Social Media for Restaurants and Chefs -- Are you missing out?

Donning my PR and marketing hat, I must admit, I'm a huge fan of social media. Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and Blogs. They're inexpensive tools that if utilized well, can explode your business.

The problem? Few restaurants take advantage of social media.

According to Jeffrey Kingman, CEO of, out of 1 million restaurants, fewer than 10% utilize Facebook; less than 6% use Twitter; and a mere 2% of restaurants maintain blogs. To me, this signals a tremendous lost opportunity.

Jeffrey is a former chef, who has become a leader in the social media arena. His company manages accounts for large- to medium-sized restaurant chains and large-scale events, including Coffee Fest and the Northwest Foodservice Show.

I asked Jeffrey to share his thoughts on the restaurants and the use of social media. He agreed, and thanks to Facebook's chat feature, this the conversation that transpired:

Why should restaurants care about social media? And what are the advantages to implementing a social media program?

It's a fundamental shift in communication. We've adopted communication tools that allow us to do so much more "on the go" than we could just two years ago.

Yet, the communication methods offered by most restaurants are circa 2005. They have flat, static websites that never change. Customers call to make a reservation, but they have to leave it on the restaurant voicemail. In the smartphone/social media era, these outmoded methods create unnecessary obstacles for customers.

Playing devil's advocate re: social media..."So what? What does that mean to my business?"

Today's consumer, with all these tools, demand much more ease in communicating with businesses.

What does that mean to your business, if you don't take advantage of these tools? You'll loose customers and business volume.

Savvy restaurateurs are taking advantage of today's communication tools, and customers are responding to those businesses that offer ease of entry.

The fastest growing segment of social media and smartphone (mobile tech) adoption is aged 40-65. That's the discretionary income population.

What key things are customers looking for in social media interactions?

1. A much easier time communicating with restaurants, on the customer's schedule--not the restaurant's schedule.

2. Peer reviews -- not reviews by random people on Yelp, but rather, what their friends are saying about restaurants.

3. The backstory for restaurants -- what is unique about the restaurant? Why should I go there?

4. A desire to become part of a community, both online and in store.

Many restaurants are hesitant to embrace social media. What's that mean to their bottom line?

I think a lot of restaurants are missing the mark by "couponing" offered by Groupon, etc. Most customers aren't shopping on price -- they're shopping for experience and community.

What's the bottom line for a restaurant's telephone?

When phones, then fax machines, then computers came out -- we saw the same trepidation by the restaurant industry...what does this new technology mean to my bottom line?

Social media is a communication tool. Yes, it takes time - time to gather the knowledge on how to do it right and time to actually do it. But if the vast majority of your customers can be reached via mobile devices through social media, why wouldn't a restaurant take advantage of that?

Let's face restaurant customers hear about offerings through newspapers anymore?

Do they hear about restaurants through radio or TV?

A website doesn't move; it sits there.

An e-mail address doesn't move; it sits there.

But if a restaurant is producing great content, great stories, and fun video content and sharing that -- now they're dynamically producing messages that can "swim" on their own.

Building the community online not only depends on producing good messaging -- you also have to reach out in-store -- make it easy for your existing and in-store customers to know that you are on Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube.

How do you reach out in-store?

Several ways -- for starters, you could put the Facebook logo on your guest check print out and in the corner of the menu.

If you're a casual spot -- put up table tents.

The Herbfarm (the only five star restaurant north of San Francisco and west of Chicago) just experimented with QR codes on their menu. Customers were able to snap a picture of the code on their smartphone and get the entire backstory of the entree: where the ingredients came from, preparation methods, etc.

It's all about being creative.

What are QR codes?

Quick Reads

A QR Code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL, or other data.

Besides the Herbfarm, what other restaurants are utilizing social media well?

Multi-unit, look at Genghis Grill...they're integrating a full matrix of digital/social media into a year-long campaign culminating at South by Southwest.

Tell me more about the Genghis Grill social media campaign.

Genghis Grill is a muti-state, multi-unit operation, located mostly in the Midwest and East Coast.

They're conducting a music band competition (like rock bands), with competitions in 10 metro areas.

The community gets to nominate the bands they want to see compete.

Then there is a band-off.

The ultimate finals are held at the Genghis Grill in Austin, Texas during South by Southwest. Voting happens all the way through social media.

If you want a better description, I'd suggests you e-mail or Tweet Paul Barron -- he structured the strategy for Genghis Grill.

