Helpful Tips for Bar and Restaurant Owners

5 Furniture Hacks That Will Help Your Restaurant Run More Smoothly

Furniture is essential to any restaurant, but did you know you could actually use it to your advantage? The right furniture can help keep your restaurant operations running fluidly.

Customers are expecting quicker service than ever and restaurants are on the clock to deliver. Time is of the essence and speed is the pièces de résistance to make it happen. If your restaurant doesn’t have the capital to jump to the artificial intelligence of Jetson-like robots….that’s super normal.

Poor time management can snap a business model in half but by choosing the correct restaurant furnishings, you can help your staff run as efficiently as possible. We’ve narrowed down five furniture hacks that will keep your operation effective for your employees and bottom line profitable!

This furniture will streamline your hostesses and waitstaff processes, cut down cleaning times without skimping, and use your square footage effectively.  

Add a POS Station

Hostess Station in Urban Distressed Wood

Eliminate employees not being able to find pens, crayons, napkins, and even wait-time buzzers by having it all in one space: a point of sale station! Having a designated space for these things to reside can help cut out frantic scrambling for these easy to misplace items.

Even better, you can customize your POS station to fit your restaurant’s processes. Need somewhere to put rolled silverware so it’s at the ready? Opt for some wider shelves that can fit baskets the silverware can be tucked away in. Do you need to have the space to stack trays and menu? Try cabinet doors that shut and can hide away stored items.

By organizing these items, at an arm’s length away, your hostesses and wait staff can be ready for whatever the dinner rush throws at them.

Use Crumb Strips in Your Booth Section

Booths with a Crumb Strip

Vinyl color, height, and single vs. double are just a few of the factors that run through restaurant owners heads’ when they purchase commercial booths. But one important factor that is definitely not at the top of their list to consider when buying a booth is having a crumb strip.

A crumb strip in your booths will make your wait staff and bussers’ cleaning routine so much easier. This narrow strip of space between the back and seat cushions of the booth let them really get in there with a rag and, much like its name, get the crumbs out! Not only does the crumb strip make it simpler to get in between the table and booth vinyl, it can also increase the likelihood it won’t be left by your staff because it was too hard to reach. Which isn’t good for anyone… who wants to seat on a crumby booth?

Lower Wait Times with Indoor/Outdoor Furniture Seating

Distressed Viktor Chairs in Kelly Red

Sometimes it feels like the dinner crowd just won’t stop pouring in! As a restaurant owner, this is a great problem to have but it does present an issue for space. If the weather is nice, you’ll want to maximize your patio space. But that could mean prepping furniture you haven’t use in awhile, shaking off the cobwebs, and hoping the dead leaves from last fall have evaporated off your patio.

Why not invest in versatile seating that can pull double duty in both seating charts? These pieces of furniture are typically metal that are specially finished for indoor or outdoor use. Having this kind of seating on hand can be helpful to keep wait times lower, as well as increasing the amount of customers your staff can serve. Lower wait times, happier customers, bigger tips, just from having seating that can go anywhere!

Clean Up Your Outdoor Space in a Snap

Whether you’re just breaking out your restaurant’s patio furniture or you’re putting it away for the end of the season, cleaning it up is a great way to protect your investment and adding to your curb appeal. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could pressure-wash the outdoor space AND your furniture at the same time?

Cue poly lumber furniture!

This eco-friendly substance is a great alternative to wood with its non-porous makeup, which means it won’t retain moisture! Your staff can wipe down (or pressure-wash) poly lumber furniture without worrying about mildew, fungi, or any other growing mold. Poly lumber has many benefits for outdoor use, making it a simple solution for hard-to-take-of furniture.

Accommodate Guests (and Your Staff)

Communal Table in a Restaurant

Larger parties can be a struggle for your restaurant to accommodate, especially if your go-to defense is pushing together smaller table tops. It can be a pain for your wait staff to be constantly constructing and deconstructing the same space over and over, depending on who walks through the door.

