Getting slammed by the bar and going down in flames is an epic failure no line wants. Yet a crowded bar, two rows deep and nonstop appetizer orders, is an owner’s dream.
The solution? Prep hard, rethink pickups and crank up the fryer—or oven.
Get your mise en place in order
Menu favorites at Strip House at the Westminster Hotel in Livingston, New Jersey are tweaked for the bar “so guests can share or eat with their fingers,” says Executive Chef Bill Zucosky.
But it all needs to be served quickly, which means serious advanced prep. For example, Zucosky shucks clams ahead of service for clams casino—one of his most requested appetizers. They’re also topped with breadcrumbs, bacon and compound butter. When the bar fires an order, the clams are popped in the oven.
“Prepping the clams ahead of time in no way compromises the end product,” he says.
The same goes for deviled eggs, which have become a bar menu hit among diners across the country and the line, partially because they can be prepared in advance. At Le Malt in Colonia, New Jersey, Chef Duke Estime changes it up with quail eggs. He pipes filling into the egg halves to order then tops them with a shaved truffle.
Your friend, the fryer
Just about anything that hits the fryer turns around fast The El Tapeo kitchen crew at the Le Meridien hotel in Oakbrook, Illinois, readies items like croquetas filled with chicken confit or cheese and mushrooms in advance. The crew also preps almond-stuffed dates ahead of time, securing the bacon around them with toothpicks.
“The menu was designed to facilitate volume” says Jiaqi Tang, director of food and beverage.
Simple presentation elements, like lemon zest and Himalayan pink salt grated over the flash-fried shishito peppers and the piquillo pepper aioli served with the chicken croquetas, won’t slow down service, either.
“The majority of the items on the menu come out of the kitchen in five minutes,” Tang says.
Focus on the pickup
Adding an extra step can improve quality—not sacrifice speed. Executive Chef Jessica Brumleve at Max’s Wine Dive in Chicago changed the method of her Taleggio garlic bread topped with olives, tomatoes and braised short rib to improve quality and efficiency. Parbaked bread solved the overly crispy crust problem, while adding the beef and other ingredients halfway through the cooking time eliminated the dry beef issue.
“As a chef you rack your brain about it constantly,” she says. “What kind of tricks can I pull out of my sleeve to execute this in a better way?”
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