Restaurant Briefing Just another WordPress weblog Fri, 09 Jan 2015 20:31:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Designing the Restaurant Experience Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:03:52 +0000 admin Some recent data underscore the importance of restaurant ambiance, notably design, decor, and music/sound. The National Restaurant Association’s 2013 National Household Survey shows that 63% of customers list decor or atmosphere as the reason to choose a tableservice restaurant. Recent data from Technomic, Inc. finds that when customers like the way a restaurant looks and feels, they tend to be happy about the whole experience – 98% who rated a restaurant’s atmosphere/ambiance as very good also rated their overall visit as excellent or good. This is even more powerful considering a conclusion from a recent study by Rewards Network – a diner’s overall experience is more important than food when it comes to return visits. With the way a restaurant looks and feels such a key contributor to a good overall dining experience, design and decor take on increased importance.

There’s no question that restaurant design, especially in tableservice, has moved away from the trappings of tradition, reflecting a more casual approach to dining – from dress to meal structure. June Jo Lee, VP, Strategic Insights, The Hartman Group, observes that in addition to the dining experience becoming more casual, it’s also become more democratized and that this, too, is reflected in design trends. “Overall, we’ve seen a transition to a much more participatory culture in restaurants, less of a distance between chefs and diners. You see more consumers engaged with chefs, sourcing, etc. When we go out we want to connect – with each other and also with the food and the chefs.” David Darling, Partner, Aidlin Darling Design, agrees. “There’s an interest in watching food being prepared, and even, in some segments, being willing to go to a counter to pick it up.” Almost symbolic of these elements – casualization, democratization, and connection – is the continuing popularity, almost ubiquity, of the open kitchen. “It’s dramatic,” says Cass Calder Smith, President/CEO, CCS Architecture. “And it provides that connection for diners with the food. Most of the time, the kitchen and/or the chef is the centerpiece of the restaurant.”

The role of chefs is extending to having an impact on design direction. “In general, we are seeing more collaboration between the food vision and the design vision to create an overall cohesive experience. We collaborate a lot with chefs,” says David. Chefs commonly want a design that reflects who they are, their food, the business, reports Cass. “They want to create a consistency.” So it’s no surprise that chefs’ sensibilities toward local, authentic, sustainable, artisanal ingredients are having an influence in the front of the house. “We’re seeing restaurants focus on bringing in many local and natural elements, and if they gut the space, they’ll expose the original ceiling and leave it untouched – for example, a beautiful mosaic with pieces missing,” says Andrew Freeman, Founder, Andrew Freeman & Co., restaurant and hospitality consultants. David’s group used a local contractor, local sources, and local materials for a recent restaurant project. “There’s layers of local and a story behind the materials,” he says.

“When Corton became Bâtard, we had an incentive to casualize the experience. We wanted to deliver great value and charge less, so we sent that message with more contemporary design elements such as butcher-block tables, no tablecloths, and wood floors. Restaurants used to be called ‘white tablecloth’; it can still be fine dining without them.” –Drew Nieporent, Owner, Myriad Restaurant Group

Adam Farmerie, Partner, AvroKO, adds that – as with the food – simplicity, quality, and authenticity are important in restaurant design. “People want a thoughtful experience – a table should be made out of solid wood; if there’s a brick wall, keep it; have a really great chair with supple leather and quality joinery. It speaks to craft and reflects on the whole restaurant.” And authenticity extends to materials such as raw and blacked steel, cement, and concrete. “It’s nice to use materials that aren’t coated,” says Cass. “Their authenticity – that helps the experience.”

But all these local/sustainable/authentic elements in restaurant design may present a challenge. “I love the idea of exposing or bringing in natural elements – woods, metals, stone, etc. My only concern is that this strong trend is going to result in a lot of cookie-cutter restaurants taking on similar looks. The challenge will be how to keep the casual nature of restaurant environments going and still define their individual identities. How much stone, brick, and recycled wood can there be?” asks Andrew. David echoes the concern. “People crave memorable experiences and reclaimed wood can be part of that, but it’s not going to be so memorable if there’s too much of it.”

