Restaurant Briefing Just another WordPress weblog Mon, 15 Sep 2014 21:38:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Meet the Masters: 25 Years of Excellence Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:07:24 +0000 admin I think it is really dangerous to chase TRENDS. The only thing that has stood the test of time is that people who come to your restaurant want to feel like you were happy to see them. That never ever changes – the food trends and the decor trends change every single year. I think the way to stay ahead is to stay with your own heart. People can taste authenticity. Danny Meyer

I don’t like trends. I’m a tunnel vision person. I open what I feel I want and what is needed. I have 500 things happening, so I don’t think they’re trends, I think it’s what’s coming – what I’m passionate about now. As a kid I learned how to be a leader and how to be a great listener as well. I put my head down and I opened nine restaurants in 16 years. I have no partners, just investors who believed in me. I think when you have a vision you have to stick with that vision and then you can build a culture. Barbara Lynch

Confidence is a wonderful thing, but it also makes you do some not so smart things. YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHEN your infrastructure is too big, how to unplug some stuff without ruining people’s lives. When I hire somebody on the corporate side they have to be able to run a restaurant on the other side. So, if you have to, you can disperse some of your corporate team to your restaurants that continue to keep the ship afloat. You have to be able to do it, too – you have to know when to get the peeler out. We know how to go down the rabbit hole and come out fighting and that losing is not an option. Michael Chiarello

As I get older I like being a cheerleader, BEING A MENTOR. You can have that improvisational side, but you also have to have a structural side, and you have to become an entrepreneur. So what I tell people especially: If you want to be a chef or manager, you have to think like an owner. Thinking like an owner is a very difficult thing to do. You don’t have any criteria, there’s no background for it. It’s up to us as an industry to create that. We have to give people the tools and I think it’s still the individual restaurants that do that. That’s what I think is most important right now – to grow the industry, to attract really amazing people who would never think about the restaurant industry as a viable source of income, a place to land in their lives. Jonathan Waxman

There are amazing chefs or managers who don’t know how to make the leap to restaurateur, so our growth is about finding people and really giving them a chance every day by becoming mentors – we call it a “hidden paycheck.” Michael Chiarello

Kids who have been working for me come to me for advice and I want to set them up for success. You’ve got to try to give people the tools to succeed, especially in this business. Barbara Lynch

There was never any kind of a GROWTH STRATEGY until the second restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, opened after a decade. I didn’t care about opening a second restaurant, I didn’t want to. I just wanted to learn, to go deeper into our community, get to know more of our guests, get to know the business. I didn’t even understand the business – I had no idea what a cash flow statement was, I didn’t know how to do a budget. All I knew about was that whatever you were feeling, when you walked in our front door, I wanted the two hours we had with you to make you feel a little better when you left. That’s all I cared about. Gramercy Tavern set in motion, depending on how you look at it, a vicious or virtuous cycle, where I learned that we almost needed to grow every so often in order to keep great people. Increasingly, I’ve found that to get the best cooks, to get the best wine people, to get the best captains, to get the best maître d’s, it was important to give them a place to grow, rather than having to take an off-ramp to some other restaurant company just because we didn’t provide a path for them to grow. And so that started to fuel the internal mechanism to want to have other restaurants. At the end of the day, whatever it is we open has to be something that we say to ourselves: Do we really think we have something we can add to the dialog in this category? Danny Meyer

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Shaking It Up in Aspen Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:05:31 +0000 admin If I were going to help get a cocktail program going, the first thing I would do is go in the walk-in. Instead of a bunch of new ingredients for the bar, why not use what you already have in house? And work seasonally when ingredients are freshest and taste the best – your chef probably does already. The line between kitchen and bar is completely blurred at this point.
–Charles Joly, Beverage Director, The Aviary, Chicago, IL; Founder, Crafthouse Cocktails

A bar program can be a release valve. There are always issues – someone’s steak was overcooked or something takes too long. Train staff and managers that they don’t have to comp a $23 steak, comp a $10 drink. The steak costs you $6, the drink costs you $1.30, and people are happy with the drink. If they like it, they’ll order another. You’re going to make more money.
–Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Manager/Head Barkeep, Three Muses, New Orleans, LA

Ultimately, your bar program is about the experience you want to give to your customers. Are you higher volume and want to do fewer-ingredient cocktails? Do you have a slower pace and want to make it more about the experience of the drink? One isn’t better than another. The main thing is that you tailor your cocktails to your concept. Your bar program is one of the things that will give your restaurant a point of view and competitive angle.
–Josh Harris, Co-Owner, Trick Dog, San Francisco, CA; Founding Partner, Bon Vivants