By having a communal table or two that you can seat large parties, you can avoid losing your small tables by having to push them together. This way your staff can keep a balance between the larger parties and smaller tables, preventing them from becoming too overwhelmed.

We’re not saying you need to stand there with a stopwatch and record your employees’ every move, but it’s important to consider the success rate of how your staff’s current performance and what you should do to help. Even when your staff is on their game and working their hardest, there may be some areas that you can help make them more efficient in their jobs, just by changing your furniture.

Top Mistakes Restaurant Owners Make in Their First Year and How to Avoid Them

Restaurant Communal Table with Dinner

We’ve all heard that terrifying statistic — 90% of new restaurants fail within the first year. Fortunately for both owners and people who like to go out to eat, this “fact” is completely untrue. According to research by Dr. H.G. Parsa of Ohio State University, first-year restaurant failure rates are closer to a much less shocking 26%. (The 90% myth, by the way, is so prevalent that it was even cited in an American Express commercial in the early 2000s. AmEx was never able to substantiate their claim.)

Still, that means that one out of four new restaurants isn’t going to survive to its first anniversary. Sometimes, these closures are beyond the owners’ control. An economic downturn, staffing issues, infrastructure problems, or new government policies can all lead to failures, despite the best efforts of management.

But there are certain mistakes that restaurant owners often make when they first get started that can be major factors in the success or failure of their restaurants. Here are some common mistakes that restaurant owners make in their first year of business, and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1 — Not appreciating the necessary time commitment

The restaurant industry is hard, both physically and mentally. It requires long hours, intense attention to detail, and a mastery of a whole slew of different disciplines from managing people to sales forecasting to marketing to cooking to sanitation…

And because money is always tight in the restaurant business, all of this has to be organized and executed by an incredibly small management team. The result is long hours away from home, family, and hobbies. In Dr. Parsa’s study, he notes that most failed restaurateurs cited family sacrifice as at least part of the reason that their restaurants shuttered.

Owning a restaurant will always be hard work. But one step you can take to try to balance your work with your home life is to delegate and outsource where you can.

The key to delegating effectively:

  • Communicate exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Provide a clear vision of success.

For example, maybe you decide to hand off social media management to a staff member or freelancer. Make sure that person knows how many posts you want per week and the type of content you like on your feed. Food photos? Videos of guests having a good time? Bartenders making drinks? Behind-the-scenes footage of the kitchen? Promotions for upcoming events? Clear content guidelines will help to automate the process and prevent frustration down the line.

Then, give the delegate a metric that is easy to track. Maybe you want to grow your social media following by 10% per month, or maybe you want a certain number of people to engage with your posts on a weekly basis. Aim for straightforward, concrete goals so the whole team will know exactly what success looks like.

Mistake #2 — Not compensating for inexperience

Opening a restaurant sounds like fun. And it can be! But there’s a reason why industry greats like Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay worked in restaurants for nearly 15 years before opening their own. There is a ton to learn before you’re ready to be the boss.

Training and managing a small army of prep cooks, chefs, servers, bartenders, and hosts is difficult enough. Add in marketing, controlling food and labor costs, licensing and permitting, facilities management, special events, and more, and it’s enough to make your head spin if you haven’t risen through the restaurant ranks.

That doesn’t mean that every restaurant with an inexperienced owner is doomed to fail. But you’ll need to hire the best general manager or director of operations that you can afford. Ten or twenty years of restaurant management experience will come at a cost, but it will be worth to have a pro on your team.

Mistake #3 — Lack of clear concept

Your concept is not just your cuisine. Your concept is what makes you unique. Why should people go to your pizza joint, instead of the pizza joint down the street? What special purpose does your restaurant serve?

Maybe you are an upscale date spot located in a renovated 1960s gas station serving ultra-thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas with high-end toppings like foie gras and shaved white truffle.

Now compare that to Chuck E. Cheese — a family-friendly pizza place with lots of games and entertainment for kids. Both serve the same basic cuisine, but their concepts are radically different.

