Restaurant Management

So You Want To Open a Brewery

Brewery Blog Header

So you’re thinking of starting a brewery. It’ll be simple right? You love beer and you’ve been brewing it at home for a while now, so what could be that different? It turns out quite a bit. We’ve gathered information from interviews and blogs by amateurs turned professional brewers and the things they wish they knew when starting out on their journey.

The Legal Side

One of the most important parts of brewing is realizing that it is a heavily regulated industry and that a brewer needs to be very familiar with the laws regarding brewing and the sale of alcohol. There are national laws as well as local laws that you need to familiarize yourself with before taking the plunge into selling beer. You’ll need to apply for a federal brewing permit with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The application does not cost anything but can take an average of four months to process, so it is best to get started quickly, according to Derek Allen who advises several breweries for his legal firm Ward and Smith, P.A.Paper work

Local licensing is also required if you want to serve beer at your brewery; this includes getting a liquor license, which can take about 45 to 60 days if licenses are available. Some states/municipalities limit the number of liquor licenses based on the population of that area. If licenses are not available you could be waiting for an indeterminate amount of time until one becomes available. Considering selling other goods such as clothing or supplies? You’ll need to file for a retailer license as well.

It is also good to consider the corporate structure of your business. You can determine your corporate structure by taking a look at your financial situation and the number of people founding the business. We recommend speaking with your accountant and determining what structure would work best for your business. You’ll also need an operating agreement. An operating agreement says how the business is going to be run, who will control it, how to resolve disputes, and how new investors will be brought in. That way when the time comes you’ll know exactly how to handle any situation.

You’ll also want to consider the types of insurance needed. “Any manufacturer of beer should have property, casualty, and liability insurance.” Says Allen. Most banks won’t lend to you unless you have all three.

To get your federal brewer’s permit, you’ll also be required to get a brewer’s bond, which is a document ensuring you pay your federal taxes. Again it is best to apply for this as early as possible, so that you can get your business started.

Is your head spinning? Don’t worry there are plenty of entities to help you through this process. Organizations such as the Brewers Association have online resources to help those new to the industry get up and running.

Expenses

Brewery, East Coast Chair & BarstoolStarting a brewery is expensive. Michael Kane of Kane Brewing Company told Cnbc.com “Everything is three times as expensive as you think,” Brewing is a capital intensive business, meaning that excess earnings often need to be poured back into the business. “You’re never really done investing in this business,” said Kane. Start with the expense of applying for different licenses and permits. Some of these can be a $100 and some can be in the $1000’s. Then comes the equipment. One barrel which holds 31 gallons, which is about 320 12-ounce beers, can cost around $100,000. A lot of brewers recommend getting more than one barrel. And that’s just the start.

Essential equipment also includes:

  • Kettles
  • Kegs
  • Boilers
  • Bottling and canning lines
  • Conveyors
  • Cooling systems
  • Storage tanks
  • Fermentation tanks
  • Filters and beer-labeling machines
  • Piping and tubing
  • Refrigeration equipment
  • Cleaning equipment
  • Waste treatment systems
  • Tap handles

Keep in mind the government won’t approve your federal brewing permit until all of your equipment is installed and fully operational so these are expenses that will occur almost as soon as you decide to start your own brewery. Then, once you are up and running, different expenses like paying employees and providing them with benefits begin to become a factor.
If you intend to open up an eat-in area in your brewery, that comes with an entirely new set of costs such as commercial furniture and additional equipment, as well as staff to man that part of the business.

A cost that is often overlooked when creating a budget is flooring. Composite flooring that will withstand impact shock, temperature shock, and acid from the beer can cost upward of $10 per square foot. A new brewery owner is also bound to have a few surprise expenses. So it is good to leave at least a 50% cushion for unexpected costs.

Clean Freak

beer, cleaning, breweryAccording to Collin McDonell of HenHouse Brewing, brewing is 90% cleaning and 10% paperwork. Beer requires a lot of sanitary vessels for the fermentation process, which leaves behind a trail of dirty containers, tools, and instruments. Cleaning is an inevitable part of everyday brewery life.

Not cleaning your equipment can lead to a multitude of growths that can affect your beer production as well as your patrons willingness to come back. Small amounts of leftover yeast can be found on surface areas of parts that are exposed to air. Parts such as faucets, keg couplers, and drains need to be checked for growth. It can be recognized by its white or gray color. Mold can be introduced into a beer system by exposure to the air and is usually brown or black in color. Both of these growths can affect the taste of your beer, as well as the health department’s willingness to allow you to stay open.

Often many of the raw materials in brewing contain calcium which can lead to beer stone. Acids or salts present in hops that are created during the process of changing barley into malt can be combined with cold temperatures which results in a calcium deposit known as a beer stone which can affect taste. While not significantly hazardous to human health, bacteria can effect appearance, aroma and taste of the beer. If your beer has a vinegar or rotten egg smell this could be the cause. It is best to throw that batch out and clean your materials. Having a cleaning schedule for your equipment can help reduce the likeliness of having any of these issues.

Record Keeping

It is important to keep good records when brewing. Even when making huge changes to the recipe, the process often stays the same creating little change in the day to day duties of a brewer. The process can be very repetitive so it is incredibly important to have good records. This will allow you to taste a change in your beer and be able to look at your records and determine what could have facilitated that change. Without records it can be difficult to recreate a beer based only on memory.

Workload

Beer, breweryOwning a brewery isn’t only about having a place to brew and hang out with friends; that can be part of it, but it isn’t all of it. Fermentation is a 24/7 activity that isn’t particularly concerned with your weekend plans. At the heart of it a brewery is still a business. An owner needs to be just as devoted to a brewery, or possibly more devoted, than he would be to any other type of business. It is a lot of work but if it is your passion it will be worth all your effort in the end.

A common thread among brewers is the fact that owning a brewery isn’t what they thought it was going to be, but they love it and want it to be the last job they’ll ever have. Getting started can be complicated and expensive process, but there is plenty of room for growth in the industry. We hope that this has given you some insight into what it really is like to own a brewery. With a vision and a bit of elbow grease you head down the path of becoming a master brewer.

A Hard Dose of Reality at NRA 2016

NRA Show Session - Reality Gets Real with Jon Taffer & Chef Robert Irvine

In May, I had the opportunity to attend the NRA Show’s first crowdsourced session Reality Gets Real with Jon Taffer & Chef Robert Irvine, two of the industry’s most recognizable television personalities.  As a huge fan of both of their shows, and as the marketing manager for East Coast Chair & Barstool, the national furniture sponsor of Bar Rescue, Season 4, I had been looking forward to this session since it was announced by the NRA.

As I made my way into the packed Grand Ballroom at McKormick Center in Chicago, IL, I had no idea what to expect, but I was pretty sure that it would be worth the trip – and it didn’t disappoint.  What followed was an hour of candid, rock solid advice from two hospitality pros that have seen and done it all in the industry.  Without any of the showmanship and bravado of their TV personas, these two highly intelligent thought leaders gave insights into everything from evolving to stay ahead of the competition to why they are so hard on the bar and restaurant owners that appear on their respective shows.

Hats off to moderator Phil Kafarakis of the NRA, who did an excellent job of keeping the conversation moving while still allowing for plenty of give-and-take between Jon and Robert.

Below, I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways from the session.   If you would like to watch the recording (which I recommend), you can find it here.

