Thursday, November 21, 2013

79 M Americans will rely on restaurants this Thanksgiving Day & Black Friday, NRA research reveals

New research from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) found that 33 million Americans will rely on restaurants for all or parts of their Thanksgiving meals this year. In addition, 46 million Americans are expected to dine out while shopping on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday.

“Our research shows that many of today’s consumers will leverage the convenience of restaurant meals for the Thanksgiving holiday, allowing them more time to spend with friends and family rather than cooking and cleaning up,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. “In addition, more consumers will visit restaurants during post-Thanksgiving shopping trips, providing a boost to restaurants located in or near shopping malls and centers.”

The NRA’s consumer survey found that 15 million Americans plan to visit a restaurant for a Thanksgiving meal this year, an additional 14 million plan to order parts of their Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant to be eaten at their home or someone else’s home, and 4 million plan to order a full takeout Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant.

The survey also asked consumers whether they plan to visit a restaurant while shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Of the respondents who said they plan to go out shopping on Thanksgiving Day or evening this year, 39 percent said they expect that they will visit a restaurant while doing so. Of the respondents who said they plan to go out shopping on Black Friday, 60 percent said they expect that they will visit a restaurant. Overall, 46 million shoppers are expected to dine out on Nov. 28 and 29 this year.

The survey of 1,004 American adults was conducted on November 14-17, 2013, by ORC International on behalf of the National Restaurant Association, and asked respondents about their dining plans for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Projections for the number of Americans who will visit restaurants or order takeout are based on economic analysis and original NRA research.

For more restaurant industry research and information, visit

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Karen Profita named as Executive Director of Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board

A Baton Rouge radio show host, and former President and CEO of the Baton Rouge Capital Area United Way, Karen Profita, has joined the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board as the new executive director.

Ending a three-month search to replace former Seafood Board executive director Ewell Smith, Louisiana Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne has announced the signing of Profita as the new executive director representing the states 12,000 fishermen, as well as seafood processors of crab, crawfish, finfish, shrimp and oysters.
In an email to seafood board members he said, “I am pleased to announce that Karen Profita has accepted the position as Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing. I am happy to have Karen on board and hope you will join me in welcoming her to this new assignment.”
Profita currently is the principal of her own Baton Rouge firm, KJP Impressions.
Profita currently is the principal of her own Baton Rouge firm, KJP Impressions. The company assists in developing business skills, presentation confidence and the professional appearance necessary for success. She also hosts a weekly local radio program offering a broad range of lifestyle information and tips.
Her firm was responsible creating the Woman’s Hospital Annual Campaign radiothon, which raised more than $42,000.
Previously she was President and CEO of the Baton Rouge Capital United Way. During her leadership she assisted in turning around the image after the organization faced a crisis of donor confidence. She has also served as a Sr. Vice President for the Childrens Miracle Network.
During the search assistant director Kristin McLaren has headed the Seafood Board’s day-to-day operations.
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work with all of you,” said Profita who was hired by the Lt. Governor in an email to her new board. “In the coming weeks I would like to spend some time with each of you to understand your goals and objectives for Louisiana Seafood. In the meantime please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”
Profita, is a graduate of Louisiana State University, and holds a Masters in Health Service Administration from the University of St. Francis in Chicago.  She will start immediately in her new position.

Hennessy cocktail with a Turkey Day theme

With Thanksgiving a little more than a week away, Hennessy V.S has an amazingly delicious cocktail recipe for the occasion.

In 1765, Richard Hennessy, a retired Irish Brigade captain in the service of King Louis XV, established his own Maison (estate) in Cognac, France. From that day on, the reputation and distribution of Hennessy cognacs has extended continuously—first to Paris and the royal court, then to England, to Russia, and faraway lands. Today, nearly 250 years later, Hennessy is enjoyed on every continent.

