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Make the Most of Valentine's Day at your Restaurant

A couple celebrating Valentine's Day at a restaurant

 

Make the Most of Valentine's Day at Your Restaurant

Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants. To make it a success, have your menu mapped out and enough staff on hand to ensure that everything runs smoothly. But don’t forget about wooing your guests! Let’s take a look at how you can make Valentine’s Day a success at your restaurant.

 

Menu Planning

The menu is arguably one of the most important elements on Valentine’s Day. You want to make sure that you have something special and unique for couples to share together. Start by creating a few set menu items that feature your best food and drinks. Consider offering a variety of price points so that there is something for every budget. Additionally, it may be helpful to offer “couple specials” such as two appetizers or entrees with a bottle of wine or champagne for one price. 

 

Wow Factor Strawberry Champagne Cheesecake

Wow Factor Strawberry Champagne Cheesecake

 

Valentine’s Day calls for something extra special in the dessert category! Consider these carefully selected desserts from Wow Factor and Daboom – perfect for Valentine’s Day.

 

Daboom Molten

Daboom Molten

 

Staff Preparedness

Finding labour can be difficult for restaurant owners during peak periods such as Valentine’s Day. It is important to take into account seasonal fluctuations and plan ahead by hiring extra staff before the big day arrives. Consider offering incentives such as bonuses or free meals to attract more applicants. If you are short on time and resources, contact local staffing agencies who may be able to help you find qualified candidates quickly and efficiently.

 

Make sure all staff members understand their roles beforehand and are prepared to handle any potential issues that might arise throughout the night. If possible, provide additional training sessions prior to the big day so everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.

 

Experience

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about food – it’s about creating an unforgettable experience for your guests. Think outside the box when it comes to creating a romantic atmosphere in your restaurant – from subtle decorations like candles or fresh flowers, to music or even a themed photo booth where couples can take photos together. You could also consider offering “extra touches” like complimentary champagne or desserts as part of their meal package - these small gestures can really add up and make a big difference in terms of customer satisfaction!

 

Valentine’s Day doesn't have to be overwhelming – if you plan ahead and pay attention to details, your customer satisfaction will be high, hopefully leading to repeat business.

 

 

 

Flanagan Foodservice at 2:25 PM
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Consider Stew for your Winter Menus

Shrimp and mussel stew in a bowl

 

In a Stew

Add slow food to your pot during the colder months

Give your customers the pleasure of slow food in this fast-paced world. Simple, yet sublime with infinite variety, this staple of kitchens worldwide brings comfort in every bite. Slow and relaxed, evoking an island state of mind.

 

Stew defines you. Ethnically diverse using cost-effective (and local) ingredients, stew can warm up your menu this fall and winter while at the same time keep your budget cool.

 

Love cooked into every bite

 

Yes, the love is in every serving of stew. You can smell and taste the memories – home, family, friends, meals shared. As one-pot wonders, traditionally using simple ingredients, stew is undeniably greater than the sum of its parts and a part of every nationality.

 

Find a stew that tells customers your story and transports them to happiness.

Philman George, corporate chef for High Liner Foods, has a life full of stew. “Every Sunday, my mother, who hails from the Caribbean, would prepare a one-pot stew. The house would smell so good, with aromatics like thyme and ginger root.”

 

Now, Chef Phil loves dry stew, a traditional West African dish, an influence of his wife, who is from Sierra Leone.

 

“It consists of taking a mix of vegetables and spices and cooking this mixture with roasted chicken legs and thighs until nearly all of the liquid has evaporated. What’s left is a rich paste that sticks to the chicken,” he says. As a fish and seafood-focused chef, he has adapted this stewing method and created a dry fish stew.

 

“Great care is taken to ensure that the seafood retains all its natural tenderness. I season and sear the seafood in cast iron and set aside. The vegetables, stock and aromatics are stewed down and seafood is added at the end. It’s big time comfort food!”

 

Chef Phil prides himself on fun, ethnic and approachable food. His goal is to place craveable seafood on your menu and generate more profit through the “Heart of the House.”

 

“Every culture has their version of stew. In Canada, especially on the east coast, chowders are our seafood stew! High Liner has some delicious stew recipes using cod and PEI mussels.”  

