Nothing cuts deeper in the restaurant business than coming to the conclusion that your customers don’t like your food. Often, however, this has little to do with the preparation of the menu and more to do with selection, ingredients and the chef´s ego. The number of restaurants that close because owners and chefs don´t focus on customer´s expectations is astounding.
Just this past weekend I came across two instances where the chefs in charge of the menu should perform a reality check on what they were creating. While walking around a small town in wine country, I was reviewing the menus in the restaurants I passed. Wood fired pizza, pasta, a variety of seafood and a few steaks and roasts graced the windows of eateries along the main street. As the park filled with picnic basket toting families, many of the restaurants were extremely busy. One, however, with the Goat Meat served three ways on the menu, wasn´t packing them in as much as the others. I am sure that Goat Meat wasn´t a large culinary draw for the owners.
In another instance, a celebrity chef on the Food Network was hired as a consultant to remake a restaurant in the Heartland. When he was done with the menu he had added a variety off Tapas styled plates to the offering. A Shrimp Bong, a miniature skillet of Sea Scallops, and a Foie Gras Lollipop were all items he urged the owner to highlight on her new menu. When asked how he felt about his creation, he said he wished he had more time to showcase more of his work.
Showcasing chef´s work is wonderful. Especially if it sells. But, like all artists, many chefs go hungry for a long time if they refuse to paint the plate with ingredients that sell to the dining public. And in doing so, restaurants enter that downward financial spiral that is so difficult to come out of.
One of the major keys to success in any restaurant is to make sure that the public enjoys your food. Of course, a little edgy is good when it comes to cuisine, but the menu has to reflect the needs and wants of the customers.
Years ago we were asked to do a catering event on Christmas Eve for a very prominent family who had strong roots in America´s food industry. It was an annual tradition and 35 relatives were going to attend. We prepared a variety of theme menu selections including a Dickens of a Christmas, complete with a buffet selection of Roasted Turkey, Cornish Game Hens, and Duck,. The wait staff was to be dressed in Dickinsonian costume.
When we conveyed our thoughts to the matriarch of the family, she told us what the menu was going to be. Buttered rolls, Lamb Meatballs, 2 inches in diameter, Broccoli Crowns, Mashed Potatoes, and Carrots. A tray of cheese and crackers would be passed before dinner. She didn´t want any servers. Just myself and Kranston.
When I called my wife, who was visiting her sister in Dallas at the time, I told her I had good news and bad news. The good news: We had been invited to a prominent family´s home for Christmas Eve. The bad news: She was the maid, I was the butler.
With a snowstorm hitting the country roads of Wayzata that night, we made it to the home without any trouble. When we walked through the door, the delightful matriarch asked what the small ornamental butters that my wife had made were for.
Kranston replied, "Those are to be served with the rolls on the bread and butter plate."
"Forget those, just butter the rolls." the matriarch said.
And she did.
And we prepared the dinner without fuss. The little bell, summoning Kranston to the dining room rang frequently, and my Lamb Meatballs were a big hit. Just as they were the year before for the last chef.
The cost of the event to the client was $1850.00 plus a service gratuity.
The profits of the event were the lessons. Give the customer exactly what they want and you will make more money than you would have with Mr. Dickens.
Don´t ever turn down a catering event. It could be the beginning of a tremendous business.