Tips for Hiring Millennials and iGens in Your Restaurant

Millenial server training with chef in a restaurant

Have you caught yourself saying it yet? Those words that made you cringe when your parents or grandparents used to say them to you? “I just don’t understand kids these days! When I was your age, I…” I’m sure you can finish that sentence. As the generations below us keep getting younger, we’ll likely catch ourselves saying those words that we dreaded hearing as a youngster, if you haven’t already.

In the restaurant industry, owners are experiencing a similar situation. They are trying to make sense of the generation that is now taking over the workforce as well as preparing for the generation that is currently and will soon be making their entrance. We’re referring to Generation Y, also known as the millennials, and the new and upcoming Generation Z.

Despite the comments that you may have caught yourself saying about these two generations already, they are both intriguing groups of people who have so much to offer the restaurant industry. They may have a different focus, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make great employees. Let’s explore the characteristics of these two generations followed by some tips that you can use when employing these young workers in your restaurant.

Generation Y or “Millennials”

Born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, millennials are the most diverse generation ever. Generalizations surrounding this group typically include terms like entitled, optimistic, hungry, digital, social, global, and inpatient. They are tech savvy achievers labeled as wanting to be their own boss, have flexible schedules, but most importantly, doing work that matters. They are known as the most likely generation to volunteer and give back specifically for personal growth. They are engaged when allowed to work independently, when their creative input is valued, and when their thoughts and ideas are heard. Millennials are motivated when they see advancement in their positions as well as when they are given opportunities to earn more money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is expected that by 2020, millennials will make up almost 50 percent of the US workforce.

Tips for employing Millennials

With their presence in our industry now, here are some tips that restaurant owners can use when employing millennials:

  • Best practices in hiring: tell your story about who you are and what’s important to your company, emphasize the culture within your restaurant, and maintain a strong presence on the internet as well as on social media. All of these practices will pull this generation in to want to work for you because of the connection that you have created with them.
  • Offer applications online.  These tech savvy individuals prefer to do everything online, even completing an application. Have a form they can complete and submit anytime from anywhere. Paired with this, be sure to offer a notification within 24 hours that you have received their materials. You can even ask the interviewee to submit a video application with specific questions they would need to answer like “why do you want to work for our restaurant” or “what makes you stand out.”
  • Interviews should stress what it takes for them to be successful in the position that they are interviewing for. If there is room for advancement, it is important to mention that. It would be helpful to use several decision makers during this process with open ended questions that offer the interviewee the opportunity to be heard by many.
  • When training, it’s important to know that in general, everyone learns differently. Embrace this idea, but make it interactive using creative avenues to appeal to this group. Ideas include using photo and video for training from your website, pairing the trainee with a trainer for mentoring, and/or demonstrating a task followed by the employee doing the task for the most impact.
  • Tips to help them succeed once they work for you:
    • Always encourage employee engagement and feedback. Millennials want to be heard and for you to really hear and understand what they have to say. Engage in conversations surrounding these topics in addition to giving them constructive feedback so that they can be successful in their position.
    • Offer flexibility with scheduling. You likely have a set schedule that you need employee coverage. Consider offering split shifts or alternate schedules to appeal to this crew.
    • Give employees more varied job responsibilities. Hiring an employee for a set position that you need to fill ensures that those tasks are covered. But, how about flipping around roles or changing things up? Can you distribute tasks in a different way to offer more variety on the job? Consider these things only if it does not complicate the routine and flow of your business.
    • Embrace social causes. This is the generation that cares for others. If you support any charities or give to any causes, communicate that. Not only to your employees, but also to your customer base.
    • Discuss short and long term goals. Millennials want to do well in the jobs they are working in now. But, they are also interested in the future. Be clear about any advancement opportunities and what it will take to reach those positions.

Generation Z or “iGens”

Generation Z is also known as “iGens”, a name they have gained through alignment with Apple products. Since this group hasn’t known anything other than a world with technology, their nickname seems appropriate. Born between the mid or late 1990s or from the mid 2000s to the present day, Generation Z is often labeled with terms like high maintenance, realistic, loyal, energetic, creative, curious, global, entrepreneurial, and technologically proficient. They are also seen as highly connected because they are the generation raised early on with smart phones, touchscreens, and tablets. They create the trends and share it on all of their social media accounts while loving that they have information at their fingertips. Because of this, instant gratification is extremely important.

Tips for employing iGens

Since Generation Z is the future of your restaurant, here are some tips that you can use when employing these young workers:

  • Best practices in hiring: incorporate technology, embrace a mentoring program, be quick to respond to their needs, and listen to their ideas.   All of these practices will pull this generation in to work for you because of the importance these play in their lives.
  • Go mobile. This group likely has a phone attached to their hip for instant…anything. If they can go to your website and find out what you’re all about from their phone, they will. If they can find an application on your website from their phone, they will.   If they can pull up that application and submit it to your restaurant from their phone, they will. Anything and everything can be done from a phone so it’s important for your restaurant to have a mobile presence to appeal to this group.
  • Interviewing practices are the same for this group as with Millennials above. But another technique to try is behavioral interviewing. This type of interviewing simply involves asking applicants to tell you a story and then listen to what they have to say. For example, ask them to “tell me a story about a time you solved a problem at work.” Or, “tell me a story about a conflict you had with another employee at work. How did you solve it?” You may already be using this action based interview strategy but if not, it can really tell you a lot about what kind of employee the individual will be.
  • Training should encompass multiple strategies. One of the most important is implementing mentoring programs. Pairing each new employee with a mentor will provide access to how the business is run as well as ongoing assistance for all those questions that come up in the first few months on the job. It’s also a great tool to encourage communication and build a sense of community within the culture of your business. Another strategy to offer is providing visuals with training. Visual representations and teachings show the step by step process of how something is done. Visuals will clarify any questions with your processes and when done with a mentor, can prove to be very effective. Both of these strategies are important to include in your training program to motivate this group of driven workers.
  • Other general tips that will be help them succeed:
    • Listen to these trend setters. If you want to make an impression on this generation because they represent the bulk of your customer base, ask your employees who are members of it. They are creative and know how to get the word out. Take the time to listen to what they have to say so that you can implement their ideas and make a statement. Not only will this help with your current customer base but it may attract some new customers.
    • Use rewards. This generation is used to getting a ribbon, trophy, or some kind of reward for everything that they do. Implementing an employee reward program that offers recognition will be motivating especially when you change it often.