“When we started our firm 16 years ago, we wrote a manifesto about how our practice should work. We wanted to design for all the senses, not just the visual. Spaces are not just about what they look like, but how they feel.” David Darling, Partner, Aidlin Darling Design

One thing that will never go out of fashion is careful design. “When you do a new restaurant you want to have a noticeable, strong design – whether it’s minimalist, glamorous, maybe even flashy, the design needs to make an impact. But the strongest designs may look tired the fastest. What’s challenging is to create an impact but make it timeless,” says Cass.

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Noise in Restaurants – The Disconnect with Diners Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:03:33 +0000 admin Todd A. Price, Dining Writer for Times-Picayune, recently asked readers, “How do you feel about restaurant noise?” Of the 1,232 responses, nearly 80% said “Loathe it.” (About 14% said they don’t notice noise, and about 7% love it.) Echoing numerous restaurant reviewers around the country, Todd commented, “The most consistent complaint I hear from friends and readers has to do with noisy restaurants.” It’s a common cry, one that has reached the pinnacle of customer dissatisfaction in the Zagat Dining Trends Survey. Diners around the country now rank noise in restaurants as their #1 complaint.

But by all accounts – and there are many – restaurants are actually getting noisier. Why the disconnect? Explanations range from the unintended acoustical consequences of contemporary design – with its hard surfaces, open spaces, and tables close together – and of poor planning/no budget to spend on acoustics in the design phase, to theories of restaurants targeting younger customers at the expense of older ones, and attempting to sell more drinks and turn tables.

“When we socialize, engage with each other, we tend to do so in restaurants. Noise disrupts this. Overwhelming noise is a barrier. And while energy is good, we do hear from consumers that they are feeling so overstimulated. Restaurants can provide a better experience by being conscious of this.” – June Jo Lee, VP, Strategic Insights, The Hartman Group

“I think it’s purposeful but not intended to be punitive,” defends June Jo Lee, VP, Strategic Insights, The Hartman Group. “People were thinking about elevating the experience of the food and, in the process, ambiance often got left behind. Now being all about the food and less about acoustics is a trend.” Ruth Reichl, former Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine and Restaurant Critic of both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, isn’t as generous. She recently told The New York Times Magazine, “The noise in restaurants is insane. I think it’s very deliberate: There’s this idea that somehow it’s more fun if there’s a roar in the room.”

There is some common ground between the dining public and restaurateurs – neither want hushed spaces or to hear the conversations at nearby tables. Almost universally, restaurateurs say that fear of a “dead” ambiance often drives their decisions – or at least explains their complacency when it comes to controlling noise levels. Architects and designers seem to agree. “I feel strongly that a very quiet experience – when it’s hushed all around you – isn’t good either. You want to be in a place that feels like you are part of a community,” says Jeffrey Katz, Principal, C&J Katz Studio. “Sound is an important aspect of the whole restaurant experience.”

The challenge is that one diner’s din is another’s energetic buzz, and some (but not all) of that is age-related. “There’s a certain group, usually younger, who are willing to put up with some ‘inconveniences’ to be where they want to be,” observes Ralph Gentile, Principal, Ralph Gentile Architects. “They are more willing to forgive.” While acknowledging that for Boomers “dining out is still a little bit of a special occasion” and for Millennials “restaurants have become their gathering places,” June also cautions restaurateurs not to make broad generalizations about younger customers’ appetite for noise. “I don’t think Millennials are any different from other generations in wanting a balance when they dine out.” Bonnie Riggs, Restaurant Industry Analyst, The NPD Group, adds that it’s not just the age but the occasion, and that there is more diversity than one might imagine, even among Millennials. “For Milliennials, it depends on whom they are with. They like excitement but sometimes – date night, catching up with friends, etc. – they, too, want a more relaxing atmosphere, especially older Millennials.” Both NPD and Hartman research point to the risks of marketing exclusively to younger customers. A new Hartman study finds the number of Millennials who eat out has decreased to 49% from 60% in 2011, and Bonnie reports that NPD has found that Boomers’ per capita restaurant visits are greater than other age groups. “In the battle for market share, you can’t alienate older customers,” Bonnie cautions.

