Helpful Tips for Bar and Restaurant Owners

Umbrella Buying Guide

Umbrella Buying Guide

Shopping for your restaurant umbrellas can be overwhelming. Decisions have to be made on the fabric, pole materials, how much shade you’re trying to provide, and who to purchase it from. Who knew there were so many questions that need to be answered so you can give your customers a cooler seat outside?

But your end goal is the same. As a restaurant owner, you want to find umbrellas that are durable and cost-effective.

Some restaurants make the mistake of using the freebie umbrellas they receive from beer or liquor sales reps. For the most part, it will take one very windy day to prove these umbrellas useless. A lot of care should be taken when purchasing an umbrella because the wrong umbrella can be a liability to your business.

How much do umbrellas cost?

An umbrella’s price point will correlate with its materials, meaning sometimes you can tell right away if the umbrella will be strong enough for a commercial environment. Aluminum umbrellas can run you from $200 to $600 while fiberglass umbrellas can go from $300 up into the thousands, depending on what features are included. If you are planning on using your umbrellas season after season, you need to factor quality in when calculating what umbrella is right for your business. Brand names can be a part of the umbrella’s price which is why it’s so important to analyze the umbrella’s materials. Our buying guide breaks down what you need to know about restaurant umbrellas and will give you the confidence to make the best purchase decision possible for your patio.

Types of Umbrellas

To better understand the buying process of an umbrella, you should know the types that are available and perhaps, the ones to avoid.

Free-standing/Table Umbrellas:

When you think of restaurant patio setups, you probably include an umbrella in your mental design. What you’ve most likely drummed up is a free-standing or table umbrella with canopies that are situated on top of an upright pole. Most often, these umbrellas are used in the center of a table top so that the canopy shades the table, chairs, and diners. Many commercial furniture retailers offer their outdoor table tops with the option of an umbrella hole. You’ll often see market umbrellas in commercial restaurants. Their octagon-shaped canopies and vented tops are a stable and a sizable option when it comes to pairing umbrellas with your table tops.

Cantilever Umbrellas:

Don’t want a pole in the middle of your tables? A cantilever or offset umbrella may be the way to go. These umbrellas stand out of the way but cover your space with an off-center pole that positions the canopy over the area without being in the way. Versatility in smaller spaces where there isn’t always room for free-standing poles, adjustability, and their strong durability are great perks of this type of umbrella. Cantilever umbrellas can be more expensive and often require a sturdier base than other umbrella types because of its pole’s offset position.

You may also see tilting umbrellas in your search, which are umbrellas that can be angled from their upright pole. Most restaurant patios will not have customers sitting there for the time it takes for the sun to gain a new position, making it an unnecessary function.

Anatomy of an Umbrella

Parts of an Umbrella

When it comes to umbrellas, there are some details that deserve mentioning to make sure your umbrella has the durability needed by the commercial restaurant industry. Here’s what you should pay careful attention to:

Finial– This piece anchors the top of the canopy fabric to the frame with function and can add a decorative touch.

Ribs– These are the skeletal system that holds out the canopy in the open position. How the ribs are assembled, how many there are, and the material can add strength to your umbrella. If it’s a lower quality umbrella, the ribs are often the first place to go, inverting your umbrella and probably snapping. Avoid this by making sure your patio umbrella is built with strong ribs to reinforce the canopy. Fiberglass ribs are the most durable material but you can also find wood or aluminum ribs. If a rib does break, you can often find a replacement but you should check the original manufacturer’s warranty first to find out what’s covered.

Hub– Where center ribs attach to pole, the hub is a crucial part of the umbrella’s framework. This allows for the attached ribs to open and close when the hub is moved along center pole.

Canopy– The fabric that provides the shade needs to be a good quality for your patio to hold up in a commercial environment. We’ll discuss the why there is a “right” canopy fabric later, but know that the canopy is your first line of defense against the sun’s rays. Some canopies also have vents, fabric layers that allow air to flow through, circulating it similarly to a camping tent vent. Other’s will have valances, fabric that comes down from the canopy and hangs around the perimeter for extra shade.

Pole– Besides the ribs that extend the canopy, the umbrella’s support system starts with the center pole. Whether offset or upright, the pole should be made of a high-quality material to withstand weather conditions. Pay close attention to the way the pole is constructed as some come as a single piece and others can be broken down into two. Poles that are a single piece are more durable in a high wind situation.

Base– The foundation of a good commercial umbrella starts with the base. Mobile bases can be made from heavier metal or plastic (weight is added with gravel, water, or sand) and can be wheeled around by tilting the umbrella and base back. These can be a good choice if you are constantly moving around your outdoor setup. Stationary, or fixed, bases are great for windy environments because they are attached to the floor, wall, or in the ground. These obviously cannot be moved around. Stationary bases can also add extra support for larger scale umbrellas.

Depending on if you have a cantilever or table umbrella, you can more aptly choose the correct base. Cantilever umbrella bases are often heavier because they must distribute the weight of the offset umbrella. You can often find table bases that integrate with your table top and umbrella for a cohesive unit and smooth design that doesn’t add a lot of extra bulk.

**It should be noted that tilted and pulley and crank mechanisms are not advised for commercial environments. These two ways of opening bring more liability than that of a manual push up system.

How big of an umbrella do I need?

Your umbrella size all depends on the area you’re trying to shade. It may seem obvious, but you’re going to want an umbrella canopy that stretches past your table to effectively cover the table, chairs, and your guests.

