Archive for September, 2012

Sustainable Seafood Improves Menus

September 28, 2012

For many years, the sustainable food movement has inspired restaurant owners and chefs to look to local farms for fresh, sustainable meats, fruits, and vegetables. Chefs create fantastic recipes from these sustainable ingredients and help to expand the movement toward a healthier planet.

Recently, this search has expanded to seafood as well. Instead of cooking with some of the more popular varieties that have been overfished, like salmon and yellow fin tuna, they are opting for less common fish species. While they may not be what some diners are used to, these uncommon fish allow chefs to experiment and exercise more creativity with new dishes. Most restaurants who try making the change are finding that sustainability works well for both their budgets and their dishes.

Environmental Responsibility with Seafood Alternatives

For decades, the demand for popular fish species has been growing exponentially. Some of these are farmed now, but the demand for wild caught fish is still extremely high. Many of the species tend to be larger predatory fish, so as their populations dwindle, populations of smaller fish grow.

This shift in availability is what has prompted some chefs to incorporate more sustainable seafood into their menus. These chefs are not just going along with the most current eco-friendly trend; they are truly concerned that they will not be able to get the more popular fish in a few years, or it will be cost prohibitive to do so, so they are making adjustments ahead of time.

Restaurants that are interested in trying more sustainable seafood should plan their menus around the seasons in which these sustainable varieties are most available. Individually, some sustainable varieties are more expensive, but restaurant owners can minimize expenses by planning their menus as a whole, rather than substituting a sustainable item here and there.

Restaurants can save money by using more sustainable options, but it is important to shop smart and make sure that their seafood suppliers understand the restaurant’s goals for sustainability and affordability.

Delicious and Nutritious

Another perk of using some of these sustainable varieties is that they are often new to many customers, and even to some chefs. These chefs have the chance to create dishes that center on a whole new ingredient. The creative opportunities that these chefs enjoy can help revitalize an old menu and intrigue new patrons. Many of these sustainable options actually tend to be more flavorful than their more commonly used counterparts. Some sustainable fish species, like sardines and anchovies, are rarely used as the centerpiece of a main dish.

Many species of previously ignored shellfish are considered sustainable items, and are becoming more prominent in some restaurants. In the light of a chef’s inspired creativity, these shunned species can become stars of brand new menu items that surprise and excite patrons.

As a whole, most consumers are on board for these menu changes. They are excited to try new ingredients and flavor combinations, and they are thankful for restaurants that show more environmental responsibility. Celebrity chef Sam Choy uses sustainable fish in his restaurants and food truck and claims, “I have never lost a customer because we used sustainable fish, but we have certainly gained many.”

Dressing Employees for Success

September 21, 2012

The influence of current fashion is not a new concept to the restaurant industry, since restaurants have long been choice destinations for people to dress up, go out, and be seen. However, some of today’s fashion staples, along with some new functional perks, are beginning to show up on employee uniforms in many restaurants.

Restaurant owners have been motivated by many different things to make these changes. Some are looking to attract

younger patrons by creating a trendier environment, while others are trying to convey their restaurant’s unique culture. Still others are simply looking for a way to keep their employees comfortable while doing a physically demanding, stressful job.

Whatever the reason, restaurant uniforms are getting an upgrade, and employees love the new looks.

Trendy Looks in Server Attire

In general, people perform better when they feel comfortable and confident. Because servers are often young people in their twenties or early thirties, giving them a uniform that closely reflects younger styles can help to boost the quality of service. Also, younger guests may feel more comfortable surrounded by styles that they may wear themselves, rather than overly formal uniforms. For this reason, some restaurant owners are giving their employees uniforms that look like something that they might find in their closet already.

Another rule of thumb that some may follow is to create a uniform that reflects the culture of the restaurant. For some, this may mean traditional black slacks and white collared shirt with an apron. For others, it could mean different colored shirts for each server to create a fun, funky atmosphere.

One restaurant that is very committed to conservation and sustainability opted for shirts made from more than 50% recycled plastic bottles (blended with polyester.) Since they were machine washable and wrinkle free, making them very easy to care for, these uniforms turned out to be very practical as well.

Fashion Functional

Other changes in restaurant wear are showing up in the kitchen as well as the dining room. One major change is in the cut of many shirts and coats. Although most traditional server’s shirts and chef’s coats were supposed to be unisex items, they tended to be too large for female servers and chefs. Even the smallest sizes were often too large in the arms and shoulders, so they would droop unattractively on nearly any female figure and get in the way of female chefs while cooking.

Today, female chefs can get coats that have a more tailored look and are made to fit the feminine body style.

Some restaurant owners are also opting for different fabrics for their employee uniforms. There are some stretchy fabric blends that work very well since they are very comfortable and allow for more movement. Also, moisture-wicking fabrics are becoming very popular. Restaurant kitchens are notoriously hot, and all restaurant employees are almost constantly moving, so fabrics that help to control sweat can help staff remain comfortable and presentable.The best selling fabric for one popular restaurant supplier is cotton/polyester blend that is virtually un-stainable. When something made of this material is soiled, it can be treated with dish soap then soaked in water until it can be washed, at which point the stain will come out.

