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Culinary Coffee Vol. 26 No. 12

Wow Them in the End

Why Good Coffee is Important in Restaurants


Most people go to restaurants expecting their coffee to be terrible, and they are right. It doesn’t seem to matter how high-end or expensive a restaurant is; ninety percent of the time, the coffee will be somewhere between disappointing and terrible. There are a couple of anomalies out there, but for the most part, coffee in restaurants is glum.   

This unpleasant experience happens for various reasons, but lack of demand is not one of them. Everyone in the restaurant is fueled by coffee. The wait staff, kitchen staff, and management are all running on the pint cups filled with coffee as they gear up to get through the night. Working with several Micheline-rated chefs over the years, most still consider coffee a nuisance. It is something they provide simply because customers ask for it. ‘We don’t want to say no to the customer, so we keep a Nespresso machine just in case.’ This is not the right attitude toward the product; the last taste your customer may take with them. A bitter coffee could leave the customer with bitter memories of their meal, ruining all the effort and skill that went into their dinner.   

Some chefs complain that the espresso machine and brewing equipment investment is too high, considering it is the least expensive item on the check. ‘I get better margins with my chicken, and I don’t need a special machine for that,’ a chef once said to me.   

Truffles are often an ingredient used to elevate a dish, and they don’t even fetch a separate line item on a ticket. An amuse bouche is gratis, yet it takes great care and offers a chance for a chef to show off a little. Likewise, a finely crafted espresso or a delicious punchy cup of filter coffee can elevate a dessert, enhance the diner’s mood and provide the proverbial cherry on top of a great experience.   

Coffee and espresso are more critical than margins; they are about culture. When a customer or a critic looks at a restaurant, they judge them most fundamentally on the cleanliness of their bathrooms and the quality of their lettuce, for they are the most basic indicators of the cleanliness of the kitchen and the freshness of their ingredients. If you are a restaurant striving for a high-quality customer experience and fall short on the coffee, you are falling short of your reputation. The dining world is a business based on creating an experience for the customer. You are only as good as your weakest link, and if that link lands at the end of the meal right next to the check, then you better do it right or stop relying on tips.   

I created coffee programs for Nobu Restaurants, Waldorf-Astoria (when it was still a hotel), Jean-Georges, The Modern, and many others. I will tell you the same thing I’ve said to them, coffee should not be an afterthought. Coffee might not be the star of your show, but it should not be treated the same as the mop. Join me as I plan to discuss all things coffee in this column, from menu and training to culture and tasting. So get ready to know coffee.   

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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Jake Leonti is a writer and food + beverage advisor working in New York City, and around the world. He has worked in the food + beverage industry for over 20 years. Anything that touches coffee, Jake has done it. Including: importing green coffee, blending, roasting, building brands, packaging and coffee houses, developing RTD beverages, syrups, full scale menus and overseeing international product launches. Jake is a member of the Roasters Guild, a certified MuMac trainer and Editor-in-Chief of CoffeeTalk Magazine. F+B Therapy is a food and beverage consulting company that offers an array services including: opening cafes to menu creation, staff training, product development, branding and business strategy. F+B is based in the Northeast with offices and training labs in New York and Miami. Clients range from 100 year old international brands to owner operator small businesses across the US, Europe, Australia, South and Central America.

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