open sign

 

Opening the kitchen is one of the most important shifts in any restaurant. However, in too many cases, that shift is given to novices and/or is not taken seriously. The two highest controllable cost centers in most restaurants are food and labor. Opening the kitchen is where many of those dollars are being spent for prep, ordering and receiving.

1. Get In Early

Start at least one hour before anyone else shows up. This gives time to think about and plan the day.

2. Prepare

If ovens need to be pre-heated or water needs to be boiled, don’t wait on your staff to get those things going. Also, get your opening crew their aprons and towels out and ready. Make some coffee. Take some time to make sure your walk-ins and other storage areas are organized. You can take this time to recognize items that need to be used first and pull them to the front of the shelves.

3. Know Your Pars

Write a comprehensive accurate prep list. Don’t over or under prep; over or under order.

4. Execute

Run a great shift! Keep your eye on what’s going on with prep. Make sure recipes are being followed.  Stroll through the walk-ins and storage areas and take note of what is being used. Stay active and keep moving around. Is your crew using rubber spatulas and following sanitation guidelines?

5. Pay It Forward

Hopefully the previous closing crew left you in good shape. Either way, leave the next shift completely prepped, stocked, staffed, clean and ready to go! Meet with the next crew leader and debrief.

If you follow these steps, your whole restaurant benefits. The overall feel, pace and culture of the back of the house will be exceptional.

Zach

Euston Tap

 

For those who have been to a busy bar and have had to wait… (and for those bartenders, managers, & owners who want to make more money).

When it comes to going out for a night on the town, we all appreciate spending a little less time waiting in line for a drink. And when I do go out, I’m usually disappointed by the lack of efficiency displayed by most bartenders. As an operator, I am always looking for more ways to raise sales, and wow guests. There is a fundamental way most bars operate that slows the flow of alcohol, money and tips. I recognize that there are times when a bar should slow the flow of inebriates. This blog post is not relevant for those times.

In the movie Cocktail, we see Tom Cruise as a great showman flipping bottles and dazzling his massive crowds.  But, wow, they must be thirsty! Cool bar tricks are great.  What’s better is a busy bar that is operating in a profitable manner. There is a brewery in my neighborhood that I go to on occasion. They have a great line of beers and a fine atmosphere. Service? Unfortunately, their service isn’t what keeps me coming back.  It’s fine with me if a bartender wants to display a tinge of arrogance (many do). But, please, don’t make me wait in line for lack of talent at the same time.

Lets dissect the normal bar exchange. First, the bartender asks what the guest would like. Second, they go make/pour what that guest ordered. Third, they bring the libations to the guest. Fourth, they go ring the drinks up, then explain the amount due. Then the guest pulls out their wallet, and finds their money while the bartender watches them. Finally, the bartender transacts the payment. That’s a lot of steps for the next guest to watch and wait for. By this time, some other guy is already making moves on the girl I was fetching a drink for and the line isn’t getting any shorter.

A club as busy as those seen in Cocktail has to be faster. But how? The drink pricing must be set to include tax. There shouldn’t be any pennies, nickels or dimes used for alcohol. Dollars and quarters are enough. The trick to fast bar-tending is having good memory.  The bartender needs to memorize common drink prices. Again, those drink prices must be made so that they are easy to remember.

Once the bartender has a firm grip on drink prices; we can pick up the pace. Here’s how: First, when the drink order is taken, tell the price right then. This is important because many people don’t have their money out until they know what is owed. Why do people do this? They just do. Second, move to the next guest, take their order, give a price and continue taking orders and giving prices until you can’t remember any more. It is very common to be able to remember two to four people’s drink orders. Third, make and serve the drinks. Finally, process the payments and start the cycle anew.

At this point, the bartender is essentially waiting on at least twice as many people at once and combining many steps. This practice will increase bar sales significantly while expediting customer service and lining the bartender’s pockets to-boot.

Obviously, as alcohol sales are increased, some precautions must be taken to monitor the amount of drinks people have had and their inebriation levels. Please serve responsibly.

