Tag : restaurant operations

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Thawing and Holding Tips

Thanks to the Missouri Restaurant Association weekly newsletter we’re able to share these tips for thawing and holding food.

-Refrigeration: Thaw TCS food at 41 ̊Fahrenheit (5 ̊Celsius) or lower to limit pathogen growth. Plan ahead when thawing large items, such as turkeys. They can take several days to defrost.

-Microwave: You can safely thaw food in a microwave, but only if the food is going to be cooked immediately. Be warned: large items, such as roasts or turkeys, migh not thaw well with this method.

-Cooking: Thaw food as part of the cooking process.

-Running water: Submerge food under running, drinkable water at 70°Fahrenheit (21°Celsius) or lower.  Never let the temperature of the food go above 41°Fahrenheit (5°Celsius) for longer than four hours.

-Hold foods at their correct temperatures. TCS foods should be held at the correct internal temperatures. Cold food should be held at 41°Fahrenheit (5°Celsius) or lower, and hot food should be 135°Fahrenheit (57°Celsius) or higher.

-Check temperatures regularly. Timing is essential. Make sure you check food temperatures at least every four hours. Toss  food that’s not 41°Fahrenheit (5°Celsius) or lower, or 135°Fahrenheit (57°Celsius) or higher.

-Use food covers and sneeze guards. Keep food covered to help maintain temperatures.  Covers and sneeze guards also help protect the food from contaminants.

-Use hot-holding equipment properly. Don’t reheat food in them unless they are built to do so.

It’s important to have these processes in place and ensure that your staff understands that they are important to your operations. HACCP #7 requires documentation. A great way to accomplish this is to collect and record all this data digitally using an app.

Check out the quick video below for more info on the OpsAnalitica platform:


The Next Big Competitive Advantage in the Restaurant Industry


It is human nature to look forward trying to figure out what is going to be the next big thing in your industry so you can beat your competitors to the punch. I believe the next big thing in the restaurant industry is going to be technology, look how perceptive I am.

Technology and apps are presented all the time as these magic bullets that can fix your business. In a lot of cases, they can add incredible value to your business if you can get them implemented.

Implementation is the key! Identifying, Testing, and Implementing new technology across a portfolio of restaurants and ensuring that you get your ROI out of the tool requires a unique skill set and disciplined approach.

Screenshot 2015-08-09 08.41.41

The technology implementation skill set is the muscle that each restaurant company has to develop. It is the companies that adopt technology quickly and get an ROI on the product that are going to have the competitive advantage in the future.

I own an app company, OpsAnalitica, we have a restaurant checklist and reporting platform. Our platform can be implemented in a few hours because it is very user-friendly, and it was designed to scale from basic to advanced effortlessly. More complicated platforms can take weeks or months to get implemented.

I spent the last five years before starting OpsAnalitica doing large enterprise security consulting for Fortune 500 companies. I’ve been a part of several multi-million dollar implementations, and I would like to tell you that they all went perfectly. They didn’t.

The blame for the mediocre results of these projects should be equally spread out to all parties that were involved. It is usually a combination of factors that take a plan with so much hope and expectation into the crapper.

Here are some of the lessons I learned doing these implementations:

1. The most important rule of implementations: START SIMPLE AND ADD FUNCTIONALITY FROM THERE!!!! I can’t stress this enough, you just purchased a Ferrari piece of software. Start with the most basic functionality and get it out there to the end users. Then take their feedback and continue to roll out additional functionality over time. Trying to do too much in phase 1 is the number one reason I saw projects fail.

2. Be wary of companies that won’t help let you kick the tires of their product before you purchase, demand a free trial. At the very minimum make them show you a live demo of the tool. If they can’t do a live demo or let you see the product in action at another company, they don’t have a product that works.

3. Find out what kind of support packages and training the company offers. Use that as a negotiating point when you can’t get additional concessions on price try to get them to offer expanded support.