Generation Y and Z are filling up the workforce that currently represents restaurant employees. As owners and managers of these establishments, learning more about how to motivate and retain these individuals are key to running a successful business in today’s world. With some adaptations and changes in the way we hire, train, and employ these future leaders, we’ll be saying “when I was your age, I….” much less than our parent

The Fast Casual Storm: How You Can Compete

Panera Bread Fast Casual Restaurant.

Trends in the restaurant industry are changing thanks to the influence of fast casual restaurants. Establishments like Chipotle, Taco Del Mar, Five Guys, and Panera Bread, to name a few, are taking the industry over by storm. So, what’s the big deal? Why are these types of restaurants becoming “the” places for dining out?

What is Fast Casual?

Let’s first define what encompasses the fast casual trend. The term fast casual comes from the joining of “fast” food and “casual” dining because it offers elements of both. It is a type of restaurant that offers a higher quality fast food experience with fresh ingredients in a more modern upscale atmosphere.  Front counter service is available to place an order, pay, and retrieve food, followed by customers taking a seat in a dining area that is free of any table service. When placing an order, customers are often offered an interactive experience where they can choose exactly what they want from a visual array of additions, ala Chipotle. It’s customization at its finest! Meal prices at these establishments tend to range from $8 and $15 with payment up front and a minimal wait time.

Customers are changing.

That all sounds great but why is the growth of fast casual restaurants seemingly outpacing other restaurant concepts at an incredibly fast rate? Well, it all comes down to the fact that consumers today are different than those of past decades. In our very fast paced world of cell phones and instant access to the internet, consumers are becoming accustomed to having information and choices available at their fingertips; they want what they want and they want it right now. In other words, people want fast customization especially when they are hungry. And, who wouldn’t? Having fresh, healthy options that you choose and can eat in a matter of minutes is becoming the norm.

Competition is fierce!

With the rapid growth of fast casual restaurants, established restaurants are finding that it’s not easy to compete. McDonald’s is one such establishment who has reported a disappointing global decrease in sales as well as in guest traffic with these new customer demands. Due to these declines, even the industry leader in fast food is realizing that they need to make changes to fulfill the desires of their customers. So, what can you do as a restaurant owner do to maintain a strong business presence while co-existing with this new fast casual trend?

Where do you stand and what can you do to compete?

First, answer this. Are fast casual restaurants your competition? If fast casual restaurants aren’t directly in competition with the type of restaurant that you fall under, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Keep doing what you are doing and do it well.   Maintain excellent customer service, quality menu items, and a clean and friendly atmosphere. There are still diners who want to be served at a table, don’t mind waiting for table service, and might not always be in the mood for the fast casual experience.

If you are in direct competition with the growth of fast casual restaurants, you have one of two options. You can jump on the bandwagon and adopt some of the ideas from the fast casual trend to implement in your restaurant or you can stick to your niche and do it well.

Many well-known restaurants are trying to adapt. Let’s stick with McDonald’s for example. Recent press releases have communicated a change in ways for this famous chain. McDonald’s will be transitioning to cage-free eggs, sourcing antibiotic-free chicken, and hormone free beef. They have already started to serve a new salad mix consisting of a blend of romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach, in addition to simplifying their menu. If you think that adapting to the fast casual experience like McDonald’s is the best way to respond, there are things you can do to make your restaurant more appealing. Add new adventurous flavors to your menu, incorporate fresh natural ingredients, and keep it healthy. To do this, try adding new gourmet sauces to your sandwiches or as a side. You can also replace frozen or processed ingredients with local sourced vegetables and meats. In addition, offer menu items that customers can run in and pick up quickly and don’t take as long to cook.  If feasible, you could even give the interior and exterior of your restaurant a more modern upscale look offering a new arrangement that appeals to this trend.

If you implement these ideas, be sure to tell you customers about it! Use social media as an avenue to advertise to the masses. Pictures of new menu items, a new interior set up, or even added parking for quick to-go orders are all great ideas for Instagram. Twitter tweets and posts on Facebook that incorporate new hashtags or creative ways to let your customers know about the changes you made are imperative to encourage customers to test the new waters. But remember this. If you make all of these changes, be sure to stay true to your brand in the process. In other words, don’t forget the core values that you built your business on. Your goal will be to continue to keep your customer base happy while offering options that align with this new trend. Keeping these things in mind while changing the services you provide to your customers will keep your restaurant from getting lost in the hustle and bustle of this new fast casual world.

A final thought.

As time passes, trends change. Even in the restaurant industry. As you try to decide how or if your restaurant will respond to this new fast casual trend, ask yourself this one question. Will you opt to change to be “like” the best or will you just “be” the best? Your answer will guide you to success.

Top Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Food Waste in a Garbage Can - Image Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

There is a growing concern in our country that those in the restaurant industry need to know about: food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the food supply, which is about 133 billion pounds of food per year. That is a lot of food! With this abundance of food waste, the negative impacts are becoming greater. We are seeing nutritious food that could help feed families in need being sent to landfills. As these landfills continue to fill up, methane is being generated, a known contributor to climate changes and global warming. In addition, the resources that are being used to produce, process, transport, prepare, store, and dispose of wasted food, are ones that could be used towards other uses that would have a greater benefit on our society. As these impacts add up, our country is noticing how big this problem truly is.

In response to this problem, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030. What does this mean for restaurants? It’s time to take action to reduce food waste! Not just for the sake of the national goal of reduction, but also for your own sake of saving your business the increasing amounts of money that is being spent on food that just goes to waste. Here are some tips that you can implement is your restaurant to combat this growing concern.

