Archive for the ‘ Restaurants & Room Service ’ Category

Is Your Breakfast Menu Up-To-Date?

F&B Directors: how much has your breakfast menu changed in the last two years? How about your dinner menu? I often find that hotels focus more on updating the dinner menu while breakfast stays the same. Except for pricing. But these same hotels serve five to ten times as many guests at breakfast as they do at dinner.  

Next question: what is your breakfast capture rate compared to one or two years ago? Well, it may be “red alert” time. Your competitors had an interesting view of the recession, apparently thinking it was the right time to grow the breakfast segment. While casual dining remained stable, with 17% serving breakfast, and midscale or family dining remained steady at 77%, QSR including coffee shops grew to 48%. “In total 47% of all commercial foodservice units currently menu at least some breakfast items.” All of this data is courtesy the 2011 edition of QSR ONESource Magazine (www.qsrmagazine.com). For their publication on January 14 they used data from a number of sources. Here are some highlights. For much of their breakfast menu insight QSR used data from Datassential menutrends™ Direct (http://tinyurl.com/4zodz92).

  • There is significant growth in menuing  nontraditional proteins, including chorizo, sirloin, crab and salmon.
  • Parmesan and goat cheese are the fastest growing cheeses across all types of operators at breakfast.
  • Upscale dinner preparations/descriptions are showing up at breakfast, including wood-smoked, oven-roasted and fire-roasted.
  • Ethnic items continue to increase in popularity on menus – while Mexican shows up the most, there is growth in Italian and Greek inspired items.
  • I know you’ve heard about “health” as a growing trend for years; this latest information says that your guests are more likely to desire healthy food at breakfast than at any other time, and that even incorporating “healthy attributes” will have an impact. Think whole and multi-grains, super fruits and lean meats they say.

Looks like it’s time for breakfast.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

 

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Is Your Menu Missing Something?

Your dinner menu lists appetizers, right? Or maybe “Starters” or “Small Plates” or a clever synonym suggesting that this is where you start your meal.

But really, it isn’t the start, is it? I mean the start is usually a beverage. Perhaps you offer a beverage menu or a table tent that promotes beverages. OK.

"I wonder where the cocktails are..."

But experts suggest that you (also) list drinks, including wines, on the food menu.

January 26 was interesting for me. That morning I was asked by a client to review a dinner menu for a top notch hotel in the upscale segment.

The dinner menu I reviewed had no cocktails, beers or wines listed anywhere. This isn’t unusual for hotel dinner menus. The menu did have coffee, milk and juice. I recommended enhancements which would put select beverages at the top left of the menu, at the beginning. Why not let the menu “begin at the beginning”?

That same afternoon I attended 2011 Cheers Conference (www.Cheersconference.com) in New Orleans, and an excellent presentation (one of many at the Conference) – Menu Trends:  What the Top 25 Chains Are Pouring. The presenter was Michael J. Ginley, a Partner at Next Level Marketing (http://www.nextlevel-co.com).  Ginley suggested that 86% of the top twenty-five full service restaurant chains list at least “some” drinks on their menus. He then stated that he was puzzled that the number isn’t 100% since there is evidence that the practice improves sales.

But there’s more. In October 2009 I published a blog “How to Sell Less Wine”. In it I cited the remarkable Cornell wine list placement study. Thanks to Sybil S. Yang and Michael Lynn, Ph.D., and The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University we now understand which wine list attributes correlate to increases in wine sales. In their breakthrough finding, “Wine List Characteristics Associated with Greater Wine Sales”  [Cornell Hospitality Report, Vol. 9, No. 11, July 2009, http://tinyurl.com/6c8tsc9], Yang & Lynn detail how they meticulously studied the wine lists and wine sales of 270 restaurants spanning several major markets.

In my blog I summarized the findings, and now refer to this one: Wine list design: only two attributes were found to correlate to higher wine sales: placing the list on the menu (instead of a separate book), and not using the dollar sign ($).

Are you using your dinner menu to optimize beverage sales?

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Time to Lose (Inventory) Weight?

Well, this IS the month to trim fat, right? Every fitness center is filled, this is the number one month for fitness center enrollments, etc. But I’m not concerned here about body fat. Not that I don’t have plenty to be concerned about. The topic today is inventory fat. That’s right: inventory fat – otherwise known as dead inventory – is bad for you. 