Leadership

  • Leadership, or lack thereof, is the biggest factor in whether a restaurant succeeds or fails. Both Jon and Robert have around a 70% success rate in turning around bars and restaurants on their respective shows; they are able to achieve this level of success by turning failing owners into more effective leaders.
  • Both Jon & Robert said that the biggest failures they’ve had were caused by owners that never really accepted responsibility and refused to acknowledge that they were the reason their business wasn’t working. Both have witnessed owners undo all of the renovations and processes that they have put in place…before their shows have even aired.
  • Jon and Robert use fear as a motivator on their shows to get failing owners to take responsibility for their failure. Both say that nothing gets a failing business owner to take action quicker than appealing to the fear of losing their house and putting their family in serious financial trouble.

 

Marketing

  • A brand isn’t a logo, it’s not a color, and it’s not a marketing material. A brand is what we do.  Brands aren’t created; they’re built one guest at a time.
  • We don’t create food and beverage in this industry, we create human reaction. If a guest doesn’t react to your food, then you are going to be stuck in mediocrity.  Whoever creates the best reactions wins.
  • In Jon’s experience, if somebody comes to your bar/restaurant and has a flawless experience, the likelihood that they will come back is less than 40 percent. If they come back a second time and have a flawless experience, then the likelihood that they will come back is still under 50%.  However, if they come back a 3rd time and have a flawless experience, the likelihood that they will come back for a 4th visit is over 70%.  So, as operators in the hospitality industry, we should be marketing for at least 3 visits.
  • Millennials look at their phones about 260 times per day, so we, as marketers, need to find a way to get on that phone to communicate with them.
  • Jon believes that technology is bothersome when it gets between a server and a guest. He stated that people don’t come to your establishment for food, drink, or to watch sports, all of which they can get at home; rather, they come for the experience…and that is how you compete by giving them a world class experience.  So, don’t let technology get in the way of creating that experience.  Robert, on the other hand, believes that technology, when used effectively, enhances that experience.
  • Cell phones (technology as a whole) can be a killer of business, because they put all of the power in the hands of the consumer. It’s extremely easy now to get on your cell phone and tell a worldwide audience how your meal/server/experience was terrible.

 

Operations

  • About 70% of the restaurateurs that Jon comes into contact with on his show don’t even have data on their food costs, beverage costs, or overhead.
  • Both Jon and Robert believe that it is so important to know your costs and your weekly P&L. Robert gets daily reports on all of his restaurants’ profits & losses so that he knows what he made and what he lost.  “It’s my money, and I want to know where it’s going”.
  • Robert thinks that, as a restaurant, if you aren’t redoing your interior every 3 years, you run the risk of becoming stale and losing to the competition.
  • Robert believes that wallet-less payments will soon take over the industry. The technology is already there, the only thing lacking is consumer acceptance.  He said that servers will have a credit card that wages and end-of-the-night tips will be paid to, and the money will be made available to them immediately: “Uncle Sam will love it, and the servers will hate it”.
  • We are creatures of habit. We love to go to the same restaurants and eat the same food.  Excellence can only be achieved through consistency.  If you aren’t producing a consistently great experience, there will always be somebody newer that is.

One thing was clear from attending this session: Jon and Robert create successful restaurants by taking a top down approach.  If you are a struggling business owner, you don’t have to be on television to change your fortunes; you can learn a lot by watching this session and questioning your leadership, processes, and attitude toward change.  Don’t expect your employees to do it for you: any major changes are going to have to start with you.

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7 Best Practices to Achieve Success in the Restaurant Industry

Why did you decide to open your restaurant?  Has it been a dream of yours that you’ve finally been able to act on, or is it just in your DNA to provide a service to others?  Regardless of your answer or the reason you opened your doors, your intent is to be profitable and successful.  Do you know anyone who owns a business who doesn’t want to succeed?  Probably not.

To provide you with resources that will assist you in achieving this success, we occasionally attend educational sessions at trade shows for the restaurant industry.  In our recent attendance at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, we found a session called the “7 Best Practices of Highly Successful Restaurants” and we knew it was a session we had to attend so that we could pass along this information to you. The presenter for this session was Jim Laube, founder and president of RestaurantOwner.com which is a website that offers restaurant owners membership into an abundance of “resources to turn your good restaurant into a great business.”  Jim began his 30 year career in the restaurant business as a server, moving into positions as a bartender, then manager and even into a controller and CFO for a regional restaurant chain.  Jim now serves as an advisor to thousands of independent restaurants and foodservice professionals providing presentations and training programs to assist with growth and improvement in the restaurant industry.

In your quest to be successful, here are the 7 best practices that Jim recommends you follow:

  1. Focus your marketing on existing customers through the use of a customer database.

Restaurant Customers

According to the National Restaurant Association, over 60% of sales in fine dining restaurants and 80% of sales in casual restaurants come from repeat business.  Knowing this, your marketing plan should be aimed at this audience so you’ll want to know who these customers are.  Building a customer database is the best way to do this so that you can communicate with these individuals regularly.

In order to build a customer database, you’ll want to collect the following information:  name, address, birthday, anniversary, and e-mail address.  You can collect this information through a birthday or anniversary club, VIP club or other loyalty program, comment cards, and/or through staff incentives.  With this customer information, you can send an occasional e-mail to introduce a new menu item, send coupons or special offers, or announce a special event.  Whatever your marketing strategy is, communication with existing customers will encourage more frequent visits in addition to the possibility that those customers will tell their friends or bring them in.

  1. Have a birthday club.

Group of young people celebrate happy birthday with cake and festive hats.

According to Jim, having a birthday club is the most effective marketing practice and he has the statistics from restaurants he works with to prove it.  When sending birthday and half birthday postcards, Jim shared that 78% of these postcards are redeemed on the customer’s birthday and 96% are redeemed on the customer’s half birthday.  He found that even with over a thousand members, birthday clubs provide the restaurant with a 90% redemption rate.   He also shared some important points: everyone enjoys getting a deal especially on their birthday, customers like something better than nothing ($10 versus $0), and the idea that birthday clubs build customer loyalty.  In addition, birthday mailings often get a good response and great customer feedback.

To prove this idea, Jim told the attendees about a success story of a quick service restaurant in a suburb of a major metro area called Golden Chick.  In the first four years of business, marketing was done through newspaper ads, money mailers, Valpak, and a shopper’s guide which totaled $18,000 to $20,000 per year with poor results.  It was documented that although the yearly annual sales improved over those four years, the impact wasn’t as great as the company had hoped.  After implementing a birthday club program which they started with a “cold” list that led to the gradual building of a customer database, those results changed.  Over the next four years, Golden Chick’s annual sales increased by 52% from the time that the birthday club was implemented.  In addition, their marketing costs went from over $18,000 per year to around $100 a month.  Sounds like a strategy that could make a huge difference to any restaurant aiming for success.

  1. Have and use systems.

Drawing of a process chart

Think about a situation where you have had consistently extraordinary experiences at a restaurant.  Then, ask yourself this:  what did they do to make your experience extraordinary?  How did they do it?  Likely, it boils down to systems.  Systems are procedures, processes, or a series of actions designed to achieve a desired result.  If you think about it, restaurants are built upon the concept of systems because they are following certain steps repeatedly over and over again.  It’s not just with food, but also with hiring, training, cleaning, purchasing, storage, preparation, ordering, reservations, service, scheduling, payroll…and this list could go on.  With effective systems in place, restaurants are offered consistency and predictability.  There’s often higher productivity and morale, in addition to fewer surprises and less time needed from the owner to manage the daily operations.

