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Experts share food safety best practices to keep restaurants, customers safe

Restaurant food safety practices and procedures are no longer just the realm of supply chain executives or back-of-the-house employees. Learn tactics from the experts to help keep your restaurant and customers safe in this article from RestaurantNews.com written by Sarah E. Lockyer.

Food safety has become top of mind for consumers, and many of them are concerned, quick to judge and can be furious when natural disasters, water supply issues or outbreaks challenge restaurants. Conversations on social media, along with an increasing number of vocal food activists, are helping to feed what can quickly become a frenzy.

Tactics to keep restaurants and customers safe, both from an operational standpoint and a brand marketing perspective, were the key takeaways at this year’s Food Safety Symposium in Newport, R.I. The two-day conference is an invite-only event sponsored by Ecolab and produced by Nation’s Restaurant News.

Nearly 40 food safety professionals, as well as experts on supply chain, legal matters and social communication, discussed ways foodservice operations can build systems and communicate action plans aimed at keeping employees and guests safe.

Attendee and panelist Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president, food safety and quality assurance at US Foods, best summed up the changing environment for foodservice safety: “It used to be behind closed doors; now it’s in the public, and it can hit you hard.”

Opening keynote speaker Dr. Benjamin Chapman, assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, discussed where food safety and social media intersect.

“If you are sitting in the audience saying I don’t get social media, I don’t need to know about it, you are looking into the cannon to see if it’s loaded,” Chapman said. “The traditional media process does not exist today as it did in the past.”

Restaurants need to listen, not hide from mistakes, engage the audience and provide evidence of correction or safety — all via social media channels — when food becomes suspect or confirmed instances of sickness, food supply issues or safety issues arise.

A new breed of “food e-vangelists,” Chapman said, has become extremely active in spotting potential issues at restaurants or food brands and spreading the word through their own networks, some of which total in the millions. These socially committed consumers tend to be female, under the age of 35 years old, have families — and generate about 1.6 million conversations about food every week on Facebook and Twitter.

But this group is also open to conversations from food brands — especially if they shed light on practices, supply chain and employee or guest safety.

“They are looking for engagement,” Chapman said. “They do not see themselves as activists; it is not as simple as that. They are passionate about food. They want to be seen as someone who is passionate, who is trying to change the food system.”

Chapman highlighted the case of a mold outbreak last year in some U.S. containers of Chobani yogurt. The food manufacturer reportedly at first said the mold is unlikely to cause ill effects, but then undertook a voluntary recall of certain products after reports of 300 people getting ill were made public. Chobani has said all products are now safe and tests are completed often.

Chapman said the yogurt manufacturer and consumer-favorite brand missed an opportunity to drive trust and engagement among customers. “I would have immediately been a partner in the discussion. Instead of responding to complaints, I would begin to tell the story, and in detail,” he said. “You might as well steer the story. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a feel good discussion, but it helps you be part of the story.”

Outside of consumer branding concerns, which shouldn’t be downplayed, as they can lead to business failures or millions of dollars in legal fees, implementing back-of-the-house operations designed to prevent problems with restaurant food supply or safety is the best way to address challenges.

Attendees discussed how to source data and information to stay on top of potential health scares, from compromised water supplies to employee or guest illness, like cases of norovirus.

Dustin Dixon, corporate vice president, food safety and quality assurance, at Bob Evans Farms spoke about the importance of on-the-ready action and communications plans, staff training and solid relationships with suppliers, distributors and local health departments.

Bob Evans had faced a compromised water supply when a chemical spill in West Virginia affected areas where some restaurant locations operate. “Bob Evans has a check list; we had it in place before West Virginia, and we still learned a lot,” Dixon said. “‘Can open’ and ‘ready to open’ are two different things.”

When it comes to a virus outbreak, like that of norovirus, prevention is key — with standard items like washing hands and keeping sick employees home — but response is also critical.

“It’s not if, but when,” said Eric Martin, director of food safety at Texas Roadhouse. “It’s an anxiety attack.”

Beyond prevention, Martin suggests restaurant chains and foodservice providers identify and train first responders at the unit level, have access to the best tools to handle cleaning and disinfection, have a professional response team on speed dial, and use social or other online data to stay alert to health department alerts or social media chatter on outbreaks.

8 tips to revamp your kids' menu

Re-engineering your kids’ menu? Try these 8 healthful tips from the National Restaurant Association.

Get input from parents and children to design kids’ meals that are nutritious, satisfying and tasty. The payoff: options that appeal to children are good for your sales.

Three participants of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program share how they developed winning kids’ meals. Discover best practices from Arby’sApplebee’s and bd’s Mongolian to get started:

Make sure your menu evolves to keep pace with kids’ changing tastes. Applebee’s started with what seemed fun for kids and added a few “stealth healthy” options, says Darin Dugan, senior vice president of marketing and culinary. “We approached the new menu by asking what kids and parents wanted and let that steer our development,” Dugin says. “The result has been very encouraging.”

Find out what consumers are looking for. Applebee’s studied kids’ preferences through focus groups, surveys and in-restaurant testing. The result: a menu that offers a breadth of choices and healthy options that kids want to eat. Today, it offers 10 Kids LiveWell-approved meals, which Dugin says are popular with guests.

“We’ve learned to listen to guests, whether they’re kids or adults,” he says. “Use those insights to engineer a menu that meets their needs in creative ways.”

Match what parents feel good about serving their children with food their kids will eat.  Like Applebee’s, Arby’s conducted focus groups and quantitative research to find out what customers were looking for. During the 10-month testing process, the company discovered parents weren’t necessarily looking to count calories for their kids, but they wanted wholesome options to choose from, says Debbie Domer, director of brand marketing.

For example, parents said they wanted more fruit, so the 3,400-unit chain added apple slices to the menu. It also added a salad and turkey and cheese sandwich to the kids’ menu and switched to low-fat milk, juice and bottled water as default beverages.

