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Archive for September, 2013

NRA-PAC Reception, Hosted by Georgia Restaurant Association

Monday, September 30th, 2013

September 30, 2013, Canoe Restaurant, Atlanta. For more information, visit NRA-PAC Reception


A Course in Catering

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

By Shannon Wilder

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.”


Get Your Game Plan Ready

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

by Debby Cannon, Ph.D., Director, Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality, Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University

Understanding the nation’s economy is complex and equally so on the state and local levels. There are indicators that are optimistic, even if cautionary, such as a modest gain in jobs added to the economy and the lowering of unemployment on the national level. According to a report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Rugaber, August 3, 2013), job growth has exceeded 140,000 positions each month for almost a year with unemployment steadily declining on the national level.

In July, restaurant and foodservice operations along with retail led the nation in job growth with 38,400 positions added.  Based on report by Leonard Stafford (AJC, “Dining boom: Georgia-based chains spring wings, July 27), Georgia is seeing positive trends with a significant number of restaurants with headquarters in our state experiencing growth in the number of units planned for this year. Stafford’s research was based on quick service restaurants that ranged from the large players such as Chick-fil-A (now with 1735 stores and growing by 114 additional stores in 2013) to newer concepts such as Fresh to Order (with 12 stores and growing by an additional four in 2013). For some of the restaurant chains, growth is through heightened franchising activity.  For example, primarily through franchising, Zaxby’s will grow by 40 stores in 2013 being added to their existing 580.  Wing Zone is similar with increased franchising activity and growth of 14 stores in 2013.  Several more were noted by Stafford that are showing growth through additional stores such as Moe’s, Krystal, Huddle House, Tin Drum, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Your Pie and Uncle Maddio’s. While the additional stores are not all slated for Georgia, such growth is a positive indicator for the restaurant industry.

Increased business is not limited to the quick service restaurant segment.  Based on comments from several catering companies, there was a surge in business at the beginning of this year with additional increases seen throughout this year as compared to 2012.  At Georgia State University’s School of Hospitality, we experienced the same pattern regarding incoming available jobs for students and alumni.  During the first weeks of January, we received a record number of job postings for that time of year.  This level of activity has continued throughout the year with another surge in July as businesses started to prepare for fall demands.  The Career Management Center in the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State indicated similar increases in inquiries from employers seeking students and graduates from various industries.

After years of stalled growth for many companies, including the restaurant and foodservice sector, the transition to having to focus on recruiting and selecting employees may be challenging.  During the recession, there were job openings but at a reduced number.  Perhaps more importantly, employees were less likely to leave jobs because the job market was so limited.  Special efforts in employee recruitment may have “taken a back burner” because employees were relentlessly holding on to their jobs with turnover in some restaurant operations dropping to the single digits (compared to previous double- and triple-digit turnover.)

In a survey recently conducted by Georgia State’s School of Hospitality seniors, employers (owners and managers) were asked what the most pressing issues for their businesses are as we enter the last half of 2013. The top three concerns included finding and keeping top employee talent.  Is the “Talent War” (once speculated to coincide with retiring baby boomers) going to escalate for the restaurant and foodservice industry?

Perhaps the “Talent Race” might be a more realistic term (since many of those baby boomers will be working for many years to recoup lost 401K savings) but being strategically proactive is important in any competitive environment.  How does a business get their employee recruiting game ready for the race?

Most companies would not consider operating without a marketing plan — one that is well formulated, based on research and comprehensive.  Does your business have an employee marketing plan? Some of the items to include in this marketing plan include?

• What kind of organizational culture is created by the mission, vision and core values of your restaurant or foodservice operation?  In other words, what is it like working in your operation?  What does it take to be successful?  What characteristics have contributed to employees being successful in the past?   These characteristics will include soft skills and personality factors as well as technical, job-based qualifications and are important to understand prior to the start of recruiting activities.

• What are your staffing needs?  What is projected for the rest of this year and beyond?  Sufficient planning will allow the extra time and energy needed to find the very best talent for your organization.  Part of analyzing staffing needs involves also looking at anticipated turnover – both planned and unplanned. An indicator of unplanned turnover is reviewing your turnover rates from past months (again realizing that turnover during the recession was likely skewed.) Planned turnover is based on relocations, transfers and resignations that can be anticipated. Is your operation planning to expand whether in number of stores or expanding services such as adding catering operations? What are your staffing needs for such growth?

• What makes your operation unique?  Do you offer opportunities for learning, professional development, even earning certain certifications or certificates? While not limited to certain age groups, opportunities for professional development are particularly important to our Generation Y employees (late teens to those in their 20s and early 30s). Research has also repeatedly found that growing and developing professionally in one’s job is a priority for the most talented, qualified individuals in the workforce across all generations.

Every restaurant and foodservice operation has such special characteristics to offer to employees.  We are often so close to them that we forget their importance. For example, are you trying to hire top talent for servers and front-of-the-house employees?  Having great culinary talent can be a draw even to employees not working directly in the kitchen. Servers, who are foodies-at-heart, would be thrilled to learn, through tastings and other menu knowledge techniques, from talented chefs. Do you offer flexible work schedules? This is a huge attraction for many groups of job seekers. Is there the opportunity to cross-train and learn various stations and job roles? Be sure to include these attractive factors in job ads and other recruiting materials.

