Wouldn't you just LOVE to run a 3-item-menu restaurant like they do in France????

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by recky, Mar 17, 2013.

  1. recky

    recky

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    My place is very small, I'm the only kitchen staff, I serve fresh, locally sourced fare and oftentimes, during the tourist season, feel hounded trying to keep up with the prep and mise. My menu isn't exactly huge, with 2-4 starters, 7-9 mains and a couple of desserts plus sweet and savoury crêpes, completely tailored to what I can achieve in my kitchen.

    Yet I keep reading about (and have experienced) those small family-operated bistros in France that serve one starter, three mains and one dessert from a menu sometimes carved in stone since WW I, with perhaps a daily special. Some of the busier, more "modern" bistros may change their menus on a daily or weekly basis.

    Such restaurants seem to be extremely popular throughout the country, and it's very much a "like it or f*** off" affair.

    Wouldn't you just love to run a place like this: Frantic lunch and evening hours ("sorry, booked out, but would you mind sharing a table?"), big salad or soup starter for everyone, daube of beef/pasta/pan-fried dish as mains choices, and one or two desserts? Cheap and cheerful local wines (two: red and white!!!)), great coffee. C'est tout.

    Am I alone in this? Is this a romantic notion, or do places like these actually exist outside France?

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
  2. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    I don't know where they exist or not anywhere else.  I have never been to France but  I don't see why you can't do that in your place. It is the freshness and quality of the food that sets a place apart. Better three or four things you do really well than divide your efforts among twelve items that you can not pay close attention to.  

    If you like the concept, do it. You can offer more or less items as time, prep and availability permit. If you have seen it in action, then you know it can be done. 

    Paul Prudhomme and his wife Kay created one of America's most popular restaurants by serving great food in  a very casual setting. Communal tables found in garage sales, no fancy decorations, very simple decor. The focus was on the food. People sat with others they had never met. 

    Life is short. If that is what you want to do, then do it today. 
     
  3. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    Yeah, it can be done. You dont have to go as far as France, you can look to Quebec for many examples of this sort of dinning. Montreal has many small places that set a daily "this is what we got" menu. My wife took a business trip to Northern Quebec, far from any city, and had a fantastic meal at a place that offered an app, two mains and whatever they made for dessert. And this was a more gastro type place, not like a grannies meatloaf and tomato soup kind of deal.

    In English North America, I think this model might be a tough nut to crack. We tend to value the illusion of expanse equalling choice, or rather quantity being inherentlly good. If you were able to hunker down and be able to tred water for a long enough time to build a rep, I think you could pull it off. I suspect this might be a good sort of venue for intensive social media pimping. If you have a Foodie community of any size they would be your target market to start.

    I also think you would want to have built in additional revenue streams, be it private dinners, cooking lessons, or selling preserves.

    Al

    (If you suspect that I have been toying with sort of idea myself, you win a bright shinny quarter)
     
  4. twyst

    twyst

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    This niche is currently being filled by food trucks in many cities in the US right now, and the more successful trucks are popping up with brick and mortar locations here in ATX
     
  5. saltandfat

    saltandfat

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    The emphasis is on quality, and your customers should realize that. You will always get the comments like "This is it?!" when diners see your menu, but are those the type of people you want to be serving? Then again, money is money.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2014
  6. ishbel

    ishbel

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    Sorry, I posted here and I am not a foodie professional, so I've deleted my post!
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2013
  7. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    I really want this food truck thing to go away. I smoked my fair share of pot in my teens so I get the idea, but seriously, nobody would shovle this crap down their throats if they were sitting down and taking the time to taste the slop they were scarfing back.

    Kimchi and refried beans isnt fusion, its stoner condiment swapping and the fact its lionized is nothing short of tear inducing.

    Die already.v
     
  8. Iceman

    Iceman

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    ABSOLUTELY  LOL!!!

    GREAT POST ALLEN. 
     
  9. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    Although restaurants with very limited menus can be found, and are popular, around the world, I think it would be hard sell here in  the US.  Americans seem to feel that a large choice=quality.  They feel it is their "right" to be able to go into any restaurant and order just about anything.  This is why the ubiquitous "family" restaurant is so popular.  You can get burgers, sandwiches, comfort food, mexican food, chinese food and a whole host of other options with a 10 page menu, plus breakfast anytime.  I'm not saying that it can't be done, but until attitudes change a little more I think such a restaurant in the US would have a hard time of it, if it wasn't located in a city or major tourist area.
     
  10. squirrelrj

    squirrelrj Banned

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    Huh? plenty of great food trucks here, that aren't "fusion", but straight forward good food.
     
