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Restaurants face slumping lunch sales

29 Sep

If your restaurant’s once-robust lunch business has fallen off of late, you’re not alone. Foodservice market researcher NPD Group reports that lunch visits industrywide are down four percent year over year. Factor in continuing declines in same-store sales and traffic as reported by TDn2K’s Restaurant Industry Snapshot for August and the near-term operating environment for restaurants is looking problematic.

Let’s look at NPD’s numbers first.  Part of the falloff in lunch traffic it found is due to an increase in the number of employees working at home and the nonstop growth of online shopping. More telecommuters and fewer shoppers out at the malls translate to less traffic at lunch.

Potential lunch customers also suffer just a little from sticker shock, NPD says. Menu prices have increased past the point where consumers feel comfortable paying them. The company’s findings show that average lunch checks in some segments have risen as much as five percent compared to the same quarter one year ago—enough to make customers less satisfied and reduce their intent to visit. For example, factoring out quick-service combo and value meal deals, patrons in that segment now pay $8 for lunch.

“Simply said, who can afford to go out lunch on a regular basis when checks have risen for some as much as they have recently?” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst. “Historically, foodservice lunch has been the occasion where consumers didn’t want to invest a lot time, money or energy into this meal. It’s apparent by the drop in lunch traffic that the current value proposition isn’t meeting these needs.”

Why are lunch prices going up? We wish we had the answer. Deflation in key commodity groups  means that food costs shouldn’t be the problem. Operators now enjoy the most favorable pricing environment they’ve had in a while.

Labor costs are the more likely culprit. The overall labor market is tight, and operators in some markets may be feeling the effect of minimum wage increases. University of Washington researchers found that In Seattle, menu prices rose between seven and nine percent after the city increased the minimum wage to $12.50. That wage rate is headed up in increments to $15 per hour by 2018.

A less-visible labor issue—turnover—could also be costing operators a bundle. TDn2K reports that labor costs for restaurant chains—including salaries, bonuses, benefits and labor-related taxes for restaurant employees and managers—averaged 29 percent in 2010. They’re running at 32 percent so far in 2016.

“Turnover continues rising and is a major concern for restaurant operators,” writes TDn2K’s Victor Fernandez. “Restaurant management turnover, which remains at levels higher than those tracked before the recession, is especially troublesome, given its impact on hourly employee retention and its correlation to restaurant sales and traffic. With the latest results reported, restaurant hourly employee turnover has now increased for almost three consecutive years.

“As a result of the rising turnover rates and new jobs, the number of new hires during the second quarter of 2016 represented between 30 and 33 percent of total workforce for the median company operating in quick service, fast casual, family dining and casual dining,” Fernandez adds.

Overall, the Black Box snapshot (based on financial and market-level datafound that year-over-year industry comp sales fell -0.6 percent in August 2016 while comp traffic was down -2.7 percent. Both numbers, while still mired in negative territory, represent an improvement from the prior month. July 2016 same-store sales were down -1.2 percent; same-store traffic was off -3.9 percent.

TDn2K’s Black Box Intelligence tracks financial and market level data from 36,000 chain restaurant units to compile its reports.

So what does the future hold?

“Based on performance this year, it’s hard to foresee the sales environment for restaurants benefiting from modest improvements in general economic activity or labor pressures easing for the industry,” Fernandez writes. “Until brands find ways to reverse continually declining traffic counts, sales (and profit) expectations will be remain modest.”

The daypart where operators might want to try reverse these negative trends? How about lunch?

Contact Bob Krummert:

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Forecast: Driverless cars could help sell more drinks

19 Aug

promobarguestsFuturists see significant labor cost savings ahead for restaurants when robots take over tasks humans now perform. Now they think another emerging technology — self-driving vehicles — may also do wonders for an operator’s bottom line. A new Morgan Stanley report predicts that restaurant customers will soon choose to consume more alcohol because they will no longer have to worry about being pulled over for a DUI infraction on the way home.

Some customers may already enjoy an extra round at a restaurant, then call a ride-sharing service like Uber and Lyft when it’s time to leave. That’s just a preview of how it’s going to be when more people own self-driving cars. Morgan Stanley says autonomous vehicles will become mainstream faster than most people imagine, and both beverage companies and restaurants will benefit when they do.

