Inherited Menus

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by chefchris13, Nov 29, 2015.

  1. chefchris13

    chefchris13

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    I just started at a place last week that is the oldest restaurant in the county and are well known for certain dishes. Well, people have been complaining, even before me, about dishes being "different than before". They've been through four chefs in a year or so and it's really working my nerves already. I suggested changing the ENTIRE menu. Isn't that what a new chef does anyway??? Has anyone else dealt with this?
     
  2. recky

    recky

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    I haven't dealt with this personally, but know a lot of restaurants in my area where the 'menu carved in stone over generations' has eventually led to their demise, simply because their clientele became extinct. It doesn't matter how many chefs you throw at this, things will taste different than before and there is nothing you can do about it. Restaurants that don't reinvent themselves to some degree in order to cater for new generations of customers do not stand a cat in hell's chance to survive.

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
    flipflopgirl likes this.
  3. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    I hope you're not at Commander's Palace or something!  
     
  4. chefchris13

    chefchris13

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  5. chefchris13

    chefchris13

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    I tried to tell them that the customers that have been coming there for a hundred years are going to be dying off soon and you have to put new asses in the seats. I put a new menu together, but had to keep 90% of the old menu. Its VERY frustrating!
     
  6. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    First off, why have they been through 4 chefs in a year?  Secondly, why did you take a job at a place with that kind of history?  I'd probably have stayed clear as that is a big red flag, in my eyes.

    Without knowing more about where you are at, other restaurants in the area,  what your business volume is like, and it's comparison to what it was in the past, it's hard to comment on your issue.  Many chefs, especially younger ones, want to change up the entire menu right away.  Depending on the circumstances this can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Sometimes a place needs to "reinvent" itself, but at other times the worse thing that can happen is for a restaurant to change its menu when they have done the same thing for years and years and they are still drawing in a good crowd.

    Both personally and as a chef, I love both restaurants that stay on top of the trends and change their menus with the times, but I also love going to places where I know that the menu has been the same for 20-30 years or more.  Steakhouses, crab shacks, old school, red sauce Italian places are often like that, as well as other places.

    As the chef, and not the owner, it is your responsibility to make sure the owner's vision is achieved.  Sometimes that is coaxing them into changing, either a lot or a little, and sometimes that means restoring a place to its former glory through the food that made them successful in the first place.
     
  7. chefchris13

    chefchris13

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    I wouldn't mind so much if they even had recipes. Nobody can find them. We're not doing much volume, maybe $6000 a week. The owner said it's down from about $8,000. We're only open Wednesday thru Saturday, but numbers could be a lot better.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2015
  8. originalsinner

    originalsinner

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    $6000 per week or per day?  If your business is only making that in 4 days you need to get out of there.  They can't be paying you much anyway.
     
  9. parallax

    parallax

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    Take the menu items, and instead of trying to perfect a copy of someone else's recipe, create take it and raise your flag over it. If the owner's don't like it, there's not much you can do. Even if you had the original recipes, there's no guarantee that's what was being served.

    Recky is right, but if you aren't allowed a new menu, then channel your inner Remy, take that ris de veau you've been handed, and recreate it.

    Cheers!
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2015
  10. recky

    recky

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    Simply recreating someone else's recipes, or trying to copy someone else's execution of a menu is bound to fail. However, 'restoring a place to its former glory', as Pete puts it, can be an interesting and worthwhile way of reinventing a restaurant with a lot of history behind it. Depends on the circumstances and the location.

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
  11. brandon odell

    brandon odell

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    You never want to do a 100% redo of a menu when you take a place over unless everything is awful (in the eyes of the customer, not you). You have to respect what the customers want, and what is currently working. They are the ones providing the money to pay your salary. If you are wanting to redo the menu just so it's "yours", you're in it for you, not the customer, and that's a recipe for disaster.

    Obviously, it's impossible to recreate dishes exactly without a recipe. If the owner doesn't know that, maybe they aren't cut out for the restaurant business and you're better off somewhere else. There have to be some employees there who can provide insight on how certain items that were popular were made though, unless you're the only cook, and if that's the case I wouldn't want to be you. Even in a place with only $300K/yr in sales, you need more than one cook.

    Whether its your menu or someone else's, the first step in a menu change is to figure out what is working and what isn't. This gets you some leverage with the owner too. Have you ever seen the menu analysis worksheet developed at Cornell that helps you group menu items into "Stars", "Workhorses", "Projects" and "Dogs"? Its a great tool and it quantifies for you what needs to be kept the same, improved or cut. As a general rule, every menu is going to be about 25% of each of those categories so there is always going to be a need for change. The larger a menu is, the more items you'll find in the bottom two categories. Changing the menu 3 to 4 times a year to take advantage of seasonal ingredients and to make small price changes is a good idea regardless.

    If I were wanting to convince an owner, I would do a menu analysis and show them on paper what needs to be changed. It's a lot better to go in with data to back up your argument instead of just your feelings.
     
  12. chefross

    chefross

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    It's been my experience that places that have been around a long time and have a menu to that end usually have the problem with the new Chefs not being able to re-create the recipes that made the place famous. 

    Nobody can find the old recipes....for a reason. Get it????
     
  13. flipflopgirl

    flipflopgirl

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    Hey Brandon.... nice to see you back with your usual common sense approach to solving problems.

    mimi
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2015
  14. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    I'll throw in two cents. On recreating the dishes the restaurant is known for, I would look at how the dishes are being prepared. Consider what the dish is called, how it is currently prepared and with what ingredients.

         To illustrate, I'll use some classic dishes. If the dish is Peach Melba, is the sauce currently made from a mix or can but was originally made from scratch? Were the peaches brought in seasonally but now come out of a can?  

         Did the demi used in the Bordelaise sauce get made from scratch but now they use a Knorr-Swiss product or a beef base? 

    DId they begin using cheaper wine to save a few dollars? 

    Was butter originally used but now margarine is? 

    Was the dish originally browned under the broiler/salamander but the broiler isn't there anymore so everyone thought no one would notice? 

    I am not sure you need the original recipe if you can figure out what the original intent was. Then make the dish the best it can be with quality ingredients using proper techniques. 

       In addition to the owners, the long time customers should provide some insight. Was the dish spicier, thicker, bigger portioned, more cinnamon, less basil? 

    Not everyone will have the same answer or memory but you should get some general insights. 

    You could also contact the local library/newspaper to retrieve old restaurant reviews to see what the critic had to say. Do they mention something about the dish that isn't there anymore? 
    "The beautiful scallops in the paella…." 

    I'll have to agree with the general advice here that doing the current menu well is the best approach. Modernizing to a degree is fine but the real challenge is to do whatever you do well. 
     
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  15. chefchris13

    chefchris13

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    Thanks to everyone for the input. I appreciate it.