Simple, low-cost Recipe Software – this looks just the ticket!

I found CookKeepBook through a social media mention, and it seems to have all the functions for recipe software that an independent operator needs. For many years we sold Profitable Recipe Manager, and its combination of simplicity and accuracy helped thousands of businesses control their food and recipe costs. Since retiring that product a few years ago, I’ve been looking for an inexpensive, cloud-based alternative.

There are some excellent high-end products such as Cooking the Books, MasterTracker, Menu Coster, Hospitality Genie, the less expensive Fillet, and the venerable CalcMenu and Resort Software (waiting for them to go cloud-based), with integrations to POS systems, invoices, ordering and bookkeeping. Many of these are loaded with features, and fairly expensive for a small operator – no-one escapes subscription pricing these days!

In my experience, most people want a simple solution that can be used anywhere – PC, Mac, iPad or phone. They know that every time a recipe is costed, there will be surprises – sometimes good, usually not! The process should be as simple as: 1. enter the ingredients, 2. write the recipe and 3. create a costed recipe to print or share on iPad for daily use. When ingredient costs go up or down, changing a price adjusts the costing on all the relevant recipes.

CookKeepBook seems to have all that’s necessary for daily use, with a free version (not just a trial), and the annual cost to include a lot more features is only $69. I’ve been in touch with the developers and they are responsive and working on regular updates and new features. Highly recommended!

7 Small Ways You Could Be Leaking Money

None of these is major, but each week they soak up cash and cut into profits. Part of the fix is showing staff that every cent counts and you do watch the cents! They can be an active part of the solution, not standing on the side watching. Every single member of your staff could point out something that’s ‘leaky’ and wasteful – do they tell you? Do you ask?

  1. Late to Arrive and Early to Leave. You know who they are – the commitment of these employees is questionable. Other staff notice, and watch if you do anything about it. Finger or facial recognition clocking on and off is inexpensive to set up and integrates with payroll – if you haven’t done this already, it’s time.
  2. Dripping Taps and Running Water. In many venues, water down the toilet is more than half of the total consumption. Plus spray arms in the kitchen that use way too much and cleaning routines that use it like it’s free. Work out your water bill per day to show staff the real cost . Energy use consultants can be very useful to check this and other utility costs, and always pay for themselves.
  3. Coffee and Milk Waste. A few grams of lost coffee every time the dose is done – it adds up to big money each week. Plus all the milk that’s been overheated and can’t be used again for coffee – does it go down the sink? Ben Armstrong, the smart operator at Three Bean Espresso in Newcastle collects it to make their own yoghurt – they are now self-sufficient. Clever!
  4. Colour Printers – they’re money pits if you are still using a ‘cheap’ ink-jet printer. Really, do you need to print in colour, or would a low-cost black & white laser printer do for 95% of the printing? Or have both and set the default to the laser printer. Add up your ink cartridge purchases and divide by the number of days – the figures can be scary.
  5. Credit for Goods You Returned – this is one of the first things I look for when I’m doing a ‘costing blitz’ in a business. It’s not uncommon to return goods that are the wrong brand, size or not needed, but has the credit appeared on your statement? What’s the process to ensure this happens every time? Easy to overlook.
  6. Credit Card Fees. What’s the ‘effective rate’ your provider is charging? They create confusion with base rates and extra rates for different types of cards. Add up a month of charges and divide by a month of card sales – if it’s above 1.2% it’s time to talk with the bank manager.
  7. Back Door Dealing. In the rush of deliveries and a busy kitchen, it’s easy for delivery people to be unsupervised and cages left unlocked. Food and alcohol is as good as currency for many people – it needs a range of measures to control this including patient checking (you need the right person for this), cameras, tighter key access and storage routines. When did you last catch a thief?

Essential Directions for Restaurants & Cafes in 2019…

At the end of each year, there’s a flood of food trend surveys, and you may be wondering about nutella (wasn’t that 2016?), burgers (timeless, not trendy), vegan (essential) and a whole lot more. Step off the trend treadmill, and let’s put the industry changes into a series of directions or themes – areas where it’s vital that you stay ahead and keep improving your business. Standing still is not an option.

