Tips to Improve Your Restaurant’s Menu

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

 Metips-to-improve-your-restaurants-menunus are an important yet often overlooked tool in restaurant promotion. When designed correctly, a menu can convey a specific brand image, nudge consumer choices, and increase sales of side dishes, desserts, and other complementary items. If your current menu is not helping in these areas or is due for an update anyway, you can improve it by following these dos and don’ts.

Dos

  • Do organize your menu logically so customers can order a meal without having to flip back and forth several times. The most common arrangement is to place appetizers first, entrees and side dishes next, and beverages and desserts last, but feel free to choose something that works best for the kind of food you offer.
  • Do focus on writing tantalizing food descriptions as a means of stimulating enthusiasm and appetite. Highly descriptive words such as “melty,” “silky,” and “creamy” appeal to the senses and allow you to promote dishes that will put your commercial cheese melter, ice cream maker, and other restaurant equipment to good use.
  • Do understand consumer tendencies when it comes to reading menus and use this knowledge to print your selections accordingly. For example, the top right of the menu is the first place people look while the bottom left is typically the last, and the dish listed first in each category tends to be the one customers choose most often. Reserve the best spots for the items you wish to highlight.
  • Do make your menus easily accessible. Keeping menus in tabletop menu holders rather than having waitstaff remove them after taking orders is not only more convenient for customers, but also encourages additional browsing and may lead to an increase in dessert and beverage sales.

Don’ts

  • Don’t be afraid to adjust prices when ingredient costs go up or down for a sustained period. Occasional—and reasonable—hikes are to be expected, and are largely tolerated by customers.
  • Don’t print your menus in an unusual font that’s difficult to read. You’ll save your customers and waitstaff from a lot of unnecessary frustration if you stick to readable fonts.
  • Don’t add pretentious details to your food descriptions. Unless phrases like “farm to table” or “all-organic ingredients” are vital to your eatery’s overall marketing strategy, few customers will care how the produce was harvested or how the chicken was raised prior to ending up on their plate.
  • Don’t hesitate to revamp the menu periodically. Whether you do this seasonally, when there’s a major personnel change in the kitchen, or to tie in with specific promotions, your customers will welcome and appreciate some new selections.

One of the first interactions customers have with any restaurant is through the menu, so getting it right is paramount. Use the above tips when designing or improving your own menu to ensure you project the desired image and showcase your best dishes.

2017 Food Trends Forecast

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

2017-food-trends-forecastSome restaurants appeal to customers by offering an unchanging menu filled with predictable and comforting favorites year after year while others carve out a niche by adapting their menu and services to reflect the evolving preferences of their patrons. If your establishment falls into this latter category, here is a forecast of some upcoming food trends to be aware of in 2017:

  • Nonalcoholic beverages: Beer and wine will always be bestsellers, but look for nonalcoholic beverages to experience a surge in popularity in 2017. And we’re not just talking about standard sodas and iced teas here; today’s consumers expect a wider variety of sophisticated mocktails, designer coffee-based drinks, and original concoctions to choose from, so stock your beverage station accordingly.
  • Hearty and healthy soups: The slogan “souping is the new juicing” began making its way around restaurant circles early in 2015 in reference to consumers looking for a more substantial replacement for juices and smoothies. The movement has been gaining momentum ever since, and restaurateurs are responding by keeping hearty and healthy soups simmering in their tabletop kettles all year round.
  • Fats: Medical experts and consumers alike are welcoming dietary fats—in the form of butter, olive oil, avocados, and nuts—back into the fold, so make liberal use of these ingredients to add succulent flavor and texture to appetizers, main dishes, and desserts.
  • Convenience: Once expected only from fast food chains, consumers now want convenience from virtually every type of restaurant they visit. You can address this need by offering takeout and delivery service, as well as by providing meal kits that can be prepared (or simply warmed up) at home.

Now that you know about the top food trend predictions for 2017, you can get your restaurant ready to accommodate customers’ changing tastes. Start modifying your menu, ordering required ingredients, and purchasing the countertop food warmers, commercial blenders, and other equipment and supplies you need as soon as possible so you can remain ahead of the food trends curve.

