These days, an increasing number of Georgia restaurateurs are adding catering to their menus as a way to bring in much-needed additional revenue.
As with any new business venture, there are challenges and concerns along the way. Fortunately, restaurant owners in the Peach state who are ready to make the leap can get expert advice from catering industry leaders such as Patrick Cuccaro, general manager of Affairs to Remember and past chair of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA).
Cuccaro and the Affairs to Remember team have hosted the GRA’s four-hour catering boot camp at the firm’s Atlanta location three times a year for the last four years. How great is the demand? According to Cuccaro, the boot camp has been sold out – with a wait list – each and every time it’s been offered. The four-hour sessions are offered free to GRA members.
Embrace the Changing Landscape
Catering in 2013, Cuccaro says, is a far cry from the white-clothed banquet tables and sterno-fueled chafing dishes of yesteryear. And keeping up with trends in entertaining is crucial to a new caterer’s success.
“Catering is like haute couture,” Cuccaro says. “What’s hot today is not tomorrow. If we become stale, it is at our peril. In off-premise catering, we’ve witnessed the transformation of catered events from merely “feeding people” to sophisticated entertainment and social interaction. As recently as a decade ago it was acceptable to roll out a few exciting new food ideas every year. Today, that just won’t fly. We create several hundred new dishes a year. We must continually reinvent the customer experience.”
Those restaurants that have already embraced the seasonal/locally grown movement will have a leg up when it comes to opening a catering operation. One of the biggest trends Cuccaro says he’s seen of late is a willingness of catering clients to embrace seasonal menu items – even if it means not knowing exactly what’s going to be on the menu until the very last minute.
To support that trend, Affairs to Remember has established its own garden. The effort not only provides outstanding raw product for the firm’s menu items, it also supports a greater commitment to sustainability. The food goes full circle, Cuccaro says, explaining that Affairs purchases uses its own organic material as compost in the garden.
Perfect the Food
The centerpiece of any catering operation is, of course, the food. And regardless of size, any catering operation has to have a grasp of how well food will travel. Testing new dishes, like Cuccaro describes above, is only half the battle. A dish may work wonderfully well in the restaurant, where it only has to go from kitchen to table. The journey to the venue is often quite a different story.
“We call it road worthiness,” says Cuccaro. “Catering is an art and a science. Every single new food that you introduce must pass several litmus tests.”
Those include how the food survives the trip, and how well it stands up to sitting in limbo between the time it arrives and the time it reaches a plate.
“If a food hasn’t been tested properly,” he says, “the likelihood of failure is exponentially higher. We spend hours analyzing our roadworthiness, as must all successful caterers.”
Focus on the Basics
Newly minted caterers make mistakes on the operational front as well. What’s the worst from Cuccaro’s point of view? “Deciding to go into catering without enough skin in the game. Trial and error is not a business plan – it is a brand killer.”
Too often, restaurateurs risk their reputation on an ill-thought-out attempt to add a few dollars to the bottom line. “Imagine serving your restaurant’s signature steak to 150 guests at a private, hosted event, “ he says. “Just when the steaks are perfectly cooked, the best man unexpectedly launches into a round of toasts. That beautiful signature steak that was perfect a mere 15 minutes ago is now a gray hockey puck.
“Do you think these guests, who are eating your hockey puck for free, will become paying future customers? Doubtful. This happens all the time. Brand destruction for the sake of incremental catering revenue is not a pretty sight.”
At the other end of the spectrum, he says, the most common errors for caterers who’ve been in the business for a while include food safety infractions, unprofitable pricing and failure to grow the infrastructure to meet volume demands.
A Winning Strategy
With almost four decades under its belt, Affairs to Remember has borne witness to a sea change in the industry, says Cuccaro. Catering has shifted from merely serving food to providing a memorable experience from start to finish, and Affairs to Remember has risen to the challenge. As proof, the firm was awarded the 2013 Best-Caterer-in-the-South ACE Award at the recent Catersource Conference & Tradeshow in Las Vegas.
