Winter is Coming: Preparing Your Restaurant for Another Big Freeze

Snow Covered Cars

When it comes to profits in the foodservice industry, every winter is the winter of discontent. Sales drop because of the cold weather and sudden snowfall, two factors that wound up keeping many potential customers indoors from January to March 2014 and causing nation-wide restaurant traffic to decline by a full 1%.

According to overall studies, the foodservice industry hit a low in January during a major dip in sales from December to February. In December alone, the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index, which is a measurement of how America's restaurant industry is doing as a whole, dropped 0.6%, reflecting a sizable and sudden loss in sales. While this could've been devastating to the foodservice industry's annual performance, it actually recovered — and then it even expanded, year-over-year.

Delivery

To get through those trying months, many foodservice businesses decided to get creative. Instituting delivery systems quickly became one of the most popular ways to make up for lost revenue, as delivery orders increased by 4% around the beginning of 2014. The ingenuity of these businesses proved that you can have a bad winter, but still have a great year.

Today, with November just around the bend, it's time to brace yourself for winter so that you can have a chance at maintaining numbers in the black. While this is important every year, it's especially important this year, which is supposed to bring a winter even worse than the last.

Snow Storm

In the event of heavy snowfall and a loss of customer traffic, the best ideas will be those that strike a balance between maintaining a cash flow and keeping your employees safe. Sending a car is the most obvious answer, but it could be dangerous when snow is still falling. Instead, delivery on foot can be a great choice for urban locations where people live in close proximity to one another. If you're out in the countryside, consider investing in a snowmobile or other all-terrain vehicle so your employees can still deliver before roads have been plowed. And while that may sound like an impractical idea, there's a Pizzeria in Michigan that delivers on jet skis, so the sky's the limit with alternatives to traditional delivery systems.

Snowy Deck

But while delivery is an excellent idea for taking in money, it's important to recognize the difference between winter weather making people feel like they want to stay home, as opposed to physically keeping them there. For the latter scenario, it's best not to have any delivery at all to reduce the risk that an employee can become injured while on the job. It might hurt a little when your sales begin to dip, but as the statistics show, you can more than make up for it in the coming months.

Posted in: Features | By Christopher Zook

How to Make a Pumpkin Keg

Whether you're looking to add a seasonal centerpiece to your bar this Halloween or simply want a fun, fresh way of dispensing beverages at your holiday-themed events, you can't go wrong with a pumpkin keg. This video shows you how to quickly and easily create your own beverage or beer keg from your garden variety pumpkin so you can dispense cider or everyone's favorite pumpkin beer in style this fall!

Posted in: Holidays | By Brandon Lesko

The Importance of Ingredient Transparency

In the opening scene of the television comedy Portlandia, actors Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein sit at a table in a restaurant and look over a menu. When the server comes to take their orders, they seem happy enough — and then the questions begin.

Peanut Butter Nutrition

They start innocently at first — just a couple queries about the ingredients — before exploding into a wild caricature of overly-concerned diners whose desire for the humane treatment of livestock overrides their hunger, pushing them to ridiculous lengths to figure out if a restaurant's meat comes from an ethical farm.

And while this is a grossly hyperbolized vision of reality, like most comedy it carries a kernel of truth.

Ingredient transparency is one of the largest emerging trends in the foodservice industry. More and more, customers want to know where their food came from, whether it's organic, how fresh it is, and how the livestock was treated. Customers typically like proof or an endorsement that foods are locally sourced, organic, and cage-free while using minimal preservatives, even if it winds up costing them a little more.

The movement has gained so much steam, in fact, that major chains like Chipotle have published interactive ingredients statements online, to the extent where, in addition to all of their positive press, they also list foods that contain GMOs, hydrogenated oils, and preservatives — foods that conscientious eaters try to avoid.

Chipotle ingredients list

Other companies have come out with an ingredients statement as well due to consumer demand. However, there's no standardized template for one, so you can find everything from basic listings, like with KFC, to the extensively detailed, like Cold Stone Creamery.

Healthy Heart

In general, listing the nitty-gritty of the ingredients you use isn't always necessary — but it is helpful. With food allergy awareness at an all-time high, it's at least a good idea to inform customers which of your foods includes hot-button additives like gluten, nuts, and other foods that could elicit a strong allergic reaction.

Whether you run a corner café that has a handful of regulars or a cafeteria that serves hundreds, informing your customers about the food they're eating can only help your reputation. Naturally, it's better to tip the scales a little in your favor, creating something that mostly shows the positive aspects of your foods along with a few notes about ingredients that contain GMOs, fats, or allergens. Even with a couple negative notes, listing ingredients not only helps your customers make the best choices for their diets, but it also helps them remember who you are and the dedication you have to honesty, establishing a firm and lasting trust.

Posted in: Consumables | By Christopher Zook

Top 5 Scariest Foods in the Restaurant Industry This Halloween

Regardless of where you live, you probably think that people eat some pretty strange foods, and whether they gross you out or you want to try them is totally subjective. But there are also some foods that are objectively odd — not necessarily because people want to eat them, but because of what happens if you eat them, the pomp involved with serving them, or the danger that they represent. These are the foods for people who like to roll the dice and the craps table just isn't enough. The adrenaline junkies. The power foodies. Or — as some may say — the downright crazy.

