Restaurant Operations

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Taco Bell Reveals 2024 Marketing Calendar

“Thank You for Coming to My Taco Bell Talk”

by David Klemt

2024 Taco Bell menu item lineup

The showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers isn’t the only big news coming out of Las Vegas from Super Bowl LVIII weekend.

Of course, the game’s result is also big news. Congratulations to the Chiefs on their back-to-back world champion wins!

However, Super Bowl weekend kicked off with a unique event. On Friday, February 9, Taco Bell hosted their first-ever Live Más LIVE event.

As the event’s title suggests, Live Más LIVE was a livestream. And during that livestream, the undisputed Kings of the LTO did something they and their competitors simply don’t do. At Live Más LIVE, Taco Bell revealed their 2024 menu lineup.

Another way of putting this to illustrate the event’s significance is that Taco Bell just gave away their marketing calendar for the year.

Apparently, the inspiration for Live Más LIVE comes from Apple. The tech colossus has been hosting their annual Worldwide Developers Conference in earnest for more than 20 years. For the unfamiliar, Apple uses WDC to announce product news.

“I watch Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, and I just had this moment,” said Taylor Montgomery, Taco Bell’s chief marketing officer. So, I have to wonder if Live Más LIVE will become an annual or semi-annual event.

I’ll get to the items and opportunities Taco Bell unveiled in a moment. There’s a bigger point I believe operators should take away from Live Más LIVE.

A restaurant or bar’s menu is not just a list of items for sale. A menu is a powerful marketing tool. It’s a billboard. Arguably, the menu is the most powerful tool in an operator’s marketing toolbox.

QSR Innovation

Collaborations

While Taco Bell’s 2024 menu items are huge news, they’re not the only important revelation.

During Live Más LIVE, Taco Bell announced three emerging chefs who will launch the QSR giant’s TBX culinary program. Chefs Reuben Asaram, Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin, and Lawrence Smith will first be tasked with reinvigorating the Crunchwrap Supreme.

The announcement that these three chefs will bring their unique styles to Taco Bell speaks to the overall theme of the Super Bowl weekend event: Innovation.

This year, Taco Bell is going hard with new menu items, and they’re entering into compelling new collaborations to do so. These partnerships include:

  • Beekeeper Coffee for Horchata Cold Brew Latte;
  • Cheez-It for the Cheez-It Crunchwrap, which features a Cheez-It cracker that’s 16 times (!) the size of a standard one;
  • Disha Hot for an exclusive sauce packet;
  • Salt & Straw for Ice Cream Chocolate Taco (think upscale Choco Taco), featuring cinnamon ancho ice cream;
  • Secret Aardvark for their Serrabanero sauce, which will accompany Nacho Fries; and
  • Tajín for an exclusive Taco Bell menu that will reportedly consist of a Tajín Crunchy Taco, Tajín Twists, and a Tajín Strawberry Freeze.

Having attended the Salt & Straw opening in Las Vegas (well, Spring Valley, but I won’t get into that further) I can say that I’m eager to sink my teeth into an Ice Cream Chocolate Taco.

On its own, these collaborations and menu testings are big news. However, Taco Bell’s event went bigger.

Menu Expansion

We all remember the Great Chicken Wars of the past several years. Well, Taco Bell has put their competitors on notice: They’re finally leaping into the fray.

According to Liz Matthews, Taco Bell’s chief food innovation officer, the company is lacking when it comes to having their “fair share of chicken.” The planned Cantina Chicken menu aims to fix this oversight.

2024 Live Mas Live Taco Bell event

Along with oven-roasted and shredded chicken seasoned with pasilla, other chilies, and spices, come a number of ingredients appearing at Taco Bell restaurants for the first time. Among them are purple cabbage, an Avocado Verde Salsa sauce packet, and white corn taco shells.

Debuting soon (hopefully) are are the Cantina Chicken Burrito, Cantina Chicken Taco (available in soft or crispy varieties), Cantina Chicken Quesadilla, and Cantina Chicken Bowl.

Those aren’t the only new chicken-centric items coming to the Taco Bell menu. There’s also the Cheesy Chicken Crispanada, featuring marinated and slow-cooked chicken.

Oh, and chicken nugget lovers, rejoice! Crispy Chicken Nuggets, made by marinating all-white chicken in spiced jalapeño buttermilk and frying them in a tortilla coating, are on their way.

This year, Taco Bell will also offer the Cheesy Enchilada Dipping Taco (slow-roasted chicken), and Cheesy Street Chalupa, which is available with slow-roasted chicken or grilled steak.

On the sweet side, Taco Bell is launching MTN DEW BAJA BLAST Gelato, and Dulce de Leche Cinnabon Delights.

As one might suspect, some of these items will be permanent, some will come in the form of LTOs. And if my suspicions prove correct, I think we’ll see a secret, unannounced menu item at least once in 2024.

Image: Taco Bell

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by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Want Cinematic F&B Posts? Get Messy

Want Cinematic F&B Posts? Get Messy by David Klemt

Cocktail splashing out of a cocktail coupe

Note: Photo not taken by Beautiful Booze or Little Lane Media.

Unsurprisingly, many people think that their social media and marketing photos and videos must be perfect. However, that’s not necessarily true.

The pressure to be “perfect” can lead people to stress out over posting F&B content to their social channels. Surely, composition must be flawless. If it’s not, why bother even posting?

After all, the century-plus-old phrase is “picture perfect,” not “picture imperfect.”

Well, you can stop fretting over every detail of your photos and vids. Two experts in social media marketing and content creation encourage you to be less than perfect.

