Why This Restaurant Critic is Not Afraid of Losing His Job to Yelpers

In the age of social media platforms and user-created content, is there still a place for the restaurant food critic as we used to know it?

On this episode of Chef AF, our host Chef Jim Berman, sits down with Jason Sheehan, a former professional chef turned food writer— a venture that lead him to win a James Beard Award and later author several books.

Sheehan, who’s now a restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine, likes “the idea of someone going to a restaurant, having something good or having something awful and then telling people about it.”

“There is a part of me that likes Yelp and other platforms like it. I like the notion of the democratization of restaurant criticism…I have no problem with that whatsoever,” says Sheehan. “What kills me is the weight that it’s given…”

Listen in to this entertaining episode as these two chefs/writers debate the role of media and restaurants in the modern age and why Jason Sheehan is not worried about losing his job to Yelpers!

Hosted by:

Jim Berman

JIM BERMAN

Expert Columnist / Show Host


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The Rebel Yell: Saying "No" To Diners

On this episode of Chef AF, our host Chef Jim Berman sits down with the unapologetic Chef Norrawit “Wit” Milburn, who claims “I don’t do hospitality, I just make bomb-ass food.” Wit, as he prefers to be called, is the Chef and Co-Owner of Delaware’s Ubon Thai Cuisine, Kapow Kitchen and two food trucks, alongside his wife.

The two restaurant industry veterans share their insights on how to go about encouraging “picky eaters” about trying new foods and tips for chef and operators who are not sure what they should serve kids at restaurants.

One of the questions our host, Chef Berman, poses is “Is it our job, is it our responsibility to educate customers? Is that a fool’s errand? Is that a higher calling that maybe we just can’t answer to?”

Chef Wit eloquently responds: “As a business person? No. But, as a Chef? Yes!”

Take a listen to this fun episode to make sense of all this information and laugh alongside these two cooks as they help us understand a chef’s creative mindset!


Hosted by:

Jim Berman

JIM BERMAN

Expert Columnist / Show Host


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Tips on How to Work on Your Side Dish Hustle

Culinary-driven sides can make your restaurant the destination for picky eaters

Side dishes aren’t free, right? So why not give them the same nod as the other categories of your menu? Vegetables and non-entree elements can heft 20% of sales, while desserts, for instance, may be only about 3%, yet chocolate gets more attention from the back-of-the-house than the roasted beet salad or the cheese plate.

Right that wrong for the sake of driving sales, keeping your menu sharp, and making good restaurant sense.

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Side dishes make the meal. Just don’t call them side dishes.

Add-on dishes drive top-line sales and raise the per-person average (PPA.) Desirable side dishes jazz guests - even picky ones -  with more opportunities to be impressed by your food.

What do interesting ‘sides’ look like? Start by not calling them sides. Just like the value of vegetables is diminished with “veggies,” find nomenclature that works for your brand, but stay away from sides. Vegetables, shareable, or ‘for the table’, are more marketable terms than sides, unless you are pedaling a 2-ounce soufflé  cup of coleslaw or apple sauce, you can do better. Also, bump the list to better menu geography to raise the dishes’ status.

Feed the table

Portions large enough to make a lap around the table impact more guests and fetch bigger sales; that’s easy math. Take Toronto’s Fat Pasha’s roasted cauliflower; the whole vegetable is roasted with tahini, skhug, pine nuts, pomegranate, and halloumi. Something for guests to talk about (and post on Instagram) and it pays your rent.

A fundamental ingredient upended with a culinary flourish can coax some of the reluctance out of those less food-forward. Again, another win.

Take the lead from Joe’s Stone Crab and label the vegetable category “...large enough to share.” Why? Group mentality. If it’s for the table, then there’s no guilt about ordering too much food. A humble order of grilled asparagus or onion rings both could fetch a cool $10. That translates to one dish dropping an extra $2.50 to PPA.

Easy on the season

An accompanying dish is easy to re-engineer with the season versus a main course that may have a multi-pan pick-up. Who says specials are only for main dishes? When Mark from the produce company calls with a deal on a bumper crop of little eggplants, make the move. Deliver the vegetables as a feature, share it with the table, and put good margins on an item at the top of its seasonal game.

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In the era of community tables and shared dining experiences, having dishes designed to divvy is an automatic. Cleveland’s Flying Fig boasts only two sections on their core menu - entrees and everything else. It’s the latter that ups the stakes for the culinarily enchanted. Their taleggio polenta, tempura green beans, or bacon wrapped dates tickle the right spots.

A concert is live music. Garnish the performance with lights and some crazy-ass visuals and you have a happening! The same goes for a meal, right? Some devil is in the details, all the way across the menu, not just center stage. There is the same seismic emotion in great food - regardless of where it falls on the menu - as the charged arm flailing at a great show. Do not diminish the value of righteous cornbread studded with currants and caressed with maple butter. A dish is a dish is a dish. Allowing any victual to languish as “just” a side, is a culinary felony. Get each dish up and moving.

Looking for some more words of wisdom from Chef Jim? Check out the latest Chef AF podcast episode below where he discusses with fellow Chef Derek Stevens about cities where the culinary scene is somewhat forgotten in the food world and which cities are now seeing a food resurgence.

Why the Food Scene in “Forgotten Cities” Is As Important As Those in New York, Chicago, and L.A.

