Thrillist writes Article on the Horrors of Being a Female Chef

First, let me be clear, I have no "chip on my shoulder" regarding my years in a professional kitchen, actually, quite opposite. I reflect on my time in the kitchen as character building years that transformed me into the wiser, creative and proud woman I am today. But, it's still fun to talk about the horrors of being a woman (and leader!) in the male dominated world of professional kitchens. Many truths here... but also just a great read!

10 Commandments of Being a NYC Chef (or Birmingham!)

Here's a fun illustration from one of my favs, Food Republic, Andrew Carmellini's 10 Commandments to being a NYC Chef (source). Andrew Carmellini has worked in some amazing kitchens, earned michelin stars, james Beard, opened restaurants…. and spent time abroad learning in France and Italy. Learn more about him here

Infographic: The 10 Commandments Of Being An NYC Chef

How is Your Restaurant Adapting to Higher Beef Prices?

Record breaking droughts, rising fuel prices and a lingering corn shortage has driven beef prices to an all time high. Local restaurants are left with hard choices: change their menus, raise prices or eat the higher costs. Beef prices hit an all time high just before Memorial Day weekend and are unlikely to come down until July.

The catalyst for the shortage started in 2008 as the price for feed and fuel surged, which should've raised beef prices back then had we not entered into a deep recession cutting  the demand. As the economy began to recover in 2011, higher prices for corn and soy beans caused a rise in feed prices forcing ranchers to cull their cattle because they couldn’t afford to feed them. Today, demand is back up yet we are experiencing the smallest number of cattle in the national herd in decades. Considering it takes 3 years to go from pregnant to slaughter ready there is no quick way to build up the supply. Some say it could be next year before we see a substantial increase in supply.

Here are some strategies to save you money:

  • Take a daily meat inventory to keep a closer eye on waste and theft.
  • Sit down with your local sales rep to find alternative cost-saving cuts without diminishing quality and flavor.
  • Evaluate portion sizes to find ways to trim the cost per dish and re-train all employees on the importance of portion control.
  • Create special entrees or appetizers incorporating beef that allows you to make cost adjustments and get your staff excited about selling it. This could take the heat off a less profitable dish without the hassle of a menu change.

Restaurants have to get creative and be flexible in their offerings as consumers will only pay so much to absorb rising beef prices. How best to adapt to the rising costs depends on your individual operation so if you’d like an expert analysis, a restaurant consultant can help you find solutions for your business.

 Originally published 6/6/13

Increase Restaurant Sales with a Successful Take-Out Business

Take-out creates additional revenue and extends your brand outside of the dining room with minimal costs or impact to your business.  In todays fast-paced world, take-out service is the fastest growing revenue segment in the industry. The primary force driving this trend is higher income families, who have already proven they will pay more for higher quality, convenient meals for their families. But you’ve got one shot at getting it right so attention to detail is critical. Mistakes in the dining room are more easily detected and corrected. Mistakes after a guest gets home with a take-out meal are more frustrating and if not caught, will damage your reputation. Most restaurants underestimate the benefit of a successful take-out program.

Here are steps you can take to help your restaurant get it right:

  • Designate a staff member (bartender, hostess, lead server) to handle all take out orders and train them on treating take-out guests as they would any guests sitting in front of them. Create a procedure to ensure efficiency and the best experience possible for your guests.
  • Invest in quality packaging to ensure proper insulation, minimize the risk of spillage or specific containers for your type of food. Take out packaging is an effective billboard for your business so have containers, cups and bags with your logo or restaurant name. Customized packaging has come a long way and the cost are not as expensive as you might think. There are local companies that specialize in restaurant packaging so ask your local foodservice sales rep for recommendations.
  • Presentation is just as important in take-out as in the dining room. Train your kitchen staff to plate take-out the same as they would for a plate going into the dining room.
  • When the guest arrives to pick up their meal, go over the order with them to catch mistakes before they leave the restaurant.
  • Follow up with a courtesy call within an hour to ensure the guest was satisfied with their experience. This shows you care and allows a chance to correct a negative experience.

