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Industry Challenges: Building a Sustainable Workforce

Friday, August 24th, 2018

Westside Works offers a six-week Culinary Academy in partnership with Levy Restaurants. Photo courtesy of Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

By Nancy Wood

The most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was surprising – at 3.8 percent nationwide, the country has the lowest unemployment rate since 2000. Georgia’s latest statistic sits slightly above the national average at 4.3 percent.

With more restaurants opening all the time, Georgia owners and operators continue to face longtime challenges – including a high turnover rate – when it comes to recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce. When specific employee issues are thrown into the mix, like transportation, affordable housing near the workplace and job-hopping for better wages, the industry struggle often seems insurmountable.

With 19 years in the industry and four-and-a-half years as vice president of training and development for Taco Mac, Mary Lowe has faced a variety of workforce challenges, including geography, and finds common ground across the broad spectrum of food service concepts. In the metro Atlanta area especially, she sees both transportation and housing as issues that impact the ability to find employees in specific areas.

“We’re an alcohol-based brand, so late nights are popular with our restaurants in the city. It’s really hard for mass transit to be a reliable form of transportation for team members,” she says. For those with vehicles, parking is an added cost of working downtown.

In suburban locations, mass transit is also an issue, but says Lowe, “In our suburban restaurants, potential team members have more affluent families and don’t see the need to work or have a job in high school and college. Finding people in that workforce who are in close proximity makes it challenging.”

To combat the multitude of issues that impact finding and keeping talent, some restaurants are revising their business models to include benefits programs that go beyond free meals or award-based incentives, offering paid vacations, health insurance and 401-K plans as well as mass transit passes or gas cards that employees can use to subsidize their transportation. Going a step further, some owners and operators are using retreats and outings that focus on the concept’s culture and brand as a way to build loyalty.

“Because we’re craft on draft,” says Lowe, “we offer brewery tours and trips to encourage our team members to learn about our core products and keep them excited about working in the restaurants.”

Nesha Bailey-Mason, executive director of the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia

Getting an Early Start
Despite those initiatives, when it comes to recruitment and retention, the battle continues – how do owners and operators help potential and current employees turn what many see as a ‘job’ into a career?

“I’ve spoken with a lot of young people who are currently in the industry,” says Lowe, “and whether they’re working in fast food or are a server, they discount what they’re already doing – they don’t believe they have somewhere to go because nobody’s ever taken them aside and said – ‘you can make a great career from this that’s highly lucrative and well-compensated.’”

In Georgia, nurturing students interested in the culinary career path is gaining substantial support. Since 1989, the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia (HEFG) has served as a bridge between the industry and the classroom.

“Our goal,” says HEFG Executive Director Nesha Bailey-Mason, “is to offer resources and opportunities to help educators help high school students make that connection to their career path.”

The Foundation gives teens a start toward a career through the ProStart® program – a nationwide educational program originally started by the National Restaurant Association and launched in Georgia in 1997. By 2005, the HEFG had instituted the Georgia State ProStart® Championships, a competition where teams of culinary arts and consumer science students demonstrate their skills. They also launched the Hospitality Career Expo, which brings every sector of the hospitality industry together to help educate students about careers in the industry.

Mary Lowe, vice president of training and develop- ment for Taco Mac

“Many of the kids don’t consider continuing in culinary because they have a very limited view of what a foodservice career looks like,” says Bailey-Mason. “The Expo demonstrates the many areas that culinary arts and hospitality touches.” By helping students see how the entry-level position they have right now can lead to that end goal, says Bailey-Mason, “They’re climbing a ladder and not just rolling around in the abyss.”

Across the state, efforts like this are getting a big boost from foundations and non-profits dedicated to turning a young person’s passion for foodservice into a lifelong career. And some innovative apprenticeship programs are stepping in to provide a healthy pipeline of next-generation staff.

Connecting the Workforce to Opportunity
For the last four-and-a-half years, the Westside Works Foundation has been offering a culinary apprenticeship program through the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and Levy’s Restaurants, a Chicago-based company that provides food services to major entertainment and sports venues, including the Georgia World Congress Center, Phillips Arena and Mercedes- Benz Stadium.

“The idea was Arthur Blank’s through his family foundation,” says Juliet Peters, Culinary Instructor for the Levy Culinary Academy. “They had an idea to increase job force training for people who had a lack of opportunity,” Peters explains. “They chose specific industries, and one of them happened to be culinary.”

In addition to basic kitchen skills, safety protocols, international cuisine, baking and pastry, the six-week apprenticeship program covers so skills like showing up on time, communicating properly and with respect, and offers the opportunity to receive ServSafe® certification. Because the program is run in conjunction with Levy Restaurants, students take classes at the “fully functional, beautiful stadium kitchens.” A perk Peters says is “Not bad!”

The apprenticeship program is open to good applicants from areas other than the Westside, says Peters, and isn’t specifically designed to staff the venues where Levy has contracts. “It’s really not to staff the stadium,” she explains. “That’s a great attribute – but we would be doing a disservice to the graduates who need a more set schedule and steady, gainful employment instead of something that’s seasonal.” Under Peters’ direction, the students and graduates also gain valuable experience running the largest concession stand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The program’s success is evident:Concepts like Honeysuckle Gelato and Ford Fry’s Rocket Farms Restaurant Group hire exclusively from the Culinary Academy, and Georgia State University hires almost exclusively from the pool of graduates. Peters, who acts as a liaison to match the right employee to the right employer says, “People who hire from us know the skill set they’re going to get from my students.”

Mapping a Pathway to Career Success
One of the newest programs in the state is the Georgia Hospitality Apprenticeship Program (G-HAP), which is operated by HEFG in partnership with the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). Officially launched in 2017, the national program was developed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) in partnership with the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the U.S. Department of Labor and specifies certain requirements for employers to offer apprenticeships to their employees. Georgia is one of only 13 states that are able to use the national standards for its state “earn while you learn” apprenticeship program.

HEFG’s Bailey-Mason thinks the apprenticeship program “is exactly the tool we need to harness the natural interest of high school students and channel it into a real, productive workforce.” While the HEFG’s primary mission is providing support for educating hospitality and foodservice students at the high school level, Bailey-Mason views G-HAP as “a clearly identified pathway to national restaurant management certification.

The ProStart program helps prepare high school students for a career in the hospitality industry. Here, the State Champion ProStart team from Meadowcreek High School in Norcross practice for the national ProStart competition. Photo courtesy of Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia

“Before,” she says, “our ProStart students got all this great culinary training in high school, and it wasn’t necessarily something the industry recognized. Under the national certification program, students who are working in the industry get credit for the competencies they learned in high school – like college credit.”

Taco Mac was a leader in implementing the apprenticeship program in Georgia, and Mary Lowe relished taking on the task. “For an employer to qualify,” she says, “there’s a simple commitment form to ll out stating they will follow the rules within the program.” For example, applicants have to be 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED equivalency. “They also have to pass whatever your concept has in place – like a drug or background screen.”

“From there,” she explains, “someone on the NRAEF team takes your current training curriculum and maps it against the national competencies for the program.” The competencies don’t exclude any level of concept or level of service, she adds. “You have to be an 80 percent match minimum, and I would say the majority of restaurant concepts out there are going to be a match with the materials they already have in place.”

“Right now,” adds Lowe, “there are grant monies available through the apprenticeship program, and if [your business] qualifies, you can use those to build out your program where you are deficient. That’s great if you’re looking to make your training program more robust.”

