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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 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, a source of operational and business resources for independent restaurant operators. For more information, visit

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.

Vegetarianism a rising trend on menus

In this article from Restaurant Business Online, learn more about the trend of vegetarianism and how you can implement ideal choices into your menu. Customers who seek a meatless dish for reasons of health, ethics or just because it sounds yummy on the menu, are very important people in restaurants today.

Interest in vegetarian menu options, especially among those who occasionally go veggie, has been rising in recent years. Although only 4 percent of respondents in a 2012 National Harris Poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group said they always eat vegetarian meals and never eat meat, fish or poultry, a sizable 47 percent said they eat at least one vegetarian meal per week.

This has not been lost on the industry. Meatless/vegetarian menu items are a hot trend, according to 57 percent of the chefs who took part in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2014 Culinary Forecast. Overall, it is a top-ten trend in the main dish/center of the plate category of the survey.

In fact, there is a small but colorful niche of creative, chef-driven vegetarian cuisine that rises to lofty levels. For example, the hospitality consultants Baum + Whiteman cited the $185-per-person, all-veg menu at Grace in Chicago as an example of the high-end tasting menus they predict will be hot in 2014.

Thus in the same dining room you may find individuals who are devout vegetarians alongside those who are ordering meatless today but may relish a New York strip tomorrow. It is wise to include some trendy and flavorful plant-based dishes on the menu to please all comers. There is ample inspiration to be found in global and regional cuisines that make inventive use of produce, beans, nuts, tofu, herbs and spices.

Demand for the flavors of the Mediterranean Rim is focusing attention on meat-free dishes like hummus and similar bean spreads and dips and garlicky Italian escarole and cannellini beans. Operators may also piggyback on the growing vogue for Mexican and Latin American cuisine with dishes like Cuban black beans and rice, baked bean chili with tofu and kale and spicy ancho bean burritos. Also appealing are regional American favorites spun off with meatless recipes, such as Southern Hoppin’ John and New Orleans red beans and rice.

Increasing interest in gluten-free eating and the carbohydrate-avoiding Paleo diet—the most searched-for diet of 2013 according to Google—has made protein a trendy nutritional component. While protein-packed regimens are often heavy in animal products, operators can invite vegetarians to amp up their protein intake from plant sources such as beans, peas and lentils. They provide high-quality protein along with complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and many nutrients, plus are gluten-free.

Food preferences of vegans and vegetarians

In this article from Restaurant Business Online, learn more about the food preferences of vegans and vegetarians and how to offer popular menu choices for these guests.

Vegetarian cuisine is moving mainstream – there’s no denying that Meatless Mondays were only the beginning. Going one step further to a vegan diet – no meat, poultry or fish as well as no eggs, dairy foods and other animal-derived products such as honey – is gaining momentum as well, driven by health, animal welfare and environmental concerns.

This lifestyle trend is not only growing, but doing so globally. For example, 2.5% of Americans, 2% of Britains and nearly half a percent of Dutch identify themselves as vegan.

But what are they buying when they leave the house and what does it mean for those restaurants that want to serve them? A national telephone poll of 2,030 respondents, including vegans, vegetarians and those interested in vegetarian meals, was commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) and Harris Interactive to answer this question.

  • 77% of vegans and 70% of vegetarians said they would buy a vegetarian dish containing leafy greens such as broccoli, kale, or collards
  • 80% of vegans and 61% of vegetarians said they would buy a vegetarian dish containing whole foods such as lentils, chickpeas, or rice
  • 53% of vegans and 58% of vegetarians said they would buy a veggie burger cooked on the same grill where meat is cooked, if the grill is cleaned first
  • 54% of vegans and 54% of vegetarians said they would buy a vegetarian/vegan deli slice sandwich in Subway
  • 25% of vegans and 40% of vegetarians said they would buy their favorite dessert containing sugar, if the source of sugar isn’t specified
  • 3% of vegans and 26% of vegetarians said they would buy their favorite dessert containing sugar whitened through a bone char filter, if bone char is not in the sugar
  • 2% of vegans and 5% of vegetarians said they would buy a meat alternative grown from animal cell DNA obtained ten years ago, which does not currently involve the raising of animals

With the rise in popularity of vegetable dishes even among non-vegetarians, a stronger focus on these menu items should be taken into consideration.

While the majority of vegans and vegetarians are clearly looking to eat healthier, they aren’t always looking for a meat substitute. Clearly, it will also take a great deal of effort to convince consumers to buy meat grown in a lab setting. A plant-based meat substitute may stand a better chance of acceptance.