Getting Chefs Out of the Kitchen to Enhance Customer Relationships

September 14, 2012

“Wait just a minute. Did I hear that right? Why would the chef need to leave the kitchen?” While the chef’s primary duty is making absolutely delicious dishes for eager guests to enjoy, it could also be beneficial to let him or her be the face of the restaurant.

Outgoing chefs can connect to their patrons in many different ways, which has been shown to be helpful in almost any type of restaurant setting. Chefs who engage with restaurant guests tend to bring in more repeat customers, and can help motivate the rest of the staff.

Communicating with Patrons – Reaching Out Online

Many celebrities have Twitter or Facebook pages where they post to keep their fans updated with their daily comings and goings. A chef can do the same thing and possibly assume a kind of local celebrity status. He or she can post daily specials or just favorite dishes, new cocktails, or restaurant news. If the restaurant already has a social networking site, consider entering a post from the chef every now and then. Followers will look forward to hearing from the chef, and may also be able to give him or her valuable feedback.

For lengthier, more detailed outreach, chefs could consider blogging. They can post information about new dishes, or even old favorites. Some may even post more personal things like pictures from a recent trip or an entry about what kind of music they like to listen to while cooking. Anything that pertains to the chef’s inspiration for cooking could be interesting to curious patrons.

Restaurant owners may also consider putting out a periodic newsletter in which the chef might contribute articles about seasonal dishes or wine pairings for signature menu items. Many restaurants send out an e-newsletter to save on paper and postage expense. Of course, it is important for the newsletter to be well written and have an attractive layout. The content should be such that those who receive it look forward to it, and do not view it as another piece of junk mail.

With either a newsletter or a blog, restaurant guests would get to know the chef, in a way, and feel like part of the restaurant’s own community. Restaurant owners should be prepared to go this extra mile to turn their patrons into regulars. Guests will return to a restaurant where they feel like they belong.

Making the Rounds

While all of those online connection ideas could be extremely beneficial, there is no substitution for a chef just stepping out into the dining room and meeting a few guests. This will give the chef the opportunity to get a genuine idea of whether people are really enjoying their meals or not. Also, guests may enjoy asking the chef questions about the food that they probably would not ask their server. In restaurants where the chef is also the owner, meeting with the guests can give the owner a chance to connect with all sorts of people in the community.

Also, the chef’s presence in the dining room will allow him or her to connect more fully with servers and other employees at the front, which can be both encouraging and motivating to the rest of staff.

Cut Salt, Not Flavor

September 7, 2012

Over the past few years, health professionals have seen in studies over and over again that high sodium diets contribute to many health problems. The findings of these studies are overwhelming and alarming to many in the healthcare field, so they have been taking action to try to reduce the amount of sodium in diets across the country.

Until now, most of these endeavors have centered on public education, attempting to spread the word about the seriousness of diseases that can be caused and exacerbated by excess sodium in the diet. However, the American Public Health Association has recently asked the FDA to begin regulating the amount of sodium that is allowed in foods at restaurants, as well as other processed foods.

Many restaurants have already begun offering low-sodium dishes, but in the light of this possible regulation, that may not be enough. If the regulation goes into effect, restaurants that have not already begun to cut back on the use of salt in their dishes may find themselves scrambling to modify their menus. The sooner restaurants begin making these changes, the easier it will be for them to adjust to the new requirements.

Also, health-conscious patrons will appreciate restaurants that are proactive when it comes to creating a healthier population.

Menu Modifications Geared Towards Healthy Cooking

If a restaurant has not already done so, one of the first steps to creating a menu that is light on the salt is to offer a few low-sodium dishes. Many Americans suffer from high blood pressure and other health problems caused or irritated by consuming too much salt. Not all of them change their diets to help avoid more problems, but many do their best to avoid foods with high salt content. Those customers will be incredibly grateful to find a restaurant that offers foods that they can enjoy guilt-free.

Restaurant owners and chefs may also consider changing some of their recipes so that they contain less salt per serving. Begin by identifying where all of the sodium is coming from in a particular recipe. This will most likely include not only salt, but soy sauce, canned ingredients, and other packaged and processed items.

Try making the recipe with less of some of the sodium-rich ingredients, or simply less salt. Test to see if anyone can tell the difference, or if some even prefer the low-sodium version. Repeat this with each dish until as much salt as possible has been removed from the menu.

Smart Seasoning

Thankfully, cutting down on the salt content does not necessarily mean that the flavor of a dish will suffer. There are many ways to add flavor to a dish without getting out the salt shaker. Some of the canned ingredients that contain salt mostly for preservation can be replaced by fresh ingredients. For instance, using fresh tomatoes will add more flavor and nutrition to a dish while removing the salt content usually added by the canned alternative.

Also, items like onions and garlic can be substituted for a portion of the salt in a dish and add healthy antioxidants as well. Other herbs and spices can also be used to boost flavor without adding salt. For all of these ideas, it just takes a little experimentation to eventually create a health-conscious, low-sodium version of a great menu.