  1. Collecting Customers – detailed information about current and future customers is ever more important, and trend-setting operators use new methods to do this. They build on the solid foundation of email, and add personalised campaigns for different groups of Facebook fans. Or run Instagram competitions to reach young mums or food-loving singles they are chasing. They also see the value in live events and ticket sales – serving up food and experiences to passionate people, and bringing them back for more.
  2. New Profit Channels – there are many questions about the real profits from delivery services. Handing over 35% to UberEats or Deliveroo doesn’t leave much to cover costs and profits. But demand is soaring, and the extra sales are there – you’re absolutely on-trend when you experiment with the best way to take orders, organise delivery and keep the customer’s details all to yourself. Explore white-label delivery apps like Foodstorm or OrderUp, and special deals with couriers for catering. Or maybe your own app and a fast-service window for regular take-aways service.
  3. Tighter Control of the Numbers – the leading businesses in 2019 will have instant access to sales, wages and purchasing data, and they use it. This is low-cost technology available for everyone. 2017 was the year for online bookkeeping, roster systems, a better POS and booking apps. This is the year for integrating them into an easily-managed whole. Start by feeding them all into your Xero or MYOB system – sales, purchasing and wages to create a powerful dashboard. Don’t fear your numbers, bring them under control.
  4. Simplify for Efficiency. What processes can be done more quickly, with fewer phone calls, fewer moving parts, and less need for skilled staff? This is not about dumbing-down or going back to pen and paper. Simplify rostering with online systems like Tanda and Deputy – more control and an instant review of wage costs. Simplify food costs with software that gives you control of recipes, menus and ordering – check Cooking the Books, Ordermentum and Hospitality Genie. Make it easy for customers to book online, and send them reminders and messages. A simple and effective website has the phone number, hours of opening and address – are they easy to find? And ask your staff what they think could be simplified – they’ll have plenty of ideas.
  5. Great Flavours and Ingredients – whether it’s kale or cardamom, corn-fed chicken or vegan burgers, our Aussie customers love bright, strong flavours. Extra spicy, chilli options, smoky meats and char-grilled corn. Or single-origin chocolate and local mascarpone – yes please! With recent surveys showing about 1 in 10 Aussies are mostly vegetarian, vegetables at the centre with optional meat is a smart move, and if meat is your proud offering, boast about the origins and flavour profile.

People also have questions – where are the mussels from, what’s sugar-free, and how did you make the amazing lemon cake? All staff should be able to answer, and your website will be full of information. If a question keeps recurring, it might hint at a new offer – lactose-free milk anyone?

Restaurant Robotics – Two More Examples

We’ve already looked at robots cooking stirfy, and robots delivering plates.  Here are two more examples, both in early development but showing plenty of promise.

The Hiring Robot, with an improvement to the speech and intonation, would be good for a first interview. Asking questions verbally is likely to get more responses than a set of written questions. You’ve probably already related to ‘people’ like this when you make banking or airline inquiries.

It’s also early days for this robot Burger Maker, but it won’t take long for the process to be much smoother. Japanese precision food processing, like sushi-making machines, is already highly sophisticated. With this one it almost feels like the Americans are playing catch-up, and are creating the Disneyland version. Watch this space!

Taking Online Food Delivery Services to the Logical Conclusion…

Apparently Deliveroo in the UK is creating its own restaurant brands – it wants to work with celebrity chefs to open new concepts, with food produced in their dark kitchen production facilities. This will also allow international brands to test the popularity of their offer in markets with the right demographics.

Logically, their own house brands could also be invented  eg Hamilton’s Rib House or Why Not Noodles, with an entirely cloud-based identity of menu, graphics and ‘story’. We’re used to house brand groceries at supermarkets, and they don’t have to be lower quality. Some restaurants send out delivery food under a different name, to avoid confusing their brand.

