Category Archives for "Nuts and Bolts"

Trend Watch 2017

2017 is almost here! Few businesses are as reactive to trends as restaurants. Every year restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman put out a list of the biggest trends in restaurants.  To save you 21 pages of reading, we’ll boil it all down for you. But, if you have the time, go ahead and download the report here.

Food prices continue to fall
This isn’t good news either. While food costs are declining, wages and commercial rents will continue to rise. Grocery stores, with their smaller labor footprints and locked in leases, will be able to pass discounts along to consumers. Restaurants, however, will continue to raise prices in order to survive. The result is many consumers will pack lunch to the office and eat dinner at home. Restaurants will have to compete on more than price to survive – think hospitality, curated menus, and fancy cocktails.

Vegetables are the new kale
Kale became the menu cliché of 2016, but vegetables in general are finally getting the attention they deserve. Consumers ate less meat in 2016 (as claimed by 26% of consumers) and restaurants are paying attention. Expect to see vegetables presented as if they were meats: veggie charcuterie plates, vegetable of the day specials, and even vegetable-based “butcher shops.”

But meat is still king
Artisan butchers are on the rise – and unlike their carrot-cutting brethren they are emphasizing a wide range of animal-cuts. While the Farm to Table trend needs a refresh, consumers still want the air of authenticity to their dining choices. To this end, many restaurants are organizing themselves around butcher counters. While the concept isn’t new, it is gaining traction – especially since it creates an additional source of revenue for a food-based business. During the day, a restaurant can serve a small menu, but they can also sell a variety of meats and cuts directly to the consumer. Check out Butcher Bar in New York City for a great example of this growing trend.

Fast-Casual/Quick-Serve is still trending
This was a trend last year, and while some observers are becoming skeptical of its longevity (even Baum + Whiteman) there’s little reason to expect a downturn in fast-casual restaurants. The reason is simple: price. As food costs drop and labor costs rise operators are looking for more efficient restaurant models. Fast-casual provides a solution with small, streamlined models and lower operating costs.  The trend within a trend will be the rise of traditional-with-a-twist cuisine. Think Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville or Chi’lantro in Texas. Also, keep an eye on value-added concepts that would normally belong to retail: Salt & Straw and Rachel’s Ginger Beer are redefining what restaurants can be.

You got your restaurant in my retail…
We also break with Baum + Whiteman on this. The trend is non-food brands are opening bars and restaurants inside of their stores. B&W sees this as yet another threat to standalone concepts, but we’d venture to say there’s a lot of opportunities in this trend. As commercial rents continue to rise, it makes sense to find a way to get as much revenue out of a space as possible. Also, brick and mortar retailers have a need to compete with online retailers to keep shoppers coming back. The easiest way to differentiate yourself from Amazon? Provide a distinct experience. Tanner Goods in Portland, Oregon is also home to The Wayback – a small bar and DJ space. Retailers and restaurateurs will continue to team up in 2017 – think of the small café in the back of a store as the new food truck.

These are our highlights from this years Baum + Whiteman report. What food trends do you see coming in 2017?

How to Write a Money Making Wine List

I’ll admit it – when I was given the job of writing a wine list I had no idea what I was doing. I had studied my wines, sat for tastings, traveled to meet wine makers, and learned the basics of viticulture and enology. I had learned to properly spit, write less-then-florid wine notes, and pronounce most French words for “dirt.”

I hadn’t learned the most important skill: how to make a profitable list.

Here’s a few of the things I learned on the way to making my numbers and not getting fired:

The Sommelier’s Dozen
Whenever I bought a case for the purposes of pouring the wine by the glass, I costed it as 11 bottles instead of 12. This allowed me to open one bottle and sample it for the staff without hurting my numbers. It’s more of an accounting trick meant to ensure good margins, but building it into my costs reminded me of two things: it’s important to sample wines for the staff and nothing is free.