While Arby’s still sells more kids’ meals with curly fries than apple slices, the changes are paying off. “It’s getting good response from a sales perspective and positive feedback from moms who are happy with our new offerings,” Domer says. “We feel we’re making a real impact with our consumers.”

Make kids’ nutrition part of your mission. Arby’s wanted to create awareness around wholesome, healthful options as part of its strategic mission. “With Kids LiveWell, we thought it was a great opportunity to align [with an initiative that focused] on everything we’d been and are doing,” Domer says.

Show parents that healthful kids’ meals can be exciting by offering choice, action and fun. bd’s Mongolian Grill developed an interactive menu set up like a game board. Children get to bang a gong for completing certain activities on the game board, such as eating a veggie or protein or using their chopsticks.

Get kids’ buy-in by giving them more independence and control over choices. Kids choose their own meat, veggies and sauce, build their own stir-fry and take it to the grilling station to be cooked.  Being able to see the different choices and fresh colors – picking them – makes a huge difference,” says Carrie Martin, vice president of operations support. “By allowing them to create their own bowl, we offer them a little more room to make their own healthful choices.”

Offer things kids are familiar with or get at home, such as individually wrapped applesauce and juice boxes.

Up your game to achieve brand awareness. “With Kids LiveWell, we’ve learned our brands support each other,” Martin says. “We’re just now learning how to use the partnership to its fullest to get brand awareness going. We want to send the message that healthful eating can be fun.”

To control food costs, start at the cook line

The cook line is, perhaps, the most volatile area for controlling food cost. Whereas theft can occur anywhere, and vendor prices and proper preparation practices certainly can have an equally negative effect on food cost, it usually is on the cook line that many restaurants lose their profits. Common issues include incorrect portioning, waste and overcooked or cold food resulting from the kitchen getting slammed with orders, items being prepared without a food ticket, or unrecorded sales, and communication failures between kitchen and service staff that can result in incorrect orders.

Review these proven tips to control your food costs:

No ticket, no food. This is perhaps the singularly most effective policy for controlling food and beverage costs. By employing a policy that all orders must be rung up on the point-of-sale system or cash register before they can be made, you eliminate the possibility of unrecorded sales. If your POS or cash register doesn’t have the ability to print orders to the kitchen and bar ‑ often called requisition printing ‑ then you may want to start shopping for one that does. It is common knowledge among POS vendors that restaurants using requisition printers typically enjoy as much as 5% or more in cost savings than those that don’t.
Keep a waste log. Every restaurant experiences some degree of waste, but it is a controllable expense. Create systems to both minimize and record wasted product, such as meals returned by the customer, kitchen mistakes and spoilage. Keeping an accurate accounting of the value of wasted product can help to account for variances between ideal and actual food cost.

    Portion control tools. Poor portion control is one of the leading causes of food cost variances. Consider that your ideal food cost is based on the premise of exact portioning for each menu item, including the portioning of each ingredient within a menu item. If your prep and line cooks have gotten in the habit of “eyeballing” measurements rather than sticking to the exact recipes, chances are your food cost variance could be as much as 5% or more. Proven portion control strategies include the use of portioning scoops, scales and measuring spoons and cups. Pre-portioning can be effective in controlling costs by using portion baggies and a scale to pre-weigh product before stocking the cook line.

      Recipe quick-reference charts. The fast-paced environment at most restaurant kitchens makes it impractical to use the recipe manual for every menu item. Characteristically, cooks are required to memorize the proper portions and steps for preparing each item on their station. The recipe “quick reference” is used as the name implies ‑ providing the cook with an at-a-glance list of ingredients, portion size and proper portioning utensil for each preparation step. Optionally, recipe references can be accompanied by photos of the finished product. Proper portioning and adherence to recipes, along with a visual reference of the properly prepared menu item help to ensure consistency in both taste and presentation.

        This article is presented by the National Restaurant Association courtesy of RestaurantOwner.com, a source of operational and business resources for independent restaurant operators. For more information, visit www.RestaurantOwner.com.

        Income Gap and Shrinking Middle Class Take A Toll on Restaurant Industry

        In this article from RestaurantNews.com, learn more about the income gap and shrinking middle class and the impact that has on restaurants. The gap between high- and low-income groups is the widest it has been in 100 years, and the share of U.S. consumers who identify with the middle class has never been lower. Like other retail sectors, the restaurant industry is feeling the effects of this cultural and economic phenomenon, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. One of the effects of income bifurcation is that visits to quick service restaurants, which have an average check size of about $5, were flat in the year ending June 2014 compared to same period last year, and visits to fine dining restaurants, which have an average check size of $40, were up 3 percent. Total restaurant industry traffic was flat for the period.

        The challenge is that about 80 percent of restaurant visits are at quick service restaurants and the growth in fine dining visits, which holds only a single-digit traffic share, isn’t enough to increase overall traffic, according to NPD’s CREST® foodservice market research. Low-income consumers, who are heavier users of quick service restaurants, were most adversely affected by the Great Recession and have less discretionary income to spend on dining out. With low-income visit cutbacks and not enough fine dining traffic to make-up for traffic declines, restaurant operators will need to appeal to the middle-class to fill the gap, says NPD.

        “Although the percentage of consumers identifying themselves with the middle class is shrinking, this group still represents a large segment of the population and shouldn’t be ignored,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst. However, offering a good product at a fair price is no longer good enough. To attract them will take a deeper understanding of what they want when dining out.”

        Consumer attitudes and behaviors have changed since the Great Recession began and may well have changed for good,” says Riggs. “But the fact remains that Americans still make billions of visits to restaurants each year, but they are more conscious of their spending and want to be certain that the return on their investment in a restaurant meal is a pleasurable dining experience that meets their needs and expectations.”