Here’s what this venerable Wall Street company is telling its clients:

“Shared and autonomous vehicle technology help address the mutual exclusivity of drinking and driving in a way that can significantly enhance the growth rate of the alcohol market and on-trade sales at restaurants,” the firm says. “In particular, shared and autonomous vehicle options could drive more on premise consumption (more last call drinks), off premise consumption (drinks to go ? Buffalo Wild Wings is already studying this opportunity) and over time even the opportunity for the potential for alcohol sales from drive thrus,” analyst Adam Jonas and his colleagues argue.

The Morgan Stanley report doesn’t say much about the effect on wine sales. But the logic suggests customers who now order wine by the glass to voluntarily limit their consumption might begin to purchase full bottles instead. Why not? Even if impaired, they will still be able to get home safely in an autonomous vehicle world.

The report doesn’t say that drinking and driving should mix; it’s pointing out that soon they can.

“Drinking alcohol and driving cars represent hundred of billions of consumer hours and trillions of dollars of economic activity. These activities, in theory, should be mutually exclusive due to the threat to public health and safety (one-third of traffic fatalities are alcohol related) but in practice are frequently not (more than 1.1 million DUI arrests per year),” the company’s analysts note.

“The introduction of ride sharing services like Uber have been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of DUI arrests in select communities. For example, San Diego saw a 14 percent reduction in DUI arrests the following year when Uber operations began in 2011. The temporary banning of Uber in Austin has been associated with a reduction in alcohol sales.

For its part, Uber cosponsored a study with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to document this very effect. Among its findings: Drunk-driving crashes fell by 60 per month among drivers under 30 in California markets where Uber operates following the launch of uberX. That’s an estimated total of 1,800 crashes prevented since July 2012. And in Seattle, drunk-driving arrests declined 10 percent after Uber service became available. Another interesting correlation: In Pittsburgh Uber volume is highest at 2 a.m. when bars close. Drunk-driving crashes peak around midnight in Miami, the same time Uber weekend requests now do.

A separate study, conducted by the University of Southern California and Oxford University, says this Uber effect doesn’t exist.

Still, 88 percent of respondents over the age of 21 told Uber/MADD survey takers they agree with the statement that “Uber has made it easier for me to avoid driving home when I’ve had too much to drink.” This number provides an idea of how many people would perhaps like to drink more during their evening out but are looking for a way to do so without getting into trouble.

So how much more will customers drink when shared and autonomous vehicles become commonplace? Morgan Stanley says operators can figure on one extra drink per person.

It’s a win all around if this prediction comes true. Companies that produce alcoholic beverages will see their sales volume increase. Restaurant and bars will sell more high-margin alcoholic beverages. Car companies — not just Tesla but the many other manufacturers working on driverless cars — will have an unbeatable selling point for their vehicles. And perhaps most importantly, police, public health officials and particularly MADD will be happy to see drunk driving numbers fall, as they should if Morgan Stanley is correct.

Contact Bob Krummert:

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A good bar layout eases physical and financial pain

15 Aug

One of my favorite bars in New York City is called Angel’s Share. It’s a small speakeasy hidden behind a wall of a Japanese restaurant in the East Village. Operating for more than 20 years, it still elicits a “wow” from every new guest who enters. But I don’t love it for the normal reasons. It’s not the drinks (although they’re creative and beautifully made), it’s not the hospitality (which is superb), nor is it the space (you can watch snow fall from the picture window). For me, it’s all about the show. The bartenders move so effortlessly that I’m always transfixed. It’s a modern dance, a study in efficiency, with each bartender knowing so precisely where every tincture, syrup, garnish, tool or glass is kept that they could work the whole shift blindfolded. And while the staff is of the highest caliber, they’re only as good as their bar setup allows them to be.

All too often, the physical setup of a bar is an afterthought when designing a restaurant. By taking time to think through your bar team’s workflow, and to consult experts that have spent years navigating the oft-tiny real estate behind the bar, one can radically enhance profit, retain great talent, and ensure your labor costs are being smartly managed.

“The difference between a silver and a gold medal in Olympic sports is measured in fractions of seconds, and I want gold in my till,” said Sother Teague, beverage director at Amor y Amargo, a 240 square-foot bar in New York City. “Ergonomics are of great importance to me. If I can save a movement here, and a step there, I’m shaving seconds off of every transaction.”

Most of his team works 10-hour shifts, so it’s “important for the longevity of the staff to cut down on strenuous or unnecessary movements wherever possible,” he said. He advises any operator to take the time to bring in a consultant to assist with bar layout.