Play to your audience – within reason
I worked for a restaurant with deeply French influences. This meant there was more “St Emilion” on my list than “Merlot.” Many, many guests aren’t as invested in wine as I was and wouldn’t hear of drinking a St Emilion – they wanted merlot. Having to explain to them that St Emilion WAS merlot lead to enough awkward guest interactions I finally relented and included the grape variety, as well as the region, on the wine list. In other words, I unclenched just enough that I still got to pick and sell good wines, but also make my guests happy.

The second cheapest bottle
I was analyzing my sales one day and noticed the most popular bottle on my list was an obscure little number from Cabardès. Cabardès is a little-known region in France that blends Bordeaux and Rhone grapes. Because it was a complicated blend I didn’t bother listing the grapes on the list. Still, this bottle outsold everything else nearly 2 to 1.

A few weeks later the distributor ran out of the Cabardès and I had them send something from Languedoc (a Rhone blend) instead. It was the same wholesale price so I just slotted it in at the same list price. A week later I was reviewing my sales and now IT was the best-selling bottle – by the same margin as the Cabardès! It took me a bit of thinking to realize it was the second cheapest bottle on the list.

No one wants to buy the cheapest thing, especially in front of friends or a date. So my guests were scanning the list and going for the second cheapest instead. It didn’t matter what that bottle was, or if they had heard of it. They were purchasing based on list price alone. The moral of this long story? If you need to make up margin, make sure the markup on your second cheapest bottle is the highest on your list – you’ll make the money you need to cover the lower volume passion project wines from Jura you can barely sell at a deep discount.

Limit your passion project wines
Part of being a Somm is you get to bring interesting and exciting wines to the market. I’ve had great success introducing people to Basque rosé, white wines from coastal Spain, and even Cru Beaujolais. But don’t make a list that only appeals to the wine geeks. I gave myself 5 slots for anything I thought was interesting – the rest was all business.

This rule kept me honest – as well as engaged. I was honest about the need to generate profit from the list, even if it meant some compromise. I was engaged because I only had 5 slots – I couldn’t just buy everything that interested me. I had to be selective. The result was a well-balanced list. It made the guests happy (Merlot!), my boss happy (Money!) and me happy (Arbois! Google it!)


Ode to the Host and Hostess

A lot of teamwork goes into making a good service. One of the most important roles, however, is often overlooked: The Host/Hostess can make or break a busy night.

The Host/Hostess does a lot more than charm impatient 5-tops suffering from low blood-sugar. In fact, they’re often engaged in a game of 3D Chess that spans the entire dining room, bar and even the kitchen. While walking around with menus and a smile might look easy to an outsider, very few people have the skillset to work the door.

What makes the Host/Hostess so valuable?

They Display Grace Under Pressure
One large party is running late, the other one is early. The line just misfired a 3-top and suddenly the tickets are stacking up. Guests are arriving with their parties incomplete and wanting to order off the happy hour menu that ended 2 hours ago. The Host/Hostess takes it all stride, giving wait times, seating strategically, even getting drinks for the people waiting. All with a calm smile.

They Take Names/Kick Ass
The Host/Hostess is literally taking names. Trying to keep track of a 20-deep waitlist on a busy night is no small task. 2-tops are easier to sit, and maybe can be convinced to sit at the bar. Seating larger parties requires a lot more foresight. Table 10a is getting a bill, and so is Table 5. Slide one table across the room, trade table 8 to a different server for a table to be named later, let the kitchen know they have another big top coming in 15 mins, transfer the cocktails to the new ticket and… on to the next set of guests who are trying to write their own name onto the list (that’s why you hide all the pens.)

They Have the Situational Awareness of a New England Patriots Special Teams Player
Ideally the Host/Hostess knows what’s happening before it has a chance to happen. This can only happen when they are situationally aware of the entire room. Is the server in Section 2 falling behind? Is the bartender suddenly dealing with a large and complicated cocktail order from the now-seated 5-top? Is the Cold Station slammed with salads and not getting those desserts out fast enough? They know – and they know where to jump in to make it smoother.

