Food Fanatics Answers Your Restaurant Questions

Seasoned advice on the front and back of the house

Q. What can I do about rising costs of seafood and the higher prices for organic foods?
A. Farm to table is not a fad but a standard in the industry. You can come out ahead by structuring a seasonal menu when locally grown food offers the best prices. The same goes for seafood. Certain types of seafood are priced better at various times of the year. You can also lower costs by purchasing less popular fish.

Q. I will be opening another location of my restaurant and want to avoid the headaches I had with some of the equipment with my original place. When the equipment started acting up, it was tough getting help or anyone to own up. Any suggestions?
A. This is when customer service becomes an important determining factor. Prior to purchasing or leasing, check for extended warranties as well as the manufacturer’s record for customer service. See if the equipment or supply company offers help from its own in-house specialists, which can be an invaluable tool to help facilitate repairs. It’s always worth checking online to see if common problems have been discussed in group chats. They could come in handy later.


Q. I’m a big believer in staff training but I can see the staff is looking bored. What are some ways to get them interested?
A. Nothing gets staff more excited than freebies and choice shifts. Assign each worker a topic that he or she thinks everyone could improve upon and comes up with ideas. If staff looks at you blankly, throw ideas on paper, toss them into a bowl and let them choose. The worker who leads the training gets rewarded with a choice shift or a comp meal to enjoy on a day off.

Q. I may be a latecomer to sous vide but that doesn’t mean the local health department is more cooperative. Our local officials don’t think the cooking method is safe. Do I have any recourse?
A. The great thing about jumping on the bandwagon later is the trail has already been blazed. You need a thorough and detailed plan that documents every stage of prep, from receiving to plating. You can find HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) guidelines and software online to help you.

Q. Business is slow during the really hot months in the South. What can we do to drum up sales?
A. Give locals a discount for coming in and call the promotion something fun, such as “Loco for Locals” (if tourists comment on this, offer them the discount as well as long as they pledge to become a local. The point is to make it fun.). Offer special pricing for bestsellers with the biggest profit margins and make sure to take a hard look at labor to ensure that all the profitability numbers align.

Q. To increase sales, we’re doing more private dining and off-premise catering. But we want to control labor costs. Any ideas?
A. Think about what you are known for and what you do well and decide which ingredients or products you can purchase already prepped to save time and labor. Crunch the numbers and see what works best for your operations.

Matthew Dean is a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods from Streator, Illinois, with a passion for teaching. Follow him on Twitter @chefmathu.