2010 December: Ask Chef Jeff

2010 December: Ask Chef JeffQ: Most of my customers come in with a coupon. How do I wean them off and get them to pay regular price again?

A: Good for you for using the almighty coupon as a tool to bring folks in, as the current economy has virtually changed every aspect of how we do business. Start building stronger relationships with customers. Get to know them and give them little samples of things as you start to minimize your coupon advertising. This builds customer loyalty where a coupon is no longer necessary. If coupons continue to drive up guest counts, and you don’t feel like you can get away from them, simply raise your prices.

In trying to get the most out of my staff, I’m more confused than ever whether to use a discipline system or reward to get the best productivity out of employees. What works best for you?

I have found that you need to have the perfect balance of both. I meet operators who are actually afraid to discipline because they don’t want to lose that employee and have to train someone new. That is one of the biggest mistakes an operator can make. Lowering your standard to meet the current work ethic of the average youngster coming into the workplace today will surely and ultimately shut you down. I’ve also seen operators reward someone who is simply meeting company expectations. That’s pushing it. You want to reward those who exceed the expectation and discipline those who are not with a little coaching and encouragement. That’s how you continually raise the bar and blow your competition away.

I notice that you have some really different items at your restaurant, like roasted eggplant eggrolls. Where do you get them and do they sell well?

I love to create different menu items that can’t be found anywhere else. They are fairly easy to make, and they are so unique that some customers come just for them (while others come because of them). Think outside the box. Look at the ingredients you already have and create new and exciting dishes for your customers that will bring them back! I recently had a group use my dining room for a breakfast meeting. I cooked up a nice little breakfast and actually made a couple hundred dollars before my staff even came in. Is there a way to get more of this kind of business?

Yes! If you have the space and time, offering your space for breakfast catering is a perfect way to increase sales. There are business networking groups, as well as other groups (like church groups, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs and the like) that meet monthly or weekly and need a private and quiet place to hold their breakfast meetings. Go to them and offer them your place. Keep them happy with a slightly different menu each week. The great thing is, you’ll see their faces in your place during the week as well for your regular fare! ?

Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert. This will be his last “Ask Chef Jeff” column. Beginning next month, Big Dave Ostrander will take over our montly Q&A, while Jeff Chef focuses on developing recipes for us each month.

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