  11. arugula

    arugula

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    There's 2 places in the city I live in (Southwestern Ontario). Both with menus under 10 items. There both the best restaurants in the city. Everyday the menu evolves into something new. And everyday you call there booked solid.
     
  12. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    Squirrel,

    Once again I am taking local experience and acting like its global. In this case I think the food truck "culture" that I am watching here in Halifax is directly influenced by outside media and trends from other cities.

    We have always had food trucks here, of course. These are the sort of guys that do fries or fish, or sausages. One chip truck has been quasi famous for years, the subject of a classic Canadian folk tune in fact. And in a coastal, touristy town, the best place for fish and chips MIGHT be from from a bright yellow truck.

    However when you hear people, and local media, talk about food trucks, these troopers dont even register. We only have eyes for splashy, over the top, "fat kid food" outfits that are clearly inspired by TV shows like Eat Street, and supose, the media coverage of these sort of businesses that lead to that program. The kind of truck that would something like chicken fried steak bao with truffled hollandaise and grilled hatch chillies. The sort of thing you might think is awesome if you choke it back in five minutes while walking around the block.

    Either way, The impression I got from Recky was he was thinking of would not be a quick service joint, more of a stripped down quasi fine dinning place that would offer a very small dailly menu of very well prepared food. I dont see this model of business being serviced by food trucks at all,

    Al
     
  13. brandon odell

    brandon odell

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    I don't know where you are seeing food trucks, but your opinion certainly doesn't represent the quality of the trucks in Kansas City. Most food trucks here serve the same quality product, or better, than you find in comparable restaurants. Most prep in the truck and finish the food to order just like a restaurant would do. They make it possible by greatly limiting what they do.

    Are there some food trucks that precook and hold things then shovel them out when ordered? Sure, some, but there are more restaurants that do that than food trucks.
     
  14. brandon odell

    brandon odell

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    I think the huge menu trend in the US is dying, thank God. While its true that some Americans view breadth of choice as a reason to go to a restaurant, I don't think that is the consensus. Look inside your own restaurant. Do regulars come in and order something different with every trip, or do they come in and order the same thing(s) over and over. If you are like most restaurants, it's the latter. Regulars return for particular menu items, not so they can order something different every time they come in.

    I've worked with a lot of restaurants to cut their menu choices down and have yet to see it result in lowered sales or traffic. It's usually the opposite. A smaller menu gives the impression (and the expectation) that your limited menu is higher quality, made from scratch. The key is living up to that promise and being in a micro-market that appreciates food quality.

    For all the "bad" that comes from shows on the food network, I credit them with pushing quality over quantity with consumers. More and more people are focusing on "scratch-made" and they are more educated on quality than they have ever been in our country. I don't think that fad is going away.

    Maybe you should cut your menu down more and see how it is received? Or maybe you should come up with your new menu structure and poll your existing customers (and people outside your restaurant who AREN'T your customers) to see how they would react to that type of concept? There's no way to know without testing it.
     
  15. linecook854

    linecook854

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    In the US a menu like that would really be a tough sell unfortunately. In my opinion the only type of place like this (in the US)  that would survive would be very small, 10 seats or so and cater to a sort of micro-market as someone else pointed out. A small place like this would work in a more liberal metro area like NY, Boston, Chicago etc. but in the suburbs it would really need a push from social media and other sorts of marketing.

    I worked as a prep cook in a very successful restaurant that had 8 entrees, 7 apps, and 6 desserts including a cheese plate. Apps were $10-$15 and entrees $18-$29. Menu was small, concise. It was located just outside the metro area in small, liberal, affluent town that had lots of local farms. Almost everything we used produce, dairy and meat wise came from local farms. It sat 75 people and was open for dinner only 5pm-10pm 6 days a week. We had an open kitchen, 4 stations on the line (gm, middle, grill and saute) and was led by a head chef who the exec. sous at one of the best restaurants in the metro area. The owner had been a GM at a Michelin star place in California. Everything was planned from the top down in very capable hands in a small type of setting they could easily handle. Execution and proper planning were paramount to their success. The biggest advantage they had was their location. The town only had 25,000 residents but most were quite wealthy (again just outside the metro area so many white collars lived here) very liberal (big LGBT community and so forth) and many a history of small town farming (there was a quality family owned farm at nearly every corner).
     
