August 2013 Newsletter

Aug 20, 2013


We’ve been busy lately at Synergy Restaurant Consultants. New locations are being added in the foodservice economy, and more operators are interested in the potential of approachable, fast-casual concepts and the consumer appeal of such opportunities as snacking and the late-night daypart.

The Synergy process often starts with discovery, when key team members go out in the field and see what the competition is doing in any given geographic market or menu segment. On recent fact-finding excursions, we’ve been out to visit gourmet hot-dog and sausage concepts, pizza, ice cream, healthy menu options, Korean food, bakeshops, and of course burgers.

We’ve made an important new hire and forged some significant partnerships that will help deepen and strengthen our ability to provide our clients with the resources we need. In particular, we are welcoming Emily Callaghan on-board as our new Communications Manager.

And we’ve signed contracts with several new companies, including Tai Pak in Culiacan, Mexico; Ciao in Rapid City, SD; and Great Wolf Lodge properties throughout the United States.
Happy August to us all.

To your success,

Dean Small and Danny Bendas

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Controlling Workers’ Comp Costs

The costs associated with workers’ compensation have been identified as one of the top 5 costs of operating a restaurant . Experts will tell you that if you want to reduce your expenses, keep a close eye on the claims and the reasons for the claims. When you get a claim for workers’ comp, investigate it fully; find out the reason it happened, figure how it could have been avoided, and review what tools or systems can be put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Reporting is the issue and the answer. If the operators on the ground who are supervising the locations on a daily basis—unit management, in other words—are aware of the core reasons for claims and provided with the tools and/or systems to stop future problems, they will be more effective at keeping incidents from happening. Repetition of claims is our worst enemy in trying to reduce reducing these costs. For example, if you focus on employees with multiple injuries and/or similar accidents that start occurring in multiple units, attention can be placed on these issues. When you focus on a specific problem, there will be solutions.

Restaurant operators who have been successful in this process (saving tons of money in the process) point to the same solutions: immediate analysis of a trend of injuries or specific equipment causing injuries allows them to address the problem before another incident can occur. Strong operators also understand the importance of their response to the employee during the process:

“Companies can produce significant reductions in disability costs when they improve the way supervisors respond to employees’ symptoms or concerns about work-related injuries. In some cases, the impact of the supervisor’s response on the disability outcome was more important than the severity of the injury or the quality of medical care. Workers who feel blamed, mistrusted, and belittled by their supervisors had considerably longer work absences than those whose supervisors expressed concern and talked to the injured worker about the availability of transitional work”.

On the other end of the workers’ compensation spectrum is the management of the claims. As with any other cost in our business, workers’ compensation is a game of managing those that manage our programs. With brokers recommending that every claim be filed with them (incurring an administrative cost, immediately), carriers focused on assessing reserves for claims on their books, and workers compensation attorneys adding billable hours from both sides of the claims, we employers are on our own. Your team is the only one who will care about your claims. When you manage them aggressively, you can reduce the cost of each claim substantially.

Constant communication by support personnel, return-to-work programs to assist the employee getting back to work, and managing the services that they are getting (many of which are unnecessary and that we pay for) represent the simple answer to reducing one of the most impactful cost increases that we are facing today in the restaurant business.

EHS Today; Worker’s Compensation Costs Spiraling Out of Control;

Fit 4 Work; Worker’s Compensation Educational Series; The Importance of Supervisor Training;

Watch Out for the Other Guy—The Retail Guy

As if there weren’t enough competition already in the restaurant world comes this prediction from The NPD Group that prepared foods from supermarkets and other retail outlets will grow twice as much as restaurant visits over the next decade, clocking a growth rate of 10% versus the restaurant industry’s forecast of 4%.

There’s only so many meals to sell, in other words, and the retail market will build its share at the expense of the foodservice one. And we’re not talking rotisserie chicken here. These retailers are taking their pages directly from the restaurant playbook.

Anyone who’s been to a well-outfitted Whole Foods (which has almost 100 stores currently in development by the way), Byerly’s or Fresh & Easy will find this easy to believe—to say nothing of the growing roster of specialized gourmet grocery and prepared-foods stores that also offer fresh, convenient and healthy restaurant-quality options that can cost just a fraction of the price of a sit-down meal.

Take, for example, the fast-growing Greensboro, NC-based Fresh Market chain, which promises “high-quality products in a unique and inviting atmosphere, delivered with a high level of customer service.” Sounds like a pretty nice place to get dinner, doesn’t it? The company currently operates 135 stores in 26 markets, including such booming areas as Florida and the mid-Atlantic.

Or Wegman’s, the East Coast chain that actually hosts Amore Restaurant and Wine Bar in one of its Rochester, NY, stores. The company is so serious about the authenticity and appeal of the new restaurant that it sent a team of employees to Europe to research eating places in rural Italy and Switzerland.

New Jersey’s Kings Food Market recently doubled down on a new MarketSquare concept that includes such chef-inspired meal options as a hibachi station, hand-rolled sushi, hot soups, a fresh pizza bar and prepared sandwiches, as well as a full-service café dispensing pastries and specialty coffee.

And Mariano’s Fresh Market, a chain of 10 specialty grocery stores in the Chicago area, recently opened a flagship location in Frankfort, IL, that features the first of many planned Todds BBQ outlets, where customers can enjoy house-smoked ribs and other specialties either sitting down in the store or packed up to take home.