Holiday “Sauce”
1.5 oz Hennessy V.S
.5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
Heaping tablespoon of cranberry sauce (the kind  you would have with turkey)
1 dash of Fee Brothers cranberry bitters (optional)
Garnish with an orange twist and cinnamon sugar rim
Glass: martini

Method: Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake until well chilled. Take the martin glass and rub the rim with a fresh cut lemon wedge and dip the rim in a plate of cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 1 part white sugar). Strain the cocktail into the rimmed glass and garnish with an orange twist.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

LRA announces new Northwest sales representative

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) is pleased to welcome Jessica McGee as its new Northwest Sales Representative.

In her new position, McGee will be charged with overseeing northwest Louisiana’s LRA membership—retaining members and recruiting new ones. She will also promote and generate policies with the LRA Self Insurer’s Fund for workers’ compensation program.
McGee has a strong sales background and was most recently a business development professional with Boundless Network, where she built strong relationships with key organizations. She was also previously employed by Mid America Merchandising as an account executive.
McGee attended Louisiana State University and her training includes ASI Sales and Franklin Covey Time Management. She lives in Shreveport.

New NRA report helps restaurateurs optimize financial performance

2013-2014 edition of the Restaurant Operations Report contains detailed data on typical operating costs and line items

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) this week released a new edition of the Restaurant Operations Report, a unique, comprehensive resource that helps restaurant operators review and strengthen financial performance. Produced in collaboration with Deloitte & Touche LLP, the report allows restaurateurs to compare their operations to similar ones to better detect potential problems, manage costs, and become more efficient.

"Understanding how a restaurant is performing and allocating its resources in comparison with establishments of a similar business profile could help operators position their establishments for growth and optimized profitability,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research and knowledge group for the National Restaurant Association.

The Restaurant Operations Report presents operating results as amounts per seat and as ratios to total sales, which are the most common bases in the industry. It provides data on cost of sales, gross profit, direct operating expenses, employees, pre-tax income and other measurements to help sharpen financial performance and quickly identify cost categories where data could substantially vary from similar operations.

Based on financial data from more than 630 restaurants, the Restaurant Operations Report analyzes restaurant income and expense statements to generate operations data for four restaurant profiles: three in fullservice (per-person checks of under $15, $15 to $24.99, and $25 and over), and one in limited service. In each profile, the data breaks down by sales volume, location type, menu theme and ownership. The cost categories match up with those presented in the NRA’s The Uniform System of Accounts for Restaurants.

To order the 2013-2014 edition of the Restaurant Operations Report, visit the NRA’s online store at, or call (800) 482-9122. The report is available to National Restaurant Association members for $100, and to non-members for $200.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NRA offers members guide for managing your restaurant's reputation on online review sites

Word of mouth—those three little words have always been critical for restaurants, with customers spreading the news about their dining experiences to family and friends. Today, word of mouth is more pervasive and powerful than ever due to increasing popularity of online reviews and social media.

Customers air their opinions for all to see online. Whether a guest raves or rants about your service, it’s not just a passing comment to a friend or two. Reviews may remain online for years, influencing countless potential customers. Plus, the dramatic increase in smart phones puts reviews literally in the hands of millions of Americans and international travelers as they’re deciding where to dine out.