The ACE Award for the South Region is selected from entries from 12 states, including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
Of winning the award, Cuccaro said it was a special honor, adding, “It’s a pleasure just to practice our art and craft. To be recognized for doing so is the icing on our cake.”
There’s no doubt that John Pinkerton likes beer. As brewmaster and owner of Moon River Brewing Company, Pinkerton serves as the ambassador of local beer in Savannah – it’s the only local brewery in the city.
Opened to the public in 1999, the brewery was voted #28 by BeerAdvocate on its list of Top 50 American Brewpubs in 2003. And in 2010, Pinkerton proved his mettle when the brewery won a Gold Medal for its Rosemary India Pale Ale in the “Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer” category at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival.
Pinkerton was recently selected a finalist in the GRA’s 2012 GRACE Awards Innovator category and is a recipient of the Savannah Craft Brew Festival’s Pioneer Award.
“I see brewpubs really leading the charge in the craft brew industry because we are the interface between the consumer and the breweries, more so than the breweries themselves,” Pinkerton says. “Most people have their experience with the breweries when they go to the store and buy their product off the shelf. Whereas with brewpubs, you’re right there where they make the beers, you’re often in the position to talk to brewers, and it has a very strong, local cultural factor.”
For nearly 20 years, Pinkerton has worked in every aspect of operations, both in brewpubs and in regional-scale production breweries. Over the years, he’s also established a sense of leadership and service to the craft-brewing industry. He was a founding member of the Rubber Boot Society’s steering committee (a Mid-Atlantic brewer’s guild), as well as a longtime member of the Brewers Association. He also helped establish the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild in 2010 and is currently serving as president of the organization.
He frequently serves as a judge for regional and national beer competitions, and he also volunteers his expertise for conferences and festivals.
Pinkerton was instrumental in getting HB 472, the Brewpub Bill, passed this past legislative session, an initiative the GRA worked on and supported. It increases the amount of beer brewpubs can produce annually from 5,000 to 10,000 barrels and allows sales to distributors.
According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the federal government issued a new I-9 form March 7 — and while the new form is available for immediate use, employers have a 60-day grace period to begin using it, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The new form, which verifies the identity and work eligibility of newly hired employees has been made clearer and more user-friendly and will be required for new hires starting May 8, 2013.
USCIS said it realizes employers will need extra time to update their business processes to accommodate the new form, particularly businesses that use electronic I-9 forms. As a result, certain older versions of the form can be used for the next 60 days, or through May 7, 2013. Employers do not need to complete a new I-9 for existing employees who already have an I-9 on file, unless their employment needs to be re-verified.
The new form includes a revised layout that expands the form to two pages from one, along with improved instructions. A downloadable form and more details are available on USCIS’s website. Employers also can call the agency at (800) 870-3676.
Employers must maintain I-9 forms for their employees as long as they work for the employer and for the required retention period after the end of employment. That period either is three years after the date of hire or one year after the date employment ended, whichever is later. Employers also must make their I-9 forms available for inspection by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, and the Labor Department.
Founded in 1979, the Atlanta Community Food Bank currently distributes almost 2 million pounds of food and other donated grocery items each month to more than 800 nonprofit partner agencies in 38 counties in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Distributing these donations to low-income Georgians, our partner agencies provide dynamic links between the local community, the Food Bank and our supporters.
In addition to our core business of food distribution, the Food Bank has a number of projects that help build community including The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, Atlanta’s Table, Community Gardens, Hunger 101, Hunger Walk/Run, Kids In Need, and the Product Rescue Center.
There comes a point in your career when you face a crossroads: Do I continue down this path or do I risk everything and pursue my dream of owning my own place? Patrick McNamara of Noble Fare in Savannah came to that place in this career, and he decided to go for it. “My culinary clock was ticking,” McNamara explained. “I was 39, and they say if you haven’t done it by 40, you’re not going to. So I was feeling that it was now or never.” McNamara has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 14, starting out as a dishwasher. “All I ever wanted to be was a chef,” McNamara said. “I’d worked with many talented chefs in my career and I knew it was time for me to blend all the things I’d learned and do my own thing.” With the help of his wife, Jennifer, and his extended family, McNamara bought a building and set out to make his dream a reality.
