One of a chef’s greatest joys is building a new menu and one of the most important parts of the restaurant experience is the same. The process is complex – factoring in the financial goals of the operation, the buy-in from the kitchen team, seasonality of ingredients, vendor relationships, and operational capacity. This is not a task that should be overthought or undervalued – it is the centerpiece of the operation. So, considering the factors that impact success, what is the best approach in 2023-2024?
Keep it simple and be great! These words of wisdom ring true even more during a time when supply chain issues still plague operators, and the labor pool challenge is not improving very much. So, let’s begin by embracing two complementary words: GREAT and WOW. What does it mean to be great? Overused as the term is, let us substitute others that more clearly define the intent. How about world-class, undeniably crazy good, knock-their-socks-off every time exceptional, or take-your-breath-away spectacular. Are you starting to get the picture?
What about wow? This occurs in a restaurant when guests stop their conversations to admire your food, give their total attention to a description from a professional server, or spend the time to admire your décor. Wow is when they see, smell, taste, or experience something truly great, something they didn’t expect or have never experienced before. It can be as simple as the rich, intoxicating aroma of a perfectly caramelized onion soup, or the deep, funky smell of an artisan ripened cheese. Maybe incredibly fresh Blue Fin Tuna tartar with avocado, and homemade sesame crackers. It could be a meticulously assembled charcuterie platter, a burger made from house blended ground brisket, chuck, and sirloin, caramelized on a plancha griddle with heirloom tomato, crisp radicchio, grilled house made kaiser roll, and your secret sauce. Or it just might be a sugar-rimmed and frothy specialty cocktail – something that makes them take notice and pause.
What are you excellent at? What is it about your restaurant that guests refer to as “perfection”, or with an audible “WOW”? There must be something about your operation that separates it from the pack of competitors out there – something that the competition knows that can’t do as well. Find out what you are or can be exceptional at and then work like crazy to get even better. This need not be reserved for high end operations, white tablecloth meccas, or celebrity chef operations – don’t sell yourself short. You can be GREAT even if you specialize in extraordinary natural casing hot dogs. Look at what you are doing now and start thinking about where greatness lies.
Do the homework necessary to be great. If your goal is to present world-class barbeque, then take the time and invest the money in visiting the top ten barbeque restaurants in the country right now. Study them, learn from them, ask them why they think they are great and talk with their customers. You will never be world-class unless you understand what world-class means.
If you want to make the best lobster rolls then spend a few weeks in Maine and Cape Cod. Spend some time on a lobster boat and work with fishermen, eat in every great lobster shack you can and compare everything from which vendor or lobsterman they buy their shellfish from; how they cook, shell, and chill the lobsters, to the type of mayo they use, where they buy their rolls, and how they grill them. If you want to reach for that Michelin Star, then set aside a year or two to work in Michelin restaurants and beg to invest the time in their kitchens and dining rooms even if you must work without pay. You must live, sleep, eat, and drink Michelin if you have any hope of being that great.
Whatever you do; whatever type of restaurant, location, or menu, make sure that you approach the task with “world-class” in mind. Don’t accept “good”, never shrug your shoulders in acceptance of mediocre – commit to being great – commit to WOW!
Now, what are you great at? Focus on that and push greatness a little further tomorrow and every day after. The future is always bright for those who push to be the best at something. Some restaurateurs in your community will always hold the position of world-class – “the best of” – why not you?