Helpful Tips for Bar and Restaurant Owners

Don’t Drop the Ball on Your Restaurant’s New Year’s Eve Events

Confetti

The beginning of a new year is an exciting time! People use it as a clean slate and a way to start over. Have your customers end their year and turn over a new leaf in your restaurant with New Year’s Eve promotions that will let them have the time of their life (*cues up Dirty Dancing theme*).

Choose Your Atmosphere

People Dancing on New Years Eve

When you think of New Year’s Eve, sounds of champagne bottles popping and glasses clinking may come to your mind in a more adult setting. But the beauty of a New Year’s Eve party is that it can be geared toward whatever audience you want! While it obviously works well in bars, there are other establishments that can still get in on the holiday festivities. Are most of your customers families with younger children? Have a New Year’s Eve early dinner with kids’ activities and crafts so everyone can be entertained. Even breakfast joints can get in on the celebration by hosting a New Year’s Day brunch and catch the crowd the morning after, bonus points if you have a build your own Bloody Mary bar.

Choose Your Theme

New Year's Eve Hat and Champagne

A theme is very important for creating hype and interest. It’s easy for customers to justify popping a bottle of champagne and watching the ball drop from the comfort of their homes, but a good theme can entice them to see the value in the experience (around 9% of Americans go out for New Year’s). Pick one that you think would be the most fun and memorable for your guests to enjoy. Some popular themes over the years include reality TV, roaring 20’s, beach, New Orleans, and 90’s throwback. Although a theme isn’t necessary (even just New Year’s Eve could be your theme!), it can really lend itself when you’re decorating your space and creating a memorable menu.

Choose Your Promotion Method

Tickets

The key to get people to show up? Make sure they know about it! With so many other holiday gatherings happening, all around a few weeks span, it’s important to promote your New Year’s Eve party around the beginning of December.

Try some of these methods to advertise your party and keep it marked on their social calendar.

  • Flyers in your restaurant, on community boards, and on customer receipts
  • Email blasts
  • Mentioned by staff
  • Menu inserts
  • Text alerts
  • Social media advertisement (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

If you’ve had prior New Year’s events, be sure to send out notices to past attendees that they are not going to want to miss this year!

After you have their attention, consider selling ticket packages to the event. This can help lay out what guests can expect from the event and people are more likely to follow through if they have already paid the money upfront to attend an event. For example, packages could include appetizers, dinner, drink tokens, or even a champagne toast. Having these preset packages can help you order food/drinks appropriately for your crowd and prevent overcapacity. You could even incentivize your staff with who can sell the most tickets for a prize to keep them engaged and customers informed!

Choose Your Entertainment

Live Music Performance

Music or some sort of entertainment is a must for your New Year’s Eve party! Having entertainment completely transforms the whole feel for the evening. Whether it’s a DJ, live band, magician, or any kind of performer, give your attendees some sort of show they can enjoy while they wait for midnight. You can factor this into the cost of a ticket to your event.

But don’t forget to make a countdown announcement or put the ball drop on a few minutes before midnight so guests can officially ring in the new year as it happens.

Choose Your Staff

Bartenders at Bar

It may seem obvious that since your doors are open, you’ll need to schedule your staff. Customer service needs to be at its highest since your restaurant has transitioned to more of an event center than its normal eatery operations.

Bartenders should pay careful attention to how much guests are being served, since overserving is a big issue with the holiday. In fact, DUI arrests are at their highest between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend. Having the right staff members on hand to make sure guests have a good and safe experience is crucial to helping everyone have a great time.

Planning a New Year’s Eve party for your restaurant may seem overwhelming but it’s a great way to bring your customers (and maybe some new faces) in for the holiday. A successful New Year’s event, especially those that are ticketed, can be a lucrative start to what may be a slower month in business.

Does your restaurant host an event for New Year’s Eve? What do you found that has worked for your business in the past? Tell us below!

How to Prepare Your Restaurant for the Holiday Rush

In the restaurant industry, the rush starts the day before Thanksgiving, and doesn’t really end until after New Year’s Eve. It ends on a busy note as New Year’s Eve also known as the fourth busiest day of the year for restaurants. To handle an influx like that, it is best to start preparing before the turkey ever hits the table. By preparing appropriately you can help to reduce the strain on your staff while keeping customers happy and keeping your business in the black.

Manage Employee Expectations

It is crucial to make it clear to employees what is expected of them during this crazy time. Whether that means a freeze on PTO, long shifts, or extra responsibilities, make an effort to clearly communicate your expectations and possible policy changes. Consider posting these changes on a community board next to the schedule or during an all-staff meeting. If you don’t make your expectations clear, you run the risk of having disgruntled employees who might offer less than stellar customer service.