So what is it, beyond just your type of food, that makes you special? You’ll never be all things to all people, so dig in and focus on who you’re trying to attract, and for what occasions. You want to position your restaurant as the “go-to” place for something specific — an occasion, an atmosphere, a certain theme. What do you do better than anyone else?

A clear concept will serve as a guide as you navigate choices down the line. Menu changes, community events, and promotions will all be easier to approve or deny when you have a clearly defined concept.

Mistake #4 — Allowing subpar food to persist

Your menu was carefully curated, each recipe lovingly tested and presented by your executive chef. You tried each dish, gave it your seal of approval, and are now confident in the knowledge that you can be proud of your food.

But over time, corners get cut. Maybe the line cooks are sandbagging steaks to get through the rush more easily, resulting in dried-out sirloins. Maybe the prep cooks are only letting the soup simmer for 15 minutes instead of the required 45 minutes, so the flavor isn’t as rich.

These time-saving tweaks aren’t malicious on the part of your staff, but they can drastically reduce the quality of the food. And customers will notice.

Make it a habit to eat in your restaurant regularly — but discreetly. Ask a manager to ring in food for you, but make sure they don’t tell the kitchen staff that it’s for the boss. That way, you’ll get an accurate taste of what your restaurant is serving to your guests, and you’ll be able to address any deviations from the original dish.

Mistake #5 — Not keeping track of permits

When you were first opening your restaurant, you had to get a variety of permits and licenses from all sorts of local and county departments like the health, fire, and building departments, state liquor authority, comptroller, and more.

Right around your 1-year mark, many of those permits will need to be renewed. And they’ll probably have to be renewed annually for as long as your restaurant is operating. Failure to stay on top of this tedious (but vital) administrative work can result in fines or could even get you shut down.

Make absolutely sure that you are tracking all permit and license expiration dates!

One free method is to create a special Google or Outlook calendar just for permits, and schedule all expiration dates with reminders 60 and 30 days out. When you get your 60-day reminder, you can file the proper paperwork and schedule any necessary inspections to keep your restaurant in compliance. At the 30-day mark, double check that everything has been received by the corresponding city or county department.

Another option is to use software like Renewal Tracker to manage renewal dates, reminders, costs, and supporting documentation all in one place.

And make sure all managers know where the permits are posted in the restaurant so they’re easy to find if you’re not around.

Mistake #6 — Not planning for the worst

When you created your business plan, you made assumptions (aka guesses) about expected sales and revenue. You did your research and tried to be pragmatic, but you still had no real way of knowing what those numbers would be.


Once you open your doors, you’ll find out how accurate your guesses were. It may take time — months, or even years — for your restaurant to perform the way that you hoped.

Don’t forget that you have to cover food, labor, rent, utilities, taxes, and loan payments, no matter how much money you’re bringing in. It some time to build a devoted customer base, so make sure to reserve some of your startup capital. It’s vital to have some cash on hand if things get off to a slow start.

Keep an eye on your cash reserves, and always try to keep in mind how many months you could continue to operate if you don’t see an improvement in sales. This will help you to know when you need to start looking for outside capital. Make sure you come up with a strategy well in advance of having to choose between making payroll and paying the electric bill. Remember, the best time to look for cash is when you don’t need it.

The restaurant business can be fun and rewarding, but it’s still a business. Hiring a great team, creating the best possible product, and keeping a cautious eye on your income and expenses can all help to ensure that your first year isn’t also your last.

How to Handle Difficult Restaurant Employees

How to Handle Difficult Restaurant Employees - Waiter in a Restaurant

We all have to deal with difficult employees in the restaurant industry. Let’s take a look at how we can manage negative behavior and create a positive work environment for everyone.

Look, the restaurant business is often challenging and the pressure to perform can go from zero to sixty in 4.6 seconds. We count on our staff to perform and improvise solutions at the drop of a hat. The importance of being on time, showing up with a winning attitude, and being able focus on tasks is a huge factor in determining the success of a shift. Yet — some people can’t seem to get it together. Always late; creates negative energy; section falling apart. Often times that’s only the tip of the iceberg. When tempers flare, frustrations mount and check/tip averages drop — the warm fuzzy feeling at staff meal have all but disappeared.

