24 September

September 2012 Newsletter

Synergy Restaurant Consultants | Blog, newsletters
Synergy Restaurant Consultants


As the date for the November elections circle inexorably closer there seems to be a palpable sense of uncertainty about the future of the business world in general and the foodservice industry in particular. It’s important to remember, however, that this is no reason to stop, “wait and see” which party takes the election-we must keep moving forward.

Your competitors aren’t. In fact, recent data from the NPD Group revealed that 1,000 new independent restaurants opened over the past year (versus nearly 2,000 chain locations), a sure sign of optimism no matter who is going to be the next tenant in the White House.

This month, we have an article on a subject that’s always important: the “mathematical” formulas that make any single restaurant a success or failure. Our new associate J. Clyde Gilfillan of JCG3 Development Inc. takes us through the equations that add up to success.

We’re also taking a look at where the concept of sustainability is netting out, at a time when local sourcing and environmental responsibility have already become givens for many operators, with the move toward transparency, animal welfare and more.

And for a food trend piece, check out the carnivorous pleasures of salumi and charcuterie-these delicious cured-meat products are showing up on more and more menus all over the country.

To your success,

Dean and Danny

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The Mathematics of Restaurants

by J. Clyde Gilfillan, JCG3 Development Inc.

The “mathematics” of the restaurant business is really not about math per se: It’s about putting the business into equations (simple terms) that get to the core of what successful companies are doing in this challenging and wonderful world of hospitality. Perhaps these “equations” will ring a bell within yourself and/or your organization.


Food, service, and décor are the pillars of our business. In order to achieve the entry price of business in today’s industry, they all must match the concept and brand. This is the culture you want to operate in. Systems—the way to operate within the culture—allow people to execute within a clear and understood environment. Keep systems simple, and your chances of success are on the plus side. Established systems come from a united culture and a united management team. Without systems in place, you are asking your management team to guess what is expected, and chaos could reign.


Results-Oriented People are produced through:

a. Diligent hiring (hire tough) – Find the right fit before the hire and not afterward; don’t hire out of desperation.

b. Uncompromised and thorough training – Don’t bypass this crucial step to rush people through? You will regret it later. Training should be thorough and complete.

c. Clarity of standards, expectations, and performance levels communicated to ALL staff – This step is essential. Clarity is the leader’s #1 job.

d. Follow-up through one-on-ones, meetings, and evaluation sessions – Feedback is crucial in garnering top performance from people. Your staff needs a safe environment to hear and react to constructive feedback on performance—the good parts and the challenges.

e. Culling nonperformers from the team – They will bring down the superstars you have on your team, poisoning the well and causing your best employees to seek a better environment elsewhere. Be diligent in targeting “good” turnover and honor those top performers on your team.


Once systems are in place and you have, for the most part, results-oriented people on your team, consistency is only achieved through motivated people who will enthusiastically execute systems with precision. You must provide the environment that engenders this enthusiasm. Constant and/or reactive change endangers the existence of consistency—for your associates and your guests.


Sales are simply a function of the above equations and how you market to promote increased frequency, new trial, and increased party size. Marketing can only provide customers; consistent operations drive sales—always. When you bring customers into your business via marketing, it is the job of Operations to execute so that your patrons will realize the value, goodness, and uniqueness of your product.


Profit is easier to attain if you have managed the above equations and have installed cost control, including but not limited to food and labor costs. This is not a business in which we can prosper by cutting costs—this will eventually catch up to us. However, effective cost controls are a must to maximize profits and ROI. Be “greedy” so to speak: Drive sales and keep costs in line.

As simple as these equations sound, they are not easy to execute. Compromise on one of these areas, and the equations break down. The Mathematics of Restaurants is simply a way to look at a complicated business in a new light—to break it down to manageable aspects at all levels.

For help with the “math” of your business, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

The New Meaning of “Sustainability” Today

Image credit: Flickr by traveling.lunas

This year’s What’s Hot chef survey (in which the National Restaurant Association surveyed more than 1,800 chefs affiliated with the American Culinary Federation about trends in food, beverages, cuisines and culinary themes) put sustainability at position #5 on the list of the Top 10 trends for 2012.

But what does that mean? At a time when initiatives like recycling and local sourcing go almost without saying for many restaurants—and in fact, locally sourced meats and seafood and locally grown produce commanded the #1 and #2 spots, respectively—how exactly does the concept of sustainability play out today in the restaurant industry?

