Dear Food Fanatic: Recovering Foot Traffic

Real chef advice for the front- and back-of-house

Q. After the holidays, my dinner foot traffic seems to dwindle, and I think it’s because it’s so cold out that no wants to come out to eat. How can I gain some revenue back?

A. Consider implementing a curbside “packaged dinner” program that changes weekly or daily. This would entail a full family-style meal for two to four or six to eight people that would include a starter, entree, sides and dessert. Think: Fried Chicken Sundays, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday or Jump-start the Weekend (with signature favorites) on Wednesday or Thursdays. These are just examples—you should play off your current menu. Be sure to make the pricing attractive as well.

Q. My menu is set, but my cooks all want to make something “new and different.” They are driving me crazy and need to stop. 

A. Set up guidelines so they can help create specials and possibly new menu items. Alternate days that they each can do some testing, and use this as a platform to teach them about costs, portions and profits. You can’t hire a talented painter and expect them to be fully satisfied painting houses or fences every day. Help them grow and get the rest of the team engaged. As a training tool, let them take turns teaching each other about the special they create and serve it as a staff meal.

Q. Where can I turn for innovative salad dressings? 

A. Create your own, which can also stand in as sauces, glazes and marinades. Experiment with different acids or vinegars (fig, Champagne, yuzu), sweeteners (maple, honey, caramel), herbs and heat (chilies, spices). Remember that balance and contrast are important, and have a good time.

Q. I keep trying to make changes in my restaurant, but my servers and kitchen crew find reasons the change won’t work and everything stays the same. Is this just my problem?

A. Are you making changes or are you making improvements? Changes bring on uncertainty, extra work and most likely customer complaints. Improvements have positive attributes. You must clearly define how the improvement will benefit the restaurant, your staff and most importantly your customers. Collaborate with your staff so everyone can make sure the improvements stick around.

Q. I get customers asking for healthy, good-for-you items but when I run them as a special, no one orders them. What’s up with that?

A. We may want healthy, but we’re always tempted by what’s more of a guilty pleasure. That means your good-for-you specials must stand alone as a delicious choice no matter who you are appealing to. For center of the plate, think of leaner proteins and preparations like grilled instead of fried. Make seasonal vegetables the star by roasting, tossing with herbs and using bright vinaigrettes. Then remember to use descriptions that resonate with everyone and not just the healthy diner.

Q. No matter how hard my sales reps and I work at buying better to save money, food cost keeps climbing. What gives?

A. Ask each rep what they and their company can do to make your operation more successful. Prices of groceries are pretty equal from place to place, but there might be incentives or creative ways to make the numbers work better for you. Let them come back to you with a 30-, 60- or 90-day plan that will benefit your business.


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drawing of Chef Mike Miello

Food Fanatic

Mike Miello is a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods from New York who wears his passion for all things food.


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