So, how do we deal with a problem employee? Is it possible to create a workplace that is positive, productive, and fun? Here are some tips and strategies for handling employees that perform poorly:

Use positive language You learn a lot about a person by observing their body language. Do they seem frustrated? Indifferent? Hostile? Many times we can gauge a person’s mood by watching how they enter the door and begin their shift. Take a moment to say hi. Ask about their day or weekend. You’d be surprised how this ‘small’ gesture can have a calming effect if they seem stressed or frazzled. You start off on a good note and help set the tone for the shift. On the flip side, it can cheer someone up if they seem depressed, fatigued, or low on energy. Restaurants are often tight-knit families. Take a minute or two out of your busy day to pass on a kind word. Show a genuine interest in their world outside of work. Sometimes the negative behavior displayed at work is carried over from the world outside those walls. The same approach can work when they are in the weeds and got triple sat on a busy Friday night. Keep a calm, friendly tone. Keep it light. Choose your words with care and make them count. You will be surprised at the amount of confidence you can build in your server/busser/bartender with a simple, “you got this but I’m here to jump in if you need anything.”

Fair, firm, and understanding Many people have poor time management skills. They make every attempt to show up on time, but — stuff happens. Traffic really does suck. The babysitter really is late… all the time. A raccoon really did eat their radiator belt (one allowance only for this excuse). It’s a hectic world. Be compassionate. But also let them know that being on time or keeping a neat station is important. Help them to understand: this is a team effort and an orchestrated dance. You will be surprised to find out how many people simply don’t understand the relevance of being prompt and punctual. Break it down for them in simple, easy terms. When you let an employee or coworker know that a certain action is valuable to the entire effort, they feel important. Everyone likes to feel important.

Be proactive Does your employee lack motivation? Find out what sparks their interest. Is it music? Fashion? Movies? When you establish a connection with hard to handle employees you build trust. We all understand the importance of trust and how it can lead to an overall improvement in attitude, performance, and workplace cohesiveness. Observe the behavior or habits that need to be corrected and address them early on — before they become a larger problem. Help them to discover better alternatives by walking through ‘mock scenarios’ during pre-shift. It’s possible that their section is always a disaster because no one has ever taught them how to work smarter by consolidating steps. Perhaps previous jobs did not emphasize orderliness and cleanliness. We can’t assume that previous employers have given everyone on your team the small nuggets of wisdom that make tasks easier and build reliable skill sets. You have to be that person. This is what distinguishes a leader from a manager.

Lead by example Let your team see that you care: you will never ask them to perform a task that you wouldn’t do yourself. When they see that you care deeply about the success of the business — they will adopt your habits. Difficult team members notice when you hop behind the bar, run orders, bus and reset tables when the team is in the weeds. And they will reciprocate. A team that feels you are involved with them throughout the shift will be more likely to step up their game. They become empowered and make fewer mistakes . When morale is high, your team members will go the extra mile to meet your vision. Teams that works together and observe strong leadership traits will be able to hold it together during the rough patches — the real nitty-gritty. They understand your expectations and adopt them as their own. They encourage coworkers that are not performing to do better.

The compliment sandwich We all know how delicious this sandwich can be if it’s served at the right temperature. Served cold — not so tasty. Throwing a couple of half-assed compliments on a plate and pouring some criticism gravy over the entire dish is not an effective management technique. It leaves a struggling employee confused and less receptive to feedback. The goal is to take negative behavior/habits and turn them into positive ones. Be sincere and genuine in your compliments — restaurant workers can spot b.s. a mile away. Suggest ways to fix the problem; ask for suggestions; listen to feedback and absorb their responses. As a manager and leader your tone should say, “I will try my hardest to help you.” Criticism is easy to dish out. Often vague, harsh and counterproductive — the result is rarely pleasant or informative. An effective leader will seek a favorable outcome and help to carry out effective solutions. Identify the specific actions you would like to change and give a clear and insightful path to meet those goals.

