July 2012 Newsletter
As the summer heats up and travel season sets in, we hope all of you are experiencing an uptick in sales.
This month, we’re looking in more detail at one of the trends we mentioned last month: the blurring of lines between bars and restaurants. The increasing casualization of the restaurant industry, coupled with more interest in quality beverage programs, has led to some game-changing developments in the way customers and operators alike define eating and drinking establishments. We suspect that benchmark sales-mix ratios between food and beverage will also be changing with the times, and we’ll keep you posted.
What shouldn’t ever change is your focus on operational efficiencies. Our associate Patricia Liu addresses one area that sometimes gets lost in the hustle-bustle of more obvious issues, like scheduling and menu cross-utilization. To wit, is it time to look at your cook’s line and how well it functions? Patricia shares some tips for tuning it up.
Finally, there’s an article on what to do about the whole gluten-free trend, a situation we know many of you might have hoped would simply go away. Well, it’s not—but we have some advice for you.
To your success,
Dean and Danny
By Joan Lang
Amid the ongoing casualization of dining out, we’re seeing a new category of establishment: bars on the verge of being restaurants.
Rather than the gastropubs, urban taverns and other spots that were more restaurant than bar—which started colonizing the industry around the turn of the most recent decade—this new lot are essentially bars that happen to serve serious food. It’s a subtle difference, to be sure (to paraphrase the now-famous ruling on porn, you’ll know it when you see it), but it’s a significant one.
Phil Vettel, writing in the Chicago Tribune earlier this year, opted to call the new segment “nitropubs,” a linguistic mashup of nightclub and pub: scene-driven and alcohol-fueled, but also possessed of a respectable kitchen.
The trend may well have started, as these things are currently wont to do, in the outer reaches of hipster Brooklyn, at such places as Fort Defiance, owned by mixology maven St. John Frizell. The distinction of ownership is important, since many of these new bar-first/restaurant-second spots are owned by the growing cadre of celebrity bartenders who are going on to open their own places. The ratio of liquor-to-food sales probably favors the former rather than the latter (thus affecting licensing and other issues in some areas), and so may the local customer base. And hours are often a lot later than the local competition’s.
Like that aforementioned ruling, examples may be more instructive of the trend than any description.
• Vitell gives a shout-out to Maude’s Liquor Bar, in Chicago, who very name is a tipoff. The specialty cocktail list ($12 a pop) includes selections of Sparkling (St. German Fizz), Shaken & Stirred (a classic Aviation) and Smashes (Smokey Violet), plus an extensive selection of champagne and other bubbles. The menu is a bistro-style amalgam of oysters, tartine sandwiches, escargot and steak tartare.
• In Portland, Maine, the hottest address this summer is LFK (the name stands for Longfellow Fellowship of Knights, a reference to the bar’s location on hip Longfellow Square), owned by a pair of you entrepreneurs who have run bars in the town before, This time, however, they’vc got a menu that includes not only burgers but also mac-and-cheese, lamb koftas, and New England baked beans with braised pork belly.
• Across the country in the other Portland there is the brand-new Oven & Shaker, which gives equal billing to pizza and cocktails. Pitched as a “modern urban saloon,” O&S is owned by an experienced chef-bartender-restaurateur triumvirate and features a “Shaker menu” (e.g., the Pepper Smash: fresh mint, aquavit, maple syrup, “freshly pressed” lime juice and “freshly extracted” pepper juice) and a selection of wood-oven artisanal pizzas and “Finger & Fork” foods as fried chickpeas and lamb lollipops.
• Lest you lose sight of the “This & That” naming patterns of the genre, there’s the brand-new Pitch & Fork “everyman’s tavern” on Manhattan’s Irish-bar-intensive Upper East Side, with porchetta au jus, pig foot “trotter tots and crispy fried rabbit legs, and carefully curated spirits and cocktails. There’s also the anxiously awaited Gin Palace by Death & Co.’s Ravi DeRossi, which features a liquor-first menu where Gin & Tonic on tap and White Negronis (gin, white vermouth and Salers aperitif) take precedence over Scotched Eggs, pasties and samosas.
Interested in hearing more about current food trends, or in receiving a proprietary trends newsletter customized to your own menu and concept ? Contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.
By Patricia Liu, Senior Culinary Project Manager
When was the last time you analyzed your cook’s line to make sure it was at its best? Just like a car, a cook’s line needs regular tune-ups for optimal performance. One important area for a cook’s line tune-up is around service efficiency. What often happens is that a cook’s line is initially laid out for efficiency when the restaurant first opened, but over time, that set-up gets modified piecemeal by different cooks or to accommodate menu changes. The resulting line is no longer set up for peak performance.
There are several areas of efficiency that should be regularly checked. One critical aspect is providing everything a cook needs within close reach—the less he or she needs to move or walk to make the food, the better. A general rule of thumb is that a cook should have everything in reach within one step in any single direction. As much as possible, ingredients and plateware should be within easy grasp, with minimal reaching up high or bending down (e.g., into the low-boy refrigerators). Sometimes, rearranging the line requires thinking outside the box. For example, are there areas of the cook’s line counter that can accommodate a small tabletop insulated well or ice bain marie, to bring items closer to the cook’s grasp?