What is dead inventory? Usually I think of beverage inventory. Mostly wine. Food inventory is easy to work out: banquet menus, employee feeding and systems for daily specials enable us to do this with some ease. We’ve gotten good at it because it’s perishable, and because storage space is limited. Dead beer inventory happens – hard to sell that summer seasonal in December. But in my experience it doesn’t represent a lot of dollars. Spirits can be a problem if you let distributors make your inventory decisions for you by giving you “free” sample products you wouldn’t otherwise order. How’s that banana-lime tequila cordial working for you, the one your distributor swore was the hottest thing going in (name any trendy area in California)?

So, we’re back to wine. I’ve seen dead inventories as high as $100,000. I’ve seen dead inventories that increase year after year after year with no movement. Does your bar accounting team wear dust masks when they do your beverage inventory? Like those extra pounds you want to shed, you know the risks of too much dead wine inventory:

  • Ties up cash
  • Perishable – it goes bad eventually
  • Takes up valuable storage space
  • Discourages you from updating your lists with the latest products

The most commonly used methods for reducing old inventory still work. “Selling” it to the kitchen and “selling” it to your sales and marketing department for VIP amenities, sales gifts, etc.

Here are some additional ideas:

  • Have a “Wine Sale” – Use this to build business on slower nights by offering it on those nights only. Example:  Sunday & Monday half-price bottles
  • Or, make a separate half-price wine list, noting that these are available until sold out
  • Or, where legal regulations allows this, prepare a half-price “to take home after dinner” list (unopened by you, of course)
  • Or, a variation – a BOGO. Buy a bottle from our “special” list for dinner, get a second bottle “free” to take home. (Promotional wording and procedures subject to your local regulations, of course.)
  • Pour off as a special BTG Happy Hour promotion
  • Create a “special” list with lucrative employee incentives for selling these itrems. Increase the value of the incentive with each sale. $2 for selling the first bottle. $3 for the second. Up to $5 per bottle. In other words, “give” the discount to your employee instead of the guest (or price it so the discount is “shared”).
  • Create the world’s best Sangria, and promote it

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

 

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Side Ways

Frankly I was shocked. I dined at a nice seafood restaurant last week. I was hungry. The menu was sizeable and impressive. The appetizer section featured an extensive raw bar. And the seafood section featured regional fish and shellfish as you might expect. There was another section, “from the land”, not uncommon in seafood restaurants. Even a seafood restaurant will have patrons with a craving or predilection for chicken, pork or beef, often dining with their seafood-loving partner. In fact I had come with a craving for beef, maybe a nice sirloin. Imagine my surprise.

Under “from the land” there was a single notation about beef: “We will be pleased to serve any three of our beef side dishes for the entrée price of $23.00.”  Beef side dishes?

When I asked the server about this she replied “Sir, we do have a nice selection of beef side dishes. Our tenderloin kabobs are delicious and the sliced sirloin is really good, I have it all the time. Our most popular side is the Chef’s braised short rib. But don’t overlook the beef rib which I can serve with barbecue sauce on the side, or the half-slice of prime rib.”

“But I don’t want a side dish or three side dishes, I want an entrée. Something that the Chef has thought about, created just for this menu. I want flavor, maybe multiple flavors, maybe something original. I want to be pleased by the presentation. I want to be delighted by the creative assembly of flavors and colors and textures on a single plate. I want to be delighted by the way the flavors come together to create a memorable experience. If I wanted sides, I’d go to a cafeteria or buffet restaurant, wouldn’t I?”

OK, enough silliness. Sure this is made up. Unless you substitute the word “vegetarian” for “beef”. Then it’s realistic and happens every day in many restaurants. Or, the variation: “we don’t have any beef (vegetarian) items on the menu, but the chef will be delighted to create a beef entrée for you”.

Why does this happen? Restaurant servers may respond a) “people don’t come here for vegetarian dishes, they come for our great steaks (or seafood or barbecue, etc.)” and b) “we tried putting a vegetarian item on the menu but no one ordered it” and c) “we will make anything the guest asks for if we have the ingredients in the kitchen, so we don’t need it; our vegetarian customers seem pleased with that”.

Is this OK? Well…a) people don’t come just for your seafood (steaks, pork) but you have seafood (steak, pork) items on the menu, right? Because not everyone in a party has the same preferences, and b) was the creative and culinary level of the vegetarian item on a par with your best non-vegetarian items, and was the selection as robust as it is for your other secondary items?, and c) right –  the chef makes a great vegetarian item, but it’s a secret and we can’t print it on the menu?

There are less obvious reasons. “I can’t charge the same amount as I do for my seafood and meat items”, for example. This isn’t correct, but it reflects the inferiority some restaurateurs have about their vegetarian culinary ability: “who would pay $20 for vegetables?” It’s the wrong question. The right question is “what can I create that has the same levels of creativity and complexity as my best items, and leaves the customer wanting more, wanting to come back?”