Review site affect customer dining decisions. More than one-third (34 percent) of diners report that information on a peer review site is likely to factor into their decision when choosing a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 National Household Survey. Online reviews hold even more weight with frequent diners and millennials, today’s young adults. Over half (53 percent) of 18- to 34-year-olds report that online reviews factor into their dining decisions, as do 47 percent of frequent full service customers.
An online search of your restaurant is likely to find not only your website, but also your restaurant’s profile page on Yelp, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor and other review sites. Google takes this one step further. A search on Google or Google Maps embeds a link for “Google reviews” within the listing for your own website. Often, friends and acquaintances comment on their dining experience on Facebook or their blogs.
Online reviews are particularly influential in the restaurant industry. More consumers (61 percent) have read online reviews about restaurants than any of the other 18 business categories listed in Brightlocal’s Consumer Review Survey 2013. Almost twice as many consumers reported reading restaurant reviews compared to doctor/dentist reviews, the next popular category.
Simply put: Online reviews can help make or break your business. Harvard Business School Professor Michael Luca found that a one-star increase in a Yelp rating leads to a 5 to 9 percent bump in revenue. Luca’s findings are based on the sales of Seattle restaurants in 2003, before the emergence of Yelp in 2004 through 2009. The impact is greatest for independent restaurants, with their market share increasing as Yelp usage increased. The research seems to indicate that online reviews can raise the profile of independent eateries, spreading the world about little-known gems.
Restaurants with an extra half-star rating on Yelp are more likely to be fully booked, according to a 2012 study by the University of California, Berkeley. The study looked at competing local restaurants that have a ratings difference of a half star and found that those with the higher score were fully booked 1.5 times as often as restaurants with the lower score. “Our study concluded that getting higher Yelp reviews actually caused restaurant to be more likely to be fully booked,” says co-author Michael Anderson, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics. “The effects we estimated were not simply an artifact of the fact that better reviewed restaurants tend to be popular.”
With so much riding on your online reputation, it’s important to understand the ins-and-outs of this new word of mouth.

In the New Orleans area, another review site is emerging—FoodDat. A locally-owned food site dedicated to the restaurants, chefs and food scene in New Orleans, foodies can leave and read restaurant reviews, book reservations and upload food photos in live time using hashtag #fooddat via Instagram, search for recipes, food events, restaurant contact info and more. Each restaurant receives a complimentary, dedicated page on and it can be enhanced with photos, video, recipes, chef spotlight, reservation module and numerous links to their social media channels.
The NRA’s new Guide for Managing Your Restaurant’s Reputation on Online Review Sites is designed to help you optimize your presence on review sites. The guide provides tips on everything from how to harness the marketing power of review sites to how to deal with dreaded negative reviews. The NRA has gone to the review sites themselves, as well as to restaurants leveraging this new medium, for answers to some of your most pressing questions.
If you would like to receive a copy of the Guide, please call the Louisiana Restaurant Association Communications Department at (504) 454-2277.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

LRA announces new Director of Local Advocacy

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) is pleased to welcome Danielle D. Leger as its new Director of Local Advocacy.

In her new position, Leger will be charged with supporting LRA member issues in municipal areas with local governing bodies, as well as aiding in government affairs efforts.

Leger was most recently a researcher-analyst with the Louisiana Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, serving as committee counsel to legislators, public officials and constituents, as well as drafting fiscal legislation. She was also previously employed as a committee secretary for the Senate Judiciary B Committee.

“Danielle has a wealth of knowledge of government processes that will most certainly assist and strengthen the LRA’s advocacy efforts,” said LRA President & CEO Stan Harris. “We are very pleased to have her join the LRA team.”

A native of Houma, Leger has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication degree from Louisiana State University.

"Louisiana’s restaurant industry is one of the most important and identifiable industries in the nation,” said Leger. “It is an honor and privilege to work with the LRA to advocate for such a vital economic engine. I see the industry’s future potential and I look forward to helping it grow.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 popular gluten-free menu ideas

The numbers don't lie. As many as 3 million Americans are living with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where the immune system reacts to consumption of a protein called gluten. The condition causes inflammation in the digestive tract that can damage the small intestine and lead to the body being unable to absorb essential nutrients.

Left untreated, the disorder can put sufferers at greater risk of developing additional health complications, including other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid abnormalities, and, in some extreme cases, cancer.

For those living with celiac disease, the only way to effectively manage the condition is a gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods that contain gluten, typically found in wheat, rye, barley or cross-bred hybrids of those grains. This type of diet may sound straight-forward, but is actually difficult to follow.  