G-HAP includes three competency levels with varying tasks the apprentices need to master. “ The first level,” explains Lowe, “includes critical basic hourly skillsets such as knife skills, safety sanitation, guest interaction and steps of service.” The next level covers competencies for key hourly supervisor roles or managers in training, such as managing daily operations, effective communication and managing a safe, healthy workplace.

“The last level,” she says, “focuses on restaurant management.” That level includes financial management, staffing, training and other intricacies, “like creating a local restaurant marketing plan and more of the technical HR pieces you need to master.”

Overall, G-HAP requires 225 instructional hours, and credit is given for those with experience in the industry. “ at can be everything from your orientations to classroom training and ServSafe certification,” Lowe says. “For example, if you’re a Pro- Start student in a Georgia high school and you’ve gone through classroom instructional training, you get credit for that. Or, if you’ve had experience within the industry and have certifications like OSHA training, you can get credit for that.”

Through the Georgia Hospitality Apprenticeship Program, Taco Mac has already found 50 employees. Photo courtsey of Taco Mac

An apprentice’s ability is competency-based, and mastering those competencies can take anywhere from six months to two years. “Some people are faster learners than others,” Lowe says. “While it might take only six months for a more experienced person, it could take two years for someone with virtually no restaurant experience.”

With more than 50 employees already signed up, Taco Mac’s apprenticeship program has been a win-win. “Our team members are really excited,” she says. “They had a career path within Taco Mac, but now it aligns with the national standards and it adds more credibility to what they’re doing here.” Another win, says Lowe, is the fact that any level of employee can be an apprentice. “You don’t have to be a key team member. You can still be part of the apprenticeship as a line cook or as a server.”

“Restaurants can tap into a tremendous amount of support through this apprenticeship program,” says HEFG’s Bailey-Mason. “The restaurants that have signed on to the apprenticeship program so far are using it for their existing employees – but as we move forward, those restaurateurs who may not have a training program in place may be using the apprenticeship program as their training program. HEFG can help them navigate through it – especially to tap into the financial resources that might be available to apprentice hosts.”

Lowe sums it up like this: “The G-HAP program is a great way to segue classroom training – then on-the-job training – then round out with a national certification. There are a lot of wins that connect in multiple areas.”


Tips for Creating Your Online Newsroom

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Need some positive publicity? Make it easy for journalists, bloggers and other influencers to reach you so they can spread the word about what you do.

By Ellen Hartman

It’s a fact that the news media have fewer reporters and fewer resources these days and are being asked to produce more stories, tweets and blog posts than ever before.

While that’s a burden for most news journalists, it is an opportunity for public relations professionals to make it easy for media to write about your brand. A robust online newsroom on your brand’s website is the “go-to standard” to help media and the facts and figures and story ideas about your restaurant. Not only is it a way to organize your media assets (releases, photos, videos), it keeps the necessary information all in one place.

I recently talked with an editor who experienced an online newsroom that was not up to par. She expressed her frustration with online newsrooms that don’t provide even the basics, like company background information. But her No. 1 complaint, and one that is common among journalists, is missing media contact information. One of the most important things you can do is have a designated media contact email and phone number included on your website … and make sure it is monitored and responded to ASAP! Without a specific email and phone number, journalists can get lost in the fray, and you might miss out on a great media opportunity.

Although so many brands miss out on the value of online newsrooms – or think they don’t have the time to dedicate to one – there are those who do it well. One brand who I think is an example of an online newsroom done right is Chick-fil-A. It has all the traditional components of a newsroom and is easy to navigate, but, most importantly, Chick-fil-A uses its unique personality to tell its story. Its newsroom is compelling, it’s engaging and it speaks to their brand.

While you don’t have to have an online media page that has all the bells and whistles like Chick-fil-A, there are a few simple tips for creating your own online newsroom that any journalist will appreciate.

1. Make it easy to find.
A link to your newsroom should be prominently displayed and easy to find from your company homepage. You don’t want media to have to waste time digging around on your website for the information they are looking for. If you make it too hard, you risk the media giving up and moving along to another company, which could mean the difference between your brand being featured in a news story or being left out.

2. Make sure it’s thorough.
A complete online newsroom has seven key components: news releases; video; photos; links to the brand’s social media handles (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram); company fact sheets; biographies of company leadership with their headshots; media coverage; and media contact information. The key is to make it easy for media to use so they can quickly copy/ paste and download information for their articles or reach out to someone who will respond and help them with what they need, whether that’s scheduling an interview, setting up a photo shoot or just sending a recent headshot of the restaurant owner.

3. Keep it up-to-date.
It’s important that you dedicate some time to keeping your online newsroom up-to-date with fresh content. It’s an easy thing to forget about but simple to do. This includes immediately posting the latest press releases; adding new photos so it’s not the same pictures you see in the media month after month and year after year; and removing outdated content that is no longer necessary or accurate.

4. Capture your audience.
If a journalist visits your press room, you already have someone engaged and interested in your brand. Take advantage of that! Make sure you include a form to capture the media’s contact information. You can use it later for sending out the latest news or events.

5. Consider an events calendar.
This is optional, but some find it useful to publish upcoming company events so the media is “in the know.” The events calendar can be used to list new store openings, trade show participation, executive appearances and any other company and/or community events.

No matter the size of your restaurant, be sure you at least set up a basic media page with contact info, whether that’s a phone number and email address to an in-house marketing person, a PR agency handling your media requests, or just one of the business owners.

You’d be surprised how many professional journalists, bloggers and more will reach out to you and help you promote your company if you just give them a way how!

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d ’Escof er International.


Want to Add Catering to Your Business?

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

What you need to know before you even start booking functions

By Rob Martin

I often have clients who tell me that they want to add catering to their current business. “Great,” I say. “It can be a good addition to your revenue stream if approached in the proper way. What are your goals, and are you ready?” This is where they typically look at me with a curious stare wondering what I mean by that.

With more than 11 years experience as a caterer, I know you must have a specific goal in mind for your catering, maybe it’s to add revenue or expand your market, market your restaurant or increase productivity of staff during downtime. All good goals.

But are you ready to address this market in such a way as to not harm your current business and to be able to do it well so that it is an asset to your business?

Before you start booking functions, be sure you have a good idea of the number and size of the catering functions you can handle. For instance, if you only have one catering vehicle, then chances are you may be limited to how many caterings you can do at any one time or day.

You must also take into consideration the capacity of your kitchen to prepare catered meals in addition to the demand created by your current restaurant traffic. The number of available staff, cook line capacity and storage space all need to be taken into account.

You also need to set standards for the operation before you take your first catering order. Remember this is an extension of your restaurant, and as such it will market your services to new customers in either a good or bad way.

How will you translate that experience for your in-house guest to your catering guest? This experience will either leave a catering guest wanting to come and try your restaurant or forever remove you as an option for them to experience your full service at the restaurant itself.

Equally important is to set a minimum party size when catering off premise. Depending on the price per person you can command, even with minimal labor food and labor cost there will be a point at which catering too small of a group just isn’t profitable.

Establish a basic menu and price list. Not all of your restaurant offerings are suitable for catering. Consider what items hold well and which items would not. Likewise, the current pricing for your restaurant menu may not work for a catered function either.

Get a minimum guarantee. It’s customary practice in the catering and banquet world for the client to give you a guaranteed guest count. If fewer show up, you still charge based on the

A best practice depending on the event is to carry 5 percent to 10 percent extra, a fact that the guest may or may not be made aware of when booking. This way the client isn’t embarrassed if a few extra guests show up. The caterer will have to keep track of the number of plates served or conduct headcounts, and charge for all additional guests. It is important that you account for the additional 5 to 10 percent of product when pricing the menus; that way your costs are covered.