In Jim’s presentation, he talked about a system that is easy to create, easy to understand and follow, effective, and helpful in training new employees.  The system he is referring to is a checklist.  Checklists can be formed to confirm that tasks are done or they can be formed to guide tasks that need to be completed.  Either way, any implemented checklist should offer characteristics that Jim stated are necessary in order to be effective.  Checklists should be short, precise, and fit on one page, include key items only, have an ease of use for both busy and non-busy times, and should be viewed as helpful reminders rather than a “how to” guide.  You can either develop these on your own to customize a system in your restaurant or you can find already developed restaurant checklist templates here, all from the RestaurantOwner.com website.  The checklist templates that are offered on the site include but are not limited to a bartender checklist, a cleaning checklist, a manager opening checklist, a manager shift-change checklist, a new employee orientation checklist, a purchasing checklist, a preparation checklist, a service checklist, and a storage checklist.  There may be costs involved in obtaining these checklists but they can offer you a great starting point if you don’t already have a system in place.

  1. Be serious about your mission.

mission

Let’s jump back to why you decided to open your restaurant.  With that in the forefront of your mind, think about why your restaurant exists, what you want to accomplish, and what your employees would say if you asked them those questions.  These answers can help you create a mission statement that will give meaning and purpose to the everyday activities of your restaurant.  It will become the basis for standards and accountability.  It will help you recruit and retain the right people and pull all of these individuals together as a team.  In addition, it will enhance the effectiveness of your leadership and make it easier to manage and coach your employees.

When you are creating your mission statement, Jim communicated the importance of considering four important elements in a very clear and succinct manner.  They are:

  • What your company does
  • Who you do it for
  • How you want to do it
  • Results you want to achieve

In addition to these elements, Jim stated that every mission statement should include the following components:

  • A performance challenge or goal
  • Who we do it for
  • How the goal is achieved
  • Desired outcome or result

To showcase these elements and components, Jim offered an example of a mission statement that included all of the recommendations above.  Union Square Hospitality Group, a “family of businesses” that opened their first restaurant back in 1985 and now hosts 13 restaurants, a full-scale catering and venue hospitality business, a jazz club, and an organizational consulting business, developed this mission statement:

“Our mission is to thoroughly delight our guests through such unparalleled hospitality, service and culinary experience that they will rave about their experiences and have no choice but to return.”

This statement clearly includes all of the elements and components from above.  You too can have a mission statement that sounds as great as this.  When doing so, remember that you’re not only creating your very own mission statement, but that you also need to communicate it.  Both of these are equally important to the success of your business.  Some avenues to communicate your mission can be through interviews, orientation and training sessions, handbooks, management meetings, pre-shift meetings, decision making discussions, and any other time that an opportunity arises.  With all of this considered, you and your staff will have a clearer vision as your proceed towards obtaining success.

  1. Track and monitor your prime cost weekly, not just monthly.

Tracking weekly costs

If you’re the owner of a restaurant, it’s likely that you know what prime cost is.  If not, this is the sum of the total cost of sales added to the total payroll costs.  The total cost of sales includes the cost of food, beverage, and paper and the total payroll costs include management and hourly employee costs in addition to taxes and benefits.  Jim communicated that the rule of thumb for prime costs should be 65% or less of sales for full service restaurants and 60% or less of sales for quick service restaurants.  He also stated that it is important to calculate prime costs as one number rather than food costs, beverage costs, and labor costs separately.  When figured together, your prime cost will give you a much more meaningful and valid indication of your restaurant’s unit economics, potential for profit, and your management’s effectiveness.  For information to assist you with calculating your prime cost, RestaurantOwner.com has already developed templates that you can use to get your costs organized.  Again, there may be a fee involved but worth it to keep you informed.

In addition to the actual calculation of your prime cost, Jim offered the recommendation to compute it weekly with his reasons why this should be done so frequently.  First and foremost, he stated that this is something that all chain restaurants do.  Second, it brings about greater staff awareness and accountability, and there is faster recognition and response to problems.  Finally, it is a tool that will allow owners to see how well management is managing.  When done on a weekly basis, Jim shared that it is possible for your prime cost to go down 2-5 points.

  1. Keep a running inventory of “key food products.”

Spices are a part of food cost.

Every restaurant has a running supply of food to fill the plates of their customers and some sort of process to keep track of what is in inventory.  But, do you know what your key food products are and how much of them you have in inventory?  Jim recommends identifying your key food products by looking at your food inventory and finding 10-15 items that drive your food cost; the ones that make up 60%-70% of these costs.  Once you identify these items, begin to keep a running inventory of each of these specific items.  You may have an inventory system already in place where this is done but are you doing it daily and keeping a running inventory?  If not, now is a great time to start!  When you keep a running tally of your key food products, you will be able to order more when needed, less likely to run out of something that a customer wants, and you’ll be able to identify when food is being wasted, burnt, or eaten by your employees.  We all know that in our industry food is money, so having a running inventory can help you save money rather than spend it.

  1. Teach your employees “basic restaurant economics.”

Teach employees basic economic concepts of cash flow and expenditures

Here’s a question that any restaurant owner may chuckle at: how much money does your typical employee think you are making?  Likely, you along with many other restaurant owners would answer this question the same way; your employees think you are quite wealthy with instant access to money anytime.  Employees are the front runners of your business and they only see the money that is coming in.  But, do they really know anything about the money that goes out?  In order to educate your employees so that the wrong assumptions aren’t made, Jim states that this calls for what he refers to as “Restaurant Economics 101.”  This is where you educate your staff on where the money that comes into the restaurant goes, so that there is a better understanding of the economics of your restaurant.

A great way to demonstrate the economics of your business is by using the 100 pennies activity in an employee meeting.  Here is what you do:  give each employee 100 pennies and say that this represents all of the money that comes in to the restaurant.  Then, explain where the money goes.  For example, maybe 35% of your sales goes toward purchasing food and beverages so ask your employees to take out 35 pennies for food costs.  Maybe another 30% of your sales are spent on labor costs so ask them to take out another 30 pennies.  Continue doing this with additional costs that your restaurant has to give every employee a visual of where all of the money that they see comes in goes.  When they see this, they are offered a better understanding of the economic status of your restaurant which may lead to better care and upkeep, less waste, and a deeper interest in your business.

Success is defined on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Isn’t that what you want as a restaurant owner?  If so, following recommended best practices by professionals who have been in the business for years is in your best interest; an interest that will determine how closely you come to that success.

The 10 Most Important Restaurant Touch-points to Ensure a Great First Impression

Waitress Setting Tables

Restaurants only have one opportunity to make a good first impression on a new customer.   This impression can be made through different touchpoints, or contact opportunities, and can be the reason why a customer decides to revisit or avoid your establishment. In addition, our socially connected customers want to tell all of their friends about both their good or bad experiences on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and various other social media avenues.  Knowing this, restaurant owners need to ensure that the impression they are making on each and every customer will guarantee a positive share, encouraging the customer to revisit and their friends to pop in.

We recently had the pleasure of attending the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada where we gained some first-hand knowledge about customer touchpoints from the renowned Micah Soloman.  Micah is a business speaker, consultant, and two-time bestselling business author on customer engagement and loyalty who held two packed room educational sessions called “The 10 Most Important Customer-Service Touchpoints in a Restaurant,” detailed as follows:

Discovery

Discovery is how the customer hears about your restaurant and then forms an impression.  Discovery can be made via a website, a social media account, word of mouth, and through reviews online.  To offer a good impression upon discovery, make sure your website includes your menu and current prices, the correct hours of operation, an appropriate address or GPS location, as well as visual interest through colors, text, and photos.  Mr. Soloman also mentioned the Google Streetview trick.  This trick involves having progressive photos that offer viewers a look in to your establishment.  The recommendation is to have a street view image of your restaurant followed by a closer image of your opened front door, and a final of the interior of the building that a customer would see when walking in.  This allows for a visual representation of you welcoming the customer into your establishment from the street, through the open door, and into your actual building.