For restaurateurs, serving guests with celiac disease can get complicated. Preventing cross-contamination is a critical part of the process. Restaurateurs also should be aware that the Food and Drug Administration recently laid out new rules for restaurateurs who use the term "gluten-free" or similar terms to market menu items. According to the FDA’s rule, items labeled as gluten-free must meet all the requirements of the new, legal definition. Under this definition, any menu item marketed as gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

With the proper precautions, restaurateurs have several ways to ensure that celiac customers can safely enjoy eating at their favorite restaurants. Following are some tips to ensure a safe, gluten-free dining experience for your customers:
  • Read labels carefully and check all ingredients used to prepare gluten-free menu items.
  • Work with your suppliers to identify and verify  that their products truly are gluten free.
  • Ensure protocols are in place to handle and prepare gluten-free options.
  • Ensure your staff is properly trained in preparing and serving gluten-free foods.
To further protect your guests’ health and well-being, always double-check any gluten-free menu items you offer. Take care with all ingredients, not just flour or wheat based products. Many prepared items, like French fries, battered shrimp and deli meats, and ingredients such as sauces, gravies and even nonstick sprays, may have gluten in them. They may also be produced with equipment that has been used to manufacture other foods that contain gluten. That presents a risk of cross-contamination, which will nullify your gluten-free claim.

Now that you know what to prepare for, here are 10 popular gluten-free ideas to try on your menu:

  • Rice crackers with cheese – There are lots of great gluten-free cracker options available on the market, many of them made with rice. These are tasty and can be a great item to use as an appetizer.
  • Guacamole with corn tortilla chips – Be sure to check ingredients in the chips to ensure there is nothing in them containing gluten, although tortilla chips, in general, tend to be gluten free.
  • Fresh veggies and dip - This is another great option to have on hand, and it’s healthful, too. Be sure to check the ingredients of the dip to ensure there are no gluten-based flavoring agents.

  • Pureed winter squash soup.– Squash soup is a good bet because once the squash is cooked you can simply puree the soup for a thick, hearty mid-winter dish and avoid using flour as a thickening agent. You can also choose to use gluten-free flour as a thickener.
  • Chicken soup with rice noodles ‑ Most suppliers today carry some great rice noodles. Alternatively, you could prepare dumplings made with a gluten-free flour mix. Always double check there is no gluten in the stock.

Main Dishes
  • Tacos – Use pork or any of your favorite kinds of meats or grilled veggies, but make sure you use corn tortillas only. Check to make sure the tortillas do not contain wheat or other gluten-filled flour.
  • Rice pasta with red sauce  ‑ Rice pasta is a surprisingly good substitute for regular wheat or semolina pasta. Red sauce is a good bet because unlike a white sauce, it generally doesn’t contain flour.
  • Beans and rice – Notice a rice theme? Rice is a great way to provide carbohydrates to people with celiac disease. Beans are another delicious way to achieve a similar flavor profile.

  • Flourless chocolate cake –These cakes or tortes are some of the best treats around and no flour is required in the recipe.
  • Crème brulee or flan ‑ These delicious desserts are typically made with copious amounts of eggs and milk products, and without flour.

To learn how to serve customers with food allergies, visit the NRA’s ServSafe Allergens online course.

Because the number of diners requesting gluten-free foods is on the rise, your ability to accommodate them will not only allow you to serve them more effectively, but also help grow your customer base exponentially. That party of eight with the one gluten-free diner will choose your restaurant over any others just to satisfy that one person.  The best news is, once you put operating procedures into place and provide great service, you will see those customers ‑ and their friends – keep coming back for more.

This article was provided by National Restaurant Association partner MenuTrinfo and written by Betsy Craig, founder and CEO for MenuTrinfo.

Red Fish Grill improves kitchen staff satisfaction with automation and data

Chefs at an award-winning French Quarter restaurant are now working in a safer, cleaner and more efficient kitchen.