4. If you hire consultants be wary if they never push back – consultants that don’t push back on requirements or don’t offer their expert opinion and try to steer you to the best option are not consultants. You pay consultants to consult, to tell you that you are wrong or that you are going to pay a penalty if you do it this way. If the people you just hired to implement just say yes and do whatever you want then you aren’t getting your monies worth.

5. Ask for references and know you will never get a reference that isn’t going to tell you the product is great. Use your network and try to reach out to people who work at companies that use the tool and see if they like the product.

Technology, when implemented and being used correctly can save time, money, and drive profits. Those profits and the increased cash flow can allow you to push your competitors around on the playing field. They can allow you to increase your marketing, get better locations, open more locations, etc..

Technology, when not implemented correctly: can suck away cash, steal focus, waste valuable time, stop other projects from being funded or started and leave a horrible taste in your mouth. Technology is only better than manual processes when it works.

I hope that this blog helps you on your next project and that you start trying to strengthen your internal implementation skill set.

How to Drive Consistent Daily Execution

There are two ways that you can drive consistent daily execution in your operations:

  1. You can nag and set reminders for your staff to do things, basically micromanage every aspect of your operations.
  2. You can hire and train the right staff then integrate them into the operations, teach them why you do certain things and their importance to the success of the business.

Number 1 will work, but there are a plethora of problems associated to this management style. First off it’s annoying to have to be that manager. You don’t want to be a babysitter. The employees hate it because they don’t feel empowered.  This is the farthest from mutually beneficial as it gets and you will wind up with very high turnover.

Also before too long the nagging and reminders just become background noise that gets tuned out. The manager will get yes’d to death and employees will just start telling them what they want to hear, but in the end the bare minimum gets accomplished to keep their job.

Recently I was backing out of my garage and hit a car that was parked in my driveway. In my defense there’s very rarely a car parked in my driveway, but it still shouldn’t have happened because I have a backup camera and sensors that beep when I get close to things.

So why did this happen still with all these warnings/reminders telling me that something was in my way? I had trained my brain to tune out the sensors beeping when I pull out of my garage because they go off every single time I pull out of the garage.

When I go through the garage door jamb it goes off because I’m close enough. Then right outside the door on the driver’s side there’s a large shrub that sets off the sensors and then when I get towards the back of my driveway my neighbor’s bushes set them off. So it has just become noise to me that I tune out because they have “cried wolf” so many times. So now my brain ignores the sensors when I pull my car out of my garage. This will happen to any requests or tasks that have no perceived value to the person that’s supposed to act on these requests/reminders/tasks.

Now with number 2 you will develop a reliable, consistent team that executes every shift because it’s second nature to them and they feel that the required tasks are meaningful and contribute to the overall success of the business. As a manager rather than nagging or reminding them to perform pre-shift inspections or line checks, you instead train and explain to them the importance of performing the tasks. Then you follow up that they are getting done. In other words you inspect what you expect.

If they aren’t getting done then you have a training opportunity where you give feedback and again explain the importance of these checks. Show them that you are using the data drive business decisions that will make the operations better and more profitable which will show in their bonus. If you keep having this discussion you should probably find a new manager.

This is where an automated checklist/inspection platform is so valuable. You now have time/date/user stamped audit trail of when checks were started and completed and by whom. You can access the data from anywhere without having to ask someone to send it to you. You can now manage by exception and spend the bulk of your time with the locations/managers that need you the most. Over time you will be able to draw correlations between your best and poorest performing locations. Now you use that data to drive decisions to run better operations and increase profits.

Click here to learn more about how OpsAnalitica helps our clients across the country automate their checklists/inspections and run better operations.

Due Care, What Does it Mean in Restaurants

Is Tipping Near Extinction?

I’ve noticed a ton of press recently about restaurants going moving to an all inclusive menu or no tipping policy. Back in February we posted a blog, Time to End Tips?, on the topic and it got heated to say the least in the comments and on our social media channels. Click here to read that blog.

It’s now 7 months later and a lot of the changes mentioned in the original blog are starting to happen. ie minimum wage increases are being implemented in cities all over the country. The Affordable Care Act isn’t going anywhere either.

