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Small restaurant - one man show: reassessing my approach

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 

Hi fellow chefs and/or restaurant owners,

 

now that another busy summer season is over I'm reviewing processes in the kitchen and pondering how to improve things, especially with respect to the workload that nearly landed me in a burn out clinic quite early on in the season.

 

My set up is a small, 25-cover restaurant with a 40-cover beer garden (an either/or situation - there's rarely, if ever, 65 covers being served simultaneously) and a small menu, i.e. 2 - 3 starters and 5 - 6 mains. The food is regional and seasonal; I use a handful of local suppliers/producers, which entails that I don't get any deliveries. In the summer season, I have to make 2 to 3 trips each week (each a 45-mile round trip) to pick up meat and vegetables, as well as a 70-mile round trip to the nearest cash and carry at least every other week. Last year, the restaurant was open from 11:30 am to 10:00 pm, but this past season I stayed closed in the afternoons, because business is slow during that time and often I simply couldn't keep up with the prep work for evening services.

 

Due to the small size of the restaurant, I can't afford another cook, but I do have a dishie on weekends who peels potatoes and cuts fries, washes lettuce etc.

 

I'm essentially trying to come up with a way of reducing stress and the workload and might even reassess the basic concept of the restaurant. As it is, the food served is quality home-style, often with a touch of the Mediterranean; a typical menu might include a pasta dish, a steak, fries and salad, schnitzel Viennese, fries and salad, duck breast with veg and homemade gnocchi (or similar), lamb kebabs with tabbouleh and a vegetarian dish. Although I'm not keen on the steak and schnitzel, they are on almost all the time, because the locals are extremely conservative. At the same time, the tourists love anything Mediterranean that has the "locally grown/raised" stamp on it (my lamb, rabbit, pork etc.). It continues to be difficult to please both distinct camps. Tourism constitutes a high percentage of my income, yet I can't survive winters without the locals.

 

I would like to pick your brains for ideas how I might be able to reduce ticket times (longish waits can be a problem when it gets busy), the a la minute workload and such like, so that I can keep customers happy while retaining my mental and physical health.

 

Thank you guys and gals!

Recky

post #2 of 42

Give the locals what they want, but do it so well the tourists will love it (Locals want S.O.S, you dry cure the beef yourself, everybody wins). Depending on your price point you may be trying to do to much. It seems like you also are trying to do fine dining, casual fine dining, this might not be what your locals want, and tourists wanna go to the local spot. There's no way of knowing any of this for sure without knowing your operation.

post #3 of 42
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your reply, beastmasterflex! My place is actually far from fine dining - it's a pretty rustic affair, very French bistro style with bare tables, an open kitchen etc. Yes, perhaps I am trying to do too much. Most recently I have been looking at a couple of higher-end (ethnic) fast food places as well as the traditional Lyon 'bouchons', i.e. small restaurants where quality food is served quickly and efficiently. Likewise, I found a link on this forum to an ancient piece on NYC restaurants with tiny kitchens (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/24/dining/so-you-think-your-kitchen-is-small.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm). All of this I have found quite inspiring.

 

I think I need to design my menu in such a way that items can be plated quickly and are made up of as few components as possible. That's the kind of advice I'm looking for, I guess. I have basically answered my own question here, but I'd love it if you guys might be so kind as to offer your angles on this, different perspectives, how you would go about things if you were put into my shoes.

 

Thanks a lot,

Recky

post #4 of 42

Here's a place I trailed at once. http://www.thevanderbiltnyc.com/

 

Big on homemade sausage that they also sold at market. Good for a beer garden type venue. All the dishes are very quick on the pick up, however they had some specialized equipment for the sausage making. This example straddles the fence of somewhat universal good cooking and a german brat haus type thing.

post #5 of 42

Could you replace the steak with a dish such as sauerbraten and the schnitzel with baeckoffe of pork, or maybe work in a jaeger eintopf? Dishes that can made a day or two in advance and that actually improve with a rest and marry period.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #6 of 42

What do you sell most in the beer garden if you don't mind my asking?

post #7 of 42
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all your replies!!! A lot of what you say is actually feasible, yet it hadn't occurred to me.

 

beastmaster: during the summer season, when the beer garden can fill up rather quickly, we sell whatever is on the menu. To a large degree, we have a monopoly in the village in that the only competition is two kebab/pizza shops. So anyone passing through who isn't keen on cheap fast food can't avoid us. I have tried to keep the lunch menu small and quick, but I still have to please both camps, tourists and locals.