Certainly, it’s a moving target. In 2009, organic produce was #3 on the list; the following year it had fallen off entirely, victim perhaps of loosening regulations, and a mounting body of evidence that organics may not be any healthier than conventional fruits and vegetables anyway. Meanwhile, some three-quarters of respondents in a SmartBrief poll reveal that they source local or sustainable ingredients most or all of the time, and 86% reported that their operations feature “sustainable measures.”

In announcing its 2012 Power Ranking for the 10 most sustainable restaurants in the United States, Food Republic defined the goal as “designing an efficient, eco-friendly environment, reducing waste, recycling, composting, using biodegradable products when possible, conserving water and generally paying more attention to one’s impact on the environment.” Ingredient sourcing, it seems, is a given.


Expressions such as “Big Food” and “Big Agriculture” (like Big Pharma and Big Tobacco) say it all: Between foodborne-illness outbreaks, questions about the food supply, concern for the environment, package and menu labeling controversies, and more, consumers seem to be losing faith in the global food system

This October, in fact, the subject of the James Beard Foundation’s third annual National Food Conference will be trust, and how the food and restaurant industries can establish and maintain it. For the post-Facebook generation, in particular, where everything is shareds, nothing must be hidden.

Plenty of organizations are already trying. A recent article in Time magazine credited the open kitchen phenomenon, particularly in such mainstream venues as Chipotle and Domino’s, as being driven by consumer demand for transparency—full disclosure about what’s going on with the food in the kitchen. When you can see it being prepared, goes the thinking, the stuff must be okay.

Other players are getting out ahead of the game on menu labeling; Ruby Tuesday, for instance, has an extremely comprehensive yet easy-to-understand 24-page Menu Guide that breaks out the menu by potential allergern (i.e., eggs and gluten/wheat).

And McDonald’s, which has lately been promoting many sustainability initiatives, has released Best of Green and Best of Sustainable Supply reports that exhaustively detail its worldwide best practices in these areas. The Best of Green report even highlights “Planet Champions” in each of eight areas, ranging from energy conservation to packaging.

Animal Welfare

The humane treatment of animals has become an increasing concern for consumers in recent years, and recently Jack-in-the-Box became just one of the latest in a string of major food companies that have committed to eliminating gestation crates from its pork supply chain.

And this is just the latest in a series of developments that have led to the rising popularity of free-range chicken, cage-free eggs, pasture-raised beef and other examples of animal protein from so-called higher welfare systems.

Restaurants can reap a whole lot of cred from promoting their use of humanely raised meats. Chipotle has raised tremendous awareness and respect for its programs—as this groundbreaking ad confirms. Pambiche, a Cuban restaurant in Portland, OR, features its efforts prominently on its blog and shouts out the local farms whence its meat is sourced on the menu. Businesses that pass muster with an organization like Certified Humane reap numerous PR benefits, not to mention listing on the site. And of course many chefs and customers like the taste and presumed health benefits of meats and fowl that have been raised using more natural practices.

Many observers believe that this issue will have a growing impact on restaurant operations in the future—the only limiting factor at this point for many larger foodservice organizations, like Bon Appetit Management, is not enough supply.

While it’s commendable that so many companies are taking up the cause of animal welfare, the solutions are just not that simple. There’s no denying that the conditions endured by most animals raised for meat are appalling, but factory farming methods were developed to meet the American consumer’s demand for food that is both plentiful and cheap. In the case of gestation crates, the National Pork Producers Council—hardly an unbiased source, admittedly—has warned that eliminating them will raise prices for producers and consumers across the board. Factory farming was created to drive as much cost out of the system as possible, and in order to avoid it consumers and companies both must be willing to put their money where their mouths are.

Greener Practices

From building design to operational practices, some of the most exciting sustainability initiatives being undertaken by the restaurant industry have almost nothing to do with food:

• The city of Tempe, AZ, has partnered with area restaurants to explore uses for spent cooking oil that will keep it out of the waste stream and convert it to an energy source

• Houlihan’s Restaurants has participated in a wine cork recycling pilot program called ReCork

• A Starbucks unit in Tukwila, WA, is made from recycled shipping containers

• Sauce Restaurants, part of Fox Restaurant Concepts in Phoenix, has introduced “green” takeout packaging made from recycled ingredients

• The Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia saves all of is compostable kitchen scraps, which are then used in its gardens and landscaping

Social Responsibility

We’ll cover the subject in more depth in a subsequent issue of this newsletter, but ethical issues ranging from having a code of conduct for safe working conditions and fair wages, to community involvement and charitable giving have also become an important part of today’s sustainability equation.