Track Your Food Waste

The first step to controlling food waste is to figure out how much food you’re actually wasting.  If you’re unsure of how much food waste your restaurant produces, institute a process to track your food waste for a week. Ask all staff to document what percentage or amount of food that they throw away before it hits the trash. With this data, make a plan to minimize that waste with the considerations below.

 Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge is a program that the USDA and the EPA launched in June of 2013. This program challenges “entities across the food chain”, restaurants included, to join efforts to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. By joining, entities demonstrate their commitment to take action to reduce food waste for free. You are just asked to document ways that your restaurant will reduce food waste in the next year and follow through on that list.   To join the Food Waste Challenge, click here.

Proper storage

When storing foods, we all know how important temperature control is. Best practices for temperature control are twofold: frequent checking and documentation of your cooler and freezer thermometers in addition to making sure they are at the required temperatures. Coolers should remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for proper storage and freezers should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, not all foods need to be put in the cooler or freezer. For those items that do not, storage considerations should involve standard food containers and food packaging wrap. The more proper you are about storage, the longer it will last, and the less you will have to throw away.

Labeling paired with a “first in, first out” policy

Labeling is a key part to food storage. Not only because your staff needs to know what each container or box holds, but also so they know which foods to use first. Using the “first in, first out” policy means that you are storing newer products behind the older ones, therefore using the older products in the front first. Monitoring your staff is the key to this policy because even if you train them to pull down the older products first, it is likely that it will be tempting for them to grab a newer or fresher product in the back.

Portion control

The portions you serve to your customers are in direct correlation to your food waste. Plates full of food are often destined for the trash can because it’s just too much to eat. Consider offering smaller portions of your foods and make sure that the portions remain consistent.  We suggest that you have your staff measure each portion that they make and serve. Not only will this help with waste, but it will also help to reduce your food costs. In addition, consider adding half-portions of meals already on your menu at a lower price in order to avoid the excess food landing in the trash.

Smart purchasing

Since over-purchasing of perishable items is a big problem when it comes to food waste, it’s important to buy smart. Smart buying encompasses taking regular counts of your inventory, inspecting foods upon arrival with the non-acceptance of items that are spoiled, and consistency with inventory tracking. Add to this the fact that you should only buy what you need. Use your inventory tracking system to identify trends in purchasing. Once those trends are identified, you can let them lead the way to successful ordering that keeps money in your register.

Other general tips

In addition to the tips listed above, please find below some other general tips that might help you in reducing food waste.

  • If you find you have perishable items that will be soon to spoil, add menu items that include that item into your daily or weekly specials
  • Institute creative ways to re-use food like turning bread into croutons or using vegetables and meats in soups
  • Encourage employees to take home foods that you will only end up throwing away at the end of the day or night
  • Donate food that you will not use to families in need. There are federal laws that encourage food donation and offer tax deductions as well as protection from liability if a donation causes illness or injury. Many organizations exist that collect and distribute food donations to those who need it. For a listing of laws in place or organizations to donate to, click here.
  • Always offer take home containers to your customers for any foods that might still be on their plate. Offer containers that are microwave safe and re-usable to encourage an easy heat up and less waste.
  • Use refillable bottles, dishes, or containers for condiments instead of the single packs. Set these items on each table so that customers use only what they need.   If you are using the single packs, avoid putting them out where customers can grab them. They will likely grab more than what they need and throw away the unused packs in the trash.
  • Reduce the amount of bread and rolls that are offered before each meal and/or reduce the size of appetizers that you offer. These foods tend to fill customers up thus contributing to the possibility of having more food left over from the main dish.
  • Purchase a commercial vacuum sealer to keep your foods as fresh as possible for as long as possible

Regardless of the steps you decide to implement, taking action against food waste is an important part of creating a solution to this growing problem. Simple steps in the regular routine and daily processes within your restaurant will serve a huge benefit to your wallet as well as have a positive impact on society and the environment. That’s what you call a “win, win” situation.

Hungry For Talent: Strategies For Enticing New Cooks

Line cook in the kitchen.

There is a quiet epidemic in the restaurant industry that very few patrons are aware of – the lack of hireable line cooks. With a new generation being raised on The Food Network everyone entering the restaurant industry wants to be a celebrity chef, but nobody wants to start from the bottom as a line cook.  These shows are not an accurate representation of how much work it takes to get to the top of the restaurant industry as a chef, and especially not the hard work and luck it takes to become a celebrity chef. These shows are creating a divide between the expectations of those entering the industry and the realities of working in a kitchen.

With the uptick in the economy, the number of new restaurants is increasing nationwide but the number of cooks being produced by culinary schools isn’t keeping up with the current demand creating a shortage of employable line cooks that restaurant owners are feeling in their kitchens. With the abundance of jobs, new cooks simply leave looking for better opportunities. Chefs are saying that it is not unusual for a line cook to stay for only a few months before leaving again. Those left behind are the ones feeling the pinch of an understaffed kitchen.

The Deterrents

Many cities are experiencing the shortage of cooks. From New York City to San Francisco, ads are being placed everyday looking for skilled cooks. Part of the issue is the hours. Cooks must be willing to work weekends, nights, and holidays. All times that would normally be spent with family or friends. In the past working grueling hours was the only option for an aspiring chef. Until recently. New options such as food trucks, pop up restaurants (temporary eateries that appear during festivals) and tech companies with cafeterias, can offer better hours, higher pay, and better benefits. Having the career you love and still getting to spend time with loved ones is the dream for any person. Positions offering those opportunities are luring more and more cooks away from the restaurant industry leaving a deficit.

Location can be an issue for many restaurants as well. City life is expensive and the average cook in the United States makes $10-$12 an hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with those working in large cities being on the higher end of the national average. With the average rent in a city like New York being around $1,200 a month, living in the city just isn’t feasible for these line cooks on the wages they are currently receiving. More and more are migrating to smaller towns where there is still a strong need but the cost of living is more affordable. Even the commute to work being 15 minutes closer can be a determining factor when deciding upon employment. This movement is creating the deficit that city restaurants are currently trying to deal with.

What Can A Restaurant Do?