But of course, you have to build the business in order to increase restaurant sales so there are several ways in which you can get the word out. If you don’t have the manpower to put feet on the streets, utilize local delivery companies to market your take-out business for you.  Use existing loyalty programs by offering extra points  for take-out meals. Employ a viral marketing strategy with small, unexpected surprises like pre-printed thank you notes signed by the manager on staff or give every 12th take-out order a certificate for a free appetizer or dessert.

Every business is looking for new ways to reach people and increase restaurant sales so why let an easy revenue builder go underutilized or unmanaged. Whether you’re a quick service or fine dining establishment, you increase your sales anywhere from 10-70% with an effective program.

Originally published 5/21/13

The Real Impact of the Affordable Health Care Act

Despite the outcry from large franchise companies like Darden, KFC, and Jimmy John’s last fall, the impact of the Affordable Care Act may not be as great as expected. According to an article in Forbes, 96% of the small businesses in the US have fewer than 50 employees, so many will be excluded from the new requirements. As most companies make their way through the pages and pages of details on the new program, many are cutting their cost outlook by as much as 80%.

Chances are if you have a company with 50 or more full time employees, you are already preparing for the changes ahead. As staff levels in 2013 establish your status for 2014, time is running out for you to decide how you will comply with the new law and finance the expense. To determine your status, you can either take an average number of employees over the entire 12 months or calculate the number of employees for a consecutive 6 month period.

So if you’ve haven’t decided yet, consider the following case study from the New York Times on a wholesale bakery in San Diego to help you understand the REAL impact:

Bakery in the Sun

 95 employees

 Option 1  - Pay for Insurance

Insurance companies have yet determined the cost of a policy that meets the law requirement so these figures are preliminary. But basically, it breaks down to a little under $200 a month per employee since the company and the employee each pay half.

Cost $108K

Options 2 - Pay the Penalties

For companies who opt not to provide insurance will be penalized with a “employer shared responsibility payment.” Those penalties are $2K per employee for the year but the law exempts the first 30 employees. An added benefit to this option would be that the company would not have to spend the time and money managing the plan which could easily cost another $10K.

Cost $130K

Option 3 - Reduce the Staff and Outsource 

The company could reduce staff levels to under 50 employees by outsourcing certain jobs, hiring drivers as independent contractors, cutting the least profitable routes or reducing the variety of items produced. Which raises concerns over quality and efficiency. More so, how much more expensive would it be to outsource those jobs then just paying for the coverage.

Many restaurants are considering raising pricing or reducing product produced in order to combat these cost but this could adversely affect sales. Ironically, companies who surpassed the competition could lose competitiveness in terms of price if they raise pricing.

There are several positives the should be mentioned as well. Offering health benefits strengthens the health of your employees, your community and your business. As our example illustrates, paying the cost of insurance could be less than paying the penalties. Plus the costs could be even lower as many employees under the age of 26 will be covered under their parents policies, others will have spouses with coverage and some will simply choose not to take it.

While the concerns and uncertainty are valid, there are many reasons to believe that most restaurants will find ways to combat these costs and provide coverage to their employees which is the point of the Affordable Care Act.  And as more companies pay into the system, the cost increases will slow down and insurance companies will come up with better options for employers after the first year.

If you are in need of some assistance determining costs and requirements for your business, a restaurant coach could do the work for you.

Originally published 5/2/13

Fear No Gluten

In the 70s, we avoided sugar. In the 80‘s, it was fat. Then fat was in and carbs were out. Today, roughly 29% of Americans are trying to avoid gluten in their diet. Some say it is simply an expansion of the low carb trend but an estimated 21,000 people suffer from celiac disease or are gluten sensitive. For others, it’s a lifestyle choice of wellness. Chances are, there is at least one person at every table in your restaurant avoiding gluten. And the amount of money people are spending on gluten-free products is staggering. According to the market research group, Packaged Facts, the gluten-free market brought in $4.2 billion last year and estimates that number to be $6.6 billion by 2017. So this presents a great opportunity for restaurant owners to differentiate themselves and offer their customers more benefit.

Here are a few ways to start a gluten free program in your restaurant:

  • Analyze your menu and recipes to identify which items are gluten free or easily modified. Seek expert advice on what to avoid and add creative substitutions.
  • Obtain training for all staff and management on how to safely execute a gluten free program. The National Foundation of Celiac Awareness offers a training video for restaurants.
  • Create a separate environment for the production of gluten free items.
  • Inform your customers through printed materials, social media and by registering with mobile apps like FindMeGlutenFree and AllergyEats.