Train Your Servers in Efficiency

During this busy season, it is all-hands-on-deck, so everyone needs to be willing to handle tasks they aren’t usually called to do. Servers can help by pre-bussing tables with bus bins and boxes. This can help to decrease the wait time for customers and keep things running smoothly. Try to suggest dishes and seasonal menu items as the guests are being seated. Chances are the quicker a suggestion is made, the sooner they will make up their mind quicker and keep things moving.

Another tip to keep guests moving, is by bringing them their bill as soon as they are done eating. Give them the option of paying but don’t be pushy. Remind them that there is no rush to avoid seeming to aggressive and making them feel unwelcome.

Hiring Seasonal Help

Hiring seasonal help is a great way to handle the extra business and make sure you aren’t overworking your regular staff. You can start your recruitment efforts by talking to your summer seasonal help. Some of the them might be college students looking to make some money while they are home for the holidays.

To get an idea of how much additional staff you will need, take a look at historical data to give you an idea for the upcoming holiday season. Evaluate the busiest days, and staff accordingly. If this is your first holiday season in business, try to pull data from particularly busy times since you opened your doors. If Thursday nights were unexpectedly busy through November, schedule additional staff during those times in the upcoming days.

Provide Staff Incentives

While your business is your top priority, not all of your staff might feel that way during the holidays. As busy as your restaurant is, you have to remember that your staff is missing out on time with family and friends to be at work. On top of that being required to work extra shifts can lead to some feelings of resentment. To help keep morale high, consider offering some incentives. Things like holiday bonuses, an employee party, or small gifts can go a long way in lifting spirits.

If you are running a seasonal promotion, you can offer incentives to the employee who sells the most. Selling tickets to a New Year’s Eve party? Perhaps the staff member who sells the most tickets is rewarded with a bonus or doesn’t have to work that day.

Offer a Seasonal Menu

Offering a seasonal menu can be a great help to your staff. Not only does it make the time of year feel a little more special to guests, but also contributes to a quicker turnover. Not to mention it makes it easier for your staff to upsell. These items are fun, festive, and available for a limited time. Staff can work with all of these aspects to entice customers to purchase.

The holiday season is a time when customers are gathering and indulging, so a seasonal menu is a great way to make some money. People who wouldn’t normally indulge in a cocktail can be seen partaking in alcoholic eggnog or ordering an extra decadent dessert.

Manage Inventory Closely

Of course, it’s easy to realize that inventory will decrease quickly during your busiest time of year; it’s totally different, however, to be in the middle of a mad rush and realize you have run out of a signature ingredient. Try your best to regulate inventory. Take a look back at your ordering records from previous years and pull together an ordering plan based upon those numbers and your expected increase in sales.

Do your best to ensure that you don’t run out of items, as it leaves a bad impression during a time of the year when customers are already very stressed.

Online Success

Another strategy to control the chaos is by offering online reservations and ordering. Online reservations reduce the strain on a host or hostess rushing between taking phone reservations and doing their best to seat the influx of customers.

By offering online ordering you can not only widen your market, but improve order accuracy. In a crowded restaurant it can be hard to hear customers, or the general rush can lead to mistakes. Online ordering eliminates these issues that lead to mistakes. By having one employee devoted to online orders or online orders and online reservations, it helps to free up the rest of your employees. They can be left to focus on the customers in the restaurant.

The holidays are so full of cheer that it can be hard to catch your breath in all the craziness. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the stress on your staff and keep your customers happy. By looking through records, prepping your staff, and integrating online strategies, you can look forward to an efficient and successful holiday season.

How Tariffs Affect Your Restaurant

Tariffs ahead - Traffic Sign

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 9 months, you’re probably aware that the US and China have been approaching a full-scale trade war, imposing progressively larger tariffs back and forth on one another.  If the trend continues, come January 2019, there will be tariffs in place on nearly all Chinese goods imported into the US, and vice versa. Similarly, we have imposed tariffs on some Canadian and Mexican goods, and they have followed suit. We’re not here to argue whether this approach is right or wrong – we’ll leave that to the economists and pundits on TV – but, we are here to discuss what, if any, impact these tariffs will have on your restaurant.

Tariffs Are Designed to “Hit Em Where it Hurts”

When countries impose tariffs, they can take one of two approaches: a shotgun blast tariff on all goods across the board; or, more commonly, a scalpel approach that targets certain industries to inflict maximum economic, or political, pain. For example, in this latest round of tariffs, the Chinese approach has been to target the US agriculture industry, which makes up a large percentage of the US economy and happens to be highly representative of the current administration’s voter base in rural America.

What Do Tariffs Have to Do with the Restaurant Industry?

