Category Archives: Local

Summer Menu

Ideas to Liven Up Your Restaurant’s Summer Menu

Summer Menu: Get Out of the Rut

Summer is a great season for restaurants and their summer menus; the temperatures are warmer, different foods are in season and there is just a different vibe in the air.

So, since the seasons change, so why don’t some restaurant menus provide variety or change too?

“Too often people fall into habits and just continue to do the same old thing,” said Indy Food Blog™.  “In restaurants, the daily special may become less of a “special” and just devolve into a picking an item from an ever-rotating selection of the same old thing. After all, it’s easy to make, and/or your guests rave about it when it’s the “special”; and, of course, it has a healthy profit margin.”

It’s also a way to burn out everyone in the process, such as guests, yourself, line cooks and a business, Indy Food Blog™ added.

Why not explore options and liven up your menu?

Local Foods

Summer MenuNow-a-days anyone can get just about anything at anytime. Instead of ordering the same items year round, take a look at what’s in season and reformat a summer menu with those foods.

Restaurant owner Luke Patterson guides his menus based on seasonality and his menu is determined by weather and availability.  For example, one of the things he looked for this time of year is asparagus.

“Real asparagus,” he said. “You can now get anything anytime, but for some people asparagus isn’t a treat when you have it all year.”

Of course, Patterson explained ordering locally takes more work, but for him, it makes him feel better about the restaurants he owns.

“That farmer is in my restaurant eating the food he grew,” he explained. “It feels a lot better, I know where it (the food) came from, I know who touched it, I know how many people touched it and I knew it grew here.”

Knowing where his ingredients come from makes him feel safe and he likes knowing his customers are safe consuming the food too.

While going 100 percent local may not be on your restaurant’s agenda, or it seems like a daunting task, take small steps. Imagine a summer menu from a customer’s perspective and the items you would like to see. If it’s something you’re interested in trying, work with one farmer on an ingredient that will be a month long special. It’s a great way to mix up your menu, provide fresh ingredients that customers will love and work with your community.

Make Use of Your Equipment

Certain pieces of kitchen equipment and supplies are made for one purpose, but not all of them.

“If you think about it, there are a ton of toys in your kitchen,” Indy Food Blog™ said.

“Unfortunately, it’s too easy to use those toys the same way all the time. Vegetables roast in the oven, or saute in a skillet on the stove (or, heaven forbid, Chef Mike gets used to steam/reheat them), stuff gets tossed in the fryer, flat top handles a few things, and proteins go on the grill.  You may have forgotten how much fun your equipment can be to play with.  You also may have forgotten how much fun it can be to combine ingredients in unsuspecting ways.”

Menu Ideas

Need an idea boost to mix up some of your restaurant’s summer menu items? Below are some ideas and photos from Indy Food Blog™ to help you mix things up at your restaurant.

Summer Menu Asian Pork ChopGrilled Pork Chop

“Take something familiar like a grilled pork chop. Marinate it in coconut milk, lime juice and a variety of Thai or Vietnamese type seasonings; serve it with an Asian slaw, and black rice.

It’s an easy way to take a protein all your guests are familiar with, and change the typical flavor profile into something that has a lighter, brighter flavor. It’s easy, and it’s different. Taking an inexpensive protein and marinating it elevates it a bit and helps to give it a lighter, more “summery” flavor.”

Summer Menu Mexican Pesto Beef RouladeRoulade

“Along the same lines, instead of making a typical roulade in the oven; make individual sized roulades stuffed with Mexican Pesto and grill them. After all, a thin cut of beef like flank or skirt cooks quickly; while grilling it instead of the typical braising will change the flavor just enough to be new.

Pair it with a Nopalitos salad and some mashed Yucca, and you’ve got another dish that’s familiar in concept, yet has a bright, fresh flavor.”

Summer Menu Seasonal Grilled Pesto Flatbread3Flatbreads

“How about the flatbreads that are so popular these days? How about grilling some of the vegetables to give them a nice carmelized texture and flavor, then cooking the entire flatbread on the grill as ordered?

After all, you grill is hot enough to toast the bread and melt the cheese. If it’s laden with cheese, a couple of minutes beneath a salamander can finish the job and add a little extra color if needed.”

Indy Food Blog™ challenges chefs to be more creative with what they cook and the equipment they cook on.