In the face of the shortage, what can a restaurant do to lure skilled line cooks back into its kitchens? The obvious answer for some businesses is to start offering higher starting rates and signing bonuses. A lot of graduates fresh from culinary school are facing large student loans they need to pay off. The tuition, supplies, and room and board for the Culinary Institute of America tops $31,000 a year. It can be a challenge to pay for student loans before the cost of living is even factored into the equation. An offer of higher pay with a bonus can be very appealing when those bills start rolling in.

“We now pay our staff probably $3 to $5 an hour more than we did when we first opened [in 2012],” Chef/owner Will Gilson from Puritan & Company Chef pot cooking on stovein Massachusetts told Fortune this year.

The signing bonuses don’t always need to be monetary though. Paying for required shoes, uniforms, or other items can be a great way to entice a new employee. Anything an aspiring chef would need or would want career wise, can be used as a bargaining tool.

Other restaurants are going right to the source. Offering programs where they will pay for part of an employee’s student loans each month after a probationary period. Some groups, such as Boston Urban Hospitality which operates three restaurants, are offering up to $1,000 a month to help with student loans after a three month probationary period. Without the strain of student loans the smaller wages can become much more livable.

With housing being an issue for many trying to work in cities, some businesses have chosen to offer assistance in finding affordable housing. Moving for a job becomes an easier decision when you know the rent will be reasonably priced and possibly close to work. The added stress of finding a place to live is taken away and allows the employee to focus on their job.
Another route for a restaurant is to offer additional training to cooks who agree to work for them. Investing in programs to teach the cooks new and creative ways of preparing food is a draw for many looking to expand upon the knowledge they already have. A way to continue education and a sense of working towards something greater is a goal for many millennials, and cooks are no exception. It also helps to keep them focused on the kitchen and keeps their eyes from wandering towards other opportunities.

If none of those work for you, try offering to critique students at a local culinary school. It is a great way to network with current students. While judging if you find a student you think would work well in your kitchens you can offer them a position before they have done too much searching elsewhere. Offering them an externship is also a viable alternative. Starting a cook in your own kitchen can be an easier way to develop the talent of the candidate to the needs of your kitchen.

With a 10% growth rate the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts an additional 175,000 jobs for cooks in the next decade. As long as shows such as Iron Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen have prevalence, the new generation of cooks is going to have higher expectations from their employers than the generation before. Unless some changes are made in the industry to the long hours and low wages, the problem is going to persist for years to come. Now is the time for restaurant owners to start taking a look at the way they are recruiting their new cooks.

Don’t Hate, “DONATE” with a Plan! Tips for Charitable Fundraising at Your Restaurant!

Fundraising cards lik Peel-A-Deal are a great, easy option for restaurants to help charities.

It’s that time of year again…back to school and back to a more rigid routine. What does this mean for restaurant owners? Likely, request after request for donations to support schools, groups, and organizations as they begin their campaigns to raise funds. Unfortunately, you can’t support them all. If you did, you may no longer be in business. But for the ones that you do support, why not establish fundraising opportunities that you offer and master so that the experience is easier for everyone?

Check out this list of ideas that you can use for your restaurant. If these ideas aren’t for you, maybe they can at least get your mind rolling with some other fundraising ideas that your restaurant can offer.

  • Donate coupons or gift cards to teachers at your local schools. The teachers can then present these coupons or cards to students who have good attendance, show academic improvement, and good citizenship in school. You can do this monthly, every other month, or several times a year.
  • Sell group fundraising cards like Peel-A-Deal to organizations at a discount. You get the money up front and the organization does the rest. The only thing you need to do is order the cards, decide what coupon offers will be included on the cards and how much you are going to charge the organization per card. It’s common that the organization purchases the card for half of what you charge them, typically $5 for a $10 card.
  • Host nights where a date is set with the organization and a certain percentage of the sales that evening are donated to their cause. You can even narrow it down to dining visits within a specific time frame as well as to a specific menu item. But, be careful not to narrow it down too much or the amount of funds you raise will be limited. Hoss’s Family Steak & Sea House is a restaurant who offers this type of program with their dine-in fundraisers.
  • Offer a t-shirt fundraiser where a certain percentage of each t-shirt sold by the organization goes to their cause. The t-shirt, sporting both your restaurant logo and the organization logo, can be custom made for purchase with an agreed upon design. Every time that shirt is worn, it advertises your restaurant. You can even accomplish this idea using trendy bracelets or hats.
  • Offer to cater an organization’s charitable event instead of making a monetary donation. This will allow attendees of the event to get a taste of your food while you offer your support. You will not only help the organization by saving them time and money in food preparation, but you’ll gain some new customers along the way.
  • If your restaurant is in a high traffic location, offer space in your parking lot for a car wash (if accessible), a car trunk garage sale, or a flea market where funds raised go toward the group involved. You will likely get visitors strolling in to your restaurant for a bite to eat.


Benefits to Fundraising/Donations

There are so many benefits to fundraising within your community, benefits that will likely outweigh the cost to you.

  • First and foremost, contributing provides you with a sense of pride knowing that you offered support to your community. It just feels good to give and nothing can beat that feeling.
  • Tax deductions are available for charitable contributions to nonprofit organizations. There are specific guidelines with these tax deductions so make sure that you have documentation of each transaction, like a check or receipt. These items are necessary for your accountant.
  • Sponsoring or donating gets your name out in the community. If your logo is on a group fundraising card or t-shirt, it will be seen and recognized. People are likely to support your business knowing that you are invested in the well-being of the community.
  • It’s a great marketing tool! Let your customers know that you support the community on your website and on social media platforms. Posts, pictures, and hash tags are all great ways to get noticed.



So let’s say you decide to move forward with one of the fundraising ideas that are suggested above. Or, you currently have a fundraising program that isn’t working the way you want it to. We want to help! Here are some recommendations that will help you with implementing or changing your program to make the whole process much simpler

  • Have a clear set of rules about giving to make it easier for you to identify who you will support. For example, maybe you’d like to only offer support to schools within your local community and groups directly related to that school. Therefore, if someone comes to you looking for donations from another school, you can graciously decline based on those clear rules.
  • Create a budget for donations. Once you hit that limit, you’ve met your quota and that’s that.
  • Create a policy where donation requests need to be in writing and at least one month before the event. Or, look into technology that helps with donation management like the Automated Item Request System or AIRS. This type of system makes the process so much faster and easier for you.
  • Don’t beat around the bush. If you can’t or don’t want to donate, give a direct no. Leading people to believe that you are interested in helping will only make them want it more. If you are direct and give a no by following the above rules, you will have more success with repeat solicitors.