Prepare Your Restaurant for the Holiday Season

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Everyone knows that the holiday season represents a prodigious boon for retailers. All across the country, big-box stores and mom-and-pop shops alike rake in a reported 20 to 30 percent of their total annual sales in the period between Black Friday and Christmas. This is a significant portion of any bottom line.

But retailers aren’t the only ones who benefit from the holidays. Restaurants like yours can also experience a huge increase in customers and sales, either through direct promotion of holiday specials or via residual foot traffic from nearby malls and shopping centers. The catch is, you have to be ready to handle the upcoming surge in a way that is least disruptive to standard operations. Towards that end, here are some tips on how to prepare your restaurant for the holiday season.

  • Get organized: Planning ahead is crucial for meeting the demands of the holiday rush, so getting organized should be your first step. Reviewing your reservation system (or implementing a new one), evaluating your available personnel and planning key shifts, and ordering extra inventory are just a few items that should be on your to-do list.
  • Hire short-term help: Being overstaffed during the holidays is far preferable to the alternative, which is why you should start looking for seasonal help now. Depending on the size of your restaurant and services provided, you may want to consider adding kitchen hands, waitstaff, banquet servers, and delivery drivers to the roster for the next couple of months.
  • Inventory smallwares and check equipment for usability: More customers means you’ll require faster turnover of smallwares (dishes, glasses, cutlery, etc.) and will have your ovens, dishwashers, fryers, ice machines, and food warming stations working overtime. Inventory smallwares now to make sure you have sufficient quantities to serve larger crowds and inspect your commercial restaurant equipment to see if any repairs or replacements are needed.
  • Consider temporarily expanding your services: To really cash in on the season, consider adding services that you don’t normally offer. These may include home and office deliveries, full-service catering for offsite events, onsite parties, and providing to-go sides, pies, and other desserts for customers to enjoy at their own holiday dinners.
  • Sell gift cards or gift certificates: Gift cards and certificates are not only a blessing for people seeking last-minute stocking stuffers, but also a way to continue driving traffic after the holidays. Be sure to have gift cards or gift certificates available, and train your staff to suggest a purchase to every customer.

A strong holiday season can push your restaurant into the black or turn a good year into a great one, but the benefits aren’t automatic. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for the influx of customers and provide them with outstanding service, so follow the tips listed here to get started.

Think Outside the Pumpkin Spice: Alternative Fall Flavors

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

fall-flavorsNow that summer is giving way to fall, it’s once again time for seasonal menu changes. Many restaurants and cafes will simply offer trendy pumpkin spice versions of traditional food and beverage favorites and call it a day, but we find that approach to be very limiting. There are far too many other terrific fall flavors out there to stop at just pumpkin spice, so we encourage you to find a way to add these classic alternatives to your new menu.

Apple

Apples are an incredibly versatile fruit that pair well with other flavors and can be served up in a variety of ways. For example, apple cinnamon is wonderfully comforting in breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, and cereal, and also goes nicely in tea. Apple based desserts are a no-brainer in the fall, so be sure to consider apple pie, caramel apple cake, and apple strudel for your menu. And of course nothing beats warm apple cider on chilly fall days. Brew up a batch and keep it ready to serve (with or without alcohol) in a Bunn hot beverage dispenser for a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Butternut squash

With its creamy texture and nutty flavor, butternut squash is a perennial fall favorite that can liven up everything from appetizers to entrees. Go-to recipes include a hearty butternut squash chicken stew, butternut squash and kale salad, and butternut squash mac and cheese.

Regular pumpkin

It seems that the pumpkin spice trend has completely pushed regular pumpkin off the radar, which is unfortunate for anyone who loves that satisfyingly savory flavor. Bring it back to your menu in its original form by adding pumpkin cubes to salads, pastas, and chili, or using it as the key ingredient in cookies, cakes, pies, and other desserts. Don’t forget that pureed pumpkin also makes an excellent soup, so find a recipe you like and whip up a huge batch with the help of a Groen table top cooking kettle.