The face of your restaurant/the first physical impression

Consider the impression that passersby get when they glance at the exterior of your restaurant.  Is the building clean? Are the windows clean?  Is there enough lighting for people on the street to see your interior?   Is the parking lot free of pot holes?  Is there enough parking with clearly marked spots?  Are there visible accessible routes for individuals with disabilities?  Is the sign visible and easy to read?  These questions could go on and on as there is so much to consider, but focusing on a neat and clean exterior with ample and accessible parking to welcome customers driving by is your best bet.

What happens at the host/hostess station

If your restaurant has a host/hostess, consider the impression customers get from this first interaction with your restaurant.  Is there an immediate acknowledgement of their presence by your host/hostess?  Is the customer greeted with a welcoming attitude?  Does the host/hostess honor special seating requests?  Is the customer rushed to their seat or given a good pace to follow?  If the customer is a regular, does the host/hostess acknowledge that?  Is the terminology he/she uses appropriate and welcoming?  In addition to considering the staff, it’s important to consider the actual hostess/host station.  Is there appropriate signage to communicate a host is on duty or if the customer should seat themselves?  Is the station welcoming and clean?  If the underside of the station is visible, is it also clean? These may seem like little things that you don’t think customers will notice, but they often do.

Seating and at-table greeting

When your customers are seated, consider the impression that they get from the table set up in conjunction with the restaurant atmosphere.  Are the tables clean and free of crumbs?  If there are silverware settings, are the pieces clean?  Are the chairs or booths wiped off and inviting for customers to relax?  Have you sat in your chairs and booths lately?  Try it and have your staff do it as well.  Make sure they are safe and that the tables aren’t wobbly.   When seated, does the hostess ramble off the specials in a way that lends to the customer feeling like they are rehearsed? Is the temperature in the restaurant comfortable?  Is the noise level appropriate?  Taking the time to sit and focus on answering these questions will really help you stop to consider these important aspects of each customer’s experience.

The menu

When it comes to your menu, we’re talking about what really brought your customer in.   Therefore, the way you present your offerings is the key to the impression you will make on your customer.  First off, is your menu clean?  You surely don’t want to offer a menu that is sticky or dirty so be sure that your staff cleans them regularly.  Next, is it easy to read?  Does the font lend to ease of reading without a magnifying glass?  It is easy to navigate?  Are there too many offerings that could create a customer to become overwhelmed?  Finally, consider pricing.  Are the prices clearly identified?  Do the prices reflect the appropriate value of your menu items?  When it comes to menus, you could really consider so much more than what is offered here.  But, these are the most important areas to consider because they make the biggest impression.

The server

The most interaction your customer will have is with their server.  It is important that many considerations are made when hiring, training, and continuing education with these staff members.  In hiring, Marilyn Sherman, a certified speaking professional and author of the popular book Front Row Service, suggests that restaurants hire for attitude and train for skill.  A good attitude and a friendly personality go a long way in the service industry especially when a customer’s impression of your restaurant is so important.  Ask yourself these questions about your servers: Do they have a clean appearance?  Are they smiling and welcoming to every customer?  Are they friendly and offering a pleasant attitude?  Are they attentive to the customer while dining in your restaurant?  Are they reaching over guests to pour drinks, serve guests, or clear the table?  Are they clearing the plates too quickly and/or rushing the customers out?  Are they using positive terminology like “you’re welcome”, “thank you”, and “my pleasure” when responding to needs, special requests, and complaints? Also, consider nonverbal communication.  Servers should be smiling, always facing the guests, and attentive to their needs rather than attending to other distractions that have nothing to do with the customer.  It should be known not to vacuum or mop while guests are eating or to complete tasks that cause a disruption to the dining experience.  Servers have a great effect on your restaurant’s impression so hire and train the best.

Food and drink: appearance, timing, presentation

People eat with their eyes so when they are presented with a dish that is visually pleasing, they’ll be ready to eat!  Plus with the social media craze, restaurant dishes are becoming a popular center point for images shared all over the internet.  It’s best to be prepared for the spotlight.  With regard to appearance, are your chefs paying attention to what each plate looks like when they prepare it? Is the size of plate consistent with the portion of the food?  Are the plates and glasses clean?  Are you providing a garnish to finish it off when appropriate?  Is there a good balance of contrast with colors and textures on the plate?  Are your servers doing a last check on the plate before it is taken to the customer?  Is the food appealing?  In addition, timing is key.  Timing can be the difference between a visually appealing plate with food at the perfect temperature and one that may look good but with cold food.  Are hot foods served on a hot plate and cold foods served on a cold plate?  Are foods taking the expected amount of time, is it too slow, or is it too fast? The way you present your food and the amount of time it takes to reach the customer are both considerations that can serve as a huge impression on each and every customer.

Service recovery: how you handle when something goes wrong

The typical customer service cliché is that the customer is always right.  If your customer has a bad experience and tells you about it, it’s your job to handle it in a manner so that their “story” changes.  Their story about the horrible restaurant with poor service and bad food will turn into a new and better story about how wonderful the manager was and how he/she remedied the situation.  Remember, you aren’t trying to prove anything to your customer and nobody wins an argument with a customer.  So, having plans and policies in place on how to handle when something goes wrong is important.  Consider compensating the customer for a re-make of the items the customer was not happy with.  Act quickly so as to minimize the amount of time that a customer is angry and stressed.  You may even offer a coupon for their next visit, give them a free menu item during their current visit, or come up with a creative way to offer a little something extra.  Your efforts to remedy a situation that goes wrong in your restaurant will create an impression that you care about your customers.

Payment and exit

When a customer makes the decision that it’s time to go, their exit should be easy.  Therefore, if your payment and exit process is timely, difficult, or unclear, the impression you are making is not so good.  Ask yourself these questions regarding your customer’s exit: Is your payment process timely or is it rushed?  Do the servers ask the customers if they are ready for the check?  Is the payment process organized and secure?  If there is a kiosk on the table for ordering and payment, is the server still checking in rather than letting the kiosk be a replacement for them?  Are your servers asking if there is anything else they can get for the customer?  Is there a host/hostess at the door to say goodbye and to welcome them back for a future visit?  Are there any services that you can offer to make a good impression like holding the door upon their exit or holding an umbrella and walking the customer to the car?  The last impression that you have with a customer can be as important as the first in leaving a lasting impression.

Visiting the restroom

Last but certainly not least, is the impression a customer gets when visiting the restroom.   Is the restroom clean…floors, sinks, toilets, etc.?  Is the garbage overflowing?  Is the bathroom stocked with the necessary supplies?  Are there accessible stalls that host bars at the right height for those who need it?  Is there enough room for customers to easily move about in the restroom?   Are there visible checklists to ensure that cleaning is done on a regular basis?  Including the restroom as an important part of your restaurant is something that all restaurants should consider.  Making sure it is clean, stocked, and accessible will ensure only positive first impressions.

Customer satisfaction is the key to any business, particularly in an industry that is so competitive.  Like Mr. Soloman recommends, taking the time to give special attention to the moments that customers remember are of upmost importance if you want those customers to return.  Your attention to these touchpoints will ensure happy customers who only share positive experiences at your restaurant.

