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  • Writer's pictureAJA BEARD

Are your specials really that special?

Almost every restaurant is guilty of this dirty little secret...repurposing leftovers into specials.

Monday's leftover Meatloaf becomes Tuesday's Shepard's Pie.

Wednesday's "Handmade" Turkey burger becomes Thursday's Turkey chili.

Friday's Shrimp Fettuccini becomes Saturday's Cajun Shrimp Pasta.

Sunday...Chef's Special

Throwing away food means throwing away profit and no one wants to see dollar signs poking out of their trashcans. Restauranteurs and chef's everywhere have become super savvy with creating delightful leftovers that customers happily pay full price for. But herein lies the problem...guests don't go to restaurants to pay for leftovers, they want fresh, made that moment (preferably right in front of them), perfectly seasoned food. And with the rise of Food Network, the Cooking Channel, heck, You Tube, our once naïve guests are quickly becoming food savvy critics.

"But Aja, what am I supposed to do with all my leftovers??"

Here's the double edged sword answer. The health department allows you to reuse temperature controlled food for up to 7 days. So in all fairness, restaurants are well within their rights to repurpose leftovers as best they can. Larger restaurants rarely need to hold food for 7 seven days, however, for most smaller restaurants, this is the only way they can survive. So keep on repurposing, but make sure your team is properly trained on how to cool and hold food safely to prevent any food borne illnesses.

For the bigger chains, franchises and fine dining establishments-let's talk strategy.

Tip #1: If you consistently have leftovers due to overproduction, adjust your pars. Have your GM run a product mix report daily and weekly from your POS system to give your chef a breakdown of every single item you've sold in your restaurant. This report can be cross-utilized for ordering but will also help with understanding production levels so you can accurately set up inventory pars, prep lists and production sheets.

Tip #2: Be integral with your leftovers. If you have an item sitting under a heat lamp for over 2 hours, is it (A) a good business practice to save and reuse it, or (B) throw it away so you don't lose a loyal customer by serving an undesirable product.? Hopefully you choose B but if not, please reach out to me so we can schedule a customer service training session. Sometimes common sense outweighs protocol and you simply need to put yourself in the shoes of your guests and ask yourself, how would I feel if I paid full price for this item? I like to call this, the mirror effect. This method will help bring clarity quickly whenever you're on the fence about a leftover decision.

Tip #3: Create specials from seasonal produce and traditional favorites at non-traditional times. Produce companies everywhere want to move their perishable inventory as quickly as possible. When seasonal produce starts filtering into their warehouses they often send out special price sheets or notifications alerting you of what's new. Capitalize on those opportunities! Rotate your sides, your desserts and your sauces to feature those seasonal ingredients. And, because they are seasonal, these dishes are instantly special because you will not be able to feature them all year long. Once you make a great seasonal special you will create a yearlong demand for it. Starbucks has cornered the market on this with their seasonal Pumpkin Spice latte. Which leads us to our second tip in this category, featuring traditional menu items at non-traditional times. How awesome would it be to have a Thanksgiving dinner special in July? Or even easier, a breakfast for dinner special that you only feature once a week. Try it on your slowest day of the week and once the buzz gets out, that day will become well known for your special breakfast dinner plate and your slowest day just became your busiest.

Aja's summarized thoughts: Minimize overproduction so you have fewer leftovers and don't sacrifice quality for convenience. Develop a par system for your team and adjust it based on business levels so you produce the right amount of food on slower days versus busier days. Feature seasonal produce or traditional holiday favorites as part of your specials instead of just repurposing leftovers. Set a standard of excellence when you call something special. Your guests will notice the difference and you, your Chef and your team, will feel proud to feature them on your menu.

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