        Ten Tips to Survive Minimum Wage Increases

        Increased minimum wages are a growing concern and unavoidable reality for many operators. Learn what you can do about them in this article from QSRMagazine.com by Juan Martinez.

        Don’t you get tired of hearing about the impending minimum wage increase? It is no longer if it is going to happen, but rather when is it going to happen and what will the magnitude be? The reality is that nobody really knows, but if you look around, isn’t it already beginning to happen?

        In some states there has already been action with hourly managers, minimum wage servers, and the hourly minimum being higher than federal minimum wage. In other states, there is quite a bit of legislation of one sort or the other pending.

        So what can you do to survive and perhaps thrive through it?

        Consider these top 10 ways to mitigate the impact of whatever minimum wage increase your business faces in the coming years.

        1) Streamline the service process Look at how you serve your guests today and define ways to reduce the amount of guest service time it takes by applying a process reengineering methodology and lean principles. The trick is how you can do this without negatively impacting the guest experience. There are many examples of applications in this area—using kiosks, tablets, and even order and pay ahead and pick up in a designated area—that have basically transferred some of the work from the employees to the guests and not detract from the service experience.

        2) Be ready for your rush Typically, you need a lot more labor during peak hours than non-peak, so try to minimize the peak labor requirements. Since you have to provide a minimum shift of hours to these employees, the labor impact is more than just the time at peak. So, strive to minimize the peak labor requirements. Even one person less could make a huge difference in the bottom line. Typical moves that can save time during rush are pre-portioning, pre-packing, and using the right tools.

        3) Simplify food prep Analyze what is going on in the back by undertaking a back-of-house prep process re-engineering effort and determine options that can result in less labor needed to get this done. Develop a system that minimizes the need for prep during peaks and staff all-hands-on-deck, to do guest service. This would also minimize the peak labor requirements.

        4) Consider value-added products Leverage your suppliers and ask them to suggest to you product components that could help reduce the prep or guest service labor that is required to get the products to your guests. It is likely that value-added products can increase the cost of food, but as long as the impact of the labor reduction is greater, then you should be better off.

        “Labor schedules are all about having the right labor in the right place at the right time to drive the best guest and employee experience.”

        You may ask, What about quality? After all, a fresher product is a higher quality product. While this is true, if you cannot deliver consistently at the unit level, then your quality is worse. Consider the consistency impact to your business.

        For example, a restaurant may get chicken raw, marinate it overnight, bake, refrigerate, cut, and serve. Instead, you can have the supplier provide pre-marinated and pre-cooked chicken. Quality is about consistency as well and value-added product are typically more consistent than products that are processed in the store, since they were done by a machine under highly controlled environments.

        5) Objectively define the labor requirements To know where labor should be spent and where the opportunities to reduce them are, it is important to understand how much labor it takes to do any activity. Once you have this information you can then provide the stores with the right amount of labor to get this work done. Although restaurants are in existence to provide shareholder value and make money, scheduling labor based on a financial metric alone is dangerous. If it takes a certain amount of time to deliver a product to the guests, then the schedule should reflect this time, regardless of how much you sell it for. If this amount is too high and in aggregate not affordable from a financial perspective, then refer to some of the prior suggestions and re-engineer the processes to reduce the labor needed. Not giving the stores the right amount of labor may provide the right level of profit, but it is likely not providing the right level of hospitality.

        6) Schedule systematically You have to have a system to manage labor in a systematic way; otherwise the use of this very expensive resource can be compromised. The best labor management systems are those that are based on work content, activity, and product mix.

        After you know the right amount of labor time to do each task, using the information provided by the labor management system to develop a schedule that maximizes the available labor. During peak times, all the labor should be geared to serve guests and prep should be done before and after the peaks, to use the available labor and minimum shifts better.

        Labor schedules are all about having the right labor in the right place at the right time to drive the best guest and employee experience. It is important to spend time analyzing the projections and schedule to ensure a good schedule efficiency rating.

        7) Increase throughput for different hourly volumes Labor costs would immediately go down, if the hourly throughput were increased. So figure out where your throughput bottlenecks are at and resolve them. For example, reducing window time by 10 seconds in the drive thru will not only result in a total customer time reduction of a minute or more, with a car stack of six, but will also increase the sales in that period by nearly 18 percent, resulting in a similar labor efficiency improvement.

        8 ) Leverage equipment and technology Similar to leveraging the product suppliers, equipment suppliers can offer tremendous insight to drive labor cost reductions. For example, tending to a product on a grill, takes more labor than placing it in a conveyor oven that when the product comes out of the other side, it is done.

        Information management can also simplify the employees’ work, resulting in less time to get things done, which in turn can drive labor reductions. As an employee is going about doing their duties, look at the amount of information they have to deal with and watch their eyes roll around the screen, looking for what pieces of information to execute on first, when it is too much. If the screen gets full, matters get worse, since they just won’t see what they need to act on until sometime later on, impacting the throughput capacity, and by de-facto, increasing labor cost for that period, since they can end up selling less.

        9) Eliminate complex menu items If you can’t re-formulate some menu items to require less labor by re-engineering the processes, and or leveraging value added components or equipment, then consider eliminating them. Examine your menu from 10 years ago and compare it to now—you might realize that complexity has just gotten out of hand.

        10) The last resort should be increase prices This option has a risk of impacting traffic, resulting in lower sales, and then subsequently lower profits. It should be done as a last resort and done very carefully. Think about what you can offer the customers, as the prices are going up. Maybe you can tie it with some other initiative that adds value to their visit, like a full menu and menuboard revamp.