But how can restaurants create that sweet spot – lively but not too loud; “buzzy” but not overbearing; vibrant, but not at the expense of diners’ ability to converse? The brave new world will be one in which restaurants have more control – to manipulate noise, not eliminate it. John Mayberry, VP, Emmaco, acoustic and integrated electronic system engineers, says, “There is a way to solve all these problems. It isn’t hard, it really isn’t, but it requires a commitment.” John says that the first step is to get the reverberation down – in other words, to minimize sound waves bouncing around in a space. Contemporary restaurants, with lots of hard surfaces – walls, floors, tables, windows, etc. – and fewer carpets, curtains, and tablecloths to absorb the effects of them are challenging and these spaces typically require acoustic intervention.

It begins with efficient sound absorption, John advises, specifically, “fiberglass, fiberglass, fiberglass. That’s the answer. Fit in as much of it as you can on ceilings and walls – just some is going to make a massive difference. Fiberglass is not expensive, $1-3 a square foot depending on its thickness, and typically solves 80% of reverberation problems. It’s like putting a sponge where the water is.” (A growing number of companies are specializing in panels that are painted, covered with fabric, or printed with photos, so fiberglass can be a decorative element.) John cautions that without the kind of sound absorption fiberglass provides, a room will never be good acoustically. “Most restaurants overspend on sound system hardware and not enough on the acoustics. If you have a poor acoustical space there’s nothing you can do with an audio system to correct it.”

Having stripped the room of as much reverberation as possible – making it somewhat of a clean slate acoustically, or “dry” – the next step to controlling noise can be to add some back. John is the first one to admit that this can seem like “black magic voodoo” but that it’s a common practice . . . just not in restaurants. “There’s only one restaurant, only one, that’s done it. And that’s Comal in Berkeley,” he says. Comal teamed with Meyer Sound Laboratories, a premier audio engineering company, using their proprietary Libra sound absorbing panels – custom designed to look like photographs and paintings – along with other acoustical treatments in tandem with Meyer’s Sound Constellation acoustic system. Numerous small microphones hang from Comal’s ceiling to capture the restaurant’s sounds. Those recorded sounds get sent to a digital processor which filters out high-pitched frequencies (glass clinking, silverware clanking, shrill voices) and then, in virtually real time, those sounds are reintroduced back into the restaurant via lots (95) of small speakers distributed throughout. “The speakers wash these sounds throughout the space,” explains Comal GM/Partner Andrew Hoffman. Using an iPad, Andrew and his colleagues can effectively control the level of “buzz” (reverberation) in the dining room’s two zones – front and back – including the bar in front, which is a little more lively than the dining room. “As the restaurant fills up, we typically cut back on the levels,” he says. (There are three presets that calibrate to changing occupancy in the zones.) “It’s not really volume we’re adjusting, it’s the reverberation – how long the sound waves live in the room. Certainly our space is not quiet – it’s a big, bustling restaurant with an open kitchen in the center. But it’s not nearly as noisy as it would be and conversations aren’t strained.” The acoustic environment at Comal isn’t as much about noise level as the kinds of sounds people hear – and don’t hear. Direct conversations are actually isolated – they come through clearly – while those around are tuned out, creating what Comal Owner John Paluska describes as the “holy grail of buzzy but conversational.”

