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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
november 2017

How Restaurants Can Have the Happiest of Holidays


'Tis the season for holly jolly offerings at restaurants statewide. The holidays present an ideal opportunity for restaurateurs to attract families and large groups through unique offerings and specials to celebrate the season. How does one stand out among a saturation of festive deals, dishes and dining experiences? Here are some tips for a merry and profitable holiday season.

Get an Early Start
It is no secret that following Halloween, many jump at the chance to unload the decorations and deck the halls well ahead of Thanksgiving. Why not do the same with seasonal offerings? People cannot wait to get into the spirit, and this goes with their holiday gathering and gift preparations.

By making holiday offerings available well ahead of time – ideally early November – restaurants get out ahead of the competition. These seasonal options will potentially be the first customers see and have greater odds to stay top of mind before getting drowned out by the noise of other specials. Starting early also makes planning convenient for customers, allowing them to get a head start on booking their gatherings.

Season’s Greetings
One efficient way to let guests know a restaurant’s seasonal offerings are available is through an early holiday greeting, particularly if a database of valued customers is available. Sending a note with season’s greetings that outlines festive happenings, private party capabilities, and more is one way to spread holiday cheer and thank customers for their loyalty. Engaging with fans on social media with posts, contests and polls is another way to drive consumer awareness.

Deliciously Merry
As guests look to select their holiday dining destination, they are naturally drawn to festive menus to set the tone for a special occasion and celebration. Allow chefs and bartenders to flex their creative muscles on favorite dishes to give the guest a truly unique dining experience. Descriptions of these dishes are great to include in promotions and greetings, so having specials set in advance is ideal.

Staff Up
The holiday season often means increased traffic, with families reuniting and out of town residents flocking to visit for the holidays. Be sure to plan ahead for increased volume by hiring more staff in order to provide the best guest experience possible. During this season of gift giving, people are often looking for an added source of income – particularly those who are still in school or only work part time. There is no better time to hire additional staff, allowing for increased speed of service and inspiring return visits.

Gift Cards
There’s always that someone for whom choosing a gift seems impossible. Food is universal, and gift cards are an ideal option for gifting. Gift cards have become one of the most requested holiday gifts, and also provide a great last-minute choice for those in a scramble. Offering gift cards in specialty wrapping for the season takes them to the next level, presenting a perfectly-packaged gift for anyone.

Give Back
Diners are drawn to events, promotions, and specials that also champion important causes. Whether creating programming to benefit a local shelter, food bank, or other initiative, consider options important to you and your staff and see it through with a strong partner who will cross-promote the efforts. Perhaps a dollar amount from a special cocktail or menu item goes back to the organization. Or guests who bring in non-perishable items for a food drive earn a complimentary appetizer or dessert. Maybe it’s a large-scale benefit or dinner. No matter how big or small, any amount of giving goes a long way towards building interest and loyalty among the community and your diners – and gives greater meaning to holiday celebrations.


Interested in seeing how IRA members are celebrating the holidays? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter throughout the season to see the latest holiday happenings.


If you have a beautiful party room or seasonal menus you would like us to highlight, let us know. We are glad to spread the word on the IRA's social media channels. Send your holiday specials to Matt Quinn at Cheers!

Flavor Profile

Meet Daniel Leszczewicz, Chef Instructor at Roberto Clemente Community Academy


This month, we talked with Daniel Leszczewicz of Roberto Clemente Community Academy about what he loves about being a ProStart® mentor, his work with students, and what he hopes they gain from the program.


Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?  


I have worked in the hospitality industry for well over 30 years in everything from fast food to fine dining, local restaurants, bar and grille, and retirement homes. One day I was talking to one of my chef mentors, when he mentioned doing some work with Chicago Public Schools. Up until that moment, I had no idea that CPS offered culinary arts programs to its students. It was intriguing to me, to be able to teach, so I inquired further. A couple of phone calls later, and I was on my way. I started teaching in 2003 at Tilden High School on the south side. In 2012 I started at Roberto Clemente.


Tell us some of the opportunities ProStart® offers students?

Support from an outside partner that includes mentoring, internships, job shadows, field trips like work-based learning and onsite visits, guest speakers, and other opportunities to interact with industry professionals. And of course, scholarship opportunities.