4 Tips to Increase Sales on Fourth of July

To close or not to close: a question that many restaurant owners debate when it comes to the Fourth of July. If you’ve decided to stay open, you might as well do your best to try and get in some extra business during the holiday. After all, with a day devoted to America, good food and cold beer it only seems right. Check out these last minute tips from Exakt Marketing.

1. Catering – If your restaurant has the capacity for catering, the Fourth of July is a great holiday to attempt to push that business. Most people are gathering with friends and family to eat, drink and be merry. Take the load off for the host and suggest cooking for them! If you offer American staples like burgers, wings and BBQ you’re at an even bigger advantage. I’d recommend putting together a quick flyer that can be distributed in the restaurant as well as incorporated into your restaurant marketing strategy (social media, email blasts, etc).

2. Delivery – Do you deliver or work with delivery services such as Doorstep Delivery or Take Home Delivery? If so, try flyering a few local apartments (if they allow it) a day or two before the Fourth with your delivery menu. This tactic targets those “last minute” planners who won’t realize they don’t feel like cooking until the day of…

3. Social Media Special – Use social media to announce an exclusive special only available to those who see it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any platform that you and your restaurant marketing company see fit. Make it fun and require customers to use a “secret phrase” to redeem the free item. (Ex. Anyone who comes in on the Fourth of July and says “Uncle Sam sent me” gets a free beer!) Don’t giveaway the bank though – pick a menu item that is low-cost and easy to prepare. This not only brings in some extra business but it also allows you to measure how much of an impact your announcement on social media has on your sales for the day.

4. Involve the Staff – The staff might not be too happy knowing that they have to work on the Fourth of July but try to get them involved and excited! Allow the staff to dress out of uniform and wear anything American themed (that’s appropriate, of course). You can also get staff excited by executing a friendly staff competition. Have the staff create a Fourth of July themed drink (or use a current menu item or special) and the staff member that sells the most of that item that night gets a small cash bonus (or a desirable prize). If your staff is made of up entrepreneurs then it shouldn’t be too hard to get them excited. More business affects their wallets too!

Facebook Partners with Constant Contact to Include Restaurant Menus on Pages

Last month, Facebook and Constant Contact announced that restaurants can now upload menus through SinglePlatform from Constant Contact to Facebook pages. SinglePlatform helps businesses showcase their most important information everywhere local consumers are making decisions online.

As a result, Facebook users can both find and “like” a restaurant, in addition to view its menu to help them decide if they want to check it out. Considering that 78 percent of online local-mobile searches result in offline purchases, this is a major benefit to restaurants promoting their businesses on Facebook’s 1.23 billion active users.

For restaurants already using SinglePlatform and located in the U.S. or Canada, their menus featured on SinglePlatform will automatically appear on their Facebook business page. For others, restaurants can upload their menus in PDF format to their Facebook page to take advantage of this new feature. (Here’s how)

In a blog post about the announcement, Pete Chen, VP and general manager of SinglePlatform from Constant Contact wrote, “With this update, restaurants can take advantage of the size and influence of Facebook’s audience to attract potential new customers that search for places to dine. Facebook makes it very easy to find new restaurants (if you click on the Facebook search bar you will automatically see an option to search “Nearby Restaurants”).

Now that you have added your menu to your restaurant’s Facebook page, here are some tips to further leverage this feature to your business’s marketing advantage.

1) Send out an email blast inviting fans and customers to check out your restaurant menu on Facebook.

Let your opt-in email subscribers know to check out your menu on Facebook, giving you a good reason to connect with them and increase social media engagement on your Facebook page.

2 ) Cross-promote your menu on Facebook to other social networks:

Promote the menu on your Facebook page with your other social networks to expand its reach to more audiences. Using a free service like bitly, you can shorten and custom-brand your URL and track response rates.

3) Share updates to your menu with customers and fans:

If you have updated your Facebook menu or added a new item, let your customers and fans know about it. Doing this gives you multiple opportunities to stay connected with your Facebook page community.

4) Spark conversations about your menu with your Facebook fans:

After your Facebook fans have had the chance to view your restaurant menu, ask them what they think about your menu. Facebook’s polling feature is a useful way to garner feedback about your menu from both potential new and existing customers.