Okay, so that's what a large-scale restaurant operation can do with social media. Who's doing well from an independent restaurant perspective?

Back in the Northwest, Gabriel is doing a great job for Le Pigeon [via Facebook]. He's personal online. He's active, messaging frequently.

All the profile information is updated to include images.

He tells personal anecdotes from his adventures as a chef/restaurateur, while sprinkling in marketing messages of menu changes.

Most importantly -- it's obvious he's having fun.

What other restaurants/chefs are utilizing social media successfully?

Rick Bayless [Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago] and Ron Zimmerman at the Herbfarm are heavy users of Twitter -- with huge followings.

Rick Bayless and Ron Zimmerman are prolific users of Twitter. While I love their content, I don't want to scare new users by thinking they need to Tweet that much! Who else?

On Facebook, I see a lot of descent messaging by Susan Feniger, David Ford, Floyd Cardoz, and Thomas Keller.

Thomas Keller's on Twitter too. He uses his camera a lot, which I love. How important is imaging in social media?

Harvard put out a study that found messages with images were opened 80% more than messages with no image.

I love it when restaurants show behind the scene images during prep or talk about producers who just dropped off foraged mushrooms, for example.

I'm a food geek [and former chef]. Images of production, and in detail close ups capture me more than a finished plate on a counter.

Can you talk about the importance of engagement?

If I can describe a mentor...I think it will illustrate this answer.

Riccardo Spaccarelli, thirty-year proprietor of a good Northern Italian restaurant in Lake Oswego, OR, builds his village every night.

At 6 PM, he puts two wine glasses and a bottle of wine in his left arm. Then he walks the dining room for the next three hours.

He visits with every customer that comes in, every night.

Those he doesn't know, he gets to know. "Hows your boy at school?" kind of thing.

Social media is the ability to visit your customers "tableside" online.

A restaurateur could visit "tableside" after the dining room has closed, if they're too busy during the shift. Grab a glass of wine, get your pj's on, and talk with your customers for an hour.

For me, two benchmarks for social media are: Humphrey Slocombe in San Francisco and Tidbit Bistro in Seattle. On Twitter, I had people from Germany and New York recommending Tidbit Bistro. "You're from Seattle? Do you know about Tidbit Bistro?" This tiny bistro has 17,000 followers! No Food Network profiles, no national media to speak of. They built a large, loyal following organically through social media.

I haven't followed either of those!

Humphrey Slocombe is a star on Twitter. The person maintaining their account is hilarious!

You know, if the owner or the chef is not an extrovert -- the person doing their social media needs to be. Maybe not in person, but definitely online.

When I was in San Francisco last year, I made a point of visiting Humphrey Slocombe just because of their Twitter account. They have over 300,000 followers! And this is an ice cream shop. I was there on a fall day between 3 - 4 PM and they had a steady flow of customers the entire time.


Okay, before I cut you loose, can we talk about what NOT to do on social media?

1. Never disrespect a customer.

2. Minimize bad situations in person or on the phone.

3. Be transparent. If you screw up, don't erase it. Just apologize, correct, and move on.

4. Stay away from "Tonight $1 hot wings" advertising. (Social media is social--it's not the place for old-school advertising.)

5. When someone tags you in a message -- always get back to them with a thank you for doing business.

Who should manage your social media?

If the restaurateur or the Chef has the energy or time (and is extroverted), they should.

If they are too big or too busy, they should delegate -- and not to a 21 year old.

The delegation should go to someone savvy and with great communication skills, who can deal with delicate situations in addition to promoting non-delicate positives.

If a restaurant doesn't feel they have someone on staff for that, a good social media pro can be a great value.

Finding a pro isn't difficult -- just inquire of the local Social Media Club.

Outsourcing social media can be a huge advantage, and extremely valuable. What's the going rate for hiring a social media pro?

It depends on the project -- but here's a good comparison...what would you pay a sous chef or an assistant manager for their hourly time?

You're paying someone to be the public face of your business.

A good sous chef is always learning new skills, techniques, etc. The person handling your social media should be doing the same.

A good social media pro is always staying up on the latest mobile technology and social media theory.

If a restaurant outsourced their social media, ideally, how many hours/week would you expect them to work?

It depends on the project. An independent restaurant, moderately ambitious in social/mobile marketing, that does $1-2 million a year should expect to put in an hour a day.