 

Size of Table (Round or Square) Size of Umbrella Weight of Umbrella Base*
24″ 5′ 50
30″ 5.5′ 50
32″ 5.5′ 50
36″ 6′ – 6.5′ 50
42″ 7′ – 7.5′ 50
48″ 8′ – 9′ 50
60″ 10′ 75
72″ 11′ 75
30″ x 48″ 8′ – 9′ 50
30″ x 60″ 10′ 75
30″ x 72″ 11′ 75
Weights are recommended when using a sturdy outdoor table. Heavier weights may be required on varying environmental factors. This chart does not apply to free standing umbrellas.

Why fabric choice is important

The whole point of an umbrella is to provide your guests with some shade and comfort while enjoying nice weather, which makes picking out the right fabric even more important. Material that fades not only looks poor on your patio, but also loses UV ray resistance, rendering the original intent of the umbrella ineffective. This can open your customers up to getting burned and lead them to making a different dining decision in the future.

Umbrella canopies can come in a variety of fabrics including plastic, cotton, vinyl, polyester, olefin, and solution-dyed acrylics. But to have the most durable fabrics and protect your customers, look for names like Olefin, Suncrylic, and Sunbrella. Each of these fabrics is solution-dyed, locking the color into the fiber and stabilizing pigments to be UV-ray resistant. These respected names in the commercial furniture industry will allow your dollar to go farther by choosing a resilient fabric that not only will continue to look great, but will also continue to shade your guests.

Choosing a patio umbrella for your restaurant can be overwhelming but now that you know what to look for, you’re a pro! You can successfully select an umbrella that will give effective coverage from the sun to your guests while they’re enjoying themselves in your outdoor space.

Questions about choosing your umbrellas? Call our customer care representatives at 800-986-5352 for further assistance. We’d be happy to help!

How to Make Your Restaurant More Gluten-Free Friendly

If there is one trend that has come to the forefront of the restaurant industry in the past few years it is that consumers are more aware of the health effects of food on their bodies. They what to know where their food is being sourced from, if it is organic, and how is it being prepared. There is a whole market of people that struggle to find places to eat out that coincide with their food restrictions. Those who for health reasons or personal reasons have chosen to go gluten-free.

There are two types of gluten sensitivities. Those caused by Celiac disease and those caused by non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people don’t experience the same kind of injury and irritation to the small intestine as those with celiac disease, but gluten intolerance can still cause physical and mental problems. Celiac disease itself presents with four different types of varying severity.

Gluten is a substance that is present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of the dough and is a mixture of two proteins. Currently, about 3.1 million people across the U.S.A. follow a gluten-free diet.

It is an entire market of people that you can open your doors to by making some changes to your current systems.  Expectations are higher than ever, and your restaurant might be missing out on profits that you aren’t even aware of.

Changes in Your Kitchen

If you are going to offer gluten-free options on your menu, you need to have the appropriate configuration in your kitchen. Your biggest hurdle will be cutting out cross contamination. Gluten-free products cannot come in to contact with items that have touched gluten-containing foods. For example, a gluten-free pizza cannot be cooked in the same oven as a pizza prepared with gluten ingredients.

Now, this may seem like a chore but there are some easy ways to separate your foods and tools.

  • Dedicate a section of your line to only gluten-free food prep
  • Keep items separate in storage and walk-ins to avoid cross-contamination
  • Use color-coded equipment to avoid contamination

Offering gluten-free options is not as hard as it may originally seem, as long as you keep up with your systems of avoiding cross contamination.

Educate Your Staff

The second most important thing you can do, after making changes in your kitchen, is to educate your staff. Many have heard of the gluten-free “trend” but don’t really know what it is, or how it can affect their customers.  Take some time during a staff meeting to discuss your new menu options and their importance. If you know someone with a gluten intolerance, you could invite them to speak to your staff of their struggles. Knowledge is everything in getting your staff to buy into your new program.

Make sure to encourage them to not judge their customers when they discuss a gluten intolerance. 72% of people leading a gluten-free diet are classified as “PWAGs” – people without celiac disease avoiding gluten. It is important for staff not to roll their eyes or make comments if they feel that a customer might not truly need gluten-free food. Customers with dietary restrictions want to have their concerns heard just like any other customer. It is not their place to judge and ultimately having a good attitude will lead to better tips.

Adjusting Your Menu

There are several ways that your menu can become more gluten-free friendly. Offer gluten-free substitutes to some of your meals. Cornstarch can be a great substitute for flour in certain circumstances.  Order more gluten-free ingredients to have in your kitchen. That way if a customer asks if you have pasta noodles, you can accommodate them. They’ll certainly be appreciative of your forethought.

How much of your menu that you decide to make gluten-free is up to you but having several options would most likely be beneficial. You need to evaluate on a case by case basis how much your current restaurant lends itself to gluten-free options. For example, if you are a Mexican restaurant you might consider offering taco salads or ordering gluten-free wraps. It is not necessary to completely rework your menu if you don’t have the funds or your food doesn’t lend itself well to gluten-free alternatives. Even a few adjustments will help to keep your restaurant relevant and communicate to customers that you are making an effort.

 

To help customers easily identify your gluten-free foods, you can create a menu ledger. Having clearly marked symbols to inform customers of your dishes that are completely gluten-free or have substitutes available can help to make the ordering process simpler. The easier that your menu is to understand for those that are gluten-free, the more comfortable they can feel.

Offering these options will take some adjustment for you and your team. But ultimately, you’ll see the benefits of increased profits and staying competitive in the market. Bethany Jarmul was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance in 2014 and has been searching for dining out options ever since. “As someone who has a gluten intolerance, the first thing I look for in a restaurant is whether or not they provide gluten-free options. If I find a place that offers a lot of gluten-free dishes, I’m likely to make that one of my go-to spots.”

