Archive for October, 2012

Plan Smart, Buy Local

October 26, 2012

When it comes to stocking a kitchen, more and more restaurants are seeing the value of buying their ingredients locally. Chefs enjoy working with these ingredients because they are able to create dishes that feel more authentic and accessible. Obviously, this is easier for restaurants that change their menus often anyway, but any restaurant can benefit from the use of locally grown ingredients.

While creating a menu with local ingredients can become difficult because of issues such as availability, seasonality, and affordability, there are ways to work around these problems and create dishes that inspire local clientele to see all the great food around them.

Why Buy Local?

There are multiple reasons for a restaurant to try buying some ingredients locally. First and foremost, buying locally means that the ingredients will not have to travel as far and, therefore, will be fresher when it reaches the kitchen. This gives the chef the opportunity to work with the best ingredients possible and create an even better dish. Also, the shorter shipping distance results in lower shipping costs and less harm to the environment than long-distance shipping of ingredients.

Finally, there is a certain sentimentality that accompanies creating business relationships with local farmers which appeals to restaurateurs and patrons alike. Restaurants can do a lot to help keep small local farms afloat and local patrons appreciate and respect that social consciousness.

Overcoming the Obstacles

Buying locally also presents some challenges that should be examined carefully. For one thing, chances are that buying from smaller farms and producers will possibly require more planning than using larger suppliers. The restaurant will likely need to spend some more time coordinating deliveries from multiple suppliers, and probably have to adjust some of their accounting principles to allow for using cash to pay for the locally grown items.

Also, it is possible that the cost for locally grown products will be higher than the alternative, but most chefs and restaurateurs feel that it is worth it for the higher quality product. For many it seems cost-preventative and daunting to adopt a policy of only using locally grown ingredients. In that case, it may be helpful to start by creating only one dish from local ingredients, and to build up from there.

Buying Smart

To make the change successful, there are a few things to keep in mind when buying local ingredients. First of all, it is important to remember to be flexible even if the restaurant does not often change the menu. If weather or delivery issues occur, there must be a backup plan. Also, for local ingredients to retain the value that comes from being fresh, they should be prepared, cooked, and served to order as much as possible.

To work around seasonality issues, different restaurants employ various techniques. Some only buy local ingredients that are available year round, like meat and dairy. A restaurant could also preserve local ingredients to be used throughout the year in various dishes and still bring a part of the local flavor to the table.

Accommodating Guests with Allergies

October 22, 2012

Millions of people across America suffer from food allergies (an estimated 8% of children, and 5% of adults), most of which are to wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, or soy. These types of allergies occur in various severities with some having more than one allergy. For those suffering from wheat allergies as well as gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, the fact that gluten-free foods and menu items are becoming more available is very encouraging.

However, most restaurants still have a long way to go before they are fully equipped and knowledgeable enough to safely and satisfactorily cater to guests with food allergies.

The Dangers

Between 1996 and 2006, there were 63 allergy-related deaths, half of which involved restaurants. One problem contributing to this high level of mortality could be that restaurants simply do not understand the severity of these allergies, or do not communicate well enough with their guests to avoid allergic reactions. For instance, some do not recognize the difference between intolerance and an allergy. While gluten intolerance may cause abdominal discomfort, it likely will not cause the same life threatening symptoms as wheat allergies like anaphylaxis and asthma attacks. (Swelling, hives, and anaphylaxis are some of the most common allergic reactions to food).

Restaurant’s Responsibility

There is still much disagreement about how much responsibility restaurants bear for their customers with food allergies. One organization proposed that all restaurants should have a “master list” of ingredients so that guests can see everything in each dish on the menu. Opponents of the proposal claim that it is unreasonable because restaurants may not be able to keep to the list and that if there is a possibility that the list is inaccurate, it is just as dangerous to customers with allergies.

Supporters of the proposal say that restaurants have an obligation to be completely honest with their customers and should be able to tell them everything that is in their dishes. According to those who hold restaurants responsible for the safety of allergic patrons, if the restaurant cannot confidently serve those patrons allergen-free dishes, they should notify guests immediately.

Benefits of Accommodating Allergic Patrons

While it may be difficult or complicated to accommodate allergic patrons, there are some benefits to putting forth the effort. First of all, the appreciation shown by allergic guests who may have previously been unable to enjoy a relaxing dinner out is simply heartwarming. Also, because the child or other family member with an allergy usually determines where a family while go out to eat, a restaurant that is able to provide allergy-safe meals will likely gain not only one, but a whole family of regular customers.

Also, people with allergies are likely to recommend a restaurant that seems to care about their limitations to others who may have issues as well. Finally, there is a possibility that in the future, being allergy-friendly may give restaurants a chance to get a break on their insurance rates.

Building Burgers

October 19, 2012

Hamburgers have been an important part of the American restaurant industry for many years. Usually, they are equated with fast food restaurants where they dominate menus. However, hamburgers can be found at almost any price point, including some specialty burgers made with premium ingredients which can cost literally hundreds of dollars. (These are usually made with Wagyu beef and lots of truffles.)

In 2009, 39% of people surveyed said that they ate a burger at least once a week. Today, that number has climbed to 48%. In order to meet this demand (and in turn, fuel it), restaurants are stepping up their game when it comes to creating new and exciting choices for their burger aficionados.

The Meat

The most important part of the hamburger, most people will tell you, is the meat. It should bring the most flavor to the dish, and everything else should complement the texture and taste of the meat. No longer will consumers settle for questionable meat products – they want fresh ground, quality beef, and that is exactly what many restaurants are offering.

If you walk into a casual dining establishment with a burger on the menu, you are likely to find a patty made with a special, top secret blend of chuck and spices. That blend usually makes the difference between a mediocre recipe and an award winning hamburger. Whatever the outcome of the rest of the burger, the meat has to be perfectly seasoned and cooked.