Want to get in touch with Jeffrey? Find him here:

Twitter: @JeffreyJKingman
Linked In:

A Peek Behind the Michelin Guides

ABC ran an interesting piece on the famed Michelin Guides. (See the clip above.)

Here are a few noteworthy highlights:

- "The Michelin rating began in France in 1900 as a marketing gimmick to sell tires. The Michelin brothers thought their customers would burn more rubber if given a list of hotels and restaurants to explore."

- The guide is based on a maximum 3 star rating. 2 stars: worth a detour; 3 stars: worth a special journey

- Michelin Guides cover 23 countries.

- Out of 45,000 restaurants profiled, only 100 restaurants hold the coveted three stars. As of this writing, 9 of them are in the United States.

- Tokyo has more 3 star restaurants than Paris. Why? Michelin Guide director Jean Luc Naret says it comes down to numbers. There are 15,000 restaurants in Paris. Tokyo, on the other hand, boasts more than 160,000 restaurants.

- What's the background of a typical Michelin Guide inspector? It's no surprise. "Most of them have gone to culinary school or perhaps hospitality school," Naret explained. "All of them have worked in a restaurant as professional chef or in a hotel in food and beverage and, most importantly, all of them are passionate, almost obsessive foodies."

- The Michelin Guide inspector profiled anonymously in this piece eats out an average of 9 times a week, usually alone. "It gives us the ability to really focus on the food and the ambiance and capture the entire experience."

- No notes are taken at the table. After a meal, this inspector takes 2 to 3 hours, writing an extensive report from memory.

- Do inspectors taste food differently than most of us? "We have taste memories because we've eaten thousands of the same thing over and over and over again," she said. "[It] gives you a bit of a measurement to know if this is a good or less good version of something."

- "We're looking for the best in show."

- Naret explains, "There's no different type of cuisine. There's only two types -- the good one and the bad one. We only recommend the good one."

According to the Michelin Guide website, the inspection method involves seven key components. Let's take a look at two:

At the restaurant

"When dining in a restaurant, we try to be as discreet as possible. We dress appropriately and order a complete meal, being sure to observe those items that may be specialties of the chef or cuisine. Many senses come into play during a great meal, and with trained eyes we can evaluate a number of aspects about the cuisine. Does the food’s plating stimulate the palate and is the portion size appropriate? Do the aromas of the dish please and entice, or overwhelm and repulse? Even sound comes into play with a delightful crunch of an item. Whose curiosity isn’t piqued when a sizzling plate is presented to a nearby table? We like flavors to be pronounced or subtle, depending on the circumstance. And there is also the question of value: is our level of enjoyment relative to the price of our meal?"

Star consideration

"People often ask what the qualifications are for a restaurant to be awarded a star. Establishments under “star consideration” serve cuisine that is prepared from excellent quality ingredients, display impressive technical skill, and present a balanced menu of clear flavors with a distinct personality; and it is imperative that they do so consistently. In addition to the menu and cuisine, we also scrutinize the beverage program asking ourselves if the wine, cocktail, and/or sake selection enhances the experience and moreover offers something special."

Battle of the Bookshelves...and Inspired Solutions

It's a classic battle of two selves. Good vs. evil. my case, Vagabond Minimalist vs. Unabashed Book Whore.

Beyond the bookshelf, my collection occupies nearly every conceivable space--beside the bed, underneath the bed, back of the toilet, piled like modern art in the living get the idea. In fact, at one point, I had so many books in my car, you'd swear I was running a bookmobile!

The other day, I overheard my five year old neighbor ask, "Why does she have so many books in her car?"

Her fast thinking mom said, "Just like you...she loves to read." Bless her!

In an attempt to regain some control, I ruthlessly culled my collection--four times! Each book endured a mini-audition. "Why should I keep you?" and probing even deeper, I asked, "Fess up. What are your redeeming qualities? You know, a nice cover will only get you so far....."

Gone are the cookbooks I'll [really, and truly] never use.

And I made peace with the one-hit-wonders. Like musicians, the literary landscape is littered with one-hit-wonders. Cookbooks are no exception. Is it worth hanging on to a book for one killer recipe? Nope. I typed up my favorite recipe and tossed the rest.

In my mind, I was ruthless.

And yet, when I was finished, hundreds of books remained. What to do?


Let's look at some options:

(Upper left) Bookshelves as stairs?

Skip the over-the-door dormer. How 'bout a bookshelf?