Tell us more about your work with ProStart®. What is the benefit of working with students?

Being able to see the success stories, large and small. Some are immediate and glaring, for example when a student wins a scholarship, goes to culinary school and then goes right into the industry. Some successes are more subtle like a call or email years later from a student who you never knew was paying attention or cared about the class, who is now enrolled in college, and remembers your lessons.    

To what do you attribute your success?

Luck and hard work!


What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

I am teaching seniors this year, so I am hoping they grab the ball and run with it. I always remember a quote from Maria Montessori, who said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.” That is my goal for them.


Any advice for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs?

Learn from everyone. Work hard, don’t quit. Follow your passion. Also, keep a journal or a folder of your successes, no matter how small. Even if it was something as simple as a kind word or gesture from someone. Some days you need to open that folder and remind yourself why you do what you do.


To learn more about the ProStart® program and how you can engage with the next generation of culinary leaders, please contact Ann Leider, Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Executive Director at (312) 380-4147 or



How to Obtain Your Soda Tax Refunds


Recently, the Cook County Board voted to repeal the Sweetened Beverage Tax. That repeal will be effective December 1, 2017, and the last tax returns/payments will be due December 20, 2017. On December 1, 2017, there may be unsold product in restaurants on which tax was previously remitted to distributors. Both distributors and retailers may request a credit or refund.

Refund procedures vary depending on if a retailer remitted the tax to distributors, remitted the floor tax, and other scenarios. Click here to download the refund guidance from the Cook County Department of Revenue.


For more information, please contact Matt Quinn, IRA Government Relations & Communications Manager, at (312) 380-4122 or



Aged to Perfection


Buckhead Meat of Chicago is your local source for all of your fresh steak needs. Located 30 miles west of Chicago, founded in 1983 and joining Sysco Corporation in 1999, it is Buckhead’s mission to source, age, cut and deliver top quality meat products to customers with exceptional service.

Buckhead takes Pride in its work – so much so that they have it on every box. Buckhead Pride is their way of conducting business with the great pride they take in their products, their farmer and packer partners and their dedicated teams of professionals that are passionate about delivering quality and consistency every time. Buckhead learned long ago that true value is based on yield, appearance and, most importantly, taste.

Buckhead is known for perfectly-aged steaks, and this dedication begins with the ranch and ends only when their customer’s guests are satisfied with the dining experience they receive. From USDA prime and Certified Angus Beef to Choice, Select and Wagyu steaks, their cuts are aged for 21 to 35 days to enhance flavor and tenderness. It is this attention to detail and the extra care they take that distinguishes an “okay” piece of meat from a truly exceptional steak.

Just as artisan meat cutters have done for generations, they specialize in the craft of hand-trimming and hand-cutting steaks and chops. When you order portion cuts, you get exactly what you pay for  from strict trim specs to exact steak counts. This portion control allows you to control your profits.

No matter how much Buckhead continues to grow, they take pride in the fact that their business is, and always will be, built on developing trust and relationships – one customer at a time. Learn more at


Steak N Egger Celebrates 60 Years of Tradition


Steak N Egger opened its doors for business in 1955 with a 20-seat counter restaurant in Chicago’s Douglas Park neighborhood and has been operating 24/7 since then. With more than 60 years of continuous operation under the watchful eyes of three generations of the founding family, Steak N Egger serves the entire Chicago Metro area with quality meals at an affordable price. Only the finest and freshest ingredients are purchased from quality suppliers to make every meal a memorable one.

Steak N Egger serves more than a quarter of a million eggs a year – that’s enough to keep 4,500 chickens working solely for the restaurants! The team uses more than 200,000 pounds of potatoes and prepares more than 250,000 steaks on their flat tops every year. Each Steak N Egger location prides itself on putting customers first.

The team is currently constructing the 7th location at the intersection of 147th and Cicero Avenue in Midlothian, with plans for a grand opening in January 2018. This location has a 50’s diner motif, as do several other locations. The project is part of the Ricky Rockets fueling center and Steak N Egger plans to open more units in partnership with the group. The new Midlothian location as well as the Cicero, McCook, and Summit units all include a separate video poker and slots room for additional guest enjoyment.

For additional information, please visit


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