They Have the Patience of a Saint
Since the Host/Hostess role is often (mistakenly) seen as being on the bottom rung, they get it from all sides. The guests want to know why they can’t add 3 people to their reservation and still be seated right away. Servers are falling behind and want tables bussed and waters topped. Bartenders are running low on white wine, lemons and vermouth and need someone to go to the stockroom. The seasoned Host/Hostess can’t do it all, but they know to keep their cool and do what they can with a series of interlocking bad situations.

If you have a badass Host/Hostess, let them know and tag them in the Facebook Comments.

On Wine & Bullsh#t

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstance require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.”
― Harry G. FrankfurtOn Bullshit

Here’s the deal, servers: At some point you will have to sell a wine you haven’t tasted. Try as you might to keep up with everything on your wine list, there are going to be bottles you haven’t gotten to quite yet – or may never have a chance to open at all. Reading up can help, but as soon as you feel secure with all the current vintages, in rolls the next year’s model. If you’re worried about getting called out at a table for not knowing your wine, here’s a few tips on bullshitting your way through it.

Don’t lie.
In order to lie, you have to have some vision of the truth of the matter – and that lack of clarity is exactly what got you into this mess to begin with. If they ask about a bottle, there’s plenty of things you can talk about without betraying you haven’t actually tasted it. If they ask if you’ve tasted the wine, go ahead and be honest. This has a couple of strategic advantages. First, you avoid the issue of being dishonest. Second, you prepare your customer for the bullshit you’re about to spew. Even better, most customers will walk willingly into this particular cow pasture with you now that you’ve established your rhetorical position as a bullshitter.

Talk about the grapes.
Hopefully you know a thing or two about various wine grapes. If not, go ahead and stop reading this and get to googling. When the guest asks you about a new bottle of Merlot, try and generalize from what you know about Merlot. Just to walk all the way through the Merlot example, you’ll be able to bullshit nicely: “If varietally-correct, the wine should show some deep fruit, richness on the palate, and a rounded finish.”

Talk about the region.
You’ll also need to know the difference between California and France to pull this off. California is the flag bearer for ‘New World’ wines while France keeps it 100 with its ‘Old World’ style. The difference is, generally speaking, that New World wines are richer, show more barrel flavors and have higher alcohol levels. Old World wines are more focused, less oaky, and tend toward restrained alcohol levels. Think about the Merlot you’re being asked about, if it’s from California you can say “California wines show rich, unctuous textures and less acidity – as well as notes of vanilla and spicebox.”

(As a side note I often refer to spiceboxes when bullshitting about wine. It has that perfect conceptual position of being both familiar and not really existing – it’s the ultimate bullshit tasting term.)

Talk about the producer.
Now you can lay it on real thick. Wine lends itself to narratives more than most products, plus everybody likes a good story. Get poetic, and even look up and away from your guest as you reverently explain that “the winemaker sees himself as a steward of the land, carefully growing each vine in concert with the terroir. They select each grape at harvest for its ripeness and full expression of everything California can offer Merlot – making it as distinct as anything put into a bottle.”

That might be a little too thick… but you get the idea.


6 Tips to Make a Kick-Ass Resume

Tell Them About You
Define yourself and the value you would add to the job in 2-3 concise sentences. Try to highlight what you can offer while using key words from the job listing. A successful resume replaces ‘this is what I want’ with ‘this is the value that I add’.

Brighten Up Past Job Duties
Instead of passively describing a job duty as something you just ‘did’, tell HOW you did it to elevate it to a higher level. “Prepped the kitchen for evening service” can become “Decreased food waste by 15% through carefully managing and executing prep lists”. Wow, you’re hired!

Be Snappy
Concise language with bullet points will make your resume easier to read and understand. Remember, the hiring manager is likely short on time and has to filter through hundreds of resumes.