As a chef or a general manager, you might harbor a similar dream of launching your own concept. Perhaps you have it all mentally sketched out, down to the color of the walls. Or maybe you just have a general idea of what you want. Either way, here are some steps you need to take to begin your entrepreneurial journey.
RESTAURANT LAUNCH CHECKLIST
You will first need to secure an ally to help you understand and map out the contractual parts of your business. A good lawyer will help you with:
business plan development
A commercial broker can help with:
A bad lease agreement is the No. 1 mistake of new operators. You need to have a favorable lease so you can be successful for the next 30+ years. Scott Serpas, owner of Serpas True Food, suggests being very aggressive when negotiating a lease. “There is no real set lease contract. You have to push and prod and give a little when you negotiate your contract. Know what you need beforehand, especially around the cost of upfitting. Once you sign the lease, you no longer have any leverage and it’s on you.”
Next, you need to have your financing secure. Locate private investors or fi nd a banker that believes in you. Work with an accountant to develop the necessary documents and knowledge you will need going forward:
develop pro forma financial projections
understand tax liabilities/opportunities
You have your business incorporated, your location selected and financing secure.
Next, you need two people to make your concept a reality. An architect and general contractor will:
design estimates to bring your conceptual ideas to paper, and
provide construction cost, scheduling and estimates of furniture and fixture cost.
Before you can start any work, insurance must be finalized. As stated previously, be sure you have an experienced insurance agent and adequate coverage. One well known Atlanta restaurant is in a protracted lawsuit that has cost them nearly $300,000 in legal fees. This could have been avoided if they had had a solid agent and proper coverage. You will need the following:
property and casualty
The state of Georgia’s permit laws are challenging. An expeditor and/or lawyer can help you navigate the system.
Hire expeditors to navigate the licensing process.
Line up inspectors: fire, health, electrical, building and others.
Pulling the inspectors in early in the project and working closely with them will help your process go much smoother. Minton says that he “gets inspectors involved before any nail is pulled or struck.” By involving them all throughout the process, Minton saves time and money by avoiding Â ”tear-outs” and “re-do” requests.
FURNITURE, FIXTURES & EQUIPMENT
Hopefully by now you are seeing some progress with your build-out. You now need to make decisions regarding:
technology partners (phone, music, point of sale, credit card, website, etc.)
determining outside vendors (food, alcohol, landscaping, valet parking, cleaning, linen rental, pest control, etc.)
LAST STEPS:Â TALENT, TESTING AND MARKETING
To open smoothly, employees must be hired and trained. This is also a good time to solidify the menu and concept with the executive chef.
Set training plans.
Refine concept/menu tastings.
Don’t overlook the importance of bringing in an expert to help you with the following:
Test, test and re-test everything. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve learned that operating a restaurant is all about multitasking. In any given day, you may be the plumber, bartender, human re sources, server and chief bottle washer. The good news is, with the proper systems in place you can realize your dream of having a successful, fun operation. The best thing about owning a restaurant is you are never bored. Every day is a new adventure! The Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) is a great place to net work for all the individuals listed above. Their mission is to provide operators with the right resources for success. In fact, there is a number of GRA partner members (food purveyors, utility providers, CPAs, lawyers, etc.) with significant restaurant experience that will be happy to help you in your journey.
Starting out under-capitalized. Have 18-24 months of working capital set aside.
Not having enough experience in the type of restaurant you want to open. Have at least two years of similar operations experience. If you’re new to the restaurant industry, find a high-volume restaurant and wash dishes there for 30- 60 days. Being a restaurant owner isn’t always as glamorous as you might think.
Not checking with county codes to see if your new kitchen design is in compliance, or assuming a building that was previously used as a restaurant is up to current code.
Assuming that the equipment in a restaurant you are taking over will be sufficient for your new concept. After all, aren’t all fryers the same?