Bethany represents an entire market of customers searching for their next go-to gluten-free spot. Why not make it your restaurant?

How to Promote

You’ve made the changes to your menu, added new ingredients to your kitchen, and educated your staff. Now it is time to get the word out about your new options. Traditional methods are great options Flyers, radio, and social media, are all perfect ways to talk about the benefits of your new food.

One area, in particular, you might like to consider is in Facebook groups that are focused on the gluten-free lifestyle. These groups can have thousands of members all looking for options that make their lives a little bit easier. Simply search gluten free on the Facebook search bar and then narrow your search to groups and you should find plenty of options.

Providing gluten-free options is the fastest growing trend in the restaurant industry and with good reason. Industry powerhouses like Arby’s, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza are offering gluten-free items. More and more Americans are choosing to go gluten-free for health reasons and the need for innovative food options is greater than ever. Establishing your restaurant as gluten-free friendly is a great way to bring in new customers and establish loyal ones for years to come. Nothing creates loyal customers like the ability to have an honest discussion about their food. It will take some organizing, but your efforts will be well worth it to keep your restaurant relevant and once the profits start rolling in.

 

 

How to Plan A Mother’s Day Brunch

BlackBerry Pancakes

It’s one of those holidays that will just creep up on you. And then next thing you know it is here and you aren’t as prepared as you’d like to be. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day is the busiest restaurant day of the year. At least 37% of the population has plans to dine out for Mother’s Day. To help you stand out from the all the other restaurants trying to attract customers, we’ve gathered a few simple suggestions.

Planning Ahead

Taking the steps to prepare your business for the busiest day of the year is crucial to having a successful day. With the influx of customers, you’ll need to be ready with greater food quantities, more staff, and a game plan.

More customers mean more food being consumed, so you’ll need to purchase more ingredients. One of the big benefits to offering brunch is that you can make big batches using inexpensive ingredients for pennies a piece. Ultimately, this means you can make it more affordable for customers and profitable for you.

Help reduce craziness by offering a special prix fixe menu or a buffet. Not only is it a great way to maximize profits, but also makes things simpler for your guests. It will help to create buzz while simplifying things for your kitchen staff, allowing them to be time efficient. Your servers will also thank you when it is time for patrons to pay. Mother’s Day can bring in large groups and with a prix fixe menu it won’t be as difficult to remember what everyone ordered.

With the increase in customers you’ll need to have enough staff to cover the difference. Mother’s Day needs to be all hands-on deck. If you are concerned about being short staffed, reach out to students returning home from college for the summer. If they have worked for you before they will already be trained and are almost always looking for some extra cash.

Help handle the craziness of the busiest restaurant day of the year, by taking reservations for the big day. If your restaurant doesn’t normally take reservations, Mother’s Day is a great exception to the rule. It helps immensely in the planning process. You can gauge how many staff members you’ll require and how much food you’ll need to prepare. Plus, customers will appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having a reserved table on the busiest day of the year.

To maximize profits consider using extra space that might not ordinarily be available, like a patio. In certain parts of the country, you’ll have to keep an eye on the weather but setting out a few extra tables for the day can be beneficial. That being said, don’t make the mistake of trying to cram too many tables into a space. Nobody appreciates a dining experience where they are bumping elbows with their neighbors, literally. If you have the space, definitely use it.

Menu Must Have’s

There are a few food items that you must have for a successful Mother’s Day Brunch. As far as food goes items like French Toast, eggs, frittata, and parfaits are guaranteed hits. Do you have a particular breakfast item that your restaurant is known for? If so, be sure to include it on the menu.

Crêpes can also be a big hit. But they can be temperamental so if your chef doesn’t have experience with them, Mother’s Day is not the time to test them out.

If you have your liquor license, mimosas and Bloody Mary’s are a favorite and sure to be a hit with most moms. Not all moms are interested in indulging in alcohol, so having a fun mocktail is a great way to add fun to their drink options.

Go All Out

Moms deserve to be treated every day but Mother’s Day in particular. Going that extra mile can really make the difference. Things as simple as offering a single flower to mothers at the end of the meal can be the difference between a yearly tradition and a one-time thing. Offering discounted or free food to moms is another great way to make them feel special. A free cocktail or dessert will go a long way.

If you are able to offer a takeout option for mothers or grandmothers that aren’t able to or prefer not to go out on Mother’s Day.

Promoting Your Brunch

Make your Mother’s Day specials and hours as easy to find as possible. If customers can’t find the information, chances are they will take their business elsewhere. Create a post for your social media accounts and start a Facebook event to keep your brunch top of mind. A series of posts that remind people how many days until Mother’s Day can help remind customers they need to make plans. It is a holiday that is easy to forget!

If you don’t have a huge social media following, don’t worry, you can always go old school and print out some flyers and hang them around your restaurant or hand them out with receipts during April and beginning of May.

 

With all the hustle and bustle of the busiest restaurant day of the year it is easy to forget the most important part of the day, celebrating moms! Encourage your staff to take time to wish Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who visit your restaurant and do their best to remain pleasant even in the busy atmosphere.

Do you host a Mother’s Day brunch? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments below!

Combating Food Waste in Your Restaurant

The last thing you want as a restaurant owner is to watch your money get thrown out in the garbage. Unfortunately, when you waste food, this is exactly what’s happening. It’s seemingly easy to do, some milk here, apples there, and right before your eyes, thousands of dollars have gone to waste. Because it’s so easy, it’s estimated that there are 60 million tons of food wasted annually throughout the United States, and it’s likely that your restaurant is contributing. So how can your restaurant put anti-food waste steps into effect? Here are some actionable steps your restaurant can take to help cut down on food waste.