 

It's not that schnitzels are necessarily carved in stone, but they are most definitely a hit with the locals (and some tourists), as I do them the way they used to be done, i.e. properly homemade, including hand-cut fries, which is almost an extinct art in these here parts. I sell them at a premium, but no complaints. Despite my dislike of them, I don't think I can get rid of them, but maybe I'll keep them on as the only a la minute item, dropping the steak.

 

cheflayne, that's exactly the stuff I've been thinking about - tasty, flavoursome country fare that can be prepped far in advance and reheated without compromising quality. Even better if you can produce such things in single-portion kitchen-to-table dishes and pop them in the oven to order.

A bit fast-foodie, perhaps, but what kind of dishes might be held in a steam table for a couple of hours without doing any damage to them?

 

Thanks,

Recky

post #8 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Recky View Post
 

cheflayne, that's exactly the stuff I've been thinking about - tasty, flavoursome country fare that can be prepped far in advance and reheated without compromising quality. Even better if you can produce such things in single-portion kitchen-to-table dishes and pop them in the oven to order.

A bit fast-foodie, perhaps, but what kind of dishes might be held in a steam table for a couple of hours without doing any damage to them?

 

Stews hold good in a steam table, but an even better option with them is to heat to portion order in a saute pan. If you start to get backed up with orders, initiate the order in the saute pan on the burner and then put the pan in the oven to finish while you get another going. Out the door in no time, no loss of quality, no issue with holding times/temps/chilling/reheating/etc. It is the same thing I do with soups, braises,or anything with a fair amount of liquid that I have to make ahead of time.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #9 of 42

http://themeatballshop.com/menu

 

Check out this place, mostly do meatballs, hold great in a steam table.

 

There's isn't a whole lot that holds well in a steam  table, pasta sauce is pretty good, could always do fresh pasta and add value that way, but could also be a quick pickup. Fresh pasta is good enough I think, that at a decent price point you could get away with serving only this.

 

Also check out, 99 miles to Philly, they pretty much only do cheese steaks, great place, I miss it so badly. Its located 99 miles away from Philly... Easy to pickup, everybody loves them, can add value by making buns, and decent profit margin.

 

http://99milestophillyeastvillage.com/food-delivery-TW/99-miles-to-philly-new-york-city.1925.r?QueryStringValue=TC2Xm2z+XUVOGdaw9yhKWw==

post #10 of 42

You could always stick a BBQ or grill in the beer garden and only serve sausages. Keep the covers down for your kitchen to the 25.

post #11 of 42
Thread Starter 
Thanks a lot again! A lot of food for thought here. I do have thing for places that specialise in something rather than trying to be all things to all people, such as the aforementioned meatball restaurant, as long as it's done well.

So far, I have had an ever changing menu in tandem with the seasons and availability. A specialist place can't really do that, except for specials, as customers expect a consistent offering. That would be my problem with specialising in, say, meatballs. However, the idea is quite appealing, as I often feel hounded by having to constantly reinvent my menu.

So as you can tell, I'm currently very undecided... 😉
post #12 of 42
Thread Starter 
So while cleaning Brussels sprouts I was thinking that I should play to my strengths while simplifying the basic concept. One of my fortes is innovative and/or interesting pasta sauces, either "stolen" around the world or made up myself. If I did, say, six different pastas including one using fresh homemade tagliatelle, a veggie lasagne or similar, as well as a one-pot braise, a schnitzel Milanese-style and something else, as well as a couple of interesting starters, would it appeal to you? I'm not talking cheap and quick, but upmarket and quick. What do you think?
post #13 of 42
Id include spatzel, fresh pasta kinda says upmarket all on it own.
post #14 of 42

You gotta think like an accountant now, cold and harsh.....

 

If you're spending x amount of time shopping, an y amount of time prepping, then out comes the axe. 

 

And the axe says:  TAGES MENU

 

Put, say 60% of your labour into daily special 1 and 2,  and 40% into the a'la carte.  In other words, cut back on the a'la carte.  This in no way will affect the quality of your food.  And word might get around that every Tuesday you have Rindsschmorbraten, but only am Dienstag,  then that's pretty good too.

 

I dunno, it's something to think about,

Oder?