Avoid These 5 Major Pitfalls that Can Destroy Your New Restaurant

The number of failed restaurants can be a little scary when you first look at them. Several years ago, Cornell University paired with Michigan State University to conduct a study of restaurants in three local markets over a 10 year period. Of the establishments studied 27% of restaurant startups failed in the first year. After 3 years 50% of those restaurants were no longer in business; after 5 years 60% had closed their doors. At the end of the 10 year study 70% of restaurants had failed for one reason or another. While these numbers are better than the commonly exaggerated 90% failure rate told by TV personalities, they are still daunting. Restaurants fail at an alarmingly high rate but it is by no means inevitable.  So here are a few tips so you can prevent your dream from becoming a nightmare.

1. Location

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Everyone knows the phrase “Location, Location, Location!” but it doesn’t just apply to home ownership. It is also true in the restaurant industry. Dwellings that offer visibility, sufficient parking, and an abundance of foot traffic are naturally going to attract more customers than places that are missing any or all of these factors. It is easy to become excited and take the first available space within your budget, but this is your dream come true so be sure to be diligent in your search for your dream space. It would be a shame to have a wonderful concept only to have to shut down due to poor location.

2. Inexperience

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Around 61% of American’s wish to own their own business. It is not unreasonable to assume a decent number of them would like to open their own restaurant. While many workers start their careers in the restaurant industry one way or another it doesn’t mean they understand all parts of owning their own establishment. A sure way to fail is not doing your research before opening a restaurant. You can have the best of intentions but without the knowledge to back it up your great idea can quickly take a turn for the worse. Combat this issue by knowing every job in your restaurant. Not only will you become well educated but your staff will respect you more if you are able to jump in and help during busy times. It is important to remember not to be too proud to ask for help. Vincent Petryk the owner of a Boston based ice-cream store J.P. Licks, which has 13 locations, started his career by spending a few years working his way up at a fast food restaurant.

3. Poor Customer Service

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In today’s modern era of Yelp and Urbanspoon restaurants don’t usually get a second chance if they don’t perform well the first time a customer visits. Disengaged staff, and unclean restaurant and poor food quality can all contribute to a poor customer service experience. Poor customer service leads to terrible reviews, which can snowball into fewer sales and before you know it you are closing your doors for the final time.

4. Lack of Accounting Knowledge

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With all the other aspects of running a business the back of house can often be forgotten. But it is important to know the proper accounting procedures to institute in your restaurant. Designing and maintaining a system of checks and balances will help to keep your business prosperous for many years to come.

5. Overspending

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Spending too much before even opening is another common problem that new business owners face. It is easy to get excited over the prospect of finally seeing your ideas come to fruition.  Being conscious of cash flow can help ensure your business makes it past the first year. Failing to watch cash flow can cause a restaurant to go under before it truly gets started. Payroll can also grow quickly, and until funds start coming in more regularly it is important to watch how many people you are hiring. Having a good understanding food costs is also very important for cash flow and keeping your business in the black.

 

By avoiding these major pitfalls you can help to ensure the longevity of your establishment. It is best to start your business with a game plan. Be aware of the ins and outs of restaurant ownership. Whether that is knowing the best locations in your area, understanding the ins and outs of the accounting world, or all the jobs it takes to keep the service running smoothly, knowledge is your best friend. With a few precautions and the right tools you can build a solid foundation for your dream business.

Automation in the Restaurant Industry

Restaurant Automation includes technologies for ordering, serving, and producing food.

When you hear the words “automation” and “restaurant” in the same sentence, what comes to mind? You may envision being seated at a table with the ability to order and pay for your meal right from a table kiosk. Or you may jump to the idea of a robot server holding a tray of food that is delivered to your table from the restaurant kitchen. Wherever your thoughts turn, automation is  becoming more popular in the restaurant industry and will likely continue to grow in the future

What is Restaurant Automation?

Restaurant automation, as defined in Wikipedia, means “the use of restaurant management systems to automate the major operations of a restaurant establishment.” Automation can be partial or complete, with partial meaning some human intervention in the major operations and complete meaning none at all. Automation can be seen in ordering food, preparing food, and even in serving and billing, with technologies like mobile and robotics playing key roles in its implementation.

Who is using automation in their restaurant?

Many restaurants are already taking new technologies to partially automate some of the operations within their restaurant. One major chain that has implemented new devices into their restaurants is McDonald’s, which has franchises all over the world, with many in Europe and Australia already using self-ordering kiosks on their front lines. These kiosks are currently being tested in several locations in the United States and will soon be installed in 2,000 franchises across the nation. The kiosks offer customers the ability to customize their order through a new “Create Your Taste” menu that offers options with each order, from the type of bun, cheese, and meat to the toppings and sauces to finish it off. Once submitted, the order is made at a different cooking station and then delivered to the customer at their table. Other popular restaurants that are currently using a complete tablet ordering system are Chili’s Grill & Bar and Applebee’s. The customer’s dining experience involves a friendly hostess escorting them to their table where they arrive to find a tablet to complete their order. And, while the customers wait, the tablet includes games that they can play for a small fee to keep them entertained. The goal is for customers to not only place their order, but to complete payment via the self-ordering tablet. The human server is only needed to deliver the food and refill drinks.

There are also restaurants that are already taking advantage of complete automation in their establishments. Many of these restaurants can be found overseas like Genki Sushi in Hong Kong, where ordering sushi doesn’t involve any human interaction, and Wall-E Restaurant in China, where robots are your waiters. But, you can also find fully automated restaurants in the United States. One of those restaurants is Eatsa, a quinoa restaurant in San Francisco, California. This restaurant is fully automated with no waiters, no one taking orders at a counter, and very limited staff. The restaurant only employs real people to prepare food, unseen by the customer, and one or two individuals to assist customers with ordering via an iPad and/or to keep the dining area clean. Without having all of the typical staff and experiences when a customer walks in, there is a new process to follow with ordering and paying for food. Customers walk in with the view of a digital menu paired with many iPad’s set up as kiosks for ordering. They proceed with their customized order and once the order is complete, the customer’s name comes up on a screen. When the food is cooked and ready, a number appears next to the customer’s name which corresponds to a “cubby,” on a large wall of cubbies with the same number. This means that the food is ready and available in the cubby. With two taps of the screen, the cubby opens and the customer takes his/her food. Like Eatsa says, “It’s pure magic,” and that magic is resonating well with the customers as proven through many positive reviews on Yelp. So well, in fact, that Eatsa plans to open up two more locations in the San Francisco area by early 2016.

Another restaurant that is using automation is Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant. Located in or near Kansas City, Kansas, the automation in this restaurant comes from service via train delivery cars rather than robots…and humans. Customers grab a table in the dining area which hosts a phone right at the table. They pick up the phone, place their order, and within a short amount of time their food and drinks are delivered by a train delivery car that follows a track which makes a stop at each table. The novelty of a train bringing food and drinks to the table has been quite appealing to customers, especially to those who have a love for trains.

What are the benefits of automating your restaurant?

Automation offers many benefits to both owners in the restaurant industry and their customers. Owners find that there is a more efficient business flow in the kitchen, better control of costs, and easier access to real time sales data. Automation allows for greater output at a lower cost and is typically used as a compliment to labor, rather than a complete replacement. Remaining employees can then focus on the restaurant’s core competencies like food preparation and customer relations.  As owners and managers face pressure to raise minimum wages, utilizing employees as effectively as possible will become even more important and early adopters of automation may gain a competitive advantage in the short term.