Get a schedule planner. You’ll need a durable schedule planner to keep track of all your catering events. This can be as simple as purchasing a standard calendar planner from an office supply store or, if you prefer, using a software system designed for catering or an app. Make sure the planner is accessible by anyone who has the authority to book a function. The worst thing you can do is to overbook, causing you to be shorthanded in either your catering or restaurant operation.

And finally, have a point of contact for your catering services. It may be you or it may be an employee, but whoever it is, they must understand the standards of the restaurant and capabilities of the kitchen and have the ability to communicate that while keeping the big picture of everything else discussed above in mind. Taking these steps and defining a plan will help you in a successful launch of your catering service and developing a solid revenue stream with happy catering customers.

Rob Martin Rob Martin has been in foodservice industry for more than 20 years, including more than 11 years spent catering. Today he uses the knowledge gained from those experiences to help others in the industry and more as a consultant with the UGA Small Business Development Center.


Glass Half Full

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Arcoroc’s Urbane line is made to be stackable, with gently sloped sides that don’t stick together when wet or heated. Photo Courtesy of Arcoroc

Don’t let cost alone determine your restaurant’s glassware selections

By Lara Creasy

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best glassware for your restaurant concept, not the least of which is the overall cost. However, going beyond price to consider these few major topics will go a long way in helping you make some solid picks for your bar.

Aesthetics vs. Durability

Start by considering your restaurant’s overall aesthetic. Will your establishment be casual, high volume, no frills? Should you go with a tried-and-true workhorse of a brand? Or will your bar be more refined, with higher menu prices, requiring something more elegant, more unique? Are you going after social media exposure (and really, who isn’t)?

If you used an interior designer, involve them in the conversation and get their input on several glassware options you are considering to avoid a clash with the overall decor. Consider the volume of guests your restaurant is expecting. Will constant breakage be a potential problem for your bar? How careful can your staff – and your guests – realistically be with the glassware? I’ve certainly gone the route of choosing virtually indestructible glassware for high-volume operations I’ve managed, such as Superica and JCT. Bar. I’ve watched fully tempered glasses, like Libbey’s Gibraltar line and Arcoroc’s Granite series, literally bounce of the bar floor without breaking – a godsend on a busy night.

I’ve also observed many operations over the last few years using vintage or one-of-a-kind glassware for their cocktail menus, which creates a striking visual and gives guests something fun to snap for Instagram. But the thing with one-of-a-kind is that it can’t be replaced, so if you go the vintage route, make sure you have a constant source for those vintage pieces and a back-up plan for those vessels once they bite the dust.

Many glassware manufacturers are responding to the beverage community’s demand for pretty, unique or retro glassware by creating lines that fit the aesthetic demands of the modern bar, but are also manufactured to be durable, withstand an industrial dishwasher and come with an affordable price tag.

The Bebop line from Arcoroc stands out due to its unusual appearance. It’s styled to look like a tin can. Photo Courtesy of Arcoroc

Libbey has a line called Retro Cocktails, which includes a martini glass, a coupe and a top hat-shaped cocktail glass, all of which I used when I opened Buckhead’s St. Cecilia. Arcoroc has a line of cut glass tumblers called Broadway that brings a vintage feel to modern glassware, a line called New York that has four distinct faceted glasses with a retro vibe, and a line called Be Bop that’s made to look like a glass tin can, fully tempered. Unique glasses are out there, even from the largest glass manufacturers. Ask your Atlanta Fixture sales rep for samples.


The sizes of the glassware you choose will have everything to do with how your guests perceive the value of your beverage menu. Before buying glassware, determine your ideal pour sizes and your desired profit margin. Think about how you’ll be serving each beverage to maximize its quality, then choose your glassware accordingly.

Many beer glasses are designed to encourage a fair amount of head in the poured beer. For example, Belgian Weissbiers are supposed to be served with at least 1/3 of their volume as head. That’s why you’ll often see the 10-inch tall, vase-shaped Weissbier glass come in grandiose sizes ranging up to 23 ounces. The idea isn’t to pour 23 ounces of beer, but rather to pour 16 ounces of beer with a three-inch head on top of it. Likewise the 16-ounce glass is for pouring a 12-ounce beer with a 3-inch head.

When choosing beer glasses, assess how knowledgeable your beer customers will be. Will they understand that a large head is the proper way to serve that beer, or will they think they are being cheated out of 1/3 of their beer? Can you trust your staff to properly relay that message and to pour only the ounces they should, or will over-pouring to fill the glass throw your costs off at the end of the month? If you are at all unsure about the answers to these questions, practicality suggests you may want to go with a glass volume closer to your desired beer pour, so there is little room for error.

Wine glasses, on the other hand, are designed to be served with no more than half of their volume filled, to allow for proper swirling and aeration of the wine. If your restaurant serves a six-ounce wine pour, you’ll want at least a 12-ounce volume in your wine glass, preferably more if your restaurant is encouraging a serious wine clientele. Well-made Burgundy and Bordeaux wine glasses with 24 ounces or more in volume are not unheard of. Again, make sure you can count on staff to pour only the 6 ounces you’ve costed out, regardless of the size glass you choose.

When choosing martini glasses, keep in mind that approximately 2/3 of a cocktail’s volume is achieved by dilution. In other words, shaking or stirring with ice will make the 3 ounces of gin and vermouth you measure out of a liquor bottle into a 5-ounce martini.

You’ll want to have a bit of space below the rim to allow servers to actually walk to the table without spilling half the cocktail, so a 51⁄2- or 6-ounce martini glass is ideal for a 3-ounce martini pour. If your pour is smaller or larger, adjust the volume of your chosen glass accordingly. And remember, if you choose a 10-ounce martini glass because of its grand appearance, you’ll need to serve closer to 5 ounces of undiluted liquor to make that glass appear full to your guests.


The amount of storage your bar will have is obviously a concern when choosing your glassware. Are you planning to store martini glasses and coupes in the bar cooler, or will you hang them overhead and chill them to order? Do you have adequate shelf space to store single layers of old-fashioned glasses, face down on ventilation decking? Or were you planning to stack the glasses? If you are, is that allowed by your local health ordinance?

The main problem with stacking is that many glasses, even ones that seem stackable, are not really made for that purpose. The rims of many glasses, even fully tempered ones, can nick when put surface to surface with another glass. There is also a danger of glasses sticking together when they are stacked right out of the dishwasher. is is because glass expands when it’s heated in the dish machine, then it contracts again when cool. One way to combat this is to allow glasses to cool fully before stacking, but who has time for that during a busy shift?

Glassware manufacturers like Arcoroc are responding to industry demand for retro- styled glassware with lines such as Broadway, which features a substantial weight and cut-crystal-like appearance. Photo Courtesy of Arcoroc

Manufacturers are responding to your storage needs in numerous ways, not the least of which is designing attractive glasses that are also stackable. Arcoroc offers a line specifically called “Stack Up,” as well as the slightly prettier Urbane, Skyscraper and Triborough lines, all of which are designed by bartenders, shaped to be stackable and come reinforced with ArmorimTM resistance, a process that makes the glass up to 5 times more resistant at the rim. These particular glassware lines all have interior ledges or gently tapered sides to allow them to be safely stacked without sticking together.

Another solution for glass storage that I’ve used in the past is taking advantage of hanging space where there isn’t shelf space. Footed cocktail glasses are a great way to satisfy multiple needs at once. For example, when opening King + Duke in Buckhead several years ago, I needed to solve a glassware storage problem at the patio bar. There was barely enough space for the refrigeration equipment and ice wells we needed in the tiny space, much less a surface for holding old-fashioned glasses. There was plenty of hanging space above the island-shaped bartop, however.

