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Advice from you veterans, please

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Just wanted to share and open it up for discussion and suggestions

I have an Italian restaurant, we've been making our own pasta and doing the organic thing for quite a while now, and as of this new year I'm launching our 300 mile Menu. Basically, all our fresh meats, dairy and produce will be coming from within a 300 mile radius. With the exception of coffee, spices, salt, legumes and olive oil. This will present many limitations and force us to have a seasonal rotating menu, wich is were I do my best work, having studied in Italy. I've done my research, begun relations with my local farmers and have run most of the new menu items as specials for the past few weeks.
TONIGHT: Rabbit leg wrapped in house cured panchetta, braised in chardonnay, sage, parsnips and red chard with a crispy polenta cake.

So the dellema:
My staff is not really behind the change - the kitchen is very excited, but the FOH can only focus on all our regulars that come in for specific dishes, and how to tell them "No- we don't make that anymore". Our restaurant has been here for 25 years, we have customers that have been coming here for 18. Some of my staff have been here for 10 years, and I've only been the Chef and co-owner for almost 3. When I'm not around, there are grumblings from the "old guard" that I should just open up my own new restaurant instead of "messing up" theirs. (not an option)
The food is better than ever, people love the specials and this is the cooking I believe in. However there is an air of truth in what they say, but I just cant go on making F-ng Baked Ziti and chicken piccata -it's not me. I know I own the place - but it kind of has it's own identity.

The restaurant is busy, and everyone but me is happy .... am I crazy to change a good thing just because of my food ideals?
-ciao
mike
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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post #2 of 16
That's kind of a tough call. On the one hand, I would say that as long as your co-owner feels the same way you do, you should assert yourself and reinstate the fact that it's YOUR restaurant, not theirs, therefore if you make changes, they should either embrace them or find somewhere else. On the other, it's kind of like a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it situation." Personally I would continue running the specials, increasing the frequency and amount while slowly reducing the dishes you don't like. Keep getting feedback from the customers (not the servers), and eventually the change you want to happen, will.
post #3 of 16
Change is hard but can you live with yourself making the same dishes you can get at any Italian restaurnat? Do what you want, if the staff does not like it they can hit the road. It has been my experience that FOH wants things simple as possible, your changes are probably too deep and complex for their baked ziti brains to handle.

One thing would be to have the menu in Italian so people think it is authentic Italian LOL. Remember the Sopranos episode when they go to Italy and hate the food LOL!.

The 300 mile menu sounds great keep it up.
Fluctuat nec mergitur
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Fluctuat nec mergitur
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post #4 of 16
What you need is a big sign over the kitchen "window"--facing the servers, not the cooks saying: "Change is the price of survival".....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #5 of 16
I think you've got to realize that you aren't the one eating and paying for the food. If you've got a known customer base (a growing one, at that) that wants these changes, I say go for it. Particularly if you think these changes will result in increased revenue. Otherwise, it will seem like you're just letting your ego get the best of you.

As far as dealing with the ziti and all that, just ask yourself: Is it a good baked ziti? Is it good piccata? In the end, that's all you should ever worry about if you're making money as is.
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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post #6 of 16

not black and white.

I don't see why you can't retain some of the classic favorites, and add the new things. I mean, there is nothing wrong with "baked ziti", in fact when done right it is wonderful. Why not prepare baked ziti with fresh local ingredients, and not make a fuss over it? What I mean is, just make the darned Ziti, with the ingredients from your new local people and don't say anything about it. Just serve it the new way. Now, that doesn't say anything about the rest of the menu, but it is the example that you pointed out, but it seams to me that if you just make the food you were making with the local ingredients then you have done nothing to change your menu.