“It’s almost a mental thing when people walk into the restaurant. They expect it to be loud – we have lots of wood, steel, concrete, glass, and a big open kitchen in the center – but it’s not.” – Andrew Hoffman, GM/Partner, Comal, Berkeley, CA

The basic technique at work, John Mayberry says, is sound masking – used in many office spaces for increased speech privacy. Because humans basically tune out sounds that aren’t jarring and that they can’t make sense of, the low-level, unobtrusive (stripped of high-pitched, sharp sounds) background noise like that which is diffused throughout Comal masks sounds, including other people’s conversations. “You may hear conversations around you,” says John, “but you won’t understand them.” John says that restaurateurs could employ basic sound masking by purchasing ambient sound mixes, like those used in office systems, and playing them through their sound systems with the music. “These are soundtracks of the right kind of background noise,” he says. (To be effective, the more speakers the better. You need background sound coming from multiple sources so ears hear only a uniform, diffuse wash.)

Back to the immediate reality for most restaurants, “Everybody loves that silver bullet,” acknowledges Ralph. “You don’t have to do the Comal thing to try to control the sounds in your restaurant, but you need to be clever. Design direction now is opposed to the way we want to go in terms of managing acoustics, but no one wants to revisit carpets, heavy curtains, etc., so absorb sounds where you can; isolate them as much as possible. You can’t control everything, but you should make conscious choices and do the best job you can so it’s not a noise disaster.” Jeffrey is on the same wavelength. “Be clever about it. You can do a beautiful contemporary space with soft materials. Vary the surfaces and break the levels up a bit to help with reverberation.”

“Remember that not all sound is bad. The collage of sounds coming from the kitchen – laughter, a little banter from the bartender – reminds you that you’re having fun. It’s a balancing act.” – Ralph Gentile, Principal, Ralph Gentile Architects

Both Jeffrey and Ralph acknowledge that restaurateurs typically don’t want to think about noise/acoustics in the design stages and that when it becomes a problem, it’s usually a crisis. “Fix-its aren’t pretty, pleasant, or cheap,” says Ralph. “And at that point, restaurants often don’t have the money. But it’s never all or nothing. There are little things you can do that will make a difference.” Jeffrey agrees, “I would encourage restaurateurs to tune their restaurants, tweak the spaces – it’s well worth it. There’s no real formula – just work on it until you get it right. Even then, it won’t always be right, especially at busy times when the space is full.” And they both agree that designers and architects need to press harder on sound. “It’s left to us,” says Ralph. “We should treat it with the seriousness we do other aspects of design and tell clients, ‘You really have to pay attention to noise. It’s going to translate into dollars.’ There’s an opportunity for restaurants that get it right. People are voting with their ears.”

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The New Sounds of Music Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:03:15 +0000 admin Enabled by technology and led by a younger generation of restaurateurs and patrons, music in restaurants has evolved from being barely noticeable to becoming an integral part of the experience – both a statement about a restaurant’s personality and part of the energy that many desire.

The digitization of music has been a game changer for how restaurants access and manage music – streaming services (Pandora, Rhapsody, Beats Music, Spotify) and custom music providers that create playlists curated by DJs (Prescriptive Music, The Playlist Generation, Mood Media, Gray V) are mainstream. One of the benefits of working with such music providers is that music is “normalized” – meaning there are no big jumps in volume and tempo (which often happens with streaming services). Plus DJs can build playlists that don’t repeat for several days or weeks based on music genres, artists, and songs that operators request; databases that are searchable let operators find specific songs, such as a customer’s favorite.

“When customers come in and the first thing they hear is music that they know, it makes them comfortable – a good beat creates a great mood,” says Tom Kaplan, Senior Managing Partner, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, hq, Los Angeles, CA. He says they work with Prescriptive Music to create playlists that managers choose from to keep the music interesting and fresh. Several years ago when they opened Cut in Beverly Hills, CA, and Las Vegas, NV, Tom says they ditched light jazz in favor of playing Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Who. (The playlists of Wolfgang Puck and his partners appear on the company’s website with links to iTunes.) At JJ’s Red Hots, Charlotte, NC, Owner Jonathan Luther agrees that music helps deliver a great guest experience. He works with Mood Media to create playlists because he says that as much he’d like to, he doesn’t have time to handpick songs. “The one criterion is that the music must be multigenerational. Our guests range from eight to 80 years old, so I want to play upbeat music that appeals to all,” he says. “There’s lots of variety within our custom music program and I like the fact that I can play it for months at a time without fear of it getting stale.” When they opened Dirty Habit, San Francisco, CA, Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group worked with The Playlist Generation. Frank Kawecki, Regional VP Operations-West Coast, Kimpton, says they took a lot of music direction from the chef, who wanted the music to have a neighborhood bar feel with songs familiar to everyone. He says, “When Neil Diamond pops up, everyone grins or nods.”