        Although the prior suggestions have been focused on hourly labor, let’s not forget to keep our eyes on simplifying the manager’s job as a means to minimize the impact of the hourly wage increase. Not only will this enable the manager to run a more efficient restaurant, but, as appropriate, this can also make time available for the manager to perform some hourly duties, resulting in a flattening of the required staffing during peak hours. There is always a position in the restaurant that provides the managers a vantage point to run the show, while doing some hourly labor duties.

        So how should you start dealing with this issue?

        First things first, you need to truly understand how your labor is being utilized and be more analytical on the way you manage the labor resource. One recommendation is applying the principles of industrial engineering, such as time and motion and activity analysis, including an overall operations and investment study that will provide you the objective information that will drive the initiatives that make sense for the business. Once you are armed with this type of objective information, you can start doing battle to the issue of minimizing the impact of the hourly wage increase. So don’t be afraid, but also don’t sit idly waiting to happen, since by then, it may be too late.

        What are common green practices at restaurants?

        A substantial number of operators are practicing sustainability, new National Restaurant Association research shows. According to the NRA’s new survey, restaurants are interested in implementing environmental practices into their plans.

        Conducted earlier this year among 1,000 fullservice and quickservice operators, the survey found that nearly three quarters of operators recycled used fryer oil, fats and grease. More than six in 10 recycled their cardboard and paper, used compact fluorescent lighting and bought products made of recycled materials. About three in 10 installed faucet aerators to conserve water.

        Key findings determined that:
        74 percent recycled their used fryer oil, fats and grease
        66 percent recycled cardboard and paper
        63 percent used compact fluorescent lighting
        61 percent purchased products made of recycled materials
        48 percent installed low-flush toilets or waterless urinals in the back- and front-of-the-house
        41 percent purchased products that can be composted
        29 percent installed aerators on faucets
        22 percent donated leftover food to food banks or similar organizations
        17 percent composted food waste.

        “More operators are looking at ways to increase efficiency – environmentally and fiscally,” said Scott DeFife, the NRA’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs. “Restaurateurs today know a lot more about how sustainability can reduce utility costs and, in some cases, increase profitability.”

        The survey also asked restaurateurs about composting, food donation, energy efficiency and how they handled their used fryer oil.

        Download the full report.

        For restaurants, the high cost of doing business is food

        The rising costs of coffee and protein-based foods, including bacon, eggs, ham and beef, are creating concern among industry experts and chains specializing in the breakfast day part who say the prices, historically, are higher than ever before, reports a recent news article from the National Restaurant Association.

        Food cost pressures are building, said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association. “Operators have watched carefully what’s going on with staple breakfast items like eggs, bacon and coffee. Some will consider operational adjustments as cost pressures are sustained.”

        According to the NRA’s monthly Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey, operators once again cite food costs as their top challenge. Last month eight in 10 operators said their average food costs are higher now than a year ago. Among family-dining restaurants, many of whom focus on breakfast, nine in 10 operators report higher food costs.

        “Price fluctuations of commodities can have a significant impact on the operator’s bottom line, especially if the items in question are essential to a specific concept or menu. Breakfast has been a growing day part over the last several years, as restaurant operators explore new avenues to build business and more consumers live life ‘on the go’,” Riehle said.

        John Barone, commodities analyst and CEO of MarketVision Inc., says prices eased over the summer but remain high, almost across the board.  A drought in Brazil this spring continues to drive up coffee costs, he noted.

        “Coffee prices dropped 20 percent between April and July, but have regained most of that drop and look to be headed higher over the long term,” he said. “Brazil has a multi-year coffee problem. The bottom line is breakfast chains are really feeling the heat.”

        Some larger restaurant companies were able to negotiate contracts before costs started climbing. Corner Bakery Cafe, right now is in a good position on its coffee contract, although that could end sometime next year, said Ric Scicchitano, senior vice president of food and beverage.

        “We did a lot of forecasting and booking on the contract side to manage risk for all of 2014 and into 2015 as much as possible,” he said.  He said the company locked in a good coffee contract when it saw favorable prices in the last half of 2013, but will have to reset that contract for 2015. “We haven’t been exposed to the spike in prices, but I’ve been telling everyone that headwinds are brewing for next year because we don’t have positions to carry us all the way through 2015.”

        Dunkin’ Brands, parent of Dunkin’ Donuts, indicated it is exploring the possibility of raising prices on its coffee beverages to offset the surging cost of coffee.

        “We are currently holding conversations with our domestic franchisees about a modest increase in coffee prices,” spokeswoman Michelle King said. “We have not taken any significant price increases on coffee in the last several years and even with a modest increase, we continue to offer a great value to our guests every day.”

        Coffee isn’t the only commodity causing headaches.

        Barone said prices on pork bellies, or bacon, are down about 20 percent from year-ago levels but remain historically high due to potential supply issues related to the outbreak of PEDv, or porcine epidemic diarrhea, which affects newborn piglets. Even after recent drops, the prices of ham and pork trimmings, or sausage, remain 30 percent higher than last year.

        PEDv disease is expected to reemerge this fall, when the weather cools,  Barone says. “There’s really no end in sight because no one has any real information on when the virus will be under control or how much damage it will do to supplies.”

        Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of strategies for foodservice consultant WD Partners, says he expects more restaurants, especially small operations and independents, will update and re-engineer their menus to feature alternative items that aren’t as costly to serve.

        “For independents, there really seem to be few choices available,” he said. “They basically can endure the higher food costs, change their menu prices accordingly, or update and re-engineer their menus, which they do three or four times a year anyway. A lot of the big chains are locked into supply contracts, which allow for more price sustainability.”

        Scicchitano said his company is still in good shape regarding food costs, but 2015 could be another story.

        “We took 95 percent of our risk off the table last December,” he said. “We’ve kind of been exposed to the cheese market a little bit, but for the most part we’ve been pretty insulated where pricing is concerned. I do think we have a little bit of a correction coming in some protein areas. I’m worried about that more than anything else ‑ and dried fruits and nuts. Those are the things that are going to keep me awake now for next year.”

