I have the privilege of working with many different restaurants and food businesses. Some are very successful, while others are hanging by a thread. Some are owned by individuals who have the knowledge and the wisdom of seasoned business people, while others struggle to find a path to survival. Some have their feet planted firmly…
The more I travel, experience communities, and try their restaurants – the more I scratch my head and ask the question: “What are they thinking?” The restaurant business is one that is relatively simple in concept, yet enormously complicated to execute. Develop a product that people are willing to buy, prepare it consistently well, make…
There are few examples of businesses that can continue to thrive without change. Not too long ago, the need for change was gradual – giving owners/operators a chance to assess, research, test through trial and error, and slowly take baby steps towards anything that resembled significant change. Today, change happens quickly, and those operators who…
(So You Want to Own a Restaurant – PART II) Deep in every chef’s heart is/was a desire to open and own a restaurant. I think that I can say this unequivocally even though many chefs may choose to deny it. Why is it so? The data is pretty clear – the odds of failure…
The life of a restaurateur: “Work all day in preparation to work all night.” -Gabrielle Hamilton – Prune Restaurant Every chefs dream is to own a restaurant – this is, after all, everything that a chef works for. Being in control, controlling the decisions, becoming one with the operation, being in charge of your own…
At some point we tend to stop seeing those things right in front of us, those things that can lead to success or failure. More often than not, those things may seem insignificant, but they add up. “Sweat the details” has merit. Those people who live the details, who see the potential long-term impact of…
There may be conflicting figures about the success/failure rate of restaurants, but the fact remains that it is a fragile business and more operations fail than succeed. So, why is it that there is never a shortage of people lining up to “crack the code” and open their doors for the anticipated onslaught of happy…
There are very few, if any other businesses that view a staff meal as not just a benefit, but rather a necessity. Labor laws do not mandate that a restaurant provide a meal for its staff, only that time for consumption of a meal is provided. Restaurants choose, somewhat due to tradition, to offer this sustenance for employees.
Over many years chefs and management have expressed mixed feelings about the meal and far too often have viewed it as a costly inconvenience. Recently, there has been a commitment on the part of a growing community of restaurants to view the staff meal as a “family” or team building opportunity. This is becoming a vehicle for restaurants to communicate, set the tone for service, inspire and build stronger team relationships. The reference commonly used is the chance to “break bread”.
There is, of course, plenty of history and subliminal meaning behind the “breaking bread” phrase. Much of this history dates back to the early days of Christianity when the church referred to this as a part of fellowship.
“The early Christians came together regularly for common meals, which included the breaking of bread. The reference is to these individuals having everything in common.” http://www.gotquestions.org/breaking-of-bread.html
In a restaurant, that commonality is evident in the purpose of service, the respect for food, the passion for preparation, the respect for process and historical cooking traditions, the enjoyment of food as entertainment, and the responsibility to create customer value. The staff, or family meal, provides everyone the opportunity to reinforce this common bond, refer to the restaurants objectives and enjoy each other’s company before they are immersed in the moments of service. This time, as short as it might be can be the difference between success and failure during a meal period and beyond. The significance of breaking bread should not be overlooked.
What is served, how it is set, in what manner the time for family meal is allotted will be critical and as more and more restaurants grab onto the opportunity the benefits are becoming evident.
If your restaurant views the meal as an opportunity to simply provide a carbohydrate rush that helps to build energy for service, then the larger benefit will never be addressed. If time is not built into the schedule that allows staff members to stop for 20 minutes or so, sit and enjoy a meal together, then the value of “sharing things that people have in common”, will be lost and the real growth of a team will be diminished.
An effective family meal can provide a chef with the opportunity to excite staff members about his or her style of cooking and the uniqueness of what the restaurant offers. A taste of a new wine offered by the sommelier or manager will provide staff members with the opportunity to build their wine knowledge, especially pertaining to how it might complement certain foods. Adequate time for both front and back of the house employees to sit and enjoy the food, converse and learn about each other will be critical in building understanding and keeping everyone focused on what is important. For a period of time everyone in the restaurant can truly feel that they are equal. Everyone begins to see that each person contributes to the success of the operation and each job is critical.
