Go Fish: How to Introduce Seafood to Your Restaurant

There are a lot of good reasons why you should have at least one seafood option on your menu. But the most logical reason is probably this — there are a lot of people out there who are concerned about their health. 

Seafood is high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. And it’s low in fat and cholesterol. Including a seafood option on your menu will encourage visitors who may not be interested in a heavy beef or pork dish. It’s a flavorful and filling alternative to chicken — the most consumed protein in America. 

If you’re interested in adding some seafood to your menu, here are some tips on how to go about it.

Safety first

Seafood has some special considerations that must be taken into account when adding it to your kitchen. 

Freshness

Order your fish as fresh as possible. If you’re bringing in a special variety for a Saturday special, don’t order it for Monday delivery. Fish should be frozen or packed tightly on ice when it’s delivered to your restaurant. Make sure to store non-frozen seafood in your walk-in or refrigerator below 41°F. 

Tools

If you’re adding a shellfish that requires shucking like oysters or clams, make sure you have the proper equipment. You’ll need a clam knife or oyster knife, to start. Get the right tool for your particular mollusk. Using the wrong tool can result in injuries. 

You’ll also want a metal shucking glove. These are basically a glove of chain mail, meant to protect your cook’s hand if they slip with the knife. They are a bit cumbersome, but driving a chef to the emergency room during the dinner rush will be much more inconvenient!

You may also want a fish scaler. This tool looks like a serrated spatula, and you can use it to descale a fish. It’s probably only necessary if you plan on cooking and serving whole fish with the skin on.

Allergies

Over 2% of American adults have some kind of seafood allergy. In fact, fish and shellfish are two of the “big 8” of the allergy world, along with milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. 

So it’s vital that your kitchen prevent cross-contamination. That means using separate knives, cutting boards, pots, and pans for all fish and shellfish dishes. And make sure kitchen staff knows to change their gloves after handling seafood. 

Before bringing seafood into your kitchen, make sure to check with your local health department for any storage or handling regulations.

Fresh vs. frozen

Contrary to what some people think, it’s possible to get excellent quality frozen seafood. In fact, if you live inland, frozen seafood will probably be a better choice for your restaurant. 

Consider the logistics of the fishing trade. The boat is out on the water for several days, pulling in fish from the line. The fish has to stay on the vessel until it comes back into port. So a fish could be three days old before it even reaches land. And then the fish has to be put on a truck or airplane, before finally making its way to your walk-in.

If you live on the coast, you’ll have that fish in a day or two. But if you’re in Lincoln, Nebraska, that fish could be almost a week old by the time it gets to you.

But some fishing vessels flash freeze the fish they catch straight off the line. The freezing process will arrest the aging of the fish after it’s been caught. If it’s handled well, frozen properly, and thawed slowly in a refrigerator, the flavor and texture of that frozen fish might just outshine the “fresh” version.

Take advantage of seafood’s versatility

Seafood is far more versatile than many of us imagine. No matter what kind of cuisine you serve, there is room for some kind of seafood dish on the menu.

A brunch-focused restaurant could add cured Nova lox to the menu, served in an omelet or with a bagel and cream cheese. If you serve New American or gastropub fare, cured fish and seafood pâté on a charcuterie board will do very well! 

Seafood is very popular in much Central and South American cuisine. Traditional dishes like ceviche, tapado (Guatemalan seafood stew), and whole grilled fish will impress diners. And seafood curries, like Thai choo chee fish or South Indian Rasam soup bring a little spice to the sea.

People love to experiment with new flavors. So try to present a seafood dish in a new and unusual way. 

If you’re concerned about sales volume, there’s no need to go over the top adding several kinds of seafood at once. A single dish will do until you establish how it’s received. Or see if you can add two different dishes based on one kind of seafood. A shrimp cocktail appetizer and a shrimp stew entree will let you buy once and cook twice.

Promote health

There are few things tastier than a delicious fish fry. Beer battered and golden brown, served with a side of fries and tartar sauce? Yes please. 