        Early Launch of Fall Restaurant Menus & Trends

        Fall 2014 begins on September 23, but the restaurant industry already has a head start on the upcoming season’s menu. It all began when Starbucks announced the early launch of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, which even has it’s own twitter handle @TheRealPSL. After that, locations all over have begun to announce their seasonal offerings. So what’s going to be popular this year? tells us what’s trending in this great article from The Central Blog.

        Desserts: Pumpkin and Other Seasonal Flavors

        When fall arrives, pumpkin-flavored desserts are always a favorite. Au Bon Pain recently launched their fall menu which includes a pumpkin croissant and pumpkin coffee cake. Dunkin’ Donuts is enhancing their menu with pumpkin pie and pumpkin donuts, as well as pumpkin pie donut holes and pumpkin muffins. Starbucks is ramping things up with pumpkin-flavored scones and cream cheese muffins.

        Moving on from pastries, frozen yogurt shops all across the country are here to stay during the winter months. Seasonal flavors are one of the ways they can keep customers coming in, even when the temperatures go down.

        Customers can enjoy frozen yogurt shop Orange Leaf’s pumpkin pie, ginger bread and carmel apple flavors or FroYo’s pumpkin, pumpkin pie or snickerdoodle.

        Drinks and Cocktails

        Fall is the perfect season for warm drinks and in addition to the popular Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts has also rolled out their pumpkin creme brulee coffee and lattes. Within the next month, coffee shops all across the United States will roll out beverages with hints of cinnamon, apple, cranberries and more.

        Moving along to cocktails, Wine Enthusiast posted their five craziest cocktail trends for Fall 2014. They anticipate more bars and restaurants to use custom barware, elaborate garnishes, high end drinks with premium liquors, the use of the Chinese alcohol Baijiu, and “respectable cocktail shots” which are a little more upscale, such as an “Old Fashioned” shot.

        Lunch and Dinner

        Fall menus and limited time offers advance from just pumpkin or spice flavored items. Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar has brought back a customer favorite limited time offer: Pizzaburger sliders! These  sliders include pepperoni and bacon and are wrapped in their homemade pizza dough.

        Au Bon Pain launched menu items with fall-themed flavors such as turkey and cheddar on nine-grain cranberry ciabatta, nine-grain cranberry ciabatta and cream cheese and turkey, kale and wild rice soup.

        The chia seed has been a hot topic and has been predicted to be incorporated in more menus this fall. In their article “What’s up with the Chia Seeds trend?,” Allergease explains this seed provides great health benefits as they are filled with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and protein.

        El Rey, a coffee and luncheonette bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, serves their chia seed breakfast pudding which includes coconut, almond, banana and apricot. Want to try this recipe? The New York Times posted their adapted version of this recipe on their website.

        Harvest season yields fruitful fall menus

        Although most of us had never heard of a polar vortex, last winter proved they’re real. And restaurants around the country are still feeling the effects, in this article from RestaurantHospitality.com by , learn how this year’s harvest season helps yield fruitful fall menu items.

        An extended cold wave this past winter meant farmers got seeds in the ground later than usual, which pushed harvest season to later in the summer. Chef Giuseppe Scurato, who moved Ceres’ Table, an Italian-inspired neighborhood restaurant, into Chicago’s bustling East Lakeview neighborhood in May, hasn’t given up on his expectations for summer produce yet.

        “Right now we are in the middle of the season for tomatoes and corn. We haven’t quite gotten off that boat yet,” Scurato says. “But there’s not a lot of time left; it’s going to get cold soon. Some produce might get stuck in the middle and not have enough time to ripen.”

        Indeed, the Agriculture Department says U.S. farmers will harvest a record haul of corn and soybeans this fall, according to a USA Today report. The abundant supply of the grain and oilseed and the result of timely rains and moderate temperatures have sent prices for both commodities tumbling.

        The report says record corn and soybean production has sent ripples throughout agriculture, resulting in cheap feed for livestock producers. Consumers could benefit from lower food prices, especially for steaks and other meats, but the effect is not expected to be felt for some time, analysts said.

        For restaurants in the Midwest, Scurato says the next month or so will be the last chance for restaurants to get some of that primo produce.

        “Unless you work with farms that raise cows you can get year-round, your opportunities to work with farmers are winding down,” he says.

        Dave Becker, who recently opened Juniper, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in Wellesley, MA, has been receiving “all sorts of phone calls” from nearby farmers with an abundance of produce.

        “It was a great summer for tomatoes in New England,” he says. “Some summers the tomatoes suck and all you have is kale for three months.”

        In Cleveland, a strong farm-to-table movement is leading two local chefs to expand on their partnerships with local farmers, which will be clearly evident in their fall menus.

        Ben Bebenroth, chef-owner of Spice Kitchen & Bar, earlier this year signed a lease for Spring Hill Farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where he looks to expand his produce production. This harvest season, Spice will feature a variety of hardwood-grilled heirloom vegetables and heritage breed animals. Bebenroth also is planning more small plates so guests can enjoy seasonal snacking.

        Pura Vida Restaurant will offer a unique fall menu also sourced from nearby farms, some exclusive to chef-owner Brandt Evans. Evans is planning to put a twist on some autumn staples, including pork cheek and goat cheese dumplings with an apple cider glaze, seared sea scallops with a chanterelle mushroom ragout and pumpkin polenta with roasted walnuts and Swiss chard.

        As always, pumpkin will be a main attraction on restaurant dishes this fall. Scurato is planning dishes with the traditional fall ingredients: squash, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.

        He’s looking forward to serving a butternut squash ravioli, served with a brown butter and sage sauce and topped with diced beets, red and yellow peppers and pumpkin.