Restaurants that add gluten free options typically experience an 8% increase in sales as a result. So it pays to put the time and effort to into developing a program for your restaurant.

 Originally published 4/16/13

Good Food Movement

America is in the midst of a food revolution and it is impacting the restaurant industry in a dramatic way. No one can predict exactly how it will turn out. But be assured; amid rampant obesity, type 2 diabetes, GMOs, food deserts, and high fructose corn syrup; the factory to table model is on the way out.

Todays food culture is about authenticity, craftsmanship, heritage and flavor. This movement started over 40 years ago with people like Alice Waters and Julia Child. The environmental movement changed the way we feel about farming and fishing. Look out into the food-scape and what do you see? The variety of foods available in decent supermarkets is astounding, artisanal food making is all the rage, farmers markets have spread like wild fire. It’s not just about local either, it’s global. The internet has broadened our taste and desires.

What does all of this mean to the restaurant owner trying to understand and respond to the changing expectations of diners? A new generation of diners has emerged. Generation X tends to snack more, embrace exotic foods, demand higher quality, buy local and are a prime targets for convenience, premium and ethnic foods. The Millennials are the most food savvy and are the real drivers of new dining concepts built around fusion of cuisines, service styles, themes and technology. It’s not just foodies and food activists any longer.

You have to stay ahead of the curve. You have to rethink your menu offerings, where you buy your goods, the technology you offer your guests, how you train your staff and the way you market yourself.

The status quo won’t keep you competitive.

Originally published 4/9/13

Critical Branding for Restaurants

Why is branding so important to restaurants? Whether you have one restaurant or a start up chain, branding is the beacon that your employees, customers and managers follow. As an operator, you don’t want the brand to be defined by the consumer. You must think about what your brand is. According to the blogger, Seth Godin:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

In a restaurant you’re not just selling great food, you’re selling a branded experience. In order to effectively communicate with your customers, you need to have a clear picture of your brand identity.

Here are 10 critical elements for restaurant branding:

  • Define the principles of your brand

Define the guiding values that inform and shape every decision.

  • Create the narrative of the ideal guest experience

Recognize the real reason your customers are buying your brand. It’s not about the tangibles, it’s about the emotion and desire.

  • Establish the commitments that are the foundation of your brand

Go deep, what gets you out of bed everyday? Most brands are driven by individuals with personal stories that fuel company values. Profit is rarely the prime reason.

What is your story?

What are the promises do you make to your customers?

What benefits are you offering your customers?

What experiences do you want your customer to have?

  • Design your space

Not just the physical, the imaginary experience too. Bring it to life.

  • Understand what your guest and employees bring to the table

The people in your brand are essential. You can teach skills but not values. Uncover your guest’s expectations when choosing you over another brand by getting feedback. Define and communicate what each member of your team brings to the guest experience.

  • Create WOW

Design your brand with a distinctive WOW, either in your atmosphere, hospitality or presentation. WOWs can be tangible or emotional. This is where the power of your story is shown.

  • Be intentional with the equipment and elements within your space

Does it further your story and purpose?

  • Decide what you’re worth based on your guests experience, not just the product or service

Prepare a comparative chart of pricing with direct competitors.

  • Seek Buzz, scripted or not

Evaluate what avenues are available and in tune with your brand

  • Recognize, reiterate and reward

Reward the right behaviors every shift, every minute. Empower your employees to engage and do whatever it takes to serve the guests purpose.

The most remarkable brands are innovative, focused, passionate, consistent, adaptable, motivating and distinct. You owe it to yourself to make sure that your brand is built with these same traits. Then live it!

Originally published 4/3/13

Do You Have A Finger On The Pulse Of Your Business?

Having a finger on the pulse of your business means having control of your costs. And cost control is a living, breathing entity requiring constant management and involves every step of receiving, storing, utilization, preparation and execution.

Cost controls are more about controlling people than controlling things. Food doesn’t walk out the door on it’s own, liquor doesn’t over-pour itself, and payroll isn’t wrong unless someone gives inaccurate numbers. In each of these instances, the problem is a result of human action or lack of it. In order for your business to be profitable and to reach your financial goals, you must direct, regulate and restrain the action of your employees.

