Synergy Adds Nutrition Practitioner/Academic to Consultancy

Nov 29, 2011

Karen Knoblaugh, MS, RD, will join the Synergy Restaurant Consultants team as a Registered Dietitian.

As Synergy Restaurant Consultants’ client roster continued to grow in the “healthy food service” niche, the partners recognized the increased opportunity for a Registered Dietitian to play a significant role on their team. Enter, Karen Knoblaugh, MS, RD.
From her role as a lecturer in the nutrition department of San Jose State University to her high-level memberships in the American Dietetic Association, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network as well as her Presidency of the San Jose Dietetic Association, Karen has manifested a vast understanding of this dynamic area of the food world as well as her leadership within it.

“Her contributions to understanding the gluten-free movement and her command of Nutrition Science in which she earned a Master’s degree further validate our decision to add Karen to the Synergy team of exceptional professionals,” commented Danny Bendas, partner and co-founder of the global consultancy. “Karen’s extensive restaurant experience was crucial in formulating recipes and guidelines for our client LYFE Kitchen, a new concept which recently opened in Palo Alto.”

Synergy Restaurant Consultants is best known for its ability to scale restaurant concepts and has supported over 200 National Restaurant chains both domestically and internationally.


These are the best two target markets for Quick Serves

Nov 25, 2011

Quick service restaurants seem to appeal to a variety of target markets but there are two specific demographic groups that seem the most valuable to these types of foodservice establishments: mom and Millennials.

What or who are the “Millennials?” Generally speaking, Millennials are the group of individuals born in the 80’s and 90’s. This group of people account for 80 million of our population.

So what makes them so important to the quick serve industry? Since they don’t cook much, on average, Millennials visit fast food restaurants 12 times or more each month. They spend their income more on food than any other age generation.

This fact alone will not mean droves of them will be flocking to your restaurant. They are a very unique group who are ethnically diverse and expect creativity and innovation in a restaurant. They like novel and unusual items and ingredients. Additionally, they expect being listened to– in this respect, social media engagement is a must. Millennials expect to be valued.

Moms – the other huge target market—are looking for value, convenience, and health. There at 32 million moms in the U.S. and they are the primary decision maker when it comes to food. Aside from speed of service, health and value, moms value purchasing products that support a cause. Like Millennials, moms like to be socially engaged through the Internet via mobile devices – another reason why a social networking strategy should be in place for any quick serve restaurant.

Read more about these two target markets here.

So are you tapping into this market? Do you have a strategy in place to service these moms and Millennials? If you’d like professional assistance with this, please contact Synergy.


November 2011 Newsletter

Nov 21, 2011



Happy November!

We can’t be alone in thinking that the whole world’s gone casual. The absence of big-deal upscale-restaurant openings this season is just the latest nail in the coffin of the hushed, formal, jacket-and-tie dining destination. Instead, consumers are getting more of what they were starting to want anyway, even before the Great Recession: approachable, affordable restaurants that still offer quality, variety and a memorable dining experience. In a word: casual.

And speaking of casual, getting rid of the trappings of upscale dining, like embossed menu covers and white linen tablecloths, is one of six new-economy cost-cutting measures that we explore in the article linked below. From breaking out the 1-oz. labels to implementing an online ordering system, we’ve got all sorts of ways to hold the line on costs this month.

And if you’re interested in the subject of sustainable design, please be sure to check out Gary Wiggle’s article covering best practices for “Going Green.”

To your success,

Dean and Danny

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Keepin’ It Casual

By Joan Lang

It seems that the New York City Parks Department is looking for someone to operate a “high quality casual restaurant and café” in the old Tavern on the Green location in Central Park. But the worries of a few UES residents notwithstanding, are there any other kind these days?

Think about it: How many new restaurants could accurately be called formal? The kind where the waiters wear tuxedos and gentlemen wear jacket-and-tie, the atmosphere is hushed and the tables are separated by acres? Although established destinations like the French Laundry may still require a jacket, the marketplace has been headed in another direction since even before the recession killed off the concept of old-line fine dining. And the issue isn’t really sartorial anyway: It’s all about the overall experience.