During this year’s WSWA Access Live event in Las Vegas, Nevada, Natalie Migliarini and James Stevenson presented “Cinematic Cocktails: Mastering the Art of Visual Mixology.”

If you’re an avid consumer of social media content, you know Migliarini and Stevenson by the brands they’ve developed over a decade. Beautiful Booze, approaching 200,000 followers on Instagram, is run by Migliarini. Little Lane Media is a media agency operated by Stevenson.

Last week, I shared their tips for working with micro- (and nano-) influencers. Click here to learn why such collaborations can pay dividends for your business.

Today, I’m going to share a few of their tips for creating and posting your own engaging pics and vids.

Perfection is an Illusion

Throughout history, people have explained that perfection is an illusion. Worse, the self-imposed pursuit of perfection when during tasks can discourage a person from even trying.

So, don’t worry about being perfect. Instead, remove the pressure of perfection and just do your best. With that out of the way, Migliarini and Stevenson have a compelling argument against perfection.

In their experiencebear in mind that Beautiful Booze is a pioneer in the cocktail influencer spacethe general consumers of content are put off by content that appears too professional and heavily edited. Rather, people seem drawn to more casual content.

Let’s say you want to promote a new cocktail on your menu. So, you’re going to create a video of yourself or a bartender creating the drink.

If you make a mistake, it can be tempting to scrap the video of edit out the error. Well, you can relax.

According to Migliarini and Stevenson, being messy during some build steps can look better than a “flawless” video. In fact, the duo say a messy video can be “fantastic.” Why? Their reasoning is simple: the mistakes show that you’re not perfect.

You know who else isn’t perfect? The people watching your video. This makes you (or your bartender) more relatable. It also takes the pressure of them if they want to try to make the drink at home.

There’s also the fact that many people are cynical about content. Too professional equals “trying to sell me something.” They know even a casual video is trying to get them to visit your bar or restaurant, but it’s more acceptable.

So, liquid splashing out of the glass? Leave it. Did some booze spill from the jigger and miss the glass? Leave it in.

Tips and Tricks

Of course, you should still create content with some guidelines in place.

  • If you sell alcohol, you should probably keep cocktail, beer, wine, and spirits content to Instagram. TikTok may be a dominant video platform but you can’t be sure what ages are consuming your content. Best to err on the side of caution.
  • Migliarini and Stevenson have learned that people like transparent cocktail shakers when watching cocktail videos.
  • Get a tripod. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, professional one; a decent one from Amazon will do.
  • Any light is better than no light.
  • You can fill “dead space” in your photos with garnishes, coasters, etc.
  • Shoot in slow motion. If you want a truly cinematic post, this works wonders.
  • Aim to create 20-second videos.
  • Finally, and this one is very valuable, edit your video so your “hook” is up first. (Speaking of editing, try Final Cut Pro if editing via laptop or desktop, and InShot to edit on your phone.) You have to grab people’s attention, and Instagram counts the first three seconds as a view. Since it will be a loop, put your hook at the front and the build after that. This may seem odd to you at first but people watching won’t notice the “strange” cut.

Bonus tip: You don’t have to be perfect when performing a task for video. However, make sure your background is cleaned up (and consider blurring it). There are people who’ll pause and try to zoom to pick apart backgrounds; it happens.

With these tips in mind, it’s time to try your hand at some new video content.

Image: Isabella Kara on Unsplash

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by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Working with Local Influencers

Community Collaboration: Working with Local Influencers

by David Klemt

Photographer's hand holding DSLR camera by neon sign

One of the standout educational sessions from WSWA Access Live 2024 focused on finding and working with local influencers.

Natalie Migliarini, a.k.a. Beautiful Booze, and James Stevenson, a.k.a. Little Lane Media, presented “Successfully Engaging with Influential Content Creators in Your Community” in Las Vegas, Nevada, last week. The duo made the case for seeking to collaborate with influencers in your community.

“Local influencer” may give the impression of less popularity and less reach. After all, another designation for these people is “micro-influencer.”

However, there are several reasons why working with local or micro-influencers is a smart move for your bar, restaurant, nightclub, cafe, or hotel.

It helps to understand that some marketing experts categorize influencers by follower count:

  • Nano: 1,000 to 10,000 followers
  • Micro: 10,000 to 100,000 followers
  • Macro: 100,000 to 1,000,000 followers
  • Mega: 1,000,000-plus followers

I don’t know about you, but I think reaching a potential 10,000 followers local to my area of operation is an excellent value proposition. If you’re curious, Migliarini’s Beautiful Booze Instagram account falls into the macro category.

Of course, there are other appealing benefits as well.

Effective Marketing

What do You Want?

What are your goals when marketing your business? I’m willing to wager there are at least three:

  • To be discovered by new people.
  • Boosting traffic.
  • Increasing revenue.

And what’s one of your greatest concerns when it comes to your marketing efforts? I’ll bet that it’s budget.

Well, Migliarini and Stevenson believe local or micro-influencers (and I’d say nano-influencers, as well) can tick all of those boxes.

What do You Want to Spend?

Local influencers will likely be much more affordable than their macro or mega counterparts. There are celebrities—part of the mega-influencer category—that can make millions of dollars for a single promotional post. Macro-influencers can command five figures for just one post.

Now, think about social media. Depending on the platform (Migliarini and Stevenson favor Instagram), these pricey posts can have a lifespan as short as 15 minutes. That’s a lot of money to spend on marketing for just minutes or hours of relevancy.

Then consider engagement. According to Migliarini and Stevenson, engagement is more important than reach.

Who do You Want to Reach?