5) Share photos of your menu items from Facebook on Pinterest and Instagram:

Posting your menu on your Facebook page gives you more reasons to sell the menu with pictures. Post new food and drink photos from your menu on your Facebook page and cross-promote them on Pinterest and Instagram, as well.

Article provided by Buzztime.

For daily tips, ideas, and concepts for your bar or restaurant, please visit

Recipe of the Week: Watermelon and Squid Salad

Try a refreshing twist on this seafood dish by adding the flavor of watermelon and squid for a unique and delicious taste!

1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup Champagne vinegar
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound baby squid, bodies and tentacles separated but left whole
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/3 cup chopped tarragon
1/3 cup chopped mint
1 small seedless watermelon (about 3 1/2 pounds)—halved, rind removed, flesh sliced 1/2 inch thick
Ground sumac, for sprinkling (optional)

  1. In a bowl, whisk the rice vinegar, Champagne vinegar, scallions, jalapeños, 2 teaspoons of the lime zest and 1 tablespoon of the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Light a grill. In a medium bowl, toss the squid with the oil, orange zest, crushed red pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon of lime juice and 1 teaspoon of lime zest; season with salt and pepper. Grill the squid over high heat until lightly charred, 4 minutes.
  3. Arrange the watermelon slices on a platter. Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with the tarragon and mint. Top the watermelon with the squid, sprinkle with sumac and serve right away.

Recipe from

Is it time to raise your prices?

Making sure the price is right for each menu item takes a lot of work. This article from the National Restaurant Association outlines 8 factors that determine whether it is time to raise your prices.

Making sure the price is right for each menu item is no game — it takes lots of work. Before adjusting your prices, consider the following eight factors:

1. Food costs. “You’ve got to know your costs before setting a price,” says restaurant consultant Linda Lipsky of Broomall, Pennsylvania. She recommends that food costs run about 33 percent of menu prices, on average. This can differ per operation, with fine dining restaurants typically posting higher food-cost percentages and casual pizzerias running lower percentages. The percentages also vary widely from item to item. “A soup could cost as little as 18 cents per serving to make, but you’re not going to sell it for 54 cents,” Lipsky says. Soups, appetizers, desserts and alcohol tend to have lower cost percentages than entrees, she notes. Consider your sales mix when pricing items.

2. Margins. Food-cost percentages are only part of the equation. “The biggest mistake I see operators make is that they rely too much on food-cost percentages and not enough on food-cost margins,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies for WD Partners, Dublin, Ohio. Take an expensive item, such as lobster. If operators base their menu prices strictly on food-cost percentages, they might price the lobster too high to sell. If they determine they want, say, a $9 margin on entrees, they can price the lobster to sell with a profit.

3. Additional costs. Don’t forget to factor in your labor costs. The cost of baking and decorating a chocolate cake in-house — rather than buying it premade — is more than just the price of the ingredients. Include the price of any giveaways, such as bread and olive oil, and the cost of food waste and spoilage.

4. Volatility. Food costs can change at a moment’s notice — based on anything from world politics to weather conditions. While large chains might sign contracts that lock in prices, smaller restaurants usually don’t have that option, Lombardi says. “Give yourself a cushion for volatile items,” he notes. Limit items, particularly those with volatile ingredients, to specials or seasonal dishes, he advises. Lipsky recommends printing your menu in-house, so you can easily reprint it if your costs suddenly soar. “If your menu looks the same, your guests probably won’t notice the price change,” she says.

5. Competitor’s prices. When was the last time you dined at a competing restaurant? If it’s been a while, you’re missing crucial information that can help you set your prices. Find out what your competition offers and their price points. Don’t look just at online menus, Lombardi urges. Go in person so you can see the portion sizes, the preparation, the presentation—all factors that impact the value perception.

6. Menu mix. Lombardi recommends analyzing your menu composition by sorting the items into a matrix like the one below:

Low Margin High Margin
High Volume
Low Volume

Using this format, you can spot places to adjust prices, push sales or drop items. For example, can you increase the margin on a high volume/low margin item without losing significant sales? Can you increase sales of a low volume/high margin item by placing it more predominantly on the menu or giving servers a sales incentive? Remember: Different spots on the matrix play different roles in building your business. “You need a couple of items that are priced low enough to avoid the ‘veto vote’ from those in a group who want to go out but don’t want to spend a lot,” Lombardi says.

7. Ingredient adjustments. Before raising a menu price, consider whether you can make the dish for less, Lipsky recommends. Can you select a less expensive vendor, substitute similar but more affordable ingredients or make the portion size smaller? If none of these are feasible, you might need to raise prices. “But that doesn’t mean you have to raise the prices on your whole menu,” Lipsky says.