So, how exactly do tariffs affect the restaurant industry? I mean, nobody is exporting a steak dinner to Canada; Uber Eats isn’t bringing a Primanti Bros. sandwich to Beijing? Isn’t the highly localized restaurant industry immune to tariffs? You might think so, but you would be wrong.  Sure, the outputs of restaurants – food – are, by and large, safe from tariffs. But, what about the inputs? What about the corn, onions, and avocados that we import from Mexico? Or, the farm raised salmon, shrimp, or catfish that come from China? Are you starting to see how tariffs could affect your business? Unless you source all of your foods locally, chances are you will feel the pinch.

Here are some of the more obvious ways in which the tariffs could impact restaurants:

Unstable Food Prices

Very few industries exist in a vacuum, but even fewer have the economic reach of the agriculture industry; when US farmers start to suffer, it ripples across the entirety of America. After all, we all have to eat.

In the short run, the recent tariffs could actually lower restaurants’ food costs. Lower overseas demand could lead to a supply glut, with farmers and distributors having to lower prices to get rid of inventory. If the tariffs from China turn out to be permanent, however, farmers will cut back on production and many will go out of business, which means the supply of domestic food will go down and prices will rise.

Lower Availability of Off-Season Foods

In addition to fluctuating prices, tariffs could lower the supply of seasonal foods. Tomatoes are one example. In the summer months, tomatoes are grown domestically, even locally. But, in the off-season, most tomatoes come from Mexico, where they are grown year-round. In fact, According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mexico produces 70% of our vegetable imports and 40% of our fruit imports. The only tariff on Mexico right now is on aluminum and steel, but if it were to devolve into a trade war like it has with China, then seasonal items like tomatoes could become more expensive and difficult to source during the offseason.

Some Additional Price Increases
  • Does your restaurant or bar serve beer in cans? Did you know that the price of aluminum has risen 31% so far this year due to the tariffs on China and Mexico?
  • Do you use cloth napkins, table linens, or uniforms in your restaurant? Do you know where they’re made? If their made in China (many are), they are subject to the tariffs as well.
  • The price on Chinese exported steel, aluminum, and wood furniture has gone up 10% so far this year, with an additional 15% expected on Jan 1, 2019. Furniture, like many other manufactured goods, is getting hit twice, with Chinese tariffs on raw materials from the US, and then US tariffs on finished goods from China.

Note: Many furniture suppliers have already raised their prices, but East Coast Chair & Barstool has held prices steady on our products, as of 11/20/2018.

What Can Your Restaurant Do to Lessen the Effect of Tariffs?

  • Reshape your menu: Focus on items that are in-season in your area, or at least are grown in the US. Your costs will go up, and your prices will probably have to follow, but studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for locally sourced foods.
  • Lower operating costs: If food costs are going up, and you feel pressure not to raise prices, then you must cut costs somewhere or your profits will suffer. Fortunately, there are likely some ways that you can reduce your operating costs with a little additional effort. Here is a great list of 50 things you can do to cut costs in your restaurant without sacrificing customer experience.
  • Be Proactive: We know that there is potentially another round of 15% tariffs on imports from China coming in January 2019 (unless a deal is reached before then), so there is still an opportunity to make any large purchases before then and avoid paying more.

Operating in an environment of increasing tariffs can be challenging, but the effects will be felt industry wide, so the playing field is level. If you have any creative ways of successfully navigating the tariffs, please feel free to share in the comments below.

What a Hostess Station Can Do for Your Restaurant: And How to Handle the Ordering Process

Having a well-designed hostess or point of sale station helps to increase organization, further the aesthetic, and clue the customer in to what they can expect from your eatery.  After all, the hostess or point of sale station is usually the first thing that a customer sees when entering your restaurant. It helps create the story of your brand.

Benefits of a Hostess Station

A hostess station can also help your staff stay organized. Staying organized is crucial to keeping up during busy shifts and allowing staff to focus on customer service, instead of trying to find where the menus are. With customizable drawers, shelves, and cubbies, the stations can help to keep things from getting cluttered and out of control. Having a hostess station that is equipped with storage shelves underneath the surface can save your staff trips to your back area, and make refilling utensils, napkins, and sugar not only more convenient, but less time consuming.

Hostess stands, and the utilization of one, is a great way to control and increase table turnover. It also helps in keeping track of how many guests are coming through the door and help with managing the flow. These numbers can then be looked at later in time to determine busy times and help with the ordering process.

If you are considering adding custom furniture to your restaurant, a hostess station is a great place to start. Custom hostess stations are built to meet the individual needs of your restaurant. Do you need drawers or cupboards? Perhaps you need both. Are you looking to store t-shirts that can be sold to customers as a reminder of their good experience? Or maybe you just need a station for you hostesses to use for menu storage. All of this can be taken into consideration with a custom creation.