Here are some 12 ways you can implement cost controls in your business:

  • Establish recipe standards to eliminate inconsistency and wasted product.
  • Create a receiving procedure to ensure quality product is delivered to your door.
  • Implement portion controls to ensure consistency and manage food/beverage cost.
  • Analyze sales history to identify trends to help you manage product purchasing.
  • Take the time to train your employees on standard operating procedures and set an example by following your own rules.
  • Study product mixes to alert you of discrepancies between purchasing and sales.
  • Implement monthly inventories on all food and beverages.
  • Review past invoices to ensure correct pricing from your vendors.
  • Inventory costly items weekly to ensure against waste and theft.
  • Don't be afraid to observe and correct employees, they want to succeed.
  • Hold management and employees accountable.
  • Prepare and follow budgets to achieve your financials goals.

If your goal is to be the best restaurant in the city, you've got to have the controls in place to ensure quality products, training to deliver quality service and a profitable business to keep it all going. Some of these tasks are relatively easy to implement, while others may require outside help.


Harnessing the Power of Social Media

If you’re not a believer in the power of social media, consider online fashion retailer Nasty Gal. Sophia Amoruso founded Nasty Gal in 2006 on Ebay by featuring designer items found at Goodwill. She styled, photographed and shipped each product by herself selling about 25 items per week while building an audience on Myspace. Realizing her potential, she moved to Facebook and began engaging daily with her followers on future product, promotions and gift cards. She has no marketing department and yet she has more than a million followers between Facebook and Instagram. Last year she generated just shy of $100 million and Urban Outfitters may be about to buy her. How did she do it? A commitment to engage with her audience. Sophia probably had a lot more time to devote to building her online campaign than you, but think about how much awareness you could create by dedicating 15% of your time to social media.

Facebook is limited to a one way conversation. You make a post or tag a fan in a photo, in turn, they share, comment or like it. Twitter, on the other hand, is real time and interactive. It is a 2 way conversation and you may not even be directly involved in that conversation. As an operator, you can search Twitter and other applications to find out who and what people are saying about your brand, and respond accordingly. The game changers for restaurants in 2013 are Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. While there are sexier emerging platforms out there, learning how to effectively utilize these existing platforms will benefit you the most.

People are visually focused so Pinterest and Instagram are huge for teens and adults. You can tell a user about a fantastic burger on your menu but you get more impact through an image of the fantastic burger. Even more important is when a guests post a picture of your fantastic burger. Not only are getting the value from the image but it’s also a form of referral to other users. You can further extend your brand by showcasing special events or people just enjoying your restaurant.

Equally important is your mobile search, through the use of geo-location, people are turning to their smartphones and friends for recommendations on where to eat. So leverage Yelp, FourSquare, Google Places and UrbanSpoon to your benefit. Youtube can provide restaurants with long-form commercials and the chance of going viral. Some say it could become the Food Network of the internet. The bottom line is that all of these applications allow you to reach an audience who may otherwise not be exposed to your brand.

Here are 4 simple steps to getting started:

  • Build Awareness by putting your restaurant out there so people can find you.
  • Educate your audience by letting them know what you do, your hours of operations, and about special events.
  • Build followers by following people who check-in, comment or share about your restaurant. Promote your online profile with traditional advertisement, menus and website.
  • Create a relationship by engaging with your customers for feedback and thanking them for their patronage. Content is crucial so share recipes and pictures that give them insight to what you offer. Get your employees to share pictures of daily specials, new menu items and signature cocktails.

Rather than thinking of social media as just a tool, make it a part of your mission. Develop a strategy that handles the good (promotions) and the bad (complaints). And commit the time and resources to achieve your goals. Find the right platform that is relevant to your brand, your customers and your employees.

Originally published 3/28/13

Unfussy and French

French bistros were the original pop up restaurant. As a way to earn extra money, landlords would open their kitchens to the public. As the concept took hold and grew from the basements, a more specific cuisine was formed. The food was simple, moderately priced in a comfortable atmosphere. On a recent visit to a french bistro here in town, I was pleased to experience classic french comfort. From the moment you walk into the door, the feeling is warmth and simple elegance.  You are quietly ushered to your small, intimate table passing a mixed audience of ages and professions. The walls are a deep orange with retro sconces alternated between antiqued mirrors, a high banquette with exposed brick, high ceilings, lots of natural light and the original flooring. The decor speaks from the heart of what a french bistro should be; simple, comfortable elegance.

