Thursday, June 15, 2017

Restaurant Catering an Essential Guide

  As most Restaurantuers know, off-premises catering can be a cash cow for operators, but it’s not all easy money, menu development and food prep are key factors.   June 2017 Kitchen

     Six months after opening her restaurant, Chef Amy Brandwein launched an off-site catering business. It was a good move. Now, catering constitutes 5 percent of Centrolina’s revenue, but that’s not why she started it.  “It’s a good part of our business but it’s not huge,” says Brandwein, who opened Centrolina in Washington, D.C., in June 2015. “It’s important for how we service our customers—if they want to have our experience but have it somewhere else, it’s important for us to provide it.”
     Catering is appealing to full-service restaurants for the reason Brandwein states, and of course from a financial standpoint. The margins alone can make it worthwhile. Typically, says Howard Cannon, president of Restaurant Expert Witness, a consulting firm in Birmingham, Alabama, margins are 35 to 45 percent for the food, comparing favorably with a restaurant’s typical margins of 10 to 18 percent (and the drinks pan out even better: 60 to 80 percent). But off-premises catering is a challenging business, and one that should be debuted only after much consideration, research, and financial reckoning.  “If you’re not great at hospitality, quality, service, cleanliness, and accuracy in your restaurant I would not go off-site,” Cannon says.  However, catering is what Cannon calls “a cash cow,” and allows restaurant operators to rack up much profit for several reasons: There’s no overhead, since the restaurant is using an existing kitchen; they can buy in bulk because they have exact guest numbers; they can prepare food in bulk; and they can increase prices because of the expectation of a special event.


     Get paid upfront.  Cash flow is critical, so try to get paid in advance.  Try for at least 50 percent, so you'll break even. 
     Bear in mind foods can serve a double purpose.  An example is baked potatoes which when wrapped in aluminum foil, hold and transmit
     heat for about three hours and keep other foods hot!

     To limit over-consumption at an event with stations, have servers dish up the foods.  Also, be careful where you place foods on the Buffet
     line, place expensive items like shrimp toward the end, so by the time guests see it, their plate is already full with the foods that have a
     higher profit margin.

    Allow twice as much time to set up an Event as you anticipate it will take, there will always be surprises! 
 Starting Points
     Sandy Korem lives and loves catering. She’s the owner of two gourmet food shops in Dallas, Texas, and has run an off-site catering business called The Festive Kitchen for 25 years. She also runs a catering consultancy business, The Catering Coach. Korem leaves a lot of menu decisions to guests. She says offering sample menus at different prices works best, then they can customize from there.  “If you offer customers complete à la carte choices it’s overwhelming and you lose them,” she says. So she starts off with a one pager of four or five sample menus of appetizers and entrées. What stalls the process, Korem says, is when people won’t reveal their budget, or don’t know it. So she nudges them by suggesting a menu for $50 per head, for example. This usually prompts the customer to go up or down.
     She’ll also work backward to get to the food costs they can afford by estimating average costs for staffing, equipment, glassware and tableware, location rental, beverages, gratuity, and administration fee—this helps hosts realize what they can spend on the food.  Once she’s locked in the menu, she’ll talk desserts and beverages, which are priced separately, since that’s how it’s done in a restaurant.

     When creating your menus and menu prices, it’s vital, says Korem, to cost your recipes. “If you don’t know what it costs, the entire thing is a crapshoot.” She recommends aiming for a profit margin of 67 percent. “You want to sell food for three times its cost,” she says, “and for beverages you want to at least double that.” 
     D’Amico Catering has been providing off-premises events in Minnesota and Florida for 25 years and now has seven full-service restaurants in those two states.  The company, which caters 3,500 to 4,000 events per year, starts with a proposed menu, which clients can completely customize. This isn’t how it’s always been. Rachel Bruzek, senior creative event and culinary trend specialist, says when she started with the company 18 years ago, most guests simply picked from the standard menus. “Now it’s all customized and everyone knows everything about food.”  The best way through the menu process, Bruzek has found, is to chat by phone or in person first, which is faster than email and more personal. “It doesn’t matter what our product is, at the end of the day, it’s how the relationship is built, and having that contact is huge. It’s about whether your personalities match. Do you see the person’s vision? 