5. Cashew Nuts

Cashew Nut

These aren't your grocery store cashews. Despite how plentiful they are around the world, a cashew in the shell is an edible nightmare with disastrous results. This is because cashews are closely related to poison ivy and poison sumac, giving them the same annoying, itchy effects. Like poison ivy, the symptoms of the cashew's irritants take time to show up. Unlike poison ivy, the effects begin inside your body at places you can't scratch or treat. Basically, if you thought poison ivy on your ankle was bad, just wait until it's in your throat.

This is also the reason cashews are roasted — the roasting process drastically reduces the levels of chemicals and the chances someone will have an allergic reaction to practically zero. Just don't take a cashew-picking trip anytime soon.

4. Hàkarl

Hakarl

Hàkarl is an Icelandic seafood dish of sleeper shark, an animal that smells so heinous it's actually better known as "rotten shark." Not unlike free-form jazz, hàkarl has been described as an acquired taste because it is known to leave a lingering, unpleasant flavor in one's mouth. It actually tastes like ammonia — and there's a reason for that. This particular shark doesn't have intestines or a bladder, which is pretty wild on two levels. First, almost every animal that's ever lived has had both. Second, this means that this fish had to figure out another way to get rid of body waste. And it did.

Through its skin.

Even though you've already connected the dots, that all means that this shark's skin, which you eat, has essentially been soaked in urine for that shark's entire life. So that smell? And that aftertaste? It ain't the sauce.

This dish also happens to be the origin of the relatively unknown fisherman slogan, "You can take the shark out of the urine, but you can't cook the urine out of the shark."

3. Sannakji

Live Hangul Octopus

Sannakji is a raw seafood platter served in the Koreas. The entire plate consists of sesame, sesame oil, and the squirming body (or sometimes just the tentacles) of a live hangul octopus. Its murky-gray appearance — not to mention the twisting, writhing limbs — is enough to set off a whole range of culinary red flags, even for the tourist who prides herself on stomaching authentic cuisine.

On top of making calamari look boring, sannakji can also be pretty dangerous. The octopus's tentacles still have active suction cups, allowing them to pucker up to the side of your throat and cause a wormy, slippery choking hazard that will take at least a dozen shots of soju to detach, much less forget.

But fatalities are non-existent, so you can be the first person in your group of friends who has a unique (albeit uncomfortable) story about choking on a live octopus. That's got to be worth something, right?

2. Raw Cobra

Sometimes called "Cobra Gold," eating a live king cobra is a step above eating a live octopus not just because cobras sometimes kill people for fun, but also because of the ceremony that goes with the meal. It starts with you picking out the cobra you want to eat, presumably so you can smugly look it straight in its beady little eyes. Then you sit down and the waiters bring your chosen snake to the table with vodka, knives, and a funnel.

Raw Cobra

If you have a bad feeling about the rest of this, it's probably because nothing good has ever come from a situation that has involved vodka, knives, and a funnel.

Anyway, then one of the waiters lobs the cobra's head off, places the fangs in a glass, and drains the venom — which, amazingly, is harmless unless directly injected into your veins (travel tip: don't do that). The waiters then toss the funnel onto the glass and bleed the cobra's body dry. To top it all off, they splash a little bit (or a lot, depending on your need) of vodka to make the world's most confusing and least popular cocktail.

But don't shoot it back yet — the pièce de résistance is receiving the snake's still-beating heart on your plate. Hold your nose, swallow it (don't bite), and chase it with the shot of blood-venom-vodka. And that funny feeling in your throat? That's the heartbeat. Somewhere, something is proud of you.

But don't get too nauseous — you still have a whole snake to eat!

1. Butter

Just kidding — we could all use a breather after that last one.

1. Fugu

Fugu

Fugu is a world-famous Japanese dish that has been popularized by its ability to straight-up murder the people who eat it. While non-toxic species exist, authentic fugu (or pufferfish) is brimming with tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin that is 1200 times more potent than cyanide, a chemical that is literally only known for its ability to kill things.

Properly prepared with a special knife, fugu can be a delicious experience for tourists and locals alike. And the odds that it will be properly prepared are very high, considering the Japanese government actually licenses chefs who are bold enough to take on the challenge of cutting the poison out of a poison fish, which — come to think of it — could also be a helpful technique for taking the urine out of a urine shark.

But every once in a while, someone is dealt a bad hand. A minor error in preparation means the toxin remains in the fish's meat, and if it's eaten, it results in a full-body shutdown of someone's internal sodium channel proteins, which gradually paralyzes every muscle in their body while leaving them fully conscious to experience the horror first-hand. If detected immediately, the symptoms of tetrodotoxin can be counteracted with forced respiration, among other medical procedures. But if it goes on for too long, the victim eventually suffocates to death.

Ordering fugu is balancing your life on the tightrope of potential disaster, and if you get hit with a slight breeze, it can all be over. If you decide to take the gamble, you (and your loved ones) better cross your fingers for double zeroes.

Posted in: Holidays | By Christopher Zook
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