        The first fall dish from Becker at Juniper will be braised lamb curry with smoked Kabocha squash, homemade malted barley couscous and “whatever mushrooms the local foragers come our way with.”

        Besides entrees, Becker plans some experimenting with fall flavors for cocktails and fall colors for decorating. He’s using extracts from both sassafras and birch bark to soak in grain alcohol and vodka, which provides woody, caramel and cinnamon notes. And he’s plucking as many wildflowers as possible to make fresh centerpieces for his tables.

        “You can dry wildflowers and, if they’re edible, like lavender, I’ll make a extract with them,” he says. “Right now sumac is kind of an invasive species here in New England, so I’ll dry sumac and make a tea of it or mix it with alcohol and let it seep. Farmers love it when you can use the weeds they can’t otherwise sell.”

        3 tips to choose the right energy-efficient equipment for you

        In this article from the National Restaurant Association, learn how to save money in the long run by investing in energy-efficient appliances and equipment. While they might cost more at the start, they can help you achieve your sustainability goals, says Richard Young, education director, Food Service Technology Center.

        “Efficiency is saving you money,” he said. “It impacts sustainability. Sustainability is money. The market wants it, and it’s the right thing to do … It’s good business.”

        Here are some tips for choosing energy-efficient equipment:

        Do the math. How much will a $700 standard fryer cost you in electricity? A $1,400 energy-efficient fryer could save $600 a year in utility costs, Young says. That means you break even in just over a year.

        Bonus: The more expensive fryer operates better, which extends the life of the oil, providing additional savings.  Add in rebates from your utility company for the more efficient fryer, and the appliance quickly pays for itself, Young says. That makes your investment “worth every penny in the long run.”

        Go high-tech. At this year’s NRA Show, Young and restaurant designer Tarah Schroeder explained how to create a modern, sustainable kitchen. Their advice: Adopt induction cooking, efficient fryers and griddles, and variable-speed hoods that adjust to the level of heat on the stoves and ovens underneath them.

        “Foodservice is very energy-intensive,” Young says. “Purchasing and using sustainable equipment is the best thing you can do to create a sustainable kitchen.”

        Set clear goals and reevaluate to stay on track. As a principal with Denver-based Ricca Newmark Design, Schroeder helped design a café for the Environmental Science and Forestry School at the State University of New York in Syracuse. The school’s goal was to reduce waste, and energy efficiency was critical to that goal, she says.

        With Schroeder’s help, the school selected Energy Star-rated equipment, variable-speed hoods, and parallel refrigeration, which uses a single compression to power different refrigerators. Yet  the kitchen’s energy output remained high despite the new equipment. Ultimately, Schroeder recommended replacing a char broiler with a griddle after meeting with the chef to discuss his menu plans.

        The ROI: The school reduced the energy use for the cook line and the exhaust hood. “Eliminating a char broiler is not always going to be the best strategy for every project, but here it was the right thing to do.”


        Take the worry out of weekly food inventories

        Most independent restaurants calculate their food cost only once a month, but virtually all of the major chains calculate theirs each week.

        According to industry averages, chain restaurants ‑ before corporate expenses ‑ are two to three times as profitable as independent restaurants. While weekly food costing isn’t the entire reason for that profitability, it’s part of it.

        To accurately calculate your cost weekly, you’ll need to take inventory weekly as well. The only method for computing accurate cost of sales is to take physical inventories and then calculate the value of inventory on hand. Many operators erroneously believe that what they spend on food and beverage purchases is their cost of sales. While this may be true in the long run, for specific-period analysis it is inaccurate.

        The correct formula for calculating cost of sales for each category is this: Beginning Inventory plus Purchases minus Ending Inventory equals Cost of Sales.

        Taking weekly inventories doesn’t mean you have to spend half the night to do it. Here are a few tips to help you take inventory quickly. Properly applied, these principals will help you to be more accurate and should reduce the time spent counting your food inventory to under two hours.

        Get organized. It is virtually impossible to take an accurate inventory when the stock room or walk-in is in disarray. Be sure all store rooms, shelves and refrigeration units are organized and clean. Product should be easy to see and count. Labels should be used for hard to identify product. Don’t put items in incorrectly marked boxes or containers.

        Count it on Sunday. Most restaurants are open seven days a week. A natural tracking period is from Monday to Sunday. Also, inventory levels will be at their lowest on Sunday evening. If you are closed Sunday, then count it on Saturday evening or early Monday morning.

        Separate your inventory into groups. Group your inventory into cost categories, such as meat, seafood, produce, dairy, grocery, etc. This will make it easy for cost calculations and help to organize your inventory. Grouping your inventory also makes it easier to zero in on cost control problems.

        Arrange items in shelf order. Some managers advocate arranging items on the inventory sheets in the order they count the inventory. If you are using an order guide, arrange your spreadsheet to match that of the order guide. You can then record your counts on the order guide and transfer them to the spreadsheet for calculating the total value.

        Use two people for taking inventory. One counts and the other records; the one recording is also an extra pair of eyes so nothing is overlooked. Also, be sure to use a pencil to encourage correcting mistakes.

        ‘Paint’ your restaurant. Always conduct inventories by starting at one end of the building and counting everything in a contiguous order. This practice will help ensure nothing gets skipped. Jumping from one area of the restaurant to another and back again will almost certainly cause you to miss something. It is much easier to flip to the proper page several times for a particular item rather than try to visit all of the places that item may be stored.

        Keep counted areas off limits. Some kitchen managers like to get a head start on the inventory counting process. This approach is fine as long as counted product isn’t subsequently sold that same day. Once you have counted an area, make sure nobody removes or adds product to that area. For instance, maybe you have already counted the freezer, but later find out that the cooks need another case of frozen hamburger patties you have already counted. Be sure you adjust your count before putting them into production. That case will end up in an area you have not yet counted and thus will end up being double counted.particular item rather than try to visit all of the places that item may be stored.