     The food for Centrolina’s catering business is similar to the seasonal Italian fare Brandwein serves in the restaurant. But she doesn’t serve exactly the same food. “It’s more standardized because you have to appeal to a wide range of tastes. We do authentic, edgy Italian, so for catering it’s not as edgy; it’s safer.”  Brandwein works with food margins for catering that are around 10 percentage points higher than at the restaurant, with even greater margins for beverages. 
     About a quarter of the catered food prepared by Russo’s Restaurants—a Houston, Texas–based chain with seven full-service restaurants as well as 38 fast casuals—are for full-service events. The remainder of the catering business is dropped-off food, sometimes with chafing dishes.  Full-service catering entails mostly pasta and pizza. “We do the things we are known for,” says founder and president Anthony Russo. Luckily, both hold up well. Sometimes the company takes equipment to an event so chefs can cook on-site and keep food at temperature.  For pizza, chefs make it at the restaurant and put it in a hot unit, which keeps it warm for 90 minutes or so until an event. Russo prefers this to a delivery bag, which would render the pizza soggy.

     Russo’s catering profit margins are good—50 percent on food and 70 percent on beverages. “We’re preparing in bulk and I’m using my current labor—their hourly wage is still the same—and my rent doesn’t go up, so those are great advantages,” Russo says. “And it’s one way of reaching new consumers—they eat great food then discover it came from Russo’s.”
     Cactus, a five-location full-service chain of Southwestern/Mexican/Spanish food in Seattle, has been offering off-premises catering for 10 years. Like Russo’s, Cactus offers different types of catering. It has “party pickup,” where everything is packaged in a box with details on how to assemble a burrito, taco, etc. This part of the business is growing the fastest, says culinary director Brent Novotny, “Because the program is convenient and allows our customers to have a restaurant experience at home. It is scalable, and the easy ordering and packaging make it simple.” 

     The second area is business delivery, which is mostly a lunch business, with a $500 minimum; and finally, there’s the full-service catering, for events serving 100 guests on average.  Mostly, Novotny says, the chain’s Mexican food holds up fine. One thing that doesn’t, however, is nachos, so he’ll steer people away from them. “If they insist on having them—which is rare—we work on an alternative packaging and presentation to make them the best we can.”
     Unlike other caterers, Cactus does a lot of cooking on-site at events “because the food is a closer representation of what you’d get at our restaurant.” But sometimes the company will transport hot food, if there’s no kitchen at the event site. Either way, chefs usually visit the site first “so we know what we’re getting into. We don’t like surprises,” Novotny says.

Start-Up Advice
     Getting a catering business launched is half of the challenge. Korem recommends operators start with small events and very few events. “If you screw up it’ll take so much longer to regain what you’ve lost since the people from that event will talk to everybody,” she says.

     When launching off-premises catering, restaurant operators need to be very careful with their pricing, Cannon says. “Everyone thinks if they under price, customers will come. But really, although a lot of people talk price, they want value and reliability. So if you happen to be a bit more expensive, they’re fine so long as they get value. It’s a special event so it carries more weight.”
      It’s a good idea to start with what you know, says Stephen Zagor, dean of culinary business at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. “If you have a niche, have that be your bread and butter to start with. Once you have catering in your stride, you can move into new frontiers,” he says. When Brandwein opened Centrolina, she wanted to spend some time getting the restaurant established before she moved into catering. She ended up launching it for the holidays, when regular clients asked what she could do, and built it slowly from there. 

Transporting Food
     D’Amico Catering gets all food and equipment to events using its fleet of trucks and a smaller van. To transport tableware it uses “poker chips”—heavy holders for stacking plates and cups. Food is always transported in hot or cold Cambro containers or cabinetsIt’s important to remember to start refrigerated trucks early, Bruzek says, so the unit is very cold before food goes in.

