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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coffee and Dessert Contest

Is your dining room traffic slower due to seasonal changes, economic conditions or local competition? Savvy operators should look for higher check averages. If there's no big push for seats, guests should be allowed to linger. A strong dessert menu with premium coffee is the hook. With a special thanks to Starbucks, Americans have become comfortable paying more for upscale coffee brews. Whether you feature the Starbucks brand or another recognized option, diners are more likely to pay a higher price for a well known coffee brand.

During the 90s, there was a trend toward larger dessert portions. A couple would order one of these over-sized plates to share (two spoons). In many operations, the dessert portion sizes became massive and priced too high for people like me - travelling businessmen. In Europe and Quebec, hotels and restaurants offer a table d'hote option. This option features a full meal with appetizer, entree, sides, dessert and coffee. The dessert portions are petite. When I lived in Quebec, most of the table chose the table d'hote option when it was offered.

Smaller portions and fresh fruit options could help convert health conscious customers into dessert lovers.

If your pre-dessert check average is $25 and 10% of guests order a dessert course at an average of $5, think of the profit involved in increasing the percentage to 50%. Your check average would increase from $25.50 to $27.50 (7.8% gain). Let's look at the big picture. A restaurant with sales of $3,000,000 could see an extra $235,000 in sales. Dessert and coffee sales have a highly favorable impact on your food cost percentage.

If you gave the wait person with the highest percentage of dessert course sales a trip to Europe, you'd still be a big winner. Hopefully, they'll return with some great dessert ideas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spread Too Thin?

In a recent post, I explained the profile photo for this blog. The hat I'm wearing in the blog profile photo is from Pick Up Stix. Carlson (owners of TGIF) acquired Pick Up Stix from their founder, Charles Zhang, in 2002. The commissary manager gave me the hat on a visit I paid to Charlie's commissary in San Clemente, CA.

There's a recent story in the Sacramento Business Journal about a huge number of closings in the Pick Up Stix units in California, Nevada and Arizona. Having observed the well run commissary in San Clemente, I think the concept benefits from the central production facility. I wonder if the new owners utilize the San Clemente commissary for units in Northern California, Nevada and Arizona. Perhaps, the high cost of transportation is an issue. I'm speculating since I haven't been involved with Pick Up Stix in the Carlson era.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Offer Dessert Early in the Meal

Years ago, my brother Paul invited my wife Jackie and I to dinner at the American Bounty Restaurant. The restaurant is run by the students at The Culinary Institute of America. They have a great program where you take a student to dinner and Paul was our student guest. Although the entire dinner was exceptional, I still remember the dessert over a decade later. It was a delicious Berry Cobbler served fresh from the oven.

After our server greeted us he promoted this special dessert option. He said he needed to take the order NOW because the fresh baked cobbler required over 20 minutes in the oven. We ordered the cobbler and the locally produced wine he recommended. He rushed to the kitchen to put in our dessert order while we read the menu.

The entire meal was marvelous. After our entree dishes were cleared, the warm cobbler was served with ice cream. It was excellent and I told many friends about the meal.

Out of curiosity, I recently ran a Google search ("American Bounty" "Culinary Institute" cobbler dessert) to find out if they still offered dessert early in the meal. They still have this policy in place. A restaurant review of American Bounty mentioned the dessert order policy:

"Rick's dessert was an apple cobbler with cinnamon ice cream they made him order with his entree because they bake it fresh right then."

This policy is ideal for fine dining operations with long meal times. The guest orders a high profit item with plenty of add on potential immediately after being seated. We all ordered coffee later when the cobbler arrived. In addition, we tried a local dessert wine. The dessert course produced 25% of our total tab. Our check increased by 33% through the dessert course we decided on at the beginning of the meal.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What Would You Like To Drink?

As margins keep shrinking due to higher energy and corn prices, operators are carefully analyzing their menus. My clients often are taken aback when they first calculate the recipe cost% of popular entrees and appetizers. It's very common for a popular entree's cost to creep up to 40%.

With competitors dropping prices, you may want to look for dollars elsewhere. A fountain soft drink or a cup of coffee is a great place to start. Both of these selections are very profitable. Use these key beverage sales to improve your total food cost results.

Typically, these beverages require very little preparation time. Make sure you deliver top quality beverages to the customer. Put the right amount of ice in soda, iced tea and other cold drinks. Brew a fresh pot of coffee frequently. Give the tea lovers a choice of flavors and make the experience special.

If the customer asks for tap water, bring a freshly poured glass as soon as possible. As credit tightens, I've noticed customers going for tap water instead of a bottle. Don't make the mistake of ignoring the table. Treat these customers well and refresh their water glasses frequently.

It's great to have clients who really love bottled water. Growing up in Saratoga Springs, I remember the State Drink Hall on Broadway. Tourists lined up to taste a variety of mineral waters from the local springs. Each source had a unique taste. Today's bottled water lovers may appreciate a selection. Personally, I prefer water in a glass bottle.

Most dinners begin and end with a beverage. Make a great first and last impression. Hopefully, you'll get repeat business and see improvement in your food cost%.

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