“Your guests will appreciate the variety, your line cooks will appreciate the challenge, you just might find yourself being more inspired and, I can guarantee, your guests will appreciate it.”

5 Restaurant and Foodservice Industry Trends

The foodservice industry is constantly evolving.  One minute we’re focused on one thing, then six months down the road something new pops up.  In our 2011 “end of year” foodservice trends and predictions review, quite a few trends have really stuck such as mobile ordering devices, local food and double-sided menus (menus that separate healthy and unhealthy, such as McDonald’s recent “Favorites Under 400“).  Then there are other trends we haven’t heard much about such as plate shapes.

So as you can see, a lot can change in eight months.  Here are some of the latest trends, and we hope you will share what you are seeing in our comment section below.

Pop-Up Restaurants

Food trucks aren’t the only form of mobile food, pop-up restaurants are too.  A pop-up restaurant is a temporary dining experience that can be used for a chef to try out different menu items, a landlord wishing to rent out space during downtime or a dining experience for an event such as the pop-up Goodness, which lasted the duration of New York’s fashion week in February.

However Intuit doesn’t say pop-ups are anything new, because they have been around for quite a long time.  They are starting to show true staying power though.  Perhaps it’s because  it’s cheaper to start a pop-up than to open a restaurant, it’s a great way to test out an idea or maybe there is something to be said for the power of social media to draw customers.

Upscale Kids Menus

Quinoa, black bean and corn salad, stuffed zucchini boats, pesto pasta, apple oat balls and felafel wraps are just five of the 54 winning entries of the first Kids’ State Dinner hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama on August 20.  Just to reiterate, these ideas weren’t whipped up by professional chefs with years of experience, but just children.  With the new USDA guidelines for schools and an overall push for better eating habits, restaurants have started to pick up on revamping kids menus and provide out of the box menu ideas.  For instance Applebees offers a grilled chicken sandwich with a variety of sides (the side advertised being broccoli) and Ruby Tuesday offers kids chop steak with broccoli and white cheddar mashed potatoes.  These menus are much more advanced compared to the days of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries and macaroni and cheese.

Gen Y Changing the Game

A recent Food Management article looked closely at Packaged Fact’s  “Collegiate Gen Y eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” and it appears that college-aged Gen Y’ers (18 to 22) are starting to define new trends in food.  According to Food Management, it’s because of the way they are exposed to new foods and they predict these trends will stay because the foodservice industry will have to adapt once all these students enter the workforce.

The report found students “are nutritionally minded, crave flavorful foods, look for comfort and indulgence and need speed and convenience.”  Some recent foods or trends that have been introduced in college foodservices have been going meatless, chickpeas, different fruits and vegetables, Asian cuisine, comfort foods (such as Italian or Mexican) and foods one can eat while on the go.

Awareness of Food Allergies and Diet Restrictions on Menus

This section isn’t necessarily a trend, but restaurants are starting to pay more attention to food allergies and dietary restrictions and take them more seriously.  Even as far back as a couple years ago, people weren’t thinking about gluten-free.  Today?  Several restaurants include gluten-free items on their menu.  But food allergy awareness extends further than the menu.  In the back of the house, restaurants have to ensure people with severe food allergies remain safe.  Many restaurants have put procedures in place while others are still learning and take food allergies on a case by case basis.  To help, manufacturers of foodservice products have begun to create products to help with food allergies, such as San Jamar’s Allergen Saf-T-Zone cutting boards.  Then when it comes to just health or dietary restrictions, restaurants are including nutritional information or helpful guides to help diners make informed choices on the food they eat.  For instance noting an entree is low calorie or low fat.  Others may let customers know an item has a low amount of sodium.

Local and Sustainability

Consumers are really starting to care more about where their food comes from, how it’s grown, what the animals they may consume are eating, etc.  Over the last couple years there has been a rise in locally sourced food.  This rise went as high as restaurants going “hyper-local,” where they grow their own food.  It provides customers with a fresh product while keeping it in a community.

Then there is the other side of the spectrum where people and/or restaurants care about where their meat comes from and what the animal is eating.  There are some individuals that can tell a difference in taste between a grass fed cow and corn fed cow.  In a Forbes article, they said people “can now buy specialized breeds, meats raised on different diets, and those without antibiotics or hormones in just about every major city.”

What changes are you seeing in the foodservice industry? Restaurants, schools, etc.?  Please share below!