• Look at your competition. What are they doing and in what areas does your operation have competitive advantage?  Areas of competitive advantage offer recruiting opportunities and remember your competition is not necessarily another restaurant or foodservice operation. Particularly with culinary talent, our industry is increasing competing with healthcare, upscale senior living developments and non-traditional foodservice operations such as recreational facilities.

• Once you have your staffing needs defined, a clear idea of needed qualifications and characteristics and you have formulated strong recruiting messages that will draw top talent, there are the questions of what recruiting approaches to use.  Engage your current top talent to find top talent. Grassroots recruiting including word-of-mouth can be effective in the hands of energized, passionate employees.

• Utilize the power of an effective website for recruiting employees along with social media.  If you are a medium to small-size employer, you can successfully compete with the larger operations. The skill sets needed for website design and social media marketing are available probably among your existing employees. If not, look to your local colleges and universities. I’m consistently amazed and impressed with student talent in designing websites as well as developing social media programs. Be sure to arrange for someone to maintain and keep everything updated.

These are basics and probably understood by most readers. Hopefully, you will find the recruiting points as helpful reminders.  In adding and expanding your workforce, you are adding to the success potential of your operation.  Great quality service trumps every aspect of the dining guest’s experience and this power is in the hands of employees that you select.


15th Annual Marlow’s Tavern Golf Classic to Benefit Special Olympics Georgia

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

September 23, 2013, Country Club of Roswell. For more information, visit 15th Annual Marlow’s Tavern Golf Classic


Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

September 22-24, 2013, Orlando, FL. For more information, visit Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show


Mitchell Brumels Joins Ocean Prime Atlanta

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants recently announced that Mitchell Brumels has joined Ocean Prime Atlanta as executive chef.

A Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate, Brumels was executive chef for nine years at Vitale’s in Ada, Mich., which was named “Italian Restaurant of the Year” four times by Dining Out magazine. Prior to Vitale’s, he spent two years as executive chef of Tre Cugini in Grand Rapids, Mich., which received “Restaurant of the Year” awards from On The Town magazine both years that he was running the kitchen.



Willy’s Names Juan C. Garcia as President

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Willy’s Mexicana Grill has hired restaurant executive Juan C. Garcia as president of the Atlanta-based Fresh-Mex restaurant company. Garcia brings more than 30 years of restaurant industry experience to the position. Founder Willy Bitter will remain as “chairman of the burrito” and CEO of the restaurant company, overseeing future development and long-range planning.

Bitter opened the first Willy’s Mexicana Grill in 1995, when he brought the idea for a new style of Mexican restaurants featuring California-style burritos back to Atlanta after living in San Francisco. The company has grown to 20 restaurants in the metro Atlanta area, as well as one in Athens, Ga., and one in Gainesville, Fla. Willy’s also plans to open restaurants in two additional Atlanta neighborhoods in 2013: Brookhaven and North Druid Hills.

Garcia, who was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, brings to Willy’s a broad range of restaurant experience, including accounting and management roles. Prior to his most recent position as chief financial officer at Valls Group Inc., a South Florida restaurant company with more than 40 locations, he spent 27 years at Benihana Inc. and served as president and chief operating officer for the publicly traded restaurant company from 2007-2010.


The General Muir is One of Bon Appetit’s Top 50

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

The General Muir has been named to Bon Appetit’s 2013 list of Top 50 Best New Restaurants. The New York-style deli’s menu offers classics such as matzo-ball soup and pastrami sandwiches, in addition to trendier items like the burger topped with pastrami and Gruyere and prune-stuffed gnocci with oxtail.

Chef Todd Ginsberg and partners Jennifer & Ben Johnson and Shelley Sweet are the owners of The General Muir.

The Top 50 Best New Restaurants list is compiled by Bon Appétit Restaurant and Drinks Editor Andrew Knowlton.


Charities Benefit From Proceeds of Cooking Competition

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Three of Atlanta’s finest chefs went head-to-head in the 2013 Cook-off for a Cause – a culinary competition designed to pair Allegrini Palazzo della Torre wine with a signature dish. On September 12, the chefs competed on behalf of a charity of their choosing in front of a live audience and panel of judges – including The Bert Show’s Jeff Dauler and writer/wine educator Jane F. Garvey, CSW– at Vino Venue in Atlanta.

The audience, comprised of food and wine media, members of the trade and winery executives, selected Chef John C. Metz, Jr., CEO and co-founder of Marlow’s Tavern and Aqua blue Restaurant & Bar, as the winning chef. Chef Metz paired Allegrini Palazzo della Torre with an entrée of Rustic Country Rigatoni.

Allegrini will be making a donation to charities selected by each participating chef. The results are as follows:

1st place: Chef John C. Metz, Jr./Sterling Hospitality, $3000 donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank in memory of Janice Reece.

2nd place: Chef Kevin Gillespie/Gunshow, $2000 donated to The FitWit Foundation.

3rd place: Chef Ford Fry/Rocket Farm, $1000 donated to City of Refuge.

Allegrini is a historic producer of highly acclaimed wines from the northern Italian region of Veneto.


Robinson College of Business Fall Career EXPO

Friday, September 13th, 2013

September 13, 2013, Hyatt Regency, Atlanta. For more information, visit Robinson College of Business Fall Career EXPO

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