Archive for May, 2010

Smart Restaurateurs Note Growing Distaste for Styrofoam

May 31, 2010

Fremont, California made headlines recently when its city council unanimously voted to pass an ordinance banning the city’s food vendors from using Styrofoam and other plastic-foam food containers.

Styrofoam Ban Effects all Food Establishments
No longer will restaurants, cafeterias, caterers or supermarkets be allowed to serve their prepared food in Styrofoam. Neither will charities and other large groups renting city facilities be allowed to use polystyrene trays, lids, plates, bowls or cups when serving their non-prepackaged edible goods. Instead, all food establishments in Fremont will be required to use containers that are either compostable or recyclable.

There are similar bans throughout California including partial bans on Styrofoam in Huntington Beach, Laguna Hills, Aliso Viejo, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. In addition, Edmonds, a city in Washington State is considering a Styrofoam ban similar to the one in Fremont, California. Two other Washington cities, Seattle and Issaquah, have already passed ordinances banning area restaurants from using Styrofoam.

Research Supports Environmentally Friendly Packaging
A flurry of research has examined the green movement in recent years and has found that there is large support among customers for the use of environmentally friendly packaging. In fact, these studies suggest that customers are looking for eateries which are moving toward an environmentally friendly approach in all areas of their operation.

In one study as many as 44% of respondents stated that the extent to which a restaurant works to conserve water and energy makes a difference in their decision whether or not to dine at that establishment.

Styrofoam Out, Green In
It’s becoming increasingly clear that to remain competitive restaurateurs must consider how they can lessen the impact their operation has on the environment. Organizations like Green Seal or the Green Restaurant Association help restaurant owners develop a comprehensive green plan. In addition, these organizations also provide third-party certification that both attracts customers and develops their trust.

Go Green and Attract More Dining Customers in a Tough Economy

May 30, 2010

Restaurateurs throughout the nation are trying to figure out the best methods for attracting customers in a tough economy. As customers begin to return to their pre-recession entertainment and dining pleasures, restaurant owners are eager to understand this new market and the best way to build a thriving business that will last into the future.

NRA Research Supports Going Green
Restaurateurs aren’t the only ones curious about the spending habits of the recently bruised consumer. Research has been conducted by various agencies throughout the industry including the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

The NRA’s 2007 survey found that 62% of respondents weigh a restaurant’s environmental friendliness when choosing a place to dine. A full 44% of respondents in 2009 stated that they consider the restaurants’ energy and water conservation practices when choosing an eating establishment.

Even more telling was the Yankelovich data which revealed that an environmentally friendly, or green, restaurant is one which is likely to motivate them to dine there even during this tough economy.

Taking Steps towards Clearly Defined Goals
Some restaurateurs have steadily made changes over the years in order to build a more environmentally friendly establishment. Such restaurateurs are in a good position to attract the savvy “green” consumer; however be aware that some consumers are leery of being misled. It’s important that you carefully consider how you present the green efforts being made by the establishment.

Other restaurant owners have yet to create comprehensive environmental strategy. For these owners, creating clearly defined goals and taking steps to reach them is a good starting place. According to TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, consumers will reward these efforts by supporting the establishment.

Third Party Certification
One way to gain credibility with customers is to invest in third-party certification. Organizations like Green Seal and the Green Restaurant Association provide environmental assessments and consulting to help the restaurateur create an environmentally sustainable establishment.

Generous Restaurateurs Donate their Time and Expertise to Fight Childhood Hunger

May 29, 2010

It’s estimated that as many as 17 million children, or approximately one in four, in America face hunger daily with many of their parents uncertain as to where food for the next meal will come from. This year, more than 3000 restaurateurs, chefs and mixologists throughout the country will participate in the annual Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation events in an effort to fight childhood hunger within the U.S.

Taste of the Nation
The Taste of the Nation events began in 1988 in an effort to bring awareness to the issue of childhood hunger and to eliminate hunger in our nation’s children. By donating 100% of the ticket price to the cause of fighting childhood hunger, Taste of the Nation has managed to raise more than $73 million over the past twenty-two years. These efforts have attracted quality sponsors and skilled restaurateurs to the cause.

American Express’ Partnership with Share Our Strength®
American Express has once again joined in partnership with Share Our Strength® in fighting childhood hunger. This marks the 19th year in which American Express has been a sponsor for Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation. Over the past 18 years, American Express has contributed in excess of $30 million toward overcoming hunger in our nation’s children.

