You can’t predict the weather. It’s a simple enough notion, but one Bruce Reinstein, the president of Consolidated Concepts—a purchasing partner for restaurant groups with 10 or more units—thinks deserves more scrutiny from operators around the country.
Having contingency plans, from menu selection to ingredient backups, can determine whether a unit survives or folds when Mother Nature inevitably butts in, he says. “One of the hardest things about weather is that you can’t control it. One of our focuses is to talk about it, as opposed to being in a situation where you’re saying, ‘How did this happen, what can I do?’” Reinstein explains. “We want to talk about what you can do to prepare for it, because it’s going to happen. You’re going to get droughts; you’re going to get rain; you’re going to get New England weather. It will have an impact on your business. For a company to be naïve and say, ‘Let’s hope we don’t have bad weather this year,’ well, there is going to be bad weather this year. You have to know how to react.”
Reinstein’s company, which works with 175 brands, put together a list of tips for restaurants to deal with weather-related concerns. The California drought, entering its fourth year, is a hot-button topic, Reinstein says, that has raised awareness on the subject across different sectors. But there’s still plenty of operators who simply hope for the best and react to the worst—a strategy Reinstein says needs to evolve.
“Think about it—when things are good, we kind of take our eye off of things,” he says. “When the stock market jumps, even if we don’t have a lot of money invested, we say, ‘What is this going to do to me?’ This happens with weather all the time. You don’t know if the stock market is going to take a fall, but you sure know there’s going to be bad weather at some point. It’s sometimes surprising that operators don’t prepare really for what’s going to come.”
According to Consolidated Concepts, the California Central Valley grows 230 varieties of crops and produces two-thirds of the nation’s produce, including 84 percent of the country’s fresh peaches, 94 percent of fresh plums, 99 percent of artichokes, 94 percent of broccoli, and about half of asparagus. Clearly, that brings produce into focus, and how to deal with shrinking numbers and increasing prices.
“Logically, you would like to put together a menu that would last you a year,” Reinstein says. “You do the menu, and you execute it, and everything is fine. But what happens if you create a menu that has avocados in eight different places and the avocado market goes up double where it was?”
Reinstein suggests implementing quarterly menus. “You want stability, but stability is a very difficult thing. Especially when you’re dealing with produce,” he adds. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that [operators] are not willing to make changes because they’ve been doing it the same way forever. But in many cases, there are products that will fit their needs, but they’ve never really looked at it.”
For example, different kinds of produce, like switching up or having a variety of tomatoes to select from; looking at imperfect produce, which can be chopped up and measure up to typical flavor profiles—a concept that holds true with proteins as well.
“You take an item like steak tenderloin and you’re paying a premium for the center cut,” he says. “The ends, however, are going to be a good value. So, in theory, those are the imperfect cut of tenderloin. But there’s nothing wrong with the product. It’s actually excellent.”
Other than creating a list of substitute ingredients for high-volume menu items, Reinstein also mentions that limited time offers can help introduce new products that can be brought back, which could help restaurants anticipate shortages. Minimizing waste with the proper packaging, making sure local programs are being used, switching to smaller portions, and not shying away from frozen are also options.
Additionally, if space entails, using an on-site garden, turning to greenhouse-type items, and blending can be useful techniques.
“We want our clients to be able to look at what they were using for a long period of time and be able to make adjustments,” he says. “We believe they should be looking at products all the time, even in the good times. The bad times will come, it’s important to be ready and able to test products ahead of time, and not be in a situation where they have to make bad decisions. They can actually make good decisions, even in tough times.”