...."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 #15 of 42
Thread Starter 

foodpump,

 

that's kind of what I've been trying to do, although, admittedly, half-heartedly. My problem with that has always been the unpredictability of my day-to-day business due to the fickle tourist crowds. You get like three pretty good Tuesdays in a row, start thinking there's a pattern to it now, and the forth and fifth Tuesdays are suddenly extremely slow, and everything shifts to a Thursday. So if I did daily specials (as opposed to weekly), I could never predict the amount of food to produce. It's been driving me crazy!

post #16 of 42

Recky,

 

Your place sounds similar to mine.  Small place, big summer, slow winter, kitchen size of a bathroom.  We consider our selves upscale casual.  When I design menus I make sure I have a good mix of low impact/attention items and those that I have to show love too.  Low impact is lamb shanks/Osso Buco/lasagna/Coq Au Vin/crab cakes.  All get put on hot plate, tossed in convection for set time and plated.  Scallops, steaks, fish (2 or 3 summer/1 option winter) might take more.  Apps/salads same idea.  Crab dip, spring rolls, pigs in a blanket (home made sausage and dough), stuffed squid, shrimp gambas all require little or no time on my part.  Salads, oysters, made to order mozzarella another story.  I will have 4/5 apps, 2 salads, soup, 6/7 entrees any given night.  I have moved\trained a dishwasher up and turned him into a sous.  Started him at $8.50 to see if he would work, moved him up fast to show appreciation.  I have him come in on Wed (closed wed/tue) and prep a list of low end stuff for 4 hours (stuff that is easy, chopping, mixing, etc..)  Being small and seasonal I can have people (sous/DW/waitress) come in or not depending on reservations.  I also will send them home when it is dead. 

 

As far as supplies, I used to make weekly runs to Sams and Rest. Depot (try 185 mile round trip).  I now look back on those days and wonder if I was on crack:)  Making my Lexus into a pickup is not why I started this place up.  Still hit them up every couple/three weeks for specific stuff I like there better (thick bacon from sams/chicken leg qtrs and lamb/veal from rest depot) but I am on a cash basis with all my other guys, which I like.  No when I travel each week it is to the local farmer/seafood guy.  Just a thought!

 

Hope this helps,

 

Q

post #17 of 42
Thread Starter 
ChefAtRH: yes, sounds very similar indeed! In the past I have often been somewhat too ambitious, i.e. too many components per dish, which takes up too much space on the hob and requires too much attention, plus having to do side salads etc. No wonder I lost 20 pounds in the first season. Lack of refrigeration space has also been one of my problems, so during busy times I've always had to buy in veg and lettuce for a maximum of two or three days at a time. And I've never been able to store larger amounts of prepped/cooked stuff. I NEED to find space for another large fridge somewhere!

Do you do lunch service as well as evenings? Although I do close the kitchen in the afternoons oftentimes on a busy weekend lunch service hangs over well into the afternoon and I run out of time for prepping the evening. A constant nightmare...
post #18 of 42

I support anyone who wants to limit their menu to keep things fresh and fast. Your menu looks pretty small already. Maybe there are too many ingredients on the plate as you suspect, or maybe you just need help. 65 seats is too much for one cook. In a full service kitchen with freshly prepared dishes, a line cook should be doing about 25-30 plates. In some place like an Italian or Mexican restaurant where many of the ingredients are premade, you might double that. 65 covers for one guy doing everything himself in a kitchen with fresh made dishes is too much though. That would burn anyone out. Based on the dishes you mention that you make, it seems to me there should be money for another cook on busier nights. ChefAtRH sounds like he has a reasonable approach. Train some people that can work part time when you need them. Schedule them on the usually busy nights and send them home if it doesn't get busy. Train the dishwasher to do double duty. In your size restaurant, you should be able to easily afford two cooks and a dishwasher on a decently busy day. The challenge is figuring out how to set up a small space so you aren't running over each other.

Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

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Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

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post #19 of 42

Recky,

 

LOL, I found your 20 pounds and maybe a little more.  Stress (and my wives desserts) add pounds.

 

We have rented space from a retail store behind our shop.  I have a 3 door reach-in,  a couple of old house fridge/freezers, and 3 big shelving units for dry goods, wine and such.  Could not do it otherwise with a complete lack of space in our building.  It is something I do not advertise to the Health Dept.  We pay with a gift certificate each month.