Thinking that these mistakes are hypothetical!
Â Top Four Success Tips
Success Tip #1 When working with architects, make sure you ask about their experience with restaurants. If they are inexperienced, supply them with a list of typical interior resources such as storage rooms, pantry and plans for running lines for drink stations. Serpas worked with an architect that did not have restaurant experience, but his contractor had many years of restaurant experience, so as a team, they made sure all the bases were covered.
Success Tip #2 Do a yearly review of all your fixed costs, such as insurance and utilities. For example, did you know that liability insurance premiums have recently decreased? Don’t assume that your providers will contact you with possible ways to decrease your bills. Minton found out that he could lower his general liability in urance by 30% just by closing at midnight instead of 1 a.m.
Success Tip #3 Make sure your location has safe, well-lit parking. All things being equal, people will go down the road rather than fight traffic getting in and out of your restaurant. McNamara said parking was a No. 1 priority when choosing his building. Parking is a premium in Savannah, so the fact that a new 600-car garage had just been built across from the building he was looking at made it his top choice
Success Tip #4 Did you know that you have to actually have your certificate of occupancy before the city of Atlanta will consider finalizing your liquor permit? Don’t be stuck unable to serve alcohol upon opening.
How can I prepare my establishment for an inspection under the new 2007 Georgia Food Code?
Short answer-Eliminate Risk Factors
To do that check off all items in list below
Do I have a person in charge with assigned duties (pg 28-29) that has obtained their CFSM (see the Accredited certification link on the website pg 29), to answer question posed by the EHS during the inspection if onsite and/or have a person in charge to conduct duties (page 31) while I am not onsite (PIC present pg 28), demonstrate knowledge (pg 26-28), answer your employee health questions- what is your employee health policy?(must be written or be able to list 5 symptoms and illnesses (pg 31-39), go over the inspection report if at all possible, have CFSM certificate posted (pg 30) or answer questions and not risk factors out of compliance top part of form. Do I have active managerial control when I am onsite and when I am not (pg 30-31) -inspections can be conducted whenever food is being prepped or served?
Am I absolutely sure that no employees are working with prohibited symptoms (pg 31), with illnesses or exposed to illnesses that are listed in the code (pg 31-39)? Do they know what illnesses they have to report to me (pg 32)? Do I know what illnesses I have to report to the health authority (pg 33)? Do I know when they should be excluded or restricted (pg 33-35) in the food service establishment?
Are my employees washing their hands? Have they been trained how to (pg 40), when to (pg 41), where to (pg 41, 108-110) and are they doing it? Are they touching ready to eat food with their bare hands or using tongs, deli paper, scoop, or gloves (pg 51). Do they know when to change their gloves and to wash hands before putting on new gloves (pg 55)? Do the employees maintain a high degree of personal cleanliness (pg 42-43)? Are clean sinks (pg 124) available for handwashing (pg 122)?
Do my employees know either to not eat or drink in prep areas (pg 123) or the proper way to have a cup with lids and straw stored in prep area (pg 43) or to taste food, if needed (pg 51)?
Do I know the required temperatures limits that have to met in the code and am I sure that during receiving (pg 47), cook (pg 60-62), hot hold & cold hold (pg 67), reheating for hot holding (pg 64), and cooling temperatures are in compliance for all potentially hazardous foods (pg 66). Have I passed that information along to those that need to know (pg 28)? If we use time instead of temperature, do we have a plan and have proper documentation (pg 69-70)?
Are there any PHF’s that we cook to order or serve raw (pg 76)? Do I have a consumer advisory on each page of menu where these items are offered in capitol letters including disclosure/reminder-page or other approved notification (pg 76)?
Do we prepare PHF and hold them for more than 24 hours (pg 67-68)? Or when commercially prepared PHFs (not on exclusion list-pg 68) are OPENED, do we have them date marked? Do I have a date marking system that is used consistently as described in the code (pg 67-69)?