On this episode of Chef AF, our host Chef Jim Berman sits down with Chef Derek Stevens— a Steel City “burning star,” as he calls him, for shining bright in the local food scene. Stevens is the co-owner and executive chef of Pittsburgh’s Union Standard. Both gentlemen are Pittsburgh-natives and they focus their conversation around those cites that seem “forgotten” in the food world.

The two agree that as chefs they are always on the hunt for honest food. Chef Stevens is candid about his favorite Pittsburgh food spots, highlighting establishments like LeoGretta located in the Carnegie neighborhood and ran by Chef Greg Alauzen; as well as, DiAnoia’s Eatery in the Strip District and ran by Chef Dave DiAnoia.

“When I talk about those chefs… when I eat their food, I think ‘Damn, I wish I could cook like this guy’ you know?,” says Chef Stevens. “It’s really heartwarming in a way, you know? They really got it figured out. And sometimes they’re thinking the same thing [about other chefs].”

Listen to the podcast above to hear the full conversation, Chef Steven’s thoughts on the resurgence of downtown areas in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee, and how to cultivate interest for a local food scene in a “forgotten city.”


Show Notes:

  • 1:55 - Chef Derek Stevens’ Background

  • 4:07 - Favorite Pittsburgh food spots

  • 7:37 - Comfort Food vs. Fine-Dining

  • 12:47 - Cultivating Interest for local food scene

  • 17:19 - Incubators and the food scene

  • 23:13 - Labor Shortage

Hosted by:

Jim Berman

JIM BERMAN

Expert Columnist / Show Host


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Why Millennials are Still Willing to Pay a Premium for Food Delivery

We know that the Gen Y crew is using delivery services in massive numbers. So, what can restaurants do to hold onto sales? Or, better yet, grow those sales that are being driven around in the backseat of a Prius?

In some segments, delivered meals are hovering around 30% of top-line sales versus 10% just two years’ ago. The conversation is real and there are only semantic distinctions between sales within the brick-and-mortar and those that are on the road.

But why?

Looking for insight, go to the source. It’s not always having the answers, but merely asking the right questions.

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What is it about delivery?

It's all about convenience, duh!

From skipping traffic to getting food from A-list restaurants but avoiding the crowds, leisure time is in the balance.

“I prefer the privacy of eating at home after a stressful day, knowing the bathroom is clean, and the amount of time [delivery] can save me,” says Samantha, a 23-year-old in Portland, OR, when asked about her decision to stay home.

“Delivery apps allow us to see all of our food options in one place without searching through Google maps or Yelp.” Solo diners chime in, as well. “I want to enjoy food from my favorite restaurants without having to leave my apartment. I’ll also [order] on work trips if I’m running low on time,” says Jacqueline, a 26-year-old recent transplant from Houston, TX.

Collective dining is still witnessed in the wild by the ubiquity of sharing plates and communal seating. Some have a better time than most can dream, so they stay home - together.

“[We] don’t have to worry about finding a place that everyone likes. We can all order from different places and it will come right to us. My one friend, she gets Chili’s delivered to her house!” says Abby, a 23-year-old in New Castle, DE.

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Why not go to a restaurant for a meal?

The digital natives appreciate being unplugged from their surroundings. Interaction, though, is what happens behind a screen. So uninterrupted time matters. Abby jokes, “I don’t like servers constantly bothering me; if I want a refill or if I need something, I’ll let them know. Or I can just get it myself.”

Samantha, chimes in, “Crowds, wait times, not being asked for my ID respectfully - or being asked for it before I even order anything - is super annoying. Sometimes I feel like waiters and waitresses assume that we won't tip well because we are young and we receive poorer service than others.”

“I don’t like dining in [a restaurant] when I don’t want to deal with people or would rather [...] eat at my own place,” says Celine, a 25-year-old in Newark, Delaware.

The cost of dining on site has an expense that can be buffered by avoiding the restaurant. “Two pints of beer in Portland [Oregon] are equal to the cost of a six-pack. So for the cost of having drinks for two, you can buy beer for a week. When you order food in you also have your at-home entertainment, like Netflix or Hulu, which is also a big factor, and you drink whatever you want to,” says Samantha.

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Are the costs that ride along with the order an issue?

“Costs can be a problem depending on the restaurant, with many online sites such as Uber Eats, GrubHub, and Seamless; they add extra [fees] for delivery and have more out of pocket for a tip, like spending $25 on a $15 meal,” says 23-year-old Jamil.

Samantha adds, “Certain apps do not explicitly tell you the delivery fee price until you are about to click 'buy.' I think they do this so you are too decision fatigued to go back and pick something else, but we always do. Especially if it’s a place we have never tried before.”

Does the charge sway the decision? Apparently not. “I’m content with paying delivery costs, especially if it’s a restaurant I frequent,” says 26-year-old Fortuna.

While some delivery services put quite a pinch on operators to pay 30% of a sale, the customers placing the orders are an adaptable breed. “It’s still usually less than what you would tip a waiter. It’s still more convenient to stay in. I’d rather pay the delivery fee,” says Abby.

Is the trend going to last a thousand years into restaurant life? We only know as much as the tweezer-wielding cooks and the baked-Alaska chefs that redefine what’s hot and what’s not.

Until then, pack it to go and don’t forget to staple the dupe onto the environmentally friendly bag loaded with Brussels sprouts, fish tacos, and quinoa bowls. So, yes, Netflix and Chill is a real thing for millennials and it’s often paired with food delivery.