Balance is the bottom line. I have it tattooed on my arm to remind me everyday that this is what we should be striving for regardless of what we’re doing. With cocktails, that balance starts with the fundamental building blocks of sweet, sour, and spirits. You need to taste spirits to see what you like and what works for you. Pay for what’s inside the bottle, what’s going into the glass – not for what it will look like on a billboard on the street.
–Charles Joly, Beverage Director, The Aviary, Chicago, IL; Founder, Crafthouse Cocktails

One of the things we talk a lot about is creating cocktail items that are craveable. We ask ourselves if, when guests leave, are they going to come back and say, ‘Oh my God, I have to have another one, I can’t stop thinking about it?’ I’m sure all of you have different drinks and food items at various restaurants that you think about all the time and that’s why they become your favorite neighborhood place.
–Josh Harris, Co-Owner, Trick Dog, San Francisco, CA; Founding Partner, Bon Vivants

My job has always been to bring a cocktail culture to restaurants – but I’m always a bar for the restaurant, never the restaurant for the bar. I have conversations with the chef about what’s fresh, what’s seasonal, what he’s using or going to change on the menu so my bar program can make sense. He’s got ideas about the food and then it’s my job to design drinks that are simpatico, that will honor the food. People are very open to that and it’s making a lot of money for restaurants. –Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Manager/Head Barkeep, Three Muses, New Orleans, LA

At the Aviary, the ice program is something we take to an extreme level, some would say – we have two full-time ice chefs we employ. At the foundation, you just want a good dense ice cube. –Charles Joly, Beverage Director, The Aviary, Chicago, IL; Founder, Crafthouse Cocktails

We have three different kinds of ice. We have a crushed ice machine for ice-like pellet ice that’s small, doesn’t take up a lot of space. Often kitchens will use that kind of ice, which is a nice crossover. We also have a Kold-Draft machine because there’s not a better alternative at this point, and we make cubes for certain cocktails and whiskey drinks. We bring in crystal-clear ice blocks and our bar backs cut it up everyday with a chainsaw out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. The neighborhood comes out, everybody take lots of photos – it’s like a neighborhood building thing. –Josh Harris, Co-Owner, Trick Dog, San Francisco, CA; Founding Partner, Bon Vivants

I really love a crushed ice machine because I hate dealing with Lewis bags, but it all depends on what you’re doing. It’s a matter of what your restaurant’s feel is going to be and the kind of volume you are going to be doing. I’m an old school bartender, I listen to my ice. Train your bartenders that when you’re shaking drinks, you feel the ice and you also can hear it. It’s from experience, something you’re going to learn over years.
–Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Manager/Head Barkeep, Three Muses, New Orleans, LA

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The Evolution of Customer Loyalty Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:04:48 +0000 admin MAKE IT PERSONAL
I think creating regulars is the lifeblood of a restaurant. First you have to create a culture of hospitality in your own house. The way we create regulars is not by me going from table to table, it’s my servers who are empowered to go out there knowing that their job is to 1) make people happy and 2) create regulars. The number one reason someone comes back to a restaurant is recognition. It’s like the old ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name. Tom Colicchio

We track everything and we talk about it every day. It becomes fun for the servers, and you become friends with the diners. When guests leave the table servers make notes – sparkling water, if they’re happy or unhappy, any notes that will help us – and then they go into the computer system at the end of the night. It only takes five minutes. When we sit down at line-up it’s, ‘Wow this guy has been here 72 times,’ so that when he sits down it’s ‘gin and tonic?’ and he says, ‘Wow, how did you remember that?’ Sean Brock

I was lucky to have the national notoriety [Top Chef] to get people to come in the first time. But you can’t live off ‘first visits,’ especially when we’re in our fourth year, so it’s about getting them back in. My husband and I talk about it all the time – it’s about making it personal for the guest. Having Little Goat has been a whole other challenge because we don’t take reservations. The key at Little Goat is really about having servers get to know their guests as much as possible, asking personal questions, really wanting to listen to their responses. Stephanie Izard

Sometimes it’s as easy as a high five or a hug – people love that, it’s like you’re hanging out together. If someone is coming in and we know they love a dish and it’s not on the menu we may even make it and surprise them with it. It’s those little tiny things, and it might have only cost me $2 to make that dish. That’s the beauty of taking those notes every night. Sean Brock

It’s taking the time to talk to guests and getting to know them – and not just me, but my managers when I’m not there. Sometimes it’s as simple as handing a guest my card and saying please email me and [in the case of English peas] I will let you know as soon as they come out of the ground and we have them in the restaurant. Stephanie Izard