There are ancillary benefits to family meal in those restaurants that wish to use this time as a broader educational event. Looking around the staff table, most restaurant employees will see a diversity of ethnicity, race, and life experiences. There is an opportunity to break down barriers and learn from each other. Maybe that line cook or dishwasher from Central America should have an opportunity to prepare a dish for staff that reflects his or her family traditions. Quite possibly, the waiter who proudly emigrated from France, Italy, Russia or Spain could toast the staff with a wine from his or her homeland and talk about its historical significance. Maybe the chef or sous chef who has worked in a variety of restaurants can bring back a dish from a past operation and demonstrate how his or her personal cuisine evolved from those early beginnings. Every time something new is added to the family mealtime a staff member builds his or her base of knowledge and in turn becomes a stronger employee.
Chefs and managers are and should be educators. Their ability to attract, train and retain a great team is reflective not simply on pay scales, but even more importantly how they can help those employees build their base of knowledge. Knowledge is one of the best retention tools in an industry that is plagued by turnover. Just as great bread and exceptional coffee sends an important message to a guest about the quality of a meal and a restaurants commitment to doing things right, so too does the staff meal and the celebration of team send a message to current and future staff.
“I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee.” –Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster views this through the eyes of the restaurant guest; the analogy does apply in the same fashion through the eyes of the employee.
I applaud the recent movement towards creating a family meal event in restaurants as evidenced by a growing number of excellent books on the topic. If you are interested in viewing your staff meal differently, I would strongly suggest that you take a look at these books and add them to your chef’s library.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching
Follow our blog at: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com
We all realize how important restaurants are to those who have a need to celebrate. Anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, and holidays or simply because it is Friday: our guests are looking for a reason to celebrate in restaurants of all types. Chefs and restaurateurs are always looking for a venue that will lead to success whether it is a freestanding operation off an active traffic artery, a destination restaurant with a spectacular view or a hotel with its captive clientele. After all, we still subscribe to Ellsworth Statler’s three most important attributes for a business: location, location, and location.
What we tend to sometimes over look are the numerous other reasons why people dine out: social networking, a need for conversation, a time to reflect, a perfect stress reliever, the joy in having someone else cook and clean up, or a simple respite from the pressures of life. All of these factors point to a significant sector of the foodservice market that is growing, but that finds it challenging to attract those mover and shaker chefs and highly competent restaurateurs. This market has been labeled (portraying it as limiting) as “B and I” (business and industry) or Contract Feeding. In both cases the labels infer that this is a utilitarian sector with the primary goal of delivering food in large quantity to an impatient market. This is, of course, not very inspiring for those working in that segment, nor those choosing to spend their money there.
The “institutional (God awful term)” segment includes: hospitals, school cafeterias, college food operations, workplace cafeterias, transportation centers, senior centers and retirement complexes. We should all take a step back and think about this market and the opportunities that are present with a different mindset pertaining to food and the impact that it can have on participants.
Beginning with hospitals: I have yet to meet a person who looks forward to spending time in a hospital. Typically you are admitted because there is a problem – something that needs to be identified and fixed. There will be poking and prodding, lots of angst, potentially negative outcomes, and pretty significant expenses as a result. What does a patient have to look forward to? Friends and relatives who visit share in many of the same feelings that the patient does with hours and sometimes days spent bed side or in waiting rooms. Additionally, staff members have an emotionally and physically stressful job caring for people with issues and associated angst. In all cases, there needs to be opportunities for stress release and reward at some level. Food is a common denominator and one that can make a real difference in the hospital experience, yet finding kitchens that attract serious culinarians or those with the mindset of restaurant service is challenging. This is not a segment that young culinary professionals typically put at the top of their career wish list. Yet, what a difference they could make in the lives of the deliverer of health services and the recipient of care. People have the same food preferences and needs while in this environment as they do back on their home turf.