But don’t limit seafood options to the deep-fried variety. Since seafood has so many health benefits, include some lighter options. 

Including fish or shrimp as an add-on to the salad menu lets guests create a filling meal (plus it’s a great upcharge.) And grilled fish is a delicious treat that most people don’t tackle at home. If you grill and serve it whole, you’ll have a unique plate to present to your guests.

Consider sustainability

The environment is a hot button issue right now. But whatever your opinion on climate change, one thing is for sure — overfishing is a big problem. 

Fish species like bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, and Chilean sea bass have been overfished almost to the point of extinction. And even abundant species like some salmon and albacore can be unsustainable when fished with destructive methods. 

Bottom trawls and dredges scrape the ocean floor to catch bottom-dwellers like shrimp and lobster, but they damage the seafloor habitat in the process. Large walls of gillnets catch plenty of salmon and perch, but they can also entangle vulnerable sea turtles and sharks.

Even farmed fish aren’t problem-free. Net pens concentrate pollution from the fish raised in them, which then damages the local ecosystem. And this can contribute to widespread disease through the fish colonies.

But none of this means that you shouldn’t add seafood to your menu. 

Sustainable fishing methods like trolling lines, handlines, and pole-and-lines all minimize the accidental capture of vulnerable species. Plus they don’t damage the seafloor. 

Farming methods like recirculating tanks or flow through raceways allow for fresh, clean water to reach the fish. They also allow for wastewater treatment before contaminants affect surrounding areas.

Even sushi restaurants can fill their menus with sustainable and responsible fish. Austin, Texas restaurant Lucky Robot has managed to create a sushi menu with no bluefin tuna, no eel, and no hamachi — three items that are ubiquitous on sushi menus. 

Instead of bluefin, they serve Hawaiian line-caught bigeye tuna. Eel has been replaced with a clever unagi-style BBQ catfish. And instead of hamachi, they serve Hawaiian amberjack. They’ve found that people will try new things if given the opportunity. And they’ll appreciate your conscientiousness as well.

To learn about the least at-risk seafood and the best fishing and farming methods, go to  https://www.seafoodwatch.org/. This website by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a goldmine of education. 

Educate your staff

The menu is set, the ordering is done, and you’re ready to go! Now it’s time to talk to the front lines.

Make sure your FOH staff is well-versed in your seafood dishes. Give them some good comparisons that they can use for guests who might not be familiar with the new menu options.

For example, Arctic char is a fish that many people may not have heard of. Give your servers a couple talking points that guests can relate to. “It’s moderately firm, not flakey like cod. It tastes a bit like a cross between a trout and salmon. And it has a peachy pink color.” Now the guest has an idea of flavor, color, and texture. 

Make sure staff also knows where the fish came from. Is it farmed or wild? Fresh or frozen? People may want to know. If it’s farmed, they should know the name of the farm, as some are more reputable than others. 

Conclusion

Seafood will be a welcome addition to the menu for many of your guests. Whether they’re looking for a lighter option or just something different, seafood can be the answer. Have fun with it, and get creative!

Promoting Nutrition on Your Restaurant’s Menu

The average American eats out between 4 and 5 times per week. That is a lot of food consumed in restaurants. And most of that food is probably not low-cal. 

As restauranteurs, what is your obligation to provide healthier menu options? None at all, really. You’re in the business of providing delicious food and a good time, not babysitting other people’s food choices. 

Still, promoting more balanced nutrition may be a good move. More people are concerned about their health than ever before. Providing some healthier choices and more dietary information could make it easier for them to fit your food into a balanced diet. 

If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, here are some tips for promoting nutrition on your restaurant’s menu.

Provide Nutrition Information

Providing calorie counts for menu items has been a requirement for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations since mid-2018. But for the small chains and independent restaurants, there is no such requirement. 

Still, some restaurants may choose to add calorie counts to their menus. Research shows that when calories are listed, diners order meals with about 3% fewer calories. While that’s not a massive decrease, that reduction could show positive benefits over time. 