What You Need to Know Before Ordering

There are a few things that you can do to make the ordering process flow more easily. The first is to have already measured the space you plan to put it in. Only you know what size will work in your restaurant. By determining this and having the information readily available for your sales representative, you can help the entire process run more smoothly.

Next, take a moment to consider your needs vs. your wants. You might want your logo imprinted into the wood, but you need to have storage for crayons and children’s menus. Determine the top priorities for your station so that it has great functionality and looks good. By thinking about this ahead of time, it’ll be easier to communicate to someone in sales, when the time comes.

Finally, think about the overall aesthetics. Hostess stations are predominantly made of wood or particle board, with reclaimed wood hostess stations being particularly popular. They are also usually available in a variety of stains. If you decide to put doors put on your stand, you’ll want to consider if you want the fronts to be made of wood or a different material such as metal or glass. Smaller details such as the look and color of the hardware can also have a big effect on the overall design of the piece.

 

A hostess station is more than just an interior design choice. It looks good, but it also benefits your business by being integral to the efficiency of a restaurant. Having a station that fits your design makes a statement to customers about what they can expect from your restaurant, helps with organization, and enhances the overall aesthetic.

 

To discuss your customization options, you can speak with one of our customer care representatives by calling 800-986-5352.

How to Store Your Restaurant Furniture for Cooler Temperatures

Storage Unit

In most areas of the United States, patio season for your restaurant comes to an end when the first few cold fronts hit. Cold, rain, and snow can have damaging effects on the patio furniture you’ve invested in. So, what do you do with your furniture once the bad weather hits?

Depending on the material type of the furniture that you have on your patio, you’ll want to think about storing it away when the temperature drops. Consistent cold weather can affect the integrity of the furniture, making it less reliable when it gets warm again, if it’s left out.

If your restaurant has the luxury of having a basement or storage unit, use it for storing your furniture. You’ll still want to take precautions and prep your furniture if your space isn’t climate-controlled. Be sure to wipe this furniture down so you aren’t inviting mold and mildew to grow. Cushions should take priority when it comes to picking and choosing what you have room for inside. Storing the furniture in either your basement or storage unit can prevent cracking and moisture damage from the heavy winter elements.

If you don’t have a basement or the space to store your furniture, you can always cover it a couple ways. Furniture covers can add a sufficient layer to cover most of an item and protect it from piling snow or heavy rain. Try to find outdoor furniture covers that are UV resistant and waterproof. You can also purchase outdoor tarps for a similar result, especially if you have some odd-shaped sectionals or tables you’re trying to cover. Secure these tarps with bungee straps to stop the wind from beating them around. Don’t forget to position the covered furniture tight against an outside wall to avoid them being knocked over in high winds or caught in a snow drift.

Please note, although it can be tempting, you should never bring your outdoor furniture inside for extra seating. Anything other than the recommended use can become a liability for your restaurant and void your warranty. Obviously, if you have the room in your restaurant to place (and not use) your outdoor furniture, that could be an option as well.

Stacked Chairs

Keeping your restaurant furniture intact from the elements can be tricky without these hacks but here are some things to keep in mind when buying your outdoor furniture to make the inevitable winter storage battle a little easier.

  • Buy chairs/bar stools that can stack. This can alleviate some of the stress of where you’re going to put your seating if you have a little spare space.
  • Stay away from cheap, molded plastic furniture. It can soften in extreme heat or crack in the cold. Plastic is often not durable enough to meet the needs of a bustling patio, let alone to be left outside in bone-chilling temperatures, so it needs to be stored indoors. If you want something a stronger, investigate a poly lumber material that is more of an investment than plastic, but will hold up a lot better in the long run.

The last thing you’ll want to be doing at the start of each spring is running out to buy new outdoor furniture because yours didn’t last through the cold. Using these tips on how to store your furniture can help save you time and money in the long run.

What to Consider Before Opening Your Restaurant for Breakfast

Waiter Serving Breakfast

Bacon sizzling on a grill, crisping in its own grease. The smell of pancakes wafting through the air greets customers at the door. An orange light comes to life as the coffee signals its readiness. Breakfast is served.

These are just a small sampling of the sights, sounds, and smells that await you and your customers when you open for breakfast. But, deciding if you should open your restaurant is all about crunching the hard numbers, not just fantastical sensory feelings. Are you ready to add the “most important meal of the day” to your offerings? Here are some things to consider before you open your doors earlier than ever before. They could also make or break your breakfast business.

Do you have resources to advertise? This doesn’t always boil down to budget. Do you have the time to design promotional materials or to post on social media? It’s not enough to just fling your doors open at 7 am and expect a crowd; people need to be reminded numerous times to have something sink in. The old rule was that people needed to see or hear something about seven times to have it stick with them. Now, in the social media age, it will take more than seven exposures for your target audience to carry that message with them. Put inserts in your menu, promote it on your social media, or even hang posters in your restaurant. These can attract new customers while giving current customers the opportunity to try your breakfast out.