School and college food outlets provide similar opportunities. Remember, Americans now spend more than 50% of their food dollar in some type of restaurant. Those students of various ages have an expectation and a need when it comes to the foods they are served. This is the time when young palettes can be molded and developed for the rest of their lives. Restaurateurs and chefs can play a significant role in this process and should look to school and college feeding as more than another a place to deliver food, but rather-a place where concepts and content can have an impact on a growing restaurant profile group and where new ideas can be nurtured on discriminating palettes.
Understanding the needs of employees who work in office complexes and plants is critical to the success of food operations in those venues. Exciting, contemporary, appropriate concepts and menus can greatly improve the morale of this audience (fairly captive by the way) and impact on the financial performance of those businesses where they work.
Transportation centers have been the punching bags of the media in recent years as flight delays, security lines, invasion of personal space, and lack of guest comfort seems to be the norm. Frustrated and sometimes angry travelers have typically low expectations of the food offered in these venues and the service mentality of those who work in those operations. The market is wide open for great food experiences and talented chefs and restaurateurs.
Finally, senior centers and retirement communities are being filled with aging Baby Boomers. This is the most highly educated, well-traveled, sophisticated consumer group that this country has ever known. They need intellectual stimulation, have well developed food palettes, know wine and great coffee and feel somewhat empty when those opportunities are not present. Yet, it would be very hard to find a senior venue that understands this and provides those restaurant experiences for this large and growing population. As people age, their ability to smell and taste changes. Talented chefs and restaurateurs can find ample opportunities to show their abilities to this audience and identify ways to support their careers while making a real difference in peoples lives.
An increasingly large segment of the American population spends time in these segments every day. Young chefs, cooks, managers and restaurateurs could and should look to these areas as career tracks and business opportunities. Partnerships with hospitals, colleges, office complexes, travel centers and senior living environments can lead to rewarding business opportunities.
There are many companies and venues that “get it” and are re-charging their efforts at adapting to changing markets and in some cases defining what this segment should look like moving forward. All of them provide terrific opportunities for talent chefs, cooks, managers and aspiring restaurateurs. Visit their websites for more information.
Nutrition Management Services
LePain Quotidien Bakery Cafes
Paul French Bakeries
Leisure Care Retirement Facilities
Well, 2013 is nearly over. Time certainly does fly by both professionally and personally. I hope that this year has worked out well for your restaurant, resort, culinary school or hotel and that you are looking forward to an even better 2014.
In preparation for the year to come it is customary for each of us to jot down our New Year Resolutions. This is always fairly easy: the challenge is staying on track and bringing those resolutions to fruition. The following list represents those goals that most restaurants, resorts or culinary programs need to address to drive business success in 2014.
• Increase brand awareness for our restaurant, product or culinary program
• Better inform the public about the unique qualities of our business
• Increase restaurant traffic or program enrollment
• Build consistent quality into the presentation of products and services
• Design a product that meets and exceeds the needs of our target audience
• Build check averages
• Become more effective at hiring the right people
• Build team awareness and esprit de corps among employees
• Determine ways to maximize sales
• Become more effective at controlling costs to ensure financial success
• Train staff to improve customer service
• Improve internal and external communication
This list truly represents the primary tasks of management, ownership, chefs, program directors, kitchen and dining room managers, food and beverage directors and budding entrepreneurs and could fit into any 2014 list. If you understand the need to focus on a list of this type but simply need guidance or assistance with implementation, it may be time to contact us as you prepare for a very successful year.
Harvest America Ventures is a consulting and training company focused on the restaurant business and collegiate programs offering culinary arts majors. Contact us to day to begin a dialogue on how we might work together to bring those goals to fruition.
PREPARE BETTER – TRAIN HARDER