This dining room does double duty as a library.

While this is the more realistic solution, the minimalist in me sees nothing but a wall of clutter. What to do?

Here, a floor-to-ceiling curtain conceals bookshelves, and provides a solid punch of color.

Bright white shelves and plenty of open space minimizes the "clutter" feel.

A neutral color palate also helps minimize the "clutter" effect. But really? Who has books in just white, beige and black? Designer fantasy.

Here, the bookshelf serves as the room's focal point and provides the only visible color/object of interest.

In the end, I went for a riff on this idea: organized by color. Here, the bookshelf lends a strong visual appeal. Notice a sense of order is created, without the need for white space?

Another example of bookshelves organized by color.

A smaller book collection, again, organized by color.

And while I was surfing for images, here are a few more noteworthy options:

{Fantasy shot} My desk: flanked by floor-to-ceiling books, overlooking a quaint arrondissement in Paris. Or...

Imagine casting your gaze out on this charming sokak in old Istanbul. Ahh.....

And as long as we're exploring fantasies, take a look at this pantry! Oooh la la!

Giving Back: Feasting at Fire Station No. 39

September 11th, 2001.

Where were you?

I first learned of the attacks on the Twin Towers in the pre-dawn hours, waiting for the bus to work. I lived on the beach and the cries of the seagulls overhead, haunting and lonely, echoed my sentiments.

At the time, I worked for a large stock brokerage firm. Post merger, they'd just finished a new office remodel, complete with a flat screen TV. We watched in horror as the towers fell. One of the brokers kept yelling, "It's Al-Qaeda. I swear, it's a jihad." Naively, I turned to him and said, "You're crazy!"

Then, "terrorist" was the stuff of summer blockbusters, not the cause of a national tragedy.

In my job, I routinely worked with folks in New York. They day of the attacks, I was unable to reach anyone. And the following day, in a rare occurrence, they closed the stock market. It was days before I could assess the damage.

My New York colleague at the Depository Trust Company looked up from his desk and watched as plane crashed into the building across from him. By the time I reached Lou, he was still finding shards of glass in obscure places around his desk.

Their offices destroyed, employees working for the Bank of New York were relocated all over the city. When I finally tracked down my contact, he'd been sent to an office two hours away, and routinely fought back tears.

Burned into my consciousness is this documentary by two French filmmakers. Following the life of a young fireman recruit, on 9/11, his station responded to a call at the Twin Towers. Little did they know, this was history in the making. With unlimited access, the filmmakers followed the crew into the building. Their documentary is an uncensored and an unflintching look at the firemen who were first on the scene.

Nine years later, every time I drive by a firehouse, I think about that film. And I'm moved by a desire to somehow give back.

My friend Mindy Bomonti volunteers with the WSCFF Burn Foundation and works closely with the local fire departments. She's the brainchild behind their annual firefighter calendar (a la Chippendale) and coordinates their other fundraising effforts.

In a random conversation, I told her, "I'd like to cook dinner in a firehouse."

Weeks later, she called me back, "I can make your dreams come true!"

For an upcoming auction, we put together a dinner for 12--in the firehouse. Attending the dinner would be the auction winner + 3 friends, 4 firefighters from the calendar, and 4 on duty firemen.

Much to everyone's surprise, the dinner took top dollar at the auction!

As the weeks followed, we settled on a date, selected a menu, and last night, we dined under the shadow of a fire truck.

It's not New York...but this is a start. Giving back:

First step, a site visit to Station Number 39.

This is a brand new LEED-certified station. See the tower on the right? That's used for high-rise rescue training.

Every station is different, but here, an average shift includes four firemen. Downtime at the kitchen table. See the lockers in the background?

I like this guy already!

The new Seattle fire stations are equipped with large kitchens and stainless steel appliances. I kept teasing them, "Why do four guys on shift need two full-sized refrigerators?" Pictured is my pal Mindy, the dream maker.

I poked around the cabinets to determine how much equipment to bring. Fortunately, not much.

The kitchen couldn't accommodate 12 people so I verbalized my fantasy, "Can we have dinner here?"

"Sure! Why not?"

Fireman love?


Let's take a look around...

Station 39, A shift crew.

Now...on with the dinner....

The dream takes shape...but not without a hitch. Two hours before dinner, we realized the folding tables & chairs were no longer on the premises. Scrambling for a solution, the guys moved the table from the kitchen, we grabbed every available (office) chair, and Mindy raced home to retrieve a card table and chairs.