If you want to change your menu, then.... um. Well, fact is, and let's think about this.. YOU bought - or bought into - this restaurant, presumably for a reason. If it is a money maker, don't mess with it. By "money maker" I mean, "not failing". If it is doing well, and you want to branch out, then you have two options:

do what the "old timers" say and open a new place that does not mess with what they are already doing, which is, after all, what you bought into.

or

roll out a replica of your existing operation. Now, be aware, what I am suggesting is NOT a franchise type place. What I am saying is this: open a new place in a demographic that you have researched, WITH, money from the existing business. Don't change a thing. Enjoy the fact that chose wisely when you invested in the place you are currently working for/with.
post #7 of 16
I've seen great chefs in STL go through the same thing.....a buddy who was in a local seasonal white linen restaurant for years opted to redo an "institution", one that had an old guard regular client base.....was "the" place to go in the 80's-90's. Beef Wellington, oysters, morel menus in season.....you get the idea. "The beast" had 3....yes three kitchens....was a monster to retool on nominal monies. The chef was not an owner but invested outrageous amounts of time bringing the menu/staff up to speed...while running old favorites as set daily specials...ie Beef Wellington on Wed. nights, Fried Chicken on Sun......oh man, the heat they took from regular customers/old timer staff was unreal. The owners came in with nominal funding and nickeled/dimed the chef......continually bean counting and altering expectations. Remember, this is one of STL's best.....been doing it for years, has an outrageously high standard....etc......
After jerking this guy's chain for several months....Dec-Aug, he gave notice.
now he's opening his own place, serving local seasonal menu.....3 meals a day.....50ish seats with case for products and a bar.
The old guard place declared no-smoking in the bar area, lost business, tried to reinstate smoking in the bar....um, no one got the memo guys.....so it's quietly on the market for less than the price paid Dec 2006.


Another $$$$$ maker was bought by a couple of brothers who have the chops....they've worked or staged in major restaurants around the world. They bought a successful restaurant down by "the" brewery. Did not change the menu. These guys had worked at El Bulli.....um no sci-fi guys? So, specials gradually started showing up.....nothing wild and crazy.....but local food is making an appearance. The above chef's wedding rehearsal dinner was at this restaurant and they passed around small bags of fritos with the top edge rolled down and rabbit chili, onions/cheese.....gotta love the fun rifting.


Another chef/owner opened a small high end place....French/Italian....then opened a more casual bistro 5 miles away....then opened an authentic Italian trattatoria in an up and coming area.....the chefs rotate between the restaurants, they brought in a buyer to combine purchasing power.....interesting watching the direction each restaurant took. Each had a defined concept.

One of my best friend's had a country French place, very small, one man kitchen in the DR......locals adored it. He made alot of money out of that space for numerous years.....opened an ancillary space two doors down.....changed the second place to a chop house, within a year it was bust. They moved a blk over to a larger venue in a hotel, sold the gem and within 18 months it all came crumbling down. For many reasons. It's been 5+ years since the gem closed and people still talk about it....how nothing in town takes it's place. Even the new Irish pub he opened last year.


Marketing can be expensive, usually time consuming and necessary....if your restaurant is branded can you imagine changing dramatically in mid-flow and bringing in enough new business to cover the loss of old.
Greg and Cookingwithfat are right on....it's an ongoing long time business with a client base, that's what you bought in to.......
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #8 of 16
nonononono, don't ever let your staff say "WE DON'T MAKE THAT ANYMORE!" you can say, sorry, it's not on the menu because it's not in season ( so people start getting educated that you do only fresh in season cooking!!) or, they can also say..

"sorry not in season, but you can try "SUCH AND SUCH" I'm sure that it will become your new favorite!"

If everything is said with a smile and a can do attitude, your customers will play along. If your staff is witching and moaning about the changes...then change the staff!

You sound like you want to move foward with a new and fresh menu, so let them be fresh and new or be stuck in the mud someplace else.

Your enthusiastic staff is your best marketing tool!
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
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Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
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post #9 of 16
I have experienced exactly the same issues in my restaurant in London, my wife runs FOH and I am chef. She hates any kind of change as it inevitably causes a percentage of whinging customers, however I am always striving to improve and progress with the current trends and to provide a better experience for the diners. We have reached a compromise where we have our usual a la carte menu with all the old favourites...12 starters and 12 mains, and we also offer a fixed price seasonal menu. This is a 3-course meal with a choice of 4 starters 4 mains and 4 desserts. It works very well for the customers because it caters for the people who want variety and also for those who like the same old same old. The thing I like most about it is, that I can experiment. The seasonal menu is changed every 13 weeks to reflect the changes in produce and when a dish is really popular, or lends itself to service in a positive way, it can be promoted to the main menu. Last year we removed a very popular dish from our main menu, braised lamd shank, it caused a lot of debate at the time and customers still moan about it. I can't believe diners have even boycotted our restaurant over this!!! Anyhow I am now using the lamb shank to draw in business, its on the New Year menu which starts in January, a very quiet time for us.