That’s because Haley Bittermann, corporate executive chef for Ralph Brennan’s Red Fish Grill, found a more sustainable and efficient way to manage its cooking oil. Bittermann installed an automated oil management system from Restaurant Technologies, Inc. (RTI) in the restaurant, which is known for its seafood specialties. Just 60 days after implementing the RTI system, oil usage at Red Fish Grill decreased 48 percent.

“The results we have seen are tremendous,” said Bittermann, “and now the entirety of managing frying oil – from buying and storing, to filtering and cleaning – is very easy to manage.”

Before installing the automated system, Red Fish Grill was using an outdated, manual process to handle its cooking oil. Restaurant protocol required staff to filter oil twice a day, which required kitchen staff to shut down the fryers. Because busy chefs couldn’t afford the downtime needed, the staff threw out unfiltered oil to safeguard food quality – while unintentionally throwing out “money” by tossing the oil instead of filtering it.
Bittermann noted, “Minimizing the space required for oil storage and reducing the amount of time spent manually filling, filtering and disposing of frying oil helps us be so much more efficient.”

Employees now filter oil according to the restaurant’s filtration protocols, and the general manager and chef are sent alerts in real-time when employees do not meet filtration standard operating practices. The general manager remotely monitors employee compliance though an online portal, which gives managers an easy-to-use dashboard for visibility into the restaurant’s oil performance and filtration trends, as well as delivery and disposal history and compliance to SOPs. This helps them improve training, correct employee behavior and identify areas to improve efficiencies.

On top of oil use and cost savings, employee safety and satisfaction has improved. Bittermann credits the system with a reduction in workers’ compensation claims, and providing peace of mind by not having to worry about employees slipping, falling or burning themselves while handling hot oil. Employees are happy because they don’t have to haul grease anymore.

“The cooks would kill me if I took RTI out at this point,” said Bittermann. "In fact, the automated oil management has been so successful at Red Fish Grill that we are installing it in a California restaurant."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Alcohol Server Permits available online in Louisiana, 24/7

For years, if you needed a Responsible Vendor Permit, or a bar card, you had to go to a class and take it in person. The process went something like this: find a class, register, clear your schedule, drive there, pay, take the course, take the test and get your permit mailed a few weeks later. 

Now, thanks to the efforts of the National and Louisiana Restaurant Associations, ServSafe Alcohol, online server training has arrived, for the first time, in the Bayou State! It’s convenient, interactive, state-approved, available 24/7 and costs just $30.

Restaurant servers, bartenders, and convenience and grocery store cashiers must have an alcohol server permit according to Louisiana law. A permit is good for four years, before it expires and the server has to repeat the course.

Videos, case studies and quizzes help you retain the lessons during the 2-3 hour ServSafe Alcohol course, which can be taken anywhere you have internet access and a PC.

From the alcohol content of wine, beer and spirits, how alcohol is absorbed in the body and then leaves the body, to the factors that affect someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC), servers will gain the knowledge needed to serve alcohol safely and responsibly.

Communication is a big focus of the ServSafe Alcohol online training course and is the responsibility of all employees—managers, doorstaff, valets, security staff, servers and bartenders. It’s the central theme throughout the training and staff communications can reduce intoxication, altercations and accidents.

Permits are issued by the Louisiana Office of Alcohol Tobacco Control and once you’ve passed the course, your printable ServSafe Alcohol Certificate is acceptable until your permit is received. 

This is the online approved online course in Louisiana! Visit to learn more or take your course today.

A Letter from 2013 LRA Chair David Hearn

Dear Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) members,

This year has truly been outstanding for me as chairman of the LRA. I’ve visited all nine chapters, participated in all the board meetings for the LRA, the LRA Self Insurer’s Fund and the LRA Education Foundation, spent the weekend in New Orleans for the EXPO and went to Washington, DC for the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference.