 

We do lunch and dinner weekdays and also breakfast on weekends.  Open Thur-Mon.  Wife does breakfast, I do lunch/dinner.  She does desserts, baking, some soups, and works FOH for dinner.  Use to work in kitchen with me for dinner but I was in danger of getting accidentally stabbed 12 times so we reworked that moment.  Dinner is so busy during summer we need her at FOH anyway, being the face of the restaurant (she is ex-home coming queen/prom queen so it is a good face, mine.......not so much) and selling wine.

 

Lunch and breakfast help build our dinner business. We make everything from scratch (corned beef/turkey/roast beef/sausage/quiches/scones/ice cream) and can turn the conversation into a "well you should see what we do for dinner" moment quickly.  Dinner is where the money and margins are.

 

We close from 3 to 5 to prep.  Use to be open all day, but as you are finding out, that cuts into prep time.  Small kitchen, bad dinner prep = shitty service.  Plus, you need to sneak 20 or 30 minutes to just sit and relax.  The extra 4 or 5 lunch seats are not worth it.

 

Good luck,

 

RH

post #20 of 42
If you are getting fresh lamb, why not go with a well thought out lamb burger? It can executed quickly for a lunch special and easy to prep.
post #21 of 42
I love breakfast for the margins. Do you open more days in you busy season?
post #22 of 42
Thread Starter 

ChefAtRH - over the winter I've put on 10 of those 20 pounds again, but I bet they haven't miraculously disappeared from your hips! ;-)

 

If there's one thing I don't want to do it's breakfast, as we have three bakeries/cafes in this small village all thriving on breakfast. From April to October we're open for lunch, and the first season we stayed open all afternoon. Sometimes we stayed busy, especially on Sundays, where the evenings can be quite slow as the day trippers/tourists leave town to travel back home, so even now that we're closed from 2:30 - 5:30 pm I often play things by ear on Sundays, hoping to find an hour or so to prep for the evening service. It's not ideal, but we have to make the most of our summer season.

 

Thankfully, my restaurant is in a prime location in the centre of the village, in an old farm house with a very attractive beer garden out the front, where it's sunny all day long. Tourists WILL inevitably find us, and as long as they're in the market for local, seasonal food, they will come to our place. We also have the best coffee in town and serve great crêpes. As for the latter, they can be the bane of my life. When the kitchen is busy they bring everything else to a standstill, as you simply can't leave them unattended for even a second. One crêpe isn't a problem, but a number of them during a busy service do increase wait times significantly. That's why I'm thinking of abandoning crêpes during services.

 

mdal - Incidentally, I have been thinking about reintroducing burgers. I used to do them for a while, including goat burgers, and they sold like hot cakes. I even had buns baked by the local bakery. I dropped them again, however, because business is so unpredictable here that I started cooking them from frozen and I wasn't happy with them. Likewise, I could only buy the buns in larger batches as they were baked specifically for me, so I had to freeze them as well, thaw as many as I thought I'd need and chuck what I didn't sell. If I needed more than I had taken out of the freezer, I had to defrost them in the microwave, and the results were less than satisfactory. Now, if you don't mind me asking you guys: How would you go about doing burgers in my situation, considering health and safety require that you use your ground meat only on the day you have bought it? Buy a grinder and grind yourself twice a day? Actually, I have a KitchenAid - has anyone tried the grinding attachment for it? It doesn't look very professional...

 

Cheers,

Recky

post #23 of 42

Oh yeah, been using the K.A. attatchment for years, no problems there.  Can the local bakery do frozen par-baked buns or frozen pre-proofed buns?  That way you can take out a few, bake them off, and if you need more, it's only a few minutes to bake off a few more.

...."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 #24 of 42

Breakfast margins are great but you have to do volume.  Here dinner will double the gross of both breakfast and lunch combined.  Margins are mid 30% not including wine sales.  Some dishes (crab cakes) we don't make the margin on but Coq Au Vin/Lamb Shanks/Mussels and other high margin items compensate.   We are in a watermans town on eastern shore of MD so we need to have a great crab cake and are willing to eat the margin on that one. 

 

Recky, to funny.  Just finished making sausage with my KA grinder.  Got it for Xmas.  Did a charcuterie plate for New Years Eve.  Was such a hit am adding to menu permanently.  Another no cook/low plating effort dish to take pressure of cook top and I can change it up when I want to keep it fresh.  Plus I like saying Charcuterie:)  The KA grinder seems to be great.  Did a pork butt in less that 5 minutes, easy to clean, solid construction.  Have the stuffing attachment but need casing before I can play with it.