Employees are your best resource Your strongest assets are waiting to be cultivated. A healthy and positive work environment creates a sense of purpose and translates to an increase in sales, productivity, and happiness.

How to Handle Difficult Restaurant Employees - Pinterest Graphic

Drink Trends to Watch in 2019

When it comes time to order a drink, a few bar-goers stick with their tried and true favorite cocktails, you know, the same one they tried on their 21st birthday and have never ventured away from. But then you have the other type of customer that is more intrigued by the trends and expanding their horizons when they walk into the bar. These trendsetters seek out the latest and greatest in hopes of informing others of the most recent concoctions or getting that perfect Instagram picture to share with their friends. In the interest of luring these trendsetters into your bar and staying relevant in a competitive industry, we look at the trends rising to the forefront of the drink industry.

Sustainability

Just as with the rest of the restaurant industry, sustainability is a topic that is near and dear to consumer’s hearts. Customers want to know where their drinks are coming from and if they are being sourced in an ethical way. Research shows that consumers are willing to pay for these types of drinks.

Bartenders are also looking at sustainability by using their resources in the best way possible. Often times, creating a zero-waste cocktail cuts down on bar costs. Even taking steps to not use plastic straws anymore is beneficial cost wise and with customer approval.

Elevated Mocktails

Mocktails are making a comeback. Offering mocktails at a bar might seem strange but it can be a great way to reach a whole new set of customers. But these mocktails are not your momma’s Shirley Temples. These are more complex and intriguing then just throwing some grenadine in a Sprite. Like their alcoholic counterparts, these drinks are more intriguing than ever with the use of unexpected flavors and fresh ingredients.

Sour Beers

Expect to see more sour beers than ever. Not only are sours gaining popularity, but they are getting the subcategorization they need. Beers like kettle sours, fruit sours, goses (a traditional German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer), and solera (a process of aging by which fractional blending occurs to create a finished product of a mixture of ages) will all be separated out for customers to peruse.

While the flavor of sour beer’s flavor is old, American brewers have only learned how to safely produce it en masse for a little over the past five years. It draws a market for drinkers who are not traditional beer fans. People such as wine and cocktail lovers.

Gin

Gin, while an old favorite for some, has started gaining an even bigger following the past several years. Gin is huge news in the Northern Hemisphere, with European gins the most in demand around the world. Gin drinkers are becoming more experimental, seeking out new flavor and ingredients. Whether it is a classic gin and tonic or a gin with new flavor infusions, you’ll be seeing gin on more and more menus.

Brunch Drinks

Almost everyone has needed some hair of the dog after a particularly rowdy night. Brunch drinks are here to provide that. They are a delicious antidote that is more popular now than ever. While Mimosa’s and Bloody Mary’s have long cornered the market, expect to see some new drinks. Especially drinks that feature locally produced ingredients and sustainability.

Cannabis-Based Drinks

With the legalization of cannabis in some states, cannabis-based drinks have started to appear on menus. Cannabis drinks are not all about a new way to get high. By mixing it into a drink, it will add an herbal undertone, no matter the ingredient you use. The exact flavor varies based on the strain of cannabis you use. Though it does have a surprisingly versatile flavor pairing with liquors.

Distillery Tourism

While it isn’t a drink, distillery tours are bigger than ever. Whether it is a bachelor party just looking for a few good drinks or someone looking to learn the ins and outs of distilling, offering tours is a great way for distilleries to increase profit. It is also ideal for creating brand awareness and loyalty. When someone tours the facilities, they form an attachment.

For example, when they might have walked right past your brand at the store, now after touring, they will see it and be more likely to put it in their cart because they feel like they have some investment in your distillery.

Plus, at the end of the tour, many attendees will purchase goods to remember the experience. Money for the tour, money for the goods, and increased brand awareness and loyalty. It is a win, win, win situation. Expect to see even more distilleries opening their doors to tours in 2019.