     Korem is a fan of online supplier Catering Crate, which has white boxes with polystyrene at the top and bottom that will keep hot food at temperature for three hours. For cold food, she suggests ice chests on wheels.  The transportation vessel of choice for Brandwein is fish boxes—lightweight plastic sealable boxes that hold food really well. She fills these with ice for cold foods. She also likes small soup pans, which have plastic tops that are clipped into place. The lids serve a double purpose, she says: They protect food and provide a hard surface to stack onto. 
Forbidden Foods

     Serving catered food that’s been prepared in bulk, often hours before it is consumed, is a game of food safety techniques, timing, and using the correct equipment. “Some foods just do not lend themselves to being served in a catered setting,” Korem says.
     To maintain the integrity of food and have everything cooked or cooled and ready to go at the right time, D’Amico Catering constructs a timeline on paper. The lead chefs have this, and it’s sometimes posted for servers to see, too. “We don’t go by the minute for our timeline, just because you have to remain fluid because things happen at events,” Bruzek says.

     Korem also writes a timeline, “to let everyone know what will happen at what time. So all the staff can see it and it’s right where they’re doing the prep work.”  As for what to serve, while much of it comes down to trial and error, Korem advises against fried foods, which simply end up soggy and needing to be refried, she says.   Some foods she’ll cook up to a certain stage and then finish at the event, such as a phyllo tartlet or select meats, which she’ll cook 75 percent of the way then finish off for 10 minutes. Desserts—like crème brûlée and cakes—typically need some kind of finishing.
     Korem is a big proponent of pre-testing—making dishes and then holding them to see how they are after several hours. Stuffed mushrooms, she says, are shriveled after being held. But she’s found they work if she par-cooks them and finishes them off in a Sterno Warming Cabinet. “Do your homework,” she says. “What works in a restaurant doesn’t necessarily work in catering.”

     D’Amico’s Bruzek tries to steer clients away from roasted vegetables, which will be limp by the time they’re served, so she encourages them to be dished up at room temperature as much as possible. “Room temperature is the answer to a lot of things,” she says. She also advises against layer cakes. Buttercream is so slippery and fondant can easily crack—so someone usually builds cakes on-site.
     For Brandwein, fresh pasta is a big no-no for catered buffets, since it ends up in a blob-like format. Instead, she encourages clients to think of risotto or something similar.  Desserts are another problem since they’re delicate and can get bumped around. Chocolate glazes and ice cream can melt, and delicate desserts and decorations mostly don’t look great upon arrival. Dishes that transport well, Brandwein says, include panna cotta, bunet (an Italian flan cake), cannoli, and polenta cake.

     There’s always something that goes wrong at catered events, and Howard Cannon advises clients to expect the 20 percent rule: “Twenty percent of everything you think is going to be spot-on will be spot-off.”  Something always goes wrong behind the scenes at a catered event, Korem says. “Personally I like the challenge of it, that each event is different. It’s not the same-old, same-old. Every day is different.”

To prevent small errors from being noticed, or from becoming bigger errors, Cannon recommends operators under-commit and over-deliver. “If you under-deliver, clients and guests never forget it.” 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Foods Trends 2017

     What's the #1 Food Trend for 2017?  New Cuts of Meat and Hyper-local sourcing was cited as the No.1 concept trend for the new year by the National Restaurant Association. Its 2017 Culinary Forecast offers a peak into the themes and menu items that will prevail in 2017. Examples of hyper-local sourcing include restaurants with gardens on site and house-made items. The local theme extends to locally sourced produce, meat and seafood.

     At least 70 percent of the 1,300 professional chefs surveyed by the NRA  ranked new cuts of meat (e.g. shoulder tender and oyster steak), street food-inspired dishes (e.g. tempura and pupusas) and healthful kids’ meals as hot trends for the new year.