It seems that most of the restaurants that are testing out the no tipping policies tend to be on the higher end as far as price. Haven’t seen anything on a low to mid tier full service restaurant trying it out yet. This is probably due to the fact that a price increase can be absorbed easier at the higher end establishments.

There are a couple of different scenarios I’ve read about:

  1. Just a blatant price increase and explaining that the gratuity is included in the price
  2. An added service charge of 18-20% added to the bill. This is essentially an auto gratuity that in the past was typically reserved for large parties
  3. In both those scenarios they are paying their servers anywhere from $15-$25/hr

Some of the feedback from the restaurant owners/managers seem to be similar:

  • Most would like to do away with tipping because of the government mandated paperwork that is required for reporting. Would certainly make their lives easier from a bookkeeping standpoint.
  • They feel they can more “fairly” distribute money between the BOH and FOH if a “service charge” were added to every check
  • I saw one scenario where they added an 18% service charge, but that wasn’t enough so they bumped it up to 20% and still had to dip into owners profits to cover the additional costs for labor
  • A few tried it, but the backlash from the customers forced them to change back. The perception was that they were too expensive even though when you include a tip at the end it would be the same. But when you go to your favorite restaurant and the filet was $35 last time and now it’s $42, in your mind that’s a big jump and I don’t think you automatically make the connection that you aren’t tipping.
  • In one scenario they had to keep the tip line on the check even though they explained that tip was included because some customers complained that they couldn’t leave a tip even if they wanted to, unless it was cash of course.

In the near term it’s going to hit the industry pretty hard, but over time the market will correct itself this new way will become the norm. A big issue with the no tipping policy is that server goals and the operator goals are not aligned.

When servers make basically all their money on tips it’s in their best interest to provide great service and serve as many guests as possible while doing so. This aligns perfectly with the operators goals. But when the server is paid a straight hourly wage regardless of how many guests they serve or how good/bad the service there’s no incentive to do otherwise.

Why try to get another table turn in before your shift ends? It’s a lot easier if your tables camp and all you have to do is stay on top of water and coffee refills. If a guest is complaining that the food is taking too long there’s no reason to go to the kitchen and hound the expo for their food. Why deal with it? This does not align well with the operators goals at all.

Now that is assuming that the industry shifts in this new direction while management keeps managing to the old way. There’s going to have to be fundamental changes to managing restaurants to align the staff with the overall goals of the owner/operator. But there’s going to be a learning curve and I think that’s going to be a tough time for the industry.

Would love to hear any comments, concerns, ideas, etc.

Same Store Sales Increase in August

Driven by Fast Casual, the restaurant industry posted strong same store sales in August according to the Black Box Intelligence report.  Here are some of the stats from the Nation’s Restaurant News article:

  • 1.7% increase in same store sales in August
  • YTD same store sales up 2.2%
  • The industry can post it’s 5th straight quarter of same store sales growth this quarter
  • Average monthly growth has been 2.2% since last year
  • While traffic growth is still negative, it has been improving over the last few months
  • Top region in August was California with a 3.5% increase in same store sales and only .5% decrease in traffic
  • The NY/NJ region was the worst with a 1.3% decline in sales and 3.1% decline in traffic

We talked about this a few weeks ago, but job growth still remains strong across the board for the restaurant industry, despite some of the increases in minimum wage.

I have copied the full NRN article below:

The restaurant industry posted another relatively strong month in August, as both same-store sales and traffic growth improved over July, according to data reported by TDn2K’s Black Box Intelligence through The Restaurant Industry Snapshot, based on weekly sales from over 22,000 restaurant units and 120 brands representing $55 billion dollars in annual revenue.

Source: Black Box Intelligence, August 2015

Same-store sales rose 1.7 percent in August, a 0.1-percent improvement. With these latest results, the industry is on track to post its fifth consecutive quarter of positive same-store sales growth during the third quarter, the first time this has occurred in the last three years. Meanwhile, year-to-date same-store sales have risen 2.2 percent, consistent with Black Box Intelligence’s prediction for 2015.

