Using Groupon? You aren’t trying hard enough!

20 Oct

I have eaten at restaurants using a Groupon from time-to-time over the past year.  It makes me feel guilty.  I know that the restaurant is only getting 25 cents on the dollar for their deal.  So that $20 steak you paid $10 for yields the restaurant $5 – and typically the restaurant has to wait 3 months to get their $5!  Even if every customer spent another $10, the restaurant still is providing $30 of food and drink for $15 and that just isn’t profitable.

While the restaurant is hoping that some of those Groupon customers will result in long-term customers however I expect the exact opposite is true!  There is a steakhouse that I used to enjoy eating at once every 3-4 weeks.  I would typically spend $150 for dinner for 2 and always thought the experience was a great value even though admittedly the price was a bit high.  Imagine my delight when I saw a Groupon where I can get $50 of food for just $25!  I was overjoyed at my find.  Next time I went my bill was discounted by the $50 value for the Groupon I had purchased and of course I had purchased about $150 of dinner and drinks so I am sure the restaurant believed they had made money on my dinner.  However a month later I was ready to eat at a steakhouse and thought about my favorite venue.  Looked at Groupon to see if they had a deal.  Nope.  Maybe they have another one coming out in a couple weeks?

Instead of going to my typical destination I decided to put that on hold and try something new.  I didn’t see a Groupon on any steakhouses so I tried a place I had heard about in my area. Sure enough, I decided I liked this new place better than my old standby.  My old place still has a Groupon every once in awhile and I have purchased another one.  However it is about to expire because when I want to go to a Steakhouse I want to go to the one that is my favorite rather than saving the $25.

I suspect that many people who use Groupon use it exclusively.  They only dine at places when there is a Groupon available.  So these are people you will never make money on as a group.

Which type of restaurant makes more money?  The one known for having the cheapest food or the best food?  Of course it is the one known for having the best food.  Discounting or providing huge portions at super low prices isn’t a recipe for success that typically works.  There may be some examples but I can’t think of any.

Hire a restaurant consultant before you use Groupon

Groupon customers interfere with providing the best experience for your full price customers.

Groupons are a manager’s desperate attempt at ignoring problems rather than fixing them.  Typically offering a Groupon happens somewhere along a downhill trend for the restaurant that escalates its demise.

I recently ate at a Chinese restaurant with a Groupon that I had purchased a couple months earlier.  For dinner at 7:30 pm on a Friday night I was the only table.  They had a buffet that looked like the food had been there since lunch.  Obviously Groupon wasn’t the solution for their problems.

I don’t know of any chain restaurants using Groupon which is another sign that they don’t work.  If you are having to advertise heavily to keep the revenues up at your restaurant then the only explanation is that you aren’t having repeat customers!  After your restaurant has been open 6 months you should be able to dramatically scale back on your advertising and perhaps eliminate it altogether.  If after 6 months you still don’t have enough repeat business to keep your restaurant full then likely you need the help of a professional restaurant consultant.

There is no way that any restaurant owner or manager can be awesome at every aspect of the restaurant business.  It is so easy to overlook things that may be obvious to someone else.  At Destination Restaurant Consulting we have a variety of services that can assist with your turnaround.  One of our most popular services has been our 7 Day Restaurant Rescue – and it isn’t only for restaurants in danger of closing.  Our 7 Day Restaurant Rescue consists of 150 hours of restaurant consulting done by two of our restaurant consultants over a 7 day time period plus some followup work after the week is over.  This program is customized to best meet your needs and often includes menu engineering, food cost reduction, labor cost reduction, and overhead cost reduction.  The 7 day Restaurant Rescue costs $880 per month for 12 months if approved for financing or $8,800 without financing. This a fixed charge throughout the continental United States and there are no transportation charges to or from your location.  The only other charge is for meals and lodging while on-site.

We assist you with Guerilla Marketing – which is inexpensive marketing that you can do yourself.  We also assist you in developing one or more signature dishes that will provide your guests an unique experience they won’t be able to find anywhere else.

At Destination Restaurant Consulting we want you restaurant to succeed and be truly popular.  If you have made a mistake by offering a Groupon we are able to re-brand your image so that you can start out fresh.  Just give us a call at (800) 653-8575 or send us a message through our Contact Us page on


Tough Times Call for Smart Measures Part 3

18 Oct

Part three of our “Tough Times Call for Smart Measures” series. Refer to our previous blog posts for Parts 1 and 2.

