Archive for July, 2012

Bringing Everyone to the Table…Literally

July 31, 2012

Some may call it getting back to basics while others may call it a subtle social experiment, but whatever you want to call it, the communal table is becoming an increasingly popular trend. A few restaurants that tend to stay on the cusp of social movements are trying out these so-called “gathering tables,” and finding that isolation is not a necessity for a pleasant eating experience.

However, before attempting to implement this kind of dining setup, owners should consider a few details about similar plans that have been successful.

Uncertain Motivation

Since this concept is fairly new for modern American eateries, the jury is still out on whether or not these communal tables are a good idea. Also, there is some debate about why a restaurant would implement this dining style in the first place.

Some believe that communal tables will spark more conversation between guests and, therefore, serve as a type of networking opportunity. Restaurants with successful “gathering table” programs have reported that many customers have begun to form friendships with other regulars that they notice seated near them on a regular basis. Restaurant owners with this view of the benefits of communal tables advise that other restaurants should be prepared to have a lower table turnover as a result of the increase conversation between patrons.

On the other hand, some believe that the communal table is a way to actually cut costs from rising rent prices in many locations. Essentially, their theory is that people may connect superficially with someone who asks them to pass the salt, but they will still want to finish their food and leave more quickly rather than lingering to visit.

This should, in turn, increase table turnover to compensate for the increased rent. Some go so far as to say that seating for these tables should be limited to benches because they are less comfortable and will further discourage patrons from lingering.

Friendly is as Friendly Does

If a restaurant intends to increase friendliness in the establishment, they must not do so at the expense of patrons in the rest of the dining area. First, they should make sure that incorporating communal tables will not disrupt the traffic flow in the rest of the dining area. These tables are very large, such as those that are usually only seen in conference rooms of some restaurants, so they must be placed carefully. They may not work at all for some dining rooms, so it is usually best to implement this plan in conjunction with a full remodel of the dining area, or to plan for it before construction of a new restaurant.

Also, if these tables are full and patrons at them are conversing consistently, they can create a lot of noise that is distracting or irritating to other customers. Again, correct placement of these tables is essential to avoid alienation of other patrons.

Restaurant owners should take into consideration proper lighting to ensure that the ends of the tables don’t get left out of the light. Also, most restaurants should only devote a small portion of their dining rooms to communal dining at first, as many customers may still feel uncomfortable sharing a table with strangers.

Kitchen Conservation

July 27, 2012

From single family homes to huge commercial enterprises, people across the country are doing their part to conserve energy and water. Whether they feel it is their duty to help the planet or they simply want to save money on energy costs, most restaurants have joined this trend by revamping their kitchens and dining areas.

Some have done it by overhauling the whole restaurant and replacing everything with new energy efficient equipment. Others have simply taken it one item at a time, and replaced what needed replacing with more energy efficient models. Either way, any restaurant that intends to remain socially responsible and save money on overhead costs should seriously consider making energy efficiency a priority.

Plan Ahead

If an establishment is not in a position to completely replace all of its equipment at once, owners can still do their part to ensure that the restaurant is working its way toward energy efficiency. The best way to do this is to create a replacement plan for all of the equipment in the restaurant. That way if an item needs replacing, the decision for what to replace it with (hopefully a more energy-efficient item) has already been made. This will ensure that if an item goes out unexpectedly, the cook or manager on duty will not simply order a duplicate of the old item. Therefore, bit by bit, the kitchen will receive new, energy efficient equipment added as needed.

Owners can look for small, simple ways to contribute to their restaurant’s overall efficiency. For instance, they can consider using low-flow spray valves in their kitchen sinks. These are fairly inexpensive, and they save up to three gallons of water per minute. They actually work better than traditional spray valves because they use air pressure to make the spray stronger.

Also, they could consider replacing light bulbs in both the kitchen and dining areas with more energy efficient bulbs, or even convert the dining areas to have an atmosphere in which low lighting would be appropriate.

Big Money-Savers

One of the most important items that many restaurants are choosing to replace first is their refrigeration units. Agencies that rate the energy efficiency of various items and appliances, like Energy Star, have done the most testing on refrigerators so there are huge lists of possible brands and styles. Almost all refrigerator companies have multiple choices of size and style in their energy efficient lines from sleek stainless steel refrigerators to glass front options for dining areas.

Also, there are options for almost any price range, so even small eateries can afford to make an upgrade.

Restaurants should also consider water-saving dishwashers for their kitchen. This contributes to water conservation by using significantly less water and energy conservation by reducing the amount of hot water needed. Energy Star estimates that restaurants that use water-saving dishwashers can save up to $850 per year in energy costs and $200 per year in water costs.