Create a committee. Either find individuals motivated to take a stand against food waste or incentivize the position, but make sure you have people from different areas in your restaurant as part of the committee. You don’t want to involve your whole kitchen staff, only to leave out the wait staff. You also need your purchaser on board (whether that’s you or an employee).

Practice FIFO. If you don’t know what FIFO is, listen up! A ‘first in, first out’ system allows your food preparation to run more smoothly, while keeping in mind the issue of food waste. When a new food order comes in, put the new food on the right and shift the previously-purchased food to the left. Cooks then grab food in a reverse order (left to right) to make sure they are using the items that will expire more quickly than the food on the right hand side.

*Pro Tip: When organizing your storage area, beware of cross-contaminating foods. Raw chicken does not belong next to fresh produce so don’t let all your rules go out the window to focus on FIFO. Shelf-labeling is handy while keeping in mind newer versus previously-purchase food and the types of food that can be stored together.

Control portion size in the kitchen. This requires due-diligence from your staff. As kitchens get busy, eyeballing ingredients (aka not paying attention to the pre-priced amounts from your menu plan) becomes more common but this is one way that customers end up with more food than they need and often more than they paid for. American restaurants are notorious for unnecessarily large portion sizes. You want to satisfy your guests, but not at the cost of your bottom line. A great way to cut down on food wasted by customers is to allow them to choose their portion size by offering lunch and dinner sizes on the menu. The less food that’s left on your guests’ plates, the better.

Repurpose ingredients. Have a lot of leftover shredded chicken from yesterday’s fajita special? Make chicken tortilla soup! If you’re flexible with your specials, soup can turn leftover nightmares into the next day’s featured dinner.

Make over your menu. Speaking of flexibility, you’ll want to check in on how each of your menu items are doing. If you must buy highly-specialized ingredients for a few items, make sure they’re worth it. If they are sub-par performers on your menu, change it up! It’s easier to broaden your menu with dishes that have more universal ingredients. A lot of restaurants turn to a focused menu to use up any surplus and still offer a variety of options without sacrificing storage space while cutting unnecessary costs.

Compost. Chances are your restaurant probably builds up (and throws away) a lot of produce scraps. Whether it’s from leftover salads or unused portions, these scraps can easily be composted. If your restaurant has its own little garden that grows herbs, use these as fertilizer. Or build community relations and reach out to farmers who could use the compost to help supplement their crops.

Donate what you can. If your restaurant has exhausted the options to using leftover food, consider donating. There are many organizations around the country that help excess food get to those who are in need. If you’re concerned about liability and the legality of your donation, review the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 to understand your rights as the donating party.

Full dumpster

Keeping food waste in the forefront your mind when running your restaurant and making operational decisions is crucial in combating the problem. Taking the steps above are just a few ways your restaurant can have an impact on this destructive global trend. Integrating these better choices into your business model can cut down on food waste and save you money at the end of the day.

Do you have plan for food waste in your restaurant? What steps do you take to combat it? Tell us below in the comments.

Pizza Shop Design Trends For 2018

When someone tells you to imagine a pizza place your brain might immediately jump to images of a classic pizzeria.  You know the one. It has black and white checkered floors paired with red walls, a few chairs and tables, usually in a bistro style design, and checkered tablecloths. However, the pizzerias of today, both large and small, are bucking that traditional look and opting for a more updated image.

You might be wondering why that should matter, studies show that ambiance can affect customer perceptions in a big way. Things such as how much and how fast customers eat, how much they spend, how long they stay, and their impressions of your responsiveness and reliability. To make sure you are sending the right message to customers, we’ve gathered together some of the industry’s leading trends.

Back to Roots

In the pizza business, along with many other businesses, we are seeing a shift back to their roots. Many pizzerias are doing this by installing brick ovens into their shops. More and more, customers are wanting not just food but a complete experience. Brick ovens are part of that experience that screams authenticity. Brick ovens also benefit the taste of the pizza: toppings are crisper, and they boost food flavor. They also cook the pizza faster than a conventional oven and are an energy saver.

Open Kitchen Design

Customers are more interested than ever in not only the ingredients going into their food but how it is being made. To accommodate this pizza shops are opting to go with an open kitchen plan. The open layout allows customers to see exactly what is going on during the preparation of their food. Everything from the ingredients being used to the cleanliness of the chefs is available for viewing. Your cooking method is part of your brand.

Besides the practicality, it also adds to the experience of a pizzeria. Seeing dough being tossed into the air has a real feeling of authenticity.

Decorating Using Tools

A lot of pizzerias are using what they already have to decorate their shops. Pizza peels, rollers, and cutters are making an appearance on walls and in other areas of the restaurant. For that something extra, pizzerias are having their names engraved onto wood pizza peels to display at their entrances or on hostess stands.

Tile

Tile is back in a big way. For years the material has been relegated to the bathroom, but no more. Placed behind a bar or as a backsplash in an open-air kitchen. White subway tiles are very in and create a nice clean look. Tile can also be used to create an accent wall with texture.

Murals

Mural walls are a great way to bring color into an otherwise neutral palette full of earth tones and pull focus. Colors help to create an inviting ambiance that has customers staying longer and ordering more. Murals don’t always need to be paint. Some restaurateurs have started combining metal and wood to create focal walls. They will use boards of wood to cover one wall and then hang some form of metal art on the wall. If the budget allows, logos can be cut out of metal to create a cool branding opportunity.