I’m sure the thought of people across the globe knowing your restaurant or bar is appealing. But would that really translate to more traffic and greater revenue?

Eventually, sure. But in the here and now, when building your brand and getting discovered, your local community is more important.

If you’re operating in the Chicago suburbs, will your revenue and margins improve because some social media users in Vancouver found your venue online? Or, would your business be better served by locals and people in the surrounding area visiting your spot on a regular basis?

I think you know the answer.

Well, this is where nano- and micro-influencers come into play. You want support from locals. Garnering that support via social media means you want influencers who are engaged with your community.

The partners you’re after are local influencers, not global (or national, until you’ve become a must-visit destination for tourists).

As Migliarini and Stevenson say, an influencer may be “micro” by follower count but “macro” in terms for their effectiveness in a particular market.

Effective Partnerships

How to Find Collaborators

The great news is that it’s not difficult to find local influencers. Let’s use Instagram as an example for finding collaborators.

When you pop open the app, you’ll see the search icon at the bottom of the screen. To make this very simple, it’s the magnifying glass to the right of the house icon.

Once you tap the magnifying glass icon, you’ll be able to search for basically anything in the search field. From this point, you’ll see several tabs to scroll through: For you, Accounts, Audio, Tags, Places, and Reels.

Of those fields, Tags will likely deliver some of the best results. Migliarini and Stevenson suggest following hashtags relevant to you and your business. From there, you’ll come across influencers local to your area of operation.

How to Select Collaborators

All engagement is not the same.

It’s going to be tempting to look for huge follower counts and tons of likes on posts. Well, Migliarini and Stevenson find a different metric far more effective in gauging an account’s engagement.

Instead of likes, look at comments. An influencer may have hundreds or thousands of posts. And those posts may have hundreds or thousands of likes.

Does that really mean much? If you use Instagram, think about your behavior on the app.

It’s likely that you scroll dozens of posts whenever you open Instagram. You probably hit the heart icon, liking a number of posts as you scroll.

Do you remember every post that you like? After liking posts, do you think about the account that posted it? Probably not.

Now, let’s say you liked a post so much that you felt compelled to take the extra steps of commenting on it. If that was a post about a dish or drink from a bar or restaurant, that comment may convert into a visit or delivery order.

When you’re looking for a local influencer and going through posts, look at the number of comments. Hundreds or thousands of likes with just a handful of comments may indicate there’s not much engagement. But dozens or hundreds of comments? That’s a great sign.

Of course, you should also sift through the comments. Doing so can show you if the posts are mostly attracting bots. Further, you want to make sure the comments are positive.

How to Engage Collaborators

It’s important to remember that this is going to be a professional relationship.

Stevenson says there’s nothing wrong with sliding into a potential marketing partner’s DMs. However, it’s wise to share your business email address when reaching out. This way, the conversation moves to a more professional platform, and important messages likely won’t get lost.

Once the conversation has turned to the business at hand, both sides need to be crystal clear regarding expectations. How many posts are expected? When will the influencer post them? What’s the budget? What will working on site look like?

Be as detailed as possible to avoid confusion, frustration, and disappointment; both sides will benefit when every expectation is understood.

There’s another key to these collaborations that Stevenson wants operators to understand. Social media influencers aren’t salespeople, they’re marketers. This is a marketing exercise; you’re paying them to communicate and help people discover your business.

Going deeper, there’s another difference. There are influencers, and there are content creators. An influencer is paid to influence, and a content creator is paid to create content for others.

Another way to look at it: Influencers are in front of the camera, content creators are behind the camera. The distinction is very important.

In their partnership, Migliarini is in front of the camera, operating Beautiful Booze. Stevenson is behind the camera, running Little Lane Media. Both partner with restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, and brands. However, they do so in different ways.

Now that you know what to consider, go forth and find your local influencers.

Image: Max Bender on Unsplash

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by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Best and Worst Cities for Servers

Service Wins and Woes: Best and Worst Cities for Servers

by David Klemt

Aerial photograph of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at night

A recent survey from gaming industry site Casinos.US identifies the 25 best and two-dozen worst cities for servers in America.

I can share two details about the methodology that Casinos.US employed.

One, they surveyed 2,000 current and former hospitality professionals. And two, they were asked to rate the overall rudeness of their guests on a scale of one to ten. One is the kindest, ten is the rudest.

Further, I can share that the average rudeness of guests being served in the US is 4.9 out of ten. Unfortunately, the three worst cities on the Casinos.US list rank between 7.0 and 7.6 on the rudeness scale. In fact, 22 of the 24 worst cities come in at 5.0 or above.

No city is perfect. The best of the best earns a score of 2.0, with the next best hitting a 3.0. Still, not bad at all.

Sadly, 45 percent of respondents reported finding themselves interacting with rude guests at least twice per day. As far as the worst of the worst, respondents identified “older adults” as the rudest, and Sunday as the day of the week with the most incidents. Do with that information as you will.

There are two sides to the coin, of course. Impressively, 24 percent of respondents “rarely” encounter rudeness from guests. Even better, 28 percent don’t expect to come across rude guests on a daily basis at work. So, there’s some hope out there.

To review the results of this survey for yourself, click here.

The Worst

Alright, let’s get it out of the way. Below, the worst cities in America for servers, according to Casinos.us.

To the right, their rudeness score. Again, the score is out of ten, with ten being the absolute worst.

