Archive for July, 2011

What Is Being Done to Prevent Infectious Meats?

July 28, 2011

While is it important that restaurants maintain proper food safety protocols to protect customers, members of the meat industry should also do their part in preventing pathogens from reaching consumers.  This includes making sure animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered with food safety in mind.


It is commonly accepted that healthy animals are less likely to carry food borne pathogens than animals that are sick.  Therefore, those who raise animals need to be sure that their stock is being properly cared for.


The type of food an animal eats could be a part of this.  A recent study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service showed that the use of wet distillers grain with solubles (WDGS) may be linked to a higher occurrence of O157:H7, the most common strain of E. coli.


Other ways animal raisers may try to ensure the health of the animal are through antimicrobials, probiotics, and vaccines.  However, these practices may not lead to a long term reduction of pathogens.  In addition, the use of antimicrobials may actually lead to the development of pathogens that are resistant.


The cleanliness of the cages animals are held in when traveling to slaughter and the condition of the lairage, the pens animals are held prior to slaughter, are also considerations.  Dirty animal cages could lead to further contamination.


The government is also concerned about increased safety in meats.  In January, the USDA proposed new regulations for finding E. coli strains in meat beyond that of O157:H7.


Some experts say that these new regulations shouldn’t put too much extra burden on the meat manufacturers because, when used properly, methods used to control O157:H7 are also effective in controlling other strains.


Regardless of what the feds or anyone else does, restaurants need to do their part to ensure tainted meat does not have a seat at their table.  Watching where the meat comes from and properly handling it once it is received can help the restaurant protect customers from food related illness.


The Guests No One Wants

July 26, 2011

With the recent outbreak of E. coli in Europe, food safety may be at the forefront of the restaurateur’s mind.  No one wants to be responsible for someone getting sick on their watch, and so maintaining food safety practices in the restaurant as well as checking the suppliers’ should be a priority.


A restaurant owner or manager who wants to stop pathogens from being served should do what it takes to prevent it from coming into the kitchen in the first place.  Checking with the suppliers to make sure they are obtaining and shipping products in the correct manner can be an important step.


It is also important to make sure farming practices are up to standard.  After all, E. coli and other bugs can get onto produce via contaminated water.  Thus, irrigation practices and water testing should be in place to make sure products are safe.


Of course, the responsibility isn’t placed only on the suppliers.  Restaurants must do their part to make sure food is being prepared properly.  This includes making sure hands are properly washed, surfaces are properly cleaned, produce is properly washed, and food is properly cooked.


A major part of this is to make sure the restaurant staff is adequately trained.  It is important for them to understand the importance of food safety and why the different protocols are in place.  One slip-up could cause the downfall of an entire food safety procedure and get someone sick.


There are different ways to make these facts real to the staff in the restaurant.  Posters and signs do some good, but can be easily forgotten.  Object lessons and linking the information to real life examples may make the lesson stick better.


No one wants their restaurant to be pinned with a food safety outbreak, but it is one of the risks of the job.  Making sure the restaurant staff as well as any suppliers and distributors are keeping up food safety precautions can lower that risk significantly.


Valuing the Customer

July 21, 2011

It should be second nature to restaurants, but the simple things are always worth repeating.  A restaurant needs to value their customers.


This goes beyond just offering excellent service, though that is a big part of it.  Customers want to know that the restaurant they are visiting is not going to take advantage of them on any point.


This may include the pricing and transparency, as well as how they are treated when things go wrong.  They want to know that their business is valuable to the restaurant.


One way for a restaurant to show that they value their customers is to make it easy to customize their experience.  Prix fixe menus, easily allowing ingredient substitutions, and offering real values in meal portions are just three ways to go about it.


It would also be wise to make accommodations for those customers with an allergy or a special dietary need.  Train the staff in how to properly address allergy concerns and how to prepare meals accordingly so that the restaurant becomes a safe and enjoyable environment for customers to enjoy their meal.