Your branding will help dictate which route you should go. If your brand is more playful or eclectic, a colorful mural might fit right in with your branding. If clean lines and neutral colors are your thing then a wood and metal combination might fit best in your shop.

Reclaimed Wood and Brick

Many pizzerias are favoring the brick and reclaimed wood look. It is a combo of craft/artisan and more modern.  Especially when paired with metal accents. The texture of these materials brings in the artisanal feel while the straight lines they have ended up having a modern aesthetic. “Nothing goes better with pizza than reclaimed wood,” according to Pizza Today. Utilizing brick is also a great way to incorporate street style into your restaurant.

Whether you are considering a complete reimagining of your shop, or simply looking to add a few updated pieces like customized peels, one of these trends is bound to work for you. It will keep your shop looking fresh and your customers coming back for more.

Which one of these trends is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Valentine’s Day Promo Ideas For Restaurants

One of the busiest days in the restaurant industry is fast approaching, and you don’t want to be caught off guard. Valentine’s Day is the second biggest day for dining out, second only to Mother’s Day. A quarter of Americans eat out to celebrate the holiday with their special someone. That totals about 8 billion dollars spent in restaurants across the United States. What restaurant doesn’t want a piece of that? As a restaurant owner, you want to make the very most of this opportunity.

What can you do to make your restaurant stand out among the competition? We’ve gathered together some Valentine’s Day best practices and brainstormed some fresh ideas to help you create a memorable and lucrative night.

Menu

First things first, you need to think about your menu. To make it easier for you and your staff consider offering a preset prix fixe menu, otherwise known as a fixed price menu. It will cut down on wait times for guests and give you a better understanding of what needs to be ordered for the night, helping to increase your profits by lessening waste.

Having a prix fixe menu can also be beneficial for customers. They know exactly what they are getting and at what cost. No unexpected surprises for either of you.

As part of your prix fixe menu, consider including a starter, main course, dessert, and a recommended wine pairing. If you want to go the traditional route, try to incorporate pink or red foods into your menu and a chocolate dessert.

Valentine’s Day can be a great time to incorporate some current food trends into your meals. A little bit of fun experimentation can help to set your restaurant apart from others who might be offering more traditional entrees. Perhaps offering a dessert sampler instead of a complete dessert would appeal to an audience looking for that extra special experience.

Beverages

Altering your beverage service can also be beneficial for the busy day. Make sure to have suggested wine pairings available for guests who might not be very knowledgeable. Also, make sure your staff is well educated on the different wines and specialty cocktails you are offering. Fruit flavored red and pink cocktails are a favorite, but taking a risk could pay off too.  Consider adding a chocolate martini with chili pepper for an added zest.

 

 

Atmosphere

Having the right atmosphere is crucial. Everything other detail can be perfect, but if the atmosphere is off, it’ll still feel like something just wasn’t quite right. Make sure to give your patrons the whole package. Dim your lights a little extra. Take a look at your music for the night and make sure it fits with the rest of your ambiance. Consider reusing those string lights you brought out for Christmas time to create a romantic lighting for your guests, or perhaps some candlelight to dine by.

Reservations

To help the day run smoothly, encourage guests to make reservations early. To encourage reservations, you can offer promotions, such as a free dessert, to those who book ahead. As tempting as it may be, do your best not to overbook. Consider that guests might want to take their time and linger over dinner to fully enjoy the experience. You don’t want a bad review showing up on Feb. 15th saying that guests had to wait hours, even with a reservation.

 

 

Staffing- Call In the A-team

Make sure that you have your A-team working. Your most experienced workers should be present in both the front and back of house. Valentine’s Day is not the time to try training a new host or waitress. Leave that for the 15th when the rest of your staff has earned a day off.

Valentine’s Day is all about the specialness. Going above and beyond for the people you love. The restaurant industry is no different. You want your customers to leave feeling that they had the best food, drinks, and service. Take a moment to speak to your staff about the importance of offering an extra special experience. Try to have your most experienced servers working that night. You can trust them to give the kind of service you expect, and more experienced servers tend to be better at up selling a customer.

You can also offer take home gifts for customers. A custom wine glass or even something as simple as a flower can set you up as going above and beyond in the mind of a customer.

 

 

Marketing

Make your Valentine’s Day specials and hours as easily accessible as possible. If customers can’t find the information, chances are they will move on to someone else who already has theirs readily available. Create a graphic and post it on your social media accounts and start a Facebook event. It also never hurts to print out some flyers and hang them around your restaurant or hand them out with receipts during January and February. The easier it is to access your important information, the better the chances you will have a full venue for Valentine’s day.

Thinking Outside of the Heart Shaped Box

If you are looking to try something new this year, we’ve got a few ideas for you that are a twist on the classic Valentine’s day meal that we all know.

Wine Tasting or Beer Tasting – For those who love the beverages more than the food. Local breweries and wineries are popping up all over the United States and consumers are responding positively. Join up with some wineries or breweries in your area to offer a tasting night.

Offer Valentines Meals the Weekend Before and After– Some people just can’t make it out on a weeknight to celebrate. Offer them the same meal the weekend before and after with a discount or a promotion. You can bring in even more business and will be able to offer it as an option to anyone who asks for a reservation for the 14th after you are booked up.

Galentine’s Day Brunch – Galentine’s Day is a day where women across the world celebrate their female friends. And what do gal pals love? Mimosas. Galentine’s Day is February 13th but you would probably do best on the Sunday before or after Valentine’s Day.

