Labor Day Offers a New Beginning for Creative Eateries

Labor Day and art shows go hand in hand. For restaurants, the holiday offers a beginning as the new season approaches. A transformation may be in order. If you want to change the way you look at your customers and your restaurant, begin to think of it as a culinary art gallery. Owners commit to a lifestyle of presentation as soon as they make the decision to open an eatery.

Yet their enthusiasm often withers when profits don’t meet projections. In may be time for an artistic boost, a shot of enthusiasm, and a new outlook.

It’s an owner’s job to make sure creativity continually flows through the restaurant. That’s why with summer 2011 almost behind us, it’s time to inspire creativity. It’s time to change your menu and make it a work of art.

Beginning Tuesday, restaurants across the country will notice the after Labor Day customer drop-off.  As an alternative to dining out, families will be concentrating on Jimmy’s homework, Bobby’s football practice, and Buffy’s dance rehearsal.

Take this opportunity to initiate a menu transition from the lighter fare of summer and begin highlighting the bounty of autumn. The picture at the right is a perfect example of a changing menu. The chef simply changed the vegetable on the plate to introduce the bumper crop of squash.

But for some restaurants, this is a difficult task, since chefs seldom ever change the menu. This may be due to culinary complacency, mere laziness, or an edict from a shouting owner: “Don’t change the menu — both customers love it!”

Menu changes signify many things to customers and staff: A new season, a new crop, and a new outlook. Transforming a restaurant’s menu should be an event that customers not only expect but look forward to.

I am not suggesting everyone do the Gordon Ramsay makeover and dump their entire menu. Nor do I suggest opting for a Bruce Buschel and prix fixe your bar menu.

But if your kitchen staff still has the creativity they had when you hired them, let them explore adventurous, cost-effective menu additions that fit your restaurant’s concept.  

As owners, we tend to suck the life out of young chefs who are eager to experiement and to take chances. And rightly so — we need to make sure menu items work within the concept we have designed and developed.

But there is a middle ground that will allow an owner and a chef to develop a culinary rhythm that makes adding new dishes not only feasible, but appealing, stimulating, and enjoyable.

Culinary creativity, whether it’s something as simple as a server’s uniform, the colors on the walls, or the creation on the plate needs to represent the enthusiasm, excitement, and creative energy of the entire company.

Seasons change. Fashions change. Owners change and menus change. Using the slow weeks after Labor Day to invigorate your staff, your restaurant’s image and yourself may be the perfect way to become more enthused about your future.

It may or may not have been a great summer, but the season ahead could bring a bountiful harvest of new customers and profits with a few menu additions that will create a more appetizing environment for your customers and staff.

Remember, you own a culinary art gallery. It may be time to present new paintings on the plate. And, once you do, use your new offerings as a marketing and advertising piece to let your customers know you’ve added new artwork.