Archive for October, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta Makes the Leap to Restaurants

October 30, 2010

While it may seem like sacrilege to a pasta lover, the reality is that as Americans become more and more health conscious, a growing movement has been pushing for the adoption of healthier versions of pasta. The most widespread option so far has been whole wheat pasta.

If your restaurant focuses heavily on pasta, it behooves you to take the time to learn about the options out there and to start offering alternatives for your diners who want a healthier option.

Not the Whole Wheat Pasta of Yesteryear

Anyone who tried whole wheat pasta about 10 or 15 years ago will be shaking their heads sadly at the thought that we’d suggest using the gloopy junk that was passed off as pasta back then. The stuff was awful looking and tasted worse.

However, new technology has been applied to the business of making whole wheat pasta. Yesterday’s whole wheat pasta, while it is still available in all its gloopy glory has been joined by some new kinds  that actually look and taste really good.

Consider Revising Your Sauce Recipes As Well

Let me also bend your ear to the idea of replacing some of the sugar and fat in the recipes you apply to whole wheat pasta with something a bit healthier. The demographic who will be looking for whole wheat pasta from your restaurant is the same demographic who will also be looking for lower fat options so that they can try to eat a bit healthier even when they eat out.

Speaking of Demographics

Of course, we haven’t shared with you yet the very best reason for putting some whole wheat pasta options on the menu: the demographic. Most of the people who are interested in whole wheat pasta (as well as other healthy dining options) tend to be those who spend more at nicer restaurants. They typically have more disposable income than the average American. In other words, they are the exact people you’ll want to have eating in your establishment.


White Castle Embraces Web 2.0 for New Slider

October 28, 2010

We’ve talked in this space extensively about the idea of making greater use of the so called “web 2.0” to reach out to your customers and get them to come in and try something new. Well, it turns out that at least one major chain has taken the idea and run with it (we like to think they got the idea from us, but who knows?)

New Burger–Like Us and Try it Free

White Castle recently introduced a brand new slider (White Castle parlance for their mini hamburgers in case you don’t usually descend to such fare). The new burger is called the garlic cheese slider and it is available with fries and a drink for $2.99.

However, for those willing to pop over the White Castle Facebook page and click on “like” (Facebook parlance for becoming a fan of a particular food or item or whatever), a coupon awaits, offering a free slider.

A Page from Norelco’s Playbook

The marketing concept is of course the age old idea of giving away the razor and charging for the blades. White Castle is hoping that by giving out a free burger, they’ll get people to decide to buy fries and drink with it as well, not to mention coming back again and again to get them for full price.

However, the genius of the marketing campaign is that it makes use of a marketing tool which is aimed at the exact demographic that White Castle tries to reach.

Targeting is Key

The fact that White Castle has managed to come up with a slick idea to reach out to their base is critical. They understand that they are appealing to hungry college students. But even the finest restaurants can make use of the web 2.0 revolution to get more people in the door.

Higher end restaurants may also have a Facebook page, however it could be available by invitation only. Or maybe you work with LinkedIn, the professional version of Facebook. The possibilities are endless and you only need to use your imagination to come up with an idea that will work for you.

Food Trucks and Hot Dog Stands to Be Graded by L.A. Health Inspectors

October 26, 2010

These days, even the food truck isn’t safe from getting their grades posted for all to see. It used to be that when a food truck went into business, it was almost like an underground operation.

Sure, they had to have their health department inspections done just like everyone else. But let’s face it, food trucks where people buy everything from a skewer to a shwarma to a bagel with a shmear have never really been places where people would go and look for inspection information. The City of Los Angeles however is hoping to change that.

Letter Grades Required for Regular Restaurants

For those not familiar with the rules in Los Angeles, the city send around inspectors to check on the cleanliness and food safety of restaurants in the city. They then assign a letter grade to the restaurants. This must be conspicuously displayed in order for the establishment to continue to do business.

Shaming Restaurateurs into Doing the Right Thing

The idea is that restaurateurs will be shamed into keeping cleaner establishments in order to make sure that they don’t have to explain to worried customers why their restaurant ranked a C (The lowest grade possible. Any lower and they’d have to shut down before they could continue to function).

However, the rule has not been applied to mobile restaurants or food trucks, on the theory that it would be too much trouble for such establishments to comply with it. A recent vote by the city Board of Supervisors, however, may change all that.