How to Grow Your Restaurant the Cheap Way

A major asset that new restaurant operators have is the variety of inexpensive ways to grow a restaurant. Some tools focus on the marketing end and others focus on cutting costs in the kitchen. In the best of worlds, you can spread your efforts on growth across a variety of resources and follow these tips.

· Be willing to adjust: Don’t ring the same bell too many times. If something’s not working, there are many other marketing/purchasing opportunities to grow.
· Spread your attention: Don’t merely excel at social marketing or only pay attention to printing coupons. Mix it up to reach the widest audience.
· Work the phone: Challenge vendors to compete against each other and never be married to a single vendor.
· Get butts in the seats: Nobody wants to give anything away, but there’s a lot to be said for a new restaurant that looks crowded.
· Step out of your comfort zone: Trying something different is sometimes the best answer. Maybe you don’t know how to market to women, but a Ladies’ Night event can bring in a lot of new customers.

As is the case with your concept and menu, your low-cost growth efforts should be a reflection of your personality. Look around at what other restaurants are doing for a few new cost-efficient tricks up your sleeve.

Rewards Cards

Independents are at a disadvantage when battling against major national brands with a proven track record. Your best asset can be attracting return business, especially the kind of business you covet. Rewards cards are a great tool, letting you apply discounts for repeat visits or add credit based on a percentage of a total bill.

Make sure the cards themselves are classy—perhaps try a plastic credit card-like format with magnetic stripes for your POS terminals to read. Attach them to sectors you covet, such as a corporate card or a local business owner’s card.

Promotional Nights

Promotions are about marshaling word of mouth in your favor. Promotions are a great idea to find cheap ways to give people something to talk about. Promotions have to fit your concept. If you’re a fine-dining restaurant, make them a classy event. If you’re a pizza joint, make them family-oriented. If you’re a local independent, center them around a local event, such as a high school football game or a charitable cause.

Promotions that entail give-aways or reduced cost menus should go hand-in-hand with your vendors supplying you cheaper food/beverages. Hit up your suppliers for deals, or buy lower-cost proteins, liquor and wine. In the end, your promotions are mostly about enticing new guests and earning their long-term business. They’re not about one-time margin bumps.

Use Local Vendors

Local vendors are often looking for exposure. Offer your venue in exchange for reduced costs and you have a win-win. This may be a small return, such as pastry shop giving you cheap desserts to sell. But local vendors imply to your guests a local connection with the surrounding community. They signal local investment that can’t be found in a corporate restaurant.

Use Discounted Menus

Discounted menus have become pervasive in recent years, especially as a response to the challenges presented by the economy. Everyone from expensive steakhouses to mom-and-pops has tried discounted menus, and many of them have been successful.

Discounted menus should demonstrate value to be effective. They have to convey the same great food, service, and whatever else you’re known for, at a reduced cost. They should also have a catchy name and be well-advertised. They should make your guests say, “Hey, have you heard about Restaurant X’s “— —“ menu?”

Use Social Media

Believe it or not, Facebook and Twitter were created for people like you—the small business owner looking to grow his business without spending a dime. Facebook dovetails beautifully with this business because it’s the perfect platform to announce promotions, coupons, rewards cards, relationships with local vendors, discounted menus, or anything else on your mind. With social media carrying your torch, you’ll never have to buy a poorly viewed advertisement in a widely-ignored local newspaper again.

Whichever growth tools you use, be sure to stick with trial-and-error tactics and keep at it. This business offers ample opportunities to get the word out while keeping costs down.

How to Deal with Missing Inventory

Missing inventory can be the most frustrating challenge for a restaurant owner or manager. It’s difficult to imagine that people you bring into your business as employees are capable of stealing from you. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of this business that can plague any type of restaurant, regardless of the value of inventory or the type of surveillance methods that are in place.

The first step when learning of missing inventory is to do everything possible to eliminate the chance that it has been lost or misplaced. This can happen, especially in big kitchens with a large staff. The second step is to be sure of how much inventory is missing and how long it has been missing for.