There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it; funds and donations are always going to be needed. Whether you choose to support them or not, schools, clubs, and organizations will be strolling in to ask for your financial support. With a well thought out plan and established limits on the opportunities that you offer, your fundraising process can be extremely manageable and benefit everyone in the process.

10 Ways to Improve Your Restaurant’s Menu to Increase Profitability

Improving Your Menu to Increase Profitability


1) Take a hard look at your prices.

Pricing products is one of the most difficult things that any business owner has to do. At it’s simplest, you try to calculate prices that will cover your costs and earn enough of a profit to make it worth staying in business. But, what if you’re leaving money on the table by pricing your items too low? Or, vice versa, what if your menu is priced too high and your losing sales volume? Either scenario could effect profitability in a major way.

Developing an optimal pricing strategy is 1/2 art and 1/2 science – entire books have been written on the subject, so it is too complex to cover in detail here. What it boils down to, however, is matching your prices to the value that your customers perceive in your items. If customers perceive that your $12.99 burger with locally raised, grass fed ground chuck represents an appropriate value, they’ll be happy to pay it – regardless of what it costs to make.

So, how can you gauge your customers’ perceptions of value and price accordingly? Start with your direct competition. Are they pricing the same burger for $8? If so, then, all other things being equal, they’re probably stealing some of your sales. On the other hand, if they’re pricing it at $15, then there may be an opportunity for you to raise your price a little and increase your profitability.

2) Eliminate the clutter

Do you have items on your menu that just don’t sell? Does your menu have so many items on it that you have to use a small, hard to read font in order to fit it all in? If you answered yes to either of these questions, consider ridding your menu of the clutter. Of course you want to keep your classics, customer favorites, and high profit items, but it may just be time to get rid of the rest. Too much on your menu will overwhelm your customers, create a large amount of inventory that you will end up throwing away, and leave you with increased labor costs, all of which reduces profitability.

To combat the clutter, consider recommendations made by O’Dell Restaurant Consulting, a company that offers restaurant consulting services. They recommend taking your sales mix report and eliminating the bottom half of the items; the ones that aren’t selling. Then, take the top half and really evaluate where in your kitchen these items are prepared, using that to organize and balance your menu. For example, have a grilled items section, sautéed selections, fried foods, etc. O’Dell suggests no more than 20 main course dishes, including sandwiches, 4-6 starters, and 2-3 salads. If you have pizza on your menu, it is suggested to make up 2/3 of your main course selections and you should only offer it in a maximum of 3 sizes. You should still accommodate special requests but have a special price for those requests. Cleaning up your menu and getting rid of the clutter will give your customers better food and better service in addition to allowing your restaurant to serve more people.

3) Try a new design.

A fresh perspective and a new look to your menu is a great way to upgrade your brand and improve profitability. Consider investing in the services of a graphic designer or a marketing professional who can use their tricks of the trade to make your menu more attractive and eye catching. Or, look into online companies who offer professional templates, like Vistaprint, to complete this task on your own. Regardless of who does it, design does make a difference. It’s all about the text font and size, the illustrations and images, colors used, and even the shape, thickness, and texture of your menu. It’s also about making sure that your final menu fits in with the concept and atmosphere of your restaurant.

4) Change up your descriptions.

The way you describe your menu items makes a difference. Keep your menu descriptions short but offer descriptive terms that highlight their taste, uniqueness, or ingredients. The tastier it sounds, the more interest there will be in ordering it. If this isn’t your forte, consider hiring a professional copywriter or marketer to assist you with this task. You can find freelance professionals who do this type of work at

5) Consider item placement and positioning.

When organizing your menu, here are a few fun facts that may be helpful to increase sales…According to SoftCafe, a developer of menu software for restaurants, customers often remember and order the first two items and the last two items in each category on your menu. On a tri-panel menu, people look at the center panel first and move their attention counter clockwise. Place your highest margin items in these areas, and you could see a substantial increase in profitability.

6) Add fresh into the mix.

Food trends have moved into organic, fresh, and healthier options. Offering “fresh” items on your menu not only sounds attractive to your customers, but can also be a selling point for your restaurant. Supporting the local economy and having healthier options for your customers is good for the environment, good for the local economy, and can make you stand out from other restaurants. In addition, customers are willing to pay a little more for ingredients that are fresh, local, and healthy with an even better taste.

7) Offer specials.

Customers will come to your restaurant not only looking for deals, but also for menu items that they can’t get anywhere else. Consider a specials menu or insert with your regular menu that you change out every so often to push high margin items. A great example of a company that utilizes this strategy is Red Lobster, which has different, short lived, specials like Shrimp Fest, Crab Fest, and Lobster Fest at various times of year.

Play up seasonal offerings during the holidays or offer certain items related to commercialized events like the Super Bowl or the premier of a popular television show in your area. Specials keep your menu interesting and they can even allow you to use up inventory that might otherwise go to waste.

8) Don’t forget photos.

When possible, try to include photos that offer your customers a visual presentation of your food. Some people are visual decision makers; they will see an item and order it because the picture intrigued them. Consider highlighting your popular menu items, a new or featured item, or even something that is a long time classic. With these photos, be sure the images are sharp ones with a professional look. But, don’t go overboard. Too many images can be overwhelming and can look chaotic. Plus, it’s okay to have white space; it gives your customer’s eyes a chance to rest. Applebee’s does a great job of using photos on their menu to entice their customers.

9) Make your menu easily accessible.