“There are three factors that should be encouraging for the restaurant industry”, said Victor Fernandez, executive director of insights and knowledge for TDn2K. “First, we have been experiencing consistent, positive same-store sales growth since August 2014. The last time we had a comparable run in terms of consecutive months of positive sales growth was in the period of 2011 through early 2012. Furthermore, every month since August of last year has posted same-store sales growth above 1 percent; the average for the period has been a significant 2.2-percent growth in sales year-over-year. Second, although same-store traffic growth continues to be negative and remains the top concern for the industry, we have now reported three consecutive months in which traffic results have been improving. This also means that the growth in sales for the industry for the last couple of months has been relying less on increases in average guest checks and more on improving guest retention. Finally, on a two-year sales growth basis, this quarter is surpassing the first two quarters of 2015 with a +2.8-percent for the first two months of Q3 compared to +2.0 percent in Q1 and a +1.8 percent in Q2. This would represent the second-best quarter on a two-year basis since Q1 of 2012.”

Same-store traffic fell 1.1 percent during August, which represents a 0.1-percent improvement compared with July. Per person average guest check grew by 2.7 percent and 2.8 percent during August and July, respectively. This represents a shift from the average 3.4-percent growth in guest checks reported for all months during the first two quarters of the year.

The fundamentals in the economy continue to remain favorable for continued growth in restaurant sales: the labor market, even if showing some signs of slowing down from the growth rates posted in recent months, continues to add jobs. Income and consumer spending rose in July, according to the latest published numbers. Finally, despite short-term fluctuations in consumer sentiment, consumers are more optimistic today than they were a year ago.

“There has been some concern expressed due to the sharp drops and volatility in the stock market in recent days,” Fernandez said. “However, we believe that at least in the next couple of months, the effect of these fluctuations will not affect restaurant spending much. Most consumers perceive these changes as affecting their long-term wealth and not necessarily their disposable income today. However, if the underlying concerns regarding the global economy are real and sustained, then they could become a concern for the industry.”

Source: Black Box Intelligence, August 2015

The best performing region during August was California, with same-store sales growth of 3.5 percent and a traffic decrease of 0.5 percent. Considering the difference in check average for California, it appears the price increases taken to offset minimum wage increases are part of the equation behind this strong same-store sales number. However, the traffic also suggests that the California consumer has a strong appetite to dine out.

For the second consecutive month, the worst performing region in the country was New York-New Jersey, with a 1.3-percent decline in same-store sales and a 3.1-percent drop in traffic growth.

August was also a good month at the market level. One hundred thirty-seven, or 71 percent, of the 193 DMAs currently tracked weekly by Black Box Intelligence posted positive growth in their same-store sales during the month.

Improving economic conditions have boosted sales, but are also tied to a tightening labor market in which recruiting and retention have once again become major challenges for restaurants. Job growth accelerated at restaurant chains during July, according to TDn2K’s People Report. During the month, the restaurant chain industry’s number of jobs grew by 4.4 percent year-over-year, while the past twelve months averaged 3.4 percent.

In addition to the pressures of recruiting enough new employees, restaurant companies also continue to face increasing turnover rates at both the restaurant management and hourly employee levels. Rolling 12-month hourly employee turnover increased again during July. The industry has now experienced 23 consecutive months of rising turnover rates. Restaurant management turnover, which had been increasing steadily during 11 of the last 12 months, stabilized during July and remained at the same rate as in June. Flat turnover notwithstanding, turnover rates at all position levels within restaurants are at very high levels not reported since before the recession.

According to TDn2K’s White Box Social Intelligence, of the three key guest satisfaction attributes tracked (“food”, “service” and “intent to return”) from a sample of 6.6 million social media mentions during August, the conversation tends to center around food when consumers talk about restaurant brands online. Seventy-eight percent of posts mentioned food during this month. The second most commonly mentioned attribute continues to be service, at 16 percent of all social media mentions.

When consumers mentioned restaurant brands online during August, the attribute generating  the highest percentage of positive mentions was “intent to return,” with 39 percent of all of mentions, a significant 7-percent growth in the percentage of mentions that were positive when compared with July. As a comparison, about 31 percent of food mentions and 18 percent of service mentions were positive during August.