This isn’t a plea to save animals. Or a tribute to “World Vegetarian Day” (it was Oct 1). It’s a reminder to stay in touch with trends. Consider some recent findings:

  • Vegetarian meals aren’t just for vegetarians: Although New York City-based Harris Interactive reports that 3% of Americans are everyday vegetarians, R&I’s March 2010 New American Diner Study finds that 23% of consumers are eating more meatless entrées than they did a year ago. Meanwhile, 40% of nonvegetarians say they sometimes order vegetarian or vegan menu items just because they sound good.
  • Young people drive the trend. Last year’s Harris Interactive Poll commissioned by Vegetarian Resource Group asked adults about eating meat (“meat” did not include poultry or fish). 8% said they never eat meat. The demographic details are telling.  But for students alone the percentage nearly doubles, to 15%. For females 18-34 it’s 12% – even for males in the 18-34 age group it’s 9%. www.vrg.org/press/2009poll.htm 
  • Females drive the trend. Women are 60% more likely to be vegetarians than men are (3.33% vs. 2.07%) (www.PsychologyToday.com)  
  • Vegetarian entrees hit support other trends, like the industry’s “sustainability” and “healthy eating” trends
  • The very best establishments and Chefs already offer standout vegetarian items – of course, there’s the story about Steve Wynn and the restaurants at Wynn Las Vegas (and Encore) that added or expanded their vegan offerings. But just Google “top restaurants” for any major city, even in the Midwest which has fewer vegetarians, percentage wise, than the coasts, and download their menus. I did this and found 8 of the “ten best” had at least one enticing vegetarian item on the menu.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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“Culture of Outlets” — Ban this Word!

And when was the last time you said, “Let’s go eat at an outlet”? I’ll bet you’ve never heard this dialogue:

Spouse A: Honey, it’s Saturday, let’s go out to dinner.

Spouse B: Sounds great. What kind of outlet are you thinking about?

Spouse A: What? I said dinner.

Spouse B:  Got it. At the hotel we call them outlets. Hey after dinner at an outlet, let’s go to an outlet for drinks.

Spouse A: I don’t want to eat at an outlet, I want to dine at a restaurant, then drink at a bar.

Spouse B: Sounds a little strange to me, but OK.

Also an Outlet

So, “B” works at a hotel. Why don’t we say “restaurants & bars” when we work at hotels? Well, it’s convenient to say outlets if you want to encompass every type of service in one word. Room Service is not the same as restaurant, and a mini bar is not the same as a Bar. But both are “outlets”. I suspect the term emanated from accounting where analysis often requires lumping the non-banqueting areas together.

Well, lump them together all you want, but don’t call my restaurant an outlet. Or my bar. Guests don’t eat at outlets – just ask them. I can see the intercept survey now: “Sir, would you mind sharing some of your opinions about the outlet you dined at last evening?” Restaurants, Bar/Lounge, Room Service and Mini Bars all work for me. Let finance people refer to Eating & Drinking Revenue Centers.

Cute Outlet, but not a Restaurant

So I pledge here and now: stop what this “culture of outlets”. This culture supports a second-class image for hotel restaurants and bars. Language both reflects and reinforces culture:  ban the word “outlet” from your hotel. Hold your F&B head high.

And while we’re at it, here is some more “culture of outlets” behavior we should put to rest:

  1. Using the hotel logo on bar and restaurant promotional materials. Your restaurant has a name, right? Your bar? And logos? [Note: I’ve seen hotel restaurants and bars without logos – you can design a useable logo on line for a couple hundred bucks. Do it.]
  2. Room Service should be positioned as a service of the restaurant, not a service o the hotel. Yes, in some instances Room Service is truly unique, with a different staff and different kitchen than the restaurant. But in most cases, when it comes to Room Service, we fail to leverage all of the internal marketing we’ve done for our restaurants and bars. We don’t use restaurant and bar logos, we don’t talk about the restaurant Chef and we don’t do anything to indicate that the Chef even knows that his or her food sometimes goes to the rooms (how about: “We have prepared this Signature from our restaurant kitchen specifically for our Room Service Guests”, etc.)

    This is Also an Outlet

  3. Performing “competitive shops” at other hotels. So you really think your guest leaves the hotel for dinner and walks or drives…to another hotel? A competitive survey should determine where guests eat and/or drink when they don’t eat/drink at your bars and restaurants. Your employees and your regular guests can both tell you this. Ask them.
  4. Hotel web sites. My recent “Banana” blog addresses the need for independent web sites for your bars and restaurants. But how about the hotel web site? I actually think that the driver of “culture of outlets” here is space: “dining” is a 6-character word. “Restaurants & Bars” is 18 spaces. The same culture at work, I think, that figures it’s OK to use “Events” as a placeholder for “Weddings”. Reorganize the site, make the space.