I remembered a glass that I had been served at Johnny’s Hideaway in Buckhead several years prior: a footed rocks glass, which they served all of their mixed drinks in, probably for the very same reason. I spec’d those glasses, the Libbey Embassy Footed Hi-ball glass and Embassy Footed Rocks glass, for King + Duke’s outside bar to use for mixed drinks, up drinks, neat drinks, you name it.

The unintended side effect of using this glass was to reinforce the very masculine energy in King + Duke’s overall restaurant design. Certain guests (mostly male) that didn’t care for “up” cocktails because the glasses seemed too “fancy” actually liked these glasses. Despite the stem, they feel substantial in your hand, and the overall shape is more similar to an old-fashioned glass than to a traditional stemmed glass. It was a win-win solution.

Lara Creasy is a consultant with more than 15 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as Superica and BeetleCat through her consulting business Four 28, LLC.


Breakfast and Brunch Trends

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Move over scrambled eggs. It’s time to make room for grain bowls and breakfast tacos.

Mama’s Boy co-owners Alicia Segars, left, and Cooper Hudson at their restaurant in Athens. Photo by Sarah Newman.

By Nancy Wood

It’s no wonder there’s a boom in breakfast and brunch – especially in urban areas. Busy lifestyles, changing nutritional habits, more fluid work schedules and lower prices are certainly influences on the upswing in breakfast traffic. But don’t look for a downturn in brunch business any time soon either. Cultural and economic trends suggest its rise in popularity over the last decade is not a flash in the pan. And it doesn’t have to be a boozy brunch to leave patrons waiting in line for a table on the weekends.

According to analytics firm Crimson Hexagon, 76 percent of people discussing ‘brunch squad’ on social media are under 25, and based on the 2017 “Eating Patterns in America” report from the NPD Group, millennials continue to influence the restaurant marketplace with their ‘want of authenticity, fresh, and social consciousness.”

Changing Tastes Demand Changing Menus
There’s no doubt today’s breakfast and brunch menus are still egg-centric, and Georgia restaurants certainly haven’t abandoned the traditional Southern staples. But today’s customers are clamoring for innovative food and flavor combinations as well as healthier, lighter options. And the most successful owner/operators are giving them what they want.

“Egg whites were unheard of when I first started in the business,” says Lou Locricchio, founder of Thumbs Up Diner and one of the first independent restaurant owners in Atlanta to serve breakfast all day. “Now, we sell a ton of them.”

Since moving to Atlanta from California in the 1980s, Locricchio has had a front row seat to changing tastes. “Two-thirds of our menu has been customer-driven for the past 20 years,” he says. That includes lighter options and some unusual combinations. “When I came to town, I could never fathom putting fried catfish next to a couple of eggs,” he says. “They wanted it, so I gave it to them. It turned out to be a huge seller at all of our stores.”

Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall, in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood along the BeltLine, offers brunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee.

For Cooper Hudson, co-owner of Mama’s Boy in Athens, giving the customers what they want has driven not only what she serves for breakfast and brunch, but literally changed how she and business partner Alicia Segars operate their two locations.

“When we opened 12 years ago, we did breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she says. “We quickly found that breakfast was what people wanted.” Seven years ago, the duo stopped serving dinner. “The market drives what you choose to focus on,” she says, “and for us, that was breakfast all day.”

Like most restaurants, Mama’s Boy runs specials and updates the menu occasionally, but as Hudson puts it, “For the most part, with breakfast, people are creatures of habit. We have a low-calorie breakfast on the menu, but I don’t know how many people really choose that.”

Since breakfast can be easily customized, the menu at Mama’s Boy offers plenty of healthy and vegan options, but she finds that even those who come in with the best intentions can’t resist temptation – like the oversized cinnamon bun. “Most people who eat here are like ‘yeah I’m going to eat healthy today, but that biscuit looks too good.’ And let’s be real,” she laughs, “bacon is delicious.”

Michael Lennox, owner/operator of the restaurants Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall, Muchacho, and Golden Eagle in Atlanta. Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee.

An Atlanta native, restauranteur Michael Lennox’s latest hotspot for breakfast and lunch, Muchacho, reflects not only his millennial following and location on the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, but his knowledge of the area and penchant for strong branding.

“For a long time, I wanted to focus on a place that did breakfast tacos and have always seen that as a gap in the Atlanta market,” he says. “I wanted to develop a meaningful concept with those as a focal point and add a few things that make it a little more dynamic.”

Open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Muchacho offers a lighter West Coast-style fare that features grain bowls, toasts and poke, as well as breakfast tacos and a variety of signature beverages and coffees.

The Brunch Draw
When it comes to brunch as a crowd draw, the locations that serve alcohol may yield more profit, but the breakfast-all-day spots like Mama’s Boy and Thumbs Up Diner – which don’t serve alcohol – aren’t complaining. In fact, the long waits for weekend brunch at both of those locations encouraged the owner/operators to open other locations and build larger kitchens.

“Originally we weren’t open on Sundays,” says Cooper Hudson, “which is insane to me now, because that’s our busiest day for brunch. We added Sunday, and things kind of took off.” That quick growth also led Hudson and Segars to open a second location in nearby Oconee Falls. “Now both locations have a wait,” she says.

“Atlanta’s been named one of the biggest brunch towns in the country for the past two years,” says Thumbs Up’s Locricchio. “If you open a restaurant in town and want any business during the day part on the weekends, you’re going to open for brunch.”

Although the brunch trend seems to have exploded over the last decade, the truth is, a ‘late morning meal’ has been around since the late 1890s when the word ‘brunch’ first appeared in print. Even then, the term was used to describe a more social occasion that, as the magazine Hunters Weekly put it: “sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” A 2017 survey by Mintel Research, “Restaurant Breakfast and Brunch Trends,” revealed that nearly 40 percent of the 1,670 consumers surveyed viewed brunch as a time to socialize with friends and family.

Muchacho, in the Reynoldstown neighborhood of Atlanta, serves up breakfast tacos, pastries, and more. Photo by Elliot Liss.

“Historically, the weekends were a time for people to get together after church,” says Locricchio. “The hotels in town always knew this – they’re the ones who developed a weekend brunch. It was just a matter of time before the restaurants got on board.”

Michael Lennox, whose flagship restaurant Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall on the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail offers brunch only on the weekends, says serving brunch is a “delicate dance.” In the Atlanta area, brunch is “brutally competitive,” he says.

“There are tons of places in town that do it – and do it well. The challenge,” he says, “is to be distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd while staying true to your brand and your location, and still offer enough of the common brunch standbys to attract an audience.”

Lennox’s distinction can be seen squarely in the vibe and concept for his renovated cotton factory location that bridges the gap between the outdoors and indoors. Described by Lennox as “rustic outdoorsy,” Ladybird Grove features a camp fire-inspired brunch menu that includes traditional sides as well as some original flavor pairings – like ‘Fish-n-Grits’ and a pulled pork griddle cake.

“We didn’t start offering brunch until three or four months after we opened,” says Lennox, “and I think the combination of having considerable BeltLine traffic and a thematically focused restaurant concept has driven how we approach it.”

The vegetable and potato hash at Mama’s Boy in Athens, which features roasted Brussel sprouts, radishes and mushrooms on a potato hash topped with poached eggs and chive hollandaise. Photo by Sarah Newman.

The Yin and Yang of Adding Brunch
For restaurants that specialize in lunch and dinner, suddenly offering a brunch menu can be a challenge. The trick, says Lennox, “is how do you morph to a different menu with fewer shifts?”