Zach

Nexus 7 2013-003

 

One concern we’ve heard from restaurant owners and managers with using Android tablets for their point of sale is that they are worried employees would play games and text friends while working. Worry no longer. Android 4.3 (codename: Jelly Bean) came out in late July and now includes restricted profiles. What does this mean? It means that the owners and managers can now restrict access to just work applications.

Here’s what google has to say about restricted profiles. (from https://support.google.com/nexus/7/answer/3175031)

About restricted profiles

As the tablet owner, you can create restricted profiles that limit the access that others have to features and content on your tablet. For example, you can create restricted profiles to prevent family members who may have access to your tablet from viewing mature content.

You can use restricted profiles for several purposes, including these:

  • Parental controls. Selectively restrict family members from accessing mature content.
  • Kiosk. Set up the tablet to demonstrate selected apps and features to customers.
  • Retail. Let customers explore tablet features, but prevent them from browsing or playing games.
  • Point of sale. Limit employees to the use of selected sales and register apps.

 

Thaddeus


Photo credits: Nexus 7 2013-003 by Thomas Lok Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

Alex's Lemonade Stand

 

So one of your servers forgot to process an order, the kitchen lost a ticket, or a tray of food was dropped; whatever it is, you have what’s known as a “Long Cook Time”. It can really throw a wrench in your system and irritate your guests.

What now? Many service managers will hang out in the kitchen and watch the order get made again with nervous anxiety. “How much longer?!” Finally the order is hastily prepared and served to the guests.  In some cases, that’s the end of the story. Hopefully, the guests either didn’t notice or didn’t care that their order took longer than usual. Other times, a manager might swing by the table to see how upset the table might be. At this point, management reacts to the situation with apologies and maybe a free dessert or even a full out comp.

These “Long Cook Time” situations are going to occur.  If not handled well, guests can become very angry.  People go to restaurants for food, hospitality, and atmosphere. When they feel like they are being treated poorly, it’s a deep contrast to their expectations. Nobody likes to be forgotten, dismissed, or cheated out of what they deserve. Most often, management has to deal with these situations after their guests are, at the very least, disappointed.

There is usually a way to come out ahead with a table that is made to wait longer than they should.  How about turning this kind of situation into a positive experience for everyone? The trick is to talk with your problem table BEFORE they are disgruntled. As soon as you know a party is going to have to wait; go talk to them. Tell them that their order is taking longer than expected and that you are doing everything within your power and the realm of physics to get their order out ASAP. If they have small children, a diabetic person, or just need a little more attention, get them something to eat right away. It’s often great to show up with a free appetizer when you are explaining your difficulty and their misfortune.  If an entree was dropped on the floor, it’s ok to share that with the customer. They are often grateful that you threw the dish out to make a new one.

This proactive guest interaction will let your guests know that:

  1. You know about their situation.
  2. They are not forgotten or ignored.
  3. You care.

To be cliche; you are now turning lemons into lemonade. The guest’s whole perception and experience is sometimes even better than if no mistake was made. You might even create a loyal fan out of an ordeal. Everyone knows that nobody is perfect and that mistakes happen especially when it comes to food service. We just want to be doted on. What sets restaurants apart is how they deal with mistakes.

Zach

 

Citrus Grillhouse Kitchen

Are you an Expo? Do you feel overwhelmed and constantly in the weeds?

Here’s a quick way to make yourself more effective and spend less time weed whacking.

Simply put your plates in a position by their chit/ticket order. Leave an empty space for the ones you are waiting for. This is an easy way to tell where your chits/tickets are at a glance.

For example, say you have a six top order. The simplest plate layout would be from left to right.

Window Layout

Let’s say the chit/ticket from top to bottom is Chicken Parmesan, Salmon, Steak, Lasagna, Chicken Alfredo, and Tilapia.

Chicken Parmesan
Salmon
Steak
Lasagna
Chicken Alfredo
Tilapia

You are missing the Steak and Tilapia.

The window would look like this:

Plates With Empty

It’s much easier to keep track of plates and know what you are missing this way. Otherwise, you’ll be spending lots of time going through the ticket over and over again to match what’s in the window.