It is a dilemma...on the one hand you want to keep your regulars and staff happy, and on the other hand you want to progress and strive for improvement. Remember who is the boss, it is your restaurant and your decision is final, keeping everyone happy is always difficult, yes listen to your staff and listen to your customers but your business must be driven by you, and if your decision is wrong then so be it. I think you are doing the right thing and I wish you luck, keep up the good work.
post #10 of 16
Are you working to live or living to work, if its just to make a living then dont change and keep taking the money. On the other hand if its your ambition to have the restaurant of your dreams I would sell this one with all its goodwill and loyal staff and open a new one you will have a blank page to make your mark and you will recruit staff who know you are the boss.
Steve masterchefinfrance. com
post #11 of 16
Gotta disagree with that,chefinfrance. Customers change, move away, or they grow old, go into care homes or pass away. Nothing lasts forever but the sea and sky. Menus should change, preferably with the seasons. Granted, favorites should stay--provided they sell. If they don't, you can run them as specials. But to keep the same menu for 5 or ten years running with no changes is an open invitation to stagnation.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #12 of 16
Easier said than done!:blush:
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
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Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
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post #13 of 16
Just to explain why I have this opion. The first restaurant I purchased back in 1982 was a succesfull restaurant with a Spanish theme unfortunatly due to my age and lack of experience the bank lending me the money insisted on me buying a restaurant with a good turnover and proven success, I figure this goodwill made up at least 50% of the purchase price. Being French trained and and having a passion for French food I gradually changed the menu to my style of food.Despite the fact that my food was better,fresher and the restaurant recieved rave reviews from the good food guides I lost customers and staff. So after 12 months trading my turnover was down and as such the value of my purchase [ 50% of the purchase price was goodwill and turnover]. After 2 years i was back to evens and after 4 years I was able to sell the restaurant with goodwill at a profit. Now compare that with the next 4 restaurants that I purchased which were either not tading or trading so badly there was no goodwill, after 12 months there value had doubled because they were trading successfully, I had a customer and staff base loyal to me and my style of food. So I would advise any good chef going into business for them selfs if you have something special to offer dont buy a successful restaurant and change it buy one with good potential.
Steve masterchef now living in France after many successful years in the UK [ the reward for all those years working split shifts six days a week]:chef:
post #14 of 16
if you can afford it- come up with some training for the FOH staff- take them to a farm, bring in a speaker about sustainability, something. You need them to get buy-in. and i agree, they can't say, sorry, we don't have that anymore. any kitchen needs to be ready to produce whatever a guest is lusting for at the moment, or our own personal riff on it. they need to focus on what we CAN do for the guest, not what we CAN'T do. So make the ziti, but make it with your fresh pasta, local tomatoes, house-made mozz, organic basil. it'll be better than some crusty old school american-italian place any day of the week.
if all these measures fail, buy them all a copy of "who moved my cheese" to let them know that change is inevitable and they better roll with it or roll out.
post #15 of 16
With the benifit of hindsight, to convert a Spanish restaurant to a French one within a year will, yes, lead to a exodus of customers. In this case however the Italian restaurant stays Italian, just that some of the poor sellers are taken off and some fresh ideas are brought in. There are many angles to look at, but probably the best is with smaller, seasonal menus, core favorites, and larger daily fresh sheets. In the end the customer is always right, what sells stays.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 

thanks all

Thanks everyone,
just as I expected, there are many ways to look at the situation. In the end I've decided to change about half the menu and use local produce for the remaineder. Although, as for the baked ziti, tomatoes don't grow in January. Sure, there may be some "hot house" tomatoes produced in B.C. But they're not great. The point of local, sustaiable, organic is using the best, at their best. It's not an ego thing for me, its about a bigger picture. Convenience has taken all the excitment out of our food culture, when was the last time you were without a strawberry for your dessert, even though they look and taste nothing like they should, at this time of year, we think nothing of garnishing our gelato with them. Our job as chefs is to takes the best ingredients we can find and not screw them up. The potato dose not work in our service- we work in service of the potato.
Happy new year
mike
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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