Please let me know what words or phrases you think might work better than “outlets”.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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When Selling the Right Thing is the Wrong Thing

Once last month I was thinking too hard and managed to work myself right into a contradiction. I was at a property roughly 75 miles from Wine Country.  I was congratulating management on their wine promotion, a simple but effective Best Practice, how I reported it. I was also congratulating myself on congratulating management as this would reinforce the Company’s excellent wine sales culture that I had supported in previous reports and meetings.

Regrettably, while compiling the report I encountered a sinister force trying to destroy the superb writing and brilliant conclusions of my masterful report: data. Oops. 

Turns out, the customer didn’t follow the well-merchandised direction: “drink more wine…drink more wine…” This is the thing about customers, that just when you expect them to do just one simple thing…well, you know.

Previously I had looked at sales, or the beverage mix. So, the spirits-beer-wine mix might be 30% – 32% – 38%. Great, we’re selling more wine. Keep it up. Promote wine. Good job. Report emailed.

Then I stumbled across some additional information. By “stumbled across” I mean I decided to look at the other data contained in the sales mix report. The other data was “number of items sold” though it wasn’t labeled clearly and this will continue to be my excuse for missing it first time around.

So, it turns out, incidents of beer sales surpass, significantly, incidents of spirits or wine sales in the lounge. Of course spirits and wine sales are critical and must be promoted, but promoted strategically. In fact wine sales and incidents of wine sales dominate room service beverage, for example.

But back to beer. Digging some more. Beer at this location wasn’t discounted significantly. Craft and imports were popular. The beer selection paled (pun?) next to the wine selection. There is a wine list but no beer list. There was excess capacity in the beer cooler. Management is smart and open minded. In other words, all of the usual obstacles were gone, and opportunities abound.

The hotel is adjusting inventories, re-writing beverage menus and developing new promotions. Adding some taps in the Lounge. Ratcheting up room service wine promos. All because of some data.

Six months from now I’ll request an updated mix and overall sales analysis,  and we’ll see happened. We’ll see together – I’ll share it here.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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“In Room Dining” or “Room Service”?

What a dilemma! What should we call this special function, one which the hotel industry clearly “owns”. Upscale hotels seem to prefer In Room Dining, but I don’t know that anyone has ever asked the guest.

 Does it matter?       

 “In Room Dining” describes this from the guest experience point of view: dining. “Room Service” describes this from the hotel (and guest) points of view: service. “Dining” sounds just a touch expensive and formal (aren’t these elements many of us are removing from our hotel dining rooms?) and frankly, I’m not dining – I’m trying to get something to eat and drink, while I…

  • Work on my laptop
  • Watch TV
  • Shower & shave
  • Get dressed for an event / etc.

Note: this is often a convenience buy.

So, what does matter? How about capitalizing on one or more of these opportunities:

Opportunity 1: Room service is your ‘leg up’ on local restaurants. It’s the one game at which “they” can’t beat you. Go after them. By providing product and experiences equal to or better than what they have (+ “delivered to the room”). If your guests frequent a steak house 2 blocks away, what memorable steak experience can you provide? If they go to the sports down at the corner, make sure tonight’s sports channels and offerings are in the room when they check in, or are handed to them at the desk.

Opportunity 2: Room service provides a way for you to make an impact, create a point of difference. (If you’re thinking about this from a corporate point of view, it’s a great way for your company/chain/brand to communicate and execute a point of difference.) You can “brand” it. You can create signature “Room Service Only” signatures (Please, not personal pizza. Please.) A “Room Service Selected Wine List” (half bottles?).

Opportunity 3: Room service gives you the chance to create or extend your relationship with the guest, through a thoughtful promotion or service feature. Give them something they didn’t order (a chocolate? TV Guide? A cordial mini?). Interact with them in an unexpected but nonintrusive (and value add) way – squeeze the grapefruit juice at their table, or make the coffee with a French Press at their table, or decant the wine.

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Are You Tracking That?

Tracking what, exactly? Well, everything, apparently.