Award Winning Chefs and Restaurateurs
Award winning chefs like Michelle Bernstein, David Burke and others are donating their creative expertise in order to make this year’s Taste of the Nation even better. Restaurateurs and mixologists are also joining in the fun to create a memorable experience for all and to help raise awareness and capital toward the fight of childhood hunger throughout the U.S.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation events are taking place at various locations throughout the country. To share your strengths and join the more than 3000 restaurateurs, mixologists and notable chefs in the cause of fighting childhood hunger visit

How to Master the Art of Wooing the Lunch Crowd

May 28, 2010

According to the website, Restaurant Briefing, restaurants are realizing that customers will buy into lunch if the portions are the right size, the price is right, and their time is respected.

The report says at Harry’s Tap Room, in Arlington, VA, “Harry’s Lunch Break” offers a choice of soups, salads and half sandwiches – any two items for $9, any three for $11. “Many of our customer’s want a quick, light, inexpensive lunch and over 50% order the “Lunch Break,” says Michael Sternberg, proprietor.  “It is elegantly presented so that those who order it don’t feel they are being less cared for than their neighbor who orders a $30 steak.”

Great Presentation and Great Food

Waldy Malouf, chef/owner, Beacon, New York, NY, installed a bar in the front of the open kitchen.  At lunch the bar becomes a “Burger Bar,” which offers a choice of three burgers.  The offerings are a choice of Black Angus, Yellowfin Tuna, and Mini Beefsteak. The burgers are partnered with garlic fries, house made condiments, and fennel coleslaw. The price is from $8.95 to 13.95. Extras are also available like smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, cheese, and foie gras.

Malouf says the restaurant is appealing to a person who wants a quality burger in a nice ambiance and quick service.  “We have a number of regulars, and when they arrive we fire up their burgers and can deliver them in five to six minutes,”  At night the “Burger Bar” turns into a “Small Plates Bar”.

Offer a Convenient Way to Order Lunch in Bulk

Another restaurant, Saladworks, in Conshohocken, PA, offers what they call “Invitation Ordering,” which is online software that manages large or bulk orders. When the person who is in charge of ordering lunch clicks on “Invitation Ordering,” an e-vite is sent to co-workers.  They all make their choices and then the person in charge of ordering places the final order.

The restaurant says the key to this lunch program is to streamline group orders so time isn’t wasted.  They also report stores with this order system have seen a 4% or more lunch sale growth.


Why You Should Go Online to Receive Restaurant Feedback

May 27, 2010

Since more and more consumers are visiting restaurant websites, offering an online comment card can be a great way to receive quick, timely and candid customer feedback.  “Asking customers to give us comments online is a great, inexpensive way for us to listen to them and make sure their experience is what we intend to provide,” says Rob Caswick, co-owner, Artuzzi’s Italian Kitchen, Atlanta, GA.

When soliciting feedback online here are some things to consider:

Find the best format to get feedback

There are many kinds of online feedback forms.  Some are short questionnaires, or links to an email address. According to Alex Brennan-Martin, his restaurant gets far more detailed comments if they offer an email to a restaurant staff member rather than a formatted check box form. He goes on to say that many of the comments are favorable about staff members and having the information to share with them helps them understand how valuable they are to the restaurant.

Make giving feedback easy

Most suggest making the link on the restaurant’s homepage directly to the comment area.  The link should be clear and easy to find so customers know you’re eager to hear from them.  It makes them feel valued.

Mark Goughnour, president of says, “Seeing that you ask for feedback on your site can have an added benefit – it underscores that you care about what your customers think.”

Promote the availability of online feedback

At Davenport’s in East Providence, RI, at the bottom of each check stub is a request for customers to leave their feedback online. “Normally I get about 100 online comments a month,” says Gregg Davenport, owner, “but twice a year I give customers an incentive – such as a free appetizer – and then I get as many as 500 in a month.

Respond to your comments immediately

“I respond to all emails personally, and try to do so within 24 hours,” says Rob. All of the comments made about Artuzzi’s go directly to Rob’s email.  The restaurant receives about 300 per month. When he gets back to customers he always includes all of his contact info, including cell number so a customer can call him directly if they choose.

Will Current Trends Bring Back the Luxury Market?

May 26, 2010

According to the American Express online website, Restaurant Briefing, the current trend in luxury dining indicates consumers are willing to splurge – 83% of those surveyed said they are willing to spend higher amounts for a special occasion. But, those events are typically for very special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, family events or a special holidays.

