The Restaurant

The Restaurant
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why are restaurant failure rates so high?

I recently have been doing some searches to discover some new ways to improve sales in my store. I came across one little jewel, although unhelpful to me was a prime example of how no matter how good you think (or know) you are restaurants are not that simple.

Author: Bradley James Bryant (I thought it was a man, evidently it's a woman).

Degree: MASTERS of BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION with an emphasis in FINANCE from Florida A & M University

She writes...

"Identify your most profitable items. These items should be marketed the most to your customers. The one thing to remember here is that "highest profitability" is not always synonymous with "most expensive." For instance, an alcholic beverage may only cost $2 to make, but you might be able sell it for $10--a 500 percent return. However, lobster may cost $10 to purchase with a $20 menu price--a sizable but inferior 100 percent return. Obviously, you're better off selling the drink in this case."

...which you should be aware is almost direct plagerism from this site:

"Identify the most profitable items and promote them well. Do everything you can to ensure that these ‘most profitable items’ become the darling items of your customers. Keep in mind that the most profitable items are not always the most expensive. One you have these identified, you may instruct your servers to subtly promote these items to your guests. The more of these items that are sold, the higher your restaurant profit margin would be."

Still, this may seem logical, and she has a Master's degree with an emphasis in finance so she knows what she's talking about right?


My comment:

I stopped reading this after the very first point. The very first concept of any business is that DOLLARS PAY BILLS, PERCENTS DO NOT. When the liquor delivery comes and I tell him I have a 500% return on my drinks he's going to ask if I have any cash for the product (percents don't pay bills). If your food cost is 3% but you can't afford to pay your employees you go under. Using your same numbers, although comparing a drink to an entree is skrewed, I will work with it. Generally if you are comparing menu items it is important to first compare items in the same category of sales (a drink effects beverage cost, an entree effects food cost, you can't compare them) Depending on the drink it might even be classified as liquor, beer, or wine. If I was going to write this I would have compared a chicken breast to a lobster, anyhow. If 100 people walk into your restaurant on any give day and they all order the drink, you make $800 (with a 20% beverage cost, yay for you) BUT if the same 100 walk in and order the lobster you make $1,000 (with a 50% food cost and $200 more dollars in your pocket). You said identify your most profitable items, this means their profit margins. The drink has a profit margin of $8 and the lobster a profit margin of $10, the lobster is more profitable. You, just like hundreds of thousands before you, successfully just failed to identify the most profitable items on the menu. It is because of these kinds of business concepts that aren't fully understood many restaurants go under. There is a constant power struggle between the ownership and the management. The owners want the highest profit margin, but they give bonuses to managers with the best food costs (it's strange really).

These people. I never grow tired of listening to the "statistics" of restaurant failures. If the author spent six years working in a restaurant instead of getting that coveted (yet worthless in this case) degree, she might have been able to give a good answer. She screwed up the only part she didn't steal from someone else.

I love working in restaurants too much.

Read the full article here: How to Improve Restaurant Sales |

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making the Most of Your Fast Food Job

Working in a fast food place, although not really glamorous, will/can teach you a lot.  You may be thinking, "How can you compare my  greasy spoon on the corner to that steakhouse down the road!" Here's how:1. Service Industry Job
   Whether you are asking to super size a meal or if they want their filet medium rare we are interacting with (not customers or clients) guests. Some places will take it so far as to say friends. Every guest wants some of the same basic things including: outstanding service, quick service, quality products.

Outstanding Service
A 13 year old with a couple dollars wants to be greeted with a warm smile and a friendly 'welcome' just as much as the governer of the state. It is our job to ensure that these two and everyone else is greeted in a way that makes them feel welcome. Honestly, have you ever gone anywhere and hoped someone was a real jerk about your order and told you all about the trouble they were going to, just so you could stuff your face. NO! You want to go somewhere where "everybody knows your name," and "they're always glad you came."

Quick Service
Some people really don't mind waiting, some people (usually us in the hospitality industry) understand that the guy in front of them ordered 65 chicken sandwhiches and as such the kitchen is swamped, and some people just don't care about our problems. Every restaurant I have ever worked in has had some general expectations for the staff as far as the Speed Of Service (SOS) is concerned. Do many of us expect to be in and out of the drive-thru in under 60 seconds? Not usually, but when it does happen it's nice.
Soccer moms, business people, and all others generally in a rush do not want something that takes a few minutes to take several minutes, it's that simple. Everyone knows what I am talking about, just be reasonable.