DIY Dinner – DIY is all the rage and that extends to the restaurant industry. Talk to your chef and see if they would be willing to offer a class to customers on how to make their own Valentine’s dinner. What could be better than having customers pay you to make their own meal?

Takeout Meals – We all have one in our lives that we know and love. An introvert, someone who works odd hours, or even moms whose only chance at a peaceful dinner is after the kids have gone to bed. You can still market to the person who wants to eat in but doesn’t want to spend hours cooking the perfect meal? That is where you come in. Offering takeout meals are a great way to continue to offer food, even after your reservations are full. Consider asking customers to order a few days in advance to give your team plenty of time to order and prepare the extra meals.

Whether you stick with the traditional candlelight dinner or do something a little different, a few ideas will remain the same. Good marketing, great food, perfect atmosphere, and a staff that goes above and beyond for the customer, will make your Valentine’s day a success.

Do you do something for Valentine’s day that your customer’s fall in love with every year? Let us know in the comments below.

2017 Fads Turned 2018 Trends

When the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, it symbolizes a new year and a new beginning. But this doesn’t always apply to the restaurant industry; fads turn to trends and stick around from one year to another. We’ve rounded up the popular restaurant trends from 2017 that are going to be around for the ball drop and the first part of 2018.

On the Menu:

Less is more cocktails Less is more cocktails. Many restaurants are beefing up their drink list with lower proof drinks by getting more playful with ingredients and lessening the alcohol content. Not only do bartenders get to have more fun with the flavor palate of the drinks, the profit margin widens as well by using less alcohol.
House-made condiments House-made condiments. Restaurants are striving for originality, down to their sauces. Think house ranch, mayonnaise, and sriracha-infused ketchup. Chefs are getting creative and complementing dishes with flavors that round out the tastes.
Cold-brew coffee Cold brew coffee. Lose that koozie! Cold brew coffee is past the fad phase and rocketing into 2018 as a staple in many coffee shops and restaurants. This new way to brew coffee offers many facets of customization that lets the restaurant owner (and customer) get a little creative when it comes to more caffeine in the same cup.
Local beer partnerships Local beer partnerships. You can grab your favorite local brew just about anywhere. Many restaurants are partnering with local breweries and wineries to put their fares on tap right next to the big distributors. This not only promotes businesses in the area, but also increases a sense of involvement in the community.

On Operations:

New ways to order New ways to order. There are very few things in this world you can’t use your Amazon Prime account for anymore, including food delivery. And it’s not just Amazon. Food delivery services range from Amazon to the restaurants themselves to GrubHub and Postmates. These services get food to the consumer, without them every stepping foot in your restaurant.
Conscientious cooking Conscientious cooking. The world’s eyes are wide awake to the food waste problem and is reflected in the restaurant industry’s attitude towards less-waste cooking. A restaurant adhering to more sustainable practices is becoming much more common.
Inclusive menus Inclusive menus. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are showing up on more and more menus. Being more inclusive with dietary restrictions has been on the rise in 2017 and will continue into 2018. Adding these options to your menu can be the deciding factor for customers with food allergies and auto-immune disorders like Celiac.
Herb gardens Digitizing payment. Customers can now eat, drink, and pay all from the comfort of your restaurant booth. From kiosks to digital receipts to mobile payment, many restaurants are moving towards using paperless payment for a streamlined procedure for customers. As this technology becomes more affordable, the practice will continue to spread in 2018.

On the Design Board:

Food halls Food halls. After exploding onto the scene, food halls are becoming more and more the norm. Per Cushman & Wakefield, “the number of food halls operating in the United States is expected to exceed 200 in 2019”. This number has grown every year with many slated to open in 2018 in urban markets like Atlanta, Manhattan, and Austin.
Wood and metal hybrid furniture Wood and metal hybrid furniture. Here’s a juxtaposition we can get behind! Combining the warm tones of wood and the industrial cool of metal create quite a contrast in furniture, this trend is all over chairs, bar stools, POS stations, and tables. With hybrid furniture, it becomes so much easier to pair pieces together when there’s a little bit of both wood and metal in them. Who doesn’t want the best of both worlds in their furniture?
Introducing color  

Introducing color. Whether it’s the furniture, centerpieces, or a mural wall, restaurants are gravitating toward bright colors rather than darker browns and blacks. This kind of design gives restaurants more of a fun and fresh feel, often set on a white backdrop.

Tile is here Tile is here. 2017 brought the tile out of the bathroom and put it behind the bar. Restaurant designers are using tile on backsplashes, bar fronts, and accent walls to add texture and focus. Move over wallpaper, this is the year of tile!

Which of these trends do you see sticking around longer into 2018? Tell us in the comments below!

 

Reviews and Your Restaurant: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Why Reviews Matter

Whether you consider it to be a good or bad thing, the food retail world is controlled by the consumer, and your restaurant is just living in it. If your customer has a bad experience and chooses to tell others about it, your operation could be in trouble. Word of mouth is extremely important for the perception of your restaurant, so it’s crucial to know how to handle reviews of all kinds.

Where do customers leave reviews?

You may say ‘I’ve never seen a review of my restaurant before’. More than likely, you’ve just never seen the reviews. The most common places to look for reviews of your restaurant are Facebook, Google, and Yelp.