“As far as actual sound level of music…we like to think of a warm blanket of sound. My rule is don’t have music try to compete with ambient noise.” – Alec DeRuggiero, Music Supervisor, Gray V, a custom music provider

Gabriel Stulman, CEO/Founder, Happy Cooking Hospitality, New York, NY, believes in trusting the people who are working the room to choose the music and he allows staff to create playlists. “We have strict rules around types of music that can be played,” he says. Some genres are not allowed (heavy metal, hard rock hair bands), there are regulations for hip hop lyrics, and some great singers (Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald) may only be played up to 6pm – after that it’s time for more tempo, he feels. “I love when a waiter plugs in his iPod and I see him dancing through the dining room and customers look up and see how happy he is to be working here.”

Regardless of music style and its source, there are strong points of view about just how big a role it should play – whether it should be in the foreground or background. Gabe believes the sound level needs to be “fluid” and that if the room is packed, music should be louder to be heard above voices. “I don’t like to hear ‘gray’ sound – music should be articulate. And when you can hear a conversation from the next table the music needs to be turned up,” he says. Frank agrees that music should follow the energy of the room. He adds, “The biggest struggle is that the volume isn’t automatic, and because of this we allow bartenders to control sound levels – if it’s a rocking night, they key into that vibe.”

Bruce Carey, Owner, Bruce Carey Restaurants, Portland, OR, takes a more moderate approach, striving for a well-articulated acoustic environment that accommodates high-energy sound levels and intimate conversations. With speaker controls that are both individual and grouped, Bruce says, “I can fill the rooms with a nice bass line when the energy needs to be supplemented, or pull back when customers themselves are providing that backbeat. Sometimes I need volume in the bar area to fit the celebrations happening there, but want the dining area to remain less challenging. When people cannot hear each other speak, they will let us know, but the really good floor managers can tell if people are struggling and will adjust the music volume before they tell us. We train the managers to adjust both light and sound levels at least every fifteen minutes throughout service.”

Note: Licensing fees apply when copyrighted music is played in commercial establishments such as restaurants. These fees are typically included with streaming service business accounts and custom music providers. Restaurants playing copyrighted music from iPods or other devices must pay licensing fees to performing rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and/or SESAC – depending on the music each organization represents. The National Restaurant Association advises buying a blanket license that grants permission for all the music each organization represents – Federal penalties for each song used without permission can be between $750 to $30,000, or more if the infringement is found to be willful. Reports are that performing rights organizations are getting much more aggressive about enforcement. For more information, click here

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Honing Your Business Skills 24/7 Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:02:56 +0000 admin Expertise from of one of the country’s most respected and comprehensive culinary arts and management schools – the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) – is now available online.

American Express is pleased to be the official sponsor of ICE’s School of Professional Development. “Our mission is very much aligned with ICE’s. We both believe in the importance of continuing education to help operators and their management teams grow businesses to achieve full potential,” says (name and title of Amex person to come).

To that end, ICE has created four 7 1/2 minute videos featuring business management instructors sharing actionable advice and lessons for operators across all segments:

Recipe for Restaurant Profits – Review food and labor costs and learn how to remove the guesswork when pricing menu items.

Restaurant Success: How to Sizzle and Not Fizzle – Learn how to increase sales through proper employee training, how to interpret customer feedback to drive business decisions, and techniques to create menus that sell.