It’s important to not assume that inventory has been stolen, even when it seems obvious. Misunderstandings can happen, such as when:

· Employees assume a product has gone bad.
· Employees consume inventory, thinking that it’s for everyone.
· Inventory gets tossed out because it’s old or damaged.
· Inventory is put away improperly.

If you’re certain that you are being victimized by internal theft, it’s important to find the perpetrator and make sure it never happens to you again.

When Inventory Grows Legs

It’s a horrible feeling – you suspect someone is pilfering your inventory but you’re unable to prove it. Many instances of petty theft start and end this way. For this reason, it’s important to take a few steps to limit the chance you’ll ever have this feeling again. If you have inventory with legs, take a little time to develop a few strategies.

· Catch them in the act: Surveillance cameras, inviting inventory and a few friends can help you catch a thief in the act. Try recreating the details of the initial theft and see if it happens again.
· Empower employees: The easiest way to find a thief is to encourage your staff to police themselves. Many employees will rise the occasion, and may even out a colleague for the best interests of the business.
· Hold a meeting: Meetings aren’t always productive, but they can be when the subject is employee theft. Nobody’s going to out themselves in front of their friends, but a good meeting can put everyone on high alert.
· Ask around: It can be surprising what employees know about fellow employees.

Make Sure it Never Happens Again

A few strategies can go a long way toward avoiding employee theft. The most important one is to count your inventory as much as possible. Counting inventory makes sure that your management team has its finger on the pulse of your assets, and that you know how much of everything you should have. Regular counting can be a deterrent to employees, who know that missing product will be uncovered quickly.

A few more strategies include…

· Install surveillance cameras: They can be expensive but worth it for restaurants with valuable inventory. Many restaurants use fake cameras, and this isn’t a terrible idea, as they can be a strong deterrent.
· Be present: Employees are far less likely to take something when they know that management can be anywhere at anytime. On the other hand, employees are emboldened when they’re certain that they’re not being watched.
· Limit employee access: Keep the number of people who have keys, alarm codes and PC access to the smallest possible number. In most cases, the number of people who have these tools shouldn’t be more than three.
· Discourage giveaways: Employees can get into the habit of giving away products to boost their tips. This is especially true behind the bar, where keeping track of liquor is an inexact science, to say the least. Remind your staff that giveaways are for managers only.
· Limit employee meals: Employees can overstep their boundaries when making employee meals. Be sure that your staff knows what’s available to them and what’s off limits.

There’s no sure-fire way to avoid employee theft, but a few easy-to-start strategies make it possible to limit the chance that it can ever happen in your restaurant.

Also, don’t forget that Destination Restaurant Consulting is here to do all of these things and more for your business, so if you need help, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-653-8575 or send us a message through the contact form at

Tough Times Call for Smart Measures Part 2

16 Oct

Part two of our “Tough Times Call for Smart Measures” series. Refer to our previous blog post for Part 1.

Use it, Then Use it Again

Having a plan for the food you order means having a back-up plan and another back-up plan. There are many standard ways to get rid of your product, and it’s important to be familiar with all of them.

· Reuse it in a soup: It’s amazing how many chicken soups are out there. Seafood can go in any chowder and any red meat combines well with vegetables. Don’t hesitate to trot a soup out for a few days and treat it kindly overnight.
· Reuse it in a stock: Foodies know the difference between a homemade stock and an instant powder. Non-foodies might also know the difference without being able to articulate it. Sure, you can make a beef or chicken stock, but a shellfish or seafood stock is a great sauce starter for entrees.
· Serve a buffet: There are many reasons to have a weekly buffet, and finding a home for your extras is one of them. Sure, buffets leave you with prepared food leftovers, but that’s what family meal is for. Just make sure it’s the end of the line for your buffet leftovers.
· Have specials: Every restaurant should have features as a way of trying something different or seasonal. Specials also let you buy a new protein and run it until it’s sold out. Be sure to vary your specials or challenge your staff to come up with new ways to serve the same protein.
· Sales contests: When you’re really trying to move a product, challenge your servers to sell it for you. You might be surprised to find out who is motivated on a given day.