In this day and age, people want information in an instant and make their decisions based on the information available to them. Included in this is your restaurant’s menu. Your goal is to get that information to your customers as soon as possible. Yes, you can make sure that your menu is on the table when each customer is seated or that the hostess hands each patron a copy of it when they first sit down. You can even offer a menu on the wall in the waiting area for your customers to read. But, one of the best ways to offer your menu even before any customer walks in is online through a mobile friendly website, app, or on any of the social media sites. When customers can access your menu from anywhere, it may just be the deciding factor that pulls their cars into your parking lot. And when paired with the recommendations above, you’ll be sure to see the profits of your efforts.

10) Consider your customer.

Who is your customer and what would appeal to them? When your restaurant menu appeals to each customer, especially the news ones, they’ll surely return for more. For example, if your business caters to families, offer a separate kids menu. If your restaurant is located in a college town, offer pricing that appeals to the average college student. Or, if you have an upscale restaurant, offer a menu that caters to your customer in both variety on your menu and in design.

Getting Back to “Base”-ics

Table Bases at TD Burgers

When you walk into a restaurant, what do you notice first?  Your answer probably won’t be the table bases that support each of the tables.  Yet, they are so important to consider.  When purchasing restaurant furniture, table bases should be recognized as the ultimate supporting piece for your customer’s experience, besides the chair or bar stool that they sit in.  Customers want to enjoy a meal in a comfortable space with a sturdy, non-wobbly table that gives them plenty of leg and foot room.  Your base is the piece that is going to provide that support and space, especially when the right one is paired with your table top.  Does it have to be a fancy, expensive base?  No.  But, you can choose table bases with a design element that blends in with your restaurant’s theme so as to coordinate with the atmosphere you want to offer your customers.

Intrigued by table bases yet?  If your answer is “yes” then you will want to check out three of our newest bases and each of their many features.  Not only are they sturdy and supportive, but also easy on the budget.

I Beam Table Base


  • Supports the industrial style because it takes the shape of a steel beam used in construction
  • Made of steel with a clear coat finish
  • Table height or bar height to furnish your entire establishment
  • Three sizes – 18”, 24”, and 30”
  • Meant for indoor use
  • Self-leveling floor glides to make sure your guests don’t have to eat on a wobbly table


Newport Table Base


  • Supports a modern look and style with its clean lines and square base
  • Made of steel with a black powder coat finish
  • Table height or bar height
  • Two sizes – 18” and 22”
  • Versatile. Can be used both indoor and outdoors
  • Has an umbrella hole for outdoor use to accommodate shade for your guests if your dining area is not in a covered space


Milan Table Base


  • Supports a more decorative and ornate style with its design
  • Made of cast iron with a black powder coat finish
  • Table height or bar height to furnish your entire establishment
  • Only available in one size so it can only be used with certain sized table tops
  • Meant for indoor and outdoor
  • Offers a little more decoration that most table bases with its unique design

While you weigh out your options, it’s important to consider that different sized bases are meant to fit different sized table tops.  To see which size is recommended to pair with different sized tops, refer to our Space Planning Chart to help you.  Now that you have all of this “base”-ic information, we’re thinking the next time you walk into a restaurant you might just notice the table bases.  When you do, we know that you will take on a new appreciation for these unsung heroes of restaurant furniture.




Instagram for Your Restaurant: How to #DoItTheRightWay

Social media is everywhere. Everyone has an account on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram that they use on a daily basis. These avenues not only keep us connected with others, but they also help us find people and places in an instant. And let’s face it, instant gratification is now the way of the world.

Let’s narrow this social media frenzy down to just one platform; Instagram. Instagram has gained millions on followers in the last couple of years and it is turning into the platform of choice for many. Why? We think you will agree that pictures and videos are way more interesting than reading a post. Plus, with cell phones seemingly attached to everyone’s hip these days, it’s quicker to share a picture or video than to actually write a post for your followers to read.

Now, let’s even narrow it a little bit more to focus solely on Instagram use for restaurants. Do you have an Instagram account for your restaurant? If so, are you using it in such a way that you are creating a buzz or traffic into your establishment? Whether you’re just starting out or have been using Instagram for some time now, let us share some tips we learned from Katrina Padron, founder of Padron Social Marketing, at the National Restaurant Association trade show. These tips are great ways to fine tune your account and make your restaurant stand out.

Posting pictures and/or videos

Best practices suggest that restaurants commit to posting one picture every day. In the chaos called life, we know that can pose some difficulty unless you have a designated person to do the work. If posting every day is not possible, try to at least post five times a week. To help you save time with all of these posts, you might want to consider a scheduling tool to plan out your posts. One such tool is an app called latergramme. With this app, you can sit down once a week and plan out which pictures or videos to post and when you want to post them. The app even sends you a notification when your picture or video is scheduled to post with instructions to follow on how to go live with your content.


The timing of your post is a big deal. In order to figure out what the best times are to post on Instagram, Katrina recommended checking out a great website called Iconosquare will link to your Instagram account and show you analytics as to when your account performs the best. It will also show you what photo filters work best by most likes or comments and which hashtags are performing the best, among other analytics. If you aren’t interested in hopping onto this website to get all of this great information, Katrina suggested posting between 7am and 8am in the morning or before bedtime. But, remember to always think about your target market before choosing these times.

Photo quality

No one likes looking at a photo or video that is fuzzy or blurry. It just isn’t appealing and can even hurt your eyes. Always post clear, crisp quality photos and/or videos. Offering quality shots will make your posts more interesting, hold attention longer, give clarity to mobile users, and add to your business’s professional look. More importantly, it will make your posts more memorable.