  16. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    Brandon,

    Well, I think I covered where I am coming from in my previous post,and its not Kansas. I never gripped about poor quality of food from trucks, I am concered by the poor conception. I do not doubt that there are well executed bad ideas on the streets of any town or city. And I also have no dought that if the customers of many of these sort of vendors were to sit down with a fork and knife and actually eat this stuff in time frame greater than five minutes, they would be turned off. I get that people eat on the go, but I dont have to like it. I especially dont like the trend to gormetasizing glutonous crap so that foodies can scarf down an amorphous pile of random global condiments to feed their pie hole while ticking off their pokemon list of gotta have foodstuffs.

    Maybe I am wrong and the majority of foodtrucks are serving simple, thoughtful, food. We live in a time where thought and self reflection seem to be rarity. Street food has its function, its place, and always has. But it is a poor subsitute for actually dinning out.

    Al
     
  17. recky

    recky

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    Thanks for your interesting contributions!

    While this thread is hardly representative of worldwide chefdom, there seems to be a consensus that a small menu is actually desirable and more often than not a sign of quality food being served.

    For many years I've been very aware of the fact that smaller menus will rarely, if ever, result in reduced sales. In actual fact I would consider this to be common knowledge throughout the industry, which is why I'm immensely surprised that so few restaurants in my neck of the woods (Germany) actually follow this bit of advice. There are hundreds of restaurants in my region alone that attempt to be all things to all people, serving bad-to-mediocre food through humungous menus. Even those restaurants which have scaled down their menus somewhat have retained the stuff that everybody else sells, i.e. breaded industrially produced pork schnitzels with industrial chips and random salad mixes with heavy pre-fab mayonnaise dressing. The schnitzels are invariably deep fried from frozen, and everything is sourced from major cash & carry outlets.

    Almost 100% of these restaurants are family-operated; many, if not the vast majority struggle to survive. They battle on by paying rock-bottom wages, reducing staff, doing most of the work between the family members involved. Yet they all sell the same bloody stuff, thinking they're going to lose what little business they've got by radically cutting down on menu items, objectively improving quality and repositioning themselves somewhat outside that market. I just don't get it.

    This situation is particularly rife outside the metro areas. Just like anywhere else in the world, you will find decent restaurants in the cities. But here in this particular region, which is quite touristy and a popular hiking and cycling destination for fairly affluent people from the surrounding cities, my restaurant, strangely, is one of perhaps two within a 40-mile radius that has a small menu and uses local meat and produce. I do hear from tourists frequently that they'd never expected to find a restaurant like mine in this region. That's not to say I'm getting rich here, as the locals by and large eschew my offering, so winters tend to be painfully slow.

    I think my menu is as small as I can get away with; in a good metro location I would probably dare reduce it even further and make a spectacle of it.

    As regards food trucks, I'm in two minds about it. Here in Europe, especially in London, it's a fad, with food ranging from downright awful to very innovative and delicious, lots of very authentic ethnic street food, but also the usual chippie vans etc. As a general concept, it looks very appealing to me, as it significantly cuts down on many of the costs involved in a running a brick-and-mortar joint. I do know, however, that there must be a reason why many of the more successful (and/or ambitious) street food vendors eventually start up proper restaurants/bistros. It's simply the real thing.
     
  18. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Farmhaus here has a $10 lunch, one option a day.

    Mondays salad, fried chix, mashed potatoes, mac adn cheese, iced tea

    Tues. salad, meatloaf, mashedpotatoes, green beans, iced tea

    etc...

    dessert will set you back $11, and oh so worth it.

    It's one of the top rated restaurants in STL.  

    I used to work at LaTourelle in memphis.....the menu was written 8 weeks ahead,

    and very french.   an ap, salad or soup and entree (option of trout or steak for non-adventuresome) usually choice from a handful of desserts.  Was one of the best in town.

    I spent much more time at the sister restaurant Antoinettes, which was continental menu. ala carte.....scratch.....

    The new trend around here is that when a place runs out of food they close. I'm still getting used to the concept.

    I'd go for it.  Limited menu, great food, exceptional value and incredible service. (took me forever to value that service part.....it really does make a HUGE difference)
     
  19. pirate-chef

    pirate-chef

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    I love the concept, and its something i have been hooked on for quite a while. the area that im in now it has been picking up quite a lot and a great following of seasonal local ingredients and small menu. at the moment the menu we have is 4 starters , 4 main, 2 desert, 1 meat plate. it makes things better for a smaller kitchen and i think the food quality is noticably better for it. at his point i can barely imagine going back to a much bigger menu. 
     
  20. recky

    recky

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    Hi Pirate,

    I'd be really interested in finding out more about your place, menus and all. It sounds very similar to mine, and the restaurant culture in Sweden is probably not dissimilar to Germany. Have you got a website?

    Cheers,

    Recky