Catering Trucks to Go First

If the plan is implemented, as expected, when the final vote on the ordinance comes up toward the end of October, the first group that would be subject to the new rules would be applied to full service catering trucks that offer more than just a hot dog on a bun. The trucks would have to let the city know about their routes and be prepared for surprise inspection visits.

Hot Dog Carts are on the Agenda As Well!

The final phase of the plan would see even the humble hot dog stands and other places offering things like churros subject to the rule. We do wonder where exactly the hot dog stand is going to post such a sign, given the miniscule size of their operations.

Artisanal Condiments Bring in New Customers

October 24, 2010

Looking for a way to attract more and higher paying customer customers to your restaurant? Consider inventing some artisanal condiments for your table. Artisanal condiments can include things like ketchup, mustard and various dips. The thing that makes them special and such an attraction for your clientele in the little twist you put on it that makes it your own.

Consider the Colonel

If you’re not sure about the idea, think about this: what was it that made Kentucky Fried Chicken famous to begin with? It wasn’t so much the idea of fried chicken as much as it was the Colonel’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. People were drawn to the taste, something they could only get at KFC and so they flocked to the place in droves.

Lots of restaurants actually trade on their secret sauce and spice recipes in order to get people in the door. In fact, many chefs say that you don’t go to chef school to learn how to cook food. You go to chef school to learn how to make sauce.

If You’re Not Ready to Commit to Your Own Sauces

Even if you are not ready to start inventing your own special blends for your customers, you can still benefit from the artisanal condiments concept. How? Simply bring in some of the more unusual condiments that your competitors aren’t bothering to provide.

Instead of Heinz Ketchup, for example, you may wish to serve something that looks more upscale, like Sir Kensington’s. By offering your diners a more unique experience– something they can get from you that they can’t get at home–you are giving them more of a reason to come in and spend a few dollars in your establishment.

Make it Subtle

The key with offering your own signature condiments or offering upscale condiments is to keep things subtle. Blaring it to anyone and everyone who will listen will make you look like a KFC wannabe (a no-no in any market).

Instead, be subtle and simple have it on the table with your restaurant’s label on it. And of course, make sure that it is both tastier than the ordinary condiment and that your waiters can subtly tell people it’s exclusive to your restaurant.

High Fructose Corn Syrups’ Bad Rap

October 22, 2010

High fructose corn syrup has gotten a really bad rap as of late. More and more companies are busily switching their recipes and offering customers “real cane sugar” instead of the high fructose corn syrup.

However, a movement is now afoot to try to reverse this trend and to explain to customers that all kinds of sugars, regardless of source can be bad for them in quantity.

Corn Sugar Instead of Corn Syrup

For the time being though, the whole backlash against high fructose corn syrup has gotten so bad that some producers of the stuff have been calling for a relabeling of their products. They want to refer to it as “corn sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup.

This reminds us of Passover Sweet and Low packets. The next time you’re in a Jewish neighborhood in the spring, see if you can spot some Passover Sweet and Low and take a glance at the ingredients. They are: nutritive sucrose, sodium saccharin. In other words, plain, ordinary table sugar together with the usual artificial sweetner.

Why is it labeled this way you ask? Because maltodextrin, which is ordinarily used to provide bulk to sodium saccharin, is not kosher for Passover. The plan by some producers of corn syrup to re-label their product strikes us as being much the same.

Why it Matters to You

Now you may be wondering what a discussion of the woes of the high fructose corn syrup industry is doing in a blog about the restaurant industry. The answer is quite simple.

As restaurateurs, we need to keep a constant “ear to the ground” to try and find out what it is our customers will want to eat so that we can make sure that our menus reflect this appropriately. You may find more and more customers asking you if you use high fructose corn syrup in your food, on the theory that it’s somehow less healthy for them.

Plain Sugar or Honey

For now, you can easily counter by using plain table sugar for any dishes that call for sugar instead. However, if those who are pushing to get the idea of all kinds of sugars labeled as “bad” (which, let’s face it, they are), you may be able to substitute things like honey or molasses in some recipe in order to stay ahead of the “hip” curve. However, this effort can keep your high value customers coming in and enjoying fine dining in your establishment.

