Aluminum Chairs v. Steel Chairs: How to select your outdoor restaurant seating

So you’re furnishing an outdoor restaurant patio and aren’t sure what seating to select.  Two popular choices are using aluminum seating or choosing a steel chair that’s been powder coated for outside use.

Aluminum is weather-resistant and quickly adapts to a person’s temperature upon being sat on, plus, it’s very affordable! Furniture with aluminum frames often come in many styles, colors, and coordinating materials.  However, aluminum is a softer metal, which is not warrantied for indoor placement due to the rigors of everyday use inside a typical bar or restaurant. Your aluminum chairs are lightweight, which is great for moving around during the day or to store at night but can be a factor if your restaurant is located in a windy city.

Steel is much more sturdy, heavier duty, and durable. However, it doesn’t have the natural weather-resistant properties as aluminum does, and if the surface powder coat scrapes off, your steel chairs could rust in those areas.  It’s often hotter to the touch after being exposed to direct sunlight, as well.  But with a beefier metal, your steel chairs will be warrantied for indoor or outdoor use and won’t be as likely to blow over in a breeze.

Watch our quick video above for more tips on deciding between aluminum and steel for your outdoor restaurant seating!  Tweet us @TablesChairsBar to let us know which you prefer: aluminum or steel?

The Ins & Outs of the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control)

Friends at a barMany restaurant owners or would-be owners aim to sell alcohol at their establishment, and for good reason: it’s a high-yield practice, it helps fill your restaurant tables with new patrons, and it doesn’t take more than one person—maybe two—to pour and serve drinks.

If you’re opening a restaurant or bar, or you own a restaurant where you’d like to add bar service or serve alcohol, you’ll work with your state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Some states are “control” states, where the state controls most or every aspect of alcoholic beverage sales. Other are “license” states, which don’t directly control the sale of alcohol, but have chosen in-state organizations to do so.

Liquor License Tips for Owners

Any group that wants to sell alcohol in their establishment must follow all federal, state, and local legislation pertaining to the sale of alcoholic beverages. The process is often very complicated, depending on the location, and there may be quotas that must be maintained. Here are some tips to get you started when you apply for a liquor license:

  • Know the specific laws that govern your restaurant’s/bar’s location. You must know where and what time of day alcohol can be served, how much can be served, what it must be served in, the costs of the alcohol, what kind of happy hour discount may or may not be used, and particular days alcohol may not be served (for example, some states have restrictions on Election Day).
  • Determine what kind of license you’ll need. Each state has its own type of liquor license, so first you’ll need to establish the kind of drinks you wish to sell and service: wine, beer, liquor, or distilled liquor, or any combination. Hotels may choose all of these options, while a tavern may only sell domestic or imported beer. Be sure to note what each of these licenses cost to initiate and renew, and then plan to build it into the cost of your drinks. In parts of the United States, the cost can top $50,000 just to obtain a license.
  • Depending upon the number of licenses available in your area, when applying for a license, you may have to wait until an existing license is transferred to your business. This can take months—or, in cases, years. If your state’s License Board accepts your application, there is a license that is readily available, and there are no hiccups, you could have your license within around three to six months.
  • Your state of residence may have other limitations or requirements before approving your license. The process can be so difficult that some businesses hire liquor license consultants, who can guide you through your state’s or area’s laws and procedures.

Your restaurant can benefit from the addition of a liquor license, but be sure that you know the laws, requirements, and restrictions for your state before beginning the application process. Having a well-managed plan will reduce hassles and have you serving drinks to customers in no time.

Which size umbrella do you need for your restaurant table?

It’s the dog days of summer, and your restaurant or resort guests are in need of a cool drink and some shade from those piercing sunbeams. Why not add some umbrellas to your patio tables in order to grant them some much-needed relief?  Not only do umbrellas offer a cooling, comfortable break from the hot summer’s rays, they can also add some fun and fancy to your patio decor!  Available in different shapes, a multitude of colors, and with your choice of center pole, you can select a commercial umbrella that works for the tables you’re dressing up.  Here’s our guide to picking the right size umbrella to accompany your commercial outdoor table:

Size of umbrella for table

Some 24″ tables cannot be used with an umbrella. We recommend using strong, sturdy tables with your umbrellas.  Most tables require a separate umbrella base to also be used to secure the umbrella at the ground.  Please note, if you’re ordering freestanding umbrellas, the base weight recommendations above do not apply.


