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Archive for July, 2007

Why Do Employees Really Leave?

Monday, July 30th, 2007

July/August 2007

By Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE, Director
Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality
Georgia
State University

Exit interviews have been a longtime management tool used to analyze the reasons for employee turnover. The typical parting interview entails the exiting employee being interviewed by a member of the management team.

A study reported in the Harvard Business Review found that most people voluntarily leaving their jobs state that the change is for more money or a better opportunity. The study found, however, in follow-up interviews with exiting employees that approximately 88 percent were actually leaving for other reasons.

Based on 20,000 interviews conducted across the nation encompassing many types of industries, the number one reason cited for leaving was the “job or workplace was not as expected.” The second most frequent reason cited was a “mismatch between the job and person.”

These “top two” reasons seem consistent with the highest percentage of turnover typically occurring within the first 90 days of employment. How can a restaurant operation minimize the loss of employees from these most common reasons?

No hiring process is perfectly predictive but there are selection techniques that can help in matching candidates’ expectations, qualifications and traits to open job positions. The following techniques are appropriate for candidates who have passed the initial screening phases and have moved along to the “finalist” stage.

  1. Take time to describe the job in detail to the applicant. Certainly discuss the positive aspects but do not overlook the challenging and negative factors as well. Talk in detail about scheduling, expected hours and days of work, possible overtime that would be expected and thoroughly discuss all job duties – not just the pleasant tasks. For food servers, what kind of side work is required? Are servers expected to clean the restaurant at the end of the night? If so, what do these tasks involve and how long do they typically take? How are stations assigned? What are the grooming/dress standards?
  2. Ask existing employees, “What have been the most positive surprises that you have experienced since working here? Negative surprises? What was left out of the interview process that would have been helpful for you to have known before accepting the job?” Also consider adding these questions to the exit interview process to get the perspectives of employees who are leaving.
  3. Have employees talk with applicants to discuss the job tasks and dynamics of the working team. Again, this should be a positive interaction and should be factual. What are the first few weeks like for a new employee? Is there a training program? For a tipped employee, how is pay handled during the training time? How do people progress up the career ladder with the company? How would employees describe the management/supervisory styles? The benefits of employee involvement in the selection process are two-fold. Employees can provide relevant and helpful information to applicants. Their involvement also creates a greater chance that they will support the new employee and include the newcomer as a team member.
  4. Show the candidate the work areas. If possible arrange for a job preview involving the candidate shadowing someone in the position being considered -even if for a brief period of time.
  5. Analyze previous jobs held by the applicant and what type of transitions are involved with the job being considered. For example, if the candidate has always worked in a sedentary job and is moving into a physical, “on your feet” for hours position, how is the person prepared to make this change? If the applicant has always worked day shifts and will be moving to late night work, what changes will be involved to make this a good “match” between person and job?
  6. In the selection process, ask open-ended behavioral questions that are directly related to required job competencies and are requisites for success? How has the applicant delivered quality customer service in current and past jobs? How has the applicant provided effective lateral or internal service to fellow workers? If this is a job requiring the ability to effectively work under stress, what was a typical stressful day like in the applicant’s background? What was the most stressful day experienced and what did the applicant do in handling the job stress? Probing, behavioral questions should be developed in advance that target the needed abilities and job traits.
  7. Encourage the applicant to ask questions by a probing inquiry such as, “What questions still remain in your mind about this job?” This open-ended approach tends to be more effective than the closed approach of “Do you have any questions?”

A crucial key in addressing the top reasons employees resign is to avoid employee selection short-cuts. A comprehensive approach, as described above, requires trained hiring officials and sufficient time. The “warm body” syndrome of hiring almost any applicant is likely to back-fire with the same job position open within the next 90 days. This creates the never-ending, dreaded revolving door syndrome that can destroy customer service and ultimately business profitability.

In our next article, techniques to improve the use of exit interviews along with turnover and retention analyses will be discussed as important management tools.

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Overtime Rules – Some Common Myths

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

July/August 2007

By Mark D. Halverson and Charles Y. Hoff
Taylor, Busch, Slipakoff & Duma, LLP – Hospitality Group

Unless an exemption applies, federal law in the form of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay workers 1.5 times an employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a work week (There is also no statute or any regulations in Georgia covering the paying of overtime). Although this sounds straight-forward, a great many “myths” have grown up around the overtime rules. Let’s look at a few of these.

First, the FLSA does not limit the number of hours in the day or hours in a week an employee may be required to work (unless the employee is under the age of 16). The FLSA also does not require that an employee be paid overtime for working more than eight hours in a day, or for working on weekends and holidays (unless the 40-hours per work week limit has been exceeded). Neither Georgia nor federal law require paid holidays off, paid vacations, or any other fringe benefits such as severance, sick pay, accident pay, health insurance, life insurance, and pension benefits. Other such “myths” you may encounter are that the restaurant is required to pay a premium for employees to work weekends or holidays or is required to give regular pay raises.

The FLSA and Georgia law are also absolutely silent on whether employees may be required to work continuously during a shift without rest breaks, coffee breaks, smoking breaks, etc. Also, contrary to popular belief among employees, a restaurant is legally free to schedule shifts with no meal breaks at all. What the FLSA does regulate, however, is whether the meal breaks you do decide to provide are compensable time. The test for being a non-compensable meal break is: (1) the employee must be truly relieved from work duties (except in emergencies); and (2) the meal period must last 30 minutes or more. A meal break can still be treated as non-compensable time even though the restaurant requires staff take their meal breaks on-site, so long as the other tests are met.

If you have heard other items from your employees you suspect are FLSA myths or “legends” about other federal/state law requirements, send them for debunking to Mark Halverson in the GRA’s General Counsel’s office at mhalverson@taylor-busch.com.

Mark D. Halverson and Charles Y. Hoff are attorneys with the law firm of TAYLOR, BUSCH, SLIPIKOFF & DUMA, LLP. For more information, contact Charles Y. Hoff, Esq. at (678) 336- 7135 or choff@taylor-busch.com.

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What’s with the Lobster Prices?

