June 2012 Newsletter
As restaurant consultants, we are often asked to predict what the hot new trends are going to be. While it’s impossible to have a crystal ball for everything, we’ve been thinking a lot about a few big game changers that we’re seeing today:
1. The focus on farm-to-table and local, sustainable foods will lead to a new spirit of authenticity on menus of all types
2. Continued pressure on food costs will inspire operators to look at more cost-effective ways to create signature dishes
3. Social media and internet-based technology will transform the face of restaurant marketing and operations
4. Bars-with-ambitious-menus and restaurants-with-serious-cocktail-programs will continue to blur the lines between the two segments
This month, we’re addressing two aspects of these trends, with our newsletter features on interesting chicken preparations and how to manage your online reputation. We’ve also got another hot-button issue for you with our coverage of energy conservation by Senior Operations Associate Michael Reynaga. Here’s hoping these articles give you some food for thought, too.
To your success,
Dean and Danny
By Joan Lang
Rising beef prices and declining production, food safety concerns about Mad Cow and “pink slime,” disheartening reports about gestation crates for pregnant sows… no wonder American are eating more chicken.
And that means more opportunity for restaurants to get creative with poultry—all too often treated as a common denominator alternative that doesn’t deserve the same signature treatment as beef, pork, seafood and even vegetarian mainstays. Take the Amish Chicken, served with spring garlic, pearls barley, cucumber and burnt hay ash at Gwynnett St., a super-hot new farm-to-table restaurant in Brooklyn: this ain’t no grilled chicken breast folks. And chains like Popeyes are adding new dippable fried-chicken items that satisfy cravings poultry-based finger foods.
• Spatchcocked – This surprising named technique for butterflying a chicken or game hen allows the flattened bird to be cooked more evenly on a grill, with a better ratio of crispy skin to tender flesh, and there’s no denying the conversational impact the word can have on a menu
• Chicken Under a Brick – Called pollo al mattone in Italian, this increasingly popular dish results when you flatten an aggressively seasoned halved bird under a weight (such as a cast iron pan) and grill or roast it until crispy.
• Beer Can Chicken – A home-cookout staple that’s grabbing a lot more attention on menus these days; propping the bird up on a can filled with anything from actual beer to other flavoring agents not only makes for a tasty chicken, but also one that’s evenly cooked. At Bounty Hunter Wine Bar in Napa, CA, they even use this signature in pulled chicken sandwiches
• Perfect Roast Chicken – Many a French chef will tell you that the test of a restaurant is how they roast a chicken, and sure enough, a carefully roasted chicken is returning to trendy restaurants, often in the form of a whole bird roasted to order for two patrons. At Nomad, in New York City, it’s even barded with foie gras and truffles and priced at $78
• Specialty Birds – Free-range, all-natural, farm-raised, poussin and game hen, Amish, Jidori: The premium ingredient-trend also extends to the prosaic chicken, and true believers claim you can taste the difference, and charge for it
• The Fried Chicken Revolution: Thomas Keller may have started it all at his French Laundry, but scores of chefs now stake their claim to the ultimate fried chicken recipe, from David Chang and his fried chicken two ways (Korean and all-American) to the Sunday night Fried Chicken Dinners featured at restaurants around the country. At Food 101 in Atlanta, where the iconic Southern specialty has been on the menu for 12 years, there’s even a celebration of National Fried Chicken Day (July 6th)
• Dark Meat Returns – Breast meat, tenders, and wings are all well and good, but real chicken lovers appreciate the legs and thighs, which are not only less expensive, but also more flavorful and forgiving to cook in braises, stews and other hearty fare. Treated to signature preparations, just as you would duck legs, chicken thighs can be delicious; witness the popular Chicken Thighs with Almonds and Olives at Barbacco in San Francisco
• Brined and Marinated – Building flavor and ensuring juiciness is important when menuing lean, neutral flavored poultry. These techniques also make chicken more of a signature item, from spice-rubbed Jamaican jerk chicken to the refreshing citrus flavors of South American rotisserie chicken.
In fact, Richard Sandoval, the Mexican chef who has been so influential in bringing contemporary Latin flavors to the United States, has recently worked with Colombia-based Kokoriko to create the new Miami prototype for a planned fast-casual chicken chain. As Sandoval puts it, “How many more burger places can there be?”
For advice on how to make your menu more in tune with the times, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.
By Joan Lang
For every example of how the internet can help a restaurant operator build sales—new marketing vehicles like Facebook and Pinterest; online ordering and reservations; iPad wine lists —there’s apt to be another one that represents a downside, including everything from malfunctioning website servers to inaccurate or malicious “citizen reviews.” (Think it doesn’t happen? According to a recent poll by SmartBrief, 62% of respondents claimed to have been threatened by a user of Yelp or another review site.)
And with it all comes the responsibility of managing and maintaining your reputation, not only in the real world but also in the virtual online one.