Benefits for Foodservices to Go Local with Food

A few weeks ago, we provided an introduction to restaurants going local with food with Jeffrey Besecker, executive chef of Ozro & Ray’s and executive director of Greenville Community Gardens  in Greenville, Ohio.

While local food tops some trend lists, perhaps it’s not a trend at all, but something that’s here to stay.  Going local has benefits for both an establishment and a community.

Whether you would like to make drastic changes, or just would like to make a few minor tweaks, there are a variety of ways to go local at your foodservice establishment.

Besecker’s Benefits for Going Local

1. Know Products First-Hand: Buying local provides a more thorough understanding of the quality, care and contents of your ingredients.

2. Reduced Food Miles: The expenses to have food delivered to your establishment will be lower with local suppliers.  Also, your customers will be provided with a fresher meal.

3. Safer Food: Buying food locally allows for a more accurate ability to deter the inclusion of by-products and additives that can lead to detrimental health issues and side effects. (For instance… ever heard of a little thing called pink slime?)

4. Shorter Supply Lead Times: Shorter lead times reduce the cost associated with stocking food.  Why? By reducing storage needs, you will be able to keep fewer foods in reserve and can have more frequent deliveries.

5. Reduced Impact on the Environment: Buying local will decrease the amount of time the food coming to you will be on the road. This will reduce the amount of strain placed on the environment to supply that food.  Also, potentially harmful side effects will be eliminated as many of the processing procedures associated with long term food handling will be done away with.

6. Stimulate Your Local Economy: If you pump more money into your local economy, you are effectively ensuring those around you have the resources to patronize your business with a greater frequency.

Turn “I Can’t” into “I Can”

It’s easy to make assumptions or excuses for why it might be too difficult for a foodservice to go local. But there’s a challenge to everything and sometimes a certain challenge isn’t as challenging as one might think.

Besecker said the first excuse foodservices make as to why they can’t go local is time and effort.

“The foodservice industry is often already a very labor and time intensive endeavor,” he said. “The added burden of providing yet another link in that food supply chain is a distinct possibility but no more so then researching the lowest cost, best quality provider in a more traditional supply chain.”

He added that in the end, it all comes down to the amount of energy you feel comfortable utilizing and how that cost and out pour is managed within your business model.

“With a small investment, one can easily find the means to capitalize on a local food chain to great benefit.”

A second hurdle that turn many foodservices off to the idea of going local is foodservice regulations and restrictions of locally sourced food.

Besecker said one concern may be whether or not local, state or national health codes restrict the use of local foods.

“Nearly all the same rules apply in utilizing locally-sourced foods as well as those governing their safe handling,” he said. “In most cases, a greater sense of security in the quality and safety of the local foods exists merely because of a more thorough attention to their growing and handling.”

How Your Restaurant Can Go Local

According to Besecker, there are several levels of involvement in which a foodservice can go local.  So whether it be big or small, if you are interested in going local, there is a way.

1.Traditional Food Suppliers: After realizing the importance of local, Besecker said many of the traditional food wholesale suppliers have adopted locally sourced product lines to include with their other typical foodservice offerings.

2. Local Food Wholesalers: Cut out the number of miles and potential “middle men.”

3. Farmers Markets: These provide fresh, locally-grown foods that Besecker said can often be brought right near your delivery dock or even right to your location.

4. Local Farmers: For many instances, a solid farm operation is never too far away–even in larger cities. In fact, Besecker said New York City foodservice operations rely more per capita on local farms than any other food service market in the country!

Image: Greenville Community Gardens5. Community Gardens: Grow along with your neighbors and customers.  It can help benefit your bottom line and also the way your customers view food.  Working with community gardens can even help your customers set new standards for their own way of life.

6. Restaurant Gardens and Farms: Many restaurants have created their own garden or farm to help supplement their food supply.

(Image at left provided by Greenville Community Gardens).

Big thanks to Jeff Besecker with providing such great information on how foodservices can go local with food.  If you missed the first blog, read it here and also check out Greenville Community Gardens and Ozro’s & Rays.

 

 

An Introduction to Restaurants Going Local with Food

Image: Greenville Community Gardens

Local food was on the top of many food and restaurant trend lists for 2011 and 2012, but perhaps this isn’t a trend at all.  From buying locally to actually growing food, the emphasis for restaurants has been higher.

