Restaurant Management

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.

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.

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.

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.

OSHA 101 for Restaurants

Chef and Inspector - OSHA for Restaurants

Last month, we were at the Pennsylvania Foodservice Expo in Pittsburgh, PA, and had the pleasure of attending a seminar given by Thomas Barnowski, Director of Corporate and Public Safety Education at Northampton Community College.  The seminar, called You Can’t Afford to Ignore OSHA, was a great hour-long introduction to OSHA, and the safety rules and regulations that govern general industry.

While Mr. Barnowski’s presentation was not specific to restaurants, one key takeaway from the presentation was that OSHA’s own website www.osha.gov provides a wealth of information and resources for all industries, including restaurants.

If you are unfamiliar with OSHA and the standards in the OSH Act, we’ve put together a short introduction here.

What is OSHA?

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was established in 1970 when Richard Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).  At that time, there was a real need for governmental oversight of all industries due to a rising number of workplace deaths and injuries.  According to osha.gov, by the end of the 1960’s, the number of deaths due to workplace hazards had risen to 14,000 per year with 56 million workers; currently, that number is approximately 4,500 deaths per year with 127 million full time workers in the United States.

I thought OSHA regulations were for manufacturers and other industrial companies – What does OSHA have to do with my restaurant?

In addition to specialized areas like construction, maritime, and agriculture, OSHA enforces regulations that cover general industry, including restaurants.   As a restaurant owner, you are subject to the same standards as a company that operates a manufacturing plant; the implementation of those standards may differ, however.  For example, under OSHA regulations, employers must provide their employees with personal protective equipment.  At a restaurant, that might mean supplying employees with special cut-resistant gloves, whereas a manufacturing business might have to supply its employees with a welding mask, respirator, or hearing protection.

As a restaurant owner/operator, you should also be aware of new disclosure rules that took effect in 2015.  Under these new rules, employers must report to OSHA any work-related fatalities, in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye, within 8 hours.  The new rules are particularly relevant to restaurants whose employees who are more likely to sustain reportable cuts, burns, and lifting injuries.

What are employers expected to do under the OSH Act?

Under the OSH Act, “employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace” and “to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards”.  While those statements may sound subjective, the many standards in the OSH Act detail specific employer responsibilities for everything from means of egress to hazardous material procedures.  OSHA also publishes standard interpretation letters that explain how the standards apply in particular circumstances.

There are a few other requirements that you must follow to maintain compliance with the OSH Act:

  • Post an official OSHA poster in a highly visible area of your workplace. The poster notifies employees of their rights under the OSH Act and lists your obligations as an employer.
  • Keep accurate records of workplace accidents and injuries.
  • Report any work-related fatalities, inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye to OSHA within 8 hours of being notified of the event.
  • Ensure that employees and their representatives have access to their medical records.
  • Maintain a no-retaliation policy for employees that bring up safety concerns or contact OSHA.

 

Which OSHA standards apply to my restaurant?

The answer is, any and all of them, depending on the nature of your operation.  For example, if your specialty is making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, then you will have to put safety procedures into place regarding the use of that substance, whereas the average pizza shop would not have the same requirements.  However, we were able to come up with a list of general things that you can do to maintain a safe work environment in your restaurant.

What can I do to make my restaurant safer?