     Here’s what made the list of trends that are heating up: Poke, house-made charcuterie, street food-inspired dishes, food halls (like a food court), ramen, breakfast burritos/tacos, house-made condiments, and lumberjack breakfast/fry-up.
Items that made the perennial favorites list include: fish and chips, French toast, bacon, mashed/pureed potatoes, barbecue, comfort foods (think chicken pot pie), shellfish, cannoli, bread pudding and zucchini.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How New Refrigerant Regulations will Impact Your Restaurant

     New refrigeration regulations developed by the Environmental Protection Agency are impacting a foodservice operator’s decision to repair or replace an existing piece of equipment. Last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency released rules that ban some refrigerants that the foodservice industry relies on most, including R404A, R507 and R134A. The rules, designed to limit the release of chemicals that contribute to global warming, will phase out these refrigerants over the next few years. Manufacturers will soon choose replacement refrigerants and adjust their product engineering to use these chemicals as safely and efficiently as possible.
     These regulations don’t impact factories alone, however. Starting now, foodservice operators should take these rules into account when making refrigeration decisions, says Scott Hester, chief operating officer of Dallas-based Refrigerated Specialists, Inc., and past president of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association.

     Whenever a piece of equipment needs service, one obvious question arises: repair or replace? These regulations, Hester says, will influence this decision while also presenting operators with a third option: retrofit.

     Owners of Refrigeration that use the banned refrigerants can expect to get hammered by the law of supply and demand, says Hester. As these refrigerants become less available, their price will almost certainly skyrocket.  This has happened before,  in the mid-1990s, R12 was banned due to its effect on the ozone layer. Prior to the ban, it cost about $0.75 a pound - cheap enough that Hester used to fill the tires on his dirt bike with it. Following the ban that price rose dramatically, eventually reaching as much as $90 per pound, he said.

     Hester expects something similar to happen with R404 and the other banned refrigerants. That means operators simply looking to recharge their boxes could easily spend hundreds of dollars on refrigerants alone.  Given that spike in price, the market will likely step in with R404 alternatives. These interim refrigerants, Hester said, are typically a cocktail of chemicals that behave like R404 and can be used in R404 Refrigerators.  These alternatives may end up being cheaper than R404 so they may make sense for some operations, but they’ll almost certainly have drawbacks, added Hester. Because they’ll only approximate another refrigerant, interim refrigerants usually cause their boxes to operate less efficiently. This leads to higher electricity consumption, longer recovery times and shorter compressor lives, he said. 

     Given the added expense of repairing R404 Refrigerators and the potential pitfalls of interim refrigerants, many operators will decide to simply replace a malfunctioning unit. In these cases, Hester recommends operators seek a piece of equipment that uses one of the new refrigerants. Indeed, some manufacturers already make units that use these chemicals. Over the long term, a Refrigerator that uses the new refrigerants will be a much better investment than one that uses a banned refrigerant.  “If you avoid the new refrigerants for some reason, you’re going to have the last generation of equipment...that has the old refrigerant,” Hester said. “They’re going to be the most expensive to keep ahold of. You won’t get the full lifecycle out of that last one. It’s going to end up getting prematurely retired because of ownership expenses at the tail end of the lifecycle.”

     Then there’s the third option, retrofitting an old unit to operate on the new refrigerants when they become available. This is a relatively simple process, Hester said. A service agent will draw the old refrigerant out of the system and then replace it with the new refrigerant. In some cases, the agent will also have to change the type of oil used in the compressor. All told, this extra labor should add about ⅓ to the normal cost of adding refrigerant to a unit, he said.
     Hester noted that retrofitting a unit, even if it’s in great shape, isn’t always the best option. While retrofitting makes economic sense for bigger, more expensive pieces of equipment like walk-ins and large reach-ins, the extra cost doesn’t add up for smaller refrigerators like undercounter units.  In general, these pieces take extra time to service: Their smaller size mean components are harder to access and calibration takes longer. Combine the overall cost of retrofitting with the relatively low replacement cost, and the better deal will often be just buying a new refrigerator. For just a few hundred extra dollars, operators can get a brand new, fully-warrantied piece of equipment, he said.