Preventing Bar and Retail Theft – Watch examples of employee theft behind the bar and learn theft secrets that apply to beverage, food, and any retail sales – techniques that could be costing you up to 3% of your operation’s gross sales.

Building Your Marketing Plan: Public Relations, Social Media and Advertising – Discover how to build a brand and find the right marketing strategy, plus ways to increase your presence online – both via both your website and social media.

Click here to view the videos and learn more about ICE programs.

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How Loud is Too Loud Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:01:51 +0000 admin There’s much discussion about restaurants becoming too loud, but what does that mean and what are the health and legal implications?

One way sound is measured is by how forceful sound waves are, expressed in decibels or dB. Sometimes, decibel scales are adjusted – the dBA scale mimics the sensitivity of the human ear and so it’s commonly used by sound meters and also in noise regulations. Normal speaking voices are around 65 dBA; a rock concert or live music venue can be about 110-120 dBA. What’s important to understand is that exposure to sounds 85 dBA or above can permanently damage hearing. The louder the sound, the shorter the time it takes for the risk of noise-induced hearing loss to occur. This kind of hearing loss can be immediate or it can take a long time to be noticeable, and it can happen at any age.

Numerous restaurants around the country, as reported by reviewers and journalists, have consistent noise averages of 80 dBA or more, not only exceeding a comfort zone (conversations, including between servers and guests, become difficult at 70 dBA) but taking them into the danger zone – especially for employees.

“So many diners complained about how loud restaurants had become that we began incorporating decibel level noise ratings into our restaurant reviews more than 16 years ago. In the intervening years, however, the noise levels have continued to increase. Some restaurants are becoming sensitive to it, but for the most part the diner’s voice has been ignored. In the past two years, the majority of restaurants I’ve reviewed have fallen in the category of more than 80 decibels, which is too noisy for a normal conversation.” – Michael Bauer, Food & Wine Editor and Restaurant Critic, The San Francisco Chronicle

Over 30 years ago, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented noise safety guidelines for businesses that employ eight or more people, including restaurants. OSHA mandates that when employees’ average exposure over eight hours is 85 dBA or more, employers must implement a Hearing Conservation Program – where employees are monitored, tested, provided with hearing protection such as ear plugs, educated about the risks, and tracked to see if there is evidence of hearing decline.

“I wasn’t surprised to learn that noise was the #1 complaint among diners,” says Gordon B. Hughes, MD, Director, Clinical Trials Program, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD – part of the National Institutes of Health [NIH]), and an expert on noise-induced hearing loss. “Restaurants are closed spaces and noise reverberates. I personally think that the greatest threat is that restaurants with music, especially live music, are often about 90-100 dBA.” He adds that restaurants also can put employees at risk because their activities tend to be repetitive. “Employers should understand that noise-induced hearing loss is cumulative. It doesn’t take place in just one day – the next day adds more, the day after that adds even more.”

To understand how loud a workplace is, Dr. Hughes says that professionals use sound meters called dosimeters, but acknowledges that smartphone apps (such as those recommended* in a recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)) could be a good first screening. “Pick times of day, peak business hours, when it’s more likely to be too loud,” he counsels. He also suggests that restaurateurs could get a rough estimate by looking in their dining rooms. “Watch two people at arm’s length from each other. It’s human behavior to raise our voices to communicate just above the background noise. In a restaurant where a hundred people are having a meal, it’s compounded because people are obliged to talk over other conversations. If diners are raising their voices to talk or appear to be straining to hear, you’ve probably reached a level that’s not acceptable from a health or a social perspective.”

*The study showed that certain sound measurement apps for iPhones and iPads (none for Android devices) may be considered accurate and reliable to use to assess occupational noise exposures. It recommends SoundMeter ($19.99) as the best and also cites Noise Hunter ($5.99) and NoiSee ($.99).