This week we worked with Jeffrey Besecker, executive chef of Ozro & Ray’s and executive director of Greenville Community Gardens (GCH) in Greenville, Ohio to learn more about going local and how restaurants can benefit from it.

Why Go Local?

“A return to a local food system may not just be the latest fad, or merely jumping on the band wagon,” Besecker said. “It may very well be the wave of the 21st century as well as a necessity for survival.”

Image: Jeltovski/MorgueFile

Cost (supply chain), quality control (increased freshness, improved taste), sustainability and marketability are Besecker’s reasons for restaurants going local.

“One of the chief reasons to “Go Local” may well be the increase in marketability in your product line or business,” he said. “An area that is often overlooked in general in the foodservice industry is building a brand name which will assure the sustainability and success of your business model.”

Looking deeper, Besecker gave three key reasons why locally sourced products impact marketability.

1. Local foods provide added market value.  They are fresher and taste better, which customers will come back to.  Also, working with food producers directly can enable restaurants to expand menu options.

2. Buying local food increases customer awareness.  Collaborating with other local businesses increases exposure because essentially client bases are combined.

3. There is a heightened client perception.  Besecker said by investing the caring, time and energy to increase the value of your business through locally frown foods, you relay a greater level of caring for your customer base.

Importance and Crucial Factors

“As a foodservice business, the two main concerns which stand out above all else are the relative freshness factor of food products sourced within a close radius to your business and the relative reduction in cost which can be associated with sourcing your food locally,” Besecker said.

Image: Earl53/MorgueFile

Supply chain pricing is affected by the distance food has to travel from the producer to the restaurant, also known as “food miles.”  The further the food, the more expensive it is because factors such as fuel, storage, handling costs, etc.

“Does it not make perfect sense then, to consider sourcing your supply chain as closely as possible to your business with fewer stops and hands in your pockets in between?” Besecker asked.

Looking into the food itself, frozen and preserved foods tend to lose their freshness and flavor as well as vital nutrients.  Fresh foods will taste better and have more flavor.

“As any good chef will know, if one wishes to achieve maximum freshness and flavor from product and other products, then minimal delay from harvest to table will yield the best results.”

Real Examples

For Ozro & Ray’s, an authentic home style bagel shop, Besecker said they are using a locally sourced food model.

Image: Ozro & Ray's Facebook

“We are utilizing a combination of small, local farms, local farmers markets within a 100 mile radius of our business, community gardens and a collaborative with another local restaurant operation with their own farm to source our food supply needs,” he said.

Also, they have local food wholesalers who have adopted their own versions of locally sourced food programs.

Besecker said their long term goal is to develop a business plan to tie a local goods restaurant concept which ties in with a general store concept that focuses on local Ohio product lines.

Local Food Resources

Next Month…

Stay tuned next month for more information from Besecker, including the benefits of going local, stereotypes/hurdles and what restaurants are doing.

Image: penywise/MorgueFile

Also, be sure to check out Greenville Community Gardens as well as these two other sites Besecker told us about, Small Town Growth Group and Local Provisions. In the future, we’ll also look into schools going local and other foodservices as well.

What local initiatives is your area or restaurant involved with? Is there anything you would like to learn more about for our next blog?

 

Super Bowl Foodservice Series Part 1: Restaurants Gearing Up for Event

On Sunday Feb. 5, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants will meet again for Super Bowl XLVI.

Not only is the Super Bowl one of the biggest games of the year, but it’s also such a grand event for the hosting city.  This year, the game will be played in the same city as Central’s headquarters—Indianapolis.

The city is truly pulling out all the stops for the 10 day extravaganza that leads up to the actual game.  There are several events such as the NFL Experience and the Super Bowl Village which includes warming zones, an 800-foot-long, four line Zipline, exclusive opportunities and tons of free entertainment.

For all events to go smoothly, all businesses in a hosting city have to be involved and prepare.  This ranges from hotels and businesses to restaurants and food trucks.  The foodservice industry as a whole will play a huge role in the Super Bowl festivities.

Rendering of Super Bowl Village

Julia Watson, vice president of marketing and communications for Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., said businesses have had to forecast as much as six months of business in the 10 day period.

“You can’t do business as usual with a lean staff, or haven’t changed the delivery schedule to make sure to have supplies on hand,” she explained.

“Restaurants have gone to great effort and expense to maximize their ability to serve a very large number of visitors in a short amount of time.”