The Rules of (Social) Engagement
1. Tune in to the conversation – Find out what’s being said about you by local bloggers, review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, on your Facebook and Twitter pages, and other social vehicles. By using saved searches, page tagging, and automated services like TweetBeep and Google Alerts, you can see brand or name mentions in posts even if people are not fans or followers.
2. Familiarize yourself with and use tools, like Me on the Web or Reputation.com, that will help you manage the job of keeping your reputation clean
3. Recognize that like washing the dishes, monitoring and responding to what people are saying about you online is a never-ending task. If you don’t have time to do it yourself, enlist the aid of a trusted employee, marketing department, or PR specialist.
4. If you really don’t have time, consider turning to an online reputation management service—not surprisingly, there are lots of them. Good ones can make negative content less visible in search engines, and find positive or fresh content that will push to the top of search to re-establish your reputation, among other things.
5. Claim your listing on the local search sites, to maximize SEO (search engine optimization); the more complete your listing is (e.g., your website URL, hours of operation, special features like patio dining, and so on), the more likely it is that you will get found—since this is also a convenience to potential customers who may be trying to find a place to have lunch outdoors on a beautiful day, for instance. Make sure you update them whenever something changes.
6. Develop a response plan. Decide whether to acknowledge and address each review or comment publicly or privately. Although there are arguments for both (telling your side of the story vs. not embarrassing a commenter, for example), it may be that you’ll want to decide each case pretty much individually. Never underestimate the power of an old-fashioned phone call to let a commenter know they’ve been heard—it may even result in their changing a negative online review.
7. Whatever you do, do it quickly. Social media works faster than the speed of light. A review posted at lunchtime can affect another patron’s dinner choice. One bad comment can trigger a chain reaction, and it only takes a few days of online life to spoil your business prospects for weeks to come.
8. Resist the urge to delete negative Facebook comments —it makes you look like you don’t care, and could enrage commenters. Deal with them instead
9. Think of posters as secret shoppers who don’t happen to be working for you. Smart operators take criticism constructively, discern patterns, pay attention to early warnings, and take steps to correct legitimate problems that commenters may be pointing out. We know one restaurateur who changed his bread service when he noticed how many online reviewers commented about staleness
10. Remember that the social web can be mined for priceless intelligence of who your customers are. Analyze metrics to get a better sense of your customer demographics. Use a tool like Site Meter or statcounter.com to find out how users are coming to your website or listings. Look at commenters’ profiles to find out who they’re friends with and what other brands they follow.
By Michael Reynaga, Senior Operations Associate
Summer is here and you know what that means: It’s time for the constant reminders about energy conservation. It seems that whenever the temperature rises, so does the need for all of us to conserve energy. Restaurants are in a unique position to help conserve energy while also lowering their operating costs. Let’s explore four ways to do this:
1. Let’s start with walking in the door first thing in the morning. Many operators turn everything on the moment the first employee walks in; lights, ovens, ranges, and other equipment. Instead, gradually turn on the equipment as you need it. In addition, powering down your equipment during slow periods of business (say between lunch & dinner) can also reduce your usage. Being diligent about your equipment use can save you upwards of $200 annually.
2. Now let’s shed some light on some other simple cost-saving measures. One of the easiest ways to save money while reducing your energy usage is to switch from incandescent to fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent bulbs use 1/4 to 1/3 of the energy compared to standard incandescent bulbs, and on average every light switched to fluorescent can save you $34 annually. On a side note, your choice in lighting can also affect your air-conditioning costs, as fluorescent lights do not generate heat like incandescent light bulbs do. Generally speaking, every watt that is reduced by switching bulbs can save you the same amount of wattage used to power your air-conditioning unit.
3. Another cool idea to reduce usage is to take charge of your thermostat, and set it to 76⁰F for cooling and 68⁰F for heating. You can save about 4% for every degree you modify in your heating and cooling settings. If your restaurant doesn’t have programmable thermostats, it might be worth it to purchase them: Many of today’s newer thermostats have multiple settings for different dayparts. This would allow you to program the thermostat to run at certain peak times, and stay idle when nobody is in the restaurant.
4. When it comes down to it, there are many opportunities to reduce your energy usage, but one of the soundest ways for long-term conservation is to buy equipment that is Energy Star compliant. This specialized equipment is engineered to run more effectively on less power. If you’re looking to upgrade any of your current equipment, talk to your local equipment vendor to see what Energy Star rated models are available. It may also be worth it to replace some of your older items early, as the energy cost savings can help pay for the new equipment over a relatively short period of time.
Being smart about your equipment and how it’s used can pay off financially as you move to become more energy-minded. Contact the Synergy Restaurant Consultants team for more information.
Tip of the Month
Online Technology Marches On
Wondering if your customers would like the option of online payment? Thinking of developing a smartphone app for your brand? Don’t know if people use online nutrition information? This data from the National Restaurant Association answers all those questions and more about technology use in restaurants.