Dear Food Fanatics: Winter 2017/18

Seasoned advice on the front and back of the house

Q:  I only seem to drive traffic to my restaurant when I advertise discounts or coupons. What am I doing wrong?
A: Look at the way you’re promoting yourself. Coupons and ads aren’t enough. Use social media platforms to get more eyes on your discounts, and let those followers spread the word. Turn your focus to the quality and variety of the products you sell. Make sure your marketing message drives home your ethos so that it aligns with what customers are looking for, such as buying local or “natural” ingredients. Be conscious of the “give to get” strategy, too. It’s OK to run a special on draft beer, but don’t discount another food item at the same time. The point of the bar discount is to compel diners to buy complementing food items (like wings).

Q. I’m taking over my family’s restaurant. I have experience in business, but not specifically in restaurants other than running the register and bussing tables when I was a teenager. What should be my top priority?
A. Your question will likely get different answers depending on whom you ask, but most evolved owners will tell you it’s all about customer service. Treat your customers right and they will be forgiving; treat them badly and they’ll go elsewhere no matter how good your food might taste. Read “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,” (Harper Perennial, 2008) by Danny Meyer. It remains the gold standard.

Q. I have a Facebook page, but it doesn’t really work. Should I waste my time with social media?
 Many restaurateurs still don’t see the benefits of social media, in part, because they don’t know which platforms their diners are using. Let your customers determine which social channels you should invest the most time in. The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook, for example, is 45- to 54-year-old women; on Twitter it’s 55- to 64-year-old women. These people have money, like to eat out, make most of the dining decisions and tend to remain loyal to restaurants and brands. Use social media to promote your existing marketing efforts and to create awareness of what you do in a fun and engaging way.

Q. My email is blowing up about dishes tasting different from one day to the next. How can I get my cooks to be more consistent?
 Create a recipe book with each menu item detailing ingredients, preparation techniques, portions, plating and pictures. Set your staff up for success with the proper equipment, dishes, ladles, etc., leaving nothing to chance. Once you have this all set up, make sure each team member is properly trained and follow up with spot checks along with coaching and feedback.

Q. It’s become obvious to me that meatless dishes are not a passing fad. What are some easy ways to incorporate onto my menu?
 Look at your current prep list first. Some vegetables are “meatier” than others. Those sturdy vegetables can be the star, especially if they are seasonal. Winter means squash, which can be cut like a steak and roasted with spices you might be using for other proteins. Slice cauliflower similarly for the same approach, and pair these items with protein-rich grains, such as quinoa.

Q. The holidays are around the corner and our private dining people are selling the hell out of our space. What’s the best approach to staffing?
 Ratchet the pay scale based on the staff involvement and the amount of parties they work: the more responsibilities and the more parties that they worked, the higher the pay. 

Seattle-based Janelle Lhotka is a Restaurant Operations Consultant for US Foods, a role that allows her to share her unbridled passion for wine, food and the industry with restaurants to help them succeed. Follow her on Twitter @janellelhotka

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