Exotic Food is In

October 20, 2010

Exotic is in and ordinary is out. That’s the message we’re increasingly seeing from Americans who have become pickier about where they spend their dining out dollars.

Yes, the fast food joints will always have the customers who just want comfort food. However, if you are running a more upscale establishment, then its time for you to consider offering some exotic foods that will appeal to your more adventurous diners. Insects anyone?

Okay, Not Quite That Exotic

While shows like Fear Factor and Survivor have popularized for some the idea of tasting insect based dishes, we’re talking about things that are a bit more down to earth. Try offering new menu items with unusual meats or cheeses.

Experiment with bringing in some ethnic treats from other parts of the world in order to entice your diners. Just because you’ve always had a basic menu doesn’t mean you can’t experiment a bit more.

More and more Americans are not only willing to try unusual foods, they are demanding it. And while one restaurant in Brooklyn recently served insects for dinner (the inspiration for this story), we’re going to suggest some slightly more tame foods to offer to your guests.

Unusual Vegetables

One of the great things about our modern world is the availability year round of fresh produce. Bananas, for example, are a really a rather exotic fruit that have been made into an everyday staple by modern shipping methods. However, there are still some unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers which can often offer your guest new taste sensations.

Try to check what’s available from the local farmer’s market and consider and creating new and varied recipes to take advantage of seasonal fruits and veggies that may just get you the review you’ve been waiting for.

Different Kinds of Birds

Sure, everyone can serve roast duck, chicken and turkey. But how about offering emu meat to your diners? This can be a rare treat that they can only experience with a select few–your establishment included. Ask your butcher about the more unusual meats they may have available in limited quantities. Experiment. You may get some great results.


Pork Under Fire

October 18, 2010

Pork prices may start seeing a steady rise as new rules begin to go into effect that require less use of antibiotics on healthy animals. The practice, which has been routine for a very long time has been effective at keeping food prices down because animals stayed healthy and didn’t have to be destroyed before they could be slaughtered for food.

Superbugs Evolve

The problem however is that bacteria are pretty smart for bugs. They don’t just roll over and die. Instead, they mutate and become new strains of bugs which leads to the creation of what are known as “superbugs.”

Superbugs are bacteria that cannot be killed by any known method or which only respond to the harshest of medicines, medicines which may have nasty side effects when humans have to take them to ward off powerful infections.

New Guidelines Set to Be Published

The Food and Drug Administration has declared that they are considering changing their guidelines.  They will recommend dropping the widespread use of the medications in healthy animal populations, given the chance that the practice could lead to a human health crisis.

While the guidelines from the guidelines are voluntary, however, some pork producers are expecting that they may affect the price of meat and especially of pork, which can be prone to infection after the piglets are weaned from their mothers.

Stricter Regulation Demanded

However, many influential groups, including the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America are saying that the new guidelines are not good enough and are calling on Congress to pass a law forbidding the widespread use of the antibiotics in meat production.

Should such a bill pass, it could have an adverse affect on restaurateurs whose repertoire relies heavily on such products. Animal sickness could easily cause a shortage of some kinds of meat and cause prices to rise, farmers warn.

Specific Form of Antibiotics Targeted

Currently, the controversy revolves around a specific form of antibiotics which have been shown to help piglets grow faster, thus providing more and cheaper meat for American restaurants and homes. However, other forms of antibiotics may be targeted in the future, causing potential price spikes for those who serve pork related products in their establishments.

Life Imitates Art–iCarly Spaghetti Tacos are the Latest Craze for the Preteen Set

October 16, 2010

When does a gag become more than a gag? When the gag is seen on a popular TV show it would seem. The Nickelodeon Network, which caters to the preteen set, offers a number of shows that are designed to entice young viewers to tune in every day or week. However, one of their shows, iCarly, seems to have enticed their young viewers to try a new culinary delicacy–spaghetti tacos.

The show revolves around Carly, who makes her own Internet web show and her older brother Spencer, the character responsible for the new dining phenomenon. The idea was supposed to be a one time gag that show creator Dan Schneider came up with when brother Spencer had to cook dinner. It became a running gag, reappearing periodically on the show. Today is considered a favorite of the 8-12 year old set.