  • Communication – One of the most important things that you can do to ensure a safe, healthy workplace is to open effective lines of communication with your employees. Effective communication means more than just telling employees what to do, it also means listening to them and acting on their feedback.  When employees feel like their employer is listening to them, particularly about safety concerns, they are much more likely to become invested in the process of making the restaurant safer, and less likely to bring their concerns directly to OSHA.
  • Training– Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for training their employees on the health and safety aspects of their jobs.  This includes training them to use the tools and machines that are necessary to perform their jobs, training them on safety procedures, and training them on emergency preparedness.  OSHA also states that the training must use a language and vocabulary that employees can understand, so if your employees do not comprehend English, then you have to train them using their language.  You should also document your training practices; if a reportable accident ever occurs, you will have to prove to the OSHA inspector that the employee involved had adequate training to do the job.
  • Ergonomics – Did you know that, according to OSHA, sprains and strains are the most common types of injury in restaurants? It makes sense if you think about it – restaurant employees are constantly standing, bending, lifting, and performing repetitive actions.  Chopping vegetables for 6-8 hours per day, every day, can certainly result in a repetitive use strain if not done correctly and with the proper tools.  Care should be taken to make sure that employees have the equipment that they need to perform their jobs safely and efficiently.  Prep stations should be at a comfortable height so that prep cooks don’t have to stoop all day.  Use ergonomically designed shelving so that employees are lifting heavy items from the proper heights, and are not straining to lift items above a comfortable level.
  • Floors – Slips and falls can result in serious injuries, but they are among the most preventable. Make sure that floors are clean, not slippery, and that there are no obstructions in employees’ way.  Check carpeted areas routinely to make sure that there are no tears or ends pulling up; doing so will protect patrons as well as employees.  Also, make sure that if employees are standing for long periods of time at prep stations and cooking stations, you install some type of padded surface to avoid leg and back strain.
  • Machinery – Train employees on the safe operation of machinery like deli slicers, meat grinders, stovetops, ovens, and refrigeration units. Make sure that equipment guards remain in place and are functional.  Clean and service equipment regularly to prevent malfunction.  Implement a proper lockout/tagout procedure for equipment that is not in service.
  • Heat – There are two concerns regarding heat in a commercial kitchen. The most obvious is burns; employees can easily burn themselves on hot pans, hot oil splash, and even hot plates.  Train employees how to work safely in each circumstance where they have the potential to get burned.  The second concern regarding heat is heat exhaustion.  Commercial kitchens can easily reach temperatures of over 100 degrees, and employees can be exposed to heat exhaustion and even heat stroke, particularly when they are on their feet for 8-10 hours at a time.  To prevent this, give kitchen employees frequent breaks in a cooler room (even the walk-in cooler), and encourage them to hydrate often with water or an electrolyte replacement drink.  Note: have cooks steer clear of coffee and caffeinated drinks because they can dehydrate you even further.
  • Cuts – There’s no way around working with sharp objects in a restaurant. Knives, graters, peelers, mandolins, and various other cutting instruments are a necessary part of daily prep work in a commercial kitchen.  The best way to ensure safety when working with sharp tools is to properly train your employees in their use.  However, even professional chefs with years of knife-work experience get cut from time to time.  Distractions happen, and cutting objects are not very forgiving.  For that reason, invest in cut-resistant gloves for employees that will be working with sharp cutting instruments.  There are many types available at various price points, and most are machine washable.
  • Chemicals – Unless you’re a molecular gastronomist, experimenting with different chemical reactions in your food, your restaurant’s use of chemicals will most likely be confined to various cleaning solutions. Train employees in their proper use, including mixing and storage.  Make sure that all chemicals are properly labeled and have hazard warnings on them.  Finally, keep a binder of Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and train employees how to read them.

As a restaurateur, one of your main priorities should be keeping your staff safe and healthy; it will not only engender loyalty, but will save you money in the long run on lower turnover and training costs.  While OSHA is feared by many business owners, it can be a great resource to help you create a safe environment.  Refer to the OSHA standards often and you should find answers to many of the safety questions that you or your employees have.

Have you ever had an experience with OSHA, good or bad?  Let us know in the comments below.

Improving Employee Retention in Your Restaurant

Ask any restaurant owner about something they struggle with, and the problem of keeping good employees will make the list almost every single time. The real issues begin when employees don’t stick around very long, leaving owners understaffed and scrambling.

The restaurant industry offers a unique flexibility of schedule that appeals to many. Whether it is the student looking to work when not in class, or the performer looking to subsidize their passion, the industry attracts all kinds of people with unique scheduling needs. That also means that those same employees might not see their job at your restaurant as their top priority. The restaurant industry has an above-average turnover rate. In 2016, the general industry employee turnover rate was 46.1%. In the restaurants and accommodations sector, the turnover rate was at a whopping 72.9% in 2016, up from a rate of 72.2% in 2015, that is a pretty big difference.

Now you might be saying to yourself, ‘Well everyone in the industry has a high turnover rate, that is just how things are. Why should I make changes to improve my retention rate?’