Just what are the trends in F&B number analysis? We have so many tools today – it’s great. At the risk of dating myself, I remember the day our regional F&B Director rushed into my office and announced that he had this new “miracle” tool, VisiCalc, and “wait until you see what can be done with it”. That was 25 years ago. Here’s how things have evolved, for some hotel and restaurant chains:

  • We have more information then ever before. It’s a digital world. We have Business Intelligence Systems. We have Dashboards. We have Enterprise Programs to look at POS in real time. We have labor systems and can view labor in real time. Purchasing systems – need to know how many bottles of tobacco you bought last week? Yesterday? No problem. And of course, we have spreadsheets.
  • What is the job today? Reports. To corporate. Now. “More information than ever before” has led to “more reporting than ever before”. And, thanks to Excel, Adobe, Power Point and others, we can make some pretty spiffy reports.
  • Since we have all of this incredible information there are some silly practices from “long ago” that are really not needed any more – and for many, basic practices such as taking inventories and forecasting covers by meal period are among the data casualties.
  • And how helpful are the reports? Maybe this is a hint: I have yet to meet a unit manager, hotel or restaurant, who didn’t keep his or her own spreadsheet with their own collection of goals and trends, and use that spreadsheet to manage.

“To manage”? That’s right. They find they can’t manage with 100 data points to look at, but they can do a hell of a job looking at the ten most critical data points, especially if they look at them every day.

Let’s digress: how many restaurant companies have won the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award (www.baldrige.nist.gov)? The answer is one: Pal’s Sudden Service (www.palsweb.com), a small drive-through hot dog chain with no indoor seating, but with business practices and results beyond what most of us have imagined possible. And Pal’s shares its methodologies through its Pal’s Business Excellence Institute (www.palsbei.com) – I’ve taken 3 courses there, and recommend it to anyone pursuing excellence in business practice.

Why I mention this – Pal’s tracks 10 pieces of information. Not 11. Not 100. Just 10. Pal’s managers and corporate track the same thing.

In fact, the fourth (of seven) category of criteria for Baldridge is: Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management. A paper about the Award and about Pal’s published for the International Journal of Quality and Productivity Management (Vol.5, No.1, December 15, 2005) explains:

It is difficult, if not impossible, to manage an activity that cannot be measured in some way. Often, managers want to obtain as much data and information as possible regardless of its usefulness. Many incorrectly believe that more data lead to a more informed decision. This is usually not the case. Only relevant data should be kept and measured, and key performance measures should be acted upon.

The successful managers I’ve observed, at the unit level, get this.

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Dessert Pricing – Sugar Shock?

Maybe you read Sugar Shock!How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life– and How You Can Get Back on Track by Connie Bennett and Stephen Sinatra, published nearly three years ago?

This isn’t another health blog. I’m just trying to find an explanation for a common dessert pricing practice, and so far I have none. So, I was thinking that when chefs, managers or owners price the desserts for their menus, maybe they do so after tasting them, all of them, and they’re suffering from “sugar shock”, unable to think clearly. I’m open to other explanations.

Let me try an analogy. You walk into a busy, nice looking restaurant, you’re seated promptly and an open menu is expertly handed to you, along with a cocktail list. You notice that every wine offered by the glass, and there are several, is the same price. Hmmnnn. Then you look at the dinner menu and are surprised to discover that every appetizer is the same price. Unusual, but OK. Your biggest surprise occurs when you discover that every entrée is the same price. What’s up with that?

Is this a good idea? An amazing new strategy for…higher check? Ensuring return visits? Creating buzz (well, maybe)?

But in fact, we don’t price all of our items the same. Why not, then? The simple answer, thank you Ockham, may be that uniformity in pricing doesn’t meet the needs of the customer.

Not every customer wants the same thing. Even “like” customers may order differently depending on the occasion (celebration, expense account business meal, dinner with the family to name a few occasions). Some customers may be seeking value. Some may restrict themselves to entrees that are naturally lower in cost (e.g. vegetarians). Others may wish to order something very expensive. Or, their dining preferences lean toward high-end beef or lobster. How do restaurateurs react to this myriad of occasions, needs and preferences? Again, simplicity: a variety of offerings accompanied by a range of prices. Often, a wide range.

Or, put another way: how do I react if the Vegetarian Plate, the Chicken Entrée, the 12-ounce Filet Mignon and the Broiled Lobster Tails are all the same price? Even prix fixe menus often provide an opportunity to “trade up”.

So, let’s go back to sugar shock: why are desserts often all the same price? Which is the finest dessert? Which has the finest ingredients? Which is the best value?

This isn’t about food cost, it’s about profit. And repeat business. Why not offer a dessert so special, so remarkable that it carries a higher price? Chances are, you already do so, without charging the price the item commands. Why not offer a value item, perhaps smaller in portion than the other desserts?
You price your menu strategically, thoughtfully. Don’t stop the process before you get to the dessert menu.

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