Are my food contact surfaces cleaned with an approved dishwashing system which requires surfaces to be washed-rinsed-sanitized with proper strength of chemical (test kit) or heat sanitization (thermometer)? Are they free of food particles and buildup and allowed to air dry (pg 94-102)-including food equipment such as can openers, slicers, etc. (pg 54)? Are dispensing utensils clean (pg 96) and stored properly when in use (pg 54-55)?
Does the food received come from an approved source and in good condition (pg 44-51, 74-75)? If I serve shellfish, do I have the tags in order on file (pg 50-51)? If I serve raw or under cooked fish, do I have proof that parasites have been destroyed (pg 62-63)? Do I have all food protected from contamination (raw below cooked-washed above ready to eat) during receiving, storage and prep (pg 52-54, 57-60)? Do I have damaged food segregated for pickup or discarded (pg 52, 123)? Do I make sure that foods that have been contaminated or improperly held have been discarded (pg 56, 59, 76-77)? Do I store foods covered or sealed when not in use (pg 52), unless they are being cooled on top shelf (pg 66)?
Do I use any food additives (food colorings, sulfiting agents-if so are they approved and used properly (pg 47, 53)?
Do I have posted CFSM certificate (when required i.e. 90 days, 2 years or now to meet demonstration of knowledge without RF violations in lieu of answering ?s in code), choking poster , permit (pg 20), inspection report as required in code (main door, drive thru pg 144), handwashing signs in restrooms that employees use and at prep handwash sinks (pg 122), and consumer advisory if serving undercooked animal foods (and not on each page of menu where undercooked item is offered when there is no menu pg 76).
Do I have a thermometer to probe the types of foods you cook, hold and serve? How do I calibrate it and how do I sanitize the probe? (pg 83)
Do I use raw eggs in dressings without a consumer advisory when I could use pasteurized (pg 53)? If I serve unpasteurized juices, do they contain warning labels or prepared under an approved HACCP plan (pg 50)? If I serve a highly susceptible population for the most part, do I use pasteurized foods where required (juices, eggs pg 77-79)?
Do I store my chemicals labeled and away form food (pg 126-130)? Are personal items, medicines, and pesticides stored away from food and cleaning supplies (pg129)?
Do I have a variance (pg 70, 150) or HACCP plan (pg 24-25) where required (such as smoking or curing foods for preservation, acidifying foods or adding additives so they don’t have to be held under temperature control or putting foods in reduced oxygen packaging (pg 71-74)? If so, do I have these plans onsite, the equipment to monitor critical limits, and insure corrective action as required in the plan (pg 143)? Do I have the required records and am I verifying their accuracy?
Do I understand the condition of my food service permit, my responsibility as the permit holder (pg 20) to compliance, and access for inspection? Do I report new menu items that require new equipment or additional food safety procedures must be reported to the health authority (pg 21)? Do I understand that I must cease operation if imminent health hazards exist in my establishment (pg 21)?
Mission: To create an ecologically sustainable restaurant industry. Â
The Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a national non-profit organization, provides services in research, consulting, education, marketing and community organizing. The GRA utilizes a collaborative strategy that involves restaurants, manufacturers, vendors, grassroots organizations, government, media, and restaurant customers. The GRA’s model provides a convenient way for all sectors of the restaurant industry, which represents 10% of the U.S. economy, to become more environmentally sustainable.
Attention POTENTIAL FRANCHISEES:
When evaluating a franchise opportunity, look for system eligibility with the FRANCHISE REGISTRY. If the franchise system is eligible for this program, you will receive expedited loan processing through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). If the system is not listed, you should immediately contact them and inquire as to their eligibility status with the SBA. If they are not listed on this website, you cannot receive expedited loan processing through the SBA. (Per SBA Procedural Notice dated September 15, 1998.)
The National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR) is the leading trade association exclusively representing chain restaurant companies. For more than 40 years, NCCR has worked to advance sound public policy that best serves the interests of both chain restaurants and the millions of people they employ. NCCR members include some of the country’s largest and well respected quick-serve and casual dining companies.Â The National Council of Chain Restaurants is a division of the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade group.