A restaurant can also be proactive in helping customers find the deals.  Showcasing which meals is a good value for the money may attract more frugal customers to the door.  Showing the price on an online menu can also allow customers to determine if this restaurant is for them or not.


And, of course, taking care of customers when things go wrong is key.  If a problem erupts, the restaurant staff should take the time to listen and fix the problem.  Addressing concerns in a timely and polite manner can go a long way in showing the customer respect.


The customer’s business is important to the restaurant, so why not train the restaurant staff to show it?  Make the dining experience a pleasant and comfortable place for customers . . . give them a reason to grant you their loyalty.

Menu Options to Reach Customers

July 19, 2011

The cost of restaurant operations is going up.  The increasing price of commodities may require restaurants to increase menu prices.  And all the while, consumers have become pickier about how they spend money.  They want value as well as a good price.


The challenge for a restaurant is to figure out how to make a profit while still offering value.  That is not to say that menu prices can’t be increased to generate profit.  But the underlying issue is respecting customers and realizing that they are savvier buyers than they were a few years ago.


If increasing the menu price is on a restaurant’s to-do list, value should be included along with it.  Customers don’t want to feel like they are being ripped off, so adding in some options that allow them more bang for their buck may be a good idea.


Prix fixe menus, smaller portion sizes for a lesser cost, and different pricing tiers are three ways a restaurant can offer value while still getting their share of profits.


It would also be wise for a restaurant to develop a pricing strategy that takes the customers’ needs into consideration rather than just increasing prices.


Upselling may also be a thing of the past as far as customers are concerned.  Instead of asking if a customer would like an extra option, train servers to analyze and cater to the customer’s needs.  Offering a personalized customer experience may be the name of the game.


Keeping up profit in today’s world of thrifty consumers looking for bargains doesn’t have to be an impossible feat.  But it is important for restaurants to think about the customers and not just the bottom line.


That is not to say they need to sacrifice the brand for the price.  Rather, make the brand and the experience an invaluable part of the consumers’ lives.  Offer value as well as a great dining experience.  Give them a reason to come back for more.


Something for the Kids

July 14, 2011

When thinking about a dining experience, it is often tempting to think only about the adults . . . after all, they are the ones opening their wallets.  However, doing something special for the kids can cause parents to return to a restaurant again and again.


There is a significant amount of parents coming to eat at restaurants with their children, and those parents are looking at how their children are treated.  So, it would be wise for a restaurant to spend some time looking at how to best serve the children.


A kid’s menu is a staple for many restaurants.  But some parents are starting to take notice of what their children are eating, and the old, unhealthy standbys may not cut it anymore.  To gain the parents’ trust, a restaurant may want to look into healthier choices for children.


That doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds.  At some restaurants, the solution is offering a smaller version of the adult plate.  It seems that some children like to be a little adventurous and try the things the adults are having.


Another option is to revamp the old standbys on the kid’s menu.  Use fresh, quality ingredients to make the staples.  It may also be helpful to provide an atmosphere where kids are welcome.


If it takes a little more consideration or quickly providing children with food or something to do, so be it.  Parents are impressed when time is taken to make both their and their kids’ dining experience a pleasant one.


It might be a daunting experience offering a place for children to be comfortable.  Certainly more casual dining restaurants may have an advantage in this.  But even upscale restaurants can take steps to make a child’s experience a good one.


Not only will it impress the parents and offer them a reason to come back, but a good dining experience may also affect the children positively.  Who knows?  Maybe one day they’ll come back with their children.



Upholding Food Safety Protocols

July 12, 2011

Nobody wants a food safety issue at their restaurant.  Customers don’t want to get sick, and the chef and restaurant staff certainly don’t want to be responsible for food poisoning on their watch.  Therefore, it is important that a restaurant have and maintain strict food safety protocols.


Many in the restaurant business know the importance of providing proper food safety training for their staff.  Simple things like knowing when and how to wash hands, storing food properly, and keeping the kitchen clean should be second nature to anyone working in a restaurant.