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The Charge Of Cell Phones Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:01:15 +0000 admin Restaurateurs around the USA report that the growing issue with cell phones in restaurants is being asked to charge them while guests are dining:

“So many guests were asking bartenders to charge their phones that we felt we needed to create a policy,” says Chef/Owner Brendan McGill, Hitchcock, Bainbridge Island, WA. He posed the question on Facebook, asking “should we charge customers’ phones?”, and got a mixed response. “About half said we should charge customers’ phones, and half said it’s up to individuals to manage their phones.” In the end, Brendan says they decided to think of charging guests’ phones as part of hospitality and a service they can provide, rather than creating a prohibitive policy. They purchased a battery pack with chargers for both iPhone and Android phones and that pack is taken to the table when it is requested. “This way, we’re not handling people’s phones, getting involved in potential safety and health issues”. . .Ellen Gray, Co-Owner, Equinox, Washington, D.C., says that during “Commuter Hour” (aka Happy Hour), when customers come to the bar to wait for traffic to thin out, many ask to use an outlet to charge their phones, so she purchased several portable power strips that can be used in the dining room and private room. “Knowing their phones are charging lets customers relax and enjoy their time with us, reducing stress”. . .“Every day 10 to 15 people would ask if I could charge their phones,” explains Doug Wright, GM, Lazaranda Modern Kitchen, Dallas, TX. He says it was too expensive to add more outlets in his older building, so for a small monthly fee he rents a charging system (Ubidock) with five small portable wire-free chargers. “Because the individual chargers are expensive – $80/each – we run a credit card when a device is given to a customer which will be charged in the event it is not returned.” The charging station is kept at the bar and the bartender is accountable for the chargers. “Customers are very appreciative that we’re providing a service many others do not.”

And, while many guests are looking to plug in, one restaurant is asking them to “unplug.” The third Thursday of every month is now “Disconnect to Reconnect” at Sonny’s BBQ, Stuart, FL. GM Kathy Carroll says the purpose is to encourage diners (predominantly families) to converse with one another during dinner by checking their cell phones at the door (they receive a claim check). “I’d often see family members on their phones while they were eating.” They spread the word via Facebook, email blasts, and a marquee, and the first night there were three live TV feeds. To stimulate conversation on each table there’s a card containing a list of questions, including what were Mom and Dad’s favorite TV shows? What is your favorite family story? Kathy says that while some people (of all ages) had withdrawal, the response has been terrific. “No longer is the dining room just filled with sounds of dishes clinking in the kitchen, it is filled with actual conversation and laughter.”

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Stress Reduction Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:00:56 +0000 admin TREND While Today’s Consumers are feeling an increased sense of well-being, this is not matched by a decrease in stress – only 36% say they are satisfied with their stress levels. They complain of too many decisions, pressures to keep up, being connected all the time via technology; 79% would rather slow down and savor than speed up and move on, and yet the pace of life continues to quicken. All of this creates a greater need for peace of mind and peace and quiet – 47% agree that it’s becoming more and more difficult to find peace and quiet in their lives.

OPPORTUNITY From yoga and meditation to Mass, examples of momentary escape are on the rise. But it’s not just the spiritual domain that can provide respite – social occasions, connecting with friends and family, can mean less stress and more savoring. The opportunities for restaurants that can provide an oasis are great. To do so effectively, examine your customer experience for stress points such as inaccurate wait times, lighting that’s so dim as to cause guests to strain to see, tables too crowded, a confusing/cluttered menu, service delays, and high noise levels. Remember that peace and quiet are a rare commodity and while no one expects a restaurant experience to resemble meditation, extremely high noise levels are, in fact, stressful and counter to communing with family and friends.

CAUTION It would be easy to assume that older consumers would complain the most about a need for peace and quiet in their lives but the opposite is true – those with the greatest difficulty finding it are 18-35 year olds, and it decreases with age. While older generations are taking stresses off their plates, younger ones are in full swing, experiencing the quickening pace of life even more intensely. So don’t assume that your older customers are the only ones who might react negatively to a stressful dining experience, especially as it concerns noise.