The trajectory of Cleveland “cheftrepeneur” Michael Symon could be a case study for the casualization of the restaurant industry in the new millennium. His first restaurant, 1997’s Lola, may have a rep as being the best restaurant in town (and one of the most expensive), but make no mistake: This is an American bistro, with a high-energy atmosphere fostered in part by an open kitchen and servers in shirtsleeves.

Next came Lolita, in 1995, more casual still and with prices that Symon has worked very hard to keep at under $20 for an entrée. And now, with his B Spot mini-empire of burger joints, the chef has taken the same high standards that brought him to the party and applied them to menu items and ingredients like housemade pickles and sausage, custom-blend beef proudly sourced from star butcher Pat La Frieda, and a serious craft cocktail program (the B stands for burgers, bourbon, beer, bratwurst and bologna).

Service is majorly casual: “All food will come to the table together,” says B Spot’s mission statement. “This way we’ll keep everything running ship shape & keep waits to a minimum. If you’re interested in courses…ask your caddie.” Tellingly, they’re not kidding about the word waits.

A glance at some of the new higher-profile restaurants on the docket for this year’s restaurant-opening season provides more fuel for the fire of this quality/casual trend, from wine bar/retail markets to Mexican small plates:

Bread & Wine – This new wine bar-cum-market in Chicago will specialize in farm-to-table options like lamb–mustard seed meat loaf and house-made pappardelle with braised beef shank, pickled radish, and crème fraiche. There will also be a bar-snack menu, available from 3 p.m. onward (snacks including fried pickles with a horseradish dip, house-made kielbasa, and tacos with house-made chorizo); an extensive selection of small-batch and other unique wines; and a retail market dispensing housemade jams, jellies, baked goods and artisanal cured meats and pate

• Despite his much-touted Italian provenance, Mike Isabella—runner-up in Bravo’s first “Top Chef All Stars”—will be opening a new “modern Mexican” small-plates restaurant called Bandolero in Washington, DC, early next year. The Jose Andres protégé, who opened an Italian-inspired restaurant called Graffiato in June, aims to attract the college-student crowd with items like salsa, guacamoles, ceviches, tacos, and fajita-like “carbons” served family-style for the table. There will also be a large tequila- and mescal-based cocktail menu

• Among the more than 50 new restaurants that were set to open this season in New York City: a sports bar called AOA Bar & Grill; Viktor & Spoils, a taqueria and tequila bar in the boutique Hotel Rivington; and Parm, a much-awaited Italo-American lunch counter from the creators of Torrisi Italian Specialties. Even the more upscale openings have that bar-and-grill “ampersand” casual vibe going on, including Pillar & Plough in the new Hotel Williamsburg (with a Joel Robuchon acolyte at the helm) for “New York neighborhood food,” and the seasonal American Battersby in Brooklyn, courtesy of alumni from Gramercy Tavern and the Mark.

Look to Synergy Restaurant Consultants for help keeping your restaurant in step with the latest trends.


Cutting Costs in the New Economy

By Joan Lang

Everybody’s feeling the pinch these days. With the economy still shaky and food costs forecast to increase 3-5% in 2012, restaurant operators are facing a real dilemma as to how much they can raise prices or offer discounts and deals to their customers without eroding margins irreparably.

The need to cut costs is nothing new. What is new are a few ways to achieve that crucial goal, coupled with the need to double-down on such age-old concerns as reducing theft and making sure your scales are accurate.

1. Consider implementing an online ordering system

A recent study by The Center for Hospitality Research at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration suggests that as many as one-quarter of restaurant operations that accept takeout orders use an online ordering system. The issue for consumers is not so much convenience as taking control of the ordering process, while operators are finding that the savings in labor costs associated with telephone ordering contributes to ROI on the system. In addition, enhanced accuracy of the orders means less need for refunds and replacement orders. Can you say cost savings?

2. Fast-track new-product introductions

New products are the life blood of any retail organization. But the traditional product rollout process can be lengthy and expensive. Make the testing process work harder to build sales and brand engagement. Create an advisory panel of regular customers who can weigh in on potential concepts even before the actual recipes are developed, winnowing out potential clunkers at the conceptual stage. Then conduct tastings of the most well-received ideas before they’re put on a test menu; this also helps to create consumer loyalty at the local level, by making your customers part of the process. Utilize daily specials, LTOs and other new-product introduction techniques that generate revenue and excitement during the initial evaluation stage.