Friday, July 27th, 2007

“Status and Management of the American lobster resource (Homarus americanus)” 

July/August 2007

By Dr. Bob Bayer and Cathy Billings
Lobster Institute
Rogers Hall
University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
www.lobsterinstitute.org

Late spring of 2007 saw record high lobster prices, with boat prices reaching a peak of over $12 per pound for a short while. There were times when demand for live lobster just couldn’t be met. During this same period frozen lobster meat was available.

This anomaly was partly the result of weather conditions over the winter, which did not allow fishermen in the U.S. and Canada to tend their traps on a regular basis, as they have in recent winters. The weather conditions also resulted in colder than usual water temperatures for the time of year, causing lobsters to be less active and therefore less likely to find their way into lobster traps in search of food.

In addition, the tidal pounds, facilities that store lobsters in dammed and fenced coves or bays, which normally supply several million lobsters for the late spring market, stored fewer lobsters than in past years. This was prompted by the fact that pound operations had not made a profit for several years because of low prices.

The supply of lobsters to the U.S. market relies on the interplay of harvest in both the U.S. and Canada. Canada has 41 fishing districts with a distinct season in each area. The U.S. has no closed season, with one exception, Monhegan Island, Maine. Most of the U.S. fishery is based on harvest of lobsters that have just come into the fishery, having molted into legal size, primarily in the summer and fall. These are new shell or soft shell lobsters that are easy to eat because of their soft shell. However, they have a lower meat yield, and don’t ship as well as a hard lobster. On the other hand, much of the Canadian fishery is based on the harvest of a hard shell product with a greater meat yield and better shipping capabilities. As a result, over half of the Maine lobster catch is shipped to nearby Canada, where it is processed to frozen lobster tails and cooked lobster meat. Most of this product then finds its way back to U.S. markets.

The lobster fishery in Canada and the U.S. is probably one of the best-managed fisheries. There is a minimum legal size, allowing many lobsters to reach breeding age. In addition, lobsters bearing eggs must be returned to the ocean with a notch in the shape of a “v” cut into its tailfin. Maine initiated the regulation that any lobster that has a v-notch cut in its tail cannot be landed. Other states have now followed Maine’s lead. This is the fisheries way of protecting proven breeders. In addition, Maine law prohibits the landing of lobster with a carapace (large body shell) length of greater than 5 inches, around a 5-pound lobster. Large female lobsters produce greater numbers of eggs when compared to smaller lobsters, and the large males are more prolific studs. Protection of the large lobster is about to become part of the U.S. federal lobster management scheme.

Although, there is likely to always be variations in supply of Hommarus americanus, the North American lobster, this is a well-protected fishery with a sustainable future.

To see what it is like to spend a day on a lobster boat, go to the Lobster Institute’s Web site at http://www.lobsterinstitute.org/index.php?page=32

Bob and Cathy are Director and Associate Director of the Lobster Institute. The Lobster Institute, with guidance and involvement from fishermen and all constituents within the lobster industry, and with both a community and global perspective, conducts and provides for research and educational outreach focused on protecting, conserving and enhancing lobsters and lobstering as an industry and as a way of life.

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True Blue: A Blueberry Primer

Friday, July 27th, 2007

July/August 2007

By Kristina Hjelsand

Roald Dahl immortalized blueberries as a cautionary tale for unmindful children (and their parents) everywhere in the children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: When turbo-charged terror Violet Beauregarde ignores Willy Wonka’s warning not to try his prototype for a three-course-meal gum, she turns into a giant blueberry and is promptly rolled off to be juiced, lest she might explode.

Apart from this piece of psychedelic-inspired pop culture, there are few friendlier, more healthful fruits than the humble blueberry. Blueberries have been frequently cited as a boon to health. Packed with antioxidants, researchers have claimed blueberries defend against everything from cancer to heart disease and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

In the U.S., blueberries conjure images of Maine, which produces 25 percent of the world’s harvest. But blueberries are also a significant crop in the Southeast 9,000 acres of them, to be exact, including a growing number of organic acres in cultivation.

According to Gerard Krewer, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, there are two varieties of blueberries that grow in Georgia: highbush and rabbiteye. The highbush variety is popular with growers because they mature quickly and the berries command higher prices. But organic producers prefer the rabbiteye variety, which is easier to grow using organic methods.

While there is usually a bounty of Georgia blueberries each summer beginning in May, particularly unmerciful weather conditions for Southeastern farmers in the first six months of 2007 included a spring freeze that dashed hopes for a bumper blueberry crop this year.

Burns Best Farm in Ringgold, Georgia, known for its ripe and juicy organic berries, was one of many regional farms to lose nearly its entire blueberry crop.

“Our berries, unfortunately, did not fare any better than the others here in north Georgia,” says Denise Burns. We purchased 40 or so replacement plants a few weeks before the freeze and fortunately had not gotten around to putting them in the ground. We covered them successfully and they will be the only blueberries we get this summer, but there won’t be enough to sell.”

Krewer says that while 75 percent of the rabbiteye variety, including those grown organically, was lost in the freeze, chefs and consumers can still look forward to enjoying local Georgia blueberries this summer. Seventy-five percent of the 1,500-acres growing highbush in the state matured to harvest.

Connie Horner, of Horner Farms in Homerville, Georgia, says their farm was fortunate not to lose a single berry this year, but that frost protection is always a concern.

“We decided to purchase a wind machine rather than using overhead water to protect our berry plants,” says Horner. “Using the overhead water method poses multiple problems. For example, you have to use a fungicide with repeated use, and because we’re organic, we didn’t want to do that. A wind machine protects both the green and the blue berries with lower risk.”

At the Horner’s farm, a single new wind machine successfully safeguarded all of the bushes except some behind a hoop house that the machine couldn’t reach.

Still, the freeze has undeniably diminished supply of local Georgia blueberries this year, leaving chefs, retailers and consumers to savor a supply that may be limited, but is nonetheless sweet.

“We still have plenty of blueberries, just fewer local blues than we normally would get,” says John Walker, produce coordinator for Whole Foods Market South Region. “A small crop from Georgia came in, followed by North Carolina berries, and toward the end of the season they’ll be coming in from Michigan. It’s always our first priority to buy locally, but in this case it’s been such a tough season for the farmers and their crops that we won’t have many Georgia berries.”
Even when nature is in relative harmony with agricultural production, for organic producers, the smallest details require scrupulous, and ongoing, attention.