Trend Source: The Futures Company, U.S. Yankelovich MONITOR 2014

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Managing Guests Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:00:40 +0000 admin “When guests call to make reservations and ask if we have high chairs or special children’s menus, we always suggest families come in with children when dinner service begins at 5:30 pm – the perfect time for young children, when it’s quiet and we have room for strollers. This way, both parents and children are comfortable and they’ll be finished before the dinner rush. If our private dining room is not occupied sometimes we let parents use it to calm down crying children and/or to nurse. For many parents happy hour is the new dinner time.”
– Carrie Nahabedian, Executive Chef/Co-Owner, Naha, Chicago, IL

“Being proactive and staying one step ahead of an emerging guest situation is an opportunity to provide a positive outcome. We train and mentor employees to anticipate and intervene before a situation gets out of hand that could potentially affect other diners, (i.e., being too loud, talking endlessly on cell phones, etc). I advise using a ‘broken record’ technique – repeating what you would like the guest to do. For example, ‘Would you mind keeping your voice down for the benefit of your own experience and other guests’ – repeating this phrase a couple of times so that the guest understands you are not going to get in a competition about who is in control. Sometimes even asking a guest to step away from the table or bar for a private conversation is a good idea. Ultimately, if the behavior does not change our policy is to ask the guest to leave. If other guests have complained, always let them know what action(s) you have taken.”
– Steve Loftis, Owner, Harbor Restaurants, Grand Haven, MI

“We have a no flash photography and no cell phone call rule at our small prohibition-era bar, which is a dark, sexy room. We feel that flash photography would alter the mood of the room and we want the bar to remain a private place. In order to get into the bar, customers need to use an elevator and the elevator operator tells them about the policy as they get in, adding that if someone needs to make a call they are welcome to take the elevator down to the building’s lobby. Customers are almost 100% compliant and if someone forgets we ask them nicely to stop – no extreme measures are required.”
– Spike Mendelsohn, Co-Owner, The Sheppard, Washington, D.C.

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ACA Update for 2015 Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:00:19 +0000 admin While it may seem that much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is still in flux, Michelle Neblett, Senior Director, Labor & Workforce Policy, National Restaurant Association, cautions this is not the case, and that employers need to be prepared. “While there may be some bipartisan willingness to look at the definition of fulltime and seasonal employees as well as some reporting burdens – and the NRA continues to advocate on these issues – most things related to the ACA are ready to go. The final rules are issued, the employer mandate is in place. It would take an act of Congress to stop it, and that’s not going to happen before January 1st.”

The ACA was enacted in 2010 but many of its biggest changes for employers are just beginning. The ACA’s employer mandate phases in for businesses with 100 or more fulltime equivalent employees starting Jan. 1, 2015 and with 50 or more on Jan. 1, 2016. It will require these businesses to offer health benefits to fulltime employees and their dependents or face possible penalties. To help enforce the mandate and to administer subsidies, the ACA sets massive new reporting requirements. These businesses will have to start tracking data on their employees (to show that they offered minimum essential coverage to those working fulltime) and on their healthcare coverage (who was enrolled and for what months, including seasonal employees) in preparation for filing required reports with the IRS in early 2016, based on data tracked in 2015.

Michelle is concerned, “Most operators haven’t paid attention to the reporting as much as they have the employer mandate itself. This tracking, which starts January 2015, is very important; it will be costly to have to reassemble the required data,” she says. Adding to the challenge, “operators cannot use payroll dates for this reporting; they have to use calendar months. And because of all the required details and data points, it may require system changes. Operators will have to ask the right questions of their IT people as well as tax accountants, HR teams, and other outside vendors, all of whom will have to work together. They really need to understand the reporting rules and get set up.” For help, click here

For a comprehensive overview of the ACA and the implications for your business, reporting/compliance guidance, as well as healthcare insurance programs (including newly announced savings for NRA members on UnitedHealthcare insurance plans and benefits packages) click here

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Nov/Dec 2014 Mon, 03 Nov 2014 21:59:57 +0000 admin Click here to download a PDF of this edition of Restaurant Briefing.

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