Maple

If you only use maple in syrup form on top of pancakes and waffles, then you’re missing out on the delicious sweetness this key fall ingredient can bring to many other dishes. Maple is perhaps best used as a glaze for desserts such as cakes, doughnuts, and pastries, as well as meats such as ham, bacon, and pork, but is also ideal for flavoring butters and jams. And once you add a touch of maple to yellow pea soup, wild rice soup, or sweet potato soup, you’ll never go back!

Give your customers something more exciting to look forward to this fall than pumpkin spice flavored everything by offering these and other great flavors on your seasonal menu.

Back to School Restaurant Marketing Ideas

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Back-To-School-Facebook-Cover-Picture

If the end of summer is typically a slow time for your restaurant, one terrific way to drive sales is to jump on the back to school marketing bandwagon. Offering various discounts and specials aimed at cash-strapped college students and families with school-aged children can help bring in new customers, establish goodwill within the community, and lead to longterm patronage and bigger profits. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Freebies
Everyone loves freebies, especially after spending hundreds of dollars on school supplies and textbooks for the upcoming term. Offer a free appetizer, drink, or dessert to customers that show a receipt for school related purchases or tuition fees. Another option that’s great for bringing whole families into your restaurant is to provide a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entree.

Discounts
If your margin is too tight for freebies, discounts are the next best alternative. For example, eateries located in college towns or near high schools can offer discounts on all purchases for customers who show a student or teacher ID card. If that kind of promotion is unsustainable, consider offering the discounts only at lunchtime or only on a specified day of the week.

Coupons
Many college towns and communities distribute coupon books to students and residents at the beginning of the year filled with promotions from local businesses, so check to see how your restaurant can get in on the action. You can also put printable coupons on your website or Facebook page, or send out offers on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.

Incentive/Loyalty Programs
A proven way to cultivate repeat business is through incentive or loyalty programs, so this is also a great strategy to try. A stamp card that gives the bearer a free item after “x” number of purchases is easy to implement, as is a free (or discounted or BOGO) item for showing a report card with a B average or perfect attendance.

Promotion
Whatever kind of back to school marketing campaign you implement, be sure to take time to promote it beyond your usual social media channels to ensure you reach new eyeballs. Distribute fliers on campus or at the mall, put up signs in your windows, and place ads in popular local media.

Getting Your Restaurant Ready for Spring

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

The snow has melted in most parts of the country, temperatures are gradually warming, and the calendar shows that the official start of spring is just a few days away. This means customers are ready to shake off any lingering symptoms of cabin fever and patronize their favorite eateries with renewed enthusiasm. Be sure you’re ready to welcome them back by sprucing up your restaurant with the help of these seasonal tips:

Spring RestaurantMenu

Review your menu with an eye toward replacing heavy, hearty fare with lighter, more refreshing options for spring. Iced versions of popular beverages such as coffee and tea are no-brainers, as are desserts such as Lemon Bar Cheesecake, Key Lime Pie, Orange Sherbet, and other citrusy sweets. Main courses and salads made with seasonal produce should also be featured prominently on your revised menu.

Restaurant equipment

Inspect your cooking, serving, and cooling equipment to make sure everything is in good working order. Refrigerators and ice machines should be a top priority at this time of year, so take this opportunity to repair or upgrade these items. You may also want to consider purchasing a display refrigerator to showcase your new desserts, deli offerings, or daily specials.

Restaurant interior

Cast a critical eye around the interior of your restaurant to see which areas are in need of change. Are the tabletops chipped, scarred, or otherwise damaged? Are the window treatments looking a bit discolored and shabby? Are the carpets worn or hopelessly stained? These can all be major turnoffs for customers, so restore, replace, or deep clean as necessary. For even better results, try adding brightly colored decorative accents such as vases of spring flowers or linen tablecloths to improve table presentation.

Restaurant exterior

If you offer outdoor dining, it’s time to start prepping the area for customers that wish to enjoy their meals al fresco. Pull your tables, chairs, and patio umbrellas out of storage for cleaning, and carefully examine each piece for rust or other problems. If you’ve had the same outdoor furniture for many seasons, updating to a more modern style could be a wise move. You might also wish to create a pet-friendly space in a shaded spot where you can provide fresh water and treats to diners with pets (be sure to check local ordinances first). Finish by anchoring everything down and training staff on how to care for diners in the event of a sudden rainstorm.

