Dear Food Fanatic: Boosting Summer Restaurant Sales

Stir up seasonal business with these hot tips from our Food Fanatic expert.

Q. Business is amazing on our outside deck in the summer but it’s tough running food from the kitchen. Is it worthwhile to build a kitchen on the deck?

A. Food runners can help but you can ease the strain by featuring some elements of the line on the deck, such as a grill, fryer and refrigerator (just not a full kitchen). To take stress off the main kitchen, offer specials that come from the grill or whatever equipment you decide to put on the deck.

Q. My restaurant is extremely busy in the summer, but service starts slipping come August as seasonal workers start checking out mentally. How can I ensure a high level of service all the way to the finish line?

A. Managers need to be your cheerleaders, recharging staff through positive reinforcement. Be the coach who encourages exhausted players to perform their best all the way to the end. Boost morale with incentives like bonuses for servers who have the best performing sales or a gift certificate swap with a partnering restaurant. 

Q. We would like to roll out some killer seasonal cocktails for our patio dining area. Ideas? 

A. Trytea cocktails. Customers will appreciate the healthy benefits of green, white and black teas as part of a refreshing cocktail. Add ice cubes infusedwith fresh herbs, peppers or other ingredients to differentiate your drinks. Try housemade syrups and shrubs to boost flavor and keep pour levels in check. Offering pitchers is always a nice touch and it pushes your product in bulk. 

Q. All this heat is frying my brain and I’m stuck on trying to figure out the best dessert to boost sales for summer. Any suggestions?

A. Is that a trick question? It’s ice cream, duh. The frozen dessert is still one of America’s favorites, and diners are going crazy for flavors unheard of a decade ago, like salted caramel and malted stout. Try serving the sweet stuff sandwiched between freshly baked cookies or molded on a stick. And like most things, it pairs well with booze for ice cream floats and milkshakes. If you want to go the extra mile, consider setting up an ice cream cart or stand to increase to-go orders and extend your brand.

Q. We have the best crab cakes in the world; everyone who orders them says how great they are. We sell them cheaper than anyone else in the area, so why are they not big sellers?  

A. It might seem counterintuitive, but trust me: raise the price. Crab cakes are typically expensive, so when diners see a lower price, they may think they’re made with lower quality ingredients. Change the plating for a more polished presentation or up the nostalgia with rustic accents. Tipping off bloggers and local writers never hurts either; they’re always clamoring to be the first to “discover” a hidden gem. 

Q. A restaurant in my neighborhood was recently slammed with health code violations. How do I ensure that doesn’t happen to me?

A. First and foremost, keep a tidy shop. Start with the walk-in and make sure proper temperatures are maintained. Same goes for ingredients on the line. Staff must clearly understand the issues behind cross contamination, too. If you suspect pests, be proactive. The inspector doesn’t care if they came from your shop or next door.

Got a question for the Food Fanatic? 

Send your challenges, comments and suggestions to ask@FoodFanatics.com

Food Fanatic

Tom Macrina is a Food Fanatic chef for US Foods from Philadelphia and the national president of the American Culinary Federation.

@ChefTomMacrina

Follow the Food Fanatic on Twitter for more insider tips.