If you’d like to add nutrition information, you can send food items to a lab for analysis. Be prepared to spend between $200 and $800 per sample for high-tech testing! 

A much more affordable option would be to use online databases to estimate calories for your dishes. Resources like the USDA Food Composition Database or apps like My Fitness Pal can help you to easily calculate calories as well as carbs, protein, and fiber content.

In the wake of the new calorie-disclosure regulation for chain restaurants, there has been some concern expressed by doctors and therapists who treat disordered eating. People who are preoccupied with calories can take a step backward on their road to recovery if they’re unable to avoid calorie counts on menus.  It discourages them from making intuitive choices about their food intake and instead encourages a focus on the numbers — a behavior that treatment tries to curb.

A solution to this problem could be to have nutrition information available, but not immediately present. Add a note at the bottom of the menu stating “Nutrition information available upon request”. This would inform those concerned with calories and macronutrients that they can access the information without potentially derailing the recovery efforts of someone battling an eating disorder.

Highlight Healthy Options

Drawing attention to a high-profit menu item with a decorative frame is an old (but effective) menu trick. Why not try it for your healthier menu options as well?

You could use a frame, contrasting color, or extra white space to feature lighter menu options, positioning them as special and desirable choices. Use the same approach with a healthy seasonal special. Create a limited-time dish using in-season local produce. Display it on a table tent or menu insert to create buzz.

You’ll get the opportunity to be creative in the kitchen while also encouraging your customers to choose this healthy option.

Have A “Lighter” Menu Section

Rather than sprinkling your healthier offerings throughout the menu, consider gathering them all together in a “lighter” section. By dedicating menu real estate to some healthy options, you’ll position your restaurant as a place that caters to the health-conscious. 

A good example: Maudie’s Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex food is notoriously heavy, with cheese, sour cream, beans, and rice galore. So Maudie’s has a “Skinny Tex-Mex” section on their menu, where all options are below 500 calories. 

People looking for a healthy entree will know exactly where to look, and people looking for a high-cal extravaganza will know what to avoid!

Make “Healthy” the Default

There is no rule that says cheeseburgers have to come with fries. No requirement that pasta must come with a side of bread. No law decreeing that steak should be served with mashed potatoes.

By making healthy sides the default instead, diners will have to actively select the less healthy option, instead of receiving it automatically. Of course, if a customer wants fries with their burger, they can have them. But what if the burger came with a side salad instead, and the customer had to request the fries? 

The Blue Zones Project, a non-profit dedicated to making healthy choices easier, advocates making the healthy choice the convenient choice. And there’s some science to back them up on the efficacy of such a policy. A study of nearly 1,200 children aged 8 to 18 indicated that two-thirds would not object to receiving fruit and vegetable sides instead of french fries. 

Some fast food restaurants have started to move in this direction. For example, McDonald’s now offers a choice of side with their Happy Meals — apple slices, fries, or yogurt. But it’s still a choice, and some locations still default to french fries. A better move would be to serve all Happy Meals with apple slices and only provide french fries by request.

Add Symbols to Identify Safe Foods

Make your menu easy to navigate for people with certain dietary restrictions. A simple V (vegan), VG (vegetarian) or GF (gluten-free) can help people to quickly find the menu options that they can eat.

If those symbols will clutter your menu too much, consider having supplemental menus by request. A Gluten Free, Dairy Free, or Nut Free menu will be much appreciated by people with potentially dangerous allergies. And it will take some of the pressure off of your service staff who may not have memorized every ingredient in every dish.

Of course, they should still communicate allergies to the kitchen so the cooks can be sure to prevent any cross-contamination! But customers with allergies will be happy to avoid the minefield of hidden ingredients that they face every time they dine out.

Support your Neighborhood

Your restaurant is part of a larger community, so consider that community’s interests when adding healthy menu options. For example, the largest percentage of Weight Watchers users are over the age of 65. So if you live in an area with a lot of retirees, you could consider adding Weight Watchers point values to your menu.