Smaller growers like Burns Best use a hand-picked harvest process rather than mechanized harvesting, and like other producers that are committed to the ideals of sustainable agriculture, they tend the soil quality as carefully and thoughtfully as the county fair’s champion pie baker blends his or her prize-winning crust.

“Blueberries thrive in a very acidic soil,” says Mike Burns. “We spend a lot of time and money making sure irrigation is in place during dry periods, and bushes are treated with only organic fertilizer that has the proper balance of nutrients,” says Burns. “We also use aged pine bark mulch, which provides much needed acidity and organic matter to the plants.”
Mike and Denise have come to the realization that there is a real movement for chefs, food industry professionals and consumers to gain closer relationships with their suppliers, especially suppliers with unique products. While not certified organic, the Burns are members of the Certified Naturally Grown farm network and follow the same farming practices detailed by the USDA organic program.

“The best way to know how your farmer grows the food you buy is to know the farmer and tour the operation, see the labels on what amendments and products are applied, that sort of thing,” says Denise Burns. “It matters to some people that we’re not certified organic, but most folks don’t seem to be bothered by it after I tell them how we handle the plants and soil.”

Renowned Atlanta pastry chef Kathryn King of Aria is one of many chefs in the region to be inspired by the blueberry’s myriad possibilities. Chef Drew Van Leuvan loves how blueberries enhance a variety of summer dishes. “Blueberries inspire wonderfully innovative fruit sauces,” says Van Leuvan. “Nothing equals fruit for versatility, and the surreal color and flavor of fresh blueberries is hard to beat.”

Another well-known Atlanta chef, Micah Willix of Ecco, is also fond of showcasing the blueberry’s simple charms on his menu. “One of my favorite desserts is our blueberry sorbet,” says Willix. “It’s light and refreshing, but has a surprising depth of flavor.”

Mike and Denise Burns say that interest in their berries (while they lost their blueberry crop, they are hopeful that their ripening blackberry bushes will soon be hanging heavy with fruit) points to a genuine and growing interest among people who aren’t in the agriculture or food service industries but want to know where their food is coming from.
“People instinctively know that a fresh, locally grown fruit or vegetable tastes better than one that has been shipped in from across the country. “I think every chef should make it a goal to get to know a farmer or market grower who grows produce within 100 miles of their restaurant,” Burns suggests.

Burns Best Farm and Horner Farms are two of 102 producers in Georgia Organics’ just released 2007-2008 Local Food Guide, which also includes restaurants, retailers and other supporters of local, seasonal and organic food (visit www.georgiaorganics.org for a link to the guide).

Kristina Hjelsand is the founder and owner of Kitchen Communications, an Atlanta communications consultancy that specializes in food and lifestyle brands.

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Restaurant Technology – Is your restaurant secure?

Friday, July 27th, 2007

July/August 2007

By Christy White

You go out for dinner and leave with your identity stolen. It sounds crazy, but it happens everyday and it could very easily happen in your restaurant, too.

With new POS applications and equipment for the hospitality industry, however, the likelihood of credit card theft happening in your restaurant can be greatly reduced.

Restaurants Popular for Skimming
According to Federal Trade Commission statistics, credit card fraud is now the most common form of identity theft. Much of that fraud is due to a practice called skimming, which is when a restaurant employee swipes the credit card through a device that records the account information.

It’s a practice that has been around for more than a decade, but as technology has led to smaller skimming devices, frequency has jumped dramatically in the past three years. Credit agency TransUnion estimates that 70 percent of all skimming takes place in the restaurant environment.

Handhelds Help Reduce Liability Risk
So what can restaurants do? If even just one credit card number is stolen or compromised, the restaurant is liable for any losses.

Bruce Alterman is one restaurant owner concerned about protecting his patron’s credit card numbers. He decided to implement a handheld transaction device that processes credit cards at the table in full view of the customer to reduce the potential for credit card fraud. “There were two major components that were enticing. No. 1 is the security. The other is the hope that we’ll turn tables. It’s always a bottleneck when we’re busy,” says Alterman, who owns The Brickery in Sandy Springs.

The restaurant, which seats 135 and averages 2,500 patrons a week, has had the system in place since April 2007. Previously, The Brickery used two slide terminals, one at the bar and one on the floor. Now, there’s one system hardwired at the bar and four handheld terminals.

By using a handheld device at the table, it not only speeds up the entire payment process and increases table turns, it also frees up server time. Most importantly, it gives an added layer of protection for patrons wary of identity and credit card theft.

Such handheld equipment has been around for years in Europe, but the trend is just now jumping the pond. Bruce is only one of four restaurant owners in Georgia using the handheld device.

The process mimics what is usually done away from the table, but he hopes to phase in the use of debit cards and the ability for patrons to slide their own cards through the machine. The equipment also has the capability to process tip percentages, so patrons simply push a button to add the desired tip to the total bill.

Upgrade or Buy New?
Many restaurants, whether large national chains or local family-owned restaurants, are still using POS systems that retain credit card data from its magnetic stripe, and it’s only gotten easier for thieves to swipe that data without the restaurant or patron discovering it until it’s too late.

POS manufacturers are well aware of the liability issues, and many have come out with software upgrades and new products that help restaurant owners avoid skimming all together.

To determine if you need to upgrade your POS system or purchase a compatible component, it’s important to ask a few questions about your existing POS system. Does it retain information in the unit or send it to a remote server? How long is the information stored? Is the data encrypted?

According to Visa and MasterCard, restaurants are at high risk of being compromised if they use payment applications that store prohibited data or have security weaknesses. If a POS system stores full magnetic stripe data, CVV2 or PIN data following transaction authorization, it is in violation of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Handheld devices allow for scanning credit cards at the table, and many can be incorporated into a restaurant without the need to upgrade existing software. There are several handheld products already on the market, including Vantage Card System’s On the Spot, used by The Brickery. The system uses special encryption to protect financial data transacted over a restaurant’s Wi-Fi network, and allows restaurant operators to take advantage of lower-cost PIN debit payment.