Only last bit, once you determine your layout, make the kitchen use it too. It will save both of you time since both can tell where an order is at a glance.

Thaddeus

 

Photo credits: Citrus Grillhouse Kitchen by pvsbon Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Google Screenshot

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and get a website for your restaurant and don’t know where to start. Or you had a web designer create one for you and it’s hard to update and he/she never responds to your requests? Here’s how to make those problems go away.

We are going to go through four steps to do this. You don’t have to these in one go. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend doing it in one sitting.

One tiny bit of technical of info before we get started. We are going to be using WordPress. (That’s the name of the software package). WordPress originated as a blogging platform, but now can be used to create an entire website without having to be a website designer. It’s the #1 blogging software in the world with millions of users and it’s free. There are companies that specialize in just hosting WordPress sites, designers that sell WordPress templates to use, and others that provide plugins for extra functionality. You don’t have to remember all that, just that we are using WordPress, it doesn’t require vast technical skills, and there’s an ecosystem around it that we will leverage.

Let’s get started.

1. Pick a WordPress Theme
Theme doesn’t mean an artistic theme. Rather it’s a term for a template that your website will use. There are a number of restaurant themes available, so you don’t have to be designer. All you have to do is pick one that you would like to use. They have a one time cost of around $14 – $75.

Quick tip: Look for a theme that is “responsive”. This is techy word meaning that it works on mobile phone, tablets, and desktops. A lot of your visitors will come from mobile phones, so you want a site that is usable for them.

Here’s a list of places to find themes:

(Disclaimer: I don’t have a reseller or affiliate relationship with any of these sites.)

If you don’t like these, just Google “premium restaurant wordpress themes” or “restaurant wordpress themes” for more options.

2. Pick a WordPress Hosting Company
Next we pick a WordPress hosting company. This company is where your website will live or in techy speak where it is hosted.

Below are companies that specialize in WordPress hosting. Generally, it’s the only thing they do, so they are really good at it and they can help you with using WordPress. They do the heavy lifting of installing WordPress and the other software needed for it. (Database & Web Server).

(Disclaimer: I don’t have a reseller or affiliate relationship with any of these sites.)

Follow the steps given by the hosting company to create your initial empty WordPress site.

Now upload the theme you picked in step 1. The WordPress hosting company will help you walk through this. Also the WordPress Documentation can help if you get stuck.

At first your site might be http://www.CompanyThatHostsYourSite.com/YourRestaurantName. Don’t worry, we will fix this in step 4. (CompanyThatHostsYourSite isn’t literal. It’s one of the wordpress hosting companies from above. YourRestaurantName isn’t literal either. It’s the name of your restaurant.)

3. Fill in Your Info
Now we put in the information for your restaurant.

Login to your WordPress site (Your WordPress hosting company will have a tutorial on this & the WordPress Documentation can help too.) and fill out the information for your restaurant.

The most important pieces are hours, address with a link to google maps, specials, menu, parking information, and phone number.

The cool thing about this is that don’t need a web designer to update or change the info.

4. Pick Your Domain
So your domain is the name for your web address. e.g. “yourrestaurant.com” without the quotes.

If you already have a domain, the WordPress hosting company can help walk you through how to transfer it to them.

If you don’t have a domain, first you need to find one that is available and then purchase it. They cost $5-$15 annually. I recommend using a .com address since it’s what most people expect.

Quick tip, all the companies below will try to sell you more than just domains. Resist the urge and just get the domain and not the hosting or email or rust undercoating or anything else they try to get you to buy. If there is something you need, you can always go back and buy it later.

Second quick tip. Most of the companies below have discounts. Just google “coupon code” plus the name of the company to find them. Usually you will enter these into the shopping card when buying.

All of the following sites provide tools to see if the domain is available and the ability to purchase the domain.

(Disclaimer: I use GoDaddy for domains. I don’t have a reseller or affiliate relationship with any of these sites.)

After purchasing the domain, the WordPress hosting company you picked in step 2 will help you set it up to work with their hosting service.