        This article was originally published by the National Restaurant Association and is presented courtesy of RestaurantOwner.com, a source of operational and business resources for independent restaurant operators. For more information, visit www.RestaurantOwner.com.

        Diversify beverage offerings for a healthier bottom line

        Restaurant Business Online reports that the moves consumers have been making toward health in the last few years can no longer be considered just a trend—they’re now the norm, and retailers and foodservice operators have had to answer the call for healthier options in order to compete for share of stomach.

        In the same way, sugar-sweetened beverages—in particular, carbonated soft drinks—have been relegated to the back of the fridge in recent years, as concerned consumers have tried to cut added sugar and empty calories from their diets. Diet carbonated soft drinks haven’t been exempt from this trend, either—in fact, this segment experienced a 2.8 percent decline in dollar sales from 2010-2012, according to Mintel’s June 2013 Carbonated Soft Drinks report.

        However, the declining popularity of these  beverages can spell opportunity for retailers and operators who focus on building a diverse beverage program. By offering healthy alternatives to both diet and regular carbonated soft drinks, retailers and operators can use beverages to boost profits while still catering to health-conscious consumers.

        Here’s a sampling of healthy beverage options that retailers and operators can offer to offset declines in carbonated soft drink sales:

        • Sparkling water and seltzer. According to Mintel, the sparkling carbonated soft drink alternative segment—which includes seltzer, tonic water and club soda—increased 9.6 percent in sales from 2010-2012. By offering both flavored and unflavored sparkling carbonated soft drink alternatives, retailers and operators can appeal to consumers who enjoy carbonated beverages but want to cut calories.
        • Tea and coffee. Cold or iced, coffee and tea have long benefited from a “health halo” in the minds of consumers, and since they’re likely already in inventory for most retailers and operators, they’re an easy alternative.
        • Sugar-free drink mixes. Offering versatility as well as portability, sugar-free drink mixes work well as stand-alone beverages as well as in “mocktail” recipes as a part of a signature beverage program.
        • Liquid water enhancers. Capitalizing on the customization trend, liquid water enhancers give consumers the opportunity to make their beverages their own while boosting bottled water sales for retailers and operators.
        • Energy drinks. The energy drink segment is expected to experience double-digit growth in 2014, according to a recent Beverage Buzz survey conducted by Wells Fargo Securities (Beverage Buzz 1Q14 U.S. C-Store Retailer Survey, April 2014). These beverages provide consumers with a healthy alternative to traditional, caffeinated soft drinks.

        Additionally, using menu callouts or special merchandising that promote these healthy beverage options can help drive incremental sales. According to Technomic, more than two-fifths of consumers report that they’re likely to purchase beverages that are advertised as “reduced-sugar” or “sugar-free.”

        Recognizing TCS Foods

        When working to prevent foodborne illness, it’s important to recognize that some food items are more likely than others to become unsafe. Learn more about how to recognize these potential dangers in this great article from the National Restaurant Assocaition.

        TCS food is food that requires time-temperature control to prevent the growth of microorganisms and the production of toxins. This food contains moisture and protein and has a neutral or slightly acidic pH.

        Most bacteria need nutrients such as carbohydrates or proteins to survive. Also, bacteria grow best in food that contains little or no acid. pH is the measure of acidity. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14.0. A value of 0 is highly acidic, while a value of 14.0 is highly alkaline. A value of 7.0 is neutral. TCS food items generally have a pH of 7.5 to 4.6.

        Bacteria need time to grow and grow rapidly when being held in the temperature danger zone (between 41˚F and 135˚F (5˚C and 57˚C). The more time bacteria spend in this temperature zone, the more opportunity they have to grow to unsafe levels. Be sure to keep an eye on your time and temperature control when preparing these food items.

        For more information on TCS food, check out the ServSafe Food Safety Program.


        Housemade sodas bubble up

        Flavor-forward soft drinks are making a splash, according to this article from Restaurant Business Online by Alia Akkam. Specialty soft drinks continue to lure customers away from traditional colas and other brand-name sodas, according to NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm. Restaurant operators also are smitten with housemade sodas in unconventional flavors because they both complement the menu and drum up sales.

        Beverage  leader Starbucks jumped on the trend in June, unveiling a line of handcrafted sodas that are carbonated fresh at select locations. The three flavors—Spiced Root Beer, Golden Ginger Ale and Lemon Ale—are designed to pair with Starbucks’ food.

        In New York City, Bubby’s two locations drive home its Americana concept through myriad soda-fountain drinks. “Soda is distinctly American, and so the soda fountain is important to our vision. We just want to do it better,” says chef-owner Ron Silver. “We make great burgers and cola from scratch, so that’s a good starting point to engage our guests.”

        Classic flavors such as root beer and orange—based on vintage recipes—are served, but so are unique concoctions such as a sour-cherry phosphate or a currant sour, the latter pairing apple-cider vinegar and currant soda. Priced at $5 each, the sodas boost check averages. To add an interactive element, guests can invent hybrid sodas from the list of syrups. Bubby’s delivers these to the table in  single-serve bottles.

        Crafting these syrups in house, says Silver, is cost-effective, because the team utilizes ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, such as citrus zests and peels, along with second pickings from the farmers market. “The whole process is flexible and easy to manage,” says Silver. “We store the syrups in large containers in the walk-in, then pour them into smaller containers to bring out front.”

        While cocktails are a draw at Vernick Food & Drink in Philadelphia, beverage manager Vincent Stipo understands the importance of serving alcohol-free drinks as well. Two signatures are the Cucumber Smash, made with juiced English cucumber, vanilla bean, muddled lemon and mint over crushed ice, and a highball-style soda with juiced pineapple, yuzu, sparking water and basil salt. “Conceptually, we approach these in the same way we do our food—whatever’s fresh and in season—so integrating the sodas into our program is actually quite seamless,” says Stipo.