How New Technology Offers Customer Service Improvements at Your Restaurant

Touchscreen Technology for Restaurants
Restaurant owners and managers are always seeking innovative ways to draw new customers and retain current ones. With the advent of mobile technology and social media, it’s become easier to reach out to a much larger customer base than ever before.

Here’s why you’ll want to be using technology that can help you introduce your eatery to the masses:

  • For Convenience. We mean both your convenience and your customers’ convenience. There are quite a few apps out there that can help your customers find you easily and then make a reservation, like Open Table. Having an online registration system that is connected to your computer system through a website, program, or the Cloud will make it easier for you to fill your open spots and open tables. Make sure your website has contact information both at the top and bottom of the page, and add a “Testimonials” tab and fill it with great reviews. Reviews and testimonials pages usually have the third-highest page views on a restaurant’s site, right after the home page and the menu.

    Offering WI-Fi is a must, and with chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s putting tablets at each table to place orders and pay bills, many owners will be thinking of other ways they can streamline their ordering system using wireless technology.

  • To Keep In Touch. With mobile devices so popular (more than 40% of website views are made from a tablet or phone), some restaurants create apps that help to tether their customers to them. If you can provide some helpful or entertaining information in app form, it may be a nice way to notify your customers of upcoming specials and encourage engagement with your brand.  How to get them to download it? Offer customers an instant coupon for downloading your app while they’re enjoying their meal, but be sure to provide an ongoing value to your app users.

    Email lists are helpful, too. Some places like to send out an email to customers that lists the weekly specials or the weekend entertainment schedules. Some owners use email to deliver special coupons to repeat customers, too. You can also use the email to get some fabulous reviews. Have a customer write a quick online review that can be used on your website or on Google Carousel, and then send them a coupon as thanks. They’re likely to return, and you now have a new review that you can publish and promote.

  • To Let You Share Your Experience. After you’ve had a great meal, you probably want to tell everyone how wonderful it was. Your customers are the same way: dining out isn’t just eating a meal, it’s an event they want to commemorate. They love taking pictures of food and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Urbanspoon.  Online reviews—whether they’re good or bad—are always a good way to connect and keep in touch with customers and everyone who is reading their appraisal of your restaurant.

    Social media can be a very powerful tool for telling your restaurant’s story and listening to the experiences of your customers.  Embrace social media tools for your restaurant as a way to get feedback and get to know your customers a little better.

The newest way to communicate to your customers may be through technology, but it’s also highly personal (known as “high-tech, high-touch”). Before you can embrace this technology, you’ll have to learn about it so that you can determine what’s most effective for your restaurant and your customer base. From there, you can start implementing some of these ideas, or hire someone to help, because once you start, you’ll get a following—and they’ll expect frequent updates. Set a schedule and stick to it, and get ready to welcome new customers through your door.

Managing Your Restaurant’s Food Inventory to Prevent Waste and Save Money

food management in your restaurantWhen polling restaurant owners, most say that properly managing your food inventory in order to reduce waste and lower expenses is one of the most important business matters that you need to consider when running a restaurant.

Of course, food is perishable. Unlike other products that can sit on a shelf for years and still be sold, it has a limited lifespan, which makes inventory control that much harder. You likely have many raw items that can only be stored for a short amount of time before they spoil. Food is likely your highest cost, and if it is wasted even before it can be used to create a meal, you’ll end up in the red very quickly.  You also never want to run out of the ingredients you depend on to create your signature dishes, disappointing guests waiting at the restaurant table.

Food Management Basics

How do you ensure that you have the food that you need on hand without it being wasted? Here are some tips from owners and managers who have operated both large and small restaurants.