One last bit, make sure that all the review and local listing sites have your new web address. ie. Login to Yelp, UrbanSpoon, YellowPages, etc… and update them.

Hopefully that will help you setup your own restaurant website. Feel free to put any questions or feedback in the comments. Don’t forget about the WordPress Documentation if you get stuck. Thanks!

Thaddeus

 

Photo credits: Google website screenshot by Spencer E Holtaway Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

20 dollar money

During a recent discussion with a restaurant franchisee, the issue of profitability came up. As he put it, the restaurant business has three basic levers that the owner/management can control: food sales, food costs, and labor costs. I call these the trifecta of restaurant profitability since you simultaneously need to get all three correct. (Ok, food and labor costs are prime costs, so technically it should be called exacta or perfecta of restaurant profitability. I wouldn’t describe most restaurants as exact or perfect. So I went with trifecta.)

These are so important, but when was the last time you looked at them in your restaurant?

Here’s a simple suggestion for each to get you started.

  • Food Costs
    Create a simple sheet that tracks throwaways daily. The restaurant franchisee found $75 a day in savings here.
  • Labor Costs
    Pick a day of the week and look at the staffing verses the sales. Is there an extra hand here?
  • Food Sales
    Pick the five most popular items on your menu. Does your wait staff consistency upsell add-ons for these entrees (assuming it makes sense)?

Thaddeus

P.S. We are working on a product to make the management of the trifecta much easier. More on that in 2013.

 

Photo credits: Money Shots Ver4 by StockMonkeys.com Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

ruler

Q: Is bigger better?

A: Not when it comes to tablets and wait staff. Even in Texas.

Q: Why?

A: Imagine you are waiter or waitress using a wireless tablet to take guest orders. Your choices are a ten inch, seven inch, or four inch device. More specifically visualize your choices as an iPad, iPad mini, iTouch, if prefer Apple products, or a Nexus 10, Nexus 7, Nexus 4, if you prefer Google Android products.
Which would you rather carry around all shift? A heavier one or a lighter one? Which is easier to drop? Which is more expensive? Which fits in your apron?

Q: Sounds like smaller is better!

A: Not quite. It turns out the larger the screen real estate, the easier it is create an order since there is less scrolling and hunting.

Q: So bigger is better! I knew it.

A: Again not quite.  Smaller screens are less taxing physically over a long shift due to their smaller weight.

Q: So which is it?

A: As big as possible to make it easier to perform tasks, but not so big as to be physically taxing. The Goldilocks size for wait staff is right in the middle, a seven inch tablet. It’s about the same size as a check presenter and fits in the apron when not in use.

Q: That makes sense. I was rooting for bigger though.

A: If it makes you feel better, for host stands and other fixed locations we recommend ten inch tablets since they are not carried and it’s not physically taxing. So bigger is better there. But for table side guest ordering seven inch tablets is the way to go.

Thaddeus

 

Photo credits: Ruler by Sterlic Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License


Last month I explained how TripAdvisor and similar review sites dramatically changed the travel and restaurant business. The power of information has shifted from producers to consumers. The take away for restaurants is that every sale becomes a relationship sale since potential customers will draw on the experience of other customers.

So how do you manage TripAdvisor and other review sites?

My thanks to Marco, the owner of the fantastic Marco G in Rome, Italy for sharing his experiences and providing some of these tips. His amazing restaurant has been ranked #1 in Rome on TripAdvisor and is frequently in the top 25 for Rome. Here’s the Marco G TripAdvisor Listing. TripAdvisor drives new traffic to his restaurant in part because of his high rankings.