Lou Locricchio says one of the biggest challenges to adding brunch is the learning curve for staff. “You have to shift gears and bring in a bunch of new ingredients. And your labor is going to go up,” he says, “because you have to bring in managers and cooks and retrain everybody.”

It’s definitely easier if you’re already serving breakfast and lunch in a college town like Athens. One of the benefits Mama’s Boy co-owner Cooper Hudson has seen is being able to retain a higher quality of employee.

“When your employees have to be there early in the morning, you kind of weed out people with substance abuse problems,” she says. “But,” she adds, “there’s more labor involved because everything’s made from scratch and the chef has to get pretty creative – how many ways can you really make a brunch special?”

“If done right,” adds Michael Lennox, “it’s a great way to grow business and add another dynamic to the restaurant, but it needs to be done very methodically and very consciously as far as how it complements and fits in with the core business.”

Lou Locricchio, founder of Thumbs Up Diner. Photo Courtesy of Thumbs Up Diner.

On the upside, serving breakfast and brunch items can add a nice profit to the bottom line. “There can be spikes in the marketplace with items like pork, eggs and dairy,” says Locricchio, “but nine times out of 10, we’ll eat that because we know it’s short-term.”

“It’s just part of the deal,” says Cooper Hudson. “But it’s pretty rare that we adjust the menu price to include that because fortunately, each dish is made up a lot of different items so it’s not as big of an impact.”

Since Ladybird Grove only serves brunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and serves alcohol – Michael Lennox has a different take. “We sell quite a bit more alcohol than food – about a two to one ratio. On that basis alone,” he says, “you’re going to see better margins.”

In general though, Lennox sees brunch as profitable because lower-cost items – like potatoes and grits – are driving the menu. “The biggest impact is going to be on your commodities like milk, butter, eggs and yeast. Those markets can change pretty dramatically at times. Avocados were pretty expensive for a time,” he says, “and if you have avocado toast, which is a popular item, that can start to make you evaluate whether you want to move on to different things. You have to stay on top of pricing.”

Local Sourcing: A Balancing Act
As the popularity of breakfast and brunch increases, pricing can also be affected by trying to incorporate locally sourced items on menus. Finding local suppliers who can keep up with the sheer volume of commodities and seasonal items at the busiest restaurants isn’t easy – even in Georgia.

Thumbs Up Diner offers breakfast all day, including a build-your-own omelette option with more than 25 fillings to choose from. Photo courtesy of Thumbs Up Diner.

With six locations, Thumbs Up founder Locricchio has buying power, but he always keeps an eye on the bottom line. “We would love to have eggs locally sourced, and sometimes during the year we do,” he says. “But right now, I don’t see us being able to do that and keep our prices competitive.”

“We do what we can to purchase food from local farmers,” says Michael Lennox, “but you’re not going to have a local potato farmer who is likely to produce to scale.”

Cooper Hudson agrees. “It would be hard to locally source everything. You can’t get a good strawberry here in December,” she says. “Our chef does a great job buying from local farmers when he can, and we buy most of our meat from the University of Georgia agriculture school meat department.”

For some items, Locricchio has definitely been on the forefront of local sourcing. “I’ve been doing that farm-to- table thing for 25 years,” he laughs. Inspired by his California roots, he first started locally sourcing sunflower sprouts in the 1980s after spotting them in the Your DeKalb Farmers Market. “They’re grown right here in town – you can’t get more local than that,” he says. Locricchio also developed his own organic biscuit mix, which is made by a company in Blairsville that now provides his organic fry batter and grits as well.

Finding that balance may be a challenge, but one thing is certain – whether the menu is breakfast-all-day or brunch on the weekends, Georgia’s restauranteurs are giving their customers the tastes and trends that keep them coming back for more.


Security Tips for Your Restaurant

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Ensure the safety of your employees and guests when there is a serious breach

By Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR Fellow PRSA

In my 25+ years of working in the restaurant industry, I have realized that most security breaches happen due to not following procedures. It is a former employee who taps on the back door about closing time and asks if he can be allowed to enter the restaurant to retrieve a jacket he left; or it is a restaurant manager who has “loose lips” about how much cash is on hand; or a security guard not doing his job, especially at closing time. As a result, serious situations happen that place at risk the employees or customers safety and the reputation of the restaurant.

Ealier this year, the Georgia Restaurant Association and Taylor English Duma LLP hosted a panel discussion on security tips for your restaurant and best practices for securing the restaurant establishment, employee safety, active shooter preparedness and effective crisis communications. The panel featured subject-matter experts in security, legal and crisis management, including: Susanna Rohm, ADT security consultant, Rob Strickland, author and president/CEO, Strickland Security & Safety Solutions LLC; Jared Watkins, detective for the Atlanta Police Department – Security Expert; Renata Elias, Marsh Risk Consulting; Michele Stumpe, Taylor English Duma LLP premises liability attorney, and myself. The panel was hosted by Naomi Green, development director at The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit established to help restaurant workers in need.

Michele Stumpe, a lawyer with Taylor English Duma specializing in hospitality and retail industries, set up the risks and legal responsibilities restaurants shoulder. “Under the Georgia negligence standard, restaurant owners have an obligation to exercise ordinary care to protect your employees and guests from foreseeable risks of harm,” she said.“Restaurateurs also have OSHA requirements that they must meet including ‘restaurants provide a place of employment that is free from reasonable hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.’”

According to Stumpe, courts around the country have begun to view an active shooter situation as a “reasonable hazard with the OSHA definition. It means that restaurants have an obligation to exercise ordinary care to protect against this type of issue.”

Rob Strickland, author and president/CEO of Strickland Security & Safety Solutions LLC, said that restaurant operators need a system of checks and balances to make sure that every day proper procedures and policies are being implemented by the staff and management. Another fellow panelist, ADT security consultant Susannah Rohm, also gave advice as she counsels clients to “expect the best and prepare for the worst.”

The panel’s tips for managing security issues include:
On-Site Inspections. Doors, cameras and other devices need to be checked daily to make sure all is working properly. There should be designated employees who are responsible for doing so and ensuring all equipment is in proper order.

Collaboration. Your restaurant should work closely with other retail and restaurant businesses in the area and/or shopping center. As a group, you can alert each other about suspicious activities in the area and work together to remedy the situations.

Cash Handling Procedures. Closing time is one of the most vulnerable times of day for your employees and most susceptible to robberies. As a business, you should have clear instructions as to how all cash is handled throughout the day and during closing time to deter thieves.

Security Cameras. Security cameras are one of easiest ways to monitor both employees and restaurant guests. “I recommend cameras in all strategic locations; entryways, bars, cash registers, etc,” says ADT’s Rohm. Not only can cameras monitor for robberies from outside sources, but they can also monitor and capture reports of employee the and/or assault.

Proper Lighting. Having a properly lit facility can help deter robberies. This is most true for the exterior of your building. Robbery, vandalism and other crimes are less likely to occur if dark, shadowy corners of your parking lot don’t exist. It also helps create peace-of-mind for employees who must walk to their cars after dark.

And, it goes without saying, you should never have only one employee closing the restaurant by him or herself at night. There should be a minimum of two employees who handle closing responsibilities and who leave the restaurant at the same time.

Alarm Systems. Hold-up buttons or panic buttons that go straight to authorities are a no-brainer. Rohm recommends having hold-up buttons not only at the register, but one in the kitchen and another in the bar area as well. The more access points employees have to hold-up buttons, the more likely they can get to them and alert authorities to a security threat. She also recommends an alarm system that has remote access, so someone off-site is always aware of openings, closings and the status of the security system.