The owner of The Queens Kickshaw advises that managers role-play through all the various steps of service.
“A well-designed space means less time bartenders need to spend making drinks, and more time they can talk to guests, make connections, and get to the next rounds of drinks,” said Ben Sandler, owner of The Queens Kickshaw and Wassail, both in New York City. He advises that managers role-play through all the various steps of service, from entering orders into the POS system, to setting up a bar guest for food, all the way down to cleaning the bar at the end of service.

We’ve all watched bartenders flailing during service, and it’s usually due to poor layout of equipment and tools. Sandler says to also consider adding pre-batched, bottled, or kegged cocktails to help save time, or adding a chilled water tower that can allow bartenders to quickly pour non-sale items for guests, and not have to take extra seconds to add ice. He also suggests simple things, like adding a mirror behind the bar to allow staff to see what’s happening when they’re facing away from the guests, and to add under-counter lights, not only so employees can see what they’re doing, but also to ensure nothing gets overlooked during end-of-the-night cleaning.

Chris Elford, a long-time bartender, is currently opening two new bars in Seattle named No Anchor and Navy Strength. He’s fortunate to be starting from scratch to design his bars for maximum efficiency, plotting out every detail before construction.

“Labor is the biggest cost concern in a bar, and the more I can equip my staff to move hands, and not feet, the more effectively I can manage those costs,” he said. By having a better designed bar, he will need fewer bodies to serve guests, he said.

“Start with a very simple menu and squeeze as many tools and stations within arms’ reach as you can. The key elements of the bar — the dump sink, trash, ice, speed rail, glassware, and garnish station — should all be right there,” he said.

“A well-designed space means less time bartenders need to spend making drinks, and more time they can talk to guests, make connections, and get to the next rounds of drinks,” said Ben Sandler, owner of The Queens Kickshaw and Wassail (pictured), both in New York City.

IMG_2501Elford also recommends taking a close look at every bottle placed in the well or speed rack. If each of those bottles is not used three to four times in a shift, then get them out of there.

And any experienced bartender will tell you that the most often used piece of equipment is the ice bin, so ensuring it is placed at a height and position that is comfortable for staff to scoop and fill will save them from having to awkwardly reach or bend over. Fatigue and back pain are real foes for your bar staff, so having things like step ladders that are easily accessible, as well as glass storage in an easy-to-access spot, will go a long way in keeping your staff happy.

A well-constructed bar space that takes into account the anticipated workflow of your staff at every step is always a work in progress. But by taking the time to analyze that both at the time of construction, if possible, and definitely once your operation is up and running, will always reap benefits, both for your bottom line, and for your staff who will be spending hour after hour dancing through the space. Set them up for efficiency and comfort, and then watch them shine.

David Flaherty has more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry. He is a certified cicerone and a former operations manager and beer and spirits director for Hearth restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York City. He is currently marketing director for the Washington State Wine Commission and writes about wine, beer and spirits in his blog, Grapes and Grains.

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Here comes another bankruptcy wave

09 Aug

News this week that Logan’s Roadhouse is planning to file for bankruptcy does not come as much of a surprise. The casual-dining chain has long been speculated as a candidate for filing.

In addition, restaurant sales are falling. And falling restaurant sales often yield chain bankruptcies.

Industry sales have slumped all year, and that slump accelerated in the second quarter. Even successful chains with all sorts of momentum, such as Arby’s and Texas Roadhouse, reported slowing same-store sales in their most recent quarter. Discounts and value deals have become commonplace.

While we’ve suggested that lower grocery prices are pulling away restaurant sales and the industry over-expanded, analysts are speculating that the industry is at the outset of a recession. And many restaurant CEOs appear to agree.

Regardless of the reason, broadly declining restaurant sales can cause problems at companies with precarious cash positions or heavy debt loads or sizable lease obligations.

Sales and traffic are the magic bullets in the restaurant industry. It’s a lot easier to operate a profitable restaurant when you can get customers. Lose them and those debt and lease payments look awfully bad.

In recent years, many concepts have taken advantage of a debt market flush with lenders. Others opted to sell restaurant buildings and properties to investors, leasing that property back in sale-leaseback deals.

Debt and lease obligations are not inherently bad, especially when a concept is going well. But chains with debt and lease obligations have less protection against falling sales. If the obligations are too heavy, or the sales decline is too great, that could result in bankruptcy.