Your membership in the LRA has so many benefits. The LRA SIF for workers’ compensation was created more than 30 years ago just for our industry. For the third consecutive year, the LRA SIF is lowering its rates, while other insurers are raising theirs. That’s a testament to the management of the fund and the members who participate in it and share the risk. Do yourself a favor and get a comparison quote. You could save yourself some money.
Of the LRA benefits are the ServSafe food safety courses, the new online ServSafe online alcohol training (the first of its kind in Louisiana) and ServSafe Allergens, are the keys to serving your guests safely on all fronts. The LRA has trained more than 50,000 people collectively in these programs and is the largest provider of these types of training in the state.
The LRA Education Foundation is your charitable organization. This year alone, the LRAEF awarded 24 students $50,000 in scholarships to continue their restaurant management and culinary arts education. Since 2009, the LRAEF has awarded $140,000. Just in time for the holidays, the LRAEF in partnership with the George Rodrigue Foundation for the Arts will release a cookbook, The Pot and The Palette. With 100 recipes from members across the state and illustrations by budding high school artists, the proceeds from the book will benefit both organizations.
Above all and one that isn’t tangible is advocacy. The LRA is your advocate at the local, state and even federal level. This is accomplished by a dedicated staff that constantly monitors regulatory and legislative activity that may impact the industry. You play a significant role in funding these activities when you contribute a portion of your dues to the LRA Hospitality Political Action Committee. Also, our chapters play a significant role in advocacy as a portion of its fundraising proceeds benefit the LRA Hospitality PAC.
My year of service as chairman of the LRA has been a privilege. I’m truly grateful to have given my time for the betterment of Louisiana’s restaurant industry. Thank you to all our members and suppliers for your dedication and commitment to improving this great industry.
David Hearn, Owner, Catfish Cabin, Monroe

Monday, November 11, 2013

World-renowned bartenders share secrets to their success

By Wendy Waren, VP of Communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association. This article ran in the LRA Fall 2013 A La Carte magazine as part of the ongoing series, Beverage Beat.

Jacob Briars receives the "Golden Spirit" award at Tales
of the Cocktail in 2010 for his informative and funny
presentations, and for his passion for connecting spirits
and cocktails to their broader cultural context.
The Art and Philosophy of Hospitality was one of the most well attended seminars at the 11th Annual Tales of the Cocktail, a five-day cocktail conference that took place July 17-21, 2013 in New Orleans. Nearly 200 industry professionals—owners, managers and bartenders—packed into a Royal Sonesta ballroom to hear from four of the leading bartending pros in the world.
“What has now been the topic for the last couple of years is: Have we lost sight of service? Are we now so focused on producing the perfect cocktails, using the very best ingredients and products?” asked Jacob Briars, head of training and education for Barcardi. “Understanding the history and the very fundamental part of bartending that is taking care of your guests and giving a warm hospitable feeling to every person that walks through your door.”

Panelist Ludovic Miazga perfected the art of cocktail making at some of France’s top establishments before making his mark on the London cocktail scene as the manager of one of the world’s most highly acclaimed bars, Milk and Honey. He kicked off the seminar with a little history lesson on hospitality.
Ludovic Miazga shares his insight of cocktail and culinary
pairings with guests of the exclusive D'USSE Cognac
event at the Degas House in New Orleans, July 17, 2013.
“Hospitality has its origin as the word host,” informs Miazga. “But it wasn’t always a very welcoming term. Often it meant to prepare yourself to receive your opponents.”
The contemporary definition centers on the relationship process between a guest and a host, connected to the entertainment world, to deliver an experience for something that you know or even don’t know. The root of hospitality is respect.
“Hospitality is about ownership and training, individuality, confidence, being authentic and sincere,” said Colin Peter Field, of the Hotel Ritz in Paris.