Facebook

Because of its user-friendliness, Facebook is popular with customers and restaurant owners alike. Your restaurant’s business page is a great platform to have pictures of the day’s specials, hours, and social interaction, all in one place. When it comes to reviews, Facebook creates a star rating that denotes the quality of the reviews left, with five stars being the best. You can also change how you want to filter reviews: most helpful, most recent, and star rating. Because of how often it is used daily for news, photos, and checking up on friends, it’s only natural that Facebook restaurant reviews are taken seriously. Potential customers can trust the words of their mutual friends and can even see if others they know have reviewed the restaurant.

Facebook Business Page

Facebook Reviews Page

Learn how to find and interact with your Facebook page reviews.

Google

If you look up your restaurant on Google’s search engine, you will see your business name off to the right side, along with categories like directions, website, and an overall star rating. This star rating is determined by an average of the reviews left. If you click into these reviews (and there are some) you will be able to see the individual reviews. Google is a super important facet of customer reviews because whether people are searching for your menu, hours, or directions, they’re most likely typing it into the Google search engine. This will bring up the sidebar with the star-rating and reviews front and center.

Google Search Reviews

Find out how to respond to Google reviews.

Yelp

One of the most common review sites, and the thorn in the side of many restaurant owners, Yelp helps future customers narrow down their choice of where to do business. It also gives customers that have visited the business an outlet to review the quality of services and their expectations of that business. Yelp has its own algorithm when it comes to displaying reviews. Like Google and Facebook, Yelp also uses a star ranking system, calculated by reviews left. Yelp tends to display a frequent Yelper’s reviews over a new user, making it more difficult to see reviews chronologically.

Yelp Business Page

Yelp Reviews Page

Learn how to use Yelp to the fullest potential with these tips for your restaurant.

What do I do if someone leaves my restaurant a good review?

Congratulations on your restaurant’s hard work! Here’s how you can make the most out of your patron’s compliments:

Respond Back– Before you do anything else with your positive review, you need to write back! Good reviews deserve just as much attention as bad reviews, plus you can promote them without having to come up with an apology statement. Thank the customer for their review and acknowledge that they went out of their way to pass along kind words.

Give Credit Where Credit It Is Due– After you pat yourself on the back, make sure to bring the review to your staff’s attention. If it is about the service, recognize your bartenders or wait staff at the next shift meeting. If it’s about the food, congratulate the cooks on a job well done. While credit should certainly be served to those that were mentioned in the review, you can commend all moving parts of your restaurant. This success is the result of teamwork in your restaurant.

Show It Off– Publish the review on your social media channels, have framed testimonials (do it yourself with Small Thanks), or even include it into your next menu design. Reviews are a great way for your restaurant to tout its successes and would be a shame to not promote them!

What do I do if someone leaves my restaurant a bad review?

Don’t panic! A bad review can become an opportunity for your restaurant if handled correctly. The process below can help streamline how you or your staff deal with negative reviews.

Study Up–  You’ll need to do a little research before answering the review with your emotions flying. First, take note of the date the review was posted and, if it gives details, who (if anyone) was involved. This can help you gain some perspective on how to respond to the review.

It’s Not Too Late to Say Sorry– Apologizing is crucial. Even if it was the weather. Even if it was a fluke in your well-oiled staff. Even if it was the way your restaurant is decorated. Say you’re sorry. That person is not leaving a review for no reason (usually) and wants their feelings validated.

Be a Problem Solver– After your apology, be sure to offer up a solution that’s related to what the customer was concerned about. If there was an issue with the food, reach out with a free meal or appetizer. If there was a problem with the staff, communicate that it will be brought up during a team meeting to prevent it from happening again. Also, if the incident has since been addressed and solved, let the reviewer know of the policy change.

When dealing with a bad review, it’s important to acknowledge the reviewer’s feelings and empathize while also offering a solution. Be sure to touch on each of these points and tailor the response to the reviewer’s experience. Canned responses quickly lose candor and don’t win you any points for originality.

As with positive reviews, be sure to bring up bad reviews with your staff. Walk through the situation with them and provide a process for how to deal with similar situations. You can even use them as motivation for your staff by putting bad reviews in their break area, especially if they are unmotivated by tips.

Why does brand management matter?

Having fresh reviews, engaging with those leaving reviews, and monitoring your social media channels may sound like it will take a lot of time and energy. But without good brand management, it’s extremely difficult to stay on top of customer reviews. In doing these daily tasks, you can quickly pick up on these channels’ review components and see what people are saying about your restaurant. It’s important to keep an eye on these as much as possible to create the highest amount of engagement, and ideally, new reviews.

When making decisions, customers are searching for recently posted reviews, as it should be the most up to date information. Unfortunately, the barrage of five-star reviews you received early last year just isn’t going to cut it. According to Search Engine Land, “69 percent of consumers believe that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant”. In other words, a review’s usefulness depreciates in value for bringing in new business. Constant flow of reviews show that your restaurant is staying relevant and can be used for customers to make more informed decisions.

By successfully managing your brand, you can incite more reviews by guests, encouraging others to come see what the fuss is about. To help you stay on top of your restaurant, try setting up a Google Alert to easily monitor possible reviews or comments.

Reviews can stand as a welcoming beacon or caution sign; handling them properly can make all the difference. By staying on top of good and bad reviews with attentive brand management, your restaurant can create a quality experience for all guests.

Facebook Local: How Facebook’s Latest App Could Affect Your Restaurant

Social media is a constantly changing medium that can be hard to stay on top of. while you may be overwhelmed with the amount of apps there are out there, there is a new one that should definitely be on your radar. Recently Facebook launched its latest app called Local and it could have a major effect on the restaurant and hospitality industry. But don’t worry, we’ve done the research on this new app so that you don’t have to.

What is Local?