For customers, automation is empowering. They are able to customize their order, receive it the way they want it, and get it faster than they’ve had before. Furthermore, automation injects an element of consistency into every facet of the operation where it is utilized.  Customer’s know that when they enter their order into a kiosk, it will be relayed to the kitchen exactly how they ordered it; and, if a robot is cooking it, the final product will have little variation from one time to the next.

What are the challenges of automation?

Automation can have challenges, and those challenges are important for restaurant owners to consider when thinking about automating their business. The first is the initial cost. The technologies needed to make the automation dream come true can have a big price tag, ranging from tens of thousands to millions per location depending on the level of automation desired.  In addition to equipment, owners will also have to factor in any monthly subscription costs, employee training, and maintenance fees.  These costs can put automation out of reach of many single location “mom and pop” establishments.  However, like most new technologies, costs will likely come down with time as new vendors enter and innovate the market.

Second, while early adoption of automation can provide a short term competitive advantage, it also has the potential to commoditize aspects of your operation in the long term.  Think about it. Once kiosk, or tablet ordering becomes widespread, how will you make that part of your business stand out from competitors.  The same goes for server automation; once a robot or conveyor belt is delivering the food to your customers, what separates you from the competition if they have the same robot or conveyor belt?  Gone is the server whose friendly smiles and warm demeanor built a rapport with customers that kept them coming back.  Technology, while increasing efficiency and consistency, can also reduce the number of opportunities to separate your business from the competition.  If an area of your operations is not considered one of your restaurant’s core competencies, then automating it might make sense; but be sure to consider the long term consequences before automating any function that makes your business unique.

The bottom line.

The decision to implement any degree of automation in your restaurant will, like most business decisions, boil down to your bottom line. Will the financial benefits outweigh the costs involved? The best thing that you can do is to research and find out what automation technologies are out there, as well as the cost of its maintenance and implementation. While doing this, think about your restaurant and envision how and where you can use these devices and services in your current processes. Gathering this information will provide you with a better picture of how best to take the automation plunge.  Although we cannot predict the future, we can assume from past history in other industries that technology is only going to continue to grow, improve, and become more cost effective. With it, it is very possible that automation will one day become a common part of nearly every restaurant experience.

Tips for Hiring Millennials and iGens in Your Restaurant

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Have you caught yourself saying it yet? Those words that made you cringe when your parents or grandparents used to say them to you? “I just don’t understand kids these days! When I was your age, I…” I’m sure you can finish that sentence. As the generations below us keep getting younger, we’ll likely catch ourselves saying those words that we dreaded hearing as a youngster, if you haven’t already.

In the restaurant industry, owners are experiencing a similar situation. They are trying to make sense of the generation that is now taking over the workforce as well as preparing for the generation that is currently and will soon be making their entrance. We’re referring to Generation Y, also known as the millennials, and the new and upcoming Generation Z.

Despite the comments that you may have caught yourself saying about these two generations already, they are both intriguing groups of people who have so much to offer the restaurant industry. They may have a different focus, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make great employees. Let’s explore the characteristics of these two generations followed by some tips that you can use when employing these young workers in your restaurant.

Generation Y or “Millennials”

Born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, millennials are the most diverse generation ever. Generalizations surrounding this group typically include terms like entitled, optimistic, hungry, digital, social, global, and inpatient. They are tech savvy achievers labeled as wanting to be their own boss, have flexible schedules, but most importantly, doing work that matters. They are known as the most likely generation to volunteer and give back specifically for personal growth. They are engaged when allowed to work independently, when their creative input is valued, and when their thoughts and ideas are heard. Millennials are motivated when they see advancement in their positions as well as when they are given opportunities to earn more money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is expected that by 2020, millennials will make up almost 50 percent of the US workforce.

Tips for employing Millennials

With their presence in our industry now, here are some tips that restaurant owners can use when employing millennials:

  • Best practices in hiring: tell your story about who you are and what’s important to your company, emphasize the culture within your restaurant, and maintain a strong presence on the internet as well as on social media. All of these practices will pull this generation in to want to work for you because of the connection that you have created with them.
  • Offer applications online.  These tech savvy individuals prefer to do everything online, even completing an application. Have a form they can complete and submit anytime from anywhere. Paired with this, be sure to offer a notification within 24 hours that you have received their materials. You can even ask the interviewee to submit a video application with specific questions they would need to answer like “why do you want to work for our restaurant” or “what makes you stand out.”
  • Interviews should stress what it takes for them to be successful in the position that they are interviewing for. If there is room for advancement, it is important to mention that. It would be helpful to use several decision makers during this process with open ended questions that offer the interviewee the opportunity to be heard by many.
  • When training, it’s important to know that in general, everyone learns differently. Embrace this idea, but make it interactive using creative avenues to appeal to this group. Ideas include using photo and video for training from your website, pairing the trainee with a trainer for mentoring, and/or demonstrating a task followed by the employee doing the task for the most impact.
  • Tips to help them succeed once they work for you:
    • Always encourage employee engagement and feedback. Millennials want to be heard and for you to really hear and understand what they have to say. Engage in conversations surrounding these topics in addition to giving them constructive feedback so that they can be successful in their position.
    • Offer flexibility with scheduling. You likely have a set schedule that you need employee coverage. Consider offering split shifts or alternate schedules to appeal to this crew.
    • Give employees more varied job responsibilities. Hiring an employee for a set position that you need to fill ensures that those tasks are covered. But, how about flipping around roles or changing things up? Can you distribute tasks in a different way to offer more variety on the job? Consider these things only if it does not complicate the routine and flow of your business.
    • Embrace social causes. This is the generation that cares for others. If you support any charities or give to any causes, communicate that. Not only to your employees, but also to your customer base.
    • Discuss short and long term goals. Millennials want to do well in the jobs they are working in now. But, they are also interested in the future. Be clear about any advancement opportunities and what it will take to reach those positions.

Generation Z or “iGens”

Generation Z is also known as “iGens”, a name they have gained through alignment with Apple products. Since this group hasn’t known anything other than a world with technology, their nickname seems appropriate. Born between the mid or late 1990s or from the mid 2000s to the present day, Generation Z is often labeled with terms like high maintenance, realistic, loyal, energetic, creative, curious, global, entrepreneurial, and technologically proficient. They are also seen as highly connected because they are the generation raised early on with smart phones, touchscreens, and tablets. They create the trends and share it on all of their social media accounts while loving that they have information at their fingertips. Because of this, instant gratification is extremely important.

Tips for employing iGens

Since Generation Z is the future of your restaurant, here are some tips that you can use when employing these young workers:

  • Best practices in hiring: incorporate technology, embrace a mentoring program, be quick to respond to their needs, and listen to their ideas.   All of these practices will pull this generation in to work for you because of the importance these play in their lives.
  • Go mobile. This group likely has a phone attached to their hip for instant…anything. If they can go to your website and find out what you’re all about from their phone, they will. If they can find an application on your website from their phone, they will.   If they can pull up that application and submit it to your restaurant from their phone, they will. Anything and everything can be done from a phone so it’s important for your restaurant to have a mobile presence to appeal to this group.
  • Interviewing practices are the same for this group as with Millennials above. But another technique to try is behavioral interviewing. This type of interviewing simply involves asking applicants to tell you a story and then listen to what they have to say. For example, ask them to “tell me a story about a time you solved a problem at work.” Or, “tell me a story about a conflict you had with another employee at work. How did you solve it?” You may already be using this action based interview strategy but if not, it can really tell you a lot about what kind of employee the individual will be.
  • Training should encompass multiple strategies. One of the most important is implementing mentoring programs. Pairing each new employee with a mentor will provide access to how the business is run as well as ongoing assistance for all those questions that come up in the first few months on the job. It’s also a great tool to encourage communication and build a sense of community within the culture of your business. Another strategy to offer is providing visuals with training. Visual representations and teachings show the step by step process of how something is done. Visuals will clarify any questions with your processes and when done with a mentor, can prove to be very effective. Both of these strategies are important to include in your training program to motivate this group of driven workers.
  • Other general tips that will be help them succeed:
    • Listen to these trend setters. If you want to make an impression on this generation because they represent the bulk of your customer base, ask your employees who are members of it. They are creative and know how to get the word out. Take the time to listen to what they have to say so that you can implement their ideas and make a statement. Not only will this help with your current customer base but it may attract some new customers.
    • Use rewards. This generation is used to getting a ribbon, trophy, or some kind of reward for everything that they do. Implementing an employee reward program that offers recognition will be motivating especially when you change it often.