        The sodas—priced at $5 or $6 instead of $3 for a branded one—are made to order, conserving storage space. They are printed on the menu, and trial is encouraged. “We point out the mocktail section if we notice that the guest hasn’t looked and is blind-ordering standard soft drinks. The servers are trained to discuss the flavor profiles and modify according to different palates,” he says.

        Just like ordering “Bartender’s Choice” will yield a surprise cocktail at Vernick Food & Drink, a patron who orders a house special soda may be served a drink blending blueberry shrub, ruby grapefruit, fresh tarragon and small-batch tonic.“It offers an exciting outlet to those not drinking alcohol,” says Stipo.


        Are Smartphones Ruining the Restaurant Experience?

        Your smartphone is the scourge of restaurants. Customers snapping photos of food and dawdling on Facebook at meals have slowed down table service by an hour over the last 10 years, as an anonymous post on Craigslist’s “rants & raves” section recently alleged. The writer claimed that his restaurant, located in Manhattan’s Midtown East and serving “both locals and tourists,” had studied security footage from July 2004 and compared with a tape of a recent Thursday this month. The takeaway: Today’s technologically distracted diners take longer to order, longer to eat, and longer to pay—and then they blame the restaurant for the wait! “We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant,” the aggrieved restaurateur wrote, “but can you please be a bit more considerate?”

        In this article written by Alison Griswold from Slate, learn more about our phone usage habits and if they are ruining your restaurant experience.

        In almost no time, the indignant andnow deleted Craigslist screed set the Internet alight. A post on Distractifytranscribing the entire complaint quickly racked up more than 750,000 shares and 2,600 comments. “Smartphone use in restaurants prompts Craigslist rant,” announced the BBC. “Cell phones slowing down service in restaurants. Wait times have doubled because customers are too busy with their screens,” blared the Daily Mail. “Why you should (really, seriously, permanently) stop using your smartphone at dinner,” proclaimed the Washington Post.

        Tempting as it can be to take anonymous, unsubstantiated Craigslist rants at face value, we decided to do a little digging on this one. Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific claims made by the post about customers in 2014:

        26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

        14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

        9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.

        27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

        Three minutes to take photos of food? That’s a long time to take a casual snapshot or two. So is four minutes to take and review additional photos with friends, all while a presumably hot and delicious meal is sitting in front of you. “I think this is clearly a fake—the whole scenario is made up,” says Luke O’Neil, a food industry writer for publications including Slate who spent more than 10 years working in the restaurant business. “It seems like one of these things that’s designed to make a point.”

        Smartphones have undoubtedly become a hot-button issue for the restaurant world in recent years. Some chefs have publicly decried phone pics and social media for ruining the dining experience, while others have banned the use of devices in their dining areas altogether. But is cellphone use really causing massive disruptions to restaurant service?

        Roughly 30 percent of restaurant-goers take photos of their food, while 9 percent have paid for a meal through mobile.

        “I haven’t noticed that,” says Patrick Duxbury, general manager at TAO Downtown in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. “We are a very busy restaurant—we service well over 600, 700, 800 diners a night—and I don’t necessarily think we’d be able to do that if smartphones were in our way.” As a common venue for celebratory dinners, birthdays, and bachelorette parties, TAO Downtown does take lot of photos, Duxbury says, but that’s “absolutely not” bad for the restaurant. “Those pictures go up on social media, some of them instantly on Instagram and Facebook, and it gets us out there,” he says.

        Other chefs, waiters, and restaurateurs echo this sentiment. John Kapetanos, owner of Ethos in Manhattan’s Midtown East—the same neighborhood as the anonymous Craigslist poster—says maybe 10 percent of his customers ask the waiter to take a group photo; it’s a favor that takes less than a minute and doesn’t slow down service. Over the 12 years Ethos has been in business, Kapetanos says cellphones have added maybe five to 10 minutes to the average table time, but that he doesn’t mind as long as diners at one table aren’t bothering those at another. Jean-Marte, a waiter at a French restaurant in Midtown who declined to give his last name, concurs that taking photos of customers doesn’t slow his stride. He adds that smartphones can even be quite helpful when dealing with foreign tourists who don’t understand the menu. “It’s easier for them to go on the website or on Yelp, and they can show you a picture and say, ‘This is what I want,’ ” he explains.

        In late 2012, food and restaurant consulting firm Technomic conducted a study of how consumers were integrating their phones into the dining experience. Roughly 30 percent admitted to taking photos of their food, while 9 percent said they had paid through mobile. “There’s no doubt that consumers are taking time to use their mobile devices in restaurants,” says Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at Technomic. “I anecdotally have not seen it impact timing, and really, if someone is taking pictures of your food and posting it, and your food is delicious-looking, it can only be good for your restaurant.”

        Smartphones, in other words, might be a bit annoying, but on the whole restaurants agree that they’re more of a boon to business than a hindrance—and certainly not the impediment the Craigslist post made them out to be. “It’s just part of our lives now,” says Michael Scelfo, chef and owner of the recently opened Alden & Harlow in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Back in the old days, if you wanted to pay with your credit card, someone had to physically go and carbon-copy it and write information on it. Now they can swipe it on their phone tableside. How much time does that save?”

        Then again, the Craigslist post clearly hit a nerve with restaurant-goers and restaurant workers alike, perhaps tapping into a shared fear that the more time we spend with our smartphones, the less we make for each other. Even if our phones aren’t slowing down service, who really wants to be sitting at a table full of people who are too busy Instagramming their food and checking their Twitter feeds to have a conversation? That’s a reflection on us, rather than the restaurant. But it might just make people grumpy enough to blame the staff.

        What do you think? Continue the conversation on our Facebook page.