Hitch number two? Dinner was scheduled at 6 PM. At 5:57 PM, a call came in. The on duty crew took off...and we bought time with a tour of the fire station.

Hitch number three? Surprise! When a crew is dispatched on a call, as a safety precaution, the stove automatically shuts off. It remains disabled until the crew comes back. Fun.

While I chated with an off-duty fireman, I learned that 80% of the calls they're dispatched to...are not fire-related. And fortunately, this call fell into the 80% range. An hour later, we were back in business!

With the guys out on a call, I had time for a few photos. This is firefighter & calendar girl, Tori Shroud

A closer look at the table.

Back in the kitchen, my friend Kris Dews assembled the first course.

Spring greens dressed in red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil and herbs, topped with fresh pears. On the side, warmed crostini duo: (L-R) goat cheese & fig tapenade and cambozola with roasted pears.

First snow of the season called for comfort food. Baked pasta with braised pork sugo and a crusty topping of bread crumbs and Parmagiano-Reggiano. We served it with a side of oven-baked yams, tossed in olive oil and fresh rosemary.

Inspired by the season, for dessert... a luscious chocolate stout cake, pumpkin creme anglaise, homemade bourbon ice cream, topped with a dusting of crushed nuts. (The nuts were a last-minute inspiration, sent in a holiday care package from Starbucks. They're featured in Starbucks' holiday line up: macadamia nuts coated in caramel and dusted in cocoa powder. A perfect finish to this dessert.)

And for the grand finale...a group shot! In uniform are the B crew firemen from Station 39. My buddy Mindy is there on the right. Back row includes the auction winners and 2 of the calendar firemen. That's Tori in the front row.

Harnessing an Element of Surprise

In a book review about Ina Garden's book, Parties, I discussed her mantra...aim for an element of surprise. In other words, when others expect you to zig...go for the zag.

Taking a cue from Ina, I've had parties in back room prep kitchens, a coffee roasting facility, buildings under construction, and the penthouse of an iconic Seattle building (See the triangle at the top? That's a former boiler room, turned private residence.)

Yesterday I was invited to attend a quarterly meeting. The goal: review objectives for the present quarter, and project for the next one.

Sounds like yawner of a meeting, eh?

Yet I have learned...when Andrew and Shane join forces...expect the unexpected.

I never know who will be there, which keeps thing interesting. Yesterday's meeting included Huffington Post columnist and author Darby Roach, a design guru who obtained his master of architecture at MIT, and a visual designer for Nordstroms.

But the real surprise?

Check out the location for our design-focused discussion:

It doesn't get better than this...the TESLA showroom in Seattle. Have you seen the TESLAs? This is an all-electric sports car.

Forget fossil fuels. This car is powered by an outlet.

Who knew going green could be this sexy?

Modern art display? No. This is an innovative use of color samples.
Pick your pleasure.

Invite only meeting, with a focus on design.

Many thanks to my buddies at Sahale Snacks, who provided the nosh.

A Guide to the Best Books on Entertaining

These days, I need little inducement to throw a party, but let's be honest, my early efforts were...abysmal. Full of good intentions, I worked like crazy and the results fell far short of expectations. Frustrated and more than a little discouraged, I took a long hiatus before attempting another party.

But I came around. With practice and advice from a few good books...eventually, my parties began to mirror my original vision.

In the weeks before a party, you'll find me on the couch, surrounded by a mountain of books. Fishing for both recipes and aesthetic ideas, I spend hours...sometimes days, paging through books. While I've managed to assemble a massive book collection...when it comes to party planning, I turn to the same books over and over again.

With holiday entertaining on the horizon, here's where I turn for inspiration:

Entertaining Simple: Recipes, Menus, Party Ideas for Every Kind of Gathering
by Matthew Mead
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008

If you buy just one book on entertaining, make it this one. Many entertaining books are long on fantasy, short on reality check...and the pressure to throw the "perfect" party keeps folks from hosting anything at all. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned party pro, you'll be culling ideas from this book for years to come. First chapter, Mead makes it clear: you don't need everything, you need the RIGHT things. Page 28 is your guide to a smart entertaining pantry: 12 place settings, 12 wine glasses, 1-2 large platters, 1 set of nesting mixing bowls, etc. Based on that list, Mead is a master at making every piece in his collection do double duty. The premise behind Entertaining Simple is about making the most with what you've got and then provide loads of inspiring ideas. Glass votive holders become: small dessert cups, handleless after dinner espresso cups, and vessels for everything from olives to candies. Drool-worthy images by Quentin Bacon are far from just pretty. I find myself studying these images, wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?!" Follow that up with Mead's thoughtful, well-chosen recipes and you'll can host a party and have time to enjoy it!

Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions, and Classic Libations
by Denise Gee
Chronicle Books, 2007

Who's thirsty? The minute I saw those frosty mint juleps, I was sold! Fortunately, this book delivers more than just a pretty cover. Cocktail recipes -- both single servings and drinks for a crowd -- are interspersed with fun stories of lore. Informative headnotes provide everything from recipe alternatives, serving suggestions, or point to the perfect tequila for The Ultimate Margarita (Tequila National from Jalisco.) With a decidedly southern spin, the fun begins long before you reach for a glass. In the Classics Chapter, Gee notes: "Traditions keep the fabric of the South richly woven, and the region's tried-and-true cocktails are decidedly its liquid assets." Not to miss is the handful of nibble recipes in the back offering Southern party favorites like Spiked Pimento Cheese, Freddie Lee's Cheese Pennies, and Vidalia Onion Cheese Toasts. This is one book I reach for over and over again.

Cocktail Parties with a Twist: Drink + Food + Style
by Alexandra Angle, Eliot Angle, Ericka McConnell
Stewart, Tabori & Chang

A surprising gem, Cocktail Parties with a Twist covers topics other books don't--got a microscopic apartment in the city? Set up a bar in the closet. The night is winding down and yet guests still haven't gotten the clue the party's over? Take a cue from the restaurant biz: close the bar down, turn off the music, and "stop being so damn exciting--let the conversation lull." This book covers food & cocktails for the fashionista sect. Minted shrimp canapes on a bed of pea and sorrel puree; cucumber cups (square, hollowed out cucumbers) with sweet pepper coulis; and precious jicama slices with avocado and crab salad. While several recipes are fussier than I care to bother with, there are plenty of recipes that are long on style with minimal work -- cheese crisps with white bean puree, for example. Chapters are divided into themes: the Urban Loft; Impossibly Small Apartment; Dock at Sunset; Glamour by the Pool's Edge. Here again we see captivating images with lifestyle shots a la Vogue, and I'm grabbing ideas all along the way.

Finger Food: Bite-Size Food for Cocktail Parties
by Elsa Petersen-Scheperlern
Ryland, Peters & Small, 2002

While I lean towards family-style or plated presentations, occasionally I need a go-to resource for finger food. I have ten or more books that cover the topic, but this is the one I actually use. Stunning photography and modern presentations lend an excitement long before the party begins. Chapters are divided into serving suggestion-formats: Spoons, Cups, and Quickies; Toasts, Buns, Tarts, and Cones; Pizzas and (puff) Pastries; Wraps and Pockets, etc. The outstanding photography, teamed with a layout that offers a clean presentation and plenty of white space, for sheer visual presentation, I'm constantly reaching for this book. The recipes themselves are a hit parade of familiar offerings, with a fun spin. Mini crabcakes showcase Thai flavors with a chili dipping sauce; meat balls are Vietnamese-style, redolent of lemongrass, cilantro, red chilies, and fish sauce; and a variation on pita pockets includes tea-smoked Chinese duck. You get the idea. Bloggers & food photographers take note: from a photography perspective, there's a lot to admire here.

Fandango: Recipes, Parties, and License to Make Magic
bv Sandy Hill
Artisan, 2007

In all the best ways, this book is pure fantasy. Should you find yourself flush with cash....why not to rent a helicopter for your repelling bachelor friends? The Indian-themed dinner on the cover includes live elephants and guests decked out in saris. Sumptuous themes look straight out of a movie (or life for the Paris Hilton sect), for me, this book provides loads of inspiration, taken down a notch. As you'd expect, the menus utilize sophisticated ingredients and yet, the presentations are entirely approachable for gilding the lily occasions. While I'm not likely to make the nasturtium mayonnaise, the accompanying steamed salmon wrapped in a banana leaf is a great way to accommodate a crowed for a plated meal. Getting into the mind of a top-tier caterer helps streamline your own events, which is why the event notes in the back of the book are especially valuable. This is a showstopper look at the luxe life but the presentations, props, and jaw-dropping photography keep me coming back for more.

Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ideas and Recipes for Easy Parties That are Really Fun
by Ina Garten
Clarkson Potter, 2001

This book is a classic. As many of you know, before Ina was a Food Network staple, she owned a legendary catering company in the posh Hamptons. Ina is famous for paring recipes down to their simplest and most flavorful. Parties is divided into themes--from Sunday breakfast to football parties and afternoon tea. What I found almost more useful than the recipes, were the insights from Ina's most successful--and disastrous parties (omelets for 20? Forget it!) One tip I've relied on over and over again, "Keep an element of surprise." I'm always on the lookout for a special spot or a fun twist to an evening, whether we dine in a back room prep kitchen or a coffee roasting facility. Recipes? I've made nearly all of them, but take my word for it...the recipe for Ina's Chinese Chicken Salad is worth the price of the book! Hands down, this is one of my top 10 favorite recipes and it never fails to please. (When asparagus isn't in season, I substitute green beans. Another variation, I cut the ingredients smaller and serve the salad in lettuce cups for a light and flavor-packed appetizer.) Studying Ina's menus, I've learned to minimize the selection, but serve the very best.

Food to Flowers: Simple, Stylish Food for Easy Entertaining
by Lulu Powers and Laura Holmes Haddad
William Morrow Cookbooks, 2010

Occasionally a book comes along that ups the ante and sends a ripple effect throughout the genre. This is it. Los Angeles-based caterer Lulu Powers has an approach that is simple, yet stunning. Dubbed the next Martha Stewart, Lulu is less about craft and long on style. Her book is jam-packed with tips (Lulu's Entertaining Cheat Sheet -- are your iPod playlists ready? The Twenty-Two-Minute Countdown: candles lit? Wine uncorked? Music on? Outdoor lights on?) And take note, when a pro gives up her source list, I couldn't be more thrilled. Four pages of contacts call out everything from housewares to specialty food & beverage companies. Smart examples of her parties range from Houseguest Breakfast to The Bowwow Bash dog party and "Shaken, Not Stirred": A Guys-Only Dinner (the usual suspects: bridal/baby showers, kids parties, and picnics are covered too.) Gorgeous photos are shot in a lifestyle fashion, drawing you in with an intimacy that makes you feel like guest at the party. And like my own pantry, Lulu mixes flea market finds with carefully chosen newer pieces. (Thanks to her, I instantly began a vintage champagne coupe collection.) Frankly, I've culled so many ideas from this book, there is a distinct marker: life before Lulu (black & white), and after Lulu (full on color!) This is a great book I'd welcome anytime, but if you're looking for a special gift, look no further.

Food for Friends: Simply Delicious Menus for Easy Entertaining
by Fran Ward
Ryland, Peters & Small, 2005

Australian chef Fran Ward offers a recipe-driven entertaining book that shares a culinary aesthetic with Donna Hay. What I love about this book is that the recipes are all extremely approachable and instantly put me at ease. Each of the twenty-five menus feature a work plan, divided into work that can be done the day before, on the day, and just before serving. A wide-range of flavor profiles span the globe from BBQ to the Mediterranean and Middle East. Photos take center stage in Food for Friends. A typical menu spans five pages, and as an example, the Weekend Dining menu includes eighteen photos. Visual attention covers all the bases--the table scene, individual dishes, and preparation steps.

Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers
by Kathy Casey
Chronicle Books, 2009

Kathy sums it up in the intro, "My philosophy in entertaining is simple: don't overdo it. Pick one or two signature cocktails for your get-together, select a few appetizers--being sure to have a variety of hot and cold--and make as much in advance as you can." I have nearly worn out my copy of this book. The Roasted Pear Crostini with Gorgonzola is my go-to recipe for fall. All the components can be done in advance and with a quick warming in the oven just before serving, I'm in heaven! The Sake Teriyaki Sticky Chicken Wings are another hit. And you won't believe how fast the Bacon, Blue Cheese & Pecan Cocktail Cookies disappear! Kathy's cocktail recipes offer refreshing twists on old favorites....and more than a few new innovations. Fresh herbs, for example, elevate cocktails with a sophisticated spin. One of my favorite recipes...Ginger Sake Cocktail "Sushi" is adult riff on jello shooters. Light and refreshing, they are a perfect blend of surprise and nostalgia. Photographers, take note: Angie Norwood Browne's stunning images will provide tons of inspiration.