Field knew he wanted to be a bartender when he was 14 and took a study trip to Paris. As the head bartender at the Hotel Ritz in Paris since 1994, his philosophy on the art of hospitality has earned him numerous awards and twice named the World’s Best Bartender by Forbes Magazine.
“Don’t ever ask guests if they’d like a drink half way through the beverage they are drinking,” said Field. “Remember, you are not in your house, the guest is not in his house, but as a bartender you are there much more often, so be a gracious host. In a bar setting, never tell people where to sit, let them seat where they will feel comfortable.”

In France, the hotel schools, all 137 of them, specialize in hotel training—meats, wines, whiskey, scotch, vodkas, service and etiquette—in the first two years. In 1984, France’s Minister of Education added a degree for bartenders in the country with an additional one year of educational training.  Field developed the bartending degree curriculum over the course of 10 years.
“The visual aspect of the establishment is 55 percent of a guest’s experience – clean cloths, tidy bar, clean bathrooms,” said Miazga. “You should be able to hear the melody of the bar tools, avoid unfavorably smells, no fruit flies, no smell of cigarettes on hands and the tangible like the garnishes, engagement, glassware and menus.”

Originally from Czechoslovakia, Alex Kratena is one of the UK’s leading mixologist and has worked in various establishments from New York to Tokyo, in Michelin start restaurants and 5-star deluxe hotels.

“Bartending is really about common sense,” said Kratena. “Great service is about three things, planning, expectations and measuring success.”
Kratena encourages managers to involve everyone in the operations and creative planning process. He says leaders provide the vision and make sure the ladder is against the right wall, while managers focus on how the team can climb the ladder most efficiently. Including the entire team may improve creativity and efficiency and as a result, the bottom line.

“How do you measure success?” asked a seminar attendee.
Although it seems very corporate, Kratena encourages secret shopping on a regular basis. In addition to self-assessments and staff performance reviews, having a third party to visit the establishment several times at various times of the day is a real indicator of how well the staff is doing in providing exceptional customer service.

Zdenek Kastanek, hailing from the Czech Republic and bartender at 28 HongKong Street in Singapore, credits his mother with giving him the book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” which he reads regularly.
“The book teaches you everything you need to know to be a good man,” said Kastanek. “Don’t steal anything, put things back where you found them and don’t hit anyone. I’d recommend this book for any person who wants to be a bartender or work in the hospitality industry.”

Increasing the awareness of the bartending profession is the goal of Tales of Cocktail and the underlying message of all of the panelists. Kastanek seeks to educate and remove the public assumption that individuals are working in a bar or restaurant because they are in school or can’t find anything better.
“Staff selection is key to creating a successful bar business,” said Miazga. “Women tend to drink less behind the bar and have less of an ego than men.”

Miazga recommends establishing a standard of service guide. In his 12-page handbook for staff, he includes an overview of the business, the rules of the house, staff responsibilities, tasks to do all the time, speed of service, floor responsibilities and closing procedure.
Miazga’s Standard of Service Guide’s Staff responsibilities:

1.       Be on time.
2.       Be ready for service.
3.       Be sure to eat your staff meal before or after opening.
4.       Take ownership of the space.
5.       Make guests feel welcome.
6.       Enter everything into the POS system, including ALL accidental drinks, off wine, flat champagne, etc.
7.       Keep your work environment tidy and clean (all floors, office, staff room, stock room and even the bathroom).
8.       Speed of service (drink delivery), food and upselling.
9.       Attention to details and awareness of building—candles on, music, napkins, ashtrays, ambiance.
10.   Give customers what they want, within reason.
11.   Do not give excuses, find solutions.
“Never say hello and goodbye the same way twice,” advises Field. “’Are you leaving already?’ ‘When will we see you again?’ ‘Oh, you’re heading out?’ Saying it differently each time keeps you authentic and sincere.”

Miazga referenced a quote that he always keeps top of mind by American poet Maya Angelou, “’People will forget what you told them, people will forget who you are, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’” He concluded with, “To serve is to love.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Acme Oyster House leaders named LRA Restaurateurs of the Year

This article was the cover story for the Louisiana Restaurant Association Fall 2013 A La Carte magazine.

