Archive for August, 2012

Critics: Fallout and Fanfare

August 31, 2012

As consumers seem to live more and more of their lives online, it should come as no surprise to restaurateurs that their patrons may share information about their experience in online reviews. Likewise, they should not be surprised when many potential guests consult this information when it comes to making their dining decisions.

Unfortunately, although many of these reviews will be positive, some can be downright nasty. It is easy to be discouraged by some negative reviews, especially for owners who pour their heart and soul into their restaurant. The key is to understand the impact of both negative and positive reviews, and respond properly when it is called for.

Handling Critiques Professionally

One of the most important things for restaurant owners to remember is that a couple of negative reviews will not automatically drive business away. When consumers search for reviews, they usually find multiple entries for each restaurant. Also, many people look at a few different review sites before making a decision. Generally, positive reviews far outweigh the negative ones. Also, potential guests usually check the source before they rely on an unpleasant review.

In other words, consumers can often see whether or not a certain reviewer ever posts anything positive, or if all their reviews are negative. When a reviewer never seems to having anything nice to say, their credibility tends to suffer.

Thankfully, the presence of negative reviews can actually be helpful to restaurants that receive plenty of praise as well. For one thing, when just a couple of negative reviews are peppered in with multiple positive ones, potential guests have a tendency to read the reviews more closely. This can help readers get a better idea of what the restaurant serves, what the atmosphere is like, and what kind of service they can expect. That is the kind of information that will attract many new patrons and increase a restaurant’s popularity.

Responding Responsibly

Negative reviews can also be helpful in that they may point out a problem that the restaurant owner or manager was unaware of. Not all dissatisfied customers post scathing reviews, seeking to drive away any other potential customers. Some can simply be viewed as constructive criticism, which is usually quite useful. In these cases, owners usually have the opportunity to respond to the critique in order to correct misinformation or rectify a mistake on the part of the restaurant.

Whether to respond publicly or privately depends upon the individual situation, and is ultimately up to the owner. Most popular review sites give owners the chance to respond either way. Generally, for instances in which the reviewer may be complaining about something based on incorrect information, a private response would be best. Responses must never seem like a petty squabble, so the owner should avoid any verbiage that may sound argumentative or confrontational.

For situations in which the reviewer genuinely had a bad experience at the restaurant, owners may take that chance to publicly apologize and take responsibility for whatever went wrong and invite the reviewer back to the restaurant. In doing this, the owner will seize the opportunity to show that the restaurant is committed to serving all of its patrons well.

Popular Menu Modifications

August 27, 2012

One of the best ways for a restaurant to keep customers interested and intrigued is to keep the menu up to date with the latest trending foods. This year, exciting new ideas are showing up across the country, and consumers are generally eager to try the many interesting offerings.

From huge, quick service chains to single location restaurants, chefs and managers are introducing unique flavors and ingredients in order to remain on the cusp of new developments in dining. Essentially, restaurants are trying to get away from “safer” flavor combinations and introduce bold new ideas to their patrons.

Fantastic Flavors

A very popular trend that costumers will probably see at most eating establishments is the use of more specialty ingredients. This is especially noticeable in many quick service chains. They are using more quality cuts of meat as well as specialty breads. The new combinations found in some of the quick service restaurants seem to mirror dishes that would normally only be found in higher-end restaurants. Also, an increase in the use of pork belly, steak tartar, and even wild salmon has been seen on menus across the country.

Another way that some restaurants are spicing up their menus is to incorporate more ethnic flavors into their usual fare. While at one time patrons had to choose a specific type of restaurant to find the ethnic flavors they were looking for, they can now often find those flavors in other unexpected places.

For some this means using a creative salsa to add some Latin flair to their signature burger, or some Asian ingredients to brighten a chicken salad. For others, it means adding traditional ethnic dishes to their menu, like the Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich that is showing up in many different restaurants, or the very versatile Greek yogurt sauce, tzatziki.

Healthy Options are Trendy

In recent years, restaurants have begun to see the value of offering more healthy options on their menus. However, because consumers continue to become increasingly health conscious, restaurants must keep up with the changing trends in healthy lifestyles. Having a few salads on the menu with “low fat” dressing will no longer suffice. Health conscious diners want to see all natural ingredients, plenty of whole grains, and smaller portions.

Often, a desire for healthier options goes hand-in-hand with an interest in sustainability. For consumers, this includes actively seeking out foods in grocery stores and restaurants that are locally grown, or at least contain ingredients that are. These consumers are excited and grateful to see it when chefs and restaurant owners share their concern.

To present guests with healthy options and new exciting flavors, some restaurants are experimenting with vegetables that are not the norm for most menus. Broccoli, spinach, and carrots have been common fare in restaurants for many years, though the cooking styles may have changed. Now, many chefs are experimenting with different greens, like kale and mustard greens. Kale became popular as a substitute in Caesar salad last year, but is making its way into other dishes as well. Other trendy veggies this year are Brussels sprouts, celery root, and even roasted beets.