Good question. Other than the immediate struggles of being left understaffed, every time you lose an hourly employee it can cost upwards of $3,500 to hire and train a new one. Now imagine every time someone walks out the door, $3,500 of your dollars are walking out with them. Really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Hiring Employees

A great way to improve your employee retention is by starting at the very beginning, and by that, I mean the hiring process. The first thing is having patience. You may feel like you are in a rush to make sure that all your shifts are covered, but in the long run you will thank yourself for selecting the right candidate and not just the first person to walk in the door.

One of the most common practices in the industry, when looking at a potential employee’s resume, is to hire someone with experience and not consider your company culture. An employee with a positive attitude can be trained to do things the way that you do them, but a bad fit for your culture will always be a bad fit. An employee that is a poor fit usually leaves and ends up costing you money. In that case, you’ll be back to square one, typically with a few bad stories to tell.

Another thing to look at while you have their resume in your hand, is the frequency at which they move jobs. If someone switches places of employment every few months, that is a red flag that they won’t have a problem doing that to you. Take time to consider why they might need to switch jobs so much.

Hiring Managers

If you are seeking a manager, consider hiring from within your restaurant. Let employees know that you are looking for someone to help with special projects, you may be surprised by the response. Employees you would not have originally considered may be looking to take on more responsibility, while those that seem more likely to jump at the opportunity are happy to stay in their current position.

Through these special projects, you will be able to determine who is good at doing the work of a manager. If they are not good at the special projects, don’t get upset with them, don’t fire them, simply move them back into the current position without participating in any more different projects. This way you don’t lose an employee, but you are able to determine who can handle the role of manager.

For those that excel, approach them with the idea of becoming a manager-in-training. If they are onboard, start training them for the position. Some will do well, and some might not. For those that don’t, you now have a well-trained supervisor that can handle things on occasion and those who do wow you can now become a manager.

There are many benefits that come with hiring within your company. When you hire from within the company you know the person already fits your company culture, they won’t have to deal with your other employees testing them as a newcomer, and they know how to do things your way.  Another benefit is that current employees will see that you promote from within and will have something to motivate them to continue to do their best in hopes of advancing.

You will need to consider the best ways to transition an employee to the manager roll in terms of their coworkers. During your special projects, be sure to observe how they handle having authority over their coworkers, and probably friends. You don’t want them to be a doormat, but you also don’t want them to overcompensate and become too harsh. It is a fine line that needs to be observed.

Training

The training process is a critical time in helping to improve employee retention. It is tempting to pair your new employee with a veteran and leave them to it with minimal supervision. The problem is, if the veteran employee has developed bad habits they could be passing them on to your entire staff.

Train your employees on the correct way to do their job and when. When training, it is also critical to remember that people have different ways of learning. Some learn by seeing, some by hearing, and others by doing.  Try to incorporate all aspect when doing your initial training.

If your new employee makes mistakes, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they are a bad fit. When something is done incorrectly, retrain them on the proper way to do it. After the third time they make a mistake, you might want to sit down and evaluate whether they don’t know how to correctly complete the task or they simply don’t care.

A consistent orientation process and ongoing training will help to keep all your employees on the same page with the way you do things, creating an overall more pleasant work environment.

The Competitive Edge

There is always the concern that a well-trained employee might simply decide to work for a different restaurant. A few things can be done to try and convince your staff that your business is the best fit for them.

The most obvious way to keep employees is by offering them competitive pay with the opportunities for increased pay. Nurture long-term goals and provide the opportunity for advancement. Pay for classes and training, an example of this would be to pay for ServSafe certifications.

Do your best to schedule your employees well. Don’t always give the same employees the slower shifts, and give the occasional shift choice. That being said, we all know that sometimes you can’t make everyone happy, occasionally some people won’t be happy with their shift and that is okay.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of free incentives such as offering a shift meal. It will cost you a little but pales in comparison to the costs of constant hiring and training new employees.

Leaving

Sometimes no matter what you do, an employee is going to leave. This is a great opportunity to have a candid conversation with them about why they are leaving and if any changes could be made to your process to encourage employee retention.

One thing you can do is conduct an exit interview and ask them a few questions about their time with you.  A few questions you might like to ask are:

  1. Why are you leaving?
  2. What could we have done better?
  3. What does your new company offer that made you decide to leave?
  4. Were you comfortable talking to your manager about work problems?
  5. Were you given the tools to succeed at your job?
  6. What did you like most about your job? And what would you change about it?
  7. What was your best or worst day on the job?

