Buy Energy Star rated water heaters. If you are replacing or installing a new heater, only buy Energy Star rated units and shop around to find the most efficient one available.
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Why Food Allergies Are Costing Your Restaurant Money

Food Allergies RestaurantsFood allergies are a serious problem that millions of people deal with every day.  Sometimes those reactions can even be life-threatening, which makes the allergy problem something restaurants cannot afford to ignore. And yet for quite awhile now there has been a distinct ambivalence in the food service industry when it comes to food allergies.

Part of it comes from a reluctance to change recipes to accommodate one diner – something that is difficult to do in a busy kitchen, especially when that extra work hardly translates into more money for the restaurant.

Another factor is the small yet significant minority of customers who use food allergies as an excuse to force restaurants to custom prepare their food.  The problem many restaurateurs see here is a slippery slope of catering to food allergies leading to a flood of custom orders that is impossible to handle.

Finally, culinary purists, particularly in the fine dining crowd, see the removal of ingredients from their dishes as a compromise of artistic expression.  This segment of the restaurant business is especially opposed to accommodating food allergy requests.

But how harmful, at least economically speaking, is it for a restaurant to refuse food allergy requests?

Luckily, Paul Antico, a former financial advisor for Fidelity Investments, has taken a Freakanomics approach to the food allergy problem and come to a provocative conclusion: accommodating food allergic customers could result in a 9% boost to a restaurant’s bottom line.  He’s started a website,, to help people with food allergies find and rate restaurants based upon their ability to accommodate them.

According to a Fast Casual magazine article covering Antico’s research, nine million people with food allergies go out to eat on a regular basis and actively seek restaurants that accommodate their allergy.

When you account for the phenomenon of the “veto vote” – one food allergy sufferer in a party of potential customers will cause the entire group to go somewhere else if their needs are not met – you start to see some pretty significant cash walking out the door.

So how do you make your restaurant food allergy friendly?

The first step is to establish a procedure to deal with an allergen-related special order.  Just like your food safety program, this procedure needs to be trained, enforced, and monitored.

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has some great guides for restaurants who want to become allergen friendly.
Here’s a summary:

First, ask these questions:

  • Who will answer the questions guests have about the ingredients in menu items?
  • Who will make sure the proper ingredients are used (and not used) when preparing a special order dish?
  • How will you avoid cross-contamination?
  • How will you deal with an allergic reaction?

To help control cross-contamination, San Jamar has a purple cutting board that makes it easy for kitchen staff to keep potentially harmful ingredients away from special orders.  Color coding the rest of your utensils, like chef’s knives and tongs, will also help your staff avoid contact with allergens.

Because a food allergy sufferer’s buying power is greatly amplified by the veto vote, it makes sense for restaurants to start thinking about ways to accommodate them.  If Paul Antico’s estimates are anywhere close to the actual number of customers and sales you’re leaving on the table, then you’ve got a strong incentive to start a food allergen safety program in your restaurant today.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment

Going Green” is a hot buzzword these days, and everyone, including the food service industry, is jumping on board the environmentally friendly bandwagon.

The great thing about going green in your restaurant is that you can cut costs and save yourself considerable money while improving customer loyalty and visibility at the same time.  In a time when cutting costs might mean sinking or swimming, going green might be the thing that helps you stay afloat.

This series is intended to help you cut costs and improve your business’ bottom line while making legitimate green restaurant claims to your customers.  And you just might save the planet in the process.

Tip #1:  Manage Equipment

The equipment in your restaurant or commercial kitchen uses thousands of dollars worth of energy every year.  Running this equipment is essential to your business, but it can also be a drain on profits if not managed properly.  Some tips to help you manage equipment:

Reduce idle times. Cooking equipment like broilers, steamers, ovens, holding cabinets, and fryers all take time to heat up for optimal use.

Because your kitchen staff is usually more concerned with food preparation times than energy efficiency, they tend to leave equipment running during downtimes to avoid being slowed down by heat up time.

Obviously, you also want to minimize food prep time, but striking a balance between time and energy use is easier than you might think.

Things like broilers and connectionless steamers don’t take very long to heat up, so shutting them down during even short lulls can save you money.  Ovens and fryers can be reduced to an idle temperature that uses less energy than constantly maintaining peak cooking temperature.  Newer fryer models even offer an automatic idle temperature feature.  And warming cabinets are often left on overnight, wasting energy.