Bringing in Tourists

August 22, 2012

While the majority of restaurant business comes from repeat customers, there is still a large portion of revenue that comes from one time visitors, namely tourists and those traveling on business. Restaurants who fail to actively attract these potential patrons are missing out on a real opportunity bring in new business and spread the word about their establishment in other areas.

To attract more of these customers, restaurateurs can do many things to reach out to a larger area, rather than just their immediate community.

Reaching Out to those Dining on Vacation

To help with brand recognition, some restaurants compete in state or even nation wide cooking competitions, like barbeque cook-offs and other food and drink festivals. Winning one of these types of competitions can certainly put a restaurant on the map, but even just participating can help to spread the word to potential tourists. Few people will actually make a special trip to visit the restaurant.

However, people are much more likely to visit a restaurant that they recognize when passing through an unfamiliar area than one which they have never heard of. Also, word-of-mouth is a great advertising tool, even if the word has to spread a long way to reach all potential customers.

Restaurant owners may also begin getting involved with not only local charities, but charities around the country. Consider participating in charity events in small cities and towns, along with more well known ones in larger cities. No event is too small as long as participation is frequent, since the goal is simply to spark interest, not launch a widespread advertising campaign. This will help to let people know that the restaurant’s interest in helping communities is not restricted to local people who are mostly likely to frequent the establishment.

Also, it will help to create lasting relationships with people who will probably visit the restaurant when they are traveling in the area.

Roll Out the Welcome Wagon when Attracting Tourists

It may also be worthwhile to begin working with the local travel bureau. Restaurant owners can offer information about their restaurant and even leave gift certificates for travelers. A strong relationship with the local travel bureau will most likely result in multiple recommendations for the restaurant.

Since many travelers are often unsure about their surroundings, a recommendation to a local restaurant is usually heeded. Naturally, this works both ways with negative opinions from a travel bureau being noticed as well, so ensure that the relationship with the travel bureau remains a positive one.

Restaurants can also work with concierge services and destination management companies. These companies take care of most aspects of a traveler’s trip, including their dining choices. A restaurant in touch with these types of companies can possibly expect a couple of tables booked every night by a concierge or destination management service. Larger restaurants may even consider keeping a table or two open on some nights, as concierge services often have trouble finding a restaurant to host large parties, and are very appreciative of restaurants that will accommodate last minute needs.

Dealing with No-Shows

August 17, 2012

One of the most frustrating things that restaurants have to deal with is guests who make reservations and fail to show up for them without any notice or cancellation. Of course it is a nuisance for those responsible for booking tables, but it also causes the restaurant to lose potential revenue from guests who could be sitting at the reserved tables.

In other words, it is just as upsetting for a restaurant to have guests who do not show up for their reservations as it is for guests to find that their reservations have been forgotten or mixed up by a restaurant.

Avoiding Empty Tables

While most restaurants still just swallow the loss from forgotten reservations, some high-end restaurants are beginning to take action against these no-shows. Like most hotels where you have to use a credit card to reserve a room, some restaurants now require a credit card to make a dinner reservation. Around 10% of restaurants in the United States now have this policy, and they are reporting that their numbers of abandoned dinner reservations are dropping.

Some patrons may be uncomfortable with giving their credit card information over the phone, but restaurants can help put them at ease by clearly explaining their policies and handling any issues that arise professionally.

For some of these restaurants, the purpose of using a credit card to reserve the table is to be able to charge a fee when customers do not show up for their reservation and fail to cancel at least 24 hours in advance. Some restaurants charge up to $25 per person on the reservation. This cannot be a hidden charge or an unexpected action on the restaurant’s part, as this could be extremely upsetting for the customer. A few of these actually refund the patrons who receive these charges by giving them a gift card in the amount of the charge they incurred for abandoning their reservation.

Any restaurant that chooses to have this kind of policy must make it explicitly clear that the charge will be incurred if the customer does not cancel the reservation properly. Some restaurants do not handle their own reservations, but use an outside company to coordinate them instead. This type of company should state the restaurant’s policy clearly before the reservation is confirmed. One of these reservation companies keeps track of reservations made by individuals over time. If one person has more than four no-shows in one year, their account will be closed so that they cannot use the service anymore.

Restaurants Going Too Far

Unfortunately, some restaurants are not handling these situations quite so graciously. In the same way that many customers go online to complain about an unsatisfactory dining experience, some restaurant employees are going onto social networking sites and complaining about no-shows. Also, managers will occasionally call the person who did not show up for their reservation and demand an explanation. Clearly, these two examples are extremely unprofessional, and can do nothing but hurt the restaurant.