     The decision to repair, replace or retrofit refrigeration is one that practically every operator will need to make as the new EPA regulations take effect. These decisions will depend on an operator’s tolerance for risk and ability to make a capital expenditure. Come decision time, though, Hester encouraged operators to consider not just the next few weeks, but the next few years, adding that the need to replace often comes sooner than an operator thinks.

     “I’d be inclined to say invest in the future....There’s a smart time to get off [a piece of equipment],” he said.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Millennial's are Changing the Restaurant Industry

     Most sources agree that the group known as Millennials started becoming adults around the year 2000, setting off a major shift in business as usual for the Restaurant industry. This group of now 18 to 34 year olds has launched and grew social media, gradually filling it with pictures and reviews of Restaurant's food and service. They became more conscious consumers seeking sustainability and more ethical food choices from fast food to fine dining and popularized “eating clean” and made feel good food terms such as “natural,” “whole,” and “organic” mainstream and a must-have for menus.

     Research indicates that the group’s restaurant spending is growing, and insight into their habits may help Restaurants earn a bigger share of that business.  They are changing the landscape of the industry and seeking to exceed the expectations of a very vocal and empowered consumer group.  
Taste Dominates

Whether it’s the segment of Millennials that is focusing more on taste and cost or the segments focusing more heavily on health and nutrition, the flavor of food matters.  This generation has high expectations for taste and isn’t afraid to let restaurants, friends, peers and followers know whether or not those expectations have been met.  Restaurants are now in a position to dominate when embracing fresher, more flavorful ingredients and creatively combining tastes and textures on the menu to maximize flavor profiles of both standard menu items and new choices.  Culinary creativity across segments is a must to deliver.  Whatever your guests are ordering, a nutritious option or an indulgence, a high-end sit down meal or a quick-serve combo, taste should dominate.

Healthy Redefined
One of the most talked-about characteristics of Millennials is their shifting perception of “healthy.”  In previous generations, the term may have equated to low-calorie or low-fat choices that lacked delicious appeal, but this is no longer the case.  Guests are increasingly following a more total diet approach with a focus on what they should be eating vs. what they shouldn’t be eating.  Today, consumers seeking healthier choices are often looking for:
  • More Fruits and Vegetables on the menu.  Research indicates that many consumers in this age group are actively trying to eat more of these whole foods and are passing this habit on to their kids.  This trend ties in to other popular movements gaining momentum such as meatless options, ancient grains and healthier kids’ menus.  Many restaurants are now offering more plant-based choices and additional fruit and vegetable side options to meet guest expectations and position their brand as a choice that Millennials can feel good about.
  • More Whole Foods.  “Transparency” and “eating clean” are both buzzwords for this group of guests.  Many Millennials now delve deeper into food choices to limit additives and more processed ingredients, increase organic choices and even avoid allergens in their diets.  Restaurants are rising to the challenge by offering an assortment of menu choices made with whole foods such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, working with vendors to source less processed products and provide ingredient lists, allergens and nutrition information for guests.  Some brands are even going so far as to work with nutrition experts to provide the best choices for guests.  This shift gives guests the opportunity to make the best choices for their needs and lifestyle while Restaurants build trust in their brand.  
  • More Sustainable Choices.  Many Millennials seek to eat more consciously than ever before, and this tendency has carried over to Restaurants.  In fact, local and sustainable changes make up many of the top culinary trends identified by the National Restaurant Association.  Tapping into the sustainability trend may start with small steps such as a handful of seasonal offerings and sourcing more local ingredients.  Some Restaurants are making more comprehensive moves to earn a reputation for sustainability with revamped décor, kitchen procedures and extensive menu choices all designed with the more eco-conscious consumer in mind.

     While there are still some traditionalists in the Millennial age group that may not follow the trends, many in the generation have begun to see food as a more powerful choice for health and wellness.  Faced with rising rates of obesity and diabetes that show little sign of slowing, an overload of health messages and information, and faster-paced, more stressful lives, this generation has taken a less clinical view of health.

     Restaurants can win with Millennials by offering an assortment of interesting, beautiful, flavorful and more healthful menu choices that guests can connect to personal wellness and a more balanced life.  It’s no longer as simple as calories or fat, good foods and bad foods.  Resonating with this group means offering menu choices that can help empower guests to live their best life.  