  1. Washington, DC (4.9)
  2. Orlando, Florida (4.9)
  3. San Antonio, Texas (5.0)
  4. Sacramento, California (5.0)
  5. Columbus, Ohio (5.0)
  6. Buffalo, New York (5.0)
  7. Houston, Texas (5.1)
  8. St. Louis, Missouri (5.1)
  9. Atlanta, Georgia (5.1)
  10. Louisville, Kentucky (5.3)
  11. Miami, Florida (5.3)
  12. Nashville, Tennessee (5.4)
  13. New York, New York (5.4)
  14. Phoenix, Arizona (5.6)
  15. Detroit, Michigan (5.7)
  16. San Diego, California (5.8)
  17. Las Vegas, Nevada (5.8)
  18. New Orleans, Louisiana (5.8)
  19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin (6.0)
  20. Providence, Rhode Island (6.3)
  21. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (6.3)
  22. Jacksonville, Florida (7.0)
  23. Cincinnati, Ohio (7.0)
  24. Virginia Beach, Virginia (7.6)

This list, if accurate, leaves me with one question: What’s going on, Virginia Beach? Sheesh. Calm down—your side of ranch isn’t that important, I promise.

It’s tempting to label this a tourist issue. Well over 10 million people—nearly 20 million in 2019—visit Virginia Beach annually.

And, hey, look at the rest of the list; it’s loaded with destination cities that draw millions upon millions of tourists each year.

However, when you look at the list of the best cities for servers below you’ll find more destination cities.

The Best

Now that we know the worst, let’s check out the best.

The cities below rank the lowest as far as rude behavior from guests.

  1. Dallas, Texas (4.8)
  2. Minneapolis, Minnesota (4.8)
  3. Boston, Massachusetts (4.8)
  4. Birmingham, Alabama (4.8)
  5. Salt Lake City, Utah (4.8)
  6. Los Angeles, California (4.7)
  7. San Francisco, California (4.7)
  8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (4.7)
  9. Raleigh, North Carolina (4.6)
  10. Riverside, California (4.5)
  11. Kansas City, Missouri (4.5)
  12. Seattle, Washington (4.5)
  13. Charlotte, North Carolina (4.4)
  14. Richmond, Virginia (4.3)
  15. Cleveland, Ohio (4.3)
  16. Indianapolis, Indiana (4.2)
  17. Chicago, Illinois (4.1)
  18. Denver, Colorado (4.1)
  19. Portland, Oregon (4.0)
  20. Tampa, Florida (3.8)
  21. Hartford, Connecticut (3.8)
  22. Austin, Texas (3.8)
  23. Baltimore, Maryland (3.7)
  24. Memphis, Tennessee (3.0)
  25. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2.0)

Philly may be the City of Brotherly Love but the Steel City, Pittsburgh, is the best for servers in terms of guest behavior. At least, according to Casinos.US.

If you live in one of the cities above, go out to bars and restaurants, and aren’t a jerk to your servers, congratulations on being a decent person.

Takeaway

Let’s say you’re an owner, operator, or leadership team member. And let’s say you operate or work in one of the cities above, whether the best or worst.

If your service team routinely on edge, regularly upset, find out why. Leaders look out for their teams and strive to provide a healthy work environment.

I’m not saying you need to get into the details of their personal lives. What I am saying is that if there are issues in the workplace, you need to get to the bottom of them. More importantly, you then need to engage the team and get their feedback.

How do they want guest issues handled by the leadership team? Are their problematic regulars who need to be “fired” to protect the team? Some guests simply aren’t worth the revenue and tips in exchange for the emotional and mental distress they’re inflicting on the team.

That is, however, something that must be discussed. Most importantly, when the feedback is taken into account and a procedure is put in place, leadership must adhere to it and act accordingly. Any deviation will result in a loss of trust, and that will decimate team morale even more quickly than an encounter with a rude guest.

Lose trust from your team, lose the business.

Image: Venti Views on Unsplash

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Pizza Today Reveals Top New Cheeses

Pizza Today Reveals Top New Cheeses for 2024

by David Klemt

Cheese pull from cheese pizza

Pizza Today‘s informative 2024 Pizza Industry Trends Report is full of useful information, from top styles and toppings to new cheeses guests can choose.

Two weeks ago we did a deep dive into the top eleven pizza styles going into 2024, per Pizza Today. Click here to read that article.

Last week we checked out what the pizza publication had to say about top pizza styles by region. Additionally, we looked at the top toppings nationally and regionally. You can read that article here.

Now, we’re going to talk about what Pizza Today has learned about the top cheeses operators are putting on their menus.

Top Pizza Styles, Nationally and Regionally

Before we jump into the cheeses, a quick recap of the top pizza styles in America.

  1. New York
  2. Traditional American
  3. Sicilian
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Neapolitan / Napoletana
  6. Chicago Thin / Tavern-style
  7. Detroit
  8. Grandma
  9. California / American Artisan
  10. NEOpolitan / Neo-Neapolitan and Chicago Thick (tie)

And now, the top trending pizza styles.

  1. Detroit
  2. Deep Dish and Grandma (tie)
  3. Sicilian
  4. New York
  5. Chicago Thin

Finally, the top pizza styles by region. For a more detailed explanation of each region, click here.

The West

  1. New York Style
  2. Traditional America
  3. California/American Artisan
  4. Sicilian
  5. Neapolitan

The South

  1. New York Style
  2. Traditional America
  3. Sicilian
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Neapolitan

The Midwest

  1. Traditional America
  2. Chicago Thin
  3. New York Style
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Detroit

The Northeast

  1. New York Style
  2. Sicilian
  3. Traditional America
  4. Neapolitan
  5. Grandma

Top Pizza Toppings, Nationally and Regionally

We’re almost to the cheeses. First, a recap of the most popular items to put on top of cheese.

