Archive for February, 2011

Restaurateurs Seek Help From Ramsey

February 24, 2011

Business magician and chef extraordinaire, Gordon Ramsay, has earned fame for showing others how to run a restaurant while his restaurant empire continues to grow.  Ramsay’s shows “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hell’s Kitchen” are closer to soap operas than real life and, while entertaining, this celebrity chef could be doing a terrible disservice to restaurateurs around the world.  The general media has pegged Ramsay’s shows as “reality” television however, anyone in the restaurant business knows that Gordon’s success with struggling restaurants comes with a healthy dose of smoke and mirrors. 

Gordon provides expert advice and, oftentimes, costly equipment upgrades to his “Kitchen Nightmares” restaurateurs.  Although helpful, there are often problems that can’t be fixed with a makeover.  With over 30 restaurants and pubs throughout the US, UK, Australia and Europe, Gordon has his share of experience with opening, operating and oftentimes closing restaurants.  But can Gordon’s turnaround management strategies really help struggling business owners or is it merely “reality” television fluff?

Although Gordon has a successful restaurant concept and growing businesses worldwide, he has his share of struggle.  With several closures and talk of financial concerns it’s clear that a great chef, no matter how talented, needs more than good contemporary creative food to survive. That said, celebrities are not recession-proof, especially in the restaurant business.  While fame may have played a role in his early success, he’ll have to prove himself to be a true chef and business owner to keep customers coming in his doors.

The Indirect Connection Between Egypt and the Prices on Your Menu

February 22, 2011

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you must have heard by now about the unrest in Egypt and how the government there is under siege from the populous. However, what you may not be aware of is that the problems in the Middle East have the potential to rock the restaurant industry here in the United States as well. Here’s what you need to know.

The Real Reason the Unrest Started Now

For all that the Egyptians yearn to be free, they’ve been living under an oppressive regime for a very long time. This therefore begs the question – why now? What is it that has made Tunisia and now Egypt finally begin to try to throw off their corrupt leaders? The answer it turns out is food insecurity.

Rising Prices for Commodities on World Markets

The Egyptian unrest stems in large part from the fact that world prices for food commodities, especially things like wheat have been soaring lately. In a poor country like Egypt, this can literally mean the difference between starvation and survival. However, here at home, the same economic forces can have a profound impact on the restaurant industry.

Be Prepared for Higher Prices for Raw Materials

Bottom line, we can expect to see prices of all kind of food products rising this year because of the world rise in commodities prices. This means in turn we either will have to absorb the difference in our menus or we’ll have to raise prices in order to stay afloat.

Either way, the unrest in Egypt indirectly means tougher times ahead for the restaurant industry because of the fact that we must (by definition) rely so heavily on raw materials to create the foods that we serve to our diners. This does not bode well for an industry which is just starting to pull out of the recession. What will happen? Who knows – stay tuned.

The First Lady’s Restaurant Agenda

February 17, 2011

For a very long time now, we’ve talked about the question of the First Lady and the relationship with restaurants. We’d mentioned that the restaurant industry was due for some potentially uncomfortable scrutiny from the president’s wife regarding nutrition issues. Sure enough, Ms. Obama has decided to move from targeting supermarkets and school lunches to directly targeting the restaurant industry to push for reform.

The New York Times recently reported that the National Restaurant Association has been in private talks with the First Lady to arrange to offer healthier options to children. So far, the recommendations have been preliminary and voluntary, however we should not underestimate the power of the office of the First Lady to put moral pressure on our industry to reform.

Already, Walmart has been moved to change its ways, offering healthier alternatives for lower prices at the behest of Mrs. Obama. She has also been using her bully pulpit to push for kids to start rejecting some of the unhealthy choices which we’ve seen for years on kids menus.

What is particularly interesting however is the fact that Mrs. Obama’s message has been co-opted by some people in the food industry and changed in subtle ways so as to make for a positive marketing message, highlighting the presence of certain healthy food choices in various food products which the First Lady had hoped to cast a shadow of doubt on.

This means that new labels may mention the fat content and sodium levels but they’ll also mention how a product contains extra calcium and vitamins, partially negating the message that a food isn’t necessarily good for you.

What this all means for our industry remains to be seen however as the situation is still very much in flux and as yet, no regulations have been forthcoming from the Federal Government.

Get Ready to Earn Your MBA in Beef Advocacy

February 15, 2011

So are you ready to earn your MBA? That’s not a Masters of Business Administration by the way. We’re talking instead about the Masters of Beef Advocacy launched a little over a year ago to teach people in the cattle industry how to advocate for their businesses.