Crazy for Cured Meats

By Joan Lang

Image credit: Flickr by ultrakml

Five years ago, most restaurant patrons would have thought salumi was a misspelling—today, chefs and customers can’t get enough of sausages, pates, charcuterie, artisan hams and all the other examples of cured-meat artistry. (Salumi refers to the Italian form of sausages and hams, which arrived on the trend scene first; charcuterie is its French counterpart, and includes pates as well cured meats.)

“Meat plates” are everywhere, it seems, thanks to the rising interest in heirloom pork, nose-to-tail cooking and handcrafted foods. Whether housemade or purchased—or a combination of both—hams, sausages and other cured meat creations are the ultimate shareable starter or gastropub lunch. Along with them go cheeses, nice breads, jams and pickles, spiced nuts, dried fruits and all kinds of other artisanal ingredients.

At The Salty Pig in Boston, customers can build their own bespoke plates from an a la carte list that includes such “Salty Pig Parts” as Prosciutto di Parma, housemade pate and chicken liver mousse, and handcrafted sausages from such well-known producers as Zoe’s and Fra’ Mani. A companion selection of domestic and imported “Stinky Cheeses” and such additions as olives, fig jam and pickled Basque peppers round out the plate makings. Many of these ingredients are also cross- utilized in pre-selected luncheon assortments, sandwiches, pizza and more.

Aldea,  in New York City, offers three different artisanal hams—classic Spanish Serrano; a domestic version from Surry, VA, called Surryano; and the newly iconic Benton’s Country Ham from Tennessee—among its snacks.

Beast and the Hare , in San Francisco, is locally beloved for its small plates and housemade charcuterie, which at any given time might include Italian lardo (cured pork fat), Spanish chorizo, the spicy Calabrian-style meat paste known as nduja, and classic French pate de Campagne—a happy mix of cured meat cultures that goes perfectly with robust selection of beers and wine by the glass.

Meanwhile, Fatted Calf Charcuterie in Napa is running classes in such topics as Whole Hog Butchery and Blood & Guts to sell-out crowds of chefs and citizens alike.

Here are several easy ways to capture the trend:

  • Start slow with housemade. Rillettes are one of the easiest charcuterie products to produce in-house—a kind of spread, usually made with finely chopped or ground pork and its fat, but easily also adaptable to duck, salmon and other proteins, which can be served in individually portioned jars along with hunks of baguette and some cornichon pickles


Other relatively easy products to make in-house include the aforementioned lardo as well as pancetta and simple pates.


  • Experiment with hams. The world is full of beautiful hams , including Italian prosciutto and culatello, Spanish Serrano and Iberico, and more recently fine artisanal products from the United States, including Benton’s country hams and prosciutto from La Quercia in Iowa. A tasting plate or a la carte selection of hams and other smoked and dried meats (like speck and coppa) makes an excellent menu offering that can even be assembled at the bar.


  • Buy artisanal. From a small group of producers and importers that could barely keep up with demand a few years ago to a booming cottage industry, cured-meat producers have thrived. Many cities have great purveyors, and such products are increasingly being carried by specialty distributors and can even be mail-ordered. Various types of salami, smoked meats, pates and terrines, dried and fresh sausages, specialty bacon and more can be sold individually or assembled into plates.


  • Pay attention to accessories. Bread, cheese and crackers or toasts are a given, but there are also mustards, olives, nuts, relishes and pickles, and fresh and dried fruits to consider. I recently had an excellent plate at Earth restaurant in Kennebunk, ME, that included oven-dried grapes on the branch, more juicy and dramatic than raisins could ever be.


Tip of the Month

Being More Humane

There are numerous organizations, including the Humane Society, that can help operators define and source products that take animal welfare into account.

Though intended for a retail audience, this article from The Lempert Report provides a good overview.

Here is another great document to read on being green and sustainable: Greening Fast Food Packaging: A Roadmap to Best Practices


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