Well, unless we’re talking a stuffed pizza. Click here and scroll to Deep Dish to see what I mean.

Now, the top toppings across the US.

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra Cheese
  5. Bacon
  6. Chicken
  7. Onion
  8. Red/Green Bell Pepper
  9. Ham
  10. Black Olives
  11. Meatballs
  12. Canadian Bacon
  13. Jalapenos
  14. Pineapple
  15. Beef
  16. Basil
  17. Banana Peppers
  18. Fresh garlic
  19. Tomatoes
  20. Spinach

Below, how toppings break down regionally.

The West

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Chicken
  5. Bacon

The South

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra cheese
  5. Bacon

The Midwest

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Bacon
  5. Onion

The Northeast

  • Pepperoni
  • Sausage
  • Mushroom
  • Extra cheese
  • Bacon

Top “New” Cheeses

Okay, so we’ve reviewed top pizza styles. We’ve done a recap for toppings.

So, what are some of the top “new” cheeses going onto those pizza styles and being covered in all those toppings?

It may seem odd the refer to the cheeses below as “new.” In this context, “new” means, “not mozzarella” or “not provolone,” for the most part. Or, if you’re in St. Louis, “not Provel.”

  • Ricotta
  • Cheddar
  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Goat Cheese
  • Parmigiano Crema
  • Cotija Cheese
  • Scamorza
  • Vegan Cheese
  • Blue Cheese
  • Feta

Guests love personalization, and they love the opportunity to try new foods and new takes on foods they know.

Scamorza

For the most part, you’re likely familiar with all the cheeses above. However, if you’re like me, you may be unfamiliar with scamorza. If that’s the case, I looked into it for both of us.

Like mozzarella, scamorza is made from either stretched cow or water buffalo milk cheese curds. This cheese originates from Italy and comes in two styles: scamorza bianca or and scamorza affumicata. The former is white or natural, while the latter is smoked and brownish in appearance.

Further, bianca is a mild, somewhat sweet cheese. Affumicata, being smoked, delivers a more savory and, as one would expect, smoky flavor.

Vegan Cheese

If you aren’t offering vegan or plant-based cheese for your pizzas, you may not know what brands to use.

Well, don’t worry. I’ve also done some legwork into this topic.

Brands to check out are Violife, Diya, Chao, and Miyoko’s. As plant-based alternatives become more commonplace and expected by guests, I expect more commercial vegan-friendly cheeses to become available. Perhaps we’ll see some at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show.

Image: Pablo Pacheco on Unsplash

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5 Books to Read this Month: February 2024

5 Books to Read this Month: February 2024

by David Klemt

Flipping through an open book

Our inspiring and informative February book selections will help you and your team transform your operations, business acumen, and F&B programming.

This month, we look at books covering an array of topics: design; learning to negotiate better; learning cocktail balance and build techniques; and finding your inner chef.

To review the book recommendations from January 2024, click here.

Let’s jump in!

Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life

This book was co-authored by the late Stephen R. Kellert, one of the developers of the biophilic design methodology. To learn more about biophilic design, click here. Then, pick up this book.

From Amazon: “This book offers a paradigm shift in how we design and build our buildings and our communities, one that recognizes that the positive experience of natural systems and processes in our buildings and constructed landscapes is critical to human health, performance, and well-being. Biophilic design is about humanity’s place in nature and the natural world’s place in human society, where mutuality, respect, and enriching relationships can and should exist at all levels and should emerge as the norm rather than the exception.”

The Cocktail Balance

Written by Stanislav Harcinik, The Cocktail Balance is about more than building cocktails. Readers will learn about the role senses play in cocktails and balance, along with presentation and service.

From thecocktailbalance.com: “My work isn’t focused solely on experienced bartenders, students are part of the target group. By including potential new bartenders, this book wishes to push the upcoming students into a broader, more creative mindset. The book itself is divided into 3 main sections – theory, practical part and legacy from the best bartenders in Slovakia. Theory, contains the basics and building blocks that allow the development of a professional approach, it also focuses on how to present yourself and how to take care of guests. Whereas in the practical section, readers will be able to learn to price a cocktail and to effectively go through a structured creative process. Other chapters also include gastrophysics and neurogastronomy. In other words how an aroma, a physical characteristics, a sound as well as visual stimulation affect the final flavour of a cocktail, and create a comprehensive and unforgettable experience for guests.”

Pick up your copy today.

Craft Cocktails at Home: Offbeat Techniques, Contemporary Crowd-Pleasers, and Classics Hacked with Science

Some bar professionals and guests like to understand the “why” behind what they consume. Why does this taste good? Why and how do certain processes affect spirits? Kevin Liu’s book answers these questions, and more. On top of that, there are 65 recipes to try.

From Amazon: “In Craft Cocktails at Home, you’ll embark upon a one-of-a-kind journey as you learn how to make some of the world’s most innovative, unique, and delicious cocktails. Taste scientists, engineers, and talented bartenders with decades of experience all contributed their expertise to create this must-have guide for novices and professionals alike. Ever wondered what makes water taste good? Curious about what really happens during the barrel-aging process? Interested in which “molecular” ingredients have the best texture? These questions and more, answered inside.”

Order the paperback here.

The Forgotten Chef

Simply put, this book is intended to inspire younger generations to pursue cooking as a career. If you know someone who has an interest in cooking but hasn’t taken steps to become a chef, this is the book you should gift them.