The service was attentive, knowledgable and well trained. The menu was modest with the usual bistro suspects. First course was Pomme Frites and a Spring Corn Chowder. The frites were hand cut, consistent in size, seasoned, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. They were perfection with their lemon infused mayonnaise. The chowder was light, full of fresh ingredients and flavorful.  Next were Crawfish Crepes and Quiche Lorraine. The crepes were not lacking in filling, although, a white wine butter sauce would’ve taken them to another level. The pickled red onions were fine but the haricot verts had no flavor at all. I would recommend increasing the haricots to an actual side portion and tossing them in a shallot butter for flavor. If it’s on the plate, it should taste good! Next was Quiche Lorraine served with a side salad. The quiche itself was delicious with a buttery crust and a bacon filled custard. There was a balsamic glaze used to decorate the plate but it would’ve been better served on the side salad which was dressed in olive oil only. There were little piles of unappealing diced tomatoes as a garnish. I would recommend tossing the salad in a vinaigrette with grape tomatoes and haricot verts, which would have added the color they were looking to achieve. For dessert, we had the beignets. They were New Orleans style with powdered sugar, although well prepared, I wanted a sauce to dip them into.

Overall, our experience was great and I would recommend this restaurant to many people. This restaurant is a great example of having the fundamentals right.  It’s not fancy, nor should be. An investment in the atmosphere, a simple menu prepared well, and trained staff to deliver it can create real value and experience.

 Originally published 3/22/13


Build It And They Will Come

Are your first quarter numbers sagging? Economic uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff and the sequester have had an noticeable impact on restaurants sales in the first quarter. A well-designed loyalty program may be the medicine for what ails your business. As discounts deals like Groupon are on the decline, loyalty programs are on the rise.

According to an independent study by a loyalty program consultant group, diners are 35% more likely to increase their visits to an establishment with a value added rewards program and nearly two thirds of consumers would recommend a restaurant to others if that restaurant has an appealing rewards program.

Here are some helpful tips on creating a quality program for your restaurant:

  • Consumers prefer a clearly-defined points system over punch cards. Punch cards have become generic and one dimensional tools for building loyalty as customer’s no longer place much value on them.
  • Make the enrollment process uncomplicated on the front end, gather additional information online afterwards. Loyalty programs are a great way to gather behavioral data, collect contact information, and they are an added incentive for customers to choose your restaurant over your competitor.
  • Most consumers would be willing to pay for a program but only if the program is of adequate value. Remember this is about building loyalty by offering incentives to your guests without a huge cost to your business.
  • If you have more than one concept, you can increase your appeal by offering a rewards programs that covers all of your restaurants. Or team up with a local restaurant organization that can offer a comprehensive rewards program for all participating restaurants.

Finding the right loyalty program for your brand can create long term benefits to your customers and your business. You can offer programs where rewards are automatic, redeemable at different levels determined by the customer, discounts on purchases or frequency based.

Chef U Consulting can help you determine and implement the right program for your brand.   

Originally published 3/15/13

How Do You Define Success?

To a small business owner, an employee or anyone, there is only one definition of success that matters. How happy am I? Success means different things to different people. In business (and life), there are choices and tradeoffs. And the tradeoffs are unavoidable. You can try to compartmentalize it all you want but each aspect of your business cannot be separated from one another. Each is a permanent part of the whole. You can’t focus on one area without letting go in another.

Want to make more money? You can, but something has to give.

You want to be a more popular restaurant? You can, but something has to change.

Want more time for your personal life? You can, if you create a system that will free you.

Want better service? You can have it, if you give them the tools to give it.

What is it you want to achieve in your business? You can get there, if you have a clear vision of where you are and a plan to get there.

Intentions matter but results matter even more. If you are doing all you can and you’re still not happy, you should rethink your strategy. If you are happy, then you are successful!

Chef U Consulting offers a 3 day intensive business analysis to help get you back on the road to success. 