“It’s all encrypted data, and there’s nothing actually stored in the terminal,” says Ty Hardison of Vantage Card Services, Inc. “Like a lot of POS systems out there, restaurants may unknowingly be storing card holder data. In this situation, there is no data stored at The Brickery. Nobody can hack in and log into a server that’s been unprotected in some way. Even if they could, there’s no data here.”

On the Spot has two main platforms: the Verifone Vx670, which allows at-the-table, curb or point of delivery payment for full-service and fine dining restaurants, and the QX720, which is designed for use at drive-thru windows.
“You don’t have to go in and try to do an integration with a POS, which can be very expensive and more complex,” Hardison says. “We’re finding that a lot of restaurants that may have security issues with their POS and would like to upgrade their system but would have a huge bill are going the route that [The Brickery] is.”

ASI’s Restaurant Manager POS system also prevents identify theft through skimming by allowing the complete payment transaction to occur in front of restaurant customers.

Restaurant Manager features Mobile Payment Processing, which protects restaurants from other forms of credit card fraud by encrypting credit card data according to standards set by the Cardholder Information Security Program (CISP).
“In this age of heightened security concerns, it is critical that POS applications are fully PCI compliant,” says Alex Malison, CEO of ASI. “CISP validation together with the Mobile Payment Processing offers even more safeguards against credit card fraud to both restaurants and diners alike.”

icros has upgraded its software to encrypt data in an effort to help protect restaurants from credit card fraud.
“They don’t store full track data at the restaurant site,” says David Shaw of Postec, which distributes Micros. “It goes through a server and software called Transaction Vault, so it takes all the liability away.”

The Maitre’D wireless POS solution allows staff to spend more time on the floor helping customers and selling menu items, and functions the same as a regular POS. It allows tableside credit card transactions and provides access to specials, ingredients and items no longer on the menu, saving time and providing instant answers to customer inquires.
Ultimately, handheld transaction equipment not only protects both the restaurant and its patrons from credit card fraud, it also helps turnaround times and keeps customer frustration levels at a minimum.

“You know, you do everything right, you market to the customer, you get them in here, you feed them great food, and then they’re ready for the check and looking around for a server,” The Brickery’s Altman says. “The fact that the customer is now involved and seeing the process, and you’re doing what you were doing in the back in front of him�the level of perceived customer service is so much better.”

For more information, visit the following web sites:

Skimming at a Glance
The art of skimming has been around for a decade, but with new technology and smaller devices, the number of incidents has risen dramatically over the past few years. Skim artists typically target gold or platinum cards because of their higher credit limit, which means it may take longer to discover what’s happened. While the whole process can take less than a day, the victim is none the wiser since his own credit card is safely stored in his wallet. Here’s how it works:

  1. A customer uses a payment card to pay. The wait staff walks the credit card to the transaction station.
  2. After leaving the table, the employee secretly swipes the credit card through a small, concealed handheld device to copy and store the account data. Many of these devices are so small they fit in the palm of the hand.
  3. The stolen card information is later downloaded to a computer, and the wait staff is paid in cash for their part in the theft.
  4. The details of the victim’s credit card are encoded on a counterfeit card or re-encoded on a lost or stolen card and passed on to others, who may sell the card or use it for their own benefit.


How to Avoid Skimming Before it Occurs

Skimming is on the rise, and restaurants are one of the most common locations for it to occur. Help protect your restaurant from liability by being proactive before identity theft occurs:

  • Train your staff on what to look for in the workplace. Educate them on the various ways skimming can occur.
  • Encourage your staff to report any signs of skimming at the restaurant. If they see anyone using a device that is not part of day-to-day activities or if anyone offers them money to record account information, they should let the restaurant owner and merchant processing center or company security know immediately.
  • Screen restaurant applicants before you hire them. Skimming artists typically recruit others to pose as wait staff to collect credit card data or lure employees into their schemes by paying them for stolen data. The more you know about your new hires the better, especially those responsible for processing card transactions.
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Restaurant Websites – Reaching New Heights To Win Customers

Friday, July 27th, 2007

July/August 2007

By McCall Mastroianni

The restaurant industry is taking tech-savvy to the table with new website features that make online visits more appetizing. Now, the perks go far past flashy formats and simple navigation to provide web surfers with a plateful of unique features without even stepping foot in a restaurant.

Jay Wilson, principal and founder of Nine Rodessa, Inc., a strategic creative and design firm in Atlanta, creates websites for several local restaurants including Canoe and 101 Concepts. His number one piece of advice to restaurants when designing a site is that it must be easily updatable. “Restaurants have to plan for weekly or monthly updates,” says Wilson. “If not, the website becomes irrelevant as guests visit the site and discover that it never changes. I highly recommend that restaurants invest in a content management service such as Edit Desk. It empowers them to manage their website.”

Fifth Group Restaurants, an Atlanta restaurant company with six dining concepts and a catering arm, has recently undergone a major website update and now offers food for every mood at www.fifthgroup.com. With the new site that offers a unique and user-friendly look at the company’s passion for pleasing patrons, Fifth Group proves that a distinctive dining experience is available depending on the mood of each individual guest.

“We’ve designed our website to coincide with our tagline, Be Yourself,’ and to show guests the depth of our restaurant portfolio,” says Fifth Group Restaurants Partner Robby Kukler.

Showing off the company’s flair for both food and functionality, the site now contains an innovative moving carousel that adapts to the user. Visitors can click on any of the rotating concept tiles, which can be slowed down or sped up at the click of a mouse, to be taken directly to any of the individual restaurant web pages from authentic Italian at La Tavola Trattoria to regional Mexican at Sala-Sabor de Mexico. This moving carousel also informs visitors about upcoming promotions and special events.

“Catering to each individual guest and making them aware of all the concepts in our restaurant group is our goal,” Kukler adds. “We strive to read the needs of our patrons, and our website portrays this about us.”

Wilson agrees that restaurants need to focus on this brand consistency when creating Web pages. “Ultimately, I think it’s critical for restaurants to communicate the atmosphere and experience to be had in order to qualify a site because more and more people are using the Web to judge,” he suggests.