Basic Tips

  1. Claim your restaurant
    Go to the websites for TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, CitySearch, Zagat, Google Local Reviews, Yellow Pages, Super Pages and your local alternative paper review page and claim ownership of your restaurant. How do you know which sites to go to? The same way consumers will. Go to http://www.google.com and search on your restaurant name and city name and “reviews”. e.g. Marco G Rome Reviews.
  2. Join the conversation
    Check your reviews and respond. Starting out, just pick a day of a week to do reviews and add it to your weekly schedule. Yes, you are already busy, but these are customers who are talking directly to the rest of the world. About your restaurant! In other words, a customer is telling another potential customer about your restaurant and you get to add your two cents to that conversation. Shouldn’t you make the time for that?
  3. Be authentic
    Be yourself and human. Respond as if you are the manager/owner working the floor and a customer flagged you to tell you about your restaurant.
  4. Use the feedback
    Reviews are a free way to get feedback on your restaurant. They are like comment cards, but instead they are public. Use the feedback from them in the same way.

Advanced Tips

  1. Rankings
    Don’t chase your ranking/stars. Some days you will be up and some days you will be down. Obsessing about why you went up a notch or went down will drive you nuts.
  2. Top rating and reservations
    If do you become a top twenty-five rated restaurant in a market, don’t take reservations six months out. This one didn’t originally make sense to me, but according to Marco if you become highly ranked, people will reserve a spot at your restaurant for a few months out when they “plan” to visit. Often their travel plans fall through or your rankings dip, so they don’t show.
  3. Respond to negative reviews
    Respond to every review, especially negative ones. If a potential consumer sees a negative review that isn’t responded to, it is implied that it’s true.
  4. It depends
    How do you respond to negative reviews? Imagine you are on the floor and a customer tells you the food, service, decor, or something else is horrible. How do you respond? It depends. You have to use your judgment. In the same way that some customers try to get free meals by putting hair in their food, there is the SOB around the corner that wants to bash your restaurant. Fortunately, most consumers aren’t stupid and will read between the lines of what a reviewer is saying. If the reviewer has an agenda it often shows through. Moreover, potential consumers will take into consideration the sum of all the positive and negative reviews, so don’t take any one review personally.

This list should be enough to get you started with managing your review site listings. If you have other great suggestions please share them in the comments.

Thaddeus

Photo credits: TripAdvisor Logo & TripAdvisor name © 2012 TripAdvisor LLC. Screenshot of TripAdvisor website used under Fair Use commentary and education.

Paris France

I spent most of May visiting European cities and sampling their amazing cuisine. It was not all fun and games though. Right out of the gate, I made a rookie dining mistake. At a tourist trap restaurant in Paris, I literally got ill after eating one of the worst meals of life. Not a great way to start a month long trip. I vowed not to repeat that mistake again. If only I had a guide to tell me what to avoid and what to seek out. The Lonely Planet Guide book was awesome but only covered a few places I might eat at.

Enter TripAdvisor. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants For those not familiar, it’s a site with a five step rating review system for restaurants, hotels, and attractions. The reviews and ratings are created by travelers for travelers.  I downloaded their mobile app for each city I went to. It showed which restaurants were great and which were horrible tourist traps. I ate fantastically, and more importantly never got sick again. My health thanks you TripAdvisor. (Disclosure: I have no business relationship with TripAdvisor other than I’ve used their website and mobile apps.)

As a restaurateur, why should you care about one person’s travel misadventures?

Because, pardon the pun, it means the tables are turned. Previously, for travelers (the consumers), the balance of power resided with the local restaurants (the producers). For the most glaring example look at the overpriced tourist trap restaurants like the one I got sick at. The fleeced travelers could only tell a few other travelers about their experiences. It was too difficult to warn all potential travelers, so the tourist trap restaurants continued to survive. With Internet based sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, CitySearch, Google Local Reviews, and others, the power of information has shifted from producer to consumer. Now the traveler can be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge. The days of fleecing unsuspecting tourists are drawing to a close or at least a lot tougher.

The biggest take away for restaurateurs is this. Now every sale is a relationship sale. I used the dining experiences of strangers I’ve never met to pick where to eat. Before my knowledge was limited to my circle of friends and acquaintances. Now, not so much. The grape vine that customers can use to tell others about their dining experience just got much larger.

So how do we manage this new medium? Next month we’ll pass on lessons learned from a successful restaurateur in Rome, Italy.

Thaddeus
 

Photo credits: Copyright © 2012 Cloud Dine Systems, LLC. All rights reserved.