Can you price competitively? Breakfast is often touted as an inexpensive meal because the dishes rely on a lot of commoditized items. These dishes can give you a higher profit margins with their low cost. Which is great for your bottom line, but It’s important to remember guests won’t feel the same way. Somehow, it’s more painful to shell out twelve dollars for avocado toast than twelve dollars for a lunch sandwich. A popular trend right now is to have alcoholic cocktails, like Bloody Mary’s or mimosas, on your breakfast menu. This is a good way to offer something indulgent for the customer and profitable for you. It’s okay to make a profit off your breakfast items but you don’t want to scare off customers with sticker shock, they likely won’t return, damaging your profits for the future.

Will your location support the traffic you need? A good traffic flow is crucial to having a successful breakfast set, especially if you’re not used to opening your doors that early. Having breakfast hours during the weekdays can be successful if you are situated in an office district that has early morning traffic. On the contrary, you can snag church-goers and more casual breakfast eaters in other areas if you focus on weekend hours. It’s important to analyze the traffic ebbs and flows around your location to figure out if you justify the hours open. You might even find that you gain customers by being open at hours you weren’t before.

What time of day will you serve breakfast? The answer to this might be a little harder to come up with than what you would think. Are you willing to offer breakfast dishes all day or would you rather confine it to a time frame? Consider your menu (breakfast and lunch), the space you’ll need to store and prep ingredients, kitchen flow, and staffing.

How will this affect your staff? Knowing your workforce will be an essential factor when figuring out if your restaurant can offer breakfast. You may find that some would prefer to bank on a typically busier lunch or dinner rush to for tips. Others may find that an earlier shift could be better for their family’s schedules. Besides scheduling, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough staff in general and the resources to add more if necessary. Not factoring in your staffing situation could cause tension if not addressed properly and can boil over into a bad customer experience.

What kind of format will you offer breakfast? There are so many ways to provide breakfast options in your restaurant. Will you offer a buffet-style meal, items from a fixed menu, or take-out items? It’s all about the needs of your current and potential clientele in the area. Thinking back to location, if you’re in a bustling business area that has a lot of traffic in the morning, consider light take-out options like breakfast burritos that are easy to just grab and go. Buffets and breakfast cocktails are often best served on the weekends when people really take the time to enjoy their meal.

Breakfast works the best for restaurants when prices are fair, the restaurant is staffed appropriately, and has enough traffic is coming in to justify being open. Opening earlier can be a great way to compete against other businesses in the area and provide more time to make a profit.

8 Ways to Retain Restaurant Employees and Keep Them Happy

Staffing is one of the biggest headaches in the restaurant industry. So much so, that 59% of operators named staffing as their top challenge to success. Much of this can be attributed to the high turnover rate experienced by the restaurant industry. According to Toasttab.com, the average tenure of a restaurant employee is one month and 26 days. That is a lot of turnover that is costing your business about $3500 every time someone walks out the door. You might think “Well that is just how the industry goes”. Believe it or not, there are some strategies you can implement right now to increase the tenure of your employees, boost morale, and increase profits.

Measure Tenure

If you have done your work and hired a good staff that you want to keep, the first thing you need to do is start tracking how long your employees have been with your business. Understanding how long an employee stays with you, in all positions, can help you understand what you need to do to keep people. For example, if your average server stays for 11 months, design any incentives you may have around that. Use this information to extend the tenure of your employees. You can implement additional training, recognition, or pay raises at 6, 12, and 18-month intervals to see if it can help to extend the average.

Ultimately, tenure reveals more than turnover does. But you can’t manage it if you don’t measure it.

Stay Interviews

Hiring interviews, and occasionally exit interviews, are a common practice, but implementing “Stay” interviews can have huge benefits. Take the time to sit down with a veteran staff member to better understand why they are happy with their job, and why they have chosen to remain an employee.  Also, give them the opportunity to talk about what you can do to sweeten the deal and keep them longer. This can help you put the finger on the pulse of what you are doing right, and some areas that could use improvement.

Memorable First Day

An employee’s first day is just like a first impression; you want it to be a good one. Do your best to demonstrate energy and enthusiasm. Be visibly passionate about the company culture, values, and mission. The easiest way to do that is by creating a great company atmosphere. An employee won’t want to stay long if all the other employees are complaining about their jobs and how much they want to leave.