Be Organized

An organized walk-in refrigerator and well-rotated reach-in boxes are the keys to throwing out nothing. That means you or a well-appointed employee has to manage the walk-in, and line cooks have to manage their work area. All of your storage areas should be cleaned every night, and all of your product should be rotated so that the newest is in the back and the oldest is up front.

Even well-organized and efficiently run kitchens have trouble with waste and spoiled food. This is especially true with produce that moves sporadically or which must be ordered in bulk. Ordering must coincide with a careful eye on revenue projections. In the end, organization and cleanliness really are a kitchen’s best friend.

These tips can also help you stay on top of waste.

· Use your freezer: You have it for more than just ice cream. If you sense protein you need to get rid of, don’t hesitate to toss it in the freezer until you’re able to use it.
· Put lids on trash cans: It may be an over-simplification, but lids tend to make people think for a moment about what they’re throwing away.
· Throw-away bins: Use a lexan container or other box to let employees place questionable food so that you can throw it away for them. A no-throwaway policy helps you decide when and why product is being thrown away, and how to discourage it in the future.

Follow these tools and you should be able to severely limit the food your have to toss. You might even be able to handle the holiday rush, turning that Thanksgiving turkey into five different soups, specials, casseroles and sandwiches before it becomes everyone’s favorite employee family meal.

Coming up in Part 3 of How to Endure the Hard Times:

How to Grow Your Restaurant the Cheap Way

Promotional Nights

Use Social Media

When Inventory Grows Legs

And more!

Also, don’t forget that Destination Restaurant Consulting is here to do all of these things and more for your business, so if you need help, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-653-8575 or send us a message through the contact form at

Tough Times Call for Smart Measures

11 Oct

An enormous number of restaurants around the country have been forced to learn on-the-fly how to endure through tough economic times. Different managers and owners handle this task in different ways, based on business philosophy and financial situation. However, a few essential rules stand out when it comes to guiding the business through rough waters. As much as anything in business, knowing what to do when times get tough involves knowing what not to do:

• Avoid knee-jerk reactions.
• Don’t overhaul the business.
• Don’t look like times are tough.
• Keep your eye on the big picture.

Sound easier said than done? Sure it is. But so is everything about the restaurant business. A few basic rules during the lean months makes is easier to come out of them like they never existed.

Demonstrate value, not discounts

The easiest way to convince your guests they’re getting a great deal by visiting your restaurant is not by issuing coupons. It’s through demonstrating value. That’s because the restaurant business is about the long haul, and discounts are about a solitary visit. Sure, they attract first-time clientele. But they also attract guests who wait until they receive the next discount.

Demonstrating value persists whether the customer is holding a coupon or not. Value is most often demonstrated through competitively low prices combined with excellent food and service, and these variables have to be maximized when times are tough. Slow times are when the front-of-the-house can most easily be revamped, the dining room can be most thoroughly cleaned, and the service staff can be most adequately coached up. Slow times are also for refining recipes, trying new fresh ingredients, and advertising low-cost specials. Combining these with price breaks, reduced cost menus or (gulp!) appetizer/dessert giveaways demonstrates value that will endure in the minds of clientle.

Shop Around

It’s easy to forget that food and beverage vendors feel tough economic times too. Instead of cutting corners, it’s worthwhile to stay on the phones, monitor commodity pricing, and avoid being married to individual vendors.

It’s also worth it to find ways to do it yourself whenever possible. It’s amazing how many restaurants never pare down item purchases during slow times. This includes:

• Making bacon bits instead of buying them.
• Making desserts and salad dressings instead of buying them whole.
• Making beef and chicken stocks overnight instead of buying powders or mixes.
• Sticking with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
• Avoiding out-of-season seafood.

Slow business leads to extra time that should be used wisely. Instead of cutting corners, get creative and choose to do it yourself.

Don’t Let Employees Go

It’s essential for operators to stay the course with respect to personnel. Letting employees go when times get difficult sends the wrong message to the rest of the staff. In many cases, it leaves the rest of your staff walking on eggshells, wondering who’ll be next.

Instead, cut back hours here and there and learn to live with a higher labor cost. This is when spending money to make money can get difficult. But the advantage of having an experienced staff who buys into to your mission and goals is worth a few extra bucks when it’s slow. It also contributes to happier employees, and tells guests that you run a thriving business, even when it’s a little less than thriving.