  • Find the right amount of food inventory. Then, stick to that number. When you have lots of food, you may be more likely to use it freely. If you’ve just received a shipment of lettuce, you may try to make larger salads—because hey, it’s there. Instead, set an amount of lettuce that you’ll use for a salad and use that much every time. The same goes for meat, bread, and all of your food items.  Consistency is important. If you’re using more of an item because you’re worried that it will spoil, then you should be adjusting the amount of food that you’re purchasing.
  • Know the cost of your food and how much you’re purchasing. You probably keep a record of the cost of your food, plus how much you’ve received. (You can also use a restaurant database program that will automatically enter the amounts in a spreadsheet.) Look at this printout every week. From here, you can determine how much you’re buying, how much you’re spending, what is left after a week, what is being consumed, and how much you are making. This will help determine your bottom line and will let you know where you need to make changes. You’ll feel more confident when you enter the quantities on your food supply order form.
  • Don’t buy in bulk if it doesn’t help your bottom line. When a food service company begins to offer you steep discounts to buy larger quantities of food, you have to take several things into consideration. First, do you have the space to store this extra food? Will you be able to sell it before it must be thrown away? Perhaps you have a few popular menu items that use potatoes or you’re the local French fry emporium. Then, it may be worth it, but you’ll need to take your operational controls into account before using a vendor for bulk products. Remember, it doesn’t pay off if you’re wasting inventory, even if you got a great deal.

After you begin analyzing your supply, purchases, costs and profit, every week, you’ll have a very good grasp on how to properly manage your food inventory while saving money and increasing your food sales.

Easy Tips To Create Fabulous Cinco de Mayo Promotions

If you’re looking for a fun and effective marketing promotion that’s sure to attract customers, maybe it’s time to create a new tradition using a popular holiday that’s become a springtime favorite around the country—Cinco De Mayo, the fifth of May.


Invite Your Customers to a Cinco de Mayo Party

Cinco de Mayo Promotions for Bars and RestaurantsThis Mexican holiday, celebrated mostly in the United States, has been popular in the southwest for a long time, but has been slowly spreading across the rest of the country for the past few decades. Even if your restaurant doesn’t normally serve Mexican food, you can still create a fun day (or weekend event) that will pack the customers into your place! Here’s what you can for Cinco de Mayo:

Food specials. There are many different kinds of Mexican cuisine that you can make: enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and fajitas. While it may not be your restaurant’s usual fare, maybe pick one or two dishes that you can make quickly and easily to tie in with your Cinco de Mayo promotion. Consider free food promotions, too. Create a mini taco station or nacho station with some fixings like cheese, beans, and ground beef, or hand out complimentary chips and salsa. If you have an outdoor area, consider setting up some food tents that carry different Mexican specialties, and include some drink pairings, too.  Be sure to have folding tables on hand in advance to set up your event stations.

Drink specials. Of course, Mexican-themed beers and other alcoholic beverages, like margaritas, should be on tap. Dos Equis, sangria, and tequila are all good choices. Give everyone a special price on these drinks on May 5—maybe tie in the number “5” into the prices ($5 margaritas, 3 beers for $5).

Music and dance. Featuring live bands and DJs is a Cinco de Mayo tradition. A mariachi band or tejano music will add to the atmosphere. Many bands enjoy getting a restaurant’s patrons involved by teaching them some short songs and dances, handing out maracas, and asking everyone to sign and dance along.

Family events. This year, Cinco de Mayo is on a Monday, which means that many places will be running weekend events to celebrate. During the day, attract families with the promise of face painting, small sombreros, maracas, and children’s Mexican dances.


Larger-scale Cinco De Mayo Celebrations

If there are other restaurants or bars in the area that are also running Cinco de Mayo specials, you may want to run a block party with an outdoor stage, different bands and singers, and games and prizes.

Remember to promote your Cinco de Mayo event on your website, and also by using social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Offer Facebook coupons or “check-in” specials so that your customers’ friends know just where they’re going to be on Cinco de Mayo. The fifth of May is a great way to bring in new customers before the summer season starts!