 

Do not do burgers.   Not in my skill set for some reason.  We do a tenderloin slider (using up tenderloin that is not big enough for steaks).  Use the small rolls from Sams Club.  Pain in the you know what to get but I have not liked anything I can get from venders as much.  We do use a par baked dinner roll and seems to be a great success.

post #25 of 42
Thread Starter 

ChefAtRH - may I ask what kind of charcuterie you make with your KA grinder? And what exactly do you serve on your charcuterie plate? I think the idea is excellent!

post #26 of 42

Run, boy, RUN! No, I mean take up running. Are you overweight? Lose it. Join the Y. Your stress level will drop like a Minnesota thermometer in February. Mine sure did.

Your concept of fresh and local is great, but are you sure you need to go for cash and carry? How about an account with a local distributor to save you some travel time. I made the same mistake myself. When you really look at the cost of gas and time that could be spent getting prepped, you might see how you can come out ahead. 

A la minute? Mise en place, baby! Get your sauce bases done and in the reach in once a week. Ask yourself this question a thousand times a day: "What can I do ahead?"

Clean vegetables? Make stocks? Mince shallots? Make soups that are better the next day? 

I have a triumvirate test: Fast, Easy, Good. Depending on the type of cooking I'm doing, I seek out the dishes that fit that test as well as possible. 

If you try to grind a lot of meat with a Kitchenaid you'll kill it. 

post #27 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LeSorcier View Post
 

Run, boy, RUN! No, I mean take up running. Are you overweight? Lose it. Join the Y. Your stress level will drop like a Minnesota thermometer in February. Mine sure did.

Your concept of fresh and local is great, but are you sure you need to go for cash and carry? How about an account with a local distributor to save you some travel time. I made the same mistake myself. When you really look at the cost of gas and time that could be spent getting prepped, you might see how you can come out ahead. 

A la minute? Mise en place, baby! Get your sauce bases done and in the reach in once a week. Ask yourself this question a thousand times a day: "What can I do ahead?"

Clean vegetables? Make stocks? Mince shallots? Make soups that are better the next day? 

I have a triumvirate test: Fast, Easy, Good. Depending on the type of cooking I'm doing, I seek out the dishes that fit that test as well as possible. 

If you try to grind a lot of meat with a Kitchenaid you'll kill it. 


Incidentally, I have been looking into local distributors for some time, but most simply aren't interested in deliveries to a small restaurant outside urban areas. I may have found one, though, that doesn't carry everything I need, but it might save me quite a few trips.

 

I'm painfully aware of the necessity of efficient mise en place, but there's an associated problem, i.e. lack of burners. If it takes two or three burners to finish off your components for a single dish, you run out of hob space before you've even tackled all of the orders for a four-top. And you start developing severe jealousy towards octopuses! So, apart from good mise en place practice you need components you can simply hold in a bain marie or set-and-forget in the oven. Therefore, dishes like lamb steak with sauteed potatoes and glazed baby carrots will quickly land you in the shit.

post #28 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by LeSorcier View Post

 

If you try to grind a lot of meat with a Kitchenaid you'll kill it. 

Nope.  If anything, you'll crack the meat grinder housing, because it's plastic and will eventually fatigue and crack the one time you leave it in the d/washer for longer than 10 minutes.  I fixed mine with JB-weld 5 years ago and I still use it about 3 times a week.  I don't grind much meat, but a lot of dried fruit, which is much tougher.  My 5 qt Costco Special has been used and abused on a dialy basis for over 5 years now--breads, doughs, grinding, and even an un-orthodox attachment used to coat nuts with chocolate.

 

Recky, whatchyaneed is a "Herd Verlaengerung" (stove extension) Little electric hotplates can be great for items that need longer cooking times during prep time

...."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 #29 of 42

That's amazing. We clobbered our Kitchenaid with too much cookie dough. I use either my 80qt or 20qt Hobart for grinding.  

post #30 of 42
Thread Starter 

Thanks, foodpump! With six strong gas burners I don't really run into real estate issues during prep time. It's during service where I quickly run out of space.

 

I've got this gas-fired flat-top griddle plate that I never use. Has anyone ever tried using something like this for holding stuff at serving temperature??? It would, of course, be perfect for burgers if I decide to go along that route...

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