     Millennials have without a doubt changed the restaurant industry and how we do business, especially when it comes to health.  Restaurants big and small have an opportunity to connect with this group by using creativity and healthful ingredients to help them power their best lives.  In addition, menu labeling compliance can help restaurants shine through, not only through the taste and presentation of offerings but also through the nutrition information you provide.  Tap into this opportunity to help win Millennials.
How are you tapping into the trends to earn Millennials’ business?


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Organized Bar is a Profitable Bar

An Organized Bar can be a profitable Bar.  Behind the Bar is undoubtedly a cramped place to work, but it also affords the bar team the opportunity to truly own their space. From the way they organize themselves and their products to the grace required during service when in full view of guests, bartending demands both efficiency and cleanliness. The concept of “everything in its place,” a phrase often heard in the kitchen, is paramount to ensuring your bar area is inviting, sanitary, professional and, therefore, as profitable as it can be.

“Bars are like icebergs,” said bartender Chris Elford, who is opening two new bars in Seattle this year. “If you can see mistakes on the surface, things are seriously messed up underneath.” On the other hand, a bar that is gleaming in its cleanliness and organization showcases the talents of its staff, and can entice customers to saddle up for a front row view.

Customers might be surprised to learn that a well-organized bar is run much like a military outpost. The location of each bottle, glass and toolsl, as well as the procedures for making and serving drinks, must be analyzed thoroughly by management for the utmost effectiveness.

Prep for success

The first step is setting up for success. “Efficiency and speed, consistency of service, and attention to detail all revolve around being intentional with your organization,” Elford said. “The French culinary term for this is mise en place [which roughly translates as “everything in its place”] which basically means that things are going to be exactly where they need to be, every time you need them. This enables you to get faster at your job through muscle memory — much like a baseball pitcher moving his body the same every time. It takes something you used to think of consciously and makes it subconscious.”

Design your workspace so that you have the things you use the most closest to you “You want to move hands, not feet.”, Elford said. A bar with a robust cocktail program requires a setup that is not only intuitive, but also consistent.  By simply having your bar set up to reflect that will mean your staff can take fewer steps to accomplish each task.

“We keep our garnish, juice and batches organized and in logical order, so we have immediate and speedy access to them during service,” said Michael McAvena, beverage manager for Heisler Hospitality, which runs multiple bar and dining concepts in Chicago. “We ask that our bartenders set their wells up and maintain them in a similar fashion at each location, so if needed, someone can step in and assist them. During closing, we run standardized procedures so everything is clean and put back in the same place. This ensures that bartenders and barbacks are not wasting time to search for things.” And when it comes to smooth service and ensuring your guests are happy, every extra second counts.

Counting Cocktails

Operationally speaking, if your management team has ensured that the bar is organized smartly, that the staff is well trained, and that the product mix is appropriate for your concept, yet you are still having timing issues, analyzing the number of cocktails you offer could be the next logical step.

“I often recommend shortening the cocktail menu,” Elford said. “You'd be amazed how much neater things get when you are reaching for a few less ingredients each round.”

‘Reset to zero’

The crush of service can be an unwieldy beast to navigate. But no matter how busy things get, it’s imperative to ensure that your bartenders are working in a clean, efficient manner. Vincent Favella, bar manager at The Fourth and the Singl Lounge in the Hyatt Union Square in New York City, has an expression for this: “Reset to zero.”  “We like to use this phrase regularly,” Favella said. “If it plays in your head constantly, it forces you to do adopt it. Basically, if you start something, finish it, and keep all things straight and neat.”

Washing tools between the making of each drink and returning the bottles to their designated places may seem to slow things down, but in reality, it allows bartenders to find what they need without hesitation.  And if something goes missing?  “Don't let the guest see you panic,” said Elford. “Remember that no matter how busy you are, you can always give a smile and tell a waiting guest you'll be right with them.”