If Logan’s files, it would be the third restaurant chain bankruptcy this year and the fourth since November, following bankruptcies by Quaker Steak & Lube, Buffets LLC and Johnny Carino’s.

Falling sales played a role in all of them. Revenues fell at Carino’s. Sales at Buffets fell 22 percent from initial projections following the company’s acquisition last year by Food Management Partners. Both cited other factors, but it’s hard to ignore those sales declines.

Logan’s is another example. The company had been working hard to change its image and reduce its reliance on discounts, and a year ago appeared to be gaining some traction. Same-store rose 0.1 percent in the quarter ended Feb. 1, 2015, for instance, though traffic fell 5.5 percent.

But, by the quarter ended Oct. 28, same-store sales had begun to fall again, down 4.3 percent while traffic fell 7.4 percent. For a chain with $391.4 million in long-term debt and little cash, such declines are ominous. Logan’s has not filed its past two quarterly earnings reports.

Broadly falling industry sales beginning in 2008 and continuing into 2010 left many restaurant chains struggling for survival. And numerous franchisees likewise struggled. Bankruptcy filings became common.

Let’s be clear: This is not 2008. I remain unconvinced that we are headed for an outright recession, and I’m skeptical we are even headed for a “restaurant recession.”

But I would not be surprised to see more restaurant chains file for bankruptcy if sales continue to fall — regardless of the reasons for the decline.

by in On the Margin

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How to maximize your leverage when leasing

02 Aug

LeasingTimes have changed in the world of restaurant leasing. Although each lease is unique, tenants generally have more negotiating power in today’s economic climate. Here are the five areas where restaurant owners typically have more power to negotiate.

1. Buildout and tenant allowance provisions

Many leases suggest that all or much of the initial buildout work will be performed and paid for by the tenant, albeit through the use of some negotiated amount of tenant allowance. This is a bargaining chip for the tenant, who can request that the landlord not only maximize the amount of tenant allowance but also that the landlord pick up the tab for some of the work directly and provide some type of warranty for the work that the landlord performs.

Tenants should also be concerned with the completion date of the work (which often triggers the commencement date of the lease and rent payments) and negotiate for the work to be completed sooner rather than later, because the goal is to begin operating as soon as possible. Landlords often try to avoid making any such warranties because of the uncertain nature of construction. However, many landlords will agree to an expedited timeline if it means getting an operating tenant in the space quickly, which can work to a tenant’s advantage.

2. Common area maintenance or operating expenses

Most restaurant leases also provide that the costs of operating in the premises (such as common area maintenance charges, to the extent there are shared common areas, taxes and insurance) are passed through to the tenant for payment.

Tenants should negotiate for “operating expenses” to be defined as narrowly as possible. Tenants should be specific, negotiate for certain exclusions, etc. Tenants should also seek to add a provision to the lease that contains audit rights, meaning that the tenant has the right to review and challenge the landlord’s operating expense calculations.

3. Operating hours and parking

Restaurants typically have different operating hours and require more available parking than other retail users. It is therefore important for a tenant to make sure that these provisions are adequate to its needs in the lease. This is tricky because sometimes it impacts the operations of other tenants; however, without sufficient operating hours and convenient parking, any restaurant is likely to suffer.

4. Exclusivity provisions

Exclusivity provisions give tenants the right to operate certain businesses in shopping centers exclusively. For example, a tenant may wish to be the only fast-casual restaurant in a certain shopping center, and negotiating that exclusive commitment from the landlord into the lease is critical. In boom economic times, when tenants are easy to come by, landlords often try to avoid granting exclusivity provisions. However, in today’s economy, tenants should negotiate for as many exclusions as possible to protect their business.

Further, tenants should request during the lease negotiation process that the landlord provide information concerning exclusives in other tenants’ leases. Not only is this information helpful for a tenant to have, courts in some states have said that a tenant is considered to be “on notice” when it enters into a lease as to another tenant’s exclusive right to operate a business. It is much easier for the landlord to share this information than to search real estate records to try to uncover the information.

Tenants should also try to negotiate an exclusivity provision that gives them the option to terminate the lease or get a rental reduction in the event the landlord violates the provision.

5. Self-help

Finally, in the event that the tenant has to close its business, tenants should not agree to include a self-help eviction provision in their leases. Self-help is the process of evicting a commercial tenant without resorting to the judicial dispossessory procedure (usually a state statutory procedure) and is typically accomplished by a landlord locking the doors to the tenant’s space and taking possession of the space.