From Amazon: “The book moves quickly through food stories, tips and techniques to inspire and ignite the passion of its targeted reader. Through anecdotal food related stories, the book covers important topics such as the right mindset for cooking success, quality over quantity, kitchen organization (mise en place), kitchen tools (the Dirty Thirty), the celebrity chef conundrum (why people get discouraged in their cooking journey), introduction to knife skills/care, cookbook basics, food preservation and safety and other fun chapters such as saving Grandma’s recipes from extinction, the lost art of sharing (food), and the new-old method of cooking, sous vide.”

Click here to order the paperback.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

Everyone needs to know how to negotiate. It’s a valuable skill not just for business but for life in general. Getting to Yes is a how-to manual that teaches you the art of negotiation, a skill you’ll need to develop if you’re an entrepreneur, aspiring business owner, or professional looking to progress in their career. And, as I’ve already said, it will help you in situations you’ll find yourself in outside of business.

From Amazon: “Getting to Yes offers a proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict. Thoroughly updated and revised, it offers readers a straight- forward, universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting angry-or getting taken.”

Get it today.

Image: Mikołaj on Unsplash

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Program for Unique Holidays: February 2024

Program for Unique Holidays: February 2024

by David Klemt

"Think about things differently" neon sign

Do you want to stand out from from other restaurants and bars in your area? Change how you think about your February holiday promotions.

Several holidays are set against every date on the calendar, and this month is no exception. These holidays range from mainstream to esoteric.

Pay attention to the “weird” or unique holidays to raise eyebrows, carve out a niche for your restaurant or bar, and attract more guests. Why do what everyone else is already doing? Why program only around the same holidays as everyone else?

Of course, you shouldn’t try to celebrate every holiday, strange or otherwise. Focus on the days that are authentic to your brand; resonate with your guests; and help you grab attention on social media.

You’ll find suggestions for promotions below. However, the idea behind our monthly holiday promotions roundup is to inspire you and your team to get creative and come up with unique programming ideas.

For our January 2024 holidays list, click here.

February 3: Ice Cream for Breakfast Day

I think we can all agree that life is too short to not indulge ourselves and have a treat occasionally. French toast, pancakes, crepes… All of these breakfast foods and more pair quite well with ice cream.

This holiday is even better if your back-of-house team can make ice cream from scratch.

February 4: National Homemade Soup Day

One of the most comforting foods on the planet, particularly during the winter, is a warm cup or bowl of homemade soup.

Of course, as an operator, you’ll want to consider rephrasing this holiday as “Housemade” or “Scratch-made” soup.

February 5: Start of Pride in Food Service Week

Pride in Food Service Week runs from February 5 to 9. The purpose is to celebrate foodservice professionals. For some, this means leaving a larger tip than normal. Some operators use this five-day holiday to host special events that highlight their team’s skills. I also recommend using this time to come up with ways you can honor your team, and improve their lives and careers.

February 11: National Peppermint Patty Day

Back in November of last year I wrote about how peppermint was overtaking pumpkin spice as the preferred flavor. Well, this is the perfect day to feature peppermint via a variety of F&B items on your menu, from cocktails and high-quality non-alcohol LTO beverages to tempting desserts.

February 13: National Cheddar Day

Cheddar is the most-popular cheese in the UK and one of the most-popular in the US. If you can slather it in Cheddar, create an LTO menu, feature it, and promote it.

February 16: National Almond Day

This is definitely the holiday to feature dishes with almonds, from appetizers and entrees to desserts. And, of course, there are drinks made with Disaronno, Baileys Almande, Cîroc Amaretto, and other liqueurs and spirits that can help your bar team serve up almond-flavored cocktails.

February 22: National Margarita Day

Nope, this is not an “out there” holiday. However, it is a fantastic time to showcase your signature Margaritas, alongside a classic build, of course.

February 23: National Skip the Straw Day

If you have been trying to be a more sustainable business, reducing and eliminating waste is key. I’m not saying you have to focus solely on replacing plastic straws. Instead, think about serving drinks without straws.

However, make sure you do have straws on hand for those guests who need them.

February 24: National Tortilla Chip Day

Nachos, nachos, nachos. Nachos piled high, nachos prepared in the traditional method, your bar or restaurant’s signature nachos… Time to create a promotion around the humble tortilla chip!

February 26: National Pistachio Day

Have you ever had a Pistachio Martini? How about a Pistachio Espresso Martini, Pistachio Sour, or Pistachio Fizz?

If you haven’t, odds are many of your guests haven’t, either. Could be a great idea for an LTO menu featuring pistachio, huh?

Image: Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels

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The Drink to Dethrone the Espresso Martini

Will this Drink Dethrone the Espresso Martini?

by David Klemt

A coffee cocktail sitting on top of a bar

If we’re to take what industry pundits and cocktail aficionados are saying, 2024 may be the year that the Espresso Martini falls from grace.

Alright, that may be a bit dramatic. However, maybe we won’t read about how the Espresso Martini is having yet another “moment” this year.

Instead, it’s possible that 2024 will be the Year of the Carajillo.

This incredibly simple cocktail is receiving as muchif not morehype than the Negroni Sbagliato did in 2022. Only this time, bartenders may not roll their eyes whenever they hear someone mention it.

Before I dive into the Carajillo, a bit of clarification. I’m not anti-Espresso Martini. It isn’t like I think I’m above enjoying one of these not-Martinis from time to time. And I’m sure it makes registers ring plenty at bars around the world.

However, it seems like we’re told we’re in the midst of the Espresso Martini’s latest moment every time fall or winter comes around. Look, this is a modern classic that has been around for decades. It’s not “having a moment,” it has simply reached ubiquity.

