“Anybody who’s going out for Valentine’s Day wants to have a good time and be in love,” says Guillaume Magnani, General Manager of Cafe Centro in New York, with a laugh. The brasserie-inspired restaurant in Midtown is gearing up for one of the busiest dining days of the year. “It’s up to us to create that atmosphere.”
Creating a menu is the first part of any holiday, and all other prep for holiday services stem from that — but how can you make sure that every team member is prepared for the occasion? Getting your whole staff to embrace the menu and imparting them with knowledge to sell it can be a challenge, but there are certain tools you can use to make sure that everyone is on the same page and your guests are getting the right information.
At Cafe Centro, Magnani works with Chef Ted Rozzi to make sure their team is prepared for this busy service well in advance. Below, they share their game plan across all touchpoints of the restaurant.
One of the first things that Magnani does when preparing for a special service is make sure that the host team is in the know. “As soon as we get the menu I make sure I print one for the host stand,” he says. The servers in the dining room need to know the info, but the team at the front desk needs to know for phone calls or in-person diners who need information. “We also make sure that the host team is at the pre-shift meeting so if they have questions they can ask Chef,” Magnani continues. “It’s important that they’re there since we have regular guests who don’t make their reservations online and can’t see the pop-up on the website or the menu on OpenTable.”
Cafe Centro also uses their OpenTable system to create pop-up notifications for reservations, so if someone doesn’t know the menu or absentmindedly makes a reservation for Feb.14th, they’ll immediately see a reminder of the holiday and the special menu. That prevents guests from making a reservation thinking they’ll have access to the a la carte menu — only to find out that it’s not available.
Back of the House
The menu is the biggest part of a special holiday service, and Chef Rozzi makes sure that he spends plenty of time preparing his kitchen. “I always try to use more upscale ingredients on Valentine’s Day and do dishes for two or something like that,” he says.
Switching up the menu means spending extra time with the cooks to make sure that they understand the dishes and have an idea of what to expect that night. “For a special night like this we’ll do recipe testing a couple of weeks before,” Rozzi adds. “My sous chefs and I will work on the menu together and taste through everything.” This gives Rozzi the opportunity to change anything that may not work. “We’re already providing dishes that are upscale, so we want to make sure we’re executing our best.”
Both Rozzi and Magnani agree that pre-meal meetings with front-of-the-house staff leading up to Valentine’s Day are critical, and will determine the success of that holiday’s service. “For the week and a half before Valentine’s Day, we’ll start going over the menu for the day and any other information they need to know about,” says Magnani. They will talk about how many courses and beverage pairings the menu will have, as well as price points. Starting early ensures that servers are able to answer any questions guests may have about what the restaurant is planning for Valentine’s Day. “People start asking what we’re doing around that time so we want to make sure we’re prepared.”
A few days before the holiday, Rozzi starts tasting the front-of-the-house staff on the dishes, making sure that everyone working that night knows the menu and can ask any questions. “We do staff tastings of the menu to make sure that the front of the house is comfortable with it and the back of the house can practice picking up these dishes,” he explains.
Even though Cafe Centro is going to give their diners “extras” to make their meal more romantic — a rose for each table and mignardises, for example — Magnani says that ultimately, not that much is changing in the dining room. With preparation, he and Rozzi are making sure that the staff can focus on doing what they do every night, which is provide the best hospitality possible. “We’re making sure that everyone’s leaving happy.”