TDn2K (Transforming Data into Knowledge) is the parent company of People Report, Black Box Intelligence and White Box Social Intelligence. People Report provides service-sector human capital and workforce analytics for its members on a monthly basis. Black Box Intelligence provides weekly financial and market level data for the restaurant industry. White Box Social Intelligence delivers unparalleled consumer insights and reveals online brand health. Together they report on over 32,000 restaurant units, over 1 million employees and $55 billion in sales. They are also the producers of two leading restaurant industry conferences: Summer Brand Camp and the Global Best Practices Conference, each held annually in Dallas.

What is the Salsa Packet Item in Your Operations?

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This is a picture of a pile of Mild Taco Bell Salsa packets.  These are what is left after my wife and I used a few on our tacos for dinner last night.  I know how to treat my lady.

Do you want to guess how many packets are in this pile?


That is 47 mild salsa packets that are now in my trash can.  I don’t know what salsa packets cost taco bell but I would guess that this represents any where from 20 to 50 cents worth of profits.

Average Guest Check at a Taco Bell is $7.00, fool.com, and average unit volume for 2014, is $1,049,000, I backed into this number using sales and unit counts from NRN and the Yum annual report.  That means an average Taco Bell serves around 150,000 guests per year.

I’ve scoured the web and there are tons of posts about people getting 20 to 40 salsa packets per order.  Let’s just assume that a salsa packet costs Taco Bell a penny and the average waste is 10 packets per order, which from my own experience is a pretty low number.

That means that the average taco bell owner is throwing away $15,000 a year in profits.  Are there ways that a Taco Bell manager could be managing to this without slowing down ticket times and through put; absolutely!

If you aren’t actively managing your operations and communicating what is important, why it is important, and then inspecting what you expect you will lose money.

I want to digress here for a second.  The analysis that I did is very basic and I was able to do it with a few internet searches.  If you read the OpsAnalitica blog, then you know that we are always talking about operations data and how important it is for restaurant managers.

That basic analysis I did above is using operations data and I found a potential loss in profits per location of $15,000 a year.

Imagine if you were capturing really great operations data every day in your restaurant, you can with a tool like OpsAnalitica.

Imagine if you were able to sit down for a couple hours per quarter and review your operations data and compare it to your costs and sales; do you think you could find even $5,000 of waste or inefficiency in your business? What is the salsa packet item in your restaurant that is costing you thousands that you aren’t managing?

Do you think it would be helpful to know the real costs of things? Of course it would. Do you know what a waiter no calling or no showing costs you in lost sales or how much revenue you lose when your cook time increases by 1 minute per ticket?

I know you will be amazed at how much this stuff costs and how the solution to most of these issues is just a small change in how you manage your restaurant.

Operations Data when merged with sales and cost data is the most potent competitive advantage that restaurant managers have because it is such a new area of operations.

Running more efficient and profitable restaurants is what you got into this business to do.

What is accountability in restaurant operations?

We’re always talking about “driving accountability” and “holding our managers accountable”, but what does that mean? 
For a multi-unit operator accountability can make or break your business.You need to know that policies and procedures that you have put into place and trained your staff to perform are actually getting done every shift. 
You know that one slip up can cost big time. If you get someone sick or get a bad health inspection score you will wind up on the local news and the event is logged in Google forever. You know what a low letter grade in your window can cost you? There can be a 5% swing, compared to an A or B, in sales.
These are the things that keep us up at night. That keep us from enjoying days off or vacations (if you’re lucky enough to take one). Accountability solves these issues.
Accountability means that you created a culture where consistent daily execution is ingrained in your management team. It just happens automatically because they see the value in running great operations. You have systems in place that give you visibility into your operations even when you’re not standing in the restaurant. 
They don’t do things because they are told to, they do SMART Pre-shifts because they know the data is valuable and contributes to making better operations decisions. They feel part of the overall success of the operations.
Accountability creates better running and safer operations. You can now enjoy days off and have the piece of mind that your team is executing every shift. 
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