An often-overlooked issue is how far a cook needs to travel to put a completed plate in the pick-up window. One client had a relatively efficient set-up for the cook’s line in terms of producing the food, but the overall line was situated so that the cook often needed to walk to the other end of the line to place plates in the window. This meant not only potential for food shifting on the plate during transport to the window but also lengthening ticket times, as well as higher labor costs due to the extra steps walked to put the food up.
Part of tuning up the cook’s line set-up is ensuring that the ingredient containers are the appropriate size. Are there ingredients that require more frequent refilling than others? Are there ingredients that require refilling in the middle of the rush? If so, that ingredient may require a larger container. On the other hand, if an ingredient requires less refilling than others, consider putting it into a smaller container. It will keep the ingredient fresh longer and free up room for other items or to compact the line. Pay attention to how often ingredients need to be refilled, so that the proper amount of ingredient back-ups can be stored close by.
Having an efficient cook’s line set-up not only means less time to produce a dish (translating to lower labor costs and lower ticket times), but also less frustration for the cook. In addition, the time savings means more time for the cook to prep the station or just keep it tidy and clean.
One of Synergy Restaurant Consultants’ core service offerings is performing in-depth assessments that cover 13 major areas of operations, one of which is the cook’s line.
In December we cited gluten-free offerings as one of the game-changing trends in the industry for 2012 and, sure enough, the momentum keeps growing.
What started out as a small niche within the special diets spectrum has come to represent a mainstream opportunity for foodservice: The numbers may be small, but demand for gluten-free products cuts across an increasing swath of the population.
Some data to consider:
• While celiac disease affects about 1% of the U.S. population, according to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 10% have a related and poorly understood condition known as non-celiac gluten intolerance (NCGI), or gluten sensitivity
• According to one gastroenterologist, half of the approximately 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are probably sensitive to gluten
• The Hartman Group notes that some marketers believe as many as 15-25% of the U.S. population is interested in gluten-free products, with digestive health, nutritional value and help in losing weight being the top three motivations
• The U.S. market for gluten-free foods and beverages has grown by 30% a year since 2006, says Packaged Facts, to $2.6 billion in 2010, and is projected to top $5 billion by 2015
• References to gluten-free menu items have jumped more than 60% between 2010 and 2011, according to a study by Technomic
Small wonder that the ability to offer gluten-free options has become such a driver for new-concept menus like those of LYFE Kitchen, Burger 21, and Unforked.
Established chains like Bertucci’s and Chevy’s, meanwhile, have been upping the ante on their own gluten-free initiatives. Bertucci’s new executive chef, Jeff Tenner, has paid considerable attention to items that would not only advance the brand’s appeal and utilize its signature ovens, but would also be gluten-free, such as pesto grilled salmon and roasted eggplant pomodoro.
Independents and chef-driven establishments are in a position to drive gluten-free menus at well. At cult-favorite Keste Pizza, in New York City, there are no fewer than six gluten-free pies on the menu, the result of pizzaiole Roberto Caporuscio’s obsession with creating the perfect crust. Gather, in Berkeley, features many items that are both gluten-free and (not coincidentally) vegan or vegetarian; chef-owner Sean Baker is determined to prove that food can be both sophisticated and inclusive.
Still, it pays to be conservative. In announcing the availability of its new gluten-free crust, Domino’s notes that the product is not recommended for those who actually have celiac disease.
Rules of the Gluten Free Road
• Wheat flour alternatives such as rice flour, cornstarch and potato flour can be used in breads, pizza dough, desserts and in thickenings
• Watch the cross-contamination. For instance, if you offer fried items with both conventional and gluten-free profiles, maintain a separate fryer for gf. Separate prep areas if possible, and sanitize thoroughly when you can’t
• Work with a local bakery to find gluten-free bread, hamburger rolls and desserts, since this specialized form of baking is often beyond the means of the typical foodservice kitchen
• Whole grains including rice, quinoa and buckwheat make for deliciously healthy side dishes, breakfast cereals and more
• Be cautious about prepared products such as soups and soup bases, sauces and condiments; gluten may be hidden within
• Experiment with corn and rice pastas to find a substitute for semolina or wheat pasta; you may need to develop different sauces to complement the texture and flavor of these alternatives
• Train staff, both front- and back-of-the-house, to be sensitive to all special dietary needs; servers at BR Guest restaurants in New York City are trained to ask whether a restriction is because of an allergy or preference
• Include as much information for diners on the menu as possible, and post ingredients where staff can find them easily in order to answer questions
• Consider using stickers, special wrappings, notices on electronic tickets and other measures to flag gluten-free items to avoid mix-ups
Tip of the Month
Resources for Gluten-Free MenusIf you’re thinking of experimenting with gluten-free menu items, you may need to do a little legwork. The Celiac DiseaseFoundation and the National Foundation for Celiac Awarenessare two good places to start; NFCA even offers foodservice training.It’s also not a bad idea to look at gluten-free recipes to get an idea what the various issues and options are. Try the seminal blog Gluten-Free Girl and Cooking Gluten-Free!, which includes a number of recipes from working chefs.