Make it interesting

In addition to posting quality photos, it’s important that they are visually interesting as well as full of good content. You can do this several ways:

  • Mix it up. Of course you want to show everyone your delicious looking menu items, like a beautifully presented dinner plate, a decadent desert, or a fresh salad with toppings galore. But, consider sharing more of your business than just food. Add additional content to help your customers learn more about you and your business to create a connection between you and the customer. This connection is often what your customers are seeking. For example, include images of the front line, the kitchen, your walk in cooler, your employees hard at work, an image of your establishment from the outside, your outdoor dining space, etc. The ideas are endless.
  • Use interesting camera angles. Try taking overhead pictures, low shots, or cross angled shots from the side. These angles are catchy and often pull the viewer in, keeping them engrossed for longer than the typical photo or video.
  • Consider the Rule of Thirds when taking photos. The Rule of Thirds is a basic rule in the photography world that divides an image visually into a grid. This grid creates nine symmetrical squares with intersections where the grid lines cross. The points of crossing are the places where it is recommended to place the main content of the image that you are trying to take. It offers a more engaging photo as well as one that has a better balance.
  • Build height with your photos. Adding height to your photos is a great way to pull customers in. Let’s say you are taking a picture of a burger. Add height to the burger by adding layers of lettuce, tomato, and cheese in between a puffy bun to make it taller. Even visualizing this, especially if you are a burger lover, creates a desire to eat one. The image of this tall scrumptious burger will entice your followers even more than the words.
  • Use vibrant colors and backgrounds with props rather than a plain white color. Take photos of food items like fruits and vegetables that naturally have a colorful palette. In addition, add props into the background of your photos like table linens, silverware, ingredients used to make the item, or a wine bottle. Items like these will add a little something extra to your photo to create that visual appeal.
  • Use a photo editing tool. These tools let you play with exposure, highlights, and cropping while offering filters that will brighten, soften, or change the color of your photo. After you choose a photo, Instagram does offer some editing within the app that you can use, but there are additional apps that offer more options with photo editing that are worth checking out. One such photo editing tool that Katrina uses is called Afterlight and it can be found in the app store for a small fee. There are so many other tools that you can purchase for free; it’s just a matter of downloading it and trying it to see which ones work best for you.


When you post a picture or video on Instagram, you have the opportunity to make a comment with your post. You may think to yourself, “What am I going to say?” A great idea starter when this happens comes from a one page form called A Case of the Blahs, also found on the Padron Social Marketing website. It includes 50 prompts to get your mind moving so that you can post a comment that achieves likes and interaction with your customers. Katrina recommends that you offer a comment with each picture or video that you post as a way of interacting with your followers and customers. And, don’t forget to add the hashtag, our next topic to discuss.


Hashtags are words or phrases preceded by the number or pound sign that offer a way to categorize content. This categorization makes it easier for people to search for information and join conversations on a certain topic. They have gained extreme popularity in the last few years on all social media platforms and you see them all over the internet. On Instagram, it is recommended for businesses to only post up to 3 hashtags per post and to use ones that are unique to your business. Consider hashtags that are important to your community and use them as a way to interact with other people and businesses in your area. Also, find hashtags that are popular on Instagram to add to your posts. You can find popular hashtags by clicking on the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of your Instagram app on your mobile device and search for whatever topic or image your photo/video offers. Hashtags are a new concept and can be hard to understand but when used correctly, can bring more attention to your posts.

Instagram-MenuAdditional Recommendations

In addition to the information above, here are some additional recommendations you may want to consider:

  • Instagram offers information just for businesses like how to get started, finding customers, sharing brand photos, using hashtags in addition to an Instagram for Business blog. Check out Instagram for Businesses online to gather information that will allow you to take full advantage of this platform for your bar or restaurant.
  • Consider making the content on your business Instagram account different from the content on your other social media accounts. If the same content is on every feed, people will tune out. Use each platform for a different reason or to cater to different groups of customers.
  • Instagram doesn’t just have to be all about photos and videos of food from your restaurant. Aaron Allen & Associates, a global restaurant consulting company, offers a blog article called 10 Great Ways to Use Instagram for Restaurant Marketing. They suggest using it as a tool for contests, interactive menus, odd and interesting photo opportunities, behind the scenes looks, or community and culture awareness.    For additional ideas, check out other restaurant’s Instagram accounts to spark your creativity.

Instagram is a great tool for businesses, especially for restaurants looking for a way to market themselves in the social media world. When used correctly, it’s a popular avenue to tell your story and create a buzz that brings your customers in to enjoy your menu.

Things That Make Em’ Go Mmmm! The Art of Creating “Craveability”



Did you know that 76% of consumers crave a food first, and then select a restaurant based on that craving? As restaurant owners, this is a very valuable statistic because it means an opportunity to position your establishment at the front of consumers’ minds and drive them through your doors.  So, with such a high percentage of people making decisions on where to eat based on a craving, how can you make your menu items more craveable?  We’ve put together a short list of the essential factors that will have customer’s mouths watering at the very thought of your dishes.

What exactly is Craveability?

Craveability is an adjective that means having qualities that produce an intense desire for more. It usually relates to food and is often associated with items that are filled with salt, sugar, and fats. As of late, these specific ingredients have been the blame for food addictions and the ever increasing overweight population, encouraging restaurant owners to offer healthier options. We’re happy to report that there are healthier ingredients and foods, along with other non-food related ways, that restaurants can use to create the craveability that brings customers into their establishment.

Smell can create craveability.Aroma

Have you ever been captivated by the aroma of fresh baked bread when you walked into a bakery? Or taken aback by the smell of pizza in the oven at your favorite pizza parlor? It can stop you in your tracks. It excites you and taps into your emotional cues making you want that bread or pizza even more than you did when you pulled up in your car. Offering menu items that have a distinct aroma, or ingredients that stimulate our sense of smell, can really leave a lasting impression with patrons and keep them coming back for more.


The way you prepare your food can be a great way to trigger a customer’s craving. Customers might walk through your doors for the flavor of your grilled or fried foods, but run through your doors for something that is slow-roasted, wood fired, or braised. Many of today’s diners are more educated in the different ways to prepare food thanks to shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and The Chew.  It isn’t uncommon for hardcore foodies to visit a restaurant simply because the food is prepared differently than what they are used to.  Experiment with new cooking techniques, flavors, textures, and plating options until you hit on that highly craveable combination.

pumpkin pieSeasonality

Every season offers up some type of highly craveable food. It’s safe to say that during the summer, we all want ice cream. During the fall, thoughts of pumpkin pie makes our mouth water. In winter, the idea of a big hearty bowl of chili or soup really warms us up. And in spring, the taste of fruits and produce are so refreshing.  Offering specialty items on your menu that are popular during different seasons is a great way to bring customers through your doors.

mac and cheeseNostalgia

Just think about a food that you ate when you were a kid. When you think of it, you are probably also thinking about people, things, and/or experiences that take you back those “good ‘ol days”, which is why these types of foods are known as “comfort foods”.  Every time you eat a nostalgic food, you are taken back to that time, and you crave it more because it is associated with a good memory.