Not So Seasoned?
If you’re new to the industry, highlight personal experiences or volunteer work.  Sometimes that lack of experience is exactly what an employer wants: a fresh face that’s eager to learn and easy to train. Let people know you’re “willing to learn” or “open to new processes”.

List Your Skills
Potential employers are looking for people with both hard and soft skills. If you have knife skills, wine knowledge, or experience with Excel, list those skills in a separate section. You can also include soft skills like being good with customers, working in a team and problem solving.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
And then proofread again. And then have a friend look it over, too.


How to Write a Kick-Ass Cover Letter

A good cover letter is an essential tool for landing a job, even if you’ll never write another word as part of your duties. Employers are not only looking for people who have the right experiences, but people who are going to be a good fit for the company. While writing a cover letter can be intimidating, it’s essential if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Here’s 5 tips for crafting a cover letter that gets the gig.

1. Start Strong
“Start with a concise ‘pitch,’” says Greg Baldwin, the HR Coordinator at ELM Restaurant Group. For example: “I am an experienced bartender with a passion for hospitality and a drive to learn new techniques. I believe my guest-focus, skills, and experience will benefit (name of potential employer).”

2. Contextualize
Your cover letter should provide information that an employer can’t get from your resume. Discuss why you are interested in the specific position you’re applying for and what path you took to gain all of the necessary skills, Baldwin advises. The key is to do this without repeating too much from your resume.

3. Keep It Simple
If there’s one word of advice from Baldwin, it’s “concise!” Managers are busy and want to get to the point quickly – and decide if they are interested in meeting you. Similarly, use standard fonts and simple formatting. You need to strike a balance between something that is too busy – that is too distracting – and something that looks like a form letter from your insurance company. Personalize it a little, but don’t go crazy on the formatting.

4. Flaunt Your Success
The cover letter is the best place to illustrate past wins. Did you increase the restaurant’s net revenue or oversee an expansion? Or maybe you won the local barista contest or successfully revamped a menu? Don’t limit yourself to work experiences either, maybe you did some work with your school or community you’d like to highlight. The cover letter is the best place to go into detail about the times you’ve thrived.

5. Looking Forward
End by indicating that you’re ready to learn, that you can fit in with a variety of work cultures or that you plan to follow up with the employer. Make sure you stress how you will be a benefit to the employer, rather than how great it would be for you to have the job. Also, thank the hiring manager for taking the time to read your resume. It’s just a nice touch that’ll give you a chance to stand out.


More Glasses, More Problems

It’s at a certain level of personal risk that I make the following statement: You don’t need different kinds of wine glasses for different kinds of wine. As a sommelier I was constantly perplexed by the idea the shape of the glass mattered when tasting varieties and regional styles. Occasionally I’d even have an over-ambitious distributor (or winemaker) insist I could only taste their wines in a proper glass. My standard response, that I’d prefer to taste the wine in the same glass I offered my guests, was met with all sorts of oenological side-eye.

The reality of the situation is this: Good wine glasses are expensive, prone to breakage and require a lot of storage space. Having multiple kinds of glasses just complicates things even further. When I was keeping a restaurant taped together I tried to reduce complexities as much as possible. Simplifying my “glass strategy” went a long way to making service that much more efficient without cutting any meaningful corners.

So if you were to go to a single type of glass, what would I recommend? Generally speaking, you should look for the Riedel Vinum 6416/15. (Please note I make this recommendation completely independently. I was in no way influenced by anything other than my past experience. I would, however, accept retroactive bribes.) The Riedel 6416/15 can handle most wines, red or white, while still looking elegant. But the real reason is a little more cynical. It fits in the standard (cheaper) dish racks, it’s easier to polish, it’s reasonably priced… and makes a 5oz pour look ample.

Anyone who’s run a beverage program (or a restaurant for that matter) knows that saving a few ounces of product can go a long way to covering the ever-increasing costs of doing business. You’ve probably also figured out that appearance matters a lot. So being able to cut back on a pour without it looking short is a huge bonus when selecting a glass. (For the beer equivalent you can look into “cheater pints” with thicker bottoms.)