We do a lot of research on Millennials and one of the things we’ve learned is that they are really looking for that quick reward. We find if we can get somebody back a second time they’re much more profitable and stay with us longer. So even on that first visit it’s important to do something that makes them want to come back. We’re also rethinking our rewards program because people want to earn points in different ways and to be able to use those points for different things – other than for hotel stays. They want to use them quicker and want recognition quicker. Mitzi Gaskins

You apologize first and acknowledge that there was a mistake and then you act upon it – follow through and get them back in. Every mistake just creates an opportunity. At family meal you say we made a mistake with this guest two weeks ago, we got them back in, we’ve got to show them what we’re about. Now your staff sees that you really, really care. It’s an opportunity to right the ship and usually they become regulars once you get them back in. Tom Colicchio

It does not happen that often, but when someone takes the time to write an email about a bad experience, I think it’s very important to follow up immediately. We always take the time to do what it takes to ensure that the guest gets the experience they should have had on their first visit. Stephanie Izard

We have a system called Guest Voice that monitors all the social media and gives that information to our managers and general managers. We require that they respond within a certain amount of time and we coach managers to respond on the side, not on social media, because it can get a little crazy if you’re trying to converse back and forth within the social media channels. Mitzi Gaskins

I’ve found that honesty and humility are the best. You don’t make excuses. You are embarrassed, it hurts your pride, and you’ve got to let them know that. I really care that we screwed up and we made a mistake, come back and we’ll show you what we do and try to do every day. I think that means a lot to people. Sean Brock

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The State Of Sustainability Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:03:11 +0000 admin Technomic, Inc. recently released companion studies looking at the state of sustainability in foodservice from both operators’ and consumers’ perspectives. The data confirm that “sustainability” is a broad topic – with many components and multiple definitions ranging from recycling to working conditions – and that it’s an increasingly important area for operators to understand and act upon.

Nearly all operators seem to appreciate the imperative – 93% indicate that sustainability is important to their business today, and about half report that some kind of formal, actionable sustainability strategy in the next two years will be necessary to remain competitive. “Many operators say that they don’t want to fall behind in this area because the potential resources required will make it very, very difficult to catch up – to quickly deploy capital and allow time for implementation,” says Wade Hanson, Principal, Technomic, Inc. “Most recognize that at some point, consumer demand will be more forceful and the need for sustainable practices is going to reach a tipping point, so they have to be somewhere on the sustainability curve.”

“Sustainability is an area that many businesses today embrace, but very few have a true understanding of consumer needs and values in this space.” – Joe Pawlak, Senior Vice President, Technomic, Inc.

The majority (59%) of operators believe their sustainability efforts are primarily driven by internal commitment, and a third (29%) say it’s from customers’ interest in them being more proactive. But with so many variables – how consumers define sustainability, what aspects of it are important to them, and what their expectations are of restaurants – it’s a challenge for operators to define a strategy based on what’s important to customers. More than a third (34%) of the chain and independent operators surveyed think their customers easily understand the issue of sustainability, but the consumer survey found that it evokes a fair amount of confusion. Only 20% of consumers see themselves as having a strong understanding. In defining sustainability, they utilize common terms such as “green,” “environmentally-friendly,” and “reusability.” When prompted, however, they also tie in concepts under the broader umbrella of social responsibility, such as living wage and safe/quality working environments, product/ingredient safety, climate change, water pollution, community involvement, etc. “Consumers look at all these definitions differently depending on what’s important to them and/or what they practice personally,” explains Wade.

State of Sustainability Briefing

Overall, consumers’ expectations of restaurants are somewhat influenced by age (those under 45 are likely to be more conscious of sustainability efforts) and by the restaurant segment – from bars and taverns to fine dining, the higher up the ladder, the higher consumers’ expectations. To get direction, Wade advises operators that there’s no substitute for understanding core customers. “In the last 18 to 24 months we’ve heard of more operators getting direct feedback. Sometimes customers are asking unit management why they don’t recycle or why there aren’t more local alternatives on the menu, and sometimes operators are proactively seeking feedback.”

State of Sustainability Restaurant Briefing

Wade cautions that while both operators and consumers want to achieve something for the greater good, “both sides want a balance.” Consumers also seek personal benefits (particularly in the areas of food safety and health) and sustainability initiatives have to work from a business standpoint – be cost-effective – for restaurants.

