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What’s New with AF&Co.

Vogue Asks: Are We Witnessing the Death of the 3-Course Meal?

by Candace MacDonald

Earlier this week Vogue published a story with this headline, and in our offices, we all shouted – yes!  In fairness, we’ve been calling this trend in some form for the past several years.  It started with the realization that millennials in general like this way of dining, then we realized that “vibe dining” was becoming a thing, and last year in our trend report we called out the rise of small plates and tapas.  This year, we are seeing the “death of the 3-course meal” taking the form of guests wanting to “craft their own experience.”

As brand strategists, we’re always telling clients that you can’t be everything to everybody…. but today’s guest wants to be in control of how and when they experience what your restaurant has to offer. Restaurants are giving away a bit of control and saying YES more often. Which gives guests the ability to come in for one drink at the bar, have a few dishes to share at the table or make time for an extravagant dinner.

These concepts require careful staff training and a watchful eye on check average to maintain their profitability. Service training is as important, if not more, than cost control in the kitchen.  Despite the fact that shareable is the new way to eat, every restaurant is doing this a little bit differently.  So unlike the three-course meal that had some predictability to the ordering experience, your “shareable” restaurant might require that guests order 4 plates per person and another restaurant might require 6.  Your servers’ ability to be tour guides will be critical to maintaining check average and will help ensure guests leave satisfied and feeling the value of your restaurant.

When They Start to Talk About a Bubble… It’s Time to Get Creative

We were so sorry to read about the closure of AQ, one of our favorite SF spots, covered recently by Thrillist .  We know a lot of our colleagues are preparing for stormy weather  ahead and are looking at new ways to deliver an incredible guest experience with less costs.  As we said in this years AF&Co. trend report – it’s time to “Be Prepared.”  But, call us eternal optimists, we don’t quite believe it’s all doom and gloom.  These kinds of circumstances can bring out our most creative and collaborative solutions.  In our report, we highlighted a few trends that we think are coming out of this pressure.  We’ll keep you posted over the year.  In the meantime here are few other ideas:

 Share and Share Alike

Take a nod from Union Square Hospitality Group, their restaurants are sharing animals across kitchens to reduce labor from butchering and prep time.  If you are a single restaurant, make some friends in the neighborhood.

It’s from Scratch….Just Not Made Here

Chefs have faced a lot of pressure to make everything in-house, and we love that they enjoy this challenge so much.  However, when the labor becomes a major issue, it’s time to question how much value is truly added to the guest experience.  Consider featuring high-quality ingredients from partners or even other restaurants.  (Maybe trade your awesome ketchup for their famous mustard? Okay …we know…but  you get the idea!)

Counter Service…at Least by Day?

We mentioned this in last years report, but we’re seeing many restaurants look at different service models at various times of the day.  We also think limited menus and one-of-kind offerings could be worth exploring to create buzz and scarcity.  (Want our awesome fried chicken sandwich?…gotta come on Tuesdays!)

Use Every Inch You’ve Got

We’re seeing a rise in creative ways to use flexible space to draw crowds (and boost revenues!) at all times of day. Restaurants are turning into markets and co-working spaces. We’re also seeing retail spaces entering into the restaurant realm with some notable acquisitions and openings. (Did you hear about the $26 Entrees at Barnes and Noble?)

Want more ideas?  Check out our trend report here. Have a thought?  Let us know at 

September Newsletter

Hello Everyone!

Happy September? Click on the link here! Get on your dancing shoes and read this newsletter while you sway to one of my absolute favorite songs that celebrates a month we love here at AF&Co. It’s September!!

But brace yourselves – I haven’t always loved September. For me, going back to school and leaving my days of summer behind was always a challenge. It was mentally exhausting. Let me take you back…

Picture it. Westmount Swim Club: the huge pool, the diving boards, the lifeguards, and so much more. I truly thought I was like Sandy in Grease and had picked out many Danny Zukows to fall in love with throughout each season – though they had no idea. I was touched by the sun and in love with life.

My mom would take me and my brother Ricky up to the club every day about 1pm and we were free to do our thing till 6. I was a little chubby Jewish kid running around in a bathing suit that was always a tad too snug (somehow I demonstrated the art of how to show just enough ass crack.) My group of pals got busy every day playing water tag, Marco Polo, and red Light/green Light. There were sunset movies, lots of BBQs, and the big camp show (of which I was always the star – of course).