Prevention. Well-trained employees can make a difference. This means all staff and especially security. Depending on the type of establishment you have, having a bouncer or security guard on staff may make sense to keep guests and employees safe. If properly trained, a security guard can help diffuse a tense situation or escort unruly guests out of the building if necessary. Often, the mere presence of on-site security can be a deterrence as well. And it’s especially important to train the team that if they see something to say something. If something is not quite right, it probably isn’t, and team members should alert their managers or the police just in case.

Communications. After incidents happen, I was asked if operators should speak with the media and react to bloggers and social media comments online. Every case is different, but I strongly recommend that operators be prepared, act and communicate quickly, and be transparent and sincere in your statements.

Being prepared means having a statement ready now prior to any situations, so that when and if something happens operators can act quickly to respond. When something happens, you must respond quickly, even if you don’t have many facts.

In most cases, you won’t have the facts before a first response is needed. Don’t let your public reputation be shaped by outsiders based on rumor, false early reports or speculation. Get out there quickly to show you are addressing the situation, and especially that your first concerns are people’s welfare.

The statement should be sincere and transparent to convey how the restaurant/owners feel about the situation; that you are working with authorities; conveys your condolences to victims and family; and that taking care of your staff and guests are of paramount importance.

In addition, operators should respond to negative posts on social media to set the record straight and to correct errors. I don’t recommend that you respond on every post – some can be ignored – but make sure the string has your statement written in an informal “non-corporate speak” manner.

Finally, operators should not just focus on statements and talking points for the media. You also have other important stakeholders, including your staff who are your ambassadors for you and your brand, to think about and speak to. Take care of them, give them counseling if needed, and provide them with a guide of what to say to your guests.

Doing these things effectively can make the difference between a crisis that produces minimal damage or is one that you never recover from.

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s and Huddle House and QSR brands like Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escoffier International. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.


Water Efficiency Made More Simple

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Simple steps can reduce water use and help your business’s bottom line
By Jennifer Carlile

Restaurateurs spend thousands of hours creating delicious food and delivering memorable experiences for their customers. Decisions about food, staffing and restaurant ambiance are vital, but restaurateurs may be missing out on a secret ingredient that can affect the bottom line: water efficiency.

Particularly in Atlanta, having one of the highest combined water and sewer rates of any large city in the country, restaurateurs would benefit by instituting water efficiency measures. These range from actions such as repairing leaky faucets and replacing water wasting toilets, urinals and pre-rinse spray valves (PRSVs) with WaterSense models, to major equipment purchases such as ENERGY STAR dishwashers, combi-ovens and air-cooled ice machines.

Every drop really does count. Fortunately, there are programs and resources available to help Atlanta restaurants become more water and energy efficient.

The City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Resilience is partnering with 100 Resilient Cities, the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (the District) and the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) to launch a Water Efficient Restaurant Certificate (WERC) program. And even if your restaurant is not in the metro Atlanta area, your business will benefit from the following tips.

Why You Should WERC It
WERC is intended to help restaurants reduce water usage and potentially lower their water bills. Keeping utility bills reasonable is important for any business, but perhaps especially for smaller, independent restaurants. With that in mind, WERC is targeting minority- and female- owned restaurants to help ensure their success in the marketplace.

Restaurants participating in WERC must agree to have, basic water-saving actions:
1. Install WaterSense pre-rinse spray valves (PRSVs) with a flow rate of 1.28 gallons-per- minute (gpm) or less;
2. Install WaterSense toilets that use 1.28 gallons-per- ush (gpf) or less (either tank-style or commercial-style);
3. Install WaterSense urinals that use 0.5 gpf or less;
4. Fix all leaks; and
5. Institute a water-efficiency training program for staff.
The first 100 participants will receive a complimentary WaterSense PRSV and a copy of the Alliance for Water Efficiency’s (AWE) “Commercial Kitchens Water Use Efficiency and Best Practices Guide.” The AWE Guide offers a comprehensive list of best practices, technology applications and in-restaurant case studies devoted to water efficiency for restaurants.

If participating restaurants already have fixtures that comply with some of the WERC requirements, they can fulfill the other actions and still qualify for the WERC certificate.

It is important to remember that fixture replacements alone don’t guarantee savings. Installing new, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures won’t reduce usage if leaks aren’t repaired. If restaurant staff don’t practice water-efficient behaviors, repairs and replacements won’t be as effective.

What Difference Can a WaterSense Toilet Make?
The chart below is a conservative estimate of potential water savings resulting from the replacement of a pre-1992 toilet using 3.5 gpf with a WaterSense toilet using 1.28 gpf.

The City of Atlanta bills per CCF (1 CCF = 748 gallons) for water, with increasing rates for increased usage (1-3 CCF = $12.32 per CCF; 4-6 CCF = $18.98 per CCF; 7- above CCF = $21.85 per CCF). Considering that toilets in an average Atlanta restaurant are likely used far more than 30 times a day, installing water-efficient toilets reduces water usage dramatically. The same principle applies to urinals, PRSVs and faucet aerators (for lavatory and hand-washing sinks).

Restaurateurs that want to do more than WERC requires may consider replacement of equipment such as ice machines, commercial dishwashing machines and certain ovens with water- efficient models, per AWE Guide recommendations. High-water use activities should be evaluated, while new technology and best management practices should be considered.
Dipper wells can be a high-water use area that can be made more efficient. Jamba Juice, for example, installed new technology, the iScoopShower, that reduced water usage dramatically at their locations. Given projected water savings, users can see a return on their investment in less than a year.

Water efficiency initiatives can also aid restaurants located in buildings that are participating in the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge (ABBC). The ABBC calls for commercial buildings participating in the Challenge to reduce energy and water usage 20 percent by 2020. Building water and energy data is measured for ABBC participants; therefore, a restaurant located in a mixed-use ABBC property has a wonderful opportunity to seek water and energy efficiency strategies.

Restaurateurs are busy and have limited time to spare. Implementing simple water-efficiency practices can help ensure a more prosperous, less leaky 2018.

Jennifer Carlile, a LEED Green Associate and an Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP), manages water and energy programs for the City of Atlanta Office of Resilience and has 12 years of experience in the water industry. A frequent presenter at state and national conferences, she has expertise in water efficiency, water policy, green infrastructure, and rainwater harvesting. For more information about WERC or restaurant water efficiency in general, you can contact Jennifer at 404.807.9423 or


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Sales

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

By Lara Creasy

Get people to snap more – and come back again – with these Instagram-worth tips

It’s 2017, and like it or not, image is everything.

We reached a point not too long ago in the food and beverage world where quality was expected, if not assumed. Most chefs now use produce straight from the farm and cure their own meats. At the bar, savvy guests expect fresh juice, housemade syrups and shrubs, quality spirits and proper technique. The craft cocktail revolution is no longer a revolution, but something that every restaurant bar aspires to, at least a little bit.

As social media evolved and Instragram took hold over the last 5 or 6 years, restaurant guests started documenting their every restaurant order and posting it to their accounts. The ubiquity of the habit can sometimes approach overload.

Cultural and restaurant critics lately have bemoaned that in today’s climate, quality counts for far less than image when it comes to attracting the attention of young people, who merely want to check an experience o their list and, of course, document it on Instagram. It’s far better for drinks to look good than to taste good, and if you don’t snap a pic, it didn’t happen.

How do you navigate that environment, as a beverage manager of integrity, and still sleep at night?

At the bar, savvy guests expect fresh juice, housemade syrups and shrubs,
quality spirits and proper technique.

