Food & Drink Magazine

What's On The Menu Tonight?

By Waiterstoday @Waiters_Today

What's On The Menu Tonight?Menu planning is one of the most important ingredients of a successful restaurant that many servers and bartenders may be in the dark about.  In order to prevail as a professional server or bartender, a true interest in food and what's going on with the menu is essential.  It is the difference between being an "order taker" or a knowledgable salesperson beaming with hospitality.  By taking an interest and getting to know what goes on in the back of the house, you are able to translate the chef's language to clueless customers and lead them on a more fulfilling dining experience.  

Executive Chef Mark Marlar of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Indianapolis offers some insight to the basic influences on a chef.  Although there are many more, here are the top five influences that affect what a chef puts on the menu.

1.  Purveyors

Many restaurants like The Oceanaire base their menus on the availability of fresh proteins and produce.  Daily emails and phone calls bombard chefs from different purveyors selling everything from fish, meats, produce, specialty items, ect.  After years of working with the sales reps from these purveyors, the chef trusts many of their judgements about quality products. So when an excited call over a beautiful catch of snapper, or a harvest of surreal tasting tomatoes comes in, the chef pays attention.  And then guess what?  It's going on the menu.  

2.  Seasonal Items

In addition to trusting the instincts and expertise of their purveyors, chefs will seek out ingredients that are in season. The two most important items where seasonality must be paid attention to are fish and produce.  Fishing seasons vary in order to promote sustainability.  Unless you're buying seasonal fish from a fish farm, odds are the freshness of the product is pretty frozen.  And frozen fish never compares in taste to fresh caught.  It is the same story with produce. Although sustainability is not the main concern, vegetables and fruits thrive during certain times of the year.  If they are bought and consumed during off season, the quality of taste is compromised.  Think about how store bought tomatoes taste during the winter.  It's just not the same.

3.  New Techniques and Recipes

 Once the main ingredients are chosen, it is then time to figure out what to do with them.  Chefs are constantly reading up on new techniques and recipes.  If you've ever been in a kitchen, the chef always has a plethora of cookbooks and magazines on hand.  Unlike the amateur cook or housewife, these are merely used as inspiration.  When a chef learns about a different recipe or technique, inspiration leads to their creative interpretation landing on the menu.

4.  Front of The House Staff

Yes, bartenders and servers influence the chef.  We are the interpreters of the menu to the customers.  It is extremely obvious when the FOH staff is excited or bored by the menu.  The difference between the two makes a huge impact on sales, and in the long run, the success of the restaurant.  Customers want to frequent an establishment that puts out mouth-watering dishes presented by an enthusiastic staff.  Your enthusiasm turns into their enthusiasm and not only guarantees their return, but the attendance of the several friends they tell.

5.  Customers

 One final, basic influence on a chef and his/her menu planning is the customer.  To better elaborate on this, let me start with the well known fact that Fridays and Saturdays are notoriously known as "date nights" in the industry.  This means a majority of diners are going to be amateurish and a little less adventurous.  For a chef this means the menu needs to be a little less adventurous. Or, the adventure needs to be done in a way that will entice those to try something new.  In addition to "date nights," other events happening around town such as conventions and events that bring a big crowd of a similar type of demographic also influence the menu.  A convention of firefighters will tend towards different menu items than a convention of nurses.

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