Take it further: you love the Ottolenghi cookbooks, but an Ottolenghi restaurant will never open near you – there is a solution! You’ll be able to order dishes from any of his cookbooks – robotic production like this would automate the process, just another extension of recipe software.

Or you’ve tasted the wonderful Turkish food of Somer Sivioglu of Efendy and Anason restaurants in Sydney – when you’re in Dallas, it could be delivered to your door via the local shadow kitchen working from his cookbooks.

Ultimately, the difference will come down to whether you want to eat someone else’s food at home, or in the company of others. I want both, and I like the idea of more choices.

Food at Efendy, photo courtesy of Brandee Meier

Restaurant Robotics – a Couple of Interesting Examples

There are more and more examples – these two intrigued me from the cooking and the service side. Maintaining consistency and quality, freeing up staff to have more interaction and quality time with customers or the food they are cooking.

In fact the revolution is well underway – hand-held ordering has eliminated errors and kept servers close to the customers, and kiosk ordering is gaining traction. What have you seen?

Cooking with robotic woks…

Bringing the food to the server…

And a couple more recent developments for Burgers and Interviews

How to Build Your Career in Coffee or Cooking – 2 minute advice video

You may find Chris Baca’s enthusiasm annoying, or his message spot on. I like what he’s saying, and he got it out in 2 minutes flat – that’s way quicker than most career advice. And maybe it’s a model for how to share video information in a way that will be watched right to the end.

What’s he on about? If you’re a speedy barista who knows all about flavour, or a chef who can cook blindfolded – congratulations.

But if you want to get ahead in coffee, or become a head chef or manager, the real skills to develop are how you lead, teach and communicate. Simple. Get off the tools and work on doing these better – that’s what business operators are looking for. Otherwise, you’re just one of many in a crowded field.

Another great discussion starter video for a team meeting…

It’s World Backup Day – When Did You Do It Last?

March 31 is World Backup Day – and apparently 30% of people have never backed up their data, ever. Or maybe you did it a long, long time ago…which is equal to never. All your employment records, emails, sales data, recipes, booking information, customer lists, tax records, your website… let alone all the personal information and family photos. One in 10 computers is affected by viruses every month.

You need to be backing up to a local hard-drive, and a cloud service. I now use cloud-based service Backblaze, for a measly $50 per year. Very easy to set up, and it quietly backs up my new and changed data every hour, without me noticing. Double security, and highly recommended.

Imagine your laptop, phone, iPad and POS system all stolen or destroyed, or your system hijacked – what would it take to recover?

When You Take Over a Cafe or Restaurant – How to Do It Right

A while back I wrote about the decline of a favourite cafe now under new ownership. I was challenged to give suggestions for how this could be done well, so here’s my To-Do list for the new business owner:

New Faces: own it, and let people know who’s who. Now’s the time for name tags (yes!) and the owner or manager could even add a cheeky label to say ‘Proud New Owner’.  Could you get a ‘best wishes’ message from the old owner? Put it up on the wall for all to see.

This is also time to say goodbye to staff who weren’t adding to the business – the slow and the negative. In most situations, you have a unique opportunity to let go of previous employees without any obligation – the previous owner should be paying them out, or compensating you for any accrued benefits they have (eg long service leave). New owner, new start – talk to your lawyer.

Do More of What Was Done Well: the great cakes, the friendly greeting, excellent coffee (don’t change the blend!) and the special services. Keep buying flowers and providing newspapers.

Fix the Weak System: businesses are rarely sold because they’re making too much money… it’s usually the opposite, no matter what stories you were told by the broker! Audit and start upgrading the ordering systems, stocktaking, recipe costing, booking and customer service procedures. Are staff signing on and off correctly? Assume that there’s been internal theft, and look for system gaps that have allowed this eg stocktaking, POS not being used correctly, cash handling etc. Once you close off these opportunities, the thieves will soon leave.

