Q. My restaurant is pretty nice but we just can’t afford a pastry chef. How can we put up chef-driven desserts without actually hiring one?
A. As a pastry chef, this question makes me want to cry into my coffee a little. But I won’t, because I understand the quandary. Think about simple but high-quality desserts like panna cotta and fruit crisp. Consider items that can be partially purchased and finished at service or during the day’s prep, such as purchased pound cake grilled to order with a scratch apple compote and whipped crème fraîche. Let a quality ice cream melt and use as a makeshift crème anglaise. Un-iced, purchased cake works for a scratch parfait with whipped cream, liqueur and macerated berries.
Q. I don’t get farm to table. Our family business has been buying from a local farmer for years.
A. People love to know where their food comes from and chefs see many advantages to buying local, such as lower pricing. Do yourself a favor and highlight seasonal produce on your menu or create specials that allow you to credit the farmer. Consider small plates of just vegetables so guests can try a greater variety. Customers will appreciate the effort.
Q. One of the biggest challenges right now is getting all my staff out of the winter doldrums and focusing on spring. How can I better coach my staff?
A. Spring is the most opportune time to retrain staff and refresh the menu. Think about which improvements you want and prioritize. Reaffirm your values as an operator and your goals for staff and the restaurant. Consider ways to incentivize employees (gift cards, pick of the shift) and try to generate some friendly competition on the line (new dishes) and in the front of the house (wine and beverage sales).
Q. How can I improve front and back of the house relations to ensure customer satisfaction?
A. Cross-training allows your staff to develop new skills and empathy. This can help build teamwork and overall support among staff. Don’t be surprised if a chronic complainer is less vocal after experiencing a shift in someone else’s shoes. Staff members that can hop into another role seamlessly will lead to better customer service and happier diners.
Q. Do I really need an expeditor in the kitchen?
A.If your budget allows for it, a good expediter can work wonders for creating a smooth relationship between front- and back-of-house. Expediters can be a member of the host or serving staff, but they should ideally understand back-of-house operations. This role serves as a buffer between the kitchen and the waitstaff, so the individual needs diplomacy skills and the ability to sustain grace under pressure.
Q: How can I use more sustainable fish and still keep my margins?
A. There’s a saying that “there’s no such thing as cheap fish,” but you can make the most of what’s available. Take advantage of seasonal catches. Prices are lower certain times of the year. Also consider bycatch, also known as trash fish (don’t use that term on the menu). These are fewer desirable fish caught when fishing for another seafood. They include parrot fish, golden tile, dogfish, trigger fish and even lion fish.
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Melissa Trimmer is a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods® from Chicago who’s always down for dining out and discovering hidden gems.
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