If the keto craze has caught on like wildfire in your area, you may want to consider some high-fat menu items with very limited carbs. Do you have a big Crossfit gym just down the road? Make sure you have some high-protein options on the menu!

And once you’ve updated your menu, let people know! Online message boards or physical bulletin boards at gyms and fitness centers can be great places to get the word out. 

Consider the Kids

Far too many kid’s menus look like this:

  • Chicken Fingers
  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Spaghetti
  • The End

Nary a vegetable in sight! Kid’s menus are treated as an afterthought. And it’s a shame because this is such an easy fix! You probably have the making of a healthy and tasty kid’s menu in your restaurant kitchen right now. 

Chicken doesn’t have to be fried. Lightly breaded and baked chicken will make most kids happy. Serve it with a side of steamed carrots or broccoli. Mom and Dad will know if their little ones won’t eat the veggies, and they’ll make a substitution if necessary.

A peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread provides fiber, protein, and natural carbohydrates. And it could not be easier to make. Fresh fruit, yogurt, and applesauce are simple sides that are low in fat and sodium.

Providing healthy options for the kids makes sense. The parents will feel good about feeding them at your restaurant, and you’ll be high on the list of places to visit again.

Not every restaurant needs to be a monument to health and wellness. After all, no one wants to live in a world without pizza! But keeping nutrition in mind makes good sense. You’ll increase the likelihood of the health-conscious considering your restaurant as an option. And you may be able to help some customers to live a healthier, longer life at the same time. 

If it’s good for your business and good for your patrons! 

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

Engaging “Generation Y” to Grow Your Restaurant

Generation Y (aka millennials) are expected to outnumber baby boomers sometime this year making them the largest generation in the country. At 73 million strong, it’s vital to know how to reach these 22- to 37-year-olds.

Marketing to millennials should look more like engaging with your friends than traditional advertising. They want entertaining content, fun experiences, and authentic interactions with real people. They’re suspicious of marketing, and if it feels too much like a sales pitch, they won’t respond to it. But there are still ways to reach them! Read on for some helpful tips.

Get Social

You know that “kids these days” are always on their smartphones. But did you know that 95% of Generation Y follows at least one brand on social media? Every additional follower on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is one more person that you can market to directly — without spending a dime.

Luckily for the restaurant industry, food-related content is incredibly popular across social media. High-quality photo and video content are what the people want! So don’t let them down. A DSLR camera is a great tool, but a newer smartphone camera can still do the trick. It never hurts to have some photo editing skills as well to make the colors really pop.

While food content is a great start, also think beyond the plate. Go behind-the-scenes and introduce your followers to the people behind the product. Take a short video of the chef talking about some of his favorite ingredients, or making one of his signature dishes. Introduce your fans to one of your bartenders. Post a photo from your last staff party. Remember, you’re treating your followers like friends. They need to know who you are if they’re going to feel personally connected to your brand.

Engage!

Keep in mind that social media is a platform for two-way communication. It’s not enough to just post a killer video and trust that the rest will happen on its own. Make sure to engage with the people who are reacting to your content. Respond to comments, thank new followers, and follow them back. And when they post their own photos from their time at your establishment, make sure to like and comment.

And don’t forget to check out the analytics! All social media platforms have reports that business pages can access. You’ll be able to learn about activity on your feed, how each post is performing, and gain insight into your audience — who they are, and when they are active on social media. This information will help you determine what content is getting results so you can tailor your posts accordingly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work — it can be. But there are ways to make it easier. Apps like Buffer and Hootsuite let you schedule all of your social media content — pictures, copy, and hashtags — in advance. Then, the software will post to your social accounts for you based on the schedule you set.

You can plan out the whole week’s worth of content at once. Using scheduling software will ensure that social media isn’t forgotten in the hustle and bustle of running your restaurant. Just make sure that you’re checking in and interacting with your followers daily.

Remember — consistency is key. It takes time to build an online community, but with perseverance, you’ll see those follow numbers start to increase.