Generation Y and Z are filling up the workforce that currently represents restaurant employees. As owners and managers of these establishments, learning more about how to motivate and retain these individuals are key to running a successful business in today’s world. With some adaptations and changes in the way we hire, train, and employ these future leaders, we’ll be saying “when I was your age, I….” much less than our parent

The Fast Casual Storm: How You Can Compete

Panera Bread Fast Casual Restaurant.

Trends in the restaurant industry are changing thanks to the influence of fast casual restaurants. Establishments like Chipotle, Taco Del Mar, Five Guys, and Panera Bread, to name a few, are taking the industry over by storm. So, what’s the big deal? Why are these types of restaurants becoming “the” places for dining out?

What is Fast Casual?

Let’s first define what encompasses the fast casual trend. The term fast casual comes from the joining of “fast” food and “casual” dining because it offers elements of both. It is a type of restaurant that offers a higher quality fast food experience with fresh ingredients in a more modern upscale atmosphere.  Front counter service is available to place an order, pay, and retrieve food, followed by customers taking a seat in a dining area that is free of any table service. When placing an order, customers are often offered an interactive experience where they can choose exactly what they want from a visual array of additions, ala Chipotle. It’s customization at its finest! Meal prices at these establishments tend to range from $8 and $15 with payment up front and a minimal wait time.

Customers are changing.

That all sounds great but why is the growth of fast casual restaurants seemingly outpacing other restaurant concepts at an incredibly fast rate? Well, it all comes down to the fact that consumers today are different than those of past decades. In our very fast paced world of cell phones and instant access to the internet, consumers are becoming accustomed to having information and choices available at their fingertips; they want what they want and they want it right now. In other words, people want fast customization especially when they are hungry. And, who wouldn’t? Having fresh, healthy options that you choose and can eat in a matter of minutes is becoming the norm.

Competition is fierce!

With the rapid growth of fast casual restaurants, established restaurants are finding that it’s not easy to compete. McDonald’s is one such establishment who has reported a disappointing global decrease in sales as well as in guest traffic with these new customer demands. Due to these declines, even the industry leader in fast food is realizing that they need to make changes to fulfill the desires of their customers. So, what can you do as a restaurant owner do to maintain a strong business presence while co-existing with this new fast casual trend?

Where do you stand and what can you do to compete?

First, answer this. Are fast casual restaurants your competition? If fast casual restaurants aren’t directly in competition with the type of restaurant that you fall under, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Keep doing what you are doing and do it well.   Maintain excellent customer service, quality menu items, and a clean and friendly atmosphere. There are still diners who want to be served at a table, don’t mind waiting for table service, and might not always be in the mood for the fast casual experience.

If you are in direct competition with the growth of fast casual restaurants, you have one of two options. You can jump on the bandwagon and adopt some of the ideas from the fast casual trend to implement in your restaurant or you can stick to your niche and do it well.

Many well-known restaurants are trying to adapt. Let’s stick with McDonald’s for example. Recent press releases have communicated a change in ways for this famous chain. McDonald’s will be transitioning to cage-free eggs, sourcing antibiotic-free chicken, and hormone free beef. They have already started to serve a new salad mix consisting of a blend of romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach, in addition to simplifying their menu. If you think that adapting to the fast casual experience like McDonald’s is the best way to respond, there are things you can do to make your restaurant more appealing. Add new adventurous flavors to your menu, incorporate fresh natural ingredients, and keep it healthy. To do this, try adding new gourmet sauces to your sandwiches or as a side. You can also replace frozen or processed ingredients with local sourced vegetables and meats. In addition, offer menu items that customers can run in and pick up quickly and don’t take as long to cook.  If feasible, you could even give the interior and exterior of your restaurant a more modern upscale look offering a new arrangement that appeals to this trend.

If you implement these ideas, be sure to tell you customers about it! Use social media as an avenue to advertise to the masses. Pictures of new menu items, a new interior set up, or even added parking for quick to-go orders are all great ideas for Instagram. Twitter tweets and posts on Facebook that incorporate new hashtags or creative ways to let your customers know about the changes you made are imperative to encourage customers to test the new waters. But remember this. If you make all of these changes, be sure to stay true to your brand in the process. In other words, don’t forget the core values that you built your business on. Your goal will be to continue to keep your customer base happy while offering options that align with this new trend. Keeping these things in mind while changing the services you provide to your customers will keep your restaurant from getting lost in the hustle and bustle of this new fast casual world.

A final thought.

As time passes, trends change. Even in the restaurant industry. As you try to decide how or if your restaurant will respond to this new fast casual trend, ask yourself this one question. Will you opt to change to be “like” the best or will you just “be” the best? Your answer will guide you to success.

Top Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Food Waste in a Garbage Can - Image Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

There is a growing concern in our country that those in the restaurant industry need to know about: food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the food supply, which is about 133 billion pounds of food per year. That is a lot of food! With this abundance of food waste, the negative impacts are becoming greater. We are seeing nutritious food that could help feed families in need being sent to landfills. As these landfills continue to fill up, methane is being generated, a known contributor to climate changes and global warming. In addition, the resources that are being used to produce, process, transport, prepare, store, and dispose of wasted food, are ones that could be used towards other uses that would have a greater benefit on our society. As these impacts add up, our country is noticing how big this problem truly is.

In response to this problem, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030. What does this mean for restaurants? It’s time to take action to reduce food waste! Not just for the sake of the national goal of reduction, but also for your own sake of saving your business the increasing amounts of money that is being spent on food that just goes to waste. Here are some tips that you can implement is your restaurant to combat this growing concern.

Track Your Food Waste

The first step to controlling food waste is to figure out how much food you’re actually wasting.  If you’re unsure of how much food waste your restaurant produces, institute a process to track your food waste for a week. Ask all staff to document what percentage or amount of food that they throw away before it hits the trash. With this data, make a plan to minimize that waste with the considerations below.

 Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge is a program that the USDA and the EPA launched in June of 2013. This program challenges “entities across the food chain”, restaurants included, to join efforts to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. By joining, entities demonstrate their commitment to take action to reduce food waste for free. You are just asked to document ways that your restaurant will reduce food waste in the next year and follow through on that list.   To join the Food Waste Challenge, click here.

Proper storage

When storing foods, we all know how important temperature control is. Best practices for temperature control are twofold: frequent checking and documentation of your cooler and freezer thermometers in addition to making sure they are at the required temperatures. Coolers should remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for proper storage and freezers should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, not all foods need to be put in the cooler or freezer. For those items that do not, storage considerations should involve standard food containers and food packaging wrap. The more proper you are about storage, the longer it will last, and the less you will have to throw away.