How Retailers will Identify with the Luxury Market

Knowing how to compete for this luxury market is where the opportunity lies.  Consumers these days have fewer resources and less cash flow, and definitions of luxury aren’t clear. For some consumers, luxury continues to mean a formal activity; for others, it can mean an event like having a celebrity chef involved with a special menu, unique ingredients, or great service.  In any case, consumers are still defining what they consider luxury.

High end restaurants need to narrow down what is considered a premium by their customers.  Customers can all have varying ideas on what is luxury and what is worth spending large amounts of money on. It’s important when marketing to the luxury niche to determine what customers will spend their time and money on.

How to Determine what Makes the Restaurant Experience Unique

Part of the marketing should speak to what makes a restaurant experience unique. It is recommended when marketing to the luxury niche to give customers permission to trade up.  One consideration is to collaborate with a charity.  Sixty-nine percent said that one of the reasons they spend on luxury experiences is due to part of the expense going to a good cause.

Participation in social responsibility goes beyond just supporting charities to include sound business practices and environmental consciousness and sustainability.  This includes no waste and green programs.  Ultimately this speaks to the restaurant’s mission that goes beyond just food.

There is a caution to restaurants. When consumers pick luxury/upscale venues, they expect much more.  Restaurants and establishments, especially fine dining, need to prove the value and make each dollar spent worth it to the consumer.

Data source: The Luxury Market and the Recovery Customer, Yankelovich/The Futures Company

Networking is Still #1 Source of Employment Recruiting

May 25, 2010

In a recent article at the American Express’ online website, Restaurant Source reported that word of mouth and networking continue to be the best tools in the competitive search for hourly rate employees. This is similar to trends in finding customers.

Referral Program Offers Huge Incentives for Employee Referrals

“Our number one source of hourly staff is employee referrals,” says Armando Lopez, director of field human resources at O’Charley’s.

Their referrals represented 28% of new hires last year. O’Charley’s has a referral program that pays out $100 for each hourly referral, another $50 if the person is hired, and $50 at the end of a two-week training period. Armando reports that these referral hiring costs are about half the cost of traditional methods of recruiting such as newspaper, radio ads, and flyers.  He adds the biggest benefit is in retention.

Lopez further reported, “The first weeks, which can be bumpy, are made easier because the new hire is working alongside the person who recommended them.”  He also said they don’t forget the employees who make referrals, even if their recommended person isn’t hired.  The restaurant sends them a thank you note and movie tickets as a way of fueling the program and keeping the employees interested in making further referrals.

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

In addition, when restaurants like O’Charley’s and Carino’s Italian Grill open new restaurants, they research neighborhoods and meet with important community members. Their managers do full online research to educate themselves on local schools and organizations within a certain radius of the new restaurant.

When they meet with groups and attend meetings, they let the community know that they are looking for employees. O’Charley’s recommends that their managers visit churches, schools, and community centers and offer to donate product or gift cards in exchange for a chance to speak to congregations, faculty, career counselors, etc.

“These meetings help get the word out that we’re looking to hire, and help integrate us in the community,” says Armando.

Cooling Customers during Hot Summers with Creative Coffee Mixology

May 24, 2010

As spring heats up and summer approaches the minds of mixologists and restaurateurs turn toward the best, most creative options for keeping their clientele cool throughout the hot, summer months. An inventive few are leveraging our nation’s coffee obsession by combining the caffeinated beverage with cool and refreshing liquids.

Cold-Brew Coffee
According to a tasting conducted by the crew at Chicago’s Metropolis Coffee Company a cold-brew coffee method known as the Toddy, was voted the hands down favorite of the various brewing methods sampled. This brew method was named after its inventor Todd Simpson, a chemical engineer who, in 1964, pioneered the cold-brew coffee method in order to reduce the bitter, acidic qualities associated with hot coffee.

The Toddy method calls for cold-brewing the beans over a period of twelve to twenty-four hours in order to achieve a smooth, mellow concentrate that can be refrigerated for several weeks. It’s this cold-brew coffee method which allows baristas to serve their customers a fresh tasting cup o’Joe every time simply by adding water or milk to the rich, concentrated liquid.