Originally published 3/13/13

A Successful Seafood Program Can Boost Your Revenues

About two thirds of the seafood consumed in the united states occurs in restaurants so having a quality program can boost your revenues. Todays diner is more sophisticated, health conscious and educated so the demand for quality has never been greater. Seafood is a blank canvas for creativity and utilization but it requires good management. 

Here are basic guidelines to follow when designing a quality seafood program:

  • Only buy from a reputable supplier. How it is stored, packed and shipped affects the shelf life. There are many variables to shelf life but on average you get 4 days if properly handled.
  • Manage your purchasing to minimize holding times and spoilage.
  • Train your staff to correctly receive fresh seafood at the door. It eliminates issues with getting credits from purveyors, heads off potential 86‘d items and reduces the chances you’re stuck with substandard quality.
  • Proper storage and rotation is the key to maximizing shelf life in-house. Fresh seafood should be stored in a 40 degree cooler, protected from moisture and not sitting in melted ice.
  • Having expert knowledge of fresh seafood can maximize your profitability by knowing when you can use frozen versus fresh while still maintaining the delicate flavor and texture. Today’s frozen market has many high end products that maintain freshness longer at a lower cost.
  • Ensure consistency and proper execution by expertly training your staff to cook it correctly.
  • Oceana North America revealed last summer that mislabeling of fish is prevalent in the industry, don’t get caught up in that net.

Fresh, quality seafood, prepared simply will sell itself so it pays to get expert advice.

Chef U Consulting can help you by creating unforgettable dishes, training your staff in proper handling and educating your servers to effectively sell it. 

Originally published 3/6/13

What Type of Restaurant Owner Are You?

Restauranteurs are a gritty group of individuals. You are tough, creative, dedicated, highly motivated, action-oriented, hard working and willing to put in the long hours necessary to build your business. But how effective are you at running it? Are you a “CEO” or “Employee” owner? Are you drowning in the minutiae of daily operations? By creating a system, you can ensure your restaurant runs the way you want it independent of you. A system is also how you get extraordinary results from ordinary people. Your first thought may be that a system will take away from the creativeness and individuality of your restaurant but they make real business sense.

There are 3 major functions of a restaurant that must be managed competently to produce a successful business: operations, financial and marketing. How much better would your business be if you could focus your energy on building those aspects of your business? How valuable would it be to actually know how your restaurant is performing and if your marketing is paying off? If you’re constantly running the restaurant. your time is limited to strategize, to create new marketing programs or take advantage of new business opportunities.

Here are the 7 benefits of creating a system:

  • Creating checklist, forms, procedures and manuals helps to alleviate the usual dis-organization and confusion in the start up phase.
  • Good people want to work for good companies that are serious about what they do.
  • Provides a clear understanding for employees of what is expected and how they can be successful.
  • Allows your employees to repeatedly give your customer’s a consistent product. Consistency is the key to creating a good reputation and loyal, repeat customers.
  • Increases your chances to raise capital for expansion by giving investors confidence in your business.
  • Increases the value of your business should you want to sell. Owner dependent businesses are worth less than those that function independently.
  • Gives you the greater chance of success by allowing you to live a more balanced life. Burn-out is one of the major reasons restaurants close.

Creating a system for every procedure in your restaurant can be an intimidating and daunting task. Break it down into manageable parts and start with the tasks that have the most direct or profound impact on your guest’s experience. Get your staffs involvement and support from the beginning. Operators that take the time and effort to create the system enjoy huge benefits over those that don’t.

Chef U Consulting can help you develop a system for your restaurant. 

Originally published 3/4/13

Great Restaurants Aim Higher

On a busy Saturday night, in one of Birmingham’s best, I am reminded that great restaurants are more than the space they inhabit, more than the words on their menu or the people that deliver it. They understand the experience people want, they invest in the structure to give their customers consistency, demand the best from their employees and as such, they offer more to their communities. The quality and execution of your food is the single most important aspect to the success of your restaurant. You can have the best location but if the food is not memorable, your success will be limited. You can have missteps in service but if the food is unforgettable, they’ll forgive you in those instances. Guests don’t quibble over price when they feel it was worth every penny.