In a restaurant, which contains extensive equipment and fixtures, the tenant will not want the landlord seizing control of the space and all of the property within it. Some states allow a landlord to exercise a lien on the tenant’s property to satisfy unpaid amounts under the lease, which then puts the burden on the tenant to fight to recover property. This is clearly not an ideal situation and should be avoided from the tenant’s perspective.

Remember: In today’s economy, a landlord’s ultimate goal is to get a tenant open and operating (and paying rent) as soon as possible. Although the real estate market is continuing to improve, there remain more available spaces for rent than there are tenants to fill them. Tenants can and should use this fundamental concept of “supply and demand” to their advantage to negotiate the most favorable lease provisions possible.

Jill Johnson is a commercial litigator with Chamberlain Hrdlicka (Atlanta), who counsels clients with landlord/tenant and real estate disputes.

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Neighborhoodness: Why Your Favorite Chef Has Restaurants Next Door To Each Other

28 Jul

As chefs become successful, it isn’t long before they’re offered the opportunity to expand. Some big names, like Nobu Matsuhisa andMario Batali, have places around the world. Others remain loyal to the towns where they started, as I explained in my FORBES e-book,Hometown Holdouts.

Still more are even more laser focused: they open multiple places not just in the same city, but in the same neighborhood, sometimes right next door to each other.

I call this “neighborhoodness,” and it’s a formula you see repeated by many chefs in many cities.

  • Numerous Paris chefs, including Michel Rostang and Christian Constant, have opened cafes, bistros and restaurants close to each other, points out famed cookbook author Dorie Greenspan.
  • In New Orleans, the Brennan family and chefs such as Donald Link, Emeril Lagasse and John Besh have multiple restaurants in neighborhoods like the Warehouse District, Uptown and of course, the French Quarter.
  • In Chicago, three of Rick Bayless’ Mexican-focused places sit on Clark Street on the Near North Side, inspiring chefs like Stephanie Izard, the first female winner of Top Chef, to keep their places close. She has opened a trio of spots within walking distance of each other in the West Loop and Fulton Market neighborhoods — Girl and the Goat, Little Goat and Duck Duck Goat.
  • In Phoenix, restaurateur Sam Fox has multiple places around the Valley, including a series of restaurants on or near busy Camelback Road, stretching from Central Phoenix to the Biltmore area to the plush neighborhood called Arcadia.

What is the appeal of staying not just with a town, but a neighborhood? Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Mich., says he and his partners deliberately set out to have adjacent places in the Kerrytown area, north of downtown.

“Having things close enough to cross-pollinate, support, etc. is a good thing,” says Weinzweig. “It’s like living near your relatives (assuming for the moment that’s a good thing).  You have more support, you can get a cup of sugar or a pound of butter when you need it, you all enhance the neighborhood.”

Zingerman’s original deli, its coffee shop called Zingerman’s Next Door, and one of its events spaces are all within steps of each other in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown, home to its bustling farmers market. Its newest events space is a few blocks away. Soon, they’ll be joined by a Korean restaurant that Zingerman’s is launching.

The company also has created a second food neighborhood in a nondescript industrial park on the south side of town near the Ann Arbor airport. Its strip of businesses includes a bakery, cheese and gelato shop, and a coffee company, as well as training and mail order facilities.

“People in the different businesses meet each other and get to know each other better when they’re closer, which enhances culture and creativity,” Weinzweig says.

In Chicago, renowned chef Paul Kahan has transformed two neighborhoods, and enhanced a third, by putting his places there.

In 1997, he opened his first restaurant, Blackbird, followed five years later by his second, Avec, which is right next door. Both are on West Randolph on a West Loop stretch between the Chicago River and Interstate 90 that lacked any significant competition when his places arrived. “It was a chess move,” Kahan says, and one he planned for years.

Long before developers showed any interest in the West Loop, Kahan and his business partner, Donnie Madia, were constantly keeping tabs on the area.

They were strolling the neighborhood one day when they spotted a building owner digging out his basement. Madia discovered that rents were less than half what landlords were charging just a few blocks east, across the river and closer to the office buildings and hotels in the Loop.

He negotiated a rent of only $2,300 a month, and Blackbird was launched. It quickly won accolades for its sophisticated, Midwestern sourced cuisine.