Fifth Group’s new portal offers a one-stop-shop for patrons to not only experience the company’s entire portfolio of dining options, but also the opportunity to purchase gift cards and enroll in the Frequent Guest Rewards Program, which gives guests a convincing excuse to return.

Also keeping guests coming back for more with its online Cafe Loyalty Card feature is Metrotainment Cafes, an Atlanta company with 10 concepts and another venture on the way. Metrotainment began this loyalty program two years ago, and Owner Jeff Landau has seen a 10 percent increase in business since it began.

Though most customers hear about the loyalty program in the restaurants, they sign up for the card on the website. In order to enjoy the rewards and associated with the loyalty cards, guests must register their card online at www.metrocafes.com. Without registering, customers cannot accrue reward dollars, check their balance or receive a reissued card complete with points if the card is lost. This program is designed to draw website visitors, and those that were only aware of one Metrotainment concept now see the other nine the company has to offer.
“When guests visit our website, I feel as though we’ve established more of brand awareness, says Landau. “They realize how many concepts our group has.”

“We’re hearing more and more from restaurants wanting to develop a gift card program and a loyalty program,” says Wilson. “Another increasingly beneficial way for restaurants to maximize their site is by building an online community around the restaurant to connect with clientele,” he adds.

Shane’s Rib Shack, a Raving Brands concept with 34 locations in Georgia, connects with online customers on a more personal level. As a family franchise, Shane’s stresses the importance of “meeting the folks” and makes guests feel closer to the barbeque joint’s concept by offering an endearing family history behind the company at www.shanesribshack.com. Family is central to Founder Shane Thompson and he carries this sentiment throughout his concept, even on the Website.

“Shane realizes life is far more complicated today than when he grew up around the dinner table or when family members gathered for cookouts. He wants guests to feel that sense of nostalgia with every exposure to Shane’s,” says Bret Eldridge, Vice President and Brand Leader for Shane’s Rib Shack.
Shane’s has also recently implemented an online ordering system that is streamlined with existing ordering systems and is just as user-friendly.

“It’s important to us that the Shane’s website has a user-friendly interface because we want our consumer experience to be just as pleasant online as it is in-store,” says Eldridge.

Engaging visitors in an online format is becoming increasingly important for restaurants as guests rely more heavily on the Internet to research their dining options. Restaurateurs are now responsible for feeding mouths and fingertips.

McCall Mastroianni works for Melissa Libby & Associates, a PR firm with several restaurants among its clients. She can be reached at (404) 816-3068.

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George Spriggs and George Jackson

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

The Two Georges of Tybee Island

July/August 2007

By Dora Burke

Georgia’s barrier islands have been described as sleepy, secluded and hidden. These attributes might normally be avoided when looking for a place to establish a restaurant and yet, for restaurant owners George Spriggs and George Jackson, Tybee Island is now the home of their two thriving restaurants: North Beach Grill and Georges’ of Tybee.

The “two Georges” met in 1987 while working in Hilton Head Island. Attracted to Tybee Island by the opportunity to open the North Beach Grill, Spriggs recalls, “We were both working in Hilton Head and wanted a change. Someone told us about a beach shack the city owned and rented out. We were both immediately interested.” Their vision became reality and soon the North Beach Grill was formed. They initially negotiated a one-year lease, providing them the time to finalize their plans and detail their proposal for a longer-term lease. The beginning of a 14-year partnership was born.

However, the first few years were difficult. Initially, the North Beach Grill was seasonal. Demand eventually grew and they opened year-round. It is now a place diners expect to be open. “Tybee Island (at the time) was just a bunch of fried fish and hushpuppy places,” jokes Jackson, “George and I both worked in the kitchen (of the Grill) crafting the menu.” Over time the 150-seat restaurant, mostly outside with no heat or air conditioning, became a Tybee Island landmark.

Five years later Spriggs and Jackson changed the way they were doing business and opened an upscale, yet casual, full-service restaurant. Although they built a local reputation through the North Beach Grill, their new concept was met with resistance. Their new venture was not only a test of their will but also a test of their partnership and vision. “Georges’ of Tybee was the first fine dining restaurant in this area,” says Jackson. They always planned to open a fine dining restaurant but initially thought it would be in Savannah.

Over the years Spriggs and Jackson have learned a few things. It took them three years to establish a fine dining restaurant in a community where everyone expected to find casual dining and late night places. “Georges’ is not a formal place; we did not want that. It is a non-formal, warm restaurant where we can get creative with the culinary cuisine and serve good wine in an affordable fashion,” says Jackson. Their constant battle was do they stick to their guns and stay the course or succumb to the pressure? Fortunately, they stayed the course and people eventually accepted the idea. “It was certainly a benefit to have a successful, established restaurant like North Beach Grill while we were growing Georges’,” says Spriggs.

Despite their long history of success, they are constantly thinking of innovative ways to attract and retain diners from just 15 minutes away in Savannah. Over time the island has become a living, growing, thriving community. “The 1996 Olympics put us on the map,” says Spriggs. “After the sailing event, people knew about our island.” Tybee Island is no longer the “Redneck Rivera of the South.” As the community grew and real estate prices escalated, so did the success of Spriggs and Jackson.

Their success has not come easily, however. “We had a lot of challenges through the years starting with sourcing talented employees,” recalls Jackson. “There was not a lot of talent around here for the front or back of the house. We finally determined I would utilize my high-end dining background to manage Georges’ while hiring individuals that were passionate for the business and trainable in our philosophy.” For the past nine years Spriggs and Jackson have taken a different approach with Georges’. Although they make everything from scratch at North Beach Grill, the customer experience at Georges’ is quite different. “We just did not serve this kind of food at North Beach Grill. We were not concerned about organic produce or the source of the product as the menu is more consistent. At Georges’ the biggest challenge is once you decide what you want to serve you need to go looking for it,” states Spriggs. “We have been building non-traditional relationships all across the state to source our products. This has been a learning experience for both of us, but it has finally paid off.”