Don’t Let it Show

When the tough times run long, it’s easy to cut corners on front-of-the-house maintenance and cleaning. But shabby restaurants send the completely wrong message to your clientele, who will notice it subconsciously if they don’t mention it first-hand. Worn out booth seats, faulty toilets, and cracking tile contributes to low staff morale and undermines the experience you’re trying to create.

It’s important to remember the big picture, and the notion of do-it-yourself independence. This, again, can be easier said than done. But isn’t that the way of the world in the restaurant industry?

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

As hard as it can be to get outside your four walls when it’s busy, now is the time to get the message out about the value you’re working to demonstrate. Try something you’ve never tried before, such as.

• Special events: A well-planned charitable event or Ladies Night can galvanize your business.
• Special menus: Wine dinners and prix fixe menus convey new experiences and excitement to guests. When coupled with lower prices, they’re a great way to demonstrate value.
• Social marketing: Social marketing is not the end-all answer for life’s marketing answers. But it’s a great tool to augment traditional strategies, and it’s free. It often answers the question: How do my potential guests find me?
• Kick-ass lunches: At the mid-range and upscale level, a great lunch is more about putting people in the seats and less about margin. Have great prices and quality food, and watch your new lunch guests become hooked.

Success in this business is almost always about turning a restaurant around. Many of the best ideas in this industry sprung from necessity. Staying the course and being creative – while not always possible – are the best ways to keep a business on the right track.

How Your Kitchen Can Throw Away Nothing

Finding a way to use everything in a kitchen is a huge challenge for chefs and kitchen managers. If food costs are high, or if they could be lower, the first step might be to be more judicious about saving your product and using it wisely. A little organization and resourcefulness can maximize the earning potential of any kitchen, and make that food cost number look a little shinier.

There are many methods geared toward making sure your kitchen never throws anything away. But there’s only one proven answer and that’s vigilance. Watch over your food and your staff, make sure they’re following instructions, and have a plan for everything you bring into your building. And if those things don’t work, have a clearly placed waste sheet available to log everything you have to toss.


Coming up in Part 2 of How to Endure the Hard Times:

  • Be Organized
  • Use Social Media
  • When Inventory Grows Legs

And more!

Also, don’t forget that Destination Restaurant Consulting is here to do all of these things and more for your business, so if you need help, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-653-8575 or send us a message through the contact form at

Restaurant Costs are a Daily Affair

23 Jul

Remember the restaurant business of the 1980s? Everyone got together to do an inventory bright and early on the 1st (unless it was January 1st – then it was just early, barely). Steve and Joe did the kitchen, Jim and Marty counted the bar. Everybody was done by the time lunch began and the sheets were sent by facsimile machine to California. By the late afternoon, a fax would come back with the P+L for that month. The reaction would go like this:          The pour cost slipped up to 21.3% from 19.67% the month before. Time for a bartenders’ meeting! We need to raise awareness on not overpowering, and certainly repeat the grounds for termination language for giving away drinks or taking six-packs home with you. The same dance would go on in the kitchen. Everyone sits down and tries to figure out how to keep costs low. Usually the next month saw a modest drop-off in costs, but gradually they’d be historically higher in most cases.Chalk it up to “inflation”.          As “inflation” grew, savvy restaurant operators started looking at their P+L’s and inventories in a different light. Once a month was simply too long to find out you were letting the horse out of the barn. On a high-volume store like the one I managed, 1% of $350,000 in monthly sales meant that $3,500 in income had been LOST. 5% meant that $17,500 was LOST since the last P+L. Oops! Sorry, boss? No, they determined weekly P+Ls were needed tracking food and liquor purchases. Many pros went to weekly liquor and food inventories. Many even got creative and started tracking all those portions of liquor and food to make sure everything they bought was sold.          Several times a week, I’ll sit down with my P+L and enter the data. I can see in advance where my costs are trending as the totals are auto-divided into my projected food, liquor, beer, and wine sales. I use my weekly liquor inventory to order the bar items, keeping my inventory at an absolute minimum. The result is that the in-house inventory average of alcohol is $4,700 lower than it was when I took over ($12,000 to $7,300).          The parable of the frog in the boiling water pot is an apposite picture of the restaurant industry. It’s very easy to become complacent and think that “costs are rising” and “we’re not doing that bad”. Then one day a consultant comes in and shows you’re hundreds of thousands of dollars off the mark of the average 21st Century restaurant performance. The more consulting I do the more I see a shocking amount of money disappearing into the ether. If your business is trundling along with 1980s’ accounting methods and your costs exceed the following list, just do the math. And call a consultant like Destination Restaurant Consulting.
Typical costs after implementing up-to-date accounting and management methods. Food – 25% Liquor/Beer/Wine – 20% Labor Kitchen, food labor to food sales – 15% Dining Room – 7% (at a standard 67/33 food/bar ratio)