Re-Recruit

Every shift should be a reminder of why your employee wants to stay with the business. Now, we all have bad days, but do your best to bring focus and energy to every shift. As a leader, you set the tone for the rest of the team. This can be accomplished by really focusing on the company atmosphere. Make sure your restaurant is a place that you and your employees are excited to return to shift after shift.

Encourage Mentoring Culture

By assigning a mentor to a new employee, you create a culture that fosters connection and allows a veteran to share insights they have acquired through experience. New employees can also become easily frustrated when not given the proper training to do their job correctly. Implementing a mentor program can help cut down on this frustration. Try to provide a mentor for every position; a dishwasher can benefit from a mentor just as much as a line cook.

Identify Stressors

Stress is inevitable. You won’t be able to fix every situation, but there are some you will be able to. Do your best to identify stressors and eliminate them if possible. Dissatisfied employees often report feeling that no one is in their corner and they receive minimal support. Talk to your staff regularly about their pain points and ask them how you can help. As an added bonus, this can often lead to improved processes.

Provide the Ladder

Employees become frustrated when they feel as if they are stuck in their job with no room for improvement. Chances are that isn’t the case, they just don’t know what they can do to advance their position. Providing a clear outline of what employees can do to progress is beneficial to them and you. It helps with retention when employees have a clear outline of how they can progress.

Thank Your Staff

It seems too simple, that saying “thank you” would turn things around with an employee. Thanking staff is easy to do but often forgotten. It is an uncomplicated way to let your staff know that you appreciate their work. This will also help to open-up lines of communication between you and your team. Listening to them can give you an insight into problems you had no idea were occurring.

The high turnover rate of the restaurant industry is not only a huge stress to operators and costs a significant amount of money. By listening to your staff, measuring tenure, and improving the atmosphere you can increase employee retention and profits.

Straws: Plastic and Pollution on Our Planet

Plastic Straws in Drinks

 

A little background…

2018 has not been kind to plastic straws. The restaurant and hospitality industries are being encouraged to change the way they use single-use plastic products like straws (“500 million straws are used and discarded every day in the U.S. alone”). In response, many corporations are coming up with alternatives and plans to change the way they use straws.

In 2015, a video was uploaded to YouTube named ‘Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril – “NO” TO PLASTIC STRAWS’ by Texas A&M Ph. D. candidate, Christine Figgener. This video has over 32 million views on the YouTube platform, not counting Facebook or other social media views. Although it wasn’t the first, this viral video put a face on the issue of single-use plastic items and raised awareness about the consequences that aren’t considered after a piece of plastic lands in a landfill, ocean, or beach.

Many restaurant owners are being faced with purchasing questions that they will need to answer. Single-use plastic has long been used in the restaurant and hospitality industries religiously for the past fifty years. It can seem difficult to find alternatives, but not impossible.

What’s the issue?

Plastic straws (used in homes, restaurants, etc.) are turning up in the ocean and harming wildlife while also adding themselves to heaping piles of garbage that can’t be recycled.

What are other companies doing about straws in their restaurant?

Food industry behemoths like Starbucks and McDonald’s were some of the first to make headlines in the fight to abolish straws. Starbucks is looking to ditch plastic straws for their strawless lid cup in all locations by 2020. McDonald’s is banning single-use plastic products in their U.K. and Ireland locations while also testing plastic straw alternatives in the U.S. Other players like Aramark, Hyatt Hotels, Fox Restaurant Concepts, Eataly, Shoney’s, the Four Seasons Hotel group, and even Ikea are just a few of the food/hospitality companies are in the process of or have promised to change their straw policies.

What do restaurant owners need to consider?

Consider where your restaurant is. Cities like Malibu and Seattle have already passed ordinances banning plastic straws, forcing restaurant owners to offer an alternative.

Don’t forget to look at your menu. Could you save money by reducing straw distribution? Could you serve your mixed drinks without cocktail straws? Are there alternatives you could use instead? Read on…

 

Plastic and Paper Straws

 

What can I do in my restaurant?

If you’re thinking about making the switch from plastic straws to an alternative, here are some options to consider. There are pro’s and con’s to each alternative so it’s important to choose what is right for your business model and menu.

Sippy-type cup (aka no straws)

Getting rid of straws all together in larger companies seems to be the way of larger corporations (like McDonald’s and Starbucks). While this may seem like a grand and great gesture, it’s also a major point of contention for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities rely on straws to avoid aspirating liquid into their lungs. Another issue with the strawless lid is the additional plastic that goes into their production. Although no straw is needed in this redesigned lid, the new recyclable lids actually have 0.32 or 0.56 more grams of plastic product than the current lid and straw combo. While this lid is recyclable, it’s still likely to end up in a landfill or in the ocean.