One of my favorite summer memories was how my mom would step into the pool insistent not to wet the hairdo that Mr. Frank, her beautician, had created for her that week. She would dunk herself in and out and exclaim to all, “Isn’t the water delicious today!” Summer meant freedom!! Summer meant hot dogs. Summer meant no rules. Summer meant lovin’ and I had me a blast.

Then Labor Day crept up…and sadly all of us kids became depressed. Back to life, back to reality, and well, back to school, rules, shoes, and studying. It always took me a good few weeks to embrace September.

Now that I am an adult (no comments please), I actually can’t wait for September to hit. It means parties, big openings, great events, Dancing with the Stars (no comments please), and so much more.

So here’s to a new season that kicks off now. Read on for a wonderful newsletter filled with some wonderful summer memories, new happenings, and some incredible secret recipes just for you.

See you soon and often I hope!!!

Sealed with a summer kiss –


PS – We couldn’t be prouder of our client Bluestem Brasserie who recently achieved a three-star review from the San Francisco Chronicle’s food critic Michael Bauer. Being lucky enough to work with this amazing team of professionals and knowing how the five-year-old restaurant has strived for continuous improvement, I can say there is no one more deserving of these accolades. Stacy and Adam – you are my heroes.

You Gotta Be Memorable

We’re taking you back to 1995 when Des’ree taught us all that “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser.” We’re going to say that in today’s crazy competitive restaurant world, you gotta be all these things plus…you must be memorable.

Be memorable. Such a simple concept and, yet, it’s so easy to forget how important it is. With so much competition out there, it’s not just a nice idea. It’s not optional. You must state it as your concept’s goal at every phase from the moment you first decide you are going to open a new concept all the way through your on-going marketing plan.

While the long-term goal of any successful restaurant should be sales, it’s becoming increasingly more important to create relationships with people through clear brand identity and consistent brand marketing.  People want to feel like they are connected to the brands they use, the restaurants the frequent, the hotels they choose. They want a story, and brand marketing that is memorable can be a way to fill that need.

If you are developing a new concept, you must constantly ask yourself: How will we stand out from the crowd? How will we be better and different? What is going to keep them coming back for more?

As you develop marketing and promotions for your hotel or restaurant, keep going back to those questions.

Here’s a few more ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t always focus on the direct sell. Are you constantly hitting your email database or social media fans with special pricing or happy hour promos? Not every piece of marketing has to be tied directly back to sales. It’s like that friend who only calls you when she needs something. Pretty soon you start to delete her emails and hit “decline” on her calls.
  2. Make them laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Even if you are a serious restaurant, there’s always an opportunity to show a fun side of your concept. (Let’s face it, people want to have fun when they go out!)
  3. Teach them something. Take people on a journey. Whether it’s a recipe or the details behind a special menu, tell the story of what went into creating the experience you are offering.
  4. Inspire them. Think big. Are you making the world a better place through your charitable efforts? Are you changing the way people think about dining, about a certain cuisine or are you simply giving people a place to make amazing everyday memories?  Don’t be afraid to show your passion for what you are doing. Passion is contagious.

Your ultimate goal should be to let people know who you are, so that when the time comes to choose a restaurant or book a hotel, they remember you.


Written by: Andrew Freeman & Co.  A high-energy hospitality consulting firm with a unique blend of expertise in marketing, publicity and creative services. The AF&Co team will do whatever it takes to build awareness for clients and ultimately increase sales. AF&Co offers tailored, flexible programs that include: creative/concept development, branding, recruiting, graphic design, public relations, sales/marketing, training, event management, and more depending on the clients’ needs. The AF&Co team is creative, direct and fun, and focuses on the areas that they are passionate about: restaurants and beverages, travel and hotels, and lifestyle personalities and products. For more information, visit or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.



June Newsletter



Hello Everyone –

For those of you who follow our newsletters, you know my openings are usually very humorous, self-reflective and fun. I had a great PRIDE story planned but when the horrific events in Orlando occurred this past weekend – everything changed.

For five days, I have walked around in a daze, heartbroken for the victims and their families. As the news coverage unfolded, I know we all wondered how each of us could help and make a difference. Here’s what I know, all we can do is to continue to fight against hatred. These hideous acts of violence will continue to keep young LGBTQ people in the closet. They will fear coming out and living their own personal truths.