Start by pivoting your perception of the situation. Yes, it’s true that there are many guests who care more about image and looks than taste or quality. But that has always been the case. If, instead of trying for easy post-bait, you take the approach of offering the guests something truly original and special, the likes will start rolling in with your integrity intact.

Peachtree Street Cocktail

The beautiful Peachtree Street Cocktail at St. Cecilia is garnished with drops of basil oil (by Lara Creasy)

Deliver on the “Wow Factor”

Every bar should start by focusing on the quality of their cocktails, on really getting the details right. Make a truly great drink, and the posts and likes will follow with just a little attention to presentation. I like to think of it as expanding the reach of that “wow” moment that I always strive for in the dining room.

For years, long before Instagram was a consideration, I’ve thought about making beautiful cocktails. I wanted guests to express delight when the drink was put in front of them, for them to drink with their eyes before they ever tried it, and for the guest next to them – and the guest sitting by service bar – to ask, “What is that?!” I’ve even gone so far as to ask servers to walk through the dining room slowly, with the drink on a tray where everyone can see it, because I know it will lead to more sales of that drink!

Instagram does the same thing for bar business, only that slow tray walk is a post that reaches a guest’s 4,239 followers and gets 749 likes.

There are numerous ways that your bar can increase the “wow factor” of your cocktails, delight every guest that orders that cocktail, and potentially get likes that lead to new bar guests.

The Bay Breeze

The Bay Breeze for Two at BeetleCat comes in a copper pineapple and is served with a piece of fresh pineapple garnish bruleéd with a blowtorch. (by Andrew Thomas Lee)

Choose Interesting Glassware

There is really no excuse to be using boring glassware at this stage of the game. Most glassware manufacturers responded to the craft cocktail movement by ordering readily available, affordable – and often even tempered! – glassware lines for commercial use. Libbey offers numerous types of coupes, copper Moscow Mule mugs, Mason drinking jars and even an entire “Retro” line. Arcoroc’s “Fusion” and “BeBop” lines are very unusual visually. And restaurant supply companies such as Atlanta Fixture and TriMark can easily order anything you want from these companies.

Many spirits brands have caught on to the fancy glassware trend, and they will offer you unique vessels for your cocktails, provided their brand is featured in the drink. Absolut Elyx is one prime example. Elyx has taken the copper mug craze and amplified it by offering copper coupes, copper owls and copper gnomes, and they even debuted a copper squirrel at Tales of the Cocktail this year.

I had great success with a Bay Breeze for Two on the menu at Ford Fry’s BeetleCat in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood. Served in a large copper pineapple and featuring Absolut Elyx, the cocktail was designed to be shared, and numerous Instagram posts ensued.

Fair warning: the more unique your glassware, the more likely it is to disappear. For large or pricy pieces, consider putting a note on the menu that the glass is available for $50. If it goes home with a guest, you can consider putting the glass on their tab. When a bar in Buckhead instituted this policy for their Elyx copper owls, at least one guest returned the missing owl for a refund.

If you want to take your glassware game in a different direction, consider looking for vintage glasses. Search vintage stores, thrift shops, antique shows and eBay for one-of-a-kind finds. Just know that when these glasses break during service, as they inevitably will, they won’t be replaceable. Other ideas for unique presentation include disposables. I’ve heard of cocktails being served in Chinese take- out containers, fancy paper cups and even tiny plastic hats.

I’ve been to a renowned bar on the West Coast that served a cocktail in a delicate glass bird, and another one inside a lightbulb. The breakage must have been epic, but the Instagram posts, even more so!

Sandia Collins

Empire State South garnishes their perfectly pink Sandia Collins with an edible flower floating on a thin slice of cucumber

Garnish Dramatically

I find that way too often, garnishes are an afterthought, and that shouldn’t be the case. Rather than letting your servers grab that sad lime wedge as they run from service bar, why not put as much thought into the garnish as you do the rest of the cocktail?

Having a super fresh, colorful and edible garnish speaks to the overall quality of your bar program. Having one that is also rare or unusual will get people’s attention. Consider fruits that guests don’t encounter as often, like guava, kumquats or oven-dried blood orange slices.

Save the fronds from the fresh pineapple you cut to garnish your tiki-style drinks. Use fresh herbs or edible owers to add aromatics and visual appeal. Stack several small garnishes together on a skewer and balance them on the glass’s edge.

You can even consider using non-edible garnishes like colorful straws, interesting garnish picks or plastic novelties. Hang a plastic monkey o the edge of the Monkey Gland on your classics menu. Use little disposable mermaids to garnish your Cape Cods.

I read recently about a cocktail called “Mom’s Basement” that was garnished with a Dorito and a fake joint filled with fresh thyme. Too much? Maybe, but it’s certainly something for guests to talk about on their first date!

What’s in a Name?

The right name can sometimes make or break a cocktail’s sales. And when trying to get social media exposure, having a clever name will definitely get you those necessary hashtags.

Make sure the name is catchy, appropriate to the ingredients of the cocktail, suitable to its visual appearance and that guests will feel compelled to order just to say it out loud.

The cocktail I mentioned that came in the light bulb? “Bright Idea.”

One I’ve seen served in the Absolut Elyx owl? “Owl Have at One.”

If you’re really going for shameless self- promotion, why not just give the cocktail a name with the hashtag already on it? #thanksillhaveanother.

Set the Right Example

Allow your restaurant’s social media account to set the tone by posting clever photos of your own cocktails to draw guests in. Set the cocktails up in unexpected parts of the restaurant, preferably with gorgeous lighting. Use the wood grain of your floors or the fabric of your drapes to set a pretty backdrop. Shoot from interesting angles and get extreme closeups of that perfect foam right after the cocktail is shaken.

The hashtag game can be a fun one. The right mix of silly hashtags that make people laugh (#makecocktailsgreatagain), hashtags that identify your business and hashtags that will bring your posts up on the right people’s search tab are key. Oh, and #cocktailporn is real, guys. Use it.

Don’t think that every drink on your menu has to be Instagram bait. If you have a cocktail menu with eight great drinks on it, make one or two of them real stand-outs. People may come to your bar to order “the one” that they saw on Instagram and check it off their list, but the real goal is to make them so wowed by everything else about their experience that they stay for one or two more. And more importantly, they come back!



Lara Creasy is a consultant with more than 15 years of experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as St. Cecilia and BeetleCat through her consulting business Four 28, LLC.



Opening Act

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Want a successful restaurant opening? Make sure to use public relations.

by Ellen Hartman

I know of a casual dining restaurant that is spot on when it comes to crisis management, but does not use public relations (PR) for new store openings. Sure, they advertise, but that impact is a drop in the bucket compared to the word-of-mouth marketing, social media presence, restaurant reviews – all the bits and pieces a PR consultant can help facilitate to create a positive image of your company’s brand and spread the word about your new venture.

To skip PR for a restaurant opening is short sighted and a failure in so many ways. at’s because a small nancial investment in an opening PR plan and outreach will pay back many times over in the long term.

A restaurant opening in a new community that is unfamiliar with that brand needs PR. You should be the one to tell your story of who you are and what you o er. Because if you don’t tell it, someone is going to tell it for you … and it may not be what you like.

Often I’ve heard, “the local restaurant operator is handling it.” is is a bad idea. You should not depend on the franchisee or local restaurant team to handle PR. They have enough on their plate between construction, staffing, inspections and the whole other list of operational matters they must deal with. Building a media list and reaching out to local reporters and bloggers should not be their priority.

It is helpful to have an experienced PR professional to identify and coordinate media opportunities. It’s also good to have a third-party PR person handle any tricky media situations. Let the restaurant and the local team be the stars, and let the PR person handle the intricacies of the media back-and-forth. If budgets are tight, get creative: hire a college student who is majoring in communications.