Paper straws

The biggest complaint? The straws get soggy and collapse after a couple sips. The key to finding a good paper straw is to have one made with higher quality materials. Straws from companies like Indiana-based Aardvark focus on materials like special paper with a cleaner carbon footprint and a food-grade safe adhesive to maintain a quality straw. Paper straws are pricier but reduce the plastic consumption. This will hopefully be a better alternative in the future as the technology becomes more widespread.

Metal straws

Not a bad solution, in fact it may be a great one for dining-in situations as they are a little expensive. By using metal, this alternative basically becomes part of your silverware set. If you plan on using this type of straw, opt for those with a bend in them, an important characteristic for customers with mobility issues. The drawback? You may want to also invest in another alternative such as compostable or paper straws for your take-out orders.

Pasta straws

They may be firmer than paper straws and less bendy than plastic straws, but pasta straws don’t have all the answers. These can get soggy and don’t work for customers who have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.

Compostable straws

These straws have a very similar consistency to plastic straws but are compostable, meaning if they reach a landfill, they will break down. It’s important to note that these straws can be 70% more expensive traditional plastic ones, causing business owners to cringe at this alternative.

Available upon request

For independent restaurants where the decision-making lies with you or your general manager, having straws be available on request can lessen the straws given out. Most people use straws because they are handed one, making them just another step in the dining process. If customers have the need or desire to have a straw, having them available only upon request will cut down on those who just use a straw for convenience. And in the same move, you are still providing an option for those who have mobility issues. Having straws available upon request could also help you save money since you’ll be cutting back on how many you order by not giving them out as freely.

Is your restaurant making moves to sustainably serve your customers? If you are in a straw-banned area, how has it affected your business? Tell us below.

For more information on anti-single-use plastic campaigns, please visit The Last Plastic Straw for more details on what your restaurant can do.

Pairing Beer and Pizza: What You Need to Know

Some things just go together. Foods like PB&J, wine and cheese, and burgers and fries are matches made in heaven. There’s possibly no better pairing than that of pizza and beer. You might be tempted to say “all beers go well with pizza” and you wouldn’t be totally wrong, but some variations are better suited to different pizzas. They can help to enhance the flavors and take your dining experience to the next level.

Craft beer is still taking the country by storm. New breweries are popping up every day with exciting and refreshing new beers. Now is a great opportunity to thoughtfully set up your pizza menu to promote sales of pizza and beer.

I spoke to Cody Kelly, a brewer at Timber Creek Tap & Table on pairing beer and pizza. “Typically, meats go with darker beers and seafood with light. But malt really brings out the flavor in the bread of a pizza,” Kelly said.

With this in mind, we delved deep into the world of pizza and beer to find some perfect pairings.

Cheese Pizza and ESB (Extra Special Bitter)

A plain cheese pizza is a staple at large gatherings and in the homes of picky eaters. Pairing this with an ESB is a great combination. The bitterness helps to cut away the grease and leaves you with a nice cheesy flavor. The beers nuttiness is a natural fit with the slice’s saltiness. The caramel tones in the beer also pair well with a salty taste.

Pepperoni and Black IPA

A black IPA has spicy hops that bring out the pepper flavor in pepperoni, cut through on the greasiness, and prepare your tastebuds for the next bite. A nice dark roast is also able to draw out the smokiness in the pepperoni for an enhanced taste.

Meat Lovers and Scotch Ale

A scotch ale with a caramel taste is the perfect companion to a meat lovers pizza; it can handle the impact of multiple meats in one bite while attracting the sweeter flavors of the sauce and dough. This helps to balance the spicier notes commonly found in pepperoni and sausage. If you can find one with a wisp of smoke it will complement the taste of the meats for a perfect dining experience.

Hawaiian and Blonde Ale

People tend to have very strong opinions about Hawaiian pizza. If you are pro-pineapple, consider pairing your pizza with a nice American blonde ale. The beer’s simple malt sweetness connects with the sweetness in the ham and pineapple but helps to tone down the fruit’s acidity.

Barbecue and Rauchbier

Rauchbier is known for having a smokey flavor, and where there’s barbeque there is smoke. The beers campfire wisps bring some grill flavor to the super sweet barbecue sauce. With a clean lager after-taste the rauchbier refreshes the palate.

Veggie and IPA

The IPA’s of today tend to be very green/veggie oriented, so what better to pair with a garden-inspired pizza. Find an IPA with hops that lean green such as oniony or grassy. The vegetal hops will give crispness to the onions and peppers on the pizza.

Chicago Deep Dish and Zwickelbier

With deep dish pizza, you need a great crust that can support all that food. By selecting a Zwickelbier, which is a less full-flavored variant of a kellerbier, the flavor will highlight the taste of the crust so that it doesn’t get lost in all the toppings.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza and Fruity IPA

It may sound a little crazy, but the fruity notes will help to wash down the spice and goes well with the acidity of the buffalo sauce and blue cheese. It also has a solid malt backbone to pair with the bread.