7 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Bar or Restaurant

cleaning tips for your restaurantIt’s that time of year again.  Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and your customers have an extra, “I’m so glad winter is over,” bounce in their step.  Be sure to greet them with a fresh, clean environment that everyone can sing about.  Time to roll up your sleeves and tackle the dirt and grime that have been building up all year long. Time for spring cleaning!

1. Curbside appeal
When you drive up to work everyday, you might not notice all the details a first-time customer will see when they pull into your lot or walk up to your door.  Make a good first impression by tidying up outside, adding a few welcoming spring flowers, or offering an inviting bench for patrons waiting on friends or family to arrive.  Always make sure you have a convenient place for your guests to toss their trash, as well, so you can continue to maintain a beautiful entrance.

2. Carpets, curtains, linens, accessories
Once inside, take a look around. Do you need new carpets? What about window coverings? How do your table linens look? It might be a good time to call your linen supply company and talk about how you can freshen up your interior.  Also, evaluate your decorations and accessories. How regularly are those picture frames being cleaned? What about those plaques hanging near your doorway? Do you have other wall art or shelf decorations that need cleaned – or changed out for a more contemporary look?  Now is a great time to redecorate and refresh your linens and other decor pieces.

3. Deep clean the kitchen and bar
Do you remember the first time you watched Bar Rescue or Restaurant: Impossible and had a slight panic attack when the team revealed a layer of grease and grime on the bottom shelf behind the bar, because you couldn’t remember the last time you looked that closely at your own bottom shelf booze?  Did you race to work the next day with a bucket in hand?  Now’s the time to get down and get dirty. Really give your kitchen, prep, bar, and food storage areas a deep clean to remove anything that would embarrass you if Jon Taffer came walking through your doors, cameras rolling.

4. Bathrooms
In 2013, USA Today reported, “Some 50% of restaurant patrons who have a negative experience with a bathroom — from dirty toilets to grimy soap dispenses to bad odors — will blab about it to friends and family, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive for SCA Tissue North America.”  The evidence is real; a dirty bathroom means lost business and a filthy reputation.  Cleaning a bathroom is a multiple-times-a-day activity at your bar or restaurant, but this spring, go beyond the surface.  Look at tile health and clean the grouting. Tune up the toilets and faucets for efficiency. Clean the inside of the paper towel holders.  Would your patrons enjoy a basket of might-needs on the counter?  Do the baby changing tables need any TLC in both the women’s or men’s bathrooms?  Review your vendor prices and Eco-friendly promises to make sure you’re still satisfied with their bathroom supply products and services.  After all, the bathroom is perhaps more important than the kitchen in your customers’ eyes.

5. Furniture and equipment
Every year, you should inspect your restaurant furniture and foodservice equipment for signs of wear and tear.  For example, make sure all the legs on wooden furniture are sturdy and tighten up any loose bolts. Check for scratches on metal frames and touch up with a can of spray paint. Repair any rips or tears in torn vinyl seats or upholstered restaurant booths. Ensure all of your kitchen appliances are running properly and efficiently. Be sure to take out of service any furniture or equipment that is no longer safe for everyday use and replace with safer products.  Wooden table tops may need re-sanded, or outside teak furniture may need re-oiled.  These items work hard for you, facing many rigors in a commercial environment, so it’s important you give them some TLC each year to increase their lifespan.

6. Staff uniforms
Being fashion-forward, clean, and neat are important attributes for a waitstaff’s wardrobe.  If you have veteran employees with older uniforms, be sure there are no rips, tears, or big, fat, ugly stains on their clothing. Make sure staff are equipped with the best aprons, chef gear, or company t-shirts, so your staff are always presenting the best image of your brand. Ask staff to do an inventory of their apparel for you, and make sure everyone has a clean, new-looking set of uniforms ready for when they head to work next!

7. Staff re-training
Cleanliness is an everyday priority at your establishment, and you teach safe practices at every opportunity. But organizing some refresher courses for staff will help reinforce the importance for everyone.  Take the time to review cross-contamination prevention and proper hand-washing techniques, while also reminding staff of the right way to clean table tops, disinfect prep counters, and address regular bathroom check-ups. Spring is also a great season to review the cleaning products you’re using for each application for cleaning power, price, and convenience, and make sure to communicate which products your staff should use where.