 

As he says, “Stews are the go-to bowl for winter and fall.” 

 

Stir up some fun with innovative approaches

 

“All ethnic stews can find a place on cold weather menus, when there is a focus on a single stew. There needs to be a story behind it – where the recipe comes from or a signature ingredient or cooking method the chef used to make it stand out,” says James Keppy, national culinary manager foodservice at Maple Leaf.

 

A favourite of his is a Mexican-Style Chicken Stew with chicken thighs, black beans, tomatoes and hot sauce, finished off with sour cream and tortilla chips.

 

Coaxing flavour and tenderness from underappreciated cuts is the real magic of stew, he says. “Using raw boneless, skinless chicken thighs and the pork cuts from the shoulder are cost-effective options for a great stew,” the chef reminds us.

 

Mix and match flavours and ingredients

 

Definitely not a thing of the past, a stew session using ingredients and flavours which do not regularly play together or crossing ethnic boundaries will create a unique stew that tells your story. If you do it right, it may even transport the ingredients to a new, undiscovered place.

 

Plant-based proteins will continue to drive menus. Maple Leaf’s au naturel! line of products and their Lightlife Plant Based Burger and Grounds deserve a place on your stew menu. Good for you, your customers and the planet – and distinctly on-trend.

“Maple Leaf also offers turkey breasts, pulled pork and beef, and sausages (Oktoberfest, Mediterranean, Andouille and Spanish Chorizo) for non-traditional twists to a stew,” adds Chef James.

 

With infinite protein, vegetable and spice combinations, there is a stew that is right for you and your customers. You will run out time before you run out of ideas!

 

Beef and vegetable stew

 

Stew tips
  • Think frozen. With the increasing number of dietary requests and restrictions, you may want to stew up delicious solutions that can be at the ready in the freezer. Simple additions like a hazelnut parsley gremolata add a punch of freshness and detail your customer appreciates.
  • Go beyond the bowl. Elevate your stew with a puff pastry topper, drop in some signature dumplings or pull out a vegetable and showcase on top. Present with artisanal breads (great for getting every last morsel), mash, steamed grains, polenta or pasta.  Or when in doubt, serve with more veggies.
  • Consider the upsell. “Remember that shrimp is the most consumed seafood item in Canada. So, no matter what stew you’ve made in your establishment, upsell that stew with the addition of shrimp,” says High Liner’s Chef Phil.

Your time-starved kitchen deserves a break. Stew, a hands-free, budget-saving option that tastes even better the next day is the perfect solution. Don’t you worry about a thing, because in a stew, everything is going to be alright!

 

Try veggies (and fruit) first

Stews can showcase delicious locally available ingredients throughout the fall and winter months. Creatively choose seasonal options and design a stew around them, maybe a specific farm-focused flavour profile.

 

Customers increasingly crave food transparency, even for their fruits and veggies. Why not choose your veggies and fruit first? For instance, the humble rutabaga (not the same as turnip) soars out of obscurity in a spice-drenched Tagine.

 

Fruits deserve a spot in the pot, too. Apples, peaches, pears and plums add sweetness and a native flavour. How about Rhubarb Koresh, for instance? A fruit stew is a new approach to the dessert menu in the colder months.

 

Using seasonal vegetables and fruits in stew makes sense – and cents – cost-effective, locally sourced, with a twist on the flavours of home. Keep customers coming back for seconds and thirds. 

 

TRY THIS RECIPE:

 

Hearty Mussel Chowder

 

Written by Cherie Thompson

 

Flanagan Foodservice at 3:21 PM
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Woo Diners with Interactive Games

Game time with playing pieces, dice and more

 

Woo Diners with Interactive Games

Looking for a fun way to woo guests back inside for dining? How about adding some game time to your menu? Increasingly, guests are bringing their “game face” to restaurants where they are expecting entertainment that goes beyond food and drink. 

Kids’ games – such as paper placemats and crayons for colouring – have been around for years as a way to entertain the younger generation and keep them occupied while waiting for their meals. But what about the adults? How do you keep them engaged, ordering, and off their smartphones?

 

Many family restaurants, bars and sports-themed eateries already include active play on their menu, like such popular options as dart boards, billiards tables, trivia games, foosball tables, and more. 