Restaurants can further save money from water bills by installing low flow toilets in guest bathrooms.

Keeping up in the Kitchen

July 23, 2012

As vital as good food and great service are to the survival of a restaurant, one thing that restaurants should also strive to do is to stay on the cusp of technological developments that could greatly enhance their business. From the front of the restaurant to the back of the kitchen, all sorts of innovative technologies are available to streamline many processes involved with serving patrons. Most customers, especially younger ones, greatly appreciate efforts made by restaurants to stay up to date with current technologies.


When it comes to quick service, most customers feel that the quicker, the better. That is why some establishments, like coffee shops and juice bars with more simple fare, are considering installing self-serve kiosks. These will allow customers who know exactly what they want to skip the lines at the cash register. Much like a simple vending machine, they are able to make their purchase and move on. Some of these will even be set up outside the restaurant, which is very valuable to consumers who tend to take their breakfast or lunch on the run. Also, it will help to make more space in the dining areas during some of the busier times of day.

To help servers be quicker on their feet, a few restaurants have begun using some type of personal device, much like a smartphone, for servers to take orders. This can help speed the order-taking process up immensely by eliminating lags between each step of the process. For instance, servers would no longer have to take notes by hand for each order, and then enter it into a computer to be transferred to the kitchen. As soon as the order is complete, it can be submitted to the cooks before the server could even make it back to the kitchen. Some restaurants have even experimented with the idea of letting customers use the device to make their own orders and submit them directly to the kitchen.


In almost any family-dining restaurant, customers who have to wait for a table are handed some sort of paging device that blinks and buzzes when it is their turn for a table. While they may keep the hostess from having to yell out a name and check outside every time a table opens up, they are still fairly inefficient. The systems are extremely costly, they do not allow patrons to stray more than a few yards from the restaurant, and they can transfer far too much bacteria from patron to patron.

Instead of using these, some restaurants have begun using a texting system. When a customer asks for a table, the hostess puts their name and cell phone number on a secure list, and the system texts the patron when a table opens up. Since nearly three quarters of American adults text, this is a viable option for almost any restaurant. Customers will appreciate the freedom to wait where and how they wish, and restaurants no longer have to invest in costly, germ-harboring devices.

Restaurants Show Best Traffic Increase in Years

July 16, 2012

Over the winter of 2011 and spring of 2012, restaurants have seen an increase in traffic that has been unmatched since 2008. Analysts have presented a few theories as to why this increase has occurred, but most restaurant owners are continuing to focus on their own plans for more growth rather than watching other’s performance.

While there has been a significant growth in sales overall, there are still important areas in which there has been no increase in sales – or even a decrease. Restaurants are continuously working to gain a piece of this increase, which is helping numbers look better across the board.

What’s Happening?

Oddly enough, the two segments of the restaurant industry that seem to have shown the most growth, fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. One segment is quick service, like fast-food or fast casual restaurants. These may have received more growth because those who want to eat out but don’t want to pay as much are opting for less costly options for their dining choices.

The other segment that has shown growth is fine dining establishments. The increase has also been seen especially in two particular meal times, breakfast and evening snacks, while lunch and dinner meal times have shown no change.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for every restaurant. Recent statistics have shown that while some restaurant types are flourishing, midscale family-dining chains have still been losing clientele. This can probably be attributed to the fact that many of the people that these restaurants cater to are still reeling from the economic downturn and doing their best to stay home for most meals.

Why Now?

One theory for the increase in restaurant traffic is that much of the country experienced a very mild winter. Customers are naturally more inclined to venture out of their homes, and therefore dine out more, when the weather is nice. A small portion of this increase could be attributed to consumers who depend on good weather to work, and would have possibly seen a favorable upswing in their personal finances. Again, this would only contribute a very small portion to the overall increase, but as the great fundraisers say, every little bit helps.

Other analysts believe that the increase in traffic is due to an increase in consumer confidence. Statistics show that the unemployment rate in America has been falling steadily since fall of 2011. This could contribute to a larger number of consumers feeling financially stable enough to eat out again. With recent trends showing that more and more customers are cooking and eating at home, this is a very good sign for the restaurant industry and for the economy in general.

The most surprising thing about this increase is that it has accompanied an overall increase in price at many popular restaurants. Even though some of these restaurants have shown up to a six percent increase across their whole menu, customers are still providing restaurants with the first significant financial improvement that they have seen in quite some time.