Sure, if you want to really go over the top for your guests, feel free to offer the whole library of glasses. There’s no doubt they love the attention to detail and the extra hospitality touch of matching their pinot noir to a Burgundy glass. But if you are on a tight budget and trying to make your margins, all that glassware is an extra cost with very little return.

As Costs Rise, Restaurateurs Will Need to Get Creative

Restaurateurs shouldn’t ask themselves if they need to invest in emerging cost-saving technologies. They should – in fact, to stay competitive, they must. The only real question they should be asking is when.

Deciding when to invest in new tech — and what tech to invest in — doesn’t have to be a headache. We looked at some new technologies that promise to streamline operations for independent restaurateurs, all while saving them money. And most importantly, these new technologies won’t saddle owners with up-front costs like most new equipment does.

Here are a few of our favorite ways for restaurants to maintain those ever-slimming margins:


Today’s restaurateurs know that traditional credit card terminals are already obsolete right out of the box. They’re bulky, cumbersome and, over time, really expensive – leasing credit card terminals from merchant services comes with a whole slew of hidden fees and additional rates.

But apps like Square benefit a restaurant’s staff a number of important ways. First, it allows a server to swipe a card from any mobile device — at any spot on the floor and at any given time. Square is fast and efficient, but even more important, the app carries no extra fees, just a flat rate of 2.75 percent per swipe.

Cost: Free to setup, including the dongle that plugs into mobile phones and tablets; 2.75% of each swipe, comparable to standard merchant service fees.

Online Ordering

In May, the trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News reported that representatives from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) think that one very big way for restaurateurs to get ahead of the game is to provide online ordering.

Ordering online allows guests to interact with a restaurant’s brand, without even stepping foot inside its brick and mortar location. After all, potential customers don’t have to: everything they want to know about an establishment is searchable from the phones in their pockets.

To make its point, the NRA cited the success of Wingstop, the chicken wing franchise, which saw a sales increase of 16 percent after providing an online ordering service.

Cost: Free on website builders like SquareSpace or POS systems like Revel; third party platforms are also available and charge nominal monthly fees, like MenuDrive ($69 to $89) and Restolabs ($25 to $55)

Delivery Services

Of course, restaurant owners could provide online ordering and offer delivery services. However, not all of them can afford to pay a driver, especially during slow turns in service.

That’s why more and more restaurateurs are turning to third-party delivery services.

One of the latest players to the delivery game is Uber, with its recently launched UberEats division. The Bay Area tech giant works with restaurateurs on a local level, helping them streamline a delivery model to deliver food, quickly and efficiently. Many Customers may be too tired or busy to dine out, but by adding delivery they can still provide a revenue stream.

Amazon Prime Now is also piloting programs in major U.S. cities, and all major metropolitan areas offer a smattering of local and national third-party delivery operations, from heavy hitters like Grubhub and Caviar to small local bicycle delivery operations, like Portland, Oregon’s Portland Pedal Power.

Cost: Delivery fees vary from city to city and company to company

The Game-Changer

New technologies and applications are being rolled out all the time, but some of them have the potential to be game-changers. Consider the U.K.-based app Winnow.

Eater recently highlighted the 2013 app, which helps chefs identify food waste while putting an actual dollar sign on it. The site’s report indicates that after using the app at least one U.K. kitchen cut its food waste in half, saving more than $7,000 in U.S. dollars in one month.

Essentially, Winnow is nothing more than a scale attached to the kind of touch screen menu a shopper would find at the check-out line at a supermarket. However, the app and its hardware helps restaurateurs keep track of wasted food, whether it has spoiled, is improperly prepared during service, or comes back on an unsatisfied diner’s plate. Waste is an unfortunate part of the average high-volume kitchen, but few businesses really grasp the extent of the problem. Winnow, and US competitor, LeanPath, are looking to reduce waste and increase profits for restaurants.

