26 February

February 2014 Newsletter

Synergy Restaurant Consultants | Blog, newsletters
Synergy Restaurant Consultants


It’s been a difficult winter in many parts of the country, with snow and cold temperatures adding to the still-dicey economy to create supply problems, price challenges, and customers who have been less likely to go out to eat. Let’s all hope that by this time next month, the weather and the economic mood will have improved significantly!

In the meantime, we have some interesting articles for you this month. First and foremost is our associate Brad Miller’s observations about what constitutes the difference between service and hospitality—an important consideration in turning customers into guests, and one-time visitors into regulars.

We’ve also got a food-trends piece on an item almost all of us already have in our kitchens: potatoes. The prosaic spud can be a menu star on the order of such high-profile produce as broccoli rabe and grapefruit, and it’s a lot more widely accepted.

And finally, the world of websites is changing fast in this era of social media and digital change. It might be time to take a good hard look at updating yours.

To your success, Dean Small and Danny Bendas

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Service vs. Hospitality

By Brad “Paco” Miller, Operations Associate

If you ask restaurant patrons what the most important aspect of the dining experience is, the most common answer is the food, followed by service and usually atmosphere. A restaurant should be all about the food, but the key to retaining patrons—and turning them into raving fans—is that elusive ingredient: hospitality.
There appears to be a common misconception in the restaurant industry, that hospitality is the same thing as service. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, service and hospitality are two different things.

Can you have good service and poor hospitality? Absolutely. Think about that great meal you had at that expensive steakhouse. Your drinks arrived promptly and the food was hot, although something was amiss. Your server took the orders, and you got what you wanted, but there was no interaction, no smiles, no connection.
When we take care of our guests, we move from simply providing service to demonstrating hospitality. There is a big difference between the two:

• Service is taking the necessary steps to provide high-quality meals within service standards.

• Hospitality is the feeling behind the service. It is how you interact with guests and colleagues—service at a higher level.
Hospitable behaviors are not something that can be forced or faked. Good hospitality is the result of having an interest in others and the satisfaction that comes from positive interactions and helping someone when there is an opportunity. They are the result of treating others as you would like to be treated, and having your colleagues do the same.
Providing genuine hospitality to guests is not difficult. The process begins with hiring great team players, although the most important piece of the puzzle is creating a culture of upholding the standards by which we deliver hospitality:

• Providing guests with friendly and personal interactions
• Engaging the guest
• Ensuring order accuracy
• Creating memorable moments.
• Smile

Hospitality is as simple as offering a smile, lending a helping hand or offering assistance when you see a need, even before it is asked for. It is also listening when a colleague or guest has something to say. Hospitality includes basics, like greeting others as you begin your shift, being in tune to non-verbal and verbal cues that might let you know how someone is feeling, and really listening when someone is talking with you.
When we show hospitality, it creates a friendly and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone… and an unforgettable experience for the guest.

For help stepping up your hospitality quotient, and your service standards, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.


Potato Power

By Joan Lang
Protein costs are rising. Food trends are skewing more exotic. New kinds of produce are grabbing all the attention. With all of this, it’s easy to forget that the potato is a versatile, low-cost kitchen workhorse that guests also happen to love. Even the most obvious mashed or fried spuds are welcome on the menu, but there are also many other options. Owing to its neutral flavor and absorptive texture, in fact, you can do just about anything with a potato.


– Mashed or thinly sliced potatoes make a delicious specialty pie topping, either simply seasoned or as a bed for other ingredients, including cheese, bacon or prosciutto, scallions, caramelized onions, fresh herbs and more. Mashed potatoes can also be incorporated in the dough, as would they would be used for potato rolls or bread.

Scalloped and Gratin Potatoes

– It’s hard to beat this classic as a luxe side dish or accompaniment, especially with steaks and simply roasted meats. Whether made up in batches or in individual portions, they can be layered with sweet potatoes or other root vegetables, flavor-boosted with cheese, or cast in a variety of global styles, such as French pommes Anna or Spanish Arogonese. One forgotten classic variation is the Swedish Jansson’s Temptation, assertively seasoned with anchovies.

Specialty Spuds

– Heirloom and other uncommon potato varieties are the darlings of the potato world, and they make a colorful and commentary-worthy premium menu addition. Fingerling potatoes of all kinds are delicious roasted, especially with equally interesting ingredients like Kalamata olives and preserved lemons.

Comfort Foods

– There is a huge lexicon of potato-dependent “mom” foods like shepherd’s pie, potato-cabbage colcannon and other pubby Irish specialties, French Canadian tourtiere , and more. In addition to being delicious on their own, these potato pies and casseroles are easy on operations, because they can be made ahead and often cross-utilize preps such as leftover mashed potatoes or homefries.

Grown-Up Tots

– Talk about the high-low trend: These pleasantly low-end childhood favorites have gone quite gourmet, thanks to chefs’ made-in-house sensibility and the addition of high-end ingredients. Caviar-topped tots, anyone? There are also restaurants that make a specialty of tot casseroles, like Mangrove Mike’s in Islamorada, FL, with its addictive breakfast Skillet Tots, topped with ingredients like corned beef hash and sausage gravy.


– From traditional squeaky cheese curds and gravy to ultra-upscale duck confit and foie gras, this iconic specialty of Quebec has hit the mainstream bigtime. Gastropubs have adopted them, Toronto has held its first Poutine Week , and we know at least one restaurant that even features a Poutine of the Day .