Michael Rodrigue, Lucien Gunter and Paul Rotner, president/owner, chief executive officer and chief operating officer, respectively, of Acme Oyster House, have a brotherly rapport, with a teasing banter that is entertaining to watch. The three of them run extremely successful restaurants, spanning from Louisiana to Florida, and volunteer their time, money and resources to several local charities, while still living life to the fullest.
Paul Rotner, Lucien Gunter and
Mike Rodrigue of Acme Oyster House
are the 2013 LRA Restaurateurs   
of the Year.
This Acme trio was among the guests of honor August 3, 2013, at the LRA Education Foundation (LRAEF) Five Star Futures Gala, where they received the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Restaurateurs of the Year award.

Restaurateur of the Year is the LRA’s most prestigious award. Each year, it is presented to an individual (or individuals) who has contributed unselfishly to the advancement of Louisiana’s restaurant industry and has continually dedicated his services at both the local chapter and state levels. Past winners include Ruth Fertel, Emeril Lagasse, Leah Chase and last year’s recipient, Todd Graves of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers fame.

Rodrigue, a native New Orleanian, bought the iconic Acme Oyster House in 1985, during a slow period in the restaurant’s history. He got to work, reviving the restaurant and creating a brand that boasts five locations in the Greater New Orleans area, Baton Rouge and Florida and has grown to 500 employees with an annual revenue topping $25 million. Rodrigue is one of the founding members of the Bayou District Foundation, which revitalized the former St. Bernard Housing Project and City Park Golf Course.                                

With more than 20 years of hospitality experience, Gunter serves as Acme’s chief executive officer, successfully opening four of the company’s five restaurants. Next year, he will oversee the sixth location, located in Gulf Shores, Ala. Gunter serves on many boards, including the LRAEF and the Fore!Kids Foundation and currently chairs the New Orleans Oyster Festival. 

A California native, Rotner has more than 30 years of management experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, with stints at the Hard Rock Café and Hotel chain in Las Vegas, among other cities, and the Pink Taco Restaurant chain. He joined Acme in 2007 and is its chief operating officer. Rotner sits on the LRA Board of Directors and is currently the LRA Greater New Orleans Chapter President. He also volunteers his time to the Save Louisiana Coalition and the Sunshine Kids Foundation.  

“Acme is involved at every level of our association,” said LRA Chair David Hearn. “Their commitment of time, staff involvement and funds are unmatched. We are so thankful to have them on board. They make the LRA a stronger organization.”  

Serving patrons for more than 100 years, Acme Oyster House’s first location opened on Royal Street in the French Quarter in 1910. Its current French Quarter location was established on Iberville Street in 1924, after a fire devastated the original restaurant. By the early 1980s, the restaurant had hit some lean times and just before Rodrigue purchased it, Acme’s famous “Waitress available sometimes” neon sign was born. The eatery only employed one waitress and closed at 4 p.m. That the restaurant had fallen on hard times was not daunting to Rodrigue, who was determined to turn it around, without having to make too many changes. 

And turn it around he did. According to Acme’s website, the restaurant served 250,000 raw and chargrilled oysters in 1985. In 2008, Acme shucked 3.6 million fresh oysters across four locations. That amounts to 10,000 oysters a day, not including the ones that are fried.

A secret to their success? Proximity. Each Acme location is a short, refrigerated drive from where the restaurant’s oysters are harvested.  

While Rodrigue, Gunter and Rotner’s business sense is certainly something to be commended, even more lauded is their work with the community. All three men join a long, illustrious list of LRA Restaurateurs of the Year who have made it their mission to give back to those that have patronized their restaurants year in and year out. Restaurateurs are some of the most philanthropic people there are, and the guys behind Acme are right at the top.