3. Standardize recipes, and give kitchen staff the tools to follow them

“Eyeballing” amounts in a recipe is the enemy of food-cost control, not to mention product consistency. If you haven’t already, go through every recipe produced and establish ironclad measurements for every single ingredient, including spices and condiments. Don’t forget sub-recipes like sauces and marinades. Do the same in the bar: You and your employees should know and follow drink recipes right down to the number of teaspoons of celery salt in the bloody Mary mix. Perhaps while you’re at it, you can find ways to improve flavors or better cross-utilize common ingredients.

Make the recipes available to all employees by whatever means works for you, and then put systems in place to see that they’re followed. And if that means recalibrating scales for weighing proteins and buying more 1-oz. ladles for sauces, do it.

4. Work harder to minimize “shrinkage”

The difference between the theoretical or ideal food cost that you’ve established and actual food cost is called shrinkage, and it can wipe out your hard-won margins. To prevent theft and less deliberate slipups, you need to implement such procedures as:

• Monitoring food costs on a constant basis (preferably by the shift) so you can identify problems immediately
• Reconciling guest checks and kitchen chits
• Locking the store room doors
• Making sure someone in charge checks in any deliveries, and double-check to see that you receive credit from suppliers for product returned
• Accounting for items that are sold or taken by management or employees for personal use

5. Get creative with labor costs

One of the first things many operators do when trying to cut costs is cutting labor, but that can be a mistake—you could easily erode service or fail to cover an unexpected surge in business. Figure out how to get enough people on the clock during peak hours to deliver excellent service without having to carry extra labor during the down times. Look for people willing to work 2-3 hours a day so that you can schedule them just over lunch or dinner when you are busy—moms with school-age kids, for instance, who might be available between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Split shifts for folks who may have afternoon classes. Cross-train willing employees so that they can do prep work or set up for catering when they’re not waiting tables.

6. Go casual

There’s a reason so many restaurants are more casual in the new economy: Casual restaurants are less expensive to operate. For example, doing away with tablecloths saves money on both linens and laundry. Gone, too, are pricey fresh flowers and elaborate tablescapes. Place settings and plates can be more multipurpose (no more fish forks). Menus can come straight from the computer—or even live on a blackboard—rather than printed and placed in a binder or cover. You won’t need as many production people in the kitchen, and you can probably get by with fewer servers—or at least busboys and wine stewards. And menu items that depend on less expensive ingredients (ground beef, “lesser” meat cuts for long braising, tri-tip instead of filet mignon) carry lower food costs.

Synergy Restaurant Consultants can help you find ways to cut costs and build sales throughout your operation. Call us for a free evaluation.


Best Practices in Architectural Design: Going Green

By Gary Wiggle, AIA, Architectural Design

In the world of design, the current hot color is green. I don’t mean green-colored upholstery or green-colored paint: In the context of facilities, “green” is the common term used for sustainable design. Sustainable design offers a solution that minimizes the environmental impact of the end product. That impact can be using less energy to operate, being recycled or recyclable, choosing materials that protect the air that we breathe, or even using materials that are more durable and therefore will not need to be replaced as soon or as often. “Going Green” is not an all-or-nothing decision. Every aspect of the design seems to have a more sustainable solution available, and each decision has to be made based upon the client’s requirements, the financial implications, and the suitability to the overall project.

New sustainable products are being introduced in the marketplace at a rapid pace. LED lighting is a great example of a technology making significant strides in a short amount of time. Historically available only as a blue white lamp source, you can now specify the color temperature of most LED lamps, allowing you to approximate the warm glow of an incandescent source that is still dimmable. This feature allows us to use a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient light source and still achieve the warm look that we are accustomed to when setting the atmosphere in a dining room.