A few years later, the partners leaped at the opportunity to take over an old electricians’ bar next door to Blackbird. They turned it into Avec, one of the first places in Chicago to serve smaller portions, what’s known as small plates.

Then, about seven years ago, Kahan decided to focus on the Fulton Market district about four blocks north, where butchers and commercial food companies still operate.

First, he opened The Publican, a boisterous spot featuring pork, oysters, and beer, and then Publican Quality Meats, a butcher shop with a cafe and bakery.

Along with that, Kahan and his partners also have operations in a third Chicago neighborhood, Wicker Park, where they’ve opened The Violet Hour, an elegant cocktail bar, Big Star, a popular taco spot, and Dove’s Luncheonette, focusing on American food. A branch of Publican Quality Meats is set to join them in Wicker Park, which bustles with retail outlets as well as restaurants.

Kahan, winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2013, says the neighborhoodness of his approach is an effort to invest in different Chicago communities. “Honestly, in all instances, we’re trying to add something unique and different and positive to each neighborhood and provide a draw,” he says.

Kahan adds, “We’re all Chicagoans. I feel we can make a positive impact.”

And he’s employing a lot of Chicagoans, too. At latest count, Madia says One Off Entertainment has 800 employees — a sharp contrast to the chef and sous chef it started with at Blackbird 19 years ago.

Next, in our look at neighborhoodness, Madia explains co-location means to a company’s bottom line.

Micheline Maynard writes about the business of food for She’s on Twitter @culinarywoman. Email ideas to vmaynard (at) umich (dot) edu.

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‘Restaurant Week’ sales uptick averages 23 percent

21 Jul

delfriscoRestaurants can see a revenue boost of about 23 percent on average during Restaurant Week promotions, according to a recent data analysis by technology-solution firm CAKE.

July is typically the month for summer Restaurant Weeks, when participating eateries offer special prix fixe deals to boost traffic. The big question, however, is whether such promotions actually work in driving sales.

According to CAKE, a startup by Sysco that focuses on restaurant technology, data from a relatively small sample of about 30 restaurants indicates that Restaurant Week promotions can be beneficial, both in boosting sales and average tickets.

Comparing data from restaurants during Restaurant Week and the week after, CAKE found that revenues rose about 23 percent during the promotion, and transactions increased 18 percent.

And, even though Restaurant Week typically includes discounted deals, guests tend to spend more. The average check per person for participating restaurants was $43.35, compared with $39.74 the week after.

Restaurants participating in the promotion found revenue from credit card payments was 25 percent higher during Restaurant Week, while revenue from cash payments was only 13 percent higher.

There was also a 21-percent increase in overall credit card transactions during Restaurant Week, but only a 5-percent increase in cash transactions, CAKE found.

Comparable restaurants that did not participate in Restaurant Week also saw some benefit, but less so. Nonparticipating restaurants saw revenues up about 4 percent during the promotion in their area, compared with the week after. Transactions were up 7 percent.

Servers also benefitted, CAKE noted.

On average, tips were about 22-percent higher during Restaurant Week for participating restaurants. Nonparticipating restaurants, however, saw a decline of about 4 percent in tips during the promotion week.

Restaurant consultant Jerry Prendergast in Los Angeles agrees that participating in a Restaurant Week can be a good thing, but only for restaurant operators that “have a purpose.”

Prendergast recommends that restaurants connect as much as they can with Restaurant Week guests, whether it’s a captured email, encouraging a “like” on Facebook or a Twitter follow.

“You need to get something out of it,” he says.

Prendergast also recommends that restaurants design a Restaurant Week dish that truly represents the typical menu, even if slightly different in format.

“You don’t want them to come back next week and find a completely different restaurant,” he explains.

Dan Bejmuk, founder and c.e.o. of digital marketing agency Dreambox Creations, based in Los Angeles, agrees, saying the Restaurant Week format allows operators to put their best foot forward, both in engineering dishes that maximize cost efficiencies, but also ensuring that the menu presented can be executed consistently.

“Make dishes as shareable as possible,” adds Bejmuk, whose firm is a sponsor of Dine Out Long Beach, a Restaurant Week event.

One of the biggest benefits of Restaurant Weeks is the “inherent virality,” with potential for traffic on all social media platforms, Bejmuk says.

“There’s an event mentality to Restaurant Weeks,” he explains. “Instead of people just going out to dinner, they feel they’re participating in more of an event.”