Coffee: It’s not Just for Baristas Anymore
It’s not just baristas who are serving cold-brewed coffee, mixologists too are coming up with their own creative concoctions. For example, at Chicago’s the Wit Hotel mixologist Jonny Abens uses Van Gogh espresso vodka to spike iced espresso for his café pomme di hollande drink. In San Francisco, California Scott Beattie came up with the espresso martini by adding vodka to the dark, caffeinated liquid.

Arabica Beans or Bust
Regardless of whether it’s hot espresso or some cold version of the beverage, using high quality Arabica beans is a must. Failing to do so will result in an inferior coffee drinking experience. According Giorgio Milos, an Italian Master Barista with illycaffe, even the novice connoisseur will appreciate the flavors available only in high quality Arabic coffee beans.

Restaurant Industry Groups Support Cap on Debit Card Fees

May 23, 2010

The fees associated with debit and credit cards can make a significant cut in retailers’ bottom line.  Retailers have been on the steps of Congress asking that for a limit on these fees for years.  Their pleas never got anywhere with Congress, until now.

What used retailers once thought were exorbitant fees is all changing.  Congress had 64 Senate votes that included 17 Republicans for price control on debit transactions in spite of a loud plea of objections from the banking industry.

Restaurant and retail groups offered their support for the new amendment involving financial service reform legislation that would limit the fees financial companies can charge on debit transactions.

What is a Reasonable Debit Fee Transaction?

The legislation, introduced by Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., authorizes the Federal Reserve to determine what is reasonable and in proportion for charges related to debit cards and fees imposed on restaurants and other businesses.
The amendment was approved by a vote of 64 to 33, and also would allow operators to establish a set of minimum and maximum transaction levels for credit cards, and offer discounts to customers if they pay their bill with cash, check, or debit card.

Under existing regulations, operators cannot set transaction levels, despite the fact they can lose money on small charges or debit transactions.

48 Billion in Interchange Fees Paid by Restaurant Industry

Interchange fees are said to be one of a restaurant’s biggest expenses. Scott DeFife, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president for policy and government affairs said, “Merchants pay about 48 billion in interchange fees every year.”

DeFife went on to say, Interchange fees, also known as “swipe fees,” and related contractual restrictions benefit credit card companies and card-issuing banks at the expense of merchants and consumers.

Proposal Allows Retailers to Offer Incentives to Different Types of Payments

The proposal also would permit merchants to set minimum and maximum transaction levels for credit cards. As a result, retailers would be free to choose their payment methods. Under current rules, merchants that accept credit or debit cards cannot set minimum transaction levels, although they sometimes lose money on small charge or debit transactions.

Additionally, the amendment would increase competition and allow businesses to offer discounts to customers who pay with cash, checks, PIN debit, and so on, which carry lower rates than credit cards.

The amendment is attached to the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010.

How Profits of Wine and Spirits are Affected in a Tough Economy

May 22, 2010

A recent article on American Express’ website, Restaurant Briefing, discusses the troublesome wine and spirits industry in a down economy.  Typically sales of wine and spirits are down in a weakened economy.  And according to Restaurants & Institutions’ 2010 New American Diner Study, almost 70% of respondents surveyed said they don’t order or they order less alcoholic beverages when dining out.  This is up from 58% in 2009.

Many restaurateurs have gotten creative and started interacting with customers, offering new and interesting special wines and spirits, and providing good values for high-end products.

Personal Service

Many restaurants and hotels have deepened their personal service programs.  At the Fifth Floor in San Francisco guests are able to interact with bartenders who work from a cocktail cart. “We have a small bar and a large lounge area,” explains Jacques Bezuidenhout, a mixologist. “The cart has been a great way to extend the bartender experience to guests in the lounge and to generate additional revenue.”

Keep it Interesting

Other establishments have fine-tuned their wine and spirit menu by creating a list of handpicked options.  Some deepen the niche and inform their guests about the type of wine or spirit, country of origin, and distillation process.  Guests are interested and intrigued by the history and background of each beverage choice. Many times, they will trade up and order a more expensive choice.

In addition, establishments are having success selling boutique wines sourced from artisan vineyards in California and Italy.  It’s all about sharing the stories behind the wines.

Special Private Packages

The article highlights Craigie on Main in Cambridge, MA, which offers a “Cocktail Whim” for $20. This gives the guest a flight of four, two-ounce cocktails after the kitchen closes from 10pm – 1am.  Chef/owner, Tony Maws, says “It’s a great way to let bartenders experiment and for customers to try some drinks they might not normally try.”  He says they sell several of these a night, and they’ve created a lot of buzz about the promotion.