8. Historical data. Review your menu prices at least twice a year, if not quarterly, Lombardi recommends. Be sure to examine previous price changes, and see how they affected your bottom line before enacting your next set of changes.

To keep an accurate account of food cost and ensure you are making the best profit, sign up today with a MenuMax account. Our food cost and restaurant management tools provide an easy way to manage your back-of-house operation.

Turn your restaurant into a tourist destination

In this article from the National Restaurant Association, learn how to attract tourists this summer with these helpful tips.  Travelers spend more than $200 billion annually on food service in the United States, according to the U.S. Travel Association. On average, tourism accounted for nearly a third of fine-dining sales and almost a fourth of casual-dining sales in 2012, according to National Restaurant Association research.

Try these 10 tips to attract tourists:

1. Connect with concierges. “The concierge is the first person that hotel guests ask for a dining recommendation,” says Julie Zucker, director of marketing and promotions for Branded Restaurants USA in New York City. “We invite concierges for a meal so they can recommend us with confidence.” The company owns and operates three restaurant concepts, Big Daddy’s, Duke’s and City Crab.

Supervisors from San Antonio’s Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery visit area concierges weekly, greeting them with baked goods and a stack of “Amigo cards” to give hotel guests. The cards, which feature the concierge’s name and hotel, entitle customers to free desserts. Mi Tierra tracks the referrals, rewarding a concierge for every 20 customers.

2. Plug into social media. As soon as tourists head into Las Vegas and “check in” to a location with Facebook, the ads for local attractions start. Among them is Blondies Sports Bar & Grill on the Strip. “That’s been a great tool,” says manager Catherine Pavesich. “We find it works better than the old-fashioned visitors’ guides.”

Branded Restaurants USA uses Twitter to get the word out. “We look for the Twitter handles that tourists follow and post there,” says Zucker. For example, she might tweet at #nycgo that Big Daddy’s is offering free milkshakes with a purchase.

3. Act as area ambassadors. Build your reputation as a restaurant that welcomes visitors. “We train our servers to talk knowledgeably about the area and the local culture,” says David Cortez, co-owner of Mi Tierra. Some team members are certified city ambassadors through a program a San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau program that develops customer service and area expertise. Similar Certified Tourism Ambassador programs are available throughout the country.

4. Team up for cross-promotions. Work with local theaters, museums and other area attractions to piggyback promotions. For example, Havana Central in New York City’s Times Square, which specializes in Cuban cuisine, found a natural partner in Broadway’s “In the Heights,” which is set in a Latino neighborhood. The restaurant promoted a 20 percent discount code for “In the Heights” and offered a dining discount to guests presenting their ticket stubs. “We also catered their cast party,” says founder Jeremy Merrin. “That was tremendous exposure for us.”

5. Become a “bus stop.” Havana Central brings in the tourists by the busload, usually at off-peak times. “We offer a prix-fixé meal at a discount,” says Merrin. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Building up the tour clientele took time, says Merrin. “Originally we would spot bus drivers on the street and ask them what tour groups they were with.” After some cold calls to tour agencies, the restaurant began to land tour groups. “One you get on their schedule they come back again and again,” he says.

6. Make time for timeshares. Mai Kai, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., restaurant that runs a Polynesian revue show, offers a bulk discount to a local timeshare. The timeshare company purchases vouchers for a fixed-price dinner and show, using them as tour incentives.

7. Manage your online reputation. Monitor what tourists say about your restaurant on review sites such as TripAdvisor. Respond to reviews, especially negative ones, so you control your reputation. For example, if a tourist tries oysters and dislikes them, restaurant staff thank him or her for dining at the restaurant. “Then we might say: ‘While we think oysters are great, they’re not for everyone. Next time you’re in town, let us know if you want something you don’t see on our menu,’” Zucker says.

8. Become a site to see. Tourists flock to Mi Tierra for its festive décor and strolling musicians, to Mai Kai for a tropical waterfall view and to Polynesian revue and to Big Daddy’s for pop culture memorabilia, such as an autographed photo of the “Bay Watch” cast.

9. Work with your local convention and visitors bureau. These organizations can help promote your restaurant through their websites, visitor centers and more.

10. Find out how the tourists found you. On their comment cards, Mai Kai asks guests how they heard about the restaurant. The responses help guide future marketing decisions.