Below is a list of the minimal PR tactics you, along with the help of your PR person, should do when opening a new restaurant.

Opening PR Checklist

Develop a media list and pitch local media. is is the most obvious and the most important. A good PR person will be able to identify the correct people to pitch and will come up with different angles to maximize your media coverage – starting from opening announcements to a restaurant review.

Train media spokespeople. Once the interviews are secured, your spokesperson needs to know the key message points to best tell your story. Your PR person can train them and get them on message.

Craft a news release and media advisory. It is important that you tell your story in writing. I recommend using Associated Press (AP) style, the standard for journalists, in writing a news release and include the who, what, when and where. Plus make sure you tell what is different about your concept and add quotes from the owners and/or chef.

Join the local chamber of commerce. A chamber membership is valuable if you invest your time in it; what you put in is what you will get out. For example, most chambers have a communications person, and a relationship with that person can lead to your restaurant news included on the chamber website, in newsletters, emails, social media posts, etc. You
also have access to their membership list and can use that for a special opening party and ongoing events.

Host a blogger party. Identify a list of local foodie or mommy bloggers to help promote your restaurant. Of course, you want to invite any restaurant or food bloggers, but you also want to invite any lifestyle bloggers or community news bloggers.

Leverage social media. Starting a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts are a great way to communicate directly with potential guests. You can use your accounts to provide pre-opening updates and photos to excite guests. You can also use the accounts to announce opening specials, giveaways, etc. But you must first build your followers. A POS loyalty program can gather the contact data, but ask permission and get your customers to opt into your loyalty list. Follow customers, media and bloggers who you want to follow you.

Earn third-party recommendations. By earning media coverage (not advertisements you have bought), you are giving credibility to your restaurant. A positive restaurant review, an endorsement from a trusted blogger or the high praise of a chamber of commerce member can provide credibility to your new, unfamiliar restaurant and can encourage those in the local community to give your restaurant a try.

Ellen Hartman



Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodser- vice industry. Hartman has experience working with many hospitality companies including Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Uncle Maddio’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escof er International. She is a member of the Public Relations Society of America’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.



Slow Food – Cooking Up a Brighter Future for Food

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Your restaurant’s kitchen probably incorporates some environmentally friendly practices like recycling or composting. You may even source at least some of your product from local farms. Ifso, you already get the connection between what’s on the plate and where it comes from, and you may even be looking for ways you can do more.

The slow food movement, which has been gathering steam since Slow Food International’s founding in 1989, embraces those practices and helps encourage its members and others to find new ways to provide good, clean and fair food. In fact, there’s some easy ways to incorporate slow food practices into your restaurant today.

What is Slow Food?

In 1989, Italian activist Carlo Petrini founded what is now Slow Food International to counter the rise of fast food (the same year McDonald’s opened in the center of Rome). Itis a grassroots or-ganization that envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, for those who grow and produce it, and for the planet.

Slow Food reminds us of the importance of local food traditions and encourages us tobe aware of what we eat, how it tastes, where it comes from, who produces it and the ways our food choic-es affect the rest of the world. There are more than 1,500 chapters of Slow Food International, including Slow Food USA.

One of Slow Food International’s biggest events, Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is a biennial in-ternational gastronomy expo and conference to study issues that surround the global food indus-try. The nonprofit has hosted the eventin collaboration with the city of Turin and the Italian Piedmont region since 1996.

Slow Food’s core values, which are the basis for inspiring individuals and communities tochange the world through food that is good, clean and fair for all are:


•Believe that delicious nutrition is a right for everyday life

•Cultivate joyful connections to community and place

•Advocate for diversity in ecosystems and societies


•Protect natural resources for future generations

•Help people and the environment depend on each other

•Promote food that is local, seasonal and sustainably grown


•Build local cooperation and global collaboration while respecting all laws

•Require no prerequisite or credential for participation

•Fight for dignity of labor from field to fork

Looking Forward

For three days this past July, Slow Food USA hosted its inaugural Slow Food Nations conference and food festival in Denver. The event hosted more than 305 speakers, 500 international dele-gates from 13 countries, 70 international exhibitors and 155 events to learn, eat and inspire one another around food and the food system.

With the creation of Slow Food Nations, Slow Food USA wants to propel the good, clean and fair food movement forward within the United States. Attendees could watch culinary demon-strations with master chefs who specialized in getting kids into the kitchen and serving the whole animal, nose to tail.

They could venture into the Taste Marketplace to see how the school gardens programs work and taste wines, cheese, charcuterie, crickets and more from across the U.S. and around the world. They could sign up for one of the Slow Food “dinner dates,”once-in-a-lifetime, small-group din-ing experiences, or hear people that care about food speak passionately about the loss of ancient food traditions.

The block parties gave attendees the opportunity to enjoy meals made from ancient grains, blended burgers and food waste gleaned from the festival itself. Taste and educational workshops onagroecology, sustainable seafood and vanishing foodways explored how attendees can incor-porate Slow Food best practices into their everyday lives and where and how they can support the farmers, producers and ranchers who are producing foods that are good for the planet and people.

Some of the key messages taken from the Slow Food Nations event include:

1.Food is the bridge that unites us.We bridge between urban and rural, between Mexico and the USA, and between pleasure and responsibility.

2.We have a plan to unite rural and urban America. Alice Waters staged an extraordinary lunch on the lawn of the State Capitol –an experiential endorsement for free school lunches to support sustainable local farms, uniting urban and rural.

3.Chefs are important actors to cook up a better future. Slow Food Nations was the launch site for US Slow Food Chefs’Alliance and the Slow Food Menu for Change, a global cam-paign to highlight the relationship between food and climate, and the important role of chefs inwriting menus with Slow Food values.

4.We are a global and indigenous movement. From Slow Food Mexico to Slow Food Turtle Island, traditional foods and the people who produce them play a key role.

5.Food justice must be central to our work. Some of the weekend’s most popular and most-talked about dinners and discussions focused on food sovereignty and diversity.

6.We must walk the walk, even in festival operations. From up-cycled lanyards and metal ecocups to Steven Satterfield’s closing meal featuring only food destined for the dumpsters, there are creative and delicious ways to minimize waste.

“We have to come back to the land, and taking care ofitis the most important value of all,”said Alice Waters, vice president of Slow Food International, at the Denver event. “How canwe do that most efficiently? By eating with determination with every bite we take. By supporting those farmers, ranchers, fishermen. By using our buying power. We need to know where to shop and where to eat.

“That’s a theme of Slow Food Nations: we all have a part to play,”she said. “Together, we feel empowered. We’re trying to win people over through pleasure, to feed people and take care ofthem. To bring them back to their senses.”

For more information on next year’s Slow Food Nations event, Slow Food USA or one of its five Georgia chapters, visit

Ways to Incorporate Slow Best Practices into Your Restaurant

Reduce your food waste

. •Track and analyze the waste in your restaurant, including the food that never leaves the kitch-en and food that is served but uneaten

•Conduct inventory audits frequently to compare purchases against amount of garbage.

•Change your menus –portion sizes and dish popularity –to minimize quantity of leftovers.

•Find ways to repurpose ingredients

•Create food waste rules and get all employees on board

Source local foods as much as possible.

•Source local and seasonal

•Purchase ethical meat and dairy products

•Get to know the farmers who are committed to high levels of environmental stewardship

Get involved with the Slow Food Network.

•Connect with and get involved with a local chapter –there are five here in Georgia

•Help support Slow Food projects in your community and around the world

•Be a responsible consumer and restaurant owner –vote with your fork

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