After completing these seven steps, you’ll be bragging to your Health Department officer and feeling really proud to serve your customers in a refreshed and germ-free environment. Go you!


Grow Your Restaurant Business with Reservations

How to manage restaurant reservationsReservations and wait lists can help to draw customers to your restaurant—or they can cause problems that can irritate your regular Saturday evening crowd. No shows, late-shows, and shifting party sizes can cut into your bottom line and make it more difficult to seat those customers who have come on time. Let’s face it, no one likes a long wait for a restaurant table. There are several ways to make a reservation or wait list system work in your business’s favor. If you’re planning to introduce a reservation system or would like to streamline your existing one, the following tips will be helpful.

Reservation System Benefits

If a bad reservation system is prone to mishaps, why take reservations at all? There are several reasons to improving your reservation management system:

• Accepting reservations can increase your number of patrons by 30 percent or more.

• You can plan staff and cooking requirements accordingly.

• If expecting a large party for a big occasion, you can organize the dining room ahead of time which will make seating all patrons more efficient during that shift.

• Attract more customers simply through word-of-mouth. If your restaurant is well-known for seating diners quickly, then you’ll book larger parties, which means you’ll be bringing in more profit.

Make Your Reservation System Work For You

Managing your reservation system properly is the key, whether you expect 50 diners or 350. Think about your customers and the atmosphere they expect before and during dining.

Accept online reservations. Your customers are likely looking for an easy way to reserve a table, and an online reservation system is convenient. Give them the option of making plans using their computer or mobile device. To help lessen the chance of a no-show, require them to list their cell phone number and email address when they reserve so that you can easily contact them with a reminder.

Ask for a credit card when they reserve. Then, charge a fee if they don’t show or don’t cancel within a set amount of advance notice. This will help to ensure that if a customer’s plans change, they will be more inclined to let you know they won’t be coming so that their card isn’t charged. This is not always a popular approach, but it works in higher-end restaurants.

Consider a wait list and call-ahead seating. Since a reservation system can decrease the amount of walk-in traffic you may get, a wait list could work in your favor instead. That way, you can still guarantee seating for diners by using a wait-list approach. When diners come in, take their name and their cell phone number or give them a buzzer. When their table is ready, call their name, text them, or activate the buzzer. A call-ahead process organizes patrons in a similar way, with diners telling the restaurant what time they’re coming. That way, the host can prepare for their arrival and arrange them on the seating list.

Train your front of the house staff. Your host staff will need to learn how the new or improved reservation or wait list system operates. Be sure they are keeping track of reservation times and working together to perfect the process. Listen to their suggestions for additional streamlining opportunities to continually improve how your restaurant takes reservations.  

An organized and well-planned reservation system can attract new diners and satisfy your regulars, too. What tips do you have to share?


From Restaurateur to Caterer: How to Add Catering to Your Restaurant Business

Start a Catering BusinessOne of the most common ways that restaurants increase their profits is by introducing catering to their overall business strategy. When people try and gush over your food at a catered event, they’ll be more likely to come to your restaurant for a meal, and your lines of business will benefit from one another. You already have a location, kitchen, menu, staff, and customers, so adding a catering business can be a positive change for your bottom line. Be sure to follow these tips if you’re considering this kind of venture:

Determine your level of service. Positioning yourself as a full-service caterer or as a pick-up caterer will establish the kind of business that you want to promote. Many wedding caterers distinguish themselves from similar businesses by setting up and decorating guests’ tables, providing waiters and bar tenders, and cleaning up after the event. Find out what other caterers provide to their clients, review their pricing, and then use that information to determine if your catering business fills a definite need in your area.