Empanadas | Photo Credit: License CC by 2.0  Flickr User Rebecca T. Caro
Empanadas | Photo Credit: License CC by 2.0 Flickr User Rebecca T. Caro


– Fries aren’t the only spudilicious things you can pick up with your fingers. Potatoes can be used as a filling for a variety of other fried handhelds:
• Empanadas
• Causas, a Peruvian specialty of mashed potatoes rolled around various fillings
• Vada Pav is a popular street food snack in Mumbai, consisting of a spicy potato filling rolled and fried in a gram flour batter (the vada), served with a garlicky chutney-like pav
• Crisp, phyllo-dough can surround potato “cigars” flavored with Middle Eastern seasonings
• Other small potato packages include croquettes, ravioli, pancakes, waffles and pierogi

Dips and Soups

– Potatoes figure in many homey spreads and potages, particularly of the ethnic variety. On the dip end, there’s Greek skordalia, French brandade, and all-American loaded baked potato dip . In soups, the potato has a starring role in everything from elegant chilled vichyssoise to earthy Russian borscht.

Gnocchi and Other Dumplings

– Potato gnocchi are a classic of Roman cooking that have been widely adapted to both Italian and non-Italian menus alike. But there are other comforting potato dumpling dishes, including German Kartoffelkloesse and these Czech beauties whose name is as long as it is unpronounceable. (Have no fear, because there are lots of American versions too.)

And lest those original mashed and fried potatoes be forgotten, there are also lots of creative ideas waiting to be explored, including trendy thrice-fried fries and chips , elegant celery root and potato puree , Belgian-style frites with dips , mashed potato bars …..

For more ideas for potatoes in particular or menus in general, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

Websites 2.0

A recent article about the death of Adobe Flash has gotten us to thinking about websites. Certainly, the growing popularity of smartphones and other mobile devices has led to new technical issues (in fact, according to a recent SmartBrief restaurant operator poll, approximately 40% of respondents had a mobile site (including 16% who also supply a mobile app). In the rush to adapt Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Vine and other visual-based channels to the marketing mix, many operators have not given as much thought to keeping their website as current and user-friendly as possible.

Is it time to add this to your to-do list? Here are some things to think about when assessing your mobile-optimized website (and yes, you do still need a traditional website, even in this, the Age of Facebook):

• Flash was eye-catching, engaging and distinctive back in the day, but it’s not being supported for mobile by either Apple or Adobe, making it difficult for many customers to use, and cumbersome for operators to update. Although the move to modern open standard and HTML5 solutions is still very much evolutionary, other alternatives are available

• No more entry pages. Ever. If a user needs to wait through an introduction while the site loads, they may just go elsewhere to avoid the roadblock

• While you’re at, lose the background music. It bogs mobile-users down, and many desktop users (ones in office cubicles, for instance) also hate it

• When people can’t find a restaurant’s menu online, they’re more likely to look for other dining options. Make sure you post you menu or menus, with prices—in mobile-friendly HTML format, not a PDF (which needs to be downloaded in order to read it). Also, keep the menu updated. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than coming in for your shortribs and finding out they’ve been switched up for hanger steak.

• If you do change your menu virtually every day and don’t have time to put it on your website, use your Facebook page. Post a current sample menu or general menu mission statement, with an advisory and link to Facebook.
• Speaking of Facebook, it’s a great place to put the evening’s special dishes; we know several wildly popular restaurants that post specials with photography to their pages every day. You can easily do this when the staff is finalizing the featured presentation, or during your staff preshift—and you do have a preshift, right?

• While we are on the topic of social media, include links to your Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook accounts on your website home page

• Seriously consider including your wine list on your website, especially if it’s a complex one. Serious oenophiles appreciate the opportunity to prescreen the list rather than taking the time at the table, and ultimately you’ll sell more wine. While you’re at, put your cocktail and beer selections on there too

• Put your address, including your phone number, in an easy-to-find spot on your home page; everyone these days is in a rush, and they don’t want to hunt for where they’re going. (Chain restaurants, in particular, are notorious for making users hunt for their headquarters contact information.) Hot links to step-by-step directions and the phone number are wonderful functionalities for mobile users; you can embed a Google Map in your website by registering your business information with Google Places for Business

• Hours of operation should also be easy to find for those in a hurry

• If you take reservations, provide a means for customers to make them online, directly or via a widget from a service like Open Table. Customer convenience is the name of the game. It’s the same deal with takeout: online ordering capability will really boost sales

• An easy-to-find email link or form is also very helpful

• Gorgeous photography, especially of food, really sells. Bloggers and journalists love image galleries, especially if high-resolution versions are available, and even customers will benefit from being able to understand what your facilities look like and work up an appetite over your (professional-quality) food photography

Want more information? Here are a few useful links, from Restaurant Hospitality, Full Service Restaurants, and Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research.

Tip of the Month

PCI Compliance—meaning Payment Card Industry—is the process by which all companies (regardless of the industry) are required to follow very specific systems to ensure the safety of a customer’s credit card information. As part of the process, this training is necessary for all employees who may come in contact with guest credit cards. As a reminder, the PCI Compliance form that your employees have been required to sign off on in the past continues to change.

For 2014, your employees (including managers) who handle or have the opportunity to handle a customer’s credit information at any point will need to be provided the new sign-off form, updated with the newest information from the government. Training on the systems for protection of the credit information of each customer is also necessary. We can provide the updated form, the training, and the complete explanations for your staff if needed.

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