Contact Lisa Jennings:

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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Some Restaurants just get it

19 Jul

I often say that “the restaurant business is one of 1,000 details and even though your restaurant gets 990 of them right, it’s the 10 you miss that the guest always sees.” This happens to the best of us, but some restaurants just get it all right. My wife and I had such a dining experience recently in Hailey, ID, our hometown.

I eat out across the country often and whether it’s Toledo or San Francisco, 9 times out of 10 I get what I call an order taker. The server may be perfectly friendly but either has not been trained or does not care enough to tell me “what’s great” and what I would enjoy in the restaurant. Yes, it’s suggestive selling, and we are all aware of it, but far too many full-serve restaurants fail to grasp and execute this most important of concepts. You see, your customers are often first-time visitors to your restaurant (you want them to become regulars) who know nothing about what’s special or what they’ll really enjoy. These guests may not be looking for more than food and drink, but it’s up  to you and your entire staff to give them more. In my opinion servers (really any front-of-house staff) who don’t know their products and don’t make suggestions are actually doing their guests a disservice.

Back to our amazing hometown dining experience. It began with the ambiance. We entered a very inviting space, and the wall coverings, décor, intimate seating and creative lighting all consistently reflected the concept’s Asian fusion menu. We stopped in without a reservation and the place was quite busy (on a Thursday evening), but the friendly and attractive hostess immediately found us a cozy seat at the sushi bar amidst all the action. Within seconds, our server came by, introduced himself, made several drink recommendations and told us he’d be right back for our order. We were in the mood for Margaritas but could not decide. At that very moment, one of the owners came by to greet us and also told us his favorite. We settled on an “Agave-Rita” and it was a perfectly mixed blend of Corazon Silver Tequila, Cointreau, fresh agave and fresh-squeezed lime. Our refreshing drinks set the stage for what was to come.

As we sat at the sushi bar, the sushi/line chef engaged us in conversation while he worked. I asked “How’s the unagi”? The typical response in anywhere USA is generally “it’s good”, but he informed us that the restaurant’s fish is flown in fresh from Honolulu several times per week. The menu had several mouthwatering choices and again, our line chef made two suggestions that were spot on. We shared the unagi as an appetizer and settled on the Togorashi encrusted Ranch Steak and Chilean Sea Bass with wasabi mashed potato. All were expertly prepared with indescribably delicious taste profiles.

Consistency is very important across any restaurant and it was evident that this place was on top of its game and firing on all cylinders. The staff was well trained, knowledgeable and cared to please. We enjoyed every bite and pleasantly watched other diners across the restaurant enjoy similar experiences.

by in Rock Your Restaurant

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6 steps for better health department inspections

05 Jul

If a local health inspector walked through the door at this very moment, would your kitchen pass the test?

For most commercial kitchen owners and operators, a health department inspection may cause stress and anxiety, as it has the potential to damage both revenue and reputation and can even determine the fate of a business. But it’s important to remember that the sole purpose of these inspections is to guarantee the health and safety of both customers and staff. It may be tempting for commercial kitchen operators to delay repairs or ignore a few minor health violations in the name of being “too busy,” but a poor report can potentially lead to high repair costs and thousands of dollars in lost sales.

Here are six do’s and don’ts that can help restaurant operators achieve better health inspection scores.

First, the do’s: Although commercial kitchen regulations can vary by state, there are three simple steps that can help to ensure every commercial kitchen is grade-A ready for any health inspection:

1. Review previous inspection results. The last three health inspection reports that a facility has received are excellent resources that will provide owners with an understanding of their establishment’s areas of strength in the kitchen, as well as the areas identified for improvement. By taking all necessary steps to correct any previous issues and ensuring that employees are focused on improving historically problematic areas, it will be clear to the health inspector—when he or she does arrive—that the kitchen owner and staff take safety precautions and health violations seriously.

2. Perform surprise self-inspections weekly. By stepping into a health inspector’s shoes, a restaurant owner can prevent potential inspection violations before they happen. The most effective way to conduct weekly health inspections is by adhering to current health regulations and reviewing inspection forms, typically found on the local health department website. Similar to real health inspections, owners should perform self-inspections at random, unannounced times so that all staff members become accustomed to practicing proper food handling and cleaning regulations all day, every day.