All operators cite cost as the biggest obstacle – understandable given that 60% said they don’t believe their customers will pay for any increased costs of sustainable activities. According to the consumer data, they aren’t wrong. “Consumers believe that sustainability investments should be part of the normal costs of doing business, and by participating, operators are saving money in terms of less waste, energy efficiency, etc.,” says Joe Pawlak, Senior Vice President, Technomic, Inc. “Operators are assuming they will be absorbing sustainability efforts – added costs to the center of the plate, disposables, etc. – and that becomes prohibitive for many,” adds Wade. “The challenge is how to address sustainability to keep it manageable from a cost standpoint.”

How do sustainability practices influence dining decisions? Among consumers, 63% say they are more likely to visit a foodservice operation they view as “socially conscious,” but, says Joe, “While consumers are increasingly aware and sustainability is becoming more important, it is still lower on the hierarchy. Things like value, cleanliness, quality, and convenience remain the most important to consumers.” Among sustainability factors, “local” (albeit with variable definitions) is the most important to consumers, cited by about 40%, followed by recycling/waste reduction.

“My biggest takeaway from the research is the degree to which operators are wrestling with the issue – the debate between the greater good and operational efficiency – and you could argue that there is no right answer,” concludes Wade. “Most operators should understand that consumers are not asking them to do everything in terms of sustainability. Learn customers’ hot buttons – what’s driving their interests in sustainability – and act on those areas incrementally. Show them that you are listening and that you care enough to move forward with issues that are important to them.”

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Step-By-Step Sustainability Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:02:25 +0000 admin Wherever operators are along the path to sustainability – from getting started to refining existing programs and/or expanding efforts – the National Restaurant Association’s recently relaunched Conserve website is a rich resource. And not just about how to practice sustainability, but how to do so economically, showcasing business practices that save money and help protect the environment at the same time.

Click anywhere on the site for actionable and manageable steps, often shared by industry leaders working toward their own goals – trimming waste, saving energy, conserving water, optimizing equipment, sourcing wisely, adding sustainable menu items, etc. There are things to do immediately along with more long-term investment ideas that will pay off. And while there’s important news and research, Conserve focuses on how-to’s – tools, tips, and best practices are shared in blogs, articles, and short videos, and underscored in Q&As with experts. “If you have a question we’d love to answer it,” says Jeff Clark, Conserve Program Director. “If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find it.”

Jeff encourages operators to sign up for Conserve’s free monthly newsletter, Bright Ideas. Conserve’s Twitter feed and Facebook page are other ways to learn and stay current. “The important thing is to find sustainability goals that will work for you, then to embrace them, internalize them, and act on them one step at a time,” advises Jeff. Conserve can help.

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Socially Conscious Consumerism Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:01:44 +0000 admin TREND By choosing to do business with more socially responsible companies, 63% of Today’s Consumers think they can make a difference; 71% say they are more likely to buy a brand they feel that is contributing to making the world a better place.

OPPORTUNITY “Sustainability” means different things to different people, but now the concept is typically broader than just being “green”; it encompasses social responsibility. A growing group of consumers is tuned into a “triple bottom line” (in addition to profit, the bottom line includes people and planet) and they seek to support those businesses improving their communities, their employees’ quality of life, the environment, etc. – in other words, “making the world a better place.” It’s a tall order, but even small contributions can be meaningful, especially if they resonate with customers and align with the nature of a business. For restaurants, supporting local purveyors is especially promising – more than half (52%) of Today’s Consumers say it’s important to their lives today to buy locally grown/produced goods, up from 46% in 2013. By tapping into this growing consciousness restaurants can contribute in several important arenas – supporting local businesses, serving food products perceived as being healthier, and lessening the environmental impact of the transportation of goods.

CAUTION It’s essential that consumers are aware of your activities, but beware the backlash if they are overstated and not the result of an authentic commitment. More than half (60%) of Today’s Consumers think most companies only make claims about their socially responsible efforts to try to sell them more of their products. Consumers believe that sincere efforts deserve their loyalty.

Trend Source: The Futures Company, U.S. Yankelovich MONITOR 2013

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Let’s Do Brunch Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:00:57 +0000 admin Restaurants around the country are enjoying a continued interest in brunch and some are responding by expanding “brunch” hours and days as well as offering more creative, nontraditional brunch items alongside the old favorites.