Then there are the convenience-stores and drugstores that are also horning in on the ready-to-eat market. No surprise why: At c-stores, prepared foods capture the most sales of any department, and many convenience-oriented road warriors find c-stores and QSRs to be quite interchangeable for their meal and snack needs. They fact that they can gas up the car and grab a quart of milk for home only adds to the incentive. As a result, food sales in the sector are booming.

Meanwhile, the behemoth drugstore chains continue to lock out the mom-and-pops by offering more and more amenities. Walgreen Co., for instance, is opening high-end stores that feature sushi chefs and a huge selection of alcohol, including $100 bottles of tequila and a touchscreen “virtual bartender” to tell you what to do with it. And Duane Reade has put fresh food on the menu in the form of sushi, sandwiches, salads, sandwiches and even beer to go with them.
Big retailers have big resources: square footage, parking, large staffs and the R&D support of corporate headquarters, access to ingredients, convenience and—as it is often pointed out—more of a commitment to healthy options. Restaurant operators can take the lessons where they find them, by paying attention to ways in which they can compete. Consider delivery, grab-and-go options, dedicated parking, online ordering, bulk packaging and other conveniences, and make sure you have menu items that don’t add to the calorie- and fat-load. Oftentimes, busy consumers are picking retail prepared foods as an alternative to cooking at home, not necessarily to eating out.

Tacos in Translation



One of the new breakout menu items of the last year or two has been the taco. Once a typically Mexican or Tex-Mex specialty consisting of a corn tortilla rolled around a filling, the taco’s trajectory in the United States has become both more authentic (thanks to increased interest in street food and taqueria concepts ) and more inventive (thanks to chefs like Roy Choi and the phenomenal popularity of his mashup Korean-style bulgogi taco).

What can’t you put in a taco, after all? Having recently wrapped up the opening of our project ¿Que Pasa? Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar in Rapid City, SD, we’ve been paying lots of attention to tacos lately, and have seen and tasted some amazing ones.

• In Los Angeles, where they know from tacos, the hip Xoia Vietnamese Eats serves crispy tacos stuffed with pho beef, which is long-simmered in a fragrant broth of cinnamon, star anise, and fish sauce and topped with fresh cilantro, red onion and Sriracha

• At Orale Mexican Kitchen, in Jersey City, a team of Rosa Mexicano alumni is serving up 8 different signature tacos, such as the Machin, which is filled with roasted bone marrow, crispy pork belly and shredded cabbage, and the Vegetariano with sautéed seitan, garlic, chipotle and rajas (charred poblanos and onions)

Huahua’s Taqueria opened in July in Miami Beach, with a menu featuring traditional as well as contemporary tacos, such as Grilled Mahi with cabbage, radish, cilantro, onion, and chili-lime vinaigrette, and BBQ Short Rib accessorized with pickled jalapeño and sweet heat coleslaw

• Tacos are getting the Jean-Georges Vongerichten treatment at ABC Cocina  in New York City, where the menu offers not only sweet pea guacamole and jamon Iberico, but also sautéed mushroom tacos with mole, kale and lime

• Also in New York, there’s Alex Stupak’s Empellon Cocina , where the out-there “taqueria” selections include Wild Spinach with chicken confit and hazelnut salsa, and the deli-riffing Shortrib Pastrami with pickled cabbage and mustard seed salsa

Mez Contemporary Mexican, in Durham, NC, serves $2-3 Happy Hour tacos encompassing Southern-inflected fillings, such as grilled chile rubbed North Carolina catfish fillet and pulled beef brisket with chipotle aioli. Daily specials might take the form of Pulled Pork Tacos (three flour tortillas filled with slow roasted pork. topped with habanero-peach salsa and crumbled feta cheese)

• In Salt Lake City, Taqueria 27 is billed as a modern Taqueria featuring unique interpretations of Latin American street food; the menu touts the P.B.L.T.A. (pork belly, lettuce, tomato and avocado with jalapeño mayo in flour tortillas); Grilled Pears & Roasted Beets (flour tortillas with spinach, blue cheese and Balsamic syrup); and Duck Confit (with fire roasted veggies, Chipotle Crema and crispy leeks)

• Almost immediately after shuttering their beloved West Town Tavern in Chicago, Susan and Drew Goss have reopened the space as the fast-casual Chicago Taco, showcasing $3 tacos (fried chicken with grilled corn; shortrib and sherry-garlic slaw; duck with apple, fennel and pesto cream; and smoked lamb shoulder with tomato Worcestershire and ginger-jicama-celery pickle ), plus house cocktails like the Salted Watermelon margarita

Meanwhile, fast-casual Mexican concepts in the mold of Chipotle are spreading the gospel of upgraded QSR tacos, using higher-quality ingredients (e.g., all-natural chicken), more authentic spices and seasonings (including chiles beyond jalapenos), and distinctive, housemade salsas.

Like two slices of bread, tacos are great because the tortilla can act as a vehicle for just about any saucy or flavorful filling—as the growing universe of creative taco concepts proves.
For help making your menu more innovative, contact Synergy Restaurant Concepts.

Tip of the Month

Curious about prepared foods and what the competition is doing with them? Check out this white paper from Technomic, where you may even get some ideas how to fight back.