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Local Chatter: Restaurant Consultant Dishes Out Advice

By June 1, 2016Connecticut, Top News

Restaurant Consultant Mark Moeller Dishes Out Advice

By Lauren Daley

New England Culinary Group’s Mark Moeller.

New England Culinary Group’s Mark Moeller. (Photo by Ric Kallaher)

As Restaurant Operations Expert/Director/President of the New England Culinary Group (NECG) — and the founder of his own restaurant consulting firm, The Recipe of Success — former restaurant employee Mark Moeller now makes his living dishing out advice.

A native of Chestnut Ridge, NY, Moeller graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1988 with a degree in Hotel Food and Beverage Management. He founded his Shelton, Connecticut-based restaurant and foodservice consulting company, The Recipe of Success, in 2000. There, he develops complete and comprehensive training programs, operational reviews, menu development and purchasing strategies.

He’s also a consultant for the NECG, which specializes in providing restaurants and hotels with the necessary products, services and guidance to open and operate a successful business, according to their website. With some 34 years of experience both in back and front-of-the-house, Moeller has a keen eye and sense of how to, he says, “cut through the minutia and come up with a solution.”

Q: How did you get started in the hospitality business? What drew you to it?

A: I’ve been in the kitchen ever since I can remember. I believe my Italian heritage, coupled with my mother and grandmother’s passion of cooking, fueled my interest … I officially started in the hospitality business back in 1985 as a busboy [at what was the] Treadway Inn in Paramus, NJ … I went on to hold several positions including waiter, banquet waiter, bartender, front desk and housekeeping.

Q: Why did you want to start The Recipe of Success?

A: I knew as far back as 1986 that I wanted to get into consulting within the hospitality industry. While at Johnson & Wales, I purchased four books on general consulting — restaurant consulting books weren’t available — and read them cover-to-cover…I started The Recipe of Success after a colleague of mine asked me to help with a pizzeria on Long Island. He was looking for a hands-on operator who could train the owners in … improved guest service, consistent experience, lowering costs and replicating procedures and processes when the owners weren’t on-site. [So] we documented every procedure, recipe and process; so that they could operate uniformly within the one location and then replicate their successes — they went on to open four more locations.

Q: What’s your mission with the company?

A: My mission is to directly respond to the needs of restaurant owners and develop systems they need to enhance value and increase their bottom line. I look to bring proven corporate techniques to small and medium-size business owners. Just because they’re independent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same success as a corporate chain. The key is that, while we introduce structure, we don’t lose the culture that makes them a more appealing option.

Q: How many clients do you have?

A: I generally work with three to five clients at a time; it all depends on the scope of work and level of detail. Today’s clients are from Connecticut and New York, though I’ve worked all over the country.

Q: What do most restaurateurs need help with?

A: The needs I come across most often are training, product and menu quality, brand identity, controlling costs … Often restaurateurs will fall in love with a location without regard to the cost of rent. Rent can be a leading cause of failure … A location’s total occupancy cost should be no more than 8 to 12 percent of net revenue.

Q: What do most hoteliers need help with?

A: Hoteliers need help with the same challenges that face the rest of the hospitality industry — service, quality, presentation, brand identity, marketing. I apply the same principles to a hotel that I would a restaurant.

Q: What trends are you seeing now in the industry?

A: The biggest trends I see are less material — meaning not menu item specific. The trends I see, and arguably should be a given and not considered a trend, are centered on deliverables like price/value proposition. A restaurant often prices their menu to the market instead of the guest. Many years ago, a restaurant — not a client — opened in a nearby affluent area and priced their menu to the affluence. Complaints abounded about what it cost to take a family of five out to eat at this restaurant, especially when coupled by the environment. We opened a client restaurant in the same town six months later with a menu priced using a price/value approach and we were able to capitalize on the entire market. Of course, the farm-to-table, locally-sourced ingredients are considered a trend, but I feel it’s here to stay…

Q: What trends are you specifically seeing on the beverage side?

A: The trends in the beverage side are very much centered around [sourcing] local … Operators and guests alike are realizing that local businesses are producing high-quality products — from beer to wine to spirits. Operators who embrace this philosophy of “going local” are benefiting on price, quality and goodwill within the community.

Q: What tips would you give entrepreneurs in the beverage industry?

A: Focus, focus, focus! The more an operator focuses on their basics, the more successful they have the opportunity to be. The hospitality business is a pennies business. Don’t let your bartenders free-pour; this leads to higher costs, lower profits and an inconsistent guest experience. No two bartenders will free-pour a drink the same way. Another reason operators fail is due to inconsistency in guest experience.

Interview has been condensed.

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