No matter how frustrating no-shows may be, the long-term effects of behaving unprofessionally will cause a restaurant to lose more money than having a couple of empty tables ever could.

Managing the Bar

August 13, 2012

For the average restaurant, liquor sales can contribute as much as 30% of total revenue, and even more for some establishments. Nearly a quarter of most restaurants’ liquor inventory is lost due to many different issues, both accidental and malicious in nature. To avoid these losses in the section of the restaurant that could potentially be very profitable, the bar should be managed just as carefully as every other part of the restaurant. This includes more careful inventory management and closer observation of bartenders and other employees.

Inventory Control

The first line of defense against both accidental and deliberate misplacement of liquor is to keep the inventory locked up so that only management can access it. Obviously this does not work for bottles behind the bar, but the unopened bottles in inventory represent a much larger investment than what is on display in the bar anyway.

No matter how trusted the bar tenders and other employees are, the smartest, safest thing is to protect that large of an investment with a lock. Since a manager would have to unlock it, it will be easier to keep track of what is being removed, as well as when and by whom it was taken.

Management should also keep very careful records of the use of all alcohol in the restaurant. This includes not only how much is used, but how it is used and when. This can be accomplished by comparing recipes and sales data with liquor inventory data.

Unfortunately, this can be a very tedious and time consuming process and it really should be done weekly, or at least monthly. However, there are companies that can be contracted to come in and complete these checks using their own software with the restaurant’s information. In doing this, managers can see if alcohol is missing, or even if drink recipes are not being followed.

Also, the task of ordering liquor should be left to management as well. For some reason, many bar tenders are left to handle the alcohol from the moment of ordering it from the supplier to when they place a drink in the customer’s hand and receive payment. Often, inexperienced bar tenders may find themselves ordering inventory and simply order too much for fear of running out of something on their watch.

Certainly the bar tender may have information that would be useful in the ordering process, so have them help create a checklist for ordering new inventory, but have management make the final decision.

Train, and Keep Training

New bar tenders are usually trained extensively so that they can learn general bar tending practices and the restaurant’s drink recipes. After that, bar tenders do not seem to receive much more instruction. However, training for bar tenders should not end once they have the recipes memorized. They should be tested every once in a while to make sure they are making drinks correctly.

For instance, very few experienced bar tenders actually measure their ingredients while making a drink, which is fine as long as what they are pouring is accurate according to the recipe. If not, they may need to go back to using a jigger to measure the alcohol until they can estimate their ingredients accurately.

Accommodating Restaurant Guests with Food Allergies

August 9, 2012

It is reported that there are currently 15 million people in the United States with food allergies. When these people choose to dine out, they trust much of their health and safety to the eating establishment that they choose. The consequences of serving the wrong thing to an allergic patron can be devastating, causing anything from minor swelling to anaphylactic shock and even death.

Restaurant management can help avoid this by taking certain measures to ensure that patrons are aware of allergens on the menu and food preparers are aware of the patron’s allergies.

Communicate Carefully

In order to keep from serving something dangerous to an allergic patron, the kitchen staff must know of the allergy. Servers should encourage patrons to notify them of any members of the party that have a food allergy. Post a sign for guests to see as they walk in the restaurant, or display the request prominently on the menu asking guests to please let their server know if they have a food allergy before ordering.

Many guests with allergies neglect to do this if they are not asked because they rely upon the menu to tell them what each item contains. However, it is much safer for the server to know about the allergy up front, since often the allergen may not be listed in the menu descriptions.

Also, servers should be trained to remember which menu items contain common allergens like eggs, shellfish, or nuts. Waitstaff should always be up to date on the menu anyway, but it can be especially helpful if they can tell a guest which items contain peanuts or peanut products as they order, or point out which salad dressings contain dairy.

Naturally, it would be nearly impossible for every server to remember every ingredient of every dish on the menu, so servers should still notify the kitchen of the allergy so that the chef can make sure that the guest’s dish does not contain anything that could cause an allergic reaction.

Servers can also learn to recognize when it is appropriate to ask a patron if they have a food allergy. A guest who asks many questions about a certain ingredient in different dishes may have an allergy that the kitchen staff should know about. Encourage waitstaff to be tactful in asking for this kind of information, perhaps asking it as a general query to the whole table rather than an irritated response to a guest with a lot of questions.

Assembling Options

Managers may also consider putting together an allergy menu as a way to prevent allergic reactions, and to accurately offer allergic guests many pleasing options. This menu would contain all menu items with each and every ingredient listed beside them including all spices, cooking oils, and garnishes.

For items that contain pre-made ingredients, the labels for them should be photocopied and included in the list next to the menu item. Common allergens could be highlighted for quick identification. Servers should take the allergic guest’s order, consult the allergy menu and the chef, and hopefully present the guest with options that are both safe and delicious.