Location, location. Do you want to be an off-site only caterer, or would you like to also have an on-site area for guests? If your restaurant already has a banquet room or if you can set aside some space for a dedicated room, consider on-site catering. Bringing in groups of people who will be dining on a pre-determined menu not only gives you the opportunity to dazzle more people, but allows you to streamline your menu items and use certain ingredients for both your catering and restaurant menus. 

Create a catering menu. While drawing from the same ideas that are on your regular menu, your catering menu will likely not be identically the same as the one you use in your restaurant.

  1. First, think about the kind of catering business that you would like to have. Do you see yourself as a gourmet wedding caterer? Do you plan on serving sandwiches at corporate events? Is your niche more along the lines of home-cooked picnic food? Think about what image you want to project.
  2. Next, begin creating menu items that are similar to your restaurant meals. If you’re known for locally-sourced food, especially during the summer time, then you may be thinking of catering items that showcase fruits, vegetables, and starches or protein from your area. If you’re a coastal restaurant, that could mean a seafood-based catering menu with fresh-caught specialties.
  3. Finally, don’t forget your signature menu items. If your restaurant has a tried-and-true favorite, be sure to offer your best sellers on your catering menu, too. 

Allocate resources to maximize profits. Make sure that you review the food that you are buying for your restaurant and how that can be used for your catering, too. As we said above, your catering menu is likely to have the same flavor as your in-restaurant menu. But, you will also have to think of how much longer it will take to make large quantities of food and the additional staff you’ll need to cook and deliver the order, plus additional transportation costs if it’s required for your style of catering.

A catering business is a wonderful way to advertise your restaurant, and your restaurant is the perfect vehicle for promoting your catering. The two work hand-in-hand to increase your customer base and encourage loyalty to your business. Devise a business model that makes sense for your restaurant and let everyone know that you’re there to cater their next event!

Best Advice for Restaurant Managers

advice for restaurant managersRestaurant managers are under a lot of pressure, and why wouldn’t they be? Day after day, night after night, they orchestrate the front of the house while keeping diners happy. They coordinate with the executive chef and are required to be experts in human resources, time management, and inventory control. When you consider how many duties a restaurant manager has to juggle, it’s not surprising that many would love to hear how other managers bring the best experience possible to their customers.

Here are some great pieces of advice that East Coast Chair & Barstool has heard from accomplished restaurant managers. 

·        Don’t try to change it all. You’re not Gordon Ramsay. If you’d like to make changes, especially if you’re starting to manage a restaurant that has been in business for some time, observe the general atmosphere and front-end business, then pinpoint several areas that you believe need the most work and can make the biggest impact. Major changes can throw a restaurant into upheaval, change the quality of the food, and hurt the restaurant’s image. For instance, if your diners mostly come to your restaurant for a healthy, quick lunch, adding fried foods to the menu may disappoint your regulars. Be sure that your changes will make your customer base happy.

·        Budget your time so your restaurant can grow. Time management is probably the most useful skill a restaurant manager has. Knowing how long everything should take, and then knowing how long it actually takes is the first step. From there, you can plan how to improve your process, your training, and your delegation skills. If you don’t know how to manage your time, don’t worry. It’s something that can be taught. Why not use the same time management programs that CEOs rely on? It will change you from a manager who may micromanage or manage ineffectively, to one who can learn how to set aside extra time to grow their restaurant. Once you carve out that time, you can increase your productivity and then coach your staff to do the same.

 ·       Schedule your employees so they have a life. Restaurant employees know that they will be working long shifts and long hours, but if you can create a schedule that gives them the opportunity to enjoy planned days off on a regular basis, then you’ll be able to garner employee loyalty, reduce waitstaff turnover, and have your pick of potential employees once the word gets out that believe in work-life balance. Hiring the right people is a key part of a restaurant’s success, and you want to make sure that you can choose from a wide talent base.

 ·       Be business savvy, not just restaurant savvy. You may have been working in restaurants since you were a teenager, but do you have experience with inventory management, budgeting, labor requirements, legal issues, and overall administrative duties? If not, consider taking a course in restaurant management so that you can make sure you’re impacting business in the best way. 

We’d love to hear your advice too! Leave us a comment below to share your own advice and experiences.