You might not yet have heard of Local, Facebook’s newest venture in the app world, but you soon will. Local is Facebook’s take on the popular Yelp and Foursquare apps and a reinvention of their Events app. They have combined permanent places and events, into a single search engine powered by Facebook’s 70 million business pages, while factoring in reviews and check-ins made by the user’s friends.

The goal is to help users pick between great bars on a block, and find out which one will best fit their needs and wants for that outing. Facebook Local’s home page shows nearby restaurants, cafes, drinks, attractions, as well as the places the people you follow are going. Through the app, users can even search for a specific type of food or event.

How Does Local Work?

With the discover feed, users can find out what’s popular with friends and see a feed specifically curated for events they’re interested in.  Once they find a restaurant or event they’d like to learn more about, they can click the page to learn all the details and even check in. Under the Guides tab users can explore their interests based upon category, ranging from Food & Drink to religion & Spirituality.

Local can connect to their personal calendar to make sure they never miss an important event. Users can adjust their location when traveling so that they can find great spot and events even if they are unfamiliar with the area. The app has something for everyone.

What it Means for Restaurants

You might be asking “Why does this matter for my restaurant?” First of all, you’ll have to have a Facebook page to be included in any of the searches made in the app. So, if you don’t have a page or you don’t update your page often, you might want to take steps to rectify that.

One of the best parts of Local is that owners don’t need to download a separate app to contribute to it. Simply post about different events to your Facebook business page through either the desktop or mobile app and it will also appear on the Local app. By taking a few minutes out of your week to update your page regularly, you could reach new customers.

This new app can help you to reach an audience that you might not have otherwise been able to contact before. Who knows, you could have a first-time customer that found you through Local become a lifelong customer after checking their phone one night when they were bored.

Currently, users can find restaurants through the app and book reservations if their Facebook page is enabled to do so. To learn how to enable reservation booking through your Facebook page, check out our step by step instructions on setting up your OpenTable Reservation Facebook App. If you aren’t sure if your Facebook page is enabled for reservations, you can check here.

In the Future

Currently, the app does not offer the ability to order food, but developers say that it could be on the horizon. Adding that feature would really create opportunities to increase takeout sales for restaurants.

Local is still a young app so there are no certainties, but with some effort and creative thinking restaurateurs can turn this tool into filled seats, new customers, and more profit.

If you have had success with Facebook’s new Local app let us know in the comments below.

Top 6 Restaurant Cash Handling Blunders You Must Stop

Cash Register for Cash Handling Blunders

By David Scott Peters
TheRestaurantExpert.com

If you have poor cash handling procedures in place in your restaurant, no other system you put in place will matter. I don’t care how efficient your restaurant is, if every penny of your sales isn’t deposited in the bank, there won’t be enough money to pay your bills. Cash controls must take top priority. No matter what you think needs to be addressed first, I tell restaurant owners to prioritize the review of restaurant cash handling procedures over everything else.

Here are some samples of classic cash handling errors we see in restaurants all the time:

  1. Change in a glass or a drawer. This is a practice used to simplify the nightly deposit. It is used two different ways. First, it’s a time saver to avoid counting loose change. Second, it is used to make the nightly deposit balance exactly to what the point of sales system says the cash balance should be.
  2. A week’s worth of unsecured checks in an unlocked filing cabinet. We often see this when the general manager or the owner is the only one allowed to make a bank run, when there is not enough cash to deposit due to credit card purchases or because the owner or manager is just plain lazy.
  3. A bin with a year’s worth of used non-voided paper gift certificates. While management was doing the right thing making sure all of the gift certificates used were accounted for on a nightly basis, they failed to write the word void on them and then saved them in an unsecured clear bin. Any employee could steal a small amount on a daily basis and reuse them to keep cash sales.
  4. Customer checks taped to the office wall. Many restaurants cater or hold banquets on premise. This means you will have customers leave a deposit check to guarantee the party will happen. This practice is meant to cover costs if they cancel. The challenge comes when the owner or manager doesn’t deposit the checks and tapes them to the wall, because you don’t know if payment is good. A dishonest employee could steal the checks or use the information to steal your customer’s identity and conduct check fraud.
  5. Credit card numbers recorded in a book. In July 2010, a new law was enacted that makes it illegal to retain customers’ credit card numbers in anything other than a secure online record keeping system that meets the law’s requirements. Failing to follow the law’s requirements can result in fines as much as $5,000 for each credit card number kept.
  6. Blank checks and forged checks to routinely pay for deliveries. It is a common practice that restaurant owners leave blank checks to pay for invoices, or they allow a key employee, who is not authorized to sign checks, to simply forge their signature to pay for invoices. This exposes you to a great deal of liability.

If you any of these procedures is in place in your restaurant, know that you’re leaving yourself open to theft and liability. It is your responsibility to make sure ALL of your money makes it into the bank on a daily basis. You must eliminate poor cash handling procedures, eliminate the majority of ways your cash can be stolen and avoid costly fines through proper systems.

David Scott Peters is a restaurant consultant, event speaker and founder of TheRestaurantExpert.com, a company committed to the success of independent restaurants. TheRestaurantExpert.com offers an exclusive online restaurant management software designed specifically to meet the complete operational needs of independent operators, including holding their managers accountable and running a profitable business. Combined with one-on-one coaching and group workshops, TheRestaurantExpert.com is helping independent restaurants find success in the highly competitive restaurant industry. Download a free report to discover the #1 secret to lowering food and labor costs and running the independent restaurant you’ve always dreamed of. Learn more about how David can help you at www.TheRestaurantExpert.com.