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Labor Law Risks

19 Mar

In one of my recent projects, the restaurant had devised a home-grown tip disbursement sheet. One of their executives had put together the mother-of-all-spreadsheets to track the tips, tip-outs, and net tip payments to each server, bartender, busser, barback, foodrunner, and expo. Staffers did not take their credit card tips home in cash every night. They had to wait two weeks till payday. This spreadsheet had a number of mistakes that are in violation of labor law. Oops!

There are many issues these days where restaurant owners don’t even know they are risking their business and their hard-earned money. For this reason, restaurant consultants scan the business practices not only for ways to make more money but to reduce risks like these. Read the excerpts below and check the full article. Afterward, consider if you should make an appointment with one of our experienced restaurant counselors at Destination Restaurant Consulting.

Here’s an article on Mario Batali’s restaurants in NYC from Kluger Healy LLC. I excerpted parts below so you can get an idea of the dangers many restaurant owners don’t even known they have. 

Last week, celebrity chef, Mario Batali, agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle a wage and hour litigation involving his restaurants in New York City. The settlement will end a class action lawsuit and establish a fund for over 1,000 captains, servers, waiters, bussers, back waiters, runners, barbacks and bartenders. The principal claim was that management deducted, from the tip pool, an amount equal to 4 to 5% of each shift’s wine and other beverage sales.
The Chef Batali settlement, which has received a great deal of media attention, demonstrates how vulnerable restaurants are to employment lawsuits and audits. In addition, while the publicity may empower employees to file claims against restaurants on their own, several plaintiff-side law firms – citing the Chef Batali settlement – have already begun trolling for new claimants.

And here’s a list of current common snafus with restaurateurs.

  • Sexual harassment and discrimination, combined with inadequate policies and complaint procedures
  • Impermissible wage deductions, especially relating to cash register shortages
  • Invalid tip credits and tip pooling arrangements
  • Improper charges or reimbursements relating to employee uniforms
  • Misclassification of the “exempt” status of managers, resulting in liability for overtime compensation
  • Insufficient meal breaks, particularly as to minors
  • Inappropriate use of employer-provided meals to offset wages
  • Discriminatory hiring practices as to servers and other front-of-the-house employees



13 Mar

“What do you recommend?” is the most common restaurant question in the universe. Believe it or not, it’s not that easy to answer in many restaurants. Struggling restaurants almost always have trouble with consistency in the kitchen, making this a dreaded question for servers. Successful restaurants like Cheesecake factory have a long track record of living up to their recommendations. I’ve had their Crusted Chicken Romano in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Winter Park, Florida; excellent each time. I Googled “best dishes at Cheesecake Factory” and came up with pages of recommendations; Louisana Chicken Pasta, Orange Chicken, Pasta DaVinci, the desserts, etc. Not that your restaurant is ever going to catch up to Cheesecake Factory, but, if you really can’t recommend a signature dish to your customers with confidence that they’ll be blown away by, you’re in trouble. What is your signature dish; THAT dish?

Cooking principles. The kitchen is the heart of a restaurant and, unfortunately, a high percentage of kitchens have regular heart attacks. The problem I see is that kitchens across the country are staffed with food assemblers; the kitchen’s version of the “order taker” in the front of the house. They saute, grill, heat up food in the oven, and populate the window with orders that were placed 10-20 minutes before. But they do NOT know how to cook! One of my signature dishes at Tequila Sunrise was the Seafood Crepe Pacifica. It was an invention – a variation on a French preparation, Fillet au Poivre in a cream sauce – so it wasn’t available anywhere else although it has since been copied. The most common mistake the cooks made was before the order came in. The sauce needed to be thickened with a roux. I threatened to fire them all if they didn’t cook the roux long enough. To them, as soon as the roux became stiff (butter and flour), it seemed logical to take it off the stove. After I explained that the gluten had to be cooked out so the sauces wouldn’t taste chalky, and an almond smell was the queue to take it off the stove, [and, again, they would be fired the next time they didn’t follow through] everything was fine. Long story short, they couldn’t be trusted to make a spectacular dish until they knew what MADE it spectacular. Train your cooks to be chefs.