 

While trying to incorporate all of these trends might not work for your bar, one of them has the possibility to be a big hit. Staying relevant in the industry can mean the difference between a lucrative year and having to close your doors.

Have you started serving one of these drinks at your bar? Let us know in the comments below!

 

What Other Restaurants Can Learn from “Build Your Own Meal” Concepts

There is no restaurant concept more creative than being one step away from literally putting customers behind a prep table or oven. We’re talking about “build your own meal” restaurant concepts and why they flourish. Popular examples of restaurants that use this concept include Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Burgatory. These restaurants put the creativity in customers hands as they select the ingredients and toppings that are going into their entrée, with endless possibilities.

See how this concept works and how you can shake up your restaurant’s processes with these tips!

Smooth Ordering

Long gone are the days of ‘can you put the tomatoes on the side?’ and ‘can I substitute kale for lettuce?’ Commonly these restaurants use an assembly line system where the meal and customer move down the line or, at sit-down establishments, customers fill out a check list of everything they want on their entrée.

This should also reduce the margin for error with a server taking down an order. It’s easier for something to be misheard and written down incorrectly at a bustling restaurant versus a customer putting a tick mark next to jalapenos.

The typical ordering process for these restaurants allows customers to order comfortably and not have to communicate their likes and dislikes to a waiter- picky eaters unite! It can also save the staff time going through each option with the customer.

What you can do in your restaurant: Streamline the order process for customers by breaking it down, step by step. Start with the base meal and work your way up with options. For example, start with the different kinds of meat they can choose for their burger. Then, work to buns, cheese, toppings, and sauces to finish their order.

Transparency

With “build your own meal” concepts, restaurants are forced to be upfront and honest about their ingredients. It’s likely you’ve been to eateries where you can see their ingredients behind a sneeze guard and they aren’t really looking as “fresh” as they say (here’s looking at you, Subway).

When customers are building their meals down the line or even from a notepad, they want to see basic options, as well as some places they can get a little creative. These ingredients need to look and sound (if written) appetizing to invite customers to have a little fun with their food.

Restaurants offering truly fresh ingredients can make customers can feel good about what they’re choosing to put into their bodies. So, try partnering with local farms to get fresh produce or meat. This is not only a mutually beneficial partnership but will promote local sustainability and sourced foods as well.

What you can do in your restaurant: Label, label, label! If ingredients are gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan-friendly, or soy-based, let customers know. The more detailed you can be with your ingredients, the better.

Experience

The modern restaurant is moving toward these customized experiences, like “build your own meal”, because it integrates the customers into the theatrics. Dinner becomes much more like a production than just ordering tacos a specific way, it’s a curated food adventure. 

With the possibilities of “build your own meal” concepts, customers could come ten times to your pizza place but have a different experience every single time based on their choices.

There is just a little ego-building that goes into “build your own meal” concepts. Customers are being asked to take the reins, so it’s up to them what they create. If they create something they love or is just not quite what they were hoping, there’s a possibility they’ll be back to tweak it so it’s perfection.

Try also featuring a combination of the month. This could spark a customer’s creativity while also enticing people to stop by!

What you can do in your restaurant: When you make your list of ingredient choices, make sure to not offer flavors that will ruin a customer’s meal. For example, if a customer has decided to float their burger in a marmalade and they’re not satisfied with their meal, technically, that was their choice, but you don’t want that to impact their possibility of a return visit.

The trend of putting the customer in control works seamlessly with “build your own meal” concepts because of their smooth ordering process, transparency, and experience value. Putting the customer in charge really changes the whole dynamic of a restaurant’s traditional business model.  

Would you ever try adding “build your own meal” aspects to your menu offerings? Let us know in the comments below.

Food Photography Tips for Restaurants

How many times have you heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words? In today’s world of constant social media interaction, that saying is truer than ever. Photos, especially photos of food, have become a major part of all social media interactions, especially on Instagram.  Now it isn’t like you can just slap up any old photo on your profile and call it a day. The higher quality and more interesting the photos, the more likely they are to be shared and bring customers in your door. But food photography can be challenging, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to have your business putting its best foot forward.