Dig Into the Numbers: the figures you were given from the old business are probably a bit sketchy, but you will soon find valuable information from your POS and the bills you pay. A well-setup cloud accounting system is essential eg Xero or MYOB, so you can track results day by day – get your accountant onto this immediately. Detailed figures from the POS will soon show best and worst sellers, plus sales by hour and day. A good roster system like Tanda or Deputy let’s you compare wage costs against sales – even a spreadsheet will help to find areas of strength and weakness. Slice and dice all the numbers you can – opportunities will be right there in front of you.

Clean and Repair: businesses for sale often look tired, and cleaning is one of the first things to be neglected. Blitz the floors, and ceilings, plus behind counters and shelves – you’ll be surprised at what you find. Fix the broken appliances, toss out old platters and pots, ditch the broken furniture. Front of house, fix wobbly tables and repair all the dings and scratches on furniture. Paint the toilets and install new toilet seats and amenities.

Don’t Redecorate Just Yet: if you’re launching a whole new concept, go for it. But if you value the concept you bought, minimise the redecoration until you’ve settled in. Once you know more about the customers and service rhythm, you’ll be clearer about new decor.

Leave the Menu Alone: there will be weaknesses that need to be fixed, but in the first few months you are stabilising the ship, sorting out the staff and making friends with customers. You’re also finding out what customers really like, so use the specials board to try new ideas. Ask questions and listen.

Improve the Marketing: another area where the previous owners were probably economising or forgetful. Increase the friendliness and frequency of posts on Facebook and Instagram, including targeted ads. Check that your ‘Google My Business’ listing is up to date and has plenty of photos. The website may need a major improvement – this should be a high priority, with better photos, more relevant information and optimised for mobile phones. If an email newsletters was being send, use it to spread good news – another area where things had probably slipped.

Improve Staff Culture and Conditions: that includes fairer treatment, proper pay, better rostering and good communication channels. There will be times you are told ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ – just smile and explain why it needs to change. Don’t be surprised if within 3 months all the old staff have left – it usually happens with new management. Yes, even the ones who say you’re much nicer than the old boss! Staff manuals and policies, job descriptions and a noticeboard – they’re all part of the healthy new broom.

How to Get Work Instructions & Recipes Written Up Quickly & Cheaply

Two finger typist? You’re not alone, but when it comes to typing up the recipes in your black book, or preparing an instruction manual, it can be yet another excuse to put it off… again.

Two low-cost online services can do the work for you in a few hours – I use them, and find them fast and accurate.

1. Typing Up Notes with Fiverr

Fiverr is a service that does a wide range of small tasks, usually for about $5 each – photo or video editing, logo design, menu translations, fixing spreadsheets, resume writing and lots more. I recently used Fiverr to have 40 hand-written forms typed – it cost $US 11 and was done overnight! A job that would have taken me hours, or more likely never be done – I scanned them as a pdf and uploaded to Fiverr.

Have all your recipes typed: I know of chefs who have scanned their hand-written recipes and sent the images to a Fiverr typist. Use a PDF Scanner app on your phone, and as you photograph each page it turns into a pdf, adding one page after another.

Tip: send the person you are considering for the work a message with a sample page, to see how they handle it – can they read your writing? If you want the recipes set out in a particular way, give a sample with your instructions. The $5 fee is for a short job – expect to pay more for longer jobs, but it’s still way less than the value of your time.

2. Typed Notes from a Voice Recording

An interview with a staff member may need to be written up, or it could be quicker to read aloud instructions for your new Kitchen Systems Manual, have them transcribed, then tidied up in a Word document. Get the words out of your head and onto paper!

For these transcriptions, I recommend Rev.com – a brilliant service that turns transcripts into recordings, usually within a few hours – all for $US 1 per minute! Use their recording app, or upload a recording you’ve done from the voice recorder on your phone. I recently had a 10 min. recording written up for $10, producing an 8 page document – something I could never have done myself. Another time I sent them the link to a fairly technical YouTube video, and shared the transcription with people who wanted to read it.

This is just the start of outsourcing the time-consuming jobs in your restaurant – start here and look around for lots more possibilities…

Also relevant: this Profitable Hospitality podcast on How to Outsource Hospitality Administration & Design Work.