Qualities of a signature dish. Each needs to be thoroughly vetted, going through the process of menu planning. A signature dish can start as a chef’s special, an even better way of gauging popularity before going on the menu. Star dishes must have presentation, taste, value, and uniqueness.

Presentation. All signature dishes have a head-turning ability. Try to draw attention to it through the presentation. Go all out. How many times have you ordered something that you saw pass by on the way to another table? Cafe Emunah in Fort Lauderdale has a mixed beet salad (the Arizal) that’s topped with a tall stack of fried Vidalia onions. I ordered it just on appearance, and I was in love with the taste. A signature dish should be visually exciting. The aforementioned Crusted Chicken Romano is served raised on a bed of pasta with a pink sauce. It looks like a lot of food and it looksdelicious, as all signature dishes should.

Taste. Obviously, a signature dish should taste extraordinary. What is the flavor profile? Chef Angus An states, “It’s more about tasting a dish and understanding the flavor.” I try to imagine who I know would favorite this dish. I abhor steak and sweets, but crave savory foods like shellfish, salmon, and fried white fish. I have a brother-in-law who loves steaks, creams, and sweets. While a lot more research is to be done on what people crave, it’s important to classify the type of client for each dish and not cross flavor profiles that don’t mix. A good example of this is a Salmon in Mole Poblano with fruit salad that was rarely ordered at one restaurant I managed. While it looked nice, the fruit crashed the whole dish.

Value. The customer will have a value in mind for what a dish is worth. This value is thought of in advance. If you’re lucky enough to run a dish to a nearby table, and the customer says, “I gotta have that!”, good for you. However, price points are born in the minds of customers who often have not seen nor tasted the product. The customer is logically influenced by what is in his pocket to pay for the dish. And all that is OK, what you want is that dish that draws people out time after time. And then to populate the menu with as many such dishes as possible, as Cheesecake Factory has. The key is to find the customers’ price point and craft a recipe that gives you a food cost that you can live with. Once people are hooked, you can subtly increase the margins. But be careful. Watch your p-mixes after a price increase. If sales drop off for that item, the clientele is telling you that you’re exceeding their price point. A good hint that the public will pay a little more is if the number of dishes sold of the signature item has consistently increased over the last 6 months. [While price increases drive down costs, keep in mind they drive down volume IF your business is not showing the growth to qualify the increase.]

Uniqueness. This is the least important signature dish attribute but deserves a note. A Shrimp and Morel Pasta Stew will draw more attention than your Signature Burger. Like any trend, he who is at the start of a trend is better off than the guy who gets into the game late. It’s better to be a trendsetter than try to make a better burger, although that doesn’t hurt. Not everything on the menu can be a signature dish.

Not all diners are risk takers. My brother ordered a hamburger at a famous eatery on Bourbon Street in New Orleans [did I forgive him?]. But unique offerings do help to draw in that independent eater, the foodie, who usually sways the group. The foodie is to the restaurant industry what the independent voter is to national elections. Which is why THAT SIGNATURE DISH can make or break you.

DTT’s Loss Prevention Program

13 Mar

Ask your managers what they would do to prevent losses. The paltry responses might surprise you…unpleasantly. How many managers really audit their inventories, or peruse the opening and closing alarm lists, or look for checks with odd totals or excessive coupon deductions? The truth is most managers are reactive; that is, they deal with problems only when they are brought to their attention. Even managers who see problems happening often see only the same problems while huge losses are unbeknownst to them. Watch this video to get an idea of what surveillance technology is available. To me, this software replaces a manager and potentially eliminates an assistant area supervisor. How much is that worth to you? 

The 40 Thieves of Food Cost

9 Mar


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4 Mar

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