 

Games keep your guests engaged and may encourage them to linger longer – with more opportunities to upsell and increase check size. They also brand your restaurant as a fun venue and the place to be, plus games can help build a bond between staff and guests.

 

Raise your table stakes

One restaurant offers a gaming option with a twist. Graffiti Market in Kitchener, Ont., a combination restaurant, microbrewery, market, coffee roaster and bakery, features highly interactive game play right at diners’ tables.

 

Ryan Lloyd-Craig, co-owner of the Ignite Restaurant Group, of which Graffiti Market is a part, wasn’t even thinking of games when he saw his first interactive smart table. “The idea didn’t come to me overnight. I was walking the technology section of the Restaurants Canada show and came across a gentleman standing on what looked like a giant iPad until I got closer and found that it was an interactive table made by Kodisoft (a tech company based in Ukraine).”

 

Lloyd-Craig’s original thought was not even about games but mainly about using the tables as a way for guests to order interactively, have food runners bring the items to the tables, and then have the tables function as a complete POS system. Other countries were already using the Kodisoft system successfully, but no one in Canada had tapped into combining business with pleasure right at the table.

 

The games people play

 

Lloyd-Craig’s interest in the tables quickly evolved into something different from an ordering and POS solution. “The benefit of these tables is that you can visually see every item on the menu so it makes it easier to order, but their main appeal is keeping people engaged and entertaining them while waiting for their food. People are putting down their cellphones and actually talking to each other. That’s kind of neat.”

 

The tables offer a variety of gaming options. He started with a simple colouring application, then a doodling app after the first month, before adding puzzles for all age groups (from a basic jigsaw puzzle for kids), air hockey, Chinese checkers, and most recently, chess, all of which can be turned on or off depending on how busy the restaurant is.

 

The tables can also support advertising, both internal and external (for instance from sports businesses running commercials and interacting with guests), though so far Lloyd-Craig hasn’t tapped that potential.

 

Interestingly, far from encouraging guests to linger, guests using these interactive restaurant tables want to clear the menus and food off faster to get back to their games. Lloyd-Craig’s initial goal, in fact, was not to get diners to stay longer, but to realize labour savings from integrating ordering with serving and paying for a total POS solution – “any way you can save two or three per cent off the bottom line,” as he puts it. The restaurant hasn’t been open long enough for him to see these savings yet, but he has experienced a steady increase in sales since he brought in the game tables – and that means he’s already ahead of the game.

 

Not all games have to cost the earth for you to add. Take trivia. This option’s been around since Trivial Pursuit took off decades ago and has become a bar and casual restaurant staple. Trivia is a particular hit with Millennials looking for interactive experiences and can liven up slower winter months in any family-style restaurant. Companies like QuizRunners and Quizzholics design, create and can run your trivia games professionally. Who knows? Your eatery could become a stop on a trivia circuit.

 

Tabletop inspiration

 

  • Visual menus encourage ordering, and ordering more – especially highly visual desserts.
  • Restaurants can market and advertise their promotions and potentially attract outside advertisers.
  • Table games encourage guests to put down their smartphones and focus on the dining experience. 

 

Top tips to add games in your restaurant

 

  • Develop a games budget. You can start with something as simple as setting up game nights and bringing in board games from home. But the sky’s the limit on what you could spend to add a games component. Each of Ryan Lloyd-Craig’s 23 smart tables (Graffiti also has 25 “dumb” tables) costs $15,000 US, not including maintenance.
  • Create a brand theme and strategy. What will set you apart? A sports bar, for instance, might naturally gravitate to sports-themed games, while a family-friendly eatery would pair well with trivia nights.
  • Know your demographics. Kid-friendly restaurants are perfect venues for everything from fun “play” menus to dedicated kids’ games areas, while adult-oriented restaurants might be better venues for trivia nights, darts, even bingo.
  • Be clear on your goals. Are games a way to encourage your guests to linger longer, an opportunity to entertain young diners, a chance to bring in business during slow periods, a way to attract new guests, or an opportunity for guests to put their devices down and enjoy some family time?
  • Check your real estate. If you decide to bring in game tables, dart boards, foosball tables, do you have the space for these plus your dining tables? Don’t bring in games at the expense of your regular eating areas. After all, it’s still mainly about the food!