The Toppings

Because hamburgers are enjoyed by so many different people, you are sure to find some disagreement about what a hamburger should hold. The most widely favored toppings are probably the classics: American cheese, tomato, lettuce, and maybe some onion and pickles.

However, some more exciting flavors are showing up on burger menus across the country and consumers are taking notice. Avocado, for instance, is a popular new burger topping, and adding a fried egg is an option that many find enjoyable. Also, many restaurants have developed their own sauce to replace traditional condiments like mayonnaise and mustard.

Essentially, the more choices there are for guests to pile on their burgers, the better. (Some burgers that seem to have been created just to beat the record for “most expensive burger” have toppings like lobster, caviar, and cheese melted with champagne steam.)

Whether customers want their burgers topped with classics like bacon and cheese or smothered in caramelized onions and mushrooms, restaurants are stepping up to the plate with exciting, creative options.

The Bun

While the meat and the toppings are definitely the stars of the show, the bun holds it all together and should be able to stand up next to the rest of the burger with pride. This is why many restaurants have begun baking their own buns and advertising them aggressively. Customers are drawn to the “homemade” feel, and the more unique a brand can make their burger, the better. Even some of those who do not make their buns in-house have bread delivered fresh daily from a local bakery, so guests still appreciate the handmade quality of the product.

Making Changes on the Fly

October 15, 2012

When it comes to the restaurant business, owners and managers must be prepared to make adjustments at any point in time in order to maximize customer satisfaction and, therefore, maximize profits. This kind of adaptability requires quite a lot of innovation and creativity, so leadership should be comfortable with looking at all aspects of their restaurant to find new ways to change and adapt. The most important thing is to keep things fresh and fun while keeping the overall business running smoothly.

Finding Inspiration

The best way to find places in which a restaurant can make changes is to look from the customer’s point of view. One restaurant created “Frugal Friday” as a way to reach out to guests who had fallen on hard times. Another long-established restaurant made an effort to literally view the restaurant from the eyes of a guest and revamped the look of everything that customers come in contact with, from the menu to the china.

All of these are techniques that are immediately recognizable to guests, so the return on investment is quick and easy to see. When customers feel like their needs are being anticipated and met, they will return.

Encourage Communication

To know what needs to be altered or added to a restaurant’s daily operations, communication is key. This consists of communication between restaurant and customer, as well as communication between all members of the restaurant staff. Interaction with guests should not be limited to servers. Chefs should leave the kitchen and circulate often, so that they can get a firsthand account of the customers’ response to their food and their experience.

Both servers and chefs can contribute to the cultivation of long-term, repeat customer relationships. When customers feel like they are involved with the chefs, they will likely return because they recognize the relationship as well. Most guests truly enjoy feeling like their input is valued.

One restaurant owner also suggests that servers send out thank you notes to guests who leave their business card as another way to cultivate repeat business.

Also, servers should be encouraged to communicate with the kitchen. Input given to servers is the next best thing to chefs actually speaking with the customers, so the ability of servers to relay messages to the kitchen is invaluable. Often, servers are berated when they return to the kitchen with complaints from the guests, which is completely counterproductive. Chefs should be ready and willing to hear any and all feedback from the dining room so that they can adjust and adapt accordingly.

Ongoing Training

When it comes to training a new hire, training should be extensive and detailed. The new hire should have a chance to train alongside most of the employees that they work with so that they get chance to see what their job will actually be like. Also, it may be helpful to obtain input from all employees that the new hire trains with because the people who had the closest experience with him or her will be able to tell whether or not they are a good fit.

3 Major Influences on Employee Performance

October 9, 2012

There are literally thousands of theories and studies presented to explain why restaurant employees behave the way they do, especially when it comes to negative performance. Some blame depressing work environments, under appreciation of employees, or even failures on the part of the public education system.

The truth is, however, that there are only three main factors that cause employees to perform poorly: they either do not know how to do the job properly, they are unable to do the job properly, or they do not care about doing the job properly.

Don’t Know

If an employee does not know how to do carry out their tasks as expected, it simply means that they lack the proper instruction or have forgotten their training and need a refresher. There is no shame in needing additional training throughout a career, so management must be willing to provide this training when needed.

Sometimes new employees receive inadequate training when they first start, due to short staffing or ignorant superiors. Other times new practices must be implemented and some key staff members miss out on the training. Occasionally, instructions for tasks that are not regularly undertaken may be forgotten. In any case, training is not a one-time activity, but rather something that should be ongoing and frequently reevaluated for efficiency and accuracy. Management should take care to ensure that all employees receive adequate, consistent training that reflects the evolving needs of the restaurant.

Can’t Do It

Even with proper training, employees may be unable to complete their tasks well due to various circumstances that are out of their control. Whether employees lack the proper tools, the organization of the kitchen or dining room creates obstacles, or staffing issues complicate the workload, employees may find it difficult or impossible to do their jobs to their best of their abilities. Again, the responsibility falls to management to ensure that employees have the proper tools and are set up for success as much as possible.

Of course, employees should also be able to communicate with their superiors in order to notify management of whatever problems they might be having. These types of issues can easily be prevented and quickly remedied by management when they occur, so productivity need not suffer long.

Don’t Care

Unfortunately, there is one perspective affecting employee behavior that management can do very little about. If an employee simply does not care about his job and is not invested in the outcome of his endeavors at work, then it is unlikely that any amount of training or well established working environments will help him be a productive member of the staff.

In these circumstances, when the employee refuses to modify his behavior, it is best to let him go and invest in training a new hire who is ready to put in the needed time and effort in the company. The little bit of extra effort that it takes to train a new person is well worth it to have an employee who cares about the success of the company.