Supermarkets Joining the Food Service Market

July 9, 2012

In today’s economy where frugality is a necessity across America, consumers are looking for ways to save money on food without sacrificing time or quality. Many grocery store chains are satisfying that need by adding food service areas, or expanding their delis and frozen foods sections to provide more take-home meals. Some even have buffet-type areas where customers can choose fully cooked items to create an entire meal that is ready to put on the table when they get home.

All of these options are allowing consumers to serve their families restaurant quality food without paying the price or having to work in the kitchen all evening.

Why is it Working?

These food service areas are no longer tiny delis at the back of the store that offer pre-made sandwiches or greasy fried items. They are set up to give customers plenty of choices, and they are serving high-quality food. One popular grocery store has a seating area so that customers can order a freshly made meal of their choice and sit comfortably while they eat it. Others offer quick check-out for customers who want to just run in and pick up dinner without fighting the crowds in the rest of the store.

In other words, these areas are convenient enough that shoppers can pick up dinner while they’re grocery shopping, but separate enough that diners can enjoy the same benefits of a quick service restaurant.

Also, much, though not all, of the fare from these stores appeals to consumers’ increasing desire to find healthier foods. When buying prepared foods from a grocery store, customers are able to check nutrition facts and even ask the chef personally about food content and cooking techniques. Also, customers buying items for dinner for their families are able to measure their own portions, allowing them to feel more in control of what they are eating.

Of course, the main reason that these grocery stores are succeeding is that the prices are so much lower than in a restaurant. Customers feel like they are getting a meal that is just as good as or better than many restaurants, while only paying about one third what they would probably pay for a restaurant dining experience.

How Can Restaurants Compete?

Restaurant owners really can’t afford to ignore this encroachment on their territory. This development by grocery stores has been a long time coming, but has exploded recently. Restaurateurs should act quickly to retain their business and remind customers why the restaurant experience is still superior.

The most important thing that restaurant owners must take advantage of is the fact that these grocery stores cannot offer the comfort and luxury of having the whole meal taken care of from start to finish. Restaurants can still lure customers with the idea of sitting down and enjoying a meal with no shopping, no cooking, no heating up, and no cleanup. All they have to do is visit and enjoy their meal.

Also, owners should consider offering more healthy options on their menu, emphasizing freshness and healthier cooking techniques.

Delivery and Takeout: Not Just for Pizza Anymore

July 3, 2012

As the average customer becomes increasingly busy, dining out becomes more of a special treat than a convenience. Especially during the week, customers simply don’t have time to dress up, find a restaurant, wait for a table, wait to have course after course brought to the table, and then wait some more to pay for it all. Even with the best of service, this is a time consuming process that is best reserved for relaxed evenings where there is no rush to get home or back to work. This is especially true for restaurants with a more relaxed atmosphere, where customers enjoy dining as a social experience.

However, many consumers find themselves without the time to cook dinner either, so they often turn to takeout or delivery services. In the past, this limited their choices of food severely, but that is not the case today. Instead of having to choose from pizza or fast food from a drive-thru, customers can order or pick up almost anything they are in the mood for. More and more restaurants are offering takeout or delivery in order to keep their customer base higher, even though their dining rooms may not be as full.

Maintaining Quality with Convenience

Some restaurant owners fear that if they offer delivery or takeout, they will lose some control over the quality of the food that they serve. Naturally, food is best when it comes right out of the kitchen to the table, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be great after riding in a car for a few minutes. Also, ordering remotely can sometimes result in more misunderstood orders than ordering in person, but with the right system, mistakes can still be minimal. Restaurants that decide to deliver or offer takeout can take plenty of measures to ensure that customers still receive the highest quality dinner possible.

First, restaurants should use the best quality packaging that is available for delivery or takeout. The containers should definitely be strong and leak proof. Nobody wants their dinner dripping all over their car, and a mess like that is a sure-fire way to discourage customers from ordering again in the future. Also, it should be well insulated to keep the food warm and microwavable in case the customer is unable to eat right away for any reason.

Yes, this type of packaging will cost more than a simple to-go box, but customers will recognize the extra care that was taken and will often comment on their appreciation for it.

Ordering with Confidence

Many restaurants are not only offering these services, but continuously striving to make it easier for customers to take advantage of them. For call-in orders, restaurants are doing their best to ensure that they have a competent people on their phones. Quality employees are able to put the customer at ease and make sure that the order is correct every time. Some restaurants even have an area on their website to order from, or outsource their ordering to another company’s website that specializes in takeout orders and delivery. Larger chains have even gone as far as creating smartphone apps that allow customers to order food in a matter of seconds.