Utilize efficient cooking strategies. Using energy hogs like salamanders or broilers is necessary to cook and serve a quality product.

But that doesn’t mean you have to use the least efficient weapons in your cooking arsenal all the time.  Evaluate how each menu item is prepared and devise strategies to employ the most efficient equipment in your kitchen as much as possible.

Steamers, convection ovens, griddles, and microwaves are more efficient than ranges, broilers, standard ovens, and salamanders, so if you can substitute one for the other without compromising the quality of your product, do so.

For more information on managing eqiupment, check out Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment…Continued

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Microbrew Rebels: Oskar Blues Does Craft Beer Their Way

Oskar Blues - Microbrew RebelsWhen Oskar Blues opened its doors in 1997 in the tiny burg of Lyons, CO, just north of Boulder, it was just a place to get some great Southern style food and listen to the best offerings from the local music scene.  That all began to change when Oskar founder Dale Katechis began brewing beer in 1999.  In November 2002, Oskar Blues produced its first microbrew in a can, an event that has since been dubbed the “Canned Beer Apocalypse.”

The arrival of Dale’s Pale Ale turned the bottle based craft beer industry on its head.  “We thought the idea of our big, luscious pale ale in a can was hilarious,” says Katechis.  Cans have other benefits as well.  The lighter, more durable containers made Oskar beers much more portable, an essential ingredient in outdoors-crazy Colorado.  Can liners also lock in brew freshness and prevent the aluminum from affecting taste.

Soon microbrew aficionados from all over the U.S. were picking up on the Apocalypse that had taken place in Lyons.  In addition to Dale’s Pale, Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scottish Ale, Gordon Imperial Red, and Mama’s Little Yella Pils Malt Pilsner have all earned accolades in an impressive collection of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and

Oskar Blues canned microbrews are now available in 25 states, and production is humming along with a new brewing facility and taproom in nearby Longmont, CO.  The canned beer revolution started here has since spread to other well-known Colorado microbrews, but Dale and his team take special pride in turning non-believers on to the benefits of full bodied beer in cans.

“We’re in this to have fun and put some extra joy on the planet,” Katechis says. “We love the way people’s heads spin around after they try one of our four-dimensional canned beers. ‘That came out of a can?’ We hear it all the time.”

If you’re interested in carrying Oskar Blues “Liquid Art in a Can” in your establishment, contact Wayne at wayne[at]oskarblues[dot]com.

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The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket

modmarket founders

ModMarket founders Rob McColgan and Anthony Pigliacampo

You’d think finding a place to eat lunch in a health nut haven like Boulder, Colorado that featured simple, all-natural ingredients made from scratch for a good price would be pretty easy.  Boulder residents Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan realized a couple years ago that unless they wanted to eat at Chipotle every day, finding good, affordable, healthy food prepared fresh and fast was much harder than it should be.  The two friends then set out to fix this problem.

Their solution is Modmarket, a fast casual restaurant located in the heart of Boulder’s 29th Street Mall.  The menu and the food follow a simple set of principles laid out by Anthony and Rob when they started: serve food that

  • Tastes great
  • Is made from scratch
  • Features simple ingredients that anyone can recognize
  • Is served quickly
  • Is affordable
  • Wouldn’t turn you into the guy from Super Size Me if you ate it every day

The crazy thing is how revolutionary this simple credo has turned out to be.  Modmarket’s daily offering of fresh salads, brick oven pizza, gourmet sandwiches, and made-from-scratch soups has been an instant hit with the Boulder locals, and founders Anthony and Rob are hard at work on a second location in Denver that opened at the start of the year.
Even more impressive than Modmarket’s fresh and tasty menu is their extremely savvy marketing campaign.  4174835126_86884a9d6d_m

Modmarket’s founders are skillful practitioners of  cutting edge restaurant marketing techniques,  but one of their mostModMarket Receipt successful campaigns comes from an innovation all their own: using receipts as advertising space.

“We view the receipt as an asset,” says co-founder Anthony Pigliacampo, “We’ve taken what was going into the trash and turned it into a marketing tool.”  All Modmarket receipts list nutritional information for each item the customer ordered, not only placing the restaurant ahead of the curve on menu labeling but also reinforcing Modmarket’s message: we’re a healthy alternative to other fast casual chains.