Keep in mind with an exit interview that the employee might say some things you disagree with or don’t like hearing. Try to keep an open mind. Don’t argue with the exiting employee. It won’t do either of you any good to end your relationship on bad terms. Most likely you won’t seriously consider making all the changes they suggest but they might be able to give you some insight into a problem or educate you on a problem you didn’t even know was happening.

Retaining good employees is a struggle across the restaurant industry. By taking the right steps during hiring, training, and doing your best to remain competitive as an employer, you can give your restaurant a great foundation for creating a stellar staff and a happy work environment.

Tipping: A Thing of the Past or a Continued Tradition

Tipping to express your gratitude for good service from a restaurant’s wait staff has been a long-standing tradition in the United States. So, whenever you receive your bill at a restaurant and you find the gratuity line nowhere to be found, it can be a bit out of the ordinary. But, in some restaurants, this has become the norm.

Some restaurants have taken it upon themselves to ensure their front of house workers and kitchen staff are receiving equitable wages by instituting no-tipping policies and raising their prices by 15-20% instead.  They claim that these higher prices enable them to pay all of their employees a higher wage. Advocates for the no-tipping movement also insist that not giving customers the chance to tip poorly can give the service industry a more professional appearance and shrink the income gap between the wait staff and cooks.

Americans have become accustomed to rewarding wait staff with a tip but in other areas of the world, the service industry is handled differently. For example, many restaurants in France operate service compris, or “service is included”. With this model, prices have absorbed the cost of service. If you receive extraordinary service, leaving an additional 1 to 2 percent tip can be appreciated. In contrast, if you are at a restaurant in Japan, tipping is not a typical part of the culture. Leaving a tip can be seen as rude and will often be refused by the staff.

Originally, tipping came about “to insure promptitude” in the service industry. Mid-19th century Americans began using tips as a show of wealth and knowledge of European gentility rules, and by the 1900’s, tipping was a common practice.

But isn’t that what minimum wage is for? Not exactly. The only employers required to pay tipped employees the full state minimum wage before tips are in Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The other 43 states require employers to pay tipped employees a minimum cash wage at or above $2.13. In other words, if your wages are set at $2.13, a regular 8-hour shift will earn you $17.04 pre-taxes. Even with their subjective nature, tips can help those in the service industry have a livable wage. For more information on your state’s tipping law, please refer to the standards set by the United States Department of Labor.

No-tipping policies have been a hard change for both customers and servers to get used to. Tipping has become so ingrained in the American dining experience and can keep restaurant prices low. But because tipping is very subjective, it’s easy to see that it may not always be a fair practice. While some customers may over tip their server, others may have a mission to only tip 10 percent anywhere they go, regardless of actual service quality. It’s not easy getting customers to relinquish their control over how much their server is rewarded, especially in a post-recession world. So instead of trying to change a single way of thinking, restauranteurs have the challenge of altering two ideologies.

In late 2015, Joe’s Crab Shack became the first casual-dining chain to try using a no-tipping policy in 18 of its nationwide restaurants. After the first six months of implementation, there were only four that continued to use the policy. To make up for the difference, the restaurant raised wages by increasing menu pricing. As a result, Joe’s Crab Shack saw less customer traffic and a large turnover in staff who couldn’t/wouldn’t conform with the wage change. At least in chain establishments, gratuity-included dining hasn’t quite caught on.

While Joe’s Crab Shack customers didn’t take to the no-tipping policy, there are numerous restaurants in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York City, and more that are getting along just fine with the added policy.   Most of them are operated by “celebrity” chefs that have pricing power that the rest of the market doesn’t enjoy.

What’s your view on implementing a no-tipping policy? Tell us in the comments below.

 

 

Secure Your Kitchen: A Guide to Increasing Safety in Your Commercial Kitchen

Commercial kitchens are notorious for the hustle and bustle that happens behind the doors; while the customers might see the relaxed atmosphere of the dining room, the kitchen is anything but. That being said, it is also one of the most dangerous rooms in your restaurant. With a few easy steps, you can help ensure the safety of your employees and patrons, and protect against financial losses.