Labeling paired with a “first in, first out” policy

Labeling is a key part to food storage. Not only because your staff needs to know what each container or box holds, but also so they know which foods to use first. Using the “first in, first out” policy means that you are storing newer products behind the older ones, therefore using the older products in the front first. Monitoring your staff is the key to this policy because even if you train them to pull down the older products first, it is likely that it will be tempting for them to grab a newer or fresher product in the back.

Portion control

The portions you serve to your customers are in direct correlation to your food waste. Plates full of food are often destined for the trash can because it’s just too much to eat. Consider offering smaller portions of your foods and make sure that the portions remain consistent.  We suggest that you have your staff measure each portion that they make and serve. Not only will this help with waste, but it will also help to reduce your food costs. In addition, consider adding half-portions of meals already on your menu at a lower price in order to avoid the excess food landing in the trash.

Smart purchasing

Since over-purchasing of perishable items is a big problem when it comes to food waste, it’s important to buy smart. Smart buying encompasses taking regular counts of your inventory, inspecting foods upon arrival with the non-acceptance of items that are spoiled, and consistency with inventory tracking. Add to this the fact that you should only buy what you need. Use your inventory tracking system to identify trends in purchasing. Once those trends are identified, you can let them lead the way to successful ordering that keeps money in your register.

Other general tips

In addition to the tips listed above, please find below some other general tips that might help you in reducing food waste.

  • If you find you have perishable items that will be soon to spoil, add menu items that include that item into your daily or weekly specials
  • Institute creative ways to re-use food like turning bread into croutons or using vegetables and meats in soups
  • Encourage employees to take home foods that you will only end up throwing away at the end of the day or night
  • Donate food that you will not use to families in need. There are federal laws that encourage food donation and offer tax deductions as well as protection from liability if a donation causes illness or injury. Many organizations exist that collect and distribute food donations to those who need it. For a listing of laws in place or organizations to donate to, click here.
  • Always offer take home containers to your customers for any foods that might still be on their plate. Offer containers that are microwave safe and re-usable to encourage an easy heat up and less waste.
  • Use refillable bottles, dishes, or containers for condiments instead of the single packs. Set these items on each table so that customers use only what they need.   If you are using the single packs, avoid putting them out where customers can grab them. They will likely grab more than what they need and throw away the unused packs in the trash.
  • Reduce the amount of bread and rolls that are offered before each meal and/or reduce the size of appetizers that you offer. These foods tend to fill customers up thus contributing to the possibility of having more food left over from the main dish.
  • Purchase a commercial vacuum sealer to keep your foods as fresh as possible for as long as possible

Regardless of the steps you decide to implement, taking action against food waste is an important part of creating a solution to this growing problem. Simple steps in the regular routine and daily processes within your restaurant will serve a huge benefit to your wallet as well as have a positive impact on society and the environment. That’s what you call a “win, win” situation.

Hungry For Talent: Strategies For Enticing New Cooks

Line cook in the kitchen.

There is a quiet epidemic in the restaurant industry that very few patrons are aware of – the lack of hireable line cooks. With a new generation being raised on The Food Network everyone entering the restaurant industry wants to be a celebrity chef, but nobody wants to start from the bottom as a line cook.  These shows are not an accurate representation of how much work it takes to get to the top of the restaurant industry as a chef, and especially not the hard work and luck it takes to become a celebrity chef. These shows are creating a divide between the expectations of those entering the industry and the realities of working in a kitchen.

With the uptick in the economy, the number of new restaurants is increasing nationwide but the number of cooks being produced by culinary schools isn’t keeping up with the current demand creating a shortage of employable line cooks that restaurant owners are feeling in their kitchens. With the abundance of jobs, new cooks simply leave looking for better opportunities. Chefs are saying that it is not unusual for a line cook to stay for only a few months before leaving again. Those left behind are the ones feeling the pinch of an understaffed kitchen.

The Deterrents

Many cities are experiencing the shortage of cooks. From New York City to San Francisco, ads are being placed everyday looking for skilled cooks. Part of the issue is the hours. Cooks must be willing to work weekends, nights, and holidays. All times that would normally be spent with family or friends. In the past working grueling hours was the only option for an aspiring chef. Until recently. New options such as food trucks, pop up restaurants (temporary eateries that appear during festivals) and tech companies with cafeterias, can offer better hours, higher pay, and better benefits. Having the career you love and still getting to spend time with loved ones is the dream for any person. Positions offering those opportunities are luring more and more cooks away from the restaurant industry leaving a deficit.

Location can be an issue for many restaurants as well. City life is expensive and the average cook in the United States makes $10-$12 an hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with those working in large cities being on the higher end of the national average. With the average rent in a city like New York being around $1,200 a month, living in the city just isn’t feasible for these line cooks on the wages they are currently receiving. More and more are migrating to smaller towns where there is still a strong need but the cost of living is more affordable. Even the commute to work being 15 minutes closer can be a determining factor when deciding upon employment. This movement is creating the deficit that city restaurants are currently trying to deal with.

What Can A Restaurant Do?

In the face of the shortage, what can a restaurant do to lure skilled line cooks back into its kitchens? The obvious answer for some businesses is to start offering higher starting rates and signing bonuses. A lot of graduates fresh from culinary school are facing large student loans they need to pay off. The tuition, supplies, and room and board for the Culinary Institute of America tops $31,000 a year. It can be a challenge to pay for student loans before the cost of living is even factored into the equation. An offer of higher pay with a bonus can be very appealing when those bills start rolling in.

“We now pay our staff probably $3 to $5 an hour more than we did when we first opened [in 2012],” Chef/owner Will Gilson from Puritan & Company Chef pot cooking on stovein Massachusetts told Fortune this year.

The signing bonuses don’t always need to be monetary though. Paying for required shoes, uniforms, or other items can be a great way to entice a new employee. Anything an aspiring chef would need or would want career wise, can be used as a bargaining tool.

Other restaurants are going right to the source. Offering programs where they will pay for part of an employee’s student loans each month after a probationary period. Some groups, such as Boston Urban Hospitality which operates three restaurants, are offering up to $1,000 a month to help with student loans after a three month probationary period. Without the strain of student loans the smaller wages can become much more livable.

With housing being an issue for many trying to work in cities, some businesses have chosen to offer assistance in finding affordable housing. Moving for a job becomes an easier decision when you know the rent will be reasonably priced and possibly close to work. The added stress of finding a place to live is taken away and allows the employee to focus on their job.
Another route for a restaurant is to offer additional training to cooks who agree to work for them. Investing in programs to teach the cooks new and creative ways of preparing food is a draw for many looking to expand upon the knowledge they already have. A way to continue education and a sense of working towards something greater is a goal for many millennials, and cooks are no exception. It also helps to keep them focused on the kitchen and keeps their eyes from wandering towards other opportunities.

If none of those work for you, try offering to critique students at a local culinary school. It is a great way to network with current students. While judging if you find a student you think would work well in your kitchens you can offer them a position before they have done too much searching elsewhere. Offering them an externship is also a viable alternative. Starting a cook in your own kitchen can be an easier way to develop the talent of the candidate to the needs of your kitchen.

With a 10% growth rate the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts an additional 175,000 jobs for cooks in the next decade. As long as shows such as Iron Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen have prevalence, the new generation of cooks is going to have higher expectations from their employers than the generation before. Unless some changes are made in the industry to the long hours and low wages, the problem is going to persist for years to come. Now is the time for restaurant owners to start taking a look at the way they are recruiting their new cooks.