As a part of their standard workflow, architects and designers make decisions that impact people on many different levels. When a component of a building, such as a cabinet, for instance, is designed and specified, this can affect the people who live near the forest where the raw materials are harvested. (Using wood that comes from a forest certified by The Forest Stewardship Council can help to address this.) The craftsmen who assemble and finish the cabinet can be exposed to glues and finishes that may have volatile fumes, and staff and customers may be exposed to poor interior-air quality by these finishes, especially if they wear out too quickly, requiring reapplication or replacement. (Selecting finishes with low- or no-VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, will help to address this issue).

Designers are able to easily research online the available products. Manufacturers are very anxious to let you know the sustainable qualities of their products, many with cross-references to their entire product line, and most with references to many of the third-party independent sources that monitor the claimed compliance. The U. S. Green Building Council, GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, and The Forest Stewardship Council (mentioned above) are examples of these organizations.
As a part of the Synergy Design Team, we recently completed a prototype restaurant, LYFE Kitchen, in Palo Alto, CA. Our client specified at the start of the design process that sustainable design was to be the minimum standard we look at, and be “more green” whenever possible.

As a new concept restaurant, the design phases spanned a period of about 14 months. Within that timeframe, we were able to consistently upgrade many of our design choices as new and upgraded products came to market. Paint choices went from Low–VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) to No–VOC. Design decisions were made that moved heat-creating equipment to the exterior so that we did not need to add additional air-conditioning to handle the extra heat. Light sources included compact fluorescents and LED sources. Furniture cushions were specifically selected to eliminate any off-gassing that could compromise the indoor air quality. Energy Star-rated equipment was used throughout the kitchen. All of these were small pieces of the whole design. When combined, we were able to achieve the client’s goals of great indoor air quality, energy-efficiency, and a commitment to sustainable practices in the day-to-day operation of the business.

As an architect I keep reminding myself that every one of these small decisions towards sustainable design makes a difference, today and in the future.

Let Synergy Restaurant Consultants help you achieve more sustainable design and operational standards by calling us for a free initial consultation.


Tip of the Month

If you’re thinking about tapping in to location-based services, make sure you do your homework. From well-known GPS-enabled market leaders like Yelp and Foursquare to newer startups, there are a lot of different options. To get you started, here’s an article from American Express’s Restaurant Briefing Newsletter to help lay some groundwork.


How good is your coffee and tea program?

Nov 17, 2011

It is one of the last things that the customer tastes so it needs to be great. The statistics speak for themselves. According to a study conducted by Technomic, regular coffee and tea still account for more reported outside of home consumption (i.e. foodservice settings), even despite steady price increases since 2008 (with the exception of frozen/ice blended coffee drinks). Coffee and tea compete well up there with non-diet carbonated soft drinks. “60 percent reported drinking regular hot coffee or tea within the last month, second only to the 62 percent of consumers who had a non-diet carbonated soft drink during the same time period.”

Other key findings in the study include

– 14% of consumers report making more regular hot coffee purchases today than they did two years ago
– 73% of consumers find green tea to be more appealing as a hot or iced tea flavor. The number of green tea products found on chain menus has increased in recent years, according to MenuMonitor data.
– From the years 2007-2010, there was a 15.9% in coffee sales for grocery, drug and mass merchandise stores

Read the entire Technomic press release here

Are you offering coffee and tea at your restaurant? Is your coffee and tea program up over last year? If you’d like a professional menu analysis please contact Synergy.


Let’s have a toast to local beverages!

Nov 13, 2011

Today and in recent years, there has been a lot of talk regarding local foods and ingredients. There’s a great deal of consumers now that feel that purchasing local is a great way to support the community as well as the idea of being green (product is shipped from a short distance, for example) and sustainable. This sense of local pride and social responsibility is accompanied by the feeling of quality, too.

Locally produced spirits, wines and beers is a great example of the local trend. LYFE Kitchen, the new health conscious fast casual restaurant, offers biodynamic wines and local beer on tap. The wonderful thing about beverages on tap is that since there are no glass bottles being used, there’s a significant reduction of a restaurant’s carbon footprint.

Moreover, biodynamic wines are free of preservatives and additives, and the farming practices implement a reduction of pesticides and chemicals used in the vineyards. “LYFE Kitchen’s wine director, Scott Worsham further explains, ‘We’re going beyond recycling to complete reusability in our wine program. Our guests will not only enjoy some fantastic, clean wines, but the keg wines ensure maximum freshness and a lower price point as well.'” Read more about LYFE Kitchen’s local offerings here.