Give your customers a fresh dining experience by sprucing up your restaurant for spring. Use these tips to get started and visit ShortOrder.com to purchase any new restaurant equipment or commercial refrigeration solutions you need to get the job done.

Protecting Your Investment: Fryer Maintenance

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

ShortOrder_Frymaster-FryersAll equipment needs TLC. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset is really only applicable to prep-tables. Almost everything else in your kitchen needs routine maintenance.

Consider the workhorse of many American facilities, the fryer. Fryers are a pretty simple machine. They have targeted jets of flame that heat-up the underside of a pot that contains oil. The oil heats and is used to cook food. When the oil is used, you filter or replace it and move on. Not much to it, right?

In reality, it does still need some routine maintenance. Daily, the exterior should be wiped down and cleaned. Focus on the  rim, sides and front. This is more than an aesthetic thing. Dripping oil on the floor can be a very dangerous matter for your employees. In addition, make sure to clean the fry baskets daily. Remove them from the oil, wash them and let them dry overnight.

When you filter the oil, make it a habit to clean the elements under the fryer. These can and will get congested with oil mist and other contaminants. Filter the oil, clean the elements.

It’s important to boil out your fryer at least twice a year. Remove the oil. Replace with water and cleaning solution. Allow the water to heat and scrub the fryer pot as instructed by the manufacturer. Be careful not to splash hot water on yourself or others while you scrub. Been there, done that – ouch! Once complete, carefully drain the water and rinse the pot with warm water. Once complete, towel dry and replace the oil. You’ll be good for another three to six months.

Full inspection of the unit should be done annually. Check all electronics and make sure they are free of debris. Look at the legs or casters and make sure they are in good working order and stable. Inspect your fry baskets to make sure the handle is secure to the basket. A basket breaking during agitation or product transfer can cause serious injury.

These simple maintenance techniques will increase the longevity of the fryer, keep the foods prepared in it tasting good, keep your workers safe and maximize your return on investment!   

 

Ways to Share Valentine’s Day with Your Customers

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

valentines dayDining out is one of the most popular ways for couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which gives restaurateurs a tremendous profit making opportunity in the midst of the winter lull. And with February 14 falling on a Sunday this year, there’s a chance to generate even more revenue than usual by offering breakfast and/or brunch in addition to dinner.

But Valentine’s Day success doesn’t just happen. You must be willing to temporarily tailor your menu, decor, services, and operating hours towards attracting customers for the holiday, especially if your restaurant is not typically known as a romantic destination. Here are some suggestions on how to do just that, even with a limited marketing budget:

 

  • Make sure would-be diners know your restaurant will be doing something special for Valentine’s Day by getting the word out on all of your social media accounts and posting notices within your establishment.
  • Offer a complimentary appetizer, drinks, dessert, or other freebie or discount for the first 20-25 reservations or for making a reservation prior to a certain date to encourage early responses.
  • Create holiday-specific dessert options, such as red and pink or heart themed desserts, or ‘dessert for two’ menu offerings.
  • Based on the number of early reservations you get and the number of walkups you can expect, be sure to have enough kitchen help and waitstaff able (and willing) to work.
  • Alter the ambience of your restaurant to suit the occasion by dimming the lights, placing candles on each table, choosing soft background music, and adding red or pink accents to the interior decor.
  • Create some kind of keepsake that customers can take home to remember the experience. Popular keepsakes include special menu covers, custom champagne flutes, personalized matchbooks, or a printed photo of the couple.
  • Promote red or pink drinks such as strawberry daiquiris, pomegranate margaritas, Jack Rose cocktails, blood orange mimosas, and cosmopolitans to help diners get in the spirit of the evening. Save time and keep the fun flowing by using a Bunn frozen drink dispenser or a Waring high-powered commercial blender (both available at ShortOrder.com) behind the bar.
  • Serve heart-shaped versions of appetizers, breads, and desserts, and arrange the food in the main course into a heart shape prior to serving.
  • Give each departing couple a red rose and a voucher or discount coupon for a future date.

 

While some people might cynically dismiss Valentine’s Day as a “made up” holiday, few restaurateurs can afford to ignore the occasion. Demonstrate your willingness to share Valentine’s Day with your customers by using some of the ideas listed above to make their dining experience unforgettable.