To meet their needs, Spriggs and Jackson have met partners at food shows, local farmers markets, through the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) and basic networking. “We have taken forming non-traditional relationships in the area with farmers and vendors [who] we might not normally know to source the best product. At Georges’ nothing is prepackaged so the starting ingredients must be of a quality that will produce the end result we want at an affordable price,” says Spriggs. They now source products from a variety of local vendors including Walker Farms, Thomasville Sweet Dairy and Vince Baker Farms. They also use Café Campesino coffee roasters and utilize local Georgia wild shrimp. “Some of these individuals I had to seek out and some came to us,” says Spriggs. Their vendors changed the way each menu dish is prepared as they can now rely on more seasonal products. “We could just not do that the first few years of operation. These relationships have made a huge difference in the way we present our dishes because now they are fresh and local,” boasts Jackson.

Spriggs and Jackson have relied on their partnership, networking and relationship building for survival. They are constantly fine-tuning their goals and revisiting their original vision. About a month ago they installed their first point of sale (POS) system in both restaurants. They were always aware of the plusses and minuses of technology but knew it was finally time to embrace it. Because of their low turnover (average over four years), employees were initially resistant to the change. Once they realized the technology was not going away they learned to utilize it to their advantage. For Spriggs, the system catches a lot of mistakes that his wait staff could have glossed over previously. Now, they have to fix the mistake before moving forward within the computer system. That translates to real dollars. “Georges’ is small enough where hand written checks were not a problem,” says Jackson, ” but the benefit of having reports at our fingertips on what is selling is unmatched. It was overwhelming to compute this data without the technology.”

Other relationships they fostered translated into real dollars for Spriggs and Jackson, too. Through the GRA they have changed their credit card processor and now have access to a payroll processing provider and workman’s compensation insurance at a much lower cost then they could have negotiated otherwise. “For a smaller operator like us, this is a big benefit. Technology and belonging to the right organization can get you what you need,” says Spriggs.

Above all, their constant dedication to their partnership and a commitment to their unified vision is what has kept the “two George’s” successful. “You have to be flexible in a partnership,” advises Jackson. “It is a lot of give and take, but you also have someone to strengthen your ideas and challenge you.” In discussing what makes a successful partnership, Jackson recommends finding a partner with the same vision. That is critical. You should also have a clear, detailed strategy to achieve that vision. “These points will keep you from getting frustrated or straying as time goes on,” states Jackson. “We both divide our time now between the two restaurants. I handle mostly Georges’ and Spriggs takes care of the Grill. It sounds cliché but for us, two heads are definitely better than one.”

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Georgia Food Code Rules & Regulations Coming Soon

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

July/August 2007

By Charles Y. Hoff of Taylor, Busch, Slipakoff & Duma, LLP – Hospitality Group

As the entire Georgia restaurant industry is now aware, 2006 was a challenging year as the GRA and DHR had to find a way to take an imperfect rules making process and work together for the common good of protecting the health and safety of restaurant patrons.  Although there were more than a few tense moments and disagreements over how best to accomplish the objective, the exemplary results achieved could not have been obtained without the development of a mutual trust.  We believe that the DHR has come to view the GRA and its members in a new light and genuinely respect the insider expertise as well as pragmatic perspective the GRA brings to the table.  We, in turn, have a new instilled confidence in the leadership of the DHR and a better understanding of their difficult jobs. 

The transformation described does not come overnight, but instead reflects the efforts of the GRA’s Executive Director Ron Wolf, GRA board members and selfless restaurateurs.   What is viewed as the turning point in last year’s arduous process was the extent to which the GRA was able to galvanize the support of the state’s restaurant community and the solidarity of opinion demonstrated.   When put to the test, the restaurants did not flinch when asked for the resources necessary to wage a successful campaign to educate both regulators and the general public. 

The GRA’s strong relationship with the NRA was also a significant factor as well, as the NRA likewise helped to lay the groundwork to demonstrate that the initial rules proposed by the DHR were out of synch and unrealistic when compared with the nation’s other jurisdictions in addition to the FDA guidelines.   The success achieved by this process has not been overlooked around the country as Georgia has been held up by the NRA and other state restaurant associations as the “model” for how to effectively work with the government agencies for  implementing sound and practical guidelines in food safety. 

As an illustration of this spirit of cooperation, in the Spring of this year, representatives from the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR), state and local health agencies, and Georgia’s restaurant industry, formed a first of its kind taskforce, to review Georgia’s decade old Food Code, and bring it into the 21st century.

With an overarching goal of bringing Georgia’s food code into greater alignment with the US/FDA Food Code (which itself, was updated in 2005), the group conducted a comprehensive, eight-month long  review of the current code, resulting in what many experts believe is the most comprehensive and relevant food code in our state’s history. One of the most significant features of the new code is its close alignment with the US/FDA Food Code, which should allow the code to be updated as updates to the US/FDA Food Code are made available.

Over the next several months – leading up to the targeted implementation date of November 15th, the Georgia DHR, along with representatives of the states health agencies, will be focused on educating the state’s health inspectors on what has changed from the previous code, and what is entirely new to the code. One change that consumers will likely notice immediately, is the addition of a letter grade (A,B,C, or U) to the current numerical grade, on the inspection report.  As contrasted to the original rules presented by the GRA, the letter grade will complement and not replace the numerical grade.  Neither  will the grade be required to be posted on the window of the restaurant establishment nor will there be unrealistic scoring and enforcement requirements as first imposed on restaurants.  While not a change, increased emphasis will be placed on proper hygiene, such as the frequency of hand-washing, and food handling – both critical in the prevention of food borne illness.

Beginning this Summer, the GRA, in collaboration with the Georgia DHR, will be offering a series of 1/2 day seminars, statewide, to introduce the new code to Georgia’s more than 11,000 foodservice establishments. “To my knowledge, this will be the most comprehensive statewide effort, focused on educating and informing Georgia’s foodservice industry about the food code, ever undertaken,” said Ron Wolf  “Our goal is to make the training so accessible, that every foodservice operator that wishes to attend, can do so, with minimal inconvenience,” said Wolf. The GRA plans to announce the Food Code training schedule by early June.