Be like a duck: Keep calm on the surface, but paddle like crazy underneath.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Establish a cleaning routine for tables as they turn over


First impressions are important, you don't want to give your Customers the wrong impression because your tables haven't been bused or your Restaurant is not clean.  Restaurants can get hectic, especially during peak service periods. Protect your guests and maintain a polished image by creating a front-of-house routine for cleaning tables and other food contact surfaces. Here are some tips for turning your plan into action:
  • Select the right cleaning and sanitizing tools. Some establishments treat front-of-house surfaces by applying cleaning and sanitizing solutions, stored in designated buckets or Spray Bottle Solutions, to disposable towels. Others choose to use pretreated cleaning and sanitizing wipes. Pick the method that works for you.
  • Reduce cross-contamination threats. Designate particular tools, such as a bucket of sanitizer, specifically for food contact surfaces; that bucket should not also be utilized in the cleaning of the trash area, which is not considered a food contact surface. Clearly labeling your tools and using disposable towels or wipes can curtail germ spread.
  • Assign roles. During employee onboarding training, show employees your cleaning and sanitizing processes for front-of-house surfaces. Answer any questions they may have. Specify cleaning responsibilities for each staff role and your expectations regarding cleaning frequency. Food code requires establishments to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces after each use.
  • Conduct ongoing reviews and training. Ensure employees conduct these procedures correctly and consistently; implement ongoing training and demonstrations specific to cleaning and sanitizing.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Strange Food Trends of 2015

     A lot happened in 2015.  In 2015 we saw a lot of stories, fittingly, about food. From new inventions like caffeinated peanut butter and chocolate slices, to new-to-us concepts like eating bugs, and strange food-preparation methods like making soup in a Keurig and eating at a restaurant without human workers, the foods of 2015 felt like they came straight out of the future.
     From the crazy (24-karat gold Kit Kats) to the depressing (Norovirus at Chipotle) to the completely bizarre (FATwater) in 2015, it can’t help but feel like we saw it all. Maybe all this food news means we can come away from the year with a heightened sense of awareness about our food supply, or maybe it just means, as a culture, we have finally taken our food obsession too far. But whatever we decide to take away from this year’s food inventions, let us not forget the highs and lows that brought us here, to the end of the journey of our crazy edible year.

Caffeinated peanut butter
Coffee and peanut butter are, to me, two good things that do not need fixing. Yet caffeinated peanut butter, otherwise known as STEEM, is doing just that. The food fusion aims at “providing a consistent release of sustained energy” through the naturally slow digestion of peanut butter. STEEM’s mission is to free you from the humanly distractions of hunger and fatigue in one convenient jar. And a lot of people got very excited about this when STEEM first came out, because apparently we have become too busy to be expected to drink coffee and eat breakfast at the same time. The whole sentiment seems kind of depressing, like we are eventually going to get to a place where we stop enjoying food entirely and sustain ourselves off grey scientific nutrient paste. Wait, that already happened last year…

Chocolate slices
These are really amazing and it’s hard to believe it took us this long to figure it out. And unlike chocolate spreads, you don’t even need to dirty a knife. Chocolate slices make you realize that anything really is possible, all while wondering what other foods we’re missing out on by not slicing… Anyone?

Activated Charcoal Juice
While 2015 saw no shortage of cold-pressed juiceries, this year we saw liquid bottles of inky black activated charcoal slowly start to replace 2014’s vision of quintessential health: the green juice. Activated charcoal has been traditionally used in medicine to treat poisonings due to its ability to prevent the absorption of chemicals inside the body. Today the juice world touts activated charcoal as the latest answer in our never-ending quest to rid the body of those pesky every day toxins that we seem unable to escape… until now?

Hangover curing salami
Serious Pig, a London-based craft meat business introduced the world to its first hangover curing salami this year. The salami allegedly works as a preventative measure and is supposed to be eaten while you’re still drinking. It boasts ginger and chili to combat the two common hangover symptoms of nausea and fatigue, and is appropriately called Hangover Cured. Ginger is known to help with nausea, and chilli is an endorphin booster, meaning that while there is no scientific evidence to Hangover Cured, eating some when you’ve had one too many could make you feel a little better in the morning. 