3. Educate employees on current food safety practices. Health inspectors are paying extra attention to food handling due to the rise in food allergies and foodborne illness outbreaks. Regular staff meetings will help keep employees informed of evolving food safety techniques, including food-handling practices related to allergies, the spread of bacteria and more.

Now, for the don’ts: When preparing for an inspection, it helps to be aware of common health inspection violations and how to avoid them. Some of the most recurring violations include:

1. Failure to properly store food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the temperature in a refrigerator should be set to 40°F or below throughout the unit, so that any place is safe for storage of any food. Raw meat, poultry and seafood should be in a sealed container or wrapped securely to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods. Employees should also immediately label food by name and delivery date as it arrives to avoid keeping food past its expiration date. The “First In, First Out” method of inventory can help to manage this process.

2. Failure to follow sanitization regulations. Approximately 26 percent of foodborne illnesses are caused by food handlers’ poor personal hygiene. Frequent handwashing is the easiest way to prevent these issues as it is important for employees to wash their hands whenever a different food type is being handled, or at least every two hours. Commercial kitchen owners should continually remind employees about the importance of adequate handwashing and emphasize how failing to follow this basic requirement could result in major health violations.

3. Failure to maintain kitchen exhaust hood systems. The exhaust hoods in commercial kitchens are designed to collect as much airborne grease as possible. Over time, all that grease becomes a major fire hazard. While kitchen staff can regularly clean visible areas of a kitchen hood themselves, a proper cleaning of a hood exhaust system can be intricate and difficult. To ensure the kitchen hood is thoroughly cleaned, including the exhaust duct(s) and roof exhaust fan(s), it is recommended that a commercial kitchen owner hire a specialist who is professionally trained and certified to clean kitchen exhaust systems, while adhering to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard.

With regular maintenance and routine cleaning, restaurants can dodge some of the most common health violations. Though it’s difficult to predict when a health inspector may be visiting your restaurant, following these simple anticipatory steps is a proactive plan to achieve a passing grade next time.

Breann Marvin-Loffing is v.p. of franchise operations for Ann Arbor, MI-based HOODZ International.

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Restaurant delivery errors make enemies of customers

20 May

We here at RH have been writing a lot lately about delivery. According to market research company The NPD Group, off-premises foodservice will continue to outpace overall restaurant industry traffic growth over the next decade. People love eating in restaurants, but sometimes they’re just too tired to go out or cook, so a delivered meal from a favorite restaurant is a godsend. I’m no different, but your delivery service can hurt you as much as it can help you.

Recently I ordered a California Oriental Salad while at a favorite restaurant. Here’s how it’s described on the menu: Mixed greens topped with slivered almonds, Mandarin oranges, chopped pineapples, red peppers, chopped green onions and Chinese noodles, served with a sweet and sour dressing. It was delicious.

Too tired to visit the restaurant recently, I had that same salad delivered. After paying the delivery guy for it, I opened the container and discovered that there were no almonds, no green onions, no Chinese noodles, a single thin slice of red pepper, a few Mandarin orange wedges and a few chunks of canned pineapple. Not at all the same salad I’ve gotten while eating at the restaurant.

It’s one thing to leave off a single ingredient, especially if it’s seasonal and maybe in short supply. It’s another to promise a bunch of ingredients for a dish on the menu and then fall way short. I should have known: A similar thing happened to me when I ordered the salad for takeout, and several ingredients were missing.

Here’s the thing: When you order something clearly explained on a menu, you expect the restaurant to come through. In the case of takeout, I didn’t feel like walking back to the restaurant to return the salad and point out the missing ingredients. The same for delivery: I wasn’t going to call the restaurant and complain that the order was mishandled.

This is the point where a lot of you are going to write and say, “If a customer doesn’t point out the mistakes a restaurant makes, it won’t have the opportunity to fix them.”

And this is the point where I tell you that many people won’t point out mistakes, particularly when it comes to takeout and delivery. They are busy, they have likely had a long day and they just don’t want to mess with one more thing. So, customers won’t likely say anything. They will just write you off and order from another place in the future. In my case, the restaurant is convenient to my office, so I have returned, but now I watch them like a hawk because I no longer trust they will fulfill their menu promises.

The restaurant in question is no longer my friend. It has become the crazy uncle I can’t count on. Trust me: You don’t want to become the crazy uncle. I’m sure most of you have checks and balances in place to protect against stupid missteps like this. Please email me about how you protect your reputation when it comes to delivery and takeout.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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