Many operators have experience in other restaurants, they can assemble an interesting menu but the real talent of a creative chef is in the recipes and the execution. You wouldn’t hire a nurse to do a surgeon's job, then why would you hire a manager to do a chef’s job?

Chef U Consulting can give you the talent of a chef without the commitment of a salary.

Originally published 2/28/13

Menu Engineering: How It Can Help Drive Your Profits

Menus come in many styles, sizes, colors, materials, and fonts but they all have one major component in common; menus are the most effective tool in communicating with your customer. Menu engineering is “how” you can entice your customer’s to spend more money and drive profitability.

Here are 7 basic strategies to consider when designing your menu:

  1. The amount of menu descriptions depends on the level of service you intend to offer. If you’re a fast casual establishment, then your descriptions have to convey how the dish will look and taste. But if you’re a fine dining establishment,  then you can pare down descriptions to pertinent ingredients because you’re depending on the server’s ability to provide your customers with more detail.
  2. Bigger is not better when it comes to menus. How much value can you offer when you have to make substandard decisions about quality in order to maintain a large inventory? You’ll get more value by carefully selecting menu items that offer wide range appeal, cross utilizing ingredients and making execution easier. This will offer your guests more experience than the mega chain with a book for a menu.
  3. Our eyes naturally drift to the upper right hand corner so this is your prime real estate.  If you place a signature item here, especially if it’s highlighted it with a border or graphics, you will sell more. Another way to capitalize on this prime real estate is to place a higher priced item, called an anchor or decoy, so the dishes afterwards seem less expensive.
  4. Organization and placement are key to maximizing the profitability of your dishes. If an item is less approachable and/or more profitable, placing it just above the midline will increase it’s move-ability. Conversely, standard items that always sell should be located near the bottom.
  5. In todays financial climate, minimizing the impact of cost is important. You draw less attention and gain more perceived value by not using dollar signs, rounding to the nearest quarters versus the 99s, and eliminating unnecessary zeros.
  6. While photos are effective at selling items, not all menus should have them. Pictures  are generally associated with lowbrow establishments. Alternately, you can highlight items and add design elements with graphics while still keeping your integrity.
  7. Keeping your menu updated is a great way to adjust to changing availability and costs but it doesn’t work for every restaurant. But even restaurants with a well established customer base should periodically re-examine their menu to ensure that you are still capturing the most profits you can.

Chef U Consulting can help you find the magic combination with new menu items, re-designs and seasonal changes.

Originally published 2/25/13

Is a Restaurant Consultant the Right Choice for your Business?

It’s understandable to be weary of an outsider telling you how to run your business but the truth is every business benefits from an objective perspective, innovative ideas, and specialized talent. Good consultants bring experience and contacts from other successful operations that could offer insightful solutions. Too often, operators let their problems build up trying to tough it out or get so turn around they can’t determine what’s a symptom and what’s the actual problem. The restaurant business is complex so having a partner to help achieve your vision for your business can get you there faster.

Here are 4 ways a restaurant consultant can help you:

  1. Concept Creation, Re-Branding or Expansion
  2. Time Intensive Projects (i.e. Cost Controls, Standardized Recipes, Inventory, Training Materials, Wine Programs, Cocktail Programs)
  3. Marketing Solutions & Growth Strategies
  4. Operational Systems & Procedures

Depending on what you’re facing, it may be hard to open your checkbook for something without an immediate return. Most operators become their own best consultant, it’s part of the make-up of every entrepreneur but sometimes that’s the problem exactly. Have you ever looked at your business and wondered if you had invested in the structure, where you would be today? It’s a question most of us end up asking in the life of our business.

Before you start looking for a consultant, you should ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you going to be able to listen to a consultant and act upon their suggestions?

No consultant can save a lazy operator and they’re risking their reputation on the success of your establishment.

2. Do you have a clear understanding of what your underlying problems are?

Understanding your problems clearly allows you to communicate them directly to your consultant so they can correctly assess your business.

3. What is your definition of success?

What will your restaurant look and act like after the consultant leaves.

4. What is the value of a solution to your problem?

If it’s going to save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run, then what are you willing to pay in the short term.

Chef U Consulting can sit down with you and learn about the problems facing your business so we can help find real solutions! 

Originally published 2/13/13