Otherwise known as “the protein of the future,” TIME Magazine called eating bugs a food trend of 2015, and they weren’t wrong. While in 2014 we heard a lot of talk of eating bugs, the discussions were mostly centered around how gross and unrealistic the eating bugs would be. But in 2015, as we begun to better understand the meat industry’s impact on the environment, we watched bugs mature into a serious, sustainable food option. Gourmet bug recipe books and inventions like cricket flour and cricket chips helped some move past the creepy crawly factor, and we realized over two billion people around the world already consider bugs a dietary staple.

Super-elaborate milkshakes
Want a milkshake as big as your head and absolutely stuffed with all kinds of sweet goodies? I mean, who doesn’t. That’s why a tiny cafe in Australia called Patissez went crazy viral with pictures of their fully wonderful, if a tad over-the-top, milkshake creations. I mean, look at them!

Savory yogurt
Chef Dan Barber’s family farm in the Berkshires Blue Hill Farms, which supplies produce for Chef Barber’s famous farm-to table restaurants in New York City and Pocantico Hills, New York, brought savoury yogurt to our attention in 2015. Available in seasonal flavors like butternut squash, carrot, tomato, and beet, Blue Hill Farm’s savory yogurts turned Americans onto the idea that yogurt doesn’t have to be sweet. Chef Dan Barber is a long-time food environmentalist pioneer, and author of The Third Plate where he also argues eating less meat could help the environment. It seems Barber has his fingerprints all over the food trends of 2015.

24-karat gold Kit Kats
Nestle Japan’s Kit Kat Chocolatory sold its 1 millionth chocolate bar this year and released edible gold-plated Kit Kats to celebrate, giving us a real life Wonka experience.

Burger King’s black burger
Burger King’s infamous black burger, which originally launched in Japan, came to America this year just in time for Halloween. The charcoal burger was an intriguing mix of terrifying and exciting until we found out the dye used to turn the bun black caused people who ate the burger to poop green. Then it was just terrifying.

Keurig soup
You can now make chicken noodle soup in your coffee-making Keurig machine and I’m not sure we will ever recover from this. After the world realized how horrible Keurig’s K-cups are for the environment, the company had a horrible year sales-wise, eventually leading it to partner with Campbell’s in hopes of boosting sales by revitalizing their brand to include soup. Campbell’s marketing director Michael Goodman declared the innovation a “winning idea.” Time will tell if the people agree.

FATwater is a 20 calories water beverage with two grams of medium chain triglyceride fat derived from coconut oil per serving. It was invented by the founder of Bulletproof Coffee, you know, the trend that has everyone adding butter and oil to their coffee in hopes of losing weight? FATwater bills itself as a type of sports drinks. But instead of the immediate energy boost you get from other sugary sports drinks, FATwater aims at providing sustainable energy that doesn’t cause you to crash, claiming to also be “more hydrating” than regular water. But some researchers have disagreed with FATwater’s claims, stating that the type of fat in FATwater doesn’t actually give drinkers any energy at all, and that water hydrates the body on its own just fine. That’s a relief, because at $35.95 for a 12-pack, switching to FATwater won’t come cheap.

While self-serve kiosks have been slowly creeping into fast food restaurants for a while, 2015 saw an entirely different type of service: no human workers. Restaurants with no visible human help are called automats, and began popping up in America in 2015. San Francisco saw its first automat in the form of Eatsa, a healthy fast-food eatery with no cashiers or wait staff, requiring customers to place orders on tablets and receive their food at self-serve cubbies. Some claimed the rise of automats is linked to the pressure to increase fast-food worker’s wages, but companies like McDonalds and Panera, who are starting to implement self-serve kiosks of their own, denied the two are related, claiming the new digitized workforce will allow them to have a bigger workforce in the kitchen. But some have prophesized that robots will soon be able to assemble food orders themselves. Either way, one thing is clear: the future is most certainly now.