The app has proven so popular in the U.K. that The Guardian newspaper this year awarded the app-makers its prestigious Guardian Sustainable Business Award.

These new products may not be industry-saving solutions, but they will save restaurant owners both time and money. And like any server or bartender will say, pennies add up, and a lot quicker than one thinks.



Millennials Drink More Tea – Why Restaurants Need to Get It Right

Millennials drink about as much tea as coffee, according to Tea USA, a tea industry group. That makes them by far the heaviest tea-drinking age group in the United States – and is a sign that spending on tea, which quintupled between 1990 and 2014, will continue to grow. Unfortunately for tea drinkers, most restaurants still fail miserably when it comes to serving a proper cup of tea. That means restaurants are leaving money on the table.

“I’d be shocked if more than a third of waitstaff has any idea how to correctly brew a cup of tea,” says Peter Groggi from Tea USA. He says that tea is an afterthought in most restaurants.

“Regrettably, consumers have to accept the fact that restaurants don’t do a good job with tea,” Groggi continues. When you consider the fact that many people drink tea at the end of their meal, this is doubly unfortunate. “Why would you leave customers with a mediocre impression?”

Tea, Groggi says, is often appreciated like wine. Tea drinkers are often passionate and knowledgable about the different types of tea (your Earl Grey and Irish Breakfast, for example). Like wine, teas have a terroir. Yet a restaurant would never treat wine as an afterthought at best, annoyance at worst. Unfortunately, that’s how all but the fanciest fine-dining establishments approach tea.

The irony is that tea is so easy to get right. “It’s not rocket science,” Groggi says. “It’s making sure the water is boiling.”

How to Make Cup of Tea – And Actually Get It Right

We spoke with Susan Bivens from Steven Smith Teamaker, a speciality tea maker, about how to correctly prepare a cup of tea. One tea bag should be used for 8 to 12 ounces of water.

For black teas and herbal teas

The water should be 210 degrees Fahrenheit – boiling. Put the tea bag in the cup first. Fill the cup with boiling water. Seep for 5 minutes.

For green teas and white teas

The water should be slightly off boiling – about 190 degrees. To accomplish this, fill the cup with boiling water first, then add the tea bag. The cup will cool the water down just enough to bring it to the right temperature for the tea. Seep for 3 minutes. Simple as that!

Hiring Season is Here!

There hasn’t been a better time to be a job seeker in years. Unemployment rates are returning to pre-recession levels and trending downward. Restaurants, bars and hotels across the country are getting ready to bring on not only summer seasonal workers, but fill permanent positions. All you need now is a game plan, but don’t worry – we’re here to help.

First, update that resume. This used to mean dusting off some pirated version of Microsoft Word, getting frustrated as it tries to bullet point everything all while ignoring Windows 10 trying to update itself. Now, it’s as simple as logging into Poached and using our Resume Builder. You’ll want to pull together your past jobs, licenses and education credentials – but once you do we’ll store them in your account for future reference. You should be able to complete your resume and start applying for jobs within minutes!

Second, get strategery with it. Are you looking for something full-time or part-time? Are you sick of making pizza and ready to graduate to prepping puttanesca instead? Ask yourself what you want to do instead of what you’re merely willing to do. This’ll make searching a lot more interesting – plus you’ll be much more willing to go to the interview if you’re actually interested in the job.

Next, go to Poached and pick out some jobs! We save the jobs you view in your Dashboard, but you can also star them if you want to save them for later. This gives you the chance to do a little more research about your future employer. You can click through the ad to see their website, learn about their menu, read their press and even their blog. (Imagine the brownie points you’ll earn referencing their menu or even their blog during the interview.)

Finally, do some applying. This is the easiest part. Now that you’ve created your resume on Poached you can just select it with a couple of clicks and be on your merry way. If you have something to say about yourself, or why you want that particular job, you can write that in your cover letter right then and there.

Done and done – now you just wait for the emails and get ready for the interview.

Got any job hunting tips you’d like to share? Hit us up at


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