One of the key changes to the new code is the requirement that each foodservice establishment have a Certified Food Safety Manager (CFSM). To meet that anticipated increase in demand for certification classes, the GRA will be adding additional dates and locations to its current ServSafe class schedule. 

Please be sure to keep an eye out for the GRA schedule for both seminars and ServSafe classes.   These educational courses reflect a welcome cooperative environment in Georgia as the DHR and GRA stand together in working diligently to protect the safety and health of our patrons.

For more information, contact Charles Y. Hoff, Esq. at (678) 336- 7135 or choff@taylor-busch.com.

Changes in Rules and Regulations, Food Service

Effective Date of New Rules February 13, 2007. There will be a nine-month implementation period.  Enforcement of New Requirements begins November 13, 2007

Below is a list of the major changes.

  • Definition for Potentially Hazardous Food [.01(gggg)]
  • HACCP Plans (required when process varies from rules and on certain processes listed in code) [.02(5)]
  • Mobile units to have unit permit in each county [.02(2)] 
  • Mobile units that do not process foods and Temporary food service establishments – not required to have CFSM [.03(3)(b)1.]
  • Demonstration of Food Safety Knowledge – One Certified Food Safety Manager (CFSM) required in each establishment [.03(1)] 
  • Exclusions and Restrictions for Ill Employees [.03(4)]
  •  Hand washing required after restroom use and upon entering food prep/Single Hand Wash required upon entering kitchen [.03(5)(c)2.]
  • Fingernails must be no longer than tips of the fingers unless a glove is worn when preparing food  [.03(5)(f)]
  • Allowance for a Single Service Beverage Cup with Lid and Straw in Food Preparation Area [.03(5)(j)2.] 
  • Time as a Public Health Control [.04(6)(i)]
  • Requirement for using Adequate Thermometer [.05(3)(g)]    
  • Storage of Serving Utensil for Hot Potentially Hazardous Food in 135°F Water [.04(4) (k) 6.]            
  • Food For Self Service: 

New Food Products shall not be Mixed with Old Food Products on a self service buffet, unless [.04(4)4.]

All Unwrapped Foods shall be Disposed at the end of the Business Day or after a Maximum of 24 Hours after first being on Display [.04(4)5.]

  • Minimum Hot Holding – 135°F [.04(6)(f)]
  • Cooling Foods – 2 Hours 135°F to 70°F and 4 hours 70°F to 41° [.04(6)(d)] 
  • Temperature Changes for Whole Muscle Cooked Pork and Beef (145°F) [.04(5)2.]
  • Date Marking Provisions for Prepared Foods Held Longer than 24 Hours [.04(6)(g)1.]
  • Date Marking Provisions for Commercially Packaged Foods After Opening (7 Days if Held at £ 41°F) unless the Use By/Sell By/Expiration Date is Sooner [.04(6)(g)2.]
  • No Bare – Hand Contact with Ready-To-Eat Foods [.04(4) (a) 1. 2. and 3.]        
  • Low Temp. Dish Machine – Flow Pressure Device Not Required if Pumped Rinse. [.05(2)(dd)3.]
  • Food Service Equipment must be designed and built according to ANSI accredited certification programs [.05(jj)]Revised Instructions for Consumer Advisory Notice. [.04(7)(e)]

ADVISORY: CONSUMING RAW OR UNDERCOOKED FOODS SUCH AS MEAT, POULTRY, FISH, SHELLFISH, AND EGGS MAY INCREASE YOUR RISK OF FOODBORNE ILLNESS.

Note: Institutions must cook all foods to minimum cook temperatures. The Advisory Notice is not applicable. [.04(9)]

  • Treatment for Raw or Partially Cooked Fish to Kill Parasites [.04(5)(d)]

-4°F (-20°C) for 168 hours (7days) in a freezer; or

-31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and stored for 15 hours in a blast freezer

-31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and stored at -4ºF (-20ºC) for 24 hours 

  • New Risk Categorization of Establishments, Inspection and Grading system using Grades A, B, C, & U based upon numerical score [.10]

Source: Georgia Department of Human Resources

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Chef Jesse Perez

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

At The Turning Point

July/August 2007

By Julie Douglas

It’s a warm summer day and late lunchers are relaxing on the patio at Nava, the Southwestern restaurant that’s been a Buckhead staple for 12 years. For the past six months, it’s been under the direction of Chef Jesse Perez, who is buzzing around, making a few last-minute arrangements with his staff before he settles into a chair on the restaurant’s second floor. He’s framed by rough-hewn beams edged in turquoise, red and yellow. Sitting in front of the rustic white kiva fireplace, Perez is not dissimilar to his environs: He cuts an imposing figure, but possesses a calm demeanor and a warm disposition.

Methodical, thoughtful and quick to point out patterns, it’s easy to see how this 30-year-old chef once considered a pre-med track at the University of Michigan; he changed to education after an American culture class, determined to bring lessons of his own culture back to the high school classrooms in San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up. But after graduating and returning home to teach, he found that high school curriculums left little room for the subjects he was most ardent about.

However, as a college student he’d worked at restaurants like the Earle and had found a strong affinity with cooking, originally instilled by his grandmother and mother, who’d made tamales and tortillas. He postponed graduate school and eventually became Chef de Cuisine of Francesca’s at Sunset in San Antonio where he met Southwestern cuisine luminary and future mentor, Mark Miller of Coyote Café fame, whom Perez credits as the “founding father, the godfather of Southwestern cuisine.”

“Every chef has a chef,” Perez says of Miller. “He was the one who taught me how to think and cook the way I do today. Notice how I said think and cook. He’s an anthropologist-he knows from the very beginning of how [Southwestern cuisine] started and how it became what it is today.”

With a menu that has gone largely unchanged since Nava’s opening, Perez is putting quite a bit of thought into the adjustments that he’s making. “The first thing you want to do when you go into a new space is make it your own: You want to put up your pictures, you want to change the paint. It’s no different when you come into a kitchen-those are not your menu items. You want to change right away, but I couldn’t do it. The restaurant has had its ups and downs and the last thing I wanted to do was to do a complete overhaul and people come in and say ‘Wait a minute. I don’t want to be a part of this. This [restaurant] has been so inconsistent.'”