White Pizza and Light Ale

When speaking of white pizza, Kelly recommended lighter ales. As the name suggests, this beer is lighter in color and lower in alcohol. It is often consumed with meals and will complement the freshness of a white pizza. The malt will help to emphasize the toasted taste of the crust.

 

Whether you are delving into a classic cheese pizza or experimenting with something a little more complex, there is a beer out there to compliment it. Darker beers are great with meat and veggies toppings, while white pizza’s and seafood pies go well with lighter beers. Selecting the right beer to pair with your pizza is a great way to turn a casual night’s dinner into a dining experience.

Let us know your favorite beer and pizza combo in the comments below!

 

 

How to Update Your Menu to Better Serve Your Customers

When to Change Your Restaurant Menu

You probably got into the restaurant industry because you love food, right? You’ve come up with a great concept and menu, there are customers in your seats, and you’ve developed some regulars. But how do you keep customers coming back for more?

The restaurant and food industries are an ever-changing landscape of ideas, food, and flavors rushing together, with fads that last a day and methods that are used for centuries. Change is imminent in these industries because consumers get bored and are ready to move on to the latest and greatest concept. Restaurants that are complacent with their food offerings are doomed to lose the public’s interest.

Customers look for new, fresh, and exciting items to order when they come to your restaurant. And unless you’re a famous mom and pop diner that has had the same menu items since 1953, it doesn’t matter how great your food is. Changing your menu will help entertain regular customers and attract new ones, which will put your restaurant in a sweet spot for innovation.

To keep your profits and restaurant in the green, doing a menu analysis is worth the time and manpower. Think of it like a professional sports team; you have your all-stars, rookies, regular starters, and the players who just aren’t quite cutting it. Look at these so-so players before you trade them for something that will perform better. Is there any way you could rearrange them to help them perform like changing their price point, the season you’re in, etc.? If the answer is no, make room on your menu for an item than can do the job and keep you profitable. Take the opportunity to analyze the following about items on your menu:

  • What’s doing well on your menu?
  • What hasn’t been popular?
  • Is a dish costing you too much?
  • Are you making enough on a dish?
  • Are these ingredients too seasonal to keep the item profitable all year round?

Answering these questions can help you really put each of your menu items under a microscope and analyze their performance in your restaurant. It is important to pull your general manager and purchaser in on the breakdown to help you through the process of what stays and goes. Don’t forget to also consider what your waitstaff thinks since they will be the ones “selling” your menu to customers. By being on the front lines, your waitstaff are also helpful in gauging customer reaction and how often they convert to the new items.

Cafe Menu

Keep in mind, these menu analyses should be conducted once a year (at minimum) for price and twice a year for seasonal items. Revisiting old and new items will keep your restaurant on top of what the hot items really are and what’s working when you introduce seasonal items.

Go Crafty.

Changing your menu does not mean going back to square one, and it’s important to keep fan favorites around. If your restaurant is best known for its burgers, don’t replace them with poke bowls. But, what you could do is add a barrage of new toppings for your burgers. Add pineapple, mac and cheese, or a specialty sauce. Get creative! This will keep your burgers interesting and lessen the chance customers will grow tired of stagnant fare.

Digital World.

It’s easier now than it ever has been to let your customers know what to expect when they eat at your restaurants. According to OpenTable, “86 percent of diners regularly check out menus online before dining out”, which could make or break their decision. Use Facebook or your website to post your regular menu and hype new specials, allowing new and old customers alike to stay in the know about what they can expect when they make a trip.

Make it Special.

Another way you can switch up your menu without recreating the wheel is to add a specials list. This can be where your seasonal and new items are housed while leaving the rest of your menu as it is. By only changing up a handful of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, you can have a consistent purchasing strategy and only worry about oddball ingredients with what’s going on the special portion of your menu. It can also allow you a section to play with trends, without going all in.

Drink Seasons.

Changing up your menu should not be limited to only food items. A cocktail list is a great space to enhance your profits with seasonal or trendy items. Like with food, you don’t have to completely order new ingredients for these drinks, just add a splash of seasonal flavor. Add peppermint during the holidays, pumpkin or apple in the fall, or even more tropical fruits like pineapple or mango in the summer. People are more likely to shell out for the added expense of a seasonal drink over a dish to get in the “spirit of the season”, making the right seasonal cocktail lineup a must. If you don’t already have a revolving door of drinks, drink menus should be updated at least quarterly to give guests something new to try.

Varying your menu based can help bring in new customers but still maintain regulars. Online promotion, special lists, and rotating drink menus, along with regular menu analysis, can help your restaurant stay vibrant and profitable for years to come.