#experiences

More good news for the restaurant industry — millennials prefer experiences to goods. In fact, all generations are shifting away from buying “stuff” and towards participation in events.

Restaurants already have a leg up, since dining out is an easily accessible experience for many. But let’s go beyond anniversary dinners and birthday parties, shall we? How can you bring the capital e “Experience” to your restaurant and customers?

Bring in a guest chef for a special tasting. Host a beer dinner with a local brewery. Teach a cooking class, culminating in a tasty meal and a glass of wine. Have a seasonal farm-to-table dinner. The key is for it to be unique and one-time-only. You want to throw an event that will create valuable memories — and great pictures for the participants’ social media feeds.

When the time comes to get the word out about your event, your social channels will be invaluable. Make sure to do regular posts leading up to the big day.

But millennials love recommendations from people they trust. So try going a step further by enlisting the help of local micro-influencers — bloggers and social media personalities with follows from 10,000 up to 100,000 people. Find out who your local food bloggers and event curators are, and see if they’d be willing to do a post about your event.

There may be a cost associated with their post, or you may be able to exchange the post for free tickets to the event. But since these influencers have devoted fans who want to know what’s going on around town, it may be worth the cost to get their shout out.

Finally, try to get outside the four walls of your restaurant. Food festivals are an incredibly popular experience with Generation Y. They attract a huge amount of social media engagement, and they get your name and your food in front of people who may be outside your normal demographic. They can be challenging logistically, but the payoff for a successful festival can be well worth it.

Miserly Millennials

Many millennials graduated from college just as the economy was taking a huge downturn. Their careers were stalled right out of the gate, and they’re still feeling the effects over 10 years later. Add student loan debt to the tune of $1.3 trillion, and it’s no wonder Gen Y is incredibly cost-conscious.

This doesn’t mean that you have to destroy your cost of goods in order to keep prices low enough to attract these penny pinchers. But consider offerings that could attract a group that may normally not be able to afford your restaurant.

For example, a very high-end sushi restaurant offers happy hour from 5:00 to 6:30 pm on weekdays. They provide smaller portions of select menu items at reduced prices; $18 appetizers are served as small plates on the happy hour menu for only $9. This deal is routinely included in lists of the best happy hours in town.

These reduced prices give the less affluent an opportunity to try high-end food at a price they can afford while keeping the restaurant’s cost of goods under control. And remember, today’s entry-level marketing assistant is tomorrow’s VP of Marketing — with a lot more disposable income.

Cooking for a Cause

Many millennials participate in causes and social activism regularly. They sign petitions, make donations, and vote with their dollars by boycotting brands that they feel have transgressed. They want to do good.

Give them the opportunity to give back while having fun. Charity events build brand goodwill while also supporting a cause.

Get customers involved by:

  • Hosting a toy or food drive. Offer a small discount off their meal as thanks for their donation.
  • Donating a percentage of sales to a cause that’s important to you.
  • Raffling off a gift basket, prize, or a dinner for two to your restaurant. Sell tickets to customers, and donate the proceeds to a charity.

Local charities are a good choice, as they may be more transparent than huge national organizations. Plus, many people like the idea of keeping their donations in their own communities. Before selecting a charity, do some research on CharityWatch.org to verify their credentials. You can also see how much of their money goes to aid vs. administration.

Let Them Participate

Millennials like to be active participants with the brands they support. They expect companies to engage with them, ask their opinions, and respond to their feedback. So actively encourage that interaction, and watch engagement increase.

Debating between two new menu items? Let your customers vote on it. Adding a cocktail to the menu? Host a naming contest on social media, and give a prize to the winner. Ask people to share the photos they’ve taken at your restaurant, and send a gift card to whoever took your favorite.

Encouraging your followers to get involved will show that you value your customer’s input and build a deeper connection between them and your brand.

They’re Not Getting Any Younger…

With the oldest millennials approaching their late-30s, many of them are now parents. In fact, 40% of millennials have kids. So being kid-friendly can be an important selling point when they’re considering where to go out to eat. Clean high chairs, plastic cups with straws, and a kids menu will all help parents feel comfortable bringing the kiddos.

