Do This; Don’t Do That
Use Your Noodle
Independent operator makes use of more and wastes less
The firemen near Pat Determan’s Clinton, Iowa-based Phillips 66-branded store aren’t happy. When Determen used to have leftovers from his homestyle foodservice menu, he’d bring them over to the firehouse. But these days he’s not coming by as much.
Determan, who owns Lyons Filling Station, is getting better at the science of food prep. “We always try to make small but effective tweaks to address waste and spoilage,” such as turning half a rotisserie chicken into same-day chicken salad, he says.
Over the past six years, Determan and Ellen, his wife and co-owner, have become like surgeons in the way they’ve right-sized their daily menus at Det’s Diner, the program’s name. The menu is expansive, too, especially for an independent operator in a small town.
And the store is growing, mainly due to word of mouth from happy regulars who pass the word on the quality and hearty portions. The Determans went from a 22-seat capacity to 28 seats to support the additional business.
The Determans live their lives by a “day code.” It provides consistency for planning and ordering purposes, and regularity for their customers. There’s Dog Day Monday, Taco Tuesday, Meatloaf Wednesday and Sundaes on Sunday—all regular on a six-month cycle. In the spring and summer months, meatloaf is supplanted by burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches at $3.75 each. Pizza Slice Friday is offered in the winter but moves to Thursdays in the spring and summer. In late March, Determan launches a Monday-Wednesday-Friday cycle in which he grills food outside during lunch.
“I think our menu consistency registers with customers,” he says. “Make your product and make it the same way each time, as well as each day of the week.”
Determan recently learned that two local Casey’s General Stores began to offer delivery service for the company’s pizza program. Det’s Diner offers a quality pie as well, and the owners could have jumped into the delivery fray to keep up with the competition. Instead, he assessed his operation and concluded: “I don’t think delivery would work for me. My customers seem to make arrangements for food. We’ll have people pick up five to six orders and take them back to local work sites—that’s our ‘delivery service.’ ”
As far as marketing his offering, Determan relies on his company’s Facebook page. Another method he uses to draw in customers is allowing fruit and vegetable purveyors to set up shop in front of his store.
“We have one guy selling sweet corn on my lot, and another pumpkins in the fall,” he says. “It’s become a natural draw to bring customers into our store.”
Do's and Don'ts
Do: Det’s Diner takes a page from Golden Corral restaurants: The Determans tell their foodservice patrons not to fret about ordering large-sized portions. Just put the leftovers in a to-go bag and have it for dinner or lunch the next day, they say.
Don't: “We use precooked rotini noodles for our pasta bake casserole and apply noodles just prior to putting a tray back into the oven. Before, we would make three trays with the added noodles and then watch our foodservice crowd be lower that day. Now we freeze the unused pasta bake tray and use it the following Thursday—and then apply the rotini noodles. There’s far less waste.”