Watson said restaurants have stepped up in many ways such as an increased staff, streamlined food and beverage menus, extended hours of operation, additional seating and enhanced amenities such as outdoor heaters, etc.

There are an estimated 150,000 coming to Indianapolis.  While this is an excellent and unique business opportunity, it can be a challenge to plan how it will all work when taking into consideration the number of seats available versus how many will be coming in.

In a recent article from the Indianapolis Star, they estimated there are about 25,000 seats in the city’s approximate 200 restaurants.  Then on top of that, many streets have been closed so restaurants have had to strategically plan how they will receive deliveries from vendors and how their employees will make it in to work.

“Deliveries will be a challenge,” said Bryn Jones, director of marketing at St. Elmo Steak House. “Our plan here is to have all deliveries made in the early A.M. every day, and we will have employees working 24/7 so that we will be able to receive inventory when it is more convenient for delivery drivers to get in and out of the city due to the huge increase in traffic during the day.”

Then for their employee’s commute, Jones said they will have two buses circling a route to help employees get to and from the restaurant.

“This will be necessary to help us and our employees save money by not having to pay $50 or whatever amount is charged per day in parking.”

Going back to the mathematics of the “seat to tourist ratio,” the city has plans that will help both restaurants and visitors to make it all work.

Volunteers at Volunteer Kick-Off

Communications Director Jennifer Hansen of Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. said there will be “mobile concierge” on the streets walking around to assist visitors.

“They will have live updates on restaurant availability to tell guests what’s opening,” she said.

But restaurants will not be the only way visitors can get something to eat.

Hansen also mentioned the Super Bowl Village will have mobile food sites too.

Mobile food, which is a trend that has truly boomed over the past year—especially in Indianapolis, will play an important role in this year’s Super Bowl events.

Click here for the second part of our Super Bowl series to learn how Indianapolis food trucks will participate as well as food rescuing and how restaurants outside of the downtown area have been impacted.

All images used with permission from the Indianapolis Super Bowl Press Center.

Customer Spotlight: Luke Patterson

Central Product Consultant Michael Sandlin sits down and laughs as he recalls the last half hour he spent on the phone with his customer, Luke Patterson. Nothing in particular, it’s just always an intriguing conversation. Patterson, 33, has an adventurous personality and is well on his way to a very successful future in the foodservice industry.

“He’s an eclectic, fusion kind of guy,” Sandlin said, who has been working with Patterson since 2009.

There’s always something going on and he always has an interesting story to tell. But what is the most interesting is how this young restaurant owner got his start—and how successful he is.

Luke Patterson in Luke's Joint

Prior to opening the restaurant Luke’s Joint in Arcata, Calif., Patterson, who had been working in the restaurant industry for years (with a start in New York City), started running his own business by renting a food cart from a local church. He had the food cart in a popular Arcata plaza for nine months, then saw an opportunity for a restaurant.

“I’m sitting there watching Grandma B’s Chocolate Shop pack up and leave and it wasn’t much of a leap of imagination,” he recalled. “It was already taken by the time I made the call, but coincidentally their insurance didn’t come through and I was offered the opportunity to move in and haven’t looked back.”

Patterson opened Luke’s Joint last year, which is located at 887 H Street.  They serve coffee and pastries from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to their Facebook page. They are open seven days a week, which is uncommon for that area.

“I’m from NYC, so I have a metropolitan point of view,” he said.

So as they are open during times many places aren’t, it creates more opportunities for both them and their customers and in general is just a great place to visit.  Luke’s Joint is reasonably priced too with a variety of interesting and unique menu items.

Elena Agostinis wrote a review on Urbanspoon that provides a great description of this out of the box restaurant:

“Chef Luke at Luke’s Joint puts together flavors like no-one else, with sublime results. His food is delicious, flavored with unusual combinations to startle and delight your taste buds – all for very affordable prices. Watch this guy – he’s going to be really, really famous!”

Lavendar Waffles with Whipped Cream, White Raspberry and Raspberry Beat Sauce from Luke's Joint

Funny, Sandlin said something similar.

“Mark my words, he’ll be famous someday.”

Luke’s Joint is also a proud server of Kinetic Koffee, a gourmet micro roaster in Arcata who specializes in “super-premium, certified organic coffees from around the world.” They also mention “each of our roasts is custom designed with distinctive profiles.”