“People like the fact that it’s transparent.  We’ve had people come in just because they’ve heard about it,” Anthony says of the nutrition information on receipts.  But Modmarket’s use of all that white space on customer receipts doesn’t end there.  At the bottom of each receipt is a bold black arrow pointing to the right that reads “Turn Me Over.”

On the back is a limited-time promo giving the customer 10% off their next order, provided it happens in the next two days.

Below the Modmarket promo is an ad with a coupon for a local chiropractor, which Modmarket prints for free in the name of supporting local business.  Below that ad are instructions for connecting to Modmarket’s Wi-Fi network – a great way to get customers to come back on their next lunch break.

Modmarket also uses catering as a secondary revenue stream and as a way to get their brand of fresh, tasty, healthy food in front of more potential customers in the Boulder area.  “Catering has spread through word-of-mouth and it’s great because it exposes our brand to new people and helps us utilize dead times at the restaurant,” says Anthony.

Catering can sometimes present a logistical challenge – especially when customers request Modmarket’s services with very little lead time.  On the other hand, margins are higher on the catering side and “getting our food into more hands,” as Anthony puts it, only helps find more Modmarket converts.

By far the most effective marketing campaign for Modmarket has sprung from local media.

Generating buzz around a story can be a delicate art, but when done properly can result in some great publicity for a restaurant.  The Modmarket guys landed in the local news after they placed a street sign in front of the restaurant that read “You Can’t Eat At Chipotle Every Day.”

On the surface it seemed like a fairly straightforward statement, but the Chipotle location a few hundred yards down the 29th Street Mall didn’t see the humor.  They asked Modmarket to take down the sign and soon enough the story was in the papers and a lot of new customers were coming through the door.

Of course, recruiting new customers doesn’t do a lot of good unless they become repeat customers.  A large part of the process of turning new customers into loyal ones depends on good food and great service, but there’s no reason why some smart marketing can’t help that process along a little.

Modmarket definitely recruits loyal customers through their receipt promos, but another method that has turned out to be very effective is email marketing.  There’s a computer terminal placed on a prominent wall in the restaurant that encourages customers to sign up for messages.  In a little over a year the list has grown to over 5,000 email addresses.

modmarket pizza“We make it so people want to open the emails we send them,” says Anthony.  “We don’t send them very often, and when we do, there’s always a great deal.”  In fact, Modmarket has seen as many as 1,000 redemptions on coupons they’ve sent via email.  Three elements of their email marketing strategy contribute to their success: 1) getting customer permission to send email, 2) carefully controlling how much email is sent, and 3) always including a compelling offer with every email.

Of course, no restaurant can call their marketing strategy effective without wading into the messy world of social media and the web.  Modmarket has rolled up two sleeves and plunged in on this front, with positive results.

For starters, the Modmarket website is clean, informational, and easy to navigate.  It’s also been optimized to show up in search engines like Google for specific keywords unique to people searching in Boulder for a great, healthy place to eat.

Anthony’s advice for other restaurateurs wanting to get more traffic to their website is to have Google help for free.  “The Google Local Business Page is the easiest way to increase visibility on the web,” he says.  “Even if you don’t have a website, at least create a Local Business Page for free.”

As far as social media goes, Modmarket is active on both Facebook and Twitter.  They test different marketing messages on the two social sites by using a unique coupon code specific to each message and then track code performance through their POS system.  The messages that work get used again, those that don’t are tossed.

These marketing messages are then mixed with a healthy dose of non-promotional messages that help create a conversation with customers.  For example, on Modmarket’s Twitter feed, a message promoting “Free Lunch Fridays” was followed by a link to pictures of the new location in Denver before opening day.  Posts like that give customers a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant and help engage loyal customers even when they aren’t there.

The conversation continues on Yelp.  Many restaurateurs have viewed the review site with a mixture of suspicion and fear, especially after revelations that Yelp was aggressively selling $300-a-month “sponsorships” that allowed users to decide which reviews ended up at the top of the list for a restaurant.

Modmarket views Yelp as an opportunity to engage customers, no matter what they have to say.  “The thing with Yelp is that you can respond to customers,” says Anthony.  “We’ve had a ton of reviews that started as 3s and are now 5s because we talked to that customer and addressed their issue.”

The secret is to respond to customers on Yelp as you would if they were standing in your restaurant.  Accept blame – even if you know their criticism isn’t true – and then win their trust by offering an incentive to try your restaurant again.  “We like to reward people for criticizing us,” says Anthony.