Why iCarly Could Make A Perfect Menu Addition for Family Restaurants

We’re not yet aware of any restaurants having added the spaghetti taco to their menus. But it’s only a matter of time before the carb-laden food becomes a hit in a restaurant whose owner is smart enough to take the plunge and bring in more family business by offering a treat that the kids will love.

While this is a low-carb dieter’s worst nightmare, those trying to offer kids menus that will get kids excited about coming to a restaurant could do worse than to offer hard shell tacos filled with spaghetti and sauce.

In fact, we can see the idea taking off and spawning a whole menu of different kid-friendly Tacos that even some parents may appreciate. Maybe add in some fresh veggies in order to give the meal some redeeming qualities?

Dessert Tacos, Too

Of course, if you really want to attract the kids to your establishment (and let’s face it, the kids often drive a lot of decision making process of where to eat), you could try innovating with dessert versions of the tacos.

According to those in the know, such a version has already been tried, featuring brownie mix, strawberry jam and white frosting. Who knows? You might even build a whole restaurant around the idea.

Pop Up Restaurants Give Up and Coming Chefs a Chance to Show Off

October 14, 2010

In the movie The Freshman, Mathew Broderick plays a boy from Vermont who ends up working with a criminal family who runs a pop up restaurant called The Gourmet Club. The idea was supposed to be that people would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of eating an extremely endangered species of animal, though it later turned out to be a scam where they served nothing but ordinary sea bass and chicken.

If you’ve seen the movie, you may have wondered about the concept of pop up restaurants. Do they really exist? Well, it turns out they do and they are all the rage amongst the culinary elite in some cities.

A Chance for Chefs to Show Off to a New Crowd

While famous names like Wolfgang Puck see no need to show off their talents anymore, up and coming chefs have taken to the idea of pop up restaurants with gusto, making them a fixture in places as diverse as the U.K. and California.

The idea here is for people to experience a new chef who may have talent but who doesn’t have quite the oompf to get themselves into their own restaurant and earn a traditional review. Instead, they go to these pop up restaurants that open for a night or a few nights and offer a chance for a culinary adventure.

A Modern World Takes it All In

The revolution in pop up restaurants has been fueled by the likes of Twitter and Facebook where the latest places to host such a dinner are posted. People go to these restaurants hoping to get ahead of the crowd.

Rather than follow the droves who flock to a restaurant after the place has gotten rave reviews by the critics, fans of pop up restaurants say that the appeal for them is the chance to taste foods from new chefs who can amaze them for just one night only.

While thankfully it’s not quite the “thrill” of eating a Komodo Dragon (the endangered animal from The Graduate), it’s still one of those ephemeral, passing moments that people cherish.

Spiked Sundaes the Latest Craze for Adult Themed Bars and Restaurants

October 12, 2010

Looking for a way to entice more adults into the bar? How about offering ice cream sundaes? The idea may at first sound a little wacky, but it’s actually the latest hot trend in the world of deserts and and liquor.

In essence, the idea is that you take the foods and drinks that children–or an adult splurging and reliving his youth–would want and you make them all grown up.

The “Milkshake Program”

The idea started out in Brooklyn, NY where Laurent Tourondel came up with the concept for his BLT Burger Restaurants. He introduced the “milkshake program”. Now others are trying to copy his idea,  with restaurants offering spiked ice cream to adult customers who wanted an update on a childhood favorite.

The idea in essence is to grab people and offer them their childhood memories packaged in a new, upscale, adult-oriented version. The foods and drinks aren’t hard core and no one is getting drunk off a Kahlua milkshake, but the concept has been getting rave reviews.  More importantly, it’s also getting people in the door.

Stand Out with “Adult” Milkshakes!

In essence, the concept is just another way to differentiate yourself from the competition. When every corner restaurant and bar is serving liquor and Buffalo wings along with fried cheese sticks, you’ll do yourself (and your guests) a favor when you offer something that truly is different.

A Universal Concept

Of course the idea has not taken hold only in Brooklyn. Restaurants all over are now offering spiked milkshakes and coffee ice cream of the Irish variety. One favorite combination is ice cream combined with bourbon. In the words of master sommelier Fred Dexheimer, they just work “well together.”

Whether the concept would work for your establishment is of course a matter of judgment. For those looking for a new concept for a bar or restaurant which anyway caters primarily to an adult audience, the Butterscotch milk shake with real scotch may be just the thing.