I am a lucky person – though it took me some time to come to terms with who I am (I was 30 years old when I finally had the courage), when I did come out I was embraced by the people who love me. Now I have the freedom to be who I am – a proud gay man with wonderful friends and a family that loves me unconditionally, and a successful businessman. Everyone must have this freedom – and when a horrible incident like Orlando happens this should only make us all work harder to support and celebrate the differences that make up our world.

I shudder to think about what happened in that club on Saturday night. It was Latin Night – friends had come together to have a few drinks, dance, and celebrate life. Then, in a flash, lives ended and people were injured – everything changed forever. We must now mourn these losses and support the families that were impacted by this tragedy. Please, please click here to contribute to the fund that has been set up.

What was magnified for me on Sunday is that life is so short – and you truly never know when it will end. While these events have now changed our lives forever, we must go on in honor of the victims and remain proud.

June is PRIDE Month around the world — and our newsletter covers all the wonderful happenings that our clients are doing to celebrate. We also have news about exciting summer events, openings, and ways to honor thy father (it’s Father’s Day this Sunday). We also are putting together a fun night at Wente Vineyards to see Diana Ross on July 7. AF&Co. has a special code for our fans (40% off just for us – see below under the Concerts at Wente Vineyards). I hope you can join us. Read on and enjoy every minute of life that you can!

In closing, they say hate and fear are contagious – but here’s what I know – love is contagious too. I encourage you to love harder than ever and spread this love. With love, I do believe we can conquer this ugliness and truly create environments of safety and encouragement for the younger generations that are coming up to lead our world.

Sing out loud and proud!


PS – I am also very lucky to be a proud Dad. Many of you know that my brother Ricky sadly passed away six years ago – and with his blessing I was honored to step in to become a father figure to my two amazing nephews Jason and Zachary. Along with their wonderful Mom, I couldn’t be more proud of the two successful men they have become. I’m inspired every day to see the great things they are accomplishing. I am thrilled that I will witness the life journeys that lie ahead. I am also a proud Daddy to my two sweet furry girls – Daisy and Tulip. It sounds corny, but when I look at them, they remind me what love is. I can’t get enough of those girls.


Trend Alert: What’s Brewing? By Candace MacDonald

The rise of coffee shops is old news, but restaurants across the country are stepping up their game when it comes to coffee and tea programs.  As we predicted in our 2016 Trend Report guests everywhere are saying “I wanna a new buzz.”  Nitro-coffee continues to be popular.  Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is having much success with cold brew coffee and nitro coffee on tap in Schokko Art Café in the Columbus Museum of Art.  The creamy texture is stout-like and Beverage Director Ryan Valentine predicts that “Over time, these are going to move beyond coffee shops and become a lot more prevalent in restaurants.”


Tea is also stepping up its game and Match continues to be a standout in the tea world.  While you still may have to go to McDonald’s in Japan to try the newest version of the Matcha McFlurry, we think you’ll continue to see more MAtcha and other teas holding strong in light of the continued perceived health benefits of plant based diets. Offering a selection of origins is important as guests develop more familiarity with black, green and oolong teas.  For hotels in particular, offering local coffee and tea products is an easy way to give guests that oh-so-coveted “local” vibe.


Check out Ramping Up Coffee and Tea Menus on Nations Restaurant News for more insights.


Make Haste to not Waste

Make Haste to not Waste  – by Andrew Freeman

With higher food and labor costs continuing to impact restaurants, maintaining profitability is at the top of most restaurateurs minds.  At the same time, highly educated restaurant guests require new and interesting items to drive trial.  A recent article in Nation’s Restaurant News  offered some practical advice for how to maintain the balance between fresh and profitable menus.  Yours truly was cited as a source, so of course I’m a bit biased as to the quality of advice!  Sometimes restaurateurs find themselves being pulled in multiple directions when the trend requires more expensive ingredients that don’t translate into higher sales.  However, as we predicted in this our 2016 Trend Report, many chefs are finding the balance by turning typically discarded items (think carrot greens or other vegetable “waste”) into truly delicious creations.  Americans used to consider products made from lesser known cuts of meat or vegetable parts to be unappealing or lower quality.  Thankfully that’s changing and opening up a whole new path for chefs to explore.

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