Small restaurant - one man show: reassessing my approach

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by recky, Dec 14, 2013.

  1. recky

    recky

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    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
     
  2. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    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.
     
  3. recky

    recky

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    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/d...r-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
     
  4. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    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.
     
  5. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    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.
     
  6. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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

    recky

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    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
     
  8. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    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.
     
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  9. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    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.c...5.r?QueryStringValue=TC2Xm2z+XUVOGdaw9yhKWw==
     
  10. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    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.
     
  11. recky

    recky

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    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... 😉
     
  12. recky

    recky

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    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?
     
  13. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    Id include spatzel, fresh pasta kinda says upmarket all on it own.
     
  14. foodpump

    foodpump

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    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?
     
  15. recky

    recky

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    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!
     
  16. chefatrh

    chefatrh

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    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
     
  17. recky

    recky

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    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...
     
  18. brandon odell

    brandon odell

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    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.
     
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  19. chefatrh

    chefatrh

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    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
     
  20. mdal2684

    mdal2684

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    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.