Quality Products
No one wants to pay more than they have to for anything. People are generally aware of the quality of product they will get and we should try our best to meet that standard (however high or low it may be, or we think it is). We cannot lie about the quality of meats used and people will appreciate anything above the norm, at the same time, quality is something we may not be able to directly control. As a cook we cannot decide which bread to order, we are given bread and told to use it, BUT we can use only the bread that's not moldy, the bread that isn't smushed, or we can decide to use the bread that's fallen on the floor. The servers can ask the cooks to remake a steak if it looks burned. We have controls over the quality.

Multiple times in my career have I been asked to, "Make sure it's perfect. It's for... me, my mom, my dad, our boss, the owner, the owner's daughter, the critic, that celebrity..." Never had I ever had what we should be saying, "Make sure it's perfect. It's for some random customer I've never seen before."
Surely a successful business plan strives on these three things.

2. Sanitation
Every restaurant (within the bounds of it's authorities) are subject to the same rules. The fast food place on the corner is judged by the health inspectors (city, county, state, etc.) just as harshly as the fine dining restaurant in the country club down the road. Clean is clean, dirty is dirty. It's just that simple.
While working in the front-of-the-house of a fast food restaurant you can learn just about everything you need to know to clean the dining room, but there are some pieces of equipment that don't cross bounds. Finer restaurants may have brass to polish or actual silverware. They may have carpets that require special cleaning, etc. etc.
In the BOH you can learn to do a lot of cleaning, but you may not be exposed to a salamander or flat top grill. It just depends on your restaurant. Something nearly all restaurants have is a deep fryer of some kind, learn to clean it and filter it, but beware! I have worked over a dozen different restaurant jobs and no two fryers are the same. They may operate on the same basic principle, but still very different. Some are interconnected, some are seperate. Some have a drain, some a screw on spout. Some you just spray with hot grease, some you scrub with a green pad and a scraper. Some fryers use oil some use lard. It's a wild world for fryers out there.

There are dozens of things to compare restaurants that are seemingly different together. Just look on the bright side, you could be moving up the ladder in no time flat in this industry!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting a Job In the Restaurant: Convictions

I have been conducting numerous interviews lately, many of the applicants have had a felony conviction. Although I am no expert, I feel I can give some advice to your situation if you are in the same boat. Take it for what it is worth.
As stated before in the blog about the applicantion process any time you have a conviction ask to discuss it with the manager right then. Always fill out the application honestly, but when the application asks about your conviction simply write "Will discuss." If you simply write 'assault' or something similar the manager may look it over and decide against even calling you, verses 'will discuss' which opens the gates to almost anything (which may be good or bad for you).
If you feel you need to write something, it's a good idea to write the lesser of the crimes you may have been convicted of. I mean if you get convicted of possession of a controlled substance and possession of stolen property, I would list the stolen property, but ideally again, just write "Will discuss."
Different managers have different opinions on different crimes. A female manager may say absolutely not to an individual convicted of rape, but maybe you were 19 and your girlfriend was 16, it's a complicated world. Some managers say absolutely no persons with drug convictions others say drug convictions aren't violent crimes. Some say fraud is not a problem in a restaurant, some believe it's the worst. It really just depends on who is doing your interview.
While you haven't done yourself any favors for getting a job, it is important to remember than many restaurants are still willing to hire you. Restaurants are typically a fairly rough place. The kitchen crew can typically hold there own, so hiring a (or another) ex-con is not unrealistic. A felony conviction is not necessarily a disqualification at all restaurants (it may be at some).
Treat the interview as professional as possible. Hiring managers want to see someone that has changed their life, not a possible repeat offender. See the post about dressing for an interview. As an ex-con you will be scrutinized more so than others, so you need to be dressed better, arrive earlier, be more polite, be more prepared.
Don't bring up the conviction until the manager does (which, if they are any good manager, they will) Without being too graphic, ligitimately explain your side of the story. Be brief. Do NOT go on and on about it. Make it short and to the point, explain in a sentence or two that it is behind you. Explain you are moving forward and leave it at that. You want the interviewer to remember the interview, not the conviction. Make the conviction a small footnote in the whole interview process.
People understand that life happens and some times you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, BUT BE AWARE! Honesty is the best policy! If the interviewer asks you about your conviction and you said, "No, that wasn't me. Lawyer screwed me." The manager is not likely to believe you. Managers typically would prefer an honest rehabilitated felon over a lying employee.
If you do not get the job don't automatically assume it was because of your conviction, something else might have come up, maybe a better canidate. If you read this and follow it to the 't' don't assume you will get the job.