As a restaurant owner, playing on nostalgia by serving comfort foods can give you a built in advantage because consumers already demand them.  But, you have to be careful because these foods hold special places in patrons hearts, so you will have a high satisfaction bar to clear.

Hibachi GrillExperience

You can drive craveability by creating an experience for your customers when they walk in the door. Whether it’s by creating a novel environment or re-imagining the traditional dining process, the experience your customers crave can bring them in. Consider the experiences you are offered at popular restaurants like The Melting Pot, Rainforest Café, or the Hibachi station at a Japanese Restaurant. Dipping various treats in chocolate fondue with your spouse on an intimate date is an experience. Having lunch within an indoor rainforest while thunder crashes around you and animals belt out sounds is an experience. Interacting with the chef at a Japanese restaurant while he flips a shrimp up in the air and catches it in his hat is an experience.

Now we’re not suggesting that you go out and buy a sound machine or start practicing your juggling skills – you can opt for something much more subtle than that.  The point is that opportunities to create a remarkable experience for your customers abound, and building a lasting memory is one of the best ways to get customers back in your door.


The appearance of your food has a huge impact on craveability. Presenting foods that offer vibrant colors and a variety of textures can trigger cravings.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with fruits, vegetables and side dishes that add a colorful flair to the dish, but only when it makes sense to pair it with the main item.

Staging your food properly can also have a significant effect.  Remember that craveability is as much about psychology as it is flavor.  Think of yourself as an interior decorator, and the plate is your space.  If the colors clash, or if all of the elements run together, then the effect will be as unappealing as a poorly decorated room.  On the other hand, a great looking plate can actually enhance the taste of the food and leave your customers wanting more.

crab-legsLimited Availability

If you are the only restaurant in town that makes a unique menu item, people are sure to seek you out. Likewise, if you only offer a menu item once a month and it’s one that creates a buzz, people will fill your seats.

Plan your menu around these limited offerings throughout the year by adding different dishes that pair with holidays or events, like a specific fish offering during lent or a platter of popular appetizers for the Super Bowl game. You’ll find that the limited availability of menu items may very well boost cravings which will in turn boost your sales.


Ever wonder why there is a pizza restaurant on just about every corner in the US?  Or, why every ice cream shop seems to have a line around the building?  It’s because these are inherently craveable foods which, whether through decades of marketing, the nostalgia factor, or some other reason, customers tend to seek out on a regular basis.  Foods in some categories just tend to be more craveable than others, and that craveability creates built in demand that can drive customers into your restaurant.

While you don’t have to turn your bar and grille into a pizza and ice cream shop, it might not be a bad idea to experiment with new menu items that fall into one of the most craveable categories (pizza, pasta, desserts).  Even if it is just a highly craveable appetizer or dessert that brings customer’s through your door, it will give you the opportunity to sell them on some of your traditional menu items.

chipotle-adTell Your Story

Last but certainly not least, people crave a great story. How did you get started in your business? Why do you source all of your products locally? Why are you in this business? In today’s world, people are looking for a connection and are willing to support a good story before they support a cold purchase. The buzzwords “quality”, “freshness”, and “value” that a lot of restaurants chime into are everywhere, but your story isn’t.  Take Chipotle, for example, which has built one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in the world around the story of “Food with Integrity”, which means using responsibly farmed products.  Without a great story, the company would be another burrito chain in a sea of competitors; however, they’ve been able to use their story to create a unique position in the market that separates them from other chains and adds to their overall craveability.

Everyone has cravings. More often than not, these cravings are driving people to seek out foods that satisfy the taste or the experience that makes them want more. Restaurants can benefit from these cravings if their menu has that one special item that customers need to have. Utilizing these tips to drive craveability into your restaurant is worth the effort to keep your customers fulfilled while your chefs are cooking, your wait staff is hopping, and your doors are constantly revolving.

Get Ready Chicago…Here We Come!

Chicago Blog2

East Coast Chair & Barstool is heading to Chicago! Also called “the windy city”, Chicago is known for its famous Navy Pier; splendid architecture; and food like deep dish pizza, Italian beef, and hot dogs.  This great city is again hosting the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Trade Show from May 16th through May 19th at McCormick Place.

If you haven’t heard about this spectacular event, the NRA Trade show is one of the biggest shows that restaurant and hospitality owners can attend.  Known as the international foodservice marketplace, this show will have the latest and greatest products and trends in the industry, as well as provide every attendee an opportunity to develop their own business to keep their customers happy while still making a profit.  Looking for information on food & nutrition, operations, franchise, or sales and marketing?  How about sustainability, technology or workforce engagement?  The NRA show will have all that through various educational sessions where you can learn from the best in the business.  Plus, thousands of exhibitors line the halls with new products, technologies, services, and foods that any restaurant owner would want to check out.  As an added bonus, many celebrity chefs will be in attendance on the show floor holding demonstrations as well as providing information that you’ll want to know in educational sessions.  Chefs including Robert Irvine, Jeff Mauro, Geoffrey Zakarian, Fabio Viviani, Anne Burrell, and Rick Bayless will all be in attendance.  It will surely be a busy couple of days but with so many great resources in one place, how can you miss it?

All of us at East Coast Chair & Barstool hope that you will visit our booth and check out the amazing restaurant furniture that we are bringing to display.  From indoors to outdoors, we will have chairs, bar stools, tables, bases, and booths that you can get your hands on to see the quality that we are so proud of.  We will also be bringing some of our latest styles that have never been seen before.  We are excited to have you be the first to sit in our chairs and bar stools, check out our tables and bases, and explore the uniqueness of our reclaimed wood furniture.  Our booth staff will be ready for your arrival, so we’ll see you in Chicago!