When making purchases for equipment, Patterson stays with Central, which was something Sandlin hadn’t expected right away. After all, when Patterson first came to us, it was only for squeeze bottles for his barbeque sauce.

For some reason, Sandlin said he just stuck with Patterson. Perhaps it was Patterson’s vibrant personality or the fact that he is just so interesting to talk to. Now, tables have turned and Patterson does smaller orders like squeeze bottles locally but chooses Central for his larger orders.

Speaking of local, local is the center of everything Patterson does. All purchases and decisions are made from a local standpoint from the food to the landscaping.

“Even ordering through you guys, if I can’t install it, I’ll have someone local install.”

And while many restaurants are still trying to find their way through the economic downturn, Patterson’s business has been successful enough that he is not only opening up another restaurant, but just recently opened another food cart as well.

Los Bagels Chocolate Croissant and Espresso Kinetic Koffee from Luke's Joint

On September 11, he will be opening “The Other Place,” which he described as a high end fine dining restaurant, located at 660 K Street in Arcata, just blocks away from the plaza.

“With The Other Place, I’m shooting for the stars,” he said with excitement in his voice. “I’m a pretty humble guy but we’re shooting for the stars with that place. Trying things no one has tried. It’s adventurous and daring.”

Then Patterson has brought everything full circle by opening a food cart, called “The Other Cart, Reincartnated MMXI” (2011), which debuted on Saturday July 23.  It will mostly cater to vegans and vegetarians at an excellent price point and will both use and feature products from local farmers.  They will sell salads and other items such as quinoa, kus kus, etc., and will charge by the ounce— $2 per ounce.

“I’m really thrilled of the potential of having this complete offering, price wise,” Patterson says.

Jada Brotman of Arcata, who recently opened her own food cart called “Queen Doubles” is inspired by Patterson’s passion and determination to provide great local food.

“He’s committed to the community and local foods.  He’s a real asset to our community, but he’s helped change the local food scene for the better,” she said.  “We take everything for granted; local grains, meat, etc.”

Brotman reflected on the point many restaurants use other companies states away to obtain their food. She said for Patterson, he uses farmers that aren’t too far away which have better food and don’t charge as much.

“In other places, after the green revolution in the 70’s when foods were mass produced and cheaper, people got used to the idea to buy from foreign counties, but there are a lot of amazing farmers in our own states,” she added.

Patterson (middle) with John Severn, and son Jasper, of Little River Farm, photo from the Luke's Joint Facebook Page

Brotman also said Patterson has been a mentor and inspiration to her.

“I’ve always been into local, but his absolute commitment has helped me make personal sacrifices and changes in both business and personal.”

For more information about Luke’s Joint, visit their Facebook page.

Houlihan’s: A Foursquare Success

The location-based social media site, Foursquare, is gaining popularity among millions of mobile app users worldwide and also for over 250,000 (and counting) businesses—many being restaurants. With over eight million users and over 2.5 million check-in’s per day, this is another great advertising tool for restaurants. Best of all, it’s free and doesn’t take much time at all.

Russ Chargualaf, executive chef of Houlihan’s of Castleton Square and social media liaison of Houlihan’s Indiana, began using Foursquare on a personal level with friends when he realized how great of a marketing tool it could be.

“Our location (Castleton Square, Indianapolis) was the first location in the company to utilize Foursquare,” he says. “Today, over 61 of our locations across the country utilize it!”

To give some background from the Foursquare website, smartphone app or SMS users can check-in places with their smartphone to share locations and collect points and badges. Users can also bookmark information and browse through suggestions about nearby venues.

For merchants, Foursquare says they can “leverage the foursquare platform by utilizing a wide set of tools to obtain, engage, and retain customers and audiences”—which is exactly what Houlihan’s is doing.

Image: Houlihan’s Logo

Through Foursquare, Chargualaf says the entire company has a promotion for customers to receive a complimentary order of “frites” upon every check-in.  Also, the Mayor of each location (user with the most number of days of check-ins at a specific place within the past 60 days) receives 10 percent off all food items.

The Castleton Square location has taken “a more aggressive” approach by giving a free dessert upon each check-in and first time Mayors receive a $25 gift certificate.  This aggressive approach has helped build Houlihan’s sales tremendously.

Chargualaf uses Foursquare to create a personal experience for guests.  He has seen Mayors change three times in a week before and since he can monitor all check-ins, if Chargualaf notices a guest comes in consistently but hasn’t been a Mayor, he will call and have the manager find that person and buy them dinner.