Good luck with the job hunt,
I'll be rooting for you.

Working in the Restaurant: Having Fun!

Up to this point I have only blogged about getting a job, what work will be like, different working conditions, and that sort of thing. I haven't written a single word on the amount of fun you can have while working in a restaurant. While games can be played anywhere, I think these ones are particularly fun in a restaurant enviornment.
We in the hospitality industry work hard and play hard. It's what we do. There are dozens of games you can play while at work, many of which are competitive, it's our nature... Cooks have races to see who can cook the fastest burger, who can make the best dish out of three ingredients (often times this game is called Iron Chef after the secret ingredient theme), ticket time races, etc. etc.
My favorite game is from the front of the house, but can be played in the back with any participant that isn't aware of what's going on. This game is the word game, some times called the Super Trooper game. The object of the game can go one of two ways 1) Classic version, to see how many times you can say a word while interacting with your guests or 2) to see if you can get your guests to say a particular word. Obviously you can't choose an inappropriate word and you must follow the company rules and policies, and obviously you can't just say "meow meow meow" or ask them, "Hey, can you say 'meow' for me?" It has to be subtle. The more common the word is in your establishment the easier the game is and generally the stranger the word (or more distant from your venue) the harder it is.
If you work in a pizza restaurant:
Easy Words to say/make them say: cheese, pizza, pepperoni, large, toppings, hot, fresh....
Hard words to say/make them say: kittens, silo, missing, Michigan, bedspread, pain...
All parties playing the game must agree on the word or the words you are trying to get them to say or are saying. Honestly how many times can you say 'freedom' while selling pizzas? Even harder, how can you get the customer to say the word freedom?
Some people get too complicated and claim they get a point for every word that begins with a letter, that's just too complicated!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cook Education: Ears Open!

Anyone that has ever cooked in a commercial kitchen can tell you that there are lots of things you need to be a good cook. One of the less obvious things is a good set of ears!
An experienced cook can hear the microwave beep while the pressure steamer is releasing steam and the expo is shouting at the server that just dropped a pan because the dishwasher malfunctioned and sprayed her with hot water. It is important to be able to distinguish sounds that are relevant like water boiling, hot pans searing if they are hot enough, and deep fryer oil spackling if it is also hot enough.
It's important to hear and respond to maintain your time management and flow of food through the kitchen. If you are cooking product in a fryer that isn't heated up, you will run into trouble.
There is a whole lot of noise going on in a kitchen, pay attention, listen closely, and focus.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Management Education: Cash Handling

I've written a lot about server education and that sort of thing, but I haven't really touched on the management side of things. I ran into this situation the other day and my employee's had no idea how to handle it. A woman paid for her meal, the employee made her change, then the lady said, "You didn't give me enough change back." another way it could have gone (I've seen it) is "Oh, I gave you a $20 not a $10." There is a handful of these kinds of traps just to milk the system.
As a manager you need to stop everything, run a cashier report and count the drawer right then. Don't hand them the cash then count the till later. If the drawer is spot on, then you know the employee made correct change, if it is $10 over or whatever then the wrong change may have been given.
I find that if it's possible:
  • Don't accept bills over $20. The bigger the bill the more money you could lose.
  • Don't make change for people who want to break a bill. There are banks for making change, not restaurants.
  • Don't allow customers an option as to how they get their change back (5 $1's is easier to miscount than one $5).
  • Don't refund cash on a credit card order. If the card is stolen they get cash and keep spending on the card.
  • Require a signature on all credit card slips (or all of the ones over $25 at least).
  • Require the staff to do drawer drops if the draw reaches above a certain number ($250 in example). The drawer should have just enough money to operate out of. If there's a robbery they'll get away with much less.
  • Keep the safe locked. Sounds simple, but there are a lot of people a lot of places that leave it open.
  • Make sure employee's face bills. The till should have all the bills facing the same direction. If you have 10 bills in a slot facing 4 different directions it's harder to count and can cause someone to give wrong change.
These things will all add up to a much more secure cash handling system. Proper training is necessary for handling cash. Young individuals aren't the best at handling cash for some reason (inexperience) so watch them closely.