Include pictures of families and kids on your social media (with the parent’s permission, of course!) to show your followers that their little ones are not only allowed but welcome.

And with both parents sharing childcare duties more evenly than ever before, make sure there is a changing station in every restroom!
At the end of the day, marketing to Generation Y is really about building relationships. Share what excites you, ask them what they think, and give a little back. If you treat your Generation Y customers as pals instead of prospects, you’ll be well on your way to securing a group of loyal and profitable patrons.

Engaging Gen Y

Can I Use a Solid Wood Table Top as a Bar/Counter Top?

FAQ from East Coast Chair and Barstool

There’s no doubt that our wood tabletops are eye-catching. So much so, in fact, that many customers want to know if they can use them to top their bars or counter tops. Unfortunately, the answer is no, and there’s a good reason.

At East Coast Chair & Barstool, we offer a plethora of solid wood table tops that are manufactured with a specific sealing process designed for commercial dining tables, not bar tops.  Bar tops are traditionally finished with a thick layer of epoxy to create an impenetrable barrier between liquids and the surface of the wood. While this works well for bars, it tends to take away from the character and overall look of the wood, which is why it is not used for tables.

Even with our premium grade finishes, our solid wood tables are not warrantied for the wear and tear like an official bar top.

If you have further questions about our solid wood table tops, please give our customer care specialists a call at 800-986-5352.

Upgrade Your Restaurant Seating with New Booths

Time to add new seating to your restaurant? See what one of our new booths can do for your restaurant’s layout and overall design.

East Coast Chair & Barstool booths are Amish-made in the USA with superior craftsmanship and careful attention to detail. The booths come with many choices and customization like different vinyl colors or wood options. These booths below can be made in reclaimed barn wood, urban distressed wood, or rustic pine with multiple finish options, so you can match your solid wood table tops. 

Scroll through each slideshow and check out all the new exciting booth styles for this upcoming year!

Rustic Pine Booth

  • Rustic Pine Booth - Single

We’re adding a new wood option to our rustic booth lineup! The rustic pine booth is finished with a bourbon stain to highlight the beautiful distressed marks of the wood, creating a different look and texture than the reclaimed and urban distressed wood options.

Depending how much privacy you want for your restaurant, you can choose from single and double rustic pine booths with heights from 43” to 54”. And like the other rustic booth options, you can also choose whether you want a vinyl back or just leave it wood to match.

Tufted Booth

  • Tufted Booth - Single

Transform your restaurant’s interior with the elegant comfort of the Tufted Booth. This booth has distinct appearance because of its strategically placed buttons and folds (find out more about this diamond tufting technique here).

The Tufted Booth also has a unique color selection of soft Naugahyde vinyl to really make your booth special for your restaurant. The Tufted Booth is available in 36” to 48” heights and 48” to 72” lengths in both single and double styles.

Tavern Booth

  • Tavern Booth - Single

Mixing materials is what the Tavern Booth is all about. This booth is mainly constructed from either reclaimed, urban distressed, or rustic pine wood but also has a fully welded clear coat frame underneath. Even more than just the wood choices, the Tavern leaves a lot of room for customization for your restaurant or bar.

When purchased in the single style, this booth comes with a handcrafted unfinished back that allows restaurant patrons to get a closer look at the distressed wood. You can also add a coat rack to the any of the height options (43” to 54”).

Orchard Booth

  • Orchard Booth - Single

We put a twist on our classic vinyl booth by adding wood caps, making a contrast with these two materials to create the Orchard Booth. These caps can be made with any of our rustic wood options and finishes, making it simple to match your table tops. The Orchard Booth can also be made with a crumb strip for easy cleaning. But this booth isn’t complete until you select your vinyl color! This booth has a little more vinyl than our traditional rustic booths, with a vinyl seat, back, and back of the booth for a whole new look. The Orchard Booth can be made from a standard 43” height up to 54” to accommodate how you want these booths to look.