Perez has taken pains to slowly introduce new menu items, but only after analyzing dishes for marketability and seasonality, and limits introductions to one to two a month. After six months in the trenches, training staff on his techniques and flavor profiles, he’s ready to make significant changes and expects that by year’s end the menu will completely reflect his aesthetic, while retaining a few classic Nava dishes-those original to the restaurant that sell well and are patron favorites-giving diners “two different aspects of the restaurant-from then [12 years ago] to now.”

Perez acknowledges that donning his chef whites and approaching a menu with an entirely new culinary vernacular can be a daunting exercise, particularly for staff members for whom the old recipes have become second nature. But Perez is striving to infuse seasonal, fresh new flavors wherever he can-attributes he thinks are more in line with restaurant patrons’ expectations. “I think Atlanta has this vibe where people know what they want when they come into a restaurant and they know what to expect and they’re willing to try new things,” he says.

Drawing on his background in education, Perez is familiarizing the restaurant with the cuisine of the Southwest by conducting in-depth tastings and giving lessons in ingredients. “If you were to go to any of the staff members and ask, “What’s an ancho pepper?” they’d be able to tell you that it’s a fresh poblano pepper that’s been smoked. Not too many people can tell you that-or that chipotle is a smoked jalapeño.” In fact, his work with chilies has been extensive, and much of the modernizing of the menu involves the different flavor profiles he’s been able to coax out of them, with an emphasis on building flavor rather than cloaking it with heat.

He’s also dogmatic about his staff understanding the connection between food and regions. He uses the example of his tamales, a Yucatán specialty, which he teaches the “guys in his kitchen” to make while telling them why it’s emblematic of its region, saying, “The Yucatán doesn’t use any cheese. They use a lot of fruit-a lot of tropical tones. So we’re using pork with roasted pineapple, a little bit of Fresno pepper with a little bit of heat, and herbs, using cilantro and a little bit of thyme. It’s very aromatic and it’s also sweet. On top of that, we’re making a masa that has achiote with citrus tones to it. And on top of that we’re putting on a banana leaf, which is going to infuse a whole tropical tone to it-that’s Yucatán.”

Like his mentor, Perez is taking the food back to its roots. “I’m taking the tamale back to the Yucatán so that tonight people will experience something in Nava tonight that would be no different than if they were [there]. To me, that’s fun,” he says with a wide smile.

I ask Perez if his peaceful disposition extends to the kitchen. He laughs and with a mischievous glint in his eyes says, “yes,” noting that if he’s interacting and pointing out problems, then everything’s OK-no need to yell. But if he’s ignoring you, “you should be worried.” He cites Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, noting that he has “the type of demeanor where he’ll look at you and shake his head at you and it crushes you more than if he was to get up in your face.” He’s clearly adopted the same modus operandi, one that has transformed the kitchen he inherited into one that’s “not so loud anymore. Now it’s quiet. It’s very calm and we’re more efficient that way. By the end of the year, this kitchen will run entirely different. My goal is for it to run like a fine-tuned machine.”

Perez also plans on incorporating his impressive wine knowledge into the restaurant. At an age when most 22-year-olds are still novice beer-explorers, the then-line cook had just completed an 18-month intensive study with master sommelier Virginia Philip, following that up with an additional 6-month course, becoming a Guild of Sommeliers. Perez still keeps in touch with Philip (who is one of 50 master sommeliers in the world) and receives encouraging advice to continue his education to become a master sommelier himself, which would make him one of five executive chefs-master sommeliers in the world.

But for now Perez is content to impart his expertise, saying “You have no idea how good it feels to have that knowledge, especially with this cuisine. It’s rare to be able to pair it with wine, whereas French cuisine is easier to pair with French wine, and Italian cuisine with Italian wine. There are great wines coming out of Mexico, New Mexico and Texas that we’ll incorporate into the list. That’s where the whole concept lies. You go to a French restaurant, you’re going to drink French wine. Well, here, I want it to be no different. I want you to be able to have the buffalo rib-eye with the black bean torta that pairs very nicely with the McPherson’s Syrah out of Texas. How could that not sound good?

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Four Easy Steps to More Wine Sales

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

July/August 2007

By Heath Porter

Training your employees is the most efficient way to see a return on your profits and investments. Whether its food, booze, service or answering the phone, all staffs can better themselves and your establishment with knowledge. Daily training on the small stuff is the easiest way to avoid the big stuff.

Cover the basics-yeah, I know, “Duh!,” but it’s easy to take too much for granted. Explain incorporating air into wine and examining its color. Demonstrate what could happen if a server used his or her right hand to pour wine from the guest’s left, or why to wipe the lip of the bottle before pouring.

Be redundant. Every time we taste we cover the same things about each wine: tasting profile, origin and fit. The tasting profile can be vast or miniscule, but I like the basics: Is the wine light, medium or full-bodied? Does the wine taste of fruits or earth? What kind of fruit? What foods pair with the wine? Consistency is key. With origin we look to know where the wine is from, how produced, or some quirky detail about the winery or producer. These things help understand why the wine tastes as it does and of course give selling points. Many more bottles have been sold because of the story behind it than the juice in it. Where does it fit in your program? Is it great with swordfish? Making sense of your thinking on the wine helps the staff feel “in the know.”

Compare the wines. Put a 100 percent maloactic Napa Chardonnay with new oak next to Chablis. One smells of mango and lemon cream pie tossed with buttered popcorn, and one smells like lemon zest picked from a chalky oyster bed. Before the comparison how many employees thought the Chablis was full-bodied or the Napa chard was really acidic? It’s going to cost you dollars to try the wines, but familiarity builds confidence and knowledge. Besides, the Help Wanted ads start at $35 per day and the Chablis costs $15.

Test the employees in writing and in a restaurant setting. Put together ten situations or wine questions and set a table for pre-shift. Pull the questions from a hat and act them out with timing and accuracy. Use examples from the last month on the floor and mistakes from times past. Just remember, luck is when preparation meets opportunity!

Heath Porter is Sommelier at The Cloister on Sea Island. He won Best Young Sommelier Hawaii 2004 and holds an Introductory Certificate in the Court of Master Sommeliers 2004.

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