Modmarket also uses the criticisms they receive on Yelp to motivate their staff and hold them responsible for service.  Negative reviews are posted on a bulletin board in the back of the house so that employees get direct feedback on their performance.  This approach in turn helps Modmarket gain more positive reviews in the future.

Another aspect of web marketing for restaurants is using the website as a tool for collecting orders.  Some restaurants have struggled with online ordering systems in the past because the orders interfere with service in the dining area as staff try to fill online orders while dealing with a rush in the front of the house at the same time.

Modmarket dealt with online ordering by integrating it with their existing POS system.  That means the process of taking the order and getting it to the line in the back of the house is fully automated and frees up precious staff resources to handle in-store customers.  “I wouldn’t do online ordering without point-of-sale integration,” says Anthony.

modmarket frontThere’s not a single one of these Modmarket strategies that emerges a clear winner in the battle to gain more customers and keep the ones they have coming back again and again.  But taken together, the sum of these many parts adds up to a very effective campaign that has generated a lot of business and helped Modmarket expand very quickly.

None of these strategies require a huge budget, although they all do need some investment and especially some time to succeed.  And what works for Modmarket may not necessarily work the same way for another restaurant.  The key is to take a comprehensive strategy and test different parts until you find what works for your restaurant.

Continual improvement is the hallmark of any successful marketing campaign, and Modmarket founders Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan are no exception to that rule.  Even as they see success with their current efforts, Modmarket’s approach is to look for ways to make their marketing and customer engagement initiatives ever more effective.

“Nothing has ever been good enough the first pass,” says Anthony.  “That’s why we track what happened and then try again.”

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What Kind Of Website Is Hurting Restaurants The MOST??


5 years ago Facebook was in its infancy.  Twitter was a year away from conception.  Yelp was no more than the apple in the eye of a creative Silicone Valley entrepreneur.  And Groupon was still 3 years away from development! In 5 short years the restaurant marketing landscape has changed.  These sites and many more have changed the way the game is played – and many restaurateurs have had both good and bad experiences trying to keep up with the unrelenting pace of technology.

That’s why The Back Burner wants to know: which websites are helping you?  Which are hurting your business?

Take the short, 1 minute survey and tell us what you think!

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Is The Restaurant Dead?

You know the old saying: “desperate times call for desperate measures.”  The past two years have certainly been a rough time for the food service industry, and even though things are looking up now, the lean times have left an indelible stamp on which way the industry is trending.

In lean times the most efficient restaurant is the most likely to survive, and increasingly restaurateurs all over the country have taken to moving their operations outside of the traditional restaurant setting.  This trend has been propelled by many more factors than just the economics of opening and maintaining a traditional restaurant space, to be sure. But it’s undeniable that the downturn got a lot of influential chefs in the industry to start rethinking the fundamental assumptions of the business, like spending inordinate amounts of money to develop and stock a full-blown restaurant. This has resulted in some revolutionary ideas that have since become some of the hottest trends in the business, like the Kogi Taco Truck in L.A. and the “underground” fine dining movement that germinated in San Francisco and has since taken the country by storm.

Now a growing number of chefs are thinking short term when it comes to defining their next project, and stripping all the trappings of a concept down to the bare bones.  A great example was featured in The New York Times recently: What Happens When is a restaurant that opened last week on a nine-month lease in New York’s SoHo district.

Conventional wisdom says it’s pure folly to sink a ton of cash into a location that won’t be around all that long.  But everything about What Happens When is unconventional.  Used furniture, a short-stocked bar on a mobile cart, and replacement flatware in drawers beneath the tables are all ways in which this restaurant plans to save cash.

In addition, the building in which the restaurant plans to reside has been condemned, so rent is cheap (at least by New York standards).

The short lifespan of this restaurant has a certain freedom to it – with low overhead and a Spartan setting, What Happens When can focus on what’s truly important – the food.

So is the traditional restaurant, with a carefully groomed dining area and state-of-the-art kitchen, dead?  As more and more restaurateurs find new and creative venues to showcase their food, the conventional restaurant will certainly seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

As long as customers continue to enjoy the idea of stripping the dining experience down to the food at the expense of atmosphere, keep a careful eye on how restaurants in more traditional spaces compete with these leaner and much meaner upstarts.

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