 

 

 

 

Written by Jane Auster

 

 

 

 

 

Flanagan Foodservice at 10:16 AM
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Fire up your grill for BBQ season

Cooked hamburger with fries

 

Here comes summer and, once pandemic numbers are under control and dining opens up widely, it will be time to get your grill on. Customers are raring to get back to outdoor dining, and nothing entices more than the smells wafting from a BBQ grill.

 

This year’s BBQ hot trends include flat plate grilling, high-end buns, layering, non-meat (plant-based innovations) grilling, and sauces and spices that take old favourites and present them in new and exciting ways. 

 

Light up your BBQ options

There’s nothing like cooking over live fire to really ignite the taste buds. If you have that option at your operation, you’ll be able to bring out the flavour in any number of grill dishes — from vegetarian to meat and fish.

 

Always go big on burgers

Burgers are here to stay, even with more Canadians choosing plant-based options. 

Nearly four in 10 Canadians eat at least one burger a week, and men eat even more burgers than women, according to data from Weston Bakeries, which studies burger-lovers’ habits. 

 

Here’s what really turns on burger lovers looking for a premium burger experience:

 

The patty (63%)
The bun (21%)
Toppings (6%)
Seasonings/spices (5%)
Condiments and cheese (3% each)

 

For many Canadians, a burger is naked without cheese. Not surprisingly, cheddar is the cheese champion at 47%, followed by mozzarella at 35%, Swiss at 33%, and Monterey Jack at 25%. Sliced is chosen by 63% and shredded by 17%.

 

Pile on the extras

Meat-topped burgers are trending… and going beyond bacon. Beef burgers are getting piled high with pulled pork, ham and beef brisket for a really meaty experience. They’re marketed as an indulgent, and ultra-savoury meat-on-meat combination.

 

Don’t forget the bun

Most Canadians like it simple and classic when it comes to buns, however new and exciting formulations are adding abundant new bun-opportunities. Here’s what Canadians traditionally look for:

 

Sesame seed buns (31%)
Cheese buns (22%)
Garlic bread buns (19%)
Onion buns (18%)
Whole wheat and multigrain buns (16% each)

 

Innovation is certainly coming to buns. According to Technomic, which collects data from the Top 500 restaurant chains, the fastest growing buns are potato buns, sesame seed buns, and brioche. Even ciabatta buns are beginning to have their moment on the grill.

 

Beef still reigns as burger king followed by chicken, fish and turkey. Eight out of 10 prefer a grilled beef patty. But new grill contenders are ready to take their place. Think seafood skewers and grilled fish.

 

Kick up your spices a notch

Salt and pepper remain the most popular burger seasonings, however garlic salt, Worcestershire, peppercorn, and Cajun flavours are all gaining in popularity. 

 

Diners love barbecue, and that’s helping to propel burnt, charred and toasted flavours, Technomic reports. Smoky flavours are no longer limited to just meats and cheese but are also being paired with contrasting flavours such as sweet and spicy to add complexity. The espelette pepper, originating from the Basque region of France, helps deliver that smoky, sweet and mildly hot flavour that makes plancha-grilled food an exciting new trend.

 

The fastest growing condiments are chipotle aioli, garlic mayonnaise, honey, marmalade and jam, especially savoury flavours like bacon jam and pepper marmalade. 

 

 

 

Flanagan Foodservice at 1:45 PM
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Downsizing the Menu to Upsize Restaurant Revenue

Woman in restaurant holding menu

 

Downsizing the Menu to Upsize Restaurant Revenue

 

Once a necessity during the tumultuous year the foodservice industry has faced, now smaller streamlined menus are here to stay. And with good reason. Trimming and slimming down your menu adds well deserved money back to your bottom line, benefiting both you and your customers.

 

Long before COVID-19, if you remember back that far, Technomic had already acknowledged simplification of menus. Their Canada’s Shrinking Menus 2018 report noted that restaurant operators had been gradually cutting back on their menus since 2013.

 

Technomic reported that operators were being strategic about how and where to spend their money while dealing with the labour issues in the Canadian workforce.