“This is just another way to utilize Foursquare as a loyalty tool and reward our guests for coming in all the time.”

Chargualaf also said they’ve implemented Foursquare into their employee orientation program because they want their guests to be well educated about how it works.

Another interesting use of Foursquare is adding Tips (notes left on a venue for friends and other foursquare users).

In Houlihan’s case, at every hotel or motel within a mile, Chargualaf will put in a Tip welcoming someone to Houlihan’s with a short history, specials and hours.  Also, he’s been creative by creating a Tip for Midas and other car repair shops that says, “Just got your bill? Come and share your sorrows with us.  Half off drinks all day, everyday at Houlihan’s Castleton Square Mall.”

“It’s simple things like these that are free yet, build business and bring in money,” Chargualaf says.

By using these methods, he has witnessed people from out of the area become regulars by visiting once a month just based on a Tip they received upon checking into their hotel.

“We also utilize Foursquare for our Social Media Tweetups (gathering of Twitter users) that we hold once a month,” Chargualaf says—with their next event being on June 1.

Houlihan’s is one of many restaurants successfully using Foursquare to bring in customers and create a memorable experience for them.  While many people are still skeptical of using this social media platform, or find it a waste of time for their business, it really can be a great tool for both users and businesses to come together.

Lastly, if you’re in the Indianapolis area, be sure to check-in the Central showroom.

Image from MorgueFile

5 Reasons for Restaurants to Buy Locally Grown and Raised Food

Spring is in the air and that means a bigger abundance and variety of locally grown and raised food is available.  However, the home cook now has a little competition when getting the best of the best at the Farmer’s Market or the local butcher shop.  Many restaurants are joining in on the farm-to-table movement as well.  This one-time trend is becoming more and more common in the restaurant world, but can be quite a daunting move to make.   This shift in food sourcing can present many distinct advantages to make your restaurant stand out while boosting your bottom line.  It’s important to look at all of the facts and how they will work for your particular business model before making the leap into becoming a literal local hotspot.  To help with this we’ve compiled five reasons why you’re restaurant could benefit from making the switch to locally sourced products.

1)      Food is fresher and healthier

According to a list compiled by Julie Stehling for exploreasheville.com, “Small, local farms are less likely to use hormones and more likely to raise grass fed or free-range animals, and organically-grown vegetables.”

Produce and other items from nearby farms are also often sold within 24 hours of being harvested which means the items haven’t had to travel very far, be handled by many people or had time to sit in storage for any length of time.  Alternatively, “Fruits and vegetables shipped from distant states and countries can spend as many as seven to fourteen days in transit before they arrive in the supermarket,” says foodroutes.org.

Image from MorgueFile2)      Support local economy

Lauren Carey, manager of the Peachtree Road Farmers Market in Georgia says, “If each household in Georgia spent $10 on locally grown produce, it would boost the state economy by $1.9 billion.”  This boost is even bigger when many restaurants around a city/state are purchasing their daily food supply from a similar local source

3)     Improve the environment

Because food from other states and countries has to be shipped to your restaurant there is a massive amount of gas and pollution associated with non-local items.  With item sourced from nearby farms, the food is often driven from the farm to the market or even from the farm to your restaurant (depending on your relationship with the farmer).

4)      It’s good for business

In the past few years, the farm-to-table movement has become increasingly popular and in order to keep up with the times as well as customer demand more and more restaurants are beginning to search out local sources to find items grown close to home.   The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program says, “Chefs and restaurant patrons pay premium prices for top-quality, distinctive, locally grown products.”  They add that, “An increasing number of restaurants identify farms in their menu item descriptions and in other promotions.”  This alone can boost your restaurants reputation as not only a trendy locavore spot, but also a supporter and promoter of other local businesses.

5)      Seasonality forces menu rotation

By depending on the seasons to dictate what products are available, it can pose both a tricky and creative challenge for your restaurants kitchen.  If your business loves to change things up from time to time, buying local can provide the perfect opportunity.   While it may upset some customer that your famous dessert featuring strawberries won’t be available in January, many more will appreciate the new options and know that the ingredients that make it are as fresh as possible.

For more sources on finding local food visit the following sites:

We’d love to hear from you as well.  Do you or your restaurant use a local source for produce, meat and/or other products?  Why or why not?