So, the idea that a perhaps lesser-known coffee cocktail can have its moment this year is exciting. (And a bit of a relief.)

Let’s cannonball into the Carajillo!

Not So Simple

When you do a cursory search for the Carajillo you’ll encounter quite a few absolutes.

For example, there are people who say the drink only and always consists of hot espresso and Licor 43. You may read that the ratio is always one to one.

However, there’s more nuance surrounding the Carajillo.

This deceptively simple cocktail comes to us from Spain. From what I can find, it’s often a cold drink that varies from country to country, region to region. In Spain, it’s commonly coffee and brandy in a two-to-one ratio. Order one in Cuba and it will likely be a rum cocktail rather than brandy. In Mexico, while Licor 43 is said to be the standard, it’s not uncommon for mezcal or a coffee liqueur to accompany the coffee.

Now, as I’ve said, you’ll come across sources that say a Mexican Carajillo is espresso and Licor 43. So, let’s go with that recipe for now.

It’s a simple build: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add two ounces of hot espresso or other hot coffee and two ounces of Licor 43. Shake until well chilled, then strain into a rocks glass. The shake should form a foamy head. Some people garnish with three coffee beans.

Make it Yours

Of course, there’s room to play with this recipe. You and bar team can change the ratio, change the garnish, experiment with glassware, replace the Licor 43 with another liqueur, add an ingredient…

As an example of the latter suggestion, Cazadores produces a coffee liqueur, Cazadores Café. This can replace Licor 43 or work alongside it.

Just know that if you replace the original liqueur, you’re missing out on a blend of 43 botanicals. That means your Carajillo will taste much different than the standard Mexican build. In that case, is it still a Carajillo?

Well, that’s up to your guests to decide, I suppose.

There are bars that make their Carajillo with cream, brandy, and Licor 43. Some serve theirs with a small bowl of sugar so guests can sweeten them to their liking.

At some bars, the build calls for heating the liqueur or base spirit with lemon and sugar. Others make Carajillos with mint and amaro.

So, you and your bartenders can do what has been done with the Espresso Martini: Alter the Carajillo to create your signature version. You can also simply serve the traditional build.

Or, and this is my recommendation, you can serve traditional Carajillos and offer one or more signature variations.

Cheers!

Image: Jeppe Mønster on Unsplash

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Top Pizza Styles & Toppings by Region

Top Pizza Styles & Toppings by Region

by David Klemt

Person clawing slice of pepperoni pizza

That’s one way to pick up a slice of pizza…

Now that we know the top 11 pizza styles in North America thanks to Pizza Today, let’s see how they break down by region.

Unfortunately, they don’t include regions throughout Canada in their trends report. However, the information is still incredibly valuable.

Pizza Today has put a lot of effort into their 2024 Pizza Industry Trends Report. So, make sure to click this link and check it out for yourself.

Before we jump into the regional breakdown, let’s check out which pizza toppings lead the way across the nation. As you’ll see later, while many regions follow national trends, they also deviate in notable ways.

If you read last week’s article, you already know which pizza styles dominate North America. For those of you haven’t yet read that article, click here.

That said, here are the top 20 toppings in America.

Top Toppings: Nationwide

If you operate a pizzeria or pizza is a significant focus of your business, you probably know the number one topping.

The image at the top of this article is a hint.

Per Pizza Today, these are the top 20 toppings in the US:

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra Cheese
  5. Bacon
  6. Chicken
  7. Onion
  8. Red/Green Bell Pepper
  9. Ham
  10. Black Olives
  11. Meatballs
  12. Canadian Bacon
  13. Jalapenos
  14. Pineapple
  15. Beef
  16. Basil
  17. Banana Peppers
  18. Fresh garlic
  19. Tomatoes
  20. Spinach

Due to outright bias, I hope to see meatballs break into the top ten one of these days. That’s my number one topping.

Now that we’ve shared the top 20 toppings according to Pizza Today, let’s check out the regional breakdown.

The West

This region includes two subregions, Pacific and Mountain.

In alphabetical order, the Pacific states are Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. The Mountain region includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

So, if you’re in one of those 13 states, the info below is relevant to you.

Top Styles

  1. New York Style
  2. Traditional America
  3. California/American Artisan
  4. Sicilian
  5. Neapolitan

Number three makes sense, given this region includes California. Otherwise, the West follows the top five pizza styles in the US rather closely.

Top Toppings

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Chicken
  5. Bacon
  6. Extra cheese
  7. Black Olives
  8. Onion
  9. Jalapenos
  10. Pineapple

In the West, the top three toppings are the same as the rest of the nation. However, chicken and bacon overtake extra cheese in the this region.

The South

Pizza Today divides the South into three subregions: East South Central, South Atlantic, and West South Central.

The former consists of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The South Atlantic includes Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. And West South Central is made up of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

As you’ll see, the top five pizza styles in the South are the same as the top across the US. Further, the top five toppings in the region are also the same top five nationally. It isn’t until numbers six through ten that we encounter deviations.

Top Styles

  1. New York Style
  2. Traditional America
  3. Sicilian
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Neapolitan

Top Toppings

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra cheese
  5. Bacon
  6. Onion
  7. Chicken
  8. Red/Green pepper
  9. Beef
  10. Ham

Beef is number 15 nationally, if you don’t want to scroll up and check for yourself.

The Midwest

The Midwest, per Pizza Today, is organized into two subregions. Those are East North Central and West North Central.

Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin make up the former. Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota are the states in the latter subregion.

Top Styles

As a proud Midwesterner, I’m happy to report that the region didn’t disappoint when it comes to the region’s top pizza styles.