Offered Online for and by the Beef Industry

The program is a free series of courses which are all offered online. The courses include such classes as “Beef Safety,” “Modern Beef Production” and “Environmental Stewardship.” Offered at the Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association, the program has seen more than 2,000 people earn their MBA, with nearly a dozen new people applying for the program each day.

Not Accredited

Sadly, while the program will help you to advocate for beef, the program is unlikely to get you any kind of professional credit. It’s not offered as an accredited program and will not count toward college credit in any school in the United States. The good news however is that this MBA program doesn’t require a Master’s Thesis.

Designed for Advocacy

The program is designed basically to provide for advocacy and training in the beef and cattle industry and to teach some of the modern ideas regarding meat raising that have come into play in the past few decades. The program is also being promoted heavily on places like Facebook and Twitter. It will reportedly teach you how to talk with consumers about your favorite beef products and to explain why these products are healthy and humanely produced.

More of a Curiosity for Restaurateurs

While the program does sound somewhat interesting, frankly, we doubt it will have much appeal for people in the restaurant industry since we tend to deal with the stuff after it’s already been killed, cut and wrapped in cellophane, but still, it’s an interesting development to say the least.


February 8, 2011

Grocery shopping, although monotonous and time-consuming, is a necessity.  As hard as we try to prepare in advance for grocery day, it seems there are times when “what’s for dinner” becomes a question with no answer. 

In an effort to relieve that grocery panic, Kraft Foods and Intel Corporation are teaming up to create a “Meal Planning Solution”.   The idea is based on a virtual culinary coach that provides personalized menu ideas and dinner solutions as well as advice to shoppers on what they should purchase.  The virtual culinary coach is a kiosk that uses a technology called Anonymous Video Analytics.  It assesses your gender and age, along with external factor to assist with your grocery list and purchasing recommendations.  Look like a high school student?  Maybe a box of Twinkies.  Lady in a suit?  Perhaps you’d like a suggestion for a fantastic and filling salad?

The Kraft kiosk debuted at the 2011 National Retail Federation Show and along with its menu planning, can send recipes to your smart phone, dispense samples and with a swipe of your frequent shopper card, can offer advice on past purchases. 

Kraft has not yet announced when it will hit stores but it’s sure to make your shopping trips fast, easy and exciting!


February 3, 2011

Jared may have been the catalyst for the “Eat Fresh” movement, but with more and more fast food chains offering healthier menu options, Subway has plenty of competition. 

Among consumer options are McDonalds fruit and yogurt parfait, fruit and maple oatmeal, multiple salad options and grilled chicken sandwiches.  In addition, Burger King offers apple “fries” as part of the children’s menu, having parents opt for a healthier substitute to traditional french fries.  And don’t forget Taco Bell.  Their “Drive Thru Diet” concept offers up 7 tasty items under 9 grams of fat, allowing their customers to really “think outside the bun”. 

It’s no wonder so many chains are providing healthier menu options to their patrons, with obesity concerns among children and adults coupled with the rising cost of healthcare due to obesity related illness, chains have figured out that consumers want healthier food choices in the same convenient drive-thru fashion.  The latest figures from Marketdata, Inc., which analyses ten major segments of the U.S. diet industry, projected an annual total at $68.7 billion spent on weight-loss products and services in 2010. 

I’m sure that American fast food pioneers, the McDonald brothers, had no idea their “Speedee Service System”, which was established in 1948 at the first McDonalds location in San Bernardino, would be used as a portal for 11 different salad option, grilled chicken sandwiches and fruit and maple oatmeal.  Gone are the days of cheeseburgers and nuggets alone, consumers can now choose something on the lighter side while tightening their budgets without loosening their belts.


February 1, 2011

Recently The Cheesecake Factory was named as the nation’s most popular casual-dining chain, according to a survey of fast-casual restaurants.  Also on the list were Texas Roadhouse, Red Robin, The Olive Garden and PF Changs, proving that consumers are willing to pay a little more for a quality fast-casual dining experience.  The nation’s most popular fast-casual dining chains will benefit from more optimistic consumer feedback if they focus on the experience provided, convenience and food quality.

According to a recent MarketForce survey, consumers plan to eat out more in the coming months and they are driven to brands showcasing strong customer service elements.  As consumers plan to eat out more, the way to entice guests is to take care of the essential customer service elements.  Other elements that are strong considerations to consumers when choosing where to eat are cleanliness of establishment, friendliness of staff and value of the meal provided.  Overall, what consumers really want is a reasonably priced meal in a comfortable, friendly environment… sounds like home to me.  

Convenience also plays into dining decisions.  More consumers are having to balance work with family and are often too tired to cook at home.  Many also prefer to have a tasty meal in a pleasant environment where someone else does the dishes.  With this in mind, restaurants are offering value priced menu options and pleasant surroundings for their diners and it seems to be paying off.