How are you tapping into the local movement? Is your establishment interested in offering local menu items? Contact Synergy for more information on how to revamp you menu.


Not like all the others.

Nov 09, 2011

In Southern California there seems to be a Mexican restaurant on every block. Big and small, chains and singular, high end and hole in the wall, they all work hard to survive and thrive.

Certainly, one begins to feel that they are all pretty much identical right down to décor and menu. So, how does one make a restaurant stand out in such a mass crowd?

The answer is the level of service and hospitality shown to the guests.

Recently, I stopped in at a little Mexican restaurant in Anaheim just up the road from Disneyland. There are several other Mexican restaurants in the vicinity, one of which is just about next door to the one I chose. The place I selected looks quite plain and empty in front, but the large parking lot behind was packed, as was the restaurant itself. The interior was bland, the food was tasty but, not outstanding. They offer large portions for a very good price and that is the rule. Still, many other places could boast the same.

The difference came the moment I walked in the door. I was immediately greeted warmly by the hostess, who quickly showed me to a booth. Before I could blink there were generous helpings of chips and salsa and a glass of water. The waitress, smiling and cheerful, greeted me with a welcome and a menu, and then left me alone to decide on the fare.

She returned a few minutes later to take the order with the same cheerfulness, even though it was obvious she was heavily worked with the packed restaurant.

During the course of the meal she checked in regularly to refill iced tea, water, chips, salsa and ask if there was anything needed. She showed up automatically with take home containers. Not waiting to ask first, she came prepared.

Needless to say, she received not only an excellent tip, but I took time to find the owner and compliment her service.

It is also needless to say that in the multitude of restaurants vying for my attention in the area, I will be revisiting this seemingly unremarkable Mexican restaurant because of the one remarkable element that stood out so very much…service.

What makes your restaurant stand out from the crowd?


The Show Must Go On

Nov 07, 2011

Offer Impeccable Service

What is impeccable service? Let’s start with a genuine, friendly and sincere greeting. After handing the menus to us, the server showed that he knew the complete menu and all the specials inside and out. His steps of service were perfection. I even joked with my companions that our server would be “by the clock” and coming to our table right about NOW to see how we were doing. He was right on cue.

Our meal was great and portions tremendous. It proved so vast that we couldn’t finish it all. Our server appeared, without asking, with a large recyclable container, one that you might get from a specialty store. Tied to it was a card with the restaurant logo and web address along with a short Thank You note personally signed by the server. WOW!

How About You?

Do any of these elements appear in your restaurant? You clearly see how all the little things done differently that brings repeat business. Let me review the elements that offer a have a dramatic impact on your restaurant.

1. Answer any call by the second ring. And put a smile in your voice.
2. While setting reservations, ask the caller if it is their first time and if there is a special occasion.
3. Call and confirm the reservation on the day of or perhaps the day before.
4. Alert you staff of any guest special event so the customer can be greeted personally.
5. Create a doggie bag a branding situation and add a special card signed by the server, manager.
6. Offer a free dessert on special occasions.
7. Always invite your customers back!

Remember, there are really only 3 methods to drive your sales.

1. Obtain brand new customers
2. Increase the number of visits by existing guests
3. Build ticket size

The most laborious and slowest method to move sales is focusing on finding brand new customers. The quickest and cost effective manner is to increase regular visits and enhance ticket spending. The 7 steps listed above will almost guarantee repeat guest business and clients will spend much more when they return.


Food prices rising affecting consumers and business owners alike

Nov 02, 2011

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department this week, they are expecting retail food prices to increase 3.5% to 4.5% this year.
This is a large forecast from stable food prices we have been experiencing and quite an acceleration from a small climb of only 0.8% in 2010.

The expected increase will be biggest since 2008.

The Wall Street Journal article reports, “Restaurant chains are having a harder time passing along their higher ingredient costs, as consumers opt for the cheaper alternative of eating at home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail grocery prices were 6.3% higher in September than a year earlier, while retail prices of food eaten away from home were up 2.6%.”

If you are struggling with higher food costs, please contact Synergy, we can help.