Dear Food Fanatic: Handling Holiday Hours, Reducing Breakage

Seasoned restaurant advice you can use from our Food Fanatics expert.

Q. Every time I hear a wine glass shatter or a dessert plate crash, I cringe knowing how much money just hit the floor. Do you have any tips for reducing breakage before it breaks me?

A. Label your serveware. As chefs and operators, we want to be as organized as possible, so it’s already in our nature to label the shelving for these items. However, if you label each shelf with the price per plate and glass, your staff—both from the back and front of the house—will immediately start to handle your products with more care. It always makes a difference when they see actual costs.

Q. I have a new restaurant and can’t decide whether to open for Christmas this year. Good or bad idea?

A. Over the last several years, more restaurants have been open for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before deciding, consider your current and potential customers. Millennials, for example, want to create their own traditions. Many look for good food in a comfortable atmosphere that has hints of home. If you’re leaning toward opening on Christmas Eve or Day, think of how you want to brand service that day. Also, be sure your staff is behind you and you have enough people for service. 

Q. There are so many buzzwords today, like “non-GMO,” “organic,” “gluten-free” and “compostable.” Are any of these terms worth my time and the expense?

A. These buzzwords do mean something to millennials, who are the largest demographic in the country right now. Waste is out of control, landfills are at capacity, climate change is fact, and health is a real concern. The landscape of foodservice is undergoing changes, many of which are driven by the millennial population. Give clients the service and products they deserve, and take care of our planet by doing your part to manage waste.

Q. As a restaurateur often away on business, I’m scared to death of the customer who never complains and never returns. Is there a way I can monitor my restaurant’s quality and service while I’m not on the floor?

A. You can monitor the quality and service of your restaurant in many ways. Survey cards can be helpful, but they don’t always provide quality information. Implementing a secret diner program through a service can monitor the heartbeat of your operation, too. The quickest and easiest way, however, is to enlist the help of regular patrons. Don’t ask friends and family because you need unbiased commentary. Also, check social media and review sites for comments, so you can bask in the positive and offset the sting from the negative.

Q. New Year’s Eve is one of our busiest nights of the year, and it’s also one of the longest days for my staff. How do I keep up the morale, so my crew doesn’t dread this shift?

A. Create a limited-time-only menu, which makes it easier on the kitchen staff. For servers, run a contest. Give out a prize, such as a choice shift, a free dinner with a friend or a gift card, to the person who rings up the highest sales from the bar. When the shift is over and everyone is cleaning up, order in pizza, turn up the music and unwind. If possible, close the restaurant the next day (or open for dinner only) to give everyone a break.