Trestle Booth

  • Trestle Booth - Single

Bring the farmhouse style to your dining space with the Trestle Booth. The Trestle Booth is all about being customized for your restaurant’s needs in any of our rustic wood options. This striking wood booth can be finished with a wood or vinyl back and comes with a vinyl seat. Like its namesake frame, the Trestle Booth is a great addition to your restaurant because its legs are high enough off the ground that your staff can easily clean the floor underneath it.  

Choose the right Trestle Booth for your restaurant by selecting your height (between 43” and 54”) and length (from 48” and 72”).

You can learn more about these booths by stopping by our upcoming tradeshows, visiting our website, or calling our dedicated customer care team at 800-986-5352.

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.

Game Day Restaurant Promotions

Sports Fan at Bar

It’s finally fall and football season is here! Many restaurants take advantage of their region’s teams and factor them into a seasonal promotion. And why not? Fans hunker down for three to four hours at a time, consuming your drinks and food during the course of the game, making them a great market to tap into if you don’t already.

There are many ways your restaurant or bar can start integrating “game day specials” into your weekly plan.

Advertise ahead of time. If your regular customers aren’t aware that their favorite hangout is going to start showing their team, it’s not going to be good for business. Promote on your social media and website why your place is the best to watch the big game. This is crucial if you haven’t been a hub for spectating before. To tie in with advertising your location, try and incentive patrons to get there early. Get swag from beer or liquor companies you work with to give away to the first 25 customers in the door or have little raffles during the game.

Open a little earlier. For Sunday games, there’s always the possibility that your team could be playing in the early afternoon. Try opening your doors a couple hours beforehand to encourage people to either arrive early for the game and grab a seat. Or remain a desirable option for other customers that aren’t concerned with the game because they know they can eat and get out of there before it starts.

Bring on the booze. If you sell beer of any kind, you can offer some sort of bucket or pitcher promotion where guests purchase larger quantities of beer at a time for a deal. Again, these fans are likely to be holding up a table for longer periods of time than your average customers, so why not give them a further reason to keep buying drinks? These games are a socially acceptable reason for patrons to drink on what’s typically an “off” time for your bar.

Don’t forget the food! Just like beer, you’ll want to be able have the ingredients for your game day menu prepped and ready. If you’re looking to add a little something to your regular menu, try loaded nachos or fries. These dishes can be put together using leftover pieces from other menu items so you’re preventing food waste and giving your spirited customers another choice. Plus, a lot of this food is on the saltier/spicier side, which will leave customers feeling thirsty…

Offer to-go options. Sports fans can be a superstitious crowd. Some of them have to sit in the same chair by an east-facing window where, by coincidence, their team hasn’t lost since ’82. Turn this crowd into customers by beefing up your take-out options. You can offer take-out specific items, larger platters for viewing parties, or allow ordering the day before to relieve some of the pressure on your kitchen staff. Having these choices for people who would rather watch at home can help you take advantage of a higher portion of your customer base and you can make a sale without giving up any space!

Make sure the game is visible. There’s nothing worse than having a group coming to your establishment to specifically watch the game and not being able to see the screen. Be sure to have enough screens so people can view the game from different vantage points. And, because games can start anywhere from the afternoon and into the evening, make sure you can adjust your blinds when the sun is shining in.

No matter where your bar or restaurant is located, there’s always a team that your patrons can rally behind. It could be a national, college, or high school team, or even all three depending on your location! Game day promotions are a great chance to bring customers in on what might traditionally be slower days and engage them in your restaurant or bar’s atmosphere.

Pairing Beer and Pizza: What You Need to Know

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

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

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

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

Cheese Pizza and ESB (Extra Special Bitter)

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

Pepperoni and Black IPA

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

Meat Lovers and Scotch Ale

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

Hawaiian and Blonde Ale

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

Barbecue and Rauchbier

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

Veggie and IPA

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

Chicago Deep Dish and Zwickelbier

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

Buffalo Chicken Pizza and Fruity IPA

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

White Pizza and Light Ale

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

 

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

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