Ideal Lighting

Lighting is probably one of the most important aspects of taking a good photo. If you are able, try to use natural light with indirect sun. This will have your food looking its best, showing off its natural colors, and avoiding harsh shadows. Placing food on a table next to the window is a great way to achieve natural but indirect light. Food placed under fluorescent lighting tends to change tones and colors.

While natural light is best for photos, it isn’t always realistic in restaurants where ambiance and mood lighting are important, and probably dimmer than what you would like. If your restaurant doesn’t have access to natural lighting, you can purchase some equipment to get you closer to achieving great lighting. The Wescott 43” Apollo Orb is a relatively inexpensive option that will get the job done.

Tip: Many commercial table tops will be reflective. Watch out for this when lighting your photos, you don’t want it to distract from the food.

The Perfect Angles

Different angles capture the distinctive components of varying types of food. For example, a plate of grilled chicken and sides might be best shot from above. This will showcase the entire plate and let customers know exactly what they are getting. Items that stack, like burgers and pancakes, are better shot at a 45-degree angle. This showcases the layers and all the goodness in-between. Having photos that vary the angle also help to create variety and interest when you post them to your social accounts or use them in your menu.

Tip: Try to work in triangles. Items shot in groups of three, creating triangles helps to create structure and simplicity.

Staging Your Food

Staging your photos allows you to put your very best foot forward. That being said, staging should complement your food rather than overwhelm it. There are a few things that you can do to present your food in the best possible way. First thing is to make sure that the area you are taking the photo in is clean. Nothing is worse than having great looking food surrounded by crumbs or other unsightly things. It can really ruin the vibe of the photo and distract from the focal point.

The second thing is to switch up your props and backgrounds. Keeping it the same all the time is going to make your photos become boring after a while. If you find yourself in a slump, you can go to the nearest hardware store for some materials with different textures that you can place your plates on.

Finally, take a moment to make sure your food is looking its best is crucial. Adding a little garnish can go a long way. If you find your food looking a little lackluster, you can brush a bit of oil or water to make things look fresh. Don’t overdo it though.

Tip: For inspiration on staging, find a few Instagram accounts that you love and try to emulate their work.

Benefits of Action Shots

Actions shots are a great way to diversify photos and add some interest. A creative way to get these is with a few behind the scenes photos. Your chef stirring up a batch of soup or about to slice some ingredients for your signature dish is an engaging way to let your customers see what goes on in the back and get them craving your food.

Tip: Action shots are also great for adding a human element. It helps to tell your story so don’t be afraid to include hands in some of your food photos.

Editing

The amount of editing you do is entirely up to you. If you choose to edit your photos, there are plenty of free or low-cost editing apps that you can utilize. Depending on the amount of time you spend taking photos and editing, you might want to consider installing Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. These programs have long been recognized as the top editing software.

Tip: Try not to over edit your photos. To much editing will look fake and potentially tacky.

Branding

Just like everything else in your restaurant, your photos should work within your overall brand design. If your restaurant is a bright breakfast spot it wouldn’t make sense for all of your photos to be dark and dreary. However if you are a romantic little bistro with mood lighting, darker photos might feel just right. Before posting any photo be sure to ask yourself if it is sending the message that you want.

Terms & Concepts

If you are an inexperienced photographer or a pro who needs a refresher here are some photography terms and concepts to keep in mind when shooting. While following some of these concepts might elevate your photos, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to them. Use your own creativity and see what you come up with!

Depth of Field: The distance between the nearest and furthest objects where objects appear acceptably sharp in an image and in focus. By adjusting your depth of field, you can really make it clear to the viewer what you want to be the focal point of the picture.

Rule of Thirds: A guideline that proposes an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts and that compositional elements should be placed along the lines for a more balanced photo.

Bokeh: The out of focus blurred parts in a background.