”People are crazy about brunch, and they don’t seem to mind waiting in line for a table,” says Thomas McNaughton, Chef, Central Kitchen, San Francisco, CA. Brunch is 50/50 reservations and walk-ins, and 30% are regulars. “We have quicker turnover and lower average checks at brunch but more covers, so we add extra staff on the floor to keep things moving.” Some brunch customers want light dishes, while others want hearty items, Thomas says, so they offer raw oysters, yogurt/granola, and a three-cheese plate in addition to eggs, wood-fired burgers with a fried egg, and their signature and most popular dish – fried chicken Benedict, a dish that, he says, will always be on the menu. “We don’t change the brunch menu very much because our brunch regulars want to count on their favorites being available”. . . On the lunch menu at Cafe Nell, Portland, OR, is a section called “Weekday Brunch,” featuring some of the most popular items from the restaurant’s weekend brunch menu. “We’re a neighborhood spot with a loyal clientele, some of whom are not traditional 9-to-5ers and who are big fans of our weekend brunch, so brunch during the week really appeals to them,” says Vanessa Preston, owner. The weekday brunch items are not only the most popular, but also don’t require heavy prep, i.e., French toast, Huevos Rancheros, and the Monte Cristo sandwich. “If you have the following, brunch business is incredible, it’s like dinner in the morning,” says Vanessa. “Our average checks at brunch often can be equivalent to dinner, due to some $20 entrees and $12 mimosas and Bloody Marys.”

“Brunch is an opportunity for people to enjoy the restaurant while keeping the price point reasonable. Plus it’s where some of my most fun food is created and more often than not people order the more interesting dishes rather than our ‘simple breakfast.’ We take into consideration that many brunch goers are only having two meals on the weekend so we punch up items like hash browns a bit.”
– Kent Rathbun, Chef/Owner, Jasper’s , Plano, TX

“One of the things our brunch guests are looking for is unique cocktails,” explains Robert Mallin, Service Director, Craftbar, New York, NY, “and our four signature brunch cocktails that are made with spirits from local producers have become a point of differentiation for us.” The brunch menu has four sections: eggs and savory, sandwiches, small plates, and larger plates. Robert says the chefs enjoy using the small- and large-plate formats to experiment and create specials. Because of demand, weekend brunch is served from 10:30am – 4pm . . . “Initially we were open for lunch on weekdays but now we’re open only during that time period on Fridays,” says Andy Chandler, GM, Bistro Blanc, Gleneig, MD. Lunch customers often requested brunch dishes from the weekend brunch menu (i.e., eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles), plus the chef is a fan of brunch, so, he says, “We decided just to have two menus – one for brunch and one for dinner. Our customers love Friday brunch and many have become regulars.”

“Sunday Brunch is one of our stronger meal periods,” says Jeff Tunks, Chef, Acadiana, Washington, D.C. The dining room features a three-course $29 New Orleans-style brunch with live music and $3 Mimosas and Bloody Marys. Jeff says the prix fixe ensures a higher average check and helps cover the cost of the band. “We also have a kids’ menu with $6 entrees and $3 appetizers, and an a la carte menu with regularly priced cocktails is available in the bar”. . .At Dish Society, Houston, TX, brunch is served from early morning (7am Saturdays, 8am Sundays) until midafternoon. “Our brunch customers are willing to splurge and they’re not in a hurry,” reports Aaron Lyons, Owner, who says that average checks run $20 to $30, about double the weekly breakfast checks. The restaurant is casual and service is “flex-casual” at brunch (versus full service at dinner), with customers ordering and picking up their food at the counter. The farm-to-table menu changes seasonally and sticks to the basics, adding modern spins (i.e., pork belly hash), but keeping dishes approachable, not too far out. “We get our regulars involved in tastings when we’re creating new brunch dishes.”

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Sep/Oct 2014 Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:00:15 +0000 admin Click here to download a PDF of this edition of Restaurant Briefing.

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Get Ready for a Day Like No Other Small Business Saturday® Nov 29 Tue, 09 Sep 2014 00:59:36 +0000 admin Small Business Saturday is your day to find new customers. To help, American Express is encouraging customers to shop and dine at qualifying1 American Express® Card accepting small merchants and take advantage of our Card Member offer2. By registering an eligible Card, Card Members can get a $10 statement credit from American Express after they spend $10 or more in a single, in-store transaction at a merchant on the Shop Small Map3. Card Members will use the map to help them find where to take advantage of the offer, up to three times.

Qualifying American Express Card accepting merchants can learn more by going to There, log-in by using (or creating) your Merchant Site ID to confirm that your public business information is listed correctly. Then, apply for free online ads4, download offer signage, and personalize marketing materials to help promote your business. And even if you don’t accept American Express Cards, you can still be part of Small Business Saturday and get free resources to help promote your business at

1 See for merchant eligibility.
2 Terms and conditions apply; visit for full details.
3 The Shop Small Map will only feature qualifying American Express Card accepting small merchants for the 2014 American Express Card Member Offer for Small Business Saturday.
4 Free ad application is open from 9/8/14 through 11/14/14, or while supplies last. Eligibility restrictions apply; see for full details.

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