 

Their Post-Pandemic Playbook continues the same macrotrend, stating labour issues already felt in foodservice pre-pandemic could be worse as former employees find other opportunities.

 

They also predict that many operators will likely focus on menu items that are revenue and profitability drivers, post-crisis.

 

Simplifying the menu makes good business sense: assisting cost control, reducing labour costs and keeping customers happy.

 

Cost Control

Smaller menus naturally use fewer ingredients. A tighter food inventory provides operators with many cost-control options without hurting menu quality.  In fact, menu quality will naturally improve.

 

James Keppy, corporate chef for Maple Leaf Foods, is busy helping operators streamline menus and promoting value-added ingredients to help chefs in their kitchens.

 

“Operators need to do a few things well. No one can afford to have their menu be a book anymore,” says Keppy.

 

“Inventory items need to be reduced so that they can be controlled and better utilized in multiple applications across the menu. This inventory reduction affords little to no waste.”  

 

Technomic’s State of the Canadian Menu 2021 report agrees and suggests operators adapt products to various dayparts, mealparts, menu categories and ordering options. They state that menu streamlining will be a necessity for operators amid and after the pandemic, sticking around as a long-term trend. Multiple applications increase efficiency on several fronts, from labour to storage to spending.

 

Fewer ingredients mean you will be ordering larger quantities of your staples, allowing for bulk purchases and economies of scale.

 

The time it takes to manage inventory decreases from counting to reordering. With a tighter handle on inventory, food waste is also significantly reduced.

 

Consumers continue to look for customization when ordering. A smaller menu can still accommodate these requests. Operators can rethink well-performing ingredients and use them strategically in their offerings. But that also means eliminating poorly performing ingredients.

 

Keppy agrees. “If there are inventory items present that are costly but show low sales on the menu mix, they are a drain on your resources in both money and storage.

 

“Menu items and their ingredients that travel well are important. Maple Leaf Pulled Pork and Beef can be customized by individual operators with their seasonings and sauce and will keep their heat for delivery. These products can be used for sandwiches, build your own tacos, and for mac and cheese topping.”

 

Labour Costs

Relying on menu fundamentals is key, according to Technomic’s State of the Canadian Menu 2021 report. Operators scaled back their menus to focus on core items. Smaller SKU counts helped operators reduce operational complexity by streamlining their menus, reducing waste and staffing needs, and increasing speed of service. 

 

“Smaller menus factor in labour. This could lead to the elimination or doubling up of stations in the kitchen,” says Keppy.  

 

With fewer items on the menu, it is faster to train new employees — front of house and back of house. Wait staff will have more comprehensive menu knowledge and can effectively upsell and educate customers. Kitchen staff can quickly become experts on recipes, leading to faster service and higher quality dishes.

 

Additional benefits of having fewer moving parts, people and ingredients are increased efficiency and minimal mistakes — everybody wins in this scenario.

 

Happy Customers

Everyone wants to be happy. Smaller menus help your customers get there. It is easier for your customers to understand who you are and what makes you awesome if they aren’t getting lost in your menu.

 

Visually, the menu will be more appealing in print and online. The physical menu will have white space and room to move, taking advantage of menu psychology theories. Plus, the digital menu will be simpler to scroll.

 

“Keep the menu easy to read and therefore easier to make a menu choice… especially if your customers are reading and ordering from a phone,” says Keppy.

 

Smaller menus increase the perception of quality over quantity and don’t overwhelm indecisive guests.

 

As ticket times decrease, customers get their orders faster, and that makes them ecstatic.

 

Gearing Down to Go Up

“Do what you are good at and what you are known for while still offering items that appeal to the general groups of meat eaters, vegetarian and vegans, healthy eaters and indulgent consumers. If you are a chicken place, offer fried, grilled and a plant-based version,” says Keppy. 

 

He also reminds us that “no matter what you offer, always consider the quality and appearance on the plate as well as in the takeout container.”

 

Shrinking your menu is all about dollars and cents, and just makes good sense. Your operation will be stronger, more focused and even better than before. Your customers will thank you, and so will your bank account.

 

 

 

Visit chefconnexion.com for more articles and expert advice

 

Written by Cheri Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flanagan Foodservice at 9:42 AM
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