It is also important and should be common knowledge to make sure that food is kept out of the “danger zone.”  Cold food should be kept cold and hot food should be kept hot.  But upholding food safety procedures goes beyond preventing a problem once the food gets into the restaurant.


If, for example, spinach is contaminated with E. coli when it arrives at a restaurant, problems could erupt.  So then, it is important for restaurateurs and restaurant staff to ensure that the food being delivered to the restaurant is up to standard.


Ensuring the product obtained is free from contamination may involve a little road trip.  Speaking or visiting with the supplier, asking questions, and analyzing the answers are some wise steps a restaurant owner or manager can take.


Then, once the food arrives at the door, a trained and knowledgeable person should be there to receive the delivery.  He should inspect and be choosy about what he accepts and what he doesn’t.


After he has chosen, it is important that the restaurant staff properly store all food in a timely manner.  Again, this goes back to keeping food out of the danger zone and training the staff in proper food safety protocols.


Preventing food borne illnesses at a restaurant ultimately rests in the hands of the restaurant.  They are often the last defense customers have against contamination and food poisoning.  Vigilance is key.




Obtaining Feedback and Putting It into Action

July 7, 2011

One of the most valuable resources for restaurants is customer feedback.  Surveys and questionnaires allow customers to give their opinion on how the restaurant performed, and the staff can use that information to enhance or maintain their service.


Technology has provided a way to shorten the time it takes between a customer providing his feedback and when the restaurant receives it.  In some cases, a restaurant may be able to respond to feedback almost instantaneously.


Some table side devices can not only display menus and other data to the customer but can also prompt him to take a survey right at the table.  This allows data to be gathered instantly while the experience is still fresh in the customer’s mind.


Further, using a paging system, a manager can be alerted when there is negative feedback.  This means that it is possible for a customer’s concerns to be dealt with before he leaves the restaurant.


Social media can also be a tool for gathering feedback, but it does come with its perils.  Often the data gathered on these sites are not tailored to allow restaurants to respond.  A person may use these sites to vent about a negative experience but may not provide where or when the incident occurred.


It can be vastly important to sift through the clutter and respond to negative feedback on these sites.  With comments and videos going “viral,” a restaurant can find their brand damaged by just one popular post.  So finding a way to locate and respond to such feedback before it spreads can be essential.


Learning and responding to customer’s concerns is an important aspect of the restaurant business.  A restaurant should show itself as a company a customer can trust and a company that cares.  Put in the effort to be such a brand, and customers will likely reward you with their business.


Becoming Allergy Conscious

July 5, 2011

Over 18 million people are known to have a food allergy, and about 3 million have been diagnosed with a type of gluten intolerance known as Celiac disease.  Seeing these numbers, it may be wise for restaurants and restaurateurs to look into how to accommodate these guests.


If a restaurant is to become sensitive to the needs of all these customers, it has to make the commitment to do so.  It may not take very much money to become a sensitive partner with those with gluten intolerances and allergies, but it will take hard work on the part of members of the restaurant’s staff.


One way to start becoming more allergy conscious is to list the ingredients used in the food being prepared.  This is not an overly hard thing to do, and it can result in a customer feeling more at ease about what he or his family member is eating.


It also helps to show customers with special dietary needs that they are important.  Having a chef come out and discuss dishes with them or simply developing a gluten-free menu are other ways some restaurants have helped customers with special dietary needs feel wanted and special.


It is also important that there is no cross-contamination, particularly when dealing with Celiac disease.  Separate cooking utensils, pans, etc. must be used for dishes than contain gluten than for dishes that are gluten-free.


This course of action also puts responsibility into the hands of the employees.  Proper training is key.  The staff must be able to properly relay which orders are gluten-free, for example, and the cooking staff must prepare these meals in the correct manner to avoid problems.


It does take time and effort to develop a more allergy sensitive restaurant, but customers with special dietary needs will appreciate the time and care you take.  That, of course, can lead to customer loyalty which in turn can lead to more restaurant revenue.