A New Year Means a Clean Slate

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

restaurant in kitchen

Chipotle has been in the news a lot lately, and not for the reasons any restaurant would want! They’ve shut down and promised a “deep clean” of all locations and hope to recover from the PR beating they’ve had lately. What can you do to help prevent an outbreak of sick guests at your location? Start with a deep clean, clean often, establish a routine and train your employees.

The obvious place to start is with your equipment and prep areas. Clean those well, and keep them clean. Food code requires establishments to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces after each use. But we all know that! What about the other places that are often touched by customers and employees alike, and are often missed during daily cleaning?

  • Door Handles: They are used by every person entering your restaurant. It’s important to clean the front door handles, but don’t forget the other ones too. Door handles like those to offices, storage areas, refrigerators, restrooms and the back door are equally as important to wipe down daily.
  • Community Areas: Community tables, chairs and benches all need cleaning and sanitizing. They are all touched often and can harbor bacteria. Don’t forget the arm rests and bottoms too.
  • Light Switches: Though the switches in the main dining area may only be used in the morning and evening, those that are in storage closets, restrooms and offices might be used much more frequently.
  • Railings: You might have them next to steps and stairs, you might have a banister on your second floor that overlooks the lower level. They are used frequently and should be cleaned frequently.
  • Tables for your customers: Establish a cleaning routine that is done between each customer. You can use a disinfecting spray in a marked bottle and disposable towels or pre-treated cleaning and sanitizing towels, whichever works best for your restaurant. Make sure it’s clear which roles in the staff are responsible for cleaning duties.

As important as the initial training is, it’s also important to revisit the steps and expectations often. Make sure your employees, both new and old, are familiar with their cleaning and sanitizing responsibilities.

As a manager, remember illnesses like Norovirus are highly contagious and can spread fast, especially in a restaurant setting. If one of your employees is having intestinal issues, play it safe and send them home. Then, make sure the surfaces on this list get a thorough going-over that day.

It just takes a few minutes to clean and sanitize around your restaurant and it can do wonders to prevent the spread of illness.

Ways to Improve Your Food Business in the New Year

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Now that the New Year is officially under way, this is the perfect time to evaluate your restaurant, cafe, food truck, or other food-related business to uncover and shore up weaknesses. Chances are, no matter how well your business did in 2015, there is still room for improvement in a major area such as quality, service, or overall efficiency for the new year. To help identify current shortcomings and set future performance goals, consider taking one or more of these steps:

improve restaurantExpand (or reduce) your menu

Whether you use an expensive point-of-sale tracking system, have tight inventory controls, or personally take orders every single day, you probably have a very good idea of which menu items consistently sell well and which lack customer appeal. Try new recipes that complement the bestsellers and ditch the underperforming dishes to reduce associated waste in food, ingredients, or storage space.

Spend off-peak hours wisely

Slow periods are inevitable in the food service industry, so it’s important to spend that time wisely. Clean up and preparation for the next meal rush are obvious ways to use downtime, but they’re not the only ways. Many business owners have increased revenues by offering off-peak specials such as early bird dining discounts, extended happy hours, or limited late-night menus.

Give your staff the right tools for the job

If your food business is plagued with operating inefficiencies, it might be tempting to place the blame on your kitchen or wait staff. But before doing that, find out whether or not they have the necessary tools for getting the job done. Is there adequate prep space in the kitchen? If not, consider buying more work tables. Is most of the mixing, blending, and chopping of ingredients being done by hand? If so, consider providing commercial food processors to improve speed, efficiency, and safety in these areas.

Develop a social media presence

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media sites are no longer optional for businesses—particularly those in the food service industry. Today’s customers expect to be able to find your company and engage with you on one or more of these platforms, and it’s in your best interest to oblige. Being active on social media not only gives you the opportunity to improve your responsiveness to inquiries and complaints, but also helps you manage your brand in a positive way.

Improvements for the New Year don’t have to be radical or expensive in order to be effective; they simply have to fill a void in your business. So start examining your current practices now to see if your bottom line would benefit by implementing one of the above ideas at some point in 2016.

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