Exposure: How light or dark an image is.

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens. The larger the opening the more light allowed into the lens.

Photos are a universal language that doesn’t need a translator. They are an effective way to communicate to customers and entice them to come to your restaurant. Food photography might seem intimidating, but by ensuring that you have good lighting, interesting content, and some creative thinking, you’ll be well on your way to showcasing your food and your restaurant in the best way possible.

Do you have any food photography tips for us? Let us know in the comments!

Breweries and Food Trucks Might Be the New Power Couple

If you have been to a local brewery within the past few years, you may have noticed something a little unexpected during your visit. It might have been colorful, or had a funny name, but it definitely smelled delicious. It was a food truck parked either in front of or in a breweries parking lot offering up appetizing options. Breweries and food trucks are developing a mutualistic relationship that both can benefit from in terms of brand awareness and increased sales.

The numbers for 2018 aren’t in yet, but the growth for breweries in 2017 was strong. The Brewers Association reported an increase of 6,000 breweries in 2017. While the food truck industry is experiencing revenue growth of over 300% in the last three years. Across the United States of America, these two incredibly fast-growing industries are partnering up to boost business for each other. The food truck of today isn’t some shady taco truck hanging out on the corner of the street, that might have been the cause of your food poisoning that one time. These are trucks with themes, curated menus, and devoted owners and staff. Basically, a restaurant operation on wheels!

Breweries are notoriously expensive to get started. Opening your own brewery can range from $100,000 to upwards of $1 million, and once that is all paid for some brewers just don’t have room in the budget to include a full kitchen, food, and the staff to man it. This is where the food truck industry comes in. These portable kitchens are a match made in heaven for a brewery. They offer a product that helps to keep customers on the premises longer, while at the same time not being in competition with the brewery.

Breweries and Food Trucks: A Symbiotic Relationship

Breweries and food trucks aren’t offering the same things, so customers don’t have to choose one over the other. Breweries draw crowds that a food truck can take advantage of, and having a food truck, is just one more experience that a brewery can offer their customer to set them apart from the crowd. Many breweries have even developed a rotating schedule that they post weekly to let customers know what trucks will be available.

Food trucks also come with their own social media following that eagerly waits for them to post their scheduled stops for the week. This is a customer base that they can bring to the brewery and encourage to try the brews. On the very same note, a brewery can have a set of truly devoted customers who wouldn’t think to try food from a Korean BBQ fusion truck, until it was placed right in front of them.

Shared Target Audiences Between Breweries and Food Trucks

It seems that the same customer that is drawn to a brewery, is also drawn to food being served out of a truck. The food truck experience capitalizes on a sense of adventure. It is new food in a different place every night. There is also a level of exclusivity that comes with only being able to serve a limited number of customers and food that can only be found at that particular truck.

Customers also enjoy the personal attention and interaction that occurs at breweries and food trucks. Owners and chefs tend to be more accessible at these businesses and customers enjoy talking about the drinks and food and learning about the processes required to make the food. This works great with breweries that have an outdoor area because the truck is right there!

Curating the Right Menu

Another benefit to food trucks is their easily customizable menu. They can adjust the menu to parallel the craft beer or wine being offered by the brewery. Trucks are seeing success using beers from the brewery to concoct beer infused burgers, or by offering pretzels created to complement the drinking process. If a food truck can create something specific to that brewery that they can sell when the truck isn’t there, such as a special drinking pretzel, even better. Breweries and food trucks can both share in the profits even if the truck isn’t on the premises.

Brewery-goers tend to want salt, bread, meat, and the occasional veggie mixed in. When pairing up with a brewery, a food truck needs to consider their audience when creating the menu. An all veggie menu is probably not going to sell as well as something with meat and bread.

 

Both breweries and food trucks have seen incredible growth over the past few years with no sign of slowing down. By pairing together, they can help ensure the success of both businesses.

Do you have a favorite brewery and food truck combo?  Or has your business paired with a food truck or brewery before? Let us know in the comments below!

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

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.