  1. Traditional America
  2. Chicago Thin
  3. New York Style
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Detroit

The argument that Chicago Thin (a.k.a. Chicago Tavern) rather than Deep Dish is the true Chicago pizza style is bolstered with these rankings.

Top Toppings

Pizza Today shares only five toppings for this region. Notably, extra cheese doesn’t make it in, kicked out by onion.

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Bacon
  5. Onion

The Northeast

The Middle Atlantic and New England are the two subregions of the Northeast.

For their report, Pizza Today identifies New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania as the three Middle Atlantic states. New England is Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Top Style

Number five, given where it was reportedly created, isn’t a surprise.

In fact, the whole list makes sense:

  1. New York Style
  2. Sicilian
  3. Traditional America
  4. Neapolitan
  5. Grandma

It’s also not a surprise that Deep Dish doesn’t make it into the Northeast’s top five pizza styles.

Top Toppings

Further, the top five of ten top toppings in the Northeast are the same nationally.

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra cheese
  5. Bacon
  6. Chicken
  7. Onion
  8. Red/Green pepper
  9. Meatballs
  10. Banana Peppers

However, as you can see, meatballs (my favorite) and banana peppers break into the top ten in this region.

Takeaways

Obviously, there are more than just 20 toppings finding their way onto pizzas in the US. Pizza Today reports that birria, fig jam, hot honey, pasilla peppers, and pickled vegetables have earned their way onto menus in at least the past 12 months.

And when it comes the top 20 toppings, there’s nuance. For example, there are multiple styles of pepperoni and preparation, and the same holds true for sausage.

All this is to say the following: A blend of popular, traditional toppings along with the unexpected and new is likely a winning combination. This can include exotic ingredients, plant-based analogs, and international herbs and spices.

Remember, it’s pizza; it’s supposed to tempting and fun.

Image: Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels

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Drink Donnybrook: Brandy Alexander

Drink Donnybrook: Brandy Alexander

by David Klemt

Bartender straining cocktail into glass

The classic Brandy Alexander cocktail, which we celebrate at the end of this month, is slowly approaching a century since its first appearance.

That is, of course, if we go solely by the first time this creamy cocktail’s recipe was printed in a book. For the curious, the book is Cafe Royal Cocktail Book by William J. Tarling. And that book was first published in 1937. Notably, Tarling’s book was published by the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild.

Now, since you’re reading this you know this is a new entry in the Drink Donnybrook series. So, you know that the Brandy Alexander’s history is unclear. You also know, if this isn’t you’re first time reading one of these articles, that I love a cocktail with a shadowy origin.

We do know, however, that the Brandy Alexander belongs to the Duos and Trios cocktail family. Per Gaz Regan, a Duo is a base spirit plus a liqueur. Add a cream or cream liqueur to the Duo and you get a Trio, which describes the Brandy Alexander.

Let’s dive into this creamy cocktail’s creation.

Firsts

The Brandy Alexander is itself a riff on a cocktail that predates its appearance in Cafe Royal Cocktail Book by twenty years.

First, there was the Alexander. This predecessor is made with gin. According to my deep dive, the gin-based recipe first appeared in Recipes For Mixed Drinks by Hugo Ensslin in 1917.

As time went on and more cocktail recipe books were published, something interesting happened. The gin-based recipe would commonly be referred to as Alexander #1, or the first recipe. As you may have already guessed, the brandy version would be listed as Alexander #2.

Per Tomas Curras, cocktail books seem to have changed the naming convention to Alexander and Brandy Alexander some time in the 1970s.

Of the two recipes, it appears that the Brandy Alexander is the more popular. So, while it didn’t show up first, it has taken first place (allegedly) among the Alexander cocktails.

But there’s another first within the Alexander lore, as you’ll see below.

Who Done It?

Prepare to have your mind blown: We don’t know.

At best, we think we know the creator of the gin Alexander, a.k.a. Alexander #1. I say “think” because better cocktail historians than I can’t say for certain that we know the Alexander’s creator.

However, the assumption does make a great deal of sense. It’s believed that Troy Alexander—check out that surname—invented what could be the eponymous cocktail in New York City at a restaurant called Rector’s.

This would place the first Alexander’s creation some time between 1899 and 1918, the years Rector’s was in operation. Rector’s, by the way, was the first restaurant in NYC to feature a revolving door.

Alexander created the cocktail for a party celebrating a successful ad campaign featuring the fictitious character Phoebe Snow. Snow, white…white cocktail.

But who was the first person to swap out the gin for brandy in the Alexander? It’s feasible that it was Troy Alexander, of course. If it wasn’t him, well…we don’t know who decided to substitute brandy for gin.

There’s more mystery surrounding the drink’s name, as well. Some say the Brandy Alexander is a nod to Russian tsar Alexander II. Or perhaps it honors Princess Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary. The classic could also pay homage to critic Alexander Woollcott (a claim he made himself) or Grover Cleveland Alexander, pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1911 to 1917.

So, there you have it: a mystery to share with your guests when they come to your bar or restaurant for your Brandy Alexander Day promotion on January 31. Cheers!

The Recipe

Interestingly, there’s some room to play with this classic. Some people follow the equal parts rule, some add a bit more brandy than creme de cacao or cocoa. Others double the amount of brandy.

You and your bar team should play with the measurements to create your signature take on the Brandy Alexander.

At any rate, fill a shaker with ice then add one, one-and-a-half, or two ounces of brandy, one ounce of the creme de cacao of your choice, and one ounce of cream. Shake until well chilled, then strain into cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Image: cottonbro studio on Pexels

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