Fire Safety

The biggest hazard to a commercial kitchen is a fire. Nearly 8,000 eating and drinking establishments report a fire each year, according to 2006-2010 data tabulated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fire causes over $246 million in restaurant property damage each year and can devastate a restaurant, leading to lost revenues and even permanent closure.

A great way to combat a fire is by installing an effective kitchen fire suppression system. Look for a  system from a company that provides trained technicians to install the system, provide routine inspections, and service the equipment. Current U.S. codes require a UL3000 hood extinguishing system along with a k-rated fire extinguisher.

Be proactive about fire safety by maintaining and inspecting your fire alarm system. Try to create a schedule to inspect the alarms on a regular basis. Check to make sure that the batteries are still in working order. The alarm will let you know when the batteries are getting low by beeping periodically even when there is no smoke. Experts recommend checking your fire alarms every six

months. While checking don’t forget to check the batteries for corrosion, which can also cause the alarm to malfunction.

 

In the event of a fire, ensure that all posted signs are easy to read and visible, not only for employees but patrons as well. Make sure to keep you evacuation routes clear. This is a safety measure, but if routes are blocked it can also be a code violation.

Ensure that all posted signs are easy to read and visible, not only for employees but patrons as well. You don’t want to see anyone harmed if something should happen.

Having properly functioning fire alarms can alert not only your employees and patrons, but also the fire department of any serious situations. Regular fire drills and well-displayed evacuation routes also help to ensure the safety of everyone. Practice the drills to help identify any area of confusion that should be remedied before an actual fire breaks out.

Equipment Safety

In addition to fire, improper equipment is a huge concern in a commercial kitchen. Deep fryers are not only a concern for fire safety but also for burns.  Hot oil is very dangerous and requires a 16-inch clearance to ensure that all staff members are safe. Keep in mind that child labor laws do not permit workers younger than 16 to cook or use a deep fryer. Always have team members wear steam gloves when changing or filtering the oil to protect against burns. Another aspect of fryer safety is keeping the floor near the fryer very clean; oil from the fryer can easily make its way to the floor and cause a fall leading to injury.

Keeping your kitchen as grease free as possible increases not only safety but productivity. Commercial kitchens are full of grease. Cleaning grease traps on a 6-month interval may be an industry standard, increasing the cleaning frequency based upon how quickly the grease accumulates helps cut back on the likelihood of blockages. According to the EPA, grease is the primary cause of sewer blockages that lead to overflows in the kitchen.

Knives are one of the most commonly used tools in a chef’s arsenal and present a constant danger in a commercial kitchen. Believe it or not, dull blades are more likely to slip and cause injuries, so keep you knives sharp. Utensils made of high carbon stainless steel hold their sharpness longer and might be a good investment so you aren’t spending lots of time sharpening blades. It is also important to avoid knives with wood handles as they are more likely to become oily and slip from the users grasp.

Training

One of the most helpful ways to improve your kitchen safety is to provide your staff with the appropriate training. Staff should always be trained on the proper way to use new equipment and the dangers that are associated with improper use.

In addition to new equipment training, consider sharing with your team a few other pieces of information to help keep your kitchen safe.

Train your staff to:

  • Properly use a fire extinguisher
  • Clean up grease
  • Never throw water on a grease fire
  • Store flammable liquids properly
  • Use chemical solutions correctly
  • Be able to power down equipment – Train at least one worker per shift on how to correctly shut off the gas and electrical power in case of an emergency.

Sometimes it is difficult to make your safety training engaging, yet quick, and easy to grasp. Colorful visuals, customized posters, and videos are all good tools to help teach your employees without causing them to zone out from boredom.

Nobody likes to micromanage employees and make them feel incompetent, but it is a good idea to supervise the handling of the equipment occasionally to make sure that it is being used safely.  You can give your employees all the tools they need but if they aren’t using them correctly it won’t improve the conditions of your kitchen.

Another benefit of revisiting your safety measures is that a safe and clean kitchen leads to higher employee morale and productivity,  not to mention the benefit of avoiding lost revenue due to down time from an accident or permanent closure. At the end of the day, the biggest benefit is still ensuring the safety of your staff and patrons. By checking for fire hazards, monitoring your equipment, and training your employees you can improve the safety of your kitchen, protecting your restaurant from disaster.