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50 Great Ideas 2008: 31-40

31. Please pass the video

The next generation serving platter may be VTRAYSTM, equipped with a built in LCD screen to display video clips. Invented by chef-proprietor Philippe Feret to give Brasserie Julien and Allure Catering visibility on New York City’s jammed restaurant scene, the device has proven especially useful for catering events. The moving image of a commercial, movie trailer or guest of honor’s photo “really cuts through the cluttered environment to catch the diner’s eye when they’re reaching for that proverbial ‘pig in a blanket,’” observes co-owner Cecilia Pineda Feret. “It fills guests with the same child-like wonder of how pictures get into their TVs.”

32. Bucking the Monday blues
It’s the perennial dilemma: What to do about Mondays? At Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott, Massachusetts, proprietor Paul Petersiel found an answer—a $1 bar food menu from 11 a.m. until midnight. Ever since he started offering oysters, shrimp skewers, baby corn dogs and Angus beef sliders for a dollar, patrons are packing the place, vying for the 29 bar stools and perching on window ledges—ordering a couple of $10 cocktails to wash down the bargain-priced bites. “Recently, a fellow went through 100 oysters one Monday night,” reports Petersiel, adding that some of the business spills over into the dining room. “The locals come to party.”

33. Smile, you’re on pizza camera
Plenty of pizzerias have video arcade games and pinball machines to entertain patrons while they wait for their pies. Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee offers something a little different. Owners Mark Gold and Louie Siecinski installed a retro-style photo booth that snaps and develops a strip of poses in minutes. The Face Place Photo Booth was designed in conjunction with Polaroid; Pizza Shuttle paid about $7,000 up front but earns $1.50 for every $2 set of photos taken. Customers don’t seem at all camera shy. “We thought we would do five pictures a day, but we’re doing around 30,” reports Gold. 

34. Uniforms you don’t mind wearing
A server’s uniform should have a little “give” to stay comfy throughout a shift, but spandex can be too snappy and dense—and it’s not flattering to all shapes and sizes. A few manufacturers are experimenting with Dow XLA, a new fiber that incorporates stretch but has more breathability. “It’s especially geared to hospitality,” says Leann Schwartz, Dow Fiber Solution’s commercial manager for work wear. “The fiber is resistant to high heat and holds up well to industrial laundering, plus it retains the natural softness of cotton or whatever fiber it’s blended with.” Cintas now makes a shirt with XLA and more uniform pieces are on the way.

35. Team building and time off
Last August, Louisville, Colorado-based Rock Bottom Restaurants inaugurated a paid time off program for employees who volunteer at food banks, Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits. “The program was a huge success both philanthropically and in a team-building sense,” says Jessie Newman, executive director of the Rock Bottom Foundation, “so the company decided to make it permanent.” Workers who volunteer get two days off a year. The Foundation sends out a list of volunteer options twice a month. “When people work well as a team, it’s bound to pay off in productivity.” 

36. Get creamed for the team
Lionel Vatinet is a nationally acclaimed French baker, classically trained in artisan bread and pastry making. But his serious side dissolves when he’s hit in the face with an orange cream tart—the prize in a staff competition at La Farm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina. “As a team-building exercise, we ran a contest to see which of our 22 associates could sell the most breads and spreads in a 15-day period,” explains Missy Vatinet, La Farm’s co-owner. “Then we asked the staff what they would like as a reward if they could choose anything, and they chose pie throwing.” The husband-wife partners constantly try to find fun ways to build competitiveness among staffers. Not only does it help business, it reveals some surprises. “The employee who won this contest is very quiet. I never would have guessed she would sell the most,” says Missy Vatinet. “She gained a new respect from all the team members.” 

37. Little guacamole makers
The seven-location sophisticated Mexican restaurant Rosa Mexicano is famous for its freshly made guacamole prepared tableside in authentic molcajetes. Last August, a young customer in Miami asked his server if he could help, the staff took a photo and it struck a chord with COO-partner Howard Greenstone. Soon after, “I Rocked the Guac” was put in place systemwide. Now servers invite pint-sized guests to don a specially designed apron (theirs to keep), hop on a step stool and mix up a batch of guacamole.

38. A new kind of staff meal
In 2006, the Atlanta Business Chronicle named Fifth Group Restaurants as one of its “Best Places to Work” in the city. In 2007, management decided to play off that honor by launching its “Eat Like You Work Here” program. Each quarter, two different concepts in the restaurant group offer guests 25 percent off their dinner check for one night—the same discount company employees receive. “The program is a way to express our gratitude and show our guests how much they are valued too,” says Robby Kukler, one of the partners in Fifth Group. 

39. Carousel of temptation
The art nouveau decor and French antiques that fill Orsay could convince patrons that they’re dining in Paris rather than Manhattan. When owner Jean Denoyer brought back his latest acquisition—an original Christofle hors d’oeuvre trolley from the 1940s—it inspired a unique menu addition from executive chef Jason Hicks. On each of the 18 porcelain trays that revolve around the trolley, he offers different items; all can be served at room temperature, such as asparagus ravigote and celery remoulade. “As the server turns the carousel, the trays stop tableside so guests can make their selections,” Hicks says. “It’s a very Parisian experience.” The trolley is priced at $16 per person.

40. They’re game to train
To train employees in portion control, speed of service and customer relations, Cold Stone Creamery developed a video game called Stone City. The game features a sophisticated ice cream simulation, including a viscosity model for accurate scooping of the various flavors. Players learn by competing against one another through the corporate Intranet. “Cold Stone Creamery’s online training appeals to everyone in our community, from the store owner to the crew member,” says Kevin Bales, developer of parent company Kahala Corporation’s educational technology. “Our courses feature flash animation with narration, embedded video and exams to help develop learning retention. The cost for our programs is an incredible deal—just an Internet connection and a desire to learn.”

50 Great Ideas 2008: 1-10   |  11-20   |  21-30   |  31-40   |  41-50

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